Hearts & Minds Christmas gift giving guide (part 2) — more book ideas ON SALE 20% OFF

We were glad for those that shared our epic gift giving guide the other day. But even as we sent it out, I kept thinking of this book or that one, for all sorts of different folks. Giving-giving can be stressful, and we can help; books can help. And we have so many different sorts of topics and titles here.

Just the other day I was showing the brand new, rather quirky but utterly fascinating (and incredibly informative) The Infographic Bible: Visualizing the Drama of God’s Word created by Karen Sawrey (Zondervan; $34.99) and the customer was perplexed. “Who could buy a thing like that” she wondered, struck by the colorful look, creatively imagined data and, I suppose, the price tag. I admit I sort of wondered that myself; it’s awesome, but who actually buys such a book?

Send us an order and we can get it right out at our discounted priced — we’ll take the 20% off the regularly shown price – and you’ll have it by Christmas. Or, we can send something directly to your recipient, tucking in a little note on your behalf. We gift-wrap for free, too. Just let us know how we can help.

Here are some other categories that might be useful for certain folks on your gift-giving list.

FOR SOMEONE WHO LIKES EARLY ROCK AND ROLL

Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock Gregory Alan Thornbury (Convergent) $26.00 I hope you saw my long review of this when it came out this summer. I did a big BookNotes feature on it and, happily, got a smaller review published in the big-time Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The book review editor there is a Larry Norman fan. If you know anything about the subculture of CCM, you know Norman is considered one of the grandfathers of the movement. His early days, though, were themselves legendary as he preformed with or before nearly every late 60s rock legend, from Paul McCartney to Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin. He shared his faith eagerly and helped create the vision and vibe of what was known then as “the Jesus Movement.”

Contemporary Christian rock has had its share of genius artists, brilliant performers, and sell-out wannabees not to mention a few fakes and frauds. There has been, as they say, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Greg Thornbury, himself a scholar, a cultural historian, an evangelical (and a rocker, despite his bow tie) is the perfect author to tell this story and it is right on.

It is my sense that this is a must read for anybody who likes Christian rock, and, perhaps, nearly anyone who enjoys reading good accounts of the not so halcyon days of the 60s and 70s in American pop music culture. Why Should the Devil… is a great, vivid book, highly recommended.

FOR ONE INTERESTED IN URBAN MINISTRY

Voices Rising: Women of Color Finding & Restoring Hope in the City edited by Shabrae Jackson Krieg & Janet Balasiri Singleterry (Servant Partners Press) $15.95 What a find, this recent start up publisher that is doing really good stuff on urban outreach, race, economic justice, mission. We are so glad to have found them as they are doing great books like this one. Evangelical women of color are increasingly being honored and their voices are slowly being heard in broader settings; this anthology of great writings of women of color working and living in poor urban communities is a great witness to this shift and new openness. As it says on the back cover “As the reader, you are invited to listen to the call and the need for diversity in mission and to seeing the uniqueness that women of color bring.”

There is a lovely forward to this by Sandra Maria Van Opstal who is known for her great book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World and a great endorsement (among many, many others) from Lisa Sharon Harper. We hope you know somebody who would like this book!

Urban Ministry Reconsidered: Contexts and Approaches edited by D. Drew Smith, Stephanie Boddie, & Ronald Peters (WJK) $40.00 I need to do a major review of this as it is extraordinary. Let me just not, now, that if you know anybody who is seriously studying this topic, this is a major anthology, edited by leaders of the Metro-Urban Institute at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. These folks have decades of scholarship and practice as theologians and activists. There are chapters on poverty, housing, health, racism, missional church stuff, global insights, and lots more. It is fairly diverse theologically, mostly progressive in terms of social agenda, and pretty scholarly. It advances a number of fresh insights, offers current research and we have a few trusted friends who have done pieces in it. There is nothing like it on the market and just came out this fall. A great gift for someone you know who is deeply involved in studying this field.

Seeing Jesus in East Harlem: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put Jose Humphreys (IVP) $16.00 This great book is part of the Praxis imprint and, with the colorful cover, is immediately attractive. This is very much about a sense of place in the urban context and how our own stories and faith formation are tied to particular places. The author is a Puerto Rica pastor who has planted a multi-ethnic church in East Harlem and this book is ideal for anyone thinking practically about urban ministry.

Humphreys is pastor of Metro Hope Covenant Church and I like that the church is described as being “involved in shalom-making in the city through facilitating conversation contemplation, and action across social, economic, cultural, and theological boundaries.”

Good, good evangelically-minded activist/scholars/pastors endorse this with rave reviews, from Soong-Chan Rah to Paul Sparks (of The New Parish) who says, “Go get this amazing book!”) to Noel Castellanos.

Lisa Sharon Harper says:

A beautiful love letter to the church about how to be church in our browning, decolonizing world…Every pastor’s next must-read.

How Neighborhood Make Us Sick: Restoring Health and Wellness to our Communities Veronica Squires and Breanna Lathrop (IVP) $17.00 This long-awaited book just came today and we are thrilled to suggest it as a gift for anyone you know who is interested in urban life, or in health, wholeness, environmental safety and the like. We have long wished for a book about public health from a Christian perspective that was readable, passionate, helpful. Such a book would have to look at environmental issues, racism, poverty, and our general lack of awareness of environmental toxins. Obviously we think of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, we think of asbestos and urban fracking. But there is so much more about caring for our built environment and caring in effective ways about how some of it is literally making us sick. Buildings with mold trigger asthma; geographic lack of access to healthy food and health care increases childhood mortality. Trauma (from community violence, for instance) can cause physical changes to the body and to our resilience.

Squires and Lathrop are serving well on the front lines at the Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta and have been working on this topic for years. (Lathrop is a family nurse practitioner with a Master’s Degree in public health; Squires is chief administrator and is on the board for the Georgia Charitable Care Network.)

Beth started reading this the moment it came out of the box, and we are very, very grateful for publishers who do this kind of work. As Bob Lupton says on the back cover, “The time is right for an insightful, well-documented expose of the pathology in poverty neighborhoods and a roadmap for the journey towards health and wholeness. How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick is just that.”

FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN RACE, JUSTICE, AND SOCIAL CHANGE

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Freedom on Death Row Anthony Ray Hinton (St. Martin’s Press) $26.99 This would be an excellent gift for anyone who likes powerful memoir or even crime thrillers, although it is a righteous story about overcoming gross injustice. It is a perfect choice for anyone who has read Bryan Stevenson’s classic Just Mercy because Anthony Ray Hinton and his awful case – convicted in a sloppy trial for a crime he couldn’t have committed – figures into the dramatic plot of Stevenson’s book about this very kind of thing. His Equal Justice Initiative offers legal aid to poor folks who are incarcerated unfairly. Hinton spent decades on death row and in Just Mercy he remained in jail despite Bryan’s heroic efforts on his behalf, getting the trail reheard, appealing, appealing. This tells the story from Hinton’s view and is a simple story of his ordinary life and his extraordinary faith and courage and dignity living on death row.

Some of this is hard stuff; some is beautiful – I will never forget the pages about his book club on death row and the dead men walking and their love for one another and good books.

There is good news here: Hinton is finally released so this is an inspiration tale of endurance and freedom and goodness. There is a reason Ray has become a hero to many all over the road and why so many astute readers (like Desmond Tutu) have raved about Bryan’s role and Ray’s telling of the story. The Sun Does Shine is a book that is unforgettable and you could give it to nearly anyone who has interest in criminal reform or the long work for justice.

Burden: A Preacher, A Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South Courtney Hargrave (Convergent) $26.00 I hope you read my long review of this earlier this year in BookNotes. This is quite a story (and there is now a Hollywood movie about it all, directed by Andrew Heckler of Dallas Buyer’s Club fame.) This, also, is a book I couldn’t put down, an intriguing tale of life in a small Carolina town where, yep, there is a white supremacy guy who opens a KKK museum. Naturally, it attracts protests and national attention and an ill informed, poor white kid is taken in and becomes the point man running the shop.

Oh, the things we do for love, the old song goes, and Michael Burden (that’s really the man’s name) falls in love and is convinced by his equally poor white girl friend to leave these racist guys behind. The array of radical white supremacist, confederates, and neo-Nazis that used the Klan Museum as a front were mad at Burden’s betrayal so they kicked him out of the basement apartment he was using. Homeless, he and his girlfriend are taken in – get this; you can hardly believe it – by the black activist pastor who was his nemesis in protest.

The all black church was understandably skeptical of their pastor’s newfound KKK friend and Burden had some learning to do as he attempted to fit in to the black Baptist congregation. And, believe me, the story doesn’t end there! This riveting book nicely illustrates the adage about truth being stranger than fiction and how God’s redemption comes in often surprising ways. Burden is a great story and would be interesting to anyone who reads about race, about the changing south, about reconciliation and such. I agree with one reviewer who said Burden is a “mesmerizing narrative with a powerful social and political message” although it really is a very human, humane drama.

Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody James H. Cone (Orbis) $28.00 Anyone who studies black theology knows the name of James Cone, whose major work came out in the late 60s amidst the “black power” movement and the debates about which approach – King or Malcolm – were most effective and righteous in those hard days. More recently, as an older man, his popularity was broadened and renewed by his stunning last major work Christ and the Lynching Tree. This new book, published just after his death earlier this year, is an autobiography, a slim hardback (admittedly a bit pricey) but “a must read for everyone interested in discerning how to live awake in the gospel while inspiring the voice of the oppressed.” It is Cone’s own story of finding his voice, of coming up with his notions of black theology, of his life in the academy (he taught at Union in NYC) doing this significant work. It is very interesting and somewhat revealing.

The electric Cornel West has a thrilling foreword that makes the book that much more precious, and anyone following this stuff would be glad to have it. One reviewer calls Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody his “final masterpiece” and another says it is “both eloquent and unflinching,”

Listen to Willie James Jennings, the important young author of The Christian Imagination (so ably discussed, by the way, in James K.A. Smith’s Imaging the Kingdom: Reforming Public Theology) who says:

These are some of the final words of our Father, the one who brought many of us into the struggle for black theological liberation. This memoir must find its way into the hands of future generations of students who need to know that before they found ‘the struggle’ there was a theologian named Cone already deeply committed to it.

Not Your White Jesus: Following a Radical, Refugee Messiah Sheri Faye Rosendahl (WJK) $16.00  I have written about this a few times and erased it each time. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s Christmas, although I do have to think of the Jackson Brown song “The Rebel Jesus.” I do think this new little book would make a fabulous gift to just the right person. Maybe you know somebody you could gift it to. After all, it is His birthday, right?

Anybody who is tired of how it seems that Jesus has been co-opted by the far religious right, as if Jesus was a gun-toting, anti-immigrant, white power Trump-man, will find a breath of fresh air, here, maybe a life-line even. I don’t have to tell you that many justice warriors, well-meaning and often noble kids on the streets in protest of how we’ve surged to the right amidst growing poverty and racism are convinced that Christianity is not for them. This suggests – no, it nearly shouts – otherwise. Jesus was revolutionary in many ways and clearly was not white. Does this bother us? Many who are overlooked by conventional churches would find a home with Him (we know many who were despised by the religious leaders of his day found a home with Him) and this book offers a feisty reminder that Christ was not blond-haired or blue eyed and would not have supported policies of exclusion and violence or quiet support of any status quo this side of New Creation.

We have a lot of books about Jesus and many are more moderate and perhaps more balanced, maybe even more fully accurate. A good friend just re-read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright for the third time! (It’s now out in paperback.) We’ve recently discovered the brand new almost pocket sized A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus: An Introduction to the Man from Nazareth for Believers and Skeptics by the sharp thinker John Dickson from the UK. But this Not Your White Jesus is a radical reminder of some urgent stuff, offering heartfelt conversations and even a Bible study/reflection guide in the back to deeper our engagement with the controversial stuff Jesus taught. Even the cover is “in your face” and would be good for a disillusioned young person.

As Michael Frost says on the back, “Yes, she says things that will likely rub you the wrong way. Maybe she is just trying to be true to Jesus– the radical, brown-skinned, refugee Jesus.” Not Your White Jesus by Sheri Rosendahl is maybe not for everyone, but I bet you could have some great conversations giving it to just the right person. Maybe somebody for whom it would provide a fresh link to the church and to Christian discipleship. Maybe somebody who never really heard just how upside down the Messiah’s Kingdom really was. Why not order one and give it a try!

Once We Were Strangers: What A Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor Shawn Smucker (Revell) $14.99  There is more than one way to skin a cat by dad used to say, by which he meant that there can be several ways to solve a problem. If your hope is to enlighten someone about the Biblical call to peace and justice about the need to be hospitable to strangers, maybe even care for immigrants, one might not have to go full-on didactic by giving a book like the above listed James Cone or Not Your White Jesus. Yes, those will make fabulous gifts for some people but I am quite aware that either could be a real stinker at the lovely Christmas brunch table. But there’s other ways into this conversation.

Shawn Smucker is a dear man, a solid, conventional evangelical, and an excellent writer and thinker. We have touted his last two YA fantasy novels – Beth just finished both and found them hugely entertaining and thought-provoking. (Those are The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There.) We like him a lot and nearly any reader liking a good story would too.

Here is how the back cover starts this riveting, inspiring story:

In 2012, Mohammad fled his Syrian village along with is wife and four sons. Four years later he sat across from Shawn Smucker in a small conference room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Though neither of them knew it Mohammad had arrived in Shawn’s life just in time.

I suppose this is a story of refugee resettlement, of getting involved in social service and becoming an advocate for justice. It nicely tells of how one central Pennsylvania family learned to be aware of the complexities of global concerns and why refugees risk so much to come to a new home. It is even about inter-faith conversation as a Christian and Muslim family. Many people these days would find it interesting, I’m sure.

But more than anything Once We Were Strangers is a story of friendship, and of learning to love. It is an intimate story and it is almost (almost) as simple of that. It will make a truly lovely gift to almost anyone who likes a good story about kindness and love and grace.

Peter Greer runs the amazing micro-financing ministry (globally recognized, based in Lancaster, PA.) He has seen all manner of injustice and global violence and he has seen hope and change. He is a remarkable social entrepreneur and Christian leader. Listen to him as he talks about this book by his friend Shawn Smucker and this nice new book; Greer says it offers,

A glimpse into the bridge-building, fear-silencing, life-affirming gift of cross-cultural friendship.

FOR ONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN SCIENCE (AND IS A SERIOUS READER)

The Penultimate Curiosity: How Science Swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions Roger Wagner & Andrew Briggs (Oxford University Press) $45.95 This is a big, big book, big in heft (slightly glossy pages make it a bit heavy) and, more importantly, is hefty with a broad vision, suggesting, as the subtitle implies, that it is truly about ultimate questions. The one author is himself a scientist of great renown (in the UK) and the other is a painter. My, my, what a broad set of conversations about life and times, truth and knowledge, heart and mind. It has a lot of fascinating chapters about a range of topics about science and the search for meaning.

Endorsements on the back are quite notable – from Alister McGrath, an evangelical theologian with two science degrees, Malcolm Jeeves, a former President of the Royal Society of Edinburg and prolific author about faith and science, the brilliant Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (who calls it “a path-breaking account, vast in scope, thrilling in detail…”) Even Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury says, simply, “Here is magnificence.”

Impressive to me, too, is that a good friend, herself an accomplished, Harvard-trained scientist and now professor (and her husband, a theologian and cultural analysis in his own right) have said it is among their favorite books on this topic. That is what first turned us on to it, and we’d love to share our enthusiasm for The Penultimate Curiosity with you. Maybe you can share the love, buying one for somebody you know who would like just a large gift.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective Robert Bishop, Larry Funck, Raymond Lewis, Stephen Moshier, John Walter (IVP Academic) $75.00 Hey, this wraps up really nicely and it could find other uses if your recipient grows tired of reading a new science textbook – using it as a door stop is the standard joke for one this size, but I suspect it could hold a small child who has graduated from a highchair. At over 650 pages and slightly oversized this big textbook is simply breathtaking in scope and very, very nicely created. It just came out last week so we are among the first to see it. We are very impressed and eager to tell you about it.

The authors are each professors at Wheaton College; three are proper scientists, one specializes in both physics and the philosophy of science, and John Walton is a renowned professor of Old Testament (with a PhD from Hebrew Union College.) The five of them have team-taught a course on the theories of origins for over twenty years and they offer here both top-notch scholarship and what seems to be a warm sort of collegiality. Dipping in one can just sense the joy of learning, the excitement of big ideas, the big questions about the questions of origins, the bright evangelical perspective and the honest wrestling with the best minds, and best data, out there.

There is much more about science than this sub-topic of the debate about origins, although we do have many books on the study of origins; it is of perennial interest. We also have lots of other books more generally about Christian faith and science (not about origins and evolution.) We had to list this one, though, as it would be a delightfully surprising gift for any geeky scholar who likes this sort of resource. It looks truly wonderful.

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous ideology J.P. Moreland (Crossway) $16.99  One of our go-to customers and friends I call whenever we have a new science book that I want an opinion on just finished this. He quickly urged me to tell others about it. He said it was very, very clear and very, very important. I tend to agree that this philosophical worldview, a reductionism that says that the only things that matter are those things that can be empirically measured, is dangerous. That it leads to a loss of transcendence and proposes in its place a thin sort of secularism nearly denuded of wonder and ultimate value seems evident to me.

 

Not so, everyone. Many disagree, although the debate about this world of wonders is lively.  This discussion is important for all of us, and not just for those in the sciences. In fact, another fabulously rich, brand new literary book explores this questions and makes a somewhat similar case, drawing on history — see George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles: Incarnation, Doubt and Reenchantment by historian Timothy Larsen (IVP; $16.00.)

 

Anyway, if you know anyone who needs to sort through the differences between science (a good, good thing) and scientism (again, the view that “the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality”) this small book by J. P. Moreland cold be just the thing. Give it to anyone who enjoys a healthy respect for science but wrestles with a rigid adherence to scientism. It is a bit philosophical.

The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory Susan Wise Bauer (Norton) $26.95 What a great gift idea this is for those who are interested in the history of the development of science in the West and who want to dip in to concise summaries of hundreds of major theories, key thinkers, chief debates, sprinkled nicely with primary source quotes. You may know the very widely read Susan Wise Bauer and her many volumes helping us all develop a well-educated mind. In this book she has arranged short and nearly chatty overviews of hundreds of important and often seminal thinkers and researchers. For each chapter she has a link to her website that offers excerpts of the primary source readings she discusses.

As the title suggests, here you get clear explanations of Aristotle and Ptolemy and learn the advanced made in those early Greco-Roman years. You can read about the chief contributions and work of Copernicus and Galileo, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, on through Darwin and Mendel, Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. She is balanced and insightful about what maters and what the controversies were and, even as a conventionally orthodox Christian, she doesn’t shy away from the vast implications of new discoveries, from natural selection to relativity and big bangs. Bauer guides you through them all, explaining who these discoverers were, the era in which they worked and how to appreciate the particular points she makes and the excerpts she offers. This is a college level history of science in one good volume, the best book of this sort with which we are familiar. Somebody you know is going to love it.

FOR ONE INTERESTED IN SCIENCE WHO IS NOT VERY WELL READ (YET)

Scientists of Faith: 48 Biographies of Historic Scientists and Their Christian Faith Dan Graves (Kregel) $15.99 Graves is a life long reader (with a degree in library science) so has access to resources that many of us simply don’t know about. In this nice little volume he tells the Christian testimonies of many important scientists, drawing from their own biographies and letters, showing how many of the important researchers did so out of a deep motivation to understand God’s world and worship God with their learning. It is actually very interesting to hear about so many scientists from earlier historical periods in so many fields doing good academic and scientific research. A nice gift for a high school student, perhaps, or young collegiate.

A Little Book for New Scientists: Why and How to Study Science Josh Reeves (IVP) $12.00 This is truly a pocket sized book, a perfect stocking stuffer for a sciency high school student or a young collegiate. This publisher is affiliated with the great campus ministry organization (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, known on campus often as I-V) and they know well the struggles and joys of a young person of faith learning to use their minds for God, sensing an interest in science, and they want to help those students take up their science classes as holy callings. There is no dilemma here; science isn’t a battleground against faith (although there are some science profs who hold to a naturalistic philosophy of scientism which is itself an a priori belief which isn’t exactly scientific itself.) So there are philosophical questions about the assumptions of science and what science does and can do so this little guidebook delightful lays the groundwork for such faithful scholarship. It is short and clear and interesting, surely a blessing for one who hasn’t ever read anything like this. It’s a good start.

The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl Giberson & Francis Collins (IVP) $22.00 This nice hardback is often our main “go-to” book for one who wants to read about the ways to think about science from a balanced, winsome Christian worldview. There are many others, some more complex, some more strict in one way or another, but this, written almost in a Q & A format, construed by two very impressive Christians scholars. Giberson is an educator and Collins is a world-renowned geneticist, former head of the team mapping the human genome.) They do help us embrace both science and faith without compromising either – they do not reject standard views of evolution, by the way. It’s very nicely done, smart and helpful.

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design edited by J.P. Stump with Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, and Stephen Meyer (Zondervan) $19.99 For some on your holiday gift list, this may not be of interest, but there are others that simply must have a book like this — they are just itching to figure this out and want each side to have a fair hearing. This “four views” point-counterpoint offers each view a good-sized chapter to present their case and then the other three views respond. This new 2018 release really offers the “state of the conversation” about origins among evangelicals. Represented are “young earth creationism”, “old earth/progressive creationism”, “evolutionary creation” and “intelligent design.” This book is fascinating!

FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture, and Computer Technology Derek Schuurman (IVP Academic) $18.00  I have reviewed this more than once at BookNotes and each time suggest how very important it is. Derek has a very comprehensive and integrated Christian mindset and his worldviewish perspective informs how he thinks about his field of computer science. Consequently, it is almost a one-of-a-kind sort of book.

Of course Schuurman affirms and takes delight in the goodness of God’s world and our ability to create digital technology. He understands how sin has distorted and brought ideologies and bad thinking to bear on our science, even in his beloved field of computers. And, yet, as a Christian, he is a person of hope and renewed practices, discerning how belief in Christ’s redemption has implications for restoring this good, but damaged world of computer technology. See what a great framework he’s got – good creation/sinful brokenness/hopeful redemption — to explore the ups and downs of our life with computers. This is a must-read for anyone working in the field, the most foundational book we know. I’m sure somebody would benefit from it and be glad to find it with a real ribbon. Not digital. Ha.

Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal Craig M. Gay (IVP Academic) $25.00 We will be naming this as one of the most important books of 2018 so we will be tempting you to buy it in an upcoming BookNotes. But surely you know someone who works in (or is fascinated by) modern technology. From industrial engineering to computer culture, we have come to realize that technology is not neutral. It effects us. It is – as Schuurman, above, remind us, made by God, but distorted by sin. Things are blessed and cursed, good and bad. How do we navigate all that intentionally and faithfully? This is a thoughtful, balanced, important work and we are so grateful for its robust theological vision and “in the world but not of it” Christian perspective.

Listen to what the always-wise Gordon Smith – who has written books on vocation and calling, on spirituality and prayer, on institutional intelligence in leadership, and more – says of it:

One of the most critical conversations of our day is quite simply this: How do we manage the machines and technologies that intersect our lives in a way that is consistent with our core Christian commitments? Craig Gay in this volume makes an invaluable and essential contribution, helping his readers think critically and more clearly about aspects of our daily experience that we all too easily take for granted. And part of the strength of this contribution is that Gay insists we need to think theologically about technology ― that is, to view technology and respond to technology in light of the Triune God and a biblical understanding of what it means to be the church. And, of course, to then respond to the challenge of our day in a way that is intentional, discerning, and hopeful.

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto Jaron Lanier (Vintage) $15.00 Lanier is a programmer and the father of virtual reality technology. It is said about him that, “he was a pioneer of digital media and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture.”

Okay, we’ll cut to the chase. This pioneer and secular evangelist of computers and the admittedly genius programmer has come to realize that it isn’t as simple as that and that our obsession with digital life has significant dangerous implications. Interestingly, he says some of these concerns were nearly “baked in” to the very cake, woven into the very fabric of the earliest days of digital life. As the publisher explains Lanier “discusses the technical and cultural problems that have unwittingly arisen from programming choices that were “locked in” at the birth of the digital age.”

Give this to anyone in the computer science or IT field, to any student dabbling in this geeky stuff, to anyone who needs to consider a prophetic critique coming from deep inside the edgy digital industry itself. Jason Lanier is a persuasive and important new critic, offering what one reviewer called “a necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technology debates.”

This is not an intentionally religious book (just so you know) but think it is a valuable contribution, perhaps somewhat akin to Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly by the late Neil Postman. Does that help? Who can you give one of these to? Be prepared for some hefty conversations!

By the way, I just have to give a quick shout-out: if you know any parents of almost any age, you should be sure they have the small but fabulous The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch (Baker; $14.99.) It is so very wise, thoughtful, interesting, accessible. I like that it has this balanced view that tech isn’t bad or neutral, either. It really does effect us and we must steward the gift well. It’s a gem and if your younger parents don’t have it, you should get it for them. They will thank you.

 

 

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology Ellen Ullman (MCD/FSG) $27.00 Wow. With rave reviews in Wired and great blurbs from the likes of cultural critic Sherry Turkle (and, curiously, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks) two things, at least, are evident, and will help you determine if this would be a cool gift for somebody you care about. First, the writer knows her stuff: she is an original voice, to be sure, but she is telling a story that is nearly a memoir. She is a coder and works as a woman doing this odd, techie work. What kind of person gives us our latest digital gizmos and makes them work as they do? Who cooks up and then actually designs the digits and dots that make them flow? Ullman builds worlds with the software she builds. As we know, this is a culture-making, story-telling, soul-shaping thing, for herself and for us. As James K.A. Smith puts it (in You Are What You Love) “the things we do, do things to us.” That is, taking up the technology that Ullman gives us effects us, and shapes our worlds. Ullman knows this and tells her story with vivid grace and tons of detail. Some important reviews have said it is one of the best books of the year.

Secondly, not only is Ellen Ullman informed about the industry, her work doing software and code, she is, also, a novelist. So she knows how to write, to spin this other kind of code, the kind we find in good pages in good books. Guys like Jason Lanier (above) wisely worry about all this – even now people are talking about being post-human. But she helps us understand, the glories and the temptations. As Constance Hale writes in Wired,

Ullman comes with her tech bona fides intact (she is, after all, a seasoned software engineer). But she also comes with novel material . . . We see the seduction at the heart of programming: embedded in the hijinks and hieroglyphics are the esoteric mysteries of the human mind.

The prominent Kirkus Review says this, which I love:

Sharply written, politically charged . . . What Anthony Bourdain did for chefs, Ullman does for computer geeks.

 

FOR SOMEONE WHO ENJOYS THE ARTS

He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art Christian Wiman (FSG) $23.00 From one of our most esteemed poets and talked about theorists of the arts we have a brand new thin hardback ruminating on aesthetics and faith and poetry and creativity and more. This is new and a bit on the highbrow end of things; the brilliant Marilynne Robinson has a blurb on the back saying that Wiman’s poetry and scholarship “have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world.”

She continues, “This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader’s surprise and assent arts one and the same.”

In speaking of his much-discussed memoir My Bright Abyss, Christian legal theorist (!) and attorney David Skeel wrote,

If the nineteenth-century English poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins were transported to early twenty-first century America, this is the kind of memoir height have written.

That quote alone might give you a clue to whom you might gift this heady, mysterious, artful new set of essays.

Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life Thomas Terry & J. Ryan Lister (Moody Press) $14.99 This is a passionate youthful, visionary new book that emerges from the humble beast community, centered in the hip-hop record label with that name. It is no surprise that this carries a foreword by Christian rapper Jackie Hill-Perry. But it is not primarily about hip hop or pop culture – it is the first volume in a series of small, cool books that intend to lay out a Christian apologetic for the arts, why creativity matters, and how God is glorified when people do good, allusive, creative art work. As it shouts on the back cover –  “God is reclaiming creativity for His glory and our good.”

We have lots of books on aesthetic theory and dense Christian studies about the arts – from classics by Calvin Seerveld (Rainbows for the Fallen World, for starters) and Mako Fujimura (see his Refractions, and Culture Care) and everything Square Halo Books publishes (see, for instance, their simply must-have It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God.) But this new Images and Idols is upbeat and a bit intense, cleverly created (no dust jacket) and I think would be really appreciated by any aficionado of contemporary art or who look for signs of life in popular culture.

God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & The Broadway Musical He Inspired Kevin Cloud (Deep River) $15.99 I’m going to be straight up honest with you: I haven’t seen the play and haven’t read the book. But it’s the only one of its kind and it looks pretty solid. And I am almost sure that most of you know somebody who is taken with this play. Or at least the popular soundtrack. Mike Breen – a very energetic and pop culture savvy missional church planter has a rave endorsement (“I cannot recommend it more highly!”) and it does seem to inspire people to reflect on how God works, even in “our own heroic journeys.” There’s a nice blurb on the back by one Lauren Boyd, who is in the Hamilton Broadway cast. She says,

God and Hamilton turned me inside out and revealed a side of Hamilton I had never thought to explore.

 

The Art of Edward Knippers – Prints and Drawings James Romaine et al (Square Halo Books) $19.99  I have talked before, often, about our respect for this remarkable niche indie publisher, a boutique press called Square Halo Books out of Lancaster, PA. Our friends there do books mostly about the arts and the interface of Christian faith and art. They’ve done the aforementioned It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and others such as It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God.

They have a book about teaching art and music (Christianly) and a very good one about the artistic vision of C.S. Lewis. They’ve got one on the theology of Doctor Who called Bigger on the Inside. And more.

 

They have done some marvelous gifty art books, coffee table type books.Their larger sized Beauty Given By Grace:The Biblical Prints of Sadao Wantanabe ($29.99) is known all over the world. It makes a fabulous Christmas gift, by the way.

One of the important things they’ve done is publish a small set of books that are essentially introductions to some very contemporary Christian visual artists. My favorite has full color pictures – some lovely, some disturbing, some vivid, some subtle – and interviews with each of the artists talking about their creative work. It is called Objects of Grace ($19.99) and it is an excellent book to encourage modern artists to be active, doing good work and thinking well about their vocation.

They also have a small series of beautifully designed books of lots of artwork – of, by, and about particular artists. There is one complimenting the work of Mary McCleary. They did one comparing the work of Makoto Fujimura and some previously un-shown works of George Rouault. Their Square Halo Books website shows all their releases and we carry them all. They do make splendid, rare gifts.

They have three in a series called “The Art of…” which, as they say at the website, “introduces artists to the reader with a lavish amount of the artists work woven through several essays on the theological, art historical, and aesthetic merits of that work. The first three books in this series are The Art of Sandra Bowden, The Art of Guy Chase, andjust off the press —The Art of Edward Knippers: Prints and Drawings.

The Art of Edward Knippers: Prints and Drawings was edited chiefly by James Romaine, a very astute art critic and historian. Other important Christian artists have short essays in this provocative little book, including Bruce Herman, Chad Barlett, Steve Prince, Danika Bigley, and, again, James Romaine.

Knippers is legendary for his very large, very lush, oil paintings – mostly of big Bible characters, many nude, all vivid and energetic. They have drawn some controversy and that will surely be discussed whenever Knippers and his work is studied. This new volume, though, focuses on his sketches and his prints, smaller works that may not be as known. They are very artfully shown in this splendid new art book.

The essays and the artwork, the graphic design of the pages and the thoughtfulness the critics engage the prints make this an extraordinary little volume.

You may want to give these as gifts. The Art of Sandra Bowden is a very lavish hardback, with glossy pages, showing all manner of her beautiful work from her prodigious output. (It sells for $49.99.) Much of her art has a Byzantine feel, and while she is very contemporary, some have said she harkens back to medieval and Renaissance artists.

The Art of Guy Chase one is one we have enjoyed showing and reviewing in BookNotes. The late painter was playful and eccentric, postmodern and surprising. It is colorful and really interesting. What a wild and creative book The Art of Guy Chase is. It sells for $19.99.

FOR ONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN PUBLIC THEOLOGY ESPECIALLY IF THEY”VE READ SMITH’S YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE.

Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99  This is the third and final volume in the much-discussed “cultural liturgies” project, which included two previous books, the mighty and transformational Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation and Imagining the Kingdom: Who Worship Works ($22.99 each.) All three volumes can be purchased in a cool box set for $66.99. I have reviewed them extensively in previous BookNotes and have often said that his very popular You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99)was a summarizing, easier version of the big three. If you know somebody who liked the more concise You Are What You Love volume, why not spring for the boxed set, and give all three together.  Or, just one, even. These are heavier, but they are very, very important and if someone you know is a Smith fan, they ought to have them. They will thank you, later, after they work through them.

FOR SOMEONE FOR WHOM YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BUY

Here are five fascinating books that might surprise just about anyone. They are handsome and unique and special.

Four Birds of Noah’s Ark: A Prayer Book from the Time of Shakespeare Thomas Dekker, edited by Robert Hudson (Eerdmans) $17.99 Again, this is one of those books that I have talked about often this past year, and we named it a best book of last year. From the beautifully crafted design, the cover and fonts, to the back-story of how this little-known literary classic came back in to print, Four Birds is a bookseller’s dream. I think it is a book-lover’s dream, too, and many of our customers have agreed. What a joy to have and to hold. Congratulations to Eerdmans (and poet and Bible scholar Robert Hudson) for daring to bring this nearly-lost volume back to print.

As I’ve written before, Four Birds of Noah’s Ark was written amidst the Black Death in the very early 1600’s in London. Each set of prayers—beautifully crafted, Biblically-rich, theologically-mature — comes from one of the four birds, each around a constellation of concerns.  It’s a curious metaphor and structure, but what is most interesting is that this prayer-book full of these four different sorts of prayers, was in print for centuries, finally going out of print in the early 20th century (1924 to be exact.) Hudson rediscovered it, edited and adapted it with just a bit with some helpful annotations; his own preface is itself glorious, by the way, and repays repeated readings. Eerdmans Publishing Co. created a handsome volume (with two color ink and lovely engravings), bringing it wonderfully back into print after this hiatus of nearly a century. I think it would make a very nice gift to any number of book lovers on your list.

Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $21.99 I so enjoy this author and commend any of her books. But this is one of these compact sized hardbacks that is just so nice to hold and which is so inviting. Interestingly, it is a book that we’ve heard customer rave about – sort of a spirituality of getting things done, but with a poetic, leisurely tone. It is from a Christian perspective of course, but is perhaps the least overtly religious books she has done. That is, you could give it to all most anyone. It is a treat, a gem, a lovely little hardback.

 

We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together Jean Vanier (Paraclete) $19.99 This is a sweet, small, hardback volume that offers the reflections of this living saint and Winner of the Templeton Prize. You may recall that Vanier is a master of writing about community and has given his life to offering care and hospitality among the mentally and physically challenged. (Henri Nouwen famously went to one of Vanier’s L’Arche communities to live with the disabled in Toronto.) This book actually came out of a retreat Vanier led in Nyahururu Kenya (a land that has been shattered by violence and bloodshed.) There is a powerful endorsing blurb on the back by Ronald Rolheiser notes how Vanier helps us get to a place of feeling accepted, loved. What a graceful little volume this is.

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Your Life Frederick Buechner (Zondervan) $16.99  This came out to not near enough acclaim last year and we still are excited to tell people about it. These chapters were based a serious of mostly unpublished lectures given at Laity Lodge in Texas, years ago. Buechner was inviting his listeners (who I believe included some who where theologically astute, and some who maybe where not, and some artists, too, I heard.) He challenged them to pay attention to their lives, to realize that one’s very remarkable life is being played out in the ordinariness of each day. He asks us to use our imaginations and see the greatness in others, to love others. Pay attention, he says. Who wouldn’t appreciate an eloquent, careful, wordsmith telling stories and calling us to find God in the midst of our daily living? This is an important author and yet a not well known books. Maybe you could surprise someone this season by offering this as a nice little Christmas blessing.

Wisdom: Advent Devotions on the Names of Jesus (Forward Movement Press) $7.00 Okay, friends, let’s get our deep Advent on, here, and share some really interesting news. The O Antiphons are some of the Christian communities earliest prayers, dating to the eighth century monks, or earlier. They are prayers drawing on various names of Christ, starting with the names in Isaiah. You may know some of them as sung in the first phrases of each stanza of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” (Did you know there are, I think, maybe, a zillion verses to that hymn in the ancient church? I’m only exaggerating a little.) And here is what is so interesting – the first letters of the names of Christ (Immanuel, Wisdom, Dayspring, Desire of Nations, etc) – in the initial order as prayed in the O Antiphons, were, in fact, a backward acrostics, spelling “ero cras” in Latin, which means, “tomorrow I come.” Or something like that.

And so, the ancients did the second weeks of Advent with these devotionals and songs known as the O Antiphons, honoring Christ and expressing a desire for His return.

This little book is a collection of short daily meditations offered by a variety of people, each reflecting briefly or telling a story or offering a Scriptural insight about the name of Christ for that week. It’s a late Advent kind of thing, and you could use this over the next several weeks. It might be a fun gift to share at some holiday party.

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Hearts & Minds Christmas gift giving guide — lots of book ideas ON SALE 20% OFF (part 1)

Tis the season for gift giving! Books make great gifts! We can mail them out right away, even gift-wrap for you. And don’t forget the 12 Days and Epiphany. Etcetera. Etcetera. We trust we don’t have to convince you that Pastor Luci or Uncle Tony or sister Melissa or your dear friend at work or your kid’s friend’s parents who helped them out deserve a little something, if not under their tree, then in with the Christmas cookies or fruitcake. We think we can help. Here’s part one of a free-ranging Hearts & Minds gift-giving guide. We’ll do more in a day or so, including a handful of suggestions on books about science, for those interested in racial justice, and some about the arts. And a few novels, and a couple of kids books after that.

By the way, these are almost off-the-cuff suggestions, good, good stuff we have here in the shop, all titles we think are well worth commending. But there are oodles of other suggestions, so don’t hesitate to give us a call if you want us to put our heads together and find other appropriate titles for your special someone, that quirky, hard-to-buy-for friend or relative. Books are such great, substantive presents, and we’re happy to help.

(We can mail directly to your loved ones, too. Let us know if you want us to add a little message and if you want us to gift wrap; with our compliments. We’re happy to help.)

FOR A MAINLINE DENOMINATIONAL PASTOR (or any church leader)

Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: Year C – Volume 2 edited by Joel Green, Thomas Long, Luke Powery, Cynthia Rigby (WJK) $45.00 Volume 2 just arrived yesterday, a few days earlier than we expected, and we thrilled. We sold the new volume 1 (Advent Until Lent) that came out this fall the last few months, so this, the second, (Lent Through Pentecost) is here just in time. They follow the Revised Common Lectionary and offer ideas for sermons through careful study of the Biblical texts (as they connect with the broader Biblical story and as they connect with our contemporary culture) as well as resources for worship planning. If they don’t have Volume 1, yet, that one would make a great gift. Putting them both together (Volume 1 that came out this fall and Volume 2 that just arrived) would be even sweeter. We love wrapping up two-fers.

Learning Theology Through the Churches’ Worship: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs Dennis Okholm (Baker Academic) $24.99 We like this author a lot; with a PhD from Princeton, he how teaches theology at Azusa Pacific and is adjunct at Fuller. He previously wrote a great introduction to the meditative life cleverly called Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants which is really, really good. This is designed as a textbook (he even has an appendix of really great assignments that could be given to supplement this study) but I think anyone who cares about the intersection of worship practices and good theology will adore it. Rave blurbs on the back are from Leanne Van Dyk (at Columbia), Simon Chan (Trinity Theological College), John Witvliet (of the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship), Todd Hunter, and Anglican bishop and founder of a group Okholm works with, the order of the Churches for the Sake of Others. It’s very, very nicely done.

Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey Barbara Melosh (WJK) $18.00 This lovely book — a memoir about a pastor whose ministry did not particularly bear effective fruit and her sense that it was time to leave – could be a appreciated by any pastor, I suppose, but her setting is her calling in the ELCA. (She was also a college professor at George Mason University.) She writes for The Christian Century and is a very talented wordsmith. This really is a great story, poignant, moving. Listen to Richard Lischer (of Duke Divinity School, himself a great author of books on preaching (like the remarkable End of Words) and a quirky memoir of his own small church pasturing (Open Secrets) and a stunning book about the death of his son (Stations of the Heart) as he explains why this would make a great read for pastors:

For anyone who loves the church – or is confounded by it – Barbara Melosh offers an unflinchingly honest account of how one little group of saints and sinners transformed a novice into a pastor. Melosh has the heart of a pastor and writes straight from that heart with great beauty and insight. Pastoral writing at its best!

Here is Dorothy Bass’s great endorsement:

This well-told story of real-life ministry in a small congregation moved me deeply. A pastor and a people come to life in these pages, as heartbreak and hope contend within the worship, the building, and the community they share. I heartily commend Loving and Leaving a Church to anyone who cares about, and worries over, a community of faith that struggles to live as Christ’s body in this time of challenge and change. Pastors who read this book will ponder anew the meaning of success and the contours of faithfulness–and parishioners will see with fresh eyes their own strong role in embodying God’s presence in the particular places where God’s people gather and serve. -Dorothy Bass, Valparaiso University

Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99 I bet you recall that we’ve promoted this several times in previous BookNotes, told about it from up front almost everywhere we went last year, and, of course, awarded it one of the Best Books of 2017. So, I think there may be a few people who haven’t read it yet, so let’s go! To whom can you give this fabulous little novel? It is fiction, with a human-scale plot that unfolds as a series of letters from a down-home, literary, eloquent, thoughtful (Wendell Berry quoting) new pastor of a rather cranky, colorful (if ordinary) small church in a small town. The life of this just-out-of-retirement, seemingly jaded, old pastor who cares well for this new little flock is only part of the story. Love Big, Be Well is a novel about a church and a pastor and a place. The late, great, Eugene Peterson called it a “tour de force” although it seems to me to be a bit to gentle and witty to be that much of a force. Peterson went on to exclaim about Winn’s story that it was the best thing he ever read on pastors and their churches. I think that may be just about right. In any event, it’s a really interesting, well-written read, clearly the best novel I’ve ever read about church stuff. Pastors have loved it although anyone can enjoy it.

FOR ANYONE WHO LIKES TO SING OR APPRECIATES WRITING ABOUT WORSHIP

Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Keith & Kristyn Getty (B+H Books) $12.99 I like these smallish, compact sized hardbacks without dust jackets — something concise and solid about them, without being “too much.” This is a perfect gift for a choir friend or praise team leader you want to thank. The Getty’s are internationally known and loved for their modern hymnody (“Through Christ Alone” and many others.) This is one of the only little books of its kind, offering a substantial, if warm, call to sing. It isn’t a heavy exposition, but it has good Bible and sound (sorry) theology.

Just the other day we passed around a little meme on facebook from the Pope who was praising choirs and song leaders for helping us worship well, but reminded them to never sing in such a way as to drown out or discourage the ordinary members of the gathered congregation. And, wow, did it resonate. There are singers out there who feel discouraged because our professional choirs or rock and roll praise teams are drowning them out, replacing  congregational singing with mere performance. As Thom Rainer says on the back of this little volume, “Sing in not just a book; it’s a revolution!” Joni Eareckson (herself a lovely singer!) has a wonderful blurb on the back and she says, “flip the pages and start singing!” Let’s get this revolution going by giving out a few of these!

FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP

The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future edited by Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale & Christopher Devers (IVP) $25.00  I know there is a pretty large body of folks out there who read, or at least read about, the incredibly important 1995 Eerdmans book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. I don’t have time here to explain the history of that book nor the extraordinary impact that, through God’s grace and some serious work on many fronts, that book generated. In a way, some of our favorite publishers and authors were shaped in significant ways by Noll’s call to be more intentional and serious about developing a Christian Mind. This new book, The State of the Evangelical Mind is a multi-authored volume about the legacy of the Noll book two decades ago. It is a tribute, a sign of hope, and a challenge for those of us who want God’s people to continue to grow in hearts and minds!

There is a short preface by Richard Mouw which itself speaks volumes. (That he quotes the late Rodney Sawatsky, a Canadian Anabaptist who died while President of Messiah College, on how scholarship can reveal hope and love starts the book out just right.) If you know any of the contributors –James K.A. Smith, Timothy Larsen, Lauren Winner and Noll himself, among others – you will know why this book is such a treasure.

Do you know anyone who fancies herself a Christian scholar? Do you know anyone in the academy, wishing to think harder about relating faith and higher education? Do you know anybody who used to read the intellectually stimulating (now defunct) Books & Culture? You should give them this book as it is dedicated to Books & Culture editor John Wilson and his wife, Wendy.

This is a book that means a lot to us, that offers wonderfully interesting essays about the public face of evangelicalism, about the Christian mind, about the call to think well and advance a humane and gospel-centered sort of perspective on the arts and sciences and more. You may know somebody who needs this. It would be a blessing to them, I’m sure.

FOR NASCAR FANS

Racing to the Finish: My Story Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Thomas Nelson) $26.99 I don’t have to say much more. If you are into motor sports at all, or know anybody who loves NASCAR, this name is iconic, and, since the book just came out about a week or so ago, it is a perfect holiday gift. When he retired from professional stock car racing in 2017 he walked away as a healthy man, but had multiple racing-related concussions and was concerned about the “race-at-all-costs” culture that he was a part of, even though he “feared something was terribly wrong.” For the first time, he here tells his behind the scenes story, his notes about the physical and emotional struggled he faced, and how he wanted to end his own storied career on his own terms.

FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES MR. ROGERS OR SAW THE DOCUMENTARY

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers Maxwell King (Abrams Press) $30.00  Believe it or not, this is the first full length, major biography of the Presbyterian saint, and what a beautiful, majestic, work it is. It tells us so much, and is so interesting! The Good Neighbor looks at Fred’s growing up years, his call to ministry and years at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and involved in Western Pennsylvania Presbyterianism, his dream to found the innovative, gentle TV show, and his legendary vocation in media making a difference in the lives of the nation. This is a handsome, fascinating volume, almost 400 pages, with some wonderful pictures. As jazz great (and Fred’s friend and associate) Wynton Marsalis says, “Fred Rogers was one of a kind – an American original like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash. There was no one like him.” This book tells the real story with insight and care.

For those who are truly serious fans you may recall that we often recommend the insightful study of the values and politics of Fred and his show well researched and well told by near-by Elizabethtown College religion professor Mike Long. It might make a great gift for some fan on your list, too. It’s called Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers (WJK; $17.00) and it is really informative, inspired by reading his many notes and letters and remarks about many of the most influential episodes. It is remarkably revealing and should be better known!

 

FOR SOMEONE WHO LOVES THE FICTIONAL MITFORD SERIES

Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim’s Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series Jan Karon (Penguin) $20.00  Of course, if they don’t have the whole batch of Mitford novels, you could always order the next one in the series your loved one needs to read. Or just buy the whole set for some lucky recipient.

But if they’ve visited (or revisited) Jan Karon’s fictional Mitford town and the lovely church there pastored by Father Tim, then this is the book for them. Here is what I wrote about it once before: When we announced this a month ago a few customers were just tickled – what fun! This is a collection of various sermons and prayers by the fictional Father Tim of the beloved Jan Karon Mitford novels. Ms. Karon adds some of her own reflections about the inspirational parts of the stories and her own hopes and prayers. This is a lovely, real, book of devotion and prayer, even if from the pen of a storyteller. What fun.

Father Tim is, of course, a very good guy and his prayers and Bible studies and sermons are well worth considering. This compact-sized hardback would make a great gift for anyone, but certainly for those that love Mitford.

FOR ONE WHO APPRECIATES FINE LITERARY ESSAY

What Are We Doing Here? Essays Marilynne Robinson (FSG) $27.00 Okay, I don’t want to get too highbrow or smug here, but Robinson is a Christian and a John Calvin scholar who wrote one of the great modern novels, Gilead (for which she won the Pulitzer Prize!) By the way, if you need to give a gift for one who likes good fiction, you should right away order from us Gilead, the sequel, Home, and the final in her trilogy, Lila.

Robinson was a favorite of the former President Obama, by the way, so reading her dense, serious-minded essays just might be a statement of principle – we must keep alive our interest in this sort of public intellectual, even if our current leaders seem not to have the time or stomach for it.

This is a serious collection of more than a dozen essays about deep things that matter; most were first delivered as lectures at some of the world most acclaimed universities. A few were given at churches, some appeared in academic journals or public publications like The Nation. My, my, that this book exists is notable; it is a valuable cultural artifact. It is also interesting, for those that have ears to hear, that one of the first book launch events for this prominent work was at a special commissioned lecture delivered at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  I don’t know who you should give it to, but anyone who reads deeply in essays and big questions, seekers, skeptics, philosophers, cultural pundits. It isn’t terribly religious sounding, for what it is worth, not what I would call “apologetics” although, in a nuanced way, it presents a case for a well lived and ordered life in a world of meaning.

FOR ONE WHO LOVES ANIMALS AND MAGICAL CREATIVE WRITING

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals Sy Montgomery, illustrations by Rebecca Green (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $20.00 This is an immediately attractive book for those that like creative and whimsical design, but don’t let the colorful, child-like look confuse you, let alone dissuade you, for considering this extraordinary, thoughtful, beautifully-written book. I forget how we first discovered this – maybe from the brilliant Brain Pickings blog by the genius Maria Popova. It’s that kind of book: about nature and science and human psychology and meaning; it is full of nuance and wit, the wonder of life and startling truth. It is, as the subtitle suggests, a study of what it means to learn from a certain animal, with each chapter exploring a certain creature.

The first line of the just-jacket reads: “Understanding someone who belongs to another species can be transformative.” Indeed. How to Be a Good Creature is a great read for anyone who loves animals, for those who sense they are connected well to other living things, or who exhibits great empathy. This memoir is for the curious and caring, what one reviewed called “a rare jewel” and what another described as “a superbly crafted memoir,” saying it “brims with wonder, empathy, and emotion.”

FOR FANS OF BONHOEFFER

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler John Hendrix (Amulet) $16.99 I do not have to say much about this other than to announce that it is a top-rate graphic novel, complete with all the features you’d expect – good illustration, graphic design, sidebars and illuminations, all done as a modern day “cartoon” biography. It is so exceptionally well-done that it recently was award a prestigious graphic design award from professional association of graphic novelists and publishers. Want to attract a young person to the powerful, complicated story of Bonhoeffer? There is a youth version of Eric Metaxas’s lively Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr Prophet Spy that is good for serious middle schooler or younger teens, but this cool graphic novel is ideal for any who read in this genre. Brilliant!

The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in an Age of Trump Stephen R. Haynes (Eerdmans) $19.99   I hope you saw my longer essay about this book when it came out a month or so ago; it is valuable and sure to be interesting for anyone who has already read a bit by and about Bonhoeffer. It is really true that many authors and churches and movements have appropriated Bonhoeffer for their own theological agendas and social causes, and that Eric Metaxas marshaling support for President Trump by suggesting that we are in a “Bonhoeffer moment” is only the most recent and most egregious example. Haynes looks at Bonhoeffer, of course, but more, about those who read and interpret and claim him as their own. Yep, he’s critical of Metaxas and spends a lot time explaining why. For the record, I happen to like Eric and appreciate his books. But given his platform these days beyond the books, this Haynes book is very, very important.

FOR ANYONE WHO WATCHED THE ROYAL WEDDING

The Power of Love: Sermons, Reflections & Wisdom to Uplift and Inspire Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $20.00  We were happy to highlight this in our last BookNotes but just have to list it again. Michael Curry is an American Episcopalian, a black preacher who just oozes an enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God and the transforming power of love. That his great sermon about love offered during the wedding that was watched around the world went viral was a testimony to the hunger many have for some connection to God’s love and to social transformation inspired by the ways of Christ. If you know anybody that talked about that sermon last Spring, why not underscore their interest by offering this very handsome little gift book, a collection of fine sermons by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church.

Here is what I wrote about it last week:

What a great little gift book this would make, ideal to give to unchurched folks, even. Who didn’t hear about the extraordinary sermon preached at the 2018 Royal Wedding? It certainly went viral. That sermon about Christian love is here along with other important messages delivered by this energetic black preacher. Rev. Curry (who has a little paperback about robust discipleship called Crazy Christians and a memoir called Songs My Mama Taught Me) is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  One of the great talks reproduced here is a message he gave to their annual conference called “The Good Life” and it is good for anyone!  Another was given at the National Cathedral – “Welcome to the Movement.”

The book is small and has purple end papers, some gold ink, and a presentation page. It’s a nice little collection, but the “Power of Love” sermon preached for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is what will make it of interest to some. It was fun announcing the release of this brand new book to Episcopalians who were gathered with Becca Stevens whose own tag line is “Love Heals.” Do you believe there is power in love? This book will remind you of the truest truths about this very thing.

FOR ONE WHO LOVES A GOOD STORY ABOUT FAITH AT WORK

Stronger Than Steel: The Wayne Alderson Story R.C. Sproul (Nancy Alderson McDonnell) $20.00 This book deserves a much longer review but I must be brief here. We think it would make a nice gift for any number of people and we are one of the few stores that stock this new edition, re-issued by Wayne Alderson’s daughter, Nancy, who continues his work as a consultant teaching about respect in the work-world.

Conservative, Reformed Christians may know of the late R.C. Sproul and his serious teaching ministry that continues on as Ligonier Ministries, based in Florida. Ligonier, however, is in Western Pennsylvania, and in the 1970s, when Sproul lived there, East of Pittsburgh, he started what was called the Ligonier Valley Study Center, sort of a Western Pennsylvania L’Abri where he lectured often about human dignity, social ethics, the arts, and cultural renewal. In those years he met Wayne Alderson and helped him tell his story in this lively biography. By telling of Alderson’s brave work as an agent of reconciliation in the steel industry, he furthered an agenda of offering a social philosophy that honored working class people, that sought true dignity in the workplace, and that offered a vision of the dignity of all labor.

For those that follow theological discussions and movements, I know that Sproul was reading Abraham Kuyper a bit in those years and thinking about the social implications of the gospel for all of life, including work and business and the marketplace.

Wayne Alderson was quite a man, and we met him a time or two in those years (when we, too, were following Sproul around Western PA and coming up with the idea for the now legendary Jubilee Conference.) The very short version of a much longer and fascinating story is that Alderson worked for management sent to close a failing foundry south of Pittsburgh where he helped the workers in part by doing Bible studies with them in the shop, by showing them God’s love for them as blue collar union men (most were men) as well as their families. By proclaiming God’s purpose for meaningful labor and the goodness of successful work, for economic and social justice in the workplace, and for honoring the dignity of all in what he called “the value of the person in the workplace” he made a few enemies but a whole lot of friends. He was making a difference, as we say.

In a way, this was more radical and relevant than all the speeches of the AFL-CIO and Teamsters… remarkably, the back of the book has endorsements by Lloyd McBride, then President of the United Steel Workers and the then-chairman of the National Steel Corporation. I bet this is the only book in America that has blurbs from such disparate individuals, representing labor and management who are usually locked in a cold war struggle for the heart of industry. But, as Dorothy Kelly (an old civil rights activist) put it, “Wayne Alderson is prophetic. He is the Martin Luther King, Jr. of the work world.”

As Stronger Than Steel tells, there were some miracles at Pitron, the plant which Alderson was commissioned to close, and some struggles with his own bosses as he insisted that these workers could come through and turn the plant around, if they were treated with God-give grace and respect. The plot thickens a bunch of times as this WWII vet meets the (rather blue-collar) Calvinist theologian affectionately known as RC and they continue to promote what eventually became known as “Theory R” management, where R stood for respect.

If you know anyone who is interested in the faith in the work-world movement and is thinking about the meaning of labor from the vantage point of a Christian worldview, or engaging in any sort of marketplace ministry, this amazing story is well worth sharing with them.

If you happen to know anyone who is a fan of Ligonier Ministries or collects the many books of RC Sproul, Stronger Than Steel is not well known and has been out of print for decades. (It was first published by Harper & Row in 1980.) We are thrilled that Wayne’s daughter Nancy got it republished with a new chapter.

FOR FANS OF WALTER BRUEGGEMANN

Tenacious Solidarity: Biblical Provocations on Race, Religion, Climate, and the Economy Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $29.00 If you know you’ve got a Brueggemann fan on your list this year, and you don’t know about this brand new book – it released just a few weeks ago! – then hearing about this book here, now, may capture your prophetic imagination. Ha! Yep, the author of that classic work, The Prophetic Imagination, published forty some years ago, is still at it. This is a heavy collection of bunches of sermons and Biblical scholarship talks and homilies and lectures (all delivered or written 2014 – 1018) that shows forth Brueggemann’s ongoing relevance as he relates Biblical teaching to these controversial topics of the day.

And there is no doubt he brings considerable Biblical expertise and provocative passion to the issues he addresses. Out of being steeped in the Scriptures, he condemns racism and injustice, calls out the driving idols behind our disregard of environmental catastrophe, invites us to work for justice and solidarity.

In a way, this is nothing new, just yet another great collection of mighty sermons by this figure that looms large over all Biblical studies (especially Old Testament) scholarship today. But yet, it is urgent, a major release, so very, very important.

FOR ONE WHO WANTS TO KNOW GOD BETTER

Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness Michael Card (IVP) $16.00  Some days I have to pinch myself, reminding myself that we’ve got this job and get to do this work. I thought of that the other day when this beautiful new book by Mike Card – singer-songwriter, recording artists, Christian rock star, literally – showed up a few days ago. When Mike visited Hearts & Minds a few years ago we briefly talked about books he had in him, so to speak, artistic hopes, authorial dreams. He is one smart guy, and we are very, very glad to be able to announce this brand new book on the nature of God. He’s been thinking about this a while, and I am sure it will be excellent, well-informed and practical, too.

It would make a great gift for anyone hat follows Michael Card, but whether you know his soft rock, singer-songwriter music or not, or even his other books or not, Hesed is going to be a wonderful, wonderful read and a very great resource. And it’s brand new!

Here is a very nice description from the publisher:

God’s identity is beyond what we could ever fully express in human words. But Scripture uses one particular word to describe the distinctiveness of God’s character: the Hebrew word hesed.

Hesed is a concept so rich in meaning that it doesn’t translate well into any single English word or phrase. Michael Card unpacks the many dimensions of hesed, often expressed as lovingkindnesscovenant faithfulness, or steadfast love. He explores how hesed is used in the Old Testament to reveal God’s character and how he relates to his people. Ultimately, the fullness of hesed is embodied in the incarnation of Jesus. As we follow our God of hesed, we ourselves are transformed to live out the way of hesed, marked by compassion, mercy, and faithfulness. Discover what it means to be people of an everlasting love beyond words.

FOR SPORTS FANS

Sport, Faith, Life Brian R Bolt (Calvin College Press) $9.99 This is a small, almost pocket-sized paperback but it is mature, thoughtful, crisp, and insightful. Too many books that attempt to develop a uniquely Christian perspective on sports and athletics fall into one or two errors. Either they are merely devotional, using a muscular sort of faith writing to inspire jocks. I suppose there isn’t anything wrong with that, although some athletes I know are super smart and mature theologically, so they need more than “God will help you win” sort of devotional bromides in their daily spiritual reading. On the other hand, there are a handful of very heady Christian studies of the philosophy of athletics and they are so sociological that they don’t seem particularly relevant for ordinary athletes or sport fans. If the one sort is a little too lightweight, the other extreme includes books that are for scholars, not sportsman and women. Sport, Faith, Life is a breath of fresh air, meaty and mature yet not too heady or heavy. (It is part of a series called “shorts” which allow good scholars to do nice summaries of their work without getting too bogged down. Perfect!)

Brian Bolt is a professor of kinesiology and men’s golf coach at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, a school known for some winning sports teams, by the way. He is involved in an intercollegiate faith/sports association that recently authors “A Declaration of Sport and the Christian Life.” He has become a rising spokesperson in this whole arena of relating sports and Christian faith.

This new book is a gem, short and easy, but pushing us to think deeply and act faithfully. We need to play sport the way we live life, he observes, “depending on our Creator in every moment and in every action. That means learning how to love God and neighbor better, how to turn away from thoughts and actions that dishonor God and harm ourselves and others.” He talks in this book about “how to both be wary of our own desires and to delight in the good things that God has made.” God does delight in this world – including the world of sports! This book helps us experience that, in life, and on the sports field, “tastings the pleasures of organized play.”

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood Jeffrey Marx (Simon & Schuster) $24.00  Marx is a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports journalist who often writes for Sports Illustrated. He is not particularly known as a religious writer, but here he tells the story of a devout evangelical football star, Joe Ehrmann. (Ehrmann, who has since written his own book called InsideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives) played for the Colts when they were still in Baltimore. He left his championship fame and headed off to seminary, only to start a bunch of inner city youth sports teams, which he believed would transform their lives. Marx tells the story well, and what a great story it is. Season of Life is one of the great, inspiring sports stories of our time. It’s a very nice hardback, which makes a great gift.

By the way, the award-winning Jeffery Marx’s next book was also about a Christian football player and of course we stock it and recommend it. It is called The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for Life (Simon & Schuster; $15.99) which was about Brian Kinchen, a 38-year-old father and Sunday school teacher who took up a position as long snapper for the New England Patriots.

As one reviewer put it, “In the hands of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Marx, Brian’s remarkable true story becomes a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit.“

 

After the Lights: Find Meaning Beyond College Athletics in Five Simple Steps Mark Steffey (CreateSpace) $11.99  I’ve told you about this before, but it would make a surprising little gift to any college athlete or any college athlete who has been out of school for a few years. It is a novel, written by friend who works for the CCO doing campus ministry with college athletes. It asks the question, in a fun, storytelling way, what comes next for one whose identity is too wrapped up in being a sports figure. Few college athletes really get to pursue professional sports so here Mark offers helpful principles about identity and healthy transition out of the college sports scene. This easy-to-read paperback just might be a lifeline, or at least open the door to good conversations about what comes next…

FOR ONE WHO BELIEVES GOD CAN BE FOUND IN ALL ORDINARY THINGS

Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in all of Reality Gerald R. McDermott (Baker Academic) $22.99 This is surely one of the best books of the year, a fabulous, solid, wise study of what we used to call “general revelation.” That is, we all know God speaks to us in the Bible, but does not the Bible itself teach that God is present in all things, that the stuff of life – starts, meals, seeds, even fish, according to Job – can speak to us? This is a book about all that, about how there is an ordinary sort of ‘earthy’ glory, a holy realization of God upholding all things in the creation, everywhere, always. Many have made this point in recent years – just think of Norman Wirzba’s concise but dense study of why we should speak of “creation” rather than “nature” – and McDermott is helpful and reliable, not drifting off to goofy pantheism or overly mystical sentiment.

McDermott is the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson at the Samford University and there are endorsements on the back from evangelical scholars from Regent University, the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, by Bruce Ashford (a young Kuyper scholar at Southeastern Baptist) and the extraordinary Peter Leithart (of the Theopolis Institute) who calls it “richly suggestive.” After suggesting that McDermott is himself also a Jonathan Edwards scholar, he continues, “McDermott calls our attention afresh to the types of the kingdom that teem around us in nature, science history, sex, and sports. Read this book, and learn to see the world through new eyes.”

Hey, by the way, how about that beautiful Van Gogh cover? You could buy Steve Garber’s thoughtful Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $17.00) and give them as a pair.  I’m not even kidding! It is a wise and eloquent volume about keeping on, about taking up our callings in a messy world and is one of my most often-mentioned books. It isn’t simplistic, and the rich cover matches it

FOR A YOUNG MOM

Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood Abbie Smith (Kalos Press) $15.95 We’ve mentioned Abbie a few other times this year, naming this book when we could, because we are thrilled to know her, to name her as a faithful friend of the bookstore, and because she is a fine, fine thinker and fine writer. (An early book thrilled us as it explored how college students serve God even in the classroom by thinking Christianly in their majors, and another about sexuality written when she was a passionate, single young adult.) Now she and her husband are stewards of a beautiful, intimate retreat center run by a historic United Methodist Church in Cha and now she talks candidly about their life together in this recent memoir.

Yes, as the title suggests, it is mostly about being a young mom and fairly newly married woman; she tells of their marriage, their struggles with infertility, their urban ministry, hosting great disappointments alongside many life-giving joys. She writes about faith that waxes and wanes. She writes about pregnancy and childbirth and raising little ones. This is a “mommy memoir” but it is prayerful and reflective and a helpful guide for anyone navigating young parenthood who wants to nurture a Biblical faith in the midst of those stretching times. If you know any new moms or soon-to-be-moms, Stretch Marks would make a unique and surprising gift. Highly recommended.

FOR A LEADER

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts Brene Brown (Random House) $28.00 I assume most readers have heard of Brene Brown, the popular social science researcher who has done dramatic books about vulnerability, resilience, hope, recovery from hard stuff, shame, even a spirituality of daring. Maybe you’ve seen her TED talks, or read Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, The Gifts of Imperfection or Braving the Wilderness. It would be a fair guess to suggest that you know somebody who has a BB book on her gift list. We stock them all and could send any of them out, right away.

This new one, Dare to Lead, though, just released about a month ago. Dare to Lead was heralded as a “game changer” by one esteemed Christian friend engaged in marketplace ministry. Brown basically applies the insight of her other good books to the field of leadership, and invites us all to think about creating not only better leadership traits, but renewed, healthy institutions. She has been out on the road in some impressive places preaching this work and some super sharp folks – Brigadier General Brook Leonard of the Air Force, Kwabena Mensah (an ISD Principle of the Year), Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), even the President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios all say that her message to them was very empowering and her book is just remarkable. Who could you give it to this season?

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory  Tod Bolsinger (IVP) $22.00 It isn’t every book we get to announce as a new one more than once but this book – in part because it is very, very good and increasingly respected and cited – was out in paperback last year. In a rare move, the publisher (for some good, technical reasons about getting it reviewed and taken seriously in serious places) re-issued it in hardback! (Usually, a hardcover comes first and is then replaced by a cheaper paperback.) Canoeing the Mountains has had a buzz unlike any other book on leadership I can think of in recent years and we are glad. The new hardback does include a study guide, so it has some value added. It is a must read for leaders in any setting and we are grateful for this astute young theologian who has written a superb, insightful book about navigating change as a leader. You should give this to somebody you know.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN SPIRITUALITY

The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us From Drowning Aaron Niequist (Waterbrook) $19.99  What a book! You may recall our longer review of this earlier, but it is a wild and passionate invitation to participate… using the image of a River, Niequist invites us to join this River (what Jesus called “The Kingdom of God”) and get wet. This book is, playfully following the metaphor, a guide for learning to swim in the wild, moving, eternal current.

But we don’t swim just to keep from drowning; we don’t just want to stay afloat. We join this river as it moves into the world, for the sake of the world and we get carried along for a purpose, in a certain way. This is worldly spirituality, earthy mysticism, creational faith, in but not of the world par excellence!

As it says on the back, “The Eternal Current offers a vision and set of concrete practices for a deeper, more vibrant, beatitude-like faith rooted in sacred memory and holy imaginations. “ Yes, it’s a bit poetic and will appeal to your more mystical friends but you could give it to anyone wanting to learn about lively spiritual disciplines, practices of church (which he calls a gymnasium), ecumenism (we need each other and can’t swim alone), mission (going to church is not the “main event”) and the like. This is missional spirituality, Kingdom living, healthy, vibrant, Christian living more exciting than many have ever imagined. Get one for yourself, too, because whoever you give it to will want to discuss it come mid January or so…

An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation Martin Laird (Oxford University Press) $18.95 Doesn’t the title just sound like it would appeal to someone on your list? This is a compact hardback, just beautiful to hold and handle, and it is mature, thoughtful writing that brings to mind the mystery and depth of Thomas Merton. Some of our customers just loved his first book in this set, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation and then read the handsome companion volume, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation, both published by Oxford University Press ($18.95 each.) This new one, An Ocean of Light looks very special.

A Catholic priest who teaches at Villanova, here is what the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote about Laird and his writing: “This is sharp, deep, with no clichés, no psychobabble, and no short cuts. Its honesty is bracing, its vision utterly clear; it is a rare treasure.”

Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much Ashley Hales (IVP) $16.00 This nice paperback book is just on fire, blazing with good ideas, thoughtful analysis, touching stories, good pastoral advice, deeply rooted in pastoral care and a great fluency in spirituality and good literature, too. (Hales is a pastor’s wife and public speaker and has a PhD in English from Edinburgh; it isn’t surprising that she has written in Books & Culture, The Englewood Review and other solid journals.)

I will be writing more about this later, as we are surely awarding it one of the Best Books of 2018 and I suppose it isn’t quite accurate to put it in the category of “spirituality.” It isn’t mostly about monastic type prayer or contemplative mysticism. But yet, it transcends the “basic Christian living” genre, it’s more than another guide to missional discipleship, although it is that. Her insight about how our built environment does something to us, how our cultural context shapes our desires and longings, our heart’s nature and how we must “find home in the geography of nowhere” puts this into the deeper waters usually found in books about formation. She explores busyness and our fetish for safety. She has chapters on hospitality (“This isn’t Pinterest-Worthy Entertaining”) and how to express vulnerability in the land of cul-de-sacs. Her stories of shalom, her critique of busyness, her reminder about belonging – belovedness! – is just beautiful and vital. I can’t imagine a thoughtful Christian wanting to grow more in her faith and spiritual life who wouldn’t just love this moving guidebook. There are wonderful blurbs on the back from Tish Harrison Warren (of Liturgy of the Ordinary fame) and the excellent Scott Sauls and Jen Pollock Michel. Doras Cheng-Tozun says it is written with “poignant clarity and expansive grace.” Wonderfully done.

Honey From the Rock: Daily Devotions from Young Kuyper Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press) $39.00  I hope you know that although Abraham Kuyper is legendary for being a late 19th century/early 20th century Dutch civic leader and tireless activist for Christian causes (he started a newspaper, a university, a system of Christian schools, studied the sciences, Islam, the arts, encouraged neo-Calvinist philosophers, and formed a unique political party through which he became Prime Minister) he was a deeply spiritual man who who had an intimate sort of piety. Besides his public theology and civic writings, his beloved devotional Near Unto God remains a lovely, mature classic of warm-hearted Bible exposition. Now, for the first time, in a translation by James A. De Jon, we have this massive collection of Kuyper’s early devotional writings, writings that Rich Mouw has called “spiritual sweetness.”

As the publisher has said:

In his meditations, Abraham Kuyper reveals a side of himself unseen in his well-known theological writings. First published in 1880 and 1883 and never before translated in English, the devotions in Honey from the Rock were written for the nourishment and health of his soul. Rather than the public figure and theologian, we see a man thirsting and hungering for God’s presence.

I suppose the publisher made this a massive size (7.4 x 2.4 x 10.2 inches and 600 big pages) so that it can match the volumes being released in the hefty, on-going Kuyper translation project. From his several volumes of public theology exploring common grace to his Pro Rege works to first-time translations on Islam, education, the church, and more, this on-going series is beautiful, but the books are large.  We have them, and will continue to stock them as they are released over the next few years. I suppose this big  new devotional volume is made to take its place alongside those.

Consider these words from two important fans, the widely read Albert Mohler and the long-standing Kuyperian, Richard Mouw:

Imagine opening a collection of meditations by the young Augustine, a young Martin Luther or John Calvin. In this new volume we find a collection of meditations by the young Abraham Kuyper, never before published in English translation. Here are the devotional thoughts of one of the most significant Protestant thinkers of the last 150 years and from the most formative period of his influential life. This treasure is both timeless and timely.

I have been reading Kuyper’s Near Unto God collection of meditations for decades—so much so that I wore out my first copy. He is my favorite devotional writer. And now this wonderful collection of 200 more. I hope all who have come to appreciate Kuyper’s writings on politics and culture in recent years will now taste the spiritual sweetness of Honey from the Rock!

This isn’t a stocking stuffer as some small devotionals are. It is a handsome, hefty volume, and worth every dollar. Do you know anybody that would want Honey from the Rock? Let us know — it would make our day to help you surprise them with this brand new tome.

FOR ONE WHO LIKES THE OUTDOORS

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate Peter Wohllenben (Greystone) $24.95 This book was translated from the German and became a surprising, break-out best seller during the holiday season of 2016, and was a healthy seller throughout the world in 2017. We have been pleased to stock it, and sell a few here and there. It is a handsome, sturdy, smallish hardback that is charmingly beautiful, full of natural history and provocative science and poetic wisdom about the living nature of trees. Did you know their roots communicate, even help each other? The sub- subtitle on the bottom says this work reveals “Discoveries from a Secrete World” and so it does. Wohlleben is brilliant and is know for his other “mysteries of nature” books such as The Inner Life of Animals and The Secret Wisdom of Nature. Given that Christians read a Sacred Book that tells us, in poetic language, that “trees clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12) our ears should perk up when a major New York Times bestseller documents the language of creation. Of course, if you have a friend that is utterly secularized, they might have a bit of wonder restored by learning about our “joyous entanglement in the ancient and ever-new web of being” that one reviewer called “paradigm-smashing.”

Just a little heads up: you’re going to hear just a tiny bit more of this if you check out the much-discussed award winning novel The Overstory by Richard Powers. We’ll discuss novels in the next BookNotes.

Renewal in Love: Living Holy Lives in God’s Good Creation Michael Lodahl & April Cordero Maskiewicz (Beacon Hill Press/Foundary) $14.99  We have so many books on environmental stewardship, creation-care, green theology, climate change, farming, and the like, that if you know anyone for whom you’d like to gift such a book, I’m sure we can find just the right thing. This one is nice, serious but curious, in that it is a call to holiness (Beacon Hill is related to the Nazarene denomination) and shimmers with warm Wesleyan theology and spirituality. Along with so many others these days, Lodahl & Maskiewicz are asking “what is our salvation for?”

For them, they answer that question by saying there is much to do, and that our humanness is deeply connect to our call to steward the garden of God. We are to live for Christ in all of life, including in the ecology of creation care. This is a book about wholistic understandings of salvation, about our relationship to our vocation in the world, about what it means to love what God loves.

They quote good sources, from Augustine to Wesley the theologian to Wesley the hymn writer, from Ellen Davis to Lauren Winner. If only they’d cited N.T Wright or Wendell Berry. Ha. Renewal in Love is a great little book.

Water at the Roots: Poems and Insights of a Visionary Farmer Philip Britts (Plough Publishing) $16.00 I am not being cheap when I suggest that this is an ideal gift for anyone who likes Wendell Berry. Or anybody who farms and appreciates good words. Or anybody who likes very handsomely designed books of prose and poetry. Britts lived from 1917-1949 and was an idealistic, spiritually-motivated, British agrarian. He resisted the injustices of modernity, he cared for his land, and he wrote prose and poetry of the sort that lead the lively evangelical organic farmer Joel Salatin to exclaim “One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read! Alive with profound spiritual and practical insights, Britt’s words are timeless.”\

Wendell Berry’s friend David Kline (who himself has written beautiful books about Amish farmers in Ohio), has the foreword, and Norman Wirzba, theologian and farmer himself, has a lovely endorsement on the back, reminding us that Britts loved the land and its people and creatures. Wirzba says, “For those seeking a healthy and peaceful world, this book will be a provocation to a better way of living.” It is rare and very nicely made and would make a lovely gift.

FOR THOSE WHO LIKE HISTORICAL BIOGRAPHY

7 Men and 7 Women – And the Secret of Their Greatness Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson) $19.99 These collections of very inspiring, informative, well-done short biographies of seven men and seven women were initially published as two separate books. We’ve sold, and still have, them both as single volumes, each in paperback. This great paperback, though, is a combo of both books in one nice, new book. This unique edition combines these two popular books of fourteen individuals who changed the course of history and shaped the world in astonishing way. It would make a nice gift for almost anyone who enjoys history or biography.

Metaxas writes about these women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, St Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. The men are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul 11, and Charles Colson.

Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: 14 People Who Dared to Change Our World David Gushee & Colin Holtz (Brazos Press) $25.99  What a great, urgent read – informative and inspiring – and what a great gift this would make. Who among us doesn’t desire to have greater capacity to offer moral guidance in whatever space we find ourselves? Who doesn’t want to know a bit about how great change has happened in the past and how leaders have marshaled their leadership abilities to speak to the issues of the day? There are books about leadership and there are books about social change and there are books about character formation but this bring it all together as Gushee – himself an ethicist who has learned to speak out and pay up with integrity in aces – and his co-writer studies great moral leaders, their character and their ability to lead.

The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue Collar Conservatism Henry Olsen (Broad Street) $27.99 This is not the place – and at your Christmas party it may not be either – to debate the merits of the controversial but well-loved Ronald Reagan. If you have any conservative politicos on your list (or, for that matter, anyone trying to figure out the appeal of our orange-haired Presidente) this book really could be a great gift. It has a rave, rave review on the back by none other than J.D. Vance (of Hillbilly Elegy.) A not-so-blue-collared guy, the elegant George F. Will, who one simply must respect for his smart, articulate, grace, says “With this nuanced portrait of Ronald Reagan’s political evolution and maturation, Henry Olsen challenges many of his fellow conservatives to rethink, as Reagan did, the art of the possible in the America that the New Deal made.” Other raves from The National Review crew come from Jonah Goldberg and Reihan Salam. This book has garnered a lot of advance praise and we think you may know someone who would enjoy it.

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press) $29.95  This isn’t exactly a collection of straight biographies, but it looks at significant articles and speeches written by an unique array of Christian intellectuals after World War II. What an interesting scholarly bit of research to explore these several scholars and what they did and said in the mid-1940s as they pondered the future of the West. This book by Alan Jacobs that came out in the summer is surely one of the most significant books of this year.

Here is some of what I wrote at BookNotes earlier, shared again now to remind you about it so you might give it as a gift this season. I’m sure some brainy friend or loved one will thank you for putting this under their tree.

Anything Alan Jacobs writes is well worth reading; he is a wise scholar and public intellectual esteemed by many within evangelicalism and beyond. (Dr. Jacobs is distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University.) His most recent previous book is the wonderful 2017 release How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds although we still tout his lovely The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. In some circles he is known for his “biography” of the Book of Common Prayer while in others he is most beloved for the great bio of C.S. Lewis called The Narnian.

In this new Oxford University Press volume, released this summer, Professor Jacobs does a serious historical study of five key scholars standing clearly in the Christian tradition who wrote vital, much-discussed, major works right after World War II, offering prophetic imagination for what might be coming in the years ahead as the vast project of rebuilding and renewing the West would have to occur.

The five thinkers he examines are Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil. What we wouldn’t give for just one of these sorts of weighty, respected scholars, speaking into our time now; can you imagine a publishing year with major works by all five? Can you imagine Christian thinker talking seriously in ways the world would notice about the contours of Western civilization and the need for revitalization?

In 1943 we had extraordinary output of serious Christian cultural analysis by these writers, and Jacobs deftly walks us through what we need to know about these authors and their work. It starts a few years prior, as other historic events and important voices set the stage. (Reinhold Niebuhr, for one; other intellectuals are named, such as, among others, Lewis Mumford, J.R.R. Tolkien, Eric Gill, Jacques Ellul. The good reflection on Ellul, by the way, is in a long afterword.)

Here’s what the book jacket says:

By early 1943, it had become increasingly clear that the Allies would win the Second World War. Around the same time, it also became increasingly clear to many Christian intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic that the soon-to-be-victorious nations were not culturally or morally prepared for their success. A war won by technological superiority merely laid the groundwork for a post-war society governed by technocrats. These Christian intellectuals-Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others-sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.

In this book, Alan Jacobs explores the poems, novels, essays, reviews, and lectures of these five central figures, in which they presented, with great imaginative energy and force, pictures of the very different paths now set before the Western democracies. Working mostly separately and in ignorance of one another’s ideas, the five developed a strikingly consistent argument that the only means by which democratic societies could be prepared for their world-wide economic and political dominance was through a renewal of education that was grounded in a Christian understanding of the power and limitations of human beings. The Year of Our Lord 1943 is the first book to weave together the ideas of these five intellectuals and shows why, in a time of unprecedented total war, they all thought it vital to restore Christianity to a leading role in the renewal of the Western democracies.

Leadership: In Turbulent Times Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster) $30.00  Dr. Doris K. Goodwin is nearly the dean of great historical biography and she has done much extraordinary work, painstakingly researched but retold in lively, entertaining prose, that has been widely recognized and awarded. (She famously earned the Pulitzer Prize for her thrilling Lincoln book Team of Rivals, which was later made into a popular film.) Here, in her most recent, she explores how four great Presidents handled the leadership challenges life and history threw at them. She asks the same sorts of questions of each, discovers how they came to realize their own leadership abilities, explains their context and struggles, and illustrated how each responded. The President she examines include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson

FOR THOSE WHO LIKE HISTORY AND ITS RELEVANCE TODAY

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels Jon Meacham (Random House) $30.00 This is a major book by one of our preeminent popular historians. Meacham, too, has earned the Pulitzer Prize and has done several Ne3w York Times bestsellers. A gift of a big book by him would surely be appreciated.

This sturdy study is just over 400 pages (with full color pictures on the flyleaves) and although it is complex and circuitous – with blurbs by Walter Isaacson and Ken Burns – it’s thesis is simple. We have been here before. We can understand our own critical time in our public lives by looking back at other times in our history when “hope overcame division and fear.”

Here is how the publisher explains Meacham’s project:

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history.

He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women’s rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson’s crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear–a struggle that continues even now.

Meacham reassures us, “The good news is that we have come through such darkness before”– as, time and again, Lincoln’s better angels have found a way to prevail.

Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat Os Guinness (IVP) $27.00 I think this should be a popular Christmas gift this year, and one that we hope is widely shared and widely read. This could be listed in other gift-giving categories as it could be interesting to so many folks. It really is about current affairs, our own critical time, and what we in America (and particularly, Christians in America) can do to understand more deeply and advocate more effectively for a robust, deep loyalty to the great ideals of the American experiment. We are in a time that Guinness fears is the gravest crisis sine the Civil War. Those concerns about our current situation will find it valuable.

But it if is about our contemporary crisis and how to recover a commitment to the ideas and structures and freedoms of the Republic, creating room for all in authentic, covenantal freedom, we must draw on the past. We must know our history.

In many ways, Last Call for Liberty is a study of contrasts. Although he covers much ground, Guinness continues to work out the implications of this refrain, that there are ideas and ideals from two great revolutions vying for the American heart and mind and the differences between the two make a large difference. He is referring to the American revolution of 1776 and the French revolution of 1789. Which view of freedom most animates us? What sort of social architecture do we need – what kind of civil society and civic life to undergird it – will provide the structure for civility and freedom? Will the vision of self-rule and liberty and freedom for all offered in 1776 continue in our time? Can we hold the visions of 1789 and expect to bear good fruit? If you know anyone who reads about American intellectual history, especially stuff about the founding fathers, the constitution, and the ideals of the revolution – and how it was codified into American law and justice, and the undoing of it in recent years – Last Call for Liberty is a must read. Whether they agree fully or not, they will thank you for sharing such an informed and eloquently impassioned read.

Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac Steven D. Smith, with a foreword by Robert George (Eerdmans) $48.00 Here is a new, very lively book by an esteemed, conservative legal theorist that not only has a foreword by the brilliant Princeton prof Robert George, but carries endorsements from Douglas Laycock (of University of Virginia Law School and perhaps the leading scholar on the history of religious freedom questions), the wonderful John Inazu (we’ve often lauded his book Principled Pluralism ) and Anthony Kronman of Yale Law School. It is wide ranging – one reviewer said it “canvasses a broad landscape of history, law, political theory, and religion…”

Pagans and Christians… is lucid, and yet creative, suggestive of perhaps new ways to get around the feisty culture war debates. As Professor Kronman says, “Secularists and believers alike have much to learn from Smith’s careful, balanced and generous account.” Smith will firstly appeal to thoughtful conservative but I sure that anyone with an interest in the intellectual history of our troubled times will find this rewarding.

FOR ONE WHO WANTS TO (OR NEEDS TO) “COUNT THEIR BLESSINGS”

Grateful: The Transforming Power of Giving Thanks Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99  Diana is an important religious scholar and historian and a progressive theological critic of the status quo, the Christian right, and those forces that align faith and injustice. I have read all her books from her fascinating memoir of her faith journey through various sorts of Episcopal churches and her good studies of congregational life to the tremendous book about down-to-Earth spirituality called Grounded.

I hope you saw my review of Grateful where I said that I was a little surprised that someone of her thoughtful religious analysis and deep concern for the laments of the poor and marginalized would do a book about gratitude. But I also said that that was dumb of me; sure, some gratitude journals and cheery “count your blessings” facebook memes are shallow and cheesy, but, surely, there is good reason to be grateful and good research that indicates that deep gratitude is healthy. And as she writes (along with a rare few, such as Mary Jo Leddy or Joan Chittister she shows that this Christian virtue actually is subversive, deconstructing our earn-earn-earn late modern capitalist culture. As Brian McLaren puts it, “Diana Butler Bass writes about things that matter, and she does so with graceful, accessible intelligence.”

I like this lovely blurb from the always-interesting James Martin who says

Diana Butler Bass unpacked the various graces and challenges associated with expressing thanks. I found myself grateful to her for this deeply spiritual book.

I think you could give this to anyone interested in the topic, or those who are a bit too jaded to admit they might enjoy something like this. Know anybody all worked up about the Trump fiasco? I’m telling you, this could help.

FOR A CURIOUS BIBLIOPHILE

A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why – a Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99 I suppose most H&M friends and mail or fans already know about this but forgive me for tooting this horn just a bit and suggesting that it would make a nifty gift. (Heck, Beth and I could even sign our little part.) It is a remarkable book, sort of modeled (we’re told) after the sometimes-epic BookNotes where I name my favorite must-reads on a given topic. Here you get NT Wright listing (just for us) his most recommended New Testament books, annotations of cookbooks by Andi Ashworth, the fabulously interesting Karen Prior Swallow offering great novels, Image Journal founder, Gregory Wolfe naming memoirs, and so many more. From friends like Brad Frey and Steve Garber to nationally known writers as diverse as Dave Gushee and Calvin Seerveld, this collection has something for everyone. And it does help support our project here – moving them out into the world would be a real help. So let us know how many you’d like! Your curious book lover friends will be amazed.

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life Anne Bogel (Baker) $14.99  Wowie, I’d think this could be given to almost anyone who loves books, or anyone who knows that you love books. Anne Bogel is a very popular blogger (she was the creator of Modern Mrs. Darcy) and does the podcast What Should I Read Next? Anyway, this is a thin, compact hardback and makes a perfect stocking stuffer or thank you gift. (Have you thanked those who recommended good books to you lately?) It has tons of substance, oodles of fun stories appealing to anyone who loves the reading life, and some great book suggestions. It has some nice, pastel artwork, so I suppose it is designed more for women readers, but if a guy is a true bibliophile, they’ll love it, too. Trust me. What a lovely little gift and book lover’s delight. And, might I add, it would be ideal to nurture the passion and skills of reading widely for teens or college age young adults, too. It is amazing how many who are even taking classes at universities aren’t real book lovers. This book can help give ‘em the bug.

FOR A SERIOUS READER OF CLASSIC LITERATURE

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior (with a foreword by Leland Ryken) Brazos Press $19.99 I am sure you’ve seen the many columns we’ve done touting this book earlier this fall. We described her lovely visit here to the shop and the lecture, reading, and conversation that ensued. If you follow her on social media you may have realized she has many, many fans and this book has become one of the most talked about book within the religious publishing world this year. It would make a great gift to anyone who studies serious literature or for anyone who, with a bit of scholarly awareness, is interested in classic virtue formation. How many people talk about Aristotle and Jane Eyre? Aquinas and Charles Dickens, Hauerwas and Cormac McCarthy? What thoughtful evangelical scholar explains the value of Gatsby and Endo and moves easily from Bunyan to Huck Finn to Flannery O’Connor.

And you should know the part played by our friend Ned Bustard (yes, the Ned Bustard that edited several good books such as It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Performing Arts for the Glory of God, not to mention a little-known volume called A Book for Hearts & Minds.) For each chapter of On Reading Well Ned created an artful print – not a wood cut, but a linocut– so the chapters are nicely illuminated. We even have posters of the cover printed nicely on good paper, too, if anyone would like one. We could send one of those along to enhance your gift-giving.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE MEMOIR

Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover (Random House) $28.00 I do hope you’ve heard of this or have seen at least one the author’s many interviews; we reviewed it at length this fall. It was hard to put down and is surely the memoir of the year that so many are talking about, not unlike the way Hillbilly Elegy swept the country a few years ago. The short version is that Westover was nearly held captive as a worker and homeschooled on the farm in rural Idaho where her parents were fierce survivalists and fundamentalist, apocalyptic Mormons. She was beat by her brother, her education mishandled, her normal desires as a girl often ridiculed and forbidden. (She couldn’t take dance lessons because the leotards were too worldly.) In odds against all odds she ends up getting to college and eventually – it’s a long story – to Oxford and Harvard. It is a brave and revealing story, a reflection on faith and family and hope and reconciliation. What a story, what a writer, what a woman. This book is a fine, fine memoir and, in one reviewers opinion, will “find a place alongside modern classic memoirs like Wild and The Glass Castle. It’s that special.”

Why Religion? A Personal Story Elaine Pagels (HarperOne) $27.99  Pagels is a respected religion scholar at Princeton University, described as “a preeminent academic whose impressive scholarship has earned her international respect.” Not a Christian believer, she has become nationally known for her work writing about the Gnostic gospels and other topics on the margins of convention. All who have heard her – include a month ago on NPR’s Fresh Air – agree that she is an extraordinary person and many who have read her life story in this engaging memoir report it is one of the best books of this genre they’ve ever encountered. It has been called “searing,” “soul-affirming,” “mesmerizing,” “stirring,” “brilliant,” and “tender”, as she writes about loss (she experienced unimaginable anguish when she lost her young son and a year later her beloved husband died) and spiritual struggle and her own religion’s enduring appeal. This is not a born-again testimony but it could be just the right book for somebody you know.

A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (IVP) $16.00  What a book this would be to give to anyone needing the voice of a mentor and leader, but particularly if one needs the voice of a woman, a black woman, who has navigated successful leadership. Natasha Robinson tells of her journey in this book that is part memoir, part handbook for Christian living, and part astute cultural observation and analysis. As a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former Marine Corps officer, Natasha has nearly twenty years of leadership and mentoring experience in the military, government, church, seminary, and nonprofit sectors.  She has seen some stuff, shall we say. She also has a degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and is an internationally known speaker. She works with several leadership development groups and mentors many.

As we explained when we first highlighted this in a column for the Center for Public Justice, it draws on the story of Moses. Here is how the publisher explains it:

Intertwined with Natasha’s story is the story of Moses, a leader who was born into a marginalized people group, resisted the injustices of Pharaoh, denied the power of Egypt, and trusted God even when he did not fully understand where he was going. Along the way we explore the spiritual and physical tensions of truth telling, character and leadership development, and bridge building across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender lines.

Join the journey to discover your own identity, purpose, and truth-revealing moments.

To understand her passion for justice, her insight about wholistic Christian living, and her faith-based courage, you have to understand her story. A Sojourner’s Truth is a great, poetic read, for anyone who likes autobiography and inspiration. Her story is well told and I can imagine any number of folks — women, especially, but not only women! — appreciating this as a gift this season.

Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life David Giffels (Scribner) $24.00 I can’t say too much about this, but it is just what it says, a gripping, at times funny, deeply affecting memoir about a guy whose dad taught him carpentry skills and, in a good effort to reconnect, they two of them build the older man’s casket. What a story! There are rave reviews all over on this, from Jim Sheeler (the powerful author of Final Salute) and Chuck Klosterman. Kirkus Reviews said, “A lifetime’s worth of workbench philosophy in a heartfelt memoir about the connection between father and son.” Oh, and there’s that bit about dad dying and they are building his coffin. What a book!

 

The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life’s Biggest Questions Knox McCoy (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I suppose this is a gift for anyone who likes pop culture, but it is so rooted in a particular era of pop culture, and so written as a memoir that I’m listing it here – good for anybody that likes to listen in as someone narrates their own coming of age and figuring stuff out. On the back it asks, “What do you get when you mix pop culture, faith, and a hint of nostalgia?” Sure, pop culture is a powerful window into the human experience, into the values and stories told in any given place and time. For this guy, this collection of hilarious stories shows that he grew up in the 1980s. He runs something called The Popcast Media Group and in this new book he really tells his own story, although also has just lots of random reflections on various pop culture themes. Although not restricted to it, offers lots of shout outs to tons of stuff from his era – from Pee Wee Herman to “Alex vs. Pat” to Legally Blond to Dawson’s Creek and Cosmo Kramer and Harry Potter.

McCoy tell us that the four most traumatic pop culture moments of his childhood were the death of Rufio in Hook, Mufasa dying in The Lion King, when Sounder crawls under the cabin and dies, and learning about the AIDS epidemic through TLCs song “Waterfalls.” So there ya go.

Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, MD (Bloomsbury) $28.00 We have enjoyed showing this to folks of all sorts – biography and memoir lovers, psychology students, those who know Hallowell as the ground-breaking, leading scholar who documented ADD and ADHA – his book Driven to Distraction has been a bestseller for decades and shaped a conversation for a generation.

We met Hallowell years ago as he was doing a workshop with ministers about parishioners (and fellow clergy) with ADHD and he quipped that he didn’t know too much about religion or theology as such. But then he mentioned that his high school chaplain was a guy named Frederick Buechner. And then his campus minister in college was a guy named Henri Nouwen. He (perhaps jokingly) wondered if we had heard of them. Ha.

And now, Frederick Buechner has a blurb on the back of Hallowell’s life story. He shares the back cover honors with the extraordinary third world public health activist Paul Famer, Ken Duckworth (the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and TV personality Ann Curry. Ned has done a beautiful job telling his long life story and it will be moving and insightful for anyone who likes a good “crazy family” story, but also for anyone taking up the vocation of care-giving.

As Paul Farmer writes:

Rarely does enlightenment about the complexities of the brain, mind, and heart, meet such empathy. This is a book you won’t want to end, since early in the course of it you’ll wish you’d known Hallowell throughout his life. But when you finish it, you’ll feel you have.

Well: Healing Our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa Sarah Thebarge (FaithWords) $20.00 Few people have written as passionately and clearly with such a storyteller’s knack to engage readers as Sarah Thebarge. We respected her first memoir called The Invisible Girls: A Memoir, the amazing story of her getting cancer and finding a new lease on life as she joined together caring from Somali refugees in her new hometown in Seattle. It won a number of awards that year, including Notable Book from World in 2013. About it, theologian and novelist Randy Alcorn said:

Honest, enlightening, heart-touching and, at just the right times, funny. Sarah’s expertly crafted sentences sing and sometimes sting, flowing smoothly, then suddenly jumping off the page. The interweaving of her story with that of a Somali mother and daughters is masterful. This isn’t the American dream. It’s a vibrant and authentic story of loss, disenchantment, discovery, and a reawakening of faith and hope.

Well is almost too complex to simply explain, and some think it is even better than her acclaimed first memoir. I think you could give it to any number of readers, those who like mission stories, those who appreciate justice issues, those who just like a dramatic adventure story. Here’s the short, terribly prosaic summary, that doesn’t do it justice: “After more than a decade of practicing medicine and encountering the medical world herself as a cancer patient, the author optimistically raised funds to serve without pay in a missions hospital. Her story demonstrates what it means to truly become a follower of Jesus: to use faith to change oneself and thereby heal the world.  In addition to practicing medicine in Togo, she served in the Dominican Republic and started a clinic in Kenya for children who lost their parents to AIDS.”

Maybe these endorsements better capture more of how vital this lovely book could be:

Words like love, compassion, courage, and faith easily become clichés … feel-good sentiments that go on greeting cards. If you read Sarah Thebarge’s new book, those words will become more meaningful for you than they’ve ever been … sturdy, substantial, incandescent. Sarah is a supremely gifted writer and she has a powerful story to tell that is worth your precious time.

This book shook me to my core. It is harrowing and beautiful. It challenged my faith and strengthened it. Sarah asks the hardest questions over and over. She sifts our platitudes until all that’s left is truth and love strong enough to hold us all.

FOR ONE WHO LIKES MADELEINE L’ENGLE

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle Sarah Arthur (Zondervan) $19.99 If you don’t know this author, maybe you should pick this up for yourself. If you know anyone who enjoys her memoirs, Bible studies, books about aesthetics and the arts, memoirs, poetry, or extraordinary fiction – A Wrinkle in Time and Swiftly Tilting Planet just for starters – this wonderfully rendered reflection on her life is a great read. Not a biography as such, it is a reflection and evaluation of her spiritual legacy, as the sub-title says. Sarah Arthur is herself a L’Engle-esque writer; she has done workshops with organizations dedicated to the memory of C.S. Lewis, Frederick Buechner, the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, and more. She has gifted literate Christian readers with a number of good books, most recently a trilogy of “literary guides to prayer” (buy Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany if you want to dip in now – you won’t regret it! We have plenty!)

L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis wrote the foreword to A Light So Lovely and, importantly, among the many rave reviews and happy blurbs, is one from Madeleine’s dear friend, poet Luci Shaw. “What fun,” she says. “ And what a delight it is to gain these fresh and careful insights.” She assures us that Sarah “brings Madeleine to life” and that can be “enlarged by these stories.”

Ya gotta love a book that has this on the cover flap:

For anyone earnestly searching the space between sacred and secular, miracle and science, faith and art, come and find a kindred spirit and trusted guide in Madeleine – the Mrs. Whatsit to our Meg Murry – as she sparks our imagination anew.

FOR A SCHOOL TEACHER

On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom David I. Smith (Eerdmans) $22.00 For years we have tried to find the very best books that integrate a Christian philosophy of learning and teaching and make them available so that school teachers who are Christians can more overtly practice a way of teaching that is grounded in Christian convictions. Some of these good books emerge from the movement of alternative Christian schools and we often tell educators to just try to apply them in their own settings. There are some really, really good ones, but they are sometimes a bit academic and rigorous. Busy public school teachers maybe just can’t imagine themselves wading through such volumes, although some do.

There are a few that are directly for public school teachers and are not overly heady – we mostly like the basic Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom by Darlene Vickery Parker, published by Beacon Hill and ACSI’s Making a Difference: Christian Educators in Public Schools by Donovan Graham. The Cry of a Teacher’s Soul (about teacher burnout) by Laurie Matthias (Wipf & Stock) is poignant and intense and beautiful and from “Down Under” we’ve found Christians as Teachers: What Might It Look Like by Geoffrey Beech (Wipf & Stock) which is stellar. We could name others, but David Smith, author of the recent On Christian Teaching is a pillar in this academic sub-genre and a leader behind the scenes of the movement of forming teachers who are Christians to teach Christianly, taking up their work as educators as a holy calling. He does workshops and speaks at conferences all over the world and he has written widely. He supervises young scholars, and student teachers and has directed for years the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College

One reviewer said this new book of Smith’s short, serious chapters is “a masterpiece in accessible scholarship for classroom teachers.” Perry Glanzer of Baylor University says, “Once again, David Smith takes us on a journey and exposes us to teaching vistas that few have contemplated.” Can teaching itself be distinctively Christian? Not every public school teacher wants to dig in to this stuff. If they might, this book will be a godsend.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE LEARNING ABOUT THE BIBLE

Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story Nancy Guthrie (Crossway) $16.99 If the great ending of the Bible story includes the promise of restoration and a removal of all grief (Revelation 21:4) what does this vision of hope mean for how we read the Bible and how we see history and our own lives as they take shape within the unfolding of God’s promises? That’s a mouthful, but if you know anyone who wants an easy-to-read but profound view of the role of the Bible as worldview-shaping and identity forming and world-shaking as we move towards the city that is “better than Eden” this fine book could be a great gift. Nancy Guthrie is a very good Bible teacher and this is a really handsome and rewarding book.

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00  There is a reason Keller is sometimes considered as a contemporary C.S. Lewis. He is Biblically sound and rigorous, culturally engaged (he has hosted anti-racism workshops at the church, done good event in New York around civility, and has written several books about justice and social service.) Yet, he is deeply centered on the first things of the gospel and is clear in his Bible teaching that all of Scripture points us to Christ. This new little hardback picks up these lasting themes — Jonah runs from God, of course, but more to the point, hated certain ethnicities in a certain city. There is much food for thought here as Keller offers a gospel-centered but socially-aware reading of this ancient story. How he links it to Jesus, too, is a bit surprising, making this a lively and compelling read. Just came out about a month ago, so it would make a swell gift.

By the way, speaking of Keller, I have been re-reading many of the entries in his year-long devotion, done with his wife, Kathy, called The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (Viking; $19.95.) It is so good, and would make a perfect gift for some of the people on your list. There are gold-gilded edges, a nice ribbon marker, some classy touches (such as two color printing.) It is a compact sized so there isn’t that much content on the pages, and it feels like a classic, classy prayer book. I like what they do with the Psalter and wanted to remind you of it.

 

Paul: A Biography N. T. Wright (HarperOne) $29.99 Okay, I’ll just say it. We are huge fans and even friends with Tom Wright and we are very big on getting his books known. Some think he’s too conservative, some think he’s too liberal, and to those who have heard this, I’d say it is mostly nonsense. Sure, not everyone will agree with all of his methods or conclusions, but he simply ought not be dismissed so easily. Plus, he not only brings some very fresh thinking to the conversation, he is a fine, fine writer. In our 36 years of bookselling, there has been no Biblical scholar that has thrilled us more.

In this recent, big volume, Wright does an exceptional, creative job of making the great “apostle of the heart set free” (to quote F.F. Bruce) accessible. It is one of the great books of the year and would make a great gift to Bible scholars who would enjoy it as much as beginners who want a good read to give them a big overview.

Here are a few of the rave reviews offered for Paul: A Biography.

An enthralling journey into the mind of Paul by one of the great theologians of our time, a work full of insight, depth and generosity of understanding.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, London)
“NT Wright takes the most controversial and influential author of scripture and does something remarkable: he humanizes Paul. I was hooked from the first page.” (Mike McHargue, author of Finding God in the Waves as co-host of The Liturgists Podcast)

“The most winsome feature is the way Wright paints Paul as a . . . three-dimensional, many-sided, complicated human being. Paul: A Biography is a bright, provocative, imaginative, and often brilliant book.” (The Gospel Coalition)

“Paul is a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.” (Englewood Review of Books)

“In eloquent and inviting prose, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars retells the story behind the story, the story of the Apostle Paul. A master teacher here communicates Paul in language every reader can understand.” (Craig S. Keener, Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary)

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Maybe you saw our Facebook allusion to a harrowing drive to our last big gig a few days after Thanksgiving. There was a toxic gas leak that shut down the Delaware Memorial Bridge on the busiest driving evening of the year. I’ll spare you the tedious details of getting our big van into Philly and back down to South Jersey and how the darned delay allowed us to see the sun rise over the Atlantic as we worked all night to get ready for a large book display for an Episcopalian clergy conference. To take a few of our wares on the road and serve priests and deacons and church staff at this annual event is always a great joy. Thanks to Bishop Daniel Gutierrez and others at the Diocese of Pennsylvania. 

(By the way, this is a Diocese that brought in Rev. Fleming Rutledge (presenting on her magisterial volume Crucifixion)  last year and has Miroslov Volf coming in the Spring. One parish is hosting notable author and scholar Alan Jacobs and another is doing a C.S. Lewis conference. It’s nice to see such energy around Christian growth, theological dialogue, and on-going education.)

Sometimes when we do these things we order big stacks of books to sell and in some cases, afterwards, it dawns on us it is better to offer an extra-good deal to our mail-order friends than to pay to send back our over-stock. So, it’s a three-day clearance sale, right here, right now, and you benefit from good savings and a free gift from us. If you act now.

Hey, this could solve some of your perplexing gift giving problems, I bet. Just sayin’.

For THREE DAYS ONLY (this deal only lasts until Thursday night, December 6th 2018, at midnight) we’ll give you a free book by the fabulously energetic and funny and serious speaker, Thistle Farms founder, Becca Stevens, who spoke at the Episcopalian event. What a joy to finally get to met her — Beth and I have promoted her books for years and long respected her important work. And now we’ll give some away to you.

Here’s the dealio: buy two/get one free.

If you buy any two of the books listed down below, we will give you absolutely free a copy of Becca Stevens’ book Funeral for a Stranger: Thoughts on Life and Love (Abingdon Press, a $13.00 value) OR an earlier Becca Stevens book, Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me (Abingdon Press; $14.00.) These are the two free ones we are offering.

Funeral for a Stranger is a wonderful collection of some excellent miscellaneous essays. Becca is an excellent writer, a master of the short form, a good writer and born storyteller… some of her other books are devotional in nature, collections of short reflections and strong, prayerful meditations. Funeral… covers all sorts of territory and is sure to thrill anyone who likes good writing, spiritual ruminations on life and times, love and life. As a justice activist she brings a bit of bite at times but as a pastor and congregational leader she knows how to offer good words for the spiritual journey. It is an excellent book. And you can get it free.

 

OR, if you’d rather, as we’ve said, we can send for free an earlier book, Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me. Again, this is Becca Stevens in her wheelhouse, offering artfully written creative meditations, short reflections that bring us into that quiet place of soul sanctuary with God. It is a great read with each entry a story of a place (often a surprising place) where she discovered God’s presence afresh. The Funeral for a Stranger one includes various sorts of thoughtful essays and they are a delight to read and very insightful. Sanctuary has equally moving stories and meditations but the pieces are shorter and arranged as a daily devotional, each one about the spirituality of the ordinary and meeting God in some particular episode or place.

So, choose any two of the ones listed below and then pick one of these two (just mentioned) as your free choice. Just type it in when you order — we’ll take care of the rest. (Or, if you want both of the ones listed, you can pay for one and have that count as one of the two you are purchasing, and get the other as the free one. And, hey, if you order four below, you can get both of these for free. See, we’re easy to get along with, yes?)

Got it? Buy two from the following list ( below) and get one of the ones listed (above) for free. For. Free. Offer is good while supplies last and just until Thursday night.

BUY TWO OF THESE:

Here are just a few of the thousands that we displayed at the Episcopal event in New Jersey. A few of these were tremendous sellers; others maybe could have been, but we didn’t push them from up front in my little book talks. All are great, and up for grabs in order to get a free one.

The Power of Love: Sermons, Reflections & Wisdom to Uplift and Inspire Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $20.00  What a great little gift book this would make, ideal to give to unchurched folks, even. Who didn’t hear about the extraordinary sermon preached at the 2018 Royal Wedding? It certainly went viral. That sermon about Christian love is here along with other important messages delivered by this energetic black preacher. Rev. Curry (who has a little paperback about robust discipleship called Crazy Christians and a memoir called Songs My Mama Taught Me) is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  One of the great talks reproduced here is a message he gave to their annual conference called “The Good Life” and it is good for anyone!  Another was given at the National Cathedral – “Welcome to the Movement.”

The book is small and has purple end papers, some gold ink, and a presentation page. It’s a nice little collection, but the “Power of Love” sermon preached for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is what will make it of interest to some. It was fun announcing the release of this brand new book to Episcopalians who were gathered with Becca Stevens whose own tag line is “Love Heals.” Do you believe there is power in love? This book will remind you of the truest truths about this very thing.

On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old Parker J. Palmer (Berret Koehler) $19.95 What a handsome, compact, beautifully written, nearly serene study of wholehearted living as we move into older age, becoming mentors and guides to others. Parker Palmer is nearly a public intellectual and has written about contemplative living, about public civility, about higher education. I hope you know his book about education, and certainly his wonderful book about vocation. As the Quaker gentleman and activist ages, gracefully, he is ruminating on the lightness of being and yet the gravity of the era. If you liked Rohr’s Falling Upward this would thrill you, I’m sure. Rohr, in fact, calls it “a generous gift to all of us.”

The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom James Bryan Smith (formatio/IVP) $22.00 We love having especially attractive books to prop up on a nice shelf when we’re out and about, and we featured this, right next to Smith’s previous one called The Magnificent Story, which also has a striking die cut cover. You may know of James Bryan Smith who writes books about spirituality and spiritual disciplines – think Ruth Haley Barton or Richard Foster or Dallas Willard. His previous trilogy continues to sell well (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community) and these two new ones are equally good.

Smith’s insight and eloquence about the journey we are one, an excellent supplement to his previous insight about the storied nature of our faith experience is superb and helpful. A spirituality write we admire, Ken Shigematsu, says:

Deep and accessible, profound and personal, James Bryan Smith offers the very best writing in spiritual transformation. He’s the ideal guide for this magnificent journey. Walk with him and you will become the good and beautiful you that God created you to be.

Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: 14 People Who Dared to Change Our World David Gushee & Colin Holtz (Brazos Press) $25.99  What a great, urgent read – informative and inspiring – and what a great gift this would make. Who among us doesn’t desire to have greater capacity to offer moral guidance in whatever space we find ourselves? Who doesn’t want to know a bit about how great change has happened in the past and how leaders have marshaled their leadership abilities to speak to the issues of the day? There are books about leadership and there are books about social change and there are books about character formation but this bring it all together as Gushee – himself an ethicist who has learned to speak out and pay up with integrity in aces – and his co-writer studies great moral leaders, their character and their ability to lead.

From William Wilberforce to Elie Wiesel, from Ida B. Wells to Malaya Yousafzai, Gushee & Holtz explore how these formative agents of transformation learned to stand up and learned to appeal to others to join them in their campaigns for betterment. The study of Lincoln is very nice, their thrilling look at Florence Nightingale is insightful, and who doesn’t need to learn a bit more about the fascinating journey of recently canonized Oscar Romero, murdered by US-trained assassins in El Salvador? These two authors have given us a great gift in this hefty hardback. Highly recommended.

Adam Hearlson (Eerdmans) $24.00 Hearlson is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and I thought these pastors who tend to be progressive politically would love this reminder that to say “yes” to God in worship necessarily means a “no” to other rulers, other regimes, other claims on our ultimate allegiance. Surely we can’t forget (or think we know enough about) Barman and Bonhoeffer and others who worshipped well with a high Christology and saw the subversive power of that worship to delegitimize the principalities and powers.

Brian McLaren wrote a very sensible foreword to this little book, in which he says it is — get this:

“As brilliant an exploration of the act of worship as I’ve ever seen.”

Important names such as Liz Theoharis, Luke Powry, and the eminent Tom Long give it a big endorsement for being provocative and, at times, fun. It is intense and serious and thoughtful and vital. It is not the final word on worship renewal or the public implications of our creeds and confessions. But in this era when idols and the pride that goeth before a fall is palpable, this should appeal to many. Check it out, give it to a thoughtful pastor or worship leader you know.

Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 Okay, we announce this everywhere we go, tell folks about it hither and yon, and love explaining that it is fun and funny and adventurous and full of capers and stories and some pretty clear-headed ideas about God’s love and follow Jesus, bit by bit. Since Becca Stephens was doing heavy talks about the prophetic power of love and justice work, it seemed more than appropriate to shout out to Goff. It’s a great book for older Christian who need fresh shot in the arm, recalling what it’s all about, and it’s ideal for those not quite up for heady theological reading. Like his wonderful, popular Love Does, the new Everybody Always is a great book for anyone.

Love Heals Becca Stevens (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 Do you recall us sharing about this fabulously artful, very handsome book? It was one of our grand titles that we pushed when it first came out and we were so pleased to be able to say it was lush and lovely – full color photos of flowers and dishes and natures scenes – and, yes, thistles – and yet it has exceptional substance. Her work at Thistle Farms – offering dignity and jobs to women off the street, freed from domestic violence or trafficking or drugs – animates her deep, deep conviction that love is the answer. Yes, their teashop and Thistle Farms essential oils and hand lotions and international gifts are branded with the saying “love heals” but for them it is gospel truth. This book is about hope and community and justice and grace and goodness and beauty.

The principles explained here have transformed lives, leading those who are broken towards self-acceptance and compassion and faith. We loved selling this book at the Becca Stevens event and would love to sell a few more now. It would make a really great gift, so why not buy an extra?

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling Becca Stevens (Jericho Books) $15.00 What a read! This is her memoir, a ground-breaking story about her own life, losing her father (a beloved Episcopal priest himself), her abuse in the church she now loves, and her transformation as she learned to serve others and live in hope. Yep, she speaks truth, here, and it is a very good book.

In fact, the late, great, Phyllis Tickle said:

Snake Oil is one of the best reads I have had in a very long time. Stevens is a consummate storyteller…poignant, persuasive, witty, wise and, ultimately, a passionate lover of God.

 

The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from Its Violent History Becca Stevens (Jericho Books) $16.00  I wished Becca could have been at the clergy retreat longer as I’d have loved to hear her tell some of this story. We read – and promoted (hear! hear!) – this book when it first came out. It’s a nice paperback now. As I announced in my little book pitch at the clergy event last week, there are a number of good books on fair trade coffee which has sort of lead the way to helping consumers think about ethically sourcing their shopping choices. But there hasn’t been as much written about what we might call fair trade tea and here Becca tells a story both inspiring and daunting. What a story, how informative, how interesting – a justice-oriented travelogue.

Here is how the publisher describes this riveting read:

What started as an impossible dream-to build a café that employs women recovering from prostitution and addiction-is helping to fuel an astonishing movement to bring freedom and fair wages to women producers worldwide where tea and trafficking are linked by oppression and the opiate wars.

Becca Stevens started the Thistle Stop Café to empower women survivors. But when she discovered a connection between café workers and tea laborers overseas, she embarked on a global mission called “Shared Trade” to increase the value of women survivors and producers across the globe.

As she recounts the victories and unexpected challenges of building the café, Becca also sweeps the reader into the world of tea, where timeless rituals transport to an era of beauty and the challenging truths about tea’s darker, more violent history. She offers moving reflections of the meaning of tea in our lives, plus recipes for tea blends that readers can make themselves.

In this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for café workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on earth.

Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life Becca Stevens (Morehouse Publishing) $18.95 What a great idea for a book. These are letters Rev. Becca sent out to various folks; to be honest, I don’t know (or even care) if they are real letters or a device to arrange a book of spiritual guidance. It’s a classic form – you know, even the always wise and eloquent Eugene Peterson has such a book, which, frankly, isn’t as substantial as this. So it’s a set of letters all about encouragement in the way of love. Some of these are about social issues – extolling the reader to greater care and action – and others are gentle, luscious, lovely.

Each letter includes Biblical texts and adds some questions for discussion and reflection, making an ideal sort of devotional for once who just can’t quite take a “page a day” devo, or for small groups who need short, artful pieces to discuss. It’s a great book inviting us to cultivate deep Christian practices for the life of the world. There’s lots of stories and lots of advice and lots of sense for you in Letters from the Farm and you get to learn a bit about her good work. It’s a nice cover, too. Yes!

Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim’s Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series Jan Karon (Penguin) $20.00  When we announced this a month ago a few customers were just tickled – what fun! This is a collection of various sermons and prayers by the fictional Father Tim of the beloved Jan Karon Mitford novels. Ms. Karon adds some of her own reflections about the inspirational parts of the stories and her own hopes and prayers. This is a lovely, real, book of devotion and prayer, even if from the pen of a storyteller. What fun.

Father Tim is, of course, a very good guy and his prayers and Bible studies and sermons are well worth considering. This compact-sized hardback would make a great gift for anyone, but certainly for those that love Mitford. Nice.

Why Religion?: A Personal Story Elaine Pagels (Ecco/HarperCollins) $27.99 Maybe this didn’t sell that well at the Episcopal gig because I didn’t push it as much as I might have; I guess we assumed they would naturally be interested, especially after that fascinating NPR Fresh Air interview a week or two ago. I suppose I’m just not that interested, to be honest, about her admittedly significant work on everything from Adam and Eve to the history of ideas about Satan. She’s known as a scholar of Gnosticism (a heresy I despise) and here she tells her own faith journey, such as it may be. She is a major intellectual in our time, so the book should sell well.

The reviews on the back are notable, from Madeleine Albright to Jon Meacham to Harvard colleague Karen King to, of course, Bart Ehrman. As he says this is “a deeply personal memoir by one of the truly eminent scholars of our generation.”

Even novelist Joyce Carol Oates says:

An extraordinary memoir of loss, spiritual struggle, illumination, and insight – emotionally heartrending, intellectually exciting, a model of what a memoir should be.

Holy smokes, I think I’m going to read this soon, after all. Wow. Want to join me?

Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $18.00  I suppose I shouldn’t assume that every Episcopalian or liturgically sensible, globally-minded Christian likes the former Archbishop of Canterbury, but, man – this shoulda flown off the shelves!  What a great little book — rich, deep, mature, about history and historiography, about why the past matters, about how older eras of the church should be informing us in some way (but maybe not others?)

We used to carry the British edition of this book and loved its simple outline, his intellectually astute, learned but gracious vocabulary. After a few opening chapters on “what we expect from the past” and why we should study church history, he offers a chapter called “Resident Aliens: The Identity of the Early Church” which leads to “Grace Alone: Community and Novelty in the Reformation Era” and then “History and Renewal: Records of the Body of Christ.” The Christian Century opined, “others would turn such a topic into a bone-dry lecture, but Williams’ Christological vision is thrilling.” Another reviewer says his prose is “lucid and often beautiful.” Come on, people!

The Jesus Heist: Recovering the Gospel From the Church C. Andrew Doyle (Church Publishing) $18.00 Okay, I dig this guy, and I like this book. I wish I had pushed it harder among my mainline denominational friends this year – we announced it when it came out a year ago and have taken it to various events. Look, we need to own up to this weird place we are in these days. (I don’t mean to caricature or offend.) When I was coming up into Christian leadership – the last quarter of the 20th century — the debate was between liberal theologians who created boring churches that didn’t believe much of anything, certainly nothing worth giving one’s life to, and evangelical churches that were passionate and sure and earnest and right about the first things of the gospel but too often dumb and shallow and oddly politically reactionary. Alas, now the books coming out of “liberal” theological traditions are more Biblical than much coming out of the hip evangelical culture. Oh, how the times have changed. So here, a progressive Bishop of a liberal denomination asks us to flip the script of many Bible stories and see what Jesus is really doing, inviting us to come to a deeper trust in His revolutionary Kingdom. This is what is good about mainline churches – they can preach a non-fundamentalist call back to Jesus and bitch about how we’ve missed Him in all our religiosity and get away with it. Yep, on both the right and left, evangelical and mainline, it seems Jesus has been too often ignored, the gospel domesticated, Jesus hijacked, if not stolen. I love the title of this.

And I love the irony that a mainline progressive is the one telling us we need revival, to focus on Jesus, to read our Bibles (if in creative, generative ways.) Ho!

And guess who has a big endorsement blurb on the back of this feisty book?

Becca Stevens, who says this:

Andy Doyle is an ecclesiastical breath of fresh air!  His writing is insightful, witty, and formative.  Read this book if you have found yourself questioning tradition, bored by Sunday morning routines, or wondering how to bring new life into any congregation. Andy knows the church is broken and invites us all to accept that lostness so that we can be found. Through his writing Andy grounds us in the fellowship of Jesus, does an analysis of where we wandered away from the Sinai traditions, and then cuts a path by which we can find our way back.  We can let go of useless structures that don’t lead us to love the world with eyes wide open.  We can live again as a motley crew of Jesus who are present in the world, loving their neighbors!  This book will free you to reimagine how you spend your time, talent and treasures for the coming kingdom.

Today is a Baptism Day Anna V. Ostenson Moore, illustrated by Peter Krueger (Church Publishing) $13.95  Not sure how this happened but I intended to rave about this from up front at our retreat and celebrate Church Publishing (an Episcopalian publishing house) doing great books just like this. Alas, we forgot to take it and left a whole big stack of them back at the shop. So, we announce it here, wanting you to know it is really interesting, a captivating, poetic sort of read full of mainline church theology, innovative, creative pictures (of all kinds of people and all kinds of families, thanks be to God!)

As a Canon to the Ordinary at the Diocese of Bethlehem says it “unfolds a theology of baptism within an expansive vision of who we are as members of the Body of Christ.” Cheryl Minor, Director of the Center for the Theology of Childhood at The Godly Play Foundation calls it (of course) “wonder-filled.” The author is known in Episcopalian family faith formation circles (she writes for “StoryPath” and their “Daily Devo.” This colorful kids book is good for any faith tradition that baptizes children. Nice!

Home By Another Way: A Christmas Story Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (Flyway Books) $18.00 I’m sure you know we’ve touted this before – it came out earlier this fall and we were just thrilled to see a popular sermon by the always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor re-told as a children’s sermon, and lavishly illustrated with an amazing, creative, whimsical, passionate artists.

This, as you might guess, tells the story of the wise men, the confrontation with Herod, the suggestion that Mary, Joseph, Jesus become exiles (refugees? immigrants? as they escape. There’s some clever wit in here, the wise men are a bit eccentric, and the story unfolds with the preacher/theologian allowing the story to stay front and center, without moralizing. What fun! The artwork is fabulous.

OKAY, THERE YA GO.

BUY ANY TWO OF THESE AND WE WILL SEND TO YOU A FREE COPY OF ONE OF THE FIRST TWO BOOKS DESCRIBED BY BECCA STEVENS.

JUST TELL US WHICH YOU WANT FOR YOUR FREE ONE

FUNERAL FOR A STRANGER OR SANCTUARY. 

OFFER EXPIRES DECEMBER 6, 2018 AT MIDNIGHT.

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Advent Books 2018 (children’s books) ALL ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. It’s a busy time for many shoppers (not to mention frazzled retailers.) But for our purposes, the pending start of the new church year, starting with Advent next weekend, is more pressing. It has been so fun sending out a lot of books this week — thanks to those who paid attention to our Advent book list from last week’s BookNotes. The Art of Advent has been the biggest seller this week, with Wounded in Spirit not far behind. I think the next popular has been the paperback edition of Tim Keller’s Hidden Christmas.

There are others that deserve mention and perhaps I’ll name more later. Now, though, as promised, we wanted to offer a quick list (we are among those frazzled retailers, remember) of a few new children’s books that you may want to have on hand these next sacred weeks. What a simple, powerful practice to call the whole fam together for a time of worship or conversation lit by candlelight glow — the best part for some kids — that can help us focus on the meaning of the season’s longings.

Maybe these can help.

My Advent Calendar Christmas Book Antonia Jackson & Krisztina Hallai Nagy (Lion Press) $7.99  Lion Press from the UK is a favorite (favourite) children’s publisher and we were glad to discover this little gem.  It is a fairly standard little book telling the story of the nativity except the cover of the book is itself a 23-day, open-a-flap-a-day Advent Calendar. The entire Christmas story is here, from annunciation to the flight to Egypt and it’s fine. But the joy is opening the little flaps and awaiting each day’s surprise. The book is 6.5″ x 6″ and the advent flaps are small. We have more conventional Advent calendars, by the way, Give us a call if we can tell you about some.

A Jesus Christmas: Exploring God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99  I like the cool, slightly contemporary look and design of Good Book Company products and this little family workbook is no exception. Ms. Reaoch is known in “Bible Study Fellowship” for those that know that great ministry, and it should convince you that she is careful about Bible study, about application, about seeing how all things cohere in the message of Christ’s gospel. These short daily studies can help your family get excited about a fresh way to prepare for Christmas by taking a look at one of the serpent’s lies (from Genesis 3) and the ways in which the glorious truths of God’s redemptive plan play out. Joni Eareckson Tada says it is “just what fathers and mothers are looking for.” I hope that is true. Donald Whitney writes, “If you have young children and you want to make this Christmas more of a ‘Jesus Christmas’ than last year, try this book.”  It includes space for family journaling, too. Nicely done, for sure.

 

The Shepherd Who Couldn’t Sing Alan Barker, illustrations by Thea Baker (SPCK) $9.00  I really like the illustrations that are rich and warm, creative without being eccentric. There are fabric patterns through-out that are striking, and some water-color washes that are very artful. So I’m a fan of this paperback — even its paper stock and size (about 9 x 10) seems just right. The story is fun; it is about Jake the shepherd boy on the hills of Bethlehem who, er, can’t sing. Can he find his voice and join in the angels given the momentous good news he has just witnessed? He is so brave about so many things but he is afraid of singing! The author tells us at the end that it was inspired by Caedmon who learned to sing. (He even gives a little song to sing to the tune of Frere Jacques called, of course “Jake’s Song.”) Jake’s plight is a creative way into the Bible story, but it raises this other concern, of not being afraid to sing, to find one’s voice in the choir, to stand up and sing-out. Nice.

A Very Noisy Christmas Tim Thornborough, illustrations by Jennifer Davison (The Good Book Company) $4.99  This is another winner from The Good Book Company, a gospel-centered company that provides really attractive books that are clear about gospel truth. We stock all of their children’s books. This one is really inexpensive, has artwork that features non-European-looking characters, whimsical as they are. It is designed to be read out loud, it playfully instructs you (even by the size and shape of the particular font) to whisper some sentences and to really shout out other parts. Fun! Most parents and children will get a kick out of doing this together (probably over and over!) How loud can you shout? How quietly can you whisper? The first Christmas was both quiet and noisy, after all (and the birth of Jesus is worth shouting about!)

After the opening page of instruction on how to read this little book it says,

And if you’re lucky enough to have a grown-up read to you, make sure that they use their loudest, softest, and silliest voices!

Consider yourself warned.

Home By Another Way Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrations by Melanie Cataldo  (Flyaway Books) $18.00 When one of our most beloved and interesting preachers and writers teams up with an excellent, talented illustrator to re-tell one of her famous seasonal sermons, you’d expected it to be much anticipated and much discussed. And this certainly is. Surely one of the most beautifully-illustrated children’s books of the year, it is great addition to the library of anyone who collects Christmas books. It’s a bit odd, even funny at times, but so many holiday books are. It’s part of the fun, I think, re-telling and re-imagining these great, classic stories. And how she puts us right onto the quirky camel rides of these three mystics from the East.

You can see some of the Home By Another Way art in this short trailer.

This story is about the wise men and their journey to meet the Christ child (and, of course, their anxiously freighted meeting with the dangerous Herod.) Some have found it a bit unusual, describing the characters in such odd detail. Others have thought it unfortunate how small of a role the holy family plays, but, again, it gets at that story by way of describing in artful prose the journey of the wise guys. And yet, wordsmith that Taylor is, she tells of how their lives are touched as they hold the baby close. This encounter will surely transform their lives even if the teller of the tale does not spell it out for us. That is BBT’s theory about preaching, I believe — don’t say too much, allow some time for “I wonder” type questions, don’t be too didactic: the power is in the story, after all. So this ought not be the only book to read to children about Christmas; obviously. And — please — realize it is to be read after Christmas, of course. The imaginative story is a fascinating one, glorious in its own way, drawing on a famous old sermon by the former Episcopal pastor.

Taylor now is a professor of world religions at a Georgia college and, in fact, has a long awaited book coming out this March (2019) about her experiences there, entitled Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others (HarperOne; $25.99.) You can pre-order it now, of course, at our BookNotes 20% OFF — we already have a waiting list for it.

 

The Sleepy Shepherd: A Timeless Retelling of the Christmas Story Stephen Cottrell, illustrations by Chris Hagan (SPCK) $10.00  Kudos to our friends at InterVarsity Press for picking up some of these SPCK British books from overseas and making them easily available in the States. This is a fun and funny story and I like it not only because the writing is good but because the art is a bit more eccentric and zesty than some. I don’t always think young children resonate with mature modernist or abstract art, but this is wildly creative without obscuring the content of the story. It does what good art can do — revealing something formerly missed. If only to generate a fresh and invigorated gaze, this book is just so interesting.

I don’t know enough about art history to name the influences of this clever children’s illustrator, but there’s some stuff flying around here, hands raised — Marc Chagall, maybe? Some of the middle eastern figures are wearing what seem to me to be Mexican ponchos with really striking horizontal lines. The folk art impressions are obvious. There are vivid sky scenes, and little illuminations and maybe even some arabesques. Anyway, it’s an inexpensive kids book, but I found it notable.

The text The Sleepy Shepherd is longer and for elementary children, unlike some picture books which are best for pre-schoolers. It starts with the Bethlehem shepherds, of course, one one sleepyhead named Silas, but follows the life of Jesus until, unexpectedly, Silas meets Jesus late in his life.

Grace Comes at Christmas: Gracias Viene en la Navidad  M. J. McCluskey, illustrations by Sierra Mon Ann Vidal (Balboa Press) $15.95  We are especially excited to tell you about this new English/Spanish bi-lingual book, and we recommend it for a couple of reasons. Not least is that we know the author, a friend and customer who is a local Lutheran congregant and respected community volunteer. And a bundle of good energy, which she uses to make her corner a bit brighter, like the cat — named, Grace, of course (did I mention she is Lutheran?) — who is the star of this sweet holiday story. The story unfolds as we learn what happens to the little kitten who finds herself alone in a freezing field on Christmas Eve. You might imagine what occurs when she sees a light on the top of the hill and hears music (although there are toils and dangers throughout until the lovely, hospitable climax.)

That Grace Comes at Christmas is bi-lingual makes it a great gift for anyone who is interested in multiple languages, in Latino culture, even those interested in the current immigration news. And certainly it is a rare, delightful book for anyone who speaks Spanish. Gracias Viene in a new pet named Sublime Gracias, Amazing Grace.

This is a fun, fun story, a lovely little parable, and all the proceeds go to local York area charities. You probably will not see this book anywhere else, so it will be a special surprise for the little ones you know when you order from us. We’d be happy to send one (or more) out right away.

By the way, we can special order a rare bi-lingual Russian/English edition of it as well, that M.J. put together. She knows of a town where there are a lot of Russian immigrants so she developed a Russian/English edition. She’s that kind of person. You should have her book.

That Baby in the Manger Anne E, Neuberger, illustrations by Chloe E. Pitkoff (Paraclete Press) $15.99 This was a best seller for us last year so we wanted to name it again. It is paperback with colorful, somewhat modern art, which makes it a beautiful sight to behold. It is just creative enough to provide allusive nuance to the portrayal but it isn’t odd or disorienting. That is, it is just a great visual treat. The story is more than a treat, it is nothing short of a profound blessing, nearly prophetic in its gentle but potent truth-telling.

Neuberger tells here a true story of a Catholic priest who is talking with the children of his parish — children of non-European descent. As they reflect on the creche scene, they children ask if Jesus really had blue eyes. Lurking just below the surface of The Baby in the Manger is this child-like question that has adult-world ramifications: can people of color relate to a white Jesus? Or, better, can Jesus relate to “all the children of the world” as the Sunday school song promises? This very clever priest, Father Prak, has this situation on his hands and invites the children to bring their own dolls to the nativity scene. Oh my, the glory of what happens and the great love this pen and watercolor artist put into her illustrating it is spectacular. It is fun and sobering, joyful and touching.

Yes, let’s be clear: it gets at issues of racism and true inclusion but it does so with great care and gentle storytelling. What a book. Please, please, give this a try. Buy a few and spread the word. No matter what you or your friends look like, no matter who they are, the Christ child is born for them. Do you believe this? Can you proclaim such the wide, wide mercy of God without having this conversation? This book is a tool to help, as the best stories always are. Highly recommended.

The Birth of Jesus Read-Along Regina Brundidge-Fuller, illustrations by Jeff West (Urban Spirit!) $6.99 We have bunches of inexpensive re-tellings of Bible stories and of course the Christmas story ones are as popular as any. It is so cool that at this time of year it isn’t uncommon to give out books about Jesus, and, to children, books about the birth of Jesus. Yes!  Of course, it is a complicated matter to find books that retell the story well and that have illustrations that are well done and wise. For those that care about these things, we have this (and a few others) unique one published by Urban Spirit! who does ministry out of Atlanta, As you can see, most of the characters in these illustrations are black. (Interestingly, the angels are multi-ethnic, and Herod seems to be white, naturally.)  I do not want to say these are only for the African American market – nearly every church nursery in American has Bible stories of Jesus or Bible characters looking white. Why not supplement your church or family library with something like this. Certainly is is designed for African American children, but we’re happy to suggest it to all sorts of families and churches. They are well done.

A Savior Is Born: Rocks Tell The Story of Christmas created by Patti Rokus (Zondervan) $17.99  I suppose this isn’t just a children’s book as the curious, artful presentation will make it an attractive coffee table book for anyone, or a unique gift for a person who might enjoy such a book. My wife collects little pebbles many places she goes as both memory stones and as decoration.  It isn’t uncommon to find a few smooth stones or a pile of small rocks on a window sill or by my sock drawer. I’m sure she isn’t the only one who is intrigued by the aesthetic revelation of small stones. And so, I’m sure many will enjoy this simple book showing the Christmas story created by stones.

We have for several years promoted a breathtaking book with bi-lingual English and Arabic text about immigrants, where all the artwork is made with stones. It is called Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey and was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. (Orca Books; $20.00.) That is nearly miraculous and very poignant.

This new one by Patti Rokus tells the nativity story and it, too, is very good although pretty straight-forward. The stone tableaus are accompanied with the classic Bible verses so it’s very clear what is going on (not that anyone could miss it.) However, given the surprising way the stones are configured to make animals and manger, angels and people, it will surely capture the attention of children and adults. It will slow you down and you’ll  have to look at each and every character in the story. In that, A Savior Is Born is not just a clever presentation, but a true gift; a blessing. At the end, there is a very nice note from the author who tells of her love of the outdoors, her journey into found stone art, and how we can bring our children into deeper faith by allowing then to interact with nature. She has a website and hopes to foster ongoing nature art. As she says on the second to last page, “Now it’s your turn. What will you create with rocks?”

I like this author a lot — she has a bunch of videos and even guide on how to do this art. Here she is making a nice explanation of why it matters, getting kids find a connection to God by creating with the creator. Enjoy a short video: here.

Look for the sequel to A Savior is Born: Rocks Tell the Story of Christmas this winter which will be called Jesus, My Savior: Rocks Tell the Story of Easter. 

Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher D. Rodkey and Jess & Natalie Turri (Chalice Press) $12.99 Speaking of adult books that kids can appreciate, this is pitched as an adult coloring book, and for good reason. As we explained a year ago (and, again, as we did with the sequel, Coloring Lent) Chris Rodkey is a friend and neighbor and a scholar/activist/pastor of a UCC church here in D-town. We are theologically dissimilar in many ways but I so admire his eagerness to do creative stuff and speak with theological depth into the issues of the day. And so, you should know that this coloring book is very intentionally created out of his progressive/radical sort of deeply theological worldview. It follows the lectionary readings for Advent, and so is very, very Biblical. There are little devotional sentences on each page which are footnoted so you can explore more of why the art is created as it is, and why the paraphrase of the lectionary texts are done as they are. Coloring Advent is ecumenical and provocative and is unlike any other more conventional adult coloring book, but, at the end of the day, it is designed for your own slow, creative, engagement with Sacred Scripture by way of working on your own sacred art.

Can children and families use this detailed, serious coloring book? For those with older children or teens, of course. Can you deepen the quality of your faith conversation by pondering some of the ever-so-slight nuances of text and image in Coloring Advent, even with your children? I think so. Breath deep, have fun.

By the way, although, again, mostly for adults but suitable for some older kids, see the new Coloring Women of the Bible (Chalice Press; $14.99) also lovingly done by Rev. Chris Rodkey and Natalie Turri. It has some vital theological interpretation, brave portrayal of complicated Scriptural stories, and a section of pages to color the feminine images of God from the Bible. There is no other coloring book like it, that’s for sure; it would be fascinating to have younger teens or youth do it. I’ll write more about this later as it makes a great small gift (especially when paired with a pack of colored pencils.)  Cheers.

Order today and we’ll get things out ASAP, usually via US mail. The order form page invites you to tell us if you prefer Media Mail which is often slow but inexpensive, or Priority Mail which is quick (but still cheaper than UPS for most small packages.)

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Advent books 2018 (part one — kid’s books coming next) ON SALE NOW

It’s hard to believe how the Advent season is nearly upon us. We’ve got almost two weeks, though, so we can still solve your problems by getting the right resources for your needs in plenty of time. We describe some shipping options at the order form page, but US mail is working just fine. Just follow the link, below to place orders, easily.

All books listed are 20% off, too. We’re glad to be able to offer such interesting titles.

Many of the good books we’ve listed the last few years here or here or, for children’s books, here, are still in stock or readily available. Check out those lists if you’re a book-lover who loves the Advent season. We think they are helpful and good to know about.  If you agree, we’d appreciate your willingness to do business with us.

Here are some that are mostly quite new, all on sale and ready to ship. (We will list some children’s books soon in our next BookNotes newsletter.)

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $30.00 This is without a doubt the most talked about book about Advent in our memory, and for good reason. This sturdy 400+ page paperback volume is laden with Mrs. Rutledge’s legendary, richly theological, provocative (but always orthodox), meaty but persuasive sermons. There are some essays here, some Bible studies, other writings and sermons galore, for every special day of the season (and then some. As a serious Episcopalian, she’s included some special days I’ve never even heard of!) A few of the sermons are recent, some older, typed up from her old manuscripts — a labor of love! Those of us who have heard the Reverend Rutledge preach know how good she is. Those of us who have heard her lecture or met her in person know how gracious and interesting she is. Those who have read her books – from the extraordinary The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ to her excellent collections of sermons (one on preaching the Old Testament, one of sermons on Romans, one that is a general collection, one a study of Tolkien, one on the last words of Christ) – all know how wise and interesting and informative and valuable they are.

As we noted when we first announced this new book earlier this fall, there are just pages of endorsing blurbs, good quotes from across the theological spectrum, but mostly from those I trust the most. From Michael Gorman and Richard Hays to Wesley Hill and James K.A. Smith, there are so many who insist this book is well worth having.

Marilyn McEntyre (a woman who steward words as well as anyone) writes that Rutledge’s Advent is, “Invigorating – edgy, intelligent, unflinching, and joyful in all it reclaims. A timely, lively prophetic word.”

Allow me this bluntness: if you care about the theological tenor of our churches, if you like serious theological books at all, if you care about the holiday’s integrity and wish for something more than sentiment this season, you should buy this book.

The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany Jane Williams (SPCK) $15.00  My, my, this may be our favorite Advent book this year!  We had many customers who loved her publisher’s similar The Art of Lent which we heartily recommended last Spring. This one, like that one, is a square-sized, small paperback, about 150 pages, making it a truly delightful gem to carry in a purse or backpack or to give as a simple gift.  But, yet, it is rich, with full-color artwork for each day of Advent. The art is reproduced nicely, the paper is glossy but still lighter weight. It is such a great little volume to hold and glance through.

Importantly, though, these are rich, insightful meditations, nicely written, Biblically-based, each using a painting or artwork as a springboard to reflect on living well and out of Advent hope. Ms. Williams has written several other thoughtful books and is Assistant Dean and Lecturer in Systematic Theology at St. Mellitus College in the UK. The Advent of Art is The Archbishop of York’s Advent book for 2018.

By the way, there are plenty of masterpieces shown here. There are those great artworks that you might expect for a holiday book – from da Vinci’s The Virgin and the Child with Saint Anne to medieval classics like Francesca’s odd The Nativity and (thanks be to God) the spectacular Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Because Williams is attuned to the themes of the church season, there are pictures and themes that some may find jarring – Herodias Bosch on hell, unexpected pictures on judgment, visual (and written) meditations on Noah and Jeremiah and Christ’s work, including the hope of Apocalypse. (The famous Rembrandt on the Return of the Prodigal Son that Henri Nouwen made is here, as is the haunting William Holman Hunt on Christ as the Light of the World and some others that at first glance don’t seem seasonal, but they are!)  Many of the paintings, though, (again, some Advental, some Christmassy, and some seemingly not) are most likely not immediately familiar. There are some contemporary pieces and several by non-Western artists (including Julia Stankova and Meg Roe and the marvelously colorful He Qi.) To see medieval tapestries or ancient icons next to very modern pieces is just so great. The mix of old and new is wonderful. To ponder what this theologian sees in the Biblical text inspired by these paintings is a blessing.

I would like to suggest that you might want to own this book even if you don’t use it as a daily devotional this month. It is an inexpensive way to become familiar with great paintings, to learn about certain artists, and to see how to exegete them with Biblically-trained eyes and a Christian mind. Highly recommended.

Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations David Bannon (Paraclete) $29.99 This glorious full-size hardback book (with a wonderful foreword by Philip Yancey) is the most beautiful devotional book of the season. Each meditation is paired with a moving reproduction of classic art, nicely reproduced on rich, glossy paper.  In this mature and artful presentation, it reminds us of the early (now out of print) Paraclete classic God With Us. (That is still available in the “readers edition” that omits the artwork and remains one of our best-sellers in recent years with its literary ruminations and poetry and mature reflections.) Like that one, this is a treasure to behold.

Wounded in Spirit stands out not only because of the subtly lavish design but because of its amazing content and spirit. David Bannon writes from profound personal experience, offering ways to commune with God through Scripture. He also tells some poignant stories of artists who lived through great pain. He himself has gone through some very odd stuff, and much grief. His adult daughter died of a drug overdose even as his own professional life was in difficulty.

I could review this book in great detail, but I suppose you get the picture – it is very handsome, mature, thoughtfully spiritual and honest about the great brokenness of our lives, of our society, of our times. This book will inspire in the deepest, truest sense of the word as it evokes ways to be honest about our sadness and helps us find God’s comfort (and joy) in this season. That is uses artwork to help us get there is such a blessing as sometimes words just fail. This book is a gift for the hurting, but a gift for any of us who feel what we feel these days.

Because this book deserves to be known and taken seriously, allow me to excerpt a quote from the good Christian Century review written by Elizabeth Palmer:

Bannon… has lived through the realities of failure and grief. In this book, he intersperses carefully curated photos of Christian art with his own reflections on the artists—their lives, their tragedies, and their persistent hopes. Bannon also evokes an honest grappling with grief by including brief quotations from a variety of thinkers: Carl Jung, Annie Dillard, Terence Fretheim, Isabel Allende, Elie Wiesel, Julian of Norwich, Simone Weil, N.T. Wright, and Søren Kierkegaard make appearances. Particularly evocative are the excerpts from Friedrich Rückert’s poems, which Bannon translates here into English for the first time: “Do not wrap yourself around the night, / bathe it in eternal light. / My tent is dark, the lamp is cold, / bless the light, the Joy of the World!”

 

Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness Todd Outcalt (Upper Room Books) $9.99  This little paperback is so good and so useful. As it says on the back of the Wounded in Spirit volume, “Christmas is difficult for many of us. While others are expressing joy, we’re re-living painful memories and reminders of loss.”

I suppose you know that some churches have “Blue Christmas” services.  It makes perfect sense – not only because of the need to help those who are “blue” but because the season itself, liturgically speaking, is a bit somber. Advent is a time of waiting, of longing, of unfulfilled desire, of anticipation for God’s healing.

The upcoming holiday season will magnify loneliness, anxiety, and grief. Outcalt, an experienced United Methodist pastor, explains that “many feel lost, even abandoned and more alone than ever.”

Many Advent devotionals speak about darkness and light. Blue Christmas applies those familiar metaphors to those who really are full of hurt and fear and disappointment. He offers Scripture and prayers, meditations and concrete action steps to walk through the darkness during this time of year.  It includes questions for personal reflection (or group discussion) and a worship service plan for congregational use. Pastors – you need to have this on hand to share with those God brings across your path this month.

Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $17.99 Crossway released this in a sturdy hardback, with some slight aesthetic touches of colored ink at spots, I suppose, so that it can be used with delight over and over. It’s that kind of book, written by a gospel-drenched, clearly Christ-focused pastor and counselor. You may know his yearlong devotional New Morning Mercies or his many self-help books that help us appropriate the gospel into our own struggling lives, marriages, parenting, and such. Come Let Us Adore Him came out last year, but many missed hearing about it so we wanted to highlight it again. As one reviewer says, it does well what we should want in such a book – it offers solid theology that yields to profound devotion and doxology. (By the way, there is at the end of each daily reading a suggestion for further study and some guidance for parents of younger children.)

Home for Christmas: Tales of Hope & Second Changes Justine Coleman (Abingdon) $16.99  Wow. This unique book is a very fine, short, stand-alone study with four good chapters – maybe you could use it as a family, or in a small group, but it’s good for individual reading, too. There is also a DVD ($39.99) for a Sunday school class or Adult Education forum (and, of course, a Leader’s Guide ($12.99) for those leading conversations about the DVD curriculum) and a youth edition book ($9.99.)This is really an amazing study and we simply do not know anything else like it.

Home for Christmas is extraordinary for a number of reasons.  Maybe you’d get a hint of its vital substance to learn that the beloved Catholic urban ministry priest, Gregory Boyle, has a foreword.   In fact, much of Home for Christmas and the “second chance” stories come from Boyle’s Homeboy Industries. (There is a “for further study” list in the back for after-the-holidays reading and he names Boyle’s Tattoos of the Heart and his more recent Barking with the Choir; anybody who recommends those is worth reading, right?)

We all have longings for home, desires for a more profound, lasting experience of hope, love, joy, and peace. If you let these formerly incarcerated or gang-affiliated men and women tell their stories, these themes just might come alive in fresh ways for many of us. This is fresh, inspiring, raw, and real, and shows how “the light of Christmas shines brightly even in hard times.” That sounds like a cliché, but in Coleman’s hands, as he opens up the Bible in conversation with these brave men and women of the streets, it is anything but.

Coleman is a black pastor of a United Methodist church in Chapel Hill NC. He studied theology at Duke and the back cover has a rave endorsement from his former professor Stanley Hauerwas, who says that “this is a hopeful book that makes hope possible.”

A Vintage Christmas: A Collection of Stories and Poems (Thomas Nelson) $17.99 We are always on the lookout for holiday anthologies that include must-read seasonal pieces and a few surprising or lesser known works. This is a trim sized hardback that feels nice in the hand and looks nice. It includes stories and sketches and poems by Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, L.M. Montgomery, Christina Rossetti, Anne Bronte, Samuel Coleridge, and more. Do you know the letter Mark Twain wrote from Santa to his three-year old daughter? The poems range from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells” to the amazing “Ring Out Wild Bells” (from In Memoriam) by Tennyson to a Joyce Kilmer (you know her poem about trees) one called “Wartime Christmas.”

Advent for Everyone: Luke N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 Who wouldn’t want to hear what Tom Wright offers as a daily devotional through the Gospel of Luke? The wider church uses Luke in this year’s lectionary (Year C) so this is perfect. (By the way, last year Tom released a similar daily devotional, also called Advent for Everyone, that studied the Epistles. We highly recommend that, too!) Here he shares incisive Bible commentary for each day through the Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent and offers a thought-provoking question for either personal or small group question. You get his original translation of the text, too, as you’d find in his “For Everyone” commentaries.

 

Advent: The Gift of New Hope Christopher L. Webber (Abingdon) $9.99  This is the 2018 edition of the “Scriptures for the Church Seasons” study which is a five-week Advent study based on the Revised Common Lectionary. This is designed for small group use and there are leader helps included in each chapter. It interacts with the given Year C Old Testament, Gospel and Epistle texts. Nothing like it in print.

Webber (who graduated from Princeton University and General Theological Seminary, has written several other books, including the very creative Dear Friends: The Letters of St. Paul to the Christians in America.)

Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ Timothy Keller (Penguin) $15.00 This was out in hardback last year and we are very glad that it is now available in a trim sized, less costly paperback. You could buy a bunch, and maybe you should!  What solid, no-nonsense, serious-minded, warm-hearted, Scripture study this is!  Of course, Keller is known as a thoughtful and engaging pastor of a large, culturally-aware and socially-involved PCA church in New York. (I know, he is too conservative for some, and too liberal for others, too intellectual for many. Trust me, this is a great book for any thoughtful reader of any persuasion!)

Since the Reverend Keller left the church last year he is busy writing (his new, short book on Jonah is brilliant!) and leading a network of edgy but orthodox church planters wanting to advance the gospel and seek the common good for their cities and locales. Keller has a way to help us clearly understand and more intellectually explain the core truths of the Christian faith and the vast implications (personally and socially) of focusing on first things first, the gospel work of the servant King who was born as a babe. For any who wonder about the historicity of these first century accounts or the spiritual relevance, give this a try. Given the darkness of our world, a little clarity about truth and a lot about the Light sure is helpful. Very highly recommended.

Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent) $15.00  Oh my, if Tim Keller is a bit left brainy, this is smart, but rather right-brained, if you will, as you might expect from an artist and creative fiction and non-fiction writer. It is said that this lovely, literary work by a master spiritual writer “contemplates the mystery and the majesty of the Incarnation.” Bright Evening Star, just now out in a new paperback edition, is a deeply personal narrative by a dear woman and thoughtful scholar and beloved novelist pointing us towards the still-point of the holiday, which she calls “a time of awed silence.”

L’Engle writes:

            “Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the starts held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song and the angels clapped their hands for joy?”

This brand new edition with great cover design that matches the other recent reissues includes a valuable foreword by memoirist Addie Zierman who says Madeleine’s book offers words that “feel like a sharp inhale of hope to me now” and a new reader’s guide.

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On the Road with Beth & Byron — Notes, Quotes, BookNotes. ANY BOOK MENTIONED 30% OFF for three days only.

Grab your favorite fall beverage — pumpkiny spicy stuff is fine, although, as will become evident, a stout Guinness might work, too — and see if you can glean some inspiration from this report of some of our bookselling work this fall. 

WHEN YOU PLACE AN ORDER BEFORE MIDNIGHT NOVEMBER 15th, 2018  

WE OFFER YOU A  30% OFF DISCOUNT

 while supplies last, of course.  

 Afterwards these remain on sale at our customary 20% off for BookNotes readers.

Many who follow our BookNotes newsletter enjoy hearing about some of our escapades on the road when we lug boxes of books and crates of supplies to build shelves and drape upside down cartons and string lights and set up our off-site pop-up book displays. I thought I might dedicate this column to a report from the highways and byways.

It’s been a busy fall and we must publicly acknowledge our hard-working bookshop staff. They help order and process and box and load books (and return overstock, afterwards) and do paperwork for the stuff that makes our book tables what they are (even when they are doing the daily tasks of waiting on folks here at the shop.) Beth and I get a lot of love from those who see us out at events but we couldn’t do it without Amy and Diana and Patti and volunteer Debi. (And some people think it is “Byron’s bookstore.” Not at all.)

We want to thank those who trusted us to offer resources at their events. You know who you are, but we thank you for your invitations and support, getting us to play a role in your event, putting me on your stage. It’s been a blast. Except for the all-night set-ups, the sore backs and that time the power went off. Oh, and the beverage spill on those hardbacks, but I digress.

ONELIFE INSTITUTE GAP YEAR — INSPIRING EMERGING YOUNG ADULTS

Earlier in the fall I enjoyed some speaking engagements, too, including a wonderful trip to the Three Springs Camp site of the spectacular OneLife gap year program.  As they think about culturally engaged, Biblically faithful, whole-life discipleship for those transitioning out of high school and into young adulthood (and maybe college) we talked together about vocation and calling, Kingdom and church, the Bible and life, creation and new creation, and life and learning. Al Wolter’s Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans; $15.00) and OneLife director Derek Melleby’s Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness (co-authored by Don Optiz) (Baker; $15.00) were books I recommended strongly. And lots of others, too, of course, from Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God’s Creation by Paul Marshall to Greg Jao’s booklet Your Minds Mission to Think by John Piper to Garden City by the popular John Mark Comer.) I’m not sure most of these gap year kids considering their futures were quite ready for Steve Garber’s stunningly good Fabric of Faithfulness: Connecting Belief and Behavior (IVP; $19.00) but that book is very much about the young adult years, and informed Derek and his OneLife teams in the good work that they do. Do you know it? You really, really should!

More recent publications that I alluded to included The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church by John Seel (Thomas Nelson; $16.99), Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self Reliance (St. Martins; $17.99) and the serious, brand new The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (Penguin Press; $28.00.) Whoa! I doubt if the young students will read them but like Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (a serious, big-picture must-read for anyone who cares about teen ministry) published by Oxford University Press ($26.95) these are vital, important, even game-changing resources for those working in this particular field of the Lord.

Interestingly, since I first wrote this, we’ve gotten three new books in this genre, on this topic, just this week. They look excellent. See Reciprocal Church: Becoming a Community Where Faith Flourishes Beyond High School by Sharon Galgay Ketcham (IVP; $17.00.) Tod Bolsinger says “This is not a youth ministry book, but a church leadership book. It is not about keeping our kids, but changing our churches. Reciprocal Church will require you to rethink everything you think you know about youth ministry and everything you forgot about being the church.” Kenda Dean says it offers “a theologically significant and refreshingly sane voice…”

Also brand, brand new, is The Passion Generation: The Seemingly Reckless, Definitely Disruptive, But Far From Hopeless Millennials by Grant Skeldon and Ryan Casey Waller (Zondervan; $16.99.) Looks good! I liked Waller’s book Broken which was published a year ago by Forward Movement.

These recent works are important volumes for those pondering young adult ministry these days. Any campus ministry staff reading along? You should know these books!

Another group from OneLife (from their Lancaster site) came to us here at the shop one sunny early October day in two large shifts, and I got speak to them and our staff helped them buy a bunch of books before they made their way back to Lancaster. We felt the energy from that whirlwind day for a week!. We talked one-on-one with more folks earnestly seeking good books in that one day than we do in most weeks! It’s so exciting being with those who realize they’ve got a lot to learn and know that books can impact their lives.

Such events and such interest in book advise reminds us why we’re in this business: we really think books can help people live better lives.

MESSIAH COLLEGE — WE LOVE COLLEGE STUDENTS

One of my friends who is a consummate book lover and avid reader of fiction and nonfiction is Don Opitz who co-authored the above-mentioned Learning for the Love of God. (If you know any college students who have any inkling of being a Christian in their college years, this would make a wonderful gift! It is actually dedicated to me, so I feel deeply connected to it, and commend it often!) Don graciously asked me to do a couple of chapel talks at Messiah College this fall and it was an honor to do so; I’ve spoken to the study body of other Christian colleges such as Gordon, Eastern, Grove City, Taylor, Geneva, and Montreat, so it was sweet speaking to the entire, large student body in their morning chapel. Later that evening I did a talk about the role of books and reading which was really fun. (Thanks to those students who hopped in a car a week later and visited us here in Dallastown!) And thanks to Don’s team, the worship band, and those who hosted me so well. Messiah is a pretty and hospitable campus.

I noted to the audience that years ago I helped name what was once a center for faith and cultural engagement on campus, Issachar’s Loft (which now does excellent work in experimental education, outdoors leadership training and the like.) To unpack the Issachar name I said in passing, I’d recommend my chapter in the book which I edited which is full of inspiring and visionary college commencement speeches called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99) where I write about 1 Chronicles 12:32, a verse God gave me in the 1970s about being known as those who “understood the times and knew what God’s people should do.” Oh, if our churches and fellowship groups and institutions of Christian higher education held out the vision of raising up a generation of sons and daughters of Issachar!  That Serious Dreams book, by the way, besides my long introduction about the young adult years and discerning one’s vocation in small towns and rural places (not everybody gets the cool corner office in some spiffy high-rise in a world class city, after all) could be inspiring for nearly anyone. I’m proud to have pulled together guidance from the likes of Richard Mouw and Amy Sherman and John Perkins and Steve Garber and more and when I speak on college campuses I sometimes show it off. Anyway, I wish more older folks would read Serious Dreams, too, and think of younger adults they could share it with.  If you’ve like anything you’ve heard me say out on the road this fall, chances are it’s clarified and expanded  by the sharp authors in Serious Dreams.

NEAR-BY PC(USA) FRIENDS

And, speaking of campus pastor Don Opitz, Beth and I are always grateful for his enthusiasm for serious reading, whether it is fiction or theology, sociology or spirituality, even if he’s not a fan of the Enneagram!  He and his wife helped us load up and lug boxes after a Presbytery display out his way that took a lot of time during a discouraging weekend. Their help was a true blessing!) One of the books we sold at that event, by the way, is one that the moderators of the PC(USA)have asked every PC(USA) church to read together, a serious study called Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor by Liz Theoharis (Eerdmans; $25.00.) It’s a bit more demanding, but more overtly Biblical in nature than the previous one our denomination was reading together, the excellent Waking Up White And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. We’ve been to a few other Presby gigs this fall — just yesterday at the Baltimore Presbytery learning day — and featured this one at each place.

 SOME IN-STORE EVENTS

We had some after-hours in-store events a month ago, too. I did a workshop with a very impressive group of Pennsylvania-based Southern Baptist campus ministry leaders (Baptist Collegiate Ministry.) Wow, where they an impressive and fun group! I was excited to connect with those who have years (and in some cases decades) of experiencing helping college students find a relationship with God through Christ and helping them connect their discipleship to their life in college. These campus workers – like my pals in the CCO and IVCF and Cru and such – have some “serious dreams” and it was an honor to host them here at Hearts & Minds.  As you might guess I announced the book done for Beth and I as a gift honoring our 35th anniversary by the Square Halo Books folks called A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why: A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore which was compiled and edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books; $18.99.) It is jam-packed with eloquent essays and inspiring pieces by various scholars and writers telling us about the books they most recommend in their fields. There are chapters by N.T. Wright and Calvin Seerveld and Denis Haack and Karen Swallow Prior and lists developed on fantasy and cookbooks and Bible study and films and politics and sociology and the arts and so much more.  It’s a good handbook for anybody who loves books and reading about books. I swear, reading these chapters is more valuable for most of us than a year’s worth of The New York Times Review of Books.

Naturally, I also plugged a book I adore – Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith (IVP; $16.00.) I think I even recommended the exquisite Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers. Poets, and Journalists by Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans; $14.00.) What great tools these are to inspire others to become lifelong learners and serious readers.

TWO GUEST AUTHORS and TWO GREAT NIGHTS

If you read BookNotes regularly you know about the two wonderful author events we held this fall.  People drove from far and wide to hear nationally-known historian John Fea, lecturing and discussing his important Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans; $24.99) which is important reading these days. We were beyond comfortable capacity with over 100 guests to hear Dr. Fea and we stayed until after 11:00 talking about faith and politics in the age of Trump even as we drank [or didn’t] Red State and Blue State Kool Aid or Green Party Tea. Ha.

A week later folks came out to hear our very smart literary friend, Liberty University literature professor Karen Swallow Prior, speaking on her new book about virtue and reading good books, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books (Brazos; $19.99.) We love her other books, too, including her wonderful, beautiful, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T.S. Poetry Press; $17.99.) We had a good gathering for Karen, too – over 40 interested customers, at least, who loved her bookish knowledge and her bidding to read the good stuff. What good conversations great books evoke! We were very grateful she made the trek from Virginia to be with us.  Publisher’s Weekly just named On Reading Well one of the best religious books of the year — congrats to Karen!

You can read my previous BookNotes reflection about why Fea’s Believe Me is so important, here. You can read my review of Prior’s On Reading Well here. They are still on sale, of course, so send us an order, please. These are well worth owning and make wonderful gifts for those who might find them stimulating. (And, yes, that 30% off deal announced at the start of this report is good until November 15, 2018.)

PRAXIS GATHERING – PLANTING NEW CHURCH COMMUNITIES

Thanks to the remarkable Praxis Gathering in Philadelphia for allowing us to bring some books to your impressive event. Click that link and take a look at these speakers, and know that we had all their books there. All but a few of these books we knew, and we were familiar with many of the authors so we really felt like this was our tribe.  Kudos to them for having so many women, people of college, young and old, urban and rural, thought leaders and practitioners in the fine art of church planting and advancing a Kingdom movement. It’s very cool to be part of ecumenical events, and this gathering included missional leaders, church planters, and scholars from places as diverse as Missio Alliance, Plough magazine and publishing, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. What fun. If this is something you are drawn to, you should plan to attend next year.

By the way, we had not heard of Rohadi Nagassar and since his book Thrive. Ideas to Lead the Church in Post-Christendom (Roberry Publishing; $15.99) is self-published, you  may not know of it either. Those who publish on more conventional publishers – InterVaristy Press, Baker Publishing, Eerdmans, Fortress, Zondervan, Crossway, Abingdon, and the like – have a hard enough time getting their work known; self-published books are often only sold by the author at his or her events or out of the trunk of their car so most potential readers never hear of them. So here’s a good shout-out about a really good book by a fascinating speaker and leader.  We’re thrilled to have discovered his book through this event. Why not help a brother out and help get this work better known? Our friend J.R. Woodward (I hope you know his IVP classic, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World ) writes a vibrant foreword.

For many years, Rohadi has been a voice calling out from edges of the church. This book is a helpful primer for people that want to join him by intentionally choosing to live out the gospel at the edges of Christendom. His perspectives are raw and real. You owe it to yourself to take a look. – Jared Siebert, National Director of Church Planting, Free Methodist Church in Canada

Speaking of books that captured much of the vision and energy of that Praxis Gathering, I’d want to celebrate (as I do many places we go) the extraordinary book by Praxis speaker Christiana Rice (co-authored by Michael Frost) called To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities (IVP; $17.00.)  I love that book and suggest it to anyone who wants to exegete your own community, discern what sort of issues need addressing, and how to help birth newness in those places. Very highly recommended!

COLORADO CHRISTIAN BUSINESS ALLIANCE (CCBA) FAITH & WORK CONFERENCE

While our daughter Stephanie – small town gal who is comfortable in the big city and a very ecumenical lay theologian in her own right – held forth staffing the Philadelphia Praxis gig, I left to fly to Denver, Colorado (and saw our other daughter who lives there.) What a blast  to borrow my old CCO friend Craig Johnston’s convertible to tool around the city after serving his organization, the Colorado Christian Business Alliance at their annual conference. I am still telling folks about the three keynote speakers at their conference on faith and work, equipping business people to take up their work as holy callings, to think Christianly about business and management and work and calling and career and all of that. There are a lot of folks out there thinking about how Christ’s Lordship and Kingdom should shape their businesses. I was very moved (and really, really enjoyed hanging out with) Joel Manby author of Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders (Nelson; $19.99.) Maybe you saw Joel on Undercover Boss, where it became clear he was a man who was good to his workers and just in his economic dealings. Love Works is not overly academic, but is thoughtful and very, very helpful. We have lots of books about faith and business, of course, and many on economics, globalization and such. But this one is immediately useful for anyone wanting to be faithful and do things differently in your workplace leadership

While at the CCBA event I loved finally meeting an old facebook friend whose books I’ve reviewed, John Van Sloten. His most recent book is the fabulous Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greets, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell us About God (Navpress; $14.99.) John gave an incredible presentation on finding God in the work-world, how paying attention to the actual work itself can reveal good stuff about who God is and how God’s world is structured.  If “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19) and we are to be informed by the creation speaking to us (the fish, even, so says Job 12) a Christian perspective on work must go beyond the great starting point of calling and the obviously important concerns about integrity, business ethics, relationships, and love for others and actually be intentional about considering the literal stuff we work with. God is there, all around everything and being aware of the spirituality of the moment and the revelatory nature of our typical tasks at the job site can be nearly revolutionary. You can learn more about his book Every Job a Parable here. Thanks to everybody out at the CCBA event. If you are anywhere in the Rocky Mountain area, put it on your calendars for next year – we may not be able to take a book display out there, but I’m glad to play a small part.

(Here is a video of one of the talks I gave there last year. It’s pretty wild and I tell some interesting stories with a lot of verve. You might want to buckle up for this!)

WEE KIRK SMALL CHURCH CONFERENCE

Zooming back from there we packed up two of our larger fall events, our beloved, annual Wee Kirk conference at the lovely Laurelville Mennonite Camp and Retreat Center in Western PA. I like to pronounce Wee Kirk with a Scottish accent, since it is a very Presbyterian (USA, mostly) event and it is all about small church life. What good folks, what thoughtful book buyers, what encouraging Christian leaders who inhabit with confidence (usually) and joy (usually) their rural and small town spaces and represent God’s coming Kingdom in often quiet, smallish ways.

We all recalled our aging friend and supporter Eugene Peterson (he had not passed yet) who years ago so encouraged us as a speaker at Wee Kirk (as did the late, great Bible scholar, Ken Bailey.)  We’ve had great speakers at Wee Kirk over the years and this year was no different.

Jordan Rimmer kicked off the event fabulously as he explained some of the semiotics of story and channeled a bit of his teacher, Leonard Sweet. He invited us to realize the power of story, the storied nature of our lives, the way we live into and tell about God’s story, what we sometimes call the four-chapter story of creation/fall/redemption/restoration. I’m glad he highlighted creative books like The Story of God The Story of Us by Sean Gladding (IVP; $17.00) and The Drama of Scripture: Find-ing Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (Baker; $24.95) and told folks to start Bible study groups using the great discussion resource All Things New: Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel by Hugh Whelchel (Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics; $8.00.) Yes!

Jordon is more theologically conservative than either Rob Bell (What Is the Bible?) or Rachel Held Evans (Inspired) or Peter Enns (The Bible Tells Me So) but noted how he enjoyed much of their insights into how the Bible works as a story. He highlighted a ton of books about story in neuroscience and work and pop culture and advertising, including titles like Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway; $15.99) and then Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel (Crossway; $15.99.) Such good books!

Grove City College Bible prof and Presby pastor James Bibza brought a very healthy and classic reminder of the storied nature of the Bible as well – one cannot avoid it – but his talks emphasized the historical reliability of the Bible, helping those of us who teach and preach to be clear about the absolute authority of the Word of God written. He cited heavy-duty scholarship such as The Inerrant Word: Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives edited by John MacArthur (Crossway; $35.00.) His go-to, entry-level book on how to read the Bible well and faithfully is How To Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stewart (Zondervan; $22.99) and it is one of our biggest sellers in this field, so we were glad about that – you should have a few copies of it around to share with anyone who needs some helpful guidance on how to better read the Bible. It is reliable and interesting and very helpful.

 

We loved, as always, being with our friend Lisa Nichols Hickman. She did a stunning closing sermon inspired somewhat by earlier conversations she and I have had about Hillbilly Elegy and rust-belt geography; I had promoted Eliza Griswold’s brilliant, page-turning Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America to help us understand the confluence of Northern Appalachia and Rust Belt culture that is Western Pennsylvania; Lisa invited us to think about hard times and resurrection in our unique places. She could do a book about small towns and rust belt places like what Leonce Crump did for caring about urban places in his fabulous Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are.

Lisa did three workshops, too, on her lovely book on prayer, 26 Ways to Pray the Alphabet: Daily Spiritual Practices to Help You Ask, Begin, Center, and Do (Abingdon; $6.99) which we like a lot, and the one that I had the great privilege of writing a foreword to called Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible (Abingdon Press; $17.99.) She and her husband are ordained PC(USA) ministers and serve Wee Kirk so well. And Beth and I are real fans.

There were other workshops, of course, and they gave me lots of time up front telling about books they should be reading. We promoted two great books on rural life — God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church by Bradly Roth (Herald Press; $16.00) and The Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in America by Glenn Daman (Moody Press; $14.99) and two new books on small church life (Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation… by Karl Vaters (Moody Press; $12.99) and Small Church Checkup by Phil Schroeder & Kay Kotan (Discipleship Resources; $16.00) along with last year’s Wee Kirk best-seller, Love Big Be Well a novel (in a series of letters by a small town pastor) by Winn Collier (Eerdmans; $16.99.) We told about some kids books, some basic spirituality stuff, and some of this years important books for this crew such as Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne; $26.99) and Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolinger (IVP; $22.00.) I enjoyed highlighting a beautifully written, very poignant memoir by a pastor called Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey by Barbara Melosh (WJK; $18.00.) Throughout this several day event over lots of food and among partipants who have become dear friends we had a blessed time chatting and praying and laughing and talking books.

CHRISTIAN LEGAL SOCIETY (CLS)

We left that event and parked our big white van full of Wee Kirk books in the driveway of a Pittsburgh-area friend (thanks Jefferson)  who lives out near the airport and flew to the-stormy Western Florida so that we could be a part of the annual conference of the Christian Legal Society. CLS values our role in their work so much that they’ll do anything to get us to their big event. We packed up a rented truck full of books on jurisprudence and law, faith and culture, Christ and social concerns,  worldview and philosophy and politics and government, and they drove it to the Tampa area for us. They bought us plane tickets so we could fly down, skipping out of Wee Kirk in a rush, and getting to the Florida conference site in time for our day-long set up in the CLS book room. We had a book signing that night, and with constitutional scholars like former Attorney General Edward Meese and Presidential advisor in the house we were on our toes. (And, oh yeah, we have a photo of Mr. Meese sitting in our book room, in case you don’t believe us!)

CLS has four main ministries – they promote and support legal aid clinics for the poor, they have a broad, general sort of ministry to encourage attorneys in their callings (with chapters all over the country), they do behind the scenes research and scholarship on religious freedom, doing legal work and litigation (including writing amicus briefs that have been cited by the Supreme Court), and they run a fun and effective ministry with law students at law schools all over the country. Their annual conference brings together those serving the poor, those working with prisoners and immigrants, as well as those doing litigation to ensure religious liberty and public pluralism. It takes two wings to fly a plane, some joke, suggesting that there is considerable political diversity in this healthy, important organization. Every profession should have a vibrant, thoughtful, well-staffed organization like this; we are truly honored to have played a small role in their events in recent years.

If any of this is new to you, by the way, I’d suggest reading the very impressive book by one of our biggest supporters and one of my best friends, the amiable, super-smart Michael Schutt. It’s called Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (IVP Academic; $27.00.)  More brief and concise is a nice little volume by CLS regular (and notable senior partner of a respected Chicago area law firm) John W. Mauck called Jesus in the Courtroom: How Believers Can Engage the Legal System for the Good of His World (Moody Press; $13.99.)

We met a pastor there who we had previously only talked with on the phone and it was so lovely to meet him. His name is Eric Mounts and he told us (so humbly) that he had a few lawyers in his church and he wanted to serve them well and love what they do. So he came to CLS to learn about lawyers – he even goes to the local circuit court to watch appeals, just to study up and learn  how better to love the law and serve his parishioners. How about that! Mounts has written a devotional (which started out, again, for his own lawyer friends) called In His Chambers: A 91-Day Devotional Experience for Lawyers (WestBow; $17.95.) It’s really good (and our friend, CLS staffer and author of Redeeming Law Michael Schutt wrote the forward to it, offering that important imprimatur.) If you know any lawyers it would make a great gift. And – dare I say it without sounding too prideful – you most likely aren’t going to find it at your local religious bookstore or big box chain store. We go out of our way to stock this kind of book, so order some from us today!

One of our big sellers at the CLS conference was the very new book by Os Guinness called Last Call for Liberty.: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat (IVP; $27.00.) You can imagine that this was a perfect title to promote among these smart lawyers called into the world of law, public advocacy, and civic life, who know much about the pressures of the modern world, including details about legal precedent, constitutional interpretation and the like.  

Guinness’s new book, rigorous and eloquent as it is, is not for legal scholars or about the philosophy of jurisprudence. It is written for ordinary (educated) Americans and is clear and potent as he compares and contrasts two great motifs in the West, two different views of freedom – one from the great American revolution of 1776, shaped by ideas and intentions of a certain worldview, if you will, and the French revolution of 1789. He makes a fair case that historically, the conservative movement has drawn on the American ideas and ideals (and are thereby fastidious  about the constitution and Bill of Rights) while those leaning left are too often influence by a perspective of freedom drawing from the destabilizing French revolution. (You know how that ended up with the anti-religious vibe, the guillotine and all.)

OS GUINNESS AT SPRINGTON LAKE IN NEWTON SQUARE

Just a few weeks ago, with our CLS conversations still ringing in my ears, I was delighted to connect with Os again after having not crossed paths with him for a few years. I enjoyed, and was challenged, hearing him again (of course) and was jazzed selling his books to a big crowd at Springton Lake Presbyterian Church in Newtown Square, a bit outside of Philadelphia. His concerns about the sustainable future of the American experiment is almost palpable and reading this book carefully could be an important project. Each chapter is essentially a question, a challenging, asking us how we intend to nurture the roots and ideas that sustain our liberty. This is no simplistic screed against Trump or the fake news or whatever other symptom we have of our eroding moral center. Regardless of your own opinions of the issues of the day, this deep dive with challenge and inform you.

David Koyzis seriously studies this question of the role of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in our current political lives as profoundly as anyone in his Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (IVP; $27.00)  and if this topic (discerning the spirits and ideologies of old that have influenced our country) I very highly recommend it.

But here in Last Call… Guinness brings his trademark passion and clarity to incisively offer a dozen key questions, a checklist, so to speak, for ordinary Americans to do some much-needed civic soul-searching. Which revolution has most decisively shaped us, our views of liberty, and understanding of government, our hopes for our culture? What is it about the autonomous views of law that emerged from the thought-leaders of the French Revolution that have seemed to capture the imagination and worldview of our day? Here is a video of one recent lecture by Dr. Guinness at the Trinity Forum which will give you a sense of his astute insight and compelling lecture style and the urgent content of this new book. Now would be a good time to get that stout that I mentioned… this is a hearty lecture, for sure.

For what it is worth, a very important historical study of all this that was written in the late 1800s by Groen Van Prinsterer, the political mentor of Dutch Christian social thinker (and founder of a Christian democratic political party in Holland) Abraham Kuyper. The significant Unbelief and Revolution (Lexham Press; $15.99) just came out in a newly translated, revised edition. I read these essays in the mid-1970s and I know I didn’t understand it much then, so I’m going to give ’em a go again, soon. It would be a valuable addition to those who have read Guinness and Koyzis. Kudos to Lexham for re-doing this older book and for what I’m told is a great translation by Harry Van Dyke. (Lexham also just this week released a huge volume of devotionals written by the younger Abraham Kuyper called Honey From the Rock so you can imagine we’re thrilled about that, too. It’s a large book and sells for $39.99 so our 30% off just might make it do-able, eh?)

By the way, that evening at Springton Lake Mr. Guinness happily shared the stage with one of the most artful, interesting contemporary acoustic rock shows I’ve seen in a while; part worship, part avant-garde folk pop, Young Oceans moved us deeply. The title of their new album is swiped from a line from Guinness’s classic The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life (Thomas Nelson; $16.99) which I often say is one of my favorite books to recommend.

Well, the Guiness event came after we flew back to Pittsburgh after the CLS Florida event. The previous week we had flown back from CLS, picked up the Wee Kirk van from near the Pittsburgh airport, driving home in the middle of the night for five hours across the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We felt a deep satisfaction, if bone-weary exhaustion, humming “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart and, yes, “Homeward Bound” by Paul Simon. What a set of journeys we had; we had so many good conversations with so many different sorts of folks, book-lovers all. 

A tree had blown down in our yard and even though we are grateful nobody was hurt, it’s a big mess; thank goodness our son is handy with his chain-saw. I had to give a talk the day after we got back to a very sharp group of international mission leaders at a nearby church which I did all hopped up on caffeine and enthusiasm about our book selling road trips, reminding folks once again why these blocks of paper and print are transforming tools that can change the world. We’ve staked our lives on it, and trust that you believe this too. The CLS truck was driven back from Florida and we picked it up and unloaded the dozens and dozens of boxes. Some of those boxes are still underfoot.

CCO STAFF TRAINING – A BOOKSELLING BONANZA

A week after that we headed back across the turnpike again to a two and a half day event serving the staff of the CCO (the Coalition for Christian Outreach) at their fall training event held at Antiochian Village, an Orthodox retreat center in the lovely hills outside of Ligonier, PA. We arrive there about 11 pm and set up a hefty display until about 7 am. Talking about books to these several hundred campus workers is about my favorite thing to do in the whole world. The joy of the Lord combined with adrenaline and coffee is my strength during those times, but when we get back with another van load of boxes to haul in and eventually unpack, I can be a bit discouraged.

At all of these events, we sell great titles, are surprised by what interests people, delighted that people still shell out hard-earned cash for books. Yet, we are sad that we don’t sell more — there are so many good ones and time rarely permits us to show the right ones to the right people. There’s so many titles yet to announce, good folks who need certain titles, resources that can help, we’re sure. If only we could connect better. On good days we sigh; other days I break down and weep.

We did sell some great books there at CCO, though.  For what it is worth, several brand new ones stood out for them, including these:

Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing Jay Stringer (NavPress) $16.99 I’ve raved about this before, an honest look at unwanted sexual behaviors and how we need to face our lusts, diving deeper into what drives us to do what we do. Highly recommended.

 

 

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00 This had just come out and CCO folks are appreciative of Keller’s culturally-engaged vision, how he weaves a gospel-centered message even into studies like this, showing how the story of Jonah has relevance to our contemporary issues of race, immigration, urban ministry. This is a great little book.

 

Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice Eric Mason (Moody Press) $14.99  Again, CCO staff know Reverend Mason and his powerful inner city work at Epiphany Church in Philly — he has spoken at our Jubilee conference several times. It is very helpful for a passionately evangelical, theologically conservative, black pastor to teach us about what a faithful sort of being woke might look like. We sold out of this at CCO staff training, and we hope you order it from us, too.

Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different Michael Frost (NavPress) $7.99  I guess you’ve heard of the “weird” movement in cities such as Austin and Portland… The missional guru Michael Frost asks what the church might learn from those who want to keep their places full of innovation, quirky creativity, and who celebrate being odd-balls? The Bible calls the church “a peculiar people” so let’s revel in what Romans 12 calls being “non-conformed.” Frost rightly worries that we’re not weird enough and that God’s mission in the world is hindered when we lose our distinctiveness and joy. This short, pocket-sized book is a great little read, a good follow up to his fabulous, concise Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (NavPress; $6.99.)

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been Jackie Hill Perry (B+H Books) $16.99  Jackie Hill Perry was one of the Bible teachers at Jubilee last year and she was very impressive… Here she tells her life story, including stuff about her conversion, changing her mind about being lesbian, and adopting a Reformed theological orientation and she sets out to tackle issues of social justice. She’s a serious and thoughtful young black woman and a voice many great appreciate for her candor and grace. Keep an eye on her!

Others that were much discussed, considered:

Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing–And How We Can Revive Them Jonathan Merritt (Convergent) $15.99  I’ve reviewed this previously and enjoyed Jonathan’s good writing and interesting thinking as he reminds us that words, especially religious/sacred/theological words are often not understood by our 21st century, post-Christian culture. Actually, some people do have some resonance with certain sacred language but because some terms have been weaponized and abused, we simply have to find better ways to say what needs to get said to share God’s grace with others. I will be very eager to hear what the astute, mostly young, CCO staff think of this and how it is useful in their evangelism and disciple-making work on secular campuses.

The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin Lauren Winner (Yale University Press) $28.00  This is surely one of the most interesting, semi-scholarly books I’ve read this year (although I am not yet finished with it.) Many CCO staff have read the best book on sin I know about — Cornelius Plantinga’s must-read Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans; $22.00) — and this new book by Winner may be mining a similar vein. This is a healthy, helpful, studious exploration of one aspect of the fallen world in which we live, namely, that even good Christian practices — spiritual disciplines, celebrating Eucharist, and the like — are themselves damaged and can be damaging. Our friend Al Wolter’s in Creation Regained has a chapter called “structure and direction” that offers a template for discerning the essentially good thing in God’s creation and how it can be unfolded and practices wrongly, with distortion and harm. Winner gets this with astute insight, that there is characteristic ways hurt happens, even with the good stuff and good intentions. This is a very important. book.

Eternity is Now in Session:  A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place  John Ortberg (Tyndale) $17.99  I’m glad I told you about this a few weeks ago, and I touted it at CCO. This is N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard re-articulated in Ortberg’s clear, upbeat, interesting way. A tremendous book and what an important truth to get deep in our bones — heaven is breaking into human history in the Kingdom of God and Christ’s reign and presences changes everything. Nice. Check out the DVD, too.

Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World  A.J. Swoboda (Brazos) $19.99  We had a big stack of these alongside maybe 10 others on this topic at CCO staff training —  I think it is the best recent book on Sabbath and one we’ve promoted anywhere we can. Happily, somebody in CCO had gotten it from us before and was telling friends about it so we sold a few. It. Is. Life-changing. It’s big and meaty and full of insight and a great book to work through slowly, even if it takes a long time. We really like this author and this is extraordinary. Very highly recommended!

 

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness Austin Channing Brown (Convergent) $25.00  We are proud to have been an early proponent of this extraordinary book, a memoir of a passionate, honest black woman making her way in the world these days. We sold quite a few to CCO friends last summer when we were together and they were back for more at this event. If you haven’t read it, you should; the writing is good and her story compelling. By the way, for those who have looked through this window of how a black Christian relates to her world and the largely white culture and want a bit more, we highly commend The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities by Adrian Pei (IVP; $17.00.) It really is the next thing to read in this topic. Pei, an Asian-American, tells of his own experiences, but expertly adds the findings of research of the social sciences. Pei is an organizational consultant and here describes “key challenges ethnic minorities face in majority culture organizations, unpacking the historical forces at play and what both minority and majority cultures need to know in order to work together fruitfully.” Kudos to IVP for doing this kind of important, helpful publishing.

 

 

CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA FAITH-BASED HEALTH MINISTRIES NETWORK

We really appreciate the work of this network that started to resource local parish nurses (we’ve got a goodly selection of books for congregationally-based health-care workers and those interested in parish nursing.) In recent years they’ve been organized through Eastern Mennonite University (who has a Lancaster campus, now.) This year they wanted to explore topics of trauma and shame and they picked an excellent speaker, a respected writer and Christian friend who a practicing psychiatrist.  Beth took pages of notes and we’re still talking about neuroplasticity and how knowing a bit about neurology and brain studies can help in our faith development. We sold just these two books at their recent event and we couldn’t have been happier to connect with Curt again.

Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships Curt Thompson (Tyndale) $15.99 This is an amazingly practical book about relationships and spirituality, informed by neuroscience and the authors deeply integrated Christian view of psychiatry. It’s a great read and good for anyone who just wants to improve their life situation a bit or deepen their understanding of God’s guidance in their life. Very nicely done.

 

 

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves Curt Thompson (IVP) $24.00  This has won any number of awards (including an appearance on our Hearts & Minds Books list in 2015.) It explores shame through the big picture of Scripture’s unfolding drama and then, in light of this frame, teaches how the brain deals with trauma and stress and shame and guilt and how God’s redemptive story can bring healing and wholeness. It is one of the best books on the topic I’ve read and we highly recommend it.

 

BALTIMORE PRESBYTERY LEARNING DAY

Maybe you saw a quick photo we sent out on social media showing the long line of books displayed at our gig hosted by our friends at Central Presbyterian in Towson, Maryland. We so respect them and it was a delight to be there again, this time, with the broader connectional church of the area PC(USA.) I got to do a workshop — yep, on reading and nurturing the Christian mind, being lifelong learners as we step into our callings and vocations. What a joy.

We displayed books, as we usually do, connected to the various workshops presented. Oh how I wish I could have snuck into each and every break out session to tell them the good books we had related to their topic.

For instance, there was a workshop on the opioid crisis. Among other things, we highly recommend Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy (Little Brown; $28.00) which we named one of the best creative nonfiction titles of the year when we announced it this summer.)

You should know the heart-rending, faith-filled memoir published by Baker, On Pills and Needles: The Relentless Fight to Save My Son from Opioid Addiction by Rick Van Warner ($16.99) and, of course, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff (Mariner Books; $15.99.) Although a few years old, the classic on our current crisis remains Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury; $18.00.)

The Baltimore Presbytery has a few interesting mission partnerships and we sold a number of books to enhance their work with the Dakota Presbytery — there are numerous First People’s tribes involved. Their workshop leader and panelists told about the indicting, scholarly resource Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery by Steven Newcomb (Fulcrum Publishing; $19.95.) You may know Newcomb from his role in the Dakota filmmaker Sheldon Wolfchild’s compelling documentary “The Doctrine of Discovery: Uncovering the Domination Code.”s We suggested and sold a number of books about Native peoples, including the must-read Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by the late Richard Twiss (IVP; $23.00.) His One Church Many Tribes (Chosen Books; $15.99) is a lovely intro to these discussions.  We’re happy to stock a collection of his sermons that was put together after his untimely death called Dreamcatching: Following in the Footsteps of Richard Twiss compiled and published by Sue and Ray Martell (Cherohala Press; $15.95.)

I wish I could have talked to folks about Randy Woodley and his very weighty Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Eerdmans; $25.00) and the fascinating book published by the Mennonite publishing house, Herald Press, Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together edited by Steve Heinrichs (Herald Press; $24.99.) Wow.

There were several workshops about urban ministry (including one about working with angry youth) and a great one on faith development in family life. The speakers recommended the excellent Sticky Faith books by Kara Powell of Fuller Theological Seminary. For instance, we always stock and were glad to share her The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family: Over 100 Practical and Tested Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Kids (Zondervan; $15.99) and the one she did with Chap Clark,  Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids (Zondervan; $16.99.) We like their teen curriculum book and DVD set, too, Sticky Faith Teen Curriculum with DVD: 10 Lessons to Nurture Faith Beyond High School (Zondervan; $21.99.)

One of the books that was recommended, among many, at this workshop was one that is a fine collection of spiritual practices and good ideas for thoughtful Christian families. Written out of the context of a mainline denominational church by Traci Smith, this pastor, a Princeton grad, sees these good ideas bearing fruit in ordinary church families. We really liked her earlier edition (Seamless Faith:  Simple Practices for Daily Family Life) and appreciate the expanded version now called Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home (Chalice Press; $21.99.) What a joy to get to sell these kinds of books to those who care about faith formation in the home.

At these events, usually, the diversity of our selection curated for the particular group is appreciated.  The other day we sold Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass and the new Tim Keller on Jonah. We sold the new Anne Lamott, Almost Everything and the Advent book, Advent, by rigorous Episcopal theologian-pastor Fleming Rutledge. We sold a copy of the new memoir by the late James Cone, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody (Orbis; $28.00) and the new memoir Why Religion? A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels (Ecco; $27.99) right alongside the clear-headed apologetics of Tom Wright. We showed off the new Jan Peterson (that I told about in my video last week) Becoming Gertrude: How Friendships Shape Our Faith (NavPress; $14.99.) And we got to promote Sarah Arthur’s lovely A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle (Zondervan; $19.99.) 

What fun telling people about Steve Garber’s Vision of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $17.99) and Jamie Smith and Tish Warren and Eugene Peterson and Os Guinness and Ruth Haley Barton and other favorites that we lug around everywhere we go.

And, we loved sharing a whole bunch of kids books. We’ll tell you about some of those before long.

What a job we’ve got. Even writing it here is a good reminder to us. Thanks for caring –we hope you find it helpful. We hope you are reminded of resources you may need. 

For now, perhaps this list will allow you to imagine yourself shopping with us out on the road. Maybe you are a BookNotes reader we met at some of these (or other) events. We trust you’ll find something helpful here and maybe some ideas for gift giving or your next book club read. Why not help us with our huge unpacking process as we recover from this busy season of being on the road and send us an order today?

Don’t forget: any book mentioned, while supplies last, offered at 30% off until end of day Thursday, November 15, 2018. No foolin. This offer expires in less than 3 days.

After that the discount remains at 20% off the prices shown.

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Here’s a video of Byron talking about 7 books in 10 minutes. All 20% off.

Sometimes I want to highlight a few new books really quickly, without doing my epic blog posts here at BookNotes. We’ve been on the road and we will soon share a bit about the events we served, the people we met, the books we sold, hither and yon.

For now, though, enjoy this fun infomercial — my sincere, if brief, announcement of seven new books. This was a one-take, off-the-top-of-my-head, cheap phone video so forgive my stumblings (like when I said we’re making a DVD) and the less than professional lighting. I still think it is pretty interesting, if I do say so myself, so invite you to check it out. I suspect you will be glad to know about some of these books and hope we are giving you helpful information and a bit of bookish inspiration. Who doesn’t like that?

For some reason beyond my ken, it could be that for some of you who subscribe to BookNotes, the video clip may not appear or you can’t view it. Just in case, here’s a list of the books I mention, minus the enthusiasm.

Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith Janice Peterson (NavPress) $14.99 This is a very special, lovely compact hardback, slim and beautiful, with Jan sharing her stories of being befriended years ago by a Southern neighbor named Gertrude, and how we can enrich our friendships. She offers five elements of deeper relationships and how they are formative for our lives. This first book of hers came out right before her beloved Gene died, so, as I said on the video, it is bittersweet to announce this. Jan is a wonderful lady, a good friend to many, and we hope this book sells well for her, blessing the world with her unique insight.

 

 

 

 

 

Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim’s Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series Jan Karon (Putnam) $20.00 I loved tilting my head a little and noting with a smile just how curiously nifty this idea is: yep, it is a real prayerbook from the soul and writing of a fictional character. I trust you know of the much-loved Mitford series and Father Tim’s sermons and prayers in those novels. Author Jan Karon tells for the first time some of her own story, too, sharing reflections and prayers as well.  Pretty nice, eh? Father Tim’s prayers were a blessing to many in fictional Mitford, so why not for you, too. Stranger things have happened.

 

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00 I trust I don’t have to tell you how much we respect this urbane and thoughtful Presbyterian pastor and thinker. Fortune magazine named him as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” and Newsweek suggested he is a “C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century.” At any rate, this is a nice, brief, engaging study of Jonah. He’s a master at showing the gospel of grace even in the Older Testamented stories and here he offers a provocative thesis suggesting that Jesus had Jonah in mind when he told the story of the Prodigal Son. In this new volume Keller brings questions of race and anger and living with difference and encountering “the other” into play — there was talk about calling it “Jonah and the City” as he reflects on how we love our neighbors well. Highly recommended!

Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at it’s Worst Ed Stetzer (Tyndale) $16.99  Stetzer — who on the video I think I call Brian, thinking of the Stray Cats dude, I guess — is an important missional writer and here he takes on the “culture of outrage” and how we can be more forbearing and gracious and hopeful rather than contribute to the high-volume drama and over-reaction that is epidemic these days. This is a really good analysis and vital reminder of how we ought to engage the culture around us. Blurbs on the back are from our friend Karen Swallow Prior and from important voices such as Samuel Rodriguez, the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Bryan Loritts (I’m eager to read his brand new Insider, Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for All of Us.)

White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege Amy Julia Becker (NavPress) $15.99  I really, really like the word-smithing writing style of this fine author; she has two previous books written as a mother of a special needs child. Here she writes with nuance and grace about the notion of privilege. In my little video announcement I not only assure you how much I like this, but quote from the lovely endorsement on the back from her friend Andy Crouch.

Others have shared thoughts about her good writing and honest insight about this vexing, hard topic as well, saying:

Without shaming or victimizing, Becker considers painful truths and beautiful possibilities for healing the divisions of our present moment.
A deeply human book. As a woman who shares many of Becker’s advantages, I’ve been immensely helped, by Becker’s words, to begin believing that God can use our suffering–and our privilege–for good.

Whole & Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World Al Tizon (Baker Academic) $22.99 I spent some of my few moments on the video saying how much I liked Al, name-dropping him as an old friend, great music-lover, a guy who has visited our store. He used to work with Evangelicals for Social Action and here channels a 21st century sort of vision, drawing on his early friendship with Ron Sider and the wholistic “word and deed” Kingdom theology of Lausanne to offer a vision of whole-life discipleship, an exhortation for all of us to work for the reconciliation of a broken world. It carries endorsements by important voices such as Christopher J.H. Wright (of John Stott’s Langham Partnership) and the current director of ESA, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, and his North Park colleague Soong-Chan Rah. A wonderful forward is by Ruth Padilla DeBorst and his old boss Ron Sider has a very good Afterword. Whole & Reconciled is one of the great books of 2018 and we highly recommend it.

Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship – Year C, Volume 1  edited by Joel Green, Thomas Long, Luke Powery & Cynthia Rigby (Westminster John Knox) $45.00  I suggested in my little pitch in the video that this is in the tradition — almost a sequel — to the multi-volume series for lectionary preachers called Feasting on the Word. It is a bit different, though, offering a diverse world of scholars, teachers, and preachers, to weigh in on how the given lectionary text is connected to the bigger Biblical story (the Scriptural connection, placing the text in conversation with the meta-narrative and the unfolding context of the story of God) and on how the text can be related (connected) to the issues of the day. I like these connections offered, making this a useful tool for preachers and educators. Further, it offers worship resources for coherent worship planning inspired by the connectivity of the text that Sunday. Very nicely done. Blurbs on the back include high praise from Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Brueggemann, Donyelle McCray (of Yale Divinity School) and Duke’s famous preacher and author Richard Lischer.

If you can’t see this video (which hopefully shows up on your device) visit our Hearts & Minds facebook group, or my own facebook where I know it works.  Happy viewing and book-buying.

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20% OFF

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A bunch of books announced and a review of “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope” by Anne Lamott — ON SALE NOW

While we were away, out selling books at a string of events — a book-lovin’ travelogue I’ll tell you about soon — a whole batch of very important new books came into the store. Coming back in our rented truck felt like Christmas with new releases awaiting from Brene Brown (a thoughtful Christian friend of mine calls Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. [Random House; $28.00] a “game changer”) and a new novel by Barbara Kingsolver, provocatively called Unsheltered (Harper; $29.99) and a serious new one by Lauren Winner, The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin published by Yale University Press ($28.00.)

How very glad we were to see our friend Al Tizon’s Whole & Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World, with a foreword by Ruth Padilla DeBorst and an Afterword by Al’s mentor about wholistic mission, Ronald Sider (Baker; $22.99.) I can assure you it will be excellent and, yes, still very much needed.

Speaking of friends, Lancaster-based writer Shawn Smucker just released Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor (Revell; $14.99.) Our staff back here at the shop knew I was eager to see it and texted me a photo of the cover the day it arrived.

Although they aren’t nationally-known works we’re so excited to have two brand new books on the arts. I am jazzed about the new book (the first of a trilogy) by spoken-word artist and Humble Beast hip-hop record label founder Thomas Terry and Western Seminary theology professor J. Ryan Lister called Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life (Moody Press; $14.99.) It’s a very cool thing to behold, sans dust jacket, and with a foreword by Jacki Hill-Perry.  It is not fluff and it is not predictable. I know — I was up late last night perusing it.

Even more exciting to me is a major, major work in the on-going series by IVP Academic called “Studies in Theology & The Arts” entitled Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Lifby Jennifer Allen Craft (IVP Academic; $30.00.) It is, as the title suggests, a study of how the arts can enhance our sense of place; or, similarly, how a sense of place can inform one’s art. It is a fascinating and important new book about Christian aesthetic faithfulness, essential for contemporary artists and great for anyone interested in the topic. Not many books cite Wendell Berry and Calvin Seerveld, so you know I’m all in!

And, just yesterday — we haven’t even unpacked our road-tripping book vans, yet — we got the brand new book by Ben Sasse called Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal (St. Martin’s Press; $28.99.) I’m sure you can guess that I’m a fan of this call to civility and am sure we want to commend it to you and yours.

I wish I had time and energy to tell you more about these. But what I’d like to share now, quickly, is a short review I did for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of another book that arrived in our absence. (I had an early advanced reader’s review copy and it is so cool to see the real thing.)

If you read BookNotes you may have seen that I’ve done a few other reviews for the storied Pittsburgh newspaper, a privilege I don’t take lightly. It’s a different sort of thing writing for a public audience, although the book review editor there, a person of serious faith himself, has invited me to write about these kinds of books that might bear witness to Christian truth by authors who may have a wider appeal than just the intentionally religious reader.

And so, thanks to the Post-Gazette. It is exciting to see it for real, in the big city paper. Here, though, is the longer, unedited version that I sent in. I bring to you news of the brand new Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes On Hope (Riverhead; $20.00.) Of course, we have it at the BookNotes 20% off and you can order it by asking at our secure order form page by following the link below. Or call, or send us an email.  Enjoy.

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books; 2018) $20.00

Anne Lamott is one of those authors who has fanatical fans. Although she is an esteemed novelist (with seven fiction works) her most dedicated readers follow her non-fiction. She has gifted the world with memoirs and essays; Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is her 11th collection.

Lamott’s Bird By Bird continues to be used in writing classes. Two of her books tell stories of her parenting (the delightful Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year came out in 1993 and years later she co-wrote, with her son Sam, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son.) Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith catapulted her into the world of prominent, non-fundamentalist, religious writers. That she has straddled the secular literary world and the evangelical “Christian Bookstore” marketplace despite her progressive politics and hilariously snarky tone and explicit language – her own conversion narrative includes dropping the F bomb and isn’t likely to be featured at a Billy Graham-type rally — is a miracle of nearly Biblical proportions.

Ms. Lamott is a recovering alcoholic from a upstanding, middle class family of the 1950s that, as we’ve learned (over and over, again in Almost Everything) was pretty messed up. She is candid about her own shame and foibles (which apparently includes giving most of her friends too much candor, since, well, she’s right about everything.) Few authors can share even horrific stuff about her own sorry condition and bad, bad habits without wallowing. Her books are realistic, without being depressing.

Some of her books are more overtly Christian than others, although she admits to being Jesusy, everywhere, always. Several of her books are “thoughts on faith” and are widely ecumenical, drawing on new age gurus, ancient mystics, and her small, urban Presbyterian church where she teaches Sunday school to a few kids who may not know how lucky they are. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers captures much of her spirituality, nicely combining goofy profanity and a pretty solid bit of spiritual advice. Hallelujah Anyway came out last year about the time Pope Francis was calling us to the virtues of mercy, and Anne chimed in, keeping it real.

And keeping it real is a big part of her brand new release, Almost Everything. She is (and she assumes her readers are) in despair about the public figure Who Will Not Be Named, although, not surprisingly, she names him. The book is not only or even mostly about Trump, but like her 2005 Bush-era Plan B some may find it a bit too whiny about her political frustrations.

Or, maybe not. Who isn’t concerned about the breakdown of civility and the weirdness of our Twitterer in Chief?  Anxiety about our times is increasingly a non-partisan affair, and Lamott brings some sage advice that might help us cope.

In fact, she insists that our health and sanity just might depend on it. We need hope in these disturbing times and here she offers “almost everything” she knows, really knows. She calls us “Dearest” and is inviting, not scolding, and admits, after telling of experiencing what she is convinced were authentic Divine encounters, “But that’s just me, with perhaps an overeager spiritual imagination and a history of drugs.” With a beautiful passage about noticing flowers, she tells us to pay attention to light.

For Lamott, paying attention to light starts with admitting that life is paradoxical. She cites T.S. Eliot, who wrote, “Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still.” And yet, she knows, “We long for this, and yet we check  our smartphones every ten minutes for news, texts, distractions.”

She tells stories of those who discover aliveness, who realize that truth is paradoxical. She ponders how light can be both particles and waves. She gets that there is joy even in hard times. “Almost every facet of my meager maturation and spiritual understanding,” she shares, “has sprung from hurt, loss, and disaster.” Like the playwright, Beckett, she knows we are “born astride the grave.” She wears her paradoxes on her sleeve. “Is it true that the more you give, the richer you are?” She then quips, “Do you want my mailing address?”

Counterintuitive as it may be, we must honor our pain and fear even while we “do the next right thing. We tell the truth. We march, make dinner, have rummage sales to raise relief funds…” With helpful friends we won’t “get stuck in hopelessness: we can take one loud, sucking, disengaging, step back into hope. We remember mustard seeds, that the littlest things will have great results. We do the smallest, realest, most human things. We water that which is dry.”

Lamott is often very witty, and her clever lines keep coming. “There is almost nothing outside you that will help in any lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ.” Right.

She declares that “Chocolate with 81% cacao is not actually a food. It’s best use is as bait in snake traps. Also, a shim to balance the legs of a wobbly chair. It was never meant to be considered an edible. “ But then she preaches: “Don’t let others make you feel unsophisticated if you reach middle age preferring Hershey’s Kisses. So many of your better people do. Also, always carry a handful of Kisses in your backpack or purse to give away. People will like you more.”

I told you this book was filled with sage advice.

At the center of Almost Everything – actually it comes in early, but remains as a core theme – is the quandary of how not to hate. Although there are some great sections on joy – she’s like a funky, flower-power lady channeling C. S. Lewis about being designed for joy, making a sly argument from design for ultimate meaning — and plenty of upbeat stories, she is sincerely worried about the damages to our soul when we hate.

There is an essential chapter called “Don’t Let Them Get You To Hate Them” that decries how so many of us experience derangement. “Some of us have developed hunchbacks, or tics in our eyelids. Even my Buddhist friends have been feeling despair, and when they go bad, you know the end is nigh.” She’s not kidding, though, admitting, “I have been one of the walking wounded for a year or so – actually more like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead, because we are fused with people when we hate them. We’re not us anymore. We become like them. “

She quotes Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, elegant reminders that hate not only isn’t very effective but belittles our own souls. It may be comforting for a bit, she admits, but, “regrettably, it’s malignant.” I wonder how many readers will nod in recognition when she tells of enjoying her loathing.  “It’s not white-hot hate,” she says, “as I can’t afford to be ignited and let it consume my life, but there is a lot of heat in there, a combination of sickness and fire. The fever makes me into a war zone of blasts, rubble, mission creep, and the ministrations of my own private USO. It steals from me what one might call my better angels, my higher self, my center; c’est la guerre.”

So she carries on, praying the St. Francis prayer, drawing on her 12-step stuff, reporting good news about her Sunday school kids. She shares beautifully moving episodes from her work with the dying, as a good friend and hospice volunteer.

Many are deeply blessed by Lamotte’s down-to-Earth spirituality, her cleverness, her ability to tell a story with a moral, or at least with a sensible point. After telling of a cheap moment of forgiveness, where everything became “fine” she admits that it wasn’t so. A deeper reconciliation was needed with her uncle. Eventually they slowly rebuild their relationship.  She has active empathy for him. He laughs at her jokes, at least a bit. She sings a Christmas carol with him, one she hates, and concludes, “To me, it was like Lourdes.”

And ain’t that the central paradox of life: love beats hate; light overcomes darkness.  Small, good acts, generate hope. That is almost everything she knows.

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NEWLY REVISED & EXPANDED: The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life by Os Guinness ON SALE

It isn’t every day that we get to announce a handsome twentieth anniversary edition of a book that we think is among the most important and beautiful and influential of our lifetimes. I am thrilled to announce (again) a new, expanded edition of The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life by Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson; $16.99.) It is a book we esteem greatly and is in the handful of “must reads” that I often cite as central to our own story here. We hope you know it, and sincerely hope you enjoy my brief rumination.

We are offering this at 20% off, making our price $13.59. You can order by visiting our secure order form page at the website, shown below, by emailing, or calling.

Dr. Guinness, by the way, has another brand new book entitled Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat (IVP; $27.00) which details an urgent challenge for us to be clear about the importance of freedom in our fraying civic culture, but I will tell you more about that later. For now, I want to express my deep appreciation for Guinness and his large body of work and remind you about why I so value this new edition of his most-read, classic book, The Call.

 

 

As I have written elsewhere (and often explain in doing talks about uniquely Christian approaches to cultural engagement and the significance of reading for spiritual formation) my own faith and posture towards culture, even my very worldview and understanding of faith was significantly shaped by Guinness’s first book, the now out-of-print classic The Dust of Death. It was the first thoughtful Christian book of social criticism that I read and it set me on a journey that included, eventually, Beth and I starting the bookstore in the early 1980s.

Dust was a study of the social crisis of the 1960s and early 1970s and it offered an astute Christian evaluation and called us to be Biblically-shaped salt and light, in but not of, agents of God’s reconciliation. From the efficient, gray-suited businessmen in the materialistic, Cold War 50s to the bohemian beatniks and early 60s folksters on the road with Jack Kerouac to the flower-power hippies of the counter-cultural late 60s to the political activists of the early 70s during the tail-end of the Viet Nam war, the draft, and Watergate (which included the rise of groups like the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army not to mention the Jesus movement) Guinness told the big picture story of the spirits of the times and the idols of the age. He used his incisive mind and eloquent prose and wide world background (he was born in China, son of Irish missionaries, although later spent time in an ashram in Nepal and studied with brilliant atheists at Oxford) to channel Francis Schaeffer’s good heart for disenfranchised youth and troubled or morally serious seekers. He offered which was at least for me the first coherent Christian social theory that promoted a Kingdom vision, a third way between the left and the right, critiquing the unhelpful idols of both the conservative and the liberal streams of the secularizing Enlightenment.

Os became known within evangelical circles as an eloquent and elegant speaker and a hefty thinker who was reliable and inspiring as a cultural critic and as a deeply spiritual leader; in all this, he was trusted, and his passions are uncompromising as he proclaims an historic orthodox faith. He has been used by God to stimulate hearts and minds for deeper considerations of the issues of the day and shows how a solid Biblical theology would inform us as we reject both the liberal stream of watered-down faith and the conservative steam of anti-intellectual, legalistic fundamentalism. That he tutored with students and friends of C.S Lewis, served alongside Francis and Edith Schaeffer, earned a PhD from Oxford, worked for the BBC, spent considerable time learning from sociologist Peter Berger while a senior fellow researching for the Brookings Institution, gave him a distinguished intellectual orientation and considerable gravitas. That he studied well and taught us about the deeper, subterranean roots of ideas and the practical forces and trends and practices of the culture but also cared deeply about injustices like race and poverty made him a particular asset to those trying to be, as we often said, “radical Christians.”

I was honored to hear Dr. Guinness in the 1970s when he did a series of keynote addresses at our Pittsburgh Jubilee conference. We interacted with him at other events where we sold books – an old event called Ivy Jungle and programs sponsored by the C.S. Lewis Institute in DC and the Christian Legal Society. He was gracious enough to visit York several times as we hosted him here. For those that have read his books and enjoyed the company of him and his wife, you will know I’m bragging a bit here as it has been an true honor to have him encourage us in our bookstore work.

Having said all that, I want to remind you that The Call was one of the first contemporary, popular level books that developed the implications of this most important (but routinely misunderstood) theological doctrine, that of “calling” (and its related theme, “vocation.”) There is a huge renaissance of books on faith, calling, discernment, vocation, work, and serving God in varying spheres of society these days, and nearly all owe their moment to a series of talks Guinness did in the 1990s (including at York First Presbyterian Church) and the celebrated release of this seminal book in 1998. I do not think I am alone and I do not think I am wrong to suggest that the faith and work movement, the rise of marketplace ministry courses, the popular spread of conferences and workshops using the language of vocation and Christian views of work-a-day routines owe their existence in our time to how God was pleased to use this book as it was embraced by key leaders within the thoughtful end of the evangelical world.

That is, much of what we do here at Hearts & Minds – selling books at large and influential events from Jubilee in Pittsburgh to the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer in New York City to my wonderful experience this past weekend at the Colorado Christian Business Alliance conference in Denver – comes back to evangelicals who want to connect Sunday and Monday, worship and work, and to live out (as Os’s long-time friend, Steve Garber puts it eloquently) Visions of Vocation. Indeed, Garber’s sub-title, “Common Grace for the Common Good”, shows how this wholistic vision of relevant discipleship, robustly rooted in the doctrine of God’s call upon us, has vast, public consequences.

(And, I might say, for those who have gotten on this bandwagon these recent years, including some who have published on the topic and who earnestly want to help this movement, they really ought to read The Call to get their visions of vocation a bit more straight and solid.)

Not only do I want to announce that Guinness’s classic is now expanded and revised (and has great study questions in the back) I want to say it is as relevant as ever.

Who isn’t searching for purpose these days? Who doesn’t want work to be worthwhile, careers to be callings, to find a “why” to our existence? (“Start with Why” a current best-seller advises.) But, as Guinness says in a provocative, stimulating, new opening chapter, there is considerable apologetically power when we bear witness to a life of meaning by working with this material, but realizing its implications. It should be obvious, but isn’t, that there can be no calling without a Caller. We can’t really have purpose without One who offers a coherent life, in a creation created in such a way as we can fit into a plan. That is, the deepest Christian truths – not slogans or debatable doctrines – are universal, illuminating the really real, for everyone, everywhere. We can find a way of life that is rich and good and meaningful and even find our purpose and personal fulfillment when we see all of life as created good, if fallen, and the get that the meaning of life is found in participating in God’s reconciliation of the world, in our own ways, according to God’s call. Yet, even if that has compelling weight and “preaches well” we have to be aware of what Guinness calls “clichés and counterfeits.” His earliest chapters are exposes of unsustainable notions and more reliable foundations (even if what some might find the most dense.) It’s good stuff.

I love the core chapters where he explains how the Protestant reformation blew apart the sacred/secular dualism of the medieval world. Monks and nuns were the only ones, in those dark ages, who were allowed to say they were “called.” Indeed, Martin Luther said “the men making the beer barrels and the women milking the cows are as important to the Kingdom God as the priests and the nuns.” They wanted to arrest him for such talk! William Tyndale, years earlier, was burned at the stake and one of the reasons was because he dared to say ordinary folks could use the language of vocation, that their work mattered to God. Guinness’s chapter about a Dutch monk that locked the doors of the church so folks wouldn’t obsess with liturgy, but take faith into daily life, called “Locked Out and Staying Out”, is worth the price of the book.

His central chapters “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything” and the follow-up “By Him, To Him, For Him” and the often-cited “The Audience of One” chapter are all simply unforgettable.

For anyone guiding others in vocational discernment, this solid teaching about calling (both our primary calling to follow Christ and our secondary callings to various offices and tasks) is crucial. “Be What You Are” is the sort of eloquent wisdom that will clarify much – and there is much to be clarified these days, with everybody from MBA programs and edgy entrepreneurs and church preachers insisting everyone must make a difference and find zeal in doing all kinds of spiffy stuff, finding your bliss and whatnot. This is sturdy, level-headed ballast, and exceedingly helpful as we think through things like jobs and happiness and occupations and retirement and such. That is, he reminds us not to overly identify our callings with our jobs. In a world as fallen as ours, in a culture arranged as ours, we may not find that our callings and careers are the same. If we’re lucky, it might be somewhat so.

For those in mid-life or beyond there is much assistance here, too; there is even a chapter on “Fighting the Noonday Demon” which is profound for those struggling with depression or what the ancients called sloth, or despair.

His bit about time is excellent, and, for those with curiosity about such things, his reflections will make you wise about the pressures of the modern world.

A few years ago I edited a small volume of Christian college commencement speeches extolling folks to live into their callings, to take up their vocations in the world. We called it Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Lives (Square Halo Books; $13.99.) It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, although I still wish I could have found a talk of Guinness’s to put in there. Voices similar to Guinness are compiled – Steve Garber, Amy Sherman, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw, Claudia Beversluis, Erica Young Reitz, and the always inspirational wonder, civil rights activist, Dr. John Perkins!) Each of us in Serious Dreams are saying stuff to encourage young adults in that little anthology that mirrors much of what Guinness is doing here; I suspect strongly that each contributor had read it. I advise any young adults wanting some inspiring talks, homilies to get you going, friends on the printed page to help you along to pick up Serious Dreams. But to be really clear about their future and to be instructed well, for life, they should dig in and study Guinness’s remarkably substantive and formative book. I would rather you buy his book than my book!

Calling is more than just a matter of being zealously positive about a career track or naming a desire to make a difference or slapping on the word vocation. A deeper appreciation for the lasting profundity of this stuff is both a great, liberating gift and comes with a deeply serious conviction to follow Jesus. As Guinness says, we are “people of the call” and “followers of the way.” This is key, central, life-changing, solid-as-a-rock Christian commitment.

In other words, this book is for nearly anyone, any educated adult wanting to understand their lives, their faith, their deepest source of meaning.

You should know three quick things about The Call. Guinness is a master of making good points, offering a few sub-points, showing the threats or dangers or counters to those points, and summarizing each. For those that like sort of logical teaching, detail upon detail, close expression, bit by bit, this will thrill you with the sheer weight of fine content. Some of his legendary talks and other vital books are nearly byzantine in their expertly designed structure, but it always works. And, of course, there are well-placed quotes from fabulously interesting figures from Winston Churchill to Dorothy Sayers, from John Calvin to John Wesley, from Kafka to Carnegie.

Secondly, he always illuminates each chapter with a grand story or pithy illustration. The Call is, in fact, more story-driven than any of his always- impressive writings. He tells stories of jazz players and politicians, painters and farmers, explorers and executives. I will never forget the story telling of how a poor Irish farmer plowed his fields with a learned craft and God-glorifying stewardship and the life-saving impact that had. His chapter “Dreamer of the Day” is about T.E. Lawrence, the larger than life leaders known as “Lawrence of Arabia” and it is thrilling. Most readers don’t know much about the lives of old Puritans or modern existentialists or explorers or business titans or painters, and Guinness uses history and his own biography and tons of stories as key illustrations. What a literary feast this is, learned and inspiring.

Thirdly, this is written almost like a daily devotional; the chapters are dense, but relatively brief. There is a thought-provoking question at the end of each chapter and a closing prayer. It would be a transforming practice to read a chapter a day for 30 days, or once a week, even, for half a year.

I love how they put the description of the book on the back cover. Enjoy this:

Why are we here? What is God’s call in our lives? How do I fit God’s call with my own individuality? How should God’s calling affect my career, my plans for the future, and my concepts of success?

For centuries, finding purpose in life has been at the heart of the human quest. Yet, for many, the path to purpose remains urgent but unclear.

In this bestselling modern classic, Os Guinness invites you to explore the ultimate answer to identity, meaning, and purpose. The Call speaks to the longing in every human heart and provides an answer – You were created for a purpose.

In this new edition, The Call further enriches your search for purpose with multiple new chapters from the author, along with a practical study guide to accompany you through your own journey or to facilitate group exploration.

This book is for all, seekers and believers, who long to find and fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. Have you found “the ultimate why” for your life? Will you respond to the call?

I’m very glad for this concise endorsement from Tim Keller, Pastor Emeritus of Redeemer Presbyterian Churches:

In modern Christian literature there is nothing quite like Os Guinness’s classic The Call, now made more valuable with additional material. Highly recommended.

 

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Four New Books from Eerdmans – “The Battle for Bonhoeffer” (Stephen Haynes) “Being Human” (Rowan Williams) “Religion & American Culture” (George Mardsen) and “Advent” (Fleming Rutledge) ON SALE

To introduce these four new books by one particular publisher I wanted to explain – in case ya hadn’t noticed – that we carry all manner of publishers, large and small, faith-based and otherwise, like any full service bookstore. We’ve got some general market best sellers, most of the popular religious best-sellers, but, better, a strong backlist of all kinds of good stuff, from across the faith-based publishing universe and beyond. We’re a little quirky and wanted to brag about our different publishers so I found myself describing a dozen houses, and some of their books. Man, talk about a tangent, before we even got out of the gate.

Sooooo, I deleted that so we can get right to it.

WM. B. EERDMANS

One of the great, storied publishers that we most enjoy is the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company whose offices have been in Grand Rapids, Michigan, since 1911. We are told that Eerdmans, in Dutch, means “Earth-man,” perhaps because their ancestors were farmers, or at least rural; the elder Bill was born in the 1800s and came to the US from Holland as an immigrant in 1902. Eerdmans may be the premier publisher for serious academic theological and Biblical studies work (although IVP Academic and Baker Academic have given them a great run for their money in recent years, doing more, and perhaps more valuable, academic theology books than anyone.) Hardly anyone who follows these things, though, would disagree that Eerdmans has been one of the stalwart publishing houses in the United States and their influence in the religious publishing world has been extraordinary. They are quirky the way a family-owned business can be, and that’s part of their charm, too. We could fill up pages of their enduring classics, recent award-winning books, and their delightful curiosities (like Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels, a book about urban biking, or God, Improv, and the Art of Living by Maryann McKibben Dana.)

Eerdmans and their sales reps serve us well and we want to shout out to them alongside the other publishers whose books we carry. Without these publishing houses vetting and marketing thoughtful works, the religious publishing industry – wild and wooly and often infuriating as it is — would be a really hot mess. We are grateful for the considered and valuable books classy publishers like Eerdmans bring to the marketplace. Theirs are almost always books worth knowing about and often well worth owning.

FOUR BRAND NEW BOOKS FROM EERDMANS

Here are four brand new Eerdmans releases that came in this week. They are among the most important religious books of the fall. You can order any of them at our secure website order page by following the link below. Just type in what you want and we’ll follow up promptly.

All of these are 20% OFF.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in an Age of Trump Stephen R. Haynes (Eerdmans) $19.99   I haven’t read this yet but you may guess right from the start what it is about, and many Hearts & Minds friends are going to be interested. Yep, it is – among other things – about Eric Metaxas and his own work on and recent use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German Lutheran who called us to “the cost of discipleship” and was executed for his resistance to the Nazi regime. You may know (I hope you do) Mr. Metaxas’ exceptionally readable, evangelically-minded, major biography entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich (Thomas Nelson; $19.99.) Like his previous Wilberforce bio (Amazing Grace) and his more recent book on Luther, Eric has brought the drama, historical background, arcane details and big picture vision of major historical characters to a popular level with his captivating prose and robust storytelling. (His smaller, but thrilling, 7 Great Men and 7 Great Women are coming out in a single volume later this fall!) Metaxas is a clear, colorful writer, a passionate thinker, and his Bonhoeffer book is massive; that’s a good thing, in this case, as there is so much to say, and he says it so well that many a reader wished it wasn’t over, even after 600 pages! There are a lot of books out there by and about Bonhoeffer and there is little doubt that Metaxas’s has sold more than any other.

Two things you must know, though, things we routinely chat about with those who are interested in buying Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy…  what I sometimes call Metaxas’ BBB (Big Bonhoeffer Book.) You see, not everybody likes it.

First, not just a few historians and Bonhoeffer scholars have insisted that Metaxas is a sloppy historian. He’s got a line or two mistaken about a historical episode in a book he wrote about the Founding Fathers. Maybe there is another Wilberforce book that is more tediously correct about everything in 18th century England. I suppose some disapproved of something in the Luther book but it was by far the most engaging one I’ve ever read about the great monk with a mallet. Some think he sacrifices facts for writerly color and eloquence in an attempt to be inspirational. Such claims don’t worry me much, to be honest, as he isn’t vying for best academic study of his topic: he’s a popularizer, I suspect he knows that, and, at that, he’s a good one. Of course if he were exceptionally inaccurate with the facts or out and out ridiculous (think of the likes of David Barton) we’d be concerned. But I’m not too interested in nit-picking a books like these that gets thousands of people interested in somebody like Wilberforce or Bonhoeffer or Luther.

But the second thing to know isn’t just whether Metaxas is fully accurate and impeccable as a popular biographer and history-writer. The second thing to know is that many think that Metaxas is fundamentally wrong about his understanding of Bonhoeffer’s faith and how to learn from him in our current socio-political climate. In other words, there is a concern about Metaxas’s reading of Bonhoeffer and his use of Bonhoeffer. The Battle for Bonhoeffer is not only about Metaxas, but telling about this part of it is a way into Hayne’s overall project in what seems to be a very impressive and important work.

The criticisms of Metaxas have been very strong, especially in his telling of the heart of the Bonhoeffer story. Those in the Bonhoeffer study guild – and it is a club, literally, believe me – denounced Metaxas as soon as his tome came out and then continued their attacks when it became as popular as it did. Mean-spirited critiques of the book – one which I found to be grossly unkind in The Christian Century – appeared almost overnight, many seeming to nearly drip with crass jealously. Who is this charismatic Christian with a preppy blazer and funny background who wrote for Veggie Tales and now dares to write about our post-religious, uber-liberal icon? He’s not in the club! How dare he make Bonhoeffer sound like a born-again American evangelical? Our guild has determined that Bonhoeffer’s no evangelical! (Interestingly, many evangelicals took their word for it and ignored or mistrusted Bonhoeffer for years; I was warned against him in college by people I trusted.)

Ends up, Metaxas – who is, did I say, one hell of a writer – with a degree from Yale, makes a pretty good case that Bonhoeffer did have something akin to a born-again experience while in exile from Hitler’s Germany. Strangely warmed, Bonhoeffer himself wrote specifically about it during his stay in New York where he studied, seemingly unhappily, at Union Theological Seminary but worshipped with black Christians in Harlem, about which he wrote piously. He took black gospel records back to Germany and they inspired him and his underground seminary movement until he was executed by the Fuhrer in 1945.

Those that read BookNotes (heck those that read my opening paragraph) know we’re pretty ecumenical and open-minded here, so I do not care as much as some if Metaxas is right or not. Bonhoeffer can be read and understood in the context of German liberal theology, mainline Lutheran Protestantism, or as more in keeping with historic orthodox Christianity as represented by evangelical thinkers.  I think it is an open and good debate and I love getting liberals and conservatives, mainline folks and non-denominational ones, together to talk, even if it is a debate about who has the right to claim Bonhoeffer as their own. In The Battle for Bonhoeffer Stephen Haynes – who thinks Metaxas radically misunderstands Bonhoeffer and “appropriates” him for his own (conservative and even pro-Trump) political agenda — gives us the context for this debate and gives us the first book-length assessment of how Bonhoeffer has been received and understood since the post-war years and up until 2018. Analyzing Metaxas and his book and Metaxas’ subsequent project of marshaling Bonhoeffer for conservative Protestantism and its social agenda is only part of Battle for Bonhoeffer, but, oh, man, is it an interesting journey. And Metaxas’s project does, it seems to me, go haywire, as Eric gets involved with Fox News, links pro-life activism and the courts’ antagonism regarding religious liberties to our “Bonhoeffer moment” starts a largely right-wing radio show and now is an outspoken acolyte for President Trump.

Haynes (and anyone who writes about this, and all of us readers) must differentiate, I think, between two things: we must ask firstly if the Bonhoeffer book is mostly right, on the face of it, and separate that from whatever we may think of Metaxas’s conservative politics, his outspoken pro-life views, and his oddly incongruous support for President Trump. Like him or not, an evaluation of his 2010 Bonhoeffer is not the same as a referendum on Eric’s 2018 politics. It’s simple: we should review the book on its own terms, and not skewer our views of the book by ad hominem attacks about other stuff the author has said or done. Metaxas’ BBB (big Bonhoeffer Book) should mostly stand or fall on its own merits, not on whether you now like Metaxas or not.

And similarly, if folks with whom you disagree can marshal a strong case against the historical and theological substance of Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer) then we should listen to them, even if we don’t like their other political or theological views. We dare not disregard sound academic or theological critique of Brother Eric (even if you like him) because the critic is from a camp you don’t like.

I like Eric a lot, although I don’t know him well and have be disappointed my many of his public comments. I disagree profoundly with many of his current positions and am frustrated by some of his public demeanor. I think he knows this. Still, the question is important: is the big Bonhoeffer book of Metaxas, on the face of it, right and readable, more or less? Every book has small details that are in error, but, given a relatively generous reading, is he mostly right and is he readable? If he’s significantly wrong, of course, then its popularity and vivid readability isn’t good, as it captivates readers and pulls them into a wrong-headed story. (On the other hand, while I’m at it, we surely know that a book can be pristinely perfect and if it is tedious or arcane or haughty or boring – as most books about Bonhoeffer are, if you ask me – then its accuracy or bold insight isn’t that valuable, since nobody reads it anyway.) Accuracy, wisdom, and enjoyable readability must combine to make a truly great book and I want to know the opinions of scholars who really care about Bonhoeffer; it is my hope that this new paperback by Haynes will be a helpful guide to some of this. I am less interested in those who are spiteful or jealous or who are in principle in opposition to evangelical faith, ruling Eric’s book out a priori. I am told that Haynes helps us sort through all this.

For what it is worth, two very well-done books about Bonhoeffer that give a somewhat different reading to the man and his work than Metaxas does that I highly recommend are Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh (Vintage; $17.95) (who, by the way, wrote the foreword to Battle for Bonhoeffer) and Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance by Reggie Williams (Baylor University Press; $39.95.) Williams, by the way, has a nice endorsing blurb on the back cover of Battle…A third fairly recent one that applies core teachings of Bonhoeffer to daily Christian living which  I found very beneficial is Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross to the World by Stpehen J. Nichols (Crossway; $17.99.)

Haynes should be a helpful guide to all this; he has been writing about Bonhoeffer and his impact for years. Just a quick skimming and study of the footnotes and references makes me think he is excellent for this task. I’ve read his useful, little Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians (WJK; $18.00) and really look forward to his analysis of how brother Bonhoeffer is understood, taught, used, and promoted by different factions within the US (and elsewhere.)

As the back jacket puts it,

The figure of Bonhoeffer has become a clay puppet in modern American politics. Secular, radical, liberal, and evangelical interpreters variously shape and mold the martyr’s legacy to suit their own pet agendas.

That may be overstating it, as if differing views are crassly, intentionally, misinterpreting and misappropriating. I’d rather suggest that various theologies and even worldviews of various readers are influential in such a way as to facilitate differing interpretations, sincere misreadings, more-or-less internally coherent interpretations that are each based on fundamentally different presuppositions and hermeneutics. I don’t mean to say every reading or interpretation is equally valid, but it isn’t just that a few bad guys misuse a person like Bonhoeffer for their own “pet projects,” or not usually, anyway. I don’t think we should be cynical about this. Anyway, understanding how this appropriation thing works is itself a main theme of this book, and it’s so, so important – beyond this case study of Bonhoeffer and his fans.

Stanley Hauerwas writes about the book by saying:

Does it matter how Bonhoeffer is read in America? Anyone reading Hayne’s meticulously researched book will discover that it matters a great deal.

Of course, Eric Metaxas is not the only one to call us to a “Bonhoeffer moment.” Eric uses Bonhoeffer in support of a bold commitment to certain conservative stances in an increasingly secularized culture that is hostile, or so it seems, to traditional Christian views. But the cultural and religious left use Bonhoeffer, too, drawing on him for their own justice agenda. They think, of course, that Bonhoeffer titled left – willing to die as he bore witness against fascism, standing with the marginalized and oppressed.

Many (myself included) who have voiced strong criticisms of the way fundamentalist and some evangelical Christians have given so much unqualified support for President Trump – who just today announced cutting refugee resettlement numbers — have wondered if Bonhoeffer (and the blunt confession of the Lordship of Christ found in the Barman Declaration, written against the Fuhrer in Germany with input from Bonhoeffer) could help us repent of foolish support of this Administration’s bad leadership and bad policies.

So this new Eerdmans book is asking about all of that, how the great life of a great thinker and faithful pastor might motivate us to be faithful within the quandaries and challenges of our own civic life these days.

If this helps even a bit, pushing us to consider a coherent and faithful political theology it will be worth it, as we need all the help we can get. (Sadly, not nearly enough have grappled with the remarkable third volume in James K. A. Smith’s “Cultural Liturgies” series, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology.)

Battle for Bonhoeffer closes with what Professor Haynes entitles “Your Bonhoeffer Moment: An Open Letter to Those Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.” It is going to generate discussion, I’m sure.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer: will inform you about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it will help you understand the different interpretations and schools of thought that have used (or rejected) or adopted him, and, in so doing, will press the question of how this sort of engaged, public theology might inform us for our own faithfulness in these times. The subtitle seems appropriate: Debating Discipleship in an Age of Trump.

Click here for a great short piece “5 Questions with Stephen R Haynes.”  Then come back and order the book from us!

Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $12.00 Many of our BookNotes readers will at least know who Rowan Williams is. For those that might not yet be familiar with him, he’s a very important British theologian, an Anglican priest and thinker who a few years ago was the worldwide Anglican communion’s closest equivalent to a figurehead, their Archbishop of Canterbury. After being the 104th leader to be elected to Archbishop of the Church of England (from 2002 – 2012) Williams has become the Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge. He has written widely, in varied themes from St. Augustine to contemporary politics, from linguist theory to contemplative spirituality to the study of history and why it matters. It is amazing the sorts of things he is able to write about and everyone who relates to him is impressed with his humility and congeniality and his deep knowledge of the broad, global, Christian tradition. He is a pastor/scholar and a globally recognized public intellectual.

A few years ago Eerdmans started a little series of books by Rowan Williams and Being Human is the third in the trilogy. The first two were quite popular and remain good sellers in the right circles, ideal for those who want a succinct, intellectually stimulating introduction to basic Christian truths as understood within the broadly mainline denominations. The first was Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans; $10.00) and the second was Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life (Eerdmans; $10.00.) This brand new third volume – Being Human — continues this style of gracious, engaging prose about the things that matter most.

Alas, this one may not be quite as appealing, but we can sure hope that it is – after the knowledge of God and knowing what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what could be more important than knowing who we are? It is said by many great writers and thinkers – my friend Steve Garber comes to mind, immediately, but also black activist Lisa Sharon Harper and culture-maker Andy Crouch and “wounded heart” therapist Dan Allender – that most of the big questions (in philosophy, politics, ethics, science, and certainly in the arts and literature) emerge from our understanding of the human person and the human condition. Of Walsh & Middleton’s famous four worldview questions described in their classic Transforming Vision the second foundational question is “who are we?” Some use the technical phrase “anthropology” for this – the study of the human person — and theological anthropology is a hot scholarly topic these days.

With talk about trans-humanism and all the bioengineering advances and AI, even – not to mention questions about transgendered persons and medical ethics – anthropology is an urgent, practical concern. One of the great books that came out last year about this is Jeffrey Brauch’s Flawed Perfection: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters for Culture, Politics, and Law (Lexham; $15.99.) Even Wendell Berry has a collection of essays What Are People For? (Counterpoint; $15.95.)

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that the Rev. Dr. Williams jumps into this discussion because, again, he seems to be nearly an icon (wait, he has a book on icons!) for socially-relevant Christian thinking; ancient truths for contemporary living, public theology for the common good, etcetera. Offering coherent, thoughtful, Christian wisdom for thinking about things like contemporary science, human origins, medical ethics, the nature of bodies, and such, is so, so needed.

As it says on the back cover:

In this deeply engaging exploration of what it means to be human, Rowan Williams addresses such questions with lucid meditations that draw on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, and literature. He then probes the relations of faith to human flourishing and shows how a traditional Christian practice – namely, silence – can help us realize our fullest human potential.

Well, I bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? I didn’t. Here is a book by a public intellectual deeply rooted in faith and theology writing about the meaning of consciousness and raising questions about whether the mind is merely a machine. What makes us a person, after all?  What does it mean to be embodied? What is the relationship between our bodies and our minds?

And he ends up talking about silence.

Well, like I said, Being Human by Rowan Williams is short and lucid and really, really stimulating. Happily, I notice he draws on the wonderfully big ideas of The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist. He quotes Kierkegaard and neuroscientists and practitioners of silence like Maggie Ross. I think some of these chapters were adapted from lectures (at places like St. Andrews and Durham and Westminster Abby) so they are necessarily meaty, but elegant. Like the others in the trilogy, it weighs in at not much more than 100 pages. This is a really nice book for anyone curious about this huge question, for readers who want sagacious ruminations on what it means to be a person by the beloved former Primate. Many loved Being Christian and Being Disciples and, now, will want to add Being Human to complete the set.

Religion & American Culture: A Brief History George M. Marsden (Eerdmans) $30.00 Yep, we shelled out a lot of dough to order these for our store, but I am convinced that any bookstore worth its salt should have cultural studies and history and anything written by George Mardsen, Christian historian par excellence. (Indeed, Professor John Fea calls him “one of our generation’s greatest American religious historians.”)

To learn that Dr. Marsden has been re-working an older textbook, updating and making it more popular, even calling is a “brief” history (I suppose the term is relative, with this being over 275 pages) it was just music to my ears. We are so thrilled that it is now released and we are counting on our astute Hearts & Minds fans and BookNotes readers to pick this up.

What a hugely important thing, this study of the relationship between history and cultures and cultures and religion… How did faith (and whose faiths?) shape US history? How do we understand and appreciate the flow of one era in American history (so to speak) to the next? What is at the core of American culture, and its relationship to religiosity? Why is America so religious and yet so oddly, well, not. You see, this is about the grand shifts and undercurrents, the flow of ideas and how they influenced cultural customs and trends and values.

This, I believe, is a book that will illuminate our own days and the trends of our times.

Here is some info about Religion & American Culture: A Brief History from the Eerdmans publishing promotion:

While Americans still profess to be one of the most religious people in the industrialized world, many aspects of American culture have long been secular and materialistic. That is just one of the many paradoxes, contradictions, and surprises in the relationship between Christianity and American culture. In this book George Marsden, a leading historian of American Christianity and award-winning author, tells the story of that relationship in a concise and thought-provoking way.

Surveying the history of religion and American culture from the days of the earliest European settlers right up through the elections of 2016, Marsden offers the kind of historically and religiously informed scholarship that has made him one of the nation’s most respected and decorated historians. Students in the classroom and history readers of all ages will benefit from engaging with the story Marsden tells.

Better, listen to Dr. Marsden talk about it:

As the title to my book suggests, this story focuses on the mutual interactions between the major religious forces in American history and the broader cultural forces. Though it provides the basic information necessary to understand the differences among the various religious dynamics, it is not a conventional religious history that focuses mostly on religious institutions, and on the details of their leadership, theologies, programs and developments. Rather it is my attempt, drawn from over a half century of reflection on the fascinating religious and cultural interactions, to put the story in a helpful interpretive framework.

The United States is an amazingly religious place. Yet it is simultaneously a remarkably profane and materialistic place. Trying to understand that paradox provides one of the central and most fascinating themes in this analysis. The culture reshapes the religion even as the religion helps shape the culture. So I include a good bit of material attempting to draw on the best insights into the cultural dynamics and intellectual trends and assumptions that have been most characteristic in various eras of American life.

Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $30.00 I wish I had more time to spend some time with this so I could tell you the glories of it. I’m afraid I am going to have to be very brief, because I just can’t imagine how to explain this other than the bare basics.

You know, I hope, that Fleming Rutledge is nothing short of a hero to many – thoughtful, intellectually stimulating, a rigorous scholar and, until recently a working pastor in her Episcopal parish in New York City.
We have long appreciated her (thanks to an Eerdmans sales rep years ago who pressed a copy of an early book into my hands.) Beth and I have met her more than once and she’s an extraordinary presence. Her theological rigor is seen in the remarkable work The Crucifixion, her fascinating (and very Biblical) preaching is seen in a large collection of sermons on Romans, while yet another draws on the old saying about preaching with the newspaper in the other hand; it is simply called The Bible and the New York Times and only a preacher as eloquent and elegant and as bold and cultured as Rutledge could pull it off

My favorite book of hers is a remarkable work to read during Lent called The Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter.

Like that one, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ is largely a collection of sermons preached over a lifetime of Advents, a collection selected and well edited, making it a major contribution to Advent materials; this nearly is a publishing event! However, there are some extra delights in here as well – four solid chapters which were originally essays or articles, such as a five-part Advent series that appeared in the Christian Century (I had clipped some of those!) and there are several of what she calls “Pre-Advent.” There are a few on “God’s Apocalyptic War” which were preached on the Feast of Saint Michael. At the conclusion there is a Service of Lessons and Carols on the Great “O” Antiphons. I can’t wait until the right time of the year to read that, starting, I might add, on page 393. Whew, what a fabulous collection, a book that you will use for years to come.

I can’t list all the many, many sermons, even the groupings, but I can assure you they are vivid, meaty, and move us to be active in awaiting the coming of the King – the in-between times of “already but not yet.” These are surely striking, gutsy, Biblical and potent. I waver to suggest there is nothing like it in print.

Here are just a few of the many rave endorsements that grace the inside pages:

Richard B. Hays
— Duke University
“Fleming Rutledge’s Advent preaching bursts upon us with the same elemental force as the preaching of John the Baptist. Rutledge’s fine crafting of language may be subtler than John’s, but she carries forward his incisive, apocalyptic message of judgment and hope. This is essential preaching for a church wallowing in self-referential sentimentality and caught in captivity to the compromises of the present political order. This is preaching that tells the truth about the world’s suffering and proclaims that God acts to rescue us. Do not drift anesthetized through another season of Advent; read this book.”

Marilyn McEntyre
— author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies and What’s in a Phrase?
“Replete with rich, mature, vigorous theological reflections on Advent, this book is invigorating–edgy, intelligent, unflinching, and joyful in all it reclaims. A timely, lively prophetic word.”

Alan Jacobs
— Baylor University
“Advent is the most complex of the church’s seasons, with its remembrance of God’s former mercies and its looking forward in trust in God’s promises. Fleming Rutledge’s wonderful sermons on Advent are more than individual gems (though they are that): collectively they provide a rich and full exploration of the season in all its manifold moods and themes. This book is the perfect companion to the beginning of any church year.”

James K. A. Smith
— Calvin College
“My not-so-secret hope is that Fleming Rutledge’s Advent would become required reading in our seminaries and the focus of vestry book clubs, elder retreats, and worship leader workshops. Because that would give me hope for an apocalyptic renewal in the church–that we would learn again how to live as an Advent people, hoping in a God who acts and is making all things new. Taking this book to heart would teach us how to live wisely, faithfully, and prophetically in the Time Between.”

Wesley Hill
— Trinity School for Ministry
“Many of us in the American church are addicted to preaching that makes us, the hearers, into the heroes. We listen to sermons to receive advice–about how we can do better or we can try harder or we can be stronger in this or that aspect of Christian life. For all of us suffering this theological addiction, Rutledge’s Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ is the rehab program we need. God is the saving agent here, and God’s coming in Jesus Christ to dismiss our efforts at self-justification is the recurring theme. Reading this book liberates us to enjoy a new theological sobriety.”

Jo Bailey Wells
— Bishop of Dorking
“Fleming Rutledge has to be one of the most daring preachers I know. With moral courage and intellectual rigor she tackles challenging texts and nagging questions. She is unafraid to proclaim the truth that may hurt–because that same truth sets us free. I have squirmed, yet I am stretched–to deeper faith, to higher hope, to broader love.”

Michael J. Gorman
— St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Baltimore
“Whatever you previously thought or said about Advent (and ‘pre-Advent’), this book will both challenge and deepen your understanding in ways never anticipated. For Fleming Rutledge, Advent is not merely preparation for Christmas, much less ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ It is, rather, the season of difficult yet hopeful watching, waiting, and participating–the season that encapsulates the Christian life between Christ’s first and second comings. Like Scripture itself, these are words to read and inwardly digest.”

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