Books about St. Benedict, The Rule of Life, and Benedictine Spirituality (ON SALE, too.).

Please order any of these with our BookNotes newsletter special, 10% off, by using the links below.


I hope you read our last BookNotes newsletter where I explained at least seven things to know about Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. I like Rod, appreciate his concerns about the quality and depth of substantive discipleship within our churches although have mixed feelings about his assessment of the culture in these days, in what Charles Taylor calls “a secular age.”  As Michael Wear (Reclaiming Hope) said in this panel discussion on the book sponsored by First Things and The Plough it may be that Rod doesn’t adequately grapple with Taylor’s own thesis about the tone of the times (and how it is, oddly, not all utterly secular.)  Again, I think James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular is a very helpful, if deep, study of this heady  Canadian philosopher and the implications of his work, and Dreher might have pointed readers in his direction.

Further, I have very mixed evaluations of Dreher’s strategy of “limited withdrawal” although (as Andy Crouch very succinctly observed in his The Benedict Option in Percentages) too many seem to be obsessed with the “do we head for the hills?” question.  There is a whole lot more in the book — both in terms of critical cultural evaluation and in terms of a call for more robust spiritual formation to withstand the pressures of modernity — that deserves our attention.  Even (maybe especially) those of us who disagree with his evaluation of the Supreme Court opinion in Obegefell or his proposals about starting alternative classical schools, or even his fretting about cell phones, istuff, on-line culture, and the pace of life these digital days should study his arguments and discern how to respond to his counter-cultural, crunchy con, rallying cry.  We have it on sale and can send it right out.

I am sure Rod is heartened by the conversations the book’s release last week has sparked and as an ecumenical bookseller — there’s not that many of us out there, although Rod gives a gloriously nice (and well deserved) shout-out to Warren and his crew at Eighth Day Books in Wichita — I, too,  am heartened.  To see evangelicals and Episcopalians, Kuyperian Reformed folks and lots of Roman Catholics, reading an Eastern Orthodox lay person talk about The Jesus Prayer and early monasticism and current spiritual formation programs that are more-or-less monastic all to inform how we might think about our public witness is fabulously exciting to me.  That the fancy forum in New York (that I linked to above) was sponsored by the rigorously orthodox and socially conservative First Things and the Anabaptist folks from The Bruderhof communities as well as the political journal Rod edits, The American Conservative was just fantastic.

If only Sojourners or Evangelicals for Social Action had been invited.  Or somebody like Gary Haugen (Good News About Injustice, Just Courage, The Locust Effect) or Bethany Hanke Hoang (The Justice Calling) or Jena Lee Nardella (One Thousand Wells) or micro-financier Peter Greer (Mission Drift, Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good) or urban pastor Mark Gornik (To Live in Peace) or racial reconciliation leader John Perkins (and his brand new book Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win)
or evangelical (and Republican, btw) creation-care activist Mitch Hescox (Caring for Creation) were asked to respond to Rod’s big pitch. Man, I wish they’d have had Lisa Sharon Harper (The Very Good Gospel) talking about what, exactly, is good news.  I’d like to hear from these kinds of front line activists who are called to the world in urgent ministries of relief, development, peacemaking and justice.
We know (because he says it all the time, in the book and in his talks) that he cares about racial injustice and about concern for the poor; yet, still, his “hunker down” in an “ark” lingo seems not to imply as much. It leads to what I called in my review as a “mixed message.”

Kudos to the First Things/Plough forum for having Jacqueline C. Rivers on the panel; she not only brought the voice of a woman and African American but knows well about street level ministries of social transformation.  She and her husband, Eugene Rivers, have done remarkable work with gangs in the harshest urban settings.  They also have experimented with intentional community and, influenced by historic black Pentecostalism, know better than most about the power of God in bringing healing and hope to the hurting and marginalized.  They have experienced some of the attacks Rod talks about in his book because — despite their radical justice stance and nonviolent work with street gangs — they are, it seems, fairly conventional in their views of sexuality. Alas, their justice work is attacked by the hard left…

But, this is good, having these various views and voices responding to Rod’s important book.

Which, again, is to say that we at Hearts & Minds are thrilled seeing stuff we so deeply care about – ecumenism, spiritual and contemplative formation, cultural analysis, social concern, in intentional community – coming together in the panels and forums and articles and reviews popping up all over around The Benedict Option.

As you might guess, I’ve got a ton of books I want to offer alongside any reading of The Benedict Option or any proposals about the movement the hip ones are calling the BenOp. I snuck plenty of them into my own review last week — mentioning in passing books by Andy Crouch, Steve Garber, Makoto Fujimura, Richard Mouw, Brian Walsh, Jamie Smith, N.T. Wright, Os Guinness, James Davidson Hunter — and I am adamant that books by these authors are simply must-reads in this or any age.

And, I’d also say that if I were to convene a panel or discussion about The Benedict Option book and movement, I’d love to hear how anyone can imagine as faithful even a “limited withdrawal” strategy Culture Care new IVP cover.jpgKingdom Calling- Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good Amy L. jpg(monastic or otherwise) after having read any of Guinness’s extraordinary books, not least, The Call or Garber’s eloquent, must-read Visions of Vocation or the recent Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura or Kingdom Callings about “vocational stewardship” by Amy Sherman or any number of books that teach about the non-negotiable cultural mandate to be involved for the common good and reflect God’s goodness into the world, needy as it is. It may be out there on the internets somewhere, but I’d love to read Rod’s review of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making or, for that matter, Niebuhr’s old classic Christ and Culture. I know there is some debate among the truly Reformed about Kuyper’s notions of “common grace” but Mouw’s He Shines In All That Fair is a book about which I’d love to hear Dreher comment. And there’s that brand new “theology of culture” book by jazzman Bill Edgar, Created and Creating.  I could go on.


For now, though, it strikes me that it might be more helpful for most BookNotes readers – who know well our advocacy for the aforementioned titles about worldview and culture and social renewal — to list some books about Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine spirituality, and the ways some contemporary authors are inviting us to a neo-monastic lifestyle.  This has been a thing for decades, inspired by the likes of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster and, recently, Ruth Haley Barton, and while they may not be the sort Dreher likes, many of us might be happy to know there are books like My Mini-Van is My Monastery. Not driven by a reaction to political pressures, not emerging from anxieties about the culture, these authors – like Dreher’s book at its best – are not giving us tools only to resist the secularization of 21st century life or practices that are weapons to covertly fight some culture wars but are merely saying this is the best way to life the Christian life.  We all need a dose spirituality as taught by some monks and religious and we all need a dose of community, accountability, maybe even the habit of submitting to a rule of life.

Life Together in Christ Barton.jpgSacred Rhythms- Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.jpgIf any of this speaks to you but you’ve not read anything along these lines, I suggest you might start with Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP; $19.00) and her great book about doing these classic practices in community, with others, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community (IVP; $18.00.)  Or, somewhat deeper, the true classic Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster (HarperSanFrancisco; $25.99.)  Perhaps you could use the marvelously rich and very helpfully arranged and annotated books by Foster Spiritual Classics and/or Devotional Classics (both published by Harper; $17.99 each.) All of these are influenced, naturally, by Benedict, but none are exclusively Benedictine.

If Dreher’s BenOp project is not mostly about cultural withdrawal but enriching the depth of spiritual formation to fund authentic Christian living in our secularized world, we could always recommend books such as The Glorious Pursuit: Embracing the Virtues of Christ by Gary Thomas (NavPress; $14.99) Habits for Our Holiness.jpgGlorious Pursuit.jpgor Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out by Philip Nation (Moody Press; $14.99.) And we’ve recommended, ad nauseam, you might think, Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99.)  And Michael Wear, in the link offered above, slide in an excellent reminder about the formative work of Dallas Willard, such as Renovation of the Heart, The Spirit of the Disciplines, or his rather dense The Divine Conspiracy, parts one and two. I hope these kinds of books are the natural next steps for anyone wanting to be more deeply transformed by Christ in order to endure the hardships and quandaries documented in Dreher’s alarming book.


Here, however, are some books that are not about spiritual formation generally, but specifically about Benedict.  If anybody is interested in more of what Rod Dreher is proposing (or perhaps what he ought to be proposing if he is serious about appropriating Benedictine theology and spirituality) these books are worth knowing about. Why don’t you order one or two and commit to reading up? And then find a local monastery and pay them a visit.  All are 10% off and you can order them below, or by giving us a call.

Man of Blessing.jpgMan of Blessing: A Life of St. Benedict Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Paraclete Press) $21.95  Although not out of print, we have a few of these stellar biographies still in stock.  Phyllis Tickle wrote, “Here medievalist Butcher revives the craft of hagiography, but with a twist. Her affection for her subject is as appealing as it is unfailing, but in this gentle retelling of Benedict’s life, it is Butcher’s familiarity with late Roman literature and culture that roots the saint and his miracles in a well-defined time and place.”  There was a sixth-century volume called Dialogues about Benedict written by Pope Gregory the Great and this book draws on that, making it an important historical work.

Benedict of Nursia- His Message for Today .jpgBenedict of Nursia: His Message for Today Anselm Grun (Liturgical Press) $12.95  This is a serious but slim book by one of the great European spiritual writers these days; we carry a number of books, including a few children’s books.  This is partially an introductory biography and also a bit of a cultural study suggesting why Benedict’s message resonates so today.  He is, by the way, a cellarer, or supplies manager, for his monastery in Germany, so knows much about work, administration, and the like.  Maybe he might remind you of Brother Lawrence and his situation, finding God in the kitchen and insisting the pots and pans are holy.

Monk Habits for Everyday People.jpgMonk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants Dennis Okholm (Brazos Press) $16.00  I am assuming that many who read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option
haven’t really studied monastic spirituality all that much; Protestant
or Catholic or Orthodox, we just haven’t taken up these “monk habits”
very carefully, if at all.  Of course, the marvelous play on words in
the title of this one tells us much -it isn’t about wearing habits but
about adopting formative practices that Benedictine monks might teach
us.  This is a very good book, with a foreword by Kathleen Norris and a
great blurb by historian Mark Noll. This is exactly the sort of thing
Dreher commends and Okholm’s visits have enabled him to interpret
Benedictine spirituality very, very well for those unfamiliar with it. 
Okholm was raised as a Pentecostal and Baptist, and now is an
evangelical Presbyterian and a professor of theology. He was deeply
struck the first time he stayed at a Benedictine abbey and found much to
learn for his own personal walk with God, which he has been exploring
for years, now.  As it says in the promotional material about the book,

aspects of devotion, humility, obedience, hospitality, and evangelism
took on new clarity and meaning. Paralleling that experience, Okholm
guides the reader on a focused and instructive journey that can
revitalize the devotional life of any Christian who wants to slow down
and dig deeper.

A Good Life.jpgA Good Life: Benedict’s Guide to Everyday Joy Robert
Benson (Paraclete Press) $13.95  I suppose I can’t expect you to
remember the oodles of books we rave about here, but I have, I hope
somebody recalls, often recommended the good work of the eloquent, clear
writer Robert Benson.  I have so enjoyed every one of his books, and
commend them all, especially titles like the exquisite Between the Dreaming and the Coming True and Living Prayer and his recent Punching Holes in the Darkness. A Good Life is one we really recommend as maybe the most delightful, short, and wise book about
living well in light of The Rule of Saint Benedict.  This is short and sweet, inspiring, ideal for ordinary folks.

The Cloister Walk .jpgThe Cloister Walk Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books) $16.00  One of the most popular spiritual writers of recent decades, her spiritual memoir, Dakota, capitulated her to fame within mainline denominational circles, especially, but this story of a Presbyterian’s extended stays at a Benedictine monastery is perhaps her best known book. Here, she walks us through what it was like for her, with meditations on the Rule, of course, luminous reflections on the bigger picture of liturgical calendar, but also the ordinary stuff – the monk’s jokes, the food, the sense of time as one is immersed in this alternative world, her love for the liturgy.  The Chicago Tribune’s review said, “Norris continues to write plainspoken meditations that expand the purview of non-fiction… She writes about religion with the imagination of a poet…” It is a good read for those who like spiritual autobiography and creative nonfiction, and it’s a very good window into the real world life of a Minnesota Benedictine monastery.

You may want to know that Kathleen Norris partnered with the wonderfully beloved, Catholic, children’s book writer and illustrator Tomie dePaola to do a wonderful children’s picture book called The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica, which is so sadly out of print.  Yep, Benedict was a twin and his sister Scholastica is an important figure in her own right.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily- Living the Rule of St. Benedict jpgWisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today Joan Chittister (HarperOne) $13.00  Sister Joan is a member and former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, and the founder of Benetvision, a resource center for contemplative spirituality, often applied to her passions of peacemaking, creation care and social justice.  This is the first book I ever read about Benedictine and I highly recommend it.  It carries endorsements from Eugene Peterson (who calls it “a lengthy, wisdom-filled conversation”) Written in 1990 it remains a staple.  Robert McAfee Brown wrote “anyone who thinks monasticism means turning away from the world needs this book.”  Franciscan Richard Rohr wrote that it “makes me want to be a Benedictine.”  

The Rule of Benedict- A Spirituality for the 21st Century.jpgThe Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century Joan Chittister (Crossroad Publishing Co.) $16.95  This is a book that looks very nice, and is nice to use. There are photographs throughout – some rather sepia toned, most full color, but not glitzy – and red ink on the title pages. It’s a nice paperback that comes with a website that allows you to listen to Gregorian chants and other music apparently designed especially for this book.  It is a full translation of the rule, and the lovely meditations by Sister Joan on them.  It is just over 300 pages, so you get a lot of her ruminations, from the point of view of a pretty activist Catholic nun. She knew Dorothy Day, she has met Oscar Romero, she is a living legend in some circles, so she is worth reading, even if her vision of living the Rule is a bit less strict or stuffy than some…

The Monastery of the Heart- An Invitation to a Meaningful Life.jpgThe Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life Joan Chittister (BlueBridge) $13.95  This book is mostly written as loose, poetic reflections and will appeal to those who want a gentle, spiritual reflection. Again, the late Phyllis Tickle wrote, “This marvel of a book sings in the heart and makes the mind quiet with reverence, even as it instructs both with a holy gladness.”  Sister Joan has written bunches of books and in this one she poetically reminds us of the central truth that our search for a meaningful life must be connected to this life, our daily life.  She evokes Benedict’s Rule as she ruminates on our search, our interior life, our community, our service, our promise, and our spiritual growth. Lovely.

Strangers to the City- Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict.jpgStrangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict Michael Casey (Paraclete Press) $15.95  Casey is a Cistercian Monk of Tarrawarra (in Australia) and has written here an eloquent and incisive overview of the distinctive path of St. Benedict. Casey is one of the leading experts on monastic spirituality (and we have stocked other books of his for years.) This includes thoughtful reflections on the values of asceticism, silence, leisure, reading, chastity, and poverty, “placing each of these ancient beliefs in a vibrant, contemporary context.”  This is part of the publisher’s “Voice From the Monastery Series” and it is truly excellent. Highly recommended.

Ancient-Paths.jpgAncient Paths: Discover Christian Formation the Benediction Way David Robinson (Paraclete Press) $16.99  I reviewed this wonderful book when it first came out, saying it was the best book on Benedict that I ever read.  Robinson has advanced theological degrees from Fuller and is a Presbyterian pastor in Oregon. He is a Benedictine oblate of Mount Angel Abbey.  Maybe it is Presbyterian impulses, but he helps everyone apply Benedict’s spirituality in their own setting.

Brother Benet Tvedten, a Benedictine, and author of the delightful How to Be a Monastic and Not Leave your Day Job, writes of it:

Whether you are engaged in public office or business or a member of AA or a local parish, Ancient Paths applies the values of St. Benedict’s sixth-century monastic Rule to your circumstances in modern life. This author is a pathfinder.

Prayer and Community- .jpgPrayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition Columba Stewart, OSB (Orbis Press) $18.00  Orbis Press has done a remarkable job offering a major set of books that summarize, clarify, and teach about various religious traditions within the big Body of Christ. From Pentecostals to Quakers, Cistercians to Anglicans, Reformed to Salesian, Wesleyan to Franciscan, this series of books provides a great way to dip in to the broader streams of Christian faith, learning a bit about others we may hear of but not quite understand their distinctives. The large series is edited by the excellent and insightful Phillip Sheldrake; this one is written by a Benedictine monk of St. John’s Abbey who teaches Monastic Studies at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. (Stewart, by the way, has a major work on the monk Cassian and another on the desert fathers.) Brief and useful.

Echoes of the Word- A New Kind of Monk on the Meaning of Life.jpgEchoes of the Word: A New Kind of Monk on the Meaning of Life Enzo Bianchi (Paraclete Press) $15.99  Enzo Bianchi was a young Catholic layperson when he founded an ecumenical monastery in Italy called the Bose Community in 1965.  He is still the prior there and his books have been translated into many languages.  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgove (a Baptist who has written widely about Benedict and his Rule of Life) says:

This is a different kind of spiritual book… reading this book has felt to me like visiting my dear amma just days before her death. I feel like I’m listening to someone who knows me in my innermost parts. I feel like I’m in the presence of someone who is really alive. And it makes me want to go deeper — to tap into the same living water from which this abba drinks.

The Jesus Prayer- The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God .jpgThe Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God Frederica Mathewes-Green (Paraclete Pres) $18.99  We had the great joy of hearing Frederica again last week at an event at the Roman Catholic Diocese offices in Harrisburg (thanks Fresh Expressions) and we were reminded how much we appreciate her clear, sensible writing. The Jesus Prayer is not particularly Benedictine (having its origins much earlier) but Rod mentions it from time to time, even in his wonderful memoir How Dante Saved My Life. His Orthodox pastor had him learn to recite this prayer and you may have heard Dreher mention this in one of the discussion questions at the Trinity Forum presentation to which we had linked on Facebook.  Anyway, this is a good overview of this most mysterious, simple prayer of Eastern Christianity. A conversational question-and-answer format takes the reader through practical steps for adopting this profound practice in everyday life.

Seeking God.jpgSeeking God: The Way of St. Benedict Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press) $14.99  Esther de Waal is widely recognized as one of the wise, gentle writers about Benedict and we stock many of her books.  One reviewer says that she was “one of the pioneers in applying Benedictine spirituality to life outside of the monasteries.  She herself is an “Anglican lay woman, married with four sons and a number of grandchildren. She lives on the Welsh Borders where she grew up and spends her time gardening, writing, traveling, and taking retreats. She became interested in Benedictine monasticism as a result of living for ten years in Canterbury and has written several books on the Rule… She holds a PhD. from Cambridge and was given an honorary doctorate from St. John’s University for her contribution to Benedictine studies and for her ecumenical work. She was awarded the Templeton Prize for having started the Benedictine Experience weeks which are now widely held throughout America and England.” This second edition, by the way, has a very supportive and eloquent foreword by Kathleen Norris, author of, among other wonderful memoirs, The Cloister Walk.

Seeking Life again.jpgSeeking Life: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press) $19.95  This is a very nice book, a small, handsome hardback, that focuses on the prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict, explaining how it contains “the clues we need to both understand and live by the vows made at our baptism.” Parts of the Rule are actually believed to be based on addresses given to those about to be – or maybe who had recently been – baptized; they are a practical guide to “choosing the road that leads to life.” There’s a lovely long endorsement on the back by Alan Jones. Very impressive.

at home in the world.pngAt Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us Margaret Guenther (Seabury Books) $16.00  Anyone familiar with the literature of spiritual formation will know Guenther’s name -her Holy Listening is ca classic.  This includes ancient and contemporary takes on the classic monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (in the first half of the book) which is then followed up with a series of shorter essays on “the essentials” for devising a rule of life of your own. This is informed by Benedict’s rule but she isn’t attempting to cling to it, but draw on a variety of monastic rules, insights from various disciplines, encouraging us to find some guidelines for helping us navigate our lives well.  Although Guenther visits monasteries often and is a sought after spiritual retreat leader, she writes also as a wife, mother, grandmother, professor, mentor and Episcopal priest. 

The Rule Vintage.jpgThe Rule of Saint Benedict St. Benedict of Nursia (Vintage) $13.95 I don’t know anything about the translation from the original Latin but this seems to be a very reliable edition, the one most people enjoy, with a cool, classy cover. It was edited by Timothy Fry (who translated the famous RB1980) and there is an interesting foreword by Thomas Moore.  Highly recommended.  By the way, there are bunches in this “Vintage Spiritual Classics” series with uniform covers, from Augustine to the Desert Fathers to Francis to Calvin and Luther. Nicely done.

The Rule of Saint B paraphrase by Jonatha W-H.jpgThe Rule of Saint Benedict: A Contemporary Paraphrase St. Benedict of Nursia; paraphrased and introduced by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press) $13.99  This slim volume is in the publishers’ “Paraclete Essentials” series which offers nice paraphrases of classic texts coupled with extensive notes and advise about contemporary application. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove graduated from Eastern University where he was pals with Shane Claiborne; he and his wife started Rutba House, one of a network of intentional communities committed to sharing life with those on the margins of society and forming folks able to be involved in peace and justice work. He is an associate minister at St. John’s Baptist Church in Durham.  Perhaps you know Jonathan’s co-authored prayer book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals or his lovely The Wisdom of Stability which draws on Benedictine spirituality quite nicely. Highly recommended.

Always We Begin Again.jpgAlways We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living John McQuiston (Morehouse) $10.00  This little book is tiny, like a shirt-pocket sized.  But it is such a treasure that we sometimes have people buy a bunch to give away.  McQuiston has written other nice books on the spirituality of the ordinary, taking a mystical posture into the workworld and finding God in the everyday; here he does a simple paraphase and application of the insights of The Rule.  This simple book is described like this: “This book holds timeless appeal for readers who hunger
for a meaningful and creatively balanced framework for life. It offers a
simple blueprint, based on the Rule of St. Benedict, to order ones time
and create physical and inner space, to step back from the demands and
pressures of the moment, and to step into a place of peace.
” Simple, profound, very nice. Released in a 15th anniversary edition a few years back, it now includes a nice little foreword by Phyllis Tickle.

Schools for Conversion.jpgSchool(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism edited by Rutba House (Cascade Books) $24.00  I must restrain myself from saying too much as this may get us a bit farther afield than I want for this post; in a way, this is a lefty/progressive sort of Benedict Option, a call offered a decade ago in this much-discussed manifesto that has generated a handful of intentional communities living together in a world falling apart, serving the poor, standing for justice, and living a deeper spirituality together informed by a Rule of Life.  Chapters included pieces by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne and others; endorsements are from Berrigan-esque peace activists like Jim Douglas, evangelical mustard seed-sower Tom Sine, Christine Pohl (who wrote Making Room about radical hospitality) and this, from Duke prof Stanley Hauerwas:

Whatever future God has for the church, I am convinced the essays in this remarkable book will help us discern that future. Monasticism has always been one of the main means God has used to renew the church. Through some strange miracle God now seems to be calling Protestants to consider what it might mean for them to live in communities that might look very much like monastic communities. Such a call might tempt many toward some kind of romanticism, but one of the remarkable things about these essays is their stark realism. Such a realism is unavoidable not only because of the challenges facing those who are about the formation of communities faithful to God but also because they have lived with one another enough to know this is not going to be easy. So these essays are full of good sense and they help us see the potential of this extraordinary movement. Moreover, each essayist never forgets to remind us that when it’s all said and done, it’s about God who makes it possible for us to live patiently and nonviolently in a world of impatience and violence.

It isn’t exactly Benedictine, but I had to list it… we have each of the several books in the New Monastic Library series.

The Monastic Way- Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living- A Book of Daily Readings.jpgThe Monastic Way: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living: A Book of Daily Readings edited by Hannah Ward & Jennifer Wild (Eerdmans) $20.00 First published in the UK and picked by Eerdmans years ago, this book of daily readings brings together short pieces from monks and nuns from a wide variety of Christian spiritual traditions, both Eastern Orthodox and Western.  The practicality of this spiritual wisdom shows that the writings of the cloistered are nonetheless nearly universal, writing about things like learning to live with our own and others’ idiosyncrasies or how to cultivate a healthy view of money and possessions or how to find a life-giving balance between work and other sides of life and how to love well.   One reviewer said this is “at once practical and sublime.” The two authors have spent part of their lives as members of Anglican religious orders.  This is a sturdy, wonderful resource, loaded with words from authors both famous and old monks and ascetics you’ve never heard of.

Preferring Christ- A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. jpgPreferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict Norvene Vest (Morehouse) $19.95  I hope you know Norvene Vest, another very popular spiritual director and author of books about spiritual direction, such as Still Listening and Tending the Holy.)  This is a wonderful approach to the Rule, literally a daily devotional where Vest comments on it in a way that is nearly like lectio divina. She presents the monastic vision the way some might say it ought to be presented – with intimacy, deeply spiritual, inviting a slower meditative reading.  As it says on the back, though, Preferring Christ presents the monastic way in its intimacy, urbane compassion, and simplicity, for all who journey to God.”

St Benedict Toolbox.jpgSt. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living Jane Tomaine (Morehouse Publishing) $24.00  A few years ago this Episcopalian publisher re-issued this in a special “10th anniversary edition” indicating it’s lasting presence; what a lovely, useful books.  It’s one of the best introductions we have to the spirit of St. Benedict, helping us all explore how our local congregations and our ordinary lives can be shaped by essential Benedictine ideas. 

We always like the good writing of the popular Barbara Crafton so she is worth hearing; she writes:

Benedict continues to inform Christian life and work; his rule is as fresh and useful for us as it was fifteen hundred years ago. It is not only monks and nuns who benefit from meditating on the Rule — all of us can. Here is an example of such meditation in the truest Benedictine way: practical, realistic, compassionate, and confident in the power of divine love to draw us near.

Crafting a Rule of Life- An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way.jpgCrafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way Stephen A. Macchia  (InterVarsity Press) $17.00  This workbook walks us through the reasons for having a personalized “rule of life” and although it is inspired by the Benedictine Rule it isn’t exactly or only about that. It really is a wise workbook for you to consider, work through, interact with, and as you process the material, craft your own rule for your own spiritual benefit. You learn much about the Rule of Saint Benedict but you also are invited to spend time in prayer, reflection on Scripture, and much discernment in order to live out what God is calling you to be and do.  Of course, he explores how this can be done in community since we aren’t in this alone. There is a nice foreword by an author I love, Mark Buchanan.

It can be used, by the way, as a 12-week study for a group, or as a personal resource for your own determination of applying St. Benedite’s rule for your own life. Kudos to IVP for bringing this useful tool to us all.

Benedictine Daily Prayer- A Short Breviary.jpgBenedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary compiled and edited by Maxwell Johnson (Liturgical Press) $49.95  This is funny that they call this a “short breviary” as it is over two thousand pages; it is the definitive guide to the prayer practices of Benedictines, using Psalms and hymns and patristic readings. There’s a good guide to it all, six ribbon markers (which you will need) because there are seven daily offices and a lot of page turning.  It is considered more “user friendly” than older edition and was compiled by a Lutheran scholar!  Just wanted to list this for the record. We, of course, can send it to you or a loved one who wants a very special gift. It comes in a rich leatherflex in a deep burgundy and a beautiful tan.

The Story of Monasticism- Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality.jpgThe Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality Greg Peters (Baker Academic) $22.99  There are several major works tracing the history of various sorts of monasticism within church history and this is doubtlessly the best. Fr. Abbot Denis Farkasfalvy (abbot emeritus of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas) says, “I have never met a Protestant theologian – evangelical or mainline – who speaks about monastics with as much competence and easy as Greg Peters…” He calls it “an exceptional book and will be an eye-openers for both Protestants and Catholics, laity and clergy alike.”

It narrates the history of monasticism with verve and clarity, even though this is a massive and sweeping project.  There are several chapters under each era, which are broken up into Antony to Benedict, Benedict to Bernard, Bernard to Luther, and, in Part IV, Luther to Merton.  There is a fine Epilogue called “Monasticism Today and Tomorrow.”  Peters earned his PhD at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, is an Anglican priest and Benedictine oblate and a professor at both the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola and adjunct at St. John’s School of Theology in Minnesota and at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin.  Thanks be to God!



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Hearts & Minds Review: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (on sale, now)

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World Rod Dreher (Sentinal) $25.00

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The Benedict Option.jpgRemember the time I did a whole set of columns reviewing Rob Bell’s Love Wins where I felt I had to offer tons of background, describe his other books, engage some of the other stuff that had been said about him and his work? I wrote more words about the book than were in that book.  I’d really like to do that again this week to offer some reasoned contribution to the already much-debated brand new book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World but I simply cannot. I just don’t have time, fighting off the new Dark Ages as we are here at our little bookstore.  And the snow. 

And, anyway, there are plenty of reviews circulating — mostly favorable on the right side of the internet, critical elsewhere — and some venues are inviting various voices into discussion (I did not read them yet, but CT has a five-voice forum that looks good and there is an upcoming live symposium with Mr. Dreher in New York City next week which one can livestream that will include a handful of different perspectives, including, interestingly, some folks from the Hutterite community that publish The Plough, and our friend Michael Wear, who is bone fide politico, having worked in the Obama White House.)

So, I will  try to explain a bit about why I like some of this book and dislike some of it and why it has seemed to me, at least in the weeks leading up to the release date yesterday, that some are missing some of the important portions of the book that I think deserve our attention.  And, naturally, I will say why I think you should consider buying it, even if it isn’t the typical sort of book you read.

I recommend The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians… even though most BookNotes readers will find it needlessly alarmist about the “brute fact” of our secular culture and the impact its legislative and judicial rulings have had on religion and will find it fundamentally flawed about the “limited withdrawal” posture we should have within it.  And I do think this posture is flawed and unwise, but we should not overstate Dreher’s position. He isn’t advising some full withdrawal into some cloistered community like the Amish or the Trappists, even though it’s fun to tweak him as if that is what he is proposing. He’s a fun and funny guy, actually, and can take some ribbing, but lets be fair and not mis-state what he is calling for.

Some will like the urgent, manifesto-like tone of the writing (the ad copy properly calls it a “rallying cry”) but many will be troubled that the rallying cry is not just to resist the toxic erosion of notions of truth and goodness and particular virtues that only make sense within a monotheistic context, but to guard against the “relentless onslaught” by forming alternative (classical) schools or taking up serious homeschooling in ways that can impart older more sturdy values without distraction.  Parochial schools aren’t that unusual — Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and many Reformed folks sponsor them routinely — so let’s not get too cranky about this part of his manifesto, even if his reason for them is more reactionary than thetical. Others might resent his call to explore more liturgical forms of worship (he and his family are Orthodox and he scolds against shallow liturgy or entertainment approaches to worship), but the very popular Jamie Smith says similar stuff in his Imagining the Kingdom and You Are What You Love, so, again, this isn’t odd.  Still others might find his traditionalist views of gender and sexuality to be overstated or presented unhelpfully as essential dogma; I know I do.  There’s a lot in this book that will rub most normal Christians the wrong way, even if most of us know we need some new strategies about vibrant faith in these troubled times.  I’m irked by a lot of things in the book, but want to look for the sensible and helpful and good.  You too?

Despite many flaws, The Benedict Option is going to be talked about a lot in the weeks ahead – indeed, it has been anticipated for years and we’ve had a few folks who pre-ordered it from us months ago.  Perhaps you saw the cover story in the largest religious magazine in America, CT or Jamie Smith’s harsh critique in The Washington Post. The hashtag #benedictoption is all over twitter (oh, the irony) and everyone is noting how widely it is being discussed.  I’ve avoided reading most of these reviews but I’m eager to, soon.

I can’t write all that I’d like to at this point, but I will say that it was a fabulous reading experience. I have gone through my advanced copy twice, now. I’ve underlined more sentences than not in some chapters and I’ve scribbled in the margins more than in any book I’ve read for quite a while.  I’ve learned a lot, was reminded of a lot (the overview in Chapter Two of the history and rise of secularization is worth the price of the book) and was challenged to think about what I believe about our culture and our times and the proper texture of daily discipleship and whether I’ve compromised too much.  I have also, admittedly, wondered how I might view this book differently if I had young children. 

Rod Dreher at podium.jpgAnd, for the record, my wife and I met Rod and his wife at a conference book signing a few years ago and had a blast. We laughed and talked and truly enjoyed them a lot.  I hope we cross paths again.

As one who wants to be a life-long learner with the habit of studying “both sides” of many issues, I sometimes read things I don’t think I’ll like; I hope you do, too.  Honest liberals need to grapple with the best critiques from the right and conservatives need to stop rolling their eyes and read the best liberals. I think this is a helpful practice as we read theological books from outside our own tradition but especially when reading about culture, politics, and social criticism.  I don’t know which is more scary for folks, but it does involve risk and demands a certain sort of generosity of spirit and openness to actually change one’s mind.  There’s so much to learn and so many important insights from various quarters and we will have deeper integrity if we take in as much as we can.  

For what it’s worth, that is one reason I have commended Richard Mouw’s memoir of his own studies and reading and engaging in conversations with a wide array of folks, believers and other-wise; if you resonate with my pitch for reading (even Dreher) generously, you’ll love Mouw’s Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground.

Besides, it seems to at least some of us that the old tired answers of the right and left seem nearly expired; it is crucial, as we’ve said before, to have Biblically-shaped ideas that move beyond standard-fare polarities. Old ideologies are dying and perhaps the Spirit is doing a new thing, helping us see beyond left vs right, secular vs fundamentalist, progressive vs conservative. (See David Koyzis’s book Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies for a serious study of how the ideological roots of the left and right are, in fact, more similar than you might know, suggesting that Christians ought to move beyond both.) I am not sure if Dreher himself would agree with this — he thinks that a certain sort of conservatism is consistent with and perhaps required by a Christian social ethos — although he surely isn’t unaware that some long for something other than what might look like frosting an essentially non-Christian cake with religious icing.

So, an obvious case can be made for learning from others unlike ourselves. I hope this book is read widely, including among non-conservatives. At the very least, it is important to be aware of what many of our serious, fellow believers are reading, and this one is one of the big books of the year.  Those disinclined to Dreher’s conservatism (he is a senior editor of the principled, thoughtful, The American Conservative and was therefore not easily inclined towards candidate Trump, btw) ought to follow his argument. It is a book that someone might even ask you about, and Christian thought leaders (like BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds customers) ought to be aware of Dreher and the firestorm of a conversation he has caused.

Here are at least seven important things to know about this fabulously feisty, frustrating, fascinating book.


First: the Benedict Option movement, as Dreher describes it, draws its name, most obviously, from St. Benedict of Nursia, the sixth century monk who formed spiritual communities as the dark days of the early Middle Ages were hitting, after the awful fall of the Roman Empire. The book was released (not intentionally, since the secular publisher didn’t know) on the Eastern Orthodox Feast Day of St. Benedict, who happens to be Rod Dreher’s patron saint, a “coincidence” that is beyond nice.

Few of us know much about the horrors of the collapse of southern European culture in those years and Dreher’s linking the West’s contemporary slide into decadence and dissolution to those years is not a new move but is worth hearing again. He describes Benedict’s visit to the desperate city of Rome “one day near the turn of the sixth century” which was, we are reminded, about a generation after the Visigoths sacked the so-called Eternal City.  Although much of the book tells of delightful visits to Benedictine monasteries (including the earliest ones in Italy) the motivation behind the formation of monastic communities — to allow the faith to survive as it otherwise might not in a utterly corrupt culture — pervades the whole argument of the book. He doesn’t suggest that we become Benedictines as such, but he explains the attraction of monastic lifestyles that are so focused on their life together that they are somewhat removed, at least in attitude, from the ways of the world, and proposes that we adapt the famous Rule for our own deteriorating lives in our own sacked empire here in late modernity. Dreher believes deeply that the time has come to give up any naive efforts to reform the culture, especially through political means — which might be a hard sell to many on the right who are now elated and newly engaged in politics after the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the loudness of President Trump — but Dreher insists things are too far gone for that. It is time to re-group and strengthen our own understandings and virtues, based on a renewed focus  on the gospel. Contra Mundum and all that.

There is a lot in here about Benedict, his famous Rule for life, and Dreher offers nice stories about real monks and nuns with whom he has visited and shows us how even non-Catholic lay folks can appropriate their wise sense of stability, their commitments to prayer, their holy friendships in community. This is good stuff and we should be glad for his lively challenge to take our discipleship more seriously. There are other and better books on Benedictine spirituality (and I’ll name a few in my next BookNotes newsletter) which are not tied to a reactionary and arguably alarmist sense of cultural withdrawal.  But there is some nice stuff here that Dreher tells us about for those who don’t know much about the winsome wisdom from the monastics.

I do sort of wonder if many — especially conservative Protestants — who are raving about the book have ever been to a monastery, have ever spent time on a silent retreat, or if they know any real religious. (And if you think there’s a grammatical error there, I make my point.) I hope Dreher’s use of Benedict draws conservative evangelicals to read some contemplative spirituality and explore the strengths and weaknesses of monastic life a bit so they can make a reasonable judgement. I do want to note that some who sometimes rant against Catholics seem to like this book, perhaps because it is so clear about being conservative; does their conservative ideology now trump their doctrinal scruples? Well, Rod draws on ancient Catholics and is, as we’ve said, himself an active member of an Orthodox  church and I’m glad if he’s getting Gospel Coalition or Acts 29 folks reading about his tradition.  Who knows, maybe they’ll pick up Frederica Mathewes-Green or Alexander Schmemann or Kallistos Ware or John Hopko or Anthony Bloom.


Secondly, and importantly, the call for a new Benedict to lead us in a monastic sort of option, regrouping in radical community to avoid the pressures of secular modernity, comes from one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, Alasdair MacIntyre, from one of the most after virtue.jpgimportant philosophy books of the last 50 years: After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theology, published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Some of us, significantly, learned of MacIntyre from Duke philosopher and theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who has been accused due to his high eccliesiology, of being sectarian. Apparently MacIntyre will do that to you. This is an important link, left unexplored by Dreher, but Dreher’s own dour look at modernity and the need for radical alternative narratives supported by alternative communities of practice bear similarities to Hauerwas and one of his influences, the late, radical Mennonite John Howard Yoder. Neither Hauerwas nor Yoder had anything to do with the befuddled fundamentalist right, and Dreher hardly did either, having been Catholic, and then Orthodox, but he, unlike them, is largely addressing the Christian right, calling them out of their false hopes of changing the world by some kind of conservative political agenda or some social renewal hastened by the election of Republican party candidates.

Dreher, like  Hauerwas and Yoder, drawing on MacIntyre and his call for a “new Benedict”, knows (unlike some pop conservative pundits) that the problems of our culture did not start with the student rejection of authority in the 1960s or the sexual revolution of the ’70s or the relativism of postmodern college profs in the ’80s, a la Allan Bloom, say.  Nope, this critique goes at least back to the disruptions of the early Industrial Revolution, and, more, to the rationalism of the secularizing Enlightenment symbolized by the French Revolution.

This is a line of thought familiar to those Reformed evangelicals who study Abraham Kuyper (who famously called his Christian political party in Holland the “Anti-Revolutionary” party; that is, against the spirit of the French revolution) or the detailed continental philosophy of the likes of Herman Dooyeweerd (found in heady books like The Roots of Western Culture) who influenced Francis Schaeffer. Simplistic as it may be, there is a profound kernel of much insight in Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture which traces the flow of Western culture’s development and decline, showing the vast implications of the early church accommodating themselves to a sacred/secular dualism inherited from the pagan Greeks.

My favorite quick overview of culture through this basic lens, by the way, is in a few central chapters in Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton, followed up powerfully in the early chapters of their Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be; Dreher nor Walsh & Middleton would see these similarities, I suppose, but they are exploring questions of how ideas have had grave consequences, how idols have deformed our views of culture and our social architecture.

For those informed more by the scholars of classic or paleoconservatism, you will hear in Dreher resonances from the likes of Edmund Burke, say, or Russell Kirk, maybe Isaiah Berlin or even G.K. Chesterton or even Hilaire Belloc. Dreher is big on Brad Gregory’s Harvard University Press book The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, which he cites more than once.  He makes use of Romano Guardini and his text The End of the Modern World. These are all names you should know and I’m glad he is informing us so well about important thinkers and serious reform movements.

Dreher sees the recent erosion of religious freedom protections and recent Supreme Court rulings as exceptionally detrimental for the common good but he realizes that the process of how we came to think as we do as a culture goes way, way back and our crisis is deeper than any recent Supreme Court ruling.  Methinks he doesn’t go back far enough (failing to grapple with how early church thinkers were too often accommodated to pagan classical culture, a move he doesn’t seem to fret much about. Augustine influenced by Plato? Aquinas by Aristotle? No biggee, apparently.)

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that even as Dreher encourages a new kind of neo-monasticism that can form a worldview able to resist our culture’s secularizing trends and the subsequent sexual laxity and family breakdown, he holds up yet another Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI, as one important thinker from recent years. Dreher nicely cites Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict’s 2005 encyclical letter.  


Yes, Dreher is a fabulously well-read popularizer, and to see his citations of MacIntyre and – of course! – Charles Taylor, is fantastic. (He should have recommended James K.A. Smith’s intro to the difficult philosopher, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.) Another author Dreher draws on significantly and who he explains very helpfully is Philip Rieff (we stock his magisterial The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud.) This is heavy, serious stuff, and we are in his debt for bringing these scholarly assessments to our attention in understandable ways. 


Dreher talks a lot about Vaclav Havel, draws on Zygmunt Bauman (Liquid Modernity), the sociologist Robert Nisbet, the Catholic critic Patrick Deneen, and even happily brings in some of C.S. Lewis’ studies of medieval literature.  Just reading this book is itself an education in one strain of social thought, at least, and it is a good learning exercise.  In many ways this is the great strength of the book, giving a sturdy basis for a traditionalist critique of modern progressive impulses.


It might be helpful for some of our customers to realize that the book is dedicated to Ken Myers, known to many as the brilliant producer of the heady, extraordinary Mars Hill Audio.  That explains quite a lot.


Fourth, you may find it curious that Dreher’s first book (now, sadly, out of print) was called Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at least the Republican Party). Ha. He revisits a bit of that on the first page of this new book, writing:

For most of my adult life, I have been a believing Christian and a committed conservative. I didn’t see any conflict between the two, until my wife and I welcomed our firstborn child into the world in 1999. Nothing changes a man’s outlook on life like having to think about the kind of world his children will inherit. And so it was with me.

As Matthew grew into toddlerhood, I began to realize how my politics were changing as I sought to raise our child be traditionalist Christian principles. I began to wonder what, exactly, mainstream conservatism was conserving. It dawned on me that some of the causes championed by my fellow conservatives – chiefly an uncritical enthusiasm for the market – can in some circumstances undermine the thing that I, as a traditionalist, considered the most important institution to conserve: the family. 

I also came to see the churches, including my own, as largely ineffective in combating forces of cultural decline. Traditional, historic Christianity – whether Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox – ought to be a powerful counterforce to the radical individualism and secularism of modernity. Even though conservative Christians were said to be fighting a culture war, with the exception of the abortion and gay marriage issues, it was hard to see my people putting up much of a fight.  We seemed content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be a Christian.

rod-dreher.jpgSo, get this: in his explorations ruminating on how conservatives too often bought into an ideology that made an idol out of markets and failed to critique the individualism and consumerism that drove the modern age, he realized that there could be some cooperation with the hippy dippy green movement — supporting farmer’s markets,  encouraging the “buy local” campaigns that shore up frayed social fabric, fighting suburban sprawl and Wal-Mart and McDonalds, realizing the dangers foisted on us all by TV and not just the big state but also big business.

That is, he was reading Wendell Berry.

Wendell Berry’s spirit and good words informed that first book, then, called Crunchy Cons. (Crunchy, as in granola, and Cons, short for Conservatives. You’ve heard of, say, neo-cons and paleo-cons. He was proposing Crunchy Cons —  get it?) As you might guess, we reviewed it favorably, tried to sell it, but it fell between the cracks. It was too critical of some forms of conservatism to be picked up by the right and it was still fundamentally a “con” perspective, so the greens didn’t go for it.  All those people in that long, playful subtitle?  Not a very big tribe, after all.

sex economy freedom & community.jpgBy the way, I have to say in passing that although Rod quotes Wendell several times in The Benedict Option it is selective. He nicely cites Berry’s comments about stability and family and fairly traditional views of sexual fidelity. (In one brilliant essay in Berry’s Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays – which Lauren Winner so beautifully describes in her book Real Sex: The Hidden Truth about Chastity —  Berry explains how consumerism shapes us to want stuff for ourselves, which has less than subtly deformed our views of sexual desire;  Ms. Winner says maybe the thing to do to resist her lust and help her learn sexual chastity is to quit going to the mall to buy more sweaters. Learning to say no to American capitalism’s reductionism and deforming of our desires might be a deeper, better practice to help us think differently about a theology of the body and a wholesome view of sex., more serious and radical than evangelicalism’s penchant for morality pledges and purity rings.)

Anyway, Dreher likes Berry on the traditional family and he seems to like Berry’s critique of fast-paced materialism and a life lived out-of-place, disconnected to community and place; he shows that Berry’s sexual ethics are traditional. He doesn’t draw in Berry’s critique of violence, militarism, patriotism, and the like. He doesn’t quote the Mad Farmer poem. That Rod worries about kids being seduced in school to the evils of porn (a valid fear) but not civil religion or racism or nationalism is, from my view, a huge inconsistency. and more then a “blind spot.” Maybe a little Franciscan spirituality – or at least a little Anabaptism or even punchy Hauerwas — would have been a helpful contribution to Dreher’s formation.

Or at least a little more submission  to Brother Wendell. I know from Crunchy Cons that Dreher likes the Kentucky farmer, but I couldn’t help but feel like he was using Berry’s popular name, popular especially on the left, mostly to reinforce his conservative views of the family and gender.

wendell berry and the given life.jpg

(A brand new book that does honor Berry a bit more consistently, by the way, just came out from Regan Sutterfield, on a Franciscan press, no less, called Wendell Berry and the Given Life. I hope to review that soon, and, along with, say, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader’s Guide by Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens, would help supplement the Benedict Option vision, insuring it not be confused with or co-opted by an agenda of the secular or religious right.) 

My annoyance of Rod’s selectively using Mr. Berry notwithstanding, it is good to see a conservative caring about conservation. He doesn’t say it nearly enough to be Biblically faithful — the Scriptures (and the current Pope, I might add) simply require it and any piety or social ethos worth its Biblical salt will say so — but he’s not disinterested in care for the land.  The Benedict Option helps us in wondering how to create communities that have the wherewithal to stand against the tide that wants to sweep so much away. (Recall it was Karl Marx who predicted that in advanced capitalism “all that is solid melts into air.”) Such a vision of spiritually attuned fellowships,  a renewed, sustainable economy and better creational stewardship, good work and non-mainstream learning and mature, artful, worship demands some kind of community.  We can’t do this stuff alone. And we can’t form deeper community if we don’t give up our mobility, our transience.  He gets that and reminds us of it.  It is a reminder we all need, often.

wisdom of stability.jpg(I know Dreher didn’t need to cite my favorite books on this, but just this year we’ve seen on popular evangelical presses wonderful books just as Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You by Alan Briggs and Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce Crump, each similar to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s stunning (and Benedictine-inspired) The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. These all argue for a more localist way of living, staying put, as they say, but don’t have any of the “the ship is sinking and we have to form community like an ark to preserve ourselves” vibe that we get from Dreher.) 

Dreher quoted Alasdair MacIntyre back in that first (Crunchy Con) book, declaring that Western civilization had lost its moorings.  In The Benedict Option he explains where this MacIntyrian vision led him, years ago:

I called the strategic withdrawal prophesied by MacIntyre “the Benedict Option.” The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming- A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.jpgAlthough it truly is a memoir, not a book of social analysis, you can see lovely notes of this concern in his memoir about moving home to small town Louisiana to learn from the folks there who showed such faithful friendship and support to his sister who was dying of cancer. I do hope you know The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life — it is one of our very favorite books!  You should read its sequel, too, that further shares so much of Rod’s back-story: How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem. It is a very good read.


Number five: I have heard, but have not seen myself, that there are already some published criticisms of Rod’s posture of withdrawal and he has, I’ve heard, pushed back a bit insisting he does not counsel a full resistance or complete withdrawal. This is maybe a fifth thing to know about the book: it isn’t fully clear or consistent about how bad things are and subsequently how much we need to retreat.

Most often he makes it sound very bad out there.  And he implies that the retreat must be severe.

I want to be fair here, but I think one of the problems with evaluating the Benedict Option is that in this manifesto there are mixed messages or maybe inconsistencies. Dreher is dire at almost every point about our culture (Jamie Smith is right, if not adequate, in his Washington Post critique of the alarmism that pervades the book.) Some of it reminded me of the furious raging in the final book of Francis Schaeffer which eroded his reputation and offered a sad end to his important life; it was as if the sky really was falling. Franky Schaeffer, his son, by the way, has written candidly about how some of the fury was manufactured in those years so that they could earn the trust of the rather stupid religious right, with stories such as the time Schaeffer had to bite his tongue as Jerry Falwell mocked renaissance nudie art. Dreher is not about to mock classic paintings for their negative effect on our children, but he seems at times almost ready to explode in some righteous jeremiad about nearly anything in popular modern life.

I can hardly believe some of the breathy phrases he uses insisting that the culture has had its way with us, that it is all but over, that secularism has won the day, that we may not be able to be Christian in this society any more.  It at times almost sounds as if the church hasn’t been through this before, or that the faithful Hebrews in exile in Babylon weren’t told to  serve their captors by “seeking the welfare of the city” in which God had sent them.  That Dreher doesn’t address this Jeremiah 29 passage that is so popular in mobilizing a young generation of urbane evangelicals serving their cities is astonishing to me.

He warns us not to be naïve about these negative things and their lasting impact, and I want to hear him, but I still think he worries a bit too much, and, that even if his worries are prescient, his strategy isn’t adequately Biblical.

He reminds us, as he should, of the dangers of porn and the shifting relativism that seems to erode our sexual ethics and the rise in violence and cynicism and more. Some of Dreher’s discernment, by the way, is driven by the way businesses bailed on supporting states that insist on RFRA legislation and on what he sees as vast implications of Obergefell.  He uses the battle language of watershed and Waterloo; the jig is up, it’s over. I think he is helpful as he highlights important ideas and consequences of the genealogy of ideas in the West (coupled with some attention to deforming practices and cultural habits.) But despite this deep level critique of the engines of idolatry and what he calls “hostile secular nihilism” he too often ends up sounding like a shrill right wing talk show pundit complaining about policy he doesn’t like.

Many sentences carry thoughtful brilliance like this:

The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered us to a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection. The West has lost the golden threat that binds us to God, Creation, and each other.  Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution.  


If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder, then the most fundamental act of resistance is to establish order. If we don’t have internal order, we will be controlled by our human passions and by the powerful, who are in greater control of directing liquid modernity’s deep currents.

And then he declares, given our “political weakness” that “nothing matters more than guarding the freedom of Christian institutions to nurture future generations in their faith.” Nothing? Oh my.

Oddly, he then follows this patently wrong statement with a disclaimer (in italics): religious liberty is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The book does this a bit, zealously overstating things and then moderating his view, which is why you should read it carefully, with an open mind, as a line that may infuriate may be moderated in the very next paragraph. 

There are moments Rod writes nicely about some of the good things of our culture, and he assures us that we ought to not reject the world a such.  At least I think I recall that he did, but I can’t find where. But then he writes stuff like this, in a page or two on what MacIntyre (and others) called the new barbarism:

…despite our wealth and technological sophistication, we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it. Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, our scribes —  they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human. Our barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears of the past for designer suits and smartphones.  

Yep, there’s that, those damn guys in suits who use phones. I guess in this vast generalization he doesn’t include his own role as a scholar and scribe, or the judges he voted for or the faithful scientists he surely knows. 


This isn’t so much something you need to know about the book itself, but a way to describe my ambivalence about some of it. I guess that’s it: you may be ambivalent about some of it, too, but that’s okay.

It would take me a bit too far afield at this point to explain why I am less pessimistic than Dreher is about the cultural ramifications of the social trends he hates, especially the ones pertaining to same sex relationships and family law. I support as a matter of liberty and justice for all, legislation and court supreme court and gay flags.jpgrulings in favor of marriage equality in our pluralistic society and disagree with him that this is disastrous for Christian discipleship; my own discipleship hasn’t become any more difficult since Obergefell v Hodges; really it hasn’t. I’m still too much of a jerk and always in need of God’s grace, but the Supreme Court ruling didn’t change that one bit. (I found it nearly surreal reading some astonishingly outlandish statements insisting that we can’t even be Christian with such a ruling as Obergefell in our background. This really is a driving force for him;  it is, he insists, about “order.”  And that’s a theological notion that needs to be more carefully explored, I’d suggest. We know what happens when a movement makes too much of a fetish out of order and fears “disorder.”  I’m not suggesting we take lightly dis-order and certainly agree with Rod in his desire to resist whatever the Bible calls sin.  But his fear and anxiety about the shift away from order is notable.)

I am also, by the way, a supporter of religious freedom, from the rights of Muslim prisoners not to be shaved to the right of religiously motivated bakers or photographers, for instance, not to be coerced by social convention or forced by the state to violate their consciences and be made to participate in same sex-marriages; such freedom of conscience is akin to our government’s good heritage of religious conscientious objection in matters of the draft into the military, by the way, and vital for a free culture) and think that most RFRA regs are mostly just and helpful and worthy of support. I agree with Rod that the erosion of such liberties is concerning. I care about them so much I’d rather fight for them, in fact, rather than withdraw with a sad shrug, but that maybe is a cheap shot.

Interestingly, the former White House staffer we had in the bookstore a few days ago, Michael Wear, a Democrat who served at the pleasure of President Obama, whose book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America is helpful on this very matter, agrees; Wear ends his reflection on the contemporary civic ethos by affirming religious freedom questions as crucial for the common good. It is my sense that this need not be a partisan issue, but that honoring religious diversity and freedom of conscience is a good thing in a religious pluralistic culture.

confident pluralism.jpgJohn Inazu’s book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference is a major resource in this cultural conversation. I value Os Guinness’ work on this, too: see his A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future or his older, serious, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It which lays out a plan for principled sorts of structures for honoring freedom of speech and the like. 

You see, I can’t help myself, wanting to recommend resources for our cultural struggle in this historic moment.  I will list more, later.  As much as I agree with Rod that we need to attend to our own spiritual lives so we have something real to give to the watching world, we cannot give up this God-given calling to be reforming agents, no matter how misunderstood we may be. And our care for the world, our neighborhoods and civic culture involve much more than responding to legislation about sexuality or our own religious freedoms.

Dreher overstates much about sexuality and although I was glad for his reminder that the church must always be kind and gracious to those who often feel excluded – including persons in the LGBTQ community – his using the culture’s recent support for same sex relations and the rights of transgendered persons as such a huge watershed seemed weird to me. And I’m afraid he’ll say, “See: that proves my point.”

Even though he helps us frame our cultural moment by the bigger shift towards “the therapeutic self” and the dis-connected radical individual (who is now all about a self to be fulfilled rather than a soul to be shaped) some of the Benedict Option book still just seems fixated in a way that the Bible is not on matters of sexual purity.

(That there is precious little Bible study in this book is itself a problem and that Dreher merely genuflects to “the tradition” or maybe “natural law” is, again, for this evangelical, at least, problematic. His social imaginary, his worldview, his hermeneutic of interpretation — what to get alarmed at, what to cry out about, what to resist, where we are, what time it is, culturally, so to speak — seems not to be driven by the Biblical story much.  He says early in the book that it is not a “decline and fall narrative” but that is a large part of it. It is worth reading and it is somewhat compelling. But it isn’t a Biblically-inspired story of God’s redeeming power, restoring all things, the Kingdom coming, our missional task. Geesh, where’s Tom Wright when you need him?  And why no “every square inch” being claimed by Christ quote, anyway? More importantly, why no citation of Colossians 1?  Can anyone write a book about a strategy for cultural engagement without going there? Or 2 Corinthians 5?  How can one propose even strategic, limited withdrawal on some safe ark without explaining how, then, we shall be “agents of reconciliation” or, as Paul puts it,  ambassadors. It’s a metaphor that doesn’t work on an ark.

Another case in point of missing Biblical insight: he only seems to get there, finally, once (on page 203) but he admits that his tradition’s disapproval of same-sex partnerships is related to the notion that they cannot procreate.  I am not Orthodox or Roman Catholic but respectfully submit that I do not think this is a helpful theological formulation of the matter of same-sex attraction or what constitutes just marriage laws. Does the Bible teach this? Should it be the basis of how to think about just legislation for our fellow citizens? It’s complicated, and not self-evident, despite Rod’s apparent assumption that it is.

But then, frustrated as I am, worried that he’s just fear-mongering in the way Jerry Falwell did decades almost christian.jpgago, he tells a story about middle school kids watching hard core porn on their cell phones. He laments the number of young women pregnant without  the father intending to be involved in the lives of their children. He mentions the unusually high number of middle school girls who announce confidently that they are bi. He describes the shallow sort of religion found in many churches, drawing on the significant work of sociologist Christian Smith (see Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, or the very important popularization of that work found in Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian or even David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me.)

He quotes books like the powerfully important recent volume by Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads and, with just a quick citing of Nicholas Carr and Neil Postman, underscores the dangers of over-reliance on cell phones and our “amusing ourselves to death” in a culture of what Neil Postman called “technopoly.” When he warns us about the actual dangers of the breakdown of community and family and mental health and meaning, he is right to sound the alarm.  And I want to press the book into the hands of anyone who seems, as the prophet Amos said, “at ease in Zion.”  It is not wrong to be alarmed by alarming things, right?

As I have said, I mostly disapprove of Rod’s nearly idolatrous overstatement about traditionalist To Change the World- The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity .jpgformulations of sexuality and his almost overstated call to “order.”  Since he is writing to conservatives to sway them away from culture wars — perhaps almost in the tradition of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World the Oxford University Press book by James Davison Hunter, but with less “in” and more “not of” the world — I get that he doesn’t use the Bible to explain his assumptions. He is not particularly evangelical and makes it clear he is writing firstly as a conservative, albeit a Christian one.

Perhaps that is just one large difference between me and him; he talks unashamedly about being a traditionalist and conservative and I find that at least a little awkward; not unlike when some of my friends are so clear that they are liberal or progressive, as if that is necessarily a virtuous thing.  I have little interest in being left or right, but want to evoke some other “third way.”  Perhaps I am naive to imagine such an option, but there it is. Those of us who are conscientious objectors in the culture wars and who do not think it is faithful to align faith with right or left, can still learn much from this work, though. So I critique it a bit, but only to inform you what your getting into. I still think it is well worth reading.  Truly, I think that.

I like Russell Moore’s blurb on the back:

I’m more missionary than monastery, but I think every Christian should read this book. Rod Dreher is brilliant, prophetic, and wise. Even if you don’t agree with everything in this book, there are warnings here to heed, and habits here to practice.

For those readers who already agree with Mr. Dreher’s particular take on the battles of the culture wars, his call to live in ways that allow us to keep faith vibrant and thoughtful and robust should be seriously evaluated. I understand, given his assumptions about the toxic nature of modernity and postmodernity and the hyper-sexualized culture and the fast-paced 24/7 social media world of fame and celebrity and shallowness, how we must learn to guard against undue influence from the world; I understand that this concern about not accommodating may call for us to retreating a bit, giving up unrealistic attempts to “change the world” (especially through ill-considered moral majority’s and political campaigns.)

Scandal sider.jpgReading The Benedict Option I am reminded of something I sometimes have said in talks and in writing here. We may have been unfair inspiring young adults in the last decade to “make a difference” and claim “every square inch” for Christ without forming them in spiritual practices that would yield Christ-like character and a commitment to holiness.  I talk about “holy worldliness” but maybe don’t sound serious enough about the holiness part. We all should have tried harder, just for instance, to grapple significantly with the must-read research of Ron Sider and his important little book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?  

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Similarly, my friend Steve Garber’s well respected 2007 book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior reminds us of the deep significance of friendship and community (and mentors who help us apply truth in our own situations) if faith is going to be formative and decisive over the long haul of our lives. He astutely calls us to this counter-cultural triad of conviction, character, and community, but without Dreher’s conservatism or The Benedict Option alarmism.

Dismayed as I was by some of Rod’s lines about how bad things are and how difficult it may be to live out faith in our day and age, I liked his warnings that for some of us we might be called upon to suffer loss of prestige or even employment. Like Benedict in his own tumultuous, corrupting times, Dreher advises learning trades and crafts.

Many professional associations will demand that one sign pledges of support of sexual diversity and ethical relativism and he assumes that those with conventional Christian views will therefore soon lose their jobs in business, education, counseling, and other professions, if not by law, by the pressure of the professional guilds themselves. He reminds us that we will have to have in place some sort of structures and systems to support those who lose their jobs due to Christian convictions. He calls us to community, to supportive congregations that “do life together” so we can be there for each other in times of persecution or loss of income due to scruples in the marketplace.

For what it is worth, decades ago I met a number of people who, influenced by the passionate Catholic Bishops who insisted it was immoral to make nuclear weapons, left their jobs in defense contracting.  I also knew a woman who quit her job in an abortion clinic.  A network of activists helped folks in both situations, and I promised such aid to other defense contractors who I challenged to use their talents in more life-giving careers sites. So I get Dreher’s call to be community, even if I wish he’d have noted that the ethics of the marketplace are more complex and in a way more demanding than only this question of scruples around things like same-sex marriage.  Why did he not talk about whistle-blowers in the environmental field, people who lose their jobs in public schools because of their support for poor children (think of Jonathan Kozol’s story) or pastors who become unemployed when they talk about God’s Word about serving the poor or financial workers who pay a price for not maximizing profits with adequate gusto?  What about an ad man who won’t do a glamor ad that is too sexy? What about a woman science PhD who fears the data about the dangers of GMOs is being suppressed by her agribusiness supported university?  What about a lawyer who wants to do too much pro bono work for the needy?  As inspiring as his breathy Benedictine option of feisty countercultural faith that is so radical that it needs supportive community was for me, I have to wonder if he knows anybody who has lost their job due to their faith? Maybe so.  I know I do.  And it wasn’t about sex stuff.


So, limited as his expressed concerns may be on that particular score (seeming to suggest that only certain sort of social ethics are demanded of us) and as many mixed messages as he gives — we should be monastic, but not really, we should be alarmed, but not really — Dreher and his provocative book points us in the right direction in calling us to create lasting relationships, be part of serious churches, ask hard questions about our lifestyles, gadgets, budgets, and habits. He invites us to consider how deeper, more ancient forms of prayerfulness and liturgy might slowly re-form us from what media critic Nicholas Car calls our “welcoming the frenziedness into our souls.” Perhaps we might withdraw from the world a bit and welcome a different set of virtues and a different quality of character into our lives. In a way, this is what the best spiritual writers have long said; in our generation Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, Joyce Rupp and more.

how dante can save.jpgThe Benedict Option shows us how to draw on ancient asceticism as a tool to help us keep our digital and media influences at bay. It insists on more active involvement in local churches to keep our spirits alive. Dreher asks us to consider starting alternative study groups, book clubs, young adult discipleship houses, even study centers, to study classical literature, history, poetry, and to allow deep truth to influence our hearts and minds.  (He knows how this works somewhat and tells us all about it in the magnificent memoir of how he was somewhat healed of a bad relationship with his father and extended family and moved out of serious depression by reading “The Divine Comedy called How Dante Can Save Your Life which I hope you have ordered from us.)

Call this my seventh point, that Dreher has reminded us wisely of the formative power of worship and church and prayer and spiritual fellowship.  He reminds us this, as he should, within the context of our cultural witness, that we are going to need, increasingly as the culture is un-moored from older assumptions which were somewhat inspired by Christian principles, to have the strength of character that comes from cultivating our interior lives.  I’m reminded of Richard Mouw’s lovely book on civility (Uncommon Decency) where he teaches that civic manners and principled but civil conversation in a hostile culture demands the virtue of “inner civility.” Bring on the option of Benedictine spirituality; we need it.


Look: I am not right wing, or even conservative in the way that Dreher is. But I think even some who are should find his overstated alarmism unhelpful.

VoV.jpgFurther, I have large, large, disagreements with any strategy of dis-engagement from culture: we started our bookstore to encourage more robust, uniquely Christian engagement. I think the Holy Spirit is speaking to the churches calling us to what Steve Garber calls “visions of vocation” that call us to love the world, messy as it is, as God does.  Indeed, if any one book deserves to be read in tandem with The Benedict Option it may well be Garber’s intense but lovely Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good.

The conversations and movements and ministries we admire and sometimes serve about faith and work, faith and science, faith and the arts, and, yes, faith and politics, are often fresh expressions of missional discipleship in the real world we actually live in.   They all suppose that our work is a way to serve our neighbors, to help the flourishing of the common good. Most who are excited about these sorts of approaches to renewed and reforming cultural engagement (from the CCOs Jubilee conference to Redeemer Presbyterians Center for Faith and Word to organizations like CIVA or IAM or CPJ) are not part of the religious right and never were.  They may need a Benedictine spirituality, and maybe even a MacIntyrian warning a la Mr. Dreher.  But he’s simply wrong if he is asking them to pull back from their calling to love their neighbors by offering good work, science, art, or politics.

Even if some cultures are so vulgar and repressive as to necessitate some withdrawal a la the Desert Fathers and Mothers or the monastic movements, I think it is quite simply not the norm for most Christian people. When the desert fathers leave their businesses and families, even, to then extol continual silence, I think it is  simply unbiblical, and pretty darn weird (and, hence, I am baffled by some evangelicals who love dear Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart that affirms just such weirdness.) I have laughed when former Trappist friends have talked about their hand signals, even while making fruitcake that they aren’t allowed to enjoy themselves, but even they would insist that this isn’t a normative lifestyle for most Christians.

Deeper community, alternative institutions, renewed dedication to holiness informed by more lively worship and prayer and spiritual disciplines, yes, yes, yes.  But most of us should not be cloistered off away from the normal creational gifts of families and governments, sports teams and neighborhood markets, TV shows and rock concerts,  farms and gyms, shopping centers and science labs, art galleries and political parties, churches and comedy clubs, newspapers and Little League, pre-schools and colleges, factories and diners, 4-H clubs and… well, you get it.  I don’t think Rod is really saying that we should abandon the culture, although when he uses metaphors of being an “ark” to ride out the storm, I wonder…

culture making.jpgcreation regained.gifAndy Crouch’s famous book puts our task in a word: culture-making. It’s how we image God and it is what Al Wolter’s in Creation Regained calls our foundational command.

The Bible warns us not to trust idols, says to not be “of the world” and calls us to be “non-conformed.” We are a “peculiar people” and 1 Peter says “be holy as I am holy.”  Scriptures warn us against being “taken captive” by worldly ideologies and we need to hear more in most churches about the call to righteousness in thought, word, and deed. 

There is little doubt that Dreher is right that many churches these days don’t really help us live into the sort of holiness to which we are called.

But the same Bible also holds out a vision of the renewal of all things. Everything.   The Bible tells us to go into the world; it just does. There is no escaping the missional call to serve our neighbors, the public sphere, working “in but not of” the society around us. 

Further, the Bible warns us not to “call impure what God has called clean” (As Peter learned the hard way in Acts 10:15.) I think that any insinuation that this world is too bad to be redeemed or too impure for us to handle — and whether such insinuation hovers around Dreher’s book you can decide for yourself — needs to be confronted with the stark truth of the warnings in Colossians 2:21 or I Timothy 4: 1-3 where the naysayers are reproved.  In that anti-gnostic Timothy passage, Paul suggests that the error of disdaining the God-given gifts of the world is either an “old wives tale” or flatly inspired by demons.  Either way, good ministers are called to teach the truth of the goodness of things. Look it up and tell me if I’m wrong.  And tell me how we can balanced the proper concerns of The Benedict Option and its dire warnings and manifesto-like cry for “strategic withdrawal” with this kind of joy in the goodness of creation and confidence in the restoring redemption of Christ the King.

For the Life of the World Schmemann.jpgflow package.jpgAs an Orthodox believer, Dreher wisely cites, at one point, the famed Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemman. He does not cite his most famous work, though, For the Life of the World, which inspired the Acton Institute’s beloved film series by that same name, offering a combo of Schmemman and Abraham Kuyper, drawing us into bigger visions of the redemption of all of life by bringing poet Gerard Manley Hopkins into conversation with theologian Hans Von Balthshar, for instance. Work, family, politics, art, learning — it’s all gift, it’s all service, even in (as the DVD explores) a state of exile. Our church liturgy anticipates the final restoration of things; the beautiful last lesson on the DVD makes that wonderfully vivid. As such, good liturgy — according to the DVD For the Life of the World, at least — is hopeful. We hear good news each week and practice ways of embodying such hope, even in exile.  I think Rod should worry less about Supreme Court rulings and listen better, week after week, to that great liturgical refrain:  He Is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed.

Despite all, I truly recommend reading, reflecting on, prayerfully considering, and talking with others about The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. One will have to overlook some negativity and theologically dangerous dead ends, but much will be very, very helpful. Most of all, it will cause you to reconsider, re-evaluate a bit. For this reason, I think it is worth reading with discernment, and heeding whatever seems wise and prudent in these complicated days, for the life of the world.

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OVER 40 BOOKS DESCRIBED FOR READING DURING LENT (that are not Lenten devotionals.) ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

In our last post we listed a whole bunch of titles that were about Lent, mostly devotionals or guides into this season of the church year.  We linked to a few earlier Hearts & Minds Lenten lists, too, naming titles for Lent from previous years.  

I mentioned in that list the new paperback book Grounded: Finding God in the World — A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass, noting that it has a 40 Day study guide, too, making it ideal for a book club or for personal reflection during this time of year, even though, admittedly, it doesn’t offer the customary focus of books about Lent.  Even though I might critique some of her ideas and occasionally her tone, it is, mostly, a fantastic book, beautifully written and pushing us in a helpful direction.  We’re glad for the paperback that is now out and wanted to suggest it as a “non-Lenten Lenten book.”

Which brings us to this new list of mostly older books, offered as Lenten reading for those who tend not to like little daily devotionals or seasonal prayer books.  Maybe you sense a yearning to do some reflective, serious reading this time of year but don’t want to commit to the daily regimen using a standard devo. Maybe your own faith journey is such that you don’t even want a religious book.  We get that.

So here is an admittedly eccentric list of not-exactly-random titles we pulled off the shelves here at the Dallastown shop and are sending through the airwaves for you to consider.  Perhaps see this list our gift to those who can’t shake the idea of doing some intentionally reflective reading this next month or so, but don’t want a standard Lent book. 

It’s a good time of year to settle down, pay attention, read, think, pray.  Hope this list helps you select something good for you or yours.

The Body Keeps the Score- Brain, .jpgThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma Bessel Van Der Kolk (Penguin) $18.00  A wondrous, remarkable book by a leading expert on trauma who has pioneered new ways to treat PTSD (including sand trays in children’s therapy) and has helped us all realize new things about the human mind, memory, neuroscience, and pathways to recovery.  For anyone concerned about the toll of the cycle of trauma and violence in our society – and about how relationships can be hurtful but also healing — this intense but beautiful book is a must. 

The Body in Pain- The Making and Unmaking of the World.jpgThe Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World Elaine Scarry (Oxford University Press) $19.95  I know more than one person who has recently raved to me about how important this book was for them; it is a dense and complex read, studying chronic pain, trauma, including a major report on research Scarry did in the 1980s (in cooperation with Amnesty International, I believe) on the impact of torture.  As a literary critic (a recent book was on the Shakespeare sonnets) she is known for close readings, for good listening, for rich and moving meditations. Susan Sontag calls this “large-spirited, heroically truthful, a necessary book.”  Is pain inexpressible? Can it destroy a sufferers language? How do political regimes “unmake” an individual’s  world in their exercise of power?   And how do we then re-make the world (through act is of creativity that produce language and culture and hope?  If you want a book that is perhaps a bit more accessible and not as long, see her beloved work about aesthetics and public justice on Princeton University Press called Beauty and Being Just. That’s a good read any time.

Losing Susan- Brain Disease.jpgLosing Susan: Brain Disease, The Priest’s Life, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away Victor Lee Austin (Brazos Press) $19.99  We discovered the serious work of this Episcopal priest and social critic when we read Up With Authority, a book about authority structures in society.  In this moving, powerful story, the theologian gets personal, telling of his love for his wife, Susan, as he cared for her during her long struggle with brain cancer – and the aftereffects which brought him more “face to face with God” and allowed him to re-evaluate his own faith. Endorsements are from other deep, thoughtful, pastoral theologians such as Robert Jensen and Sam Wells and others who have written about suffering, such as Stanley Hauerwas and Tobias Winright who teaches Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University who calls it “a moving work, carefully crafted and thoughtfully honest.”

learning to walk in the dark.jpgLearning to Walk in the Dark Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne) $14.99  It is rare to find someone who doesn’t appreciate Barbara Brown Taylor’s rich prose, her wonderful use of words, her charming tone, even in serious sermons.  One of my own all-time favorite books is her brief memoir of coming to Christian faith and discerning a call to the ministry called The Preaching Life (which concludes with some sample sermons, themselves always worth reading. Let us know if you want to make our day by ordering one from us.) But this, her most recent book, is a study of darkness in our lives, literal and metaphorical, explored in the entertaining form of story and memoir, how she came to embrace doubt and darkness, which, in her estimation, isn’t at all a bad thing. From sitting in an utterly dark cave to camping out in the deepest night to attending to some perplexities and pain in her own life, she invites us all to explore this side of life, literally darkness and the “dark night of the soul.”.  I loved this book and its quiet blend of charm and provocation and commend it to you during these weeks of Lent.

forgive us.jpgForgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan) $22.99  I have raved about this book since before it came out (indeed have a long blurb on the inside, alongside many, many pastors, authors, activists, leaders that I so admire and respect, from Anthony Bradley to John Perkins to  Virgilio Elizondo and more.) We’ve mentioned it often, insisting that reading such an overview of many of the sins against others in which the church has been complicit, is good for the soul, important for our witness to the world, and an important aspect of any serious transformation for the sake of God’s Kingdom. This well-informed survey has chapters on how the Christian religion was too often used to harm indigenous peoples,  blacks and other people of color, immigrants, women, gays and lesbians, the poor, the Earth itself.  There are prayers included to help us learn the art of public confession and wise, pastoral invitations to lament, to show remorse, to change and to grow. Margot Starbuck says reading Forgive Us “was an experience I’d never had with any other book…”  Now might be a good time for some of our readers to order it and spend some time in prayerful reflection about its hard truths. Such is the path of holiness and true liberation, I am convinced.  Please consider this…

The Wired Soul- Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconencted Age.jpgThe Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age Tricia McCary Rhodes (NavPress) $14.99  I’ve told you about this book before, so will be brief: it is a beautifully written book ruminating on spiritual formation in the digital age.  Do we have to give up technology and social media to earn quiet and solitude? Do our habits of the heart and mind, informed as they are by the fast-paced (or slow if you’ve got my computer) pixels and images of the internets, need to be re-calibrated if we are going to be attentive to the things of God? This book reintroduces us to the classic disciplines of Scripture reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation, but not describing them just as “technologies to aid our faith” but as tools to keep us mindful and focused in an increasingly disoriented digital age.  What does it mean to ‘be still and know that I am God’ in these times?  A very nice book.

The Desire- Satisfying the Heart James M. jpgThe Desire: Satisfying the Heart James M. Houston (Victor) $16.99  The remarkably profound scholar and teacher and spiritual leader, James Houston, who founded Regent College in British Columbia, is known for his mastery of medieval and other spiritual writers and remains a like-minded colleague with authors such as J.I. Packer, Marva Dawn, Eugene Peterson.  A small evangelical publisher rather oddly published three magisterial books of his years ago and they went out of print. This was one of those and we have a few that we’ve been holding for ages.  Given the popularity of thinking about desire (see books just as David Naugle’s excellent Reordered Loves Reordered Lives, Jen Pollock Michel’s splendid Teach Us to Want, and of course Jamie Smith’s must-read You Are What You Love ) we wanted to highlight this now, and make our few available, while our supplies last.  The Desire explores the very nature of the human heart and how longings for the eternal play out in our daily lives, even as we discern false desires (which can become addictions and dysfunctions.) A remarkable book, especially in this season where we seek, as this book offers, “a more substantial and satisfying life.”  By the way, we have a few others in this magnificent, mature series. Let us know if you are interested.

The Seven Deadly Virtues- Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness.jpgThe Seven Deadly Virtues: Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness Todd E. Outcalt (IVP) $16.00  There have been a small spate of books along these lines – we like The Danger of Doing Good by Peter Greer and the very useful and wise Doing Good Without Giving Up: Sustaining Social Action in a World That’s Hard to Change by Ben Lowe — but this one is more literary, more deeply theological, wonderfully written, drawing on thoughtful sources from the Ante-Nicene Fathers to Kierkegaard to Pope John Paul.  The author is a United Methodist pastor and popular author.  This looks tremendous and feels like a good book to read during Lent, even though it isn’t exactly a Lenten book.  Check it out and you may be surprised how insightful it may be for you.

Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal- Why the Church Should Be All Three.jpgEvangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic) $17.00 This slim book just came and it looks like it is worth its weight in gold.  I recommend every single book Gordon Smith has written, and highly esteem his ecumenical perspective, his contemplative tone, his good vision to integrate varying traditions within the broader church.  (I’m a fan of Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water as well, which is a broader study than Smith’s new one.)  Glen Scorgie of Bethel Seminary (in San Diego) says  “This is a provocative call for a fresh ecumenical synergy – for weaving all these elements together into something stronger and better than the older, isolating silos were able by themselves to deliver.”  Wow – if in this season you are eager for more fullness of life, deeper reality,  a wider connection to others in other faith traditions within the church, this corrective will pull you happily into other “means of grace.”  I cannot wait to read this, and hope many Hearts & Minds friends, too, will be eager to spread the word about this approach.  By the way, it would certainly be fitting during this season of deeper reflection and repentance and intentionality about Christian growth to work through his major volume Called to Be Saints.  

The Prophets Abraham Joshua Heschel.jpgThe Sabbath Abraham J Heschel.jpgThe Prophets Abraham Joshua Heschel (Harper Perennial) $19.99  You may have been meaning to read this large, serious work for years, now, or maybe you’ve only recently heard of this passionate mid-twentieth century Rabbi/scholar/activist.  (You will see his white hair and beard in many old pictures of Dr. King and the civil rights marches.) First published in 1962 The Prophets has been considered a classic ever since, plumbing as it does, the pathos of the Hebrew prophets. Perhaps now is a time to start it. For a less daunting, but equally rich, very rewarding read, consider Rabbi Heschel’s wonderful and important work The Sabbath (Farrar Straus Giroux; $14.00.)  It was released, I think, in 1951 and remains a standard in any discussion of Jewish spirituality.  I think I first learned of it, or was challenged to read it, by Marva Dawn or maybe Eugene Peterson, who often recommends it.  You really should have both of these…

The Yoke of Jesus- A School for the Soul in Solitude .jpgThe Yoke of Jesus: A School for the Soul in Solitude Addison Hodges Hart (Eerdmans) $14.00  This compact sized paperback is so beautifully written, so warm, so insightful, that I wanted to list it here.  He is a Catholic priest and college chaplain – his books are oddly winsome even as they tackle some tough stuff.  (See, for instance, his book Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship and God.) This gracious volume invites us to silence and solitude, to care about our souls by attending to ordinary practices, bringing together dogma and belief (on one hand) but linking it to true knowledge of God and earnest love for God.  What is the role of stillness in Christian discipleship, and how have the ancient writers (and the Bible itself) taught us about deeper prayer through nurturing habits of solitude? Hart’s most recent two books, by the way, also small ones, are on Buddhism (for Christians) and a lovely study of the gospel of John, called The Woman, the Hour, and the Garden.

Restoring Broken Things Steven Curtis Chapman & Scotty Smith .jpgRestoring Broken Things Steven Curtis Chapman & Scotty Smith  (Thomas Nelson) $14.99  Maybe you’ve heard that there is a brand new memoir by CCM singer Steven Curtis Chapman (Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story) or maybe you’ve read some of pastor Scotty Smith’s powerful, serious books of prayers.  They are both men who have suffered, men who are attentive to the fallen nature of our hurting world, and who are firm in the hope that the gospel is, in fact, a restoration of creation.  This old book (which I featured at Jubilee this year on Saturday morning as we studied the fall, injustice, and brokenness) tells the big gospel story — creation/fall/redemption — and invites us to see “what happens when we catch a vision of the new world Jesus is creating.”   This is good, accessible, Biblical theology, offering varying ways to tell the story of the gospel, to help us see our own role in the fresh start of new creation that God is bringing to bear in our lives and in all of creation.  Dan Allender wrote a lovely, passionate forward. This is a great book to read anytime, and certainly a good one for now, here in the midst of the Lenten season when we ponder broken things, and yearn for authenticity about that, and yet hope for greater comfort and healing and restoration.  I’m a big fan of this book and commend it to you.

the givenenness of things.jpgThe Givenness of Things: Essays Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $16.00  This paperback is worth every dime – loaded, as it is, with ponderings deep and delicious, thoughtful and interesting, glorious, even.  Granted, she is writing deeply, as a literary essayist here — you may only know her Pulitzer-Prize winning novels such as Gildead, Homecoming, or Lila — but if you are a serious thinker or wanting to be aware of the major public intellectuals of our day, you could hardly do better than to spend time with these remarkable, heady essays.  Her intellectual prowess is well-respected (The Christian Science Monitor mentioned her “formidable intellect” and The New Republic said her handiwork is “capacious and serious, but also mysterious and wondrous.”) The Givenness of Things was named as Time’s top ten nonfiction books when it came out in hardcover and now, in this nice paperback, there is added a two-part interview between her and then-President Barack Obama that first appeared in the New York Review of Books. The New York Times Book Review, by the way, said her “heroic lamentation is magnificent… timely and important.”  That she is a John Calvin scholar, too, makes her just a fascinating, tremendously interesting figure. Until her next novel comes, read this.

silence and beauty.jpgSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00  Well, if you haven’t gotten this yet, might I suggest you do so now? I am not always this “pushy” but I am confident that this marvelous reflection on the relationship of art and creativity and beauty and suffering  — and what all that tells us about God and the hope of redemption in the sufferings of Jesus — is a perfect book to take up as we move towards Good Friday.  You know we respect Mr. Fujimura (what a thrill it was to have me introduced at Grove City College last week and having it said that the next speaker in their series of which I was a part, was painter and essayist Makoto Fujimura!) This is not only a survey of good thinking about faith and art and suffering but it is, quite specifically, a conversation with Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo and his stunning story Silence.  And, also, tangentially, about Mako’s friend Martin Scorcese and his making of a film based on this 1960s novel.  The novel (about the persecution of Christian missionaries in Seventeenth Century Japan) was influential in Mako’s own journey to Christ and his Christian witness today in the world of the arts and letters is somewhat indebted to Endo’s novel. It all comes full circle in Silence and Beauty — Mako, Endo, Japan, art, film, pain and redemption, goodness and life, the gospel and cultural renewal, faith and mystery.  What a book! Very highly recommended!

A Gathering of Larks- Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim.jpgA Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim Abigail Carroll (Eerdmans) $12.99  Oh my, what an interesting book this is, not the easiest to describe, but simple to explain. This is a luminous set of poems written to, yep, Saint Francis.  Consequently, this becomes what creative writing guru Brian Doyle calls “a most refreshing, eloquent, wonderfully unassuming, gentle inquiry into the actual Saint Francis and the song of his awed life” and Carroll’s own awed life as well.  Mystic Richard Rohr says these lyrical letters “court wonder, inviting the reader on a pilgrimage to the heart.”

Sarah Arthur writes,

More than just a fresh glimpse of an exceptional saint whose humanity and complexity Carroll delightfully renders. This is also the welcome debut of an exceptional poet, whose deep humility and adroitness with poetic form are rare qualities she shares with Francis himself. Earthy, honest, a pure delight.

Love Let Go- Radical Generosity for the Real World .jpgLove Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World Laura Sumner Truax & Amalya Campbell (Eerdmans) $21.99  A few years ago I was blown away by the raw and revealing memoir by Laura Truax called Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together. She is the passionate pastor of the storied faith community in urban Chicago called LaSalle Street Church and in this new book she and a congregation member who taught stewardship classes there (and herself has an MBA from Harvard Business School), tell of something amazing that transpired in that place.  A smaller version of this has been used as sermon illustrations and youth talks for years, but this is the real thing: a major donor gave the church a ton of money.  They concluded they didn’t want it – itself a story worth writing a book about! – but they decided to give each member $500 and instructed them to go out and do good in the world. This is, on the surface, the stories of what happened as radical generosity became even more of a way of life for this congregation.  This is more than fun tales of giving and sharing and helping, it is what Publisher’s Weekly has called “a well-wrought book, of interest to anyone interested in community building or philanthropy.”  It is what McLaren calls “a powerful alternative message (to greed)” and “the transformative power of generosity.”   This is a counter-cultural story that needs to be known, but it is also a rich study of the psychology of giving, the nature of living abundant lives within a culture that promotes scarcity, and the plausibility of being Christ-like in a world like ours.  One of the best books of the year, I’m sure.

The Sense of the Call - A Sabbath Way of Life.jpgThe Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World Marva Dawn (Eerdmans) $18.00  One of the great books of our time, and one that we continue to carry with us whenever we sell books off site, if it is remotely appropriate, is Marva Dawn’s Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. (It is a book that would be wonderful to read during this time of the church season, by the way, learning to build some rest and discipline into your schedule.)  In that remarkable and influential volume she delightfully unpacks four aspects of Sabbath keeping: resting, ceasing,  feasting, and embracing.  That’s a lot, but not too much, and it clarified a lot for many of us about the restorative, beautiful gift of Sabbath time.  Of course, it isn’t easy to enter in to that sort of counter-cultural practice, and it is even harder for those who are in leadership within the local church where much work is done on Sunday.  Anyway, in this book (for church leaders, yes, but, truly, for anyone and everyone) Marva spells out how those four movements of the Sabbath day’s rest can actually be woven into daily living the other six days of the week.  In this powerful work she revisits those same four life-giving aspects from her Sabbath book, turning them into a “Sabbath way of life” and shows how we all can be formed in these helpful way, through these historic disciplines and practices, dispositions and attitudes.  It is a remarkable, rich, rewarding, good read , just over 300 pages. As Eugene Peterson says, “there is not a trivial or superfluous word in this book.”

Mark Buchanan (whose own book The Rest of God is pretty darn nice, too) calls Marva Dawn “a holy oddity” as she,

…juggles the prophetic with the pragmatic, stern warning with giddy invitation, a scholar’s exactitude with a child’s whimsy. She embodies both human brokenness and divine transformation…

Subversive Meals- An Analysis of the Lord's Supper.jpgSubversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper Under Roman Domination During the First Century R. Alan Streett (Pickwick Publications) $37.00  A hefty academic monograph, this may be of great interest to some of our readers who want to explore how ancient Christian practices had at their roots anti-empire connotations and nearly revolutionary impact.  Endorsements on this lively book are from Richard Horsley and Warrant Carter (who have long written about this counter-cultural hermeneutic that explores the radical socio-political themes embedded but often missed in Biblical teaching and practice.) Interestingly, Street teaches Biblical Exegesis at the ultra-conservative Criswell College in Texas.  Joel Green, an esteemed evangelical scholar (formerly of Asbury, now at Fuller) says that Streett “demonstrates the surprisingly political significance of the Lord’s Supper” and that his book is “historically important and theological challenging” which “participates in the ongoing destruction of the walls that separate theology and practices, worship and politics.”  

Inhaviting the Cruciform God.jpgCruciformity- Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.jpgCruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans)  $38.00

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology  Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $25.00

Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission Michael J. Gorman  (Eerdmans)$28.00

If one is serious about working through Mike Gorman’s extraordinary published corpus, one could start with these three, starting with Cruciformity, moving on to Inhabiting and then taking up the amazing, recent Becoming the Gospel.  But all stand alone, becoming the gospel.jpgtoo, and could be read in ways that are helpful, illuminating, challenging, informative and – the author hopes – transformative.   Some have of called these a “tour de force” and “superb and groundbreaking” etcetera.  He is an author you should know – in league with and quoted by nearly everyone serious in New Testament studies these days (from N.T. Wright to Richard Hays to Fleming Rutledge and other world class authors.)  Lent seems like a good time to take up his challenge to “participate” in God’s own mission, as explained by Paul, as embodied by the sacrificial suffering of the Lamb of God, Christ Himself.  This is heady scholarship but always with a view of how local churches live out the call to costly discipleship.  Wow.

saving power.jpgSaving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church Peter Schmiechen (Eerdmans) $39.95  Peter was former President of Lancaster Theological Seminary and for one so situated within UCC higher education it may surprise some to know of his orthodox passions.  (He is involved in the rather conservative Mercersburg Society that applies Schaff and Nevin to today’s ecumenical challenges; indeed, his new book is about Eucharistic theology written with what seems to be a Mercersburg accent.)  Endorsements of this almost 400 page study are from Walter Brueggemann, Sally Brown (of Princeton) and S. Mark Heim (of Andover Newton, a “nonviolent atonement” voice) and evangelically Reformed Hans Boersma of Regent College, affirming the book’s scholarly clarity (it studies 10 different models) and congeniality, notes “even when he feels the need to express his strong reservations, Schmiechen treads carefully, respectfully, and yet frankly.”   If you want other books on this topic, send us an inquiry, or, for an interesting place to start, see Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement (Abingdon; $18.99.)

cross-of-christ.jpgthe incomparable christ.jpgThe Cross of Christ John R.W. Stott (IVP Academic) $28.00  I seem to recommend this every year at this time, in part because it has meant so much to me, advancing a mature, winsome, if seriously evangelical view of the nature of the work of the cross.  Granted, other authors push in fresh, new directions, but this is the best overview of the conventional position that we know of.  Many think it is the good John Stott’s crowning achievement, although, since we’re passing out superlatives, I think his exceptionally interesting volume on Christ that covers so very much,  The Incomparable Christ (IVP; $20.00) is also among his absolutely best. work Both are books good for any Christian library as they will serve you for a lifetime.

The Undoing of Death.jpgThe Crucifixion Rutledge.jpgThe Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.00  This is another that, while not technically a Lenten devotional, is, in fact, a collection of sermons preached over a lifetime by the eloquent Episcopal pastor and scholar.  Her words are powerful, her studies extraordinary, and this book deserves being read and re-read. I hope you own it.   If not, it would be our great pleasure to send one soon.  I hardly need to mention it here as we’ve promoted it often and it has won a number of important awards, but her recent book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans; $30.00) is now out in paperback and, although it may take longer than forty days to work through it, it is very, very good.

Jesus Journey- Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero.jpgJesus Journey: Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero and Discovering the Humanity of God – a 40 Day Encounter Trent Shepard (Zondervan) $16.99  I am sometimes a bit weary of uber-cool authors whose bios tell you snarky stuff about their favorite lattes and pastors who look like they play in an emo band, with churches with stages that look like hip malls or the local rock arena.  I dunno, maybe I’m getting old.  There are a lot of books that are just a little too familiar, and little too casual, trying sooo hard to be cool.  So when a book comes out saying it’s going to overturn our stuffy attitudes about Jesus and religion, well, I sometimes just roll my eyes. It’s useful, especially for millennials, I suppose, to hear somebody that at least appears edgy with an out-side-the-box message, helping them appreciate faith in their own vernacular.  My faith in my youthful years was impacted by bell-bottom wearing, long-haired, Jesus Freaks. (And, later, I met Terry Thomas who in those years looked liked David Crosby, but I digress.) So I get it.  But I’m still a little tired of the marketing schtick.

I say all that to only say this book by a college ministry guy who pastors an urban house church called Ekklesia (of course it is) is, in fact, very cool and yet remarkably solid, very, very thoughtful, offering vibrant scholarship and literary allusions of just the sort that any of us could be easily brought in to the story he tells.  And quite an urgent story it is, inviting us to remember the full humanity of Jesus. These are necessarily down-to-Earth reflections and maybe it will help you appreciate not only younger voices in the church today, but ancient, ancient truths about Jesus who can transform our view of God, as we consider what it means to be human.  This is a very good book and I highly recommend it.  It draws on N.T Wright, Marcus Borg, Kenneth Bailey, Geza Vermes, Dorothy Sayers, and more. Very nicely done.

The Jesus Way- A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way.jpgThe Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $17.00  I suppose you know all five of these remarkable, mostly big, somewhat dense books that Peterson saw as his most important contribution. It is called “spiritual theology” that is more than only spirituality, more than systematic theology, more than Bible study, but a rich and rewarding combination, by a scholar/pastor.  I agree with Scot McKnight who said once that “no one simply reads, or worse, skims Peterson. One ponders Peterson, as Peterson ponders the Bible.”  Yes, and more. I’ve been working on these five volumes, on and off, for years, and I cannot tell you how important they are.  This third one in the series – following Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and Eat This Book and Tell It Slant offers profound insight into how others in the Bible anticipated His coming and shows how the ways of those who came before Christ – specifically Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and Isaiah — “revealed and prepared the ‘way of the Lord’ that became incarnate and complete in Jesus.”

 As it says on the back:

Peterson calls into question common “ways” followed by the contemporary American church, showing in stark relief how what we have chosen to focus on — consumerism, celebrity, charisma, and so forth –obliterate what is unique in the Jesus way.

The Bad Habits of Jesus- Showing Us the Way to Life Right in a World Gone Wrong.jpgThe Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us the Way to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong  Leonard Sweet  (Tyndale) $14.99  I am convinced that there is always more going on in a Len Sweet book than most of us realize.  Just his footnotes alone are an education, better than browsing through a big Barnes & Noble or meandering through your local college library. He brings remarkable learning, a fertile curiosity, and a breath-taking — even for some, exasperating — use of wordplay and wit to whatever project he takes up.  Such is one  way to read his new one  —  it can be skimmed quickly as any collection of sermons or Bible lessons might be, getting the gist, taking in the many ideas, applauding the keen cleverness that would find all this “bad” stuff Jesus did, the rules he broke, the manners he seems to avoid, the trouble he caused.  I suppose much of this has been said before but, to be honest, I can’t think of a better intro to this line of thought for ordinary folks:  Jesus did have some “bad habits” did he not?  He’d disappear when people needed him most, he’d refuse to answer questions directly, he’d offend people, especially important religious folks.  He was late. He spit. He spent time with unproductive children. He was at times wasteful. He told stories that didn’t make a lot of sense. What’s with this “rebellious rabbi” and is there a method to his madness?  The Bad Habits of Jesus is a lot of fun, a good intro to the life and teaching of Jesus and a surprisingly powerful little book.

However, one can encounter this easily-read book on another level, probing Len’s suggestions, following his tangents and applying them to our lives as he suggests, studying the footnotes, doing the exercises he challenges us with, complex as they may be.  There’s a useful Bad Habits study guide making this ideal for an adult class or book club and can move us to deeper discipleship, not only paying attention to the ways and means of our Master Jesus, but pushing us to be more Christ-like in our own lives, not being “bad to the bone” for no good reason, and not to valorize being rowdy or misunderstood, but to be, in a deeply spiritual and proper sense, counter-cultural, radically Christian, able to walk as He did. By doing a playful but serious reading of Christ’s life (and bad manners) we can be shaped not by the stories and habits and ways of middle American religiosity, but by faithful, missional, discipleship. I think Sweet should be read by many of us, and I think we should then re-read him, more slowly, really considering the deeper questions hovering just under his wit and charm and shtick.  It’s a pretty nifty cover, too, with that bad-looking motorcycle jacket.

leaving egypt.jpgLeaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places Chuck DeGroat (Square Inch) $15.99  I have talked about this book before, and tried to encourage many to read DeGroat’s other good books.  (For instance, this time of year — or any time, really — many of us need his powerful book called Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self.)  This first one of his, though, always is a delight to explain; I even love the suitcase-motif on the very cool cover design.  This is the best  book I know of that accessibly uses the wilderness wonderings (of the Hebrew people after they were liberated from Pharaoh’s Egypt) for any who are themselves in a time of wondering, wandering, or in transition.  If you feel trapped and know there’s something better, says Steve Brown, “this book will change your life.”  If you are a Bible study geek and want another voice in conversation with DeGroat’s why not pair it with Walt Brueggemann’s Keeping Sabbath As Resistance which invites us to say “no” to consumerism and be set free from the compulsions of our times; in a way, that book, too, explores what happens when we are set free, and how to find our way out of Egypt. 

habakkuk before.jpgHabakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, Hope Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast Community (Books Before Breakfast) $14.00  Again, this was a favorite last year, one I was honored to offer an endorsing blurb on (next to Karen Pascal, the Director of the Henri Nouwen Society and Tom Wright, Walsh’s old friend, who says  that “Habakkuk Before Breakfast is like no other book on the prophet.”

Wright continues,

That’s because it is, itself, prophecy, — and poetry, and preaching, and prayer, and liturgy, and lament, and a dozen other things melded together into a powerful, and powerfully disturbing, whole. A book to shake us up and make us realize that God’s loving justice is the only firm ground on which anyone – or any society – can ever stand.

I love that quote because this book is, truly, unlike nearly any other Bible study you’ve ever read. It narrates their “Wine Before Breakfast” communion services held at the University of Toronto, and the songs and prayers they used as they allowed the Biblical text to shape them, breaking their hearts open to a world not of their own making, but one construed and held as the troubling gift of a good creator and faithful redeemer. I’m telling you, this is a book to help you see worship in new ways, to see the Bible in new ways, to see life in new ways.  Lent is a perfect time to join this band of Christ-followers as they worship around the table in the dark times of early morning winter Toronto. 

Executing Grace.jpgExecuting Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us  Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) $17.99  Not long ago I had a long conversation with a gentleman who had been in solitary confinement for years. Beth and I had participated earlier this year in a conference organizing faith-motivated folks to think and act justly about this whole topic of mass incarceration, prison reform, solitary confinement — which is a much worse topic than you may know, unbelievably bad and in urgent need of reform — and, of course, the topic that we sometimes call “capital punishment.”  Agree or not with Shane’s gospel-centered, grace-filled, Christ-like view (there are Biblical texts he avoids and arguments he doesn’t adequately grapple with) I think reading about those who are incarcerated and on Death Row is a necessary component of our own calling as Christians, mandated, as we are, at least, to “visit the prisoner.” Most of us don’t do that, so at least we can be advocates, prayer partners, citizens working for better policies for our imprisoned fellows. I think this is a very good book to enter into this conversation.  There are important endorsements here from the likes of Philip Yancey and John Perkins (and Bob Goff who says “you’ll finish the last page and not just know more, but you’ll want to do more.”) Desmond Tutu raves, and Bryan Stevenson (author of the must-read Just Mercy) says “Compelling and thoughtful… a must-read for people of faith, essential for anyone serious about grace and mercy.” Well.  Maybe this season you will be drawn to this kind of topic.  I know it is a lot to ask, but we’d invite you to consider ordering this from us today. 

A Unique Time of God- Karl Barth's WW I Sermons.jpgA Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WW I Sermons Karl Barth (Westminster/John Knox) $35.00  My theologically conservative friends, of course, think Barth is way too goofy and my progressive friends think he is mired in old-school stuff.  I think he is well worth reading, and people I most respect commend his important work.  This is a new collection previously never translated or compiled.  The Great War, we are told, changed Barth forever. (See Joseph Loconte’s informative and very moving A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and a Great War for how the trauma of the war effected Tolkien and Lewis and how they “rediscovered faith, friendship, and heroism in the cataclysm of 1914-1918.) These thirteen hefty sermons offer not only  the young Karl Barth’s unique view on war, but, particularly, the “unique time of God” which he discerned was God’s own judgement on the idolatry of militarism.  We’re told in the excellent introduction that this era “demonstrates a decisive shift in Barth’s early theology” so is “essential for anyone who wishes to understand the twentieth-century’s greatest theologian.”  And, we can hope, it might help us all reflect more conscientiously about God’s Word as it stands over what the old hymn called “our warring madness.”  Kudos to WJK for releasing such important older works.

Christian Practical Wisdom- What It Is, Why It Matters.jpgChristian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters Dorothy Bass, Kathleen Cahalan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, James Nieman, Christian Scharen (Eerdmans) $30.00  I hope you know some of these five distinguished scholars, some who have written wonderful books of their own. And I hope you value, as I do, collaborative works of this sort.  These colorful chapters are not an anthology from a conference (although I like random essays, too) but have been woven together beautifully, exploring (as the subtitle says) what wisdom is and why we need more of it.  The chapters are creatively construed – with pieces on dancing and imagining and collaborating and how these actual practices can help us “gain a heart of wisdom” within what Charles Taylor calls a “secular age.”  Blurbs on the back are all thoughtful, in-depth, and raving; philosopher Rebecca Konynkyk DeYoung of Calvin College and Mary Boys from Union Seminary and Stephanie Paulsell from Harvard Divinity School all agree that this profound yet winsome book helps move theological education into the pews, deep stuff into our lives, bringing academic expertise to ordinary folks who want to live a good life. Can we ponder more deeply, live with greater intentionality? Can we be “attuned to the presence of God and the needs of neighbors?”  This is a tremendous book, well worth having, well worth working through its 350 pages with care. You will be delighted and challenged and glad.  Wisdom is, as I’m sure you know, a major theme in the Bible and yet hardly examined beyond platitudes and moralism.  This is the most significant book on this topic I’ve ever seen.

generous spaciousness.jpgGenerous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church Wendy VanderWal-Gritter (Brazos Press) $19.99  I have raved about this book before, quietly (and, more often, loudly)encouraged people to read it as it tells the remarkable story of this woman’s deep engagement with several sides and groups within the conversation about same sex relations and marriage equality and “gays in the church.”  It goes without saying that this remains a controversial matter in nearly every denomination and, as Brian Walsh says in a powerful endorsement on the back, “I can’t imagine a more timely book.” He continues, “Modeling the very ‘generous spaciousness’ that she advocates, VanderWal-Gritter’s heart is on every page.” There are many books inviting us to think of our LGTBQ friends and neighbors as – in the words of the new book Preston Sprinkle’s – as “people to be loved.”  Certainly.  But VanderWal-Gritter suggests that those with whom we disagree about Biblical interpretation and sexual  ethics are also people to be loved and we must all work hard to listen well to one another, to figure out how to “transform controversy into community” with space for all.

This big book offers a measured and thoughtful approach to sexual ethics and the surrounding debates but it is passionate about community, making room for others unlike ourselves, and offering a model of how to be agents of reconciliation, even those who are most polarized about various contentious issues.  Lent, it seems to me, might be a good time to think about harm we’ve caused by fighting poorly and learn to respond to LGTBQ discussions with greater “spaciousness.”  As urban activist and eloquent author Greg Paul writes, this is “gospel with flesh on it.”

Hidden But Now Revealed- A Biblical Theology of Mystery .jpgHidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd (IVP Academic) $27.00  Beale is a rigorous New Testament scholar (PhD  from the University of Cambridge) who now teaches NT and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His work is without doubt some of the most brilliant evangelical scholarship being done in our time; his commentary on Revelation in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series I’m told is extraordinary (not knowing Greek, I wouldn’t know.)  I found his book We Become What We Worship  an excellent resource and his somewhat more accessible commentary on Revelation to be demanding but important.  This recent volume, co-authored, is intriguing, one I’ve been wishing to get to; we hear about “mystery” a lot, but few detail what we mean by that mysterious word and how the major works of God and the essential claims of Christ were often missed — if not hidden! — from the Biblical characters involved. It seems impossible to ignore this troubling fact and here these authors explore the things that are “partially hidden revelation” that are more fully revealed subsequently. It is a close reading of times the word mystery is used in the New Testament, which, they argue, is almost always drawing on the book of Daniel. So this ends up, in some regards, being a book about prophecy.  Whew.

Theologians You Should Know- An Introduction from the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century .jpgTheologians You Should Know: An Introduction from the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century Michael Reeves (Crossway) $19.99  You may know Reeves from a lovely book he wrote called Delighting in the Trinity or a great one called Rejoicing in Christ.  He has a conservative, Reformed view and here offers a great reader in historical theology, an introduction to the monumental  members of the “great cloud of witnesses” about whom it cannot hurt to know more. He looks at the lives and thought of the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Barth, Schleiermacher and more.

To Alter Your World- Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities .jpgTo Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities Michael Frost & Christiana Rice (Forge America/IVP Praxis) $17.00 I suppose you know that we stock oodles of books about the missional church and, in more recent years, those who have taken missional church insights and applied them to daily discipleship.  Michael Frost has given us great books both for congregations and for persons committed to robust, missional visions of vocation in the world but not of it.  Wow, I love his stuff.  But one sometimes wonders when an author has said most of what he or she has got within them to say.  I rolled my eyes (sorry, Michael) when I heard there was yet another book by this prolific author.  And then I started this, skimming the table of contents, dipping in here and there, looking at the always intriguing footnotes.  And I was quickly hooked–from the evocative imagery of midwifery (okay, he had me at the quote by British home birth advocate Sheila Kitzinger) and birthing the new creation among us, I think this wonderful book reminds us yet again that we can truly partner with God, that we become agents of Christ’s own work in the world, that there is much required, even though it is all gift.  Romans 8 uses this “all creation groaning” language and directly links it to childbirth.  It’s a metaphor well worth living with for a while.

That the book was co-authored by a woman, Christiana Rice, is good, too.  I’m told she came up with the birthing imagery that I so appreciated.  This book about “partnering” with God is itself modeling that, a partnership, as it were. Congrats to Michael and his co-author Christiana for their lively collaboration. Here is what the bio says about her:  Christiana serves “as a coach and trainer with Thresholds, a community of
player-coaches who help people create spaces of discovery and
communities of transformation. She leads a neighborhood faith community
in San Diego.”

As Jo Saxton (author of More Than Enchanting) says,

Frost and Rice recognize that as we engage with what God is birthing in our world, a fresh posture is required. Yep, it’s time to call the midwife; our world is waiting.

The Soul of Shame- Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves.jpgThe Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves Curt Thompson (IVP) $22.00  This splendid hardback could be a life-line for some of us who struggle with shame or recovering from some sense that we are not enough, not lovable, inadequate.  In this sense, Thompson asserts, ” we are all infected with a spiritual disease. Its name is shame.”

We have raved about this book from when it first came out, we awarded it one of our Books of the Year awards three years ago, and have been delighted to be with Curt several times hearing him present on this book (and his previous one, Anatomy of a Soul, which helpfully used his studies in neuro-science and psychotherapy to explain a bit about how the body is wired by God and how our relationships and vocations can improve if we are attentive to this sort of depth awareness of brain studies.)  The Soul of Shame takes this “spirituality of neuro-science” approach to the deep questions of shame and brokenness, offering extraordinary Bible teaching to bring us to a place of understanding and healing and hope.  We respect this author, appreciate his work, and love his books.  As Gayle Beebe, the President of Westmont College ( himself somewhat of a mystic who has written with his friend Richard Foster) says, Dr. Thompson writes “with the heart of a pastor and the training of a surgeon…. he excavates layers and shame…” His compassion will help you identify your own pains and struggles and will help you find freedom from the lifelong negative messages that bind you.  “Rewrite the story of your life” he says, calling us to brave, trusting, healing faith.  What a book for this season of the year.  Highly recommended.

Paradoxology- Why Christianity Was Never Meant To Be Simple.jpgParadoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant To Be Simple Krish Kandiah (IVP) $17.00  Okay, I have to say I haven’t looked at this much, but it is new and I’m so intrigued by it.  People I respect – Scot McKnight, Jo Saxton, Eugene Cho —  all endorse it with gusto.  He starts with a wordy little joke in the first paragraph and says that if you get that paradox, there’s hope you’ll enjoy this book.  Yep, there are a lot of paradoxes in the Bible and in Christian faith and this isn’t a book trying to “answer” them or explain them away.  He invites us to live into the mystery, to embrace the seeming contradictions, to have a faith that is paradoxical.  Every chapter is on a different part of the Bible or character, with titles like “The Abraham Paradox: The God Who Needs Nothing But Asks for Everything” or “The Job Paradox: The God Who Is Actively Inactive” or, from Esther, “The God Who Speaks Silently” or, from – hold on – one he calls “The Judas Paradox:The God Who Determines Our Free Will.”  The ones about Jesus are not unfamiliar (being “Divinely Human”) and the one about the cross, while common place, I bet will be fabulous in Kandiah’s hands: “The God Who Wins as He Loses.”  There’s more, but you get the drift. If this is your cup of tea, give us a call asap.  I think you’ll want to read this in this upside down season.

songs of jesus.jpgThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms Timothy & Kathy Keller (Viking) $19.95 Okay, I said this was a list for those who don’t want to read little Lenten devotionals, or books directly about the season of Lent.  Fair enough. But this guide to the Psalms just seemed right to mention. The Songs of Jesus is a year’s worth of very short daily devotions, handsomely done with two color ink, gold-edged pages, a ribbon marker. But what should appeal is that these reflections and prayers are on the Psalms, by a serious, fine writer, and although you may resist a regimented devotional reading schedule, or maybe you already pray the hours with some daily office, this short collection of reflections on the church’s prayer book and the songbook of the ages, could be beneficial to many.  I’m using it among other resources as I begin a class I’m teaching on the Psalms and wanted to commend it here. 

Faithful Presence- Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission.jpgFaithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission David E. Fitch (Missio Alliance/IVP/Praxis) $17.00  This profound and important book deserves more than a shout out here in my list of suggested books for this month.  I can tell you this much: Fitch starts off with a fine and generous overview of the much-discussed Oxford University Press book by UVA scholar James Davison Hunter, To Change the World.  Many weighed in on that provocative book, but most agreed that he was right to say that the far left and the far right had similar weaknesses and that serious Christian reflection on impacting the culture should be a lot less ideological, a bit less idealistic, and much more attentive to how change actually transpires within late modernity.  Fair enough.

While some of us were engaged in reviews and conversations and study groups and symposium on that book — how does change happen and what does it mean to be faithful to God’s ways in our witness as salt and light and leaven as we “seek the peace of the city.” It remains an important book.  Some like Fitch were willing to mostly concede Hunter’s basic call: we should be faithfully present, just showing up, living well, serving our neighbors in our places.  Sure, we must engage the world, but not on the world’s terms, and we should surely be salt and leaven.

But, Fitch asks, how does that happen?  That is, what kind of churches do we need to create disciples who have the wise and steady capacity to be “faithfully present”?  Although he asks what “faithful presence” looks like, it is more the burden of this book to ask how we create it.  What kind of churches create those kinds of people for that kind of mission?

Why not spend some time during this season of Lent to do some serious introspection and study about the nature of your own church?  Here, Fitch offers seven practices that help us develop transformative contexts for real disciple-making,  real Kingdom formation, so that we might all learn to “seek the peace of the city” in which God places us.  If we want externally-focused churches, if we want to be sent into all-of-life-redeemed missional endeavors, if we want the post-Christian world in North America to be touched by vibrant, faithful servants of God, we need absolutely to rethink our congregational life. Methinks that James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is a big part of that conversation, although Smith mostly talks about the formative power of worship, habits shaped by liturgy.  This book insists or other practices, other formative contexts, other transforming opportunities within the routine life of the local congregation. Fitch truly offers “seven disciplines that shape the church” for a missional, in the world but not of it, effective, faithful, counter-cultural presence in the world.

I like the review by my friend Mandy Smith (whose book The Vulnerable Pastor is so, so good) who writes,

With scholarly care and pastoral zeal, David Fitch reminds us that it’s in long-term, communal devotion to small but transformative practices that we both discover and reflect the faithful 

      presence of God.

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 mentioned this new release a time or two before but have to tell you again that this is a perfect book to dip into during Lent. It isn’t a Lenten book, or even a devotional, but a set of memoir-like stories, a narrative that is beautifully-written, wonderfully-crafted, and powerfully told, as two women share how they and their families pledged to each other to take “baby steps” towards more faithful, radical, Christian discipleship.  From Shane Claiborne and others we’ve heard in recent years about radical faith, missional living, alternative community, and how to serve the poor and marginalized.  “Small things with great love” Mother Teresa advised, and so they try it, taking a year to move increasingly towards the things they most deeply want to do.  How many of us live lives of “quiet desperation” as Thoreau put it, because we haven’t been intentional, don’t have the friends and support, can’t quite figure out how to take the time and energy to move towards living out our deepest convictions? This book will inspire you, help you, maybe be a companion and guide as these very literate and delightful women tell their own story.  Leslie Leyland Fields calls is a “beautiful book that offers a mini-revolution that could shake up the world, or at least your neighborhood – and doesn’t require growing kale or living in a hut.”  Ha.   Unless you need to move into a hut or give away all your wealth this Lent, this book would be a fine way to spend some of your reading time this season.  Take up The Year of Small Things and you will be glad you did.

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  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.



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2017 Lent Books — brand new and a few classics (on sale from Hearts & Minds)

We hope you saw our last BookNotes newsletter, with almost 50 books on a clearance sale dealio.  In my annotations I tried to not only describe these (sometimes lesser known books) but explain how they fit into our big book display at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh last week.  I didn’t go on and on about the all-of-life-redeemed vision of CCO and their effort to help students connect faith and the collegiate experience (including “learning for the love of God” and “academic discipleship”) by offering them a visions of vocation — integrating faith and the story of redemption as it informs their future callings and careers — but I could have. I mostly just listed those great titles, all on sale. That buy two get one free offer for you is still good until the end of the month, so don’t delay.  There’s good stuff there, for sure.  And a couple of helpful links of previous essays of mine to remind you of why we think this event is so, so important.

But, alas, in the run up to that demanding event, we only got one previous Lenten posts in (where we described Chris Rodkey’s Coloring Lent, here.) Today we list a few news ones, published in 2017 and a couple of older classics about which we wanted to remind you.  We hope there is something here that will help you in you and your faith community’s journey towards Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’s final confrontation with the worst the principalities and powers could throw at Him.  This is a rich season of the liturgical calendar, and these books, surely, can help. May this Lenten journey bring peace to your hurting soul, if necessary, or break your heart for the needs of the world, if that needs to happen for you. Not unlike Advent, it is a vital time of waiting, pondering, doing some serious soul-searching. Let’s stay in touch, if we can help you with resources you may need…

Many places in the country get two or three day deliver with US mail, which is cheaper than UPS, and sometimes quicker.  Why not place your order right away, in time for this first week of Lent 2017?

Please feel free to use our secure order form page, by tapping the link below.  Or send us an email or give us an old school phone call.  We’re at your service, and will respond with a personal reply to confirm everything.

preparing for easter.jpgPreparing for Easter: FIfty Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $17.99  My goodness, I could hardly believe it that no one had thought of compiling a book like this before: truly, this is almost like a brand new Lewis book.  It deftly puts together fifty excerpts of great Lewis reflections, each germane in its own way, to our own journey towards the cross and the vindicating victory of Easter.  Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of HarperOne Michael Maudlin has a very nice introduction that I’ve already read twice.  This book is the embodiment of a splendid idea, a handsome, compact volume, offering seven readings a week for seven weeks (and an extra for Easter Day.) Excerpts are from an array of sources, of course from Mere Christianity and The Weight of Glory and Screwtape Letters and God in the Dock but also from some of the Narnia books,  the science fiction “Space” trilogy, from his personal letters, from his own Bible studies (such as Reflections on the Psalms) and even a few poems.  Lewis, you know, called the resurrection the “grand miracle.”  Enjoy reading all about it in this lovely, lovely, new volume.

Wind in the Wilderness- A Lenten Study from the Prophets .jpgWind in the Wilderness: A Lenten Study from the Prophets  DJ del Rosario (Abingdon Press) $12.99  Each year the United Methodist publisher, Abingdon Press, does two 7 week Lenten Bible study guides for small group or Sunday school class use. One is always themed (while the other is a study book for the given Lectionary texts for Lent.) This one is the themed one this year drawing on the prophets and what it means to live into God’s vision of justice.  DJ del Rosario is an energetic pastor of a UMC in the Pacific Northwest and works with a project he founded that resources those who work with young adults called Spark12.










Lent 2017 Christ Is For Us- A Lenten Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary.jpgLent 2017 Christ Is For Us: A Lenten Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary April Yamasaki (Abingdon Press) $12.99 Just like they do at Advent, Abingdon releases not only a themed Bible study guide but a small group resource allowing classes or groups to reflect on the Sunday lectionary texts for the upcoming Lenten season.  Yamasaki is the pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and has written good stuff on creativity (Spark) and one called Sacred Pause, on spiritual formation and personal renewal.  Here she offers 7 studies on the upcoming Lectionary texts, offering a few pages of insight, side bars, background, and good discussion questions about how to live in this season which focuses on Christ’s commitment to us, in His grace. Very nicely done.





On the Road to the Cross- Experience Easter With Those Who Were There .jpgOn the Road to the Cross: Experience Easter With Those Who Were There Rob Burkhart (Abingdon) $16.99  This is not only a useful study of the (shall we say) minor characters who witnessed Christ’s last week (and there are a lot of them — from Simon the Leper to Malchus, from Nicodemus to Simon of Cyrene, to Mary Magdalene, of course) but offers us a creative way to enter into the story: before each set of meditations there is a fiction-like dramatization of the encounter being explored, each offering their own unique perspective. Anybody who appreciates the art of “Biblical storytelling” or creative writing will enjoy this.


There are eight chapters, offering six readings within each, so it can be read one-a-day for 48 days. There is a lot here, not too heavy, but often quite poignant and inspirational. This author is a respected United Methodist clergyperson and church renewal leader.

A Way Other Than Our Own- Devotions for Lent .jpgA Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $13.00 “We begin our Lenten journey,” Brueggemann reminds us, “addressed by the remarkable assurance that the God who summons us is the God who goes along with us.”  If Lent recalls times of wilderness and wandering (from newly freed Hebrew slaves in exile to Jesus’ temptation in the desert) this book will help us explore our journey into uncomfortable places revealing paths we ourselves might not have chosen.  And leave it to Walt to help evoke within us a fresh imagination of what that may entail.


With readings on this Kingdom path — short devotionals on humility and justice and peace-making and more — Walt brings his characteristically intense prose that calls forth new images, new imaginations, which help us see Lent as an alternative way of life, alternative to the conventional empire and the pracitices of the American Dream.  There is a moving prayer at the end of each entry.  This is moving, Biblical, poetic, prophetic…. if you’ve not read Brueggemann, this is a good way into his work. Very highly recommended.


The Good of Giving Up- Discovering the Freedom of Lent.jpgThe Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent Aaron Damiani (Moody Press) $12.66  Although this seems to be designed for those who are not used to the customers of practicing Lent, or who may even be suspicious of such practices, it is ideal not just for beginners but for anyone; I think it is a fantastic read. The author is the lead pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood (and has degrees from Moody Bible Institute and the evangelically-minded Wheaton College.)  I love the silk-screened hands on the cover, the hint of purple ink on many pages, the lovely feel of this good paperback.  But the big picture it offers — a “mercifully short” history of Lent, some of the basic reasons for honoring this season of the church calendar, some replies to some objections to the traditions — really does provide a “case for Lent” which will be inspiring for us all.


After that introductory sort of stuff (that, again, is good for all of us, no matter how liturgically minded our tradition), Damiani carefully explores “the path of Lent.” Following this central part of the book, there are some wise and exceedingly helpful chapters on how to experience Lent with families and children and how to lead congregations through Lent (written, obviously, for pastors or church leaders.)  What a fine, fine book, with endorsements from the likes of Ruth Haley Barton, Bryan Lifton, A.J. Swoboda and other good writers. Good job, Moody Press!

41LrGE+trOL._SY346_.jpJourney to the Cross- Devotions for Lent Will jpgJourney to the Cross: Devotions for Lent Will Walker & Kendal Haug (New Growth Press) $15.99  New Growth Press is known for their “gospel centered life” curriculum (which Will Walker co-wrote) and for books that often help us apply the powerful gift of God’s grace to our own inner foibles and conundrums.  That is, they consistently teach not only that God offers saving grace through His mercy, but that this same gospel transforms us, over time, from the inside out, as we cling increasingly to His promises.  Nearly all of their many books remind me of that verse that promises that God who began a good work in us will bring it to completion, in Christ.  Here, they bring that gospel-centered emphasis on the very good news to this season designed to re-focus our faith, allow God to re-calibrate our hearts, and move us closer to the heart of Easter.  This is a forty-day devotional in which Dan Doriani (Professor and Vice President of Covenant Theological Seminary) calls “a wise, pastoral, and Christ-centered approach to Lent. It focuses on Jesus’ journey to the cross. It points to Jesus’ love, devotion, and sacrifice, and so enriches our preparation to receive his gracious redemption.”  Pastor Scotty Smith (who has written marvelous book of prose and of prayers) says Journey to the Cross is “the finest devotional resource in my library for the season of Lent.” 

 To the Cross- Proclaiming the Gospel from the Upper Room to Calvary.jpgTo the Cross: Proclaiming the Gospel from the Upper Room to Calvary Christopher J.H. Wright (IVP) $16.00 Wright is an Old Testament scholar, author of numerous expert books on the unfolding drama of the Old Testament story (The Mission of God and Old Testament Ethics for the People of God are both nothing short of magisterial.)  He’s a name you should know.

Now director of the Langham Partnership (and author of another brand new book called Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit), not to mention a brand new book on Daniel) Wright brings in this new one his global concerns and his passion for wholistic mission to the final days of Jesus. He reads the last leg of Jesus’ journey through an Old Testament lens. Although these expositions (on five key texts) are good for either personal study or small group use, there is a good appendix offering wise guidance to preachers using these passages offering insight on sermon preparation. I think this looks very useful, solid stuff, very nicely done.


The Sign and the Sacrifice- The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection.jpgThe Sign and the Sacrifice: The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection Rowan Williams (WJK) $15.00  There is little doubt that the former Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the most fertile and widely respected minds within the global church; many in various quarters of the worldwide Body of Christ read his books eagerly.  In recent years Williams (now a Master at Magdalene College in Cambridge) has done exceptionally weighty volumes on political philosophy and on linguistics and two lovely, brief books published by Eerdmans, one on becoming a Christian and another on being a disciple.  Here in The Sign and the Sacrifice Rowan Williams brings his deep thoughtfulness and broad learning to bear in what is a fresh look at the very heart of the gospel.


Sister Wendy Beckett (the art critic) says it is “wonderful” and “life-changing” and Yale Divinity School’s Miroslav Volf says it is “theology at its very best, and easily accessible too.”  One reviewer exclaimed the mystery of how Williams can be “both poetic and straightforward” combining eloquence and clarity.  I am very eager to read this, and I know many of our BookNotes friends will be too.  There are three short chapters on the meaning of the crucifixion and two and a half on the meaning of the resurrection.  Just over 100 pages. Order it today.

According to Your Mercy- Praying with the Psalms from Ash Wednesday to Easter .jpgAccording to Your Mercy: Praying with the Psalms from Ash Wednesday to Easter Martin Shannon (Paraclete) $14.99 Father Shannon is an Episcopal priest who lives with the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod (home to Paraclete Press.) He holds a PhD in Liturgical Studies from the Catholic University of America and has written the lovely little book All God’s Angels. Don’t let the flowery cover fool you, this is not fluff.


I am teaching an adult ed class at my own PC(USA) church starting in Lent on the Psalms so am very eager to dive into this soon. The popular Catholic writer Bert Ghezzi gives a great review on the back, as does IVP’s legendary editor and small group Bible study writer, Bob Fryling (who calls it “a beautiful spiritual book…” which causes the Psalms to “sparkle.”)  If Bob Fryling says it is “a wonderful devotional guide for Lent” I’d believe him.  This really does look like a book that is more than lovely, but is substantive and rich.


coloring lent.jpgColoring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection by Christopher D. Rodkey & Jesse & Natalie Turri (Chalice Press) $12.99  Well, I hope you saw our long review of this in a previous BookNotes a few weeks ago.  The text of this thoughtful devotional guide and adult coloring book is written by our friend and neighbor here in Dallastown, Chris Rodkey, a progressive UCC pastor who serves his church and our town well.  This is such a rich and interesting concept — an ecumenical, adult coloring book that follows the key texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for Lent — that we are happy to promote it. In fact, Chris will lead us through a couple of these devotionals, telling us a bit about the interpretation he brings to the text and the Story at a coloring book party here at the shop (on March 21st — stay tuned!)  You can read my longer review of this here.




God Is on the Cross Reflections on Lent and Easter Dietrich Bonhoeffer.jpgGod Is on the Cross Reflections on Lent and Easter Dietrich Bonhoeffer (WJK) $14.00  Perhaps you have read (as many have) the compilation of Bonhoeffer excerpts, letters, prayers, and readings, turned into a powerful Advent devotional called God Is in the Manger.


Well this, obviously, is the Lenten counterpart to that small book and it is full of powerful wisdom, provocative insights, exquisite challenges about the cost of discipleship, the way of the Cross, and the good grace of our surprising God.  What a privilege to read pieces from this 20th century martyrs Easter messages!



Grounded paperback.jpgGrounded: Finding God in the World — A Spiritual Revolution Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $14.99 I’ve read this wonderfully written book twice, and parts even more often. I reviewed it (mostly) favorably when it came out in paperback (and I was honored to see a line lifted from my BookNotes column enhancing the pages of blurbs on the new paperback version that just came out.) I do not agree with everything Diana says, here, and wish she’d have given orthodox, historic evangelicalism a bit better spin, although much of her critique is not only valid, but vital.

Anyway, this newly released paperback is just in time as it includes a 40 Day Lenten Study guide in the back including prayers and devotional resources.  This makes it useful for personal use and certainly for book clubs or adult ed forums (anytime, actually — it’s a good study guide — but especially for Lent.)  Reading a page-a-day devotional guide not your cup of tea? This challenge to explore a progressive faith which is down-to-Earth (“grounded”) faith that is transforming the nature of the church and its ministry — so that it might be a salt and light and leaven sort of presence in the world that already bears the redemptive marks of a gracious, Creator-God — would make a provocative study, especially during this time of year. What is faith for? Why did Jesus die? What is the resurrection about? What is eternal life? Diana re-imagines these questions and more in light of her deep and beautiful appreciation of “original blessing” and the placed realness of God’s work in the world.  You really have to listen to a book that starts with a Wendell Berry poem and is arranged in two major units called “Natural Habitat” (including chapters called Dirt, Water, and Sky) and “Human Geography” (with chapters on things like Roots and Home and Neighborhood and “Commons”.)  This won the Religion News Association’s Book Award last year, and we’re glad for this nice paperback.  And the thoughtful resource in the back, making it a good choice for those who want a book to read for Lent that isn’t about Lent as such. Like everything, we read any new approach with discernment and generosity, and I am sure this would be great for many of our readers to ponder well.


Between-Midnight-and-Dawn better.jpgBetween Midnight and Dawn compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete) $18.99  We know many BookNotes readers have ordered Sarah Arthur’s similar prayer guides using good literature (the one for Advent was called Light Upon Light and the one for Ordinary Time is called At the Still Point.) This is ideal for the liturgical seasons of Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide, joined by a company of poets and novelists from across the centuries. Kathleen Norris calls is a “delight… so extraordinary a collection” and the late Phyllis Tickles called it “a thing of beauty.”  By the way, Sarah Arthur is getting all sort of attention (as in our last BookNotes newsletter) for her recently released co-authored memoir cum guide to radical Christian discipleship called A Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us.





40 Days of Decrease- A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast jpg40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast Alicia Britt Chole (Thomas Nelson) $14.99   This book came out last year and we’ve already had more people asking about it this month than last year.  I think I’ll just copy here what I wrote last year:

This is a hard book to describe, but I hope it is a big seller this season, a book that can have a huge impact as we learn to give up not the standard stuff like chocolate or designer coffee or facebook, but, rather, stuff like apathy and injustice, resentment and hypocrisy and such.  All of the love of God.

Yes, this is a zippy evangelical author (with a degree from George Fox Seminary) and there is a blurb on the back from the even more zippy Hillsong worship Leader Darlene Zschech (who, by the way, says it is “intuitive, prophetic, and profoundly inspiring, calling forth a revolution of soul health”) but also from Reverend Dr. Otis Moss (of the large and famously radical African American congregation, Trinity UCC in Chicago) and from the intellectual, Reformed apologist Ken Boa and the poetic singer-songwriter Sara Groves and the edgy social worker /contemplative, Nathan Foster. In other words, this book — which draws on Russian Orthodox theologian and beloved leader Thomas Hopko, Alexander Schmemann, and Thomas Merton, and quotes historical scholars like Martin Hengel and the ancients like Philo — has a pretty wide following. 

40 Days of Decrease invites us to work out this stuff, day by day, with forty good chapters, each day letting go of those things that rob us of meaning and deep spirituality.  This helps us move into a time of holy decrease — “holy when its destination is love. We thin our lives,” she says, “to thicken our communion with God.’  What a line, eh?  This is a very good, and very nicely arranged book, designed to help. 

Reliving the Passion- Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark .jpgReliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark Walter Wangerin, Jr (Zondervan) $14.99  I love hand-sized, compact hardbacks and so appreciate the fine, fine writing in this lovely little book. I suppose you know Wangerin who has garnered award after award for his fantasy novels, his memoirs, his Biblical work, his children’s books and more. As a poet and preacher and, formerly, at least, an inner city pastor, this passionate Lutheran leader reminds us through Scripture and storytelling that “we crucify and we are crucified, are condemned and redeemed.”  Eugene Peterson, who says he is one of the “master storytellers of our generation” insists that Wangerin “is at his best, writing on and around the Master Story.”  This isn’t new and we’ve described it other years here in BookNotes, but wanted to remind you of it again.  Not to be missed.



Bread and Wine- Readings for Lent and Easter .jpgBread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing) $24.00 This handsome hardback has brief readings from some of the world’s leading literary and spiritual writers, offering just enough meaty and aesthetically rich writing to please and challenge anyone who wants to dip in to a more mature sourcebook. Bread and Wine (like its companion Advent volume, Watch for the Light) draws wonder-full excerpts from C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Phil Yancey, Jane Kenyon; from Frederick Buechner, Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry, Watchman Nee. As you can see, this is really diverse, delightful, thoughtful.  A wonderful devotional that you will keep for a lifetime, with each several- page excerpt linked to a brief Biblical text, this is a true gift from the tremendous thinkers and publishers at Plough Publishing.






Reflecting the Glory- Meditation for Living Christ's Life in the World .jpgReflecting the Glory: Meditation for Living Christ’s Life in the World N.T. Wright (Augsburg) $14.99 Although we’ve fretted about the small print, this is just brilliant, with N.T. Wright doing his exceptional New Testament reflections here on New Testament themes (much from Galatians, actually, and more, for Lent.) Solid and stimulating Biblical mediations, one for each day some have said this is the richest Biblical devotional they’ve ever read… 

By the way, we have a lesser known book of Wright’s, a small collection of sermons Tom preached in a depressed coal mining town in the UK where there had been a fateful disaster and ongoing injustice, a powerful little book called Christians at the Cross. (In England it was released as The Cross and the Colliery.) It is interesting to see how these sermons bring hope and comfort and a call to address evil, inviting those with faith to realize the scope of God’s work and to make a difference in the world.  It is a book we routinely try to sell here at the shop.


devotions for lent mosaic.jpgDevotions for Lent from the Mosaic Bible (Tyndale) $2.99  This is a very  handsome, pocket sized booklet that has forty short readings, will full color art on creamy paper, with some Latin text, Celtic cross illumination, quotes from ancient saints, and liturgical prayers. The print is very small (but you will still appreciate the nicely crafted fonts and page design, tiny as it is.) We have promoted the wonderful Mosaic Bible which is an “ancient future” sort of product, in the contemporary New Living Translation, that has sacred art, iconography of sorts, and a prayerful, artful feel.  This little pocket book is drawn from readings and devotions and prayers from that Bible edition. A treasure to carry around for praying throughout the day, to take to work or school, or to give away prodigally.  Kudos to Tyndale for this unique offering.



God for Us Readers Edition.jpgGod For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter Reader’s Edition edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete) $18.99  This was once, like its companion Advent book called God With Us, available in a handsome hardback laden with full color art produced on glossy paper. It was expensive and is now out of print. We sadly do not have any of those any more.

However, we are pleased to remind you, as we did last year, that there is now a nice paperback called the “Reader’s Edition” that has no artwork but is offered in an affordable, well-designed paperback.

Here is an edited version of what we wrote last year this time:

In December of last year we did a review of the wonderful Advent book God With Us. We have raved each year about the very handsome, artful, mature volume, and said one of the important things about it was that it “emerged from the mature writing in the pages of our best literary journal, Image, a sophisticated, faith-based quarterly of literature and art and criticism; Pennoyer & Wolfe are extraordinary thinkers and writers themselves, and have put together what is without a doubt one of the most glorious books you could own. (Except, perhaps for the long-awaiting, luxurious sequel, God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter…”

Well, it is now Lent and we simply must remind you of this volume, the Lenten sequel to God With Us, called God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter with its very good writers offering what may be one of the most thoughtful, ecumenical devotional books for Lent and Easter of which we know.

The introduction to this book is by the respected Catholic writer about spiritual formation, Rev. Ronald Rolheiser (author of the exceptionally good Holy Longing and more recent Sacred Fire.)  One could hardly ask for a better preamble to this season, and I suspect it will be read and re-read often through weeks ahead. I actually enjoyed quite a bit the next essay by Beth Bevis (“The Feasts and Fasts of Lent”) which is very helpful for those less familiar with the historic spiritual rhymes of this time of the church year.

Each of the following weeks offers short daily meditations by one author. The first week’s worth of meditations and prayers are by the popular activist Richard Rohr. The great writer (and now Episcopal priest) Lauren Lauren Winner offers the next week’s reflections, followed by a week’s worth of meditations by the Orthodox poet Scott Cairns. Next we read the work of the Dordt College prof, novelist and short story author James Schaap. The entries for the fifth Week of Lent are by the beloved poet Luci Shaw. The remarkable Holy Week reflections are by none other than Kathleen Norris, author of so many moving memoirs about her own faith journey, including her time as a Protestant living among cloister nuns. 

An additional feature includes very nice short pieces on the history of various customs and Feast Days within the time of Lent. Beth Bevis offers more than a dozen of these extra one page ruminations that are delightful and inspiring, perhaps especially for those of us not accustomed to thinking much about Shrove Tuesday, the Annunciation, Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday.

Like the Advent one, God With Us brings to us some of the finest writers of our time, ecumenical, clear, artful. We are very grateful for Image and Paraclete Press for this fine release. 

As I noted in our announcement of the book’s release last year in BookNotes, “they insist that Lent is not “a time of vaguely spiritualized gloominess” and who better to help us realize the “bright sadness” of Lent than good poets and deep thinkers and those gifted with artful skills of offering rich and evocative meditations on the Bible?  

What an absolutely great gathering of perspectives, from an a Orthodox poet to a Presbyterian contemplative, Catholic mystics, an Episcopalian priest and writer, a Dutch Reformed short story writer and a scholar of Victorian literature.  And dear, beloved Luci Shaw — oh how her work thrills us!  

On the back cover it says “Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life – for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness. Lent and Easter reminds us that even in death there can be found resurrection.

Make Room- A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter .jpgMake Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter Laura
Alary (Illustrated by Ann Boyajian) $15.99 Here is what I wrote when this first came out — even though I really don’t like the cover which doesn’t do the art on the inside or the rich prose and moving insight justice, I really want to remind you of this little treasure. There is nothing like this that we know of, and it is so needed.  So, to repeat:

  Wow, what a wonderful
children’s book, delightfully illustrated and nicely told. It is an
invitation for children to wonder about the Lenten story, helping
children to experience Lent with all their senses.  They are taught to
see it as a special time for creating a “welcoming space for God.”  As
it says on the back, “Simple activities like cleaning a room making
bread and soup, and inviting a neighbor for supper become acts of
justice and kindness, part of a life following Christ.”

The story unfolds telling the child what “we” do — meaning the church
of which she is a part.  Maybe your church isn’t “dressed in purple” and
maybe you don’t have a Maundy Thursday service (but I sure hope you
do!) I don’t go to a lake for a sunrise service as this parish does, but
kids can realize that it’s the kinds of things some churches do.  I
think it is a fine book for almost any kind of Christian and happily recommend it.

As Gary Neal Hansen (author of Kneeling with the Giants) writes,

book reveals what is usually hidden: what we knew as penitential is
actually life-giving and faith-building. After reading the book to my
kids, my five year old daughter exclaimed “I can’t wait for Lent! I just
can’t wait!”

The Undoing of Death.jpgThe Undoing of Death Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.00  This hefty paperback includes a large amount of sermons preached over the many years of the service this remarkable Episcopal pastor and preacher; a few of these are enhanced with artwork and illustration, all are meaty and substantive, drawn from deeper wells of good theological and exegetical study, and proclaimed with grace and wit and occasionally some prophetic bite. Now that Ms Rutledge has gotten more acclaim (Christianity Today awarded her last work, The Crucifixion, their coveted “Book of the Year” award, perhaps this anthology of seasonal sermons will be taken up more widely.  We hope so, as we announce it every years.  She has a small one called The Seven Last Words from the Cross and even her big book of sermons on Romans (Not Shamed of the Gospel) would be appropriate for reflective reading this time of year. But The Undoing of Death is truly one of a kind, highly recommended.



City of God- Faith in the Streets Sarah Miles.jpgCity of God: Faith in the Streets Sarah Miles (Jericho Books) $16.00  We love the extraordinary writing and remarkable storytelling of colorful Episcopalian convert and author and activist Sarah Miles. We recommend her stunning story in Take This Bread and the exceptionally moving, feisty, raw Jesus Freak.  Her City of God (now out in paperback) is a further rumination on her life among the under-resourced in the Bay area of San Francisco, working out of the famously eccentric St. Gregory’s, framed by her experiences on Ash Wednesday, make this a memoir well suited as a Lenten reflection.

Here is just a little of what I wrote in a long review two years ago when it first came out and I first spent time with it:

…. I want to tell you about one of the most interesting books I’ve read in quite a while and it is perfect to read here as we approach Lent; as you’ll see it is a memoir mostly about experiencing Ash Wednesday. It arrived into the shop a few weeks ago, but, because I know this writer is thoughtful and such a very good wordsmith (and would be writing about some fairly intense stuff that I would want to consider carefully) I wanted to hold it until I had time to savor, to appreciate, to ponder, and to grapple with it. 

Today I feel a little like Jacob after that long night of struggle, a bit banged-up myself, but blessed for the effort. I read the new book City of God: Faith in the Streets by a truly fascinating person and gifted, remarkable writer, self-confessed Episcopalian “church nerd” Sara Miles. I have read her earlier books and spent a few days at an event with her a year ago. I respect her a lot, as a writer and as a follower of Christ.

The City of God: Faith in the Streets is mostly about celebrating in high church fashion the service of putting ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent.) And doing it out on the streets, for one and all.

City of God is an amazing book for several reasons. Firstly, it chronicles one day in Mile’s life, a busy Ash Wednesday, and three Ash Wednesday services in which she was involved that day. 

You can read the rest of that review, here



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BUY TWO BOOKS, GET ANOTHER BOOK FREE — an after Jubilee inventory clearance sale. expires 2-28-17

jubilee 2017 big shot.jpgThanks to all who prayed for us and sent encouraging notes about that last BookNotes column as we prepped for the intense work we do at Jubilee, the collegiate conference in Pittsburgh sponsored by the CCO.

Our partnership with Jubilee goes way back (and I even got to do a workshop on the history of the conference — sharing with younger students what inspired CCO more than 40 years ago to start such an event focusing on the Christian mind, nurturing a Christian imagination which is culturally relevant, and which invites folks to be agents of  God’s social renewal — and how the Biblical teaching of the Year of Jubilee informed the first sermon of Jesus in Luke 4.  That was a fun lecture (sermon? diatribe?) but the real work Beth and I and our store staff did started days before as we lugged our loaded boxes into a large rental truck and then, with a great team of volunteers, set up the largest book display we’ve ever done.  It took an extra day to get it all loaded back up at the end and we’re now, finally, unpacking the hundreds of boxes and the mounds of paperwork, back here in Dallastown.  

jubilee logo every square inch.jpgI won’t remind you, gentle readers, of why we think all of this is so very important and why we believe, seriously, that if you order good books from us, you, too, are part of this grand, redemptive, Jubilee vision. We are pretty sure you have a sincere desire to be part of this kind of thing, and you are inspired by all of this.

I’ve done that post-Jubilee conference follow-up before, explaining why those of us in local churches should take notice here and here, if you need that shot of big picture energy.

And if you haven’t yet watched the stunning 2 minute video clip inviting folks to last week’s event, I really, really hope you do. It is just so beautifully done, all by our good friends at the CCO.  What a great message for young adults and others; you could use that first 70 seconds to generate good discussions in your group or family!

But now, let’s get to what is a necessity for us and a savings for you:

the great, (occasional) Hearts & Minds post-event clearance sale.


Offer expires Tuesday, February 28th, 2017.

Naturally, the least expensive one is the free one.  

Sale_Tags.jpgThis should be fun not only because of the good savings for you, but it gives another glimpse into the sorts of books we feature at Jubilee.  Of course, we can’t show many of the thousands of books we had there – a number were single copies, specific, even hard to find books on particular aspects of science or medicine, law or music, farming or technology.  It even amazed us when we spread out all the goodies, such riches of insight, calling readers to think hard about the world we live in and consider the implications for serious Christian living, “in but not of” the often troublesome world order.

But these sale items will give you a hint. Maybe your own heart is pulling you towards this sort of religious reading.  Yes, yes, we had tons of basic Christian living stuff, books on spirituality and prayer, Bible reading and evangelism, church life and theology, sexual ethics, wholesome family life, and other things you might find in more conventional religious bookstores.  

But since the gospel is for all of life and God’s Kingship in Christ extends to — as the Kuyper phrase has it, that was the 2017 Jubilee motto — “every square inch” then we need to be reading in ways that help us integrate faith and scholarship, faith and work, faith and society. These are the tools of the trade, my friends. Take advantage of this big sale now while you can. Offer expires at midnight, the last day of February, 2-28-17.  Soli Deo gloria.

Every-Square-Inch ashford.jpgEvery Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians Bruce Riley Ashford (Lexham Press) $14.99  It is no secret that the “every square inch” tagline for Jubilee 2017 was drawn from a famous speech by Dutch public theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper. This little treasure of a book works out something like a modern Kuyperian vision for how faith impacts our everyday lives, how we should be involved with culture, and how to think through questions facing you and your church and community in these contentious times.

I am sure most readers of BookNotes have a concern to apply faith to all sectors of our lives and to winsomely promote social policies that are healing and hopeful, guided by Biblical principles. This book offers varying models for how faith relates to culture, has a short chapter with a few case studies, and then offers some provisional principles for faithful thinking about the arts, politics and the public square, economics and wealth, scholarship and education, and what they mean by mission. Agree or not with all of it, this is an amazing resource to get good thinking going, to enhance and clarify conversations, and maybe enable many to be more faithful seeing God’s gospel bring goodness and grace to every square inch of this hurting world that God so loves.

the-call-by-os-guinness.jpgThe Call: Finding and Fulfilling The Central Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson) $17.99  Everywhere I go I meet remarkable people doing extraordinary work, leading conversations about faith and the marketplace, vocation and work, making a difference in big and small ways. Often, those who are the most articulate and passionate and admirable about their vocations almost always tell me, when we get around to talking about those “aha” moments that were most transforming and impactful for them, about their love for this book. It is essential, and we feature it every year at Jubilee, despite it being eloquent and mature in it’s literary style.  You know I’ve talked about it before, and even wrote about it as my choice for a “must read” book in my chapter in the collection of book reviews called Besides the Bible: 100 Books… We are glad to offer it in this sale list now. Don’t miss it.

Garden City- Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.jpgGarden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.  John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99 In recent decades there has been an understandable emphasis in some quarters saying that it isn’t what you do that matters, but who you are.  The mid-twentieth century commitment to materialism and corporate culture over-emphasized success, status, prestige, accomplishment, productivity, making us all cogs in the wheels of progress and modernity. So wise people (not least those in the counter-culture) pushed back against that – we need not find our worth in our jobs!  Agreed.

But now, feisty John Mark Comer insists, we need another emphasize, one directly from the Bible.  Oh, how we need passionate, upbeat authors like the youthful Comer inviting us to realize that what we do does matter, that God calls us not just to be in religious relationship with our Maker but to serve God, to work, to play, to rest.  Younger adults need Os Guinness, as listed above, but they will perhaps more readily resonant with this very cool book, a white hardback sans dustjacket, well-designed.  Humans are called to be culture-makers and carve out a world. Work is a good thing, cursed, yes, but still part of what makes us human.  This is the biggest question of all: why are we here and what should we do about it?  This is a perfect book for the young adults at Jubilee, and some of us old-timers dig it too.

REINTEGRATE - book cover mockup 1-23-17.JPGReintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission Bob Robinson (Good Place Publishing) $12.00 This small group study guide is worth twice the price and is one of the brand new books I’m most excited about.  I’ll tell you more about it later but for now know that Bob caught the Jubilee vision himself (after studying under some of the greatest theological writers of our time) by joining up with the CCO and learning more about the Biblical creation-fall-redemption-restoration narrative and its implications for vocation and work, callings and careers.  This has some short chapters, tons of great pull-quotes and sidebars, and some good conversation starters or thought exercises for your own reflection and integration of this content. I am sure it will enhance your own spiritual formation as you learn how to deepend with your own sense of place and calling, work and purpose and, as he puts it, “re-integrate.”  Blurbs on the back are from the best leaders in the faith/work conversation these days such as Tom Nelson (Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work), Steve Garber (Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common God), Amy Sherman (Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good), Hugh Whelchel (How Then Should We Work?) and, yes, a small town business guy named Byron Borger (editor of Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life.)  Other rave reviews are by Lisa Slayton (of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation), Michael Wittmer (Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God) and our good friend, Gideon Strauss, now teaching at the Institute for Christian Studies.  This is a great resource and you should pick some up now while you can, on sale.

Your Vocational Credo- Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose.jpgYour Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose Deborah Koehn Loyd (IVP) $16.00  This is one of my very favorite books to promote among younger adults seeking a wise resource to help them determine their own God-give purpose and vocation. This is fun, upbeat, practical, offering insights on everything from overcoming past pains to finding health and wholeness to understanding your own vocational skills and capacities — all of this so you can learn how to develop a unique plan for your own life’s work. One really does need a “vocational credo” and this helps guide you into it, with missional gusto.  Nicely done.

Consider Your Calling- Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation.jpgConsider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $16.00  If the above listed one by Deborah Loyd is upbeat and fun, broad-thinking and a very readable guide, this one is similar but shorter, a bit more intense, and a bit more spiritually-minded. By which I mean that the author is a deep and wise writer of books about spiritual formation and an experienced spiritual director. Although most of his books are about a sacramental sort of prayerfulness and inner transformation (see his hefty and substantive Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity) he has also written a wonderful book entitled Courage and Calling, that explores this stuff deeply.

This smaller one is a bit of a follow up to that, offering six mature questions to ponder as you invite God to guide you towards better discernment of your calling.  Good for anyone in times of transition or those seeking God’s guidance.  It is both a moving meditation and immensely practical.

Your Mind's Mission.jpgYour Mind’s Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $7.00  This little 30-page book is so potent I wish I could put it into the hands of every Christian person, and certainly of every Christian student. Jao nicely explains what a worldview is, how our lens to see and interpret life and learning is always shaped by presuppositions–including things like race and class and gender – and that we simply must be more self-aware about how we think. Further, he reminds us that the Bible calls us to a transforming vision, to see in ways that propel us to make connections between faith and life, integrating the life of the mind with mission and ministry.  As it says on the back, “Discover how you can use your mind to extend the glory of God throughout the world” – and, for starters, at least, in your own life and work. If you believe that Jesus is Lord, you will be dazzled by the implications of this thoughtfully written booklet.  Buy a few and give ’em out!  Come people — it even mentions Hearts & Minds!

learning for the love of god.jpgLearning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $14.99  Okay, okay, I know that those who have read our BookNotes newsletter for a while know that I keep bringing this up from time to time. The book is dedicated to me, and I am so very deeply honored by that, that I truly want to let folks regularly know why it is so  important.

In a way, this is one of the top books to explore the Jubilee vision, helping students be students that allow Christ to guide them into “every square inch” of their studies, their labs, their papers, their research in the library, and their finding God in the classroom. Older, esteemed Christian scholars like the eminent historian George Marsden say, “This is the sort of book that should be read by Christian students going to college and studied in campus fellowship groups… I hope it will be widely used.” 

Popular philosophy prof and writer James K.A. Smith was an early advocate for this book, calling it “marvelous” and “one of a kind.”  Even at Jubilee, even among the great CCO staff, there is some sort of reluctance to really dive deep into “academic faithfulness” and I lament that we don’t sell more of these.  Why don’t you buy some for college students you know?  I think it could be life-changing.  Youth pastors? College workers? Campus ministers? Parents of college age students?  It’s a must.

god loves sex.jpgGod Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation about Sexual Desire and Holiness  Dan Allender & Tremper Longman (Baker) $16.99  Allender’s books on sexual abuse (Wounded Heart and Healing the Wounded Heart) sadly sell well at Jubilee. The many others Allender & Longman do together are also hits; it seems their Breaking the Idols of Your Heart: How to Navigate the Temptations of Life is always popular. This year, though, this open reflection on the good and the bad (and the ugly) of our sexuality which is treated so well in this thoughtful book was their most popular.

(The other biggest seller in that area that we push is, by the way, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity by Lauren Winner.)

Fun fact: both Dan Allender and Tremper Longman came to CCO conferences as students in the 70s and, in fact, knew Dr. Peter Steen, the Dutch, Kuyperian philosopher who helped us cast a vision for an event about Christian perspectives across the university curriculum and who helped us select the Jubilee name. No wonder so many intuit that Allender and Longman are voices that are so vital for our Pittsburgh gatherings.

storied leadership blue cover.jpgStoried Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective Brian Jensen & Keith R. Martel (Falls City Press) $18.00  I know if you follow BookNotes you’ve heard me talk about this before and I will admit that both authors are friends. I admire them greatly for the being so intentional about how this grand meta-narrative of Scripture — this Jubilee vision of the unfolding drama of creation-fall-redemption-restoration — should shape our understanding of leadership.  It has endorsements from the likes of Dr. Amy Sherman (author of the fabulous Kingdom Calling) and Steve Garber who says it offers “a seamless, story-formed vision of the good life and therefore what good leaders look like” I think this book should be much more known among us, on lists for leaders, and given out and discussed. It has the big picture stuff in the first half, tons of practical guidance and insight in the second.  There’s a lot of talk about using the Bible to form leaders or to disciple younger Christians, but this book immerses you in the Biblical narrative in a upbeat, easy-to-absorb way.  Very nice.  Get it now while we’ve got this “buy two get another free” sale going on.  You’ll be glad you did.

silence and beauty.jpgSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00  Of course we take all of Mr. Fujimura’s books, including rare ones like the Square Halo paperback that compares his work with George Rouault and the brand new paperback edition of his previously self-produced Culture Care:) This one, though, didn’t sell too well at Jubilee, perhaps because it is a bit mature for college students or because they were not familiar with the extraordinary Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo upon which is it based, Silence. (We did get to sell a few of those, by the way.) The recently released Martin Scorsese film adaptation of that novel has been much discussed in the thoughtful religious press but was snubbed by the Academy Awards nominations.  In any event, this handsome hardback was named as one of our Best Books of 2016 and we very highly recommend it.  Mako, too, has spoken at Jubilee in years past.

Culture Care new IVP cover.jpgCulture Care: Reconnecting With Beauty for Our Common Life Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $17.00 Ha!  What did I just tell you?  We carry all of Fujimura’s books. We have been privileged to be one of the select stores in the nation to sell Mako’s self-produced version of this when it came out two years ago, but we are thrilled now to offer it in a very handsome, nicely done paperback by InterVarsity Press.  It is a great and inspiring book for artists, musicians, dancers, writers, anyone wanting to think about their own creativity and role in doing creative work, but, more, perhaps, it is for any of us who want to be good stewards of the creative gifts around us, who want to be cheerleaders and patrons, seeking the common good by reminding our society how important the arts are.  Is it particularly urgent these days. Oh my.  There’s a new forward by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton, too, affirming that this is a wise and helpful way our deepest theological truths can find traction in the public square.  This is very, very nicely done, a wonderful contribution to thinking about societal flourishing, the role of beauty and the arts, and the common good.

Resounding Truth- Christian Wisdom in the World of Music.jpgResounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic) $30.00  This year Jubilee seemed to have a lot of conversations about hip hop – with two electrifying rappers (Propaganda and Sho Baraka) performing and the Grammy nominated Lacrae  (yes, the evangelical, Reformed, gospel-centered rapper banned from Lifeway) speaking, so we sold some books like the little Does God Listen to Rap Music and the substantial Gospel.  But for those really serious about music or those who want a deeper study, this is simply magisterial, perhaps the best major work on Christian theory of music yet available.  I’m fond of the Christian philosophy of aesthetics Calvin Seerveld, not to mention Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Mr. Begbie (formerly a classic composer in the UK) is in their league, with endorsements on the back from Rowan Williams, N.T. Wright, Nick Wolterstorff, John Witvliet, Roger Lundin. Breathtaking in scope and range, written with a mature integration of faith and scholarship.

Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed).jpgWhy Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) Jeff Van Duzer (IVP Academic) $20.00  This really is my favorite book on a Christian view of business. It is thoughtful, inspiring, offering a helpful framework and the “creative dimensions of God’s purposes and meaning for business.” It is thought provoking and I think so good it should be read not only by those in business but for anyone who cares about our corporate culture, economics, or the common good.  Very nicely done.  Van Duzer, by the way, is the dean of the School of Business and Economics and Professor of business law and ethics at Seattle Pacific.  Before that, interestingly, he practiced law in Seattle with an emphasis on finance and natural resources.

Business Through the Eyes of Faith .jpgBusiness Through the Eyes of Faith Richard Chewning, John Eby, Shirley Roels (HarperOne) $15.99  We are very fond of this whole “…Through the Eyes of Faith” series, which includes college-level Christian texts on history, music, literature, psychology, biology, mathematics.  I am especially fond of this one on business, and recommended it to every business major we could find. It is fascinating to me how few business people who are active in church haven’t read anything like this before, so we are glad for the opportunity to get CCO students at Jubilee who are business or accounting or management majors learning faith-based stuff early one. There are small sections on advertising, profits, marketing, management and more.  This is so good, written by three scholars who themselves are from slightly different theological traditions (an Anabaptist, a Dutch Reformed neo-Calvinist, and a conservative evangelical.)  Nice.

Business for the Common Good.jpgBusiness for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace Kenman Wong & Scott Rae (IVP Academic) $26.00  This one is another personal favorite and one I tried to sell to young business majors.  It is, admittedly, a bit heavier than the other two mentioned above, has a less interesting cover (it is part of a heady series called “Christian Worldview Integration” which itself seems a bit dry and the covers don’t communicate energy and passion) and is a few dollars more expensive. So it’s a “next level” title,  harder to sell, but certainly a must-read for professionals in the field.   How many people have bad views of the business community, assuming it is all cut-throat and driven only by greed?  (And how often, perhaps, is that the case?)  This book is important for all of us. Brian Porter of Hope College, says, in fact, “If you read only one book on faith integration and business, Business for the Common Good should be it.”  It is masterful and thorough.

The World Beyond Your Head paperback.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew B. Crawford (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) $15.00  I do hope you recall our rave review of this when it came out in hardback a year ago, an eagerly-anticipated sequel to his must-read Shop Class as Soul Craft. Some years CCO has a workshop or two at the conference for those in trade schools on blue-collar work and this book has been useful in thinking about formative practices, resisting abstraction, and learning from the attention needed in “shop class”– all in pretty mature, philosophical ways. Maybe Jubilee didn’t have such a workshop this year and our extra orders of this standard work are sitting here, waiting for you to order them. Damon Linker of The Week says it is “The most cogent and incisive book of social criticism I’ve read in a long time. Reading it is like putting on a pair of perfectly suited prescription glasses after a long period of squinting one’s way through life.”  Another pundit said The World Beyond Your Head could “easily lure any cultural pessimist into considerations that pass beyond the symptoms, deep into the causes of our present ills.”  The core of the book, though, is simple: Crawford interviews a handful of workers who are really good at their craft and explores how they’ve paid attention to the details of their work and job.

You Are Not A Gadget- A Manifesto.jpgYou Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto Jaron Lanier (Vintage) $15.00  Last year students loved this book; Lanier was a pioneer of digital media, considered the father of virtual reality technology, now an ” apostate of the internet age” and yet still passionate about programming.  Alas, foolishly, in our stress of setting out dozens of such books in the technology section, another book (with a similar cover – The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr) got stacked on top of these and, alas, we didn’t sell a one.  I kept wondering where it was, thinking it was lost or that somebody bought ’em all early on, and while tearing down late Sunday afternoon found this big stack.  Drats. Our loss is your gain – this is, as the San Francisco Chronicle puts it, “Thrilling and thought-provoking, a necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technological debates.”  The Washington Post says it is “mind bending, exuberant, brilliant.” Lanier is an important voice and I so wanted to get these into student’s hands.  Check it out.

The Language of Science and Faith- Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.jpgThe Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl Giberson & Francis Collins (InterVarsity Press) $22.00  This book (apparently published in cooperation with the thoughtful BioLogos organization — who was at Jubilee with a great display booth, by the way) is one we so often suggest as a first step in relating faith and science and reminding readers that there need not by a conflict between faith and science.  Here’s what the publisher says, briefly, about this fine work: “Scientists Collins and Giberson show how to embrace
both science and faith without compromising either. Their fascinating
treatment explains how God cares for and interacts with His creation
while science offers a reliable way to understand the world He made.”

God in the Lab- How Science Enhances Faith .jpgGod in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith Ruth Bancewicz (Monarch) $16.99  We think this is one of the best book for young thinkers, those just considering a career in the sciences.  I like the title, and that is shows how real scientists of Christian conviction do their work.  I appreciate the way it’s described by the British publisher.  (Yep, we get this from a publisher in the US who distributes UK books — we think it is that good.)  It is compiled by Dr. Ruth Bancewicz and six other practicing scientists.

They say, “Science can be unglamorous and tough, but it gives
the opportunity to use creativity and imagination, to appreciate the
beauty of the natural world, and to experience the joy of finding out
new things – thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution.jpgHow I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science edited by Kathryn Applegate & J.B. Stump (IVP Academic) $16.00  This is another book published in partnership with BioLogos and we were delighted that J. B. Stump was at Jubilee, doing one of the several workshops on science.  We’ve got a huge science section in our small town bookstore and were delighted to share some of our wares with the science majors and others at Jubilee.  This one, of course, we’ve written about before and it is fascinating. It includes scientiests, pastors, Biblical scholars and theologians and philsophers (our friend Jamie Smith has a nice chapter in here.) What a fabulous little resource for anyone who thinks that orthodox Christian faith is unscientific or not able to make a solid contribtuions to standard scientific conversations. Agree or not with all of these conclusions — and there are heady new books that explore this in detail such as the brand new one from Brazos Press called Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science
by Scot McKnight & Dennis Venema and a new one just out from Eerdmans (published in cooperation with the Colossian Forum) called Evolution and the Fall, edited by William Cavanaugh and James K.A. Smith For starters, though, this How I Changed My Mind… is a great read.

Caring for Words, better.jpgCaring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.00  One of my all-time favorite books, I announced this from the main-stage as essential in this current political context.  Not long ago I heard a Christian worship leader exhort a congregation saying ad lib that outside of Christ “it is all fake news” — which is patently stupid.  No, it isn’t all “fake news” (much about the world as it is, the Bible tells us, declares the glory of God) and we must be shaped in the ways of Christ and the virtues of decency and critical thinking and kindness and honesty so we can do the hard work of discerning real from fake, wise from foolish, good from bad.   If only that worship leader had listened to Jubilee speakers!

This book admits that there is much to be alarmed about and offers strategies to be better stewards of the gift of language, using words well, caring about writing and reading so we might learn civility and grace and truth and clarity. Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies is a tool we so badly need to help us learn the art of discernment, resisting propaganda and ideology and nurturing within us the capacity and virtue of thinking well, speaking well, listening well and desiring truthfulness.

I didn’t tell students this in my short spiel about the book, but it’s a great background fact: our beloved Abraham Kuyper delivered a set of lectures at Princeton in the early 1900s (still in print as Lectures on Calvinism) which influenced the very first team that put together the Jubilee conference. These are known as the Stone Lectures.  Marilyn McEntyre delivered the lectures about stewardship strategies for using words well that became this book also at Princeton, also in the annual Stone Lectures, just a few years back. It would be a stretch to say she was in the line of Kuyper, I suppose, but it is more than incidental. Anyway, this is a beautiful and essential book, now more than ever.

just mercy.jpgJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $16.00  I have often said, and I still say, that Stevenson should get the Nobel Peace Prize, and very well might, for his extraordinary service for those poor and often minority folks wrongly incarcerated, for his advocacy for youth in prison, and, more recently, for his brave and diligent project documenting the vigilante terrorism known as lynching.  We tell folks to read this before, or maybe after, The New Jim Crow, and to be prepared for one of the most riveting reads of your life.  We have been one of the early supporters of this book, and certainly one of the handful within the world of Christian bookstores who have promoted it. We have a few extras after Jubilee and we’re happy to offer them in this sale now.  The first time I heard of Stevenson, by the way, was from Tony Campolo, many years ago (Bryan was an undergrad at Eastern before going to at Harvard Law.) The first time I heard him speak was – you guessed it – in Pittsburgh at Jubilee before he wrote this acclaimed book and before he was famous.  Students at Jubilee really are introduced to some of the most significant speakers and leaders in North America and we’re happy to sell these kinds of serious books to these eager young adults. 

America's Original Sin.jpgAmerica’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the New Bridge to a New America Jim Wallis (Brazos Press) $17.99  CCO is passionate about multi-ethnic ministry and knows that the gospel insists upon both justice and reconciliation.  They are theologically pretty conservative/mainstream evangelical but on this topic they see the Biblical and theological trajectory towards a multi-ethnic new creation and want to practice now that glorious reality of racial reconciliation.  It not surprising that they had rapper activists like Propaganda speaking this year.  We stocked a lot of books on racism and civil rights and ethnic diversity at Jubilee and there was almost too much for students to take in. (Ohhh, if only the workshop leaders who facilitate these conversations would have been able to browse more; some have said we have one of the best-curated sections of this kind of stuff in any bookstore they know of and some of the leaders themselves might have benefited from the books in our selection.)  In any event, this one is a recent classic,  now in paperback, one that is strong and sturdy and sure to generate discussion. Agree or not with all of Sojo or all of Wallis’s past books, I think this is simply a must-read book for anyone working on this topic. As one evangelical leader said it is useful to “rivet our attention and commitment to a different future. This is a sobering and motivating act of hope.”  Glad it’s now out in paperback.  Pick it up today.

Aliens in the Promised Land good.jpgAliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions edited by Anthony B. Bradley (P&R) $15.99  We carry most of the books by this outspoken, articulate Christian leader (and so appreciated his Sunday morning Jubilee main-stage talk about being ordinary, transforming culture full of the hope of God’s final restoration, less by dramatic gestures of brave innovation by being, well, salt.)  We sold his collection of essays called Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development evangelical, Reformed critique of James Cone and other black liberation theologians in Liberation Black Theology and the powerful collection he edited called Black Scholars in White Space and had on display his brand new Something Seems Strange: Critical Essays on Christianity, Public Policy, and Contemporary Culture. We even had a book he’s been telling everyone (on twitter) to read, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars (by Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews on University of Alabama Press.) I think this Aliens in the Promised Land collection is as good as any, though, put together by Dr. Bradley, offering a fine array of evangelical voices (of differing minority groups) pondering this vital question.

Prophetic Lament- Call for Justice in Troubled Times.jpgProphetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $17.00  Soong-Chan has spoken at Jubilee before and many of us respect him immensely. This is a fascinating resource that you may recall me touting before – it is, truly, a commentary on the book of Lamentations in the Bible, but with a very contemporary application.  Rowdy and energetic as Jubilee is, Saturday morning we heard hard truths about injustice and racism and other consequences of “the fall” which form our world in dysfunctional, idolatrous, and very broken ways. The worship team led us in slow, evocative songs and prayers were prayed that lamented our personal and corporate pains.  The American church – mainline, evangelical and others, I suppose – avoids lament. This is a nearly prophetic exposition of the book of Lamentations and will help us learn the role of lament, confession, and rejection of “success-centered triumphalism and hubris.”  Powerful, necessary stuff.

to live in peace.jpgTo Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City Mark R. Gornik (Eerdmans) $26.00  There is, happily, an increased interest in urban life, in cities and in a theology of geography, so to speak, especially as we desire to serve our neighbors by being involved in the systems and structures that make up our neighborhoods, commercial centers, and under-resources ghettos. There are bunches of books about urban ministry, about Christian community development, and if anybody wanted anything along those lines we had stuff there. (In a special bibliography we put together for the conference, displayed on the Jubilee conference app, by the way, I described the very serious Beyond Homelessness Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh.)  To Live in Peace by Mark Gornik (formerly of Baltimore), I believe, is simply the best thing written on urban life, especially in thinking about serving communities of need. This is deep, thoughtful, very readable, sophisticated and vital for us all. Very highly recommended.

Sidewalks of the Kingdom- New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.jpgSidewalks of the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith Eric O. Jacobsen (Brazos Press) $22.00  I’ve reviewed this extensively over the years, as I have Jacobsen’s brilliant sequel to this, The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Build Environment, which is more broadly on the built environment and one of our awarded Best Books of a few years ago.)  I suppose there aren’t that many urban planning majors at Jubilee but many of us are concerned about the efficiency, aesthetics, justice, and charm of our sidewalks and commercial spaces and the wisdom of our zoning laws and policies that shape our towns and cities. This is a fine introduction for ordinary folks, written by a thoughtful, small town Presbyterian pastor, about how to take up the conversations propelled by the likes of the legendary Jane Jacobs, the feisty James Howard Kunstler (I hope you know his snarky, electrifying books like Home from Nowhere), or the anti-sprawl, new urbanists such as Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck.  Sidewalks of the Kingdom, by the way, has a really nice foreword by Eugune Peterson.

Educating All God's Children- What Christians Can--And Should--Do.jpgEducating All God’s Children: What Christians Can–And Should–Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids Nicole Baker Fulgham (Brazos Press) $20.00  One of Nicole Fulgham’s staff from her wonderful, important ministry called The Expectations Project spoke at Jubilee this year (as Nichole herself has many times.) This book is nearly a handbook for any citizen or church group who wants to become allies and advocates for all children, especially those that are in lo0w-income schools.  With the recent cabinet appointment of the controversial Betsy DeVos – who I suspect isn’t as bad as some opponents suggest but who clearly is inexperienced in public school work – this book may be more important than ever. Whether you are a teacher who cares about educational policy (inspired in college by Jonathan Kozol, maybe, as I was) or a parent interested in making sure all schools in your area are treated fairly, or whether you are a citizen advocate for justice, this book is important and will be a fabulous and motivational read for you. Glad to have had The Expectation Project at Jubilee!

Same Lake Different Boat- Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability.jpgSame Lake Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability Stephanie O. Hubach (P & R) $14.99  Here in the store we have a good handful of books about disabilities, about how the church should be more aware of and inclusive of those with disabilities, and how we should all be more sensitive to the image of God in those with serious handicapping conditions.  We like several books by Brett Webb-Mitchell, for instance, and of course the important books by Joni Earackson Tada. With a few caveats, I recommend the Crossway book, Disability & the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace and show it off at Jubilee, too.

One of the books we most often suggest to special education majors or anyone interested in being more inclusive of those with disabilities is Same Lake Different Boat. It includes a great forward by Joni Eareckson Tada, endorsements from activists such as former Pennsylvania First Lady Ginny Thornburgh and church ministry practitioners like Susan Hunt.  This helps us think transformationally about disability, for the sake of the wholeness of the Body of Christ and is, happily, and importantly, framed by the same categories of the Biblical narrative explored at Jubilee — creation/fall/redemption/restoration.  Nice.

Go- Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith .jpgGo: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith Preston Sprinkle (NavPress) $14.99 I pitched this in front of the crowd at Jubilee but in my short time up front perhaps didn’t explain it well enough. It really is a fabulous book that does two or three things well. Firstly, it reports on the fascinating survey commissioned by the Navigators that helps us understand what Christian people think about the word “discipleship.” Go offers sidebars and charts and info-graphics to explain this large-scale research on what is missing in the common understandings and attitudes about following Christ, making disciples, being salt and light and leaven in the world. Why is it that the church is often seen as weak, not very influential (even among its own members) and how many Christ-followers are drifting from a formerly robust, serious life of faith? How can we understand these deep concerns and how can we find solutions to chronic shallow faith and a privatized faith that doesn’t think much or engage the world well?  Preston Sprinkle’s book can help.

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  Oh my, if only I had time to tell folks about this book — it’s surely going to be one on the big lists 10 months from now when we celebrate the best books of 2017.  In this lovely and wonderfully written memoir, these authors take up practices to make their lives more consistent with the teaching of Jesus. They are inspired by the likes of Mother Teresa who admonished us to do “small things with great love” and here explore how to actually do that. They write about raising kids, searching for community, make choices about diet and food and money and debt and they set out a path towards contemplative sorts of spiritual disciplines. One of the great challenges and invitations of the book is to find someone who can be in covenantal friendship with you, as they tell in this memoir, of doing life together in such as way that you really can take steps towards greater commitment, more Christ-like consistency, a better, saner life.  We can’t do this radical stuff alone…

I’ll tell you more about it later, for sure – Jen Pollock Michel (author of Teach Us to Want) is right to say “This is the best kind of spiritual formation book: serious and funny, smart and vulnerable – and, most useful of all, practical. Honestly, this is one of my favorite books this year.”  Some of our customers, by the way, will know Sarah Arthur from her three books offering “literary guide to prayer” for the church calendar.  Maybe not for students, as part of their story is how they raise their kids, how they bring faith into their home lives.  I think those who loved (as we did!) The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren will find this a perfect “next step” sort of book.

Comfort Detox- Finding Freedom.jpgComfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits That Bind You Erin M. Straza (IVP) $16.00  I am so glad that Erin Straza just released this wonderful book; she is a smart and good writer, the editor of “Christ and Pop Culture Magazine” and host of the Persuasion podcast. I’ve followed her for a bit as perhaps you have, and am sure she has a lot to offer in a crazy book like this.

At Jubilee I sometimes wonder how these earnest and eager young adults can possible take up the big call to mission and service, justice and a redemptive life in the world that they hear at the conference.  This is one way, one important way:  many of us who are used to middle class comfort simply have to learn to get out of our comfort zones, as they say. Which is really to say we have to learn to not cling to convenience, to ease, to safety.   In this very fun book that pokes at our ” everyday complacencies” we are invited beyond this malady, beyond these idols, beyond the commonplace. Is there any sense we are almost addicted to false comfort? Can we take up a “comfort cleanse” program (as she calls it) to help us find real freedom? I’m eager to read this, wondering how her own vulnerability and honesty will guide us to deeper faith and more risky discipleship. Interestingly, this isn’t the only book out these days about this theme — there is a hunger for guidance out of the chains of abundance and into an authentic sort of freedom.  I think this could be the best.

Faith on the Edge- Daring to Follow Jesus.jpgFaith on the Edge: Daring to Follow Jesus Paul Tokunaga et al (IVP) $16.00  I could hardly believe it but this great publisher, who lives and breathes to serve others with thoughtful resources for evangelical, Kingdom living, offered to keep this book in print in part because they know I promote it at Jubilee this year.  It was listed and described in a special book list that was on the Jubilee phone app – so let’s be glad this gem of a book is still available. It is a book I love and hope you consider buying as it will meet needs for your own reading and learning, I am sure.  Especially if you are mentoring others or need books that offer short pieces about various aspects of Christian living.  Faith on the Edge is a gem.

Although it was put together for college students I am sure it is good for nearly anyone.  There are short readings and thoughtful reflection questions, with the readings arranged around three themes, almost like concentric circles. There are a bunch of short chapters on the themes of being “Rooted in Christ” and then some on “Committed in Relationships” and then the final section of short pieces called “Disturbing the World.”   From essays on experiencing God, knowing what it means to be a Christ-follower to how to find healing from broken relationships to thinking about work, calling, racial justice, serving the poor, doing evangelism, finding hope, and more, Faith on the Edge is a perfect little handbook for faith building groups, for mentoring young believers, for dipping into whenever you want some guidance on various aspects of wholistic Christian living. I even helped a tin bit with a couple of the chapters!  Highly recommended.

Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age.jpgPursuing Health in an Anxious Age Bob Cutillo (Crossway) $17.00  We have many books for those in health care fields – starting with Phil Yancey & Dr. Paul Brand’s Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, In His Image, and The Gift of Pain, through excellent books like Called to Care: A Christian Worldview for Nursing, Transforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice, or the exquisite The Finest Traditions of My Calling: One Physician’s Search for the Renewal of Medicine by Abraham Nussbaum; we have been particularly taken by the luminous Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words by Brian Volck.)  So much good stuff…

 Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age is also extraordinary, perhaps not just for those in health care but for all of us.  As it says on the back, “Despite all the care available to us, our society is more concerned about health care than ever. Increase technology and access to health care give us the illusion of control but can never deliver us from the limitations of our bodies…” Dr. Cutillo is a clinical professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and an associate faculty member at Denver Seminary (and he provides patient care to under-served populations at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.)  He writes in this profound book, weaving together his own story of serving the most vulnerable, “what if our health is a gift to nurture, rather than a possession to protect?”  How might we think about health a bit different in this secular age? This is a foundational book for anyone interested in the deepest meaning of health and the reform of health care systems and we were glad to hear it being mentioned at Jubilee. Highly recommend.

Christianity and Social Work- Readings on the Integration of Christian Faith and Social Work Practice .jpgChristianity and Social Work: Readings on the Integration of Christian Faith and Social Work Practice (fourth edition) T. Laine Scales and Michael S. Kelly, editors (NACSW) $24.00  What is NACSW, you ask? It’s the North American Association of Christians in Social Work and this is the textbook type reader they produced for use in Christian colleges with social work majors or for any social worker wanting to think more faithfully about their calling into this line of work.  Every major should have such a fine, expansive reader, connected to a faith-based professional association like this. We are one of the few stores in the country that carry this, and we are happy to offer it on sale, here, now.  

Rebuilding-the-Foundations.jpgRebuilding the Foundation: Social Relationships in Ancient Scripture and Contemporary Culture John Brueggemann & Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $20.00  In many of our off site book displays I suppose we’d display this with the famous Old Testament scholar’s other books of Biblical studies. However, note: the primary author of this is the son of Walt Brueggemann, John. And John is an esteemed sociologist in his own right.  (In fact, professor John Brueggemann is the Department Chair of the Sociology Department at Skidmore and has published books such as Rich, Free, and Miserable: The Failure of Success in America and Inequality in the United States: A Reader.)

This is what Gary Dorrien calls “a jewel of a book, offering a rich conversation between a Biblical theologian father and sociologist son on caring for each other and the world.”  In fact, Mark Mulder (Chair of the Department of Social Work and Sociology at Calvin College) says of it, “Rebuilding the Foundations offers a clear, lucid, and compelling discussion of current social issues with insights from the intersection of biblical interpretation and sociology. A profound synthesis of the sociological and prophetic imagination.”  See what we’re doing at Jubilee, offering books like this to their sociology and social work majors?  I hope this book ends up in the footnotes of the papers students write next term.  Or in some sermons or Sunday school classes — why don’t you order it now while you can, on sale?

lawyers calling.jpgThe Lawyers Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice Joseph G. Allegretti (Paulist Press) $12.95  This delightfully interesting book is our first choice for pre-law majors, law students, or attorneys just starting to integrate faith and their vocation in the field of law.  The author is a Roman Catholic (who earned his J.D. from Harvard, cum laude) and an M.Div from Yale (summa cum laude, by the way) who, among other things, draws on Niebuhr. He is convinced that many lawyers are facing a crisis of meaning themselves, so need spiritual renewal and thoughtful theological insight about their calling.  I like this because it is basic, relatively short, inexpensive.

Redeeming Law- Christian Calling and the Legal Profession.jpgRedeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession Michael Schutt (IVP) $27.00 This, I always say, everywhere we go, is the book for serious Christians thinking about law and legal theory from a Christian viewpoint. Mike is a very, very good friend and even if you don’t agree with every jot and tittle of this large work, you will enjoy the conversation, learn much, and be well on your way to developing an integrated Christian vision of your work and faith by reading Redeeming Law.   He understands that God calls us into vocational arenas and wrote about that before the recent batch of books on this, and he then integrates a Biblical world-and-life view with a serious take on jurisprudence and the like. Kudos to Mike not only for writing this important book but for his upbeat work with law students through the Christian Legal Society.  We are big fans.  And, he has spoken at Jubilee more than once. He’s had me on his Cross and Gavel podcast, too, talking about books, of course. Yay.

Counseling and Christianity- Five Approaches.jpgCounseling and Christianity: Five Approaches edited by Stephen Greggo (IVP) $25.00 I love these kinds of four views debates, with varying authors saying how they relate, in this case, faith to their counseling practices.  After each position paper, the others offer their feedback, and so by the end you get not only four models of faith/counseling integration, but also the critiques others might make to the faithfulness and viability of the model.  I was hoping psychology majors who so earnestly want to help people and want a Godly approach would be eager to struggle through these competing options. Well, we have a few too many on hand, now, so surely there’s some BookNotes readers who would find this helpful.  There is another one that is a bit more scholarly/foundational called Faith and Psychology: Five Views and we have a lot of that one left over, too.  Any takers?  Order now while these are part of this buy two get one free dealio.

good of politics.jpgThe Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction James Skillen (Baker Academic) $24.00  I did a major, long review of this when it first came out and I maintain it is one of the essentials for anyone serious about thinking about the quandary of working out a Christian view of public justice in a pluralistic culture. A lot of church history and theology, Skillen is masterful in examining how different assumptions about politics, culture, history, institutions, the fall, the nature of redemption, all conspire to shape (or, more likely, to mis-shape) our views of the task of the state. Neither big government democrat committed to “progress” (whatever that means) nor a small-government conservative, Skillen really does work out political theory in light of a Kuyperian insight about the Bible, redemption, and the role of government. BookNotes subscribers know I’ve developed several lists of the best books about a non-partisan; uniquely Christian view of political life and responsible citizenship and this book is always on those lists.  Had I been with any poly sci majors I’d have pressed this into their hands.  Glad to offer a few here, now, on sale.

caring for creation.jpgCaring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment Mitch Hescox & Paul Douglas (Bethany) $14.99  I hope you recall that we’ve had this dynamic duo in the bookstore here in Dallastown and that we big fans of this easy to read study of climate change and responsible, non-partisan policy ideas.  This is such an accessible, balanced, and Biblically-inspiring little book I wanted all the Jubilee participants to know about it.  I described it briefly during the main-stage time Saturday morning when we were lamenting what Bible scholars call “the fall” which reminds us that things are “not the way they are supposed to be.” Romans 8 overtly teaches that the whole creation is groaning, that the Earth itself is weighed down, awaiting redemption-at the hands of the new Adams and Eves that, in the Second Adam, can bring healing and hope to the planet.  There are more sophisticated books of eco-theology, more urgent books about push us towards climate change activism.  This is a great start, though, and in this current political era, it is clear that the Trump administration isn’t going to be funding or enforcing anti-pollution legislation, so things are only going to get worse. This is simply a fact. As pollution increases the church is going to have to be prepared. Get this book now and read it as soon as possible. 

Making Sense of God- An Invitation to the Skeptical .jpgMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00  Many, many young adults love Keller’s astute sermons, listen to him on line and admire his fairly conventional worship and preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan.  Keller knows that the gospel is for all of life and has hosted conversations at his PCA church on everything from civility to the arts, bringing in folks as diverse as Pulitzer Prize literary figure Marilyn Robinson and poet Christian Wyman and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson. His gospel-centered call to “seek the peace of the city” encourages many towards civic engagement (and, to be honest, learned some of this perspective  years and years ago through figures in the early 1970s who were also seminal in influencing the CCO and Jubilee; Keller himself has spoken for CCO staff.)

Alas, nonetheless, this book was maybe too pricey for young students and maybe a bit intimidating. We had a large section on “apologetics” for those wanting to defend the faith with concise answers to tough questions but many were less sophisticated and less costly, more suitable for younger students.  Further, we had a large section of books we labeled “finding faith” for seekers and skeptics.  (Yes, CCO staff persuade even intellectually antagonistic students to come along to this overtly Christ-centered event and we had numerous conversations with sharp atheists or other non-Christian students.)  Anyway, be that all as it may be, we have a some of these big books we’re willing to add on to this sale offer.  This is sophisticated, thoughtful, engaging, and what is essential a prequel to his famous Reason for God. You should consider getting it and reading it’s remarkable insight and/or sharing it with a skeptic you may know.

new heavens and new earth.jpgA New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99  Our friend Richard Middleton helped do some CCO staff training decades ago (back when he was writing with Brian Walsh, doing extraordinary – and still relevant! – books such as The Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be.)  Beth and I got to supply the books for a book release event launching A New Heaven and a New Earth into the world, hosted by Redeemer Presbyterian in New York a few years ago. Some of us were tickled pink when we heard Richard was doing the Sunday morning message at Jubilee that year and ever since we’ve carried a b it stack of this hefty volume.  Granted, it is more than most want to know about the restoration of creation and even if most Jubilee kids appreciated the “salvation is creation healed” view of the end, this is a through (not to say tedious) study.  Blurbs on the back range from Walter Brueggemann (who had nearly said about his book The Liberating Image that is was the best book on the imago dei in all of church history) to Jamie Smith (who says this book, if widely read would “transform North American Christianity”) to Lutheran Hebrew Scriptures scholar Terence Fretheim, to Biblical scholar and thermaculture farmer Sylvia Keesmaat to Creation Regained worldview author Al Wolters… This is a fabulous contribution and a must-read.  The last chapter explores living Jubilee a la Luke 4, by the way, and is nearly worth the price of the book just for that.

Adventures in Evangelical Civility- A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground.jpgAdventures of Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground Richard Mouw (Brazos Press) $24.99  Mouw’s wonderful little book of social wisdom called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World is certainly a much-needed book these days, but I wanted to remind you of this more recent one – it seemed so germane at Jubilee for young scholars and faculty and others who grapple with intellectual and theological and social issues.  This is more or less a memoir by the former Calvin College political philosophy professor whose early books so influenced those of us creating the Jubilee conference in the late 1970s who ended up the President of Fuller Theological Seminary.

Mouw did Jubilee workshops early on, decades ago, and just a few years ago did a major main-stage address.  (His short piece in my own Serious Dreams by the way, was a lovely little talk at Messiah College on why higher education matters and hopefully “rearranged” the intellectual luggage one carries around. It is, in a way, what Jubilee is about, too, or, as rapper Propaganda said this year, college is a great time of life because one begins to understand that things are a lot more complex than we previously thought.)  Anyway, this memoir – named as one of my favorite books of 2016 – shows how Mouw sought common ground with the books and authors he was reading, being engaged and interactive with the scholars and the social trends and the theological voices competing for influence. It is, in a way, a perfect guide (by way as example and storytelling) on how to do this Christian learning thing, being both principles and gracious, being open-minded but grounded in the Bible, being a committed evangelical but open to other influences and always involved in the issues of the day.  Most of the most admired Christian scholars and though leaders I know, and many who have graced the podiums and classrooms and late-night talk sessions in the lobbies at Jubilee are themselves fans of Dr. Mouw.  We should read his book, take in his stories, learn by example of how to be “in but not of” the world, open but truthful, always on a quest…

Recovering Classic Evangelicalism- Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. jpgRecovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry Gregory Alan Thornberry (Crossway) $17.99  I’ve heard quite a bit about this bow-tie rocking New York President of The Kings College who ends up in The New Yorker or the Wall Street Journal, making a case for culturally relevant, thoughtful, distinctively Christian ideals, worked out in the real world by energetic, thoughtful young adults.

Dr. Thornbury is young, exceptionally bright, fascinated by pop culture, and, indeed, helped edited with my good friend Ned Bustard, the Square Halo book Bigger on the Inside: Christian Faith and Doctor Who which (as books with a cult following sometimes do) surprised us by selling out at Jubilee. We were glad he was at Jubilee Professional (where his presentation was fabulously insightful and energetic!) and we heard he attracted a good crowd for his Jubilee workshop.  We’re glad the Doctor Who one was appreciated.

Yet his more conventional volume – although not at all stuffy for this kind of a book – about the former evangelical leader Carl F. H. Henry is a masterpiece.  I so wish others who are involved in contemporary cultural witness in these postmodern days would know this material. Whether the framework and approach of the then-young, socially-responsible, mid-twentieth century evangelical leader (now long gone) is adequate for our times is perhaps an unanswered question, but we should know his work and witness, know the history of ideas and practices and institutions developed by Henry (Christianity Today, for instance, and, in some convoluted stretch, the CCO itself.) Dr. David Dockery says, “This marvelously written volume brilliantly captures the essence of Henry’s massive writings for a new generation of students, thinkers, and leaders.”  I know that many of the 19 year-olds at Jubilee are still reading Crazy Love and Not a Fan; we hope our broader and perhaps more mature readership here will appreciate this important book – which suggests Carl F. H. Henry is “a key to evangelicalism’s past and a cipher for the future” – and take it up to consider carefully.  It would make a great little book club study or a book to read with a partner.  In this recent election cycle and in all the news reporting we’ve learned that evangelicalism has come to lose concise meaning and almost anybody who isn’t an excessive theological liberal is considered, these days, an “evangelical.”  We all should ponder what “classic evangelicalism” is.  This book can help.

VoV.jpgVisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $17.00  Steve spoke at the pre-Jubilee day (Jubilee Professional, or JPro as we sometimes call it) and was, of course, hanging around the conference itself; he used to be the director and brought globally-respected evangelicals such as John Stott and Hans Rookmaaker to Pittsburgh decades ago. So many respect him throughout the country, but he has a special affection for Pittsburgh and for this decades old event. I almost always announce his important books at Jubilee, since they literally emerged, in part, from his years directing the conference and caring about grad students in Pittsburgh via IVCF and CCO; some years I tell of Fabric of Faithfulness, some years Visions of Vocation.

This year I gave it a rest – so many books, so little time.  So here ya go, now:  my nearly every-other-week plug for Mr. Garber’s luminous books.  Dare I say this has been one of the top two or three leaders who have influenced CCO and the Jubilee conference?  It is really true.

Somebody from the main stage this year said that Beth and I have been influential in the conference and gave us a very kind shout-out.  We appreciate being so honored and were humbled and grateful.  But let’s face it: our role is in getting the best books into the hands of leaders and students, pastors and others who help spread the words.   Beth and I wouldn’t have anything much to do if we didn’t have books of this caliber and authors and publishers that are so supportive of our feeble efforts.  Thanks Steve (and other good authors.)  Thanks Jubilee.  And thanks to you – BookNotes readers.  We’re in this together, reading for the Kingdom, serving God for the good of the world.



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On to Jubilee! A thank you for being part of our work, and a request for prayer.

I hate to alarm anyone, but parking our big rented U-Haul right by our store’s back door, and lugging literally hundreds of boxes out the door does give the impression we’re closing down and moving out.  

Local customers that know us well just shake their heads at all the mess, stepping over packing supplies and electric cords and signs and paperwork and moveing around stacks of books almost as high as their shoulders, and say “It’s that time of year again, isn’t it, for that big Jubilee conference out in Pittsburgh?”  
A pop-up bookstore that we curate and build there takes two big days to set up and by Friday night we’ll be ready to show books to nearly 3000 college students, brought to the David Lawrence Convention Center by the various campus staff from the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach.) Forty-one years ago Beth and I were on a committee planning this unique event designed to help college students relate faith to all areas of life, including their academic majors, developing the mind of Christ and a Biblically-informed vision for their calling into careers.
Which is why we take over 150 categories of books, from Christian views (or books by otherjubilee  booktable.JPG ethical or insightful writers) of engineering to film studies, from health care to mathematics, from urban planning to politics.  Of course we take lots of basic sorts of Christian resources for living into discipleship and spiritual formation. I know many of you have read our regular columns the week after Jubilee each year and have expressed appreciation for the good work of the CCO and our role in promoting reading and books to these earnest young adults.
The Friday of Jubilee starts earlier in the day with an event for adults, and although it is more-or-less indigenous to the ‘burgh, hosted by the fantastic Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, people fly in from all over the country to attend Jubilee Professional.  I’m nervous about my small role there, highlighting titles that relate well to their ministry among artists, entrepreneurs, and others in the work-world because they do such a very good job and there’s so many interesting people there.  
And then I get to stand up three different times to speak in front of the 3000 folks on the main-stage at Jubilee, and then I’m doing a smaller workshop Sunday morning about the theme of the year of Jubilee from Leviticus 25, as promised in Isaiah 61, which served as the manifesto for Jesus’s own first sermon, his inaugural address found in Luke 4.
A Mennonite scholar named John Howard Yoder first introduced me to this in the mid-70s through his legendary book The Politics of Jesus.  Later, some friends affiliated with the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto helped us clarify all that implies and invited us to call the conference Jubilee.  It is, after all, about the restoration of all things promised by the grand story of the Scriptures, and what it looks like to live out that kind of hopeful witness in every zone of life. God’s promises of shalom and healing and peace and justice and linked to Christ’s own role as the Jubilee bringer.
jubilee every square inch.jpgThis Jubilee conference — this year using the motto “every square inch” drawn from Abraham Kuyper, whose early 1900s Dutch legacy of an all-of-life-redeemed worldview is always hovering around the edges of this event — is about Christ redeeming all things.  The CCO’s main motto, by the way, is “transforming college students to transform the world.”  That would be every square inch of the world, since Christ loves and died for and is redeeming it all.  
Which is why work and art and science and sports and TV and sex and business and computers and families and education and churches all matter equally. It’s all good, it’s all mess up, it’s all been bought by by the blood of the Lamb, risen now, sending us in the power of His Spirit into all the world.  
serious dreams copies fanned.jpgIt is inspiring to know that conversations about this kind of stuff —  about work and culture and taking faith missionally into the neighborhoods and “every square inch” of creation —  going on all over the country and we feel truly blessed by God to have been involved in some of this kind of work, on and off, for 40 years.

It was one of the motivating reasons I put together my book, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of your Life, that hopefully captures some of what we’ve learned at Jubilee over the years, about integrating faith and work, serving God in little ways and in big dreams, helping young adults find God’s story for their lives. We always come back from Jubilee so impressed with the CCO staff (to whom the book is dedicated, by the way) and the work they do with their college age students.

Since you, our customers, are part of this story, too — you wouldn’t subscribe to BookNotes and send orders our way if you didn’t feel some connection to our work — we just wanted to tell you where we are this week and ask you to pray for us. We really need God’s energy and insight and we want the truths of the gospel that we affirm to touch our hearts so we trust that “things shall be well.” 

We should be reminding you about our in-store event here in Dallastown with Jubilee speaker Michael Wear on March 10th (I hope you saw our review of his book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America) or our in-store coloring event on March 21st with Chris Rodkey, author of the Coloring Through Lent devotional I reviewed last week.

Our staff are here ready to continue to mail order’s out, so let us know what we can do to serve you.


We wanted to share this video of Jon Tyson (pastor of Trinity Grace in New York City and co-author of Rumors of God: Experience the Kind of Faith You’ve Only Heard About) of his Saturday night Jubilee talk two years ago.Once he gets warmed up he explains “the Jubilee vision” as clearly as nearly anyone in the conference’s history. It’s well worth watching. He will be speaking Friday night this year, and we look forward to hearing him again.

And, just because some have asked, here’s my own talk from last year’s Jubilee where I had the great privilege of doing one of the Sunday morning presentations.  It’s on big hope, and maybe it will help you in these troubled times in our nation.  It was the fourth in a series of Jubilee talks, each done by different speakers, on the big Biblical story starting with creation, lamenting the fall into sin and alienation, the truth of Christ’s redemption, and the big hope of restoration. 
Those four “chapters” of the Biblical worldview have been the framework for Jubilee in recent years — students really appreciate seeing their lives making sense as they understand this narrative of how the Bible makes sense of things.  Anyway, I’m wrapping up the conference and get a bit enthusiastic.  Sorry to shout.

Well, it’s a big event, a good part of our story, and we wanted you to be a part of it too.  Thanks.

Here is something I wrote to a friend the other day, asking for prayer for health and stamina, wisdom and graciousness:
Please pray for us, if you can.  As I wrote to somebody the other day, we’re working 18 + hour days getting reading for the biggest thing we do, the Jubilee conference out in Pittsburgh (a college student event that we helped develop 41 years ago about the Lordship of Christ over all of life and integrating faith/learning in various vocations and studies) and our big display of nearly 150 categories. It’s just crazy-making, keeping it all straight, finding the right stuff, juggling the various topics from Christian views of engineering to film to education to counseling to politics to math and on and on, lugging boxes here and there from our overstock room in the basement.  We rent a big truck and load it Tuesday and Wednesday and drive to Pittsburgh late Wednesday so we can start setting up early Thursday. It takes two whole days, with some volunteer help. We’re pretty stressed by it all… 

We really do covet your prayers — I’ve got a lingering cough that has me dragging, and we all are sore from all the lifting and lugging. Yesterday the computer/printer wasn’t working right when Beth is making signs for all  the speakers who have books so the tech struggles are particularly frustrating and time consuming. She spends days on it… we’re just exhausted, and the fun hasn’t even begun.

But once we get there, the ministry with books and counseling students is so rich and rewarding we serve non-stop through the power of the Spirit (and adrenaline and caffeine that friends bring us like manna.) There is nothing like it that we do all year.  We hope we make a difference for God’s good work, to Christ’s glory. We hope people know that we really believe in reading as an act of Christian growth, as an act of discipleship and as a way to learn about our responsibilities in the world God loves.  I sometimes shout out, “Read for the Kingdom!” 

And while your praying, pray for our family and staff. My mom turns 90 today, and our staff are valiant holding down the fort in Dallastown while we’re away.

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Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection by Christopher D. Rodkey and Jesse & Natalie Turri ON SALE

coloring lent.jpg


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More than a year ago, in November of 2015, a local UCC pastor and friend, Dr. Chris Rodkey, asked us for some Christmas-themed coloring books to offer during an adult Sunday school time during Advent. Hey, even out of the way places like Dallastown aren’t immune to national trends and the adult coloring book thing was, well, a thing. 

Pastor Chris Rodkey, though, isn’t a superficially trendy guy.

rodkey in blue.jpgHe’s got a PhD in philosophy, drops the names of all kinds of ancient and postmodern scholars in conversation, has released two sermon collections bringing radical theologians and anti-empire  themes into conversation with the Biblical text.  He does like his pop culture so it didn’t surprise me to see a lovely quote about music by George Michael on his church sign-board when the British singer died. I’m sure he’s not the only preacher to have references to the Walking Dead in his sermons, but I suspect he’s the only one who did so with quotes from the likes of Rene Girard and the Pet Shop Boys. I know.

So when this progressive voice for justice in our community – he made national news when a school board director from a near-by school district left threatening messages on the church voicemail because Chris had publicly wished our Muslim neighbors a happy Ramadan – wanted coloring books I was a little surprised. 

The Synaptic Gospel.jpgBut here’s the thing: Rodkey is not only an attentive pastor, always on the look-out for ways to help his parishioners and church guests and seekers,  he also  wrote a book a few years back, cleverly entitled  The Synaptic Gospel: Teaching the Brain to Worship (University Press of America; $26.99) which is a study of worship through the lens of neuroscience, a fascinating book offering some basic insights about brain studies and faith formation.

I am sure it is not lost on him that there’s been a lot of research on this coloring book phenomenon.  Apparently, there is something about the practice, the steady, careful, attentive work, the pace, the rhythm, the choices of color and hue that does something to the brain. Perhaps akin to yoga or deep breathing or tactile spiritual practices like using prayer beads or prayer walking, there’s this integral connection between body and soul.  Not just a silly commercial flash in the pan, maybe there is something to this simple and creative practice; coloring books as prayer books.   Picking up a Crayola or wooden pencil as spiritual gesture.

I’ve rolled my eyes plenty about how Every Single Publisher is Getting In On This.

And it concerns me that many of the best-selling religious books in the country right now are coloring books with vaguely inspirational titles. But, again, there seems to be some real benefit to using these and there actually are some that are pretty cool  – I like an Aslan one we have, and there’s one done by a Roman Catholic liturgical artist where the Bible characters are reminiscent of medieval icons. Plenty are about quietude or words from the the Psalms, “Be Still and Know”-type verses  to gently reflect upon as you color.

praying in color portable edition.jpgpraying in color.jpgSome of this trend, by the way, was anticipated years earlier when our friends at Paraclete Press published an important book, loved by many, called Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God by Sybil Macbeth. There is a slightly larger size ($17.99) and a smaller, “portable” version ($15.99) and they remain popular, even though they are about ways to organize one’s prayer life. They even did one for those less likely to take up this DIY process called Praying in Black and White: A Hands-On Practice for Men ($15.00.)

writing in the margins.jpgI suppose it isn’t quite the same thing, but maybe you recall my review a couple of years ago of the very useful book by Presbyterian pastor Lisa Nicole Hickman called Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible (Abingdon; $16.99.) In that book, Hickman advises an interactive engagement with the Bible as we, literally, scribble on the pages of the Holy Book.  

True education bearing fruit of inner transformation takes more than what we used to call “book learning.” James K.A. Smith has been saying that in his heady pair of Baker Academic books Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom and in the accessible , must-read Hearts & Minds Best Book of 2016, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99.) Participating in rituals and experiences and whole-body engagement is part of how we embodied humans learn, truly.  As blue-collar work-world cultural critic Matthew Crawford says in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction the stuff we do does stuff to us.

Which brings me back to Chris Rodkey, the brain studies/social justice worker/progressive pastor who wanted those simple coloring books for Advent.  In a season of Christmas consumerism and holiday hectic-ness and all manner of anxieties and stress that does stuff to us, his church folk loved the opportunity to play a bit, to get in touch with something fun, seemingly child-like, and it brought up adult-size conversations about quiet and peace and joy and rest and gospel.  This quasi-liturgical practice opened up space for God and, given that they’ve heard Chris’s radical sermons (the kinds found in his two books of sermons, Too Good to Be True: Radical Christian Preaching,Year A and The World Is Crucifixion) a realization might have cropped up among them.  This stuff is subversive, its own little Advent conspiracy of resistance.

And so, Chris got to work.

He found an accomplished illustrator, called some folks at Chalice Press, and as quick as one can say Magenta or Periwinkle  they had a plan.  He would create two coloring books with thoughtfully meditative reflections on the Biblical texts for the lectionary, one for this coming Lent, another for next Advent. Chalice Press has been very excited, and we are too.

coloring lent.jpgColoring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection by Christopher D. Rodkey & Jesse & Natalie Turri (Chalice Press; $12.99) just arrived and I’m tickled pink.

It does what most of the adult coloring books do, offering very nice line drawings for you to get your color on, but these are a bit more detailed than some (fine-tipped markers or wooden pencils might be advised.)  

In the opening essay, the fascinating, beautiful piece called “The Resurrection of the Body: A Theological Introduction,” Rodkey writes:

As you color these pages, then, consider how your fingertips, your palms, your body have now become the habitat of God, and following the stories of Hebrew and New Testaments, consider how we might also walk the same journey as Jesus.

He gets the embodied nature of Christian formation. And this guidebook can be a way into it.

At least three things sets Coloring Lent apart from the zillions of others of adult coloring books, even the many, many religious ones.


First, this is the only adult coloring book that we know of that is geared to the Biblical texts of the Revised Common Lectionary.  What a brilliant idea!  Of course if you do not use the assigned lectionary texts these are still mostly well-known Biblical passages, the second half almost exclusively drawn from the last weeks of Jesus’ life.  If you are a typical mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox believer, these Year A texts will be used in your own worship this season.


Secondly, this is the only adult coloring book that has Biblical commentary on these given texts, the sort one would find in resources like, say, Feasting on the Word or other mainline denominational, ecumenical, critical commentaries.  There are very nice, pithy, even, reflections on the page, in a classy type font, giving this a certain liturgical feel. The reflections are often quite orthodox, standard (which is not to say uninteresting; Rodkey has a way with words and shines in as some of these Lenten devotionals.)

chris rodkey red stole.jpgBut occasionally Dr. R throws in a rumination that is well worth pondering critically.  What is implied in his Ash Wednesday piece about kenosis as “exhaustion”?  (See the footnote on that one, for sure!)  What does he mean when he says that Jesus “died as much from doubt as asphyxiation”  in the entry for Lent Day 41 entitled “Into Your Hands”?  How comfortable will you be with his “Death of God” language throughout Holy Week?  I suspect if one enters into this quiet practice of prayerfully approaching these meditations there will also be some distress:  Cain’s violence is depicted when the Lectionary reading is from Genesis 4 and Ephesians 2 – his take on being “children of wrath.” It may at first seem cool, but I my heart was heavy as I pondered his page of Jesus overturning tables and cleansing the Temple. How does one enter into the story of Peter cutting off the ear of a soldier in the garden?  And wait until you see the stunning skeletons coming out of the grave in the page called “The Resurrection of Bodies” with art created by Natalie and Jesse Turri from Matthew 27 for Holy and Great Wednesday.

In fact, I think there is so much substance in these short reflections — and endnotes!  There are endnotes and an index, in a coloring book! — that I am going to use this as a daily devotional myself, even if I don’t use it as a coloring book.  Most of the black and white drawings are so interesting that they stand alone as enhancing illustration. (I’m still pondering the Celtic cross image, designed from the curved body of a snake, to illustrate the Nuhustan of Numbers 21 – brilliant!) Sure, these drawings are awaiting you to pick up your colored pencils or pens to experience the process of engaging them, and the texts they illuminate, but even if you’re not the coloring type, reading this in itself is a provocative bit of midrash.


Further, not only is there interesting, generative reflections for each page of art and Biblical text, the art in Coloring Lent itself has moments of brilliance. As Rodkey explains in the dense and beautiful introduction (the only coloring book I know of that has an almost scholarly introduction, citing Malcolm X and Thomas Altizer and Catherine Keller) there are, especially in certain streams of Christian tradition (the Orthodox?) intentional reflection on the image and metaphor of clouds.  There is the famous glory cloud in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there are numerous references to the cloudy glory of God – one of the lectionary readings is from the famous Ichabod story, another in the “cloud of darkness” what covers the earth as Jesus cries out in dereliction “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?”  How will you experience this text, ponder this picture, engage it with pencil or pen?

For what it is worth, I might note this, too: there’s artful detail, here, and a few entries are quite a bit more interesting than others; this isn’t silly.  However, they were attentive to the use of these, knowing that this is to be a spiritual practice that is helpful.  These aren’t over done or tedious like some 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.


Rev. Rodkey’s use of theopoetics and The Cloud as a stand-in for the name of God is constant and the cloud images in the pictures are everywhere throughout Coloring Lent.  I can’t help but wonder if it is both his progressive sense of being denominationally ecumenical and his former background as a Pentecostal that has given him eyes to see this stuff.  The artists certainly are aware of much, too, working well with Rodkey’s vision (or was he riffing off theirs?)  Other ecumenical images certainly make their way into the artwork – the one from Day 36 links the unpleasant and despised image of Jesus in the Lectionary reading from Isaiah 53 to the story of Veronica and her veil.

There is a beautifully written and illustrated epigraph page – a prayer inspired by St. Ephrem the Syrian – for “Clean Monday” (a day the Orthodox use to prepare for Lent by, in some traditions, flying kites, a custom somehow related, Chris suggests, to our central Pennsylvania Dutch Fastnacht Day habit of eating donuts almost like the Catholics feast in New Orleans on Shrove Tuesday.)  Who does stuff like this in the intro to a coloring book?

Besides Ephrem the Syrian showing up, we get literary and theological nods to the broader body of Christ – calling Psalm 91 by its Latin, Qui Habitat, for instance, or the book’s Benediction from a “Chrism Mass” (the Maundy Thursday observation performed by Roman Catholic Bishops to bless the anointing oils which will be used the coming year. There is an extensive index to help you use the book in various ways and settings, for instance, a guide to using certain pages to accompany you on John Paul II’s Stations of the Cross.   And there are plenty of ecumenical visual cues – perhaps you will see hints of Botticelli, and certainly one which seems iconic of Jesus the Pantocrator.

And gladly, some quirky radical theology stuff and footnotes to Zizek  notwithstanding, there are remarkably generative Biblical insights here, good solid stuff.  The ongoing visual of snakes – crushed by Christ, finally! – is simply solid historical-redemptive stuff connecting scenes from the ancient Hebrews to the New Testament, offering resonance in ways that guys like Richard Hays or N.T. Wright would call “echoes” of Scripture, finding the Old in the New and the New in the Old.  Perhaps the artists had radical Orthodox icons in mind and not Edmund Clowney, but the inter-textual allusions are fabulous.

The prayer for the Easter Vigil is from Proverbs 8, Song of Songs 4 and Baruch 3.  His paraphrased prayer from Hebrews 9 and 10 — “A Prayer to Enter a New Temple” —  includes simple swirling art but the words are shattering: “May we in like manner encourage each other in our shared task of preparing our hearts to be liberated sepulchers of the Divine, which pours out perpetually as love for one another and especially the poor and hopeless.”   Spend some time being intentional in focusing on that line or two, get out your Bible and look up the texts for yourself, and, crayons or no, allow this kind of goading to guide you to Jesus.

As I hope you can tell, I’m excited about the potential of this way to experience the stories of Lent in a vibrant, fresh way.  As it says on the back cover, you are invited to:

…engage both your heart and mind as you color and pray your way through dozens of evocative illustration and meditations from God’s resurrection story. As you color and contemplate each image, you’ll be drawn deeper into the story and your place in it.

coloring lent.jpg



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The Beatitudes, The Sermon on the Mount, the Book of Matthew — resources for preaching, teaching, living God’s Reign (ON SALE from Hearts & Minds)

Soon, I will tell you about some Lenten resources, and I have one very special new book that I can’t wait to tell you about, written by a local Dallastown pastor, in fact. It’s a remarkable, lectionary-based adult coloring book.  More on that, soon — get your Crayolas ready; it is surprisingly intriguing.

Interactive, creative, personal or group reflections with experiential education activities (such as the tactile engagement using wooden pencils or colored markers or crayons) really are valuable for most of us; at least, certainly, for some folks. Although it may be a bit different, think of the fruitfulness found within contemplative children and youth curriculum such as Godly Play or the recent interest in praying the Scriptures, not just discussing them. (We have bunches of good books on lectio divina.) We hope you have numerous tools to help you explore the Scriptures in various ways. 

I hope you are in churches that teach the Scriptures well, and that you are in Bible study groups and adult education forums that help you explore the Bible. That’s one of the reasons we did that BookNotes newsletter feature last time naming some introductions to the Bible and some opinions about our favorite study Bibles. These are, for serious Christians, tools of the trade.  If you don’t need such items, maybe you know somebody who does. Campus workers, youth ministers, Sunday school teachers, growth group facilitators — surely you know folks who need to learn to read the Bible better, right?  Maybe you could re-visit that BookNotes and see if anything seems useful for you or yours.

We also need classic, rich worship and, as part of that, good sermons. 

Those that use the Revised Common Lectionary may know that it soon will invite preachers to work through some of the texts typically known as the Beatitudes. The odd upside-down “blessings” there are kind of background stuff for some of us, part of the Christian mindscape, but we don’t often get serious sermon series on those central chapters of Jesus’s teachings on the mount (or the plain, as it may be.)  Two different pastors doing some study of this stuff contacted me last week for a listing of books we had on the Sermon on the Mount and/or the Beatitudes.

I compiled this list pretty quickly, on the run, as part of my daily job, telling folks about books on the shelves here in Dallastown. I’ve added a few more here, tonight, and figured I’d just share this quickly in case anyone else needs to reflect this season about the manifesto of what Donald Kraybill calls “the upside down Kingdom.”  Give us a call if we can help further. We’ve got more than what we listed here, and we’re eager to serve you by helping you find what you need. 

You can email us at or call the store at 717-246-3333 or, of course, use the highlighted links at the bottom of this newsletter which take you to either our inquiry page where you can contact us with anything questions or comments or to our certified secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll confirm everything by email. Easy.


Of course, to get the full picture of the Matthew 5-6 we must take up the bigger context of the whole gospel according to Matthew.  There are too many great commentaries of various “levels” and sorts — R.T. France in the Eerdman’s NICNT series is said to be truly superior if one wants a very academic one to own and I’m a fan of the Zondervan NIV Application Commentary series (the one on Matthew is by Michael J. Wilkins) if you want a relatively easy to read one to guide preaching or teaching. But I’d also at least want to go on record suggesting these:

The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Matthew  Michael Green (IVP) $22.00 I always appreciate the commentaries in the series called The Bible Speaks Today:The Message of… for basic, useful, inspiring content. The BST: The Message of Matthew is by the late scholar/pastor from the Church of England. He’s fairly evangelical in orientation, passionate about outreach, and I like him a lot. There are even discussion/reflection questions at the end, making it that much more useful. Serious enough, but not weighty. For those who don’t need a technical one, start here.

Matthew for Everyone Part 1 and Matthew for Everyone Part 2 N.T. Wright (WJK) $18.00 each  I hope you respect Tom Wright’s historical, Biblical, and theological chops as much as I do and here we are given another glimpse into a remarkable gift he has — he can speak to ordinary folks with common jargon without slipping into being maudlin or sappy or overly partisan. These are common sense, but with a powerful bit of insight along the way.  There is good exegesis, a bit of big picture background, and nice illustrations or stories for teaching or preaching. There are “…for Everyone” volumes for the whole New Testament, of course. Nicely done.

The Pillar New Testament Commentary The Gospel According to Matthew Leon Morris (Eerdmans) $55.00 This serious series is known for being mostly evangelical, straight-forward, with clear and good interpretation of the text for preachers and teachers; not a lot of big picture criticism or interaction with various theories and secondary sources. Just good explanation of what the text says, a bit technical, but not overly so. Leon Morris is an Anglican from Australia, I believe. Solid stuff.

Matthew: A Commentary Volume 1 and Matthew: A Commentary Volume 2 Frederick Dale Bruner (Eerdmans) $40.00 and $45.00 This is a spectacular two volume set that used to be called The Christ Book and The Church Book and are now out in less spiffy titles, but in glorious revised and expanded editions. These are fabulous for any number of reasons and I have heard from more than one customer that these are a great example of just what a good commentary should be. Kudos! It’s very useful for serious teachers and preachers, I’d say, and a very worthy investment for anyone with a library of Bible resources.

Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Press) $28.00  This series of commentaries, edited by R.R. Reno of First Things fame, brings a uniquely theological lens to the text, not just abstract exegesis, but is asking in stimulating ways what this book of the canon means. Professor Hauerwas is an academic genius, of course, and a legendary preacher who loves the church, too, and is also known as a rather crusty pacifist, so his insights on the Sermon on the Mount portion of Matthew might be useful in stretching you into pondering the theological implications of this part of the first gospel.

The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Craig Keener (Eerdmans) $60.00  I wish this weren’t so expensive as it is magisterial, without being too arcane. His encyclopedic knowledge of early church and other sources is legendary. He’s especially strong on cultural stuff which is really interesting. (He was one of the editors of the NIV Cultural Background Study Bible that I described in our last post.) This major work covers every sentence and offers practical insight as well.  Fabulous, if a bit dense and expensive.

Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew Volume 1 and Volume 2 edited by Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson (WJK) $40.00 each  I am sure you know the Feasting on the Word commentary series. Those offer four takes (from four angles) on each lectionary pericope. This two part set are produced by the same folks, in that same nice size and follows that same “4-eyed” approach but is on the entire book of Matthew (not just the lectionary choices for any given year.) They have these for each of the four gospels, by the way. In these you solve the problem of wondering what voice to hear, which commentaries to buy; there’s a variety of authors, short pieces from varying views on each passage (theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical.)  Written by a range of mainline denominational folks. 


The Upside Down Kingdom Donald Kraybill (Herald Press) $16.99 This is one of those books in my own life that was seminal in many ways. I intuited much of this even as a high school kid struggling with the Viet Nam war-ear draft but reading it made in the late 70s allow much about the Kingdom of God gel into place. Dr. Kraybill, with Ron Sider, is one of those evangelical anabaptists that takes both the saving gospel and the radical ethics of Scriptures seriously. I think this is a tremendous book, and his explanations of the cultural backgrounds on the beatitudes is helpful, if quite challenging.

Story of God Bible Commentaries: Sermon on the Mount Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $29.99  Did you by any chance see in a recent BookNotes newsletter I did a shout out to this ongoing series, of which there are maybe six or seven books of the Bible done. They are easy to use, with a three fold approach — the place of the book under study in the Biblical story, the teaching or exegesis of what the texts say, and then the application or insight for contemporary witness.  I like these a lot, and this one, on the Sermon on the Mount, is very useful for preachers or teachers, I’d say.  There are more sophisticated commentaries on Matthew (do you know the two volume set by Frederick Dale Bruner? So good.) but this on the Sermon is really useful.

The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount John Stott (IVP Academic) $18.00  No list on the Sermon on the Mount would be complete without this useful, sturdy, easy to use, compelling commentary. I like all the BST series of commentaries. This was first out under the title “Christian Counterculture” and although I don’t think he embraces all of these counter-cultural ways vividly enough, it’s very helpful and an important resource. 

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount  Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Eerdmans) $30.00  Lloyd-Jones was a London preacher and Bible teacher whom some consider one of the most influential in the 20th century. He’s got Puritan instincts, is rigorously Reformed, and this is a thorough, nearly tedious, study. Some consider this a spiritual classic. For a quicker, less costly read in a somewhat similar vein see The Sermon on the Mount by the eloquent Scottish preacher Sinclair Ferguson (Banner of Truth; $8.00.) Sweet stuff, with some clear teaching about the role of law and grace and gospel-centered transformation.

The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God Dallas Willard (HarperOne) $25.99  Do you know Willard? He was philosophy prof who was also a deep Christian saturated in the classics, who early or mentored Richard Foster and encouraged him to write about the spiritual disciplines. His books were often about inner transformation, about God’s revolutionary way of re-calibrating our hearts and changing our character into the image of Christ. This is his most groundbreaking book and most of it is centered on an explication of the Sermon on the Mount.

Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance Glen Stassen (Jossey Bass) $22.95  This was going to be a series of books called”Enduring Questions in the Christian Life” but they only did three, I think. I loved this. Stassen took Lewis Smedes’ chair as the ethics prof at Fuller, and he was a serious, Reformed thinker, a peacemaker and social activist of sorts. I so appreciated his taking theology, Bible, and applying it to life in these times. This is really good, sort of an applied living out of the ways of the Kingdom. He says that these are not legalistic rules or unreachable ideals but “a recipe for wholeness and healing in our human relationships and deliverance from the vicious cycles that we get stuck in.”

Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount Richard Rohr & John Bookser Feister (Franciscan Media) $14.99  I like Rohr’s blend of charismatic leaning on the Holy Spirit, vibrant and serious Christian social witness, and a desire to read the Biblical text in such a way that it inspires folks to be transformed from the inside out, deepening their trust in God and their love of others.  When this came out years ago neo-liberal politicians were talking about a “new world order” and this invites us to see the coming reign of God and it’s values explicated here, as the real new order. 

Father Rohr says: “I doubt that any major political leader would align a new world order in terms of cooperation, trust, service and redemptive suffering… For all the talk of a new world order, it’s simply the old world order. The real New World Order, he says, “is the heart of the New Testament.”

The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom  Jamie Arpin-Rici (IVP) $16.00  Jamie is a Canadian lay Franciscan who is Protestant who serves the poor and builds community, inspired by the way the real St. Francis.  The first part of this moving book is on the Beatitudes, the rest on the Sermon on the Mount, but not as a typical Bible study but more by way of telling his own story of building a community and the hardships of living that kind of blessed life together. On the back it says “this book is a field report with insights about what life together in the spirit of Jesus’ teachings offers and demands. Discover the true cost of community.”

Become What You Are: Spiritual Formation According to the Sermon on the Mount  William W. Klein (IVP) $20.00 This sounds a bit like Dallas Willard, actually, and because it was first published in England, I never got any advanced stuff on it and only recently discovered it. Alas, I’ve never looked at it, although I’m interested:  here’s what they say about it: “If you were sitting today on a hillside listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, how ought you respond? Become What You Are is the insider’s guide to Jesus’ agenda?the goal of spiritual formation. This goal is a transformed heart, a change at the inner center of our being, that leads to a life that pleases God. Or, as a shorthand, it means becoming like Christ. This unique approach to the most famous sermon juxtaposes analysis with practice sections throughout. In the analysis sections, the essential meaning of the text?what Jesus and Matthew were driving at?is explained for each section of the sermon. A practice section follows, calling you to engage Jesus’ meaning for yourself. By understanding what the Sermon meant in  its context and how you can take it seriously in this modern world, as a follower of Jesus, you will be able to become what you are.”    

The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination Dale Allison (Crossroad Publishing Company) $24.95  Allison is an amazing man, one of the top handful of world renowned Matthew scholars, a Presbyterian who favors Orthodoxy, formerly of the NT department at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and now at Princeton, and a bit of an eccentric mystic — he has a book about ponderings about death and he’s interested in the paranormal (but I digress.) This is mature, thoughtful, mind-blowing stuff. The promo on the book says: …Dale Allison insists that the full meaning of these chapters in Matthew’s Gospel can be seen only in relation to the broader literary context of the Gospel as a whole, with its Jewish Christian orientation. Indeed, the Sermon and the moral imperatives it contains must be understood: 1) in relation to the example provided by Jesus’ words and deeds elsewhere in the Gospel; 2) with reference to the community of believers that constitutes the intended audience of Matthew’s Gospel; and 3) in terms of what the Gospel says elsewhere about the end of the age. The Sermon does not present a simple set of rules, perhaps only intended for a small and select group within the Christian community, but seeks to instill a moral vision and to inspire the moral imagination of all who would follow Jesus

Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines edited by Dave Bland, David Fleer, Warren Carter (Chalice Press) $15.99  I suppose this collection of essays and sermons will be very helpful for some mainline preachers although it is rooted in a fairly progressive theology.  Chalice is Disciples of Christ with an affinity for UCC, so you may know some of the contributors. I know a few — Lucy Lind Hogan has done stuff on “roundtable” preaching as a feminist, Hauerwas, of course, speaks bluntly from Duke, Lee Camp has a book I like on radical discipleship, Richard Hughes is a wonderfully thoughtful guy who used to be at Messiah College near us here, although I think he is now at Lipscomb.

Here’s what they say in the promo, saying Preaching the Sermon… offers:

speech of resistance to the forces and institutions that dominate the world. This two-part volume brings together the thoughts of biblical scholars and storytellers, theologians and historians, and evangelical and mainline scholars. Eighteen writers tackle Jesus’ landmark sermon, as timely in today’s discussions of empire, occupation, poverty, and wars as ever. They demonstrate that the Sermon on the Mount puts before us not an impossible ideal, but a vision of what God’s people can be when they choose by God’s grace to live in God’s Kingdom. Contributors include: editors David Fleer and Dave Bland, Ronald J. Allen, Chris Altrock, Lee C. Camp, Charles Campbell, Warren Carter, Jeff Christian, Dennis Dewey, Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Hughes, Kenneth R. Greene, Lucy Lind Hogan, Charme Robarts, Rubel Shelly, John Siburt, Dean Smith, and Jerry Taylor.

The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom R. Kent Hughes (Crossway) $32.99  This series “Preaching the Word” offers exegetical advice on expository sermons and, as such, is one of the best commentary series I know doing this kind of thing. It is conservative, Reformed, mostly, and impeccable, even if it is moderate in application — that is, not radical like Crosby or literal like Kraybill.  It’s thoughtful, sound, professional, although I’d wish for just a few more rough edges or wildness to it.  I like this whole series, mostly.  Funny, just today a customer asked about his book on Numbers, of all things, and I spent some time reading it. Really interesting! This is a good, evangelical series by top-notch communicator and working pastor.

Speaking Jesus: Homiletic Theology and the Sermon on the Mount  David Buttrick (WJK) $30.00  Since I’m on a roll, I thought I’d list this which we have under preaching. I really can’t say I understand what it is about but Buttrick is legendary in some circles.  On the back it says: “In Speaking Jesus, Buttrick delineates the theological issues inherent in the Sermon on the Mount and presents a homiletical strategy for preaching its meaning and relevance. In Part One, Buttrick gives a general overview of the text and raises central theological issues imperative to its preaching, particularly the authenticity of Jesus’ words and the sermon’s relevance for today. In Part Two, he offers his commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, provides suggestions for preaching, and includes some of his own sermons as examples.”   


The Beatitudes George Hunsinger (Paulist Press) $19.95  This recent, slim hardback is quite an important little book written by a major theological voice of our day. Hunsinger, you may know, is one of the clearest interpreters of Karl Barth, graduate of Yale Divinity School, a former social activist, and, for many years, a esteemed professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. That he is deeply ecumenical is inspiring, and this book — published by a Roman Catholic publisher — is being widely lauded. 

Here are two nice blurbs from the back cover:

This is a very profound and moving book.  George Hunsinger not only deepens our appreciation of Jesus, but also brings out powerfully how the Beatitudes possess significance for today.  His treatment of world poverty, the environmental crisis, nonviolence, religious persecution, and much more, could not be more timely for the church and the world.  I cannot recommend this work too highly.  — Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Generations of Christians have had their understanding of their faith and the nature of the Christian life deepened by reflection and meditation on the Beatitudes guided by the great theologians of the church.  George Hunsinger has given us such guidance for our time.  This book will surely find its way into the hands of pastors and congregants for generations to come.  This book is a gem.  — Willie James Jenning, Yale University

The Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World Michael Crosby (Orbis) $20.00  This is nearly akin to liberation theology, rooted in radical Catholic social teaching, and I think it is really, really worth reading. I read the first edition, this one is “expanded and updated.”  It’s also about the best textual study I know of, although I haven’t read Hunsinger (yet.)  I’d recommend it.

Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through the Beatitudes Colin S. Smith (Moody Press) $14.99  This is a great example of how a very conventional preacher can offer messages that are straight-on Biblical teaching, informed by older interpreters (from the likes of the Puritans, Bonar, M’Cheyne, Spurgeon,  Martin Lloyd-Jones, and moderns like A.W. Tozer) and make them sound as relevant and compelling as if they were written yesterday. Even the marketing — the cover and title — make this seem seeker-sensitive and upbeat; the author is a gifted communicator and solid Bible guy. He is senior pastor of the fruitful multi-campus, Orchard Evangelical Free Church.

Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes Michael Glerup (IVP) $15.00  Well, how about this? These are modern paraphrases and adaptations of real sermons preached in the 300s.  Part of IVPs “Classics in Spiritual Formation” series. Wow.

The Beatitudes for Today James Howell (WJK) $14.00  This is part of a very nice, upbeat and modern series of books published by Presbyterian USA publisher, Westminster John Knox. Reliable, accessible, moderate in tone it’s about 135 pages. Howell is a United Methodist pastor and did a book on Micah 6:8 as well.  There are discussion questions, too. 

The Beatitudes Darrell Johnson (Regent College Publishing) $15.99 Johnson teaches at Regent in British Columbia, where James Houston, Eugene Peterson, and Marva Dawn were. I have not read this but I know his excellent book on Revelation and a wonderful little volume on the Trinity. No-nonsense, solid stuff, I’m sure.  We stock almost everything Regent College Publishing does.

Beatitudes from the Back Side: A Different Take on What it Means to be Blessed J. Ellsworth Kalas (Abingdon) $14.99  Kalas is a fine writer, with the “from the Back Side” bit on a number of classic Bible stories. (Like Christmas from the Back Side, The Old Testament from the Back Side, etc.) He mostly means by “back side” just a slightly askew view, heading into the story slant, but it really is fairly ordinary stuff, not radical or odd. Actually, it’s just creative enough to be interesting, but commonplace enough to be useful and edifying.  So, this is just a fairly ordinary book, with some discussion and reflection questions, too.

Sermons on the Beatitudes John Calvin (Banner of Truth) $20.00  Okay, now I’m just showing off. This book compiles messages of Calvin from what was apparently a sermon series he started in 1559 and was not even completed in 1564 when he retired.  

The Ladder of the Beatitudes Jim Forest (Orbis) $17.00 I actually am intrigued by Jim Forest, who I met years ago. He was a friend of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, part of the international peace group the “Fellowship of Reconciliation.” In the 80s or 90s he lived in Russia as part of a peacemaking exchange and found his rather liberal Catholicism give way as he became seriously Orthodox. Now he writes mostly spiritual stuff (like a wonderful book on reconciliation rites) and this, on the Beatitudes as “rungs of a ladder” as some mystic readings have suggested. 

Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes   Jeff Cook (Zondervan) $15.99  I really, really enjoyed this lively, but wise, book which contrasts the seven deadly sins with the Beatitudes. This was apparently an approach in the middle ages, and he shares it here in an upbeat, contemporary style.  



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Some Hearts & Minds favorite Books about Reading the Bible and the Best Study Bibles — on sale, too.

What an interesting time it has been these last weeks, announcing in two different posts our favorite books of 2016. We did a long review of Michael Wear’s thrilling new book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America and announced that we will be hosting him here at the shop in Dallastown on March 10th for an in-store author appearance.  Less than a week ago I did what we think was a particularly important newsletter, describing ten mostly new books, mostly about navigating conversations about civil rights, racial justice and God’s heart for reconciliation.  Did you see it?

All of our past newsletters are nicely archived at the Hearts & Minds website so do browse around at those last BookNotes posts.

Our passion for racial justice, social reform, public theology, and offering books to help you be better citizens and agents for the common good — bearing witness to God’s transforming grace over “every square inch” of creation (as the Jubilee Conference 2017 says, cribbing from Abraham Kuyper’s famous phrase) — comes, we hope you know, from the Bible. Why do we think Christians should be in the vanguard of bringing justice and goodness and beauty to the world? The Bible tells us so!

deeper look at IVP studies.jpgOf course we stock small group Bible study guides on every book of the Bible (and DVD curriculum on many Biblical topics and themes.)  We wished we sold more of them. Send us an email or use the inquiry page at the website if you need any help finding resources. Just tell us what  your group is like and what you want to study. I’m sure we can make your job easier as a small group leader, Sunday school teacher, campus worker, or pastor. Or just for anyone wanting to dive in a bit deeper…

We regularly reply to customers, creating lists of options, recommending books they can use.  And, of course, we list some favorites here in the BookNotes newsletter that can help our readers understand God’s Word and renew their commitments to study it well.  We offer books from top scholars; recall how we described the fabulous, serious collection edited by Michael Goheen, Reading the Bible Missionally (Eerdmans; $35.00) or that we named as one of the Best Books of last year the recent big book of Biblical study by N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (HarperOne; $28.99.)

We’ve been celebrating new books, academic and popular, by John
Goldingay and Chris Wright and Walter Brueggemann, just as other
examples of a great Old Testament scholars that we enjoy.

apostle of crucified 2nd ed.gifOr, just for instance, this podcast interview with our friend Michael Gorman, a fabulous NT scholar, talking about a new edition of one of his many books on Paul, Apostle of the Crucified Lord (Eerdmans; $48.00) (that we carry, of course.)  

By the way, speaking of Mike Gorman’s serious New Testament scholarship on Paul and the cross, we are thrilled to be joining with the Philadelphia Theological Institute and Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA, as they host a woman Gorman (and other Bible scholars and preachers) admires, the Rev. Dr. Fleming Rutledge on March 20th for a day long program they are calling a “Lenten Day.”  If you can, you should come.

The Crucifixion Rutledge.jpgRev. Rutledge’s book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ came out from Eerdmans late in 2015 and we first promoted it at a retreat of Episcopalian clergy from the Diocese of Philadelphia; what fun that was, announcing such a serious book from an esteemed preacher and colleague in ministry. We then had the great privilege of selling it at a lecture in Baltimore (at Saint Mary’s Ecumenical Institute) in December of 2015; it was the first time we met her and it was a joy.

We promptly called The Crucifixion one of the Best Books of 2015.  Interestingly, Christianity Today recently named it the Book of the Year for 2016, so sales have picked up on it, I’m told. Happily, it has just been released in paperback, now selling for $30.00, less than the salty $45.00 it was in hardcover.  The Crucifixion is mammoth, we know, but it is this kind of deep and careful attention to the text of Scripture that we want to promote.

If the Scriptures are a “miner’s lamp” shining on our work in the world, as John Calvin suggested and as Psalm 119 proclaims, we are to live in its light; in that sense reading it in faith is practical in purpose.  Certainly, though, for it to have that informing, shaping, guiding, directive role, we must know what it says and what it means so we can see how it illumines the life of the world.

Of course, many of us need somewhat basic introductions to the Bible.


drama of scripture.giftrue story of whole world.jpgWe often recommend the spectacular, if thorough, paperback intro to the Bible, The Drama of Scripture by Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic; $22.99) or, easier and quicker, even good for sharp youth, the abridged version called The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama (Faith Alive; $16.00.)  I couldn’t work on Bible lessons without these two books at my side.

Maybe our biggest selling intro to reading the Bible is the very useful How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee & Douglas Stuart how to read the bible for all.jpg(Zondervan; $19.99) which shows how to read properly a historical narrative, the prophets, the Psalms, Gospels, Letters, Wisdom Literature and more. Every church library or resource center should have a couple of those around, and its sequel, How the Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Zondervan; $19.99.) I hope you know them and pass ’em out to those seeking to learn to read the Bible well.


I so enjoyed The Story of God and the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible so creatively written by Sean Gladding (IVP; $17.00.)  There is a DVD I often tout and although it’s created with a younger, hip audience in mind, it is very, very insightful and motivating to embody the redemptive story of God.


Many, lately, have appreciated Peter Enns provocative ruminations on the way Scripture works called The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (HarperOne; $15.99) —  even if you don’t come down quite where he does (he is critical of some brands of evangelical inerrency that makes us more interested in arguing about propositional data than being capture of the deep truth behind and through the text.  Space does not permit me to do his story justice, but it is a worth reading to be sure we’re grappling with the complexities of the nature of the Word and our deep trust in it.

Saving the Bible From Ourselves Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well.jpgAnother recent book that I am very, very big on was one we awarded as one of the Best of 2016.  It is called Saving The Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well Glenn R. Paauw (IVP) $18.00  Among other things, I wrote that Mr. Paauw offers seven understandings (that may feel “new” to some, but are in fact fairly ancient) of the Bible as “steps on the path to recovering one deeply engaged Bible. His new-sounding understandings are, in fact alternatives to deficiencies.  And in naming these oddball ways we (mis) understand and misread the Bible he is brilliant

Paauw offers here 7 “kinds” or sorts of ways we think of the Bible, and counters each with a more faithful sort. (For instance, in contrast to our presumption that the Bible is essentially “complicated” he unveils the “elegant Bible.” Instead of a “snacking” Bible he invites us to “savor the feasting Bible.” He says we need saved from “my private Bible” and speaks of “sharing our synagogue Bible.”  Of course, instead of “our otherworldly Bible” he says we are to be “grounded in the Earthly Bible.”  On great problem, “our de-dramatized Bible” takes two sections to refute. He shows how we can “rediscover the storiented Bible” and then shows how we must “preform the stroiented Bible.”  There’s more and it is rich, solid, creative, helpful stuff. Blurbs on the back are long and rich themselves, by Walter Brueggemann and Mark Noll, who both commend it earnestly.  This is deserving of being on any good list of the best books of the year.


crosstalk.jpgAlthough not as well known, I know folks who have thanked us for recommending CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael Emlet (New Growth Press; $17.99.) Michael is a rigorously trained Bible scholar who works as a counselor and in this book he teaches both good exegesis and application — how to take the deeper meaning of a text and see if and how it is to be applied to the quandaries of our daily discipleship. It’s a book that ought to be better known and we are grateful for its wisdom and intelligence in appropriating the Scriptures for real life. 


Just this week we received our order of a great little book that I am eager to promote.  It is called The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words by Chris Bruno (Crossway; $10.99.)  It certainly stands on its own but could be seen as a sequel to his fascinating and highly recommended little book that came out last year, The 16 words.jpgWhole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses (Crossway; $10.99.) Perhaps I can review it more carefully later, but for now, now that I’m really pleased with it’s theology and vision. If last year’s book (explaining the Bible story in 16 verses) was about the plot or storyline of the Bible, this is the structure, the superstructure, if you will, the key teaching of it all, using the metaphor of a building.  The chapters include an opening part “The Foundation” which, curiously has, as chapter one “The End” and chapter two, “God.”  The next major portion includes three chapters as “The Frame” (which are creation, covenant, kingdom.) The next big part is called “The Superstructure” and includes words such as temple, messiah, Israel, land, idols, judgement, exodus, wisdom, law, Spirit, mission. 

That first one is a brilliant little overview, with those 16 stopping points to get at the whole flow of the big story.  This one is for those who have a handle on that grand narrative, and want to plumb it’s depth, again, in a quick and easy sort of way, looking at themes.  I love this kind of rich scholarship given in a “down and dirty” way for common folks. Kudos to Dr. Bruno. 

the 52 greatest .jpgSome folks like to use a daily devotional guide to actually read the Bible through in a year and there are many “one year” versions of the Bible that make such a plan handy.  A devotional we really like  for this exact purpose is By Kenneth Boa & John Alan Turner called 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible: A Weekly Devotional (Baker Books; $16.99.)

The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible: A Weekly Devotional is arranged in a format that is very, very wise, tapping into felt needs of ordinary readers and, I think, offering a somewhat broader scope of how to read the Bible, one grounded in wise and fruitful practices.

The book has 52 chapters (one Bible passage a week for a year)

but each day of each week has a certain way into the text as the history of redemption unfolds. Each day of the week he has a devotional based on that week’s passage, following a “pattern” each week — Monday emphases the story, the Tuesday reflection explores the beliefs in that text, Wednesday always looks at what he calls the values (which includes heart attitudes or principles), Thursday is about action/application and Friday offers a reflection to pray, using the text in meditation, offering three kinds of prayer about the passage (about understanding, belief and action.) So each day has a good devotion, working differently on the same Bible story for a week at a time, each following, week by week, that same pattern of understanding the narrative, the beliefs, the values, an then an application emphasis and a meditative prayerful reflection for Friday and the weekend.


The New Bible Dictionary  I. Howard Marshall et al (IVP Academic) $45.00

The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible  Gordon Fee et al (Eerdmans) $40.00

The New Bible Dictionary  I. Howard jpgOf course, people who teach about reading and learning the Bible tell everyone they should own a few good reference tools, a good Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary, maybe an atlas, and a concordance. If you have any questions about reference tools, we’d love to try to answer your questions.  I think if I were buying just one such tool, I’d get the reliable, sturdy, The New Bible Dictionary now in its third edition, edited by I. Howard Marshall, J.I. Packer, et al, published by IVP Academic ($45.00.) I can’t tell you the number of people who have commended it because they themselves have found it beneficial, informative, a real asset to their Bible reading.

 The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible .jpgIf I were picking just one Bible handbook, I’m quite fond of the awesome, lavish, ecumenically minded The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible edited by Gordon Fee & Robert Hubbard (Eerdmans; $40.00) although it is expensive. Considering the the hours you will get lost in it, and the insight you will glean will be worth every penny.

If you are interested in either of those two “tools of the trade” reference books we could do a 20% discount on those – just remind us when you order and we’ll honor that extra discount deal.


But here is what I also think: everybody needs a good study Bible.

A study Bible has annotated notes for almost every passage and explains what is going on in theopen ESV.jpg Scriptures at that point.  Of course there are other features, standard in any good study edition – sidebars that offer extra little background articles or meditations, character studies, timelines,  maps, and introductions to each book of the Bible. The large concordances in these big volumes make buying a separate concordance unnecessary for most of us; the cross-references give you plenty of recommended verse to look up to supplement whatever you are studying. The background data and facts and insights about the culture and theology of the ancient world  in any good study Bible are worth their weight in gold. 

Of course, it should go without saying that the Bible is meant to be read as God’s Word and the study notes are fallible aids;  here’s a summary of a good piece by Justice Taylor that was in his Gospel Coalition blog on why and how to use a good study Bible.

A good study Bible, by the way, should not be confused with a devotional Bible that has little devotions scattered throughout, often with some niche-marketing theme.  There are inspiring Bibles for all sorts of interests and  needs and concerns and they have their place but those are not quite the same as a bone fide, well-balanced study edition. And, speaking of balance, we tend to shy away from study Bibles put together by one person – Scofield, MacArthur, Ryrie, Lucado, Jeremiah, Meyers,  etc.  No matter how educated and smart some preacher may be, he or she can’t be expected to know everything about everything.  The best study Bibles are created with a team of vetted experts. 


It is my opinion that the three best overall study Bibles on the market are:

niv-study-bible1.jpgESV Study BIble face out.jpgNLT Life App Study Bible.jpgNIV Study Bible

ESV Study Bible

Life Application Study Bible (in various translations.)  

Let me tell you why, as briefly as I can.

I determine this mostly due to the sheer quantity of features and the number of notes found in these outstanding, nearly epic, volumes. But also I value their ordinary usefulness for most folks; from the moderate, orthodox, reliable, nature of the content to the tone, design, and approachability, these are the best; we hear it all the time of folks whose Bible reading comes alive once they purchase a solid study Bible designed, as these are, to help the ordinary believer.  The three I mentioned above are head and shoulders more thorough and more helpful than most others with their tons and tons of helpful background aids, notes, comments, explanations cross-references, indexes, pull-quotes, sidebars, maps, graphics, color. And they are in the most popular and widely used translations.

I don’t have to explain to BookNotes readers that any book (and certainly any study bible resource) is going to be written out of the viewpoint and angle of vision of the person or team writing it. That’s not a bad thing and the best study Bibles attempt to be balanced, honest, and (usually) up front about any theological biases they hold. As with the Isaiah authorship example discussed below, I think the NIV Study Bible is more likely to show several sides to controversial interpretations of passages and be clear why they often hold to a more conservative conclusion; the various study editions using the NRSV are almost all less conservative, consistently, but some don’t even admit to it, as if their bias is just natural and right; similarly, the ESV Study Bible notes are often exceedingly conservative, even if their notes are extraordinarily smart and beautifully explained. 

One important question, then: what translation do you want to use?

If you favor the conservative, somewhat stately English Standard Version (ESV), then, obviously, the ESV Study Bible is going to be your go to. Crossway very expertly publishes them and we stock ’em. And what a beautiful array of sizes, designs, editions.

If you like the popular New International Version (NIV), their NIV Study Bible is a natural pick.  It is exceptionally well done.  (D.A. Carson recently edited the equally thorough NIV Zondervan Study Bible, but, to be honest, I just don’t get its distinctives. Some think it is more rigorous than the classic NIV Study Bible, a few think it more conservative; it does seem to use “biblical theology” with that emphasis of a unified theme and a gospel-centered focus, which is good. I just haven’t used it myself, so don’t yet realize all that it offers, robust as it is.)  HERE is a fair-minded review that compares the two in great detail.

These are manufactured by Zondervan and, yep, we stock ’em in all their varieties.

If you like the contemporary-sounding,  upbeat, and gender inclusive New Living Translation (NLT) then you most likely will want the Life Application Study Bible in the NLT. (Those creatively worded, practical Life App study notes with an emphasis on living out the meaning of the text (I call it the “so what” study Bible) are also available in the NIV, the KJV, and the NKJV, by the way.  For a season or two they made the Life Application Study Bible notes in the NRSV but that didn’t last; if you can find one in a crusty used book store, it’s worth picking up if you use the NRSV. We often recommend this Life Application Study Bible to those who aren’t used to studying as it really does tell you why and how knowing some background stuff helps, and what to do about it in daily living. In that sense it rewards study with clear and pastoral guidance.

I hate to get hairy, here, but, for what it is worth, the NLT does have a considerably more rigorous, less “application” oriented study Bible, a major work called The NLT Study Bible. I’m fond of the Life App notes, character studies, the mega-themes that are always explained in a “why it matters today” chart, so I’m going to suggest the Life App study editions, even though the NLT Study is as thorough and rigorous as the serious NIV Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible.  The NLTs are published by Tyndale and they do a very nice job.

(By the way, just a fun fact: acquaintances of ours like Albert Wolters (of Creation Regained) worked on the original NLT translation; Al headed the team that did Job, as I recall. Tremper Longman was involved as were a host of really respected Hebrew & Greek scholars we respect. It is well done!)

New Interpreter's Study Bible.jpgWe do not know of one truly fabulous study edition that is the stand-out must-have for those who prefer the NRSV.

I think my favorite  study edition in the NRSV is the New Interpreter’s Study Bible edited by Walter Harrelson (Abingdon; $48.99.) It draws somewhat on the amazing multi-volume set of commentaries of that name and has that same thoughtful engagement.  Walter Brueggemann, just for instance, contributed. It is one I often consult. It is hefty — weighing in at almost 4 lbs. — and includes the Apocrypha.

Harper Collins Study Bible.jpgThe Society of Biblical Literature helped sponsor the latest edition of the Harper Collins Study Bible with the senior editor being Harold Attridge with expert help from Wayne Meeks, Jouette Bassler and other major critical scholars (HarperOne; $44.95.)  Many think it is the best NRSV study edition, but it does seem a bit dry at times… although there are some wonderful contributors. This comes in hardback or paperback, with or without the Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal books. These sell for $34.99 in paperback or $37.99 in hardcover, without Deuterocanonicals and $39.99 in paperback or $44.99 in hardcover with the extra Deuterocanonical books.) 

Discipleship Study Bible.jpgThe Discipleship Study Bible (Westminster John Knox; $40.00) This  was created almost a decade ago with the editorial direction of Bruce Birch, Brian Blount, Thomas Long, and Gail O’Day, all serious scholars with great commitment to the mainline churches.  I like what the publisher said about it:

Other NRSV study Bibles provide factual information about the biblical text, but don’t include extensive guidance for Christian living. The Discipleship Study Bible is unique in offering both. Its annotations emphasize the personal and communal implications of the Bible for today without sacrificing the tools needed for understanding the ancient texts on their own terms. In combining these approaches to Bible study, a group of gifted writers, editors, and scholars have produced a truly comprehensive resource that includes introductory essays to each book of the Bible by top-notch contemporary Bible scholars

Apparently this is going out of print and we only have a few of these left, but wanted to list it so you knew of it. 

All three of these NRSV study volumes have excellent scholarship, if a bit heady at times, with a bit of a critical bent. They are ideal for moderate mainline folks. We happily sell all three but still wish for a more user-friendly, thorough, and theologically consistent NRSV study bible.

life with God Bible.jpgIn the NRSV we also really, really like the Life With God Bible (HarperOne) in somewhat smaller than compact handsome red or deep brown leather or paperback,  which doesn’t have tons of notes and features, but what it does have is really interesting;. It is almost a “study Bible” but it has, admittedly, a somewhat different agenda and not so many notes and maps and such. (It was created in cooperation with Renovare, Richard Foster’s renewal ministry.)  The Life With God Bible was compiled by a team headed up by Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard and Walter Brueggemann.  You can imagine why we like it so.

It comes in a hand-sized, offered in a rich, red leather ($39.99), a deep brownish/gray leather with Deutercanonical Books ($44.99) and in paperback ($24.99.) 

By the way, speaking of the NRSV study editions, why some favor The New Oxford Annotated is beyond me: there are, in contrast to the others I’ve mentioned,  considerably fewer notes and many of them are nearly useless.  Their opinions are not well argued , other than the ubiquitous and dishonest “Biblical scholars agree.”  For instance, in contrast, The NIV Study Bible notes offer an explanation for one authorship of Isaiah alongside an explanation for three separate Isaian authors.  They argue for the former, but not without giving the later its due.  The New Oxford dishonestly says “Bible scholars agree” that there are three Isaiah authors.  Apparently they don’t get out much.  Once I looked up 10 troublesome passages to see what various studied editions might say–stuff like Romans 13 or Paul saying women should be silent in church.   While Bibles like the NIV Study Bible tended to give reasonable explanations, sometimes showing various viewpoints on what the text in question might mean, often the Oxford had nothing!  Or it offered  arcane details that seemed tone deaf to the reason anyone might need help with the passage.  The cross references are meager, the concordance slim and the articles more often than not pretty dry.  And yet, religion departments and liberal seminaries recommend it.  For the price, it just isn’t as good as it ought to be.

Well, sorry to digress on the perplexities of the New Oxford Annotated — that’s just my way of comparing the benefits of a good  and helpful study Bible (and a less than helpful one.) The NIV Study Bible and The ESV Study Bible are, in my view, the Cadillac’s of the biz. They are the crème of the crop, semi-scholarly but clear, with an admittedly evangelical (and in the case of the ESV, Reformed) bias, with solid info designed to help Bible readers understand the Bible, deepen their faith, and live out their discipleship. 

The NIV is a bit easier to read and uses gender inclusive language for men and women, which is keeping with the meaning of the Biblical text and common usage, of course.  The ESV, based largely on the old RSV, uses antiquated masculine language, I suppose because the editors believe in old school lingo. Some who worked on the editing of the ESV translation complained that the NIV was driven by a gender agenda, but that was, in my view, the pot calling the kettle black.  There is little doubt, though, that the ESV claims to be more accurate and  elegant.

(And, there is little doubt that the Crossway publishing company creates the best-made popular level Bibles around; I am continually impressed with their aesthetic and crafted quality and the cool, but rarely gaudy, classy design of their numerous covers and layouts. They think well about paper choices, bindings and stitching and such.)

bird bible cover design.jpgBoth the NIV and the ESV translations, as I’m sure you know, are available in various sizes and with a vast array of cover designs. Both publishers have gone out of their way to come up with handsome and beautiful (and sometimes a bit nutty) designs with faux leather that feels soft and looks great. Even their study Bibles come in a real variety of sizes and colors, designs and looks.  Their respective web pages show off all  the options and we can get them all.

Please let us know if you are looking for any sort of Bible and our staff can walk you through the complicated maze of searching them all out.

Do you know the fairly recent Common English Bible translation, popularly called the CEB?  It was created a few years back by a long-standing, hard-working committee of Presbyterians, United Methodists, Church of the Brethren and others.  One person on the committee told me they wanted to create a solid translation that was as lively as the Good News (not a bad translation, actually) and the Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message but that was not only contemporary and upbeat and politically aware, but honest and accurate, and that read well out loud. (They famously spent a year testing it out in a variety of focus groups, getting feed Deep Blue Kids Bible.jpgCEB Student Bible.jpgback on the hearing of it, in nursing homes and college campuses, in big churches and small ones, among varies ethnic churches and in different parts of the country.)  The CEB is a really interesting rendition and I wish it were better known.  Their children’s study Bible (The Deep Blue Kids Bible) is mostly really great and their teen edition (The CEB Student Bible) is very good, too.  Each come in a variety of styles and we stock them all.  We’d love to talk more about this if you have any questions…

CEB Study Bibles.jpgA year ago or so the CEB team put out a large study Bible called The CEB Study Bible. (Abingdon Press; $54.99 in hardback; $59.99 with the Apocrypha; there are also some leather-like editions that we have.) It has everything you’d expect in a big study Bible, lots of notes, sidebars, extra articles, expert maps made by National Geographic for this project. Over a hundred different inter-denominational scholars worked on it – some you surely know, from a real variety of corners within the broader church. It’s 2240 pages.

CEB Vintage Tweed study bible.jpg(There is a very classy “Vintage Tweed Hardcover” edition of the CEB Study Bible coming in mid-March that I myself have my eye one; you can pre-order it from us at the discounted price shown at the order link at the end of this newsletter; it will regularly retail for $59.99.)

This recent study edition has amazingly interesting notes, and it is hard to explain – some of it seems a bit progressive, with good notes about lament and injustice and the implications of women named as leaders of the early church (like, say, Junia at the end of Romans.) I won’t say it is inordinately subversive, but it does seem to pack a punch in some of it’s notes.  There’s lots of standard stuff in there -charts and maps and background info and nice introductions to each book.  Again, it isn’t terribly well known yet, but we’re happy to stock it here.

So, if you need some fresh energy to your Bible reading and want to dig into Bible study a bit more, be sure you have a study Bible.  Or, perhaps, just switch up your translation, reading a plain text Bible from a different translation then you are used to.  

We are fans of the study Bible, and can help you further in finding the one that is best for you, and then the size, shape, color and price that you prefer.  Just give us a call or send us an email.


I am usually not a fan of shoe-horning every Biblical text into a pre-determined theme and hence, worry a bit about the mothering Bible or the leadership Bible or the worship Bible. 

These four, though, are done by remarkable and thorough Biblical scholars that bring into their notes a bit of insight about how the Biblical text is to be applied to our whole lives before God.  In these, the scholars have such regard for the authority of the Word of God that they wouldn’t dare fudge it’s meaning or squeeze texts into some marketing niche. What they are passionate about is seeing how previously under-appreciated (or nearly ignored) themes that regularly appear in the Scriptures might be brought to the fore bringing us new insights.  These, then, are not clever marketing ploys to exploit a market, but are at time brilliant interpreters doing what few have done before.  We’re happy to promote them and hope you enjoy knowing about them.

Faith & Work Study Bible.jpgThe NIV Faith & Work Study Bible  senior editor David Kim (Zondervan) $44.99 in hardback; $74.99 in black/gray faux leather 

I suppose you know that we have promoted the “faith and work” conversation for decades and have long promoted Christian books which help professionals and others learn to relate their deepest faith commitments to their work-a-day world, careers, and jobs.  Whether you are have paid employment, are retired, a student or one who takes seriously the calling of parent or grandparent, you will relish this study edition that highlights Biblical themes that help you in your daily vocation.

Rev. David Kim is the Director of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York (and before that worked in campus ministry at Princeton University.)  He and his team highlight standard insights, do basic introductory stuff as would any study Bible but when it is warranted they bring out the vivid teaching of God’s missional care for the world and how work and calling matters in the unfolding of God’s plan.  You surely know the Bible has hundreds of verses about work, and hundreds more that might be marshaled for helping us develop a Biblical vision of life in the marketplace.  This is a wonderful study Bible and we can’t say enough about it.  In fact, there are 75  “Deeper at Work” stories which “deliver strength and encouragement from real-life experiences.” (Is it dumb that I’m kinda proud to know a few of the folks whose testimonies are included?  I’ll admit I’m jazzed to see folks I know described as something like modern day Bible characters!)  

Another good feature of this are the 45 “Core Doctrine” articles that feature teachings from Christian leaders through the ages; this Bible assumes that you have to know core stuff about the Bible and it’s teaching if you are going to faithfully integrate faith and work.  This is solid, no-nonsense content.  Take a look at the first few pages and the explanation of “the cultural mandate” of Genesis 1 and you’ll see what I mean.  This is pure gold!

You may also appreciate the “31-Day Journey” through the Biblical narrative, a nice guide and exercise to help readers grasp the Scripture’s overarching storyline. I already know one person who used this small feature to create a half a year’s worth of Bible curriculum for his youth group.

A number of unsung scholars and writers worked on this.  Other contributors who you know from BookNotes include Timothy Keller, Richard Mouw, Nancy Ortberg, and Jon Tyson (of New York’s Trinity Grace and a speaker at the upcoming Jubilee 2017.)  This really is an excellent study Bible, worthy of having in your library. I’m sure you’ll find it valuable.  Check out this interview with David about the project done by the good folks at Bible Gateway. 

Jesus Bible all 3.pngThe Jesus Bible: Sixty-Six Books. One Story. All About One Name  edited by Louis Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, Randy Alcorn and others (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.

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 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.)  

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. There’s ribbon marker 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.”  Visit their spiffy website and watch the video trailer here — do come back here, though, please.

NIV-Cultural-Backgrounds-Study-Bible-3.jpgThe NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture Senior Editor, Craig Kenner & John Walton (Zondervan)  $49.99, hardcover; Tan/Brown imitation leather, $79.99;   “Context changes everything” it shouts on the back cover of this very handsome, very colorful, new study Bible.  This edition brings behind-the-scenes background information to the fore so you can see what is really going on–in context, all guided by one of the world’s leading experts on this exact matter, the page from Cultural Background Study.jpgremarkable Craig Keener and John Walton.  There is so much rich meaning to be found when you learn just a bit about the historical setting, the archeological evidences, the word meanings or the cultural customs that are in and around any given passage.  I am sure you recall a time when a pastor or Bible teacher said “back in those days what this saying meant was…” or “if you only knew what buildings or statues or walls were in that town as Jesus spoke, you’d realize – ” and the like.  This gives targeted book introductions that explain the context in which each book of the Bible was written.  It has verse-by-verse study notes, of course, but the notes feature new dimensions of insights to even familiar passages by explaining cultural context stuff.

pages from NIV Cultural Background Study Bible.jpgKey Hebrew words (in the Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) terms are explained and expanded.  In fact, there are over 300 in-depth encyclopedia-like articles that explain key contextual topics.   The full color reproductions of artifacts, images from around the world, and the hundreds of helpful drawings and illustrations make this nearly lavish. The full color maps are made with world-class excellence.

Years ago we regularly sold books about the customs of Bible times, books with lists of the cities and tribes and worship practices.  Many books we carry still offer insight into the literary stylings of ancient near Eastern culture and the writing styles of First Century Judaism.  I think the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is going to appeal to a lot of folks and it will be a very useful took for anyone tasked with teaching the Bible.  We are proud to stock it and eager to promote it.  You can watch a short video of them describing this project here.  Be sure to come back to us, though!


God's Justice BIBLE.jpgGod’s Justice Study Bible: The Flourishing of Creation and the Destruction of Evil Senior Editor, Tim Stafford (Zondervan) $39.99  I reviewed this when it first came out and exclaimed how great it was – some nice sidebars and articles, some graphic touches that show the overarching plan of God to bring healing and reconciliation and restoration to the broken creation. (I like the single column layout on the page, too.) What is exceptional about this sturdy, useful, edition is that is uses scholars from around the world, and, further, that they are tuned in to the often-missed themes of justice and public righteousness that are evident in any careful reading of these texts.  If you are interested – or, maybe, if your not interested – in social justice, this Bible is a must.  If you want to learn the meaning of texts from dozens of well-informed, reliable third world Bible scholars, men and women from every continent, then this will bring a somewhat fresh take.

As I said when this first came out, the insights are not excessively political or overly fixated on justice; that is, they are honest before the text and eager to serve readers well by producing a tree_poetry_song.pngtree_beginnings.pnguseful and reliable study edition. The introductions to each book are very, very good, interesting and informative, well worth reading themselves!  But, realize, these texts about justice, about God’s desire for flourishing and public justice and about evil and our role in promoting God’s reign in Christ, are really there and those who can help us see and understand and respond well are allies in our discipleship; perhaps they will help us see a bigger picture of God’s unfolding plan than we saw before.  I think this particular tree_letters.pngstudy Bible is a tremendous resource and I highly, highly recommend it; whether you love the NIV or not, this is such a great study Bible you should seriously consider it. 

I happen to know a few of those who worked on The NIV God’s Justice Study Bible and they are leaders of great integrity, I assure you.  Thanks be to God for this wonderful opportunity to have as our Bible teachers not only some of the best folks writing today, but men and women from contexts sometimes quite different then our own.  Check out their beautiful website here, and then come back to us and order one today.

And, I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t offer a great thank you to those who are designing Bibles well, and even those who are doing somewhat the opposite of study Bibles — simple reader’s editions with single columns, even those, like the new ESV 6-volume sets, without verse numbers, offering an distracted reading experience.  See this wonderful video here if this intrigues you. We have had the video over at the Hearts & Minds facebook page and wanted to share it here. It is beautiful; don’t miss it.


Through the Month of February 2017

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10 NEW BOOKS on RACE, JUSTICE, and the STRUGGLE FOR RECONCILIATION (All on sale. Use order link, below.)



Early in Evicted, Desmond Matthew’s extraordinarily well reported study of poverty, housing, profits, and evictions, there is a bit of a history lesson: in 1967, 200 African Americans and others marched for fairer housing opportunities across an iconic bridge dividing the predominantly black part of Milwaukee and the white section of the Wisconsin city.  Considered one of marching in milwaukee.jpgthe most racially segregated cities in America, more than 10,000 whites pushed them back in a scene perhaps reminiscent of the bloody day at the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma a few years earlier. For 200 more days the dedicated black and white marchers protested, pushing on to symbolically insist on fair treatment and desegregation. For 200 more days they were abused, pushed back, shot at with sniper fire, their NAACP headquarters burned, their clergy leaders arrested. Two hundred persistent days in a row! 

A lot was happening in 1967, I know; I was just becoming interested in the world beyond my football practice, The Monkees, and church youth group.  I had a Great Aunt Lilly in Milwaukee, of German descent, and we visited her about that time, maybe ’68. To not have heard about this amazing story of protest, racism, and the struggle for desegregation and justice is itself amazing, is it not?

Have you heard of this epic slice of the civil rights story?

Well, in the last few years there has been renewed uprisings, protests, slogans – Black Lives Matter! Hands Up Don’t Shoot!  — and there has been, for a variety of reasons, push-back.  I don’t think many would argue that the election of our new President came about in part due to some considerable anxiety about where the protests against palpable injustice and debates about racial profiling, mass incarceration, anti-immigration sentiments, multi-culturalism and so forth. We can all be glad there are not tens of thousands of whites beating down peaceful civil rights marchers like in Selma or Milwaukee, but we also must admit that there’s a tension in the air that has arisen in recent years. Legitimate grievances about racism, often institutionalized and ubiquitous white privilege and some legitimate concerns about tactics and ideologies of the progressive protests have created a new face to the culture wars.

Here are some mostly brand new books that address issues of race that we think are very important. A few are on my bed-stand now, a few are in my living room stacks.  It’s good to have such wealth of new resources. I hope you agree that we need to be reading and talking about these kinds of books and we should support those publishers who continue to resource us with these kinds of tools that can “grant us wisdom” for, as the old hymn puts it, “the living of these days.”

marchbookthree_cover_trivision_nba_page_1_sm_lg.jpgMarch Book Three John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell  (Top Shelf Productions) $19.99  This third and final installment of the award-wining graphic novel trilogy was released late last year and has garnered award after prestigious award. 

As Raina Telgemeir writes boldly on the back cover:

March is one of the most important graphic novels ever created – an extraordinary presentation of an extraordinary life, and proof that young people can change the world. I’m stunned by the power of these comics, and grateful that Congressman Lewis’s story will enlighten and inspire future generations of readers and leaders.

march-trilogy-graphic_lg.jpgAlthough the first two volumes, March Book One and March Book Two, are fabulous and must-read history books, this final one is searing, picking up the story of Lewis’s leadership of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and their direct action campaigns such as Freedom Vote and the famous Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the intense debates on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.  Lewis was 25 years and and he was preparing spiritually to risk everything at that historic showdown in Selma. 

It crossed my mind to say that we should buy John Lewis’s book as a handbook for a new generation of activists.  I hope modern protestors (and those who have opinions about them) learn about the deep nonviolent philosophy of SNCC.  But I also hope all of us read it to be reminded, and to be inspired by this kind of bravery, this kind of leadership, this story of some of the most remarkable times in US history. 

The End of White Christian America.jpgThe End of White Christian America Robert P. Jones (Simon & Schuster) $28.00  This powerful and significant book is not brand new but it was released in the late summer of the 2016. It is a major work, provocative and fascinating, “clarifying and useful” as one white pastor noted. It has been called “brilliant” and “eloquent” and the author himself has been called “intelligent and fair-minded.”  I cannot give a full accounting of it but I can assure you it is one of the important books to help us put into context much of the anxiety and fear pervasive in our culture these days.  It is an argument many have alluded to — I’ve heard Walter Brueggemann and Leonard Sweet and Tom Sine and Marva Dawn give their variations of this general critique decades ago. There is simply no doubt that a certain sort of hegemony has eroded in the last generation or so and there is also no doubt that it has caused resentment in some quarters and anxiety nearly everywhere. (It is to this anxiety that David Gushee addressed his helpful, recent book, A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, suggesting that for people of faith it isn’t so bad since we have Biblical and spiritual resources to cope, and it is to this situation that Rod Dreher offers his important, dire proposal in the soon-to-be-released The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. PRE-ORDER that from us if you’d like; we’ll have it March 14, 2017.)

Yet, as new demographics and new values and new cultural habits and assumptions rise to the fore, there is fresh energy and new hope in some quarters as well.  To say we live in changing times – also around issues of race and faith and gender – is to put it mildly.  As with any epochal change, there are those who are worried, some who have legitimate concerns about plunging into new ways, and a lot who are willing and able to face the future with resilience and hope. 

“America is no longer a majority white Christian nation. In fact, the year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population.”  In The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones (CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute) explains, “how this seismic change has profoundly altered the politics and social values of the United States.”

In fact, a reviewer in The New York Times said it was, “Quite possibly the most illuminating text for this election year.”

Consider these rave reviews:

As a white pastor who has been active addressing cultural issues for decades, I found this book fascinating, clarifying, and useful. For white Christians who want to serve our nation as a part of our faith, the big story line is not the loss of our centrality in the realms of political power; it’s the welcome opportunities for new partnerships based on shared moral principles. This book also leaves us pondering ways to be part of the sequel. –Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed

The 2016 election campaign revealed to all and sundry that we live in a new country. Robert Jones has written the best guide I have seen to the America taking shape around us. –Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science and Director of The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College

Robert Jones convincingly illumines the waning influence of white Protestantism in America as well as the reactions of those bewildered or angered by this inexorable shift. Fast-paced and keenly discerning, this book does a remarkable job of explaining why our culture and politics are so fraught and why we seem to be entering a whole new era in our history. Truly a must-read for understanding the divided state of our nation today. –R. Marie Griffith, Director, John C. Danforth Center on Politics and Religion, and John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, Washington University

Jones persuasively articulates how both the fear and the hope of the new America are animating our faith and our politics. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who seeks to understand how we got to where we are in our churches and politics today, and how we might help build the bridge to a new America. –Jim Wallis, author of America s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America

dream with me.jpgDream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win John M. Perkins (Baker Books) $19.99  There is hardly anyone I esteem more within the broader evangelical Christian community that John Perkins.  When I was doing my own little book, a collection of inspirational speeches turned into essays for young adults, I said quite simply that I had to have a chapter by John Perkins. I had a number of pretty famous contributors but John’s role was a deal-breaker for me.  Graciously he and his staff gave us a tape to transcribe and we happily put it in Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life. I say this to assure you that I’m not blowing smoke here: you should read Dr. Perkins’s books and this brand new one looks tremendous. It came two days ago so is brand, brand new.

I’m not alone in insisting that John is an important voice.  The very thoughtful author Randy Alcorn (his big book Heaven is very good and I loved his massive work from last year, a profound study simply called Happiness) says in the foreword,  “There aren’t many people other than Jesus and my wife – who I can say changed my life. John Perkins is one of them.”

The esteemed Philip Yancey (whose last book was Vanquishing Grace) says:

At a time when the racial divide in the United States is widening into a chasm, I cannot think of a more needed message than this book.


You may know that the band Switchfoot did a driving rock song about John called “The Sound (The John M. Perkins’ Blues)”.   On the first page of Dream With Me John has a nice excerpt from a letter by Jon Foreman about why they wrote that song, and then says that he wants to somewhat return the favor by using another song of theirs – “Love is the Final Fight” -as the lens through which he wants to tell this chapter of his story, explaining his latest work with the Christian Community Development Association and his dream of racial reconciliation.

Just skimming through this I see powerful new stories and examples of good work or keen insights from his wide variety of contacts. He knew older evangelical leaders like Hudson Armerding and Vernon McGee and he knows current leaders, from Tim Keller to young Judah Smith.  He counts as colleagues the best writers around race and justice these days, from Soong-Chan Rah to Lisa Sharon Harper to Charles Marsh and Wayne Gordon.  Of course, he has spoken at the CCO’s Jubilee Conference bunches of times. 

John has suffered for his work, the KKK tried to drive his ministry (Voice of Calvary) out of Mississippi. He was friends with the Medgar Evers family. He himself was tortured by brutal cops, his brother, Clyde, was shot in Hebron (and John’s humble, non-sensational telling of how he eventually realized he forgave the murderer is notable.) John and his life-long partner, Vera Mae, lost their son, Spencer, a friend to many of us.  You will have to read this inspiring, powerful story yourself to learn even more about John’s colorful life and to hear, again, his struggle to “fight without fists” and, in Christ, prevail.  Because, truly, “love is the final fight.”

Living into God's Dream- Dismantling Racism in America .jpgLiving into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America edited by Catherine Meeks (Morehouse Publishing) $18.00  I was thrilled to see this book, published by the Episcopalian publishing house, put together by this strong black woman who I was first introduced to, I believe, by John Perkins.  Meeks now serves the Diocese of Atlanta as the chair of their Commission for Dismantling Racism, called “The Beloved Community.”  Before that, she was a Distinguished Professor of Socio-Cultural Studies at Wesleyan College.  She wrote a previous book we’ve stocked called Standing on Their Shoulders: A Celebration of African American Women.

There are nine chapters in this handbook, some written or co-written by Ms Meeks, others by names I mostly don’t know.  That’s a good thing for a book like this as it isn’t a star-studded anthology by famous authors, but a gritty story collection of folks in the trenches, so to speak, on the front lines of the struggle for racial justice. (Don Mosely, you may know, was decades ago involved with Koinonia Farms in Americus Georgia; he has a chapter called “Diary of a Spoiled White Guy.” Diana D’Souza has a piece called “A White Lens on Dismantling Racism” and Lynn Huber has an important chapter called “Architects of Safe Space for Beloved Community.”  There are a number of other women and men who write – including a fabulously interesting piece on “The American South as Our Holy Land” and a chapter documenting the actual efforts they are taking and the progress they are making in Atlanta. 

There is a good study guide in the back for processing these poignant chapters and pressing deeper into this conversation. The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of Chicago, says of it that “the authors are animated by a fierce and tender love for humankind wounded by the sin of racism and a profound conviction that God offers a way through these wounds to new life together. This book is a companion for that journey.”

Richard Hughes, author of Myths America Lives By, says of it:

Living into God’s Dream is a gift to the church, to be sure, but it is also a gift to the American people. With insights that penetrate and probe the biases that lurk in the most unexamined chambers of our hearts, these essays will help even the most reluctant readers to grapple with the truth about white privilege, white supremacy, and what it means to be Black in America. Better still, these essays provide us with the tools we need-including the motivation-to take up the hard work of dismantling racism in our time.

Holding Up Your Corner - DVD.pngHolding Up Your Corner- Talking About Race In Your Community .jpgHolding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race In Your Community F. Willis Johnson (Abingdon Press) $15.99  This book came out in the middle of the holiday selling season a few weeks ago and I just didn’t have time to study it. Now, after a few weeks of flipping around through it, I’ve concluded I really do need to work with this. And some of you do, too.  It is for Christian leaders (pastor’s mostly, I gather) inviting and equipping them to “respond with confidence when crises occur, lower their own inhibitions about addressing the topic of race, and reclaim their authority as prophetic witnesses and leaders in order to transform their communities.” This book promises practical and foundational sorts of guidance, empowering leaders to:

 …live into their own calling to acknowledge what is not right in their own communities, to understand and affirm the genuine points of pain, in their specific settings, to take faithful action addressing injustice, and to lead others to do the same.

Don’t you feel like you need some help doing this? Christian leader, pundit, writer, pastor, campus minister, youth worker, small group leader, it seems to me that many of us have a calling to acknowledge injustices and facilitate conversations about these hard matters. In an age when everybody is so touchy about all this – some think we should talk more, some people think we should talk less – we need all the help we can get.

This book is fast-paced, has tons of ideas, and is a helpful, practical handbook. Apparently F. Willis Johnson has quite the gift of communication and is beloved in his United Methodist circles. (He is, not insignificantly, the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominantly African America, inter-generational, UM church plant.) There is no doubt that some of his insight learned about talking together about racism and injustice has been hard won throughout his whole life as a black leader, but also as a pastor in Ferguson these last years.

If this appeals to you and you want to order it — and, if you trust Will Willimon, you should, as he says “I guarantee that after reading this book you will want to work from your corner to become part of God’s work in the world” — you should know that the next step after being motivated and guided by this 112 page book is to get the DVD curriculum by the same name, Holding Up Your Corner: Video Stories About Race (Abingdon; $39.99) If you order it, you should get the Holding Up Your Corner Participants Guide: Guided Conversations ($9.99.) Also, you can get a free downloadable facilitator’s guide that has more resources for viewing the DVD, using the guided conversations participants guide, and processing it with your group. It wouldn’t hurt to have this on hand because, sadly, you are going to be faced with a window of opportunity, probably sooner than later, to talk about this stuff again. Order it today.

Who Lynched Willie Earle- Preaching to Confront Racism.jpgWho Lynched Willie Earle: Preaching to Confront Racism Will Willimon (Abingdon) $17.99 This brand new book came last week and I am thrilled to recommend it.  Willimon, you surely know, was Dean of the Chapel at Duke and then a United Methodist Bishop in Alabama. He’s known as an elegant writer and eloquent speaker, even when he’s blunt and insistent on being faithful to the ways of Jesus. (He has pondered about this kind of stuff for years:  the classic book written with Stan Hauerwas, Resident Aliens, was re-issued a year or so ago in an anniversary edition and last year he released Fear of the Other, a small but potent book on why we fear “the other” and how to Christianly attend to xenophobias of various sorts.)   

This new book brings together Willimon’s gritty Christ-focused approach to culture and justice and race with the other major topic for which he is known: homiletics.  That is, he is known as a fine preacher and a teacher of preaching. He has numerous volumes on the art of preparing and proclaiming gospel messages, the theology of preaching, and of collections of sermons, his own, and others.  He is considered one of the best preachers in America, at least in certain mainline denominational circles.  

And so, Who Lynched Willie Earle is, in fact, a book about preaching, from a preacher of the sort they sometimes call a pulpiteer.  There are chapters that examine a historic sermon that unfold like a page-turner thriller.  He dissects an anti-racist sermon from 1947 in chapters like “Preparing to Preach” and “Assessing the Sermon” which become a homiletical case study and a tremendous chapter of Christian witness.  Then there is a hearty, long chapter “Preaching That Confronts Racism.”  As he states, obviously true, “Effective 21st -century preaching demands a more perceptive understanding of race and Christian faith.”  If the above listed book and DVD Holding Up Your Corner attempts to equip congregational or ministry leader to listen/lead/teach/talk fruitfully about race among the people of the church, facilitating conversations within the faith community, then Willimon’s new one is the necessary other piece: how to preach about the evil of racism. Willimon encouraged preaches to see American racism as an opportunity for Christians to honestly name sin and engage in acts of “detoxification, renovation, and reparation.”

As it says on the back cover of Who Lynched…, “Preaching that confronts racism communicates with power a salvation from the sinful narratives of American white supremacy. It hears black pain, names white complicity, and offers a gospel-centered critique of American exceptionalism and civil religion.”  If this book is as strong as it sounds, it may be akin to the raw and honest evangelical truth-telling found in John Piper’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.

Willimon is a known raconteur, an upbeat teller of tales, and, as one prof put it, “a humorous yet deadly disturber of the peace.”  (He even has a novel, spoofing the corporate nature of the modern mega-church.)  Many pastors need his encouragement and many preachers need his advice, specifically on this issue of preaching brave sermons about racism.  I am sure this book will be used by God to help many get to a place where they can “speak the truth in love” about this stuff.

Here’s part of the book that serves as the very helpful, creative frame: when Willimon, born and bred (“to be a racist” he says) in Greenville, South Carolina, goes off to college, an admired professor, also from the South, asked if he had heard about the lynching perpetrated by folk in his hometown back in 1947.  It had gotten some attention in the national press (“A snooty piece was written about it in the New Yorker.”) The prof laments not only the lynching, but that the young Willimon didn’t know anything about it.  

This book a half a century later harkens back to that riveting moment of learning about the lynching and becoming aware of the cover up – the first couple pages of his introduction are quintessential Willimon and very much worth reading — and explores not only the reports and documentation about the mob action and murder but of a sermon preached about it which Will says is “the most courageous sermon every preached in Southern Methodism.”

The footnotes here are fascinating, of course, and Willimon shows himself to be quite the helpful scholar, too.  He not only does good historical reporting about this important sermon and how it was handled, but he guides us into thinking about the social constructions of race, the facts of racism, and the theological underpinnings of thinking about humans made in God’s image and the radical nature of the unity Christians are to embody in the local church.   I think a careful reading of this book will inform and inspire and aid any of us interested in this topic, whether we preach sermons or listen to them.  I hope it is widely read and frankly discussed.

Tears We Cannot Stop- A Sermon To White America .jpgTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press) $24.99 Well, if conventional, evangelical sermonizing taught by the likes of seminary prof Will Willimon isn’t your literary cup of tea, then perhaps this master of passionate, bold, literary prose who is a sociology prof (at Georgetown) will grab your heart and imagination.  Dyson, an old Philly guy, as I recall, is known for writing fun and informative stuff on a wide variety of topics.  He’s written about race and power and religion but often gets at that by way of pop culture, sports and music and more. I loved his old book on Tupac (Holler If You Hear Me) and we used to carry his one on Marvin Gaye. Between God and Gangster Rap was a pivotal resource.  He’s written bunches of other work – hardly any other black public intellectual has been so prolific – including well received books about Malcolm X and about King and, in 2016, an important work on Obama called The Black Presidency: Barak Obama and the Politics of Race in America.  The former President, himself (who read widely as we know) has said, “Anyone who speaks after Michael Eric Dyson pales in comparison.”) 

This brand new one is fierce and passionate and raw and personal.  Because I do not know all of his many previous works I cannot say for sure, but some are saying it is his most elegant and yet his most fierce.  I do not mean to distract at all from Dyson’s own intellectual and literary gifts or contribution, but the excerpt I read reminded me of one of the most discussed books on this topic in recent years, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Not unlike him, some reviewers are making comparisons to the seminal work of James Baldwin. The Fire This Time, maybe?  You must read Dyson, who demands we hear his pain, honor his people and their journey, and take up a hopeful vision with words asking “How can we make it through the long night of despair to the bright day of hope?”


The great literary figure Toni Morrison writes that it is:

Elegantly written, Tears We Cannot Stop is powerful in several areas, moving personal recollections; profound cultural analysis; and guidance for moral redemption. A work to relish.

And, speaking of amazingly powerful, award winning authors, read this from Stephen King:

Here’s a sermon that’s as fierce as it is lucid. It shook me up, but in a good way. This is how it works if you re black in America, this is what happens, and this is how it feels. If you’re black, you’ll feel a spark of recognition in every paragraph. If you re white, Dyson tells you what you need to know — what this white man needed to know, at least. This is a major achievement. I read it and said amen.

And you know what? As Dyson is fairly broad in calling this gut-wrenching cry from the heart a “sermon” it is, in fact, written by one who is not only a cultural critic, scholar,  and writer. Eric Michael Dyson – the Reverend Eric Michael Dyson —  has been an ordained minister for thirty-five years. And he can preach.  Perhaps these are hard truths for some of us to hear, but I hope you will try.

Race and Place 3.jpgRace and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation David P. Leong (IVP) $16.00  IVP can always be counted on to offer some of the most astute, insightful, and useful books on racial justice, multi-ethnic ministry, and authentic visions of reconciliation.   They keep offering new ones, with new angles, fresh authors, important aspects of this big call to embody diversity and be effective in evangelical ministry in a culturally a racially diverse culture.  So I trust them.  A lot.

And this brilliant new book makes that case nicely, that they are on the cutting edge of doing useful work – not arcane philosophical studies but serious scholarship to be used by those doing real-world ministry. Race and Place reminds us of an important aspect of our work on this topic, namely, that “geography matters.”  If we “long for diverse, thriving neighborhoods and churches” we have to deal with “geographic structures and systems that create barriers to reconciliation and prevent the 

flourishing of our communities.”

Folks who are doing important work living and writing about missional outreach (like Tim Soerens, author of The New Parish) get how important all this is.  Soerens notes,

For way too long, conversations about race haven’t included place, and vice versa. With the insight of a scholar and wisdom that only comes from putting ideas into practice, Dr. Leong offers an invitation to the belonging, solidarity, and hope we so desperately need today.

I am so excited to read this, not only because I think he has much new to teach us, but because I am particularly interested in “a sense of place” and write and preach about ministry contextualized to place – from small towns to rust belt cities to rural places – and about social justice and racial equality.  To see these two themes brought together – Wendell Berry and Martin Luther King, if you will – is a great, great joy and I’m sure I will love reading this book.  I bet you will too!

(renovate a cover.jpgBy the way, I have to insert here that there is an African American pastor and writer who cites both King and Wendell Berry named Leonce Crump, whose book Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are [Multnomah Press; $14.95] is spectacularly interesting and immensely helpful. I reviewed it less than a year ago at BookNotes and am thrilled to share that he is speaking from the main stage at Jubilee 2017 out in Pittsburgh this February. Yay.)

David Leong had previously written a short but even more academic study of place and urban geography/culture a few years back, a book we stock called Street Signs: Towards a Missional Theology of Urban Cultural Engagement (Wipf & Stock; $32.00.) This new one, though, Race and Place, about our racialized cities – and how we are impacted now by decisions made generations ago about streets and school districts and neighborhoods and shopping centers and more – is going to be so helpful for anyone wanting to embody a sense of care for the places God has sent us.  Unpacking the systemic challenges of patterns of race relations – what some might call the social architecture or what others might suggest are “principalities and powers” is vital. Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation is going to be a very valuable contribution to our ongoing work as Kingdom people. Order it today.

 Theology of Race and Place- Liberation and Reconciliation.jpgA Theology of Race and Place: Liberation and Reconciliation in the Work of Jennings and Carter Andrew T. Draper (Pickwick Publications) $40.00  I suppose I don’t have to say it, but this is a scholarly work, emerging from Andrew’s doctoral dissertation.  Draper is a Visiting Professor of Theology at Taylor University (where he also directs the Honor’s Guild.) He is the founding senior pastor of Urban Light Community Church in Muncie Indiana, a Church of God congregation.  

Draper thanks Brian Brock for guiding him in some of his scholarly passions, pursued, finally, at the University of Aberdeen, the milieu of the Scottish Divines.   What a curious story this is, bringing together a wide variety of theological and spiritual and scholarly influences. I love this sort of interdisciplinary work, very serious academic effort, offered for the sake of the world.

You need to know this, at least: the two names in the subtitle are both very serious young scholars, both with some connections to Duke Divinity School.  William James Jennings, now at Yale Divinity School, wrote the significant, sophisticated 2011 volume, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press; $27.50.) J. Kameron Carter wrote in 2008 a very important, heady volume, Race: A Theological Account, which remains in hardcover from Oxford University Press ($38.95.)

I wish the publishers would have included the first names, at least, of the scholars under consideration in the subtitle to alert potential readers that it is, in fact, a close reading and study of these two important theologians of race and religious studies. That Stanley Hauerwas has a very favorable and detailed blurb on the back shouldn’t surprise us. It is serious stuff.

But listen to this from urban activist, evangelical pastor, and co-author of several books with John Perkins, Wayne “Coach” Gordon, of Lawndale Community Church, in an under-resourced part of Chicago:

The theology of race and place is sorely neglected in the American church. Andrew Draper is extremely qualified to speak on both as a pastoral practitioner of the philosophy of ministry embodied in Christian community development. This includes two powerful aspects, reconciliation and relocation, both of which demonstrate that place matters. I highly recommend A Theology of Race and Place. 

Do All Lives Matter - BAKER.jpgPRE-ORDER: Do All Lives Matter?: The Issues We Can No Longer Ignore and the Solutions We All Long For Wayne Gordon & John M. Perkins (Baker Books) $12.99  This title not yet released – due February 14, 201.  Who hasn’t wanted to agree with the slogan and hashtag Black Lives Matter.  After the long list of often unarmed black men shot, sometimes even in the back, by police, our hearts go out, our voices rise, insisting that this can’t be right. Made in God’s image, Black lives matter!  And who among us wouldn’t say that Blue lives matter; of course. Police, as such, are not all at fault, and we want to affirm their bravery and service; especially after the sniper shooting of police in Dallas last summer.  Of course.

But then a slogan became “all lives matter.”  And a deeper debate developed — if one goes into an emergency room with a broken leg, with the bone protruding out of an awful gash, it would be nearly pointless (and maybe counterproductive) to say that all bones matter. Well, gee, obviously, but at that point the urgent demand was to pay attention and affirm that leg bones matter!  I am sure I don’t have to explain that many who care about the effectiveness of the #blacklivesmatters campaign felt it was undermined and its power deflected by other lives matter saying.

This brave book, coming out in mid-February, by an active white urban pastor — nicknamed “coach” because of his powerful mentoring role on the streets and the truthful, evangelical civil rights leader, Dr. John Perkins,  get their heads together to hammer out some urgent thoughts about what we should and shouldn’t say about all of this.  The discussion will be vivid and honest, the conversation lively, the insight passed on priceless.  There will be an afterward reflecting on the conversation by old civil rights activist and scholar of civility, Dr. Richard Mouw.

You can decide if you think you can use this — for your own learning and growth or to pass out to that special friend who may need to read it — but I am hoping that many, many BookNotes readers order it from us.  PRE ORDER it at the link below.  Just tell us how many you want.  Easy.



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