A REVIEW ESSAY: What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell (HarperOne) ON SALE – $20.00

Sorry this is so long.  That’s why I placed it as a monthly review column — it’s too long for a BookNotes blog post. But at least I didn’t do numerous posts like I did for Love Does. Whew.

Thanks to those who wrote nice remarks about yesterday’s prelude of a post about the newhat we talk about cover.jpgw Rob Bell book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne; regularly $25.99, now on sale for $20.00.  Just click on the order link below.) I tried to generate some interest in purchasing the book from us — it’s what we do, after all, as a bookstore — but mostly reminded readers to be gracious and fair in expressing thoughts about Bell or the new book.  Like with the 2011 Bellapalooza battle about Love Wins, already some are weighing in with strong views about the new one, even though they admit they haven’t even read the book.  We think this is beyond tacky.  My piece last night mostly hoped to set a little higher bar for discourse.  Writing, as one person did, that this book will be bad because in his last book Bell didn’t use “true Scriptures” simply is inadequate.  Saying he is a bad boy looking for attention, again, just won’t do.  So, if you didn’t see that post about how to engage this new book, you might appreciate it.  I’m no saint when it comes to on-line debating, but I do wish to honor God and be more understanding, and kindly. I bet you do, too.

But I did promise a few more thoughts about the new book.

It is hard to be succinct since reading Bell is, for me, a very enjoyable, thought-proving, and yet sometimes a frustrating experience. I was irked by the second page, in fact. Ha.  I needn’t digress about my own experience of turning his pages, but I can at least say this: I don’t mind his style.  I like his moody versification, his writing as if narrating a Nooma video.  Some don’t care for it — fine. Some go too far, though, suggesting it is somehow intentionally vague (which I think is an unfair accusation: one can say it may be ambiguous, or sloppy, but to say it is intentionally slippery enters into a judgement of his motives, which isn’t yours to know, without evidence, at least.)
So,  mostly I like his style; in fact, it actually helps me focus on his thoughts, line by line.  I thought a few of the Nooma’s, by the way, were absolutely brilliant and many were quite good (even if a few were disappointing, in both style and content.)  But saying that his books can be read/heard as one might hear a Nooma I mean to be a very sincere compliment.
Sure, I read dense theology sometimes, and still – when I want to think about God – I might pull down a copy of the rigorous J. I. Packer’s Knowing God or mull over the lovely depth of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and I hope our readers know A.W. Tozer’s Pursuit of God.  Rob Bell himself routinely (and in this new one, too) raves about the tedious, but important, The Divine Conspiracy by the remarkable Dallas Willard.  Most of us like different sorts of books in our literary diet, and so appreciate Bell’s bohemian edge, even if it isn’t the only kind of medium we like.  People that gripe about his style strike me as a bit myopic.  Would you critique a poem for being a poem? A reflective meditation for being a meditation?

Further, I like books with which I can converse, and his flamboyant style is well suited for this.  I like books to which I can talk back, scribble in the margins, smack my head, call my wife. Listen to this, can you believe this?  Agree or not, being provoked to think, to engage, to exercise the mind, to piece together parts of a growing worldview and wonder what difference it may make, all of this makes for a good read, and Bell delivers in spades.
Maybe you are a very young Christian, or at least unfamiliar with reliable Christian books about basic Christian beliefs.  I don’t think this interesting Bell book will hurt you – and it just might help! – but there are tons of other books that lay out the basic orthodox views of faith with greater systematic clarity, and you should own a few. Those are important to read, and we regularly recommend them to our customers depending on what they tell us about their needs.  New to Christian reading? Unsure of the basics?  Mentoring a new believer?  Shoot us an email and let’s talk. But don’t badmouth Bell because this book is not quite right for that purpose. Okay?

In yesterday’s post I wondered who is intended as the primary audience for Rob Bell.  As I insinuated, it seems to me that there are several key audiences.  Certainly, it is suited for seekers, agnostics, those who have given up on God.  It is an old apologetic retort, but it is common to hear it said that when somebody says they don’t believe in God, we might reply “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. Chances are, I don’t believe in that God, either.”  So right!

RRob-Bell-ap3-922x613.jpgob Bell is very effective in reaching out and speaking with those who feel exiled from traditional faith communities, who are ex-churched or de-churched, or even hostile to Christian convictions. There are lots of people who may not feel comfortable in the most conventional of congregations (conservative or liberal) but yet are willing to consider Biblical claims when shared creatively, as Bell can.  It is a cliché to say he is post-modern, and almost as clichéd to say he is artsy, even if he is as cool as they come, cites a number of very cool bands, uses his share of irony, and embodies – as do his stylized book covers – a very particular aesthetic.   It’s how he rolls, it’s who he is, it is his own subculture. (He mentioned Sigur Ros in his live streaming event on Tuesday — see what I mean?)  Nobody writes off the work of Larry the Cable guy because of his cut-off flannel sleeves or the business casual slacks of Bill Hybels as we works the suburban crowd or the numbered jerseys of the many sports stars who have been given platforms to express their understanding of the gospel in terms to which jocks can relate. To criticize Bell because he has a certain look is unfair and I think betrays a misunderstanding of cross cultural witness.  I do not think this is a marketing ploy but it is just who Rob is, and it is just who naturally likes his work, his ethos, his books.  Coach Tony Dungy talks about Christian leadership using sports images while wearing expensive athletic shoes; Bell cites ironic mustaches and en vogue art installations.
Yet, as I said last night, I think others, too, are in that tribe of core readers, besides the hip un-churched and the interested but exiled.  There are many of us who are not necessarily jaded, not de-churched, but we are sensitive to those who are.  We want to be sure faith isn’t unnecessarily turning people off.  Like Rob, we have heard harmful things said about God, and harmful things said in the name of God.  We want this to stop, and we are looking for allies in the campaign to share the gospel in meaningful ways, learning how to contextualize faith in and to the 21st century, especially to younger adults.  So we are drawn to Bell’s honesty and his hopeful vision, appreciate his speaking out against the dumber versions of faith, and his creative and earnest desire to help those alienated from faith imagine a different kind of religious exper
ience than those that have turned them off. 

As he says in his apropos Oldsmobile metaphor, for many, faith is outdated, for then, not now, for others, not themselves.  Kind of like the great old cars that are not even made any more and are soon to be seen as merely a relic of the olden days.  Bell, it should be repeated, does not say that God has to change or be made to seem fashionable, but only that our way of telling the old old story may need to be updated; how we talk about God is what may need to be revisited. (I wish he were more clear about this in the video, frankly, but I think is is adequately clear about it in the book.) Do you disagree with this idea, as a matter of principle? Why or why not?  Saying God doesn’t change isn’t necessary to say, since that isn’t the point here, as Bell does not suggest otherwise. God is God. We don’t make up what we think God should be like. But we may need to wonder why ways of talking about God and faith and salvation are considered by some to be irrelevant, or worse. Bell does not use the word missional or evangelistic, but those of us with a heart for outreach will surely appreciate his intent, here (or at least we should.)  For those bloggers who have already taken him to task for this “we have to update God” meme, I’d suggest reconsidering, since that is not what he says, and I don’t think that is what he means. 

And there are other readers. You, perhaps. You maybe are not a cynic or agnostic.  You aren’t particularly interested or called to a ministry of reaching out to design-conscious, edgy, young post-Christian professionals who are jaded and de-churched. Maybe you are in a solid church, and know most of the right answers, you trust God and know His Word.  But you still feel like something is wrong.  Something isn’t computing, stuff you hear doesn’t fully seem right.  Or answers with which you were once satisfied no longer ring as true as they once did.  This can be scary, or exhilarating, or both, and I think Bell’s way of talking about things may be helpful for you.

You realize, I assume, that there are quandaries galore.  There just are. For instance, many churches thank God for specific good things that have occurred, but does that mean God has caused the bad things? (For every person for whom we give a “praise report” there are more whose similar prayers were not answered in that happy way, right?)  We thank God if a tornado shifts it’s course and doesn’t hit our town, but what about the town it did hit?  What we say when we say things about God’s work in the world is complicated and it isn’t wrong, and may be helpful, to just admit that.  So, maybe, this book isn’t just for the skeptic seekers or the jaded cynics, the prodigals or the exiles (or those who want to learn how to be in conversation with them.)  Maybe it is also for anyone who has the curiosity (faith? courage?) to want to learn more, to follow their noses, to think through some big ideas about the very nature of what we can know about the God who is there.

So, give it to your scientific agnostic friends, give it to your cynical de-churched friends, and give it to anybody who wants a fresh, inviting take on some very heavy questions.  Young or old, seeker or disciple, scientist or artist, I think there is content in What We Talk About When We Talk About God that can point you to new and appropriate ways to think about God and to embrace the goodness and wonder of God’s Spirit in our midst.  As I said last night, it isn’t the only book to read, and it doesn’t cover everything – not at all.  It is not prefect. But what it does, it does with verve and passion and candor, fascinating illustrations and great stories. As a bookseller, I think this is a fine specimen, and you will get your monies worth. (By the way, it is available as an audio book and we stock the CD as well.)
What does Mr. Bell actually say about how we talk about God?

Well, (sorry) first I want to note, briefly, two things he does not say, which I think are notable.  

He doesn’t say anything about the various attributes of God – God’s omnipresence, God’s holiness, God’s power, and the like.  At least he doesn’t catalog them systematically and explicate them. Other books do that (it is a time-honored habit, although the Bible itself, we might note, doesn’t actually give us a formal list like that, but we pick it up along the way of narrative and songs and mysteries.) Anyway, if a person isn’t even sure there is a divine being or intelligent designer or higher power, detailed descriptions of omniscience or immutability maybe isn’t what’s needed. (Some have argued that these ways of getting at our knowledge of God is itself perhaps more entangled with pagan Greek philosophy than the Bible, anyway, but that is a different discussion.) For those who are convinced the God of the Bible, or at least the one they’ve heard about, is not glorious, perhaps even a moral monster, we need a different way to even get at this question than a listing of attributes.   

Secondly, Bell doesn’t spend much time telling us that much of what we know about God is revealed to us in the Scriptures.  He cites the Scriptures, so there is this clear assumption that they are the primary resource for what we know (that, and our experience, itself a common enough insight.)  But he doesn’t go on about this.  Many will wish he’d have talked about that, this question of revelation, and how we know anything about God at all. (Happily, as we will see, he is clear that the best illustration of who God is is seen in the person of Jesus, so he is more than solid there.)  So that, in my view, is a weakness, to not even discuss this.
Well, if he doesn’t offer a standard fare cataloging of the attributes of God, and he doesn’t offer a perspective on the authority of Scripture as that which mediates the stories of God for us, what does he do?
What We Talk About When We Talk About God is fairly simple in format and the chief points it makes. And, I think, he right about them.
His three big points about God are preceded by three big preliminaries. These are important for Bell, and for us, and are about half the book. Let’s start there.

Not unlike the Nooma videos, and his other books, if I recall, each chapter title is one evocative word.  After a grand opening chapter called “Hum” where he suggests we all know there is something bigger than us, something going on, something alive and meaningful loose in the world, and in our lives, Bell invites us in a chapter called “Open” to be open to the plausibility of God, and he does this mostly by explaining quantum physics, black holes, the expanding universe and a whole lot of wacky stuff like Einstein’s theory of relativity and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. 

This is the same Rob Bell the science guy we met in his amazing long-form DVD “Everything Is Spiritual” so we shouldn’t be surprised, and it is very nicely done.  This is as painless and wondrous a study of this stuff as you can find, so it will be beneficial to those of us who struggle to stay awake, despite the wonder of it all.  (The next step up for lay folks can be found in the short and glorious book by Barbara Brown Taylor called The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion (Cowley; $13.95) which has a similar jaw-dropping wide-eyed wonder to it, offering a theological/doxological response to these stupefying discoveries. Rob himself offers some other suggestions in the endnotes, including the work of Anglican physicist, John Polkinghorne.  We carry his books, too, by the way.)
Bell says we all know there is some sort of Something going on out there as we consider the magnitude of the universe – or inside us, as we are enjoying a good meal with dear friends and we know it has moved us deeply, in a soulful sort of way. Why do we feel as we do when we see a newborn baby?   Many human experiences seem to only make sense if they point to something Beyond us. He is poetic and honest and good on this, very good.  As another excellent book puts it (that I describe briefly below) we are “yearning for more.”

This is nothing all that new, of course — it’s just the argument from design spoken with edgy examples for post-moderns; it’s the the “signals of transcendence” argument for ordinary folks, as we are invited to wonder why we glory at the birth of a baby or are so stunned when we hear of heroism or tragedy or beauty.  Life simply is not meaningless, there is a hum just below the surface, and if you don’t think this is helpful to say when you’re talking with atheists or agnostics, I suspect you haven’t talked deeply with folks like that very much.  The sublime reality of the reality of God around us in this glorious but sin-damaged universe can only be said in countless metaphors and images, and Bell offers us a fabulous way to get it said, one more time. What he says and how he says it isn’t all we need to say – Something is Out There – but it is a good start, and he does it delightfully, with a moral seriousness that is more than commendable, it is honorable. In his heart, it seems he is an evangelist, wanting to share gospel news, blessings of grace and peace, to those distrustful or immunized against it.
I think of conversations I have had about these most deeply important things and I am nearly moved to tears just wondering if my agnostic friends would resonate with this…

An important part of this conversation is a huge, huge matter in our culture (and has been for more than a hundred years, as he explains) and What We Talk About… broaches it head on with gusto.  It is the matter of scientism, the ideology that goes beyond saying that science is good, that the deductions we make using the scientific method can yield amazing data about how the world works, but insists that this is the only way to know anything at all. 

Beauty, love, justice, dignity? How does one measure such things?  To those under the boot heel of scientism – perhaps the largest competing religion to Christianity in the last few hundred years – we cannot talking meaningfully about such matters.  If it cannot be measured, it cannot be known as true. (I was told this directly by more than one college professor in my days as a special ed major!)  We may experience things like that — awe, beauty, love — but they are inconsequential, chemical firings in an evolving brain, and we cannot speak of such things as anything other than cause and effect, data, chemicals, accidents of nature, so to speak.  This is sometimes called scientific materialism (not meaning that greedy scientists want a lot of consumer stuff, but that all that matters is matter.) This reductionism to the merely natural/material is a dead-end worldview, and fundamentally inhumane.  Interestingly, Bell says that our best scientists themselves reject this view. I don’t know how true that is, how many scientists reject naturalistic reductionism, but the mystery and wonder of the world is certainly discussed by the likes of Einstein, just for once example.  (It was his call to wonder, you might remember, that led Madeline L’Engle to study quantum physics, deepen her Christian faith, and write Wrinkle in Time.) One needn’t fully agree with all of the woozy Ken Wilber stuff that Bell is enamored with to celebrate his primary point: there is some weird goings on in this crazy world of ours, and most of it points to something grand, nearly inexplicable, and many of the deepest scientific thinkers are nearly mystical about it. String theorists nearly sound like poets.  Scientism and naturalism is boring and intellectually unsustainable in comparison.

An aside. Last week we had the opportunity to set up a book display at a Veritas Forum discussion at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania.  The agenda – which attracted up towards 1000 participants – was to explore this question:  is scientific knowledge the only true knowledge?  A winsome Christian professor from MIT, Dr. Ian Hutchinson, exposed the hegemony of this sort of scientism, and we sold his book with a very important title: Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism  (Lulu; $18.95.) An popular atheist professor from U of Penn replied, and the event was educational, enlightening in some ways, and altogether cordial.  But Hutchinson the scientist is right, and in reading Rob Bell this week, I realized, again, how important his thesis is.  “Monopolizing Knowledge” is a way to describe how traditional ways of knowing and therefore traditional religions have been marginalized or mocked in the modern world, that scientific naturalism, itself founded on shaky presuppositions, cannot adequately account for the very nature of the complex universe we all experience.  (Ahh, remember that Walt Whitman poem, When I Heard the Learned Astronomer?) 

Bell is not strident in rebuking this dumb idol, but he makes no bones about it: such a mechanistic view is not liberal or open-minded or generous, but is closed-minded and ideological and stuffy. I wonder if Bell been reading Hutchinson?

Another aside: I have mentioned Dallas Willard.  He has written amazing books about the process of becoming more Christ-like, works like the aforementioned The Divine Conspiracy (HarperOne), The Spirit of the Disciplines (HarperOne) and Renovation of the Heart (NavPress.) He is interested in questions of spiritual formation and disciple-making. But he is also a top-notch philosopher, and has done in his own profession some important work on how we know what we know, and what kind of knowing counts. He has written about this, and although it is a tad heady, it is very important.  You should know his book Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne.) It has gotten blurbs by the likes of sociologist Peter Berger. Richard Foster calls it a “must read” and says,  that Willard “focuses like a laser beam on the issue of moral knowledge as a
legitimate source for understanding reality and applying it to daily
life.”  I wonder if Rob Bell is reading this one of Dallas Willard? 

Another aside. Bell does not explore this question, but we might as well bring it up: if there is only a closed system of atoms and material, and no possibility of Something Else, that is, if mere naturalism is the worldview that is true, then it also must be said (although few are courageous enough to follow this out to its logical consequence) that therefore there can be no binding right or wrong.  My friend Dick Cleary wrote a good novel about this, set on a modern college campus where the monopolizing of knowledge has been being played full court.  In The Absence of God (Xulon Press; $24.99) is a captivating fictional story that imagines the conversations among faculty and students who want to be revolted by a sadistic killer loose on campus, but are unclear how–given what they’ve been taught about relativism and atheism–to make moral judgments against it. If there is no God, there can be no absolute truth, and therefore no real right or wrong, so whose to say, ya know?  It is a book about campus life, faculty politics, collegiate football, a bit of romance, and a suspenseful thriller, too, but it is finally an exploration about the reductionism and inhumanity of the modernist worldview that says what you see is all you get.  I wonder if Bell has been reading Cleary?

The next preliminary chapter doesn’t take much to explain, but it is fascinating.  It is called “Both” and, as you can guess, Bell criticizes black/white dichotomous thinking, and insists that this is part of our starting problem when thinking about religious truth and God and faith.  Things are most often both/and, not either/or, he says. This could get funky, and I suspect it does, but Bell is persuasive insisting that simple answers and knee-jerk reactions and bolting down rigid formulaic replies aren’t adequate to explain the deepest matters of the heart.  One could say that this is a “straw man” argument but I think that it mostly is not, and to say so is nearly a cheap shot.  There are, in fact, overly simplistic formulas and narrowed down views of truth and God that are too often promoted, with no questions or nuanced allowed, and this is not good or helpful, and Mr. Bell is not wrong to say so.  Not everyone with orthodox views is such a reductionist and it would be silly to suggest that traditional faith always leads to dry, dead black/white constructions. Bell draws on the classic Promise of Paradox by Parker Palmer here, if that gives you a sense of where he’s coming from.  Yet, as Trevin Wax at the Gospel Coalition has noted, traditional, robust, historic orthodox faith holds many paradoxes, perhaps more profoundly, than the somewhat one-sided “God is for you” view of Bell’s book.

This both/and approach is important to Bell, though, and he makes his point talking about a very honest, forthright, but kind counselor he had once.  Of him, Bell says,

He was kind and humble and open, and yet firm and rock solid and unshakable.
All at the same time.
He was a  man of faith,
deeply grounded in his convictions,
and yet those firm convictions didn’t close him down or harden him or make him brittle and close minded; they had the exact opposite effect. They seemed to make him more flexible and limber and engaging.
Like a tree,
planted near the water,
with deep  roots.
A  storm comes and the tree doesn’t break because it’s ground enough to… bend.

He continues,

I believe this is one of the most urgent questions people are asking at this time about the very nature of faith: can convictions and humility coexist as the dance partners we need them  to be?

I say yes, they can. I have seen it up close, and it’s possible. It requires that we pay as much attention to how we are talking as to what we are talking about, and it requires us to leave the paradox as it is, the tension unresolved, holding our convictions with humility.


You are going to have to read the book yourself to get to the heart of his teaching, and grapple with the implications, but it is found most clearly in three central chapters.  His one word starters are “With” (as in God is with us) “For” (God is for us) and “Ahead” (God is calling us into a future of God’s own making, a restoring/healing/hope that is already on the move.)

The first half of What We Talk About… is not at all inconsequential – these questions with which he starts are vital, and I am glad to have allowed Bell to remind me of them, for my own sake, and to give me more tools and insights as I speak with others.

I am glad to be called to attend to the hum in and around all things, to be reminded of the inadequacy of scientistic ideologies that are closed to wonder and mystery, even in spite of  the direction the greatest scientific discoveries are pointing us, and for the invitation to a both/and, wholistic vision of the meaning of life that is more than brittle formulas.  An early review noted that these sorts of questions seem themselves to have a Hebraic stamp on them.  I hope this is not “foolishness to the Greeks” but it may be.  On the other hand, in this new postmodern era, these reflections themselves offer wise hints towards bearing witness in fruitful ways. Scientism has its limits and despite the upswing of the “new atheists” it seems that many people know, deeply, that there is more to life than meets the eye.  Geesh, just watch TV for one night and look at the best-seller list of highbrow novels.

But it is the second half of What We Talk About When We Talk About God that will be most interesting to some. It explores how the Bible teaches that God is with us, upholding every bit of life in this material world; God is known in Jesus Christ, Immanuel, which makes evident that God is truly for us, which draws us into God’s rescue work in a world made new.  His discussions of the cross are fine, and the role of the Spirit is interesting and obviously informed by the magisterial work of Jurgen Multmann. (Bell cites as “incredible” Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life in his endnotes. Do I need to mention that we stock a number of the famous German’s books?  Yes, we do.)

You should grapple with this yourself, but I was frustrated that Bell seems disinterested in the sovereign  transcendence of God.  That is, he is so intent on telling us about God’s nearness, that he avoids talk of holiness, Otherness, and such.  And, in this “advance” bit, he seems to suggest that everyone, everywhere, is caught up in this good news, an implication of the position developed in his last book, a view that leaves some Biblical teaching out, or so it seems to me. You will hopefully talk about this kind of thing with others as you are provoked to deeper thoughts by reading this for yourself.  I am glad Bell offers good news and seems so full of hope, but I also hope it isn’t mere wishful thinking, a one-sided account of the end for which the world was made. 

Bell’s helpful teaching about the way in which God is so very near all things, and how God’s own Word upholds all things is good. Again, as I said last night, this is not pantheism, a wrong-headed view he directly renounces. (Some may call it panentheism and that will be debated and criticized, I predict.) Call it what you will, but it is, I think, just what the Bible teaches. You should see Barbara Brown Taylor’s lovely Altar in This World: A Geography of Faith (HarperOne; $14.99) for a wonderful set of meditations on this; we have a whole shelf  of these “finding God in the ordinary” sorts of ruminations, by the way, and Bell suggests a few in his own endnotes, too.
< br />Bell’s view of the immanence of God, and God’s upholding Word of power, over ground that can now be called “holy” is something close to what Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd taught, I think, and leads more conventional theologians to the doctrine of creational ordinances, the discovery of which can happen through common grace.  That Bell sees God’s hand in all manner of things and sees the flourishing of the planet as part of God’s merciful desires in a world Christ loves, shouldn’t be shocking, although some may find it somehow irreligious.
I hope you know Richard Mouw’s fine book on this notion of common grace called He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Eerdmans; $14.00.)  If Bell’s exotic vision sounds controversial, perhaps critics should read the exquisitely careful Mouw — who draws on that fine line from the famous hymn “This Is Our Father’s Word” — and then go back and re-read Bell.  Or maybe serious readers should struggle with the huge argument made in the weighty Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Stephen Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh (Eerdmans; $27.00) who make a powerful, intriguing, complex case for why we feel so ill at ease, nearly displaced for our earthly homes (and for some, literally so), and how bad theology is partially to blame. It opens up remarkably just how such displacement from place leads to a less than sustainable economy, carelessness about the environment, and our needy brothers and sisters. In great and prophetic detail, this is the sort of stuff that Bell’s argument about God’s nearness to all creation, God’s saving work for us, and God’s restoring work around us naturally leads us to.
Which leads to the last chapter of What We Talk About When We Talk About God called “So.”  I  have my tongue in my cheek a little when I say there ought to be a publishing world law: every book should have to have a chapter like this at the end, asking “So what?”

For Mr. Bell, this isn’t a tacked-on quick ending, an epilogue, but a substantial and vital rumination on how all this matters. This is the part where he lists a handful of peculiar illustrations, and a few people who had heard about this right away mocked him for saying he was going to talk about monkeys eating peanuts, for instance. Well, hey, the monkey/peanut eating research is pretty darn amazing, and it works well as an illustration.  Bell uses some other equally fabulously interesting illustrations to get to his point about what N.T. Wright might call “realized eschatology.” In Bell’s rubric, it is how we are pulled into the future of God, by God, into a way of life that is Christ-like and perceives the presence of God in all things.

Here, in this last strong chapter, Bell offers some very helpful suggestions about seeing God behind our common sayings (getting something off our chest; being struck in such ways that we go “over the moon” etc.) and how we might confess our sins to one another, being in touch more with our shadow sides (which, too, disclose God’s activity in our lives and can become holy ground.) He alludes to some neuroscience research, invites us to consider ways to be more integrated as whole people, becoming more Christ-like in the process. Not surprisingly, he mentions architecture and aesthetics, reminding us (has he been reading Jamie Smith?) that embodied practices and habits learned in concrete communities matter profoundly.   I like this call to (counter-cultural) reverential practices that might help us re-enchant our daily lives and help create the sort of renewal in the world we long for.  Be the change you want to see, you know…  Again, this is helpful, good stuff, but not terribly controversial.  It is fresh and fascinating and funny and I enjoyed it a lot.  You just might, too.  And I bet you know somebody who would.
Bell puts it eloquently in the second to last page (before a less than satisfying closing) when he describes Paul writing in Philippians 1:6

Paul does something really, really clever here in this letter that many of his contemporary Jewish writers often did: he uses particular words in a particular order so that he can say multiple things at the same time.  Paul uses the words begin and good work and complete very deliberately; those are loaded words, because they’re used in that same order in the Genesis creation poem that begins the Bible… So when Paul, a man thoroughly versed in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, uses those particular words in that particular order in his letter to his friends, he’s connecting their story to the creation of the universe.

His point is that the same creative bang that formed the universe is unleashed in us through our trust in what God is doing in the world through Jesus. His insistence is that this extraordinary energy in all its diverse and expansive forms is deeply personal and readily available and on our side.

I believe this is true.

Here are a handful of books that I thought of when I read through What We Talk About When… This is not to say that any of these were influential to Bell or that these authors would appreciate being connected to Bell’s project. I like the head-bone’s-connected-to-the-neck-bone approach where one thing sort of leads to another.  Check these out.

Yearning for More: What Our Longs Tell Us About God and Ourselves  Barry Morrow (IVP) $15.00  If you liked his opening chapter “the hum” this will be amazingly helpful, really interesting, and I am sure you’ll order more to share with others.  Kenneth Boa writes the foreword where he affirms the author for “a penchant for leveraging culture to illuminate timeless spiritual issues.” This is one of the best books of the year, and  I very highly recommend it.
Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism  Ian Hutchinson (Lulu) $18.95  I wrote about this above, and, again, suggest it as a great example of one of the largest philosophical matters of our time.  Lewis approached this in The Abolition of Man and it is the topic of the amazing recent Oxford University Press book Where the Conflict Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga. Even more philosophical, the atheist philosopher of science Thomas Nagel recently released, to much publicity in journals of opinion, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinist Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press.)  Hutchinson’s is new and interesting and accessible, and a fine one with which to start.

Rationality and the Calvinian Tradition edited by Henk Hart, Johan Van Der Hoeven & Nicholas Wolterstorff (Wipf & Stock) $58.00  This rare book used to be on waiting lists at used bookstores everywhere, and is finally been quietly re-issued.  These were the papers from a hugely important and much-talked about conference in the early 1980s co-sponsored by the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, asking this major question of what is the best way to explain the legitimate role of reason (while rejecting Rationalism) within Reformed thinking.  If Rob Bell has helped us expose the secularizing assumptions of Enlightenment modernity and its idol of reductionist rationalism – he does this astutely, by showing how it effects ordinary people and their search for meaning – then what is the proper use of reason?  Who has most helped us see this, and what theological traditions have wrongly wedded our rhetoric and ideas to Enlightenment rationalism? From Al Wolters to John Frame, Danie Strauss to Charles Partee, Alvin Plantinga and many others, this is a truly amazing band of world-c
lass scholars!  As Wolterstorff himself put it in his small but powerful treatise, we must seek Reason within the Bounds of Religion (Eerdmans.)  This is a perennial matter and this heavy, complex, and radical rethinking of it all is essential for serious philosophers. I’ve been wanting to tell our scholarly readers about this and waiting for the right moment. Here it is utterly germane. The last section of it, by the way, is about the problem of our language about God.  Rob Bell, call your office.  This is amazing stuff.

Your God is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control  Mark Buchanan (Multnomah) $15.99  I love this writer (Eugene Peterson wrote the foreword, by the way) and commend him for those who want fine writing that isn’t odd or deep.  He is more substantive, I think, than Max Lucado, but he’s warm like that.  But a bit wilder, as the book title suggests.  Listen to what the conventional Reformed heavy weight J.I. Packer says of it: “Within a framework of biblical orthodoxy, Mark Buchanan’s  jabbing insights minister a salutary pastoral shake-up, drawing and driving us sluggards to come closer to our God.”  Ha.  Sluggards. I dare ya to read this, you sluggards.  I admit, this isn’t exactly how Rob Bell puts it, but if you like Bell, you don’t mind being jabbed a bit.  This is a great book.

Finding the Lost Images of God: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings  Timothy S. Laniak (Zondervan) $12.99 This full color, handsome handbook series (“Ancient Context, Ancient Faith”) includes several lovely books, each drawing on key insights from the original languages and cultures of the Biblical lands.  Informed by good scholarship from middle eastern cultures – informed by writers like the brilliant Kenneth Bailey, for instance – this series allows us to realize fabulous insights embedded in the Bible that we might not otherwise see.  In this case, these are nice cultural studies about buildings, warfare, fields, flocks, and the like.  What divine images are used to tell us about God? How can our own creativity relate to God’s?  Bell does some of this sort of stuff, opening up basic insights about the culture from which the Bible was written, and helps us learn more.  This is a very nice book, clear and helpful for anyone.

The Unfolding Mystery of the Divine Name: The God of Sinai in Our Midst Michael P. Knowles (IVP Academic) $22.00  I noted that Bell’s book was not strong on using the Bible as the key document for knowing about the nature of God.  He uses the Bible a lot, often creatively, but this is the sort of book that as you work slowly through it, will pay off in loads of wisdom and insight.  John Goldingay says “How marvelous it would be if Christians started believing that God is as Scripture portrays him and as Dr. Knowles expounds its portrayal with such a wideness of vision and breadth of insight.” This is about God’s own self-disclosure in Exodus 34, and Walter Brueggemann says of this close textual study, that it “teems with fresh insight and will reward a careful reading.”

Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History From the Puritans to The Passion of Christ Stephen J. Nichols (IVP Academic) $20.00  One of the big beefs that drives Bell, as well it should, is how God has been domesticated and how those who claim to follow Jesus often seem to have a culturally-created image of the Master. (Who was it that said you know you’ve made God in your own image when God tends to have the same enemies that you have.) Well, this is the best — and surely most fascinating — historical study of the uniquely American usage of Jesus.  Nichols is good at  pop culture, and he is a conservative Reformed thinker (from nearby Lancaster Bible College.) I doubt if he’d see himself similar to Bell, but they share this in common — they are interested in deconstructing how God (and in this case, the second Person of the Trinity) is misconstrued and abused by what we might call cultural captivity.  With rave reviews from historians like Mark Noll and D.G. Hart and Doug Sweeney, this is a masterful bit of legitimate scholarship, and a huge wake-up call, warning us against distorted images that creep in to the popular vocabulary and mindset.  No wonder Bell has to shake us up with this nonsense in the air.  A very interesting and very important book.

The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction  Peter Rollins (Howard) $14.99  Rollins is a hot young theologian, storyteller, mystic, who is deep and not just a little eccentric. Bell likes him, as do those who tend to identify with the emergent conversations. Some serious thinkers esteem him and I’m told he is a captivating speaker.  I enjoy and have read many of the authors who like him, but, to be honest, I just don’t quite get him or his several books. I get that he affirms questioning and doubt. Fine.  I like the title of his first book (even if the book was boring to me) How (Not) to Talk About God (Paraclete.)  Bell draws on him from time to time, it seems. One of the major points of his project and most of his books is both sensible and yet profoundly unsettling: when we talk to confidently about God we’ve already transgressed, making some sort of idol, reducing God to the words we’ve said about God. We confuse the image and the Reality.  Ancient Jews knew this – even Abraham Heschel, for instance, gets at this, another vital author Bell cites. This new book of Rollins’ (which the back cover calls “incendiary”) invites us to embrace our brokenness and our unknowing.  This is some funky stuff. 


what we talk about cover.jpgWhat We Talk About When We Talk About God
Rob Bell
introductory sale price
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Nurturing the Heart & Mind of the Christian (Lawyer): Books Old and New. A handout from a workshop at Christian Legal Society, October 2012.

At a recent workshop I did for a group of
Christian lawyers and spouses, one participant
byron portrait.jpg quipped that they sure got
their money’s worth—I preached for an hour about why reading is
important so we can think and live Christianly, and I went over a
massive bibliography.  I thought I’d share that biblio with you here. I wish I could somehow tell you all about each of
these books; my brief annotations don’t do them justice, and some are very, very special books. 

This short
essay and long bibliography hopefully will be of interest even now, for
any readers who enjoy seeing some of the resources we promote when we
are out on the road.  Granted, we custom designed this for the interests
and dispositions o
cls booklet.jpg that particular gathering (especially the books at
the end of law and lawyering) but we trust you will like looking over
it.  Sorry we didn’t list the prices. Email us at
read@heartsandmindsbooks or use the website inquiry page if you have any

You may order any of these at 20% off. Use the order form link at the end.

                                                                                                                   The CLS conference proceedings book with a quote by Abraham Kuyper

the Heart & Mind of the Christian Lawyer:

Books, Old and New

Legal Society

Springs, CO


Being Sons & Daughters of Issachar (I Chronicles 12:32)

We must consider what many observe as an
ongoing weakness, if not a crisis, of the faithful relevance of evangelical
discipleship in twenty-first century culture.  There are pressures from the culture–change, choice, speed,
technology–and weaknesses from within, even for those who sincerely affirm the
Lordship of Christ and count “the cost of discipleship.”   Still, too often, as Richard
Foster writes in his classic
Celebration of Discipline, our age is defined by the
“curse of superficiality.”


Cultural critics have reminded us of the
secularizing forces of modernity For a fancifully-written but trenchant
analysis see Os Guinness’ novel,
Last Christian On Earth: 
Uncovering the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church
(Regal.) Neil Postman
prophetically exposed our trivializing tendencies in
Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business
(Penguin.)  Perhaps the most important book along
these lines in recent years has been
The Shallows: What the
Internet is Doing to Our Brain
by Nicholas Carr (Norton & Company. )  A more positive view is offered by Leonard Sweet in his
Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite
These studies alert us to the cultural context where it is easy to not think as
deeply or live as wisely as we might. 
Attention to this will help us be “in the world but not of it” knowing
how to wisely proclaim that Christ is Lord of “every square inch” of His




Crisis of compartmentalization (dualism)

Crisis of erosion of the Christian mind (anti-intellectualism)

Crisis of cultural captivity (accommodation/ideology) 


These problems contribute to a crisis of
vocational distinctiveness and innovative faithfulness in public life
generally, and the work-world specifically.  Some may describe this as a failure to robustly embody uniquely
Christian ways of practicing one’s career, related to a thin view of
integrating faith and thinking. 




Reading widely:        God cares about all of

Reading seriously:    God wants us to learn much.

Reading attentively:  God calls us to be discerning.


Such wide reading helps us realize that all
of life is being redeemed in Christ, that we can witness to His grace and point
towards His Kingdom most fruitfully as we live out a uniquely Christian
perspective in our callings and careers. 
An integrated Christian way of working and living requires a framework,
a foundation, a coherent narrative, which some call an intentionally Christian
worldview.  Reading faithfully is
one tool for developing a Christian worldview, way of life, and normative way
of working.  In order to grow in
such faithfulness, we must see ourselves as life-long learners.



Heaven is a
Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God
  Michael Wittmer (Zondervan)  One of the most accessible, practical and enjoyable books on
a Christian worldview.  A great
book for those new to this approach.


Regained: Towards a Reformational Worldview
(Eerdmans) Nearly a classic, very influential; very
Biblical, showing how a Christian way of seeing life must recall the goodness
of creation, the seriousness of the fall, and the broad scope of Christ’s


Transforming Vision: Developing a Christian Worldview
Brian J. Walsh & Richard
Middleton (IVP) The history of dualism, the rise of secularization, the idols
of the age, and a feisty, wholistic Christian agenda… follow this up with their
Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be:
Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age


Worldview: Learning to Think, Live and Speak in This World
J. Mark Bertrand
(Crossway)  Bertrand is a close pal
of CLS emcee Michael Schutt—and he’s written three gritty detective
novels!  A wonderful contribution
to the field of worldview studies…


Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity
  Nancy Pearcey (Crossway)  Magisterial, perhaps a bit more philosophical than some,
tracing the rise of the dichotomy between facts and values, and how our
dualisms erode Christian conviction as public truth.  Are secular gatekeepers using this as a strategy to banish
Biblical truth? Are Christians themselves guilty of hold a merely subjective
faith?  Some say Pearcey is the
Francis Schaeffer of our time.


the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation
  James K.A. Smith (Baker)  One of the most talked-about worldview books in years, this
is the first of what will be a three part series. (The much-anticipated sequel,
Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works will release in February
2013.)  This is a fabulously rich
rumination on how worldviews are not merely constellations of intellectual
notions, but are imagined and lived out, largely informed by our deepest
desires, which are shaped by our rituals/habits.  Perhaps our ubiquitous secularizing rituals have formed us
more than our rather thin and inconsequential worship liturgies…


Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church

Soong-Chan Rah
(Moody) There is little doubt that our ethnic background and relationships with
those of other races has a profound and often unconscious influence of how we
see the world.  This explores cross
cultural concerns and is a helpful survey of this complex and interesting
matter.  Read his excellent first
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western
Cultural Captivity


Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand
the Bible
Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O’Brien (IVP) Brand new, this provocative
study–drawing on the insight of Rah’s first book about “Western Cultural Captivity”
perhaps–this shows how we too often read into the Bible our own (Western)
cultural bias.  This is a worldview
expanding experiment, helping us not only see our own “cultural blinders” but
allowing us to read the Bible more honestly and fruitfully. Wow.



The Call:
Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose in Your Life

Os Guinness (W Publishing
Group)  One of my all time favorite
books, this is richly written, thoughtful, and very inspiring. Christ calls us
so decisively that it effects all that we are and all that we do.  A must-read.


A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose
in This World
Charles Drew (Presbyterian & Reformed) Informed by the
same vision as Guinness about the need for a thoughtful doctrine of vocation
and calling, this is more systematically developed following the unfolding
Biblical themes of creation, fall and redemption. Excellent.


Your Work
Matters to God

Doug Sherman & William Hendrickson (NavPress)  For years, this has been my go-to book, inviting Christians
to a profound approach to our callings in the marketplace. Very well done.


Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work
Tom Nelson (Crossway) Written by a pastor
who expertly equips his congregation to serve God in their various occupations
and professions.  Since it was
published just one year ago it has become one of the most popular and esteemed
books on the subject.  Sidebars
tell of several workers in different careers at his church (including a lawyer)
explaining how they related worship and work.  Very highly recommended.


How Then
Shall We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work
Hugh Whelchel (Westbow
Press)  Whelchel has served for
decades in the business world and then became director of the Washington DC
branch of Reformed Theological Seminary. 
This is a theologically robust example of a worldviewish sort of
Calvinism that is well-rooted in the Biblical narrative that anticipates the
restoration of all creation and affirms the essential dignity of work. Short,
no-nonsense, and remarkably clear.  
Love it.


Matters: Lessons from Scripture
Paul R. Stevens (Eerdmans) Stevens is a master of
this topic, having published many books on the interface of faith and the
marketplace, Christianity and work, the role of the laity, etc.  In his insightful hands, these “jobs in
the Bible” come alive, profound, insightful, useful.  Very, very good. 
Read any of his many books!


Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good
 Amy L. Sherman (IVP) No book explores the ways in which a
serious approach to vocation can equip us to make a difference in the world as
thoroughly and thoughtfully as this. 
Sherman explores four “avenues” or levels of how to serve God in one’s
career, making sure that our best efforts are, indeed, serving others and being
a blessing.  A moving afterward by
Steve Garber.  Highly recommended
for those who mean business!


Every Good
Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Dutton) Not
yet released, due November 2012
  This soon to be released
book is already gathering quite a lot of anticipation.  Keller makes a good case explaining
God’s intention for people to work, on His behalf,  serving and sustaining the common good.  He will give solid Biblical and
theological foundations for marketplace mission and, in the practical second
half, offer helpful observations and guidance for keeping faith in the
work-world.  I’ve seen most of this already and very highly recommend it. 



The Mind of
James Emory
White (IVP)  I love this wonderful
little book, and re-read it often. 
Inspiring, handsome, full of insight and encouragement.


Your Mind’s
  Greg Jao (IVP) This not yet released
inexpensive booklet — due out in December 2012 — is a beautifully written
invitation to the life of the mind, teaching us to use our thinking and
scholarship in missional ways for God’s glory and the world’s good.  Our bookstore is mentioned, so we’re
particularly pleased to tell you about it.  Short, insightful, and very useful for students or anyone
wanting an overview of the call to use our mind in Christian ways.


Think: The
Life of the Mind and the Love of God
Piper (Crossway)  A very
thoughtful, passionate call to think well for the glory of God, to avoid the
temptations of the life of the mind, and to redouble our efforts to think well
and faithfully.


Christ and the Life of the Mind
Noll (Eerdmans) The long-awaited 
serious follow-up to the seminal
Scandal of the
Evangelical Mind
.  Beautiful and stimulating, asking
precisely what our theology about Jesus has to say to the project of nurturing
the Christian mind.


A Student’s Guide

David Naugle
(Crossway) This is the best brief overview of the need for a
Christ-honoring strategy of integrating faith and learning, essential for
learners of all sorts.  Very wise
and truly enlightening.


Life, God
and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City
  Eric Metaxas (Plume) 
Just out in paperback, this wonderful anthology (previously released as
in the City
brings together some of the finest Christian intellectuals of our time,
offering insightful pieces about the coherence of Christian conviction. Authors
include Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, Sir John Polkinghorne, Fr. Richard John
Neuhaus, Os Guinness, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and others…
(Guess who has a blurb on the back?)


Wisdom and
Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art
Abraham Kuyper (Christian Library Press)  Newly translated from the Dutch, these
essays were written by the famous Dutch pastor, journalist and statesman about
how the doctrine of common grace offers a unique way to approach both the arts
and the sciences.  Important
stuff!  A great introduction by
Wheaton College’s  Vincent Bacote.
Kuyper, as you know by now, spoke the “every square inch” line on your conference proceedings book.



The Next
Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World
Gabe Lyons (Multnomah)  The first half of this upbeat book
explains the ways a more wholistic and nonpartisan vision of the Kingdom can
help us avoid the distractions of the culture wars and the second half makes a
case for seven key shifts that younger evangelicals seem to care deeply about.  This book is important for the
bell-weather shifts it helpfully explains, and, I believe, because it is truly
Biblically faithful.  We indeed
need to hear these concerns and embrace this vision of being God’s agents for
cultural restoration.


You Lost
Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith
David Kinnaman (Baker)
After the research done for his important book
Unchristian, this fine author, head of
the Barna Group, offers conclusions drawn about how to keep young adults
involved in church and faith. 
Really interesting and exceptionally important for most churches,
wishing to keep our 20-something engaged and faithful. 


A Public
Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good
Miroslov  Volf (Baker) Volf is one of the more
popular theologians working today and these lectures wonderfully capture the
need to be involved in faithful Christian witness even as we recognize the
quandaries of pluralism.  Highly
recommended. For a lovely and profound collection of short essays by Volf, see
Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and
Persisting Enmitie
s (Eerdmans.)


Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
Andy Crouch (IVP) If you haven’t read this yet, you
owe it to yourself to consider his call to honor the joys of taking up the
cultural mandate and reflecting more intentionally the image of our creative
God.  The section evaluating
various postures towards culture (just critiquing? merely copying?) is worth
the price of the book.


The Social
Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
David Brooks (Random House)
Brooks, as you surely know, is one of our best and most balanced pundits and he
here offers a novel–with tons of excursions into social research—pondering
what causes human happiness.  One
of the most interesting and insightful books of recent years.  What a fun and compelling way to learn!


Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction
 Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) 
Mouw is a gracious and clear writer and here he tells why discovering
this Dutch theologian of the ninteenth century, a social critic (and Prime
Minister) was a life-saver for him. 
The best simple explanation of Kuyperianism — very highly
recommended!   This is the
guy, you know, who preached that Christ claims “every square inch” of his
creation.  I love this little book, and am grateful for Mouw’s contribution.


Making a Difference in the World by Being Different
Tullian Tchividjian
(Multnomah) What a wonderful, wonderful study, challenging and yet
hopeful.  Perhaps we ought not too
quickly attempt to be relevant; maybe the best thing we can do is be
unfashionable.  A powerful critique
of cultural accommodation and less than principled ways of engaging the


To Change
the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christian Faith
in the Late
Modern World

Davidson Hunter (Oxford University Press) 
Again, this is a much-discussed and often-debated book about how best to
embody a “faithful presence” in the workplace as a way to slowly and
effectively bring God’s hope to a hurting culture.  Erudite, significant.


Humanism: A Philosophy of Culture for the Church in the World

Zimmerman  (IVP Academic) One of
the most rigorous, thoughtful, interesting, and helpful studies of this
sort.  What a fabulous example of
mature Christian considerations, invoking “Christian humanism” as a helpful way
to appreciate a redemptive sort of attention to God’s world.


Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil
Guinness (HarperOne)  One can
hardly talk about witnessing in the real world or engaging culture without
giving some coherent account of suffering and evil, how to understand it, and
what to do about it.  One of the
best studies about this, eloquent and honest, deep and yet very engaging. 


Evil and
the Justice of God
N.T. Wright (IVP)  Again, any effective and faithful
approach to living out the social implications of the gospel simply must relate
to the problem of evil and embrace the brokenness of our times.  Wright is a solid scholar and faithful
preacher of the resurrection.  Few
have so helpfully related Christ’s death and resurrection to this question.


The Space
Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment
Eric O. Jacobsen (Baker
Academic)  What a splendid,
interesting, helpful, inspiring call to care about our world, the culture we
inhabit, and how to “see” things anew. 
Does God care about “sidewalks of the Kingdom”?  Should we?  What a tremendous study, teaching us so much about culture,
society, lifestyles, worldviews, and Christ’s invitation to live in ways that
enhance true community.  Very
highly recommended.  Part of a
series of books called “Cultural Exegesis.”



Love Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness
  David Naugle (Eerdmans)  What does it mean to love the right things, in the right way?  Can we be happy as we allow God to
change our desires and give us the right priorities.  I think this is one of the great books of recent years, one
that should be better known among us. Naugle writes out of a very intentional,
distinctively Christian worldview, with a keen awareness of the importance of
our interior lives.  Wonderful.


Fabric of
Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior
Steven Garber (IVP) Garber
did advanced scholarship researching how young adults apply what they know, how
we take advantage of our college experiences, and how new-found faith can be
lasting into mid-life and beyond. 
With great theological and literary depth he identifies three things
that allow learning to last, faith to grow, and belief to be woven together in
the whole of life.  A long-time
friend of CLS, Garber is the extraordinary director of the Washington Institute
for Faith, Vocation, and Culture.


Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life
James Emery White (IVP)
White takes us on a virtual journey around the world, teaching an essential
Christian truth at each place.  Go
with him to the Eagle and the Child, 
Billy Graham’s NC home, the Ten Boom House in Holland, Chartres
Cathedral, Iona Abbey,  Luther’s
Wittenberg, Dachau, to  and
more.  A wonderful way to learn so
much, about Christian history, about the world, and about our daily


of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ
Dallas Willard (NavPress)
This newly  re-issued paperback is
a gem, perhaps his most accessible and useful book.  What does it mean to become transformed into the ways of


Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality

Bruce Demarest
(NavPress)  This is another
under-appreciated gem, a treasure-chest helping anyone seriously interested in
spiritual formation.


Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eat This Book, The Jesus Way, Tell It Slant,
Practice Resurrection
, Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) All five of these meaty
“conversations on spiritual theology” are well worth working through – each
illustrates Peterson’s profound and mature ways of relating Bible, theology,
spirituality and daily discipleship with great insight and a no-nonsense
style.  In years to come this set
will be considered as among the most important  enduring Christian books of the last decade. If you’ve never
read Peterson,
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:
Discipleship in an Instant Society
(IVP) is still his most
Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon Us From Self to Community

(Eerdmans) is a
personal favorite.


Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
Ruth Haley Barton (IVP) I
highly recommend any and everything this wonderful writer does, but this may be
my favorite.  One of the best studies
of the classic spiritual disciplines, inviting and vital.  See also the companion volume
to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence



of Discipline

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home Richard Foster
(HarperOne)  I suppose you know his
many books, but these two are the most true and enduring classics.  Read any and all of his, regularly.


A Praying
Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World
Paul Miller (NavPress)  I do not list this one just because he
is speaking here with us this year—this is our biggest selling book on prayer
this year, and certainly in my top three or four books about prayer, ever.  Nicely written, very helpful, mature.


25 Books
Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to Essential Spiritual Classics

edited and
compiled by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, and Richard Rohr et
al (HarperOne) Foster’s Renovare team compiled this very useful resource book
helping us all more greatly appreciate some of the best spiritual books of the
last 2000 years.  Other
contemporary writers chime in with sidebars, interviews and their own eccentric
lists making this a book-lovers delight and a reliable guide to years of fruitful
devotional reading. Kudos to our friends at this years CLS bookstore for stocking all these books! 



The Little
Book of Biblical Justice
Chris Marshall (Good Books) 
This is as succinct and basic as it gets, with solid, Biblical teaching,
quite detailed, full of the nuance of the Bible itself, yet  inexpensive and brief. (75 pages.)  Makes an excellent small group study…


Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us
Timothy Keller (Dutton) Clearly rejecting the
tradition which sees evangelical faith concerns about personal salvation and
the “social gospel” concerned with only societal reform, Keller insists that
the classic doctrine of justification should give us great passion for social
justice.  We dare not bifurcate
doctrine and action, and true evangelical piety should lead to commitments to
care about justice.  Very, very


The Good News About Injustice and Just
Gary Haugen (IVP) The International Justice Mission may
be one of the most exciting and fruitful international Christian legal
organizations of our time. These are foundational, evangelical studies of God’s
heart for justice and how we can be involved as agents of His healing and
reconciliation. Powerful, basic, vital.


Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor
Robert Lupton (Gospel
Light) This thin paperback packs a wallop as it instructs us on how to
meaningful engage in advocacy for the poor, standing for justice amidst great
need.  She his very moving classic
is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America
and the important Toxic
Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse
recently published by HarperOne.


The Just
Church: Becoming a Risk-taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation
Jim Martin (Tyndale)
Co-published with IJM this is a guidebook moving us “from apathy to action.”
Passionate and Biblical, this is loaded with helpful examples, ways to take
“next steps” and things congregations can do.  Foreword by Gary Haugen.


Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor
Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert (Crossway) Seasoned
activists explain the ins and outs of serving the poor, reforming social
policy, and working in sustainable ways for the good of all.  Very popular, because it is very


Go + Do:
Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time
Jay Millbrandt (Tyndale)  
Active in CLS activities, this vibrant young leader directs the
wonderful Global Justice Program at Pepperdine School of Law.  Great, great stories, helpful
motivation and helpful insight. 
This is more than just interesting and inspiring, it is remarkable.  As his friend and mentor Bob Goff
writes, “Jay is equal parts guts and grit.
Go and Do
reminds us that
we all have an important role to play in transforming
the world.  Jay illustrates how you might be surprised what you
will accomplish when you take you passions out for a lap around the


the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate
Matthew Soerens & Jenny
Hwang (IVP)  There are only a few
Biblically-based and socially relevant books on a Christian view of this vexing
issue, and this is my favorite. The authors work with World Relief, the relief
and development agency of the National Association of Evangelicals and their
work is highly respected. Kudos.


Justice: Rights & Wrongs
Nicholas Woltersdorff (Princeton University Press) Recently reviewed in the CLS
Christian Lawyer journal, this is serious,
philosophical stuff, by an eminent Christian philosopher. Anyone called to
legal work in any capacity needs to reflect long and hard on the nature of justice,
and this scholarly work will help. Important and weighty.  See the vital continuation, deep
ruminations called
Justice and Love



Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World
 Richard Mouw (IVP) 
I continue to say this is one of my all time favorite (and so very
necessary) books, delightfully and reasonably calling for public etiquette,
charitable but vibrant public witness, offered with principled civility. If


The Case
for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It
 Os Guinness (HarperOne) This thoughtful and passionate work
goes beyond the obvious call for public manners, but offers a framework and
structure, based on the strengths of the American Bill of Rights, for freedom
from and freedom for expression of our deepest convictions.  This is an urgent and necessary
contribution, an important, balanced perspective.  One need not agree with every detail to recognize the genius
of this pluralistic approach.


A Free
People’s Suicid
e: Sustainable Freedom and the
American Future
  Os Guinness (IVP) Here, Guinness has
finally written out further work on a topic for which he is known, offering a
brilliant assessment of the genius of the American framers and the brilliance
of the American experiment.  Yet,
as he painstakingly shows, to sustain freedom requires certain habits of the
heart, civic virtues, including freedom of religion, and the subsequent virtue
that emerges from a freely religious people.  This is a civic education essential for freedom to flourish,
offered by a Brit who has deep gratitude for, and fears about, the American


Was America
Founded as a Christian Nation?
John Fea (Westminster/John
Knox) Nominated for the prestigious Washington Prize, it is good to see such
balanced, thoughtful scholarship that takes into account the diverse religious
convictions of our founders and framers. 
Wonderfully written and quite helpful.


God and the Constitution: Christianity and
American Politics
Paul Marshall (Rowman & Littlefield) This great
hardback is somewhat mis-titled as it is not really about the Constitution as
such.  It is the best overview of a
distinctively Christian view of government yet done, relating properly explore
Christian principles to contemporary political philosophy in a very balanced
way. Very helpful for anyone pondering the role of government and a
Biblically-informed view of politics.


Political Thought: A Students Guide  Hunter Baker (Crossway) This is
another volume in the brief but potent “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual
Tradition” series edited by David Dockery.  Baker, who holds a PhD from Baylor and a JD from the
University of Houston, is a dean at Union University.  Here, he succinctly defines the important terms,  explains the basics of political
philosophy, offering conservative Christian insight into the classic questions,
the vital debates, and the ongoing quandaries.  Nicely done.


Church, State and
Public Justice: Five Views
edited by P. C. Kemeny (IVP)
Five scholars offer their take on uniquely Christian politics, and then the
other four respond. Excellently presented views include a Catholic perspective,
a classical “separationist” view, a moderate Anabaptist approach, a
“principled-pluralist” neo-Calvinist view and a mainline Protestant
social justice emphasis. Wow.

Political Visions
and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies
Koyzis (IVP) No one volume is a profound and readable in its study of the roots
of Western thought and the history of the development of political theory.
Koyzis astutely exposes the Enlightenment roots of both liberals and
conservatives, and helps us understand the dynamics of ideological conflict in
the modern world. Very significant.

Just Politics: A
Guide for Christian Engagement
Ronald J. Sider (Brazos Press) If I were to pick
one book on politics for educated lay readers, this would be it.  Sider offers a faithful methodology,
starting with the Biblical narrative as it shapes our worldview and public
philosophy, to a coherent view of the state, to an examination of the pertinent
Biblical texts, to a judicious study of various sides of the contemporary
issues. Biblical, gracious, balanced, this is a fine example of the way
evangelical thoughtfulness can make a contribution to our civic lives.   An early friend of CLS, James
Skillen, says “Ron Sider builds on years of experience and conversations with
Christian across a very wide spectrum. His balance is better than that of most
who want to influence politics for the better.  And biblical faith is the solid platform on which he builds
and balances. Listen to Ron carefully before taking your next step.” 

Left, Right and
Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics
Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) There are two forwards to this
fun, feisty back-and-forth conversation — Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Marvin
Olasky of World magazine.  That
should get you interested!  
These two evangelical leaders are friendly and fair as they offer points
and counterpoints, offering Christ-honoring insights based on serious Bible
study and faithful action in the world of political activism.  Harper is a former IVCF evangelist who
now works at Sojourners.  Innes is
an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor and esteemed professor at the King’s College in
NYC.  Very interesting!

Body Broken: Can
Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?
Drew (New Growth Press)  This
revised version of the very moderate and thoughtful
Public Faith
comes with wise endorsements from the like of J.I. Packer
and Timothy Keller.  As William
Brewbaker (professor of law at the University of Alabama) writes, “This book is
a needed antidote to the worldliness of much Christian political involvement
whether of the conservative or liberal variety. It should be required reading
in our churches!”  It is low-key
and gentle, allowing that we have great freedom (indeed, obligation) to be
involved in civic life, but that we must put “first things first” and honor one
another within the unity of the Body of Christ.  This is not only sensible, it is essential. 



Crime and Its
Dan Van Ness (IVP) When Chuck Colson moved from only
prison evangelism and ministry to include work for more structural reforms, he
commissioned Van Ness to do a foundational Biblical study of crime and
punishment. This is the best volume on the topic.

Changing Lenses: A
New Focus for Crime & Justice
Howard Zehr (Herald Press) With
Van Ness’ contribution to evangelical discourse around “restorative
justice” as a basis, other (Mennonite) activist-scholars have developed
the idea into greater clarity around reforms, values and proposals for more
Christ-like approaches in criminology. A very important contribution, which
should be considered.

The New Jim Crow:
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
 Michelle Alexander (The New Press)  Few current events books have been as
discussed as the author meticulously shows the horrific imbalance of African
American incarcerations for drug charges in relative comparison to the relative
number of Caucasians.  Whether you
concur with all her serious conclusions, you should be familiar with this book.

Law and
Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition

Harold J. Berman (Harvard University Press)  A true classic, this, like other books of the esteemed Dr.
Berman, is essential.  See also his
Law and Revolution Part II:  The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western
Legal Traditions
(Harvard University Press.)

Perspectives on Legal Thought
edited by Michael McConnell, Robert Cochran and Angela Carmelia  (Oxford University Press) Quite simply
magisterial, a fabulous anthology of some of the best serious thinkers on
various aspects of Christian legal theory.  Very useful, although is it mostly quite serious.

God’s Joust, God’s
Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition
Witte, Jr (Eerdmans) I would be remiss not to note something of the prolific,
substantive scholar, Dr. Witte. He is one of the leading scholars in this
field, now the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at
Emory University. This “traces the historic struggles that generated the
constitutional separation of church and state…”

Silenced: How
Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide
   Paul Marshall & Nina Shea
(Oxford University Press) One of the urgent concerns in the world today (and a
fascinating one for those interested in law, justice, and religious freedom) is
this movement to restrict religious speech and conscience in many Islamic
lands.  This is a passionate,
well-documented, and important overview of this growing crisis.  The forward is by the late President of
the world’s largest Muslim organization, and the former Prime Minister of

Natural Law for
J. Budziszewski (ACW Press) This is as slim and basic as
it gets, the theology of natural law explained succinctly for students or those
needing a quick refresher. 
Happily, this applies the theory to and for lawyers.

The Believers
Guide to Legal Issues
Stephen Bloom (Living Ink) What a joy to see a
simple, clear-headed, spiritually-based introduction to legal issues. Most
Christian attorneys would know all this, but it is an ideal tool to share with
others in your church or practice, framed by simple gospel insight. Nice.

The Lawyers Calling:
Christian Faith and Legal Practice
Joseph Allegretti (Paulist
Press) One of the best overviews of the ways in which faith shapes legal
practice, the metaphors that are used to imagine what lawyers are and do, and
how to be a responsible, ethical, attorney. Semi-scholarly, readable,
insightful, from a Roman Catholic lawyer drawing on many Protestant sources.
Very helpful.

Can a Good Lawyer
Be a Good Lawyer?
edited Thomas Baker (University of Notre Dame Press) An
ecumenical collection of essays, sermons, meditations, and reflective pieces,
including some written by active CLS leaders. You may not love each and every
entry, but most are good, and a few are great.

Redeeming Law:
Christian Calling and the Legal Profession
Michael Schutt (IVP) I believe
that every career and profession should be so fortunate as to have such a
winsome, readable, and yet profound and scholarly treatment of nearly every
aspect of the foundations of the field. Not necessarily the most simple or
practical, but it is the most essential book for every Christian lawyer’s
library. Highly, highly recommended. Great footnotes lead in many good
directions for further study, and the discussion questions make it ideal for
personal growth or small group conversation. Get several and pass ’em out!

First Be
Reconciled: Challenging Christians in the Courts
Richard Church (Herald
Press) Many attorneys struggle with the Biblical verse about not going to
court, and this Mennonite lawyer take is most seriously. Provocative and
important, attempting to be serious about Biblical obedience in the reformation
of legal attitudes and practices.



How God
Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
N.T. Wright (HarperOne) I love reading books
about Jesus and I love reading books about the centrality of His Kingdom
coming.  Here, in clear but
thoughtful prose, one of our most important evangelical New Testament scholars
offers large concerns about how we have come to miss the core themes of Jesus’
own teaching, and have consequently misunderstood the heart of the gospel.  It garnered rave reviews from J.I.
Packer and Dallas Willard.  We are
grateful for two Wright books about the gospels this year —
Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matter
(HarperOne) which is also a
great gift to God’s people.  Very
helpful, balanced, thoughtful.


Lives — Crossed Purposes: Why Thomas Jefferson Failed & William
Wilberforce Persisted in Leading an End to Slavery
Ray Blunt  (Resources Publications) A truly unique
historical study, this wonderfully-told story compares and contrasts the two
famous leaders, both who started out resolved to fight slavery.  One kept his commitments and deepened
them over a lifetime of struggle; the other, of course, ended up not only
reneging on his youthful convictions, but compromised in the worst of
ways.  Why?  Not only does Blunt discover
fundamental worldview differences between the two great men, but shows that
while WIlberforce had accountability and support (in his famous Clapham sect)
Jefferson has no truly intimate friends. 
Besides this excellent overview–he unveils so much in such an
informative manner–Blunt draws helpful leadership lessons for any contemporary
leader making this a doubly useful resource.  Blunt has taught this material at the Naval Academy, in
churches, and in the setting of a classically-oriented Christian prep
school.  Very, very impressive.


Charity and
Its Fruits
  Jonathan Edwards (Crossway) Newly
edited by Kyle Strobel, this is a wonderful new edition of an under-appreciated
classic.  Many know the formidable
mind and deep passions of the Puritan scholar, pastor, and college President,
but too few know his hefty study of 1 Corinthians 13 (and more, besides.)  This new version will hopefully make
this treasure into a standard.  The
greatest of these, after all…


Love Does:
Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
 Bob Goff (Nelson) One of the most exciting, audacious,
hilarious, inspiring collection of life stories we’ve ever read.  You may know Goff, either as a former
CLS Conference Keynote Speaker, as global justice advocate who has fought
sexual trafficking and worked for the rule of law in Uganda, or as the crazy
mentor of Donald Miller in
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I
Learned to Live a Better Story
(Nelson.)  Read even a few
of these wild episodes and you, too, will want to have more “skin in the game”
and find ways to “get to the do part” of faith. 


Run Home
and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City
  Ethan D. Bryan (Samzidat
Creative) Ethan is an energetic youth worker, worship pastor,
singer-songwriter, social justice activist, husband, dad, and neighborhood
friend.  But he’s also a very
serious baseball fan and this memoir tells of a summer going to all the home
games of his beloved Kansas City Royals 
— and what a season it was! 
Baseball fan or not, you will enjoy reading about his weekly
discoveries, what happens along the way to, during, or after the games.  This well written book will thrill
baseball fans, of course (George Will called it “outstanding”) but, better,
will help you see God in the ordinary, realize how to be more faithful as a
Christian parent or friend, and will deepen your own resolve to discern God’s
hand in the ups and downs of your daily life.


The Exact
Place: A Memoir
Haack (Dulous Press) Haack was mentored by Edith and Francis Schaeffer and she
and her husband, Denis, run “Ransom Fellowship” and edit
Critique, a journal helping
Christians develop skills of cultural discernment.  Margie is a spectacular writer, funny and poignant, and this
memoir tells of her growing up rural and poor in Northern Minnesota.  God had her at the “exact place” as her
life unfolded, she comes to believe, in order to have her open to Christ’s
amazing grace.  This is a story you
will not forget.


Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving
My Neighbor
Jana Riess (Paraclete)  I
have read a number of great books on spirituality this year, but this, well,
I’m almost embarrassed to admit, was my personal fav.  Each month this snarky, witty writer tackles a great
devotional classic (and a spiritual discipline to go with it) and, well, shall
we say, it doesn’t go well.  Yep.


A Hobbit
Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

Dickerson (Brazos Press) There are plenty of books about Tolkien, and many seem
very interesting and rewarding. 
This is extraordinary, though, bringing the deepest questions of Middle
Earth to contemporary ethical issues. As Jeffrey Overstreet writes of this,
“Tolkien’s stories are countries full of treasure that will go undiscovered and
unappreciated unless we learn how to be attentive treasure hunters. Matthew
Dickerson writes as one who has spent his summers in the Shire, hiked every
trail in Mirkwood Forest, taken counsel from Gandalf, and argued with Gollum
and Smaug. It’s as though he sharpened the tools of his intellect in deep
conversation with Tolkien himself.”  
Thomas Shippey, Tolkien’s biographer, says “If anyone should still doubt
Tolkien’s applicability and relevance to the twenty-first century, this is the
book to put in their hands.”


Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
Phyllis Tickle (Baker) Like
it or not (understand it or not) this is a great writer’s observant ruminations
on the shifts in Western culture, the trends in Christianity, with special
attention to the emergent conversation within what some call
post-evangelicalism.  Fun, breezy,
but very important, this is a great overview, up to date and
well-informed.  For a somewhat
parallel, but more theologically serious (and global) anthology, see the brand
The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New
by Ryan Bolger (Baker Academic.)


The Meaning
of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Timothy and
Kathy Keller (Dutton)  Keller is
known as an astute, Reformed preacher, a sophisticated urban church planter, a
top-notch, urbane apologist, and a passionate advocate for the cultural
transformation that happens when people of faith apply their convictions to
their work.  Who knew he was such a
kindly pastoral counselor and that, along with his wife, could speak so
tenderly about the deepest purposes of sexuality, relationships, and
marriage.  Of course, he does some
theologizing along the way, as well as placing the Biblical perspective within
the changing contexts of the late modern world, but, still, this is Keller
doing a self-help type marriage book. 
One that is also very good for those not married.  Three cheers for his candor, for his wife’s
good voice throughout, and for their honesty about their own lives together.


Art as
Spiritual Perception
edited by James Romaine (Crossway)  We stock a large selection of books
about the arts and (as we do with CLS) try to encourage organizations like IAM
or CIVA with book lists and affirmation of their best authors.  This is a collection put together to
honor the recently retired art history professor of Wheaton College, Dr. John
Walford.  A dozen of his students,
colleagues and friends write amazing chapters about how to see to the root of the
religious orientation of various artists. 
From Calvin Seerveld to William Dryness to Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker,
this is an anthology that will impress anyone seriously interested in the arts
or anyone that wants to learn more about the art of Christian cultural
analysis.  Full-color art reproductions
on heavy stock glossy paper makes this a wonderful, beautiful volume.  Kudos.


A Place in
Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership

Wendell Berry
(CounterPoint)  Berry may be the
most often cited contemporary novelist among serious Christian literary buffs
and his essays, poems, novels and stories have been acclaimed by lovers of
words from across the cultural and political spectrum. I hope you know his
wondrous novels such as
Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter or The
Memory of Old Jack
This brand new collection of
short stories is sure to please, taking its place beside the previous Port
William collection,
That Distant Land.  A new book by him is truly a publishing event, and this
collection of stories just arrived! 
I hope you have read at least some of his elegant, thoughtful essays
(about farming, sustainable communities, agrarian values, God’s care for the
Earth, the erosion of social life brought on by fast-paced modern culture, the
dangers of  pesticides, the trouble
with consumer capitalism, etc.) 
And, oh, by the way, his prestigious Jefferson Lectures of the Spring of
2012 were just released:
It All Turns on Affection: The
Jefferson Lectures and Other Essays
(CounterPoint.)  Thanks be to God for prophets and writers such as this.



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Books on Vocation & Calling, Books on Work and Jobs

As we were leading up to Labor Day weekend, I was thrilled to know that the High Calling blogLewis_Hine_Power_house_mechanic_working_on_steam_pump-350x490.jpg offered resources for use during this season since it is a natural time for church folk to teach, honor, and celebrate ordinary Christians and their calling into jobs.  We are sent into all manner of work places, and we can serve God and neighbor there.  Our bookstore is known for trying to affirm that.

You know we often recommend books about “thinking Christianly” about our callings and careers, and we often link to articles, sermons, essays and other resources that help us bridge the all-too-common gap between church life and work life, between Sunday and Monday, as we sometimes put it.  Besides The High Calling, we often tell folks about the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, and Culture, Redeemer Presbyterian’s Center for Faith and Work, the Cardus’ think-tank page on work and economics, Pittsburgh’s Serving Leaders, and other such good organizations.

I would be eager to hear if your church did anything special for Labor Day—we have tweeted and commented on facebook about the resource The High Calling was offering—and I know some of you were considering using their worship aids.  Of course, this sort of worship project doesn’t have to be done on Labor Day Sunday—in fact, that may be to easy, seeming perfunctory. Let us know what your church does to equip the saints for their work in the world, especially this idea of relating Biblical principles and practices to the job site.

stack o books.jpgWe have often reviewed books on vocation and calling, as well as books about work and career (not to mention offering for free at our website the extensive bibliographical tool “books by vocation” for Christian perspectives on everything from science to law, art, medicine, education, business, counseling, engineering,and more.) We have not lately gathered together a large bibliography on vocation and work all in one big list. It has taken some time, but what a joy to pull together this list for you.

The following list isn’t comprehensive—visit our shop and you’ll see even more on the shelves!  But it is an intentionally curated set of selections and the descriptions should be a bit entertaining to read.  As you know, we stock things from diverse publishers—from liberal Episcopalians to books from conservative Calvinist sources; there are books here by United Methodists and Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and non-Christians.  And we find that many of the best books are themselves drawing on rather wide circles, offering surprises and depth.  So it is quite a list with a handful of unique perspectives, all useful in their own way, we think.

We are happy to share it as our Labor Day gift to you.  Print it out, pass it on.
Having a few of these suggested titles in your church library (on on your own shelf if you mentor college students or professionals) is a good witness; essential tools for your own toolkit.  Helping people learn about these life changing books will bless them and bless you as you encourage them.  Maybe you can step up to be a bit of an informal mentor, inviting a couple of thoughtful folks to read about vocation and calling, careers and work, and see how it goes. You’ll love doing that, I bet.  And God’s Kingdom will be advanced.

If you are a pastor or work with collegiates, dare I say that not having some of these kinds of books around is nearly ministry malpractice?  Yes, I dare, because I believe it.  Unless you are in children’s ministry or are a chaplain at an retirement home, if you are a pastor and you haven’t read these kinds of books and haven’t shared a few with anybody in your circles of influence, I believe you are not doing your job.  There isn’t much shame in that, mind you; most clergy aren’t taught this in their seminary training.  But you are invited here and now to remedy this.  Get on this train, as it’s on the move.  Not a few analysts predict that this will continue to be a vital aspect of ministry in the next decades.
Younger Christians, especially, long to see their faith integrated into their deepest passions, using their gifts in meaningful employment and to have their local church help them with this.  It may be a deal-breaker or a game-changer for some. In fact, the important research on why 20-somethings are leaving your church presented in You Lost Me by David Kinnaman (Baker; $17.99) indicates that this is exactly one of the reasons.  Additionally, consider the good chapter “Called, Not Employed” in The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons (Multnomah; $14.99) if you don’t believe me that this is a passion of some of the folks who now feel excluded from your congregation.  Or come to Jubilee 2013 this February in Pittsburgh and see for yourself as 2000+ college students show their enthusiasm for taking up their vocations and callings corem deo, soli deo gloria. Yep, they talk like that there.  At least if I have anything to do with it.  Ha!

So. Pray for us as we try to sell these sorts of books, please.  We long to have conversations about these very things. We have inventory here, waiting to be utilized, dispatched to places where, we believe, there are leaders who need an easy way to start some conversations and cast some vision.  We know that you resonate with this aspect of our bookstore work, and trust you see yourself as part of this story.

Maybe you can think of ways to integrate this vision into your own circles at your church, fellowship, small group or Bible study class. Maybe you can find liturgies and prayers to help your own worship services relate well to your parishioners, the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers who sit in your sanctuary.  (Not to mentioned the unemployed and under-employed.)  Let’s us know what your doing, and if we can help in any way.
I recall a great time I had speaking at a special chapel service at a Christian college a year or sothe call.jpg ago.  The Career Development office put together the service, and they included a responsive reading from the book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life bu Os Guinness (Nelson; $17.99.)  Did they know it is one of my all-time favorite books?  Did they expect that I would cite it?  It was such a fitting way into a liturgical celebration of God’s call into His kingdom, and the subsequent duties to serve the great King in every zone of life.  Of course we shouldn’t reduce our many callings to only our paid jobs, and, in fact, the director of the Career Development office explained to me that they (ironically) try not to use the word “career” for a variety of reasons, noting the baggage and ass
umptions such a phrase carries.  So, yes, we are called to a variety of places, various “offices” or tasks, with all sorts of God-given opportunities and obligations.  We are called and sent.  Dr. Guinness is still my favorite author on this and The Call is a book I revisit over and over.  If you don’t have it, please, please, consider it. The discussion guide in the back is very strong, too, making it an exceptional resource.   And, hey, you can make a responsive reading out of it for your next liturgy that worships around this theme.


Bass-Leading-Lives-that-Matter.jpgLeading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be  edited by Mark Schwehn & Dorothy Bass (Eerdmans) $26.00  With their huge involvement in the Lily grants programs to encourage vocational thinking at Christian colleges and seminaries, it was natural that they compiled this great, great (and great big) resource about living lives with purpose and influence.  I’ve raved about this at BookNotes from time to time as it includes great literary figures (many not necessarily Christian) and is just such a rich and wonderful resource—at least for those who love great writers, etc.  Poets, mystics, reformers, philosophers, writers and leaders of all sorts are excerpted nicely, from Homer and Milton to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry to Robert Frost.  Highly recommended.

Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World
  Leroy Barber (IVP) $15.00  Believe me, I could list a dozen good books on vision, purpose, making a difference, but this one is a favorite and is the sort of resource that helps us approach the topic of vocation.  Barber has excellent Bible studies here of people who have been called, relates these Scripture case studies to ordinary folks today, reminds us of the vision of cultural renewal as we deepen our discipleship, taking up the call to love and serve others in all that we do.  The centerpiece chapter, by the way, is exactly on vocation.  Barber is the president of Mission Year so the book naturally carries endorsements from Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne and urban activist Bob Lupton.  Yes, there are burning bushes and ladders to heaven in the Bible, but when it comes to what we do with our lives, Barber helps us realize that that isn’t usually how it works. God calls us to respond to Christ’s love and the world’s needs, seeking the Kingdom in our sphere of influence.  Good, good stuff!

Calling: A Song for the Baptized Caroline A. Westerhoff (Seabury) $15.00  This more recent edition of a book published by Cowley in the 90s is considered a classic by some.  Westerhoff is a great, Southern storyteller and a mature Episcopalian priest and consultant.  These stories weave together a profound book, noting that we must listen to the narratives that shape who we are, attend to baptismal themes, and, in community, discern notions of calling.  This is less about vocation and work, but is still a moving and rich reflection, especially for those who are called to ministry. A few chapters are very, very rich.

The Preaching Life Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley) $17.95  The first half of this is a beautifully rendered memoir of her conversion to faith, her sense of calling into ministry, and her eventual vocation as an Episcopal preacher.  There are a few extended passages from which I often read out-loud in workshops and talks—God speaking to her through creation, the role of sacraments, the significance of the ordinary (themes she unpacks wondrously years later in her beloved An Altar in This World.) Her well-told reminder on how everyone’s workplace can be a place for sacramental experience of God’s goodness and grace is worth the price of the book.  A few of these pages mean the world to me, and I had to list it.   

A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World  Charles D. Drew (P&R)journey w taking.jpg $12.99  Some have told me this was the best combination of the Biblical overview of creation-fall-redemption-restoration story of Scripture and the language of purpose (exploring, then, the themes of vocation and call) that they’ve ever read.  Rev. Drew is certainly a solid writer, well crafting mature sentences in wise and wonderful ways.  We suggest it often and heartily commend it for any readers.  Endorsements from the likes of Tim Keller remind us that it is highly regarded, well considered, helpful and theologically rich, without being arcane or abstract.  Excellent.

Don’t Waste Your Life
John Piper (Crossway) $13.99 This doesn’t fully develop the theme of vocation and calling, but it is a compelling sermon, inviting us to take up our duty to find joy in Christ alone, make a difference for His Kingdom, to glorify God in all our days, and to think about what God might demand of us as we risk all for Christ’s reign and glory. From young adults to retirees, Piper doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Life is short, don’t give up the call to exalt Christ!  Some may find it carries a bit too much belligerence and brimstone, but many have appreciated his Godly passion and tone of no compromise. 

Besides the general challenge to live for God, there is a very thoughtful chapter called “Glorifying God in the 9 to 5” that I think is nearly brilliant, listing four ways human work is different than the work of animals.  He explains what it means to do our daily jobs (a) intentionally to God’s glory, (b) for our neighbors good, (c) using the gifts and passions God has given to us uniquely, and (d) doing so in ways that are consistent with the way the creation is structured; that is, we think about the very way we do our jobs, making sure we do them in a normative way, fittingly.  (He doesn’t cite, but could, William Tyndale’s old admonition for tinkers to “look at their shoes” to learn what God wants them to do, or how Isaiah that tells how farmers learn from God by paying attention to the planting of seeds, the creation itself.  Sounds a bit like Dorothy Sayer’s famous essay “Why Work” doesn’t it?  

What’s Your Call: What Are You Doing Here? Gary Barkalow (Cook) $14.99   Kudos to the “new” David C. Cook for bringing out upbeat and relevant books, each loaded with faith and gusto and youthful verve. There are cool graphics and good pictures, here, even.  I like this book, a broad examination of all sorts of senses of calling.  It is pretty inspiring, energetic, inviting us to “discover God’s destiny and design” and live alerted to the “choreography of God.”  It talks about story, about the assaults against our sense of calling, and ponders if call is a “job or a role.”  The author works with men and women through The Noble Heart,  and this carries an enthusiastic endorsement from Len Sweet, who says that “Gary believes your calling makes you an artist.  Read this book to discover the beauty of your art.”  See what I mean?   Fun!

This is Our Calling  edited by Charles Richardson, foreword by Rowan Williams (SPCK) $18.00  We import books from England not only because we enjoy serving readers interested in global authors, but because, in this
case, the Church of England has done some remarkable work in some areas. SPCK is renowned as a thoughtful, liberal, mainline denominational press.  Here, they’ve convened a handful of authors to do reflection pieces, Biblical and theological, on various aspects of knowing one’s calling. The authors are women and men, but most are Ango-Catholic priests.  It is not just for those involved in ministry, and there are remarkably practical and evocative study questions, sidebars, conversation starters.   The study that produced this book was done jointly by Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests.

What is V.gifWhat Is Vocation? Steven J. Nichols (P&R; $3.99) This is a wonderful, small booklet,  similar to the companion booklet What is A Christian Worldview by Philip Ryken (P&R; $5.00) that we often promote.  It could be used in small groups, a quick adult ed class, or given to high school seniors.  Steve gets it just right; he’s a nearly local guy, by the way, a Lancaster friend, writer of popular level books on church history and several biographies of folks like Luther and Edwards.  This brief staple-bound booklet is as handsome as it is readable and could be life-changing.  Steve is evangelical and Reformed but I am confident that this little book could be used in any sort of congregation. Maybe you should order a dozen or so and pass ’em out—at least to youth who are thinking about going off to college, or young students needing to be encouraged to think about calling as they consider their majors, or for adults who may be longing to be affirmed in their line of work but aren’t up for reading a big study. (Oh, if only pastors did this more for their flocks, affirming the work-life of the laity! What a difference it could make!) The best small (and least expensive) resource of which we know.

here I am Q.jpgHere I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing? Quentin Schultze (Baker) $14.00  What a great little book, wise and helpful, about being stewards of the various gifts God gives us, in the various spheres he calls us to!  Easy-to-read, this is one of the best, with reasonable theological foundations and lots of great illustrative stories and anecdotes  Quent is a great storyteller—he is the head of the communications department at Calvin College in Michigan (and has a remarkable book on virtues needed for our electronic age and another which is the definitive book on communication and mass media from a Christian perspective)  What a story this guy has, and how wonderfully he’s used his own scholarly vocation to help others with these basics.  Highly recommended.

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life
 Gene Vieth Jr (Crossway) $14.99  I like this a lot–and he brings a bit of a Lutheran flavor.  You may know Vieth (he writes for World magazine) as a writer that teaches how Christ’s Lordship affects all of life.  I like his insistence that we are not called to just one thing, but have various callings and offices — “masks” as Luther called them.   Very clear, comprehensive.

Liberating Tradition: Women’s Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective  Kristina LaCelle-Peterson (Baker) $24.00  You will notice that a number of these books–on calling and vocation, and on work and careers—are by women authors.  But few are precisely for and about the unique ways in which woman are called, and how the doctrines of vocation are experienced by contemporary women.  This book is like none other, important, serious-minded but very clear,  irenic, and helpful.  As CEO of World Hope International Jo Anne Lyon writes “If one wants to read a single book to understand gender issues, this is it!” LaCelle-Peterson has a PhD from Drew University and teaches at Houghton College in NY.  She is an elder in the Free Methodist Church.  

Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life  Douglas Schuurman  (Eerdmans) $22.00  We don’t sell this too often as some aren’t interested in its slightly arcane theologically struggles—but for geeks like me (and thee?) who love this stuff, it is wonderfully interesting.  He explores the differences between the Reformed framework of Lee Hardy who draws on creation order, grounding our human callings in creation, and an earlier work by Miroslov Volf (Work in the Spirit) who grounded his sense of vocation in the giftedness that comes from the Spirit. Young theological types wondering how to get at this whole topic? Check it out.

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation  edited by William Placher (Eerdmans) $30.00  I might say this is one for those really wanting to dig deep: this is a remarkable, thorough, big collection of what great Christian thinkers have written down through the centuries, so it should be known by seminarians, leaders, pastors.   It was edited by the late Bill Placher, a beloved professor and theologian from Wabash College. There is simply nothing like it in print, and we are in debt to Dr. Placher for showing, era by era, what the church has said about vocation.  This is a good and important reader, but I wish there was a bit more comment or a critical apparatus with it to allow undiscerning readers to evaluate the insights of the various church history authors. Not everything said in every era was wise or helpful.  Still, this is an amazing anthology, and, at nearly 470 pages, a great bargain.

The Way of Life Gary Badcock (Eerdmans) $16.00   This is a short study, calm and reasoned, about what we mean by calling and how God’s call is to us all, firstly to follow Christ–which necessarily moves us into a certain sort of way of life.  No, we aren’t called just to a job, and, now, not everyone in the church agrees with the best way to get all this said.  The author is a fine Barthian scholar, and this is a provocative, rich read.

Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition  Brian J. Mahan (Jossey Bass) $15.95  Wow, what an evocative, beautifully-written, mature book.  It isn’t overtly evangelical, but it is wise and good.  Do you know it?  The author is a college teacher and he tells moving stories about students and their sense of vocation, their desire to make a difference and have integrity, but also this pressure to be successful.  I love the title, which captures the wise and eloquent style of the author and his vision.

A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience John Neafseysacred voice is calling.jpg (Orbis) $22.00  All right, forgive me for pushing your envelope a bit here.  This is liberation theology (at best) and is a bit odd theologically (we’re one with the universe, you know.)  Still, there is something really right about this, about how our callings and vocations are discerned somewhat in light of the great needs of the world.  How can we be transformed to care deeply about the injustices of our day, and how can we “hear” God’s call to work in ways and places that are touched by the griefs of this broken world? You may not appreciate all of the author’s theological baggage (or maybe you will) but, regardless, the heart of this book and its h
elpful invitation is vital.  A moving Marcus Borg quote on the front.


For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $13.00 We recommend this often because of how it brings together two big themes—worship of God in liturgy and worship of God in work.  That is, serving in worship in the sanctuary and serving in the world.  The first half is about what one might consider traditional worship, and the second half is about worshiping in the world, daily living out the claims we make in our liturgy. So this is basic, inspiring, an ideal starting book.

what do I do with.jpgWhat Do I Do With My Life: Serving God Through Work  Kenneth Baker (Faith Alive) $9.99  This is a small group resource that is excellent for small Bible study groups or adult Sunday school classes.  There is a bit to read —five short readings for each day of the week (so each member will need one) but it is mostly designed for good conversations. It has helpful discussion questions, some activities, lots of Bible verses to consider exploring what the Scriptures say about the 9 to 5 and our other callings to work in various aspects of our lives.  This is a very fine and solid overview of missional thinking and how our various labors matters to God—I don’t know of any resource like this for small groups.  Thanks to the CRC publishing arm for doing such quality work. in this case for small groups.

work matters stevens.jpgWork Matters: Lessons from Scripture R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $16.00  Paul Stevens, long-standing professor at Regent College in B.C., has been one of the best voices and most steadfast allies in the effort to educate about the meaning and dignity of labor. He has encouraged this conversation for decades, and we’ve included several other books of his on this list.

Stevens’ newest book is gleaned from hundreds of workshops, lectures, sermons, and classes where he has offered Biblical case studies of those who viewed their jobs as related to the unfolding work of God. In another person’s hands, studies about “jobs in the Bible” would seem superficial at best (and betray an unhelpful view of the Bible itself). By contrast, Stevens avoids forced or cheesy interpretations, but has the eyes to see remarkable insights in stories as familiar as Joseph in Pharaoh’s empire and Daniel exiled in Babylon, and as freshly interesting as Bezalel and Ezekiel and the “enigmatic” professor in the wisdom literature. He visits Ruth to teach about “survival work,” David to ponder “royal work,” and Martha to esteem “contemplative work.” I can hardly think of a better small group study or adult Christian education resource that combines insightful Scripture reflections and helpful application as we think about our work as integral to God’s mission in the modern world. Discussion questions are included. Highly recommended.

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway)work matters.jpg $15.99  A few friends of mine have had some opportunity to teach and consult with the folks at Tom Nelson’s church and it seems to be nearly one of the nation’s best centers of culturally-engaged, thoughtful nurture of the gifts and insights of laypeople and professionals for marketplace service.  After years of reflecting on the Word as it is broken open in their midst and equally paying attention to the contexts of the various workers at the church, this brave pastor has learned to equip the people for relating faith and work, Sunday and Monday, prayer and public life.  Reverend Nelson and his staff and congregants are really doing it, and their vision for why it all matters is nicely spelled out in a way you’ll surely appreciate.  There are numerous two-page sidebars, too, documenting the stories of some of the folks in the church—a brilliant, Christ-honoring architect, an ethical businessperson, a good teacher, a Christian lawyer, and the like.

This is the best book I’ve seen in years on this topic. If this topic is somewhat new to you, please consider buying this (and, even better, buy one for your pastor.)  If you are a fan and connoisseur of this topic and have read well in the field of relating faith and work, I can assure you that you will be pleased to own this, will be encouraged by it, and will find new insights and stories that will bolster your own journey and allow you to more clearly explain to others your passion for developing a Christian perspective on the work-world.  Three cheers for a great, accessible, inspiring book!  Here is a brief review I did of it  in Comment magazine.

Your Work Matters to God Doug Sherman & William Hendricks (NavPress) $15.00.  I have recommended this over and over for many years, and while it is a bit longer than it needs to be (there are a few extra chapters for younger folks about finding a job, finding a church, managing your money) it is very, very clear, and remarkably thorough. It is very strong in noting that work is not primarily for evangelism, that the work itself matters to God.  It nicely contrasts a pagan, Greek worldview that disdained bodily work and the robust, gritty Hebrew views.  It asks some questions about being agents of structural change, work-world reform.  It is rare to see such vibrant, evangelical authors writing with such a broad view and such clear-headed counsel.

Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work John Beckett (IVP) $18.00  The story behind this book is fantastic; apparently a national news show (20/20 perhaps) did a feature on business ethics, and Mr. Beckett was featured, sharing about his faith-based work in the heating oil industry.  No fancy corporate exec, not a college professor, this is a rough and ready small business owner from Ohio.  The viewer feedback was overwhelming, convincing the producers to come back and do a show just on him.  The book came out of that experience, with Beckett—who ends ups being an excellent teacher and good writer—offering solid Biblical and practical introductory advice.  Very nice.

Work & Leisure in The Life of a Christian (Burlington Reformed Study Centre) $7.95 This slim little volume includes fabulous but brief essays by the extraordinary Gideon Strauss (at the time,of the Christian Labour Association of Canada and the brilliant and innovative Work Research Foundation) and his good colleague, the amazingly thoughtful Ray Penning. Then these guys are treated to a robust feedback/response panel—these are talks from some conference or retreat and bear that tone. The transcribed dialogue portions, too, are very interesting—don’t skip them! These conversations are useful as they offer wise, foundational thinking about the meaning of work, the curse, the implications of a redemptively Christian worldview, and not just for work, but also for rest and leisure.

I would suggest that no one in North America has done as solid and sustained thinking on these things over recent decades as the CLAC and it is a delight to announce this rare little book. Packed with work-world insight from the revival of Dutch neo-Calvinism that has always affirmed the layperson’s calling into the sphere of labor.

Good W
ork: Christian Ethics in the Workplace
  Esther D. Reed (Baylor University Press) $24.95  This is a meaty little book, “needed and most welcome” according to Gilbert Meilaender.  It is engaging, interesting, and solid, but it moves in important fresh directions, touching down on matters of vocation and liturgy, social justice, human rights, the integrity of creation and our role as stewards.  Reed is a theological prof in the UK at the University of Exeter, has been a part of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton, is published by a serious Baptist house, and, interestingly, as David Gushee writes in his good review, “includes a striking focus on Eastern Orthodoxy’s traditions and insights.”  A very helpful contribution.

How Then Shall We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work Hugh Whelchel (Westbow) $13.95  Just when you thought there wasn’t much more to be said about the general overview of a Biblical view, Whelchel adds some new ideas, really good Scriptural material, lots of clarity and solid passion about the role of jobs in God’s redemptive work as His history unfolds from a garden to a city.  A great endorsement by Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries raves about it.  The author is a former businessman, now a leader of a conservative think-tank in Washington DC.

Christians at Work: Not Business as Usual  Jan Wood (Herald Press) $10.99  As we scan our bookshelves here at the shop, and this big list, I realize that some may seem a bit redundant.  Not this one!  The author is a fine writer, clear and interesting.  She is a Friend (Quaker) and her vision is informed by this deeply spiritual and socially prophetic tradition.  That the Mennonites published this makes obvious sense, and we are grateful for Wood’s overtly Christ-centered approach, her deeply Biblical orientation, and her practical, down-to-earth concerns. Can, as Wally Kroeker, editor of The Marketplace journal, asks, “the love of God transform the life in the office, board room, factory floor?”  She she’s our daily work as sacred and she knows that we must be salt and leaven. Very nicely done.

every good endeavor (keller).jpgEvery Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World  Timothy Keller (Dutton) $26.95 NOT YET RELEASED, DUE NOVEMBER 2012.  I hope you know about the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith and Work, one of the premier ministries offering encouragement to professionals in several spheres of service. This book emerges from Kellers good concern for the laypeople in his Manhattan church and his strong realizations that we are all called to serve in various institutions across all of culture as agents of God’s Kingdom.   You can pre-order it now by just typing it into our order form page.  We will have it on sale for at least 20% off. I am confident it will be excellent.

work a kingdom p.jpgWork: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor Ben Witherington (Eerdmans) $18.00  This is pretty short but don’t be deceived by its simple size and shape.  Ben Witherington is one of the finest New Testament scholars on the planet (he teaches at the United Methodist seminary, Asbury) and has a profound awareness of the teachings about the Kingdom of God deep in his bones.  As he writes about work one can sense his great vision, his good concerns, his practical, Biblical insight, especially as he unpacks some of the parables of Jesus to help us get a Kingdom vision of our jobs and labor.  This helpfully breaks down the pagan sacred-secular divide and calls us all to a robust way of life where discipleship colors all we do, even our daily 9-to-5 labor.  Very, very good and its Biblical teaching makes it ideal for adult Sunday school classes or to inspire a sermon series on work. 

The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work  Darrell Cosden (Hendrickson) $18.00  First published in England by Paternoster, this stellar study explores whether a person’s day to day work has any ultimate, lasting value from the perspective of Eternity.  This really does ask the basic questions, and has garnered excellent recommendations from important folks, such as J. Richard Middleton (who is working on a book about the relationship between this age and the next) and  David Smith, who teaches missiology, who says it is “cutting-edge theology of the highest order.”

kingdom calling.gifKingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman (IVP) $16.00 We have celebrated this excellent book on several occasions, thinking it to be one of the very best books in years on this topic.   Truly, this is masterful and adds excellent new insight, new layers of meaning, and teaches in great and helpful detail about four ways of relating faith and work. See our comments here and here.  Kingdom Calling is a serious, thorough, study of how our jobs can become avenues of social change honoring God and loving neighbor as we steward our vocations for the sake of the common good.  Not for beginners, but if you’ve read a book or two on calling and on work, this is simply a must-have, must-read.

shopclass.jpgShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work  Matthew Crawford (Penguin) $15.00  I hope you recall how we touted this when it first came out, and the buzz it gathered (including a “notable book” of the year award from the New York Time Book Review.)  This is beautiful, thoughtful, rousing—Crawford was a white-collar scholar at a think-tank who hated his job, and felt the disconnect between what he was doing and who he was becoming untenable.  He quit, opened a motorcycle repair shop, and offers here this extended meditation on shop classes, liberal arts, unhelpful education, working with one’s hands, and finding fulfillment in blue collar jobs. How many philosopher/mechanic’s do you know?  This is entertaining and profound, hoping to restore greater honor to the manual trades.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
  Alain de Botton (Vintage) $15.95  De Botton is beloved by those who like his high-brow reporting, journalism-meets-philosophy-meets cultural criticism.  His book about place, The Architecture of Happiness, is an all time great.  You may know his book on Proust. These essays are similar, inviting us to deeply ponder the “delight and despair” in our daily working lives.

Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits  Gilbert Meilaender (University of Notre Dame Press) $18.00  This is another really, really great anthology with excerpts of great literature, poetry, Bible passages, parts of novels and essays. each offering engaging insights about the nature of work..  Very thoughtful stuff.  Meilaender has written much on ethics and other themes, and has his own extended mediation and collection of essays, some of which are on vocation and calling, in The Freedom of a Christian: The Grace, Vocation, and Meaning of Our Humanity (Brazos.)

The Other Six Days: Vocation
, Work and Ministry
R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $27.00  Anyone who has followed this conversation about work-world ministry, about nurturing a Christian view of labor, of finding a sense of calling in one’s daily grind, knows the name of Stevens.  He teaches Marketplace Theology at Regent College in Vancouver and knows more than just about anybody on the spirituality of the ordinary and the mission of the laity in the world.  Here he offers a serious anthology of some of his best essays, solid teaching, good thinking, profound and important writing.  Excellent.

Working  Darby Kathleen Ray (Fortress) $15.00  This is in a series of books called Compass: Christian Exploration of Daily Living which is a very interesting set of short but meaty books, all with fairly creative theological reflection, offering mainline Christians ways to think about the experience of faithfulness in daily life.  From clothing to shopping, eating to playing, this is a very interesting series.  Glad they did one on working.  Ms Ray brings her liberationist voice and offers, in concise and provocative ways, excellent contributions to ponder.

All Labor Has Dignity Martin Luther King, Jr, edited by Michael K. Honey (Beacon Press)all labor has.jpg $26.95  It is worth recalling that King lost his life while organizing garbage collectors.  He often spoke of the dignity of all work, the need to serve God with the work of one’s hand, to strive for excellence and integrity in any job.  And, of course, he spoke out against injustices in our economic system, advocated for worker’s rights.  This is an amazing collection of his writings and speeches–most never published before!—on this topic.

Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Worker’s Rights Darren Cushman Wood (Seven Locks Press) $14.95 You’re not going to find this just anywhere, either, and it is an important and moving call for workplace justice and concern for the underpaid and underemployed. The author is an esteemed United Methodist pastor and theologian and professor of labor studies.

Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life Michael Novak (Free Press) $25.95 For the thoughtful executive, or deeper reader of business literature, this may be the best of its kind. It is eloquent, serious, profound.  Magnificently thoughtful by an astute, conservative Catholic.


God at Work: The History and the Promise of the Faith at Work Movement  David W. Miller (Oxford University Press) $29.99  This is the definitive study of the faith-at-work-movement, a fascinating and fabulous overview of who is doing what, and why, how many Christians have been organizing around this topic and working to get it more known.  Excellent survey of various models, how different groups define terms, and the key theological themes guiding those who have been pioneers in the field.  Very useful, although much has happened in the last few years since it was released.

How the Church Fails Businesspeople (And What Can Be Done About It) John C. Knapp (Eerdmans) $15.00. I mention this as practical mostly because it could be very practical for pastors or church leaders.  This is a very important recent book, and I think may be more important in the long run than a dozen of the big name popular books calling us to high-energy, mega-church, big-time visions of making a difference. It is written by a person who has worked in the business world, and is also a theologian, helping the church bridge the divide, so to speak, between worship and work, between church and world. It isn’t bitter or strident, but it does show how serious corporate types often say they don’t get much help for their important work for the teaching at their church.   Here is a nice youtube clip of the author explaining about the book and the authors findings of how the ethos of many congregations seems indifferent to the public lives of most members. 

The 9 to 5 Window: How Faith Can Transform the Workplace Os Hillman (Regal) $19.99 This book may not be as sharp or as sophisticated as some, but it is energetic and passionate for what God can do as people serve Christ at the job site. The cover art is nearly worth the price of the book—what a treat to see a stethoscope, wooden spoon, fountain pen, adjustable wrench and paintbrush all lined up, clean as a whistle. This book has a strong and specifically charismatic bent, with some stuff on spiritual warfare, miracles and Godly impact on entire cities through spiritual transformation of institutions of commerce.

Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job Dennis Bakke (PVG) $24.95 It isn’t every book that bears an endorsing blurb by Jack Kemp, Peter Block, and Bill Clinton.  Bakke presented some of this unique material at the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference a few years back and folks loved it; he is renowned as an innovative Christian leader in international energy work and hugely important in philanthropy. His brother, Ray, you may know for his considerable work and writing in urban ministry. This is an innovative and exciting book which, while profoundly meaningful, doesn’t come across like a Biblically-oriented “Christian” book. Use it in your workplace!  Have fun. We have the big study guide, too.

taking your soul to work.jpgTaking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace  R. Paul Stevens & Alvin Ung with a foreword by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $14.99  If there was a “lifetime achievement award” in the field of Christian marketplace ministry, daily discipleship for ordinary folks, for “seven days a week faith” (as one of his many books puts it) Paul Stevens would be just such an honoree.  He has given his life to thinking hard and writing well about the interface of faith and the work-world, and, especially, Christians in the business environment.  He is professor emeritus of marketplace theology and spirituality at Regent College in Vancouver, perhaps the finest place to study this topic. (You can see a bit about his books here.)  As we’ve suggested above, anything he writes is commendable, serious, important.  

This is a recent one, and his writing partner, Alvin Ung, is himself a breakthrough leader who has lived in the high- powered business world of Southern Asia (he is a Fellow at Ghazanah Nasional, the national investment agency of Malaysia.)

As  you can see from the sub-title, these conversational chapters—each rounded out with an action plan or case study—explore in simple, but important ways, the ways to avoid the “soul-sapping struggles of the work world.  They look at the “nine deadly sins” of the workplace, the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit that can meet our workplace needs, and nine positive outcomes of integrating spirituality and work.  Friends, this is good news, indeed.  Serious, uplifting, honest, and very, very insightful.  Few books in this field are as deeply spiritual, theologically informed, and yet nicely practical.

In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World  Hugh Hewitt (Nelson) $15.99  I like this handsome new paperback edition of a classic that has helped many young people, especially, navigate the concerns about ambition, where to
seek employment, how to make a difference.  A good study guide in the back for ambitious young professionals, especially.

Work, Love, Pray: Practical Wisdom for Young Professional Christian Women  Dianework_love_pray_zondervan_zv_large.jpg Paddison (Zondervan) $14.99   People who we trust say that this is truly helpful; several sharp young women who care about their own unique struggles studied it over and concluded it was worth purchasing.  Everybody wonders if the shoes on the cover work.  The allusion to Eat Pray Love in the title, isn’t developed at all in the book; it would have been a hoot if she had.  The author is a top-shelf executive, does important work in the corporate world and brings both Biblical vision and practical advise for women in the work-world.  It is pretty interesting to see how she was able to raise her children and hold down a demanding job, and how she maintained a solid and inspiring faith through it all.  It may be a cliche to say she understands how to juggle career and family and how she and her husband navigated their otherwise conservative, two-career marriage.  Early reviews have been passionately favorable—“buy this book for your granddaughters” one grandma writes.  Another said it was the first book she ever read that understood the tensions of her own life.  And ya know what?  Not surprisingly, several folks at a recent conference said that it would be very helpful for husbands of career women, too.

Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work  Bill Peel & Walt Larimore (Zondervan) $16.99  I think it should be clear that God cares about work, that we must attend to imagining what we do through God’s eyes, as ways to serve our neighbors, as a legitimate calling in and of itself.  However, surely we would like to, when appropriate, share the good news of God’s grace with others as we can.  We needn’t be as weird and stubborn as the dedicated young man in the must-see The Big Kahuna (Danny DiVito, Kevin ) but we should, at some point, consider ways to appropriately and effectively do gentle evangelism with our colleagues at work.  This book is a helpful step, written by an evangelistic trainer and a medical doctor, who brings some real-world insights from his own job site.  There is a well-made, six-session DVD curriculum too that might be useful for you or your group (Zondervan; $19.99)  The book was previously titled Going Public With Your Faith.  

our souls at work.pngOur Souls at Work: How Great Leaders Live Their Faith in the Global Marketplace  edited by Mark Russell  (Russell Media) $19.95  This is a vibrant, colorful, book, handsomely designed with some contemporary, graphic pizazz and exciting testimonials and clear-headed insight to match.  One of the best new books in this whole “marketplace ministry” field, it is essentially a gathering of short pieces by a variety of business leaders, arranged by topic, most quite practical.  So you’ll hear a handful of businessmen or women talking about balance, or integrity, or leadership, or character.  There is a section on calling, a section on handling money, a section of stories on relationships.  There is one called “pluralism” which is very strong (and still a vexing matter to some, how to respect and honor the diversity of views in the modern workplace.)  There is a section on sharing one’s faith, and a section of important lessons about ethics.  The section on giving could inspire young philanthropists and remind us about giving back, as they say.

There are a few business leaders here you may have heard of, but most contributors, though, are not particularly famous in the religious book world.  This should be seen as an asset; these are folks who are the real deal, businesspeople who spend their days in the trenches of global capitalism.  It gives it a very practical, feel, showing that transformed Christian living in the business world is not only interesting, but do-able.  

Sequencing: Deciphering Your Company’s DNA  Mike Metzger (Game Changer Books)  $17.95  I’ve written about this interesting “game changer” book before and almost every week or so find myself re-tweeting Mike’s fascinating and learned Doggie Head Tilt web column.  This is a complicated book to explain, but I can say two simple things: it is cool and it is crafty.  Firstly, it is stunning to read and enjoy, with large graphics and interesting black and white photos offered in a arresting, eye-catching design.  Secondly, besides the look and pithy quotes, this is a book that will help you explain profoundly Biblical principles without any religious jargon.  Almost none.  Mike doesn’t want to compromise his evangelical faith but he also knows that long-term cultural renewal of the sort we so desperately need will have to bubble up from institutions and organizations—like businesses—who rethink their purpose and retool their internal DNA. 

This book helps explain what is often called the four-chapter gospel story (creation-fall-redemption-restoration),  or what N.T. Wright calls the five act model of the Biblical drama,  in ways that are creative and based in our shared experiences, using common language of the workplace, not theological lingo.  Jesus said to be harmless as doves but crafty as snakes.  Metzger is one of the best I’ve ever seen at this important virtue.  Consequently, this is a Christian business book that might actually be read by a non-Christian executive or nonprofit leader.  It can help you unlock the culture of your organization, and how to determine if your company will be able to be innovative, or renewing, over the long haul, interestingly, by using phrases he proposes that are rooted in the Biblical story. Mike also makes an appearance as one of the session leaders in the Q Ideas curriculum DVDs, the one called The Kingdom Way of Life.

Faith Dilemmas for Marketplace Christian
s  Ben Sprunger, Carol Suter, & Wally Kroeker (Herald Press) $7.99  A small book of case studies, inviting conversation, or for your own pondering. You are not alone in having vexing matters, day by day.  Helpful.  A good forward from the Director of the Mennonite Economic Development Association.


Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God Given Potential (revised and expanded) Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $17.00  This is a tad dense at times, but nonetheless truly remarkable — it is really, really good and this author is a deep and generative thinker. (His other books bring an evangelical eye to medieval spirituality and invites mature thinking about contemplative spiritual formation.) Here he combines two important themes: a profound and helpful understanding of vocation/calling and mature guidance about discerning God’s will for one’s life.  I like his bit about decision-making and discernment, the way he on occasion indicates that he has vast insight into Ignatian spirituality (not bad for a CM&A pastor.)  Highly recommended for those wanting a solid foundational study which at least begins to point towards practical assistance in figuring out how to discern one’s calling.

let-your-life-speak.jpgLet Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation Parker Palmer (Jossey Bass) $18.95 This is short and contemplative, written by a passionate, sweet Quaker with huge concerns about inner integrity and public justice.  He’s all about finding that place where you can best serve by being reflective and intentional about one’s own heart’s truths.  Yeah, he’s a bit touchy feely for some, but it is honestly written, elegant in a subdued manner, caring, and full of gentle passion.  Very impressive for such a short rumination.  A lot of people love this, making it one of the biggest sellers in this topic.  Is it wrong to say “to thy own self be true?”  Or, as Beuchner has, “listen to your life?”  Lovely.

The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling Robert Benson (Waterbrook) $13.99 I just love this book, elegant and thoughtful, wherein this fine guy (who is now an Episcopalian spiritual writer) tells of his work in his father’s famous gospel music biz in Nashville. He just couldn’t live with himself following his dad’s and grandfather’s shadow into this great position, and had to follow “the echo within” to hear what God was telling him to do.  Which meant taking some risks, being honest about his desires, and finding ways to be a writer.)  He has some very good theological insights, but it is still a short memoiristic reflection on his journey to decide how to follow his own sense of calling into a vocation unlike what his family had expected. Especially good for anyone sensing a desire to be a writer or artist.  Very, very nice.

The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation messy quest for.jpg  Stephen Martin (Sorin Books)  $14.95   The first section of this wonderfully written, recent book is nearly a memoir as Martin tells of his growing dis-ease at his journalistic job, his struggle to understand his ill-health and anxiety, his religious confusion, and his mental state–worrying about death, almost unable to finish even a simple task.

Interwoven within this narrative, though, is another story, and it becomes the heart of the book. Martin was raised in a serious Catholic family, and has an uncle who is a priest. A conversation about calling, vocation, purpose, “the distribution of talents,” and such soon put him on a quest: how do monks come to learn that they are called to their particular vocation? Might insight from that process–monastic insights about desires and vocations, the will of God and the grace to pursue our callings–help him in his own struggle to make sense of life and to find his purpose and place and career?

Well, indeed it did, and he lived to tell about it. The Messy Question is not a career-guidance handbook, but something more profound, more foundational. Early on, in high school and college, Martin dabbles with existentialism and other faddish philosophies, but through a particularly scholarly mentor at Duke University, he returns to his childhood faith; the book therefore draws overtly on Catholic teaching. Yet, non-Catholics (perhaps especially non-Catholics) might find that this moving story and the process he chronicles resonates with them. Drawing on hefty chunks of his own life, as well as inspirational anecdotes from his own acquaintances–from basketball star Danny Hurley to literary star Reynolds Price to movie star Martin Sheen–he highlights the stages of discerning and living into a clear sense of calling.

Merely listing those stages does not do justice to his storied and nuanced telling of them, but here they are, with the aim explored in each phase: Desires (Digging for What You Really Want), Focus (Channeling Your Passions), Humility (Embracing What You Don’t Know), Community (Getting Outside Yourself), and The Margins (Probing Your Potential), followed by the concluding chapter–“Holy Ambition: Sustaining What You Start.” In each chapter, he tells of his life and his discovering of various Catholic mystics and activists, and shows how seekers can integrate the wisdom of the saints into their own journeys of faith. Wonderful!

By the way, Steve grew up in Dallastown, and more than one public school teachers get a shout out.  He’s a good guy.  Catholic or Protestant (or neither) you should buy this book, not just to support a local boy, but because it is a tremendous read, interesting and helpful.
What Am I Supposed to Do With My Life: Asking the Right Questions  Douglas Brouwer (Eerdmans) $14.00  This Presbyterian pastor has guided many into these deeper questions, stuff about identity and values, achieving vocational integrity, determining vocation and/or career goals. Very nicely written, nuanced and wise.  More about meaning and purpose and calling than details about the job market, but it is nonetheless the sort of profound rumination that ends up offering very helpful guidance. Calm, thoughtful, and I think quite reliable.

Getting a Life: How to Find Your True Vocation  Renee M. LaReau (Orbis) $15.00  This young Catholic woman is a wonderful writer, clear and creative, interesting and challenging.  She offers important insights about steps and stages.  She is a facilitator for the renowned Notre Dame Vocation Initiative, a program that offers weekend retreats for young adults in exploring their vocation.  U.S. Catholic magazine raves, saying it is for seekers of any age, needing help in figuring out “life’s big questions about career, relationships, and self.” Nice.

the-fabric-of-this-world.jpgThe Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work  Lee Hardy (Eerdmans) $20.00  If the previous few are a strong because they are anecdotal, testifying to God’s own tender leading in the lives of their authors, useful for those wanting gentle guidance, this is strong because it is painstakingly clear about his solid, Reformed worldview and the distinctives of a Biblical view of work.  This, actually, was one of the early, really good books, written in the late 70s that we promoted then; a recent look through reminded me how good it is, how thoughtful, how nicely rooted in what some call a Kuyperian or reformational vision.  It does have a bit about the corporate world, so is especially good for those entering that milieu.  His insights on management (and his critique of classic management philosophies that are not congenial to Christian convictions about calling) are foundational and very important.  Dr. Hardy teaches philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

SHAPE: Finding & Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life  Erik Rees (Zondervan) $14.99  The foreword from Rick Warren gives a hint: this is the very interesting and useful resource developed at Saddleback, helping each person discover their spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences.  Filled with Scripture, real-life stories, and a strong workbooky inventory for your own self assessment. Thrilling!

Made to Count: Discovering What to do with Your Life  Bob Reccord & Randy Singer (Nelson) $13.99  I love Randy Singer—lawyer, novelist, mentor— and with his upbeat pal they have here developed a very useful guide to evaluating your strengths, discerning your passions, and realizing that God wants you to make a difference in ways consiste
nt with how you are meant to be.  There is a great, free, online personality profile and spiritual gifts analysis included with every purchase of the book.  Interestingly, a strength of this book is in naming our greatest fears and working with that in pretty interesting ways.  Inspiring.

Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life  Kevin & Kay Marie Brennfleck (Josssey-Bass) $16.95 There are many books like this.  Practical, workbook, offering step-by-step guidance for self reflection, goal-setting, living into one’s sense of call.  This one is truly one of the bests, with endorsements from all kinds of faith-based groups, colleges, churches, career centers.

The tools and principles in this book can help young adults get their bearings and conquer obstacles.
Rebecca Horst, director, CALL Project, Goshen College.  

This book offers help for the reader to form a Life Calling Map that can guide them into a greater sense of significance for their lives. I commend it for its practicality, strong theological rootedness, and its psychological soundness.
Dr. Archibald D. Hart, senior professor of psychology and dean  Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary

This remarkable book will enable every follower of Christ to recognize and respond to God’s calling on his or her life. I commend it heartily and unreservedly.

Dr. Ted W. Engstrom, president emeritus, World Vision

Hearing-God1.jpgHearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God  expanded and revised Dallas Willard (IVP)  $16.00  I suppose I should end on a note like the one above, directly about calling and career, vocational choices and practical tools for assessing one’s life.  But I’d like to end here, a basic, solid, mature, and thoughtful guide for any and all of us.  Do we all not want to learn how to hear God’s voice? Can we align ourselves with the promptings of the Spirit? Do these wise and practical spiritual disciplines form us in ways that allow us to take up our discipleship callings into all of life?  Of the many books exploring what we mean by “God’s will” and the practices of determining our life direction, this is simply the best..  A must-read, in my view.

When the expanded edition came out in 2012 InterVarsity Press also released a useful six week DVD video curriculum which we recommend.  It, too, is called Hearing God ($30.00.)  Maybe study of this spiritual practice might be helpful for your group to precede more detailed study of vocation and call.  Or perhaps it could follow a study of calling. Excellently produced.

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An Essay on the Christian Mind in Politics and A Must-Read List of Books on Christian Citizenship

For news junkies, those who like to discuss on facebook, pundits and social activists, it has been a hard week.  There have been numerous controversial rulings from the Supreme Court—SCOTUS for those who write like wonks—and several of these rulings are deeply troubling to many of us or to our fellow citizens.  From the obvious health care ruling to thepolitical fighting cartoon.jpg HHS mandate forcing Catholics who work in partnership with federal programs to pay for contraception against their consciences, to the legality of colleges forcing campus ministry organizations to have people who do not share their convictions to be in leadership, there has been plenty of legal theories and legal rulings to consider.  Not to mention Attorney General Holder being held in contempt for lying to congress, which, oddly, some think is justifiable and has caused a lot of heat on both sides.   Some of us have ignored most of this, others are staying quiet, but reading, learning, keeping abreast, and others of us have been engaged in advocacy and debate.  I’ve spent a few too many hours typing too furiously last week, so I know.

Here, is why I bring this up. I am alarmed that too many brothers and sisters in Christ seem to be exceedingly loyal to one side or the other of our partisan divide without much qualification or without even much awareness or care that some sincere, informed, people of faith see things differently.  This second problem demands greater humility, civility and ecumenicity.  The first, however, is quite concerning to me because I don’t think the Bible and our best faith traditions permit being ideologically partisan without some qualification or nuance.

I have written before about and suggested resources on civility, and my, my, do we need that now.  (See the Richard Mouw book, suggested, below.)

But we need more than civility. There is nothing wrong with being passionate and outspoken–we’ve tried to model and sell books about public engagement for decades.  Last year we named A Public Faith (Baker; $21.99) by Miroslov Volf as one of the best books of the year!   Still, with the loud animosities from both sides, not to mention the critical importance of the current issues and the upcoming election, I sincerely believe that now is the time to bone up on our views, dig deeply into what resources are available, and make sure we are truly thinking Christianly.  We do need to be involved as citizens, even within political parties, but…

bible-study.jpgWe are glad for your permission to speak into your already noisy world, and hope this essay is helpful.  One of our core convictions—part of the story that animates why we review and sell the books we do—is utterly germane: the Bible, we believe, teaches quite specifically that we ought not to align ourselves too closely with any worldly ideology.  Colossians 2:8 specifically warns us not to be “taken captive” by secular or pagan theories about things.  I don’t know if you’ve heard sermons on this, but I think this means we shouldn’t be fundamentally, unequivocally, aligned with, say, free market capitalism or, say, with new age cosmic consciousness or, say, the sort of statism that suggests the government must solve every social problem.  We must not carry water for alternative worldviews or, in this case, the political assumptions of the far left or the right.  We can work with and for folks in either party, of course, and can be friendly with all, but our minds and views should be discerning and able to reject ideas and assumptions that are inconsistent with a Biblical view.  For instance, I think we must distance ourselves from the collectivist visions that rely too much on Marxist views and I think we must distance ourselves from the individualist visions that rely too much on secular libertarians of the Enlightenment era of the 18th century.  Otherwise we are accommodating our faith to those theories and ideologies; we are essentially “taken captive.”

Besides this warning not to be hood-winked by bankrupt ideologies or views on things that aren’t consistent with a generous, thoughtful, Biblical understanding, we are called to do to more than resist bad ideas.  We are to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) which, given the meaning of the Greek word and the context of the passage, means every “theory” or idea we have. (That is, this phrase isn’t mostly about “taking captive” things like pride or lust or crummy thoughts about our self-worth, but ideas we have about, oh, say, the role of personal liberty or the task of the state or the use of taxes or the role of the military in foreign policy or how human develop should relate to the creation itself; it is about assumptions, ideas,  and theories that we are to claim for Christ.)  We are warned to not compromise our fundamental convictions by allowing them to be synthesized with other ideas that are not consistent with a Biblical view and we are mandated to think things through coming up with a positive, Christian alternative.  Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 are two sides of a vital Biblical teaching regarding our theories and ideas and presuppostions about things and we should be self-aware enough to ask ourselves if our concerns and viewpoints (including the stuff we spread on facebook) illustrates this sort of intentionally Christian perspective on the ideas and issues.  I know it is something I struggle with.  How about you?

So, just for instance, for most of us, it would be a pretty strained stretch to consider oneself a “Christian Marxist” since Marxism, by definition, is atheistic, and committed to a violent view of power, captured by any means necessary.   At best, we might be able to have a Christianly-influenced sort of Marxism, but even that would be synthetic.  It wouldn’t be quite real Marxism anymore, but it wouldn’t be quite real Christianity any more, either.  Nope, that just doesn’t fit well with the teachings of Jesus. It would be sort of like “jumbo shrimp.”

Recently, a fellow told me that a guy in his conservative, theologically-serious church has the jones for atheist novelist and social critic Ayn Rand; he’s a Tea-Party activist and a Glenn Beck fan and he thinks that the best way to counter what he thinks is our tendency towards atheistic socialism is by using one of the most significant atheistic libertarians of the 20th century.  Does that make sense?  Not weighing in on the details of Rand or the worldview embedded in her popular novels, I just want to insist that the Bible condemns yoking ourselves to pagan ideological movements that are rooted in their own idolatries.  According to Romans 12: 1-2 we are called to show forth God’s perfect will by having “renewed minds”—that isRomans12_2.jpg central to the possibility of being “transformed.”   We dare not be “conformed”–squeezed in to the mold of, as Phillips puts it— to the typical ideas that are commonplace on the political left or the political right without a conscientious and intentional move to think things through in light of a B
iblical framework.  “Don’t be taken captive” by these sorts of ideologies, Paul shouts, and that holds for those who are drifting towards a socialist vision and those who are drifting towards a neo-con view of the market or an Randian view of human liberty; from MoveOn to the Tea Party, I sense that their foundational ideas are coming not from the Bible, but from political philosophers who themselves may not be consistent with a Biblical viewpoint.  That is, I am less interested, at first, about what  Noam Chomsky  or Thomas Jefferson says about liberty or the state or what is or isn’t self-evident and I am firstly interested in what the Bible says.

(An aside: I want to tell one of my favorite Mark Twain stories, for what I hope is an honorablemark-twain-1.jpg reason.  Twain was once asked if he believed in infant baptism.  “Believe in it?” he retorted.  “Hell, I’ve seen it!”  Well, hell, I’ve seen Christian Marxists and Christian Libertarians.  I think they are wrong, in violation of the spirit of these two texts about the Christian mind. They should redoubled their reflections on Romans 12:1-2 and pray for a renewed mind so they can show off what God’s will really is, which isn’t Marxism or Libertarianism, at least not according to how the church has traditionally understood the Bible’s view of these things.  But, having said that, Twain was right.  There are folks who identify themselves that way and as incoherent as I find their views, some of them are my friends, and I honor them as such.)

So, we need to “think Christianly” about the basic stuff that makes up our political views. We need to use our minds and allow the Bible to be the “light before our path” as it scrutinizes and informs our views and loyalties.

Yet, to do this Biblical work to develop a truly Christian political mind we must hear what brothers and sisters across time and across the globe have said about the relevant Biblical texts and consider what sort of public theology they have developed.  Others before us, some in other places and in other contexts, have done the hard work of proposing a uniquely Christian view of society, the role of the state, the nature of human liberty, our duties to the common good, the significance of civil society, and the prudence of this or that legal or legislative agenda, and we who are Christians should stand on their shoulders.

SaintsANGELICO1430.jpgFrom Augustine to Luther, Calvin to Menno Simons, Wesley to Wilberforce to Witherspoon, from the new England Puritans (and Roger Williams, God bless his freedom loving soul!) to Catholic human rights leaders like Bartolome de Las Casas, from the famous Catholic encyclical Rerum Novarum to Populorum Progressio, from Abraham Kuyper in Holland to Martin King in Alabama, from the pronouncements of the National Council of Churches and our mainline denominations and the NAE’s “For the Health of the Nation” document, there have been many, many thinkers and political leaders who have been steeped in Scripture and engaged in the teachings of the church who have much to offer.  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, nor, frankly, listen mostly to Fox News, MSNBC, or Link TV to get our basic orientation.

(It is a shame—while I’m on a roll, here— that most Christian bookstores don’t carry much of this sort of thing; of course, there isn’t much of a demand for such books, so maybe I can’t blame them. But there is this legacy of riches and it’s unfortunate that this stuff is not known better among us. Which is why I hope you support our efforts to promote historic resources like this.)

Your—our—overall social vision, our values and theories about government, our views of the role of the state, the relative goodness of taxes, the need to work for the common good, the confidence in the legitimate calling of the government, by God, should be rooted and grounded and driven by Holy Scripture and the unfolding drama of thoughtful Christians trying to fruitfully and faithfully work it out over time.   When we weigh in on the issues on facebook or speak out at a local forum or chat over beer in the backyard, we obviously should be humble and civil–please!—but, also, we should try to align our views with the historic, Christian understandings of the nature of institutions in society, the role of the state, and the Bible’s call for public justice for all.  In other words, we give witness to new angles of vision that may not be typically right nor left nor centrist and that might appear insightful (or idealist, if your conversation partner doesn’t have a vivid imagination) and might offer fresh ways out of our impasses; moving forward by looking backwards a bit, perhaps.  At least it should be clear that we are non-conformed to the ideas of the ideologues, independent thinkers with our loyalties to the Christian tradition as it points us to God’s will for shalom.  And part of God’s desire is illustrated by Psalm 72:1,  a plea and a prayer, for an ancient ruler that still resonates down through the ages: “Give the King thy justice O Lord.”  We want our leaders to be shaped by God’s heart and God’s views and God’s justice.

And so, I will offer some suggestions for a few of the best books (most of which are easy to read, although a few are challenging) that will invite us to think more deeply about a Christian view of politics, and cause us to pause a bit before spouting off on one side or the other, without being aware of the weight of previously taught Christian perspectives and the history of those who have gone before us.  And, they are on sale — a healthy 20% off.

If somebody wants to be seriously involved in civic affairs—from blogging to educational work to actual partisan campaign activism—more power to them.  But maybe you can help them make sure they don’t tarnish the name of Christ by using faith as an “add on” as if God will just bless “our side.”  Left-leaning friends and right-leaning friends, unite on this: we should want some uniquely Christian views that are based on a Biblically-informed understanding of the role of the state and the meaning of politics from a faithful perspective.  Give the king Thy Justice, O Lord!

We can move beyond any ultimate loyalties to either side and agree to be humble and willing to learn from others. We can be winsome and pleasant and agree to disagree about a lot standing united in our civility, our commitment to serve God and our neighbors well.  That is because we are not primarily involved in civic life for our own sake  — we should be making arguments that are not about us, mostly, or our own rights or privileges, but about God’s will, our neighbors good, and making the whole world a better place, so that God is pleased as all is done in the spirit of Christ who taught us to love everyone, even enemies.  Can we church folk agree that whatever political parties or policies we promote, we support them and persuade others to do so because we think their ideas are best for the common good, for the health of the nation and the well-being of others (not just ourselves and our kids or our kind)?  As my old friend Gerald Vandezande once put it, “Justice does not mean just-us.”

Romans 13:1-6 gives us a high view of government, something t
hat evangelicals on the right sometimes oddly miss.  Of course, this refers to the possibility of government, in theory, which is given by God, the structure for it built into God’s creation, but not any or every particular regime. (As with, say, sexuality, we aren’t opposed to God’s gift of sex because it is sometimes grossly abused. Likewise, we aren’t skeptical of God’s gift of government just because it is sometimes abused.)  For those on the political right, this is important: please don’t suggest government is evil, or that “they” are “stealing” “our” money, since that is exactly what they are supposed to do!  By the end of Romans 13, besides calling on government to wield authority for justice, and for us to pay taxes, we have been reminded to love all, to not pass judgement, to be humble and good.  Maybe these books listed below will help us learn these habits of neighborliness, of respecting our fellow-citizens, and of persuading others to new insights, not because we demean those whose ideas we find wanting, or even because we tout our own views as the best, but because we speak with such love and integrity that something of the grace of Jesus shines through.  These are some of the lovely “good works” the Bible says we are ordained to do, so that all will know about our Creator’s love and God will be glorified.

But such trans-partisan, decent, civic-minded, humble, persuasive political advocacy doesn’t just hint at a warm-fuzzy kind of cheap grace, with a quiet sort of tolerant Jesus, but it testifies to a coherent life that is ordered by this world-rocking vision of a true King who has left us with solid truth, truths discovered as we live in His regime.  Truth that has public implications, implications that have been struggled with for centuries.  Come, join the conversation, not as a partisan Republican or a loyal liberal, not as one whose identity is primarily one who is pro or con the current administration, red or blue.  But as one subjected to Christ’s rule, willing to learn from His ways, thinking not as the typical ideologies want us to, but as the Bible demands us to, not being taken captive, but nurturing a prophetic imagination that sees things afresh.

What that looks like isn’t as clear as I’d wish. This is in some ways new territory for many of us; we can be pioneers in a new kind of politics, based at least somewhat on the broad consensus of those who have thought about a uniquely and properly Christian vision for public life and responsible citizenship.  Admittedly, it’s complicated.  These books can help.

Here’s your guide to some greater insight and clarity and faithfulness.

honoring god in red.pngHonoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason  Amy Black (Moody Publishers) $14.99  Okay, let’s start simply.  I just had a review that I did of this short book published in the column I write in Capitol Commentary of The Center for Public Justice (CPJ.) They are a think-tank and educational outreach about citizenship and public life, and some of their former leaders (like Dr. James Skillen, Gideon Struass) have been important voices on this perspective for years  They do the sorts of integrated thinking about which I ruminated above.  So here’s the little review I wrote for them about this book.

As most of us know, CPJ has several goals. Besides serious reflection of the sort done by think-tanks and some occasional legislative advocacy, the Center helps advance the cause of Christian folks taking their citizenship seriously and learning to do so more faithfully. For this, we need clear, useful resources that make the case that part of gospel-centered discipleship includes our political lives. Such vision-casting needs be interesting and accessible. This new book by a respected evangelical scholar and friend of the Center, Wheaton College professor Amy Black, is a perfect example of just this sort of resource. It is insightful about the Biblical call to enact justice in the public square as well as foundational ideas about political philosophy (what is the task of the state, after all?) Black also explains in interesting ways how bills become laws, how parties work and a bit about basic democratic proceedings. There are good discussion questions after each chapter including some ideas for greater involvement, making this fabulous for small group use or adult education classes.  The Center for Public Justice CEO Stephanie Summers also endorses the book, affirming its thoughtful, non-partisan perspective. Summers writes:

For Christian citizens who are weary from the fighting that too often characterizes current engagement in politics and are looking instead for a God-honoring approach, Black’s book is a healing balm.  The good news: God cares about government and gives it, as well as citizens and other institutions in society, important roles to play and corresponding responsibilities to fulfill. This book invites readers not only to hope again, but to think deeply before deliberately taking action.

Body-Broken-Drew-Charles-D-9781936768301.jpgBody Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?  Charles Drew (New Growth Press) $15.99  This was out years ago as A Public Faith and we appreciated it.  I thought it was just so very sensible, wise, even.  Now it is updated and expanded, making it a strong, good book to read for anyone wanting a genial and solid study of Christian citizenship.  He does a couple of things here in mature and pastoral language, firm, and clear: our unity in Christ precedes and transcends our political differences, so regardless of how strongly we feel about certain issues, those who are in Christ are one.  I think the ideas presented in this book will be very, very important for some of us this fall.  Yet, we are citizens and whole people, so we certainly shouldn’t avoid in church the implications of our faith for public life–we just have to learn to be thoughtful, theological, fair-minded, balanced and civil.  The church, as church, shouldn’t become politicized but should proclaim the gospel in grace for all and create space of us to talk about the implications of God’s Kingdom for all areas of life. Drew (who pastors a church in New York City) is very big on the sorts of things I care about—developing a uniquely Christian view of things, holding up first principles and the most basic ideas, first, and he is candid that good people can disagree.  He affirms a diversity of views that, within reason, can be held by faith-based folks, and he shows how to navigate the most urgent issues in thoughtful, faithful ways, without allowing our stances to get in the way of the unity of our faith communities. Drew is a sophisticated thinker and a strong, clear writer and would be good for anyone, including those in churches where there is some conversation going on about politics.  Fabulous!

scandal of ev pol.jpgThe Scandal of Evangelical Politics Ronald J. Sider (Baker) $15.99 You should know, if you’ve read this column for long, that I esteem Ron Sider immensely, that I appreciate his commitments to the Bible, and his humble spirit. I’ve read every book he’s writ
ten and am continually amazed at his hopefulness, evangelical zeal, and tireless efforts to get Bible-believing Christians to think faithfully about global realities, societal reformation, and public justice. His Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been cited often as one of the most important books of the 20th century, and it has been my privilege to host him here in York, and to be with him at numerous events over the years. I view him as a cherished Christian brother. Sider is not nearly as “single-issue”  or extreme as some presume he is. (One of my favorite essays of his was about his joy of fishing and feasting on vacations, despite his reputation for living a “simple lifestyle.”  I read and re-read his essay in Prism about the aging of his pious father, after his elderly mother had died.) That he has been called a Marxist is one of the dumber things that critics have written. He grew up a Brethren farm boy and surely doesn’t want the government running everything! He does attend, though, to clear Bible teaching about the authority of the state to pass laws regarding social welfare, an exegetical debate to which he offers much Scriptural knowledge. Beyond exegesis, he is clearer than most that there are legitimate quibbles about how to best enact normative directives into contemporary policies.  I can hardly think of another Christian political thinker whose work is more admirable for advancing the right kind of method and process.

[Addition: a few years ago this book with the red cover was somewhat revised and re-issued with the title Just Politics: A Christian Guide for Engagement published by Brazos Press; $22.00. It is excellent, offering a methodology for discern something akin to a “Christian perpsective” on basic matters, out of which wise policies and positions can be developed. It’s one of the most useful tools I know for nurturing skills at “thinking Christianly” about politics and policy.]

This book, then, — again, now called Just Politics — is passionate and balanced, significantly informed by a variety of perspectives and views.  Sider’s fluency in, for instance, the Anabaptist peace witness, the evangelical mainstream, two-thirds world global evangelicals, the Reformed/Kuyperian worldview thinkers, and the mainline/ecumenical contribution, makes him positioned to offer a bird-eyes view of the topic.

(Several years ago Sider co-edited a very important book, Toward an Evangelical Public Policy [Baker; $25.00] with a rather conservative colleague and friend, the late Diane Knippers, about the NAE public policy statement, “For the Health of the Nation,” which they helped draft. The statement, and even more, the book, illustrated a robust, multi-denominational, Biblically-balanced view of a whole batch of  issues.  It includes more foundational chapters by liberal mainline folks and Catholic scholars, reflecting on their experience trying to influence public policy, making it a truly ecumenical and interesting collection.) So, when in Scandal Sider teaches us how to follow a faithful methodology of determining a viable Christian view on this topic or that, he has a keen sense of what that may mean, has much experience struggling through the move from Bible to theory to policy, and shows us clearly how it can be done, step by step.

While Scandal of Evangelical Politics/ Just Politics begins by looking at the ways in which evangelicals have, in previous decades, ignored the Biblical commands about justice, the poor, peacemaking, the environment, and the like, his goal is to help any and all Christians develop a solid, Biblical framework and balanced, faitihful agenda. As one with moderately conservative theological views, he takes seriously pro-family matters, is clearly pro-life, and has deep concerns about the erosion of traditional sexual ethics and he does not abandon those concerns supported by social conservatives to advance concerns about poverty and creation-care that are more popular among progressives; he is not a partisan “leftist Christian” nor a part of the Religious Right. No, this fine book proposes am eclectic “third way” which is beyond or other than the typical sides of our typical bi-polar/two-party continuum. This is his call to develop a comprehensive and coherent public philosophy, a comprehensive and coherent view of the state rooted in the Christian mind and a distinctive political philosophy, and, finally, a grace-filled, yet urgent, prophetic witness and action plan for working in favor of God’s ways for public life, across a wide bi-partisan range of issues. It may appear too liberal for some, it may appear too conservative for others, but that may be because our political imaginations are too constrained by these worldly categories and partisan positions, neither of which do full justice to a truly Christian view. As I wrote above, it is problematic that we have foundational loyalties to views and values that are not necessarily Biblical.  This book is without a doubt the most thorough study I’ve yet seen of a Biblical view of the state and a Christian view of politics and the process of discovering fruitful policy positions for the average reader.

The scandal of The Scandal of Evangelical Politics is, then, that the politics of at least the spokespersons for the evangelical movement have not been evangelical enough; that is, conservative Protestants have largely not in their political lives been guided by the first things of the gospel, and their positions have not been truly Biblical. Even if you aren’t interested in the specific matter of how and why evangelicals focused so exclusively on abortion and homosexuality, say, and why the far Christian right is not adequately guided by the whole counsel of God, this book is a must-read.  It is, actually, less a critique of the Christian right or recent evangelical failures than a vibrant and urgent and persuasive call to get our politics from a coherent and sane and honorable reading of the Bible. It may be one of the most important books  I’ve ever seen in this field, good for any denomination or tradition as long as they care about the Bible.  I hope it can convince a new generation of evangelical folk–and anybody else who cares— to “think Christianly” and commit to a truly Biblical civic agenda.

political-visions-illusions-david-theodore-koyzis-paperback-cover-art.jpgPolitical Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies David T. Koyzis (IVP) $20.00  Okay, I trot this out nearly every year when there are elections or political debates or if there are matters on the news that seem to exhibit the “culture wars” debates.  And now is that time, for sure.  This is a very serious work, exposing the background ideas and philosophical foundations of both right and left wing writers, pundits, movements. It grapples with the “every thought captive” idea as I suggested above, digging around the ground from which both conservative and liberal political thinking has come.   In this complex and important book Koyzis adeptly explains where ideas come from, what principled liberals and conservatives really believe (or assume) and whether those guiding ideals do or do not comport with a consistently Christian worldview.   How do legitimate ideas end up becoming idols and get hardened into ideologies?  What are the dynamics of ideological conflict in our new century?  Why does the typical “liberal vs conservative” story not really do justice to the more complex realities behind political movements?  This is beyond astute, it is genius, the best and most comprehensive overview of political thinking that I know of.  It uses words appropriately, explaining how political philosophers have used phrases and ideas in the past, and helps us all get a handle on what is going on in our heated civic debates.  Highly recommended, although it takes some deliberate study. If you are passionate about the political stuff goi
ng on these days, and find yourself involved with (or weary of) the movements and spokespersons, this will allow you to think it through very carefully, philosophically, and allow you, in God’s grace, towards a more incisive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each camp.  If you know any smart political journalists or activists who are serious about faith, I hope you buy a copy of this for them.

church state and public justice.jpgChurch, State and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny ( IVP; $19.00) This back and forth debate type book shows that there are several major traditions or “schools of thought” operative within the church these days, and allows a proponent of each view a shot at explaining his view.  Then the other four, each representing their own particular understanding of the nature of a Christian view of politics, replies.  You get five views and each person critiquing the others, making for a learning experience that is rich and diverse—many college courses for which you’d pay hundreds of dollars wouldn’t teach you this much.  It does, mostly, show the general commonality of the discourse (that is, they agree on a lot) despite the very large differences of opinion on many details.  That is, they all agree that there should be something like a Biblically-based, theologically-driven, understanding of the relationship of faith and politics, but they differ on what that actually looks like.   The five views represented include a very thoughtful Roman Catholic view consistent with Catholic social teaching, a liberal main-line Protestant proposing a standard social gospel view, an Anabaptist/pacifist Mennonite view, a Kuyperian, Reformed “pluralist” view and a strict separationist Baptist view.  I like this because it reminds us of the differing nuances and views—the media and many Christian pundits do us a disservice by suggesting that there are only “left and right” or “the religious right and the secular left” or “progressives and fundamentalists.”   It is more complex, more interesting, more challenging, and more important than that overly simple way that plays to culture wars.  A great, great resource for serious Christians wanting the big picture of this specific topic.

left, right & Christ.jpgLeft, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics  Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) $22.99  All right — I’ve been idealistic and invited you to think outside the box of “left vs right” and to study a “third way” option that draws on the best of radical Christian thinkers that have robust imaginations which generate trans-partisan political ideas.  I don’t think we should wallow in the simple two-sided debate. I’ve suggested books that I think are very important.  But, let’s face it, most of our fellow citizens (and, unfortunately, the best known candidates) are aligned with one of the two major parties, representing one of two major ideologies.  So, as the election season proceeds I am sure I will revisit this good book, drawing on each author’s important points as I write, teach, and talk about a Christian perspectives on politics.  Perhaps it will serve you in such a way as well.

As you might guess, this is a co-authored debate-style book, with a Christian who is a committed Democrat and a Christian who is a committed Republican each explaining how their faith and Biblical insights compel them to align themselves (even if always provisionally, as they both insist) towards more-or-less liberal or conservative public policies.   D.C. Innes is a popular professor of political science at The Kings College in New York (and an Orthodox Presbyterian minister) while Ms Harper is an activist for Sojourners in DC who has worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  They are friends and friendly, and both offer remarkable amounts of helpful insight.

Marvin Olasky writes one forward to Left, Right, and Christ; he is known for his insistence on a staunchly conservative Christian worldview (he writes for World magazine) and he says here “If this isn’t a conversation starter for Christians, than nothing else will be.” Jim Wallis of the lefty Sojourners has another forward, again noting that this book will certainly stimulate good discussion and deep thinking. That both commend it is pretty awesome.  You get the point: this is ideal for book clubs, conversation-starters, to tweak our ideas by reading more than just one viewpoint, to give to that person who just doesn’t get your viewpoint.  There are six or seven endorsements on the inside, each by folks I really respect (who hold to pretty diverse socio-political viewpoints) such as Carl Trueman and John Anderson, Jonathan Merritt and Nicole Baker Fulgham.  David Gushee says “One might have thought there was nothing new to say in or about this burnt-over district, but in their sharp, yet civil, dialogue Innes and Harper offer provocative and creative new reflections.”   Thanks to Mark Russell for his good work in shepherding this project and for designing such an attractive, clear, fair-minded, interesting, contemporary book.  Here is a great little video of the two of them in a nice promo video.

case for civ.jpgThe Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It Os Guinness (HarperOne) $23.95  I reviewed this when it came out, declaring my huge appreciation for it, and have mentioned it time and again.  One needn’t agree with all the proposals but it is a must-read for anyone interested in conversations about church and state, faith in public life, and the like. This is not just about public manners or civil etiquette—which itself would be helpful, but not quite the point of this volume— as Guinness here explores how the first amendment offers a framework for freedom for and from religion. We must not move towards any God-based theonomy or any kind of state church, of course. But a “naked public square” that privileges secularism is equally faulty and unfair.  This “case” challenges the religious right and the secular left calling us all to take steps to solve the impasse of of our times through what he wonderfully explains in vigorous and inspiring prose as a “cosmopolitan public square.”  I do hope you consider reading this and living out his important vision and urgent call to decency, civility, and, urgently, a robust commitment to the principles of our First Amendment.  If you tend to be liberal and are annoyed by Christians wanting their values enacted, this will help you appreciate the legitimacy of their desires (if not the substance of any particular policy they propose.)  If you tend to be conservative and are annoyed by liberals who think you should just keep your faith out of things, this might help you learn to be more civil and to counter their resistance in ways that are democratic and reasonable and compelling.  Here is a long C-Span interview with Dr. Guinness.  Watch the first six minutes, at least, to get a sense of what this thoughtful book is like.  Oh go on, listen to it all — this is so very good, and it is very helpful to see how he is so quick on his feet, even with some pretty embarrassingly bad questi
ons. And he is asked at the end why an intellectual like himself is a Christian.  Wow.  Os, you may know, is a friend and hero.  Check him out.

I am a fan of this helpful Case for Civility  (and commend it even if you don’t agree with all of it) and suggest that it is very useful for all of us. It is serious, but, as always with Os, it
free peeps.jpg is wonderfully written, based on his wide reading, but aimed at helping ordinary citizens help our culture heal, working for a framework that honors the first ammendment and a civil public square.  Read it soon, as he will have a new blockbuster paperback on these issues coming late this summer. The forthcoming one will be called A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP; $16.00) and I have already read an early manuscript.  It is a very important, eloquent manifesto, indeed.  I’ll dedicate a full review of it when it comes out. You can pre-order it now from us, if you’d like.)

U.D..jpgUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Revised and Expanded)  Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00  Here is what I wrote a year ago when this book was re-issued in an expanded version, explaining that it is one of my all time favorite books.  It, too, would make a great, fun, study this fall and it isn’t difficult reading at all.

I have loved—loved!—this book in the past and am giddy that it is now available in an updated, expanded edition.  A graceful new cover reminds us of the not-so-common grace that is called for as people debate public issues.  From sexuality to religion in public, from Biblical disagreements (about sexuality, or hell, say) to political discourse, this book reminds us of the need for public etiquette, for the need for persuasion and respect.  Rich Mouw is very wise, he’s a clear writer, and his instincts about complex things like “toleration” are so very helpful (and needed perhaps now more than in recent memory!)  I’ve said in print before that I know of no other writer who is as clear about his own deep convictions and yet is so willing to listen well to others, to name the places of commonality, the stuff he appreciates in other traditions (even those with whom he shares very important disagreements.) He is candid about those with whom he respectfully disagrees and such humble candor is noteworthy, if not rare.  One gets the sense that not only is Rich a broad-minded thinker, it is clear that he thinks from deep within his own tradition, the line of the Dutch neo-Calvinist worldview of Abraham Kuyper that has made him who he is.  Yet, the call to gentleness and willingness to learn is clear, even in a favorite chapter “Abraham Kuyper, Meet Mother Theresa.”  And, then, the hard chapter “When There Is No Other Hand.”  After the Supreme Court rulings this week and the deep frustrations boiling over in the blogosphere, this book and its helpful advice is more urgent then ever.   Please, consider buying this.  Spread the word—this would make a great book club selection, an adult ed class, or a gift for anyone active or interested in public life.  It does not intend to talk much about what constitutes Christian politic ideas; that would be another book.  This shows us how to nurture a basic habit of the heart: political etiquette, public manners, being honest and fair and kind.  Nice!

raised right.gifRaised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics  Alisa Harris (Waterbook) $14.99  This isn’t exactly a study of balanced and fully Biblical political views, but her sad journey might not have been so weird and dramatic if her family wouldn’t have been so firmly and deeply involved in very, very far-right politics. I’m mostly astonished at this young woman’s story, her being raised in a very active Christian right-wing family—she picketed abortion clinics as a child, holding signs that she surely couldn’t have known what they meant—and becoming active (oooh, how she was active!) in Republican politics as a teenager. This memoir narrates how she has came to a different understanding of her faith through no small amount of serious anguish.  Ms Harris is a fantastic writer, making this one of those great memoirs that is easy to read, fun and well-told, and yet very memorable–what a story!  Has she just shifted, as many of her twenty-something young evangelical peers have, from a right wing faith to a left wing one?  Is her organizing demonstrations at the Bank of America and her advocacy for the poor, at the end of the book just the flip side of her still politicized faith?  As she untangles and rethinks things, she lets us look over her shoulder, watch as her rather exciting New York life unfolds, and we get to be a part of the religious coming of age of a very sharp young woman, who is a reporter and fine writer.  I suggest that the story isn’t over and I predict she will write more.  I hope so.  I do hope she reads some of the sorts of books I list above.  Harris’ conservative family and their passionate political life left its marks,  in ways that are good and not so good, and we can all learn from that.  One story, one family, one very thoughtful twenty-something.  I could hardly put this book down and trust you find pleasure, empathy and insight, regardless of your thoughts about faith, politics, or social justice.

on social justice svs.jpgOn Social Justice St. Basil the Great (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) $15.00  It is important to realize that, these sermons were proclaimed long before representative democracy, even before the rise of the modern nation state. (See, by the way, Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights, and Civil Liberties by David W. Hall [Presbyterian & Reformed; $19.99] for a very important study that shows how the Calvinist Reformation influenced these rising notions and institutions.)   But, still, the power of these passionate words by the famous church leader, written 1600 years ago, about wealth, the demands of the poor upon us, the evils of usary, including stern words for lenders who abuse their power, might offer us an important reminder about the needs of the poor, the dangers of debt, and how Christians must care for their neighbors and the institutions that may do them great harm.


from I. to G..jpgFrom Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought  edited by Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan (Eerdmans) $64.00  Okay, this isn’t for everybody, but it sure would be good if every church had one in their church library.  If you are doing any academic work in political theory, or if you are active in speaking out as a Christian citizen or pundit, this is the masterpiece collection of some of the earliest sources from the first century fathers up to Grotius, who, it could be argued, influenced the West with gr
ound-breaking ideas on the nature of human rights.  Almost 900 big pages. We need a second equally astute volume, but for now, this is a treasure-chest of primary source readings and an essential resource for serious thinkers.  Amazing.

An Eerdmans Reader in Contemporary Political Theology
edited by William Cavanaugh,Eerdmans Reader.jpg Jeffrey Bailey, and Craig Hovey  (Eerdmans) $50.00  When we got this book in the shop a month or so ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It includes truly some of the most significant and influential political theology of the 20th and 21st century, writings from all over the globe.  This includes radical stuff indeed, post-colonial, prophetic critiques of power, some pretty arcane.  But some of the pieces are truly representative, making this a great primary-source reader of 49 major essays.  From Barth, Bauckham, Bonhoeffer to Cone, Gutierrez and Hauerwas; from Jean Bethke Elshtain to John Courtney Murray.  Where else do you see Ched Myers and Delores Williams alongside both the Niebuhrs and conservative Catholic, George Weigel?  I love that they have classic writers like Johann Baptist Metz and Alexander Schmemann and John Howard Yoder alongside third world women activists and global theologians like Desmond Tutu and Emmanuel Kotongole.  One drawback is that many are very academic, and most are, as the title suggests, examples of political theology or social ethics, not political theory, as such. Still this is an important new sourcebook for those who really want to dig in.



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Books for outdoor education, adventure experiences, finding God in the outdoors, nature writing, and faith-based creation care.

Hiking-Shoes-588x391.jpgHere is a large list of some of our favorite titles that may be of interest to those who love the great outdoors, do ministry in the wilderness, are trying to be more attentive to the beauty of God’s creation, or who are interested in outdoor adventure trips.

Some of these are explicitly Christian; in fact, some are recommended by groups such as the Christian Adventure Association, an organization we are pleased to serve as a book provider. (Some. but not all, of these books may be listed at their inventory list at their own bookstore.) As you most likely know, here at the shop we read widely and enjoy books from many perspectives. Some of the views of some of these writers are less than orthodox as they describe faith and some of the memoirs, for instance, may have some colorful language. We selected them, though, for their overall worth, quality of writing, insight or general importance.  We hope you like how we have curated this list.

Some titles that we list are not religiously oriented at all, and others, while not exactlyreading on a rock.jpg Christian,  are faith-based, Jewish or mystical, perhaps. These are suggested because they offer good insights or exercises that even traditional evangelicals can use with some adaptation and discernment.  Not every book on this list is suitable for every outdoor educator or church camp, and we try to hint at the author’s tone or perspective (and academic level) in these annotations.  We hope you enjoy browsing through these descriptions and invite you to contact us if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions.  We here at Hearts & Minds believe in reading widely and believe much wisdom can be gathered from various sources, and are therefore delighted to share this unique list of titles that, we trust, will help you and your team in your appreciation for God’s creation and your enjoyment of your outdoor adventures.

At the end of this list there are two links to other pages of the Hearts & Minds website.

One, marked INQUIRE, takes you to an inquiry page near our order form page, and you should click there if you have questions.  Don’t forget to tell us what you want to know. 

The other, marked ORDER, takes you to our webpage’s order form.  It is certified secure, and you only have to fill in the obvious information, and tell us what books you want to order.  If you have shipping preferences, there is a place to note that, too.  We take any standard credit cards and, if you’d rather, are happy to just send a bill along with the book shipment, and you can pay by check, in a return envelope which we will provide.

WE OFFER MOST OF THESE TITLES AT A 10% OFF.  A few exceptions are noted. 
The regular retail price is shown, and we will deduct the discount when you order.


christian outdoor l.gifChristian Outdoor Leadership:
Theology, Theory, and Practice 
Denton (Smooth Stone Publishing) $24.95  There is literally no other resource like this, a great study
of leadership and disciple-making, outdoor education theory, and an inspiring look
at how evangelical faith can be enhanced as we mentor people in
experiential-based wilderness trips.

role of the instructor.jpgThe Role of the Instructor in the Outward Bound Educational Process 
Kenneth Kalisch (Morris Publishing) $21.95  A classic in the field, written by the legendary Christian leader at
Honey Rock Camp, now a professor of outdoor education at Montreat College in
NC.  A must for serious educators.

playing 2.jpgPlaying: Christian Explorations of Daily Living 
James Evans (Fortress) $15.00  This is a short, dense book, opening up
fabulous insights into why it is important that we play, and how
playfulness and leisure is part of the (revolutionary!) freedom of an
authentic spirituality of daily living.

christian at play.gifThe Christian at Play  Robert Johnson (Wipf & Stock) $20.00  Long considered a classic, this is a serious text exploring why we are called to playfulness, what it means to “recreate” and a theology of leisure. Important for outdoor educators and those pondering experiential education.

guide to rec leaders.jpgGuide for Recreation Leaders  Glenn Bannerman & Robert Fakkema (Bridge
Resources) $12.95  An easy-to-use
resource for both experienced and inexperienced recreation leaders, a bit of
theory and  and look at why we play and use recreational experiences.  It’s loaded with simple, fun
activities for all ages and various groups.  Not designed for wilderness settings.

how to use camping in.jpgHow to Use Camping
Experiences in Religious Education
Stephen Venable & Donald Marvin Joy (Religious Education Press)
$15.95  Long considered a standard
in the field, using development educational insights and outdoors experiential education
theories. Although it gives a “nuts and bolts” overview, its hope is clear,
sounded out in their slogan “transformation through Christian camping.” 


aaa.jpgAdventure and the Way of
Jesus: An Experiential Approach to Spiritual Formation
  Greg Robinson (Wood N Barnes
Publications) $19.95  This is a
fabulous book, highly recommended, created by a leader in faith-based
experiential education.  Robinson
offers solid and useful insight on group dynamics, leadership, and
organizational development.


lessons.jpgLessons on the Way: Using
Adventure Activities to Explore the Way of Jesus
  Greg Robinson & Mark Rose (Wood N Barnes Publications)
$24.95  Currently the President of Challenge Quest, Greg is an expert in team
development and collective learning, a seasoned facilitator.  He and Rose offer here a new collection
of some of the best, time-tested and fun activities for spiritual formation,
discipleship, and faith development in the outdoors settings.  An essential resource.



TandT.jpgTeamwork & Teamplay:
A Guide to Cooperative, Challenge and Adventure Activities that Build
Confidence, Cooperation, Teamwork, Creativity, Trust, Decision Making, Conflict
Resolution, Resource Management, Communication, Effective Feedback and Problem
  Jim Cain & Barry
Jolliff (Kendall Hunt) $  From the
lengthy, fun, sub-title you get that this is a huge resource (over 425 pages!)
offering the best of what we know experiential education can accomplish.  This is a very useful reference tool,
packed with lots of great ideas for both “teamwork” and “teamplay.”

learning bridges.jpgLearning Bridges: Quick & Easy Activities for Change Jim Still-Pepper (Chalice Press) $16.99 Although not designed for outdoor eduation, this sort of activities “bridge the gap” between people and can break down distrust, resistance and help young adults (or others) engage in experiential learning.  Interactive, teachable.

tips and tools.jpgTips and Tools: The Art of Experiential Group Facilitation Jennifer Stanchfield (Wood N Barnes) $27.95  Here is what it says on the back cover:  Facilitation is an art, by its very nature an experiential practice. It
is an ever dynamic process of give and take, learning and development. Tips & Tools explores
the facilitator’s role in groups of all kinds and offers creative
tools and activities to enhance group experience, as well as sequencing
and reflection strategies to increase individual involvement and

silver bullets.jpgSilver Bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games, and Trust Activities Karl Rohnke (Project Adventure) $37.95  Truly a classic in the field, it is a treasure chest of games, initiatives, experiences, and activities to create group cohesion, cooperation and trust.

open to outcome.jpgOpen To Outcome: A Practical Guide For Facilitating & Teaching Experiential Reflection  Mari Rudy & Micah Jacobson (Wood N Barnes) $14.95  These two authors are renowned as trainers in their “five questions” process for debriefing experiential learning activities.  Excellent for mentors, coaches, trip leaders who embrace this sort of community-based, educational philosophy.

Gold Nuggets: Readings in Experiential Education Jim Schoel & Mike Stratton (Project Adventure) $20.95  This is a little spiral bound, underground classic, prepared by Project Adventure outdoor educators, reflecting on experiences they’ve had…

Controversial Issues in Adventure Programming.jpgControversial Issues in Adventure Programming Bruce Martin &  Mark Wagstaff (Human Kinetics Press) $49.00  What an amazing resource for serious leaders.  These respected authors have assembled a team
of more than 50 contributors from around the globe to reassess some of
the underlying assumptions on which adventure programming is based. They use a debate format and the conversation is important and lively.


Ethical Issues in Experiential
Jaspers Hunt (The
Association for Experiential Education) $29.95   A serious, professional monograph exploring the
complex ethical issues (secrecy, sexuality, risk, environmental care, etc.)
that come up in experiential education.

beyond learning by d.gifBeyond Learning By Doing: Theoretical Currents in Experiential Education  Jay W. Roberts (Routledge) $41.95  The author is Professor of Education and Environmental Studies at Earlham College, and is long been both a scholar and practitioner of outdoors-based, experiential education.  This is one of the more scholarly, foundational texts in the field, recommended for anyone serious about understanding the latest pedagogical theories applied to wilderness experiences.  Roberts is widely respected in the field, and writes from a Quaker perspective.

colors of nature.pngColors of Nature: Cultural
Identity and the Natural World
edited by Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy (Milkweed Editions) $22.00   There is simply no other book in print like this;
it is unprecedented.  This is an
important collection illuminating how people of color and various ethnic backgrounds and culture
“see” and experience nature. This
is essential reading for those leading multi-cultural trips or for anyone who
cares about bringing the broadest range of insights to environmental journalism.  Very moving, in many ways.


Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backpackin' Book- Traveling & Camping Skills for a Wilderness Environment  .gifAllen & Mike’s Really
Cool Backpackin’ Book: Traveling & Camping Skills for a Wilderness
  Allen O’Bannon & Mike
Clelland (FalconGuide) $14.95 Practical insight and fun illustrations on back country hiking.


Allen & Mike’s Really
Cool Backcountry Ski Book: Traveling and Camping Skills for a Winter
Allen O’Bannon & Mike Clelland (FalconGuide) $14.95 Practical
insight and fun illustrations on wilderness camping and skiing.


Allen & Mike’s Really
Cool Telemark Tips: 123 Amazing Tips to Improves Your Tele-Skiing (revised
& expanded)
  Allen O’Bannon
& Mike Clelland (FalconGuide) $14.95 Practical insight and fun illustrations on wilderness skiing.


Allen & Mike’s
Avalanche Book: A Guide to Staying Save in Avalanche Terrain
Allen O’Bannon
& Mike Clelland (FalconGuide) $14.95 Practical insight and fun
illustrations about a matter of utmost seriousness.

Cave Exploring.gifCave Exploring: The Definitive Guide to Caving Technique, Safety, Gear, and Trip Leadership   Paul Burger (Falcon Guides) $15.99 There are many good books that serve as an introduction to caving; we suggest this one because it does have some helpful material on leading trips.

rock climbing.gifRock Climbing: Mastering Basic Skills  Craig Luebben (Mountaineering Books) $22.95  One of the standard books, written by a master teacher (and leader in the American Mountain Guide Association) including not only skills and exercises, but comments on safety, understanding hazards, risk management, group trips, and other helpful material for outdoor leaders.

bouldering.jpgBouldering: Movement, Tactics, and Problem Solving Peter Beal (Mountaineering Books) $18.95  Laden with pictures, this is an ideal  book for anyone interested in the art and skills of solving boldering problems.  There aren’t many books of this sort and we are happy to recommend this one, which includes photos, illustrations and 10 useful strategy charts.

Freedom_of_the_Hills_8th_ed.jpgMountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (8th edition) The Mountaineers (Mountaineers Books) $29.95  This is considered a, if not the classic for all climbing enthusiasts.  A must-have for any aspiring mountaineers library. Almost 600 pages, 7 x 9 with over 425 pictures.

backpackers field.gifThe Backpacker’s Field
Manual (Revised and Updated)
Rick Curtis (Three Rivers Press) $16.00  This hefty, important book would be a
bargain at twice the price as it is jam-packed with everything you may need to
know (including much that you may not have thought of) before embarking on a
serious backcountry journey. 
Comprehensive, classic, helpful for anyone learning about how to pack for a trip.

AMC .jpgAMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership  Alex Kosseff (Appalachian Mountain Club Books) $19.95  Many customers have found this to be an exceptional introduction to all sorts of important matters for trip leaders: trip planning,  group Dynamics,  decision-making, risk management.  Includes a section on leading youth.

lessons learned.jpgLessons Learned II  Deb Ajango (Watchmaker Press)
$22.00  Every outdoor educator or
group facilitator must know about risk management.  The publisher says this about this useful volume: “through
careful examination of accident accounts, followed by analysis of what went
wrong and what went right, author/editor Deb Ajango helps readers better
understand how and why even seemingly best-laid plans sometimes fail. Starting
with two in-depth case studies, the book explores how accidents happen, how the
resulting devastation affects participants and their families, and how the
ramifications of such incidents affect programs and employees…”


w.e..gifWilderness Ethics:
Preserving the Spirit of Wildness
Laura & Guy Waterman 
(The Countryman Press) 
$15.95  A compelling book
making a strong claim that even wilderness protection programs in the United States
are failing that which we call wilderness—in part because of so many who want
to enjoy it, and therefore it needs managed.  This asks big questions of what we mean by the wilderness
experience and what we are hoping to preserve.  The authors have lived for more than 25 years on a self-sufficient
homestead in Vermont.


backwoods e.jpgBackwoods Ethics: A Guide
to Low-Impact Camping and Hiking
Laura & Guy Waterman (second edition) (The
Countryman Press) $15.95  With a foreword
by backpacker and environmental activist Bill McKibben, this is a lovely and
useful guide, at once visionary and practical.  A classic.

NOLS soft paths.gifSoft Paths Rich Brame & David
Cole (Stackpole Books) $19.95 A
definitive book from NOLS (The National Outdoor Leadership School) now in an
updated fourth edition.  A
must-read about “leaving no trace” and low-impact camping and hiking.  We can ship any of the NOLS  books, by
the way; their whole wilderness education series is excellent, including titles such as Wilderness Ethics, Backcountry Cooking, Wilderness Medicine, Wilderness Navigation, or River Rescue. 
See their entire list here: http://www.nols.edu/books/.  We got ’em.


Landscape as Sacred Space- Metaphors for the Spiritual Journey.gifLandscape as Sacred
Space: Metaphors for the Spiritual Journey
  Steven Lewis (Wipf & Stock) $16.00  An essential, core book exploring how
to appreciate landscape, how to rethink spiritual formation in light of both
outdoor educational insights and postmodern theory. This brief work is a significant contribution to spirituality and theology that is exceptional and important.  Nearly brilliant, reflective, insightful , this study draws on the serious work of Beldan Lane and articulates how land and place can help in spiritual formation.  Physical spaces are named in the Bible–mountaintops, valleys, deserts, rivers–and these clearly serve as symbols on our journey, apt metaphors for moments in everyone’s life.  Anyone interested in the outdoors and who enters into wilderness experiences will surely find this a helpful companion for thinking about what can be learned in creation, not so much about creation itself, but about our inner landscapes.  From mountaintop experiences to spiritual deserts, this
helps us integrate God into daily experience, by exploring life’s landscapes.
Provocative and profound; very highly recommended for leaders.

You Gave Me a Wide Place- Holy Places in Our Lives.gifYou Gave Me a Wide Place:
Holy Places in Our Lives
Stroble (Upper Room) $15.00 This includes personal stories, exercises for
individual or small-group use, framed by an extended rumination on place, God’s
great gift of space, and how our identity is shaped by location.  The titles comes from Psalm 18:36.


Landscapes of the Soul- A Spirituality of Place.jpgLandscapes of the Soul: A
Spirituality of Place
  Robert Hamma
(Ave Maria Press) $9.95  By drawing
on the Bible, psychology, and cultural studies, this prayerful Catholic
explores not only our inner lives, but our sense of place, home, geography and
locale.  Is God present in certain
places?  All places?  Are some doorways to His presence?  For anyone going to specific
places–even if for a visit–having a clear sense of God’s faithfulness to
locations is helpful.

Landscapes of the Sacred- Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality.jpgLandscapes of the Sacred:
Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality
  Belden Lane (Oxford University Press) $30.00  A highly-respected scholar offers three
new interpretive models for understanding American sacred space.  Dense, serious, and yet at time
luminous.  A must for mature
thinkers about the role of land, place, wilderness and American religious


solace of fierce.gifThe Solace of Fierce
Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality
  Belden C. Lane (Oxford University
Press) $17.95  One of the most
esteemed books among those who do serious reading on the geography of faith;
literary and smart and important. 
The author tells of Biblical stories and of ancient monks and their
spiritual experiences of both deserts and mountains, even as he writes
exquisitely about his own hikes and wilderness experiences. Lane is a
historian, philosopher, outdoorsman and born storyteller.  Classic.


where mortals dwell.gifWhere Mortals Dwell: A
Christian View of Place for Today
Craig G. Bartholomew (Baker Academic) $29.99  Richly informed by the history of theology and philosophy,
this is the premier study of this vital topic from a solidly Christian
perspective.  No one has attended
to this topic as Bartholomew has, making this a one of a kind study.  There are endorsements from the likes
of Bill McKibben and Norman Wirzba, who rave about the book’s singular vision
and exceptional importance. 
Outdoor educators and wilderness enthusiasts care about the land, so
this is good for us; those who specialize in trips and being on journeys, too,
will benefit from this study of home and placemaking.  How many theological books incorporate a study of maps and
topography?  Wow.


earth_works.jpegEarth Works: Selected
  Scott Russell Sanders (Indiana
University Press) $25.00  One of
the most esteemed essayists in America, a beloved writer and thoughtful author,
his voice is both prophetic and tender, caring about place, aware of the
nuances of story and landscape. 
Known as a Mid-Western nature writer and environmentalist, Saunders’
wondrous prose is well worth knowing and this anthology is a beautiful way into his
powerful, reflective work.

sacred j.gifAncient Practices: The Sacred Journey  Charles Foster (Nelson) $12.99  Going on pilgrimage is an ancient religious practice, and this fine Christian thinker explores what it is about us that makes us want to “go” and be on journey.  He pays little mind to the need for “a sense of place” and thinks the geography of faith is ever-moving as we hike, travel, explore and, yes, take intentional journeys of sacred pilgrimages.  What a fun, provocative, and energetic book by a guy who has hiked all over the world.



All Creation Sings- The Voice of God in Nature .gifAll Creation Sings: The Voice of
God in Nature 
J. Ellsworth Kalas
(Abingdon) $14.00  A wonderfully
clear, solid, upbeat reflective meditation on the wonder of creation, what we
can learn by attending to God’s speaking through it, as many Biblical texts teach.  Most of us appreciate the beauty of God’s wonderful creation, but it takes more attentiveness and Biblical faith to belief that God reveals things to us by way of his natural world. 
Very highly recommended.


Nature as S.gifNature as Spiritual Practice  Steven Chase (Eerdmans) $18.00  One of the deepest and most insightful
studies of its kind, an innovative study on how we can seek God in nature,
being transformed by attentiveness to the movements and seasons and wonders of
creation.  Chase weaves together
historic contemplative practices and contemporary nature writers…a bit heavy,
broad-ranging, profound.


A Field Guide to Nature as Spiritual Practice.gifA Field Guide to Nature as
Spiritual Practice
  Steven Chase
(Eerdmans) $8.00  A companion book
to the above title, this practical resource gathers together additional
contemplative exercises and “nature practices” to echo the theory and vision
outlined in the primary text.  Very
nicely done, helpful for those looking for advanced, mature guidance.

Worship Feast.gifWorship Feast Outdoors: 25
Experiences of God’s Great Earth 
Youngman (Abingdon) $17.00 
If you are going on an outdoors trip, especially if you are going with
youth, don’t leave without this exciting and innovative guide to four different
sorts of outdoors worship experiences.   These services include worship with water, worship with
wonder, worship with awareness, and worship with the seasons.  Very creative and quite useful.


A Hunter's Field Notes.gifA Hunter’s Field Notes: Inspiring
Stories of Meeting God in the Rugged Outdoors
  Jay Houston & Roger Medley (Harvest House) $10.99  Obviously, this is for hunters, who
realize that there is more to hunting than just the harvest.  This has some very helpful suggestions
for learning how to tell your own stories, explaining your own adventures, your
faith, and how unexpected incidents in the mountains have strengthened your own
faith.  Set mostly amidst the Rocky
Mountains, hunting elk.

devotions-for-outdoor-adventures-larry-wiggins-paperback-cover-art.jpgDevotions for Outdoor Adventures  Larry Wiggins, Jack Harris & Amy Garascia (CreateSpace)  $12.95  Created by friends who work in outdoor education, we are happy to promote this neat little paperback full of devotional thoughts from and for (as the subtitle puts it) “Backpackers, Hikers, Climbers, Canoeists, and Other Outdoor Enthusiasts.”  These are solid evangelical reflections on the Word and the world, inspiring, insightful and perfect for the outdoors.  Handsome pen and ink drawings of cliffs, crags, birds, and such are themselves worth meditation upon.

god in the yard.gifGod in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us  L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press) $15.00 This is a 12-week course described as “discovery and playing towards God.”  Barkat is a fine memoirist and poet and here offers delightful, hopeful, very thoughtful meditations, mostly about paying attention to the amazing world around us. One reviewer suggested it is a blend between spirituality writer Richard Foster and naturalist Annie Dillard—quite a compliment!  Ann Voskamp notes she is a writer “with a poet’s eye, arresting language and keen mind.”  Not about the wilderness or adventure expeditions, but she does invites us to”see” and experience God in creation (as in one excellent section, about “sky.”)

an altar in the world bbt.jpgAn Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith  Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne) $14.99 This elegant and eloquent writer is honest, vivid, profound, about how faith is enhanced as we embodied practices of faithfulness which allow us to be attentive to God in daily living.  Not all of this is about the out of doors, but some of it is;  see especially her chapter about walking, another about physical labor (“The Practice of Carrying Water”) and a splendid chapter called “Getting Lost.”   Wow.

water-wind-earth-fire-christian-practice-praying-with-christine-valters-paintner-paperback-cover-art.jpgWater, Wind, Earth, &
Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements
  Christine Valters Paintner (Sorin
Books) $14.95  Organized around
“The Canticle of the Creatures” by St. Francis of Assisi, this explores ways in
which praying with the natural elements can enliven our Christian spiritual
lives.  The author is a Benedictine
Oblate sister, a beautiful writer, and a mature thinker about faith and
creation.  Very useful as a guide
to growing closer to God in nature, and, specifically, praying about our
natural surroundings.  Lovely.

When the Rain Speaks.gifWhen the Rain Speaks: Celebrating
God’s Presence in Nature
Svoboda (Twenty-Third Publications) $12.95  Through this lovely collection of short devotions, Sister
Melanie helps us experience God through His good creation, beholding the
details of the glories there.  As
we notice and attend to that which is before our eyes, we can increasingly
learn the habit of thankfulness and worship, deepening our contemplative walk
in God’s world.  Very nice.


Cairn-Space.gifCairn-Space  N. Thomas Johnson-Medland (Resource
Publications) $17.0 0  Tom has been
involved in Christian camping and leading outdoor retreats for years, as a
pastor and poet he knows well how to evoke our heart’s desires and
concerns.  He calls these poems and
essays “landmarks” which help us focus and remember God’s faithfulness.  The cover says this includes “poems,
prayers, mindful amblings, about the places we wet aside for meaning, prayer,
and the sacramental life…” Nice.


Bridges, Paths and Waters; Dirt, Sky, and Mountains.gifBridges, Paths and Waters; Dirt,
Sky, and Mountains
N. Thomas Johnson-Medland (Resource Publications)
$20.00  More reflections and poems
by an expert Christian leader in camping and outdoors ministry.  He calls this a “portable guided
retreat on creation, awe, wonder, and radical amazement.”  Who doesn’t long for greater gratitude
and wonder?  Who wouldn’t benefit
from ruminations on beauty and meaning in our lives?


Indescribable- Encountering the Glory of God.gifIndescribable: Encountering the
Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe
  Louie Giglio & Matt Redman (Cook) $14.99  Neither author is a scientist or
wilderness expert, but they have avocations in astronomy and use their
instincts as worship leaders—preacher and musician, respectively— to see
God’s great grace and glory in the wonder of things.  There is some good natural science here, some basic
astronomy that any outdoors-lover will appreciate, but it is mostly developed
for the sake of devotion and praise. 

Earth's Echo- Sacred Encounters with Nature.gifEarth’s Echo: Sacred
Encounters with Nature
Hamma (Sorin) $15.95 The author is a very fine, meditative writer and a serious observer of all
sorts of aspects of God’s good creation, and invites us in this small, quiet
book to attend to the holy ground around us.  Called “awe-inspiring” by Annie Dillard.  It is a beauty to hold, a square-sized paperback.

A Wild Faith- Jewish Ways into Wilderness.jpgA Wild Faith: Jewish Ways into
Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism
Rabbi Mike Comins (Jewish Lights) $16.99 Although explicitly Jewish,
even those who are not Jewish will find this to be quite interesting, insightful, and packed
with ideas about meditative walking, wilderness blessings, solo solitude
practices and other wilderness-savoring means of faith development.  One reviewer said it is “part holy book, part

God in the Wilderness.gifGod in the Wilderness:
Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors with the Adventure Rabbi
  Jamie Korngold (Three Rivers Press)
$12.99  What a lovely book.  We can rejoice that almost anyone, from evangelical
Christians to those who don’t see themselves as religious at all can learn much from Rabbi Korngold’s creative thinking and
engagement with the Hebrew Bible—and her great skills as outdoor educator and
adventure trip facilitator.  Very nice. And notice, “The Adventure Rabbi” is, in fact, a woman (in the Reform Judaism tradition.)

Renewal in the Wilderness-.gifRenewal
in the Wilderness: A Spiritual Guide to Connecting with God in the
Natural World
  John Lionberger (Skylight Paths) $16.99  The opening
story of this mid-life guy coming to experience God for the first time on a
wilderness trek with Outward Bound is itself worth the
price of the book.  Lionberger, who had been thoroughly unchurched, found
himself drawn to Christ and eventually became ordained, commissioned to
help others experience God’s presence in the outdoors.  He brings an
interfaith approach, from a mainline church setting, leading trips of
various sorts.  Lots of stories make this easy to read and nicely inspiring.

wisdom of w.gifThe Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature Gerald May (HarperOne) $13.99  May is a renowned spiritual director, a counselor and genteel, literary scholar.  (He was often associated with his friends Parker Palmer and Henri Nouwan.)  Who know he was an avid outdoorsman, and he writes here beautifully about how doing solo tenting trips–canoeing, encountering a bear, paying attention to creation’s awe–helped him through a very difficult time in his life.  Well written, profound, and enjoyable.

Spiritual Adventures in the Snow.gifSpiritual Adventures in the Snow: Skiing and Snowboardering
as a Renewal for Your Soul
Marcia McFee & Rev. Karen Foster (Skylight Paths) $16.99  What a fascinating, fun book, making a
case that fun in the outdoors is compatible with a growing faith.  Each of the authors are serious
outdoorswomen, and in each chapter they not only talk about their spiritual
lives enhance by winter sports, but interview others.  From edgy Christian writer Anne Lamott to Olympic
medalists, this is packed with ideas, insights, faith-building exercises to be
done on the slopes.


The Sacred Art of Fly-Fishing.gifFly-Fishing The Sacred Art:
Casting a Fly as a Spiritual Practice
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer & Rev. Michael Attas (Skylight Paths)  $16.99  Forget the jokes about a Rabbi and minister going into a
bar; here they go out to streams, explaining the allure and spiritual
potential, in fly fishing. 
Beautiful, interesting, informative, with describing things from tie
flying to enjoying the flowing streams to working on river conservation.

When the Trees Say Nothing.gifWhen the Trees Say
Nothing: Writings on Nature
by Thomas Merton edited and compiled by Kathleen Deignan,
with sketches by John Giuliani (Sorin Books) $16.95  Thomas Merton is one of the most-respected Christian mystics
of the 20th century, a prolific, humorous, intense Trappist monk who
died in the late 60s and the environmental movement was taking off.  These are writings of his, many from
early in his career, when he wrote about the beauty of nature, God’s presence
in creation, and how to stand in silence and awe before the world.

Green Bible Devotional.gifThe Green Bible Devotional: A Book of Daily Readings taken from The NRSV Green Bible (HarperOne) $14.99  Taken from the “Green Letter” New Revised Standard edition, this includes short meditations from a wide array of fine Christian thinkers, leaders, activists.  Easy to carry –and very uplifting.

A Spiritual Field Guide- Meditations for the Outdoors.jpgA Spiritual Field Guide:
Meditations for the Outdoors
Bernard Brady & Mark Neuzil (Brazos Press) $12.99  This may be our favorite daily
devotional, outlined specifically for either day hikes or longer treks.  This is Biblical, inspiration, offering
Scripture and readings from classic Christian writers.  Nicely done.

Meditations of John Muir.gifMeditations of John Muir:
Nature’s Temple
  complied by Chris
Highland (Wilderness Press) $11.95 
Most evangelicals may wish that Muir was a bit clearer about some
things, but there is no doubt that he is a seminal figure in the great
tradition of American wilderness writing, and his  most spiritual musings about God, nature, and his
reflections on many of the world’s most sacred Scriptures are brief, nicely
produced, and easy to carry into the woods.

Wilderness Time.gifWilderness Time: A Guide for
Spiritual Retreat
Emilie Griffin
(HarperOne) $14.00  Produced by
Renovare, this is not about wilderness settings, but uses the metaphor of wilderness for any
intentional spiritual retreat. 
Very useful.



perm v.jpgPermanent Vacation: Twenty
Writers on Work and Life on Our National Parks
  edited by Kim Wyatt & Erin Bechtol (Bona Fide Books)
$15.00  Beautiful and informative
essays by park rangers, describing their work stewarding out parks, describing
the natural beauty, from permafrost to petrified forests.  This volume focuses on parks from the

Wisdom Chaser.gifWisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at
14,000 Feet
Nathan Foster (IVP) $16.00  The son
of the famous spirituality writer (Richard Foster) has messed up his life,
realizes he needs to reconsider his own lifestyle and faith commitments, and,
mostly, must get to know his mysterious father.  In a riveting mountain climbing memoir, father and son are
reconciled and new beginnings are envisions.  This is great reading for anyone who enjoys a good adventure
tale; better for those wanting to see how God can use the stress of adventure
experiences to rebuild relationships, trust, and hope.  Highly recommended.

surprises around the bend.gifSurprises Around the Bend: 50 Adventurous Walkers edited by Richard Hasler (Augsburg) $14.99  Hasler is both a pastor and a hiker, and he has offered us this delightful gift: a compilation of various excerpts of the journals of many famous walkers (from Francis of Assisi to John Bunyan to Dietrich Bonhoeffer), their observations and insights, pleasures, adventures and, in many cases, spiritual insights.  Arranged almost like a daily devotional: very nicely done.

way is made.gifThe Way is Made By Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino Santiago Arthur Boers  (IVP) $16.00  Although this pilgrimage along the El Camino trail is more of a spiritual practice than an adventure trip, the insights gathered as the merry band of folk travel this ancient trail are fascinating.  Not a few backpacking trips into the wilderness have used this as a study book.  Includes a nice foreword by avid day hiker and Bible scholar Eugene Peterson.

hiking through.gifHiking Through: One Man’s Journey
to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail
  Paul Stutzman (Revell) $13.99  When this was self-published it became an underground
classic, and we are happy to now have available this new edition.  After Stutzman lost his wife from cancer, he heads out on the AT, realizing that a life-changing journey begins with a
single step… God’s grace and guidance become evident as the author tells of
this 2,176 mile trip through 14 states. 
Good outdoor writing, fun adventure tales, but it is also about love, family, friendship,
courage, discovery, healing, and finding God beyond the trailhead.  A page-turner, offering solid faith and
great insight.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.gifAWOL on the Appalachian Trail David Miller (Mariner Books) $14.50  This author is known among AT hikers as he writes and
updates the annual trail guide. 
This is his own memoir of his through-hike, recently re-issued, complete with all sorts of stories, insights, observations
and suggestions for other backpackers. 
Considered one of the best.

wild.gifWild: From Lost to Found on the
Pacific Crest Trail
  Cheryl Strayed
(Knopf) $25.95  One of the most
talked about hiking memoirs in years, this is both spectacularly written and
brilliantly conceived, as a woman who has truly made a mess of her life
(heroin! promiscuity!) does an extended through-hike for which she is notably
ill-prepared. She grieves the death from cancer of her hippy mother, her
violent father, her own descent into remarkably bad choices, and how her life’s
journey took her to the rugged PCT. 
The writing is vivid, including some vulgarities a sex scene, so it
may not be for everyone. Still, for those who appreciate such a hard and finally
triumphant outdoor journey, it will thrill you (and perhaps remind you how long
backpacking trips can be brutal, glorious, and profoundly transformative.)

Two in the Wild.jpgTwo in the Wild edited by Susan Fox Rogers (Vintage)
$13.00  Women’s outdoors adventure writing is nearly its own genre, and
this is representative of some of the great stories, writing and
insights offered by gutsy women who lace up their boots and head out to
climb, hike, bike or travel all over the globe—together.  Some of
these are pretty fun, a few quite tender, all are very well written.

leaky tent.gifA Leaky Tent is a Piece of Paradise: 20 Young Writers on Finding a Place in the Natural World  edited by Bonnie Tsui  (Sierra Club Books) $19.99  This is not your father’s nature writing or sportsman’s guide.  Here are edgy young writers doing essays about integrating nature into their lives, and how they struggle to balance travel and home, branching out and having roots, going far and eating local.  Some are pretty outrageous, some inspiring, a couple pretty amazing.  These short pieces are all by serious, under 30 writers, kicking back and telling it straight.  Actually, it is pretty remarkable, although most are not at all religious. 

  Back to Earth.gifBack to Earth: A
Backpacker’s Journey into Self and Soul
Kerry Temple  (Rowman &
Littlefield) $16.95  This is a great memoir, a story of a mid-life life lost,
and found.  This eloquent book is
the story of the author’s return home. 
As brilliant essayist Scott Russell Sanders says, it is “a braiding
together of remembered journeys and the new ones: from the Arctic to the desert
Southwest, from the Big Horns of Wyoming to the woods of Indiana, always in
search of the unnameable power that flows through every breath.”  Temple has been the editor of Notre
magazine, and has been published in Backpacker magazine.

temple stream.jpgTemple Stream: A Rural Odyssey  Bill Roorbach (Dial Press) $14.00  Some of this is a wonderfully written memoir of the author trying to learn to appreciate his own small town in rural Maine.  There are great blue herons and yellow birches, but there are equally colorful characters at the local diner and a whole bunch of run down properties and the stories behind them.  He writes lovingly—National Geographic Explorer says it is “a marvel in a genre that’s tough to master”—and his sense of place will make you homesick for Farmington, or a place like it. But here is why I list it now: Professor Roorbach is determined to explore a local stream from its mouth to its elusive source.  He is a paddler, a nature writer, a curious explorer, and anyone who enjoys canoeing will surely love this grand, quiet book.


out there.jpgOut There: In The Wild in
a Wired Age
 Ted Kerasote (Voyageur
Press) $16.95  When this book came
out, cell phones and facebook were not as ubiquitous as they are now, and the
book was considered an excellent rumination on matters of remoteness and
solitude (in an age “strangling from its cyberwires.”) This is a sly look at
important matters as he tells of a wilderness paddling trip (from the Canadian
Northwest Territories to the Arctic Ocean) with a partner who wanted to stay in
touch with those back home. 
Fascinating, and all the more urgent, today.


On The Ridge Between Life and Death.jpgOn The Ridge Between Life
and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined
David Roberts (Simon & Schuster) $15.00  Jon Krakauer has exclaimed, “nobody alive writes better
about mountaineering and its peculiar adherents than David Roberts, my mentor
and friend…”  And this is his best
book, candid and unflinching, and offering a seasoned, sober account of the
risks of the adventuresome life. 
Stunning and provocative.


Into the Wild.gifInto the Wild  Jon Krakauer (Anchor) $14.95  A serious and gripping reportage of a
passionate adventurer, a mountaineer and outdoorsman who grew unhinged from
society and died attempting to live off the grid.  A sad warning of worldviews that are not viable and how passionate
concerns can sometimes turn harmful.


Into Thin Air.gifInto Thin Air: A Personal
Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
Jon Krakauer (Anchor) $15.00  It would be unthinkable to not list
something of Krakauer on this list. 
He is a breathtaking storyteller, a bit of a philosopher, and a profound
writer who has contributed much to this growing field. 


Soul Survivor- A Spiritual Quest Through 40 Days and 40 Nights.jpgSoul Survivor: A
Spiritual Quest Through 40 Days and 40 Nights of Mountain Solitude
  Paul Hawker (Northstone) $15.95  A passionately honest account of a
man–he described himself as “restless and rudderless”—trying honestly to hear
the voice of God by going on a remarkable soul quest.   Set in the treacherous Tararua Mountain range in New


DeepSurvivalLG.jpgDeep Survival: Who Lives,
Who Dies, and Why
Gonzales (Norton) $15.95 Gonzales has perhaps studied this topic, and
interviewed more survivors of tragic accidents–from plane crashes in Peruvian
wilderness to mountain climbing trips gone wrong—and was perplexed why some
people (and some groups) found stamina and courage to endure, and who did
not.  This is by all accounts
compelling reading, at times intense and even chilling. And, it is very
important for anyone undertaking potentially life-threatening adventure trips. Recommended. 


The Wilderness World of John Muir .gifThe Wilderness World of
John Muir
John Muir, edited by Edwin Teale (Mariner) $15.95  Teale has given us a marvelous way into
the many writings of Muir, collecting some of the finer portions of several of
his classics.  Newly issues, with a
very handsome cover, this is will be a beloved addition to any library of
historic wilderness writing or adventure memoir.

Living on Wilderness Time.gifLiving on Wilderness Time: 200 Days Alone in America’s Wild Places  Melissa Walker (University of Virginia Press) $17.95  This heavy paperback is made well, rugged, I suppose, like the content.  Here the author is one the road, on the loose, in the wilderness (as one reviewer noted.)  She thinks and lives outside the boundaries, and has been likened to the glorious and influential writer Rick Bass.  What an odyssey, this mid-life woman, setting out to discover adventure in order to discover life.  Risky, solid,  rare.

Nature and Walking.gifNature and Walking  Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David
Thoreau (Beacon Press) $13.99 
These two important essays in one lovely volume, illustrate this distinctively
American, romantic view of the world and our observations of it.  Nice to have these two together…

Desert Solitaire.gifDesert Solitaire: A
Season in the Wilderness
Abbey  (Touchstone) $14.95  One of the great books of wilderness
memoir in all of American literature, Abbey tells of his years as a park ranger
in Utah.  Mystical, candid,
outspoken, he was an old time curmudgeon and radical naturalist, struck by his
solitary life and the raw beauty of the red rock landscape.


Wind River Winter.gifWind River Winter
Virginia Stem Owens (Regent College Press) $19.95 This memoir is achingly
beautiful as Stem Owens, one of our finest contemporary Christian writers (who
is a keen observer of nature, and has written a previous book on quantum
physics) takes us into the beauty and mystery of watching the world of the
desolate Wind River mountains of Wyoming. 
Beautiful language, profoundly Christian, excellent insights or reality
and grace in a fallen world.

reading the mountains.gifReading the Mountains of Home John Elder (Harvard University Press) $24.95  This is a splendid book, important and enjoyable on many levels.  Firstly, it is a memoir of a set of day hikes near the author’s beloved Vermont county.  Elder is a professor of enviromental literature at Middlebury College, and he is actually doing a series of outdoor experiences following the general plot of a rare Robert Frost poem (which has him getting lost, building a canoe, etc.)  As he hikes and observes both poem and landscape he concludes that it is important to know your own locale.  This is, as he explains, a huge controversy within American nature writers, conservationists and modern moutaineers: must we always go “out West” for the dangerous, rugged terrain, or might there be (as Thoreau chided Muir) wilderness in less dramatic locations?  This is an argument for finding joy in the local, taking up outdoor adventure wherever we are, and not necessarily presuming that the best experiences are the most dramatic or far-away.  For anyone who loves well-written stories, a bit of poetry, some New England geological lessons, and a wonderful insight about “reading the mountains of home.”

my story as told.jpgMy Story as Told By Water  David James Duncan (Sierra Club Books) $16.99  I hope you know his intriguing, spiritually-based, hilarious novel The River Why (about, among other things, fishing.)  Here, in a series of chapters–some long and serious, some short and creatively crafted–the passionate writer tells of his love affair with creation, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water.  The subtitle reads: “Confessions, Druidic Rants, Reflections, Bird-watchings, Fish-stalkings, Visions, Songs and Prayers Refracting from Light, From Living Rivers, In the Age of the Industrial Dark.” Oh yeah.


riverwalking-reflections-on-moving-water-kathleen-dean-moore-paperback-cover-art.jpgRiverwalking: Reflections on
Moving Water
  Kathleen Dean
Moore  (Harcourt) $13.5  Moore is one of the great nature
writers of our time.  As Bill McKibben
writes of its importance he says it is a “new kind of nature writing, one where
the outdoors is in dialogue not only with our innermost souls but without
families, our relationships, our lives. 
Something powerful is at work here.” Moore is a professor of philosophy
at Oregon State University and tells of her canoing, ocean kayaking, night paddling.  She is luminous, moving, smart, and quite a rugged outdoors person.

pine island paradox.gifPine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World  Kathleen Dean Moore (Milkweed Editions) $16.00  This is, quite simply, one of my all time favorite books, inspiring and moving, eloquent and profoundly insightful, even as she tells fabulous tales of her beloved hikes and camping trips and writing projects, conjuring up the beauty of nature, the meaning of the cosmos (she’s a philsopher, after all) and her daily work as a college prof, mother, and wife, who lives in an ordinary neighborhood.  Captivating and provocative and truly lovely, full of deep insight and wonder-full lines.


wild comfort.gifWild Comfort: The Solace of Nature
Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpteter) $15.95 
Dense, rich, ruminations on the power of nature to console and comfort
us in times of grief and disruption. 
It is both a naturalist’s handbook and a memoir about her own hikes and
insights, full of wisdom and heavy truth, maturely written. 


High Tide in Tucson.gifHigh Tide in Tucson: Essays from
Now or Never
Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $13.00  Many readers enjoy the wonderful novels of Ms Kingsolver, but she is
a gifted, passionate essayist, as well.  These
are delightful and challenging, informing us about details of nature, science,
community and place.  Theses are
pieces to be savored and pondered and acted upon.  Fabulous! 


Lessons of the Wild.gifLessons of the Wild: Learning
from the Wisdom of Nature
  Edwin L.
Anderson (Wipf & Stock) $19.00 
This is a profound study of how we can find ourselves, especially during
times of transition (as we age) as we take up our place in nature.  The author is an expert wilderness
coach, having spent years in the great parks of the American West.  Drawing on classic nature writers and
contemporary authors (like Gerald May and Parker Palmer) and some Christian
spirituality (Merton and the like) he weaves his stories of growth and insight,
found in the wisdom both strong and gentle from the wilderness. 


Jesus, History, and Mt. gifJesus, History, and Mt. Darwin:
An Academic Excursion
  Rick Kennedy
(Wipf & Stock) $14.00  Kennedy
is a professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University  and here he gives us an extended essay
in the genre of Thoreau’s travel-thinking essays.  It is the story of his three-day climb into the Evolution
Range of the High Sierra mountains, nearly fourteen thousand feet. (Yes, the
range is named after the famous evolutionary thinkers, and he is indeed
climbing Mt. Darwin.)  In this
wide-ranging study, he ponders the meaning of education, the nature of his work
as a Christian in higher education, the reliability of the claims of Jesus in
the gospels, and, of course, natural history.  A stunning reminder of humility, the importance of science,
all told amidst a narrative of mountain climbing.


Sea Fire.gifSea Fire: Tales of Jesus and
Irene Martin (Crossroad) $19.95 This is really surprising, part detective
story, part Bible study, part cultural history of the fishing communities of
the Sea of Galilee.  Martin is an
Episcopal priest, New Testament scholar and a life-long fisher in the Pacific
Northwest.  A bit academic, but could be fun to read for those who love fishing.


Early Spring.gifEarly Spring: An Ecologist and
Her Children Wake to a Warming World  
Amy Seidl (Beacon Press) $15.00  Beautifully written by a biologist mother (“with the mind of a
scientist and the heart of a mom.”) This explores the intricacies of nature and its assault in her own
region, which and her family notice in their walks in the woods, their work in their garden and in conversations with their neighborhood.  Eloquent, touching,
inspiring.  It is beautiful how a person can notice so very much, and care so deeply.


Teaching a Stone to Talk.gifTeaching a Stone to Talk:
Expeditions and Encounter
s  Annie
Dillard (HarperCollins) $13.00  Not
every nature writer has won a Pultizer Prize, and fewer have gotten back cover
blurbs from the great Edward Abby, who likened her to Thoreau and Emily
Dickinson.  What a wide-ranging
collection of thoughtful essays, mature, mysterious, interesting.


Holy the Firm.jpgHoly the Firm  Annie Dillard (HarperCollins) $13.00
Living on an island in the Puget Sound, this Pulitzer Prize winning author—raised
a Presbyterian in Pittsburgh—ruminates on life, beauty, violence, creatures
safe and wild.  Called “a rare and
precious book” by theologian Frederick Buechner in the New York Times.


For the Time Being.gifFor the Time Being  Annie Dillard (Vintage) $13.95  Further essays by the exceptionally
talented and profound philosopher, cultural critique and nature writer.  Can we discover wonder in even the
darkest and most remote of life’s corners? One reviewer called her “a verbal
street fighter in the back alley of the greatest human mystery.”  Well, maybe so, but she is an elegant
one, at that.


Who Owns the Mountains?  Classic Selections Celebrating the Joys of Nature .jpgWho Owns the Mountains?  Classic Selections Celebrating the Joys
of Nature
  Henry van Dyke  (Northfield/Moody Press) $14.00  At the turn of the century that took us
into the twentieth, Van Dyke was a literary star, especially known for his beautiful The
Story of the Other Wise Man
.  A
dedicated Christian and renowned outdoorsman, this collection offers his stories,
poems, and essays of fishing for salmon in Quebec, experiencing the folk lands
of Scotland, hiking the Franconia notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and more.  Beautifully realized, pleasant and uplifting.

The View From Lazy Point.gifThe View From Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World Carl Sanfino (Picador) $18.00 This award-winning work is considered one of the great books of natural history in the 21st century, upbeat, interesting, hopeful, even as he describes birds and water creatures all over the globe, fish and fowl whose habitats are threatened by global climate change.  Sanfino waxes philsophical, a deeply caring, moral, and enjoyable scholar and outdoorsman, although he makes it clear that he does not believe God.  Still, there is much inspiring here, and much enjoyable reading, especially for those who love birding or who enjoy lovely descriptions of beach and wetland ecology.

American Earth.gifAmerican Earth: Environmental Writings Since Thoreau Edited by Bill McKibben (Library of America) $40.00  I cannot tell you how solid this sturdy hardback is, with ribbon marker and solid pages full of the best nature writing of our recent centuries.  Essential writings from Walt Whitman to John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted to Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot; Aldo Leopold, John McPhee and Paul Hawkens and Buckminister Fuller.  There are those who we ought to have on our shelves: E.B. White, John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and a few surprises (P.T. Barnum, Woody Guthrie, Lyndon Johnson, Philip K. Dick) and some contemporary classics such as Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver and Barbara Kingsolver. Happily, a few important theologians are included such as Cal DeWitt, a fine evangelical voice. The introduction to each writer’s excerpt is exceptionally useful and are themselves an education in literature, science, ecology, and beauty.  We cannot recommend this enough.


remember creation.gifRemember Creation: God’s World of Wonder and Delight Scott
Hoezee (Eerdmans) $15.00  This is basically a set of sermons, but, oh,
what delightful and well-crafted sermons they are! Without being overly
political, Rev. Hoezee reminds us that the ecological crisis is at first
theological: God loves the creation He made and things like species
extinction take away some of the glory and delight that God desires.  A
moving, basic, book of solid Biblical reflections on why we should enjoy
and care about the integrity of creation.

earthwise .gifEarthWise: A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care  Cal DeWitt (Faith Alive) $14.99  This is a fabulous, insightful, very useful Bible study guide with short chapters, incisive, rich ideas, and good study questions.  The best little paperback study of it’s kind, written by a legendary evangelical, scientists and outdoorsman.  Recently updated. Great for studies on the trail or camp.

greenlg.jpgGreen Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet  Jonathan Merrit (FaithWords) $16.99  Merrit is a popular young voice of
engaging evangelical faith, an emerging leader in Southern Baptist circles, and
a great voice for Biblical orthodoxy applied creatively to the environmental
crisis.  There are many books
reflecting on environmental issues from a Christian perspective, and this is
one of the best, most basic, and yet insightful ones. A great read!  Highly recommended.

making peace with the land.jpgMaking Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation  Fred Bahnson & Norman Wirzba (IVP) $15.00  This is part of the remarkable series of books about reconciliation published by IVP and Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.  And it is truly one of the very best, a moving and nicely written study of God’s reconciling work bringing together all things on heaven and Earth.  From serious study of unsustainable agricultural practices to daily living in alternative communities, this splendid study helps us appreciate creation and embody stewardly lifestyles, aware of God’s great care to bring healing to the land itself.  Highly, highly recommended.  Forward by Bill McKibben.


for the beauti.gifFor the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care  Stephen Bouma-Predigar (BakerAcademic)
$25.00 This is, in our opinion, the
most important book yet done on a uniquely Christian perspective on the environmental crisis and the Biblical call to creation
care.  Very thoughtful, serious,
and essential.  A must-read for
anyone who cares for the earth and appreciates her beauty and wants a profound understanding of our times. Some of this is nearly poetic, but much is solid environmental science, informed by great Biblical insight.  Bouma-Predigar is a popular teacher at Hope College.


Tending to Eden.gifTending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People  Scott Sabin (Judson Press) $18.00  Again, there are many great books on
creation care, and we are listing just a few essential ones here.  This
is indeed one of the very best,
bringing together various streams of thought from several disciplines,
with candor and great care.  The author is an energetic leader, not the
director of Plant with a Purpose, a Christian relief and development
organization. Very highly recommended.


Green Revolution.gifGreen Revolution: Coming Together to Care for God’s Creation  Ben Lowe  (IVP) $15.00  We suggest this for several reasons, one of which is that it
shows the fabulous work being done in this field throughout the consortium of
Christian Colleges and Universities schools. 
That is, there are fantastic examples of faith-based, evangelical activism from
places like Wheaton, Messiah, Gordon, Calvin, Seattle Pacific and the
like.  Well written, informative,
inspiring.  A must!

The Gospel According to the Earth.gifThe Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book Matthew Sleeth (HarperOne) $22.99  Dr. Sleeth, of Asbury KY, is known for his great, little Serve God, Save the Planet (Zondervan; $14.99) and this is his more mature, ecumenical manifesto on why Christians simply must actively attend to and care for the beauties of the creation.  There is some very insightful Biblical study here, and tons of great information.

song of a scientist.jpgSong of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Universe Cal DeWitt (Square Inch Books) $14.99  DeWitt has been an evangelical, Reformed voice in the movement for Christian creation-care for decades and in this recent book he shares his own faith, his love of Scripture, creation, enviromental science, and offers keen insights about how it is all integrated together.  Very nice, insightful but not difficult reading at all.  Highly recommended.

wonder of the U.gifThe Wonder of the Universe: Hints
of God in Our Fine-Tuned World
Giberson (IVP) $16.00  One of the
great scientists working in the Christian tradition (and co-founder of the BioLogos)
is renowned for his Science & Religion Writing Workshops at Gordon College
(and his much-debated book, Saving Darwin.)  Here, like a detective sleuthing out the greatest mysteries
of all, he shows how great scientists are exploring the wonders of nature.  From modern cosmology to the history of
science, from the beauty of the stars to the details of physics, this is a
delightful, if serious, overview of how to see creation as the theater of

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N.T. Wright: A Bookseller’s Appreciation for a Scholar’s Service to the Church and World. (And a reader’s guide to his best books.)

If you saw the recent BookNotes post you know that the extraordinary British scholar and world-class Christian leader N.T. Wright is visiting us here at Hearts & Minds on May 12th, 2012.  It is a real privilege for us to host him, and hope our small-town shop can survive the visit of such a world-famous author and churchman.  We think it is going to be a blast and hope you can come.

tom.jpg.display.jpgBesides Dr. Wright’s duties, now, as a professor at The University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland (founded, by the way, in the early 1400s!) he writes both scholarly works and popular level books, Bible commentaries, and apologetics helping explain the Christian faith in ways that are fresh, relevant, orthodox, if a tad counter to some tellings of the gospel.  We hope you looked at the two brief video interviews we had posted as they hint at how very interesting and urgent his last two books are.  Having these two new ones to sell makes us happy as they are faithful and well-written, thoughtfully mature but accessible for most readers, critical of business as usual but not nutty or off-putting.  They will help inspire (please, Lord!) a new wave of serious followers of Jesus who want to be winsome and principled, Biblically faithful and eager to make things happen. As booksellers committed to selling books of this very sort, for this very purpose, we are delighted, and look forward to hearing how these books make a difference, or at least prod you to think and act with greater intention for God’s glory and our world’s good.

(You know, Beth and I and our caring staff are delighted when anybody reads almost anything.  Reading is a joy and formative, and even the most basic, routine kinds of books can be rewarding to recommend. (Here’s a short article I had published in The High Calling blog a few days ago.)  We’re not snooty about this, and yet, when folks stretch a bit and read truly world-changing stuff—helping them think in creative ways, grow and emerge as re-formed agents for making a difference in the world—well, that makes our day.  Selling these kinds of books does that for us.)

We have found Wright’s work over the last two decades or so to be amazingly important, confirming visions and values that we have come to believe from our own varied influences since back in the 1970s.  One one hand, this isn’t all that different: many of us were taught to love God and love others, to read the Bible and live right, to care about Jesus and to work for social improvement.  Okay, that simple formulation works for a bit, although most of us need deeper shaping (Wright wrote a book on character formation on this very matter) and we need some social criticism, some framework for thinking about the nature of the problems of the world and the contours of Biblically-directed cultural renewal, so serious attention of the sort Wright brings is so helpful.   Some, of what inspired us to start the bookstore with the particular vision we had, is reaffirmed in this body of work of Mr. Wright.  I can count on one hand, maybe, prolific authors who are so very close to what we had hoped for in the beginning when we started this experiment in bookseller.

Yes, before Wright, we had some heady days.  I sometime tells of decisive moments (learning that a man from my church marched with Martin Luther King, joining a small group to resist the ongoing militarism of Southeast Asia, hearing the serious Christian call to cultural engagement from Os Guinness, and reading his first book.  There was a Dutch Reformed philosopher (Peter J. Steen) who taught about Dooyeweerd and Kuyper and the influence of the evangelists to European hippies and late-60s cultural critics Francis & Edith Schaeffer. We were mentored from a far by radical social action leaders like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, John Perkins, and others and studied the  mature, balanced historic evangelical writers like John Stott and J. I. Packer.  On my favorite books is by Richard Foster, called Streams of Living Water (HarperOne; $15.00) which describes the strengths of various important streams within the Christian tradition and how each brings something important to us.  That’s one of the reasons our bookstore has been ecumenical from the beginning.  We want to learn from the liturgical tradition of the Anglicans and the charismatic tradition of the Pentecostals and so forth. 

Through all of this, and our inclination to be at home in fairly ordinary mainline denominational churches we have been cobbled together a vision of faith that is insistent on serious, mostly Reformed theology, a strong emphasis on the Kingdom of God defined as creation redeemed, and a desire to see a robust relationship between liturgy and life, between Sunday and Monday, between faith and cultural renewal.  From Marva Dawn to Eugene Peterson, from contemporary writers on the missional church to those who see inner spiritual formation as a foundation for a life of service, we have been shaped by many good writers, old and new, on mainline denominational presses and on evangelical ones. Wright is among them, and his extraordinary insights about the Bible seem to work in a way that ties our various influences all together.  Wright has meant a lot to us as booksellers and as readers ourselves.  He is important to our journey, and hope you know at least some of his many books.

Lots of this particular vision comes to us from the (now fairly common) insight that Christ stands as the first century Jewish Messiah, the One who continues on the unfolding story of God’s mighty deeds and gracious covenants with Israel, finally getting them out of exile (fulfilling the long-ago promise of rebuilding the destroyed temple by being that temple) and, in keeping with the big, cosmic hopes of Isaiah, renewing not just Jerusalem, but the whole, entire Earth!  His atoning death and resurrection is how the new creation is created, and those who are found to grafted in to this grand rescue plant or recreation are His agents of hope and healing in the world.  The story of creation and covenant, of Israel and Church, the promise and deliverance, from creation to new creation, this is the story that shapes not only theGodsStoryOurStories-SeriesArtwork.jpg narrative of the Bible but of our own lives, as well.  We become part of this story, and Christ becomes our very life.  In union with Him, tied, then, to each other, we become what we sometimes call “Kingdom people.”   Our community of reconciled folk are the first fruits of the eschatological hope; that is the future blessed hope.  Christ inaugurates this rescue plan that is global in scope and could be somewhat understood, at least, in what Martin Luther King called “the beloved community.”  Wright says all this so much better than I, but much of it we learned from Al Wolters’ Creation Regained or Howard Snyder’s Community of the King or Richard Mouw or Jacques Ellul or Herman Ridderbos or Samuel Escobar or even John Bright, whose book on the Kingdom of God my pastor gave me back in the early 70s, thinking I’d like it.  

Such a beloved community is a gift, of course, and we do not “build” the Kingdom or “redeem” anything ourselves, although I suppose our witness includes building signposts pointing the way.  All areas of life can be construed — indeed, must be!
–from a Biblically-rooted vantage point and the Kingdom way of life is one which has vast implications as we break with the principles and practices of the North American Way of Life.   Our bookstore and my speaking schedule have said these things, one way or another, over and over, sometimes to eyes raised in suspicion, sometimes with great glee.  People are hungering for a way to connect the Bible and life, in a way that is neither liberal or literal.  Wright brings a better way.

Wright helps us see that we can’t read the Bible as a simple rulebook or manual for Christian living: it is more like a map, or a compass.  (But it is at least that; it is God’s explosive Word, not just a interesting story of only metaphor and image.)  We make sense of this map as we start going in the direction it points, we “get it”  more and more—huge hat tip to James K.A. Smith, here—when we have thick and transformative liturgies and rituals that help us desire the Kingdom, embodying it naturally in our daily discipleship, often counter-culturally, against the world.  Such enactment of the Bible story shapes our desires, and gives us what Brueggemann calls “the prophetic imagination.”

I don’t know if Wright says all this in any one place, but it is my summary of his importance: rightly reading the Word enables us to rightly live the Word in the world. Wright talks about the Bible being the script of a play that is yet to be finished, inviting us to indwell that plotline and improvise as we finish the story until the last grand act, of which we are sure.

And, happily, we know the One who built the stage, the One who is the playwright, and as an improvising troupe, are infused with the Spirit of the Star of the show.  In Christ, we become the actors in the unfinished drama, getting in on the action, being Biblically-inspired creators of the next act in this Divine Drama of cosmic redemption.  He has said this often, and explains it well, how we must steep ourselves in the character and plot of the story, and dare not improvise in a way that isn’t in keeping with the first portions of the story as revealed in Sacred Scripture.  Perhaps the first place he wrote this down was in The New Testament and the People of God,

…part of the initial task of the actors chosen to improvise the
new final act will be to immerse themselves with full sympathy in the
first four acts, but not so as merely to parrot what has already been
said. They cannot go and look up the right answers. Nor can they simply
imitate the kinds of things that their particular character did in the
early acts. A good fifth act will show a proper final development, not
merely a repetition, of what went before”
(p. 141).

We do this, “until He comes” and brings the cosmic redemption I mentioned.  Cosmic redemption?  Yes, of course!  That just means God is saving the entire cosmos (you know, the “world” He so loves, according to John 3:16.)  The whole creation is groaning, says Romans 8, awaiting for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve to be so redeemed that it, too, finds release.  This is why here at the bookstore we have always had a strong environmental science section (although we are happy to now call it “creation care.”)  It is why we pay attention to the likes of Wendell Berry, why we have books about animals, about trees.  We are a Christian bookstore with sections on the arts, engineering, sexuality, science, economics, and politics.  As Miroslov Volf’s great recent book says, we must have “a public faith.”  And we find God everywhere, in work and play, and in the creation itself.  As Barbara Brown Taylor nicely puts in in her marvelous book—there is “an altar in the world.”

Interestingly, some of the hot button issues these days — about fracking for natural gas, global warming, oil spills, pesticides in our food and whatnot — are common concerns among younger adults, especially, and Wright starts with some of that in his wonderful book designed to be an invitation to faith, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperOne; $24.99.)  Not unlike Lewis’ strategy in Mere Christianity (Lewis has left a mark on Wright), he starts with these universal longings, signals, so to speak, of transcendence.  For Lewis is was a homesickness.  For Wright, these deep down longings are colored by our contemporary anxiety about the nature of our times, after 9-11, amidst family breakdown, sexual confusion, terrorism, economic collapse, and, yes, global warming.  He imagines the whole world put “to rights” (as the British say it) and invites seekers to bring their ecological fears to God, realizing that the Bible story which promises restoration of the renewed creation is, in fact, the basis for  (even) environmental hope.  That story of simple Christianity, properly understood by tracing the trajectory of the promises to Abraham, “makes sense” of our lives, our times, our destiny. 

His Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and The Mission of theSurprised by Hope-b.jpg Church (HarperOne; $24.99) gets at this same thing, too, that Christ’s redemptive work isn’t primarily to get our souls to go to heaven, but to bring together heaven and earth (as the Christmas carol puts it.)  Joy to the World, indeed!  Yes, reading the Bible as Wright teaches us to keeps us Christ-focused, glorying in the cross and the mercy it shows, but doesn’t fixate only on that: it moves onward as the Bible does, pushing us into mission, service, restoration, renewal, reformation.  Getting the end of the story right can really help us get our vision of discipleship and life’s very meaning right.  This book is very, very important, and at the heart of the whole project of N.T. W.  

Q Founder Gabe Lyons, you may recall, has a recent book about the younger generation of post-evangelicals who want to make a difference in the world, grounded as they are in this multi-chapter, one Biblical story, of God in Christ redeeming creation.  He says those who capture that vision are “restorers.” The book is called The Next Christians and it just came out in a new paperback edition (Multnomah; $14.99.) It strikes me as rather Wrightian.  This new generation gets it, leaving culture wars behind, wanting to be creators and contributors, not just critics.  They want to be people of hope.

What a surprise it can be —hope! 

So N.T. Wright, Bible scholar and pastor, helps us get at all that, our public duties and our daily devotion, the way Biblical faith sets us into the world, for the sake of the world, calling us to a Christ-centered life, full for hope for this being-redeemed creation.  (Ahh, I think of Schaeffer’s famous line in the 70s about “substantial healing” (from True Spirituality, still in print today!) which was an audacious sort of hope that we can be used by God to bring some real change to this hurting world.  This isn’t what the social gospel theologians said in the early 1900s, and it isn’t the pushy right-wing triumphalism of the dominionists, as some call them.  It is just a huge and detailed explication, full of balance and nuance, it seems to me, of God’s promises of renewal  and of the command by Jesus to earnestly pray for “Thy Kingdom come, on Earth…”

Dr. Wright helps remind us that this earthy and multi-faceted way of describing the faith (which I am only paraphrasing and summarizing) is, indeed, the best, most Biblically-faithful, interpretation of Christian belief and living.  It is a version of faith and discipleship that is deeply traditional and yet revolutionary; an approach that is timeless and so very timely; a way to lean into the faith that is orthodox and catholic and yet not stuffy or denominational.  It rejects the way the liberal faith traditions tend to erode orthodox thinking (you may know Ross Douthart’s new book called Bad Religion) and the way conservative faith traditions accommodate themselves to the social status quo sometimes because they think we are all going to be raptured away soon anyway.  Neither the progressives nor the traditionalists, in his view, have the wherewithal to turn around the crisis of contemporary faith.  A third, fresh way is needed.  Or at least I think so.

Belief_SystemLarge.GIFN.T. W. is sound theologically, and it amazes me the snarky comments (from critics on the left and the right) we sometimes get when we display his books at events and conference.  He is sometimes criticized by liberals for being too evangelical (and traditional on a number of issues, including sexual ethics) but is severely criticized by some who claim to be the most Biblical for his willingness to create some new ways of saying things; he offers some rather innovative theological positions, especially around how Jesus brings righteousness to us, and how that is parsed in his understanding of justification. This has caused some painful controversy, especially on this side of the pond. 

Some of his best admirers even, have wondered if he has overstated things just a bit.  See, for instance, James K.A. Smith’s brief musings (Kings, Creeds, and Canons) about a Wrighthow god became king.jpg lecture (presented at Calvin College a few months back, you can watch it here) that was based on Wright’s new book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (HarperOne; $25.99.) In a rare move, Tom delightfully replied at the blo
g comment thread, trying to explain why Jamie’s concern wasn’t appropriate.  After a few more comments, Tom chimed in again, trying to put his own perspective “to rights.”  It is a good exchange, among friends, and his kind reply is very much worth reading, off the cuff as it may be.   Anyway, Wright is mixing it up in various quarters, bringing all kinds of folks into conversation.  It may be an overstatement that the Kingdom has been “forgotten” (or maybe it is a subtitle marketing ploy set by the publisher) but his documentation of how those in the mainline churches and the evangelical churches have too often failed at reading the gospels aright is pretty darn compelling, and pretty darn important.  I think he’s right on!

I have observed that many love his well-written and clear-headed books in part because of this exciting “third way” forged above and beyond the tired dichotomy between liberals and conservatives, contemplatives and reformers, between modernists and postmodernists, between ecumenicals and evangelicals.  Also, there is this energetic passion, rooted in good scholarship, that appeals to very many who want something other than the chattty pablum so common in contemporary religious publishing.  If there a writer and leader out there who is pointing us in the right direction, who seems to be saying ever so eloquently what we’ve been trying to say for decades, it is this former Bishop of Durham.   We hope our friends and fans follow his work, collect his books, spread the word about his perspective, and thoughtfully engage his call to this sort of faithful Christian living in these days.  If you find you disagree with some parts of some books, welcome to the club.  Let’s not get in a snit about this, but take what is most helpful, and refine whatever needs refining.  He is too important and too right about too much to dismiss or ignore. I know that I, for one, have much to learn, and want to receive his important contribution. 

At the risk of redundancy, allow me to say it another way.  As we’ve explained, Wright is a world class academic with a heart for the church, grounded in British evangelicalism, who is in conversation with the world-wide church, Anglican and otherwise. He was a delegate to the World Council of Churches, once, which he wrote about in an early book that was recently re-issued, Small Faith, Great God (IVP; $18.00.) He is a Bible scholar who sees the central, unifying role of Christ in the whole of Scriptures, and sees the announcement and establishment of the reign of God as the heart of His gospel.  He stands on the rock of Christ, as revealed in the Bible, and does so in innovative and exciting ways, inviting us all to consider how our various church and theological traditions have obscured the real role of Jesus, and the nature of the gospels, and the implications of the inauguration of the Kingdom.  

wright at his desk with books.jpgThere is no doubt that he is, indeed, an important scholar who has done the heavy lifting in studying historical documents most of us have never even heard of!  He writes about the historical details of second Temple Judaism, for instance, or the nuances of the relationship of law and gospel at the end of Romans, or the ways in which Greek words about body and soul are mistranslated often as people read Corinthians, or ways words like “righteousness” from 8th century Isaiah or 19th century theologians may be quite different.  His prayerful study is daily done in the Hebrew and Greek.  He reads classic stuff–from Josephus to Ben F. Meyer, say—and is in routine conversation with other scholars, like, just for instance, Kenneth Bailey and Richard Hays.  He debates those who mock or deconstruct the resurrection, takes on the likes of John Piper in complex discussions about the details of salvation and justification, and yet rarely gets stuck in in-house, obscure arcania with those who want to argue all day without truly serving the church or the world.  He wants us to serve the church and the world.  You can see why we appreciate him so, and why his work gives us encouragement to keep on trying to sell books as we do.  With authors like this, doing books like this, we have to keep going! God’s Kingdom may be advanced because of what God does though folks reading seriously these books.  We  believe that.  Reading matters.  I think Tom might like our phrase, “read for the Kingdom!”

Well, that’s my windy overview.  One more little part we like to share.

We carried the very first book he published in the states, years ago, before he was famous. Soon enough, we realized one of my good friends, an author whose books have been influential in my life, had become friends with  N.T. (his friends call him Tom) when they both were at McGill University in Canada in the 1980s.  You may know that person is Brian Walsh.

As Brian tells the story in the preface to his own Colossians Remixed: Subverting thecolossians remixed.jpg Empire (IVP; $23.00) he asked Tom tough questions week by week about the application of Biblical exegesis as Wright was writing the popular Colossians and Philemon commentary for the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries of the Bible. Tom rather reasonably insisted that the political and cultural questions about application didn’t quite belong in a standard commentary like the Tyndale one he was writing and challenged Walsh to write his own radical commentary on Colossians.  Which he did, eventually with the able collaboration of his wife, Sylvia. (That Wright and I both have a blurb on the back is one of the great joys of my literary life, such as it is!)

Brian’s influence on Tom in those years at McGill was considerable, and when Wright in the early 90s did his magisterial first volume of the projected five volume “Christian Origins and the Question of God” series, The New Testament and the People of God, he drew on Walsh’s worldview questions, his formulation about the unfolding five act gospel story, and dedicated the book to him.  Quite an honor for Brian, and a notable hint at their relationship.  Any of us who followed Brian’s work in those years (Transforming VisionSubversive Christianity, and eventually Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be) saw connections.

Wright became one of the most recognizable serious scholars of religion on the planet, an occasional thorn in the side of both liberals and conservatives, a scholar who worked in the academic guilds and served the church.  When he became Bishop in the Church of England in the early 2000’s his fame was secure, and his name a household one among thoughtful Biblical scholars and those who watch the life of the global church.  Agree with him or not on all details, his publishing career is imminent, his work greatly honored.  He is given accolades even by those with serious disagreements. 

I might as well tell another Walsh story, a bit I’ve written about before. The last time I was withWright + Byron at Redeemer.jpg N.T. Wright (selling books for a lecture he gave on character formation, based on the splendid After You Believe, with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) he had just co
me back from a several day forum on his work held at Wheaton College.  We had a little chat about what he had just experienced with our mutual friends Sylvia Keesmaat.  Sykvia got her PhD under Wright, and is footnoted in a few of his books, and participated in his installation when he became Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, along with her husband, Brian Walsh. 

They were on a panel offering (friendly) critique of Wright at this several day event.  Their main contribution was two fold: firstly, they asked, first in a playful way, and then in an almost brusk manner, if any of this detailed Biblical study really mattered to anyone outside a small circle of interested friends?  (They opened their talk with a friend playing the old Phil Ochs song about this exact matter — does those whose lives are deeply hurting ever get noticed? Do we care about others, or just our own agendas and interests?  Does anybody else care about this conversation?)  They listed gross examples of poverty and injustice, quoted Tom’s own description of the Biblical demand for cancellation of third world debt, and then wondered how our contemporary economic system, and our nearly numb response to its dysfunctions and idolatries, does or doesn’t get adequate attention from Wright’s theological reflection.  It is what Brian calls “the ‘so-what?’ question.”

Walsh Keesmaat-thm.jpgThey complimented Wright for his call to societal renewal and for his work doing Kingdom theology that generated a commitment to mercy and justice. They cited some pretty dramatic lines from Wright (like a passionate speech he gave in response to the Queen’s speech about economics in the House of Lords) and wondered if he was taking advantage of the “time” that is so ripe as the Western story collapses.  Is there enough prophetic critique and prophetic hope in Wright’s work?  Is he pressing that enough?  Is there energy for action at the heart of his otherwise excellent work?  It was a tough question, perhaps a bit awkward to ask publicly, but they are good friends.  It wasn’t a prophetic stunt, it was a pastoral question: how does your work, Tom, doing good exegesis and detailed historical research and clever re-articulation of the nature of the gospel, make a difference, really? 

Secondly, Walsh & Keesmaat offer some striking observations about Wright’s reading of the prophetic role of Jesus, in his important Jesus and the Victory of God, particularly.  Then they study some of thejesus paul and the peeps of god.jpg parables.  They go back and forth exploring Sylvia’s breathtakingly insightful reading of one of the most famous economic parables. These readings reminds us of the economic injustice in Jesus’ day, and points to Jesus’ demand for covenantal  justice.   

You can find that remarkable exchange in Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright edited by Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays (IVP; $24.00.) and, importantly, includes N.T. Wright’s response. Their presentation about bearing fruit for justice, feisty as it was, is
literally worth the price of the book, and most of the others are
stellar as well. 

You can watch the whole exciting presentation here. Sylvia knows the Scriptures very well, as does Brian, and they make a persuasive case that Tom’s own views about global injustice would be stronger if he, in fact, heard the economic teaching of the Bible, which he oddly misses (or so they say.) Click another place at this website to find Tom’s own reply.  

This is the sort of generative, kind, open-minded and very candid exchange that we think is great. Most of the chapters in this great book are very useful, even if it may take you a while to work through some of it.  Each of the panelists are specialists in their own right, and their evaluations of Wright’s words are illuminating.
Three cheers for Wright’s willingness to allow himself to be the subject of criticism and conversation.

borg-wright-meaning-jesus-5.jpgWright has more famously co-written a book with Marcus Borg, a back-and-forth argument about the historicity of Jesus, Christ’s own sense of calling, the reliability of the gospel  accounts, and the character of the resurrection.  Borg, as you may know, disagrees with the typical views of these matters, so it is a serious debate. It is in paperback and is called The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (HarperOne; $15.99.) Wright also co-wrote and edited a book with Dom Crossan, called The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright in Dialogue (Fortress; $19.00) which includes some chapters by other participants, too.  Crossan is another progressive scholar who teaches that the physical resurrection didn’t happen and that the gospel accounts are not reliable testimonies of what actually happened, but more like parables.  Crossan has a view somewhat like Borg’s, and then some…  

If you haven’t heard about this large debate about the historical Jesus, the Meaning of Jesus one by Borg & Wright is excellent to start with.  For a wider view, consider The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby (IVP Academic; $25.00.) It isn’t every day you see a book with authors as diverse as Crossan, James Dunn, Darrell Bock and more.  Wright isn’t in this one, but it is a good way to see the full lay of the land. 

Those of us with historically orthodox, traditional views of the reliability of the classic accounts are glad that a spokesperson as able as Wright is friends with folks like Borg & Crossan, even though they have considerable disagreements.  

justification.jpgAmong more conservative writers who have crossed swords with Wright, a book-length evaluation of his views of Paul and justification was written by the passionate Baptist pastor, John Piper called The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Crossway; $17.99) and it is well worth reading (we commended it when it first came out and continue to stock it.)  His critique illustrates the concerns that many in the PCA denomination, particularly, have found troubling (they passed a study report against Wright at their General Assembly a few years ago.) Wright’s response to Piper’s book is called Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, published by IVP ($25.00.)  The first half is mostly a reply to Piper’s critique, and the second half is Wright’s exegesis and explanation of every key verse in the New Testament that deals with the nature of justification.  It is very, very informative, even if you don’t buy all of his unique take on things.

By the way, if you can’t imagine what the fuss is about, read them and think it though.

Here is an excellent, brief interview by Trevin Wax (of the Gospel Coalition) who asks very basic questions of Wright and gives him the chance to summarize his take on the debate with Piper.

Perhaps you could consider this “five views” anthology, which includes some very helpful listening to each other, as each author replies to the others, and some fairly strong rebukes:  Justification: Five Views edited by James Beilby (IVP Academic; $25.00.) 

Another book I am fond of is a generous synthesis of many different accounts of how the atonement works, created nicely by Scot McKnight.  It is called A Community of Atonement (Abingdon; $18.00) and is very interesting.  There are a lot of books like this, and they bear mentioning now, as this is in some ways parallel to Tom’s work; it comes with the territory of Wright being linked to what some call “the new Perspective on Paul.”   We have quite a few resources on this topic, and hope you take time at some point in your life to dig deeper into this central doctrine of the gospel.

Some “new perspective” thinkers are a bit more radical, while Wright is perhaps a bit more traditional, forging a middle way between traditional (evangelical, Lutheran or Reformed views) and “new perspective”  or “nonviolent atonement” theories.  You can see one powerful and important example of his thinking about the cross in a left-of-center collection, a brilliant and thick anthology, again, that we carry and recommend.  See Wright’s chapter called “The Reasons for Christ’s Crucifixion” in Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin (Eerdmans; $32.00.)

wright_obama3.pngWell, I’ve said that Wright captures, and deepens for us, a lot of what we’ve long tried to articulate, and he does it with graciousness and eloquence, even has he defends and clarifies his views in dialogue with others across the spectrum of thinking found through the range of the church.  I, frankly, am a bit less interested in the details of the new perspective debate, and celebrate his singular work on the gospels, and this Kingdom vision he brings to our reading of the whole Biblical canon.  It is one reason I am so excited about the two latest books, on Jesus and on the Kingdom.  I’m glad that he does this by seeing both the big picture of the arc of Scripture and a close, informed reading of specific texts.  And, yes, he reminds us (to put it terribly simply, to “read Paul in light of Jesus, not read Jesus in light of Paul.”  Or something like that.)  

And I like a lot how he always reminds us to grapple with the deepest “below the surface” issues, which often include our creepy inclination to Gnosticism and, most often, some uncritical accommodation with the beliefs of post-Enlightenment rationalism.  He explains what he means by that sometimes, and we simply have to realize that many evangelicals and most liberals are both significantly living in the shadow of these pagan ideologies of faith in science, progress, autonomous reason, personalized views of religious truth, leading to crass secularization and the like.

Well, he’s a good writer, and I think a dear chap.  I enjoy listening to him immensely and have appreciated being around him a time or two.  I hope you’ve checked out a few of his many free lectures on line or watched some of the nice v
ideo clips of him. Skip the cranky one’s you’ll find, and give him a fair listen.

Here is a nice glimpse of  Wright’s interest in reaching a wide audience, and a bit about his own thinking as an author.  In is marvelous book Simply Jesus he pens a lovely foreword, a foreword that got me choked up a bit, even, as he talked about losing his father:

This is the first book I have written since the death of my beloved father, at the age of ninety-one. Having read little or no theology or biblical scholarship until his mid-sixties, when I started writing, he then read everything I wrote within days of its publication and frequently telephoned me to tell me what he thought about it.  I cherish some of his comments…When my big book on the resurrection came out, he read it, all 700 pages, in three days, commenting that he really started to enjoy it after about page 600.  Presumably, with the end in sight, he was starting to experience hope as well as reading about it. Particularly with my popular writings, I now realize that he was always part of the “target audience” of which I was subconsciously aware.  Writing a book like this feels different now that he’s not there to read it.  In any case, though I hope he learned a few things from me, this book—particularly its concluding chapter—hints at some of the many things I learned from him. As I grieve his passing, I dedicate this book to his memory with gratitude, love, and yes, hope.



The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology  (Fortress) $29.00  This is really, really important, an early scholarly work (written in the early 90s) that should be considered by anyone interested in serious Pauline studies.   A foundational book for how Wright will later explore Paul’s work in relationship to the saving work and Kingdom-bringing of Jesus.  Wright PhD work thesis, by the way, focused largely on the Davidic vision of Messiah, appropriated by Jesus, and how that effected Paul.  So he started out with a big picture view, but focusing on Pauline studies.

The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress) $38.00  Hefty, audacious, serious, laying out his methodology for studying the worldview of various factions within first century Judaism to understand the nature of God’s redemptive work in Christ.  Outstanding.

Jesus and the Victory of God  (Fortress) $41.00  This large book weighs nearly 21/4 pounds, and has more meat per page than nearly any book I’ve ever read.  It is magisterial, provocative, and has generated several other books written in its honor and to refute some of its central claims.  Truly a remarkable, historic contribution.

The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress) $45.00  Few would not agree that this is the most thorough book ever done on the resurrection, nearly 800 pages of amazing history, theology, Biblical interpretation.  A tour de force.

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP) $25.00  As I described this above, it is a nearly tedious reply to the attack by John Piper, and then a close reading of every passage in the New Testament that speaks of justification.  Actually, it isn’t that academic, just a rather detailed study that many of us haven’t carefully considered.  There is more here than most of us realize, so this is intense.


The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP) $18.00  This may be the best introduction to his fairly serious work; the three major chapters are essentially summaries of each of the three big ones.  These were talks given at an IVCF graduate student and faculty ministry conference, and is excellent.  Very highly recommended., and perfect for those who want the basic arguments of his major works, without wading through the tomes.  Truth be told: my kind of book!

Paul: In Fresh Perspective  (Fortress Press) $20.00 Everybody was talking about “the new Perspective on Paul” and whether this is it or not, I cannot say, but it is a revolutionary look at the genius of this first century church leader, theologian, letter writer and chief evangelist for the Kingdom of God.  Christ and Him crucified is what Paul wanted to be known for, but is also known for his radical work in guiding the formation of local Christian communities all over the Mediterranean.  See my description below of Wright’s earlier smaller book on Paul to see part of his Pauline project.  Very important.  (For what it is worth, a bit of this “new perspective” controversy may have to do with how much of evangelical faith about salvation came from the teaching of Luther about Paul’s teaching about grace in light of the Jews, but many believe that Luther simply got that wrong.  First century Jewish leaders did not teach salvation by works; that was more Luther’s battle with medieval Catholicism.  Paul’s heartfelt passion was to unite Gentiles into the church which was, in those days, mostly Jewish.  The middle of Romans—salvation through faith alone–leads to the ends of Romans, the great news that in Christ we are reconciled to each other, beyond ethnic lines.  This is high theology explored carefully, leading to revolutionary social realities.

Evil and the Justice of God (IVP) $18.00 This book is, if I may say such a thing, really fantastic and truly inspiring.  No serious theologian can write in these post-holocaust days of genocide and global warming and ethnic warfare without addressing the horror of the fall.  There is an edition that comes with a DVD ($28.00) and the DVD is amazingly good.  

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and The Mission of the Church (HarperOne) $24.99 This really is one of my favorites, and a key book in his work.  It is not too academic, but it is thorough, and covers all kinds of issues around what we mean by the “resurrection of the body.” If we reject as unbiblical a hard dualism between body and soul (that is, we believe in the resurrection of our bodies along with the whole new Earth which is the creation restored, then, well, what does happen to us when we die?  If our final destination is to reign with Christ over the restored creation—the glorious city–then why do we speak of “going to heaven.”  And how does a proper view of the life after death effect the mission of the church now, as we witness to the future hope that is beginning now, in Christ. What a serious, good, provocative and rewarding read!

DVD  Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and The Mission of the Church (Zondervan)  I used this in an adult ed class at our church and folks really like it.  It is so very interesting, well produced, nicely done.  I couldn’t hardly recommend a resource like this more enthusiastically.  You should buy the participants guide, too ($9.99.)  Six sessions.

DVD Evil (IVP) $20.00  This is a 50-minute film based on the book mentioned above, drawing on Desmond Tutu and others as they grapple with evil such as the AIDS pandemic to tsunamis to global wars.   The first scene starts off with Bishop Wright speaking while walking along a stormy beach, with the Biblical metaphor of chaos powerfully portrayed.  Very well done, provocative and interesting, and, finally, hopeful. It could easily be broken up into several sessions.  A small discussion guide comes with it.

DVD Resurrection (IVP) $20.00  Again, I am a real van of these professionally made, truly interesting presenta
tions; like the one described above it is a 50-minute film, shot on location in Rome, Greece, and the British Isles.  They explain why this historic Christian creedal statement is so very important, and what the implications are of a robust view of the full resurrection of Christ.  Not just for Easter, I think this is urgent, essential, and not to be missed.  What do you use to learn about, and to teach others about the resurrection?  With impeccable, clear teaching, he explores themes studied in The Resurrection of the Son of God.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (HarperOne) $15.99  This small paperback is excellent, but a bit stretching, perhaps, for those whose reading about Christian character is simple.  This looks at how virtue was seen in the Greco-Roman world, how Christian transformation of character is like, and considerably unlike, other visions of ethics known before.  The title says it all, and it is a very important little book.

Scripture and the Authority of God (HarperOne) $25.99  So how do we view the Bible?  What is the role of the Bible?  In what way does it, as the revelation of God, compel us?  Is there a way to get beyond the standard approaches that either are too wooden or too loose?  Very interesting, and if it isn’t the final word on this complicated matter, it is a fine contribution to our understanding of God’s Word and its role in our lives.  This is, by the way, a handsome hardback, expanded from an earlier paperback called The Final Word.


simply-christian-cover1.jpegSimply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperOne) $24.99  I’ve discussed this at great length before and think the world of it.  The first part is a rumination on the deepest concerns and anxieties folks have nowadays (about war, poverty, sexuality and such.)  The middle part is essentially an overview of the grand Biblical narrative.  The final part wonders out loud: what if this story answers those questions?  Could this Biblical vision provide the best way to understand and work on these large areas of brokenness and dysfunction.  The books ends with a call to faith, and some practical stuff about church, eucharist, worship and fellowship.  Sort of a Mere Christianity for today.

Simply-Jesus.jpgSimply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He  Did and Why He Matters (HarperOne) $24.99  I hope you saw the video clip we offered in the previous post, but you will see there that Wright is passionate about Christ, seriously eager to have folks examine his teachings and see how they can transform us, our churches, and our world.  What a great, great introduction to the nature of Jesus and who is claimed to be and what he taught us to do. This is a fabulously interesting, fresh and convincing view of Christ and faith and how it matters.  I know you want to be touched by His grace and learn to more faithfuly follow Him.  This will help.

How-God-Became-King.jpgHow God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels  (HarperOne) $25.99 There are a dozen reasons why we have missed the central heart of the gospel narratives, and how this announcement and teaching about the Kingdom coming is central to the entire Biblical story.  But there it is, heart and soul, front and center.  Wright takes our blinders off, invites us to consider why we’ve fudged on this stuff, and how to regain and truly Biblical picture of the nature of God and the saving work of Christ.  Christ does, in fact, rule the world, as the carol says.  Let Heaven and Nature Sing!  A must-read.


238261.gifFor Everyone series  Westminster/John Knox) 18 volumes;  $16.00 each.

These are perhaps like the old Barclay series, readable, jam-packed for of good information, interesting background insight, and a helpful illustration, helpful to snitch if one is a teacher or preacher.  A few of his readings are truly remarkable, powerfully helpful. Others are standard fare, nicely done.  What a fine and useful set, full of Wright-isms and that broad picture of seeing the New Testament developing among the first century followers of the Jewish Messiah, King Jesus.  Impressive, basic, helpful.   Buy the whole set of all 18 and we’ll work up a great deal.

The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation  (HarperOne) $25.99  As theKingdom-New-Testament-EDITED-CROPPED.jpg best commentators usually do, Wright translates the text from the Greek line by line as he walks us through each book of his “For Everyone” commentaries.  He isn’t fully convinced the NRSV or the NIV get the words quite right, so with his expert knowledge and Kingdom vision, he re-translated the whole NT for each commentary.  Voila, he ended up with a whole New Testament.  Very neat.


Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Eerdmans) $14.00  I can’t tell you how much I love this book, how rich and insightful it is as it places Jesus squarely at the heart of most books of the New Testament.  That is, each chapter explores how Jesus is presented by various writers of the NT.  Makes a great small group study, good for an adult book club, or could be used to inspire a sermon series of class.  

For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church  (Eerdmans) $13.00  I love this for its wonderful first half of short essays or sermons on worship. I love it for its wonderful second half of short essays or sermons on work.  That it bring together Sunday liturgy and our week-day service in the world, as two sorts of responding to God in worship is just brilliant.  We ought to sell these by the boat-load, and not sure why.  Maybe he was ahead of his time.  This is a book for today!

What Saint Paul Really Taught: Was Paul of Tarsus Really the Founder of Christianity (Eerdmans) $18.00  Before anybody talked about a “new” perspective on Paul, these short studies served to help us get a good handle on what Paul was about, his church planting and Kingdom preaching and gospel service. Part of the background, I think, is that he is replying to the criticism of Paul that he somehow created a view of Christian faith that wasn’t the same as Jesus’ own view, and superimposed his own systematic theology (and bigotries) on the early church.  Wright says we can’t dismiss Paul that easily, and, properly understood, we can see the continuity between Jesus and Paul.  Fantastic!

The Lord and His Prayer (Eerdmans) $10.00  What a great littl
e book on the Lord’s prayer.  I suppose this was a sermon series.  Very nicely done.

Reflecting the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World  (Augsburg) $14.99 I suppose this is to be a Lenten study, but it certainly is perfect for Lent.  But it is great anytime!  The print is small but get a magnifying glass if you have to: this is one of the best daily devotionals we’ve ever seen. Drawing from various NT texts (and a bit from John) this is a truly tremendous book. Includes 53 entires, each with a short closing prayer, and a discussion guide in the back. Read it and then re-read it.  Written when he was Dean of Lichfield in England.

Small Faith–Great God  (IVP) $18.00  This was actually Wrights first book, printed in England in the 70s.  I loved his introduction when he admitted he has changed a bit since then (duh — of course) but that he feels these messages still hold up, and are soundly helpful today.  Very nice, about faith.  Risky, strong, stuff, very nicely done.

For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed  (Morehouse) $12.00  There aren’t enough good books on this, and it not only illustrates his strong Anglican tradition and his knowledge about history, it makes a strong case that we need liturgies and practices around All Saint’s and All Soul’s Days.  Very thoughtful — you can see here some of the pastoral concerns that he explores in greater depth in Surprised by Hope.

The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion (Westminster/John Knox) $13.00  A small, pocket sized paperback offering a rich meditation on the nature of the Eucharistic Last Supper.  Very basic, but yet moving, published by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Nice.


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Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian Walsh (Brazos Press; $18.99) A two-part reflection.

My friend Brian Walsh will be doing a presentation drawing on his recent book on the singer-songwriter, rock guitarist and road warrior Bruce Cockburn at the renowned Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing this week.  Later, Mr. Cockburn will be performing, preceded by an interview with Walsh.  In honor of this remarkable bit of interaction and collaboration, and with a big hat tip to all involved at Calvin College, I offer this long rumination on the music of Bruce Cockburn, the writing of Brian Walsh, and this new book that explores how Cockburn’s work can inspire a more fruitful, faithful Christian imagination.  It’s a great book and means a lot to me, as you will see. 

kicking at the darknes.jpgWhen Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian J. Walsh (Brazos; $18.99) hit the bookstore shelves in late fall I did a brief review, suggesting it was a book I adored, had read (in an early manuscript version) and that I would write about more thoroughly.  

When we were doing our Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2011 announcements, we awarded it as one of the year’s best.

In fact, I said it was one of the year’s books that made me the happiest.  I had hoped others might find that intriguing, and that BookNotes readers would order it.  Some did, but others, I’m afraid, didn’t realize just how important this remarkable book really is.  I’m not alone, though, in insisting that this is a book that is well worth your hard-earned coin.  I smile in agreement when Brian McLaren says “I savored every page of this book.”   And I agree with Marva Dawn’s enthusiastic assertion: “You need to read this book!”

Here is my heart-felt two part longer review of Kicking at the Darkness by Brian Walsh.  The first essay is a rambling bit of my own story, why I found Cockburn so important decades ago, and how Walsh has been a writer whose Biblical insights about worldview and the prophetic imagination have influenced me greatly.  Granted, my remarks are a bit impressionistic and, insofar as it is just a little bit of my little story, it may not be that interesting to you. 

Still, I hope you give it a read—you may better understand why I write about many of the themes we pursue here, the sorts of books we commend, the authors we most appreciate.  The confluence of evangelical faith, a reformational worldview, how Christian discipleship demands cultural engagement, our interest in the arts, and the really important influence of pop music form the backdrop as I tell about Bruce Cockburn.  I’ve said for decades that Cockburn is in my top two or three all-time favorite recording artists, so I hope you’ll read my odd little overview.

Part Two is a bit more focused, describing the structure and themes of the book.  In my first essay, actually, I end with three reasons why you should read Kicking at the Darkness.  If this intrigues you, or you are willing to trust me, order it from us asap.  If you want a bit more explanation of where Walsh goes with all this, read my summary in Part Two.  I am (relatively) brief, there, and it is no substitute for taking in Walsh’s insight, good writing, powerful Bible lessons, and his seriously imaginative take on Cockburn’s seriously imaginative artistic vision.  Enjoy.


Two songs taken together on the 1976 release In the Falling Dark, the title track and “Gavin’sinthefallingdark.gif Woodpile” nearly knocked me to my knees. Sure, In the Falling Dark had glorious praise songs (“Lord of the Starfields”, “Starfields”), sweet stuff about pregnancy (“Little Seahorse”) and a light little song with some prophetic edge insinuating that the cities of this world are somewhat like Babel (“Laughter”–ha, ha, ha) and the lovely view of heaven described as a “Festival of Friends.”  But the slower “Woodpile” song is a hard, acoustic story about mercury poisoning and the “curse of these modern times.”  I listened to it coupled with the vision of the whole creation groaning in “Falling Dark” which described the glory all around, and our ignorant lack of appropriate response.  He sings that we are all caught “taking a dive.”

That was a dumb expression a friend of mine used for when we did nonviolent direct action protests of prophetic civil disobedience (against nuclear weapons builders) and Cockburn’s use of it as I faced possible jail time just made me weep.  Is that phrase “taking a dive” heroic, a summons to get arrested in protest, as we used the term?  No.  It is full of remorse, joining in brokenness, the brokenness of Romans 8, where the whole fouled up world is longing for redemption, if only we humans would get right with God.  We are “caught” taking a dive, missing it all, blowing it, giving in and giving up. It is owning up to the sorrow of our situation–even the beasts cry “such a waste!”  Years later–way out on the rim of the galaxy, as Cockburn put it then in a song of lament, where “the gifts of the Lord lie torn” —we realized Bruce was, as Bono put it, a ‘postmodern psalmist.’  He brought joy and tears together, like the Psalms.  

Nobody has done this in our time like Bruce Cockburn and his music has been an influential soundtrack for Beth and I since our marriage in 1976, the year we discovered Cockburn.  Allow me to tell you a bit about it.


It was the mid-70s, and I was listening daily to Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Dylan, The Band,Running_on_Empty.jpg early Elton John, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg, Roberta Flack, and the occasional prog rock or jazz record.   And there was some of that new energy of punk.  And a bit of soul and R&B.  (Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, War.)  Since the 60s I’d been moved by good tunes; pop music moved my feet just a bit but, more, it allowed my heart to be touched.  My earlier girlfriends, my best guy friends, and my then new wife Beth all could attest that I’d talk about music til the wee hours if I could. From “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to the genius of the White album, from Harry Chapin to John Prine to Joan Baez to CSN to Gordon Lightfoot.  My faith, my politics, and my whole worldview were shaped by John Lennon, James Taylor, and the wooly stuff from the Dead to the Allman Brothers.  Bob Marley was young and interesting.  I likedJoni_hissing.jpg eccentric stuff like The Incredible String Band and It’s A Beautiful Day, the soul of Van Morrison, the lefty activism of Graham Nash. I heard Pete Seeger a time or two at anti-nuke protests and tried to listen to old Woody Guthrie.  I would eventually be an early fan of a young band from Dublin, who fused passion and politics and prayer, but that would be years later, long before the brilliance of Arcade Fire or Radiohead.

Few of the contemporary Christian music pioneers
that that I listened to in the late 70s ever fully captured my heart.  Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and early Talbot brothers stood out, beside our friend James Ward, but if secular pop groups sang mostly about lost love and romance, why did CCM singers only sing about faith and worship? Why no Christian songs about justice, about ecology, about friendship, about travel, about sex, about loneliness, about race relations?  I don’t know which was more frustrating, songs with no reference to God or songs about God with no reference to real life.

(This did begin to change, in part due to great songwriters like Mark Heard and Mike Roe and Glenmark heard victims.jpg Kaiser, for instance.  And, eventually, the spectacular work of Bill Mallonee and VOL, which is a whole other story.)  It would take years before CCM stars wrote anything about the needs of the poor, and even then there was nary a song about injustice or the causes of poverty.  Much has been written about the insular tone and limited vision of the evangelical awakening in the last quarter of the 20th century and our bookstore—carrying books on science and film and business and global injustice and such has attempted to witness against the sacred-secular dualism that was both the downfall of, and reinforced by, the evangelical CCM industry.)

This ground has been well covered (Charlie Peacock’s book At the Crossroads, now out of print, is very important and a great read) and I don’t recall it to bash the Jesus movement years or the talented recording artists that we enjoyed in those years, such as Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, or Amy Grant who, despite being an icon of the 80s and 90s CCM sub-culture was, in fact, a bit out of the box and a very fine lyricist. But it does frame some of the context for Cockburn’s early appeal for many of us.  Fast forward several decades or so and other kids stuck in the CCM world found similar weaknesses, and their memoirs are wonderful to read for those of us who follow that sub-culture.  See, for instance, Sects, Love, and Rock and Roll: My Life on Record by Joel Henge Hartse (Wipf & Stock; $23.00.  Or, get the tremendously written report by Spin writer, Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock by Andrew Beaujon (Da Capo; $16.95)

I remind you of the less than full-orbed (and often less than artistically mature) CCM music of those years–and my fierce devotion to more substantial artists like Jackson Browne—so that you might get just a hint of the absolute thrill, the deep joy, the jaw-dropping, too-good-to-believe discovery of one Bruce Cockburn, an exceptionally literate Canadian folkie (he joywillfindaway.gifknew Neil Young from up in Alberta, somebody said) turned bluesy rocker.  Even then, after only a few hippy-folk albums under his belt, he was considered one of the great guitarists around.  It was being circulated at the time that evangelical rocker Phil Keaggy was considered—by Jimi Hendrix, at least—to be the world’s best electric guitar player.  Keaggy was later quoted as saying that he couldn’t hold a candle to Cockburn.  A drop-out of Berklee School of Music where he studied jazz, Cockburn could do extraordinary finger picking, could find new chords and tunings that made the guitar gods gently weep, and could barrel house with blues like nobodies business. 

And then he started singing about Jesus.

Excuse me while I collect myself.  The lump in my throat as I write that has led to tears in my eyes, as I consider the goodness of God to touch the lives of artists who can so touch our lives.  For evangelical Christians like myself who believe there is simply nothing more important than a proper understanding of the Christ-exalting life of Kingdom discipleship, finding that Cockburn had become a Christian was only matched by the night my best friend Ken Heffner and I listened with grins and tears and high-fives and praises to God to the soul-stirring Slow Train Coming that testified to Mr. Dylan’s undeniable conversion to Yeshua.  I will never forget that night, and I will never forget the first Cockburn album I ever heard, bought from a budget bin at a Pittsburgh record shop.

Which brings me to this: if you care about thoughtful pop music that is clearly the work of an artist on a spiritual journey, a great singer-songwriter, who has earned Juno after Juno (the Canadian music industry’s equivalent to a Grammy) who is esteemed by some of the finest contemporary musicians on the planet—U2, for instance, The Band, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Barenaked Ladies, Buddy Miller, Joe Henry,  Eric Clapton–you owe it to yourself to listen to Bruce Cockburn.  His earliest stuff is impressive, mostly acoustic, although even his later louder records–the middle, political period, when he started doing artsy spoken word stuff, too—include gentle anything.gifballads.  He has worked with jazz violinists, wild trumpeters, gospel singers like The Blind Boys of Alabama, politico folk-singer Ani DiFranco, and slide guitar master Bonnie Raitt.  He has released hot live albums with raging bands and, a year or so ago, Slice of Life, which is a double live album of his solo performances. Anything, Anytime, Anywhere is a compilation of single hits he had out, from 1979-2002.  Here is a complete discography, and it is fun to see his expansive career, the interesting titles and the often obscure artwork on the jackets.  (Don’t forget to come back here, though!)

Cockburn’s producer of recent years, Colin Linden, himself stood-in with The Band, traveling with that legendary group for a while.  His slide guitar and rootsy Hammond B3 can be raucous or soulful, and has served Cockburn wonderfully.  Over the course of Cockburn’s career there have been some truly sweet songs, some avante garde extended jams, some blazing electric guitar solos (his prophetic, vulgar cry against the vulgarities of the injustices of the International Monetary Fund, “They Call It Democracy” comes to mind, especially from the live recording) and some exceptionally sweet slide guitar (“The Whole Night Sky” features some heart-wrenching playing by Bonnie Raitt as well and is one of my favorites, as he sings gorgeously about shedding tears.) 

A few albums were nearly travelogues, offering poetic impressions drawn from his journeys in Nepal, publicizing land-mines in Mozambique, playing with local musicians as he researched desertification in Mali, liberation-theology anthems written in Central America, alongside journalistic songs about dusty roads and village chickens while staying with refugees in Guatemala. “Dust and diesel, rises like incense from the road” he sings in a truly wonderful travelogue as he rumbles through rural Nicaragua. An older song artfully describes watching an old lady sleeping on a Japanese train—“head bobbing almost imperceptively”—and a concert favorite powerfully describes ridingbreakfast.gif a bike through “the Tibetan side of town.” Indeed, a 2004 albu
m captured his global citizenship and world travels with the title Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu

Yes, Bruce continued to sing about Jesus, with Biblical images and spiritual themes—often mixed with songs about erotic desire, or about political injustice.  We first started carrying the author Brennan Manning before he was very popular because Cockburn cited his “Shipwrecked at the Stable Door” chapter from a Manning book which was then entitled Lamb & Lion (but is now out as The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus) in a song Cockburn wrote with that title.  If Cockburn was reading this guy, we wanted in on it, and we soon became Brennan fans, too.  But he was never preachy like most CCM rockers and was never embedded in a fundamentalist subculture.  In fact, some of the most indicting words against the Christian right come from Cockburn, in songs like “Gospel of Bondage” from his 1988 album—a powerful favorite—called Big Circumstance

An active humanitarian, it is ironic that one of Cockburn’s most well-known songs is “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (from Stealing Fire) which channeled his rage against US-backed helicopters spraying bullets on refugee children in counter-insurgency warfare in the mid-80s.  It is a passionate song, with the understandable line, after singing about the horror he had witnessed “If I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-bitch would die.”  It is a song he used to apologize for, that he told me once he didn’t fully affirm—it is the artists job to report authentic feelings, he said, and, like it or not, this is how he felt as he witnessed for peace.  Even pacifists, maybe especially pacifists, sometimes cry out in rage, and Cockburn gave voice to the feelings many of us felt as we worked in the 80s and 90s to stop US-backed injustice in places like Central America and South Africa.  “Rocket Launcher” and “They Call It Democracy”, “Where the Death Squad Lives” and the drum-based chant about First Nation’s people’s land rights, “Stolen Land” are quite different than the C.S. Lewis-inspired images of “Wondering Where the Lions Are” which he sang on SNL in 1980, yet there was a serious social vision in his earliest albums, and there have been upbeat and pleasant tunes even in his most politically-charged releases.

I recall visiting new friends at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto in what must have been 1980.  Cockburn had moved to the rough and tumble city–the following year he’d be seen on a gritty album cover smoking in an urban café, on a release called Inner City Front—and his brand new album was said to be influenced by reggae, by the sounds of his experiences in the city, by some hard times in his life.  It was called Humans and hearing the needle drop in Toronto, near Younge Street, meant the world to me.  To this day, this  album—with “Rumors of Glory” and “What I Did on My Fall Vacation” and “Grim Travelers inhumans.gif Dawn Skies” (“little boys and girls from the Red Army underground, they’d blow away Karl Marx if he had the nerve to come around”)—is still one of my favorite records of all time.  With clever lines about “fascist architecture” and Bergman films and allusions to T.S. Elliott; there were harsh lines like “gray-suited businessmen pissing against the wall” and the slo-mo horror of watching a car crash in Tokyo, and I knew I was in deep.  This is incarnational stuff, the Word turned flesh, some heavy mix of poetry and passion, gospel and culture, clarity and distortion that I simply had never encountered before.

Cockburn’s lament over a broken marriage (“What About the Bond?”) which cries out “What about the bond/ sealed in the loving presence of the Father?” was the first song I ever heard about Christian divorce, perhaps still the only one I know of that doesn’t bog down in cheap sentiment. As I wrote earlier, Cockburn was refreshing as a poet and singer because he was filled with faith, even hope, but was gritty and real, tragic, even.  He blamed himself for many of his troubles, deeply and importantly, in a great tune called “Fascist Architecture.” Cockburn stands almost in a class by himself, writing smart songs like this, stuff even the Talking Heads couldn’t imagine in those years. His insight and lyrical style could hold up against the best singer-songwriters of the day.  And yes, God was in all of this.  Rumors of Glory, indeed.

One simple example: in the travelogue song “How I Spent My Fall Vacation”, the first line is “Sun went down, looking like the eye of God” and after all manner of adventure and ponderous thoughts—“will I end up like Bernie in his dream/displaced person in some foreign border town?”) and the last line is “while the eye of God blazes at us like the sun.”  The slight reversal in imagery so struck me and I’m still taken by its cleverness, and how it frames our comings and goings.  One of the leaders of the famous Greenbelt festival told me recently that Cockburn’s first line of his first song was that, and it won him over instantly.  Amen!

w of w tour.jpgOver the next decades, Cockburn would continue to bless us with artful tellings of amazing grace amidst ambiguity and pain, doubt and searching, alienation and struggle, horror and good humor. He would testify about “grass growing up through cement” and invite us to find the risen Christ in “this prison camp world.”  He would do an acoustic Christmas album that included some stunning songs, played provocatively in a minor key, before current hipsters learned to capture the angst of Advent. He would whistle, he would moan, he would protest, he would move back to the country (doing a few lovely country-tinged albums with producer T-Bone Burnett, Nothing But a Burning Light and Dart to the Heart), take up serious biking, tour endlessly, would do an album of delightful instrumentals.  He would re-work crowd pleasers like “Wondering Where the Lions Are” with scat singing in falsetto, rework his earliest “Jesusy” songs even as he’d often sound like a mystic Unitarian.  He would play a resonator guitar, raise up the plight of native peoples, and sing about sex and pleasure in ways that pointed us to the Divine moment in it all, all while reporting from various humanitarian projects he was involved with, sometimes through Canadian relief agencies.  There are only a few artists whose life-time of work I continue to follow, and who continue to challenge and impress and delight.  Cockburn is at the top of the list.  

I wish I could describe the sonic complexity and diversity of his 30 some recordings, but wordssmallsourceofcomfort.gif fail.  His lyrics usually match his passionate playing, and his musicianship continues to be entertaining, if sometimes demanding. (From his earliest work he has shown serious jazz influences, sometimes world-beat tinges, and in Small Source of Comfort, his most recent, some neo-classical overtones, even using a string section for the first time ever.) I think this newest one may be my least favorite since his first few folkie ones, but even a mediocre Cockburn album, with a few misses, is better then most.

Cockburn’s broad Christian worldview remains evident, although it seems that his faith is less evangelical than it once was, not that it was ever very
traditionally pious.  In the new century, he continued to push us to think about global affairs and the direction of our pubic life, about faithful responses to the beauty and the sorrow and the complexities of the human condition, perhaps unmatched in all of rock music. He railed against the destruction of the rain forest, laughed at death–he has a morbid sense of humor— named his fears, celebrated his hope, such as it was.  One album, with a gruesome song or two, (and a few beautiful ones) is called, tellingly, You’ve Never Seen Everything.

Cockburn does relish the unusual, so it doesn’t surprise that he sings about seeing a pile of skulls in a memorial to the killing fields in Cambodia.  But he is also a funny chap and for a while closed his concerts with the “Look on the Bright Side of Life” from the satirical crucifixion scene from the goofy Life of Brian.  Or then, again, the one about his own death, an upbeat rocker “Tie Me At the Crossroads” which I always enjoyed.  Morbid, maybe, but he never seems depressed, even though his lyrics reflect an honest appraisal, even if tongue is in cheek. 

Cockburn helped me think about the cold war–we laughed with him as he describes a guy in his “commie fur hat” and took comfort when such a politically experienced thinker could still sing songs of hope and joy.  (“Joy Will Find a Way” was an early song on an album by that name.)  Indeed, the lovely “Wondering Where the Lions Are” is, in fact, a song about the horrific “lions” of nuclear weapons; “Sun’s up, looks okay, the world survives into another day” literally kept me from growing too cynical in my years working against nuclear weapons and our evil willingness to commit mass murder with them.

I do not think it is fair to say Cockburn was trendy, but he has helped
us enter into the issues of the day, often with prescience.  He would
sing about the destruction of the rainforest (“inject a billion burgers
worth of beef”), Eastern bloc dreariness; create tunes that captured the
spookiness of places of great sorrow (like the killing fields of
Cambodia) and helped us see the beauty of nature.  (“Lord of the
Starfields” was a song of praise on 1976 In The Falling Dark, a
song whose poetry still strikes me as deeply worshipful and yet
wonderfully suited to a pop song.)  “Silver Wheels” from that same early
album narrated a road trip noticing and worrying about the advertising
that bombards our field of vision which is more relevant now than ever. 
Years later, though, he’d remind us that we could see the mystery of
the divine, even in a junkyard.  And did I mention he is still disgusted
with the Christian right?  He was and he is. (Yet, when the situation
calls for it, he responds with decency and even patriotism, as in “Each
One Lost” a poignant song on the most recent album (Small Source of Comfort) about witnessing a flag ceremony in Afghanistan where the bodies of two dead soldiers were being brought across the tarmac.)

In the years after our own radioactive mess and political irresponsibility here in central Pennsylvania at the Three Mile Island reactor, Bruce helped us lament the horrible nuke disaster in Chernobyl.  His bluesy cry about the Soviet style cover-up there, “Radium Rain” (from Big Circumstance) includes one of the longest guitar solos in the expansive Cockburn catalog.  I have said before how moved I was hearing Brian Walsh read Colossians 1 with that searing musicianship in the background, at CCOs Jubilee conference one year, and how it remains for me to this day one of the most memorable liturgical experiences of my life.

Brian Walsh reading the Bible perfectly timed over Bruce Cockburn’s guitar solo, relating Old Testament prophecies to Cockburn’s assessment of 20th century energy policy and technological illusions?  For those who know Walsh’s remarkable work this is no surprise.  Walsh has himself given us a body of work, books about a Christian worldview such as The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview (IVP; $16.00) or how that worldview might fruitfully engage postmodern thought and culture in the excellent Truth Is Stranger C reMixed.jpgThan It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age, (IVP; $22.00) (both co-authored by J. Richard Middleton) or how a serious postmodern study of a Biblical book like Colossians might help us change the world (Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, co-authored with his wife, Sylvia Keesmaat, a New Testament scholar of considerable renown, published by IVP; $23.00.) His work co-authored with Stephen Bouma-Prediger, a deep study of our “culture of displacement” (Beyond Homelessness Eerdmans; $27.00), is demanding but one of the more profound examples of Christian scholarly cultural criticism written in recent decades. What an audacious book, naming so much of the malaise and dysfunction of our time.  I’ve reviewed each of these before and commend them all for your serious study and edification.

If you’ve read any of these books you already know thatWalsh on outdoor chair.jpg Walsh is a serious Cockburn fan.  He has long been a student of Cockburn’s work, paying particular attention to his allusive lyrics, using his lyrics to help unlock insights from the Bible (and using the Bible to help us appreciate some of Cockburn’s not-so-hidden meanings.)  Walsh hasn’t written a book where he hasn’t quoted Cockburn and he has even taught college courses on the “prophetic imagination” of the radical, Christian poet.

I have appreciated this about Walsh (I’m a devout Cockburn fan, after all) and, I must say, it has helped me enjoy Cockburn’s music that much more.  Sure, when I was in high school and college I’d ramble on about all kinds of theories about all kinds of music. (Was Paul dead?  Was Jackson Browne sending out coded messages about the gospel? What did Dylan mean by that?  Why did the Doobie’s sing about Jesus? Why were there gospel singers in that song “The Weight” and why did Van quote all those romantic British poets?  What’s with Paul Simon’s references to Jesus?  Heck I even researched in sophomoric fashion the mystical incantations of Tales of Topographic Oceans by Yes. ) But Walsh doesn’t speculate like an immature, curious fan, he engages Cockburn’s lyrics with serious insight, offering helpful music criticism, rich, intellectually credible and fruitful.  A good critic can help us understand and appreciate the imaginative vision of an artist, and Walsh has done so, helping us both understand and more greatly enjoy the artistry of Bruce Cockburn, postmodern psalmist.

kicking at the darknes.jpgAnd, now, he has done so in a whole big book, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos Press; $18.99.)  I had the great privilege of helping read through some of it and cannot believe that I have an endorsing blurb on the back (next to wonderful recommendations by Brian McLaren, who has quoted Cockburn a time or two himself) and New Testament scholar Richard Hays.  I already noted that there is a great endorsement by Marva Dawn who I once teased about not really liking rock ‘n roll which I now publicly take back.  As a bit of a blurb-meister, this is one of my proudest moments,

Here is what I most sincerely said:

I’ve been listening to Cockburn for more than three decades and reading Walsh for almost that long, and I can hardly imagine surviving these times, let alone believing that joy will find a way, without the artistry and insight of both.  This is an extraordinarily ambitious project, years in the making, and there is profound insight on every page.  I recommend it with great enthusiasm and immense gratitude. 

One does not have to like every Cockburn song or album, let alone agree with every view he seems to express, to appreciate his exceptional gift as songwriter and musician and to be aided by his observations, rendered in song.  And one need not agree with every line in every Brian Walsh book to appreciate his preacherly gospel call to be faithful to the Biblical narrative, and to reject worldly accommodation to the idols of modernity.

In other words, whether you love Cockburn and/or Brian Walsh or not, this book is profitable, interesting, important, and I commend it to you.

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination is a very good book.  You should read it.  Here are three reasons why.

1.  Firstly, it is, indeed, a great introduction to the thought and insight of one of the great artists of our time.  If you care at all about pop music or contemporary poetry, you should know Cockburn.  You may not want to immerse yourself in his huge body of music, but reading this book (hopefully with some of his tunes playing in the background) is a good way to explore his world, to be touched by his lyrics, to be challenged by his take on life and times.  I’m a fan of reading about authors and their work—I routinely recommend books about Wendell Berry or Abraham Kuyper or Martin Luther King (not just their primary sources, which, obviously should be read as well) and am happy to say that reading about them can help you understand and thereby more richly appreciate their real work.  So reading Kicking at the Darkness is perhaps the best way to come to value Cockburn’s work, learning about it and plumbing its meaning and framing it as it ought to be framed.  Cockburn himself, by the way, has met with Brian a time or two, and has maybe been bemused by Walsh’s theologically readings of his music.  I’ve heard Cockburn talk about his song writing at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing several years ago where he seemed exceptionally humble about and, yes a bit bemused by, the serious attention some of us give to his work. Yet, in a personal email to Brian after reading the manuscript, Bruce exclaimed how very good it was to be so wonderfully unde
rstood.  Cheers!
There is no resource like this that attends to the substance of Cockburn’s work, and it is a great way to learn about an esteemed contemporary artist. 

2.  Secondly, this is a good way to more deeply understand the Bible itself.  Walsh is, if anything, a Bible reader, a Bible scholar, a Bible teacher— I happen to know how worn his own Bible is, how well used it is — you wouldn’t believe the scribbles and notes and fingerprints and pages falling out.  If this interaction with a modern poet and the ancient prophetic text illumines the poet, that is great, but if it illuminates God’s own Word, that is even better.  And I think it does: to hear the Biblical text through the ears of Walsh listening to the songs of Cockburn, pulls out insights, applies new wisdom, underscores certain verses, that we just might not get otherwise. I agree with an old song by Cockburn, “Maybe the Poet” (about Ginsberg somebody speculated, or maybe about Ernesto Cardenel?) which shouts “you need him and you know it.”  Yep, listening in on the conversation—Cockburn’s lyrics lined up with Isaiah and Jeremiah and James and Jesus and Paul—well, the Bible comes alive! And it comes alive in contemporary power, not sentimentally, but with grit and guts. Kicking at the Darkness is not exactly a Bible study (like the Walsh/Keesmaat Colossians book, or the creative Biblical monologues in Beyond Homelessness) but it comes close.  You simply don’t read Walsh, or talk to Walsh, without the Bible coming into things.  Read this book about pop music and learn the Word.  I dare you.

3.  This may not at first seem important to many folks, maybe not even all BookNotes readers, but I cannot overstate just how important this truly is: reading Walsh’s examination of, engagement with, living into, the vision of Bruce Cockburn is a great (great!) example of wise and fruitful literary criticism.  We all are bombarded daily with texts, with images, with sounds and sights.  How do we see?  How to make sense of it all?  Take in and discern and apply?  How do we interpret?  Whether it is a video game or a literary novel or The Hunger Games blockbusters, Seinfeld re-runs or the latest indie rock show, a TV preacher or a BookNotes book review, what will you make of it?  How have you learned to evaluate and discern wisely?  

Walsh is curious, and a rare reviewer: he is generously critical, happy and heavy, open and discerning.  That is, he doesn’t just dismiss insight and truth that comes from unlikely sources (he is famous for using pop culture, movies and music in his sermons and campus ministry at the University of Toronto) so he starts with a hermeneutic of generous hope.  But he’s no fool and he does not suffer fools too gladly, either; that is, he discerns well the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the deeper idols that shape and deform even the best stories.  So while he is open to truly hear and be touched by all manner of  things, he holds up all things, as 1 John 4 instructs, to the discerning eye of the faithful Biblical test.  I’d like to say he models and shows us how to be “in the world but not of it.”  You could say he has a pretty active “crap detector” as Hemingway (according to Neil Postman, at least) once called it.

So, to say it again: first, you need to read this book because it will introduce you to an important musician and critical acclaimed lyricist who happens to be a Biblically-literate thinker.  Secondly, Walsh uses Cockburn’s religious faith and imagery to do extraordinary Bible study, so you will not only learn about Cockburn, you will learn something new about the Bible, and the God who stands behind it.  What a good gift this book is, helping the Word get cracked open before us.

And, thirdly, you will learn how to be engaged and thoughtful about the body of work of a serious artist, how to take even odd lines and perplexing metaphors and see how they might point us to redemptive insights about the meaning of our lives under the sun.  We all need help learning to discern the voices and ideologies around us, and following the careful explorations of Walsh on Cockburn as they both try to understand the modern world is a good exercise in cultural exegesis.  You will be wiser for it as the book models a helpful, important practice.

Walsh has given us in Kicking at the Darkness a supreme example of a thoughtful Christian reading of what for some will be controversial texts (songs about left wing revolutionaries, about sex, about rejection of churchy dogma, about greed and injustice, about death and fear and love.)  Rather than avoiding these heavy topics, Walsh helps us be open, to have our own hearts opened in order to see the good in the art.  He realizes that the offering of artists must be firstly considered as art.  His creative appraisal and appropriation of the art of Bruce Cockburn is a great example of how to help us flourish–for the glory of God and the common good.

You see, I belabor this for you, our friends and customers, because I think we all need to know how to do this—this art of interpretation, this way of nurturing the gift of cultural discernment— so, even if rock music isn’t your thing, and the wild and wooly worlds of Cockburn and Walsh aren’t your own, even if these songs aren’t that appealing to you, I’d still invite you to consider it.  Spending a few weeks pondering this uniquely reformational Christian take on an important and acclaimed recording and performing artist of our time can only help deepen and mature your own practices of cultural engagement.  Perhaps you will disagree with Walsh’s interpretations and how he appropriates Cockburn’s take on life. (For the record, I agree with almost all of Brian’s insights; I think maybe there was one interpretation which I thought was over-reaching.)  Perhaps you will disapprove of his use of the Bible in his project of “seeing” Cockburn Christianly.  That’s okay.  As Bruce says, and as Brian quotes approvingly in the introduction, we are all “stumblers.”  We have reason to agree with Cockburn’s reminder that “love rules” so there is freedom and grace.  Right? 

Freedom and grace,  politics and poetry, rock and roll.  Bruce Cockburn means the world to me and if you’ve wondered—as I’m told some people do—how in the world we ended up creating a Christian bookstore like Hearts & Minds, such as it is,  you should know that much of it got dreamed up to a Bruce Cockburn soundtrack.  Indeed, there were a few key moments in my life, some risks I took, some faithful steps I tried to pursue, that ended up shaping the man I’ve become, that may not have occurred where it not for how Cockburn pointed me to “the glittering joker dancing in the dragon’s jaw.”  There have been decisive moments for me with Bruce’s music (and even a bit of correspondence) that helped Beth and I and our closest friends as we took up the vocation of social change and cultural renewal and Christian hope in history—as Bruce put it,  “waiting for a miracle.”

It may be popularized because Bono cited it (in his song “God Part 2” on Rattle and Hum, where he literally sings a line saying he heard a singer on the radio, that singer being Bruce Cockburn) but that line from “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is powerful:  we’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.  That is, Beth and I would say if we had the energy, on a good day, part of our understanding of our calling, part of why we sell the books we do. What the books we sell to you might help you do.

I could wax eloquent about Brian’s friendship, too, and we are grateful for that.  But the point is to point BookNotes reader
s to Cockburn, who points, in his artful, suggestive way, to something Bigger.  A gull-shaped shaped ship, perhaps, from the gorgeous song “All the Diamonds of This World” that carries us to sea.  Or a Big Circumstance that, to this listener, and to Walsh’s, too, sounds like a Biblical sense of providence.  Such a vision invites us into a subversive “feast of fools”—Cockburn got the line from theologian Harvie Cox— even as we live “out on the rim of the galaxy (where) “the gifts of the Lord lie torn – way out on the rim of the broken wheel.”   Even as we believe it still is, as Bruce tells us, “a world of wonders.”  Walsh helps us see how Cockburn sees, and that is, I’m sure, mostly a very good thing.

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian kicking at the darknes.jpg Imagination by Brian J. Walsh (Brazos Press) $18.99

I have shared my passion for the artistic musicianship and provocative lyrical content of Bruce Cockburn, one of the most respected and awarded folk-rock-pop singers working today.  I have shared that his music has brought pleasure and joy and spiritual insight to us for years, literally helping us find the courage to start our bookstore 30 years ago. There are very few pop artists working intentionally within the Christian tradition (U2 obviously comes to mind) that are as sophisticated lyrically and musically consistently as creative as any of the best recording artists of the rock era, so Cockburn means a lot to us.

I listed three reasons why you should buy the recent book by Brian Walsh, a Canadian author whose five previous books have all cited Cockburn.  Walsh’s incredible new book, and his worldviewish and socially-engaged interpretation of Cockburn’s (mostly) serious work, stands not only as a good way to appreciate Cockburn, but will surely help you understand your Bible better, and will serve as an example of how to be discerning, artful, prophetic, as we interpret contemporary cultural artifacts.  Whether you know or like Cockburn or not, this is, in a postmodern nod to C.S. Lewis, a great “experiment in criticism.”

One of the chief contributions that Brian offers is a theme that should be clear from the title: this is a book about the imagination.

Back when Walsh helped put the discussion about weltanschauung –worldviews–on the map of evangelicals, he taught us that worldviews are visions of and for life.  That is, unlike others from Francis Schaeffer to his friend James Sire (not to mention the plethora of right-wing fundamentalists who started using the term), Walsh and his early co-author Richard Middleton, did not see worldviews as primarily abstract sets of ideas, a collection of static dogmas, hardly even “presuppositions.”  He has from the beginning (in The Transforming Vision; IVP; $18.00) described worldview formation as a lived vision of the meaning of the story (or stories) we inhabit and how they inform our way of life, our implicit answers to life’s biggest questions.  Our practices cycle back and shape how we see, and how we live.  Worldviews are most fundamentally matters of the heart, and matters of the imagination.

This was clear (and for those who want the heavy background, it comes in part from Dutch Kuyperian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd (or see here) who wrote in the middle of the 20th century powerful critiques of the autonomy of reason, the idolatrous ideologies of Enlightenment notions of truth, themes later picked up by postmodern critics and folk like Stanley Hauerwas, Lesslie Newbegin, and even Alasdair MacIntyre.)  When Walsh and Middleton wrote Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Christian Faith in a Postmodern Age (IVP; $22.00) it was the first and most singularly helpful book amid a batch of evangelical critics who failed to appreciate the deep challenge of deconstruction to the idols of Western rationalism.  While D.A. Carson and others gripped about relativism and such, Walsh & Middleton said “good riddance” to modernity’s rationalist faith–to cite a Cockburn song they often used in workshops and speaking–because “The Candy Man’s Gone.” (from Thethetroublewithnormal.gif Trouble with Normal.) If faith in progress through science and secularized Reason and economic growth ever was a worthy savior, by the time we began to see what Os Guinness called “the striptease of humanism” and felt the dis-ease of cultural disintegration, early signs of the downsides of globalization, the ecological crisis and the like, it was time for Christians to offer a clear “no” to capitalism and progress.  Informed by Christian thinkers like the Dutch economist Bob Goudzwaard and Canadian social justice activist Gerry Vandezande, careful reformed thinkers like Richard Mouw and even aesthetic theorist Calvin Seerveld, Walsh became increasingly clear about denouncing our accommodation with the story of, values of, and truncated ways of living as we do in the standard consumerist North American way of life.

By the time they started reading Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, they were reminding us of the Biblical themes of exile, the role of lament in the Hebrew Scriptures, grappling with the “texts of terror” and wondering how the subversive ways of Jesus the servant King counter the violence supposed by many traditional Christians.  Walsh and Middleton (and Brian’s wife Sylvia) are all scholars and teachers, but they were realizing that the best way to nurture a counter-cultural perspective among their students was to not just intone “no dualisms” and “creation-fall-redemption” to illustrate the wholistic redemptive plan of God to heal the entire cosmos, nor to do merely leftist or postmodern cultural criticism, but to find ways (a la Brueggemann) to enhance the prophetic imagination.gifimagination. I don’t know if Brian would say this, but it seems that The Prophetic Imagination and The Hopeful Imagination, extraordinary, dense studies by Brueggemann, and his generative work on the Psalms (especially the Psalms of lament) funded a shift, a powerful, prophetic edge that has, I might note, gotten him into some trouble.  Brian is a sweetheart of a guy, a good friend to many and a kind, gracious fellow, but he does speak his mind.  And he despises the ways the church has failed to offer critique to the idols of the land, the way we can’t even imagine that things might be, as Bruggey taught us to say, otherwise.  To awaken us from our slumber, we have to be aroused; apathy must be eroded by pathos.  We need prophetic art to break us open.

And so, Walsh has increasingly used music and movies and poetry (he is even taken to267px-Bruce_Cockburn_2007.jpg writing in free verse) to talk about a Christ-shaped imagination, helping us  envision and embody a story that is shaped by the story of God.  Yes we need
the poets to help us really “see” and dream a uniquely Christian worldview, lived in community in ways that says both “yes” and “no” to the practices and values of our age.  And no poet/artist has influenced–or been used by–Walsh as much as Bruce Cockburn.  When I said in my back-cover blurb that this book was years in the making, I know it is so.  It comes from Walsh’s years of pondering and practicing, teaching and training, denouncing and dancing. (I will never forget how he dragged this lead-footed wall flower onto the dance floor when a cover band struck up “Brown Eyed Girl” but I digress.)  Kicking at the Darkness is a book about what some might call a Christian worldview, or what might better be described as the nurturing of a radically faith-filled imagination.  It is about dreams and dancing and denunciation.

In fact, it seems to me that anyone who follows the conversations about worldview would love worldview naugle.gif this book, whether you care much about Cockburn or not.  I’m thinking of those who have read or knows about the excellent, if weighty, Worldview: A History of a Concept by David  Naugle (Eerdmans; $30.00), the helpful, brief, Naming the Elephant by James Sire (IVP; $16.00), the fascinating Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff (University of Chicago Press), the often-cited Creation Regained by Albert Wolters (Eerdmans; $14.00) or Nancy Pearcey and J. Mark Bertrand, who are equally important contributors to this area.  I always appreciate Walsh’s fresh descriptions of how worldviews work, how stories shape us, and the relationship between the big worldview questions and the imagination and he says it well, again, freshly, in this new book.  By the way, speaking of Brian’s     renown on these very themes, I hope you know that the first portion    nt and pog.gif of  N.T. Wright’s historic The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress; $38.00) comes largely from Walsh’s influence; it is not inconsequential that it is dedicated to him!  Ends up the good former Bishop, by the way, besides a debt to Walsh, is quite the Cockburn fan himself. 


I think the beautiful Preface and the first two chapters of Kicking at the Darkness are worth the price of the book.  In the first introductory chapter, “God, Friendship and Art”, Brian tells of the power and passion of Cockburn’s music and how enjoying and studying it has been so fruitful for him and his friends and students. (Another narration of this experience of the importance of music that is more heart-rending and revealing can be found in the moving introduction to the study Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective by Robert Vegacs where Walsh tells of gathering around friends in their hospital room as a newborn was dying, and how a U2 concert proved such a life-giving blessing.)  In this first good chapter of Kicking he has a section “On Worldviews” and explains “The Aesthetics of Generosity.”  Excellent!

The second chapter is called “Ecstatic Wonderings and Dangerous Kicking: Imagination and Method” which sounds both allusive and a bit academic.  Yes, there is this concern for methodology, but it isn’t dry.  He begins to explore Bruce’s music right from the start, even as he describes his process, what he’s doing, what he is hoping to accomplish, how he plumbs the interaction of Bible, Bruce, and his own reading of both.  This is rich stuff, interesting not only to Cockburn fans, but instructive for anyone doing any sort of cultural exegesis.   He explains his “interpretive assumptions” and while one needn’t know how to spell hermeneutics, it is a crash course, a quick crash course that is balanced and insightful, wise and fair.  What a fun way to learn, to be exposed to the art of interpretation, and to ponder how to most appropriately engage the arts.

dancinginthedragonsjaws.gifHis illuminating discussions in this chapter of songs like “Dancin’ in the Dragon’s Jaw” and “Creation Dream” and “Hills of Morning” are splendid, and it is good to start with perhaps Cockburn’s most popular album.  (He played one of these songs on SNL in 1980—Bob Newhart was the host— and they remain standards.) Brian opens up their meanings, helps us realize the method of his madness, relating theology and art, Bible and culture, faith and social discourse. 

From this strong beginning, Walsh digs a bit deeper, but the book does not proceed methodically through Cockburn’s canon, chronologically.  Rather, each chapter chooses a theme, a metaphor or image that Brian discerns in Cockburn’s music, and draws from the breath of his catalog to play with the songs around the chapter’s theme.  For instance, he has an amazingly interesting chapter on Cockburn’s “windows.”  Who knew—even those of us who pay attention to Bruce’s lyrics, and discuss them at length–that there was so much about windows?  And what a generative metaphor this is, for seeing, for vision, for light, for perspective.  Walsh draws on more than a dozen songs (including Beth’s all-time favorite, “All the Diamonds”) and outlines several different sorts of window songs.  This is very insightful about Cockburn’s journey, but, importantly, it offers ways to think about faith and formation and Christian engagement as we look at life. 

feat129.jpgNext, Walsh uses his exceptional insight about the Biblical teaching about creation, but not so much the ways in which creation is under threat by the unsustainable visions which lack any sense of faithful stewardship these days, the idol-driven assault which he explored with co-author Steve Bouma-Prediger in the important Beyond Homelessness (Eerdmans; $27.00.) He explores Cockburn’s insights about the creation under threat in a later chapter, a chapter that I would call a “must read.” Space does not permit us to even list the songs he covers here in this early chapter about the joy of creation and the “world of wonder” which we are given as gift (or the creative way he uses excerpts of Lewis’ The Magicians Nephew.)  But it is a lovely, lovely chapter, and Brian’s own poetic rumination at the end is itself a gift of playful rhetoric and artful retelling. 

And so it goes, theme by theme, chapter by chapter.  Here are a few that come next.  (Do  you know the song allusions? No matter–this is great stuff!)

At Home in the Darkness, but Hungry for Dawn
Into a World of Dancers
Humans (This is a study of one pivotal album, the 1980 release, Humans.)
Broken Wheel
Betrayal and Shame

What Do You Do With the Darkness?  This is mostly a recapitulation, a poetic targum, a homily offered in the spirit of Cockburn’s own candor about brokenness and the reality of pain and dislocation in the fallen world.  It is beautiful, and worth the price of the book. 
Justice and Jesus
Waiting for a Miracle 

In the glorious last few pages, Walsh summarizes—he’s an evangelist at heart, it seems, so there is some sermon
izing going on here—and throws in line after line from Bruce’s lyrics.  Most have been discussed carefully in the book so readers will appreciate what they have evoked in Walsh and, if they know the songs, what they have evoked in their own listening.  He leaves behind the quotation marks (assiduously used throughout) and allows the art to enter his own prose.

Despair is a doorway to hope.  Hope transcends sentimental optimism because it refuses to avert its gaze from the darkness, refuses to repress that ache in the spirit we know as despair.  Engaging the work of Bruce Cockburn, we have seen that this is a broken-wheeled world.  We have seen the extremes of what humans can be. And we have heard a call to justice, to love, to fulfilling our calling as humans, creative, redemptive dancers in this dance of creation.

Where are we? In a world of wonders, called forth by love.

Who are we? We are angel beasts, rumors of glory, called to image the creator God of love.

What’s wrong?  We live in the falling dark, a world of betrayal, idolatry, and ideology, hooked on avarice.

What’s the remedy?  We’re given love and love must be returned. That love took on flesh in this glittery joker, dancing in the dragon’s jaws.

In a culture of captivated imaginations we need liberation.  In a culture of dehydrated imaginations we need fresh water. In a culture that has lost its imagination we need new dreams. Bruce Cockburn’s art awakens such an imagination. And it is a Christian imagination.

Jesus, thank you, joyous Son.

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Three take-away points from the great Jubilee 2012 conference (and a bunch of books on sale, and a free book offer.)

jubilee2012logo.jpgIt has been my custom to share a rather long post this time each year, reflecting on our role at the annual Jubilee conference, sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) and filling you in a bit on the books that sold there.  CCO is the campus ministry organization for whom we regularly sell books, that Beth and I worked for the late 70s, being with Penn State students in McKeesport, PA. Later, I served CCO staff out of their Pittsburgh-based headquarters. In those years I developed curriculum on teaching Christian worldview, relating faith and college scholarship, and did a bit of peace and justice education, including stuff that was perhaps more controversial in those years than I want to recall. I’d like to think that to this day at least a little bit of the CCO’s vision—seen most obviously in the big Jubilee event—was influenced by those years when some of us helped set the direction and ethos of the CCO as a culturally-engaged, reformational, institutionally-savvy, evangelistic and disciple-making organization attuned to the needs and issues of collegiates in the modern university. 

Many great CCO leaders have come and gone over the years and tons of extraordinary staffBB in brown shirt talking at Jubilee 12.jpg have touched upwards towards a million students since their humble beginnings at a few Pittsburgh-based schools, so my own role isn’t large.  But I have been given the opportunity to teach a lot of classes, speak at a lot of campuses, helped consult with Jubilee committees over the years and sold a boatload of books in the last decades, so we are (how to say this?) humbly glad to see the CCOs Jubilee vision continue to be articulated and lived with integrity so consistently over the years.  CCO does excellent work partnering with churches and colleges and the Jubilee event bears witness to their slogan “transforming college students to transform the world.”  Beth and I and our store staff are honored to get to play a small role in it.  It is the coolest thing we do all year!  Thanks be to God and thanks to the CCO.

I know most of our BookNotes readers aren’t directly involved in young adult ministry or college work.  But I hope our report is interesting to you and that it causes you to ponder a bit about your own context of ministry and discipleship. Heck, maybe you know some outward-looking congregation that is near a college that might want to partner with the CCO in reaching out to local students.  Or maybe you might want to put together some smaller sort of Jubilee- type conference in your community. (Remember, a year ago at BookNotes, I mentioned a nearby local church that did a conference on work?)  Maybe you want to use some of the books I’m about to tell you about in your own small group or adult Sunday school class.  Near Pittsburgh or not, involved in campus work or not, if you share our passion about books that provide a robust theology for a vibrant, church-based Christian lifestyle, which creates signposts for the coming Kingdom of God “on Earth as it is in Heaven” across all of life and culture, than this stuff should excite you.  I hope!

I won’t repeat all that’s been said on facebook and twitter and in comments under the many pictures that have been appearing at the Jubilee Facebook page this week, but I must congratulate Chris Carson & Sarah Winkler, the best Jubilee team since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, since Batman and Robin.  And that tuxedoed duo of emcees Melleby & Bindewald deserve much applause, despite their reee-dicc-u-lus  jokes about me, using the Chuck Norris internet meme.  I didn’t get half of what they were doing at first, but realized it was pretty funny.  To see my dumb pacifist face photo-shopped onto the muscular bod and ripped abs of the powerhouse Mr. Norris with his guns blazing and that big American flag, well, let’s just say that it literally took my breath away.  Convincing almost 3000 folks to listen carefully to my mature cajoling about buying good books in the aftermath of that stunt was daunting, to say the least.  Still, it was the most fun I’ve had on stage in quite a long time. (Although I’ll never forget the time a few years ago when Calgaro had me do the manic PowerPoint show known as Pechakucha.)

And so, to the chase: three things about Jubilee 2012 that are important for us all to consider, complete with my running commentary about books that were sold at Jubilee or that relate to these take-away points.  The Spirit is moving in these ways, I believe, and we want to offer these resources with deep sincerity and hope.  You know there is a link to our bookstore’s order form is at the end. 

If you’ll hang in there with me, we’ll list a handful of others that sold well, or should have sold well and didn’t, or that we talked about, or whose authors were there or that we just want to offer at this deep discounted price. All books mentioned are 30% off, for less than one week only, and while supplies last.  

And, we have a free book offer, too.  Free. Book. Offer. We don’t call it Jubilee for nothing…


1. The Biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption-restoration gives us the best account of the story we find ourselves in and shapes our worldview in generative, fruitful ways.

The Biblical narrative of a fully good creation invaded by profound sin and curse but being fully redeemed and restored by the God of faithful covenant explains more and carries more useful freight than most of us realize.  Albert Wolter’s Creation Regained: Biblical Basis for acreation regained.gif Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans; $14.00) explores the significance of the full-orbed realities of creation-fall-redemption-restoration for our worldview and has been a CCO fav for years. This book really does explain what is unique and helpful about what he calls a neo-Calvinist approach, noting that while nearly every Christian tradition holds to some similar formulation, his Dutch Calvinist tradition takes the implications of these doctrines perhaps more generously and broadly and draws more implications from them than most other denominational traditions.  His famous chapter on “structure and direction” is essential reading, I think, to appreciate the best proposals of the Jubilee vision, and is a good tool to help us explore what is creationally good about something (money, sex, sports, politics, art, race) and what is misdirected and dysfunctional. Any social reformer needs to know what is good and what is bad, what should be changed and what should remain, in her arena of influence and no one books lays a foundation for helping us with that cultural discernment as does Creation Regained.  A few other speakers at Jubilee agreed, since it was a book that was
cited often. 

This unfolding story of cross-bought cosmic redemption has been the animating vision of the conference since the late philosopher Pete Steen taught those of us who were running it in the mid to late 1970s about Abraham Kuyper ‘s vision of the Lordship of Christ over all of culture and how to read the Bible faithfully to find it as a worldview-shaping drama.  I smiled when I heard a young lady at the conference refer to herself as a Kuyperian.  The old Dutch Prime Minister and theologian was well honored by her saying that.

And, it was wonderful to have the Acton Institute there at Jubilee with a banner about theirwisdom & wonder_front.jpg new translation of Kuyper on common grace, a book we featured called Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art (Christian’s Library Press; $14.99)  Francis Schaeffer, who some of you may know, was important to the CCO in its early years, and he gleaned some of this Kuyper narrative worldview stuff from a Dutch art historian named Hans Rookmaaker, who himself learned it from a philosopher named J. P. A. Mekkes, who had been a student of the Free University of Amsterdam’s heavyweight Herman Dooyeweerd.  Mekkes and Rookmaaker met in a POW camp during the Nazi occupation of Holland, and CCO and Jubilee stand, if a bit indirectly, in this grand tradition of Christ’s clear call over all of life and culture, as Kuyper taught.  We not only had a few Francis Schaeffer books at Jubilee, but a Rookmaaker book on the arts, and a thin but dense philosophical treatise by Mekkes published by Dordt College Press.  The best book on Dooyeweerd is the highly-acclaimed one by Jonathan Chaplin, Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society (University of Notre Dame Press; $68.00.)  This is the precise intellectual movement that so influenced Al Wolters and which gives Creation Regained its vision and heft.  Who knew that Jubilee existed as it does because God in His mercy had Mekkes tell Rookmaaker about Dooyeweerd.  Years later, Shaeffer spoke at Grove City College and the next night at Geneva College, both in Western Pennsylvania.  Young CCO workers were in those crowds and they learned to appreciate this worldview stuff from Pete Steen who was acquainted with the work of each of these scholar-activists.

!111111.gifI am glad that so many these days invite us to think in terms of story and storied theology—think Donald Miller, for one example.  I promoted A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story (Nelson; $15.99) which I adore, not least because Jubilee speaker and friend Bob Goff plays a role in it.)  I even like a little, inexpensive book by John Eldredge called Epic: The Story God is Telling (Nelson; $2.99) that reminds us that life unfolds like a drama, a play, and we get to take up our role in the epic adventure of it all.  The second in the fascinating trio of novels by Brian McLaren is called The Story We Find Ourselves In (Jossey-Bass; $14.99) and brings together these themes that our life is a story and that the Bible is best understood as a story God has and is telling.  The respected work of missiologist Leslie Newbigin has helped us think of the role of narrative in theology and thanks to the Nazarene Barefoot Ministries his little gem of radio talks, showing simply how the Bible is one continues story, is now reprinted. It is called A Walk Through the Bible ($12.99) and is wonderful.  Do you know about the recent, big Zondervan project inviting folks to read through the whole Bible by using their helpful version called The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story ofstory of god sou.gif God and His People ($19.99; there are other pieces, too—youth versions, DVD curriculum, etc. which we happily promote. Do check out that link as it’s pretty spiffy.)  We awarded last year as a best book of 2011 one of the more creative Bible overviews published these days The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible by Sean Gladding (IVP; $17.00; the fabulous DVD sells for $30.00.) Or, thinking of story and narrative, think of N. T. Wright, who insists that the even the didactic teaching of New Testament letters like Romans are to be understand best within their narrative context, the story that was going on in those places in first century Judaism. Think of political theologians like Stanley Hauerwas that talk about narrative theology. (I’m showing off, but you should know the important name of Thomist philosopher Alister MacIntyre who has written astutely about this topic.) 

Or, just think of how folks so resonate with memoir these days, faith journeys creatively told by writers like Anne Lamott, Lauren Winner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Margot Starbuck, Frederick Buechner.  Narrative, story, worldview, journey.  We are all shaped by a story and one of the biggest questions of life may be which story?

Yet, to say we are shaped by story isn’t all that needs saying.  Even some who talk about the unfolding drama of the Bible fail to realize how the main chapters of that story should inform our own sense of things.  Few see fully the way in which the narrative of the Bible with its high-points of creation-fall-redemption-restoration can form the fundamental contours of our story, and few tease out the implications of it all the way Al Wolter’s does in Creation Regained.  Wolter’s taught this reformational vision, a Christ-centered hermeneutic the see Christ of redeemer of the creation and the King of a new creation breaking now into history,  to CCO staff decades ago and Jubilee 2012, with its four main sections, each exploring these four chapters of the Story, made that explicit as never before.  It was a very, very good reminder, and thrilling to have each of the main speakers explore these chapters of the story throughout the weekend.  From James Smith Friday night on the implications of living in a created cosmos to Richard Mouw Sunday morning holding out the hope of a restored city, the chief chapters of the meta-narrative were wonderfully told and the implications of these building blocks of our worldview were magnificently explored.


                                                                                                                 artwork: God’s Story by David Arms
It is no wonder, then, that we sold o
ut of Chris Brewer’s wonderful art book Art That Tells the Story (The Gospel Through Shared Experience; $24.95.)  It is no wonder that one of the best sellersoutrageous idea.gif was Michael Witmer’s book Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why All You Do Matters to God (Zondervan; $16.99.)  Specifically exploring this broad, storied view for college students, Don Opitz’s book, co-written with Derek Melleby, was a hit: The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students (Brazos; $14.99.) Their short and playful chapter on worldviews—conflicting ones in the college textbooks and the coherent one from the Scriptures—and how these narratives/value systems/worldviews influence students is as succinct and clarifying and important as anything in any such book. 

 It is no wonder that we sold a bunch of Dr. Mouw’s little Bible study, When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans; $15.00) that shows the Biblical hopes of new creation, including the (purified) cultural artifacts that will endure into our bodily existence in the (re)newed city of God.  It is certainly one of my favorite books and I can’t describe easily its impact on the legacy of the CCO; it was used years ago for staff training and remains a vital resource for the development of a Biblical-informed view of culture, justice, and hope.  It is a book that reminds us of the final climax of the plot of the Scriptures. 

When the Kings.gifDr. Mouw’s Sunday morning talk was so reasonable and clear, but yet–there is no doubt about this–it rocked the world(views) of many who were there.  Do we really believe that God’s good news is so broadly good that “all things” will be restored to original goodness?  Yes, he did quip that Lady Gaga’s work will take a bit more purifying than some, but do we really believe that the work of our human hands, our cultural artifacts and inventions, our art and our games, will be with us–transformed by healing fire– through-out our urban life in eternity?  That there is some continuity between this world and the next?  That is the serious trajectory Mouw sees in his text from Isaiah and, as he often does, he ended with good preaching from Revelation 5 and then the new city stuff from Revelation 21 & 22.  This book is not difficult nor extensive, but it is more than fanciful speculation.  It offers a really eye-opening theology of culture, based on careful exegesis, showing why, well, why “everything matters.”  For obviously understandable reasons, vans and buses from the hundreds of college represented at Jubilee had to get going after the event ended, so we sadly didn’t get to sell as many of Mouw’s books as we wished.  This little study, though, is a must-read.  We hope CCO staff will share it with their students if they have not yet, and that those want a bit of the happy Jubilee vibe might pick it up. 

Here is an address Mouw  gave at Houghton College a few years back and it is very, very good.  Give it a listen.  You’ll love the line about the Border’s sign called “over-sized religion.”  It will help you worship Christ more properly and it is particularly relevant for those who are interested in culture, institutional life, social action, and public affairs.  He really gets this “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” picture of the Biblical message.
next c. gifDoes your church or fellowship group grapple with the implications of this “four chapter story” as Gabe Lyon nicely puts it in The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith (Doubleday; $19.99)? Gabe’s book was a hit not only because it captures the Jubilee vision in fresh language with tons of great stories, but we had them at a very special half off price (making it just $9.99.) The Next Christians–as much as any recent book, I’d say–shows the ways in which a vision of being restorers of broken culture inspires this rising generation of post-culture-wars young evangelicals. (We have some left at that 50% off price, too and we do recommend it highly!  It will come out next month in paperback, but here you can get the hardback cheaper than the paperback will be.)  We have a bunch, at least for now… 

In your faith community do you reflect on the meaning of creation care, talk about God’s call to meaningful work, encourage the arts, work on good citizenship, discuss sex, engage popular culture?  Why or why not?  If you do, is it clear that these human and cultural task are to be “unpacked” (as James Smith put it) as creational entities, but that they also are battle grounds for spiritual warfare, too?  That is, do you realize how each and every zone of life is created good but now distorted, “contested” territory (as C.S. Lewis put it.)  That a normative unfolding of anything–from just approaches to family law to nuanced understandings of science or technology, from truly healing insights about health care to allusive views of the creative arts, —may be different from what the world offers and may thereby be controversial?  As Smith said, we have to “occupy creation” and he meant, surely, that there is a counter-cultural edge to Christian principles and practices in this distorted and idolatrous world.  To make the case and to actually live out the implications that flow from our deepest convictions may (or so the Bible says) get us into trouble.  Occupy creation, indeed!

J. Mark Bertrand was there this year and he is quite funny and way, way smart.  He did two pretty serious workshops–herethinking wv.gif is a good novelist who has a series of well-crafted, intense crime fiction (Back on Murder and Patterns of Wounds [Bethany House; $14.99 each] with the third coming later this year)–but his first book is a must-read in my view.  It is called (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway; $16.99) and he takes the “worldview conversation” a step further down the path.  Check out his website for the book and see if there isn’t something useful there, for you or for some you know.  Getting these at 30% off is a real deal and I think it would make a great small group study.  I never tire about hearing how this wholistic gospel story affects the ways and practices and ethics of daily life as we work and witness in our modern world.  Mark shows how worldview is not just about “thinking” but about living and speaking winsomely about the story we find ourselves in.  Sharp stuff, to be sure!  Yeah, I love reading worldview books — especially these that are well written and move us towards appropriate cultural engagement— so I guess I’m a bit odd.

But allow me to be candid here (we’re among friends, right?) I am sometimes a bit perplexed that there aret.v..gif folks who like our mix of titles and topics here at Hearts & Minds, those who are nearly shocked how we tend to hold together more liberal and more conservative views, how we patch together in some sort of coherent vision the wide array of authors and denominational traditions that we do.   We heard it a hundred times at Jubilee –folks aren’t used to seeing these sorts of books in a religious bookstore.  I’m really encouraged when customers write nice notes or ask questions as if they are piqued about where we are coming from. Some say that we have helped them re-think what a religious bookstore might be. Yet, most often, new friends don’t really seem to want to understand what most drives us, they don’t really seem to get the way our study of worldviews has helped us become who we are here at Hearts & Minds.  Many thoughtful friends still don’t seem intrigued enough to want to ponder, as one writer puts it, the “metaphors we live by.”  So, if I may be forthright, if you like Hearts & Minds, or, similarly, if you like Jubilee, you should read books like Al Wolter’s Creation Regained, the equally important The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP; $16.00) or Mark Bertrand’s more recent (Re)Thinking Worldview

Really understanding how the Biblical narrative shapes how we lean into life and gives us a way to imagine how life ought to be, giving us ways to evaluate the principalities and powers of our world, without becoming revolutionaries who just want to tear every thing down, simply necessitates pondering Wolters, Walsh & Middleton, Betrand and other similar books. If you’ve followed our store for long you may know that I’m particularly fond of Walsh’s several books–all which emerge in one way or another from this first, important one he co-wrote with Richard Middleton. (Yes, it is true: N.T. Wright dedicated his first really big volume, The New Testament and the People of God, to Brian, and developed that whole first section about worldviews from Walsh’s work in Transforming Vision and elsewhere. So even brainy world-class theological stars like Wright admit to a debt to Walsh, not to mention the work of Brian’s wife, Syliva Keesmaat, with whom he wrote Colossians Remixed, another book we pushed a bit at Jubilee.)  If you love Jubilee or you like Hearts & Minds, consider get some of these worldviewy books, okay?  They are the genesis and frame of our efforts and you’ll be richer for spending a season or so pondering this generative topic.

D t K.gifYou should know, too, that the person who has advanced a somewhat new understanding of worldviews and how they work (what some might call a more thick account) is philosopher James K.A. Smith who, as we’ve noted, rocked the house and fired us up Friday night at Jubilee this year. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (BakerAcademic; $21.99) is doubtlessly the most important book on this topic in decades and one simply cannot be conversant in the latest sorts of socio-theological conversations without knowing it.  There are two other massive volumes a-coming, making it eventually a trilogy, so you should man up (can women, “man up” — I think so!) and just get it.  We’ve reviewed it here at BookNotes and many others (more important than me) have affirmed its significant merits. For instance, here is a review by Eric Miller, who was also a speaker at Jubilee this year.  It is very, very well done.  James, by the way, did one of the best Friday night talks in Jubilee history (and, uh, I have done one of those Friday night talks) and, despite being interrupted by a fire alarm and massive evacuation,he regained the group’s attention an hour later and finished off his powerful explication of the implications of a thick doctrine of creation, pregnant with implications for how we embody our faith, how we think and know and relate and live and invite others into this grand, great story.  I think if you read some of this stuff and come to grasp it well, it will truly be a game-changer, as they say.  May it be so for the young adults gathered at Jubilee and may it be so for Hearts & Minds fans.

2.  The Biblical notion of vocation can fund a meaningful and transformative view of the role of work; such a vision for the dignity and influence of work must be more seriously explored in our faith communities.

Once one sees one’s life as storied, and learns that the story about the goodness of creation and the seriousness of the fall and the realities of redemption and the hopes of restoration are the chief and formative influences of our understandings of everything, we will not only be wise about stuff, but we will be energized to live out that story—God is in Christ rescuing the planet and its cultures, artifacts, institutions.  We will, as so many Jubilee speakers noted, realize that “everything matters.”  Yes. 

And one of the big things that matters is our sense of calling, our vocation, our work. I remain frustrated that so few people use our (admittedly less than attractive) “Books by Vocation” bibliography. (See my chapter in the collection of book reviews, Besides the Bible edited by Dan Gibson, John Pattison & Jordan Green (Biblica; $14.99) which is a review of Os Guinness’ stellar book, The Call, to hear again my lament of how few people ever ask us about for books relating faith and work.) Too many people think that “discerning vocation” is for those who are trying to hear God’s call to go into ministry.  God bless those who are going in to ministry, but what about those going in to chemistry?  Why do we celebrate the “sons and daughters” of the church that become pastors, but don’t seem to give a tinkers damn about those going into dance or law or motorcycle repair?  And—okay, I’m on a rant, here, and will restrain myself with just one or two more sentences: why do we tend to honor work (when we do at all) by inviting Christians to just be respected, to be ethical, to be excellent, at work, as if the reform of institutions, or striving for creative influence, or the fighting of new battles and offering of new ideas aren’t part of the big picture of being Christ’s salt and light in the work-world?  Why, when we affirm labor at all in church, is it so typically uninspiring and not very robust? Where are the churches that create people like, say, Jeffrey Wigand, Erin Brockovich, Patch Adams or Blake Mycoskie?  Why at Jubilee do these young adults say “I’ve never heard this kind of stuff before?”  As a life-long churchman, I say it is to our shame, and I am sorry that young adults have to hear for the first time from some crazy conference in Pittsburgh that God cares about their major.   

Did you know that there is a pre-conference gathering each year for adults called Jubilee Professional where faith-based workers, entrepreneurs, artists, and leaders from the world of Pittsburgh corporations, start-ups, non-profits, and leadership consultancies gather to reflect on the same themes as the CCO student gathering?  Every town should be as fortunate as Pittsburgh, having an organization like Serving Leaders.  Everyone seriously interested in embodying a Kingdom vision in the warp and woof of a city’s life, working for Spirit-directed social and institutional r
eform in the marketplace should put Jubilee Professional on their calendars for 2013.  Plan now to attend next year’s one-day “Jubilee for grown ups” which I am sure you would find beneficial.  Thanks to the likes of Redeemer Presbyterian’s Center for Faith and Work and their sharp director, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, for helping Pittsburgh’s Serving Leaders pull off this kind of classy event.  Thanks to John Stahl-Wert, their inspiring servant leader, a good author himself, for caring about God’s work in the world of corporations and galleries and service organizations.  And thanks to them all for inviting H&M to offer an annotated bibliography custom designed for their renewal in the workd-world gathering. (E-mail me for it if your interested and I’ll gladly forward you a typed copy.)  My few moments on their stage, with their business and civic leaders, was a thrill; moments like that remind Beth and I of some of our more grandiose hopes and dreams for our bookish mission.   You go, Jubilee Pro!

kingdom calling.gifIt seems to me, then, that one of the great things that Jubilee 2012 offered, somewhat in tandem with Jubilee Professional, was the opportunity to hear Amy Sherman talk about her stellar new book, Kingdom Callings: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00.)  Amy spoke at Jubilee Pro and addressed nearly a quarter of the Jubby kids as well.  As you may recall, we honored her with an award in our little “Best Books of 2011” list.  We implied, however, that her book’s award was a tie, and it was: it was tied with another new book, Work Matters: Connecting Sundaywork matters.jpg Worship to Monday Work  by pastor Tom Nelson (Crossway; $15.99), another new excellent resource that explores a truly transformational view of vocation and calling into the work-world. One of the small things I like about Work Matters (besides its really helpful insight, its great clarity and zest) are the one or two-page sidebars, examples about good folks in Nelson’s congregation who illustrate a good theology of work and who are doing notable “integration” work in their sphere of influence.  David Greusel, Hearts & Minds pal and Jubilee speaker, is one of those featured.  That he is an architect who designs baseball stadiums like the wonderful PNC Park is pretty cool. More importantly, his story in the book is a testimonial of God’s work in his work-life.  Kudos to Rev. Nelson for writing in conversation with guys like Greusel. (And thanks to Greusel for coming to Jubilee to speak with undergrads and architect students!  What a gift for such students to converse with such a mentor.  Go here for an array of his essays in Comment magazine’s archives.)

So I love the book by Nelson Work Matters, and commend it to you.  But Kingdom Callings, by Amy Sherman, is particularly apropos for this Jubilee take-away point that we are to serve God in our work and that that may mean doing more than just showing up and being morally good and professionally admirable, with a nice willingness to talk about faith.  Yes, “bloom where you are planted” is a major step in the right direction, but she pushes us a bit more.  Kingdom Callings is a visionary—dare I say audacious—book which holds up other models, other strategies, if you will, of how to be faithful in the work-world.  Ms Sherman offers four avenues or pathways, from the not-so-simple but basic “bloom where you’re planted” because all good work matters to God, to pushing for change in one’s industry to using skills learned at work pro bono to assist the poor and under-served, and more. This serious work is honestly a book that I’ve long waited for (and it is made all the more special by the beautifully written afterword by former Jubilee conference director, Steven Garber.)  Ms Sherman’s operating thesis, which she explores in truly refreshing, bold ways, is drawn from Proverbs 11:10 that declares that when “the righteous prosper the city rejoices.”  Is this really so? (I admit that I haven’t pondered this verse before, and never heard a sermon on it.  Hmm.) So unchurched folks will be glad if your business (nonprofit/church/school/art gallery/cafe/counseling clinic/family/factory/little league team) is successful?  Really?  Well.

I think that there are reasons for the often-mentioned “resentment” harbored by folks about the rich and successful, and it isn’t just the sin of envy, as social conservatives tend to glibly imply.  That is, when Wall Street (for instance) prospers but does so in ways that do not illustrate a profound commitment to the common good, it makes sense that folks feel resentful; it is understandable, I think to be uneasy about the success of our neighbors if their financial gain comes at the expense of norms and values that we know to be vital for the social fabric.  The Biblical alternative to this resentment, as Sherman carefully shows, is enterprise done for the common good; work that serves, that exists knowingly as an act of love of neighbor; those who watch as socially responsible enterprises prosper will be glad for their success, because they realize that it isn’t ill-gotten and that their contribution to society has been just and good and well-intended.  Anyway, that’s what that Proverb suggests.  Sherman inspires us to relate our faith and Biblical understandings to the work-world and to our callings as culture makers and then she ratchets up the challenge by pondering the implications of this Proverb.  Her subtitle is important: “vocational stewardship for the common good.”m Are we relating faith and work in ways that are imaginative and helpful, ways that at the end of the day we can say that, through our work, we have loved our neighbors, we’ve made the world somehow a better place? Are we stewarding our vocations, leveraging our influences in ways that are just and help the cause of local flourishing?  Has your pastor asked you about that, ever?  Have you ever been invited to an adult education course suggesting that you have an obligation to earn your living in a way that is “for the common good”?  (If you are interested in this question of how the church does or doesn’t help lay folks in these things, by the way, there is a brand new book that I have skimmed already called How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it) by John C. Knapp [Eerdmans; $15.00,] which I highly recommend.)

KC book32.jpg

I think every church should have a few of Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Callings books around to inspire and challenge folks to live out  their (Kingdom) callings more audaciously, more creatively, even in generative ways that carry within them the possibility of truly serving the common good.  Pastors: is your city happy about the success of the business folk of your congregation?  Why or why not?  Do the social entrepreneurs and reformers and visionaries of your city feel supported by your church as they fight the good fight, day by day?  Why or why not?  And, not incidentally, do the poor of your neighborho
od feel blessed by the success of your more middle class members?  Kingdom Callings: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good could help you think through how to cast a vision for ways your people could honor God more intentionally and witness to Christ’s love more clearly by doing this missional thing with the work of their hands. Don’t you long for something like that, for church members who are seriously engaged not climbing the corporate ladder for their own glory, or even so that they can give more to the church, but so that they can make a difference for the community?  I am not kidding: this is the Jubilee vision par excellence—relating faith and life, yes, bringing Christian principles to bear in the work-world and academy and marketplace, yes, but doing it in a way that brings service and goodness–virtuous human flourishing–to the social fabric and even to the needy and hurting.  Nobody combines this reformational worldview perspective with common good missional service like Jubilee, and nobody has explored this as seriously for callings and careers as has Ms Sherman.  Buy a couple of Kingdom Callings, please!  Here is Garber’s afterward which you can read.  There is a link there, too, to a radio interview with Sherman from Pittsburgh’s WORD FM.

3.  A third take-away idea from Jubilee is that disciple-making ministry must be relational as we network folks with helpful communities of growth and service.  Which includes realizing that reading is a spiritual discipline and that leaders must be life-long learners.

Jubilee is zany and fun and big and loud.  Even the kids get worn out, and we oldsters smacelephant.jpg the sides of heads after midnight when our ears are ringing.   Besides the big gatherings and the numerous break-out sessions (on engineering and education and race and art and politics and poverty and sex and so, so much more) there are oodles of  late-night options, from swing dancing to attending a screening of the new Blue Like Jazz movie with director Steve Taylor, to prayer meetings and impromptu jam sessions.  There were helpful booths from organizations like Compassion International and Toms Shoes,singing.jpg the Humane Society and Urbana.  There were several graduate schools represented and mission agencies and summer opportunities for students, from working in Christian camping to serving in urban missions to options for leadership development in places like the Ocean City Beach Project.  This is an event that works hard to network people, to dream big, to get kids thinking about their lives and their choices and their affiliations. 

Here is a question that frames the first part of this take-away: are you helping those whom you mentor (especially the young) to think about their whole lives with passion and purpose?  Of course we need to run Bible studies and help people learn the basics of Christian growth.  And we need to invite them into the bigger story of God.  But alongside the proclamation of this worldviewish c-f-r-r narrative and the centrality of thinking about work as a vocation and holy calling, the CCO and Jubilee models what I want to call missional intentionality.  I wonder how many pastors invite young adults to work at a summer camp, or suggest that they attend a conference, or network them with a discipleship opportunity, or introduce them to people who can help them on the next leg of their journey?  If you see a good article on facebook, do you share it with somebody who needs that information?  If you are invited to an event, do you think “Yes I can go” or “No, I can’t go” or do you think of people you can tell, folks you should invite?  If you are spiritually guiding a younger believer, do you invite them to plan ways they can use their gifts in choosing a major, then invite them to think about short-term mission projects that use their talents and gifts? Do you help find for them opportunities to plug in to service organizations?  Just for one small instance of this relational ministry model, I wonder if congregational leaders follow up after somebody takes on a Compassion child, making sure the community celebrates this new relationship and obligation? (A number of students committed to supporting a child through Compassion International thanks to Shaun Grove’s compelling invitation.)  I hope those who did not only are affirmed in their college fellowship groups but that their home churches are invited in to follow up on the story.

I am painfully aware that many pastors are overworked and some are underpaid.  Some have such large churches they may not be able to pastor people at all, really.  And we all know that many churches have toxic members who drain energy; there are complicated finances and hard community issues that demand time and attention, involvement in committees and such.  But I still think that a Jubilee take-away is that mentoring and guidance and relational ministry is where it’s at.  Congregations must recapture a sense of disciple-making and spiritual direction if we are going to help ordinary folks align their lives with the purposes of God.  We must be vigilant to look for ways to network people with others in various professions, helping them find areas of expertise and opportunities of missional service. To see the way CCO staff encourage their students to consider the information at the organization’s booths, or for instance, go to Peru this summer on a CCO-sponsored mission experience, or how they help their young students dream big dreams about their future is so rewarding to watch.  And we should be doing more of that in our ordinary congregations and disciple-making efforts, guiding others, helping folks think about their lives, offering upbeat counsel and support.  I think CCO staff do this as well as anybody I’ve ever seen, and it is great to be in the thick of this life-changing experience at Jubilee.

And, now, for the second part of this take away point—drum roll, please—the CCO and Jubileestudents at booktable J '12.jpg are right to do this by using books.  I’m tickled, of course, that as an Associate Staff of the CCO, I’m given such wonderful opportunities — making book spiels at Jubilee, for instance.  But I’m not talking necessarily about about myself or my role, as glad as we are for it, but about their commitment to Christian learning. Our role at Jubilee is an indication of the CCOs vital insight that books have been used by God in the history of redemption (from the oldest of Bible times and throughout church history) to further God’s Kingdom and to equip God’s people for faithful service.

In this information age (or inventive age, as Doug Pagitt describes our era in a book by that title) most Christians are simply going to have to rethink some things, study some new stuff, bone up on their Bible and theology, and learn from the ways others are articulating our Christian callings.  It seems to me a mark of either shallowness or hubris to think you can live this Kingdom vision thing in a complicated world without being dri
ven to serious study and learning (and prayer, too, for that matter.)  When I hear of Christian folks who don’t read much I can only presume they are either nominal in their faith or prideful in their sense of their own knowledge.  Look, friends, this Jubilee vision, wide-as-life discipleship, in-the-world-but-not-of-it posture of culturally-reforming Christ-honoring, Kingdom callings is no simple matter.  Jamie Smith put it bluntly Friday night when he said it just might get you killed.  You can’t do it alone, or on your hunches. 

So, surprise, surprise, I hope people buy books, form study groups, commit to re-consideringmind 4 G.jpg and re-learning things, entertaining new ideas, and move forward with new hope of transforming discipleship in fresh and faithful ways. Semper reformans, semper reformanda and all that, you know.

I rejoice that many congregations from many quarters are doing good, good stuff.  I really don’t measure the lives of others by how many books they buy.  But it is true that these squares of paper and ink are, in fact, tools for our work, ammunition for the battle, bread for the journey.  If you need ’em, we got ’em.  If you don’t need ’em, you may want to ask why that is.  CCO really gets this call to the reformation of thinking and the necessarily habit of Christian reading.  It has from its earliest days told their staff to read widely, to study deeply, and to use books as they disciple and mentor students. There was a CCO bookseller before me, and I trust there will be one after me. They know that readers become leaders. 

You Lost Me small.gifTo not promote reading as a spiritual discipline, I’m afraid, short-circuits the sustainability and longevity of young disciples. Just read David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church (Baker; $17.99) if you don’t believe that we are losing a generation of younger church kids because we don’t engage their minds, offering resources to think about civic life, science and the like.  Students loved David at Jubilee, by the way, as he invited them to consider why so many of their peers walk away from church and faith and what they might do about it.  It just blows me away to consider that one of the truths uncovered in the research that David did (and that is explained in this book) is how many high school students going off to college express interest in science-related majors and how many of them report that their church (or youth group) has never once in their memory offered any affirmation of the sciences.  It’s no wonder they drift from faith, if they don’t realize that there are any number of ways to reconcile the alleged conflict between faith and science.  Students like David’s books and more than a few stood amazed when they saw our large display of books on science, engineering, math and such.

So, CCO helps these students who are coming to realize that there is much Christian learning to do and that it is exciting to explore ideas in light of the gospel.  Many want to rise to the occasion when we tell them that the word disciple in the Bible means learner.

Life-long learners are needed, now more than ever.  Does your church foster an ethos of learning, of reading, of study?  Can your people explain what might be meant by having “the mind of Christ”?  Do they get excited when Romans 12:1-2 or 2 Timothy 2:15 comes around in the lectionary?  Books and reading matters for those committed to the Jubilee vision and for those who mentor others in Kingdom discipleship. 

jubilee  booktable.JPGJust as the apostle Paul ordered books near the end of his life (see 2 Timothy 4:13) CCO staff buy books for their students.  It was a joy watching some of them walk students around the book tables, asking us to help suggest a book for this or that major, this or that interest, this or that topic. How humbling to be invited into this face-to-face ministry!  Again, this is a huge take-away for me: I want to be more intentional about doing relational ministry and, naturally, think that books are necessary tools to enhance that.  Do you, dear reader, invest in those around you, giving away books, sharing enthusiasm for authors, inviting people to lectures, classes, book clubs and reading groups, coming alongside others as they seek to think and learn in faithful ways?  Jubilee’s book table isn’t incidental to the CCOs work with students, and commitments to reading has long been central to the reformational worldview perspective that drives the conference.  Is reading central to your vision of discipleship?


Do you pass on books to others, share our BookNotes reviews, help your friends and church members join the conversations about the relationship of faith and the modern world?  We stand ready to continue to serve CCO students and Jubilee participants and everybody else looking in on this movement as we carry forward this conversation and nurture a lifestyle of learning for Kingdom service.  We hope our many friends and customers in their own places and ministry settings, seek out good books for good learning.  As Jubilee 2012 reminds us, “Everything Matters.”  We are a bookstore that believes that, and we carry topics often not represented in most religious bookstores.  Colossians 1:17 insists doxologically that all that matters (everything!) holds together in Christ Jesus, so His rule pertains to all of life. There’s a whole lot to know, a whole lot to learn, a whole lot to live. Thanks for letting us play a role in your on-going faithfulness.  We are immensely grateful and eager to serve in this way.  We hope that you, like we, are inspired when thinking of the good work of the CCO and the vibrant witness of the Jubilee conference.

As one Jewish-minded friend wrote at the end: next year in Jerusalem.  See ya in Pittsburgh, February 2013!


All books mentioned above and on the list below are all 30% off of the retail price. Offer good until March 1st.  (After that the discount returns to the typical BookNotes 20% off.) 

Caring-for-Creation-DeWitt-Calvin-B-9780801058028.jpgWith every order you get a free book.  Here’s the one we are giving away: 

Caring for Creation: Responsible Stewardship of God’s Handiwork by Calvin B. DeWitt and others (Baker/CPJ.)  This is perfect to share as a free give-away since it is not only illustrates the sort of thing Jubilee cares about — creation care and public policy — but these presentations were originally delivered at the Center for Public Justice’s annual Kuyper lectures. (CPJ was at Jubilee, and yes, their Kuyper lectu
res are inspired by the same former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the Christian statesman and theologian and cultural activist from the early 1900’s.) The main chapters are by Cal DeWitt, a fine and esteemed environmental scholar who has spoken at Jubilee in the past, and then there are three chapters in response by three other thoughtful leaders.  We will offer this one absolutely free to anyone who orders a book from this column.

Here are a few more books that we featured at Jubilee, just a random batch that show the breadth of interesting topics and good reading available for those wanting a Kingdom perspective, living into the ways of God in all of life.  For the next few days, we have ’em at 30%, plus the free one shown above.  One freebie per order, though…

ibg.common.titledetail.imageloader.gifGod and Gadgets: Following Jesus in a Technological Age Brad J. Kallenberg (Cascade) $22.00  Friday night speaker James Smith recommended this; and we had a stack of ’em.  He was talking about how although the possibilities for gadgets and gizmos is rooted in the good creation order, such things can come back to haunt us.  This is theologically meaty, written by a former engineer who is fluent in serious philosophy and astute cultural discernment.  

iso coaching.gifInSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives  Joe Ehrmann (Simon & Schuster) $24.00  This really may be one of the great sports books of our time, written by the very wise and honorable Christian star of the old Baltimore Colts (whose story is wonderfully told in Jeffrey Marx’s award winning Season of Life ($21.00).  In this one, Ehrmann tells of how caring coaching can transform players into better people. Sounds like a Jubilee-type book!  Highly recommended.

bond.gifThe Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them  Wayne Pacelle (William Morrow) $26.99  One of the Jubilee speakers was Christine Gutleben, a charming and passionate spokesperson for faith-based understandings of animal welfare.  (She made an important documentary about factory farms.)  This is written by her boss, and is a very moving, reasonable argument.

living into c.gifLiving into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us  Christian Pohl (Eerdmans) $20.00  There is always an interest among younger adults about community.  We sold Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and books by Jean Vanier. But this new work is as good as it gets, offering serious, mature reflections on four key practices that allow our congregations and fellowships to be more authentic communities.

view from urban loft.gifView from an Urban Loft: Developing a Theological Framework for Understanding the City Sean Benesh (Resource Publications) $23.00  We have a large section of books on urban ministry, social work and such.  And we have some on urban design, new urbanism, stuff for architects and planners.  This is foundational for any, ruminations on how to embody our discipleship amidst the cityscape.  Very nicely done by a guy in Vancouver who directs the Epoch Center for Urban Renewal.

!!.gifThrough a Screen Darkly Jeffrey Overstreet  (Regal)
$17.99  I love this guy and here he offers reviews “looking closer at
beauty, truth, and evil in the movies.”  Highlights more than 200 films,
a great resource for discussion groups.  I know some churches have film
nights and such, but many need some insight about mature, Christian
approaches.  Overstreet’s is a great resource.  Glad they had a workshop
on this at Jubilee, done by Greg Veltman.

existential.gifThe Existential Pleasures of Engineering  Samuel Floreman
(Griffin) $15.99 Although not written from an overtly Christian angle,
this wise and eloquent author reminds engineers that there is more to
their work than crunching numbers, weighing data.  There is intuitive
wisdom needed and great joy to be found.  So true.  The New York Times
says it is “gracefully written.”


American childhood.gifAn American Childhood Annie Dillard (Harper) $14.00  Not only is this lovely memoir written by a former Pittsburgh Presbyterian, the cover illustrates a classic scene overlooking the “Cathedral of Learning” at the University of Pittsburgh.  Jubilee workshop leader Eric Miller (historian and lecturer on intellectual history) suggested that this was a wonderful way to gain a “historical consciousness.”  You want that, you know you do.  Here ya go.

socrates.gifSocrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Stuff”  edited by Eric Metaxas (Dutton) $27.95  Eric was one of the big hits at the previous year’s Jubilee (and we sold his Bonhoeffer bio quite well.)  This is a collection of some of the talks given at a program Eric runs in New York, that hosts some of the best spokespeople for Christian thinking in the world today.  A fantastic, helpful anthology of Os Guinness, John Polkinghorne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Alister McGrath,  Francis Collins and more.  Highly recommended, especially at this discounted price!

with.gifWith: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God  Skye Jethani (Nelson) $15.99  A a young Baptist pastor friend of mine just got a tattoo of “Immanuel” (in Hebrew.)  This is a huge, huge theme with younger adults (as it should be with all of us) –God with us.  Jethani is a good writer, a creative thinker, a helpful guide allowing us to reject less than fully faithful assumptions about our walk with God.  Margaret Feinberg says “You can’t read this book and not see yourself and others differently.” I almost promoted this from up front at Jubilee, but ran out of time. I’m a fan.

one-life.jpgOne.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow  Scot McKnight  (Zondervan) $14.99  All of life is service to God, not our so-called “spiritual life.” McKnight explores this radical and yet delightful vision of daily discipleship very, very well.  One reviewer said that reading this was like “having my heart massaged and taking a round-house kick to my head.”  I didn’t know what a round-house kick was until the Chuck Norris jokes about me at Jubilee, but I get what she was saying.  This book is tender and sweet and yet pushes us deep into the life of God, and Christ’s call to serve the world.

king jesus.gifThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited  Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $19.99  With a forward by Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright, one would think this assessable book would be a must-read.  It explores the theme of the Kingdom of God and helps explain so, so much of what we are about.  I am convinced we can’t understand the gospel without this important material about the Kingdom and Christ’s reign. Love it.  The cover is classy, if a tad dark, but the book is upbeat and informative. Highly recommended.

barbies at.gifBarbies at Communion & Other Poems  Marcus Goodyear (T.S. Poetry Press) $12.00  This won an award a year ago from our friends at the Englewood Review of Books and it is well deserving.  You may know Marcus as a key leader in the helpful High Callings blog.  He spoke at Jubilee, but not about poetry, so we have a stack of these.  Worth every dime; they make lovely little gifts, and is worthy of repeated readings.

political-visions-illusions-david-theodore-koyzis-paperback-cover-art.jpgPolitical Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (IVP Academic) $24.00  Gideon Strauss recommended this heartily to those in his workshop on public justice, and Koyzis’s long, deep overview of the history of the development of political ideas shows us that both modern liberals and conservatives have their intellectual roots in stuff from the Enlightenment.  The implications are heavy: Christians ought not to too easily identify with either American political party, and must work hard to be discerning about ideological assumptions that do not comport with a balanced, Biblical perspective.

!1.gifAwaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God  J. Brent Bill & Beth A. Booram (IVP) $15.00  There were a number of outdoor eduction leaders at Jubilee and lots of students enjoy wilderness trips and naturey stuff.  With the emphasis on creation/new creation I’d think this would be quite popular.  I think that some mountaineers and kayakers have their hands full, and don’t think they need a resource for experiential education about God’s presence.  Sad, though, because this is a gem of a book, a treasure chest full of specific ideas, using all our senses.  Parker Palmer calls it “superb.”

!11.gifTransforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice Mary Molewyk Doornbas, Ruth Groenhout, & Kendra Hotz (Eerdmans) $20.00  I wish anyone who works in health care would consider reading this…very insightful, co-written by a nurse, a philosopher and a theologian/pastor, all from Calvin College.  Very impressive, with great ideas about how to relate faith and health care.

!111.gifSavage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools  Jonathan Kozol (Harper) $14.99  Long a hero of mine, this passionate work rages against the obvious injustice of how poor school districts have so much less than wealthy one.  The Jubilee speaker for education majors this year works in a underfunded city school, and knows first hand the challenges and rewards of this.  I say read anything Kozol writes.  Here is one of his most popular, searing as it is.

bloodlines small.gifBloodlines: Race, Cross, and t
he Christian
  John Piper foreword by Tim Keller (Crossway) $22.99  CCO has always had great concern for raising a multi-cultural witness and helping students traverse the subtle pains of racism.  Here, the passionate Baptist preacher names is as sin, and shows how only the cross of Christ and the deep doctrines of justification can provide a gospel-centered answer to this American quandary.

!1111.gifThe Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl Giberson & Francis Collins (IVP) $20.00  Remember the bit I wrote (above) from You Lost Me that laments how many young Christians think there is something anti-religious about science, that we need to equip them to think about science in faithful ways?  This can help, a great go-to resource. Get a few now while they are on sale! 

!11111.gifConfessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and The Historians Vocation  edited by John Fea,  Jay Green, and Eric Miller (University of Notre Dame Press) $35.00  All three of these good guys have spoken at Jubilee and they are truly rising stars in their field.  This collection brings new pieces and important voices to this big question, one that is pressing for any discipline: how does faith color and shape and inform our task?  Does the vocation of being a historian get worked out differently if one holds to basic Christian convictions about things? Rave reviews on the back from Mark Noll, from Grant Wacker, from Donald Yerza, director of The Historical Society.  Making these kinds of scholarly books available to young students is a good witness, we believe, and we hope that those going on to advanced studies will recall having at least seen this sort of integrated Christian scholarship at the Jubilee book display. Kudos to these fine friends, gentlemen and scholars.

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Books Sold and Recommended at the Redeemer Gospel & Culture Conference on Work

At the risk of making some of our faraway friends jealous, we want to report that the Center for Faith and Work conference sponsored by Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC was truly fantastic, a great blessing, affording us an incredible opportunity to get to know and sell some books to some remarkable (mostly youngish) New York professionals.  What a privilege to have them inquiry about books for their unique journeys: judges, United Nations diplomats, Broadway actresses, hedge fund guys, a working clown, several teachers, physical therapists, designers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers.  Okay, that last part I made up; I don’t think we chatted with any candlestick makers, although there were some Episcopalians and Catholics who surely have lit some candles.   It was a stimulating conference and we had a ball, despite the considerable effort it demanded of us. Plus, we got to get caught up with a few old friends, too, and learn again to navigate the van in mid-town traffic! And we only got a little bit lost in North Jersey coming home in the middle of the night.

mouw.jpgIn a wonderfully delightful sermon that was at once pleasant and challenging, Fuller Seminary’s President Dr. Richard Mouw started the event alluding to the themes of his book He Shines in All That Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Eerdmans; $14.00) and drew from the rich neo-calvinist insight so clearly explained in his study of Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, the one simply called Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Eerdmans; $16.00.) Both books are excellent and mean a lot to us.  (See my recent reviews of the book about Kuyper here and here.) We also highlighted Mouw’s truly wonderful book on civility and graceful dialogue—you know I’ve mentioned it often and think it is a must-read—Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP; $16.00.) I was glad that his book on Reformed theology—Calvinism at the Las Vegas Airport: Making Connections in Today’s World—is nowpraying at BK.jpg available in a handsome, small paperback (Zondervan; $14.99) and figured Redeemer folks would benefit from it. 

A sleeper of a little book of RIch’s is a fine collection of very short meditations, small talks he’s given here and there, weighing in on this and that, interestingly called Praying At Burger King (Eerdmans; $16.00.)  (By the way, he thinks you should.)  I’ve read a few of these out loud in classes and they are ideal for conversation starters or short devotionals. And of course we always take his great book about the renewal of the creation shown in his fabulous, innovative, insightful study of one chapter of Isaiah’s promise of new creation called When The Kings Go Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans; $15.00.)  I’ve read it several times and consulted it often and hope you know it.

If you wonder why I like Rich Mouw so, listen to this audio podcast lecture—it is a great sermon which I’m sure you’ll find edifying, and maybe a bit stretching. (And yes, he cites some old hymns, even as he did at Redeemer.)  He’s really preaching by the end, and it is good, good stuff.  Mouw has long been one of my favorite writers and it was a pleasure to hear him in New York, to be reminded why we so recommend his titles, and to have the chance to hang out a bit laughing over some old stories of really old friends, like a mentor of mine and friend of his, the late, Peter J. Steen, whose Dutch Kuyperianism taught me of the Kingship of Christ.  If Steen were alive, I’m sure, he’d be pressing Mouw’s books into your hands and insisting you study them right away. 

From the main stage of the marvelous St. Bart’s Cathedral who hosted the Redeemer event we heard from a CEO of an instantly recognizable global corporation and a Broadway actor and actress (who we had mailed books to a few years ago), listened to an innovative organ recital by an wonderful classical musician, heard of the courage of a high school principle who stood up to an unjust administration; I was impressed by the gentle insight of a talent agent (who represents some A-list stars), was excited about the presence of some local civic leaders who talked politics, heard about the journey of a brave woman who has served the disabled in her medical work and another who has now chosen to be a stay at home mom.  I got to hang out backstage with controversial television journalist Martin Bashir whose family comes from the Indian-Pakistani border and came to faith later in life while in London. The day before he has challenged a supporter of candidate Cain for racially demeaning comments and interestingly stood up for Cornel West.  What an interesting, complex journalist he is.

tim_keller.jpgAfter a characteristically culturally-insightful and gospel-centered call to join God’s work in the world by having our own hearts clearly transformed by Christ, and our minds set on His glory, Tim Keller interviewed Bashir, asking about the unique foibles and temptations found in his particular field of celebrity journalism.  Many, many of the ambitious, young professionals surely resonated when Bashir warned against both narcissism and cynicism.  Keller is always helpful, intelligent, sound, and honest about very real things.
 His book counterfeit gods.jpgCounterfeit Gods: The Empty Gods of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope That Matters (Dutton; $15.00) I have often said, is the best thing I’ve ever read on idolatry, and it is urgent, smart, and touching. (And it is just now out in paperback—yay!)  I wondered if Mr. Bashir knew it.

henri_nouwen_in_the_name_of_jesus.jpgInterestingly, though, the first book that came to my mind as he reflected on these duel trouble spots was Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP; $16.00) as its profound view of long-term, sustainable hope in daily living (and how to keep it) is a large part of the antidote to narcissism and cynicism. I got to hand-sell it to a few thoughtful participants and trust it will serve them well. (I found myself recommending some of the excellent essays at his Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation & Culture website, too, which would be enlightening for anyone struggling with such big concerns.)  I also thought right away of the little book by Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Crossroad Publishing; $16.00) realizing it contains such wise council for leaders of any sort.  We sold a couple of those, too, and we were glad that we had a few in our section on leadership.

As you can imagine, I’m always thinking about connecting books and people in situations like this and I wanted to suggest a book that came to mind to each and every speaker; I’m tempted sometimes to shout right out to the crowd that if you like what that woman said, if you appreciated that film segment or spoken prayer, if your really interested in that notion, you should get this book or that one for further study or clarification.   Such missed opportunities leads me to share a few fairly random titles now, ideas emerging from the invigorating day at Saint Bart’s, Park Avenue.  Thanks to all who put together that great event. Thanks to those who asked us good questions in the frantic moments of the book browsing breaks. We rejoice in the historic orthodoxy of Redeemer and how they’ve boldly applied a gospel centered vision to the spheres of work, business, and the arts, and appreciate how they’ve so graciously brought us into their conference. 

Buying and reading and discussing the books we list is a good way to join the conversation, get caught up to speed or follow through on your hopes to live into the gospel call to “do your work with all your heart, as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23-24) and “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31.) Please take up our offer on these books, offered at a deep 30 % off of the regular prices I’ve listed (while supplies last.) Getting this vision and these kinds of books out there, I hope you agree, is of the first order of importance. People are drifting from faith (and sometimes the idea of Christian study is mocked) because all many folks know is cheesy, sentimental books of shallow piety or obscure and inflexible dogmatic tomes.  We rejoice that there are indeed these kinds of refreshing, relevant books and ministries like Redeemer that promote this solid view of whole life discipleship. The link at the bottom will take you to our order form page where you can list whatever you want.  We’ll take it from there.

So, here are some we sold well, or would have talked about more if time would have allowed.  They are all pretty great and should be known among us.

What Do I Do With My Life.jpgWhat Do I Do With My Life: Serving God Through Work  Kenneth Baker (Faith Alive) $9.99  This is a small group resource that is excellent for small Bible study groups or adult Sunday school classes.  There is a bit to read —five short readings for each day of the week (so each member will need one) but it is mostly designed for good conversations. It has helpful discussion questions, some activities, lots of Bible verses to consider exploring what the Scriptures say about the 9 to 5 and our other callings to work in various aspects of our lives.  This is a very fine and solid overview of missional thinking and how our various labors matters to God—I don’t know of many resources like this for small groups so we hope you keep it in mind.  Thanks to the CRC publishing arm for doing such quality work.  Nicely done.

taking your soul to work.jpgTaking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace  Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $15.00  There are a many great books about a Biblical view of the work-world and the role of the laity in being “priests” in the marketplace, but few get down and dirty as elegantly as this wonderful book.  It is a real gem!  Taking Your Soul To Work is arranged as a study of the seven deadly sins (and then some) but brings unique insight to their deforming power and how to resist them by illuminating how they show up particularly in our work lives.   (Hint: part of the redemptive answer to spiritual maturity at work is applying the fruits of the Spirit, a topic about which he writes expertly and beautifully.) This is a rare find, a treasure of spiritual formation linked to a faith-based vision or the glories of work.  At New York we heard the true truth that all of life is worship, that we can worship God in our cubicles, computers, classrooms, our factory floors or studios.  Few books explore how to have a worship, Godly attitude in such a realistic way as this masterpiece.  There’s a nice forward by Eugene Peterson, too.    A must-read, urgent, helpful, good.

work matters.jpgWork Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway) $15.99  A few good friends of mine have had some opportunity to teach and consult with the folks at Tom Nelson’s church and it seems to be nearly one of the nation’s best centers of culturally-engaged, thoughtful nurture of the gifts and insights of laypeople and professionals for marketplace service.  After years of reflecting on the Word as it is broken open in their midst and equally paying attention to the contexts of the various workers at the church, this brave pastor has learned to equip the people for relating faith and work, Sunday and Monday, prayer and public life.  Reverend Nelson and his staff and congregants are really doing it, and their vision for why it all matters is nicely spelled out in a way you’ll surely appreciate.  There are numerous two-page sidebars, too, documenting the stories of some of the folks in the church—a brilliant, Christ-honoring architect, an ethical businessperson, a good teacher, a Christian lawyer, and the like.  This may be the best book I’ve seen in years on this topic and it was highlighted on a special page in the Redeemer conference program (so I’m not alone in raving about it.)  If this topic is somewhat new to you, please consider buying this (and, even better, buy one for your pastor.)  If you are a fan and connoisseur of this topic and have read well in the field of relating faith and work, I can assure you that you will be pleased to own this, will be encouraged by it, and will find new insights and stories that will bolster your own journey and allow you to more clearly explain to others your passion for developing a Christian perspective on the work-world.  Three cheers for a great, accessible, inspiring book!  Here is a brief review I did of it a month ago in Comment.

work-kingdom-perspective-on-labor-ben-witherington-iii-paperback-cover-art.jpgWork: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor Ben Witherington (Eerdmans) $18.00  This is pretty short but don’t be deceived by its simple size and shape.  Ben Witherington is one of our finest New Testament scholars and has a profound awareness of the teachings about the Kingdom of God deep in his bones.  As he writes about work one can sense his great vision, his good concerns, his practical, Biblical insight, especially as he unpacks some of the parables of Jesus to help us get a Kingdom vision of our jobs and labor.  This helpfully breaks down the pagan sacred-secular divide and calls us all to a robust way of life where discipleship colors all we do, even our daily 9-to-5 labor.  Very, very good and its Biblical teaching makes it ideal for adult Sunday school classes or to inspire a sermon s
eries on work.  Great!

to-change-the-world.jpgTo Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press)
$27.95  In his closing address at the conference, Tim Keller named this book in passing as a key title making a case for some distinctively faithful practices regarding our Christian presence in the world.  Indeed, Keller has a blurb on the back saying how much he has learned from it.  Be aware, though, this is a rigorous, sociological read.  And it is doubtlessly one of the most talked about books of its kind in years.  Not a few of us are reading it more than once.  Here is an often-cited few sentences which offer a glimpse of his concern:

“Christians need to abandon talk about ‘redeeming the culture’, ‘advancing the kingdom’, and ‘changing the world’. Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care – again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.”

Public Faith Volf.jpgA Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good  Miroslov Volf (Baker) $21.99  Again, Rev. Keller alluded to this recent work in his address as a very important book.  Dr. Volf, a professor at Yale Divinity School who became famous for his very important Exclusion and Embrace (Abingdon; $28.00), is one of many who are asking tough questions about uniquely Christian cultural witness in our pluralistic world.  Nicholas Woltersdorf writes that it is “a wonderful guide for the perplexed.”  Richard Mouw endorsed it, too, saying it is “an important book, packed with wisdom” and (yup) I wanted to stand up and shout–hey, both our keynote speakers, Mouw and Keller, recommend this book.  Why isn’t everybody rushing to buy it?  I figure if the leaders of the whole day both cite something, that is no small indication of it being a must-read.  We will be with Volf in a few days, by the way, and hope to get a few autographed.  Let us know right away if you want one…

generous-justice-timothy-keller-hardcover-cover-art.jpgGenerous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just  Timothy Keller (Dutton) $19.95  Okay, I suppose that most folks at the event are members of Keller’s PCA church and I suppose they’ve heard these talks, listened to the podcasts, and have a chance to buy the book at their meetings.  Still, this little book should have been a central resource for our thinking about the gospel and culture and I was surprised we didn’t sell more.  Keller is as solid as anybody relating the core truths of the gospel to the urgent demand for social justice in the world.  Can justification make us just?  Can we root our longing to see the world and the workplace transformed and just in God’s own justice?  Please, please, buy this book and share it with somebody who yearns for evangelical faith and social transformation.  Or read it yourself and realize the deep, deep connections between the benefits of the cross and the demands to be active working for a just social order.

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
  Andy Crouch (IVP) $26.00  I have saidculture-making.jpg repeatedly that this is an all-time favorite book and one very sharp customer (and very thorough reader) told me again today, for about the third time, that this was maybe the best book he’s read in five years.  All of us interested in making something of our time in history, that want to engage the built environment and witness to the goodness of God by making creative contributions, will be inspired by this insightful, foundational book.  Andy touches on so much here—the implications of being made in God’s image, the need to grapple with questions of power, the benefits of practice and creativity, how to be faithful in small things, inspiration for starting some new iniative in your own locale–that it is hard to describe.  I gave a shout out to it in my short talk at the conference and wish I could have explained more clearly why I think it is an essential resource for our efforts at social, cultural, and work-world reformation.  I wonder what might come of it if a small group committed to reading this together with a prayerful openness to see if some helpful social initiative, civic involvement or ministry might arise.  Or maybe a new hobby, or, heck  a new job?  Read it and hope for the best!

other six days.jpgThe Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective  Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $27.00 Stevens teaches at one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in North American, Regent College in Vancouver, and they have one of the best programs of serving Christian lay people as they take faith into their vocations and callings in the world.  Stevens is one of the reasons why they have this emphasis and he has written a lot.  This is a masterpiece of studying the Biblical foundation for thinking about what we make of the distinctions between clergy and laity and why we all need to see ourselves as agents of God’s Kingdom, in all aspects of our daily lives.  Seriously excellent.

Character Counts: The Power of Personal Integrity Charles Dyer  (Moody Publishers)  $13.99 This is not rocket science, but every now and then I think it is very important to revisit some basic questions about ethics, virtue, character and integrity.  I know I am daily tempted to fudge, to be less than honest, to take short cuts, to take something somewhat other than the high road.  Most of us are not jerks or abusive, most of us don’t blatantly cheat or act unjustly. Few of us curse our Lord.  But maybe there are blind spots, sore spots, tough spots.  It is easy to be expedient. This Bible-drenched book can help us.  I’ve always loved Bill Hybell’s simple but powerful read Who Are You When No One’s Looking (IVP; 15.00) or the more academic study, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World (Baker; $26.99)–both of which we had at the display at the St. Bart’s conference.  This new one is an easy read, a realistic and God-centered call to character.  

work love pray.gifWork, Love, Pray: Wisdom for Young Professional Christian Women  Diane Paddison (Zondervan) $14.99  Okay, I’m not going to lie: I don’t know much about this topic so can’t really say if this is truly great or not.  People who we trust say it is, several sharp young women at the Redeemer conference studied it over and concluded it was worth purchasing.  Everybody wonders if the shoes work.  The allusion to Eat Pray Love is in the title, but she doesn’t develop it in the book; it would have been a hoot if she had.  The author is a top-shelf executive, does important work in the corporate world and brings both Biblical vision and practical advise for women in the work-world.  It is pretty interesting to see how she was able to raise her children and hold down a demanding job, and how she maintained a solid and inspiring faith through it all.  It may be a cliche to say she understands how to juggle career and family and how she and her husband navigated their otherwise conservative, two-career marriage.  Early reviews have been passionately favorable—“buy this book for your granddaughters” one grandma writes.  Another said it was the first book she ever read that understood the tensions of her own life.  And ya know what?  Not surprisingly, several folks said that it would be very helpful for husbands of career women, too.  Right on.

Max-Anderson-_23-2.jpgThe MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders Max Anderson (Portfolio)MBA-Oath300pix.jpg $24.95
  Meeting this guy and hearing his story was one of the highlights of the Redeemer event and I was energized to sell this book more intentionally that we had before.  In the year the economy went hay-wire, Anderson—himself a former intern at Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work and one who is well acquainted with evangelical theology—was about to graduate from Harvard Business School.  He realized that unlike the medical profession MBA’s don’t have anything like a “Hippocratic oath.”  He and his classmate Peter Escher wrote this pledge, hoped to get a handful of their fellow students to recite it to one another during graduation, and, well, the rest is history.  Jon Stewart mocked those who hadn’t signed on, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported about it, other students at other schools took up the cause and what started as a small dream of getting some MBA students to promise to a certain code of conduct in business and economics, turned in to an international movement of ethical reform and new principles for appropriate conduct in the executive suites.  If the leading MBA professors don’t teach this stuff and our some of our best and brightest business leaders are being convicted of high crimes and cutting corners for profits, idealistic students will have to lead the way.  Such am epic scenario sounds almost Biblical, doesn’t it?  What a book!
Please visit mbaoath.org/ to learn more about it, watch the great video clip, and then come on back and order a few to share with business folks you know.  Max is a really, really good guy and this is a perfect example of how to take deeply faith-based ideas and work them into the culture in a restorative way. Thanks be to God.

busin for common good.jpgBusiness for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace  Kenman Wong & Scott Rae (IVP) $24.00  This publisher has four or five excellent books of varying levels and writing styles on business and I recommend them all.  I like this one for a couple of reasons.  It is meaty, thorough, serious, and yet offers stories of real business folk making efforts at “another way of doing business.”  This is more than a survey of business ethics, but offers transformational principles and practices for integrating faithful ideas into every aspect of the business enterprise.  It significantly asks which things in the corporation can be practiced “as is” and which must be rejected or transformed.  It covers various aspects of the business, too, from management to environmental impacts, to honest marketing, etc. I appreciate that they have this notion of the common good as primary,  as it radically relativizes the role of profits.  Certainly, profit-making isn’t wrong, but it isn’t the ultimate thing.  Very thoughtful.  For a quick exposure to just one bit of his work, see this short post of Mr. Wong from Q Ideas, and the discussion thread that follows.  This is the sort of question we simply must be asking.

Sequencing: Deciphering Your Company’s DNA  Mike Metzger (Game Changer Books)sequencing.jpg $17.95  I’ve written about this interesting “game changer” book before and almost every week or so find myself re-tweeting Mike’s fascinating and learned Doggie Head Tilt web column.  This is a complicated book to explain, but I can say two simple things: it is cool and it is crafty.  Firstly, it is stunning to read and enjoy, with large graphics and interesting black and white photos offered in a very edgy, eye-catching design.  Secondly, besides the witty look and pithy quotes, this is a book that will help you explain profoundly Biblical principles without any religious jargon.  Mike doesn’t want to comprise his evangelical faith but he also knows that long-term cultural renewal of the sort we so desperately need will have to bubble up from institutions and organizations—like businesses—who rethink their purpose and retool their internal DNA.  This book helps explain what I often call the four-chapter gospel story (or what N.T. Wright calls the five act model of the Biblical drama) in ways that are creative and based in our shared experiences, using common language of the workplace, not theological lingo.  Jesus said to be harmless as doves but crafty as snakes.  Metzger is one of the best I’ve ever seen at this important virtue.  This is the best Christian business book that might actually be read by a non-Christian executive or nonprofit leader. Go here to see a fabulous short video of Mike talking about the book and how it can help you unlock the culture of your organization, and how to determine if your company will be able to be innovative, or renewing, over the long haul. Mike also makes an appearance as one of the session leaders in the Q Ideas curriculum DVDs, the one called The Kingdom Way of Life.

The Next Christians Gabe Lyons (Doubleday) $19.99  Speaking of this
four chapter NextChristians3d.jpg story—first named in Al Wolter’s Creation Regained and
Walsh & Middleton’s Transforming Vision—Gabe makes the powerful
case that younger adults are resonating with this vision of a faith that
makes a difference, they want to find meaningful vocations that helps
make the world a better place, they see the gospel in terms of pointing
to God’s restoring work in history, not merely a ticket to a heavenly
afterlife.  He blows away the vestiges of the “Christian American”
notion that held sway in previous decades of culture wars and
re-envisions a faithful engagement with work and culture based on this
wholistic view of the Kingdom of Christ.  I would think that most of the
folks at our conference would find themselves described in this book
and would appreciate it’s tone and perspective.  It gives language to
our yearnings, Biblical meat to some intuitions we have, some good
direction for those wanting to be agents of reformation and renewal.  If
you want one book to give to an energetic young person who is less than
inspired by old patterns of faith and religiosity, this book is the one
to share. Very well done.

where mortals dwell.jpgWhere Mortals Dwell: A Christian View
of Place for Today
  Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic) $29.99  You may
know I’ve briefly reviewed this before (here and here) and I think it is another one of the
year’s most extraordinary books.  He studies why a sense of place is so
important, drawing not only on the wonders of Wendell Berry and Norman
Wirzba, but on early church fathers and ancient theologians and
contemporary thinkers like Bob Goudzwaard and Eric Jacobsen.  He is nothing if not extensive, tirelessly showing how a Biblical
view of place is or is not (usually is not) appreciated by historic
theologians or philosophers.  As Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Predigar show so
powerfully in their one-of-a-kind masterpiece Beyond Homelessness:
Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement
(Eerdmans; $27.00) the
Western, modern tradition has not been friendly to responsible
stewardship over our embedded places.  Most Christians, too, have
ignored God’s Word of homecoming and have lived either valorizing exile
or awaiting an end-time rapture.  To be responsible, to care, to dig in
for the long haul may never happen well unless God’s people discover a
theology of place.  Where Mortals Dwell is a major contribution, perhaps
the only book of its kind in church history that so thoroughly explores the topic in
light of the Bible, philosophy, and contemporary social thinking. It is a truly interesting book, too, with some pictures, maps, even, showing how our understanding of our placed-ness really, truly matters.  To care about nearly anything (and, obviously, home and family, church and politics) is to necessarily care about place.  Bartholomew, who knows the Bible so very well, has studied aesthetics and theology and philosophy, and is himself somewhat of an exile (he is from South Africa, now living in Canada, teaching at Redeemer University in Ancaster) so he is most certainly well prepared for this audacious undertaking.  One of the books of the year!   

House: The Litany of Everyday Life
Margaret Kim Peterson (Jossey-Bass;
$21.95)keeping house.jpg This is a book that invites us all, men and women, to reflect on
the essential meaning of homemaking as a calling.  There are few good
books on this oh-so-basic topic; The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith
Schaeffer (Tyndale; $12.99) which remains a fine standard despite its
slightly dated style but this more recent on by Peterson is by far the
best book we’ve ever seen.  Not everyone who takes care of homes as
their primary calling may need to think about it, but why not?  Surely,
as with banking or doctoring or teaching there are normative approaches,
rights and wrongs, built into God’s creation, so what may seem
commonplace might be in need of a little intentional consideration. 
Anyway, this book is a delight, well written, wise, and tender and sure
to be a rewarding read, in between laundry and dishes, of course. 
Highly recommended.

Well, at the conference we had books on
creation-care and engineering, art and music, theater and architecture. 
We had sections on politics and law, teaching and education, media
studies, advertising and literature.  A few people asked about special
education resources and we sold a book on Christians in social work. We
talked about resources for multi-cultural ministry, and promoted a few
on urban design.  I suspect we won’t offer such a wide-ranging and interesting spread of these kinds of titles until the epic Jubilee 2012 in Pittsburgh. Where, by the way, Richard Mouw will be giving the Sunday morning presentation. 

Whether one is a professional young urbanite who needs
a book like Michael Schutt’s Redeeming Law (IVP; $24.00) or a small town business
person needing to think about The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local
Businesses are Beating the Global Competition
by Michael Shuman (BK;
$16.95), or someone needing some spiritual guidance to discern a new vocation or calling as you could helpfully find in Gordon Smith’s great updated Courage and Calling: Embrace Your God-given Potential (IVP; $17.00) there are plenty of resources to help you relate faith to
calling, values to vocation, piety to public life. And, if in doubt, you may know that one of my all time favorite books, and one of the ones I most often recommend on these pages, is The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness (Nelson; $17.99.)  Why not pick one of those up at this good price—you know you it makes a handsome and rich gift, wonderfully written, and inspiring.  Let us help you answer the call of God in Christ, that Guinness reminds us is for “everyone, everywhere, in everything.” 

Check out our (soon to be updated) “books by vocation” link at the Hearts & Minds
website where you’ll see an annotated listing of basic resources of wise books on
everything from science and math to special education and sports and engineering and business.  More
will be added, but I wanted to keep it pretty basic; there is more than enough there to whet an appetite for this wholistic Kingdom vision of whole life discipleship as it is lived out in various professional spheres.  For now, why not start or expand your library of this kind of dynamite by buying a few of the ones we’ve listed above at our sale price of 30% off.  They will help you, we are
sure of it.

while supplies last
any book mentioned above 
3O% off
order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

inquire here
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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333


You Lost Me David Kinnaman

Hearts & Minds is sponsoring An Evening with David Kinnaman and you are cordially invited to join us over at Living Word Community Church (Red Lion) on October 25th, Tuesday evening, at 7:00.  He will address themes from the new book, You Lost Me and will autograph copies during a reception afterwords.  Thanks to Liquid Tuesday, the young adult ministry at LWCC for their good work in hosting this

Kinnaman.jpgYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith  David Kinnaman (Baker)  $17.99  David Kinnaman was catapulted to fame when he produced for the Barna Group the research that became the bestselling book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters (Baker; $18.99) which explored what unchurched North American young adults thought about Christianity and church life.  I hope you know that book because it is a wonderfully written and powerful glimpse into the religious attitudes of many young adults.  Author and leader of Q Ideas Gabe Lyon co-authored it and he and Kinnaman offered lots of hopeful ideas, offering sidebars and excerpts of interviews with lots of very thoughtful and relevant Christian folks who chimed in throughout the book.  These interviews and essays from other voices illustrate that the cranky attitude and serious criticisms of evangelical faith that are commonly held by outsiders to the faith are, in fact, only partially true.  There are wonderfully creative, interesting, kind and just folks who’s faith catapults them into the thick of contemporary life.  So that book is both depressing (so many young adults are convinced traditional faith is unattractive or worse) and hopeful–a lot of good folks are working hard to repair our bad reputation.  It’s important and interesting.

In that research one of the interesting things that the Barna group found was that many of the unchurched who had disinterest or hostility to the faith were previously active in church and in some cases still saw themselves as active Christians.  A phrase they heard regarding these young adults’ sense of their own story went something like this: “I was active for a while.  I loved God and cared about my church.  But then, you lost me.”  Of course, this is no real surprise; every BookNote reader knows somebody like this. The dropout problem is so common that many older church folks just expect it, and some think it is normal for young people to put their faith—or at least their connection to a church—on the shelf for a while.  I don’t know about you, but I think this is tragic (both the dropout problem and the church’s casual acceptance of it.) 

Mr. Kinnaman continued his research, this time documenting the views and attitudes and David_Kinnaman_Picture6747.jpg stories of younger adults who were, in fact, raised within the Christian churches, but who have chosen to leave.  He wanted to find the church dropouts and hear their stories.  Many of us are so, so glad for these findings since we now have more data and more tools to think about this problem that we so seriously care about.  We all have intuitions and hunches.  We have had conversations about this.  We have our own stories, perhaps, and those of our children, our friends, our colleagues or classmates.  But beyond these individual episodes, what are the documented trends?  What does the research show?  What can we make of it?   Kinnaman can help, and, because of his own great passion for this topic, he’s a perfect person to interpret the data for us.  I couldn’t recommend this book more strongly.

So, many young adults drift from church; of those, some are still on a spiritual journey and many would say they are not.  Why is this? Kinnaman uses the punchy phrase (used by more than one of his millennial interviewees) “you lost me” to indicate that these folks were open to faith, perhaps deeply involved in Christian practices and life, and at some point determined that they were no longer on the same page as their adult congregational leaders.  Kinnaman is passionate that we must understand the demographics of this cohort and we must “start a conversation” about this crisis of generational loss, and, more importantly, with this cohort themselves.  Why are younger Christians disengaging from church? 

I found the book to be very well written, really, really engaging, and a godsend for anyone interested in young adults–it is a vital read for those in youth ministry or those who work in campus ministry.  Parents who fret about their own grown children or young adults who are sad their their old friends from youth group seem to be no longer walking with the Lord will find much here.  The conversational tone is clear, the voices compelling, the insights and proposals very helpful.  Kinnaman is a good, good guy, a solid thinker and a real ally for those of us who want to somehow help make faith and Christian discipleship and church involvement a plausible reality for our young friends.

Of course, not everyone who drifts from church–or bolts from church as the case may be—has the same experience or the same (dis) interests.  Kinnamam sees three major constellations of disinterest, three sorts of folks who walked away from church.  (Each name seems to resonate with a Biblical theme or type, even, so this is really interesting!)

First there are what the book calls nomads. Although each one has a unique story, these are folks who are still seeking; the still haven’t found what their looking for.  Most likely they will say they are “spiritual but not religious” and they just might return to a traditional congregation.  Or they might hold to an admixture of new age beliefs, bits borrowed from various world religions, or might just be wandering through a variety of more or less intense beliefs or worldview.  Prodigals, however, are another group he found and these are folks who are aware that they have left the church, perhaps for good.  They may or may not be bitter (and it is surprising how many are not particularly angry) but they are disappointed.  They’ve grown disinterested and they are far from faith.  Exiles are another group that the research brings to our attention and, again, it may be a bit surprising to some (or not at all surprising if you are paying attention.)  Exiles are those who feel that they still want to follow Christ, they are interested in some sort of discipleship and faith and they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they must reconfigure their faith in ways that traditional congregations find unacceptable.  In fact, some said in their interviews that in order to maintain faith in God and a sense of seriousness about the gospel they simply must stay away from the institutional church.  These are folks who have dropped out but still see themselves as Christians.  They may even be worshiping in a house church or may live in an intentional community or be interested in the emergent faith conversations.  Nomads, Prodigals and Exiles.   Fascinating, eh?  And helpful, I’d say.

Here is a 9 minute video clip of him talking abou
t this. 

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church… raises these questions for us, and anyone involved in
church—mainline, Catholic or evangelical—should pay attention.  For
what it is worth (before anyone gets too defensive) he does not always
lay all the blame on the congregation.  Still, there is something going
on, this unprecedented dropout rate, this disaffection with Christianity
in the West, and it is a crisis we must deal with.  Knowing the facts
of the matter and hearing the stories is certainly a good step

You Lost Me has some other features as well, good and important information for any of us who are leaders in the church or who care about the integrity of the gospel as it is lived out in our time.  For instance, Kinnaman offers some statistics–and one fascinating chart that I can’t stop thinking about—about how different generational cohorts understand the obligations of obeying Biblical injunctions.  As you may guess, the bar graph decreases with age: the greatest generation insists that we must do our best to follow the teachings of the Bible.  Baby boomers have a bit lower commitment to Biblical obedience and Gen Xers even less so.   Of the younger “mosaics” (ages 18-28) who self-identified as Christians less than a third strongly agreed that this was important.  Does that make them lax and uncommitted? Or does it indicate that they understand the message of God’s grace, that we cannot earn God’s free gift of love?  Do they see the rules of religion as intolerably repressive?  Or do they have a good handle on what the relationship is between faith and works? Kinnaman explains much of this and he is very helpful as he explains (for instance) attitudes about sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage, that are typical among young adults.

One nice appendix of this important book is a listing of 50 suggestions for “passing on a flourishing, deep-rooted faith” from 50 different authors and leaders, many of whom are writers we know and respect.  Listen to the advice from Kenda Creasy Dean, Steve Garber, Walt Mueller, Shane Claiborne, Gabe Lyons, Charlie Peacock, Kara Powell, Donna Freitas, Derek Melleby, David Greusel, Christopher West, Sarah Groves, Rachel Held Evans, Francis Chan, Andrew Root, John Ortberg.  And more.

Watch this very cool video clip, a trailer for the project and the book and an invitation to continue working on this.  Even those of us who have been at this a while will be glad to hear him say “let’s get this conversation started!”  Thanks, David.  


lost in transition.gifLost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood  Christian Smith et al (Oxford University Press) $27.95  Well, if Kinnaman does a spectacular job doing basic research through his Barna Group research firm and then popularizing that into usable, enjoyable, insightful books like unchristian and You Lost Me, Christian Smith is his serious big brother.  Professor Smith is a research sociologist par excellence and with titles like Moral, Believing, Animals (Oxford University Press) and What Is a Person? (University of Chicago Press) he has made a notable and significant contribution to the social sciences rooted in his ecumenically-minded, catholic faith.  This new book, Lost in Transition, is nothing short of magisterial, offering serious and stunning research on the ways in which this young adult cohort has emerged without a clear sense of morals.  The book immediately became a conversation topic last month when New York Times columnist and NPR talking head David Brooks wrote about it in a syndicated op ed piece a month ago which whirled around the internet.  This new study seems to be a continuation of the major work he and his team did on the faith of young adults which came out in the prestigious Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press; $17.95) and the follow up, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press; $24.95.)  You may know of this exceptional work because of the popular book by Princeton’s Kendra Ceasy Dean which appropriated this research.  That amazing book was called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (Oxford University Press; $24.95.)

Jean Twenge (who wrote Generation Me and other good books on how consumerism affects our youth) says, Smith’s  “Lost in Transition is a groundbreaking, compelling, and deeply necessary look at the challenges facing young people today…The results [of their research] are shocking, revealing widespread moral relativsm and precious little civic engagement.”  We are obviously very fond of the Kinnaman research on reaching de-churched twenty-somethings.  This work on the ethics, values, and moral reasoning of youth is broader and more foundation.  For those who are serious about this topic, it is a must-read.

tweet if you heart jesus.gifTweet if You *Heart* Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation Elizabeth Drescher (Morehouse Publishing) $20.00  Morehouse is the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church and, as you might guess, offers here a book that brings the wisdom of the ancient and medieval faith into conversation with contemporary theories of cultural change and the realities of new social media.  Drescher, who has great interest in spiritual disciplines and practices, has studied spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She writes for the online magazine Religion Dispatches.  All of this to say that she is an ecumenical, mainline Christian who is very sharp, very funny, and has a very sophisticated way of combining the postmodern and the ancient, all so we can understand the new ways faith is being practiced, especially among youth and young adults.  The title is a tad tongue in cheek, of course, and although she is quite enmeshed in new social media, her study is astute and her insights profound.  Very nicely done.

worlds apart.gifWorlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds  Chuck Bomar (Zondervan) $14.99  Chuck is a good guy and has a huge heart and amazing passion for doing college ministry. (He has written two books on how large churches near campuses can do young adult outreach ministry among their collegiate neighbors.)  Here, he backs up and gives us his most important book yet, a study of this stage of life—what Sharon Parks has called “the critical years.”  As the back cover puts it, Bomar brings “understanding, comfort, and direction to all interested in this age group.”  Yes, understanding.  He gets young adults.  Comfort? Well, he is full of hope that God can reach this generation and that we can build meaningful and sustained relationships with this younger cohort.  So it may be comforting, I suppose.  He offers such clear-headed and practical insight (like “learn to listen”) that it really does give us great encouragement.  (Older readers, take note.  This really may be a comfort insofar as it will help you with tools to relate to your mosaic-aged friends.)  And direction?  Oh yeah, he guides us towards paths of understanding, helping us appreciate the mindset and ethos of 21st century college-aged young adults.  Huge endorsements from Chap Clark and Dan Kimball on the back, showing that at least evangelical thought leaders are taking this book seriously.  You should too.

generation rising.gifGeneration Rising: A Future with Hope for the United Methodist Church  edited by Andrew C. Thompason (Abingdon) $16.00  Whether you are United Methodist or not, this collection of essays by some of the Gen X leaders within Methodism is a real book treat.  (John Wesley was in his 30s, by the way, when his heart was “strangely warmed.”)  There are unique cultural shifts which those who were coming of age in the past decades experiences and as they now rise to adulthood, they’ve got a particular angle of vision within the church.  I liked this quote by Will Willimon who noted “Generation Rising made me marvel at the ability of Wesleyan Christianity to reinvent itself in each generation. Here is Wesleyanism and our church imagined as having a future as bright as our noble past.”  Granted, this offers the United Methodist church a prophetic challenge from its younger pastors and thinkers, but all of us should listen to these vibrant and forceful voices. The editor is the writer of the popular “Gen-X Rising” column in the United Methodist Reporter.

wandering in the wilderness.gifWandering in the Wilderness: Changes and Challenges to Emerging Adults’ Christian Faith Brian Simmons (Abilene University Press) $14.99  This is a fantastic book, surveying the vast quantity of research done in recent years on the “emerging adulthood” stage.  (The term was coined by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, by the way.)  Besides helping us understand the research and get a handle on the common changes emerging adults experience these days, Wandering…helps offer guidelines for how they (and their parents) can navigate those changes.  The subtitle explains the them
e of this book well for it does study the changes and challenges, and it offers useful directives.  Study questions make it ideal for a small group (parents, maybe?)  How do those in their twenties tend to look at life and faith?  Can congregations or church leaders be more aware and sensitive to their concerns?  Simmons is a fine author, burdened to know and care about these very things. (His earlier book was called Falling Away: Why Christians Lose Their Faith and What Can Be Done About It.)  He holds degrees from Pepperdine and Purdue and lives in Portland.

greenhouses of hope.jpgGreenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World  edited by Dori Grinenko Baker (Alban Institute) $18.00  Some books just really intrigue me and although not everyone will appreciate them, I just have to tell our readers about them.  This is an somewhat odd book—deep, serious, playful, remarkable in many ways, describing congregations, including some multi-ethinic ones, that are doing some unusual stuff to attend to and minister with youth and younger adults.  Walt Brueggemann says it is “a primer on how to recover vitality and fidelity of the church” although that may be overstating it.  Paker Palmer’s offers a more straight-forward observation—these are “well-tested green-house approaches” and notes that it will make you hopeful for the church and world. (The opening rumination on what constitutes Christian hope is marvelous.)  Carol Howard Meritt, whose two books, Tribal Church and Reframing Hope I have written about before, notes that it “provides tools, probing questions, and significant resources to grow hope in your own community.”  The rich array of stories here are exceptional: they include  essays about “radical welcome” in interfaith dialogue and “converging streams.”  One chapter by Presbyterian Sinai Chung explains the Korean idea of “mozying” which means “when the young mentor the younger.”  An African-American community leader offers a good chapter on the African word (and the theology implied in it) Sankofa.  Joyce Ann Mercer writes a very important chapter looking at two congregations (one Lutheran, one Episcopalian) and how their church conflict effected the youth.

At the end of each of these creatively-written narratives about a particular congregation’s ministry and their contribution to human flourishing, there is a section called Engaging VocationCare Practices and another inviting reflection on “Ethnographic Listening.”   It is a really provocative and fun and a useful resource, especially for mainline or progressive congregations and those interested in how congregations reflect on their own sense of call.  The creation of Greenhouses of Hope was supported by the Calling Congregations initiative funded by the Fund for Theological Education.

congregational connections.gifCongregational Connections: Uniting Six Generations in the Church  Carroll Anne Sheppard & Nancy Burton Dilliplane (Xlibris) $21.99  This is a brand, spanking new book and it is nearly one of a kind.  Much of the research drawing on the work of Howe & Strauss (Generations; The Fourth Turning, Millennials Rising) and other generational cohort theory appropriated for the church is a bit dated and is often done using language and vocabulary and congregational models presuming an evangelical reader. (Think of One Church Four Generations by Gary MacIntosh, for instance, The Millennials by Thomas Rainer or Generation iY by Tim Elmore.)  Carroll and Nancy are Episcopalian leaders (one a priest, the other a licensed preacher) from Philadelphia and out of their interest and pastoral work they researched this well.  And they draw out the largest picture I’ve yet seen about the distinctives of six generations as they live and serve together in a liturgical parish. I like their inter-generational approach. This is short and incisive, has discussion questions that are very useful and is a fine survey of generational theory that can be used with a vestry, adult education class, or in any setting eager to learn and grow. Congratulations to these friends for making this nice contribution to the health of God’s church.

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