“Achingly Beautiful” — 10 Great New Books That Are Very Well-Written ON SALE NOW at Hearts & Minds

Every now and then we offer a BookNotes list of titles that we are excited about not only because of the important content and inspiring messages of the books but especially because of the remarkable talent and glorious writing styles of the authors. What a pleasure to share time with really good writers. After spending a number of wonderful hours with a few of these I knew I had to tell you firstly about how well written they are, how much delight the wordplay and storytelling will bring, and then how they will help you learn and grow and see the world anew. With that in mind I jettisoned a few that were important but not utterly lovely and a few that I liked but didn’t love. There are plenty of excellent, important books. These ten are great because they are beautiful, so very nicely done, each in their own way, all well crafted and pleasing to read, even if the content includes some very hard stuff.

In an impassioned song that has inspired a wanna-be writer like me, singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith sings “bring the prose to the wheel.” I don’t know what that means, exactly (she’s singing about reading on a bus, I think, but, man…) These authors do it. They worked hard to steward their writerly gifts and they artfully told their truths, creating books that you will truly enjoy.

Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light Rachel Marie Stone (IVP) $16.00  I think I am more grateful for this book then nearly anything I’ve read this season and Stone’s well-crafted prose is certainly among the very best writing I’ve  encountered in a Christian book in ages. I have promoted this before I spent much time with it by stating the obvious: she is a doula and she works the birthing metaphor beautifully. What a great move, talking about bringing something new to the world by being vulnerable and taking up risk, like parents do. There’s some vivid childbirth stories and plenty of bodily talk about womanly stuff. (I do not buy any assumptions of squeamishness about this attributed to guys; women and men alike may be squeamish and women and men alike will take it all in with wide-eyed wonder. This powerful bit of prose is not a “woman’s book” although surely many will love it.)

Really, though, this book, besides being about “birthing hope” is about coping with fright and anxiety; don’t miss the important sub-title!  Stone could be a major memoirist the way she narrates her life and, like any good memoirist, she can turn fairly common place memories like being afraid of swimming or more eccentric ones such as her girlhood fascination with her Jewish heritage and a fear of the another holocaust, into golden insights. Each chapter explores themes or episodes or fears and they are like their own marvelous short stories.

Her reflections from her girlhood days, her young adult years, her stint in medical missions in Malawi, and her vocation as a young mother, all disclose so much goodness even though many of the stories are freighted, heavy with sadness or perplexities. I love her writing and am grateful for her wise teaching. I love the cover, too, by the way, which is glorious to hold.

The excellent writer Amy Julia Becker (you’ve got to read her memoir A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny and the very lovely Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most ) says of it: Birthing Hope drew me in from the first page to the last. “

Wesley Hill writes:

In Stone’s hands, birth is not only a sacrament of solidarity, a sign of hope amid the chaos of doubt and fright, but also a reminder that, for all our talk of immortal souls, we have and are bodies, fearfully and wonderfully made.

Lauren Winner, herself an amazing wordsmith and talented storyteller and hardworking writer, says this:

I love this book. You needn’t have given birth to love it. Maybe you don’t even have to be curious about God or life as a human being to love it – the prose is that strong and compelling, that perhaps even the God-and-human-uncurious might love it.

I think she is right — all sorts of readers will love this, and we are eager to celebrate it, promote it, helping get the word out about it luminous writer and beautiful storytelling and deep insight.

God, Improv, and the Art of Living MaryAnn McKibben Dana (Eerdmans) $21.99  Oh man, this is a fabulous book, well-written, creative, and very interesting. It is a brand new release that I can honestly say – I love saying this! – that there is nothing like it in print! Ms. McKibben Dana is a good storyteller and a fine, fine essayist – her first book was the lively year-long memoir called Sabbath in the Suburbs: One Family’s Experiment with Holy Time – and here she offers a blend of creative reflection on her experiences, some artful self-helpy sort of practical guidance, a bit of allusive theology (she is a Presbyterian USA pastor, a bit progressive and open.) It’s well written, entertaining, and in many ways wise.

But here’s the thing:  yup, the subtitle isn’t messing with you. This is a story of the author’s many years taking an improv comedy class and her involvement in improv shows. The subtitle could be “what I learned about life and faith in improv comedy class.” That comedian Susan Isaac wrote the forward should be a clue to something (and, I’m not kidding, I really, really loved Susan’s excellent introduction, about her own struggle to live in two worlds—the world of her Lutheran, Christian upbringing and the world of stand-up comedy and being a comic actress. Can anybody mouth “law and grace” perhaps? The ways of rules and the ways of freedom?)

At the heart of this wild book are two big claims that are common sense enough, to my weird ears, anyway, and from which the author extrapolates. First, God wants us to say Yes. And, secondly, that yes, really must be a Yes, And.

That is, we must get busy and improvise as we go.

My friends Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat were the first that I knew to speak playfully and yet seriously about this, and some of their insights have worked their way into some of the scholarship of N.T. Wright. Sam Wells has a seminal book on the theology of improvisation called Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics – a bit heady, and not too funny, but McKibben Dana draws on it, wisely. Others have preached this process before, but nobody I know has so literally linked it to stuff she learns in the improv class. Her insight about stand up, about comedy, about improvisation, about that vulnerable, pregnant “yes, and…” is fabulous.

It isn’t every Christian book that has a blurb on the back by a comedian with the legendary Second City troupe, but this one does. Sarah Little (also a filmmaker) says of God, Improv, and the Art of Living:

This spiritual guide explores a world of universe-expanding possibility through the simple act of uttering the word yes.

Ken Evers-Hood, author of The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church, says:

Life happens. Living well means improvising, which is a craft that can be practiced and honed. In MaryAnn McKibben Dana we have the gift of an honest, playful, and deeply wise guide. In this book you will find practical insight drawn from the world of improv, tested in the crucible of pastoral ministry, and engagingly told in story after story.”

Faith Among the Faithless: Learning From Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad Mike Cosper (Nelson) $16.99 I have recommended all of Cosper’s books in recent years, from his wonderful book on worship (Rhythms of Grace and the great study of pop culture called The Stories We Tell and the remarkably thoughtful, rich study Recapturing the Wonder.) I list this brand new one now because he is a very fine writer and a very fine thinker and to show that even a Bible commentary can be playful, creative, culturally engaged and full of inspired insight about living well in the very real world.

Okay, Faith Among the Faithless isn’t really a Bible commentary but it does afford us the chance to do a careful reading of the book of Esther, and invites us to a slightly creative but very faithful re-telling. It really is a book about the book of Esther

I know I say this a lot, but the 10-page introduction is worth the price of the book. Really – what an insight; one I’ve never heard. In it, Cosper warns us of some of the hard, surprising stuff in Esther; one section is called “Less VeggieTales, More Game of Thrones” where he reminds us, among other thigns, of the amount of impaling that occurs in this seemingly godless book. And some pretty gross sexual violence.

In a fascinating move Cosper says that for those of us looking for faithful presence in the world and uniquely Christian cultural engagement and calls to fidelity amidst our post-Christendom culture, we might find much more sturdy help from the backslidden and compromised Esther and Mordecai rather than the steadfast Daniel. Both are stories set in exile, but Daniel – the hero of so many sermons about cultural transformation — was raised in a firm faith tradition and he knew well the stories of Israel. Alas, it seems (and this is evident in the close reading Cosper gives) our heroes of Esther were far from fidelity, deeply compromised, clearly accommodated to the pagan ethos of the empire of Xerxes et al.

And so, we need “faith among the faithless” – and, surprise — it seems Mr. Cosper is suggesting that the faithless are not just our secularized neighbors but we who are so accommodated to the ways of the world. The world may seem disenchanted (he’s studied his Charles Taylor!) but we can still encounter God through this story of great evil. (And, again, let us not forget, much of the evil in this wild Bible book, is about the oppression of women, of vile and violent practices, vital to appreciate in our #metoo moment.)

Mike Cosper tells the plot of Esther, explains a lot of historical and socio-political background, and gently suggests much about the subversive nature of the rowdy Purim holiday. He invites us to partake. It doesn’t have quite the punch of Colossians Remixed, say, but it has guts and grit and is wonderfully written. Lit prof Karen Swallow Prior (author of Fierce Convictions, a well-written book about another crusading woman, Hannah More) says, “It’s been a long time since I have been so informed, inspired, and encouraged.” That’s quite an endorsement for Faith Among the Faithless.

Everything Happens for a Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved  Kate Bowler (Random House) $26.00  I hesitated to list this as I’m sure most BookNotes readers would know of it already; it has garnered so much buzz and been reviewed so well, it is nearly a publishing phenomenon, riding the best-seller list for a while, now. Perhaps in league with the stunning When Breath Becomes Air or Being Mortal it is a book about ultimate things that is exceptionally insightful, beautifully written, raw and wise (and irreverent and funny, too, believe it or not.) With advanced rave reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, Bowler’s reflection on dying has become a touchstone for many conversations these days.

Bowler was somewhat known for an Oxford University Press book called Blessed which studied the prosperity preachers. She became a professor at Duke Divinity School. She became a young mom and then got the terrible news about her Stage IV colon cancer. She tells her story bringing us in to a colorful cast of characters with almost unbelievable candor and courage. And what a writer she is!

Her gifts and guts have made Bowler’s Everything Happens…and Other Lies… one of the great books of 2018.

As Glennon Doyle writes:

I fell hard and fast for Kate Bowler. Her writing is naked, elegant, and gripping –she’s like a Christian Joan Didion. I left Kate’s story feeling more present, more grateful and a hell of a lot less alone. And what else is art for? Everything Happens for a Reason is art in its highest form, and Kate Bowler a true artist – with the pen, and with her life.

Water at the Roots: Poems and Insights of a Visionary Farmer Philip Britts (Plough Publishing) $16.00  Talk about a handsome book – just the cover and artful design throughout won us over before we even read a page. Happily, the aesthetic quality (most of the book is poetry) is front and center, even though it is a book about agrarianism. That is, very much like Wendell Berry, Philip Britts (1917- 1949) was a poet and a farmer and social activist and a person of faith. He was also a pastor and a bit of a mystic.  We are thrilled that our friends at Plough Publishing – the publishing arm of the Bruderhof faith communities – has released these long out-of-print essays, narratives, and poems. And, oh, the poems…

As the folks at Plough tell us, “Britts’s story is no romantic agrarian elegy, but a life lived in the thick of history. The international pacifist community he joined, the Bruderhof, was soon forced to flee from Europe to South America.”

That Britts chose to root himself not only in God but in an intentional community which attempted to restore the land they farmed, makes his simple life itself one of great beauty and courage. He speaks powerfully to our own times, even as he presciently foresaw much that was brewing in the middle of the 20th century with its idolatry of speed and progress and growth. Our age is still “wracked by racism, nationalism, materialism, and ecological devastation” so, as it says in the publishing promo material, “the life he chose and the poetry he composes remain a prophetic challenge.”

The graphic design of Water At the Roots is striking. There are some grainy black and white photos that are just perfect. The chapter’s that bring together his few essays, reflections and poems, are Wilderness, Ploughing, Planting, Cultivating, and Harvesting. There is a very good – no, wonderful — forward by David Kline, the famous author who has written important, intelligent books about Amish farming methods and his own organic farm in Ohio. He gets Britts’s worldview, his writing, his early anticipation of the problems of agribusiness, his faith, his stewardship of the mysteries. With Kline setting the stage, you will even more deeply realize that Water at the Roots is an important little book. But first, it is truly lovely, artful book.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness Austin Channing Brown (Convergent) $25.00  Eloquent, moving, compelling writing about race and racism – like eloquent, moving writing about grief, say – is not uncommon. Something about the worst in life brings out good words, inspired words of rage, lament, insight, grace. That this new book is a smallish hardcover of a certain trim shape immediately brings to mind Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, the decade’s most well-known writing by African American scholars who have worn their broken hearts right on their sleeves and have been catapulted to fame for their eloquence and profundity and wordsmithing. (The trim sized hard-covers that were so very well written and culturally significant to which I refer are, of course, Coates’s Between the World and Me and Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop.) It is too early to determine if I’m Still Here will become known as a similarly fervent, well-told story of one black woman’s journey through white America, but it very well might. Christena Cleveland calls it “a stunning debut.” 

If Coates explored the pathos of his life through his historical and atheist lenses, and Dyson brings his classic, black church intellectual passion – he is a pastor and sociologist – Ms. Austin Channing Brown tells her story of being an evangelical black woman in a largely white subculture. Her telling of her frustration and anguish (and exhaustion) being often the only person of color in mostly white schools, organizations, workplaces and churches, is a story that needs to be told, and we are grateful.

Her candor may upset some readers, but so be it. Like Coates, just for instance, Austin Channing is a person you should know, and I’m Still Here is a book that needs to be read, with words that need to be felt, if even they sting.

Austin is a black woman of searing honesty and serious truth. I’ve read about half of this already – it released just today! – and I hope many order it from us. It not only is an important bit of “insider information” that especially white readers need to hear but, again, in keeping with my theme of this post, it is very well done, astutely written, poignant and passionate.  Even if it didn’t glow as it does, it would be worth working through. But like the gripping Coates and Dyson, the words matter and the writing is itself make I’m Still Here a real standout. Highly recommended.

Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People Bob Goff (Nelson) $16.99 We’ve already announced this one; we were very, very happy to describe it here the week it arrived. We knew then that it would be an energetic, upbeat read and we have certainly not been disappointed. There’s a reason it has zoomed to the top of the best-sellers list.

Bob is one of the most dynamic storytellers working these days and his great skill at telling fun and funny and poignant tales is so very compelling because his real life is full of nearly manic goodness. His capers are improvisational, his experiments in serving others makes for fantastic chapters, his charm should be contagious, his passion to share Jesus’s love with other is extraordinary. You’ve never met anyone like him and you will be entertained for hours by going along for the ride through his amiable, interesting book. More importantly, as we read, we’ll be caught up in the drama and – let’s hope – find ourselves joining him in this parade of generosity.

Two customers — two the same day! — told us last week that they are reading only a chapter a day because they don’t want this book to end.  They loved his popular Love Does and they are loving this.  You will too.

Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else Melanie Springer Mock (Herald Press) $16.99 I was intrigued by the curious cover – see that one little circle that’s different? — and was intrigued by the first line of the excellent foreword by Carolyn Custis James who says “Every once in a while, a book lands on my desk that I wish I had read when I was in college. Worthy is one of those books.”

Bromleigh McCleneghan, herself a sometimes spicy author, says it is “Wise, cantankerous, charming” and Evangelicals for Social Action editor Elrena Evans nicely notes that “Reading Worthy is like sitting down for a cup of coffee with a best friend you didn’t know you had.”

I agree. This book is important and smart – getting at the question of our worth, how we often harbor fears that we are enough, hinting at the problem of shame and hurt. And what it means to find one’s deepest sense of calling in the world – it is all very well done. There are good stories and excellently-crafted illustrations and no small amount of incisive cultural criticism in this work. It is life-giving and enjoyable and good, even when she is poking hard at evangelical customs and cheap religious advice. Mock is an English professor (at George Fox University) so she knows good literature, has an ear for good writing, and is gifted at weaving her own curious narrative into her critique of the massive self-improvement industry and a church that too often offers up cookie-cutter formulas for happiness that are themselves skewed and distorted.

Worthy: Finding Yourself… is a book of liberation and hope and it’s a wonderfully charming read. What a book, for men and for women, by the way. You will enjoy it and you will want to share it with somebody you know, I’m sure. It’s that good.

Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood Abbie Smith (Kalos Press) $15.95  Kalos Press is an small, indie publisher we like a lot; that they do artful, well-written and spiritually sound books like this is the main reason why. We were thrilled to announce this when it came out nearly a half a year ago but we’ve not had the opportunity to tell you about it again… although I’ve been itching to. Stretch Marks… is sort of a memoir, well told and delightfully interesting, but which includes spiritual reflections and Bible explorations. It is about the early years of the author’s marriage and her becoming and being a new mom. And it is so much more; a lot, actually.

Abbie has been a writer for years – she wrote a helpful book for college students about honoring God in their collegiate lives, she wrote another about sexuality back when she was a pensive single woman. She is lively and literate; she has even spoken a few times at our beloved Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. After earning an MDiv in spiritual formation (at Talbot) and getting married to a wonderful, thoughtful guy, she and her husband became caretakers of Wesley Gardens Retreat in Savannah, Georgia, where they attend an Anglican congregation. I love her blend of generous self-reflection and her deep awareness of the contemplative and liturgical traditions. She blends them nicely in what she calls “noisy graces.” You gotta love that, eh?

Abbie is a charming storyteller and a serious thinker and uses the Bible well in her meditations and teachings.  She has honed her craft of writing and it shows in this mature and thoughtful memoir.

As writer Marlena Graves says

Abbie does a masterful job of bringing the reality of ‘noisy graces’ to the fore and demonstrating that we too are being formed even as we seek to disciple and form our children. Read and hand out to the mothers you know – and dads too!

Chapter titles are allusive and intriguing with titles like chopped, womb, ache, form, rest, manna, safe, dust and more. There is plenty of Scripture, an occasional quote from contemplatives or prayer books, from the Book of Common Prayer to the Puritan Valley of Vision. There are 18 chapters and a very good reflection guide that makes this a great choice for a book club or small group or for one to use in one’s own quiet time of soul care.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and invite you to consider something: even though this a memoir of the early years of a woman’s marriage and how she was changed by parenting her young children (biological and adopted) this is not just a book for new moms. It is such a good read that it could be entertaining and insightful and good for almost anyone. Highly recommended.

Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints Christiana N. Peterson (Herald Press) $16.99  This is a beautiful book, surprisingly so, even. There are many informative and nicely written books on historic saints and there are plenty on Francis so it is understandable not to jump immediately on yet another. But trust me. This is remarkable.

Many of us have taken comfort the way the literature reminds us that the great monks and mystics and saints and heroes of the faith have often been, well, quirky; a bit strange and ill-content. Counter-cultural. Weird, even, if you want to be honest about it. And so, I was immediately struck by how this word pairing – mystics and misfits – rolled off the tongue. It is important to remember that the saints and spiritual masters we most admire were odd and often subversive, and that little alliteration in the title gave me hopes that Peterson would not just bring the hard truth of the counter-cultural nature of deep spirituality but would do so with charm and wit and literary grace.

And did she ever! This M&M book is so very interesting, so soulful, so moving, that we truly want to tell everyone who loves good books about it. Writer and editor and Francis fanboy Jon Sweeny himself says it is “achingly beautiful” – a blurb which drew me in wondering if that could be true, prose approaching the sublime. Another review called it “gorgeous and quirky.” Richard Rohr observes that it is “so well written” and promises that it is also “filled with gems.” Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God…, like others we’ve mentioned in this list, is a work of art, a wonderful read, an expertly crafted, fabulous book.

Christiania Peterson’s style is curious – there are standard-type chapters, there are interludes, and even letters written to several old saints, which are actually fantastic and slyly clever. (She calls Dorothy Day a “saint for difficult people.”) There are memoir-like chapters of her own life unfolding as she studied the saints and there are chapters with simple, clear summaries of the lives of many great mystics (from Francis and Clare to Simone Weil to Margery Kempe to Dorothy Day.) I’m not sure if I’d best describe this as a book about the mystics and misfits and how a woman was inspired by them, or a memoir of a woman who happened to take inspiration from her study of the saints. There’s a lot of her own story – an adventurous move to an intentional Christian farming community, a hard story of a floundering Mennonite congregation, a tale of betrayal and exhaustion and struggles, with the farm and the people. Still, as the publisher promises, she writes “with a contemplative’s spirit and a poet’s eye” helping us all encounter wild mystics and weird misfits and “the God who loves us madly, no matter how disillusioned we are or how miserably we fail.” Very highly recommended.


I suspect, dear readers, that most of these books will not be on the Christian best-seller lists. I don’t mean to feed our cynicism about such things, but they are mostly just too good. Many of the religious stores you know most likely don’t even stock these. We want to commend them for how well done they are, how interesting, how entertaining, how helpful. They should not be rare and the publishers deserve our support. Lustrous books like this can transport you into the lives of others and you will come out better for it. Live it up. Buy some beautiful books.


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Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump John Fea (Eerdmans) $24.99 // sale price $19.99

DUE DATE:  JUNE 28, 2018

This book is without a doubt one of the most important books for 2018. Agree fully or not with his assessment of how many evangelicals got so deeply in bed with the bizarre and brazen Donald Trump, it is an expert study of the recent history of the role of conservative religion and right wing politics. Which is to say it is an important book for anyone who cares about our republic, or about the integrity of the Christian witness in the world.  Fea is a good friend, an esteemed and pleasantly intense history professor at nearby Messiah College. His book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? has won a number of awards and has appeared on our own “Best of…” list the year it came out. We stock an earlier work, too, about a colonial leader and his embrace of almost a Wendell-Berryesque agrarianism in the 18th century, The Road of Improvement Leads Home.  

That is also the name of his very popular and widely read blog where he has been offering his own historian’s take on and analysis of the role of conservative evangelicals in the 2016 Presidential primary and national election. (By the way, I just read Katy Tur’s Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, her very spicy memoir of her front line reporting on the hot mess of that primary and the subsequent national campaign, embedded as she was with the team Trump. Wow; just wow. If you are interested in politics at all, it’s worth ordering from us. I couldn’t put it down.) Although there are many secular books coming out on the spectacle of Trump’s first years (although very partisan, I highly recommend a new one we carry called Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our County by the always interesting Steve Almond) no one has studied well the history of the rise of the evangelical movements role in the Donald Trump campaign and administration with as much insight and authority as John Fea.

I suppose that Dr. Fea’s most important credential for this project is that he is a studious, adventurous historian who has specialized for decades in the role of religion in our civic life. Not only has he published chapters and edited volumes about faith-informed historiography – as Mark Noll and George Marsden and C.T. McIntire did a generation or so ago – he has done a lovely, accessible book called Why Study History? Professionally, he has focused on Protestant and evangelical influences on our political life. Dr. Fea is very involved in his own professional guilds and scholarly associations and has been paying attention to these vital matters as a historian for years; he’s got the scholarly chops, and he’s passionate as a historian (albeit a fairly non-partisan but not far right one, it seems. For the record he finds the massive accommodation of evangelical faith to far-right power politics very troubling for the commonwealth and, as an evangelical himself, a betrayal of a Biblical-informed, theologically mature, Christianly sound, political perspective.)

Which leads me to the second large credential that sets this author apart from others reporting on this topic. John is, in fact, an evangelical. He teaches at a Christian college in the evangelical tradition. He regular attends an evangelical church that might be described as mega. He regularly is involved in uniquely evangelical meetings and conferences with the likes of evangelical scholars like Jay Green of Covenant College and Mark Noll of Wheaton College and Eric Miller of Geneva College. That he has a dog in this fight, as they say, is clear, although he writes with considerable fairness and explains the cultures of fear and alarmism and culture warring with evangelicalism with more charity than might be expected. He dons the role of the prophet at times and is hard-hitting in his critique, but one senses this is the cry of a wounded friend, a “lovers quarrel” as Frederick Buechner once put it.

Former White House staffer Michael Ware, author of the must-read Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America, says that Fea “takes evangelicalism seriously, treating it with the honest respect it deserves.”

And so, you should pre-order this fine work that is due out in early June 2018. I’ve read the whole thing (and most of it twice.) I will say that his early chapter (“The Evangelical Politics of Fear”) is very helpful. His chapter “The Playbook” shows how the current evangelical worldview was decisively shaped by the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s and they continue to work politically out of that same vision. It is a very important overview. His study of why many evangelicals found the Obama years so very troubling is good to understand. One simply cannot fully appreciate what has been happening in some quarters of our land without this understanding of “evangelical fear.”

His explanation of what he calls the “court evangelicals” is useful for anyone wanting to know the odd array of popular but not mainstream religious leaders who have become part of the President’s advisory council. I suppose it was beyond the task of this book to dissect and nuance the varying faith traditions within conservative Protestantism but it is my strong contention that it isn’t accurate to describe prosperity heretics such as Paula White (and the “Independent Network Charismatics”) and those who deny the Trinity, and hyper fundamentalists (like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham) as evangelicals. I myself have written about this in BookNotes, as have those who know more about the sociology of religion and American church history than I and I wished John would have addressed our concerns in Believe Me. Again, to be clear, the whole thesis of this book, mirroring what the undiscerning and ill-informed secular press has said, assumes that the 81% of white conservative Protestants who voted for Trump are, actually, members of the evangelical tradition and I suggest that they are not. (This stems, for what it’s worth, from a very bad Pew Research poll that didn’t allow for fundamentalists and Pentecostals and civil religionists to identify themselves by those terms. The poll question asked if one is a Catholic, a mainline Protestant or an Evangelical. Of course Southern civil religionists involved in the KKK or crazy Trinity-denying Pentecostals or anti-evangelical Fundamentalists couldn’t say they identified as Catholic or mainline Protestant, so “evangelical” was the closest tradition to their own. Hence the 81% includes some religionists who are a far cry from historic evangelicalism.)

Extremist fundamentalists and Pentecostals are the very groups that modern-day evangelicalism broke away from. Evangelicals are post-fundamentalists; their main journalistic organ, Christianity Today (co-founded by Billy Graham himself) wrote firm rebukes of Trump during the campaign and discouraged their readers from any enthusiastic support. If there is any weakness to Believe Me it is that (for understandable reasons) it doesn’t fight this fight of reclaiming or clarifying the word evangelical and fails in calling those who surround the President evangelical, when I submit that they are mostly not. Many of them, in fact, despise evangelicalism for being too moderate, too intellectual, too ecumenical.

Yet, Doc Fea’s historian’s eye is helpful on all this, and he reminds us that this rise of quasi-evangelical fundamentalism and the weirder versions of Pentecostalism has developed in the context of broad evangelicalism arising from its storied past. He talks about many of the episodes and factions of evangelical history such as the rise of the holiness movement, the Southern racial tensions in the Antebellum years, of dispensationalism, the impact of the Scopes trial, and other such seminal events and trends.

Fea writes:

As the reader can see, this short history of evangelical fear is actually pretty long – going back to the very establishment of European settlement in America. The various fears that combined to drive [some] white evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump have deep roots in American history.

Do you remember from your history studies the Know-Nothing Party? Do you know about the nativist outbursts of Lyman Beecher? As Fea reminds us, “This is the historical context that white evangelicals in America have inherited. We have been here before. In some sense, we have never left.”

Fea’s study of the politics of fear, the desire for power, and the role of nostalgia, is nearly brilliant. He knows his American history, he knows the recent players and issues that have lead many evangelicals on a road to Trump, incongruous, as it has been. He invites us in a wonderful concluding chapter to Biblical hope to counter fear, Christ-like humility instead of power, and the study of history as the antidote to idolatrous nostalgia. Believe Me is a very important book and I hope you pre-order it today. I am sure we will be among the first to have it by mid-June.

And, if you are near central PA, keep an eye open as we hope to host John here at the shop talking about Believe Me.  TBA, as they say.

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age Alan Noble (IVP Books) $16.00 // sale price $12.80

DUE DATE:   JULY 17, 2018

This is a book for which many of us have been waiting for years! Alan Noble is a fascinating young scholar, witty and active, never quite predictable, with a great social media presence. You should know his stuff. Although he teaches English at Oklahoma Baptist University he write about public affairs, too, and is also the cofounder and editor and chief of Christ and Pop Culture an online journal which is well worth reading. He has written for outlets as diverse as the Atlantic, Vox and Buzzfeed and First Things, Christianity Today and the Gospel Coalition. Which is to say, he’s my kind of guy.

This forthcoming book is a study that draws on the important work of philosopher Charles Taylor. It isn’t as scholarly or focused on Taylor as James K.A. Smith’s essential How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor but knowing that (or at least knowing about it) would be helpful, although Noble himself will do a good job as a fine guide. As the publisher promises, Professor Noble “builds on the work of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age in an accessible way.” In fact, the book looks at Taylor’s take in the first half, and then in the second offers a model for fruitful witness in the secular age. It is very much about offering concrete practices that we can live out and embody to disrupt things, to witness well by (as the subtitle says) “speak truth in a distracted age.”

Obviously, we live in a distracted and distracting age. Newbigin, for instance, importantly shows how pluralism leads to pluralizing; choice and change are constant and that only complicates our efforts, such as they are, to pursue substantive reflection and deep engagement with the world. Is Taylor right that we live in an age when all beliefs are “equally viable and real transcendence is less plausible?” What cross tensions!

Christian speaker and author and journalist Katelyn Beaty writes, “Noble’s teaching gives me hope for the possibility of enfleshed Christian witness in an age that is prone to mostly shrug at ultimate questions.”

Alan is feisty and fun and upbeat and, as you can tell from his work at the Christ and Pop Culture site, is very interested in the world of TV and video games and movies and sports and such. He also founded, with Michael Ware, an organization called “Public Faith” and has a lot to say about what Michael Gerson once called “heroic conservativism” and he offers a balanced political witness for the common good. He cares about cultural flourishing and he cares about civic life. In Disruptive Witness he casts a new vision for the evangelical imagination, helping us playfully poke the idols of the age, subverting the ideologies of the time, creating space for fresh conversations. (Do you recall how we raved about Os Guinness’s brilliant Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion? If you admired that, you will like this, I’m sure, even though it is a very different book.)

The advance IVP catalogue copy offers a helpful tease for what will be included in Disruptive Witness. They says it lays out “ individual, ecclesial, and cultural practices that disrupt our societies deep rooted assumptions and point beyond them to the transcendent grace and beauty of Jesus.”

Michael Horton says that “Alan Noble displays the disruptive resources of Christ’s Kingdom that are at hand. I will be recommending this book far and wide.”

Listen to what Karen Swallow Prior says:

If you want to know what the next generation of evangelicalism could and should look like, look to Alan Noble.

Why not order Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age today? Start with the disruptive, subversive practice of ordering not from the secularized facelessness of Amazon. That would make no sense. Call or email us today!

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos Press) $19.99 // sale price $15.99


Oh my, I can’t wait to review this book in greater detail when it comes out at the very end of the summer. We are planning a book release party for this remarkable work here at the bookstore in mid-September (the author will be doing some things in Lancaster on Friday September 14th so we hope to have here in Dallastown on that Friday night.) One of the great joys of promoting this book, and hosting an event, is that there are expert linocut prints created for each chapter by our pal Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books and World’s End Images; the original artwork will be on display at the Square Hal Gallery in the Lancaster Trust building and we hope to have some prints to show at our event as well.

Kudos to Brazos Press for including this handsome touch. Bustard, you might want to know, is doing a printmaking workshop at the legendary Glen Workshop sponsored by Image Journal. The prints done for each chapter of On Reading Well are remarkable in that they capture something of the essence of each story that literature Prof and book lover Karen Swallow Prior explores.

Prior is an ideal person to do a book like this – each chapter is on a particular work of literature, each disclosing a classic Christian virtue – because not only is she a fine Christian university lit teacher, but she herself tends to narrate her own life through the lens of the books she has read. We raved here at BookNotes about her fabulous 2012 memoir, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, which tells some of her life story by way of a connected set of book reviews, showing how key books have played a significant role in her life. (Has anyone thought to do this before? Has anyone done it so well?) Swallow has learned much from books throughout her life and we have been inspired listening in, reading over her shoulder, as it were, in Booked and subsequent articles and lectures. In the forthcoming On Reading Well she is a bit more didactic, explanatory, yet inviting, calling us to this journey of engaging good authors, reading well, for the sake of our own inner transformation and our life of faithfulness to Christ in the modern world.

One of my favorite books is by C. Christopher Smith (of the excellent, provocative Englewood Review of Books) who wrote Reading for the Common Good which is very much about how reading widely can be missional, building bridges of insight and wisdom in our churches and neighborhoods. He counsels not only that we read for formation, but that we also read for mission – realizing that books are tools of discipleship and incarnational Kingdom living in the world. It’s the kind of stuff I say in my own workshops about reading and the role of books. “Read for the Kingdom!” I sometimes cry out. Smith gets it.

Dr. Prior, who got her PhD from SUNY and is an award-winning English prof at Liberty University, has done a very significant biography of the literary figure, poet, and abolitionist colleague of William Wilberforce, Hannah More. There’s a poet and novelist for the common good, eh? She would certainly agree that reading well can be missional.

Ms Prior has written for The Washington Post and First Things and the Atlantic. She is a member of something called the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United State (like her beloved Wilberforce and Hannah More, she is an advocate for just treatment of animals.) Like John Fea and Alan Noble, above, she is our kind of scholar – thoughtful, deeply Christian, open to fresh ideas about the culture and our times, and able to hold her own in professional and secular venues. We admire her very much.

But, oh my, she is in her very special wheelhouse – one I want to be in when I settle down and grow up – in this extraordinary work. On Reading Well is not just another reminder of the value of good books, an inspirational reminder to read solid stuff. Of course it is that – don’t we book-lovers just love books about books? – and for anyone who cares about great literature, buying this is nearly a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want a Christian author reflecting deeply on The Great Gatsby and A Tale of Two Cities and Silence and Flannery O’Connor? My goodness, Hearts & Minds fans should be thrilled to hear of an evangelical engagement with Persuasion by Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych and so much more.

Did you get that? Yes, she studies and helps us learn much from Pilgrim’s Progress but also Tolstoy? She studies Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy? How many embrace the virtues of reading George Saunders and Edith Wharton? Are you feeling me here, people?

And here is the best part: this is, perhaps a bit unlike the general call to read deeply and widely by Smith in Reading for the Common God, or the amazingly fun and valuable Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga, or the many other overviews of great literature and what we can get out of them (for a view that isn’t necessarily Christian but wise and wonderful see The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living both by Will Schwalbe) Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books is a study of virtue. It draws a particular classical virtue from these works of literature and helps us learn how to embrace these virtues and be formed by them. The discussion questions that follow make it a great book for any book club but also makes On Reading Well useful for any spiritually-minded group that wants to grapple with call to character and being formed in the ways and virtues of Christ. If you’ve been reading Jamie Smith (just for instance) this talk about inner formation and virtue habits will ring true.

We will tell you more once the book comes out in the early fall but you should know that she explains nicely the role of books and reading in character formation – a notion that Leland Ryken says in his substantive foreword goes back to Aristotle and was championed in the Renaissance. He laments that such a morally infused style of reading was eroded to near collapse by the Enlightenment with an assault sustained in the standard approaches taught in public schools and colleges today. Ryken raves about Karen’s “revisionist agenda, which is, of course, nothing less than a return to the great tradition.”

The great emeritus professor insists that the achievement of On Reading Well is “of the highest order.” He says the book is “a monument to scholarship” (noting her copious research of all the right sources.”

I like that Dr. Ryken, though, also says this. Note it well:

I will confess that as a literary scholar I have always been somewhat resistant to moral criticism of literature because I fear it will become moralistic. But right from the start, Karen Swallow Prior puts these fears to rest. The moral dimension of literature is only one dimension of literature, she assures us, and it does not exist separate from the aesthetic form of a work. The moral viewpoint of a work is not stated abstractly but embodied in the particulars of the text, especially the characters.

Which is to say, a book like this about the ways books can help us become more virtuous and Christ-like must not be simplistic or pushy or turn into propaganda. The stories selected have to stand up as stories, which means they must be allusive and entertaining and captivating and any reflections on them must themselves be somewhat entertaining. Like a really good Bible commentary, ruminations on the text must not squash the text but must draw us into it. If On Reading Well isn’t a good read, it has failed.

Order it today and we’ll send it as soon as it comes, a bit before the official release date, I’m sure. You can see for yourself that these studies of Huckleberry Fin and The Road and “The Tenth of December” by George Saunders are as interesting and useful as I say. Will you grow in your passion for justice by her explorations of A Tale of Two Cities? Will you understand and deepen your own practice of the cardinal virtue of temperance by studying Gatsby? Will you become more faithfully chaste by reading Ethan Frome? How will her three book reviews of Silence, The Road, and The Death of Ivan Ilych help you manifest faith, hope, and love?

The introduction to this fantastic book is simply called “Read Well, Live Well.” I hope you want this for yourself and your family and your group. Why not plan to pre-order a bunch to read together? The black and white art and the detailed study questions will help. You won’t regret it.

The Edge Of Over There Shawn Smucker (Revell) $17.99 // sale price $14.39

DUE DATE: July 3, 2018

Well, perhaps you think that these hefty books are a bit much — serious-minded and culturally significant; important. Indeed they are. But how about another pre-order that is fun and engaging, captivating and – yes, if Karen Swallow Prior is right about how good stories can transform us – also important in its own artful way? How about a fun, upbeat, fantasy novel that is well written without being overly intense, that will grab you with a well-told story and give you many hours of pleasurable entertainment? How about an enchanting, supernatural thriller, perfect for summer or early fall?

I have not seen this forthcoming story yet but I can say a few things that might help convince Hearts & Minds friends and fans to pre-order this from us. Shawn Smucker is a very good writer. He’s somewhat local, hailing of an Amish background from Lancaster County. He’s done some self-publishing, some e-books, some speaking and travel, but broke out into the big-time with the first volume in this supernatural fantasy series. That wonderful little book was called The Day the Angles Fell which came out in hardcover in September of 2017. It was released in a paperback version last summer.

Happily, The Day the Angels Fell won a Christianity Today Best Book of 2017 award in the fiction genre. It has gotten quite a buzz, with some local (trusted) friends telling us that this guy is the real deal. To be honest we were a little late to the game, but we’re glad to have been made aware of how good he is. We’ve not met, so I’m not just puffing a friend here; I am sincere that this is a novel published by a Christian publishing house that deserves to be widely known. It is an adult novel but could be easily read by sophisticated teens. Tons of folks raved about the first one and many have been awaiting this sequel, The Edge of Over There where Abra Miller is summoned (in her search for a Tree of Life) to a portal in New Orleans, and has to contend with others that also want to follow into this gateway to Over There. We’ll have it here at the shop in early July so if you are one of those who have been eagerly anticipating it, on the edge of your seats, even, we can send on out as soon as we get ‘em in stock.

If Shawn Smucker and The Day the Angels Fell are new to you, why not pick it up in anticipation of the mid-summer release of The Edge of Over There? It would be a sweet thing to send out both, in fact. We can still get the first one in hardback (so it matches the hardback of Edge of…) or in a somewhat cheaper paperback edition. Just let us know which you prefer. We’ll do the 20% off either way.

Listen to these reviews of Smucker’s writing chops. It’s not every day you hear this sort of buzz, and we’re very happy to endorse his work and invite you to pick these up. Who knows, maybe we’ll have him in the shop one of these days – stay tuned!

Praise for The Day the Angels Fell

“Neil Gaiman meets Madeleine L’Engle. I read it in two days!”–Anne Bogel, Modern Mrs. Darcy”

Shawn Smucker enchants with a deftly woven tale of mystery and magic that will leave you not only spellbound but wanting more.”–Billy Coffey, author of There Will Be Stars

“The otherworldly and the mundane collide in Shawn Smucker’s The Day the Angels Fell, a humanizing tale of cosmic proportions.”–Foreword Reviews

The Day the Angels Fell has a nostalgic feel that reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s works.”–Ashlee Cowles, author of Beneath Wandering Stars and Below Northern Lights

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 // sale price $13.59

DUE DATE: JUNE 12, 2018

Okay, friends, here’s another that is surely one of the most anticipated books of the year. Love her or not, Rachel is a rock star in some progressive evangelical circles and her coming out with great passion for marriage equality and opposing fundamentalists of all sorts has made her nearly a cause célèbre and a Person of Interest in the culture wars. I’m probably more conventional than her in my theology, but what is frustrating in her high profile social media status is that some have forgotten that she is not only giving voice to a large group of people within the church but that she is also a very good writer. Like her pal Nadia Bolz-Weber, say, she can really turn a phrase and tell one a heckuva fun story. She’s a very good writer and for anyone that is captivated by punchy and entertaining contemporary memoir and blazing writing, she is one to follow.

I have no idea where she will come down on this weighty, freighted topic or what degree of scholarship or snark she will bring to her study of the Holy Scriptures. I do not think it will be any more dangerous than standard mainline perspectives – the subtitle, after all, is about “loving the Bible” as I am sure she does. As a former fundamentalist who – as she beautifully tells in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church – ends up a more moderate, liturgically-informed mainline Protestant, she surely doesn’t buy the literalism of her past. (She had broached this already in her first book about growing up in Dayton, Tennessee, what is called “Monkey Town” because of it’s famous faith vs. science Scopes Trial in 1925.) Okay, surprise, surprise, she’s not a fundamentalist and she doesn’t hold to old-school views of inerrancy. Good, since such views aren’t themselves Biblical anyway, owing more to rationalist worldviews of the Enlightenment.

I wish the publisher had made an advance copy of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again available, as I can’t imagine what all she covers, how she tells it, or how much actual argument is in the book for a new kind of hermeneutic. I saw a Chaim Potok quote in this twitter shot, which made me happy. I suspect it is mostly storytelling and memoir and will fit well with her other books.She’s a very smart cookie, has studied theology, and done the work of research and scholarship, but also is an entertaining storyteller. She is, I think, an important voice among others who are helping us all navigate faith in a wise and fruitful way here in “secular age” and in the land of Trump.

Dr. John Fea, above, shows what happens when we get off track, too easily conflating faith and some political ideology. Rachel’s story has been a sad one, a person hurt by the same sort of right-wing strictness that has hurt our body politic. If Fea gives us the big, historical picture documenting evangelical fear and havoc, Rachel Held Evans has told her particular story, often to very poignant effect.

I’m looking forward to this, as are thousands of others. If you would like us to send it to you as soon as it arrives, in early to mid-June, we are very eager to help. It would make a great book club choice, a fine discussion starter and a fun read for a small group that can be discerning, together. I think it will be the sort of book that ought to be discussed among friends. Why not order a few?


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BRAND NEW — “It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God” edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) ON SALE NOW

It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) regularly $19.99  ON SALE 10% OFF — $17.99

As most BookNotes readers know, we here at Hearts & Minds are passionate about stocking books that relate historic Christian faith to the complexities of modern life. That includes offering books that can serve as resources for those wanting to serve God well in various spheres of life, in different areas or arenas within society’s many institutions, sub-cultures and neighborhoods. We believe that the God who created the world and who became incarnate in it cares fiercely about our material lives in the world and it seems that we are one of the only Christian bookstores in the country that has whole sections of the shop dedicated to showing off wise and thoughtful books about how live faithfully in various spheres of culture. We stock books on science and architecture and sociology and engineering and economics and art and urban planning and philosophy and sex and farming. From family life to political life, from work to worship, God cares and we enjoy surprising customers by highlighting books that aren’t often found in many religious bookshops: racial justice and mathematics, pop culture and psychotherapy, literature and third world development, environmental science and poetry. We are all called to bear God’s image in this hurting world of wonder and books are tools – and healthy bread for the journey – to help us discover our vocations, honor God in our work, help create a more just society, and a flourishing culture. We love hearing about how our books help followers of Jesus become the salt and light He calls us to be, scattered in every area of life.

We regularly revisit this topic, explaining this holistic “all of life redeemed” theological vision which we and our staff attempt to bring to our task as booksellers, and hope that being reminded of the many different categories and kinds of books offered here – “bearing fresh olive leaves” as our friend Calvin Seerveld allusively put it – might be a blessing.

Of course, as we often have to say, our inventory is not on line — just years of our archived BookNotes newsletter and the many books we celebrate there most still on sale. You can use the website’s inquiry page for any sorts of questions you may have, though, and we can develop lists and suggestions to those who ask, on almost anything. We like to say that we can get almost anything in print.

But there are some books that we get particularly enthusiastic about.

Which brings us to a book that we are very, very happy to announce, a book for which many of us have been eagerly awaiting. It is called It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God.

It is the third in a series of handsomely created books about the arts, each edited and designed by our friend Ned Bustard. Ned is a Lancaster-based graphic designer and steward of a small indie press, Square Halo Books. Square Halo Books is a publishing venture that is widely respected for doing books about faith and the arts. Although they have published over a dozen books about Christianity and art, and several beautiful art books, they have released a few others not directly about the arts – Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Donald T. Williams, for instance, my own Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life and a pair of books on Genesis and on Revelation (The Beginning and The End.) Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grownups is remarkable. Another recent one from Square Halo that isn’t exactly on the arts (and that we really, really like) is by Tom Becker, called Good Posture: Engaging Current Culture with Ancient Faith. In many ways it is nearly a gentle, fun, manifesto for their publishing program. We highly recommend it and, like all their other books, are happy to stock it here at the shop.

I might suggest, though, that their most important books have been a wonderful pair called It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God. Both bring together theorists and practitioners to reflect on some important aspect about the art and practice of doing faith-inspired art. In both, they’ve had contributions from well-known writers (Timothy Keller, Sandra McCracken, Gregory Wolfe, Makoto Fujimura) and many who are not known outside of their particular field of expertise but are excellent in what they do. To curate such edited volumes has been both a challenge and a joy for Ned as it is no small matter finding artists and musicians who are theologically mature, good at their craft, who have been intentional about thinking about how they integrate faith and art, and who can actually describe and write about their own particular experiences in the arts. Some painters or musicians do their work very, very well, but are not particularly adept at talking about it, let alone writing a chapter inviting others to learn or take inspiration from them. And, sadly, as with the books integrating Christian thinking about other professions, there just isn’t the demand for these kinds of books that there should be. As you can imagine, It Was Good volume one and volume two were both labors of love, and both are, thankfully, absolutely must-have resources for anyone remotely interested in the creative arts. Alongside a handful of others, they are modern-day classics in the genre of theologically informed aesthetic vision that can inform our own appreciation of the arts.

You can read my lively BookNotes reviews of IWG: Making Art HERE and IWG: Making Music HERE.

The brand new It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God is unlike any other book on the market so it would be a great gift for anyone you know who is in, or aspires to be in, the world of the performing arts.

IWG number three includes 22 easily read chapters and is arranged in a format similar to the previous two. That is, there are somewhat allusive chapter titles that seem to correspond with (often) one-word themes. For instance, there is a chapter on hospitality, one on listening, another few on story, and a useful one on expectations. These are helpful for anyone – who couldn’t stand to be reminded of how to trust God more in a chapter that starts with an actor crying in a dressing room when she learned that she didn’t get a part she had hoped for? Although many of these chapters are fairly simple, with commonplace wisdom, they are firstly written to and for other performing artists which suddenly makes them a gift of great grace, especially for those starting out in their work in the performing arts. One great chapter on marriage is written by a woman in theater whose husband is a traveling musician; as one who works with his spouse in a family business, I found the chapter very helpful. The opening chapter by Ned Bustard on what it means that we are to live for God’s glory is, again, while designed for artists, obviously, is general and insightful enough that it would be well worth reading for any of us. His opening story of a young cellist in his church and her fear that she wasn’t able to glorify God in her musical endeavors is telling, and his apologetic for God-glorifying art and culture and living is well worth reading more than once.

If some of the chapters are light and nicely inspiring a few are very good in their mature expositions of the calling of artists. Ransom Fellowship’s Denis Haack has a fabulous rumination on story (as a way of describing the allure and importance of contemporary film.) After quoting a line by a critic in The Atlantic, who said “Fiction can briefly offer the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” Haack writes:

To live in a world populated by creatures made for story, the calling to be a storyteller is a high calling, indeed. Making good films is a spiritual act, pleasing to God even if there isn’t a single religious thing, narrowly defined, in the film.

There are two pieces by sound engineers—on one the splendor of sound recording (you will never skip that part of the Academy Awards again!) and the other by a guy who works the soundboard at live concerts. One of the very best chapters is on “incarnation” and offers a theology of acting among “exploited image bearers.” It is very impressive that there is a chapter by classical dancer Jenifer Ringer, who had a best selling memoir of her work and struggles with the New York City Ballet, Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet. I really liked the two pieces on horror, one by the impressive screenwriter Brian Godawa. Brian Chan’s chapter about monsters explains how “the pained villain speaks to our humanity.” Again, this stuff will be very useful to those working in the film industry, say, or who are dancers or actors. But I think those of us who are not professionals or working in the arts will certainly enjoy them. I sure did.

For instance, I was very moved by an excellent chapter on “consistency” by an actress in New York, Elizabeth Richard. (She happens to be a Tony Award nominee.) As she told the story of Estelle Getty, who played Sophia on The Golden Girls and garnered numerous Emmy nominations, and of an enduring producer she has worked with and even the long, hard work of Nobel Prize wining playwright George Bernard Shaw, I was strangely inspired. (She also referred back to a story in It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God which indicates she’s done some of the reading and thinking so necessary to be faithful in this arena.) Also, I was very, very impressed with a captivating chapter about stage and set design. Marlaina Seay’s emphasis on sin was almost a bit heavy-handed but her obvious joy in creating appropriate mood-enhancing lines and spaces with just the right lighting and color had beautiful hints of redemption, making it one of the strongest pieces in the collection.

If anyone needs a book that often speaks clearly to those who might, for stuffy theological reasons, have doubts about the performing arts, know that most of these authors are theologically conventional and obviously involved in evangelical church life. There is no lack of piety and nothing inappropriately edgy or odd. One of the early chapters describes a “green room” ministry that artists can have doing quiet evangelism and mentoring among other performers. One great piece on performance itself starts with an episode that will seem odd to non-fundamentalists, when one pastor worried about too much inflection and drama in how someone read the Scripture in church! These essays ought not be off-putting to more mainline denominational or ecumenical readers – in fact, perhaps the strongest piece in the book includes a serious (Reformed Protestant) study of Pope John Paul II’s important and generative “Theology of the Body” and its implications for artists and actors, particularly. Penned by Camille Hallstrom, who founded the theatre department at Covenant College, it is very, very good. Entitled “Dignity” and exploring the imago dei,it is perhaps the most important chpater for actors and actress in the whole book, exploring profound ethical and artistic matters of what to do on stage. It even ends with flourish, sharing a poem by former Minister of Culture in Nicaragua, Ernesto Cardenal.

The back few pages that offer the biographies, resumes, and professional accomplishments of the contributing authors is itself an amazing read – the qualifications of most of those writing here are top-shelf. They have mixed sound with expert recording artists, they have premiered plays in prestigious locations, they have danced with the best ballets in the world, they have made award- winning documentaries. There is a house manager of a major playhouse, there are those who have worked on well-known TV shows, there are those who teach in well-respected university departments. Whether one is drawn to the stage or enjoys serious TV, whether one is a dancer or a film-maker or actress, there is something in this book for you. Like its first two predecessors, It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God is a rare resource and a great read.

Two very impressive pieces bookend It Was Good: Performing Arts for the Glory of God. The first is a short foreword exclaiming how very useful this book is, written by David H. Kim, the Director of the Center for Faith and Work of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. (David helped edit the Faith and Work Study Bible, in fact, and brings his deep Kuyperian worldview to bear in ministry with Manhattan business people, educators, professionals of all kind, including, of course, artists.) He suggests that although this book is designed to help artists relate their faith in meaningful ways to their calling in their performing careers or avocations, it is also important for all of us. To be schooled in caring about aesthetics and the arts and the value of performance and the practical life of artists is itself a good thing for us all.

Kim writes:

Square Halo has done the church a great service. With each chapter, you will encounter the creativity and craft of those involved in various aspects of the performing arts. Through each chapter, my hope is that you will discover the reality of a Gospel that awakens the church to see the passing brokenness of this world through renewed eyes. A church that grasps the reality of pervasive grace is one that is compelled to bring hopeful works into all aspects of our world. Our current culture is in desperate need of just this kind of witness.

David ends his lovely essay where he began, describing the impact the performing arts can have:

I hope you will engage the performing arts and that through those experiences your growing attentiveness to our world will allow you to see that despite the tragedy of its brokenness there remains the glorious promise of unimaginable renewal.

The closing chapter of the book is one of the very finest. It is by an increasingly well-known film critic, Alissa Wilkinson, now a culture reporter and film critic at Vox.com. It is a wonderful piece, well written, as you would expect, and illustrating the profound sort of perspective that she has developed on her task as critic. She starts with a look at the negative reputation of the critic by noting the “skinny, sour-faced restaurant critic” Anton Ego from Pixar’s Ratatouille, and the way in which film critic Pauline Kael famously destroyed director David Lean’s confidence and career after his Bridge on the River Kwai.

“But is this the only path for the critic?” she asks. Can the critic actually have her work properly directed by love? Can the good critic help build culture rather than tear it down?

Wilkinson’s insights are profound here as she offers her reflections on “horizons, gestures, and postures.” She is channeling a bit of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, and James K.A. Smith (as she did somewhat in the co-authored book How to Survive the Apocalypse about the political implications of zombies, et al.) and it makes for a particularly thoughtful, insightful contribution.

Square Halo Books is to be commended putting out these good books. Kudos to Mr. Bustard for the behind-the-scenes work of nurturing relationships with so many artists in so many fields from so many venues which has borne fruit in this series of three It Was Good books. The bibliography in the back of this new one is thorough, but not exhausting, listing only the very best faithful scholars (of the likes of Jeremy Begbie, Calvin Seerveld, Madeline L’Engle, Cameron Anderson, Steve Turner, Sandra Bowden, William Edgar, Dorothy Sayers, and the like.) making it an ideal reference tool.

David Kim is right – Mr. Bustard has given a great gift to God’s people. Many others have also offered very cool rave views of IWG: Performing Arts… Scholar and professor William Edgar (himself a jazz pianist) says it is “must reading for anyone hoping to understand how the arts work for a Christian perspective.” Max McLean writes, “This is a wise book written by experienced practitioners who have been in the trenches of creating art from a Christian worldview. It ain’t easy, and if you want to try it, I suggest you read this book.”

Image journal’s Gregory Wolfe gives a “standing ovation.” And isn’t that what any performing artist hopes for? All I can ad is “encore, encore!



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FIVE BRAND NEW BOOKS: “Everybody Always” (Bob Goff), “The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson” (Stanley Hauerwas), “The Path Between Us” (Suzanne Stabile), “Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age” (Craig Detweiler), “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race” (John Perkins) ON SALE NOW


Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Setbacks and Difficulty People Bob Goff (Nelson) $16.99  I can’t wait to read this brand new release by one of my favorite people and one of heckuva fun writer. Goff is a great storyteller and, man, does he have a lot to talk about – his work fighting international slavery, reforming laws in Uganda or his well known efforts forming schools (even in war zones in Somalia and Iraq) make for great testimony. So this is going to be great. He is a lawyer, motivational guy, and great dad and husband and friend to people all over the world. Did I mention the Somalia and Iraq thing? He’s full of good humor and seems to be fearless. The book is going to be great.

Those that know his hilariously moving Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World  (Thomas Nelson; $16.99) knows of the capers Goff gets himself into and the clever, inviting way he uses his world-class escapades as ways to help inspire us all to love others well, to do good stuff, to be involved in God’s work in the world and to be all in. Never have I heard the phrase “skin in the game” so well used.


If you haven’t read his first collection of wild pieces, or the very good book by his wife and partner Sweet Maria, by the way, called Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want (B+H; $17.99) you certainly should and I’m confident that you’ll enjoy them and will be pressing them into the hands of anybody you know who likes to read. The word of mouth buzz on Love Does has been one of the coolest things we’ve seen in our years of bookselling; everywhere we go people know this book. (And, happily, Love Does and Love Lives Here are the sort of books that can hook even though who don’t typically read much.) I also recommend his Love Does DVD curriculum ($29.99) which is a fun five-week course with Bob doing his Bob thing, leaking Jesus over everybody and somehow both reassuring and challenging and equipping us.

I have only read a small bit of Everybody Always and I can say I am sure it is an entertaining and important as Love Does. I know I need it. How ‘bout you? Isn’t the question intriguing: what happens when we give away love like we’re made of it?

Goff is a witty wordsmith, and it shows up even in his little epigram in the front – we are rivers, not reservoirs, he says. We don’t have to store up our love, but can give it away.

The preface, again, is stunning, so clever and so right on. We’ve been waiting for this book for a while and are delighted to hear which stories strike you best. “Whether losing his shoes while skydiving solo or befriending a Uganda witch doctor,” it says on the back, “Bob steps into life with a no-limits embrace of others that is as infectious as it is extraordinarily ordinary. Everybody, Always reveals how we can do the same.”

The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson Stanley Hauerwas (Eerdmans) $21.00 There are many who know that Dr. Hauerwas, Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University, is one of the most important living theologians today, a deep philosopher, a colorful speaker, and a vibrant and robust proponent of character formation by submitting to Christian practices within the church. That is, the church shapes and forms us to be God’s people in the world that, if we are following Jesus, at least, is going to be controversial and counter-cultural. He has written bunches of books, some quite scholarly, and is known all over the globe.

United Methodist gentleman and scholar Will Willimon has written with Hauerwas a lot – softening his edge only just a little – and, within another theological stream, James K.A. Smith has interacted with his work a wisely, even in his most recent volume, Waiting for the King. My friend Steve Garber’s first book, Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, spends considerable time engaging Hauerwas’s A Community of Character. Hauerwas even wrote a truly lovely book with Jean Vanier called Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness. Stanley, whose father was a bricklayer (his memoir is called Hannah’s Child) has significant interest in a theology of disability and his work with Vanier (who shares life with those with intellectual handicaps) makes sense. Despite his vast intellect and his reputation for passionate teaching and preaching, he is down to Earth and in many ways a plainspoken, wise elder who has himself found solidarity with the suffering.

And so, this book will have wide appeal, certainly for anyone who appreciates Hauerwas or who have wondered about him but didn’t know what book to read first. (This is it!)  Further, it will be appealing for anyone who wants to see how a set of letters describing different virtues can inspire even young people.  It certainly will be a great book for an older teen, perhaps a thoughtful high school graduate?

The letters that became the handsome hardback book The Character of Virtue started when Hauerwas wrote a thoughtful letter upon the infant baptism of his godchild, Laurence Wells (son of famous Anglican leader Sam Wells and Jo, his theologian wife and former Duke faculty member.)

Hauerwas, who admits that his own life may not be as virtuous as the letters he writes about the virtues, does a beautiful job writing a letter to Laurie once a year for sixteen years. In each letter he explains a bit about their life – they are personal letters, after all, to a real child and family friend – but mostly expounds on the particular virtue he is helping young Laurie to understand and embrace.

As you may guess, these are not childish letters and the young godson surely wouldn’t have understood them until years later. He does talk about pets and games (and politics) but, again, they are mature ruminations that I am sure the lad Laurie did not read until much later in life. But for us, older or younger adults reading over their shoulders, it is simply spectacular. What a set of epistles!  It is, as Lauren Winner has said, “a distillation of Stanley Hauerwas’s thought and a distillation of love.”

James Martin, SJ
— editor of America magazine
“Bound to become a classic, Stanley Hauerwas’s wise, gentle, and compassionate letters to his godson are, in fact, timeless teachings from a great spiritual master to all of us.”
N. T. Wright
— University of St. Andrews
“Seeing Stanley Hauerwas’s treatment of the virtues through the eyes of Sam Wells’s growing son, reflecting one minute on vast reaches of truth and the next on close-up political and personal challenges, all with a light touch and characteristic Texan grit–this is a treat. A book to read and savor.”
James K. A. Smith
— author of You Are What You Love and How (Not) to Be Secular
“Hauerwas’s marvelous letters in The Character of Virtue are not only wisdom for those growing in the faith; they are also a model for how all of us can come alongside parents in the hard good work of raising children in the faith.”
Lauren F. Winner
— author of Mudhouse Sabbath and Wearing God
“A distillation of Stanley Hauerwas’s thought, and a distillation of love–these letters should find a home on your bookcase. But make sure that it is easily accessed, as you’ll want to take The Character of Virtue down often, flip it open to any page, and immerse yourself in its loving, bracing wisdom.”

The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships Suzanne Stabile (IVP) $24.00 and The Path Between Us Study Guide (IVP; $9.00)There are a lot of diagnostic tools to help us understand ourselves and others, from Meyers-Briggs to Love Languages and more. Learning about the nine Enneagram types has been incredibly popular this last year or two with several good books recently released. Customer keep telling us how much these books mean to them and how they’ve enjoyed these insights. Among our favs of recent titles include The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher Heuertz (Zondervan; $18.99) and Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling (IVP; $16.00.) But Suzanne Stabile’s first major book, co-authored by the always great and so interesting Episcopal priest Ian Cron, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (IVP; $24.00) has been by far the biggest seller and most discussed Enneagram book in years. This is, in part, I think, because it is so lively and fun and also because Stabile and Cron have had tremendously popular podcasts. It’s a great book.

The Path Between Us is a new sequel to The Road Back to You but can be read without having read the first one (especially if you already know something about the Enneagram types.) It really is about how we see ourselves, how we see others, and, most importantly, how the nine “types” see and experience relationships. Oh my. That is, in a manner similar to (but more nuanced and deeper than) the “love languages” project, it is inviting us to deeper, better, relationships and to be more gracious in understanding how others work. Stabile is known as a master teacher, a great communicator, and has been doing workshops on this for years – she’s a gifted storyteller and many have proclaimed she’s the best at this stuff, anywhere. Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, for instance, says, “She is without question the best Enneagram teacher out there.” Another author says of The Path Between Us “you will reference it for years to come.”

Richard Rohr, who has himself written a massive book on the topic, says:

Few people can teach you the Enneagram with the genuine insight, humor, and potential for real growth and change better than Suzanne Stabile! Savor every page. You, your friends and family, and the universe will all benefit!

I have said this with the first book, The Path Between Us and I will say it again here: although I often don’t try to push “study guides” and “workbooks” I do think in this case the workbook is very, very useful as a tool to process this information. This is the kind of content that has to be worked with a bit and the study booklet they’ve created is very highly recommended.

Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age Craig Detweiler (Brazos Press) $19.99 I love the writing and work of Craig Detweiler who has been one of the leading voices offering a thoughtful evangelical voice in the studies of popular culture, the modern zeitgeist, and faithful ways to navigate the world of entertainment, digital culture, video games, movies, and such. We take his book iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives almost everywhere we go, hoping that it will inspire folks to attend more deeply about the very water we swim in, to discern a bit about the times, being better equipped to follow Jesus’ command to be “in but not of” the world. Detweiler does his good work, linking theology and Christian perspectives with social and cultural and historical analysis, so I trust him a lot. I was delighted to learn that he just recently took a new position as the president of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, a graduate school founded by our friend Dan Allender. What a good gift he will be to them.

This brand new one is extraordinary and I can’t wait to read it. If you have any sort of open-minded reading group that studies good non-fiction, I’m sure this would make a good selection to ponder and discuss. His main point, I gather, is that what seems like a culture of narcissism – the incessant taking of pictures of oneself – may be a signal of transcendence, some kind of hint about our significance as people made in the image of God. By tracing the history of things like self portraits in the art world he Detweiler shows deftly that this isn’t a new thing after all.

We have often said that the most important book (ever) on the topic of the image of God is Richard Middleton’s magisterial The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1and as potent as it is, it is, obviously, a book of Biblical research. Richard’s occasional co-author Brian Walsh has a extraordinary collection of talks and sermons that powerfully draw on the themes of what it means to image God, especially in socio-political regimes of secularization, idols and oppression (such as our own?) called Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time. These are among books I return to often, to dip in and ponder and that I use in my own teaching and talks.

Craig Detweiler moves in a somewhat different direction in that this is less about what it means to image God in contrast to the false gods of the dominant culture of economic idolatry, say, but more about how through what we might call common grace we can find overlaps and great joys in the search for meaning in our selfie age. Middleton primarily gives us the Biblical content and Walsh powerfully critiques the time that it is in late Western capitalism and their work with the imago dei is brilliant. Another one of my favorite books on the nature of the modern self is the tremendous sleeper (that is, it is not terribly well known) by Mark Sayers called The Vertical Self and it certainly exposes our “self obsession.”  Detweiler is paying attention to the recent development of digital culture, of the experience economy, of how we are navigating this cultural moment psychologically and spiritually. Sure he looks at the over-emphasis of some things – Daniel White Hodge calls it in his blurb a look at “the good, the bad, and the very ugly” – but it isn’t mostly a critique. It is a love-song to our current age, an invitation, a re-framing by looking at history and how others have viewed the self, showing what might really be going on. He is asking how we do that —  think about the self, our inherent dignity, framing our self-understanding in light of the history of this sort of thing — in these days given our instant culture of selfies. Is there a continuity between Augustine’s memoirs and Rembrandt’s portraits and Kim Kardashian’s twitter feed?

Can we learn something about human happiness by reflection on Greco-Roman art or the early church fathers or, say, by reflecting on the rise of modern photography (perhaps through the lens of Susan Sontag’s  famous On Photography?)

This is fabulous stuff, brilliant, I’d say, with a extraordinarily rich set of footnotes and citations — wow. Detweiler is bringing a wonderfully learned, historical approach but also, it seems, a sweet sensibility, looking for the good, despite the “culture of narcissism,” helping us even delight in some of what is happening these recent days.

Here is the table of contents:
1. Introduction: How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Selfie?
2. Reflected Beauty: The Ancient Self
3. Mastering the Mirror: A Renaissance of the Self
4. Reframing Memories: The Literary Self
5. Seizing the Light: Photographing Ourselves
6. Behind the Mask: The Psychological Self
7. Instapressure: The Selfie Today
8. Augmented and Transfigured: The Self

As you can see from these rave endorsements, which I just had to copy, below, Selfies is a book rich in church history, in art history, in the contours of the rise psychology and technology and draws on great insights from inter-disciplinary cultural studies. And it yet is readable – it even has discussion questions, hinting that it could be used for book clubs or Sunday school classes. We highly recommended it to thoughtful readers  Check out these reviews:

Selfies helps us journey beyond our narcissistic culture, giving us language to move away from an ego-filled self-expression to our true identities hidden in Christ. Reflecting Detweiler’s impressive grasp of art history and deep wisdom attained in media ecology, Selfies is both an invaluable guide for understanding our techno world with all its trappings and a book full of delightful observations. — Makoto Fujimura, Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts, Fuller Theological Seminary

I don’t know anyone who can connect the dots between centuries of church history and twenty-first-century selfies like Detweiler. This book has changed the way I think about the images I see and share as well as the image of God in all of us. — Kara Powell, Fuller Youth Institute; coauthor of Growing Young

Detweiler takes us on a fabulous journey through history in search of the first selfie. Stories of Narcissus, Rembrandt, Bayard, and Kim Kardashian provide a fascinating backdrop for understanding why it feels so good to get the perfect shot of me. — Peggy Kendall, Bethel University; author of Reboot: Refreshing Your Faith in a High-Tech World

A Rosetta stone for people of faith bewildered by the seeming narcissism of the ubiquitous selfie. Detweiler taps the collective wisdom found in Greek mythology, art history, psychoanalysis, and media criticism to help translate biblical principles to this troubling use of technology. Selfies encourages readers to view the images of others and ourselves with compassion and curiosity and to see past the image to the collective longing to be known. — Lisa Swain, Biola University

This brilliant book does not simply bash media but critically explores it while presenting the good, the bad, and the very ugly. A must-read for anyone who spends even a minute on the internet or near any media outlet. — Daniel White Hodge, North Park University; author of Homeland Insecurity: A Hip-Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context

One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race John M. Perkins (Moody Press) $15.99 This is a handsome linen hardback, sans dust jacket, with nice red endpapers and it seems to have some gravitas to it. It is said that this is Dr. Perkins’s last book. I don’t know about that but I am sure that any time this African American leader writes something, many people should buy it, pass it around, share his work widely, and make your friends and churches know how important it is. If this is aid to be his “parting words” you should pay attention.  There is a lot packed in here and he speaks plainly. In fact, he asks for our willingness to listen since he is an elder and doesn’t have time to mince words.

Dr. John Perkins has been an evangelical voice of black leadership development and service to the poor and civil rights and racial reconciliation for decades and, now in his late 80s (he as born in the 1930s to a sharecropping family in rural Mississippi) he wants to share thoughts about his many years doing God’s work. He has observed a lot, lived through a lot, suffering a lot, gotten numerous honorary degrees, and has learned much in his walk with the Lord and from his work in the movement for a better world. From the role of lament to the power of forgiveness, from racial tensions and fear to how to overcome them, he here offers profound and succinct insight.  There are nine good chapters and a study guide making this ideal for a book group or Bible study group.

His last book, by the way, was called Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (which is now out in paperback, by the way for $15.99) and in that, too, we have this sense that he’s calling us more powerfully than ever before to repent of bigotry and towards reconciliation and to remain faithful at these tasks of doing justice and making a difference.

Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot wrote a great afterword for One Blood and it offers a great reminder of the need too keep fighting the good fight, in the power of love. Throughout the book there are some other pastors who have chimed in, offering glimpses into how some churches have embodied and lived out this message Perkin’s brings. There are some prayers, some verses to look up, some thought-provoking questions, so it’s ideal, especially to give to rising leaders or younger folks.


As Dr. Perkin’s himself says, explaining the urgency of “last words”:

In many ways this is a short book about everything I want the church to know before I leave this place.  This is what I want you – the church – to know. This is my manifesto.


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Honoring the Radical King — and some books to help us learn ON SALE

This was an article that I wrote for our local paper, the York Daily Record, who was kind enough to run it as an op-ed piece on Sunday. It’s on their YDR webpage, too. I’ve added more books below then the few I had in the article in the paper and described them a bit. I thought you might want to see it, and see the books listed. They are on sale and you can use our secure order form page by clicking the link below.

Early morning, April four

Shots ring out in the Memphis sky

Free at last, they took your life

They could not take your pride

A whole generation of millennials learned the date of Martin Luther King’s assassination not from their history books but from the most important rock band of their era, U2, and their powerful song Pride (In the Name of Love.) Those of us who remember that awful date because we followed Dr. King in the harsh days of 1968 were reminded of what happened at the Lorraine Motel by Bono and I, for one, am grateful.

Those shots rang out 50 years ago last Wednesday.

Even those churches with a vision of civil rights and social justice – which is to say Roman Catholics, most mainline denominational Protestant congregations and increasingly, some evangelicals — don’t teach much about King or his vision, let alone his death. My sense is that many historically Black and Latino churches do not much, either.

Which is odd, since Dr. King was one of the most overtly Christian public intellectuals of our time and one of the most eloquent preachers in American history. He remains a lively interpreter of Christ’s call to make a difference in the world. The shallow intellect and lax moral qualities of today’s celebrity preachers, from Jerry Falwell to Franklin Graham to Joel Olsteen, put into high relief the caliber of the likes of King and his colleagues in the civil rights movement.

Granted, King himself had his own besetting sins and foibles. (The scene in the must-see film Selma when King calls gospel singer Mahalia Jackson late at night to sing to him his favorite hymn because he was so scared is based on a true incident.) He and his associates, like all of us, had feet of clay. Yet, America hasn’t in years seen the likes of public theologians such as those that marched with King – just think of the Jewish leader Abraham Heschel, black Baptist preacher and King’s Lieutenant Ralph Abernathy, or the Presbyterian William Sloane Coffin, converted to public justice issues after a stint in the CIA. These were leaders that were well read, deeply conversant in the best American political theory, and profoundly committed to thoughtful engagement with Scripture.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King many have said nice things about him; radio shows played clips from the “I Had a Dream Speech” and even those who care little about his teachings – Christian nonviolence, a radical critique of empire and materialism, the dignity of all people, including the prisoner and the poor – will clamber to pay homage.

I want to cry out when I hear ministers (of any race) and public officials (of any party) quoting King as if they know something about him or care about his social agenda when it is evident they do not. (Mike Huckabee scolded Black Lives Matters activists saying King wouldn’t have approved when that was not self-evident. How dare he suggest he cares what King thought when in so many ways he obviously does not?) I sometimes wonder how many people who cite him have read even a single of his many books?

Do we recall what the great preacher was doing in Memphis that fateful April day? He was taking his stand with underpaid garbage workers, helping their union fight for fair wages against a system stacked against the poor of all colors. He was exhausted, working harder than ever, not just for desegregation – the movement was making headway on the racial integration of lunch counters, schools, and voting rights – but against poverty, against corporate malfeasance and crony capitalism that oppressed those in the third world and kept folks poor here at home. One of his most fiery speeches was preached at a church in New York exactly one year earlier in which he passionately and unequivocally condemned the Vietnam war. It was so blistering even the New York Times criticized it.

As Jason Sokol, author of the new The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, in a concluding chapter “From Outlaw to Saint”,

Americans were able to admire King because they picked and chose which parts of his career they wanted to embrace. They scrubbed his message and blunted his meaning. Eventually, the historical King – a courageous dissident who unsettled the powerful –would be replaced by a mythical one.  Many white Americans concentrated on that single line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and effectively reduced his life to one quotation. They began to appropriate King’s legacy and wield it in their own causes.

In his last years Rev. King increasingly tempered the optimism of “The Dream” insisting that for many it had become a nightmare. Yet, he continued to share his own faith in the gospel. Many have heard his tired but reassuring words on the evening of April 3rd about not being afraid of dying since he knew he’d go to heaven; he was a preacher, after all, and his agenda for social righteousness was motivated by deep, personal faith.

But he also pressed harder than ever to – as the Biblical prophet Amos put it – “let justice roll down” and to (as the prophet Isaiah put it) “break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.” He understood what Jesus meant when he said that the “weightier matters of the law” are justice and mercy. Perhaps because Martin was so rooted in the prophetic ethics of Biblical faith, it isn’t surprising that black Christian philosopher Cornel West has called him “The Radical King.”

We must reject the milk-toast view of King the noble reformer, safe and domesticated. We should familiarize ourselves with his profound theological tradition of Biblical reflection on themes of public justice and liberation. We should ponder his vision of being a global citizen, caring about the hungry abroad and rising up to be assertive peacemakers in a world of warriors. We should honor his commitments to reform the social architecture of society and the values that undergird it, which, of course, demands some willingness to bring prophetic critique to the status quo and the driving forces of the culture. Inspired by the Reverend King we should be glad for those who stand against police brutality, who work for better health care policy, who are welcoming of immigrants and refugees, who demand firm legislation that upholds the cause of the hurting. Like Dr. King, and the Hebrew prophet Isaiah he so loved, we must cry out to legislators saying “Woe to them that decree unrighteous decrees…who turn aside the poor.”

A good place to determine if we want to align ourselves with Dr. King’s vision is to read books by and about him.

At our Dallastown bookstore we once got an alarming, near-death threat shoved under our door for featuring books by the great preacher. But we shall not be moved. We will continue to promote books about King’s philosophy of nonviolence and will continue to resource those who want to work for social change, connecting human flourishing and the common good to the great American experiment that King spoke about so eloquently

Here are several for starters.  All on sale.


The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster) $16.00  Taylor Branch is widely respected for his massive, magisterial three-volume history of “American in the King Years.” This one is a smaller, vivid, accessible summary of the bigger set and offers helpful background and texture to King’s work. The best way to learn the most important episodes of the civil rights movement; highly recommended even though they are not all about Dr. King.



March Book One, March Book Two, March Book Three John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Mate Powell (Top Shelf Productions) $14.95, $19.95, $19.95  I hope you know these excellently done, slightly oversized graphic novels that tell the biography of this grand civil rights leader who worked closely with King. Congressman Lewis, as you may know, is the only living main stage speaker from the famous March on Washington and, of course, was a leader at Selma and beyond.  While not only about King, it is a great way into these stories and that era, especially for those who appreciate comic books and graphic novels.

Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Stephen Oates (Harper) $19.99  This has won numerous awards is still widely considered one of the very best biographies of King.

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference  David Garrow (William Morrow) $22.99  The respected historian won the Pulitzer Prize for this beautiful, painstaking study of King’s SCLC years. We should all know about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and this book tells it brilliantly.

Martin Luther King Jr. for Armchair Theologians  Rufus Burrow (Westminster John Knox) $18.00  I hope you know these “Armchair Theologians” books — they really are very interesting, complete with a few helpful cartoons. They aren’t really whimsical, but they are designed to study serious stuff about various theologians and their intellectual influences. There are bunches of them (on Luther, Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, Aquinas, and more.) This one is solid, interesting, helpful, fun. You will learn a lot, I’m sure.



Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero Vincent Harding (Orbis) $16.00  I have long admired the colorful Harding, a storyteller of the first order, a passionate and decent leader of the movement. (His There Is a River is another classic in the literature of the black struggle for freedom in America.)  He knows the stories, he knows why we must keep telling them, and he offers here a hard reminder of what King stood for.




Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story Martin Luther King, Jr. (Beacon Press) $16.00  This was King’s first book and wonderfully documents the drama of the famous bus boycott that catapulted him to the national spotlight. I often say this is one of my own personal favorite books and it shows not only King coming to terms with Biblical nonviolence (his seminary professors tried to talk him out of it) and how the famous bus boycott got organized.

Where Do We Go From here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King, Jr. (Beacon Press) $16.00 This handsome companion volume to Stride Toward Freedom is the last book Dr. King wrote. This edition has the famous foreword by Coretta and a recent introduction by the great Vincent Harding. Powerful stuff.

Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation Jonathan Rieder (Bloomsbury) $16.00  King’s short letter written from a jail cell to moderate, sympathetic clergy, remains one of the classics of American literature; the rhetoric and eloquence of it is nothing short of brilliant. Professor Rieder explores the setting and the implications of this period of King’s life. It is widely considered a major contribution and was highly reviewed when it came out a few years ago.



Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church Edward Gilbreath (IVP) $16.00  Gilbreath is an exceptionally thoughtful and well informed black evangelical; his 2008 book Reconciliation Blues is an honest study of white Christianity.  I think this is an excellent bit of research, one which Curtiss Paul DeYoung calls “magnificent.” One reviewer wrote:

 “In this book African American journalist Edward Gilbreath explores the place of that letter in the life and work of Dr. King. Birmingham Revolution is not simply a work of historical reflection. Gilbreath encourages us to reflect on the relevance of King’s work for the church and culture of our day. Whether it’s in debates about immigration, economic redistribution or presidential birth certificates, race continues to play a role in shaping society. What part will the church play in the ongoing struggle?”

I Have A Dream: Sermons and Writings That Changed the World  Martin Luther King, Jr. (Harper) $15.99  There are bigger anthologies (such as the large A Testament of Hope) but this is the best, most economical one-volume collection of his most important writings.

Editor James M. Washington arranged the selections chronologically, providing headnotes for each selection that give a running history of the civil rights movement and related events. In his introduction, Washington assesses King’s times and significance.  A must.


The Radical King edited by Cornel West (Beacon Press) $16.00 The contemporary philosopher, activist, and public intellectual selects and introduces various letters, speeches, and essays of King’s that best illustrate his radical social vision.  I hope you know West and his several books (including a recently re-issued Race Matters.) He has done us a great service to offer this particularly curated selection and a few explanatory notes about each reading.  We have good studies of “the domestication” of King; this one allows you to read his words for yourself.



The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jason Sokol (Basic Books) $32.00  This new hardback is great social history, reminding us well what King was up to his last year, what happened in the immediate aftermath of his murder (where would the funeral be held, how would they move the body, who would attend, why didn’t President Johnson show?) and how the subsequent riots effected the nation. This is a riveting read, highly recommended.



Reflections by Rosa Parks: The Quiet Strength and Faith of a Woman Who Changed a Nation  Rosa Parks (Zondervan) $  This fabulous book used to be out as Quiet Strength and it is great to see it again with this excellent cover and nice, hand-sized, square, gift-book format. This is inspiring, of course, and is a fine way to learn a bit about the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and also to hear about the classic faith of many of Kings friends and influences. Love it!


A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation Based on His Experiences Beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott Rev. Robert Graetz  (NewSouth Books) $26.95  Graetz was in 1955 when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, a young white Lutheran pastor of a mostly black church. He has learned quite a lot over the years and some of our friends in the CCO have gone on civil rights tours with him. This is a rare and very special contribution, nicely done. There is a forward by John Lewis.



Called to the Fire: A Witness for God in Mississippi: The Story of Dr. Charles Johnson Chet Bush (Abingdon Press) $21.99 There are so many books like this, quiet, moving, informative stories that you may have never heard, lesser-known saints who served God despite all. This moving tale tells of Dr. Charles Johnson who was the key African American witness to take the stand in the trial famously dubbed the “Mississippi Burning” case by the FBI. Dr. Johnson was a young preacher fresh out of Bible College and became a voice for justice and equality in the segregated south. As the publisher says:

Unwittingly thrust into the heart of a national tragedy – the murder of three civil rights activists – Dr. Johnson overcame fear and adversity to become a leader in the civil rights movement. He played a vital role for the Federal Justice Department, offering clarity to the event that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And, in a shocking turn of events, Johnson offered a path of reconciliation for one of the convicted killers. A story of love, conviction, adversity, and redemption, Called to the Fire is a riveting account of a life in pursuit of the call of God and the fight for justice and equality.


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Brand new: “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks” by Diana Butler Bass. But first: living well after Easter, amidst hard times — music by Bill Mallonee, new paperbacks from N.T. Wright, and classics by Eugene Peterson

“Christ is Risen!” the leader proclaims. We reply with the ancient response, “He is Risen Indeed!” It’s a good ritual, a tad formal, but gets to the heart of things quite quickly, no?

Or, in more modern style, Rob Bell asks, with his face close to the camera in the incredible “Resurrection” video, “You didn’t see that coming, did you?”

It would be interesting, I think, to do a poll to ascertain people’s feelings late on Easter day, or the following Monday. We’ve been through this sober and reflective season of Lent, inhabited the drama of the Triduum — “we need all three days” insists A.J. Swoboda in his excellent A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience – and now we are convinced of the bodily resurrection. For me it is rock bottom, nonnegotiable; true.

“Where, O Death, is Thy Sting?” “Death is Swallowed Up.”


Except, resurrectionary as we may be, it still stings.

The hurts of this world continue to haunt; I am myself troubled as I write this for more reasons than you need to know. And you may be too.

I truly believe the words of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and can earnestly sing the hearty Ah ah ah ah ah lay-a lu oooh ya, but still am more deeply aware with each passing year that we are in the “already but not yet” time between times. Christ has risen and ascended and sent his Spirit (those congregations that follow the church calendar will celebrate those key aspects of redemptive history soon enough) but we wait for the full coming of the Kingdom.

It is one of the reasons I am so drawn to the hefty and heady book by James K.A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Baker Academic; $22.99) as it assures us that our awaiting is not passive and it is not merely personal. Waiting for the King to come is serious business and even this side of Easter victory we dare not be complacent. We are missional people, called, sent into a very broken world.

I’m glad we sang in our church “Christ Is Alive,” #246 in Glory to God, the PC(USA) Hymnal, which was written for Easter Sunday, 1968, by United Reformed Church minister and hymn-writer Brian Wren. It was penned for that hard late-60s Easter a few days following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. It sings of the historical reality of the resurrection of Christ and, perhaps like Wesley’s famous “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” speaks of Christ alive now, alive in the present tense.

“He comes to claim the here and now and dwell in every place and time.”

And then, according to C. Michael Hawn,

Stanza four is the touchstone for the King assassination – the place where Dr. Wren brings the resurrection into contact with human suffering as expressed in racism, war, and all the ways that we hurt and destroy our fellow human beings. This resurrected One “suffers still yet loves the more” in the midst of the devastation that we bring upon each other.

The final stanza comes full circle and refocuses us on the “good news to this and every age.” The cosmic joining of heaven and earth is explicit here: “till earth and all creation ring…” The cosmos rings with the fullness of the good news of “joy and justice, love and praise.”


I haven’t followed much of a serious Lenten practice this year and I regret not being more disciplined or focused. But what I did do was listen almost exclusively to the latest album by Bill Mallonee, Forest Full of Wolves over and over. (You can order it, and so much more good music, directly from him.)  It is, at first, dreary almost to the point of being devastating, and I intentionally wanted to spend time with its jangly, (beautifully) distorted guitar riffs that do Neil Young better than Neil himself, its piercing guitar obbligatos that could be mistaken for Mark Knopfler, the reverb and the whispered words, the whining, the down-and-out storytelling, the raw lament and dark protest of a world gone haywire. What do you expect from a CD where the first song darkly observes “shadows move over the face of the clock” and the second sings about “In The New Dark Age” and the last is a (Dust-bowl-era?) story about an old beat-up Ford? (“We had Jesus on the dashboard/ but that may not be enough” and the chorus offers, sadly, “I’m sorry.”)

And so it goes, Bill’s big, wounded heart doing what he does, poetically reporting on what the album promo describes as a “scathing look at what created the debris of the American dream… (where) Mallonee’s characters inhabit a world of hardship and incongruity.”

As I listened to this album over and over these Lenten weeks I grew to take great comfort in the struggles and, perhaps not so oddly (knowing Bill’s art as I do) found hope there. I increasingly realized Forest Full… is as much an Easter album as a Lenten one. One reviewer wrote that the characters “still hold resolute in the face of an un-named darkness that haunts them within and without. By holding the smaller, specific shard of broken individual lives up to the light, he has created an arresting album of beauty, tenderness, and fragile-ness stocked with rock and roll convictions.”

I would take me too far afield to explore the signs of life in the seemingly dark, rootsy, Americana album, but between the lines, among the heartache, in each and every song, even in the wailing electric guitar, there are glimmers of redemption, joyful notes, wit and goodness. And hope.

In one catchy melodic tune – it could have been off his classic, fun, Summershine album, maybe – there’s a song alluding to the old gospel tune, “Trimmed and Burning.” No matter if no one sees your witness, “that beautiful sight,” he inspires us to be ready, waiting, and actively so. “Put on your boots and roll up your sleeves,” he sings, as he calls us to offer “an olive branch to the world.”

Here after Easter I wonder what it means to live like that, ready, waiting, active, a peacemaker.


You may tire of me saying it, but N.T. Wright is one of the great authors who can help us exactly with that. I’m reading his new book biography of Paul (Paul: A Biography published by HarperOne; $29.99) and, as I’ve said before, it is big but really interesting.

Two of his major hardback books — one on the cross and  one on resurrection, perfect after Easter for resurrectionary living — have recently been released in paperback and I simply must remind you of them now.

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $18.99 This is the one I raved about here (when it first came out) because it powerfully studies every key text in the New Testament about the cross and asks how these passages and their teaching relates to the coming Kingdom of God. That is, if “new creation” is the point of Christ’s death and resurrection, then how does his blood shed and the atonement help get us there? This is really, really good and a very valuable approach. Even if you aren’t convinced of all his deep exegesis, this book is very well worth reading. Now that it is paperback, it’s a great addition to your library.


Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $15.99 Many have said that this book is their favorite of Wright’s and its orthodox commitments and its innovative argument for creation regained is eye-opening and life-changing. We are so glad this is now out in paperback and hope it is widely used in study groups and book clubs. I assume most BookNotes readers know of its importance, especially in showing the grand vision of the restoration of the cosmos prefigured in the bodily resurrection. The implications are vast and he points us in the right direction, in much detail, with much vigor.. Now it is available for the first time in a more affordable paperback. Thanks to God.


While we are offering resources on this topic of living well in the resurrection even as we know the world remains broken and alienated, we surely should suggest two that seem perfect for this post.

First, there is the short, lovely, wise, and useful little book called Living in the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life by Eugene Peterson (NavPress; $17.99.) This is my favorite book on what we call the “post-resurrection appearances” of Jesus, which includes a chapter called “Resurrection Wonder”, another called “Resurrection Meals” and a third called “Resurrection Friends.”  Each is a reflection of Biblical text and he naturally draws out a particular spiritual practice from each. He shows how every day can be a Resurrection Day as we encounter the risen Christ and a formed in His ways by his presence among us.



And then there is the much more hefty study of post-resurrection life that Peterson did by way of insight reflection on Ephesians as the last volume in his majestic five book “spiritual theology’ series. It is called Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Eerdmans; $18.00.) This whole series are among the more enduring, intelligent spiritual writing of our lifetime, and this exploration of what it means to become mature in Christ is exceptional. Who couldn’t benefit for a calm and reasoned, yet passionate, look at how Ephesians invites us to a transformed life with God.


Here is a brand new book that certainly will be talked about this Spring and just may the study for you this season after Easter. I haven’t read it carefully yet – it is just arriving this week – but I am sure you’d want to hear about it. Consider it an ideal book for reading “between the times” of already and not yet. Christ is risen, and we are glad. But what shape does that gladness take? And does it matter, really, that we have some deep thankfulness about our faith?

Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99  I have written often about Diana Butler Bass, a fine scholar of religion, a student of and reporter about healthy congregational life, and a memoirist whose book about being formed by various Episcopal churches (Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community) has recently been updated and re-issued.

I really, really liked (despite a few minor disagreements) her excellent and beautifully-written last book Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution (HarperOne; $14.99) It was another wonderful voice in the growing contemporary choir singing “For the Beauty of the Earth” and insisting that knowing God and following Christ, empowered by the Spirit is, in fact, a very down-to-Earth thing. Whether one starts with the goodness of the shalom God created in the primal Genesis narrative or the very material nature of the incarnation or the promised restoration of creation offered in eschatological re-creation, Biblical people are people of the Earth. We are made in the image of a God who created and worked, placing humans – Earthlings might be a good translation of adama – in the Garden. We care about the Earth and we care about the ordinary stuff of real life. Faith enlivens us to the realities of life, and salvation is certainly not a escape route to a “better place” but is an empowerment to image God in Christ in the here and now.

Diana Butler Bass says all that very differently, and much more elegantly, than I do, at times, and my paraphrase of her project is only to whet your appetite for that very provocative, lovely, moving book.

But what does one write next, when one moves from a personal faith memoir to congregational life studies to impassioned writing about creation care and stewarding the public trust?

When I first heard that this was the topic of her research a year or two ago, I wondered if it was a good move. We need her blazing in critique of the status quo, her examination of churches that miss the point of the gospel, her ruminations on the implications of God’s great grace and love and the transforming power of the emerging and missional movements. Moribund mainline churches, especially, need her reminding us of ways to affirm a “faith for the rest of us” and how to engage the increasingly unchurched “nones.”

And, I’ll admit, as smart as Diana is, as impressive of her command of the sociology of the religious landscape is, I wondered if a book about gratitude was, well, a bit less urgent then her previous work. Maybe, I thought, it seemed a bit lightweight.

And that is just stupid on my part. I’ll admit it; what a dumb thing to think.

There are cheesy and simplistic books about gratitude – or prayer or kindness or hope or anything — and there are mature and thoughtful ones. Just because there are clichéd internet sites offering a positive thinking affirmation a day or inviting us to be happy no matter what, doesn’t mean that we don’t need more progressive and stimulating studies of the topic. I should know this about gratitude, because I’ve read some very impressive titles such as Radical Gratitude by Jo Leddy published by Orbis and one with the same title, Radical Gratitude by Ellen Vaugh, published by Zondervan. Some of our customers have been deeply moved by the mystic David Steindl-Rast who wrote Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer.

Speaking of good books that may lead us to this topic, I am again reminded of the very impressive and theologically sound work of Mike Cosper who not long ago wrote the fabulous Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World (IVP; $17.00.) It is hard to find gratitude in a “disenchanted” world, after all, which is why deeper studies like Jamie Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans; $16.00) remain important for anyone wanting a deep level analysis of the roots of Western culture.

So, Diana Butler Bass has done a deep dive, as they say, into the nature of and value of gratitude. I am as eager as any to read this and admit that I need it more than most. I am glad she is a serious social critic and cares about not only individual happiness and personal meaning and resilience and such, but radical social reform and cultural renewal. In fact – surprise! – this is one of the great fruits of being people of gratitude; it is, she says, “what we most need now.” In Butler’s hands, I am sure, this virtue is not recommended as a sentimental or cheap pick-me-up by looking on the bright side. It is a profound spiritual practice that can be transforming and renewing and will help — if practiced — alter the politics of our time. In this regard, it is subversive.

She has done some talks on this and a few early readers got early review copies and almost everyone is surprised to learn so much from Diana, and to come to understand how culturally-important and, yes, subversive, this practice can be when we learn it well and appreciate the political implications of this way of life.  One who heard her commented, “Diana took everything I thought I knew about gratitude and turned it inside out.”

Gratefulness is, in fact, she argues, a civic practice. And she explains why in this book that one reviewer called “an intellectual cousin to Grounded.”

Here is how Butler Bass puts it, insisting that gratitude is “inherently social.”

Gratitude is an emotion we experience as individuals, and we can each practice gratitude as a personal ethic, the foundation of a good life. Yet gratitude is inherently social, it always connects us as individuals to others.”

Here is what her publisher says about her new work:

Just as she did in her award-winning book Grounded, Diana Butler Bass invites readers to understand new dimensions of American spirituality in Grateful.

Although most of us know that gratitude is good — and good for us — there is a gap between our desire to be grateful and our ability to behave gratefully. The implications of the gap are bigger than we realize, affecting both our personal and public lives. In Grateful, Bass weaves together social science research, spiritual wisdom, and contemporary issues as she calls for a richer understanding and practice of gratitude. What emerges are surprising insights about the power of thankful living to change how we treat one another, and how we might transform our world.

Here is a very recent interview with Diana conducted by Catherine Woodiwiss for Sojourners.It is very good. Reading this fascinating conversation you’ll realize what motivated Diana to research this book and what she discovered as she wrote. And, I believe, why it is important for us today. I hope it inspired you to order it from us soon.

You can order Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks here at BookNotes at 20% off ($21.59) now, by using our secure order form page.

And, as always, we are grateful for those who send orders our way.


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There are so many wonderful children’s books that we have in the store – old ones, new ones, well-loved classics, obscure one’s you’ve never heard of – we hardly know where to begin.

For those bookish parents who want to give their children, grand-children or God-children something more lasting than chocolate eggs this week, how about a few of these?

By the way, if you are asking us to send an item to another address on your behalf, let us know if we can tuck in a little note (and what it should say.) We do complimentary gift wrapping, too, so do let us know how we can make your gift-giving easy for you.

(Check out last year’s Book Notes column “Easter Basket Suggestions” for some others ones, here).

Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol A. Wertheim (Westminster John Knox) $25.00 I have been wanting to describe this marvelous new children’s Bible for a while now and it never seemed to fit our Book Notes schedule and I now realize I want to shout about it here – it is very thoughtfully done, a rare and intentionally created storybook Bible done by very highly-respected Presbyterian educators. But a longer more serious review will have to wait as I’ve got so much to say about it.

For now, just know these vital facts about it. As I said, Libby Caldwell (of Vanderbilt) and Carol Wertheim (a Christian educator at a church in Princeton NJ) are both really important figures in the literature and conversations about children’s religious education. You may recall an amazing book I touted by Caldwell called I Wonder: Engaging a Child’s Curiosity About the Bible, which, among other things, compares and contrasts and often criticizes many popular children’s Bible storybook bibles. I don’t agree with her, always, but I note this important book because it shows that she has thought long and hard about what should be in a children’s Bible, how to explain the stories, how to capture the best illustrations and so forth. Growing in God’s Love is, in many ways, the outgrowth of their years serving churches and teaching educators and evaluating what is most needed in a resource like this.

Growing in God’s Love has great illustrations – not all the same style, too. They are attentive to issues of accuracy but also aesthetics and playfulness, not to mention happily having it be multi-ethnic and somewhat global-looking. The pictures are wonderful. The design is superb.

They say it is ideal for children ages 4 – 8 I think it could be used with somewhat older children, too. It features 150 stories that are divided into thirteen themes that relate to the lives of children.

At the end of each story there are three reflection questions – Hear, See, Act – to help children and families ponder. I like how the questions leave a few things open-ended, inviting wonder, curiosity, faith, and deeper reflection on the meaning of it all.

Each story starts with a question to the child, so it isn’t just a straight narrative of the Bible in paraphrase. Some may not like this, adding a modern voice directed to the child in the first sentence of every Bible story, but it works.

Prayers for Young Children Martina Steinkuehler, illustrated by Barbara Nascimbeni (Eerdmans) $16.50 We have really liked Steinhuhler’s illustrations in the excellent Images of God for Your Children so was glad to see her slightly modern, just a little choppy artwork to bring interest and color to these marvelous re-telling of Biblical prayers. The prayers are not sentimental or dumbed-down; there is an index showing the Biblical allusions in each of the nearly 80 pages.

Headings follow a pattern of a child expressing a situation and, in italics, a headline of guidance, which is at once is practical and relevant as well as connected to the ancient Scriptures. For instance, one has the heading of “I feel small (and big)and the subtitle of that page is, Pray like Peter when he recognized his own weaknesses. Another says, “I am angry” and the advice is, Pray like Martha when Mary didn’t want to help her.” Another is titled “I am in a new situation” and it is followed by the advice, Pray like Daniel when he arrived in Babylon.”

The prayers are arranged by various themes, naming feelings of worry and happiness and situations like being sick. One called, “I am so happy” is followed by the line Pray like Sarah when she held her son Isaac in her arms. This is truly remarkable, Biblically-literate, thoughtful prayers, maybe not just for young children.

God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story About God’s Delightfully Different Family Trillia Newbell, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99 We announced this here last fall and thought I’d just copy my review here, again: I think I will name this as our top children’s book of the year, or very near the top. It’s just stunning in how interesting it is, how it relates the simple gospel to remarkable implications, and how it gets the full-orbed vision of the Kingdom of God being that redemptive force which rescues and renews the very creation. We sometimes talk about creation-fall-redemption and this book gets it! God’s very good idea was a good and safe and colorful creation and God is not giving up on God’s good idea. Jesus will come –as the big story of the whole Bible shows in it’s unfolding drama – to save the lost and redeem the creation, which includes a restoration of the (get this!) ethnic and personality and gender diversity of the original creation.

I simply know of know other book that so faithfully tells the gospel story in terms of the rescue of creation, the restoration of humankind’s role in God’s good world, and how racial reconciliation is central to that. God’s Very Idea of a church that models racial and ethnic diversity so that God’s plan of restoration of the diverse creation is seen by the whole world, is nothing short of brilliant. If only adults understood this creation-regained, racially diverse, upbeat and visionary theology! This book is whimsical and clever and witty and fun, and one heckuva story. The author has written an adult book on themes of racial reconciliation (called United) and the artist that did the illustrations is very accomplished. This is the real deal, friends, a gospel-centered, Kingdom book for Christian kids about stuff that matters in our world. And anybody else who needs to hear the old, old story in fresh, fun ways. Highly recommended.

The Garden The Curtain and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again Carl Laferton illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99 The playfully excellent Cataline Echeverri did the artwork on this one, too, and fits nicely to offer this overview of the big Biblical story – a good garden, a sinful mess, a savior who comes as a serving King, and that great episode of the curtain in the temple torn. God’s redemptive vision of reconciliation and restoration in Christ’s death and resurrection is shown here in a way that is better than almost any children’s book I know – so well done, so creatively offered, so insightfully wise about capturing Christ’s work in the context of the bigger Scriptural framework of promise and deliverance. Do you want kids to be a part of this grand story to be invited in? This is a very useful resource and very cool at that.

Not Especially Special Katie Savage illustrated by Emily Henebrey (Katie Savage) $16.99 This is brand new and I bet you haven’t heard of it yet. But you just might because this book is so good it is only a matter of time until it gets known and widely loved. We so appreciated Katie Savage’s previous book, a wonderfully realized set of thoughtful reflections, sort of a memoir about her finding God in ordinary life called Grace in the Maybe: Instructions on Not Knowing Everything about God (Howard Books; $15.99) that when we heard she was doing a children’s book we just had to see what it would be like. It is, as we expected, very impressive, a fun and winsome story well told, with a lovely message of God’s love for everyone, for the specialness we all have, despite our various callings and gifts.

The story is about the animals being summoned to Noah’s ark and in that sense it is well-worn ground but in Not Especially Special the good words and interesting plot and fun illustrations are less about the redemptive power of God’s historical work in the flood narrative but more about the specialness of each animals role. Mostly the birds. I won’t spoil the whole story but the last line goes like this:

God had used an ordinary dove to bring a bit of hope in the midst of a great storm. And just like you, she did not need to catch up. She did not have to struggle to be heard or feel desperate to be seen. Because, you see, she already was exactly who she needed to be.

Here is a very nice, brief video clip of Katie talking about her book and why she wrote it and what you can expect in sharing this good news of God’s love for each and all with children. Enjoy.  Why not order more than one — it’s exciting to be among the first to support an innovative project like this.

When God Made Light Matthew Paul Turner illustrated by David Catrow (Waterbrook) $11.99 Turner became know a decade ago as a sassy and funny voice for an emerging generation of open-minded, post-evangelical leaders. I think he wrote for the likes of Relevant and wrote some fun books poking at the silly, insular stylings of in-house evangelicalism. One had to like his boldness and his wit. I’m a fan.

A few years ago he and his very creative illustrator David Catrow did a great book called When God Made You that we loved. This one moves from God making you, to when God made everything – starting with light. This powerful book reads well out loud although the illustrations are busy and wild and although not quite surreal, they are a bit weird. As it even says on the back cover “Through lyrical verse and wild, vivid illustrations, When God Made Light encourages young readers to revel in creation’s awe-inspiring light and to ignite the world with the God-given spark found within.” Yep, it shows and shouts:

In the beginning space became bright, ‘cause God filled it with twinkles of yellowy white. Brilliant stars gleamed. Swirls of light streamed. In that once empty space, a galaxy beamed.

And all that light – every bright, golden hue – is the very same light that God put inside you.

We are made of dirt, the Bible says, so I’m good with that. Are we “stardust” like Joni sang? Matthew Paul Turner makes a really good case, and with very nice lines in very nice cadence assures us that light breaks through our own darkness and can inspire us all. I like this odd book a lot. I think your little ones will, too.

Herodotus the Hedgehog Jen-Luc Buquet (Eerdmans) $17.00 Eerdmans Books for Young Readers brings to North America a lot of books from overseas and they are often exceptionally creative, curious, eccentric even. They do solid Biblical and theological stories and then they do stories with good moral messages about kindness or justice or creativity and such. And then do remarkable books like Herodotus the Hedgehog.

I do not like this book on the face of it. I teased my sales rep that the legacy Christian publisher has done over the edge, promoting a book that is both relativistic and pantheistic. Ahh, but there’s the curiosity and possibility – this is a great, fun, tender, interesting, story that opens doors for the very best conversations about the very things that matter most.

Here’s the plot, as they tell it on the back cover:

Herodotus was a curious little hedgehog who loved exploring the gardens and meadows and forests around him.

On day he saw a bear worshipping the Might Bear Spirit, and he began to wonder what other animals believe in.

So he asks them – the fox, the raven, the sheep, the wolf – and he discovers a fascinating range of beliefs different from his own.

The first part of the book shows some lovely things the hedgehog discovers about the natural order; his curiosity and wonder are sweet to behold! But then he starts wondering what animals believe, if they pray and to whom. The animals are confident, which struck me as funny and maybe a bit too close for comfort. Most worship a God who favors their own species and, uh, looks a lot like them. And some of them speak in derogatory ways about the other (false) Great Spirits that the other (foolish) animals believe in. One doesn’t believe in any – atheist critters, who knew? — another mocks others by saying “we’re too modern for that.” Ha.

Dear little Herodotus doesn’t resolve this very well, in my view, which is why a kind and careful parent will have to help talk about all this. But for introduction to what we call pluralism and the religiosity of the human condition, our hedgehog friend helps us model a healthy, respectful curiosity, at least.

The NIV Action Study Bible (David C. Cook) $12.99  This uses some of the art of the graphic novel/comic book stylings of the Action Bible and puts it with the full text of the NIV. If I had this Bible as a boy, I’m telling ya, man… well. Who knows? I do think this will appeal to many, from little ones who like comics to even older ones who like graphic novels and action-adventure stories. There are nice sidebars and introductions to each book and some info graphics but the heart of this Bible are the many Action Bible illustrations. Three cheers!



Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation – from A to Z  Stephen Nichols, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99 This came out just one year ago and since we are now in the middle of the extraordinary 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant reformation (how often does a culture commemorate a 500th anniversary of anything!?) I figured we should run this again, from last year’s Easter Basket Suggestions post.

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

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

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

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

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

All the Tales from the Ark Avril Towlands (Lion Press) $9.99 In the mid- 1990s there were a set of three books that were very popular, first in England, and then in the US; these tales about Mr. and Mrs. Noah managing a menagerie were fabulously entertaining, curious stories that told the imagined stories of what different animals experienced on the ark. This new edition offers over 400 pages of these great stories in one hand-sized paperback. And what stories they are – what fun! This isn’t a picture book and although you could read it out loud as a family even for little children, the reading level itself is probably about a third grade level.

Here’s how they set it up:

Mr. Noah could not sleep. So he lay in bed, listening to the snuffles and grunts of the animals, and he talked to God. “Listen, God, it’s not too late. You need a lion tamer for this job, or a big-game hunter, or a zookeeper. And I’m scared of spiders and we’ve got two on board.” Spiders aren’t Mr. Noah’s only problem. The lion wants to be in charge and then the animals threaten to revolt!

The Day God Made Church: A Child’s First Book About Pentecost Rebekah McLeod Hutto, illustrated by Stephanie Hig (Paraclete) $15.99  Again, I’ve recommended this here before and we display it at churchy events and folks love it. There is very little on the Pentecost story and this is one which – in really colorful design and creative text — captures the mystery and importance of this day which many consider “the birthday of the church.” This very colorful paperback uses powerful storytelling and healthy Biblical education and a stimulating, creative picture book helping us learn to celebrate a day in the church calendar that is sometimes overlooked. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter so this is great to give now. It is stunning.

The Marvelous Mud House: A Story of Finding Fullness and Joy April Graney illustrated by Alida Massari (B+H) $14.99 I do not have to explain much about this book other than to assure you it is so rich, so lovely, so nicely done that we are very, very enthused about it and happy to suggest it.

The story is interesting, full of details, and readers will learn much about life in the Great Rift Valley of Kenyan when they learn about the homes of George and his farmer mother, there. Yes, it introduced us to third world families and their life, but the bigger back-story is this: Ben and his American family live in a large ranch house the narrator calls “hungry” because they are “always wanting more.”

Here is how they put it on the back cover:

But then they travel far across the world to Kenya and visit the marvelous mud house where George and Mama George live. There, among the mango trees, they discover a marvelous lesson about what it’s like to be full of joy instead.

This beautiful story takes us across the globe to remind us that joy and faith are the truest riches, wherever we may be.


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REVIEW of “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock” by Gregory Alan Thornbury ON SALE AND A FREE CD OFFER (five days only.)

SPECIAL OFFER – ONE FREE MARK HEARD CD WITH PURCHASE OF Why Should the Devil Have All the God Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock regularly $26.00 – BookNotes special 20% OFF (our price $20.80) + free Mark Heard CD while supplies last, limited time only.

or until supplies run out

I am going to try to keep this relatively brief, in part because I don’t want to get overly emotional in reporting about this new book that means so much to me that streets today, a careful, thoughtful, and detailed biography of the “father of Christian rock” Larry Norman written by Gregory Alan Thornbury. But it will be hard as there’s so much that reading this book reminded me of and so many reasons to enjoy reading it. We are thrilled to be selling it now, as it releases today.

Why Should the Devil Have All the God Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock is a fabulously interesting book and, like the best rock and roll biographies – among my personal favorites include Testimony by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the splendid Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970 and the must-read Beatle’s study by Larry Norman’s friend, Steve Turner, called Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year – it includes lots of stuff about music and song lyrics and production of albums and rock tour stories, but also fair amount of fun celebrity gossip and, thank goodness, some social and cultural and religious commentary. How can one reflect on an artist who hung out with The Jefferson Airplane and opened for Jimi Hendrix and chatted with Paul McCartney and sang about racism and poverty and against the rootlessness of a materialistic generation not explain a bit about the ethos of the 1960s? Norman came of age, and gave voice to Christian faith amidst the California counter-culture; his art was a loud and often-controversial critique of bad religion and boring church and it stood (at least in the early days) as part of the broader zeitgeist which critiqued the bankrupt values of the American dream and the sins of the American empire.

The talented and very interesting Dr. Thronbury is well suited to this big task and he does it well.  I do not think Dr. Thornbury – a young, bow-tied scholar (and an obviously thoughtful and appreciative Norman fan) – spent enough time in the otherwise excellent book reflecting deeply on this early era, and it may be because he wasn’t there and couldn’t conjure enough of the pathos and dislocations of those days. Those of us who remember the day King was killed, who feared the riots and the KKK and the guns of the Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army, those of us who participated in early Earth Day activities, who marched against the war, who wept at the napalm used in Viet Nam, who grew cynical from Watergate and wondered why our churches seemed less interested in these hugely ethical and spiritual matters in our culture than they should have been, found in Larry’s music a Christian who seemed to understand us. Yes, those of us who listened to Dylan and Simon and Garfunkle and yelled out the chorus of “Four Dead in Ohio” as a lament, we needed the Jesus-drenched lines of Norman, too, and I wished the deep, deep pathos of that longing for relevant Jesus rock came through more in this book. In those days, Larry was the closest thing we had and thinking about it still conjures for me dread and joy and passion and frustration and hope.

But, still, Why Should the Devil… gives us the very best study yet of the odd Christian folkie-rocker and One Way leader and it is nothing short of a must-read for anyone interested in rock music of the 60s & 70s and onward, how the Jesus Movement emerged from the hippy counter-culture, and how this gave rise, oddly – yep, this is true — to the rise of the Christian right in the 1980s and 90s. If you care about issues of “Christ and culture” as we say, this is an important report from the backstory. In that sense, as we try to figure out these odd religious days, this is an important part of the puzzle.

Less grandiose and perhaps more fun, if you’ve ever enjoyed cool Christian rock – think Mark Heard or Keaggy or Charlie Peacock or the 77s or Sam Phillips or the best work of Amy Grant or VOL or POD or Gungor or Lecrae or Switchfoot or Sara Groves or Jennifer Knapp or Crowder – you know that you owe it to yourself to learn a bit more about the grand-daddy of all this.

And, if you’ve ever lamented the cheesy and shallow end of Christian rock, from bad album covers to goofy lyrics to sub-par production to crass commercialization, well, Norman was both an alternative to that (with his manifestos about art, his admiration of Francis Schaeffer, his hopes for artist collectives, and the hope of making mainstream, artful witness in the real entertainment world) and, yes, also, in many ironic ways helped set into place the industry that caused so much dumbing down and commercialization of the CCM subculture. That Thornbury’s book has the subtitle Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock is, in part, a very big nod to this very big quandary.

It is a true biography and less a study of the movement that Larry Norman was a part of, but it explores and reflects on much that is important, that was generative and influential; I believe it would have been an even stronger book if Thornbury had cited seminal works about the way in which rock music had within it the tensions of art and commercialism. If he had explored and reflected more on the meaning and social implications of the details he shares – fascinating ones like how Pat Boone funded early Norman records and how Norman protégé Randy Stonehill had legal battles with producers in England and why agents and DJs and critics – not to mention fans – loved Norman but his record sales were marginal and why we ended up with Christian bookstores that carried gospel music in a way Tower Records didn’t, and so forth. And why-oh-why Christian followers, especially, were confused (and some, outraged) by his less overtly religious recordings (see the great chapter on So Long Ago in the Garden, for instance.) The promo for the book notes that this previously untold story is set “at the dawn of the culture wars” and that is a helpful reminder of the big picture this is about.

Thornbury doesn’t preach, and allows the story to develop, but I still wished for a bit more of his scholarly expertise. For starters, then, I commend two must-reads: the serious Christian scholarship of Pop Culture Wars:  Religion & the Role of Entertainment in American Life by William David Romanowski (Wipf & Stock; $45.00) and the rowdy, must-read The Day Alternative Music Died: Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, Alt, Majors, Indies, and the Struggle Between Art and Money for the Soul of Rock by Adam Caress (New Troy Books; $16.99.)

Larry Norman’s good friend Steve Turner, the rock critic from England, is helpful, too, while we’re at it, in framing a larger picture of Christians engaged in the arts and popular culture – see his very nicely done Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (IVP; $19.00) or, for those engaged in contemporary performance art, see the soon-to-be-released brilliant anthology It Was Good: Performance Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books.; $19.99.)

Fortunately, geeky Greg Thornbury (now serving at the New York Academy of Art) is very aware of these aesthetic and cultural concerns and has spent years ruminating and writing on them – what does it mean to be “in the world but not of it”? How do Christians serve as “salt and light” within the arts and popular culture? What is the role of God’s people to shape and influence cultural trends? How should we think about these things well? Although I may have wished for a bit more direct comment about all this, it is there between the lines, and in some of the footnotes, making Thornbury a very, very appropriate and helpful teller of this big tale. And what a tale it is.

Larry Norman was conflicted, odd, artful, beautiful, serious, funny, perhaps dishonest, perhaps narcissistic, and more. Why Should The Devil doesn’t shy away from explaining his multi-dimensional and complicated personality, his brokenness, his genius. Many who knew him both loved and hated him, and those that like his music – or at least many of us – hold him in high regard, but still wished for more from him. He was a genius, but operating, some think, within the constraints of a conservative church and a quirky theology and at the nexus of the counterculture and the emergence of the new youthful, rock and rock culture. That his huge project of being a Christian in but not of that sub-culture became in many ways exactly opposite – of but not in the world – is a supreme irony. (Read that sentence again.)

This vivid new biography is an important telling of the story of this remarkable character and his remarkable life but it is also a chronicle of so much that has happened for many of us.

This stuff means a lot to me and I trust it means much to many of our readers. I myself tried to learn a few Norman songs on a clunky old acoustic I once had – one of my huge embarrassments is trying to play “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” at an Easter Seal Society camp where I worked – and I’ve been moved and inspired by some of his beauties. I’ve also railed plenty against some of the contradictions in his work. (He wrote more overtly about social justice than any similar CCM artist but yet sang wrong-headed rapture songs such as “I Wished We All Were Ready.” It has been featured recently in hit TV show The Leftovers and it still makes me cringe for its Biblical error and it’s anti-cultural legacy.) Since we here at the shop used to have one of the largest and certainly most interesting selections of Christian pop music on the East Coast, we’ve had lots of conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of many an artist, and often conversations circle back to Larry Norman. Before his death we carried all his old and rare stuff in our CD selection here at the shop so often talked with his dad, who ran his business (I learned from the book that Joe was not at all supportive for years) and even talked to Larry once on the phone. This book is personal for me, and I bet it is in many ways for many of you.

In case you wonder, I’m not making this up about how important he was and how much his artful life signified just because I’m a fan. Frankly, I have not been that much of a true fan, and although we happily sold (and continue to sell) his albums in our store, I was more taken with what he stood for and his impact than his actual records, some of which I thought were over-rated. But still, he was something.

And he was, indeed, important, as Thornbury helps us appreciate. Billboard called Norman “the most important songwriter since Paul Simon.” The Huffington Post published an article dubbing him “The Most Amazing Artist You’ve Never Heard Of.” The Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry has honored his album Only Visiting This Planet as a “cultural, artistic, and/or historical treasure.”

When he died, NPR feted him. Thornbury cites The London Times and notes the good reviews in Rolling Stone, and quotes The New York Times about him. Spin magazine did a back page tribute when he died, Thornbury tells us, again making the case that this colorful maverick ended up being a major influence in the culture of our times. Even Dylan liked him, and there’s a tender story to prove it.

Although it isn’t in the (too short) photo section of the book, I own a picture of Larry and Bono; when Bono went to Nashville to recruit CCM stars to his anti-poverty ONE campaign, his first question was “Will Larry Norman be there?” This is not insignificant.

I could explain more about this well-researched book; it covers his earliest days (his early band People! played at the first big Be-In in Haight Asbury with Janis Joplin and the Dead and the beat poet Alan Ginsberg) and nicely notes some of the stars he hung out with and perhaps influenced – some say that The Who’s Tommy was somewhat inspired by Norman’s own work in developing rock operas, even as he crossed paths with the guy who played Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. He chatted with Neil Young and Stephen Stills in their Buffalo Springfield days; years later he played on the White House lawn for Jimmy Carter.

There is plenty about the rise and mediocrity of much of the CCM industry. There’s a bit about the business side of things; how could there not be? And some unpleasant stuff about his relationships, his failures.

And there is plenty about his controversy – with good lines like “Larry Norman entered the 1980s like a fugitive on the run from the Christian image police.”

More importantly, as a Jesus person who helped shaped the lingo and theology of the Jesus movement who despised the hypocrisy of the church and distrusted propaganda – especially religious propaganda – his influence was beyond the rock stars he shared the gospel with and the fans that did or didn’t like him. I think much of the tone and texture of casual, non-fundamentalist, but still fiery evangelical outreach among youth in the 70s helped shape the nature of evangelicalism today. Of course some of his songs were in the influential Young Life songbooks that so many used at church camps and youth ministry events and the rise of para-church ministries (even like the CCO) took shape with long-hair and bell bottoms and Good News Bibles and Bible studies while sitting in circles on the lawn like hippies. That there is a sizable non-fundamentalist, culturally-savvy, socially relevant, and yet deeply orthodox Christian movement among baby boomers and their offspring comes in some ways from this legacy of the Jesus Movement days.

There are academic books about all this, and I think they are on to something: whether you liked Norman’s music or not, whether you’ve even heard of Larry Norman or not, the size and zest and non-fundamentalist tone of the local community non-denominational church comes, in many ways, from those who grew up listening to bands like The Second Chapter of Acts and Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos and soft-rock Maranatha Praise music. That Bob Dylan added harmonica to a Keith Green album and artists as diverse as Eric Clapton (who was reading Francis Schaeffer) or Barry (“Eve of Destruction”) McGuire or Noel Paul Stookey or Alice Cooper or Earth Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey were reading theology and talking about Jesus was no small thing. That a generation amidst the sexual and drug experimentation of the 70s was also connecting to evangelical faith in fresh ways with their own vocabulary and soundtrack helped shaped the social landscape of our culture today.

Here are some endorsements that might help illustrate how others are seeing the importance of this book:

“A mind-blowing portrait of evangelical Christianity’s one, and only, rock n’ roll wild child, a high-wire act of daring, revelation and empathy, as original as Larry Norman himself.”
–Charles Marsh, Professor of Religion and Society, University of Virginia, and author of Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

“If there truly was a great crossroads where the devil traded souls for music, then Larry Norman must have made his own visit. If it’s true that no musical genre can thrive if it does not own its roots, then this book is required reading for artists who have waded into the faith-based genre without tracing its origins back to where it first sprang from the earth.”
–Dan Haseltine, songwriter and producer, Jars of Clay and The Hawk in Paris

“In an American Idol world where trading on the name of Christ and unholy alliances with professional God-talkers can win you the White House, Gregory Alan Thornbury places before us a beautifully complicated Larry Norman, that enigmatic, trickster figure at the heart of the Jesus Movement. By doing so, he invites us to consider again the prophetic genius, the untamable poetic justice of Jesus of Nazareth, to whom Norman remained committed in spite of the dizzyingly false witness and geopolitical catastrophe conducted, even now, in his name. Hear Norman again, and have your senses restored.”
–David Dark, author of Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

Besides the big legacy of helping to create, for better or worse, the multi-million dollar gospel music industry and subsequent subculture that gave us CCM, and the impact of that on a rising generation, the particular part of the CCM world Larry Norman specifically helped nurture was significant, too, giving us artists like Randy Stonehill (fans know about the on-again, off-again friendship of these two) and, significantly, Mark Heard, considered by some to be one of the great songsmiths of our time. I am glad that there is a bit about Mark Heard in Why Should the Devil including some lines from Larry spoken after Mark’s heart attack while performing at the Cornerstone Festival in August of 1992.

Mark had moved out of the CCM sub-culture for the most part, playing with folks like Buddy Miller and Bruce Cockburn, but for those of us who followed his work from the start, he will always be connected to Larry Norman.


And so, for a limited time – while supplies last – we will give you a free Mark Heard CD with a purchase of Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Alan Thornbury. The book is 20% off and you get a free CD.

After Sunday March 25th the book will remain on sale, but the CD offer will be over.

It’s a long story but we have copies of two important, rowdy Mark Heard albums from the early 1980s, Stop the Dominoes and Victims of the Age. Tell us which one you want, absolutely free. You can listen to it while reading Why Should the Devil Have All the God Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock by Gregory Alan Thornbury.



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Here we go again: 13 Great Books ON SALE at 30% off — for THREE DAYS ONLY

Okay, that was fun.

The BookNotes 30% off post-Jubilee clearance sale, that is. Some good folks send us the most moving notes thanking us for the sermon about “all of life redeemed” and living into the big story of God’s people being used to bring restoration and healing to all of life. And our exuberant description of the CCO’s Jubilee conference, the need for serious reading so we can learn to walk in the new Kingdom way of the Lord in our time; we have some thinking to do and books matter. We’re glad you encouraged us to keep inviting folks to be readers.

The sale brought us some extra business this week and we are glad; that’s the cash-flow businessy thing that we sometimes don’t pay enough attention to. We love authors and books, but try not to worry about “the books” and, alas, end up needing to drum up some extra customer attention sometimes.

We’re glad for those who are loyal to us and who allow us to offer a story about books and reading and to regularly suggest a selection of stimulating authors; we so appreciate those who seem to think we help them in their journey. They read BookNotes and send us orders as they get a hankering. They get their churches or organizations or moms and dads to order from us, and we are grateful.

We are equally glad for those that are only able to send us nice notes – it truly helps – or those that are waiting for those larger discounts and bigger savings from time to time. We are glad for those occasional customers, too, and understand that we all need some extra savings sometimes. Thank you for your orders this last week, especially.

Since it was fun keeping our mail-out specialist extra busy – Diana packs your books with immense care and good cheer — let’s just do it again.

Without too much bluster or detail, let me commend these vital books, all, for a very limited time, at 30% off.


Here’s the deal: to get the 30% off, you have to order more than one from the list. Buy two or more of the books shown and get 30% off. Otherwise it’s a complimentary 10% off.

So here’s round two: OUR NEW THREE-DAY SALE while supplies last. This offer expires midnight Sunday March 11, 2018. You’ve got Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the deep discount deal and then it’s back to 10% off for any of these.

Use the secure order form link below, which will take you to our secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll confirm via email, doing the discount, sending by USPS. We usually send the cheapest manner, but you can instruct us otherwise — whatever you prefer, just tell us. 

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Hand-Made Faith in a Mass Market World John J. Thompson (Zondervan) $15.99  Maybe you recall my vary lively review of this when I described it here at BookNotes in great detail, saying how much fun it was and how very right he is about so much. It is a book about Christian discipleship and whole-life faith formation, but, more obviously, it is a well- written book with chapters about bread baking, beer making, good quality chocolate, and “the best coffee I ever had.” Yep, it is about artisanal culture, from indie music to the DIY “maker” scene. A bunch of the Jubilee students love it, and pass it out to their peers.

There are chapters with titles like “Time Began in a Garden” and “Seeking God’s Table.” He admonishes us not only to enjoy life, to make something of the stuff around us – shades of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, there – but to also “help someone less fortunate craft their own story.” There’s a few big-picture pieces about “Civilization, Reformation, Discernment and Beer” and some really interesting stories about his own journey in the thoughtfully, underground corners of contemporary Christian music. It covers a lot of ground and tells some lovely stories.

All of this lush description about real, analog life, this call to “hand-crafted” faith, is a colorful, aesthetically-rich invitation to resist the mass marketed nature of modern living and, interestingly, the overly mass-marketed approach to Christian living, spirituality and discipleship, as well. There’s something here for everyone and it’s a blast to read. And, without being heavy handed, it offers up some very important stuff about incarnation, individuality, good taste, and embodied spirituality.  Cheers!

Reconstructing The Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (IVP) $20.00v I have read all the other books that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has written and he is a thoughtful theologian, serious activist, great storyteller, and a very good author. You may know that, somewhat like his friend Shane Claiborne, he grew up fundamentalist, went to Eastern University and with the help of thoughtful evangelicals there grew into a faith that is Biblically orthodox, prayerful, and deeply committed to a rule of life that includes community living, nurturing a sense of place, serving others, standing with the marginalized and oppressed, and worshiping humbly amongst a diverse family of believers. He has told much of his own story in several other books, all which I recommend heartily.

This new one just arrived and although I had the chance to dip in to an advanced copy, I can’t say I’ve studied it carefully. It deserves our full attention and I promise I will be reading it carefully. It has a coveted starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and there is an important forward by The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II.

Jonathan, who was raised in the Bible Belt, says, “I’m a man torn in two. And the gospel I inherited is divided.”

He links his own reconstruction to the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War, and wonders about the sort of racial blindness that held sway – and still does – particularly in the American southland.

Drew Hart, author of the powerful The Trouble I’ve Seen says:

Reconstructing the Gospel is an honest reckoning with the mangled, slaveholding religion that continues to pass for the gospel in the United States. It is not self-righteous or accusatory. Instead, Jonathan vulnerably grapples with his own ongoing repentance of white supremacy’s powerful grip. Ultimately, this book is an invitation into the river that has been flowing for centuries in this land, providing a past and present counterwitness to the vandalization of Jesus’ name.

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America Jennifer Harvey (Abingdon Press) $22.99  This is a book many of us have been waiting for. Let me be brief and to the point: few books of which we are familiar are at once this theologically astute, radical in their approach to racial justice, and yet practical as a handbook for parents who need help raising their children. Professor Harvey has been writing about racial justice for decades (and most recently did the heavy, prophetic, Dear White Christians published by Eerdmans.) She is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church.

Jennifer Harvey’s book has been called “brilliant” and “astonishing” and “required reading.” As Saira Rao, co-founder of In This Together Media says, “If you’re white and have a kid (or have ever been a kid), please read this book.”

Listen to Diana Butler Bass:

Jennifer Harvey’s brilliant work and passion for racial justice come alive on every page. Raising White Kids is a theory-rich, practical guide with wonderfully helpful examples that will equip parents to navigate today’s racial challenges with confidence and grace. For the millions of mothers and fathers who are deeply invested in creating a better tomorrow in an increasingly multi-cultural America, Harvey’s book couldn’t be more helpful or more needed right now.

There is a great endorsement on the back from Debby Irving, author of the very, very impressive Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race and she writes:

Raising White Kids is both an antidote to the racial ignorance and fear most white families unknowingly pass along to their young and a powerful way to call white adults into the process of racial awakening in the name of creating more just and functional communities for all. Buy this book for yourself, for your children’s teachers, and for all parents and grandparents of white children you know.

Kudos to Abingdon Press for doing some good books on race relations in the last year or two. This one is going to be discussed and used for a long time.

Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99  We named this as one of the very best books of 2017 and celebrated it as my favorite novel of that year, too. It is a novel, a series of letters from a quiet but eloquent, down-to-Earth but very smart pastor of a cranky, lovely, fascinating, small-town, small church. I love the way pastor Eugene Peterson calls it “a tour de force” and continues:

…an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read.

This is literate, enjoyable, funny, thought provoking, a story that will entertain and inspire any body who loves the church. Or those who don’t. This is a great little book, highly recommended.

Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World Osheta Moore, with a foreword by Sarah Bessey (Herald Press) $16.99  Osheta Moore is a great writer, an upbeat, passionate, contemporary black woman with a voice that is unforgettable. Her bio says that her work has been featured at Sojourners and SheLoves Magazine, A Deeper Story, The Art of Simple, ReKnew, and Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Men and women both have endorsed this upbeat book – Dennis Edwards says it is “Practical, engaged, theologically informed, poignant, and witty.” Christina Cleveland says that Moore has “a gift for blazing a path toward liberation, hope, and purpose.”  Maybe you saw her piece this fall in The Christian Century.

I was first struck that this Mennonite publisher was doing a book that got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly which said, in part, “Fans of Anne Lamott and Nadia Bolz-Weber will be delighted with this new, exciting voice.”

We want to get her book out there so we’re adding it to this list of deeply discounted titles – it is fun and creative and just really good writing. Much is about justice and peace, race and inclusion, but there is stuff that is not only funny but also about humor and laughter. She loves Doctor Who. She quotes the elegant Barbara Brown Taylor and the powerful Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Biblically-solid N.T. Wright. It isn’t too many books – by black authors, no less – that start off with a major epigram from Sally Lloyd’s Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible and then cites Walt Brueggemans’s old UCC book on peace, Living Towards a Vision. This is strong, powerful stuff on peace and goodness and – although she lost me here – there’s a few pages of Sista Recipes. I’d have rather had a playlist, but there ya have it. Shalom Sistas. Gives new meaning to wholehearted!

New Worshipping Communities: A Theological Exploration Vera White & Charles Wiley (WJK) $20.00 This slim book deserves a bigger review later, but I have to list it here for a few quick reasons. It is a book that documents the theology of and the stories about the recent effort within the PC(USA) (that’s the mainline Presbyterians) to plant 1001 new congregations. That they call them “new worshipping communities” may bring to mind the Fresh Expressions movement and certainly indicates a missional vision, not just conventional church planting. Friends at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary have been a part of this and some of this book came out of a convocation that met there to draft documents and continue the conversation about this audacious move. Since this is our own denomination, we are thrilled to suggest that it seems like this new book is stellar, a fresh and helpful contribution to the growing literature on church start ups, planting, missional communities, fresh expressions, etcetera.

I am thrilled about this, too, because Vera White is a bit of a friend and one of my our dearest friends and a church he helped start up in Pittsburgh is one of the ones cited. Congrats to B.J. Woodworth and “The Open Door” community in the ‘burgh. We are delighted to see some of your story in this good little book. Whether one is a leader or member of a conventional mainline church or an evangelical church planter or a theological type pondering the meaning of these new expressions of worship springing up all over, New Worshipping Communities is a quick but potent read. Of course if you are a Presbyterian, it’s a no-brainer. You have to know these stories and this book is a great way into the latest move of God in our circles.

Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons (Baker) $15.99 That this book is co-produced by the Barna Organization and Q  is an indication that it is both research-based and creatively applied, both Biblical and deeply relevant. Kinnaman is the genius and dear man behind Barna and Gabe is the guy who puts together the Q Ideas events, high-class, TED-like gatherings for thoughtful Christians desiring to witness well in our contemporary culture. Both have a passion for equipping churches of all kinds (although they are both evangelical) for navigating the issues of the day, understanding facts and data, and moving towards a vision for cultural flourishing and the common good. I respect them both immensely and hope you’ve read them.

Alas, what to do when we are seeing a generation of younger adults “engage the culture” in new ways and take up vocations of being “salt and light” in the world with renewed vigor, but you’ve come to realize, perhaps more than they, that it is going to be harder than is sounds. Today’s younger adults, even conservative evangelicals ones, are not the cultural warriors of their neo-fundamentalist parents. They want to reach out with great passion for a Christ-like witness in the world, including being open-minded and gracious and hospitable, especially on issues such as racial justice, climate change, religious pluralism, even approaching newer approaches that are less strident about same-sex attraction and the like.

But, despite this sincere effort to be good, and to live out a faith that is for the good, the facts are clear; Barna has helpful reminded us that many outside the church are skeptical of any truth claims, skeptical of religion (no matter how gracious it may in fact be) skeptical and bothered by religiosity which they assume to be at best irrelevant and, often, at worse, extremism gone amuck.

This easy to read book offers some data and helpful reflections about and guidelines for how to live out a good, redemptive faith in a good and helpful manner, given the facts that our neighbors and co-workers most likely think our faith isn’t good, but is harmful. Good Faith: Being a Christian When… is not the full picture and isn’t the final word. But it is very, very helpful and we recommend it to any one new to this sort of desire to witness well in a pluralizing, secularizing world that is laden with anti-Christian assumptions.

Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning edited by Mark Labberton (IVP) $17.00 This book is one of the most important books for me these past months and I poured my heart into a review that tried to explain to our BookNotes readers who evangelicals are (that is, they are not the same as fundamentalists) and why many are so very disturbed by the way the media has insisted that most evangelicals are pro-Trump. Many have gotten the idea that all evangelicals are nearly white supremacists, very anti-immigration, resistant to the facts about climate change, and are willing to look the other way about sexual violence — from President Trump or the allegations about Judge Roy Moore, say — as long as right wing politicians are elected.

Whether this caricature is even true is a burden I have, but this book is more practical. It is asking it’s contributors – from Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly to Sojourner’s Lisa Sharon Harper, from Liberty University’s Karen Swallow Prior to urban activist Shane Claiborne, and more – to weigh in on the question that if the public perception of evangelicalism is so tarnished, and if some of the blame does, in fact, come from conservative theological voices who have been complicit in this bad witness before the world, what, then, should we do. Do we hang on to this historic name for ourselves, trying to reclaim, renew, and revive it? Should we give it up? How can we adjudicate the confusions this name now brings with it, and, if it has become so greasy from being mishandled, how can we proclaim the gospel of a saving Christ and the advent of a good and wholesome Kingdom of God? These contributors are sharp, some more heartbroken than others; all are deeply concerned about the reputation of our churches and the testimony before a watching world about the goodness of the gospel. This is a very important book for anyone who cares about the religious landscape in our society. Please order some today!

Kingdom Collaborators: Eight Signature Practices of Leaders Who Turn the World Upside Down Reggie McNeal (IVP) $16.00 This is another fantastic book from The IVP Praxis line, a creatively serious line of useful resources to equip leaders for contemporary ministry. Those who know Reggie McNeal know him as a long-standing voice for what we now call the missional church; he was talking about being outward focuses and Kingdom oriented for decades and his vibrant speaking schedule has made him a well-known and well-trust voice among church consultants and leadership coaching. He works for something called GoodCities and is a senior fellow for the Leadership Network. This book is brand new.

I love McNeal’s last book Kingdom Come and this starts there – with an allusion to Acts 17:6 and the reputation the early church had for, as Nancy Ortberg says in her vivid endorsement on the back, “deconstructing what religion had become by painting a compelling picture of the realty of God’s Kingdom.” Then, Kingdom Collaborators lists nine features of effective missional leaders. As I skimmed the table of contents today I am glad we ordered quiet a few. I’m going to pushing it this Spring and figured we should start off with a bigger than usual discount now, right out of the gate. This looks tremendous, thoughtful, but very practical, too.

The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966 Robert Hudson (Eerdmans) $23.99 I know, I know, we announced this earlier in the week and I raved a bit. I’m so excited, and the foreword itself is just fantastic. What a very cool idea, written by a very reliable author who is obviously bonkers over Dylan and Merton, too. Ya gotta love a book that says that “Cables to the Aces is when Merton went electric.”  If you get that, you’ve gotta get this book!

Here is some of what I wrote last week – I don’t have time to re-write a longer review now, mostly because I want to go read this now! So here ya go, read it again, and know it’s on sale for the next three days at 30% off.

Oh, if time permitted, I’d love to tell you more about this….this splendid, much-anticipated book is one of these works of genius that isn’t what you’d typical expect from Eerdmans, but it seems just right coming from them. Kudos, kudos! It will surely be much discussed and the cover alone is almost worth the price of the book. The Monk’s Record Player is a true telling of an episode that isn’t well known among those who follow – and there are a lot who follow and a lot written about – Bob Dylan or the mystic, activist monk, Thomas Merton. The author, Robert Hudson, is himself a huge Dylan fan, a mystic poet (like Merton, you know) and a man of contemplative prayer (he’s the one who got Four Birds of Noah’s Ark back in print again, a prayer book from the time of Shakespeare that we touted as one of the best books of its kind in 2017.) It has a foreword by David Dalton, a New York Times bestselling author and – please note: a founding editor of Rolling Stone Magazine. What a fabulous, rich, multi-dimensional, creative work this is.

And what a heckuva story.

Everybody knows how eccentric and cryptic Bob Zimmy could be. And most who know of Merton know he took a vow of Cistercian silence but couldn’t shut up. And he had a great sense of calling into the literary world, and he had a great sense of humor. I have met people who knew him, and everybody agrees he was, usually, the life of the party.

You maybe know (if I can be allowed a Dylan-esque stream of consciousness moment) that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s bravery to resist Hitler was nurtured less by his academic study of liberal theology at Union in the 1940s but from his experience of the African American worship at Abyssinian Baptist and, especially their black gospel choir. He took gospel records back with him to Germany and the rest, as they say, is history.

Perhaps somewhat similarly, Merton, as Hudson shows, took some Bob Dylan albums with him as he strode away from and back into the modern world. This book tells the story (which involves Joan Baez, I might add) and it is a story no one else has noticed. As Publishers Weekly puts it, after noting how many books there are on Merton and Dylan already, “shelf room just must be made for this one.”

Listen to Steve Rabey:

Robert Hudson’s revealing ‘parallel biography’ shows how two of the most prolific and influential figures of the 1960s, both perpetually restless spiritual pilgrims, shared a passion for prophetic poetry, an opposition to the war in Viet Nam, and a boundless inquisitiveness. In this enjoyable and insightful book Hudson connects the dots that other Merton scholars have overlooked

The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church David John Seel, Jr. (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 This is another we did a very long review of in BookNotes a month ago and now want to move more, so hope the extra discount will encourage you to read it, maybe with a group. This includes some sweeping overviews of Western history and the shifts in culture that some call postmodern. It summarizes a lot of the research on Gen X and millennials and Gen Z and such. It isn’t sloppy and it isn’t simplistic, but it does offer a fresh and powerful summary of what’s going on, how it is that churches can build new relationships of honor and trust among their emerging adults, and what we all can do to, like Copernicus of old, navigate a new world that is appearing with new ways of understanding the cosmos and our culture and ourselves. This is a great read and more important than you may know. Highly recommended.

Four Views on the Church’s Mission edited by Jason Sexton (Zondervan) $16.99 I hope you liked my long review of the Jubilee conference in the last BookNotes, and noted that this is a particular way of telling the gospel story, a way that sees the Kingdom of God as the central theme of Jesus’s ministry and work. His community, His people, the Body of Christ, the Church, is core to that story, of course, but, in this reformationally worldviewish telling, God is redeeming all of life and, therefore, thinking Christianly about economics, say, is as important as theology, and the work of the plumber or journalist or midwife is as important as the minister, priest, or nun.

Is that so? What sort of view of the church, then, emerges from that kind of Kingdom vision? And, conversely, what kind of view of the mission of the church emerges from other views of the church? How do we more precisely name the tasks appropriate for the institutional church and what is the more general mission of the people of God, but not the work of the church, per se? These are questions that have captured by attention for decades and this book is another major piece of the puzzle. It offers a good debate and clarifying viewpoints of four classic views, four angles of vision on what the church is and what it should be about. These “Counterpoint” books are very informative and we like many of them. This one is very important.

Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship Gregory Boyle (Simon & Schuster) $26.00 I trust I don’t have to say much about this – we raved about it when we first announced it a few months ago, and many heard Father Boyle on NPR’s Fresh Air, I think. Lots of folks were buzzing about how moving this story of “Homeboy Industries” (the job-training program and community Boyle founded in inner city LA, Compton, to be exact.) The first book that was a huge New York Times bestseller was Tattoos on the Heart and this carries the story of Boyle and his homeboys forward. Boyle has been called brave and humane and brilliant. His writing has been called “astonishing” and “jaw-dropping.” Tattoos of the Heart is remarkable and this is no less so. We have a big stack and we are hoping you’ll appreciate the good discount and pick it up now. What a story!



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In our last post where we highlighted some brand new books (and some long-standing hardbacks that have been finally released in paperback) we noted that we had just gotten back from the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. If you are new to BookNotes or the Hearts & Minds bookstore you may not know that this great event for 4000 college student run by the campus ministry organization CCO (with whom Beth and I are involved) is one of the most important things we’ve ever had the privilege of being involved with. We were involved as a member of the early committee for the event over 40 years ago to being an occasional speaker (yep, Beth and I both) and, in the last few decades, as book provider. I suppose, counting up my time on stage promoting books at the event I may have been up front as often as nearly anyone – and they keep allowing us to come back! It is an honor to invite students to “read for the Kingdom” and it is a hard but true joy to choose and lug and curate and set up (and lay out the cash for) a big pop-up bookstore each February in Pittsburgh.

Here’s a little impromptu Facebook video I made on a whim when we were starting to load the rented truck a week or so ago; I could make a less energetic one now that we are trying to get the hundreds of boxes unpacked and in some order in our basement warehouse. If you’ve got any time in your prayer schedule, add us on your list.

Okay, this was pretty impromptu. And there was just one volunteer (plus our hard-working bookstore staff.) We're still at it – looking forward to selling books at #jubilee2018

Posted by Byron Borger on Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The work after events is harder and more stressful than many know and our bodies and minds are aching as we look to the next complicated weeks, in our personal lives and in the store, post-Jubilee. Which includes – oh yes it does! – A FOUR-DAY ONLY AFTER JUBILEE CLEARANCE SALE. While supplies last, the titles shown way below in the list are 30% OFF. This sale is over at the end of the day –11:59 pm EST – the night of March 8th 2018.

To gain admission to these deep discounts, you just have to read through my breathy rumination, so you know what’s behind all this jubilation. Or not – just skip to the bottom to see the clearance sale items. And the free book offer if you buy any three books mentioned.

To be clear, in this first part, my bibliographic essay about Jubilee, I cite a bunch of books. They are on sale for 20% off, if mentioned in passing in this essay portion. The ones shown in the list further below, however, are all 30% off. Buy any combo of any three mentioned or shown and we’ll throw in a freebie by Michael Frost, also shown below. Just use our order form page – click on the ORDER HERE link and it will take you to our secure site. Then, just type in what you want and give us your info and share your digits. Easy. We’ll confirm everything, old school, with a personal email. Unless you state otherwise we’ll send things the least expensive way we can, which usually means media mail.  Okay?


We don’t have reason to believe that the ancient Hebrews ever actually celebrated the Year of Jubilee as commanded in Leviticus 25. We’ve got a line about it on our Liberty Bell commemorating US political freedom from King George and some Tea Party types emblazon it on caps and tees shirts to complain about high taxes and a media they don’t like. But the Biblical teaching of an every-50-year Jubilee as detailed in Leviticus – dreamed about by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61) so many years later which then became the first lectionary text Jesus used in his first sermon (Luke 4) – was to be so much more than these cheap misappropriations. I’m sure you know that it included land redistribution, forgiveness of economic debts (it’s why we say “forgive us our debts” in the Lord’s Prayer) and other restorative social and economic policies. Years were shaved off of indentured servant’s obligations, prisoners got out of jail, animals got to rest, the land was to lay fallow, in a move ripe with environmental stewardship and an extraordinary experience of trusting the provisions of an abundance creation overseen by a gracious God. All of this good social policy stuff about second chances and renewed social infrastructure and the revival of stewardly economies, conjuring up the teeming blessing of shalom in Genesis 1 and 2, all was to begin on the day of atonement.

When we are made right with God through the sacrificial grace of a merciful Redeemer – you can see how this points us to the cross – our family hurts and social injustices and broken institutions and our relationship with the land itself changes and we can arrange our economies and our relations with the poor and our criminal justice policies and relationships with animals and our own personal budgets all in fresh, new ways. This is the full-orbed, creation-restored, abundant life envisioned by the Sabbath and Jubilee teachings within the Hebrew Scriptures, and it was the basis for Jesus’ inaugural sermon. He bluntly says the Jubilee is a reality, begun in Him. In so many words he says, after reading Isaiah, You’re looking at it.

Jubilee people realize God’s creation is wondrously covenantal and abundant and that God is trustworthy. We move from fear to freedom and – yes – we can rest. Jubilee, it could be said, is the every-50-year Rest of all Rests, the Sabbath of all Sabbaths; although just social policies were part of it, at its root was a trust in God and God’s promises that allowed a year of rest; it is where we get the idea of a sabbatical, after all. When we embrace this kind of abundance we can be like the Galilean youngster who shared a loaf and a few fish and ended up with holy leftovers to be re-shared. How many baskets were left over, by the way? A Jubilee-ish number to be sure, offering one more clue that Jesus’ proclamation in Luke 4 that he was inaugurating this “favorable year of the Lord” is oh so true.

I’ve mentioned in other Jubilee-related reflections that some Bible scholars (particularly of a few key texts in Chronicles) deduce that the Jewish exile into Babylon in the early 500s BC, and the number of years they were kept away from their homeland, were, in fact, the number of years they would have done the big Jubilee year of rest had they been obedient. That is, God was so faithful to God’s plan that even if the people had to be exiled for a generation or more, the land would get its rest and at least part of the Jubilee would occur. God apparently takes land and rest and what we now call sustainability seriously.

The land merely laying fallow while the people were in exile wasn’t the robust, joyful plan of social restoration that was intended and centuries later we learn how the prophet Isaiah longed for it; indeed he alluded to Jubilee (see Isaiah 61) and prophesied that it would someday happen. Jesus, so many years later, still, preaching his own very first sermon on that very Isaiah text, says, that, in Himself, that time has arrived. 

You know Jesus as the Christ, as Savior, Redeemer, Bread of Life, Lord, King, friend. I suggest you add “Jubilee Bringer” to the names of Jesus you use in your holy imagination and in your prayers and liturgy. Of course, “Kingdom-bringer” is another way to say the same thing: the Kingdom is at hand; the commonwealth of God, the reign of restoration has begun; the future age of new creation has broken into the now of real life! It is simple: we “seek first the Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33) and everything else falls into place. We preach the gospel “to all creation” (Mark 16:15) and long for “all things” to be reconciled (Ephesians 1:10.) We give all we have for that treasure in that field, we enter the Kingdom and, alas, “all things are made new, we are new creations!” Through Christ’s cross the dysfunctions of the idols and powers of this world are undone (Colossians 2:15) and “all things” are reconciled (Colossians 1:20.) All things?

All things?

God wants to heal and re-direct and receive glory from reconciled sports and architecture, nursing and filmmaking, science and business, cooking and international diplomacy? Christ-followers and Kingdom agents are helping renew schooling, philosophy, factories, farming, childbirth, politics, media, home-life, and higher education?

It’s no wonder that a group of people in Pittsburgh in the 1970s studying Dutch Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham (“Every Square Inch”) Kuyper and a Mennonite book called The Politics of Jesus concluded that Jubilee would be a good title for a conference about this big redemptive story of God based on forgiveness and trust, leading to social renewal and public justice, the grand hope of the restoration of all things.


As happens every year, I got teary and occasionally wept as I watched my younger colleagues at the CCO leading their college age students into this broad vision of God’s redemptive work in the world at the annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. Time and again in powerful main sessions and engaging workshops and vivid, loud worship, nearly 4000 students and lots of others were invited into a view of life that gives account for the goodness of creation and it’s God give orderliness and potential, the brokenness we know that comes from autonomy, sin, idolatries, stupidity, and cruelty, and, further, a vision of God’s grace that leads to redemption in Christ and true hope for the renewal of life as God intends.

It’s the best presentation of the gospel we ever year and the care and creativity obvious in the event is nearly overwhelming to me.

As you may know, the CCO arranges the Jubilee conference in those four major parts, with main stage gatherings moving from presentations on the goodness of creation to the awful fall into sin and the subsequent disruption of the world God made, on to the redemption Jesus brings and ending with a message of hope for the restored creation (what some might call “realized eschatology.”) By Sunday morning the worship and music and speakers inspire students to live into the tension of the “already but not yet” of Christ’s promises of healing the cosmos. “All things (re)new(ed)” promises Revelation 21 and 22 — our lives can be decisively shaped by this hope. Through union with the resurrected, ascended, and returning Christ, we can be the change we want to see. We are pregnant, as it were, with the promise of future hope. We are the light of the world, Jesus said, and we point people (through our good works, He also said) towards the good promises of Kingdom come, which is creation renewed.

The big artful images which served as backdrop for the stage this year were so powerful — I can’t seem to get images copies here, now, but look around for them on line if you like doing that. They were very, very cool.

There is, as N.T Wright wonderful ponders in Surprised By Hope and as Richard Middleton studies in every more detail in A New Heavens and New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (which ends in a great study of Luke 4, by the way), continuity between this world and the next.

It is, I believe, a continuity that provides meaning and structure and direction and purpose for life – for every aspect of life and every sphere of culture, including work and our callings into citizenship, the arts, entertainment, and more – that few churches proclaim with much clarity or gusto. Over and over at Jubilee we hear, even from adults: I’ve never heard this before!

Why is that?

I may be unfairly generalizing and there are grand exceptions, but it seems that more liberal/progressive churches, despite good stands on justice issues and a vision of radical inclusion (see the end of Luke 4 for good Biblical justification of outsiders getting in, so to speak) such churches don’t talk much about future hope or a second coming of Christ or frame ordinary day to day light in such eschatological terms; there isn’t much talk about glory or hope, it seems to me. On the other hand, more conservative evangelical churches still, despite some movement on this, think of “going to heaven” as the real point of all of life. They may be strong in helping individual believers grow in vibrant, personal faith and knowledge of God’s gift of salvation, but they are still weak in relating saving grace to all of life, and equipping folks to live into a hopeful vision of the reign of God that is a-coming, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Further still, we are glad that both mainline denominational folks and evangelicals are learning from Catholic monastics and contemplatives about spiritual disciplines, but, again, some of the centers for spirituality and formation these days talk more about mystical union with God and intimate friendship with Jesus than being shaped by the virtues of Christ to become vessels for all-of-life, love-of-neighbor, “seek the peace of the city” sort of restorative work. It is why we were so glad to tell people about Kyle Bennett’s Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World (Brazos Press; $17.99) that show how spiritual practices help us reconfigure and live in new ways in the real world. It makes perfect sense that James K.A. Smith wrote the forward to Kyle’s book and that they both have spoken at Jubilee. This Jubilee vision is, if nothing, integral.

So, in this still-too-rare Biblical perspective, all of life is being redeemed because God, in Christ, is redeeming this very world. For God so loved the world (the Greek word is cosmos, which means, literally, the stuff of Earth) you know. This was the sign of the first Jubilee – life renewed in a God-centered vision of the common good for all from the land on to reconfigured finances and jails and jobs – and it was at the heart of Jesus’ first sermon.


Which means, it all matters. Every square inch. Or, as the tag line of Jubilee 2018 put it, “This changes everything.”

Using the creation/fall/redemption framework (or the similar rubric of shalom/alienation/reconciliation offered by Lisa Sharon Harper in her wonderful book The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $15.99) is so helpful and generative. Seen through the lens of this story we can see what’s right, what’s wrong, and what is to be done and hoped for. It is helpful beyond words for these students knowing that their hurts and their yearnings (from body issues to racial justice, and more) matter to God and that they can understand them through this framework. We have Lisa’s book listed below on sale for 30% off, so be sure to order if if you’d like.

We sell small books at Jubilee that make a big impact in explaining this; I hope you have some on hand to pass out to those with whom you talk about the full gospel of the Jubilee.

For instance, we love books such as All Things New: Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel Why It Matters by Hugh Whelchel (IFWE; $6.99 — although that is one we have under the clearance sale section at 30% off for the next four days) and A Christian Worldview: A Students Guide by Philip Ryken (Crossway; $11.99) which explain the significance of these four “acts” of the Biblical drama. One of our favorite small groups guides for this is the rare and wonderful Reintegrate Your Career with God’s Purposes by Bob Robinson (Good Place Publishing; $14.00) I hardly know any other simple resources that invite conversations about this coherent Biblical story that shapes how we think about all of life being redeemed. Do you? I wish we’d sell these routinely – they are so useful and so rare. They will create some fresh conversations in your circles, I’m sure!

We hope you know Richard Mouw’s thought-provoking book about the continuity between culture and redemption and new creation in his little book When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans; $15.00.) Again, I promise you’ll both enjoy its crisp writing and learn something new from it – some have found it confounding and others have found it clarifying. Will there be Beatles recordings in the New Earth? It is a serious question and he’s got a proof-text based on the ships of Tarshish!

Of course we always promote more serious explorations of this approach such as Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters (Eerdmans; $15.00.) Even if you think you get the full implications of the c-f-r stuff, his chapter on “structure and direction” is worth the price of the book and priceless for helping us discern wisely about how to relate to the world and institutions and artifacts and stuff around us.

For those that want to dig into the eschatology of this “cosmic reordering of all things” we highly recommend the aforementioned Richard Middleton’s stunning A New Heavens and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic; $27.99) which he summarized in his Jubilee talk shown above. And, of course, again, N.T. Wright’s well-known and very important, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $15.99.)

You can pick up the hardback (usually $24.99) at our 30% off sale price now ($17.50) while supplies last, or get the brand new paperback at the 20% discount announced in the previous BookNotes offer. We only have a couple hardbacks so let us know asap if you want one at 30% off.

Yep, the Jubilee conference, informed as it has been by these kinds of books, help participants see the Bible as a shaping narrative, a story that coheres, which has a plot and trajectory, and matters as it points us to original blessing and order and goodness, helps us understand the brokenness and idols of the age, and enables us to trust in God’s promises and faithfulness, the person and work of Christ, and the pressing pull of the Kingdom coming “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” It re-orients the perspective of participants, re-directing their self-understanding and helping them see themselves as part of the big Biblical drama. It’s a light before our path, which is to say it illuminates what we know about the world so we can walk wisely in the ways of the Lord in every zone of life.  Many of the “how to read the Bible” books we promote there have that as a feature, such as Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew’s The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama (Faith Alive; $15.99) or Sean Gladding’s The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible (IVP; $17.00 or The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life by the fun writer Justin Buzzard (Moody Press; $13.99.)

I wish our regular Hearts & Minds customers and BookNotes readers who are not in college could have a similar enthusiastic reminder that our jobs, neighborhoods, citizenship, leisure experiences, home lives, sexuality, technologies, urban spaces and built environment, eating habits, views of the natural world, and the like are all made good by God, but are not now as they are meant to be, and that every aspect and sphere of natural, cultural, social, and personal life is, although distorted as we experience them, claimed by Christ, part of His Jubilee. How beautiful to see our churches and ourselves as missional agents joining God in the transformation of the world and how very wise to frame it not just in terms of people knowing God’s love or even “changing the world” but to see God’s work of redemption as a restoration of creation order and beauty and intent. To be deployed to that vision of the rescue of creation and attentiveness to creational ordinances and norms and potential, as prelude to the restoration of all things is nothing short of life changing.

I’m sorry to be so wordy preaching all this for you. Thank you for reading along, bearing with me.

I hope you know I’m not just happily recalling the reformational, missional theology behind the CCOs Pittsburgh Jubilee event but I’m telling you why our store is the way it is, the animating vision the has shaped Beth and me, and why our bookstore carries books on work and art and politics and sex and spirituality, cookbooks and novels and books on engineering.

We hope it is your story, too, that God is stirring up in your own desires and yearnings, an increasing passion to learn and grow wise in the ways of the world and the ways of God’s Kingdom. Oh how these newly inspired young people need wise elders and church leaders that can learn from them and also help lead them. See my review of John Seel’s excellent The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church (Thomas Nelson; $16.99) for a reminder of that.

If any of this talk about wholistic faith, a worldview where all of life is being redeemed, where vibrant faith can transcend older debates between liberals and conservatives, but can tell this better story, if this touches a nerve, rekindles a desire, inspires a renewed hope for a full-orbed, incarnational way of being a friend of God in all of life, working for Jubilee justice, learning about faith in the marketplace and public spaces, then maybe our bookstore can help. We want to serve all kinds of readers, but we have you in mind, particularly. We have the tools you need.


Books matter. Books are important tools for thinking about the implications of this worldviewish perspective and good authors can be wise guides to help us think deeply about God’s intentions for creation. To be faithful agents of God’s redemptive purposes in our time we need more than the Bible, more than good church services, more than passion for the relevance of the gospel. We have to think it through, un-learn and re-learn some stuff, and work it out. Why did God in all of God’s wisdom, create humans with capacities to mirror God’s own care for the world God so loves? How does our sexuality or our thinking or are propensity to play or our ability to be creative or our deep need to work or the joy of learning or the call to rest or our spending of money or our capacity to make stuff or our kinship in families, not to mention our ethnicity and gender – all human things — fit into our Christian lives, our discipleship, our walking in the way of the Lord through this hard but wonderful world?

We need all the help we can get to learn what it means to be faithful in the modern world as redeemed people.

I’d say we even have to learn to ask the right questions, and good books can stimulate our minds and enlarge our hearts and guide us into this sort of curious, probing wisdom, with a view to working out a Kingdom viewpoint in all of life.

Books are the tools we need, since even the best pastors among us most likely can’t help you much as an mathematician, school teacher, engineer, business person, artist, barista, elected official, radiologist, or social worker.

We take about 160 categories of books to the Jubilee conference so that participants can see what a well-stocked Christian bookstore looks like and the tools for Christian living we can provide.

There are good books on everything, almost, and not enough people have access to these riches. And, more importantly, germane for this “all of life redeemed” missional Jubilee vision, we take so many books to the conference in order to help conferees discover resources about their own passions and pursuits, the offices to which they are called and their various tasks and duties, as students, friends, relatives, church members, citizens and so forth. The conference is for college students and the life of the mind as they think about their studies, of course, but it also means that we show off books on sexuality and dating, learning to step into what is playfully called “adulting,” and stuff like being a better friend or son or daughter. We sell a lot of “self-help” titles about shame and pain and how God’s grace equips us to forgive and move beyond hurts and setbacks and the insecurities many have. (Does your church help hurting people see the gospel as the balm they need to heal their anguish, to cope with their anxiety? I hope so.) And, naturally, for those still trying to figure out the truthfulness of this Christian story (can such good news really be true?) we sell popular-level introductions to the gospel, books for those with questions and doubts and books that make a good case for the credibility of this story we find ourselves in.

I was glad, by the way, to sell the paperback edition of David Dark’s allusive book Life’s Too Short To Pretend Your Not Religious (IVP; $17.00) and David Skeel’s not-quite-postmodern True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World (IVP; $16.00) alongside the more popular Case for Christ and Case for Faith and other books of evidences and apologetics for those wanting to persuade their friends of the goodness of the gospel way. Hooray for good tools, too, like Os Guinness’s Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP; $22.00) and Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP; $16.00) and Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World by Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer (IVP; $22.00.)

Naturally, we promote resources on the big picture Jubilee worldview and try to encourage students to move a bit beyond the most popular Christian growth books into deeper spirituality (if they are ready for that, but for many, even Lewis’s Mere Christianity or Wright’s Simply Christian is a huge first step and a bit demanding) and, also, to buy books about their majors and future careers. Many of their CCO workers have raised some extra money to help those with limited funds to invest in a personal library, and it is beautiful to see. We have a huge selection of books about vocation and calling and we have a large section of books about work; not all Christian bookstores carry this kind of thing, so it’s precious to offer these tools of faithful Christian living to those who care. (Ahhh, if only older, more established Christian adults had half the passion and zeal and openness to learn that these 20-something have!)

Besides the arts and sciences, books about a Christian view of literature or computer science or nursing or film or business or special education – we think they should read a few books just about what we call “the Christian mind.” For this crowd I like John Piper’s passionate Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Crossway; $15.99) although I really, really like one by Philip E. Dow called Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development (IVP; $17.99.) It is lovely, nicely written and stimulating new ground; it is one faculty and anyone who prides themselves in thinking well should read too. I like to show off the brief Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars by Richard Mouw (Eerdmans; $10.00) mostly because it is so brief. Students don’t know John Stott, these days, but his very classic book (that we passed out at our grand opening 35 years ago!) called Your Mind Matters (IVP; $9.00) is one that pushes back at the sensationalism and anti-intellectualism in some evangelical circles. This stuff if foundational, I’d say.

I think the late, great James Sire (who has spoken at Jubilee more than once and whose recent death was discussed at the book tables more than once) would have been proud to see books about worldview and the Christian mind, including his own Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (IVP; $22.00) and Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling IVP; $20.00.) I know Sire loved The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton (IVP; $22.00) and we had all of Walsh and Middleton’s other books too. Man, I wish folks would order Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time by Walsh (Wipf & Stock; $17.00) – it’s incredibly potent, thoughtful, deep, urgent, and one of the chapters was one of the meatier lectures ever given at Jubilee, years and years ago!

These are books that rocked our worlds over the years and I pray that showing them off to the rising generation of CCO staff and their young students will ripple down through the next decades, putting them on a trajectory of life-long, profound discipleship. Steve Garber’s research on how all that works – moving from worldview to way of life with the help of mentors and friends as described in his very significant Fabric of Faithfulness: Moving From Belief to Behavior (IVP; $18.00) – was displayed right there, too, alongside Sire and Walsh and Middleton and Al Wolters and Mark Noll and the like. Steve used to direct the conference decades ago, so it is always special to show Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $17.00), too. Both are eloquent, beautiful, stimulating, enduring books of Jubilee vision and whole-life discipleship. 

Increasingly, there are a large number of adults that attend Jubilee; in fact there is a tremendous, pre-Jubilee event for pastors and professionals, entrepreneurs and artists, businesspeople and other leaders who want to work out the Jubilee vision in their own grown-up worlds, called Jubilee Professional. I was again invited to speak briefly to this great group – right after a stunning DVD about coffee recently created by the Acton Institute, and speakers such as Andy Crouch and Tish Warren and Dan Allender. Jubilee Professional is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and this year both Acton Institute and the wonderful Made to Flourish (founded by Tom Nelson) helped out. Do you know Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Moving From Sunday Worship to Monday Work? Tom’s vision of seeing churches and pastors motivated and equipped to encourage their congregants in their work lives is lovely; his new book is on why we should know a bit about how the structures of economics unfold and how church folk can take up their lives not unaware of economic forces is called, beautifully, The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity (IVP; $16.00.) If you can, you should sign up for next year’s JubileePro. – it’s a great afternoon event, and then you get in to Jubilee for the big Friday night opening.

It is fabulous to have so many thoughtful, somewhat older adults visit our bookstore at Jubilee, too. Pittsburgh friends come by just to chat and shop; those leading booths (many seminaries, interestingly, but also ministry organizations, camps recruiting college-age summer staff, service opportunities and the like) swing by, to see for themselves what the fuss is about, as do many of the speakers and Jubilee Pro participants. Guests are amazed that we lugged so darn much there, and seem impressed that we have curated this particular mix of books about culture, society, faith development, spiritual formation and books about nearly every sphere of life. I almost cried when John Mark Comer said that “this is what it looks like when a true book lover curates a conference bookstore.” Dan Allender’s literal blessings meant the world to us and will keep us going at least another year. This is hard, hard work, and not particularly lucrative, but having mature Christians who know the book world – authors themselves, especially, and even editors like Bob Hoesak of Baker Academic and Brazos Press – say how much they respect our efforts is such a blessing. We are feeling such gratitude right now. It is an honor to get to work with the CCO and their Jubilee team and you who read our columns and send orders our way are a part of this. You really are as your routine business keeps us going to these sorts of missional events. It is part of what your support of our business enables and we are grateful.


We so wish that you, friend, could experience Jubilee for yourself. We’ve been involved in one way or another in almost every one of the 44 conferences and every year I think that “if only…” others could see what we see, experiencing this grand, bustling, energetic tribe of students struggling with the implications of the gospel for all areas of life, their own faith would be deepened and their own hope for the immediately future would be enhanced.

These kids are rocking their campuses – leading friends to faith in Christ, calling churches into better ministry, getting involved in university life, serving the community and heading off to service projects by the thousands. My, my, any Christian pastor or church leader or youth minister would come away from this event with a boat-load of fresh enthusiasm and good ideas. I have told some clergy to skip their routine professional conferences, the Festival of Homiletics, SBL, the State Pastors Conference, or whatever thing they usually attend and go to this for educational development. There is no event like it on the planet! And, by all accounts, it has the best book display of any gig anywhere.

So why not get next year’s Jubilee dates on your calendar and plan now to make the pilgrimage with us to Pittsburgh in February 22 – 24 in 2019.

I rarely use our BookNotes to promote specific organizations or ministries, but I sure do hope that if anyone has any interest in wholistic, evangelical campus ministry that works so well with this rising generation, that they’d consider donating to the Coalition for Chrisitan Outreach, known popularly as the CCO. The impact they make is fantastic. Or, who knows, maybe you might want to work with them; if you see yourself as wanting to partner with evangelically-minded churches near campuses to reach students (or you attend an evangelically-minded church near a college campus who wishes to reach students) you should contact them.

Here is one particularly vivid example of the impact Jubilee can have on a student – these kinds of stories could be multiplied over and over as young adults find this conference and the CCO’s ministry on their various campuses to be so very life-giving.

Check out this incredible video about our young friend MollyKate, who, after experiencing great hardship and depression (her father committed suicide) sensed God’s love anew through the ministry of the CCO at her campus. Interestingly, she was so taken with the creation-fall-redemption-restoration framework for the meaning of life and the aspects of the gospel story that she did a fashion design project at her school (she is a fashion design major in Ohio) creating dresses that represented these different aspects of the human condition. Her design teachers were so impressed with her couture fashion project – made from salvaged and reused fabrics, by the way – that she was selected to display her dresses with real models during New York Fashion Week. (You’ll see them in the video!) She has even made a little full-color book about her designs to tell the story of how Jubilee gave her a way to think about her calling as a dress designer which we stocked at Jubilee. On the back cover she mentions that those interested in the aesthetics of clothing might read a chapter in Steve Turner’s Pop-Cultured or dig deeper by looking at Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows for the Fallen World. What a joy to have these conversations with a rising leader in her field. How cool is that — a fashion line inspired by Jubilee and the meta-narrative of Scripture sewn by a woman who has experienced her own, as she puts it, “journey of restoration.”

Life Worth Living

Posted by CCO Campus Ministry on Wednesday, February 28, 2018



Books matter. We hear young people and older friends – from students who are not yet followers of Christ to main-stage speakers – tell stories of how books have impacted them. I know it is cheesy to say, but readers become leaders. These pages of print have long been a primary conduit for knowledge and inspiration, joy and healing. I was with a student who broke down in tears as she told me how a book helped her with her relationship with her mother. Another student cried as I found a book that named her particular area of hurt. Speakers told us of a life-changing book; students mentioned citing a book in a paper they were writing or how they had passed a resource on to a friend in the dorm. Books are gifts and we should rejoice in good authors, pray for publishers and bookstores, and remind ourselves just how God has used books down through the ages to deepen faith and resource disciples to live out their faith in more credible and beautiful ways.

But the corollary is, I suppose, that in our age of blogs and the 24-hour news cycle and YouTube comics and digital overload, we can grow both jaded and dumb. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr continue to remind us that we are not as well read as we ought to be and our capacity to think well is being eroded daily. We were glad to sell Alan Jacob’s How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (Currency; $23.00) and Christopher Smith’s Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods (IVP; $16.00) two books we love. As much as I rejoice in telling you about how our book display was appreciated at Jubilee and how books have made a difference in so many lives, it is also true that indie bookstores (especially of the religious and theological sort) are increasingly becoming a thing of the past.

Those that know us well know that we are holding on by a thread, that our good sales at Jubilee and a handful of clergy conferences and other fun events we do all year are not enough to keep us afloat. We need a miracle of a renewed love of reading among our circles; we need more people who understand the need for reading widely, buying books, studying and learning and growing. Every year we come away from Jubilee with some bittersweet emotions – it is the very best thing we do all year and we are astonished at how good it is. We are also deeply aware that students do not read like they used to, that campus ministry professionals do not read like they used to, and that pastors and Christian leaders, with some stellar exceptions, don’t promote books like they used to. Bookstores are going extinct for a reason, and we are implicated in this shift away from what Richard Foster calls in Celebration of Discipline the “superficiality of our time” which can be countered by “the discipline of study.”

You say you want a revolution? Read for the Kingdom!

I will write about this more, later, I suppose, but I must note briefly that part of the reason for the demise of healthy bookstores in our culture (especially health religious bookstores) is not just because of this shift away from thoughtful reading, the loss of a love of the disciplines of real learning, and the dumbing down of content in our pulpits and faith communities and para-church ministries. It is also because so many people prefer the convenience and cheapness of shopping at Amazon.

We get the appeal of digital books, especially for those that travel, so we have no large beef there. We are glad that on-line vendors can sell used books at great prices. We are fond of libraries and used bookstores, so we appreciate that. Also, my hat is off to the geniuses at Amazon for their digital technologies and seemingly endless databases. It is scary when advertisers talk about pitching to the algorithms and how they can funnel and limit our knowledge of only certain books, but, manipulative as it is, it is technically impressive. Granted.

But the practice of buying from faceless sources who are mostly motivated by efficiency and speed and greed surely erodes the values that support serious learning and deep maturity. Like the way cheap and glitzy on line “education” fueled by greed and ideology should not be confused with a humane and transformative liberal arts education, so saving a quick buck at Amazon should not be confused with having a relationship with a real bookseller who cares about you and your formation. This is a reminder offered for the sake of your own intellectual health, a strategic plea on behalf of the sustainability of Kingdom living (what tools will we use to “think Christianly” when our best stores close down and all we have left are the algorithms at Amazon telling you what’s “liked” by others?) And I suppose it is a personal reminder that if you want us continuing to curate good book selections at conferences and doing good reviews of resources here on line, you should considering buying your books from us, or somebody like us. Buying good books is a spiritual discipline and sourcing them, as we say nowadays, from places of integrity that can help you well, is also a truly Christian practice. We are grateful for our friends and customers and we think we can provide you with a good service, so we want to remind you of that.

I write about this now in part because of comments occasionally made at conferences like Jubilee – sometimes even speakers stand in our bookstore and tell their followers to get their books at Amazon, stealing our livelihood in our very presence.

But I bring this up now also because, again, Jubilee is one of the best places anywhere to be inspired to live well in all areas of life, to make a difference with all we’ve got, to relate faith and culture, discipleship and our daily habits, to integrate our own lives with God’s story, day by day by day. To “think Christianly” and honor God in everything thing we do is just in the air, there. We learn from the conference to work out what it means to make our daily choices in ways that serve the common good that make sense from a Christian perspective, as we say. Jubilee invites us to live in ways that point to an alternative way of life that what is offered from late consumer capitalism, one that is based on, well, Jubilee principles of shalom and justice and restoration and stewardship, whole-life integrity. Jesus applauded those who were faithful in little things and promised that when we discern what faithfulness looks like in our small choices we will be able to move into deeper areas of impact, maybe even being agents of reformation and cultural renewal and history-making. I am so proud of CCO staff who walk alongside students in their critical years helping them discern a faithful sort of living.

You say you want a revolution? Start small; here’s one idea: buy from trusted sources that care. And, then, read for the Kingdom.



30% OFF THESE TITLES while supplies last

Buy any combo of any three and get the free Frost book shown below

This sale expires end of day, March 8th 2018.

These are all books we routinely stock and you can order them later at 10% off, or at a better discount if ordering in quantity. Give us a call if we can help further. For the next four days, though, while supplies last, we offer these shown below at 30% OFF.

We’ll call it rather inelegantly a clearance sale.

Garden City Work, Rest, and What It Means to Be Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $16.99 This is one of the best, refreshing, upbeat, fun books to read about all this good stuff. The design suggests a Rob Bell book. We really appreciated John Mark’s encouragement to us at Jubilee; he’s a good guy and did a great job Sunday morning. Buy a bunch of these and pass them out!




God Has A Name John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $16.99 . This is John Mark’s most recent book and it is oddly breezy yet profound, inviting us to know the name of God, to be in relationship with this God who cares. Interestingly, Comer suggests that the passage where God reveals God’s own name (in Exodus 34) may be the most quoted verse of the Bible in the rest of the Bible. Very nicely done.




The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson) $17.99 Over and over I remind people that this is a beautiful, potent, elegant, thoughtful must-read. I think it is a very important work, one of my own personal favorites, and we highly recommend it. Get it now while on sale and you will want to read it more than once.





Culture Making Discovering Our Creative Callings Andy Crouch (IVP) $22.00 Again, this is one of those books that is nearly a must-read, essential to understand the Jubilee conference and Jubilee Pro as these ideas have been so significant in our community. This is a book that explores the “cultural mandate” of imaging God well in the world by using our creativity and abilities to learn to enhance the world God has given us and make a contribution. Andy did a splendid job at Jubilee –if you saw his video from an older Jubilee (where he plays as Bach piece as he did this year) it will be clear how very thoughtful and articulate he is.


Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power Andy Couch (IVP) $25.00 I can’t tell you how powerful and important this is. Most readers of BookNotes have some sort of cultural power and most of us need to be a bit more intentional about considering Christianly the goodness, troubles of, and redemptive practices that might help heal our weird relationship with institutions of power. Highly recommended.




Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00 This small hardback is still being discussed in places who have read it together and it is more than clever, it is a stroke of genius to have this formulation of how to do more than “balance” power and strength on one hand and risk and vulnerability on the other. Can we embody both? What are the implications? How we can learn to be fully human, exercising our gifts in cruciform service? One of the most generative books we’ve read in years…



A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books) $14.99 With a forward by the energetic, globally-followed justice activist Christian Caine, this may seem like quite the upbeat manifesto. But, although it is very well written – Beatty was a print journalist and eventually editor of CT, after all – but it is sober and wise and thoughtful and down to Earth. As you may know, we love books on calling and vocation and it is no surprise that Beaty has been to both Jubilee and Jubilee Professional… she’s thoughtful and highly respected, offering here the only good book in this field, linking calling and vocation to women’s experiences in the workplace and the world at large. It’s well worth having, a good book to share.

Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Derek Melleby & Donald Opitz (Brazos Press) $15.00 Okay, you are reading all of this and you realize you know young adults who are in college who never heard of Jubilee, or are too far away to come (although we had folks there from California and Tennessee and Florida and Michigan and Indiana) or who wouldn’t be inclined to come, even if they could. I get that. Not every young adult is comfortable thinking about God and church and Christ’s Kingdom and they sure don’t get that it connects to their experiences in college. I want to invite you to consider giving this book to them. (I’m not just saying that – I really hope you seriously give it your consideration. Whom do you know who needs this?) It explores how most American’s view college life (either it’s a blast a la Animal House or it’s super studious as a ticket to academic success and a future career with a good paycheck) and how God might be offering a different view of the young adult years. What if we could actually see God in the classroom? What if we study to know God’s world and ourselves better? What if we took up a liturgy of learning that helped us connect religion and life? I suppose you’ve heard that I adore these two authors – they are among my best friends – and that this book is dedicate to me. It is an honor I don’t take lightly, and it is a book I wish I could sell more widely. Please consider it. Now is a time to get it on sale. Your young student friend will be glad you cared.

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Good Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook) $15.99 You may recall that this is one of the books we’ve touted the most lately, and we like the way Lisa does the c-f-r approach, but using fresh and Biblical language.  She shows the blessed shalom of the good creation, the harsh alienation due to sin, and the cosmic reconciliation brought by Christ. In Him, the Prince of Peace, the alienation can be healed — indeed, in the second half of the book she explores how reconciliation can occur in so many areas where there are hostilities and pain, from our own body images to class differences, ethnic tensions to our relationship with the earth itself. This is very good news, indeed.

Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith Preston Sprinkle (NavPress) $14.99 I am a big fan of this book and I’ll tell you why: discipleship — as in the Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, say — is something folks are confused about. Are we all called to be disciples? What does that even mean; what does it look like? Does it mean one must also be a disciple-maker, as in a mentor or leader or something? Well, this book tries to clear up some confusion, and uses some nationally-gathered research, too, which is always interesting, to know what church folks across denominational lines think they this this elusive word means. Sprinkle thinks it is a good and useful word, and explores how our minds matter in how we think about life and times, so we should read and learn. (Sound familiar? Right on!) He talks about work and callings, aware that for many of us, the workplace is the main venue in which our faith is lived out. His refusal to have a large gap between Sunday and Monday, or between, say, evangelism and social action, shows he’s a new generation leader, offering a balanced and passionate, relevant and faithful, thoughtful and engaging sort of way to follow Jesus.  Thanks to the Barna Group for working on this project and thanks to Sprinkle for helping us think just a bit deeply (if colorfully) about what sort of renewal we should be seeking in these days.

Breaking the Idols of Your Heart Dan Allender & Tremper Longman (IVP) $16.00 Dan is a good friend of the CCO and his words of kindness and blessing to us meant more than he may realize. What an honest, raw, important storyteller he is, a seasoned therapist, thoughtful Christian psychologist, whose work about shame and hard stuff is informed by a wise, narrative view of the unfolding drama of God’s work in our lives and in the world. I think it is fair to say he was influenced as a young man by the Jubilee vision of the CCO — the creation/fall/redemption worldview stuff talked about in, say, Al Wolters’ Creation Regained or Walsh & Middleton’s Transforming Vision is in his bones. This is a creatively written approach study of Ecclesiastes, actually, colorfully co-written by a respected Old Testament scholar, highlighting the search for life’s ultimate meaning. Really good.

God Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation about Sexual Desire and Holiness Dan Allender & Tremper Longman (Baker Books) $16.99 This is another brilliant collaboration with Hebrew Bible scholar Tremper Longman and, like Breaking the Idols, they use a fictionalized story as a device as they watch a group of women and men walk through the Song of Solomon and struggle with the goodness, hurtfulness, and glories of redeemed sexuality. What a great resource!




To Be Told: God Invites Your to Co-Author Your Future Dan Allender (Waterbrook) $15.99 This was maybe the most popular book at Jubilee this year, and for good reason. It invites us to name our life’s story, to be self-aware about our pains and trauma, and to allow God to re-write a new story. This is really thoughtful material and we very highly recommend it.  A number of CCO staff used this before Jubilee and the conversations, we’re told, here rich and important.




Bold Love Dan Allender & Tremper Longman (NavPress) $17.99 Readers polls have continue to report that this is one of the best books people have read and it is surely one that is necessary and profoundly helpful. It isn’t easy, though, as it pushes us towards a deep and Christ-like love. Can we learn to love even a fool? What about those who have hurt or abused us? Can we love parents that have failed us? What do we make of the desire for revenge? Can we seek justice even as we are gracious? What’s with “turning the other cheek?” How can we avoid contempt and violence—can love be creative and even cunning? Jesus calls us to love and this bold book helps us get there. Brennan Manning called it “dazzling” and Dr. John Miller said it was “the best modern book on love I’ve ever read.” Wow.

Leading with a Limp Dan Allender (Waterbrook) $15.99 The tag line on this, if not exactly a sub-title, says it clearly: “Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness.” Really? Yep, Allender breaks convention and suggests we need not always lead from our strengths; in fact, perhaps our very brokenness is the sore spot that God might use to make us into great leaders. (Shades of the Enneagram, perhaps? He doesn’t mention that.) I think this is counter-intuitive and brilliant, offering a refreshing exploration of weakness and pain, hope and leadership, how to cope with betrayal and loneliness and more. What a good read it is, too – especially with chapters like “No More Jackasses” and stories drawn from the failure of a construction company. And great debates he has, in the endnotes, with his editor. (He admits, when his editor asked him some tough questions, he wrote back, “Ron: Leave me alone.”) What are your flaws? How can you “take advantage” of them? Flawed, but healthy, leaders, Allender says, “are successful because they’re not preoccupied with protecting their image. They are undaunted by chaos and complexity. And they are ready to risk failure in moving an organization from what it is to what it should be.” Hmm. Maybe a “limping leader” is the kind of person God uses to accomplish amazing things.

The Good Life Trip Lee (Moody Press) $11.99 AND/OR Rise: Get Up and Live in God’s Great Story Trip Lee (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 Let’s face it, it’s fun having a bone fide rock star – in this case an expert rapper, star in the hip-hop world along with his friends Lacrae and Sho Baraka and Propaganda (who were at Jubilee last year.) These are Trip’s two books, both really useful, clear, encouraging. The first, The Good Life is compact sized and makes a great gift for one who is seeking faith, who wonders what it means to life a good life, and how faith can help. Is the meaning of it all a nicer car and bigger house, getting what you think you want? Or is there more? Nicely done, for sure! The second, Rise Up, is his dramatic book about taking faith and discipleship seriously, about allowing God to touch you so you are a useful vessel, and being a part of the uprising of God’s Kingdom. Passionate, solid, inspiring, this is a great intro to relevant faith for anyone who might appreciate a book from the world of pop culture. Blurbs on the back are from NBA and NFL stars and the cover is way cool.

Welcome to the Revolution: A Field Guide for New Believers (Thomas Nelson) $12.99 AND/OR Free Book Brian Tome (Thomas Nelson) $14.99 We’ve promoted Tome’s introduction to Christian faith –Welcome to the Revolution on the opening night of Jubilee for years. I like it’s feisty invitation to be a part of some big God movement, but how it reminds newcomers to faith that they must learn the Bible, experience prayer, be involved in community, worship well, and serve. Welcome… is a fine introduction for young Christians who need these basics; I could see it even being used in confirmation classes if the kids are somewhat mature or creative. Free Book, though, is a step deeper, laden with fun and funny stories, really zealous and creatively written and it is about, well, freedom. Christ calls us to follow Him on this revolutionary adventure and that means we have to get away from religiosity and legalism and being tied up. Christ sets us free. Brian says, “I am a fanatic about freedom.” The gospel is about grace. We can be free to live abundantly and take risks for the Kingdom once we get this under our belts. It’s a great book, dissing the world’s systems (even the religious world) that wants people to buckle under, duped into fear and anxiety about being good enough. By the way, as it says on the cover “not that kind of free.” Ha, I wish. But we do have it at 30% off, which ain’t bad.

The Language of Faith and Science: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Frances Collins & Karl Giberson (IVP) $22.00 Everybody needs a good handle on how to think about science these days. There is no doubt that many of us, even young adults, are curious about faith and science and we sold a lot of various sorts of books on this kind of thing at Jubilee. We have a brand new book in fact, just released by IVP, making the case that a healthy view of faith and science will help the church in its engagement with young adults. (Written by researcher Greg Cootsona it is called Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Drop me a note if you want more info on it.) I think this popular, sturdy volume by Francis Collins & Karl Giberson is a very good, very accessible work that would be useful for most of us to have on our shelves. 

Mariner: A Theological Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge Malcolm Guite (IVP) $35.00 Okay, I’ll admit this wasn’t a huge feature at Jubilee, but I share it because I wanted you to see some of the specialty sorts of stuff we take for, in this case, mostly, lit majors, I suppose. (Or those who are huge fans of Malcolm Guite and his liturgical poetry, which should be everyone reading this.) We take a lot on the arts, aesthetics, pop culture, music, poetry, writing and such. This very new book is a serious contribution not only to the faith and literature genre, but it the latest in the significant “Studies in Theology and the Arts” series that we so esteem. We have each of the others (which all pertained to contemporary visual arts and aesthetics, so this, on literature, was a surprise.)

Here’s the fairly obvious description from the press, but know it doesn’t do this major book justice, written as it is, by a leading Anglican poet and theologian. What a book!

Poet and theologian Malcolm Guite leads readers on a journey with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose own life paralleled the experience in his famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” On this theological voyage, Guite draws out the continuing relevance of this work and the ability of poetry to communicate the truths of humanity’s fallenness, our need for grace, and the possibility of redemption.

Glimpses of Another Land: Political Hopes, Spiritual Longing Eric Miller (Cascade Books) $22.00 I raved about this a few years ago when it first came out; Eric is a friend (and a former school teacher from here in the York area) who has been a well-loved history professor at Geneva College in Western PA. He is a very thoughtful guy and he writes for places like the Front Porch Republic blog; that is, he makes it a real point to seek a “third way” between the left and the right. He’s a localist, if you will, a story-telling, oral history buff inspired by the likes of Wendell Berry and Bill Kauffman and, more significantly, Christopher Lasch. He helped co-write a major, scholarly book on a Christian philosophy of history and has a lovely blurb on the back of friend John Fea’s substantial, readable, Why Study History. But this – well, it’s a glorious collection of delightful, interesting, dare I say at times prophetic essays, ruminating on Pennsylvania, baseball, football, education, a sense of place, being post-partisan, true patriotism, seeking hope in fallen times, always hope. What does that mean, and, literally, what does it look like?

Mark Galli says “Eric Miller is one of the most thoughtful and graceful writers today – a combination of intelligence, humility, and faithful insight. I try to read everything he writes. What a gift to have so many of his essays collected in one place.” We love telling folks about this, and figured the extra discount might help. If you love good writing and thoughtful, wise, rumination on the state of the world, this is a treasure.

All Things New: Rediscovering the Four Chapter Gospel  Hugh Whelchel (Institute on Faith, Work, and Economics) $6.99 I mentioned this one above, linking it to the structure of the Jubilee conference itself, noting that it is one of the only small, inductive Bib le studies – look up the verses and talk about them – that shows the whole inter-related creation-fall-redemption-restoration story of the gospel. A fifth week shows why salvation cannot be truncated to merely the middle two chapters of the story (we are sinners and God forgives us, the assumption most make about the definition of the gospel) and a sixth session explores why it matters. We are one of the few bookstores carrying this and we’re eager to let you know even selling them at such a low profit margin, here, just because we really, really want to get ‘em out there. Order one, see what you think, and then order more for your small group, leadership team, Bible study, mentoring relationship, work-world fellowship group, or Sunday school class. Hang on — this is good, solid Bible teaching.

Jesus in the Courtroom How Believers Can Engage the Legal System for the Good of the World John W. Mauck (Moody Press) $13.99 AND/OR

Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession Michael Schutt (IVP) $27.00  It was so exciting to have a workshop, as we often do at Jubilee, for young pre-law or law students. The amazing woman doing it this year was very sharp (and, happily, promoted Bryan Stephenson’s mighty book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.) We always encourage law students or attorneys to master the must-read classic in the field –every discipline and career should have such an astute classic book – my our friend Michael Schutt, Redeeming Law but we’ll admit it’s a bit heavy for some, what with the study of jurisprudence and it’s citing philosophers from Dooyeweerd to Aquinas. Dear John Mauck’s book, however, is short and sweet, clear as can be and inspiration for nearly anyone. Mauck is a very well known and widely respected attorney in Chicago and those in his firm are happy to know that John is outspoken about his faith, his own discipleship, and how it motivates him to do good work in his practice. Jesus in the Courtroom is a great little book, reminding us that Christ is King of all and that even something as sticky as legal work can point folks to true justice. Both books are on sale for this limited time, while supplies last. That’s a just ruling, eh?

A Beautiful Mess: How God Recreates Our Lives Danielle Strickland (Monarch) $12.99 Danielle Strickland did an amazing job at Jubilee, upbeat, perky, fun, crazy-funny, and yet serious, thoughtful, well-informed, and deeply passionate about God’s call to serve the poor and be agents of justice. She has been a strong leader and preacher within the Canadian Salvation Army for years and is now involved in a major initiative to stop the pipeline of kids from foster care ending up on the streets, trafficked and abused. You will be hearing more about that, I’m sure. We really recommend this powerful book. Shane Claiborne, after noting that it may feel like a punch at times, says it is “a beautiful book.” Amen.


The Ultimate Exodus: Finding Freedom from What Enslaves You Danielle Strickland (NavPress) $14.99 This book was first published in the UK and here is a fabulous, recent edition published here. I do not know of any book that accomplishes this project so well, exploring the Exodus narrative as a metaphor for our own journey to freedom. She sounds like some upbeat blend of Max Lucado and Walter Brueggemann, drawing on liberation theologians and social change advocates and personally alive conventional evangelicals, offering up a great, great book to read, or to use in a small group.

Brilliant thinker, activist, and cultural creative Ken Wytsma says:

It is common to find a book that would be good for someone you know. It’s rare to fine a book that would be good for everyone you know. Simple, beautiful, and comprehensive. The Ultimate Exodus holds treasures of Danielle’s life experiences and the depth of her spiritual reflections is poetic and life changing… This book is a gem.

Michael Frost, who we respect greatly as a writer, says:

This is a book about getting free and becoming a real and an honest-to-goodness follower of God — disciplined, focused, evangelizing, praying, serving, sabbathing, giving, and believing. And because I know Danielle Strickland, I can say that it’s written by one. You simply must read it.

Other great speakers and writers who live out what they write about endorse it with great gusto – Bob Goff, Jo Saxton, Peter Grieg, Alan Hirsch. Yeah. Order some today!

The Liberating Truth: How Jesus Empowers Women Danielle Strickland (Monarch Books) $12.99   Yes, the rumor is true: I promoted from up front at Jubilee the little book by Nigerian novelist called Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie We Should All Be Feminists. It’s based on her lovely TED talk and we think that in this ages of #metoo, it was important to say, although we’ve said it endlessly for decades. Thoughtful evangelical feminists have spoken at Jubilee in years gone by, from Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen to Elaine Storkey to Mimi Haddid to Lisa Sharon Harper. Anyway, if one wants an inspiringly upbeat, fabulously inspiring, Biblical basis for why I felt compelled to highlight Adichie’s little book, I’d happily recommend Strickland’s The Liberation Truth. 

I mentioned The Liberation Truth and her other ones from the main stage as we introduced her to Jubilee, but, to be honest, there was a lot going on after her talk, and students didn’t make their way to the book display. She was a really dynamic speaker and we are committed to selling her books; they aren’t as known as they should be, and we’re happy to offer them at a deep discount now.

The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms Timothy & Kathy Keller (Penguin) $17.00 AND God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Devotions in the Book of Proverbs Timothy & Kathy Keller (Penguin) $20.00  The famous New York Presbyterian scholar and pastor, Tim Keller (who is one of the most well-known contemporary writers in this crowd) was not a Jubilee (although we are sort of proud to note that Kathy was at the precursor to Jubilee, sponsored by the network that became the CCO in the early 70s.) These two very classy hardback devotionals (and all of his books, actually) were there. They are so nicely done and so solid, we featured them prominently at the conference. We’ve got some left over and figured we’d bless you with a good deal, while supplies last. Very highly recommended.

Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99  We had a big stack of these at Jubilee and I announced from the main stage that I still think Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is one of the most important books of the decade. But I have to admit, the three big ones that were summarized in You Are What You Love — that would be Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom and the most recent, Awaiting the King — were for the most part too academic for most undergrads who aren’t quite aware of this level of sophisticated Christian public theology. That this new one grapples with questions of public ethics (inspired by the often dense Oliver O’Donovan) and with urgent matters of how we construe race and racism (in engagement with Willie James Jennings’s brilliant and provocative Yale University Press volume, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race) indicates, I suppose, that these aren’t for everyone. Jamie is coming to York and Lancaster April 6th, so you might want to start working on this one now, though. We’ll offer it at the 30% off sale price for these four days.

Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval Mark Sayers (Moody Press) $13.99   I have said often that I am a huge, huge fan of Mark Sayers, the brilliant Aussie cultural critic and missional church pastor. His lively but insightful Vertical Self is amazing and I still think his playful critique of hyper consumers (The Trouble with Paris) is potent. His study of Kerouac (The Road Trip That Changed the World) is pretty great (it’s really the only Christian approach I’ve ever read.) He has a book on leadership called Facing Leviathan on how to lead and create while in this cultural storm. Sayers has just started a new podcast done with John Mark Comer, so it was fun to give a shout-out about that at Jubilee – Comer wrote to me saying that Sayers is just such a darn fun writer. Well, I figured I could convince young adults to get Strange Days if they were touch a bit with their anxiety about this crazy season we’re living in, what with Trump bragging about the size of our nukes and our tensions with Russian and nearly weekly terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis still looming all over the world. Things are changing fast, with fairly benign changes like transgendered bathrooms and deeply scary things like school shootings. What in the world is going on out there? How do we find the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit in these strange days? I don’t know if the Gen Z gang didn’t get the allusion to the album by The Doors or didn’t get the brilliant move of early 1900s neon on the cover, speaking of strange days. Anyway, we have a big stack of these and I’m a fan. Buy this easy to read book to get a quick handle on the troubles of our times and try to develop discernment about these strange days.

Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture by Craig Bartholowme & Bob Goudzwaard (IVP Academic) $30.00 After that, then, as I’ve said often in these pages, you should consider the recent book Beyond the Modern Age by philosopher and Bible scholar Craig Bartholomew and globally recognized economist and social critic Bob Goudzwaard. I named this as one of the most important books of 2017 and still commend it; it really is one of the most insightful studies of the roots of modern culture and the spirits of the age that I have read in a decade. Goudzwaard, by the way, is an amazing man and he spoke about modern idolatry at Jubilee many moons ago. We don’t have many in stock, but we’ll give you 30% off on that, too, if you want a deeper dive into the spirit of the age.


A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why (A Festschrift in Honor of the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore) edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99  I suppose you know the story of this, how the owners of Square Halo Books surprised us with it on our store’s 35th anniversary in late November. It has in it all sorts of lovely quotes about Beth and me and our bookstore, but it is mostly a collection of pieces by folks doing book reviews, lists of good stuff that serious readers would want to know about. We hoped we’d move a bunch of these at Jubilee, but it just didn’t happen.Young people starting to develop their libraries need books about books, wise guides and well-written annotated bibliographies, so this book done in our honor (apart from being a delightfully cool memento of our store’s work and anniversary) might have been useful, but we didn’t have time to really get it into the hands of those who are learning to read widely. I suppose knowing that you need books about books like this and wanting to read these engaging ruminations by important folks is itself an acquired taste.  We know some of our regular customers have really, really liked it and even ordered more to give away to their own fellow book-lovers.

A Book for Hearts & Minds is a well-designed book lover’s treasure and a reader’s guide to all kinds of good stuff, as recommended by a whole bunch of remarkable people. Here we have some very informed folks – including Steve Garber and N.T. Wright and Andi Ashworth and Calvin Seerveld and Karen Prior Swallow and Gregory Wolfe and many others telling what books to read and why. More than one chapter mentions Jubilee, in fact – we so love Denis Haack’s description of meeting us amidst our stacks of books on film at a long-ago conference. Square Halo was kind enough to create this book as a surprise for us, but we believe it has much wider usefulness than just among those who want to pay homage to my wordy BookNotes reviews. Here, now, you can get it at 30% off. Don’t miss this chance – do you know book lovers who might appreciate it? I’m not embarrassed (well, not toooo) to say you should buy a few.



Surprise the World! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost (NavPress) $6.99

If you take us up on any three books at this 30% offer (or even any of the ones I mentioned in the first half, in passing, at 20% off) we will give you, absolutely free, a copy of the small but potent little paperback Surprise the World! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost (NavPress; $6.99.) We are sure it will help you focus and clarify some of your own habits and help you become more of a conduit for creating signposts pointing the way of God’s Kingdom. It’s very nicely done and we’re happy to share for free.



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