CCO, worldview studies, and FOUR BOOKS ON EVANGELISM by York Moore — up to 30% OFF // One Week Only

SPECIAL SALE — ONE WEEK ONLY

Buy any one book at 20% off, as usual.

Buy more than one at 30% OFF

Offer expires August 23, 2022

You may recall that earlier in the summer we reported here that we once again did an off-site event, the first such face-to-face event since the start of the pandemic. We are still concerned about the implications of long-Covid and the high rates at which the virus continues to spread, so it was a big deal for us. 

It was an event with our good friends and colleagues at the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach.) Some of you know that I remain an Associate Staff with them, helping with new staff training, speaking at some events. Beth and I serve them the best we can with book displays at staff conferences and some student events. It was our time working full time in campus ministry with them more than 40 years ago that inspired us to start our bookstore in 1982. Their annual Jubilee conference — inviting college students to think Christianly about the integration of faith and every aspect of life, including academic life — is a highlight of our year, and the best place in the country to see missional, vocational, whole-life discipleship evoked with gusto and grace and a whole lot of fun. 

(You can still visit our adjunct, virtual Jubilee Conference on-line bookstore that we created with about 60 categories of books, to see the sorts of stuff we suggested in helping students relate faith and their college careers, HERE.)

CCO, “CREATION REGAINED”… AND SO MUCH MORE

At this past CCO staff training event there was —among lots of other things — an hour and a half each day set aside to reflect on the book Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters (Eerdmans; $15.00). Like another seminal book that came out that same season, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP Academic; $25.00), Creation Regained does a couple of very, very important things.

First, it reminds us of the scope of redemption —Christ is actually rescuing this Earth, with salvation truly being creation redeemed, so all of life is, in this potent view, essentially religious, spiritual; that is, there is no dualism between the realm of nature and of grace, no dichotomy between the so-called secular and the sacred.

We need to connect worship and work, closing the gap between Sunday and Monday. Others have said this well of late but in the 1970s, when Al Wolters (then at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto) gave the lectures that became Creation Regained to the CCO, I can tell you, it was exciting stuff. Traumatic for some, evocative for others. To think deeply about rejecting the idols of the age and the presuppositions of our culture’s fixation with metrics and quantity over quality, say, informed how the CCO began to think about its own context as an ecumenical (“trans-denominational”) campus ministry working in the context of higher education. Shortly after those heady years of asking if CCO would truly live out this calling to “take every thought captive” and think faithfully about how we did campus ministry (and, for that matter, why) several CCO staff people wrote books. All of Life Redeemed and At Work and at Play are now long out of print, but they were influential as we doubled down on this worldview-ish sense that we were inviting students to (as CCO even now puts it) “transform the world.”

Of course we never really took it all that seriously and the spirit of mainstream evangelicalism, for better or worse, continued to shape and form the ways in which CCO did its good work. They were instructed in contemplative spiritually by Ruth Haley Barton and racial justice by John Perkins and Brenda Salter McNeil (and, more recently, by Esau McCauley) and Biblical studies from many, including the late Kenneth Bailey. Jamie Smith spoke at a staff seminar and years ago they hosted Ron Sider on wholistic evangelism. From Marva Dawn to Bill Edgar, they’ve had a lot of pretty remarkable influences.

Over the years, CCO became known as a special and rather unique organization. Former CCO staffer Steve Garber famously did two books (Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation) that highlighted the cogency of the CCOs vision for higher education and for work.

Other staff or former staff took what they were learning and created much-discussed books — for instance, you know we have promoted Sam Van Eman’s Disruptive Discipleship:The Power of Breaking Routine to Kickstart Your Faith and Erica Young Reitz’s After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith and, more recently, the marvelously creative This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley. In fact, my own compiled collection of speakers who did great commencement addresses was earnestly dedicated to CCO staff who have nurtured so many students through their college years and helped keep their faith and idealism alive so they could live into Serious Dreams.

Still, over time, some of the passion for taking Al’s work seriously has faded, so the leadership wisely invited CCO outdoor educator (and philosopher) Sean Purcell to reflect a bit on some of the most essential parts of that distinctive vision. Al Wolters, who studied with philosophers like Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven at the Free University of Amsterdam eventually became an Old Testament prof but early in his career, inspired by Evan Runner at Calvin College, he taught the history of philosophy at ICS in Toronto; from his own time there, Sean was able to unpack some of the deeper implications of Creation Regained as a key text for our time, embodied and flexible, more a map than a plan.

LEARNING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

I had a bit of a hand in helping with that, and among other things, I highlighted the importance of Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness by Don Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press; $17.00) which delightfully opens up some of these themes for young students, inviting them to see the very classroom as an avenue worship and service. That Don and Derek both worked for CCO and caught this vision of whole-life discipleship and translated it into this upbeat and readable book says much about how the CCO can be nimble and contextualized. They knew an easy-to-read and witty book would go far in helping students get a meaningful approach to this call to see their studies as central to and a venue for deepening their faith.

Naturally I also plugged Greg Jao’s booklet Your Minds Mission (IVP; $10.00) that I think every college kid should have. And for those wanting something even more eloquent, I suggested Cornelius Plantinga’s gorgeous, moving,  Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans; $16.99.)

I say all this to you now since I know many BookNotes readers will be sending student’s off to college soon. These are gifts you should tuck into toothier going-away bags.

Many other authors these days are promoting a “culture making” vision (to use the title of the marvelous book by Andy Crouch) even if it was nearly revolutionary 40 years ago when Creation Regained hit us like a ton of bricks.

Many now draw on the creation/fall/redemption/restoration flow of Scripture (as Al did, opening those four themes up to show their significant influence in our thinking and imagining.) For instance, just consider the really great overviews of the Bible with this wholistic, institutionally engaged missional sort of trajectory, such as Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World by Paul S. Williams (Brazos Press; $19.99) or the tremendously interesting The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World by Michael Goheen & Jim Mullins (Baker Academic; $24.00.)  Recall the book we highlighted a month ago by the great Amy Sherman, Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society (IVP; $26.00) It’s just so rich, offering such a hopeful, good agenda. 

Or, as I highlighted in my talks to the CCO staff, the compact-sized hardback that is just so very interesting and helpful, eloquent and compelling, A Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work (IVP; $20.00.) Few can say so very much in such short essays, inspiring us to live an integrated life for the Missio Dei. .

So we talked about all that last month with the new and old CCO staff and I wanted to share that with you. Thanks for caring.

MEET YORK MOORE

Here, then, is what I’m also very, very excited to tell you about, if you care at all about this corner of our work.

CCO recently hired a new President/CEO, R. York Moore. While he wisely intuits much of the above, it isn’t exactly his background. York has worked for years with IVCF and has a heart for evangelism which he understands as much more than cheap soul saving; he insists that sharing the gospel with others is an announcement of God’s Kingdom, an invitation from a loving God that demands a response. He is a good and creative writer, too. He’s sharp, strategic, and enthusiastic. Even if you don’t know CCO well, please pray for him as he helps CCO move into a new season back on to campuses after a hard couple of years.

York has four books which we naturally celebrated at the CCO event. Because he has addressed CCO in the past (and even was a main stage speaker at Jubilee a few years ago) many of our older staff have some of his books. Alas, we ended up with a bit too many, so we want to offer them to you at a special discounted deal, now. Help support us as we serve the CCO by taking a few of these four books off our hands.

EXTRA SALE NOW — ONE WEEK ONLY

As is the custom here at BookNotes, most of the titles we highlight are 20% off. But if you buy more than one of these now, we’ll sell ‘em at 30% OFF. That’s a great dea! One week only.

Here they are.

Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away: Telling the Gospel Story with Grace and Passion R. York Moore (IVP) $17.00

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE= $13.60
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off = $11.90

As it says on the back, “Talking about Jesus isn’t just good for the people who hear. It’s good for you, too.”

Yep, if you don’t want your own faith life to grow stale, lose it’s zip, fall into a spiritual rut, just share your path with others. As most of us know from experience (and as York explains) the Holy Spirit energizes you when you talk about God and the gospel with others and can awaken you to experience life in greater fullness.

The book has a couple of good things going for it — it is concise and to the point. It is loaded with stories. It reminds us of stuff we knew but calls us to rely on the Spirit as we find ways to tell the Story of God. 

The first six chapters are as clear about evangelism as any I’ve read and worth the price of the book.  The next seven are about various sorts of folks who God may bring your way and how to talk with them meaningful about God’s redemption and the life God has for them. From enemies to the hurting, those close to us to complete strangers, York offers examples and stories, strategies and plans of how to “meet them where they are” and be stretched to share good news with them. This is really good stuff.

As the publisher puts it, “Rediscover the energy and passion of following Jesus by telling his story. Grown your faith by giving it away.  Warning: the lives God changes may include your own!” Ha. May it be so.

Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice. R. York Moore (IVP) $18.00                                    

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE= $14.40
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off = $12.60

It was nearly a decade ago but I remember it distinctly. I was longing for more good books that were serious about evangelism and were passionate about social change; books that wanted to offer, in Ron Sider’s famous phrase, “good words and good deeds.” Or, in the title of a book by Harvey Conn that was so very important to many in the CCO in the 1980s, “evangelism and justice.” This, I thought, was it.

York was not only a gifted mass evangelist and a passionate communicator of the simple gospel of grace through Christ, he was traveling around the world, observing and helping organizations (like IJM) that were were fighting sexual trafficking and modern day slavery. He was learning first hand not only about the racism and injustice he experienced as a poor kid growing up in Detroit, but global injustices. It seemed like new lights were going off in his head, new recesses being touched in his soul. His Kingdom vision was expanding from these often horrific first hand encounters and he told his unfolding story beautifully in Making All Things New.

Wonderfully, York places the Biblical call to justice within yet even the bigger, even more audacious dream of God’s plan to bring restoration to all corners of this broken planet. The cosmic dream of “all things new” is conjured up in the Bible in part by proclaiming how the will be liberty to the captives, the poor getting a Jubilee-like second chance for real restoration, swords beat into plowshares and the nations reconciled. Could this big picture of the Kingdom coming be what we mean when we invite people to faith? Does evangelism really entail all that?

Indeed. York guides us through Biblical teaching and stories and a passionate (and honest) account of the Bible’s own vision of the last days. There is judgement against evil, there is hope that evil will be smashed. And the meek inherit the earth.

The meek, naturally, need our help. (And perhaps, many of us need their help.) The oppressed and marginalized need our solidarity, at least, and our efforts. And we all need Jesus. 

This powerful book is one of a kind and I’ve read it three times. Each time — perhaps because I was at a different place in my own journey, my own reflections, or maybe my own season or mood — I got something a bit different out of it. (Ahh, the mark of a good book, eh?) I appreciate that York, in his remarkable efforts about educating people about social injustice and his work as a modern-day abolitionist, never gave up his desire to see ordinary people come to faith. He is, as I’ve said, a gifted evangelist. Few books relate the full-orbed Kingdom of God, the resistance to social injustice like modern day trafficking and global poverty, and the call to personal, evangelical faith, the way Making All Things New does. 

Agree fully or not with his big hope for the end times or his reflections on passages from the prophets and the epistles, his blend of judgement and grace, sin and redemption, I think you need this book! To this day there is nothing like it. We are happy to offer it here, glad to share that, indeed, this message resonates with the all-of-life-redeemed worldview that influenced the CCO back in the 1970s. God is good to bring CCO and this former IVCF evangelist together. Maybe you, too, can take inspiration in a book like this, fully clear about the gospel and fully visionary about the true hope for God’s intention to bring justice to the poor and liberation to the captive. 

Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and A Guide to Finding Your Place In It  R. York Moore (Moody Press) $13.99

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.19
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off  = $9.79

Although I suppose it isn’t the main thing, there is something about the many books that Moody Press does lately that have two color ink, nice graphics, a couple of handsome touches. It makes for a beautiful little product and since this book invites us to “do something beautiful” it certainly fits. Kudos to Moody for doing one of the best, simple books on evangelism of the new century.

(Yes, yes, there are recent ones that are heady and important. I’ve said before how fond I am of Models of Evangelism by Priscilla Pope-Levison (Baker Academic; $21.99) and how important the provocative The Invitation: A Theology of Evangelism by Princeton’s Richard Osmer (Eerdmans; $24.95) is. This decade has seen significant work in evangelism and related fields with books like Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James Beitler (IVP Academic; $25.00) and the lovely Mere Evangelism: 10 Insights from C.S. Lewis to Help You Share Your Faith by Randy Newman (Good Book Company; $16.99.) There are so many recent releases in this field, including very thoughtful ones.)

York, though, smart as he is, did something remarkable in Do Something Beautiful. He used what some of us call  —borrowing a term from Abraham Kuyper’s people, as explained in Richard Mouw’s All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight — “common grace” and built a bridge with any who long for a more beautiful world. As he re-tells the big story of God’s good world gone awry, he invites us to a sort of redemption that is good, true, glorious, healthy — in a world: beautiful.

I suppose York (as a former philosophy student) knows a bit about aesthetics, but this isn’t an arcane and high-class rumination on Greek or Roman or Renaissance virtues. It isn’t about art, even, really, but about this multidimensional sense of the ineffable, the luminous, the lovely. In a “world made right” there is more. 

Although the book has a light and appealing tone, he does invite us to consider hard stuff and how God even promises to renew and restore those rough places. As he puts it:

The things that look hopeless in our lives are often used as an opportunity for God to show up and bring life out of death, bounty and beauty out of the ashes, and allow us to dream another dream.

One of the chapters of Do Something Beautiful is about “doing something beautiful together.” (Interestingly, this is the theme near the end of Andy Crouch’s seminal Culture-Making and appears again in Andy’s recent and must-read The Life We’re Looking For which is about technology.) Ahh, but, as York warns, “doing something together is easier said than done. Joining God in His work and initing others to join the work takes time and preparation.

He continues,

It is true that sometimes we “fall into” a community that is doing righteous and beautiful things, but more often, we have to do some work. Understanding where we are, where our home is, where our church has been and is going are all important starting points… (we) “exegete our community, analyzing its contours and content with an aim of understanding where the possibilities are.

This book is, simply, “your guide to the story of everything.” Nobody said York wasn’t audacious and bold. Yet this charming little book, energetic as it is in calling us to do something good and righteous, just and beautiful, is also gracious and inviting. It is both a book about how to do evangelism well and, well, it is a book of evangelism. I assure there are those who read it who find themselves desperately longing to be conscripted into this movement of God’s people, into this faith community, those who live for Jesus and show it by offering beauty to the world. Buy a few and give ‘em away and see what happens!

Seen. Known. Loved. 5 Truths About God & Your Love Language Gary Chapman & R. York Moore (Northfield) $9.99

OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $7.99
SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% off  = $6.99

Again, this is a nicely handsome little book, with three very cool die cut holes on the front and a cover that is a tiny bit off edge, showing forth the strips of color underneath. That Moody Press would spring for this extra touch of a handsome product is glorious and I’m a fan. That York wrote a good chunk of this with the Uber-famous Five Love Languages guru himself, is telling.

I do not know if it was Gary Chapman that realized the evangelistic nature of his various love languages schtick or if it was York who naturally saw the beauty and goodness of adopting those love languages into truths about how God may reach us. Either way, it’s genius!

Others have done this using the Meyers-Briggs personality tests, or the Enneagram, or other personality type theories adapted to prayer or one’s spirituality. Nobody has quite done this, using the Love Languages, and it is a thrill to read. One more tool in the toolkit for people (like you, too?) Who want to share the good news of the gospel with others but rarely know how to bring it up, get into it, actually do evangelism with others. This is one more way into those deeper conversations and it is a blast.

Most basically, it asks: “Could your love language guide you to a more meaningful life?”

The title doesn’t unpack it all, but get’s us started: We are seen. We are known. And we are loved! 

The book’s subtitle offers “5 Truths” and here they are:

  • Chapter 1 – You Are Loved: The Words That Change Everything
  • Chapter 2 – You Are Seen: You Matter and So Do Your Actions
  • Chapter 3 – You Have Worth: The Gift of Being Accepted
  • Chapter 4 – You Belong: Embraced for God
  • Chapter 5 – You Are Known: Experiencing True Togetherness with God

The last little chapter (bringing the whole book to under 90 small pages) is called “Living Into Love.” Yes! As it says on the back cover, “We are all designed to uniquely desire love…”

As York himself puts it on the last page, “We become lovers when we are loved.”  This book can help you and your loved ones understand this more deeply, perhaps even discover it anew. It’s a very nice little volume, short and sweet and perhaps life changing.

++++

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New (and older) Books about the Bible ON SALE NOW — AND A FREE BOOK OFFER (while supplies last)

As always, thanks to those who sent orders our way from the last BookNotes. After highlighting wise and balanced basic Christian growth titles I shared some about deeper spiritual life stuff on sabbath, St. Ignatius, the desert fathers and mothers, and the like and we enjoyed the response. Plus, folks are still pre-ordering the forthcoming Jamie Smith book, How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now which releases September 20, 2022. It sells for $24.99 and we have it at the BookNotes 20% off, making it just $19.99. We will still have some of the free little guided journals that Brazos has made available for those who preorder it early. While supplies last, naturally…

In writing about and recommending resources for the transformation of your own interior lives, books such as those from Henri Nouwen and Ruth Haley Barton and that forthcoming one by Trevor Hudson joining the insights of St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard, we were highlighting books that might be called contemplative spirituality. 

However, even the quiet mystics and louder Pentecostals and most who want a true encounter with the living God would be quick to say that one of the classic disciplines of spiritual formation is reading the Bible. It must be read in community, be heard in liturgical worship, used in study and in our more common devotional reflections. Over and over. I’m no fundamentalist Bible thumper but after nearly a lifetime of small group study and Sunday school classes and being shaped by Biblically informed liturgy and sermons, the more open I am to hermeneutical fuzziness; I’ve read enough good commentaries and heard enough astute talks and chatted with so many ordinary folks to know that good people see things differently. But, man, I love studying the Bible, God’s Word that it is.

There’s a continuum, of course, from those who read it woodenly and literalistically (except, uh, when they conveniently don’t) to those who read it almost all figuratively and allegorically or worse. There are strengths and weaknesses of various camps and traditions, but I love the basic insights of Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart’s thoughtful classic How to Read the Bible For All That It’s Worth (Zondervan; $24.99) that insists that different genres of the Biblical literature need to be read differently. Naturally, God’s Word or not, we read a poem differently than a letter. History is different from dreams and parables are to be interpreted differently than epistles. Usually we read much of the Bible straight up, but sometimes it’s sarcastic or ironic and we should take the meaning to be the opposite of what it says. In any case, we read the Bible well if, at least, we read it literarily. 

One very recent book that explores this is by a theologically conservative black woman, Kristie Anyabwile, who helps us all a lot in Literarily: How Understanding Bible Genres Transforms Bible Study (Moody Press; $14.99; our sale price = $11.99.)  It’s short and sweet and good.

Jen Wilken, herself an expert Bible teacher and popular author says:

The power of language rests not just in what words are said, but in how they are said. The words of Scripture are no exception. Perhaps no tool is more useful, or more often overlooked, than a basic understanding of how the Bible speaks. Kristie offers excellent help to those who want to read the Bible as it is written: as a collection of different ways of writing, all telling one marvelous story.

Perhaps more meaty and a bit more literary itself is a recent book by Matthew Mullins, a Baptist English prof, who wrote Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures (Baker Academic; $22.99; our sale price = $18.39.) It’s impressive.

Listen to what James K. A. Smith says of this:

What if reading the Bible is a matter not just of discerning what it says but of attending to how it speaks? Then reading the Bible is more like experiencing a poem than processing a rule book. In this marvelous game changer of a book, Matthew Mullins invites readers to encounter the Bible as literature, not to diminish its revelatory authority but to break open its luminary capacity. I’m so glad this book is in the world. –James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; editor in chief, Image journal; author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

BOOKS ABOUT THE BIBLE, ON SALE —AND A FREE BOOK OFFER (SEE BELOW)

Here are a few other books, some fairly recent and some brand new, that might be useful as you spend summer days reflecting on the most important book ever sold. I assume you have a good translation and a study Bible or two. If not, give us a call right away. And, oh yeah, I’ve got some extra copies of a stunning book to share with our compliments if you buy something from this list (soon.) As always, just use the order form link at the end, which takes you to our secure order form at the website. Or, call us here at the shop. We’re in Monday – Saturday, 10 – 6 and if your in the area, we’re doing backyard customer service and easy curbside deliveries.

The Gospel of Our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian Bruce Riley Ashford & Heath A. Thomas (Baker Academic) $22.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I name this because I believe deeply that the big picture of the transforming vision of the unfolding drama of the Bible is the most important thing to do. Any given passage simply must be seen within the big, redemptive Story, the kind of story in which we find ourselves. There are other Bible introductions and missionally-sensitive readings, but for now, this is a fav. Highly recommended. 

Two of my favorite writes are Craig Bartholomew (a philosopher) and Michael Goheen (a theologian.) Here is what they say about this.

The Gospel of Our King is a sheer delight. This is what happens when you bring together close attention to the Bible as a whole, worldview, and mission, just as they should be, with the overarching focus on the glory of God. A creative, accessible, and eminently practical work. –Craig G. Bartholomew, director, Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

A wonderful book. Ashford and Thomas take us to the heart of the Christian faith. Their writing is engaging and the idols they challenge are timely, making this a book full of insight for faithful Christian living today.  –Michael W. Goheen, Missional Training Center, Surge Network of Churches-Phoenix, and Covenant Theological Seminary

What Is the Bible and How Do We Understand It? Dennis R. Edwards (Herald Press) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

This is a very small book, feisty and well written, by the powerful black author and Northern Seminary NT prof, Dr. Dennis Edwards (whose book Might from the Margins which we’ve reviewed at BookNotes is very good.) It’s part of the great little series called “The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith” which, while not exactly Anabaptist or Mennonite, have the Christ-focused and active bent that that tradition at its best nicely exemplifies. This is a fabulous introduction to basic questions many have about the Scriptures.

Here are the six chapters (each that have great reflection or discussion questions, making this ideal for a small group or Sunday school class.) 

  • What Is the Purpose of the Bible?
  • How Was the Bible Born?
  • What Is the Center of the Bible?
  • What Is the Spirit of the Bible?
  • Who Gets to Interpret the Bible?
  • What Impact Does the Bible Make?

Seven Things I Which Christians Knew About the Bible Michael Bird (Zondervan) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I’m sure I’ve highlighted this before, too, and, again, it is compact sized, not too hefty. Michael Bird is a fun and funny academic, a scholar from Down Under who, as you may know, has co-authored books with the world-class N.T. Wright. Bird is a prolific and important scholar (also online with a popular theological studies blog called “Euangelion” and a clever podcast with Amiee Byrd (called “Birds of a Feather.”) In any case, he’s a tremendous, balanced, honest evangelical. This book is excellent, and, even if basic, vital.

Young scholars as diverse as Dru Johnson and Aimee Byrd and Dan Kimball and Nijay Gupta all say everybody should read it. 

I love Aimee Byrd’s endorsement:

If you want to grow in your competence of reading Scripture and have a crackalackin’ good time doing it, read this book.

Let’s hope crackalackin’ good time is an Australian phrase she picked up on the podcast with Mike. In any case, she’s right — competence and crackalackin’. Order it today!

A Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Scriptural Imagination Kenneth Carter (Upper Room Books) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

If Seven Things is a moderately thick — just over 200 pages — compact-sized book, this is a thin compact sized one, weighing in at about 75 small pages. I suggest it here, though, as there is hardly anything like it. You will cherish it, I bet.

The first handful of pages describes what he means by forming our Scriptural Imagination, and why we need more than information, but immersion.  This is perhaps akin to using the technique of lectio divina but not exactly. In a way, it is less rigorous. In any case, his ruminations about this alone are worth the couple of bucks, good to remind you and helpful for you to share with others. Not everybody gets that, you know?

The heart of the book are four imaginative reflections on four texts which, in Carter’s skilled hands, offers two things. Firstly, he is showing us how to approach Biblical texts well, reflectively and imaginatively and seriously. Secondly, he is not only offering insights about imaginative reading, but, he says, these very texts will help solidify this vision of right brained (or whole brained, perhaps) reading.

The passages he offers us are The Vine and the Branches (John 15), The Sower, The Seed, and the Soils (Mark 4), The Feeding of the Multitudes (Luke 9) and The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25.) He has a small “what’s next” section which lists some places to try this sort of reading and a handful of books, contemplative and Biblical.

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation Richard Foster (HarperOne) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

There are many great books on reading the Bible more slowly, meditatively, with a contemplative approach to actually come to know God and learn to hear the Spirit’s voice. This is a near classic by a delightful, ecumenical, Quaker who is doubtlessly one of the most important Christian writers of the last 50 years. This offers an intimate connection between Scripture and spirituality. 

To show its appeal, besides the “starred review” it got back in the day from Publishers Weekly, check out these three endorsements, from three different places in the big church pew:

Alluring warmth, empathetic breadth, and twenty-twenty perceptiveness, mild on sin but firm on grace, have together become the hallmark of the Renovare books. This pathway into the “with-God life” is a worthy addition to the study. — J.I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College and author of Knowing God.

Foster is a reliable, compelling guide for a life in which God is a defining agent. The news from Foster is good indeed: God is with us! — Walter Brueggemann, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, The Prophetic Imagination

You hold in your hands a very wise book written for anyone who craves a deep, palpable connection to God. If you want to discover new ways of entering the Bible, and letting it enter you, you will find no better guide than Richard Foster. — Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School, Wearing God

Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $18.99                     OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

You may know Peterson’s magnum opus, in a way, his magisterial five part “Spiritual Theology” series. It starts with one of my all time favorite titles, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places published in 2004; Eat This Book is the second in the series although certainly stands alone and is perhaps the best-seller of the five. In it Pastor Pete engages us in a conversation, really, where he talks about reading the Bible, the nature of sentences, even, exegesis, Bible translations, lectio divina, the nature of language, and the like. Lauren Winner says of it,

“Deep, stirring, luminous, even profound — if you are going to read one book about reading Scripture, it should be this one.”

At the heart are three major chapters where he at once makes reading the Bible a bit easier, less complicated, even as he reminds us it is, as he puts it, uncongenial. In several good sections under each he deftly moves from “Scripture as Text” to “Scripture as Form” and on to “Scripture as Script.” Although you’ll love the opening one, “The Holy Family at Table with Holy Scripture.” He tells stories ancient and new, nothing sensational, just common folks spending a lifetime in the Word.

By the way, I hope you know his powerful and important quartet, considered the “vocational holiness” series by the late great Peterson. Designed for serious reading for serious clergy people who want to get back to basics, the four books are Peterson perhaps at his very best. I’m not a clergy person, of course, yet I adored these four volumes. They include Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Working the Angles, Under the Unpredictable Plant and, finally, the The Contemplative Pastor. All are about the formation of the working pastor and that come back, time and again, to Scripture. To eating the book, as his later volume put it.

It may be that Working the Angles is the most fundamental of all. It is the shortest of the four, I think. It shows that, for Peterson, the heart of a pastor’s vocational holiness is to work the angles of three things — teaching people to pray, to read the Bible, and to receive spiritual direction from others. As a review in The Clergy Journal back in the day put it, “Get the angles right and the lines — preaching, teaching, and administration — will take care of themselves.” It is very much about reading, praying, and using the Bible in pastoral work.

For those who don’t feel right reading over the shoulder of a book that their pastor should read, the lovely Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading is a fabulous choice. All of Peterson’s many books are Biblical, but Working the Angles and Eat This Book spell out much of his most basic notions of how and why to read and pray and imbibe the Word of God.

The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today Meghan Larissa Good (Herald Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

For those who want a lively and upbeat and clever and really useful introduction to how to read the Bible well, influenced maybe a bit by Pete Ends, Walter Brueggemann, and N.T.Wright (amounts others) this just sings. It avoids the extremes of fundamentalist wooden readings and yet calls us to understand it well — using insights from the likes of Ken Bailey and Michael Gorman. As it says on the back cover,

Good delves into issues like biblical authority, literary genre, and Christ-centered hermeneutics and calls readers beyond knee-jerk biblicism on one hand or skeptical disregard on the other. 

I love that she calls us to a spiritually alive and intellectually credible communal discernment. She’s convinced there can be “deep and transformative wonder” about Scripture.

The Bible Unwrapped bears untold gifts…Do not let this unique gift pass by unopened and unenjoyed.  — Leonard Sweet, scholar, speaker, author, Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future

How (Not) To Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and Other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture Dan Kimball (Zondervan Reflective) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

There are now bunches of books like this. Some are quite scholarly, some a bit goofy, some written out of exceptionally punctilious views of the inerrancy of Scriptures and some that are, if you ask me, dismissing way to much of the authority of Scripture. There is no doubt that we always need newly fresh answers to this age-old question — see, for instance, Paul Copan’s apologetic in Is God a Moral Monster? and its new followup coming in October, Is God a Vindictive Bully? I appreciate and recommend for basic readers the good books by David Lamb, such as his little classic, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist and Mark Strauss’s companion to it, Jesus Behaving Badly:The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee. I could go on.

This recent book by the energetic and hip church planter with a sense of humor, Dan Kimball, is really excellent for those who haven’t studied the serious stuff. The print isn’t too tiny, there’s some charts and stuff, lots of (ironically dumb) pictures, and it has interesting, and even funny quotes through-out. It isn’t funny, but the first epigram is by magic man Penn Jilette (the talkative one of Penn & Teller) who says, dead seriously, “Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism.”  Is it so?

Many who are walking away from the faith, or deconstructing long-held beliefs, are doing so in part because they just can’t stomach some of the awful stuff of the Bible. If you’ve not been tempted to renounce our high regard for Scripture, maybe you’re not studying God’s Word that much, or you have an undeveloped moral sensibility. Keep at it, though, as God works on you and you become more Christ-like, you will at least wonder about some of this. You must!

As I say, there are more profound and more detailed studies, but this is a good place to start. With plenty of footnotes it’s just our 300 pages. Good paper and two color ink, makes it nice to handle. There’s a sic-session DVD, too, with Dan and his neo-punk haircut, walking you through some of this good material.

Don’t trust me? With recommending blurbs by Margaret Feinberg, rocker David Crowder, and the brilliant Tim Mackie (of the Bible Project videos), it’s obviously a solid start. Scot McKnight says it is “a book full of theological wisdom and pastoral care for honest Bible readers who have genuine and difficult questions about the Bible.” 

Holy Imagination: A Literary and Theological Introduction to the Whole Bible Judy Fentress-Williams (Abingdon) $39.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

There are intro to the Bible books which I most typically recommend. I’m sure you’ve seen me highlight The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen over and over. The easier, shorter version (maybe even good for bright high schoolers) is The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama. I adore Bartholomew’s little The 30-Minute Bible: God’s Story for Everyone, co-written by the extraordinary Bible teacher Paige Vanosky. I’m very glad that NavPress released the introductions to each book of the Bible in Peterson’s The Message as The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible. For a cool young person who is an earnest seeker, I love The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life by Justin Buzzard. These are my go-to volumes, recommended any time I get the chance. 

However, if somebody wants a major volume, a hefty and wondrously-written seminary textbook, this is increasingly the one I think of. Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams is professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria (and before that taught at Hartford Seminary in CT.) She has a commentary on the book of Ruth, too. But this. Wow.

We have only sold a few of these but it is one of those rare books that each time we’ve sent one, the customer voluntarily replied to us later thanking us for selling it to them. How about that? They so loved it, found so much of worth, that they wanted us to recommend it to others.

“Studying Scripture demands dialogue” it says on the back. In fact, one of the assumptions of Holy Imagination is that “the many voices in Scripture form a dialogue with readers, which produces theological truths that are larger than the individual parts.”  Yes, we must know the context, social and otherwise. We must read literarily. But there is theology, emerging from the genres and how the literary characteristics and theological insights merge.

Like good poetry, we must pay attention. As with poetry, we must use our minds and our imaginations, which, in turn, are shaped by the text itself. As she puts it, “we return again and again, with more information and perhaps more experiences. The words are the same, but we are not; for that reason there are always new discoveries.”

At last, an introduction that students will enjoy reading, because it is at once engaging, informative, and eye-opening, as well as completely lucid. Fentress-Williams shows how many books of the Bible reflect the experience of marginalized persons and communities in precarious situations, and therefore how they speak in ways both realistic and encouraging to contemporary readers. Do your students and yourself a favor: adopt this text and get ready for serious conversation about ancient texts that never go out of date.  – Ellen F. Davis,Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School, author of Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, Opening Israel’s Scriptures, and Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible

God’s People Made New: How Exploring the Bible Together Launched Church’s Spirit-Filled Future Rachael J. Powell (Fortress Press) $18.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Many of our best customers are members of mainline denominational churches — once thriving Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal or United Methodist, say, and they have been in steep decline in membership for decades, now. Naturally, they are all seeking ways to steward this new time and new era in their own respective lives, and, many, insist (rightly, I think) that one of the causes of the crisis a few generations ago was a lackluster sense of Biblical authority and therefore a significant decline in Biblical literary. Data suggests, I’m told, that seeker sensitive community churches and many fundamentalist churches, even, are now walking that same dumb ground, failing to equip the community to be people of the Book.

This recent book, published by the ELCA press, is about this very thing. Written mostly as a memoir, actually, God’s People Made New tells the story of Pastor Rachael’s valiant effort to reintroduce her congregation in Albuquerque, to the glories and complexities of Bible study and the good trouble that can come from that.

Here is how the publisher explains it:

“Through the voices of congregants living in crisis and hope, creative investigation of biblical texts, and solid, accessible theological reflection, Rachael J. Powell offers hope for congregations.” They continue hoping that, “Readers will appreciate Powell’s wise pastoral companionship through the often exasperating yet life-giving process of helping a congregation discern who and what they are called to be.”

This is a simple notion — the Word of God matters. She “probes and celebrates” (as David Lose puts it) “the transformation we can expect when we all God’s word to breathe new life and purpose into God’s people,” 

I suppose this book could equally go on a list about congregational life and church renewal. Powells gets us there, by teaching us (with concrete tools) how to be empowered to hear God’s Word well. And, yes, preacher that she is, she calls on preachers to “claim their role in this powerful work.” 

Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew Scot McKnight (with a foreword by Hans Boersma) (IVP Academic) $20.00                            OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I’ve highlighted this before and, with its companion volume (see below) it’ a real winner. I know most common folks aren’t that interested in this in-house debate in the faith-based academy and in seminaries, but, you know, it’s important, and pretty fun. How illuminating to learn why Bible profs (like McKnight) want theologians to get in line, learn some stuff from them, and back off their fancy pants insistence that they hold the keys to the Kingdom. I’m being more pushy about all this than the gracious McKnight is, but, well, that’s what the book is about. Five things everybody should know, but that theological types should take to heart. Get it!  We need this reminder, believe me.

Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew  Hans Boersma (with a foreword by Scot McKnight) (IVP Academic) $20.00                           OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Okay, as I’ve said before (and, well, see above) this book, with its companion volume, is a real winner. I know most common folks aren’t that interested in this in-house debate in the faith-based academy and in seminaries, but, you know, it’s important, and pretty fun. How illuminating to learn why theological professors (like Boersma) want Bible teachers to get in line, learn some stuff from them, and back off their fancy pants insistence that they hold the keys to the Kingdom. I’m being more pushy about all this than the gracious Boersma is, but, well, that’s what the book is about. Five things everybody should know, but that Bible lovers should take to heart. Get it! We need this input, believe me.

Returning from the Abyss: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Jeremiah Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Maybe you will recall my lavish praise on the first, and then the second, book in this ongoing set of adult Bible studies, short commentaries that focus on pivotal moments in the text when much changes. The first two volumes in the series (both also by Brueggemann) were on the much loved but rarely studied exodus narratives and the following desert satires about manna and Sinai.

The titles of those two are evocative: Delivery Out of Empire: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus and Delivered into Covenant: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus.

This new, third one in the series, Returning from the Abyss, is spectacular and accesible, even if it has 27 (short) chapters. Twenty-seven key, even pivotal moments in Jeremiah, eh? You got it. This is just remarkable, fascinating, even, and very usable. There are a few pithy questions after each chapter, making it easy to us. Very highly recommended.

The Lord Roars: Recovering the Prophetic Voice for Today M. Daniel Carroll R. (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I’m not going to lie — it was this new title that made me want to share titles of recent interest about Biblical studies.  It may be the most important and lasting new book on this list — just a stellar brand new title that deserves to be shouted about.

The Lord Roars is complex and a bit academic, but any committed, educated reader can work through it. It was, after all, a set of lectures given, fleshed out a bit. The question on the table is how to hear prophets, whether they are alive today, in some generic sense, but, more specifically, how to hear and appropriate wisely the voices of the Hebrew prophets from the Bible. Danny Carroll taught at Denver Seminary and a few years moved over to the Old Testament department at Wheaton College. He is a passionate speaker, a prolific writer (about the Bible and about immigration issues — most recently see his Bible and Borders.) He is scholar of the prophets (having done a major work on Amos in the prestigious NICOT series.) We admire him immensely and anticipated this book, which arrived less than week ago. I dove right in.

The book announces that it offers “a new way to encounter the prophets” but I’ve not quite figured out what is utterly new. It is fresh and compelling and important. The world today “cries out for a prophetic word to the chaos, unrest, and destructiveness of our times.” Perhaps this book will at least inspire and motivate, if not equip and train many to hear the Word of the Lord.

Dr. Carroll R. (the letter at the end stands for Roeda, his Guatemalan grandmother’s last name) highlights three key ethical concerns of the Old Testament prophets (and he is surely not wrong in this) — injustice, worship, and hope. He shows how they can speak into our world, how we can be trained to be taken up in their questions.

The Lord Roars reminds me vividly of a line I read as a teenager in a book given to me by a friend, a book of poem/prayers by Malcom Boyd in which the priest said that we may read the prophets in church but we wouldn’t recognize one if he were to sit down beside us, which struck me immediately to be obviously true. Many in my  circles disregarded, for instance, Dr. Martin Luther King or Ceasar Chavez, to offer two important examples. But the thing is, Boyd was wrong: we didn’t read the Old Testament much, let alone the prophets, in our churches. In college as I was agitating for better working conditions and wages for mostly Chicano farm workers, an evangelical mentor told me I should read Amos. I’m not even sure I even knew who that was, let alone that he was a “farmer from Tekoa.” To this day, I thank Marilyn Phillips Slemenda and Jennie Korn Geisler for how they pushed me towards the prophets so many years ago.

Now, you can capture not only the heart of the prophets by way of this up-to-date scholar, and his set of important lectures but you can learn to really hear them — apply them, we might say. Or at least be captured by the themes that captured them, including a passion for justice, knowing deeply how failure to love God rightly almost always leads to failure to love neighbor. Yet, given this tragic situation — played out today, still, of course — can there be hope. Indeed, perhaps the most audacious message of the prophets is that there is hope.

The Lord Roars expertly taps three key texts from Amos, Isaiah, and Micah. This is the Word of the Lord, people. Please read these wise recommendations.

Perhaps some of us employ the adjective prophetic hastily or uncritically, but many more of us are reluctant to heed the words of prophets — even the prophets identified in the Bible. Carroll demonstrates why and how biblical prophets speak to a myriad of social issues, including many that we presently face. His rigorous exegesis, historical analysis, and cultural awareness converge to give Bible readers a better understanding of Scripture’s prophetic tradition and how it applies right now.  — Dennis R. Edwards, North Park Theological Seminary, Might from the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice

Carroll, easily one of our best scholars and teachers on the prophets, offers a concise and erudite — indeed, idea l— introduction to these all-important messengers of God. Carroll focuses on selected texts from Amos, Isaiah, and Micah while at the same time engaging everything from Don Quijote and Charles Dickens to immigration, the Inquisition, liberation theology, and much, much more. A masterful treatment. — Brent A. Strawn, Duke University, author The Old Testament Is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment

The Lord Roars has helped me see how the prophetic imagination in the canonical biblical text can orient my motivations to see theologically and work ethically toward a better world. From a hermeneutic of trust, Carroll invites the reader to carefully consider what the word of God offers as a witness to a more just and less violent world conceived through theo-poetic justice. Manifestly, Carroll’s proposal challenges today’s Westernized Christian visions of a world trapped in left-wing and right-wing political ideologies.  — Oscar García-Johnson, Fuller Theological Seminary

Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, The Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I know I’ve promoted this before and I know that some may find it curious but I am telling you, this is one you really should consider. If you want to stay alive to God’s speaking through His Word and you are interested in the most plausible and faithful reading in light of what we know to be true about God and His ways, this, simply, is a must-read. As Brueggemann says of it, it is Bible “interpretation at its most daring and at its best.”

As you might surmise from the title, this carefully argued and very (very) Bible-drenched study says, finally, given what we know about Job and lament and God’s law and covenant, Abraham should have said no! Richard makes a very compelling case that we have misread and misapplied the story of the binding of Isaac. “God desires more than silent obedience in difficult times.” Wow. This is amazing and the implications are vast. 

There are blurbs on the back from serious Bible scholars, for Rabbi Irving(Yitz) Greenberg (the President the Greenberg Institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life) and this from Carmen Joy Imes of Biola (see her excellent Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters) and the often cited (here, at least) Jamie Smith of Calvin:

In this groundbreaking work, Middleton dares to question Abraham’s unquestioning obedience in Genesis 22. His approach is robustly biblical-theological, but his outside-the-box thinking offers an intriguing new solution to two interpretive puzzles: the binding of Isaac and the testing of Job. The pastoral implications of this book make it a must-read for pastors and biblical scholars alike.  — Carmen Joy Imes, Biola University, Bearing God’s Name

I have been learning from Middleton for over twenty-five years. From him I learned that, in the Bible itself, God invites our questions and doubts. He showed me–through the Psalms and Job — that lament is faithful. This marvelous book exhibits the singular combination that is Richard Middleton: a deep and broad attunement to the Scriptures and a keen philosophical sensibility, both wed to a profoundly pastoral concern. A gift for both church and academy.  — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University, You Are What You Love

Voices Long Silenced: Woman Biblical Interpreters Through the Centuries Joy A, Schroeder & Marion Ann Taylor (WJK) $40.00        OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

Let’s get down to brass tacks: if we want to hear the Word in all its prophetic power, we need all hands on deck. We need a community of interpreters, lots of voices, lots of teachers. Obviously, in the history of the church and too often even today, women’s voices are marginalized, if not silenced. This is changing, and this volume is a good illustration of how things are opening up. Joy Schroeder and Marion Ann Taylor have — as Wilda Gafney, professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School says, “gifted us” with a long survey of women’s biblical interpretation and it is “an extraordinary collection and will be invaluable in the classroom.”  But it is not just for the classroom. As Jaime Clark-Soles (New Testament prof at Perkins School of Theology) says, “I am awestruck by this book.”

As Jaimie Clark-Soles continues, importantly:

Spanning centuries from antiquity to today, it features female scriptural interpreters from across the globe from different denominational, class, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Joining them, the reader sojourns through history, learning the names and work of the interpreters, the historical and political contexts in which they operated, the methods they used to interpret, and why it is essential for us to engage their work if we truly desire a faithful rendering of our religious history. I cannot overstate the importance of this book or how rewarding it is to read—not a single wasted word.     —Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament and Distinguished Teaching Professor, Perkins School of Theology

Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope Esau McCaulley (IVP Academic) $22.00                             OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

What an honor it was top be one of the first stores to have this when it came out late in 2019 (having an official publication date of early 2020.) We have been with Dr. McCaulley on two occasions and know him to be a solid guy, exceptionally well-education (in Scotland under N.T. Wright, itself a bit of story as a black Anglican there.) Now teaching at Wheaton College (and sending in the occasional well-crafted op-ed piece to the New York Times) McCaulley’s book has earned the status of being a major contribution to both black studies and Biblical studies.

We carry a number of books about how people of color have historically understood and taught the Bible. This, though, is simply the best of the best, hard-hitting and prophetic, yet measured and fair. A few have dismissed him, but many have been blessed by his good work and we are glad for this book. It is very, very highly recommended.

(Look for a small book coming from him later this fall, releasing in early November called Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal. It will sell for $20.00 but pre-orders will get our BookNotes 20% off, making it $16.00 It is the first in a series heis editing called “Fullness of Time.”)

 

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture Frank Thielman (Crossway) $15.99      OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

We carry all the little books in the serious-minded, “Short Studies in Biblical Theology” which makes the riches of what is called “Biblical theology” available to ordinary readers. This angle invites to ponder the interconnectedness of the big, unfolding story of God and the way themes and notions relate. It’s a great way to see how — as Sally Lloyd Jones puts it in her lovely children’s Bible inspired by this worldview — “every chapter whispers His name.”

This is a good one to start with, but try others in the series such as Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World by Thomas Schreiner; The City of God and the Goal of Creation by Desmond Alexander; From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation by Sidney Greidanus, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer by Andrew David Naselli, or Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom by Gregory Beale. 

For those who like this series, there are two new ones coming in October that you could pre-order: Resurrection Hope and the Death of Death by Mitchell Chase and The Sabbath as Rest and Hope for the People of God by Guy Prentiss Waters., both which will sell for $17.99, but at 20% off they will each be $14.39. 

Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption L. Michael Morals (IVP Academic) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

We carry all the titles in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series edited by Benjamin Gladd. These books do almost scholarly, but quite readable, if detailed study of “central or essential themes of the Bible’s grand storyline” and this one is excellent, if a bit. This ongoing series is limited and seem to be nearly interrelated- they are highly recommended. And we think each enliven our understanding of the whole, and, of course, unlock precious insights into the organic unfolding drama of the whole Bible.

See, also, just for instance, Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator by Desmond Alexander; God Dwells Among Us: A Biblical Theology of the Temple by G.K. Beale; The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law by Brandon Crowe;  Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration by Matthew Harmon; From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God by Benjamin Gladd.

If you like this series and want to keep up, the next one coming arrives in early November and will be called The Hope of Life After Death: A Biblical Theology of Resurrection by Belhaven University scholar Jeff Bannon ($24.00.) You can pre-order it now, of course at our 20% off, making it $19.20.

and commentaries…

Whenever we suggest interesting books about the Bible and how to read it well, the question of commentaries comes up. The needs of different sorts of customers are diverse and we suggest things as basic as the Warren Weirsbe easy-to-read “Be” series to the higher-end, scholarly (and expensive) NICOT and NICNT, Pillar, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament or other academic tomes. Each series has its own stellar ones; for instance, see the outstanding one on Acts by Willie James Jennings in the series Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (WJK; $40.00) or the Luke volume in that series by Justo Gonzalez (WJK; $45.00.) Many preachers like it when we suggest the solid, useful NIV Application Commentary series published by Zondervan and most are really great.  I hope you know the ongoing Story of God commentary series edited by Tremper Longman and Scot McKnight — they are so interesting, fresh, insightful and yet easy to use. I think the series we recommend the most for most folks is the exceptionally useful, paperback Bible Speaks Today series by IVP.  Every volume has the phrase “The Message of…” and they are all tremendous, even with discussion questions in the back, which is rare for a commentary. And, for really succint insight, don’t forget the compact sized, Old Testament for Everyone by John Goldingay and the New Testament for Everyone ones by N.T. Wright.

When useful and moving (!) academic commentaries come up, we always suggest the big two volume set by Frederick Dale Bruner, previously known as The Christ Book and The Church Book but now just called Matthew: A Commentary Volume One and Matthew: A Commentary Volume Two (Eerdmans; $41.99 and $46.99, respectively.) He also has a big one on John (The Gospel of John: A Commentary) which also offers his warm and wise and even profound scholarly but accessible insights. He released a smaller one a year ago on Romans.

four ON ROMANS

The Letter to the Romans: A Short Commentary Frederick Dale Bruner (Eerdmans) $26.99              OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Well, when one of our great scholars known for writing expert commentaries sets out to do a brief study of Romans (in just about 200 pages) we should pay attention. How fortunate the students at Whitworth University have been to have a professor like this in their lives!

“In this short commentary Bruner offers a clear, accessible interpretation of Paul’s account of our deep need of the Gospel and God’s loving provision in Christ. Illumined by a rich array of commentators throughout history, ample biblical cross references, and in language that grabs the heart, Bruner focuses on God’s offer of salvation as sheer gift. Mercifully free of jargon and arcane scholarly debate, but filled with contemporary allusions, the book is perfect for small Bible studies or adult education classes.”  — William A. Dyrness, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This commentary on the premier exposition of the gospel comes from one of America’s premier expositors of the gospel. Dale Bruner’s translation of Romans is fresh and clever, his exposition of Romans is disarmingly straightforward and insightful, and his personal testimonies at key passages illustrate the relevance of Romans for modern readers. This is not a solo commentary on Romans, however, for Bruner enlists testimonies from the Gospels and the confessions of the church to complement Paul’s liberating message, and throughout the commentary he introduces readers to the best insights of the best commentators on what he calls ‘the Fifth Gospel.’” — James R. Edwards, Whitworth University

“Bruner’s two massive treatments of Matthew and John are treasured in the church as reliable, inspiring, comprehensive studies. After a decade of further study, Bruner has done it again. This shorter study of Romans—which Bruner calls the Fifth Gospel—is once more a lucid, well-informed explanation of Paul’s premier letter. Good commentaries explain the text in its original form, provide theological insight into the text’s meaning and value, and then help us make use of the text for our living today. Bruner gets high marks in all three in a casual, personal format that is the hallmark of all his writing.” — Gary M. Burge, Calvin Theological Seminary

Romans: A Theological & Pastoral Commentary Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $39.99                    OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

It is hard to explain the significance of the unassuming servant leader that is Mike Gorman, but his many books are all exceptionally esteemed and he is, simply an author you should know. (To understand his influence, realize that there is, for instance, a book about his work which I raved about a while ago done in tribute to and in conversation with his notions of cruciformity. It is called Cruciform Scripture: Cross, Participation, and Mission edited by Christopher W. Skinner, Nijay K. Gupta, Andy Johnson, Drew J. Strait (Eerdmans; $35.00.)) Professor Gorman, who teaches at the fabulous Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, has a short, basic book on Revelation, several books on Paul, one heady one on John, and more. (And he’s writing again, so next year might see yet another New Testament commentary!)

In this, his most recent, which we announced back in the winter, Gorman offers a serious discussion of Romans, theological (that is, not mere Greek exegesis) and yet, as the title puts it, “pastoral.” I’m not exactly sure what that word connotes for you, but it suggests some practical, formational sensibilities, and I don’t disagree. It is, as Craig Keener says, “theologically rich as well as spiritual inviting and edifying.” 

Michael Gorman’s commentary on Romans faithfully illuminates the Apostle Paul’s complex proclamation of the gospel. While carefully explaining different possible interpretations, Gorman sets forth his own powerful reading of the letter: that it is a proclamation of the life-giving, life-transforming justice of God, as well as an urgent invitation to participate in the new community created by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Gorman, a master teacher, provides a rich historical and theological exposition, never losing sight of the question of what matters for Christian communities today. This commentary belongs on the desk of everyone whose vocation is to preach and teach the gospel.” — Richard B. Hays, Duke University

Michael Gorman is that rare scholar of eminent distinction who is willing to read the Pauline letters as Christian scripture. His approach is ecumenically sensitive, appealing to what Protestants and Catholics hold in common. And his analysis reprises the great themes for which he is justly famous: participation, cruciformity, transformation, and mission. Widely accessible, this commentary will be useful (on the one hand) to scholars, teachers, and preachers, and (on the other) to interested lay readers. — Scott Hahn, Franciscan University of Steubenville

Michael Gorman’s commentary on Romans shows why he is recognized as one of the most distinguished Pauline scholars in America today. Written for a wider audience, it explains the pastoral, theological, and spiritual dimensions of Paul’s most important letter for the church of our day. Eminently readable, always insightful, this commentary accomplishes what few have done: it makes Paul’s message accessible and relevant to the lives of everyday believers.    — Frank J. Matera, The Catholic University of America

Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letters to the Romans  Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.60 

Many know dear Fleming, a long-standing Episcopal priest, working theologian and preacher, most recently from her stunning collection of seasonal sermons in the must-have Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ and her major work, Crucifixion. She has two smaller collection sermons on Good Friday . Many love her Battle for Middle Earth and her magisterial Undoing of Death, Lenten (and some Easter) sermons. There are others, including the recent collection of 52 great sermons, arranged as a once-a-week devotional called Means of Grace. We admire her so much and we’re glad she’s working on yet another manuscript. Pray for her!

Not so many customers order from us her lovely and inspiring and sometimes challenging collection of sermons on Romans, the epistle she calls “theological dynamite.” With dozens and dozens of sermons, this is over 400 pages and is itself dynamite. Highly recommended.

Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh (Brazos) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

This.  Wow. Amazing! I’ve reviewed Romans Disarmed more than once and have commended on it often, in part because of its verve and creative energy and in part because of how very compelling it is. It stands in the great tradition of their interactive, conversational, but deeply informed Colossians Remixed but offers even more — fictional characters, longer excursions into indigenous people’s sorrows, climate change, resisting the homogenizing influences of consumer culture — all deeply connected to the story of Paul’s letter to the conflicted and ethnically divided first century house churches in Rome, there under the boot heel of the ironically named Pax Romana. 

If you want to understand any of the New Testament, this playful but very detailed (just see the footnotes!) study helps put us there, right there. Sylvia earned her PhD in New Testament under NT Wright years ago and has deepened in her powerful exegesis but also in her creative storytelling. She and her hubby Brian take seriously the social context of first century Rome, the injustices, the radical implications of the enslaved being in sibling relationship with the rich and powerful who “owned” them — or didn’t, as the gospel insisted. You want deconstruction? Whew. I dare you to read this.  Gather in the kitchen of the home to listen to this letter from this guy named Paul and feel the tension, the struggle, the hardships and joy. Realize the importance of the women and men named near the end of the epistle and get this new perspective on Paul and his liberating message or real life redemption and the ethic of resistance to the forces of violence around us. 

Their study goes paragraph by paragraph with creative paraphrases and plenty of historical and contemporary cultural studies and radical application. They cite their colleagues N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, Michael Gorman, Chad Meyers and Elsa Tamez, but also Wendell Berry and Steve Bouma-Prediger and edgy social and political activists, all side by side. This is a true commentary, a handbook on contemporary discipleship, an argument for a life and lifestyle of utter grace. Agree or not with all of its conclusions, I cannot imagine a better book, if you are willing, to get you excited about the contemporary relevance of the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom and the subversive imagination it creates in communities that take the Bible seriously. 

Sylvia and Brian are two of my favorite Bible scholars. Whether you’re over-churched or under-churched, they stir in you a fresh curiosity for the Bible. This new book is perfect for scholars and new Bible readers alike, and for everyone in between. They rescue one of the most misused books of the Bible from the hands of colonizers and crusaders. And they help us listen with first-century ears to the anti-imperial love story of Romans. — Shane Claiborne, activist and author, Jesus for President

 

If you want to hear–and experience–Paul’s letter to the Jewish and gentile Christ-followers in Rome as you never have, read this book. And re-read it. Study it in your church circles. Talk about it with your friends. Assign it in your courses. As with their earlier Colossians Remixed, Keesmaat and Walsh have once again interwoven close textual reading of the New Testament (they clearly love the Scriptures!) with its unabashedly Jewish roots and its explosive relationship to the Roman imperial context. Most importantly, they bring the message of Romans into dialogue with our lives today, as we struggle to be faithful to the good news of Messiah Jesus in our own imperial context. — J. Richard Middleton, professor of biblical worldview and exegesis, Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College, author of Abraham’s Silence

 

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Bewondering God’s Dumbfounding Doings: God Talking to Us Little People in the Final Book of the Bible  Calvin G. Seerveld (Padia Press) $15.00  FREE with any purchase while supplies last

I wrote about this with great gusto in a heart-felt review I did when it first came out. It is a handsome paperback (with nice paper and a bit of art) and offers a handful of sermons Cal preached on the book of Revelation.  He’s astute and allusive, creative and majestic, even as he humbly guides the listeners at Toronto CRC into the God’s speaking, alive and well. 

Cal got us some for cheap and we’re happily offering this as a premium thank you gift for those of you reading BookNotes carefully and sending us orders. There’s a great endorsing blurb on the inside by Scott Hoezee, himself a great worship leader and preacher. Enjoy!

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New books on faith formation including “Embracing the Rhythms of Work and Rest” (Ruth Haley Barton), “Courage for Caregivers” (Marjorie Thompson), “Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers & Mothers” (Andrew Arndt), “Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard” (Trevor Hudson) ON SALE

I suppose I don’t really know what the dog days of summer are, but whatever they are, I think we’re in ‘em. It’s hot here, stifling, at times, and I’m tired. That’s not uncommon but, like many of you, I bet, I fell asleep a few pages into reading a brand new book last night. My head snapped up as it does but I couldn’t get my reading groove back on. I gathered up Beth and we watched some TV. 

Which reminds me that this regular feeling of being exhausted from work and worry about the world is nearly second nature to me, even if it isn’t the formation I’ve longed for. As so many good authors have told us, there are disciplines and practices we can take up to train ourselves towards greater openness to God. Habits of the heart which might yield greater health and wholeness and maybe even energy. Maybe the summertime schedule — dog days or not — can create a thin space for you to hear God speak somehow. Maybe these books can help.

For starters, before I share about four important new spiritual formation books (two not even out yet, two just out this week) I want to name in passing three rather special books about sane Christian growth. At the very least, you should know this kind of stuff. Some “self-help” books are actually incredibly profound, relating spiritual formation themes to our ordinary lives. Do you recall my rave announcement a month ago of The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You to Be by James Bryan Smith? What a good example of putting pretty profound insights about the interior life of spirituality into the realm of daily life and self care! 

Here are just a few more.

Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do Phillip Cary (Brazos) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.5

This has been re-issued with a slightly expanded format, sporting a new cover and a thoughtful new afterword. And (surprise) there’s a blurb by me on the back where I said (in our BookNotes review back when the first edition came out) “Tremendously rich and thoughtful and wonderfully written…This is solid pastoral theology, inviting deeper and more mature thinking about the slogans and cliches we hear to often.”  That is, it’s thoughtful and solid and ecumenical and — get this! — in light of the very truths of the gospel, we are set free from a lot of stuff we are encouraged to do; discipleship is a gradual long-term process as we experience the gospel in Christian community. 

Each chapter is a thing we don’t have to do such as “You Don’t Have to Hear God’s Voice in Your Heart” or “You don’t have to Let God Take Control” or “You Don’t have to Keep Getting Transformed All the Time.”  I liked the one called “Why Applying it to Your Life is Boring.” So there. 

I should note that this isn’t for those with anxiety disorders and doesn’t particularly address the fears and foibles of mental health issues. It wouldn’t be bad for those with that kind of anxiety, but in the title, here, it is more about those anxious about their faith, those fretting about their sin or Christian living, about those poised to buy yet another book which offers the formula for successful Kingdom living. Skip all of those. This rejects techniques and disapproves of simple, practical sermons-lite, inviting, instead, a richer, fuller, entrance into the classic forms of faith in a mature congregation.

Such churches remind us of the gospel.  Dr. Carey is the Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University so this book is a bit demanding. But it is great.

How about this blurb by Andy Crouch:

Yes! No! Whoa! There are so many terrific, alarming, insightful zingers in this book that I agreed, disagreed and, most of all, had to think about something on every page. Graceful and liberating, this book is a word of wisdom and hope that just might convince anxious Christians that the gospel really is better news than we’ve yet imagined.”–Andy Crouch, author, The Life We’re Looking For

The Cost of Control: Why We Crave It, The Anxiety it Gives Us, and the Real Power God Promises Sharon Hodde Miller (Baker) $16.99       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Sharon Hodde Miller is an easy to read and upbeat best seller but she has depth and a thoughtful approach. We are happy to suggest her brand new one. Yep, it sounds like one of these hip new voices insisting they know just exactly what we need to do to grow into Christlikeness, and freedom and health, but, trust me, she is a theologically aware and psychologically sane author, inviting us to loosen the grip of control —or, as Rich Villodas puts in his good back-cover endorsement, “to be freed from the grip of the illusion control.”

Our self-help fascination and basic Christian growth industry is too often based on this very illusion, that we can be in control. As Miller shows, “The problem is, the more we seek the illusion of control, the more it betrays us. In place of certainty, it gives us anxiety. In place of predictability, it creates complexity. And in place of unity, it divides. It’s not just that we cannot control things, it is that we break them even more when we try.”

Hodde Miller is a fresh, upbeat voice but we respect her a lot. She’s got a MDiv from Duke and a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is the teaching pastor at Bright City Church in Durham, NC.

Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us Mark Yaconelli (Broadleaf) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I suppose this deserves a bigger review than I can muster now, but I really want you to know about the eagerly awaited new book by Mark Yaconelli which emerges from his work with The Hearth Community project. I’m excited about the book and glad he’s on Broadleaf.

Broadleaf is a theologically astute— if often quite progressive —mainline denominational press that does a variety of books, but many that might be considered self-help or personal growth or about interpersonal relations. Given their spiritual orientation and justice-sensitive framework, even their psychology books are deeply interwoven with sensible pastoral insights and often are written by those passionate about a Christian life that makes a difference in the world.

Many of our customers appreciate their edgy, mystical-but-practical books like How Not to Be Afraid by Gareth Higgins (Broadleaf; $24.99) or The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change without Losing Your Joy by Karen Warlord (Broadleaf; $26.99) that comes with rave blurbs from Romal Tun and Austin Channing Brown (and, for that matter, her colleague Brene Brown.) I’ve promoted their lovely The Sacred Pulse: Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls by April Fiet (with a forward by Chuck DeGroat) which is a gem of a little book.

This new hardback by storyteller Mark Yaconelli may be the best of their batch this season.

Yaconelli’s last book was the very special IVP title, published in 2016 and one we wouldn’t want to be out of, The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places (IVP; $16.00.) It showed him to be a good listener and a great storyteller. This new one is simply spectacular. As Anne Lamott says in her enthusiastic (and storytelling) foreword, “We need a teacher and a book such as this.”  Yes, he and Anne are long friends and she has written about him before.

Although I had met his famous, funny dad, Mike, a time or two, I have not met Mark. But I love how Anne describes him as she starts of her forward:

Mark Yaconelli is an unusual person, as brilliant as he is plainspoken. He is an activist and a homebody, a contemplative and a goofball, gentle in spirit and charismatic, funny, deeply articulate, and capable of both wonderful compassion and silliness.

And, she says, with a sly grin, I am sure, “He brings all these qualities to his new book.” Of course he does!

This brand new release is full of stories but it is not merely a collection of his colorful and poignant anecdotes. That would be itself worth whatever it costs to plunk down, but this is even better. It is a study of the role of stories, showing how our stories are vital and how knowing them of each other — the speaking and the listening, the telling and the receiving — can help form bridges of understanding. As the epigram from Barry Lopez puts it, it’s really all we’ve got — stories and compassion.

As the publisher notes, ”stories tether unto what matters most: our families, our friends, our hearts, our planet, the wondrous mystery of life itself.”

Yet, Mark says, the stories we’ve been telling ourselves as a civilization are killing us: Fear is wisdom. Vanity is virtuous. Violence is peace. This book is perhaps too elegant to be called a “counter-narrative” but that’s what Brueggemann might call it. Others have called it “an enchanting meditation on the power of storytelling in our individual and our collective lives.”

This is an immersive, elegant meditation, an offering of grace. Mark Yaconelli ushers us into rooms full of authentic stories, where facades fall and suffering and joy are metabolized. — Kirsten Powers, CNN Senior Political Analyst and New York Times bestselling author of Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts

FOUR BOOKS OF SPIRITUAL FORMATION

TWO AVAILABLE NOW, TWO COMING IN SEPTEMBER

Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again Ruth Haley Barton (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

A week ago this book showed up, a bit early, as we were furiously packing our last-minute stuff to throw in the truck as we headed to our first face-to-face off-site thing since early 2020. When I announced it up front to our CCO friends, I quipped —seriously — that I knew nothing about it. At that point I hadn’t even opened the cover, but some of the campus ministry staff in the room knew Ruth and many respect her work. They chuckled to hear me so speechless. For those who know me well, though, they caught my real meaning: I really don’t know much about this topic, even though I can tell you almost every major book published on the topic in the last 20 years.

Ruth herself knows this about me and has, in her lovely way, reminded me on occasion that burn-out and spiritual dryness is a serious risk for those in faith leadership positions, and she supposes that includes small town booksellers like me and Beth. She is right; of course she is.

I’ve made some improvements from my most earnest workaholic days although the urgencies of our work (and our financial instability, to put it nicely) sometimes just means we’ve got to do the work at weird hours and 7 days a week. I don’t mean to presume on God’s good grace, but there you have it.

And so, as I pre-ordered this book a half year ago I have to admit — as much as I adore Ruth as a person and as a writer, so would read anything she wrote (yep, she is one of those in my book!)— that I was thinking of our jam-packed sabbath keeping section. We’ve got Rabbi Heschel’s immortal classic, Sabbath, of course, and the must-read Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting. I often start people off with the excellent (and very nicely written) The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. What a book! We still love Dorothy Bass’s eloquent Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time and continue to recommend (and even read from) small portions from the glorious Sabbath by Dan Allender who insists that sabbath is not just about rest, but about play — re-creation. Eugene Peterson liked Matthew Sleeth’s 24/6 and with the brand new Agrarian Spirit by Norman Wirzba, we should revisit his broad and sensible way of life suggested in Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight.  And we have to list Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance. One of the most enduring and deeply spiritual volumes is simply called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Mueller.

Yet, these days, if I am pressed to recommend just one, I’d say — for a heft study with lots of multi-dimensional, radical application — I’d suggest A.J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World. Although, geesh, you really should read Marva Dawn!  And that Rest of God is just so nice.

Which brings us to Ruth Haley Barton who is now on the top end of that list of acclaimed titles. Yes! She brings her lovely style, her honesty and candor, even sharing about her own discovery of the health of sabbath keeping practices even as she was resisting it. It is telling and a generous start to which busy leaders will be able to relate. As these other books mostly say, we live in a frenzied culture, and this stuff is important — in part because God has commanded it, but also because (let’s just be honest) our jam packed busyness is not virtue; our fast-paced hustle is part of the problem of our culture’s disease.

Ruth’s book says on the back, noting how elusive balanced rhythms of work and rest can be, that “this rings especially true for pastors and leaders who carry the weight of nonstop responsibility.” Most know they need rest, she observes, “but might be surprised to find within themselves a deep resistance to letting go and resting in God one day a week.” 

There is reason that activist leaders like Brenda Salter McNeil (Becoming Brave) says this new book is “a prophetic wake up-call.” Black poet and East Village NY pastor Drew Jackson says it is a “must-read for anyone longing for freedom from the tyranny of endless work and overproduction.”

As I turned the pages slowly and pondered her meaning and my response, I felt invited into this journey without pressure or guilt. Or at least not much. My hat is off to Ruth for bringing some fresh words and passion and insights to this much-covered topic; she really is a very fine teacher and writer. If you know this topic well — even if you practice it well — I think you will love this book.  If you are in need of a compelling call to do it (or not do it, as the case may be) this could be it. It offers hard-won wisdom.

There are three things that set this book apart from the others. And they are huge. She gets it right and, again, it makes Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest, so valuable. 

Firstly, it is about the goodness of rhythm. This is a key aspect of creational reality, seasons and such, and we humans need to play our part, respond faithfully to the reality of days and weeks, months and seasons. She roots this in good stories and solid Biblical reflection. It is common sense, but radical, if delightfully phrased. She entices us into this pretty counter-cultural view of the clock. It is about the rhythms of work and rest, not legalistic adherence to a rule. 

Secondly, she invites us into common practices of sabbath and an ethos of sabbath-keeping in our faith communities. No other book is as candid about this and no other book could be as revolutionary for the churches — we are supposed to be doing this together. Or at least in tandem with others. Let’s face it — it is harder to avoid the frantic stuff of shopping and answering emails and being busy on Sunday if we realize few others in our own church or small group give a rip about these things. We feel like some mystic or lone Puritan, and it’s hard.  What if our whole church felt called to this liberating way of a rhythm of life, honoring the invitation to sabbath joy. What if it oozed from our pastors andChristian educators and what if we somehow had these conversations at church? Ruth says all this in helpful ways and the book includes a conversation guide for small groups and communities. 

(She has long been good at this, writing a book on the spirituality of leadership for pastors and those in ministry, then wrote a book on spiritual formation practices for groups, to be explored together, and she has one spiritual discernment practices for faith communities and their leaders.)

Thirdly — and this really makes this book both fascinating and vital. I hope we ordinary folk don’t avoid it because of this, but about a final third of it is about sabbatical. It is about pastoral replenishment and the need for extended periods of sabbatical time. I’m just reading this part now and I am finding it very convincing. 

I’ll admit as somewhat of an egalitarian who is paid much less and works harder than many ministers I know, I’ve never had much sympathy for these long periods off that some pastors get. Some already get exuberant days and weeks off, not to mention study leave. Except for college profs, who else gets such special treatment? Nobody I know.

And yet, they should. I believe that. And this book makes it crystal clear and even maps out ways to do so (without turning into an Alban Institute-type manual.) The subtitle of Embracing… is important: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again.The book is a must for church leaders, but, truly, I think it is for all of us to understand this whole business (and perhaps advocate for your pastor if need be.)

Sabbath, she shows, is “more than a practice.” It’s a way of life ordered around “God’s invitation to regular rhythms of work, rest, and replenishment.”  This means upending some of the way we think about work and wages, time and productivity. But she also is upbeat when she observes that well-rested and spiritually alive leaders are, in fact, better leaders, more fruitful and helpful than if they are exhausted and weary. Right!

In a way, this one is more foundational and perhaps more urgent for most of us, than her last one, but it now makes me want to read that one again, which I only skimmed. Now I want to read it carefully, savor it, maybe put some of it into practice. Like I said — I don’t really know that much about all this. Most of us, I suspect, are novices. Maybe you, too, might try her 2018 very lovely book, Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God.

But, please, for your own sake and for the sake of our churches and our world who needs us all to be well, don’t miss Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. We’ve got it now at 20% off.

I like the invitation of Fuller prof and leadership guru, Tod Bolsinger (author of Canoeing the Mountains and Tempered Resilience) who writes wisely:

“Take a deep breath, be prepared for all that will be stirred up, and then bask in the teaching of this profoundly beautiful book.”

Courage for Caregivers: Sustenance for the Journey in Company with Henri J.M. Nouwen Marjorie J. Thompson (IVP) $20.00                          OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Marj Thompson has a new book!  About Henri Nouwen!  Stop the presses, friends, this is amazing new news and I am sure — whether you want to explore the gifts and challenges of caregiving or not — you will want this lovely new volume. Wow.

Marjorie Thompson gets credit for catapulting contemplative spirituality and a more monastic-type formational practice into the common experience of most church folks. She has served not only as a pastor and retreat leader in the PC(USA) but for a while directed spirituality stuff for the denomination. Her book Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (first released in 1995) is a true classic, a must have resource for both beginners in the deeper spiritual journey and for those well on their way. It even comes in a larger print edition, slightly oversized. That book has a forward by Henri Nouwen (and in the second, newer, expanded edition, also a piece by Barbara Brown Taylor.)

And here is what you may not know. One of Henri Nouwen’s best friends and sometimes-collaborator (from back in their Yale days) was John Mogabgab, who happens to be Marj Thompson’s husband. Which is to say, she knew Henri as a dear family friend, like, forever.

So what is this new book? It draws on the considerable writings and wisdom of Nouwen on the theme of caregiving. It is by Thompson but in each chapter — replete with stories of those giving care and those who are elderly or in hospice and the like — she draws on insights learned from Henri or his books. Ends up that she and John have done this kind of work for quite some time, starting with the era when they were close to Henri (who was writing much about pastoral care and the spirituality of compassion.) There is much more of Thompson than of Nouwen here, so the subtitle is just right: this offers spiritual sustenance for the journey of caregiving in the company of Henri Nouwen. 

(Forgive my aside, but it seems good to note right about here: Flying Falling Catching: An Unlikely Story of Finding Freedom is a recent biography of the years Henri joined the trapeze troupe, the Flying Roudleighs, which draws considerably on the final, unfinished manuscript Henri was working on when died. It is his “exhilarating true story of friendship and community and the Flying Trapeze.” You learn of his own woundedness and inner anguish and how his lifelong search for wholeness brings what author Lisa Napoli calls “a beautiful, moving story about interconnectivity, interdependence, and life’s rich, beautiful, complicated pageant.”)

Two more things about Courage for Caregivers: Scott Morris, the extraordinary Christian doctor and health ministry advocate from urban Memphis has a hand in this and wrote a brief preface. His nonprofit, Church Health, has long drawn from Nouwen in their gentle caregiving for the poor and this makes the book that much more lovely.

Secondly, while the first 100 pages are beautiful and worthy, there is an extensive leader’s guide and conversation resource making this ideal for training those doing caregiving type work, or deacons or Stephen’s Ministers or others hoping to hold the sacred stories of the hurting. There is even an appendix for a “retreat leader” that would use the book at an event. Further, there is a compendium of stories in the back and another with liturgical resources, stuff for congregations, and a several page biota guidance for congregations wanting to support caregivers. This is a great and useful resource.

There will be another IVP book coming soon, Hope for Caregivers: A 42-Day Devotional in Company with Henri J. M. Nouwen which you could pre-order as it is coming soon! $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80.

It is a stand-alone devotional, of course, but would make a very sweet companion volume to the Thompson book.

 

Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers & Mothers Andrew Arndt (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

RELEASE DATE – SEPTEMBER 13, 2020        PRE-ORDER NOW.

Well, what can I say about this stellar book — due out in September, now, they say — that both invites us into the lives of the early desert Mothers and Fathers and shows that they are exceedingly relevant to today’s world? I need to do a longer review later, but for now, I want to rave about this briefly, highlighting three simple reasons you should order this now. 

First, I’ll get it out of my system — you may not know much about this debate or may not care, but indulge me, please. Others have attempted to divest me of my bad attitude about the desert fathers and mothers, have tried to suggest they have much to offer, but my views have hardly changed much from the days when I said dear Henri Nouwen’s study of these early Egyptian mystics, The Way of the Heart, had more harm than help in it. To put it too simply, I thought — and still do, in some ways — that the desert saints were irresponsible to leave their places of life and worship to seek some early monastic experiences (monasteries as we think of them today were not quite invented yet.) I do not know of any serious Biblical warrant for this escapism, so I have said many a bad word about these Abbas. Further, I feared — and still do — that they were breathing the spirit of the intellectual air of those days which was essentially Gnostic or, at least, dualistic. They thought somehow God cared more about so-called spiritual things — the way of the heart — more than voting or taking out the garbage, play or work or making art. That may be what the pagan Greeks thought and it may be (ahem!) what many church leaders presumed in those days. They rejected the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 and 2 and assumed that the Christian religion was internal, private, and spiritual. It got the church off on the wrong foot and we’ve never fully recovered.

Okay, so I take some of it back. I’ve read parts of many books on these early monks who did miracles and taught prayer and love — one can hardly argue with that! — but none have convinced me that they were mostly right in their pilgrimage to the caves of the desert or that their worldview was sensible, let alone admirable.  Until now. Streams in the Wasteland seems to me to be a book like none other and I appreciate that Andrew Arndt explains these fourth century men and women and their vibrant witness against the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. 

Arndt avoids the deeper questions of whether these guys were really right in abandoning their churches and lives in the cities and towns from which they fled, and he avoids the question of whether any of us should really do that now. Who cares, really (my mind is pretty much made up about that) since this isn’t an academic book, and certainly is not an ideologically frantic and fearful sort of thing like Rod Dreher’s overblown Benedict Option. This just isn’t that kind of book.

Here is what he does do that is so very appealing. He shows how the simple truths (mostly about love) that inflamed these weirdos in the desert can be lived out in our own contemporary lives. He talks about the injustices of racism and he talks about work — it’s a very good chapter, too.  Who knew these desert gurus had it in ‘em? Their insight is fresh and relevant and nearly explosive. I am pondering this book, applying some of its simply truths to my own soul. I’m not sure if Arndt is fully adequate in explaining the creation-regained reality of a full-orbed Christian life in and for the world, but he comes close. As some of the Abbas taught directly, we are to be about the Kingdom of God. The methods of what we have to do to prepare ourselves for the outward journey may vary, but, for now, it sure seems they have a lot to say.

For what it’s worth, a few major books were written in the late 300s about these dudes. John Arndt of Colorado Springs draws a lot on John Cassian of France, whose own work finally was sorted and sifted into two books, Institutes and Conferences. By the way, as John explains, the monastery in Marseilles that Cassian later founded, emerging from his own interviews with the desert folks, became the template, so to speak, for Benedict of Nursia “whose famous ‘Rule of Saint Benedict’ still influences Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monks to this day.” As Ardnt says, “Cassian’s careful distillation of the spirituality of the desert lives on.”

Okay, so he shows how lasting and how relevant and even lively this stuff is. It’s moving and clear and fun. I’m still not a fan of some of the tedious parables the desert fathers told, but I get it. They were profound men and women, some of few words, and their witness led many to deeper, real righteousness. And it can be tapped today. 

Streams in the Wasteland does just that as Arndt weaves into his narrative wonderful stories of his days growing up in a small-town, earnest, Pentecostal church in rural Wisconsin. He tells about people he knew, good people, those willing to be a bit odd for God — “peculiar people” as the KJV puts it. I was not raised in anything like that subculture but in a way it resonated. Or maybe I am projecting backward, wishing that I knew people with the deep kind of Godly love and power he saw graciously enacted as a child. Not sure why, but I was very deeply moved by his good storytelling, and longed for mentors and leaders like the kind he tells about — some from his youth, some from more recent congregations who have lived and struggled and served together.

You see, Streams in the Wasteland shows how the spiritual renewal of these radical Godly oddballs might speak to our own wasteland. He isn’t ideological or pushy, but in earnest, vivid, language and a few powerful stories, he shows that, indeed, many of us are beyond a boring faith or tired of right wing shenanigans — the problem is deeper than that. Our secularizing culture’s cross pressures are part of it (sure, he’s read Charles Taylor, or at least James Smith on Charles Taylor and is a thoughtful cultural critic) but as a pastor, he knows that people are longing for a real faith, an encounter with God, an experience of the Divine that isn’t sensationalized. 

Before Part One of the book is a great graphic announcing this Part One, “Into the Desert with God” which is explained like this:

Here we begin to explore the call to the wilderness: the spiritual horizon that guides our quest; the renunciation of the heart that makes it possible; and the practices that work the life of the Kingdom into us. 

Yes, there is a wild chapter called “The Great Renunciation” but it is followed by a sensible chapter showing the “essential habits for the with-God life.” 

The second major portion offers another graphic and the announcement of the section “Into the Desert with Others.” Oh my, these chapters are rich, full of ancient wisdom for modern churches. The chapter titles are plain enough and belie their profundity — “Called into Community”, “Saved into Community” and “Restored through Community.” The mothers and fathers, as they are called, of the fourth century “great renunciation” aren’t the first or only ones to teach us about community, but Arndt draws on their radical teaching and brings it into today. 

Here he names the local church as “the essential context” of the holy life — “No genuine Christian spirituality grows up without it.”  I am not sure if it is an Abba or Abbas that called this rebuke of self-directed spirituality “a discovery of the redemptive mystery God enfleshes in the church” but it sure is a good line, eh? 

Part Three is “Into the Desert for the world.” These chapters are called “Saving Speech” ( a topic the desert deserters had much to say, ironically), “Sanctifying Work” and “Divine Generosity.” That doesn’t sound weird, does it? Maybe even important for you? I’d say so. 

Here are the nice words on the graphic page setting apart Part Three:

A life rooted and ordered to God in Christ brings blessing to the world: our patterns of speech change, our work is sanctified, our lives become gifts given for the life of the world — living miracles that bear witness to the Kingdom.

Like Andrew Arndt’s previous book on the Holy Trinity — All Flame: Entering into the Life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — he draws on rich sources of old and contemporary writers. Naturally he uses Merton’s book on the sayings of the desert mystics; he uses Nouwen. Significantly, he tells how moving Benedicta Ward’s The Saying of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection was for him. He cites Mennonite scholar Alan Kreider (The Patient Ferment of the Early Church) and Alexander Schmemann (For the Life of the World) and modern authors from Wendell Berry to Eugene Peterson to Ronald Rolheiser. I like that he brings in his  New Life Church colleagues like Glen Packiam’s lovely Blessed, Broken, Given and Daniel Grothe’s important Power of Place. But most of the lengthy bibliography comes from citations of these old sayings and stories of the men and women of the late fourth century. Living in caves in the desert. Arndt has managed to bring what for me is the first convincing book about the wisdom of these “fathers and mothers” and how they might help us be more formed in the ways of King Jesus, even a way that might be considered human, humane, and beautiful.  Wow — I recommend it.

Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard Trevor Hudson (NavPress) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59 

RELEASE DATE – SEPTEMBER 13, 2020        PRE-ORDER NOW

We are happy to get to announce this book — I’ve been carrying around an advance reader’s copy and wondering how to explain how good and rich and interesting it is. (Even if I hate the heavy metal font on the cover and headlines.)

For starters, we can say at least this: there is nothing like it in print. It really is, as the subtitle promises, an invitation to “find another way of life” and it does so by drawing on the ancient wisdom St. Ignatius of the early to mid 1500s and — get this! — the work of the late Dallas Willard who grew in fame at the end of the 20th century and was still alive and teaching just a decade ago. Ignatius was a Catholic reformer and spiritual teacher; Willard was a reasonable philosopher, student of human knowing, and quiet Protestant mystic. (He almost single-handedly convinced Richard Foster to write Celebration of Discipline, having mentored him a bit into the spiritual classics.)

Whether you know much about the famous”Ignatian method” of discerning God’s presence each day (and, throughout the day) or not, no matter. Whether you are drawn to the practical questions of Willard about how people change as they live in the Kingdom and what the renovation of the heart looks like, no matter. This little book brings them into conversation, so to speak, and it is illuminating, for sure.

Further — as if bringing these two giants into comparison, and learning a bit about what each taught as an approach to a life of lived, experiential, spiritual formation wasn’t enough to sell you on this book —  the author himself is a notable leader (some might say a master) of the things about which he is writing. Hudson is a United Methodist pastor from South Africa. As a white ally of the anti-apartheid movement, he is known for clear-headed and outspoken prophetic gestures. But he doesn’t wear that on his sleeve and many may not realize his fairly simple books — like one on the Serenity Prayer, another the Holy Spirit and short devotionals such as Pause for Advent and Pauses for Lent  — are deeply rooted in the inner life stuff of the monks and mystics and of modern day folk like Willard.

Hudson starts the book with the often-heard pastoral comments that people aren’t getting much from church or they wonder if “this is all there is” and the like, hinting, with hardly the vocabulary to say it, that they hunger for a holy encounter with God, a deeper sort of discipleship. This book, he says, is for those who are seeking. In fact, that is the first chapter’s topic — why we should seek, what makes one a true seeker? In our seeking we will discover others who sought after the things of God. In Seeking God Hudson tells about Ignatius of Loyola and Dallas Willard of California, two seekers of God.

This book is not a workbook, but it will appeal to those who like to process stuff. There are countless “seeking God exercises” with Bible scriptures to ponder and questions to consider,  prayers are given and there is stuff to do. This is as it should be as anybody familiar with Ignition spirituality would know.

Willard suggested to Hudson once that he should “guard his mind” and this becomes a powerful part of the exploration. As Hudson helps us towards the “Jesus way of discipleship” he recalls that he himself must watch his words; you see, much of this is quite practical. 

The Spiritual Exercises, especially when practiced with the benefit of a director or guide(or at least a small band of fellow seekers) allows us to see God permeating everything. “God-bathed” as Willard put it. 

William Barry is a lifelong Jesuit — the Catholic order and intellectual movement founded by Ignatius — and he wrote a good forward to the book.  He notes that Hudson “has mastered the inner dynamic that powers the Exercises and that has proven helpful to people for half a millennium.”  It will not just change your prayer life (and Barry has written several good books on that) but will help you “move to a deeper commitment to cooperating with God in the great project begun with the creation of this universe.” 

Much of the study material is done by Gary Moon, an expert in these things. There is even a free video series based on Seeking God and a full study guide by Moon. The book (and the free extras) make an ideal study for your group.

Richard Foster himself says, “I thank God for Seeking God.  I say, “Amen!” Order it today.

As always, if you are ordering more than one title, and one is a pre-order, it is helpful if you say whether you want them sent together, later, or if we should ship one now and one later. You know the drill — tell us how to serve you best. Thanks.

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading; rates are rising seriously. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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PRE-ORDER 12 (at least) FORTHCOMING TITLES — Norman Wirzba, Katelyn Beaty, Wendell Berry, James K.A. Smith, a tribute to Tim Keller, and more. ALL 20% OFF – order now / pay later.

Hey, friends — happy summer to you. A little extra daylight time for outside reading (although, dang, this heat!  A good time to review some of the many eco-care books we’ve featured over the years, eh? Try the frank, enjoyable Our Angry Eden: Faith and Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet by the Presby Reverend, David Williams or the beautifully written Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth by the splendid Debra Reinstra. Or check, here for instance.)

We’ve been away from BookNotes for a week or so because we were prepping for our first major off-site event since the pandemic broke in March 2020. We were with the CCO in a very spacious room with a couple of our industrial-sized, very efficient, hand-made air purifiers (and a professional HEPA one, too.) We’ve been testing every day since being with those 150+ people and we’re still healthy. We hope you are cautious these days — the long Covid thing is painfully real and the ongoing consequences can be serious. For the public good and your own peace of mind, we hope you are masking at church and other inside gatherings. At least for a while, yet…

We were delighted that the CCO (the campus ministry we are affiliated with, still, and our largest overall client) spent several mornings revisiting their commitments from decades ago to draw on the reformational philosophy, or at least worldview, of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, by examining the implications of Al Wolter’s Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis of a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans – $15.00; our sale price = $12.00.) Our great pal Sean Purcell walked staff through — and interviewed me for a rollicking half hour — some of the background of the book. The first edition was dedicated to CCO staff as Al taught the book to CCO staff back in the 1970s. It was transformational then and it remains relevant today. I sometimes say to fans of our store that they should read it to learn more of what motivated us to open the store as we did.

Sean had done some Zoom interviews with Al Wolters, and his old colleague at ICS, Calvin Seerveld, so it was a blast hearing from those friends and mentors as Sean taught about what it means to live into a spacious, embodied, culturally attuned lifestyle of imagining God’s Kingdom in every area of life.

The historic Jubilee conference was created to help students as students (!) and books like Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness by Don Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos – $17.00; our sale price = $13.60) and my own Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books – $13.99; our sale price = $11.19) emerged out of that hope to help students think Christianly and live in reformational ways as they step into their callings, first as students and then as graduates. What a good time talking again with old and new CCO staff who partner with churches to cultivate relationships and mentor students into this full-orbed way of living in the good but fallen (and being fully redeemed) world. 

From old titles like Brian Walsh’s Subversive Christianity (with one hefty, prophetic essay which was first given at a Jubilee conference) to Rainbows for the Fallen World (ditto) to the several heady, radical books by Richard Middleton to the new Amy Sherman title Agents of Flourishing to old classics for CCO friends by former Jubilee director Steve Garber (Fabric of Faithfulness, Visions of Vocation, and The Seamless Life) we had a lot that were german. Naturally, we had lots and lots of books on race and racism and lots of books about what we might call “public theology.” Richard Mouw’s All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight even talks about CCO and Jubilee and our broad, relevant, bookselling efforts.

All of this was right there with devotionals and contemplative spirituality, basic Christian discipleship (and disciple-making), theology, Biblical studies, evangelism, church life, worship, and so much more, from engineering to the arts, psychology to outdoor education, politics to gender studies. It’s fun to spread out and sell so many different sorts of things to those who are actually influencing tomorrow’s leaders. 

WHICH BRINGS US TO…

THESE 12 BOOKS TO PRE-ORDER NOW.  

As usual, we don’t run the credit cards you enter at our secure order form page until we send the books. The release dates are shown. A couple we already have, some are coming very soon, others not for months. If you want them bundled together, please say so. Let’s go!

By the way, you know you can pre-order almost anything from us. There are so many more exciting titles (of all sorts — fiction and nonfiction, children’s, youth, and for adults, religious and otherwise) all coming this season. (Maybe the one I’m most excited for: a forthcoming novel called Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, releasing 10-18-22.)

Let us know how we can help.

A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing Amanda Held Opelt (Worthy Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

JUST OUT NOW

This just released last weekend and we were thrilled to send a few out already. You may know that Amanda the sister of the late Rachel Held Evans and this — oh, my, this! — is her stunning debut. I was hooked with just the introduction. What a wise and interesting (and heartfelt) approach this brings. About, yes, a “hole in the world.”  Basically, each chapter explores a certain grieving practice or ritual (about most of which Amanda was unfamiliar) and how folks using that practice find it helpful. And how it did (or didn’t) help her in her own rapacious sadness from the loss of her beloved sister. She’s not Episcopalian the way Rachel ended up, so even the introduction (about Ash Wednesday services) brought fresh take. 

Included are odd or lesser known customers such as covering mirrors and “telling the bees” to commonplace things like sharing casseroles and sending sympathy cards (a great chapter, by the way.) From her reflection on owning our mortality in “death rooms”  to experiencing the power of mere presence in the chapter “Sitting Shiva” to the candor of wearing black, this book is wonderfully written, nicely done, and at times very, very moving. Highly recommended. 

A Hole in the World is a wonderfully conceived and beautifully written book…It is, in part, an anthropology of grieving, a powerful memoir, and glimpses into a heartbreaking diary. In a world where rituals of grief are slowly vanishing, it reintroduces us to some of the most creative forms from Western culture. Most of the time the book is looking back on the rich history of rituals of pain, from cards to casseroles, from wearing black to sitting shivah. But it also looks forward, preparing our hearts for what will inevitably happen to us all. — Michael Card, songwriter and author of A Sacred Sorrow

A Hole in the World is both generous and generative, a book that tenderly guides us into the fierce landscape of our own losses, because the author has dared to walk there first. Few of us today know how to speak of our sorrows, but in this book, Held Opelt gives us language for loss that is honest, hopeful, and gorgeously human.        — K. J. Ramsey, licensed professional counselor and author of This Too Shall Last and The Lord Is My Courage

The Lost Letters to the Twelve Prophets: Imagining the Minor Prophets’ World John Goldingay (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

JUST OUT NOW

This is another book that we just got in and I’m excited. I have not started it yet but you should know that not only is Goldingay a brilliant scholar (and a prolific one, having turned in the “Old Testament for Everyone” series quicker than it took Tom Wright to finish up the New Testament ones.) He has done exquisite academic volumes and pop level ones as well. This, though — wow! It is curious, fun, even. Get this!

To help us understand the unique setting and context of each of the (so-called) minor prophets he writes a fictional letter to each which kicks off a sometimes furious conversation between the fictional character and the prophet declaring back the Word of the Lord. 

Along the way Goldingay offers background (and foreground) and maps and some context for the lively exchanges.  If you know anything about the theology and tensions of the Hebrew prophets, you can imagine the sorts of questions these letters hold. It becomes, in the words of one early reviewer “a sparkling exercise.” 

Disciplined imagination is a powerful tool in bringing the scriptures to life and John Goldingay puts his well-informed imagination to work here in ways that entertain and educate in equal measure. — Christopher J.H. Wright, Langham Partnership

Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, Matthew Sorens (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

JUST OUT NOW

Well, maybe reading the letters to the Hebrew prophets will help us all lean into the prophetic message a bit more, but if not, this surely will. What a study! Three rigorously evangelical and thoughtful faith leaders, each with a passion for multi-ethnic and cross-cultural ministry, combine to explore how marginalized voices are important —essential, now more than ever! — for the church to regain Biblical fidelity and credibility before a watching world. 

These authors, you may care to know, are not firebrands working out of a progressive worldview or theologically odd. They are conventional, solid scholars and leaders working within the broad coalition of evangelical mission and evangelism folks.  Among other things, they invite us to “decenter ourselves from our American idols and re-center on the undeniable, inalienable core reality of the global, transcultural Kingdom of God.” The guides to this journey are, among others, global Christians and the ancient church and the poor. We simply must learn from their witness.

Our Anglican friend Tish Harrison Warren says, “This is a must-read for all Christians who long to see renewal in American evangelicalism.” Derwin Gray, a black author (of How To Heal Our Racial Divide) calls it “some strong-but-needed medicine.”  I agree. Order it today!

Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land Norman Wirzba (University of Notre Dame Press) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 1, 2022

We have highlighted this before so I won’t say much. The flow of the book is remarkable, though, and I’d dare say there is nothing like it in print. In this sense, it is a must-read for at least three kinds of folks: new agrarians (and Wendell Berry fans), those interested in spirituality and contemplative formation, and, well, those who are not interested in that, because you ought to be.

The first third of the book is a careful, clarifying orientation to an agrarian worldview. He notes, importantly, that this is not primarily a matter of whether one is a farmer or not, or whether one lives in a rural area or not. Obviously, one can be a bad/non-agrarian farmer and one can embrace the fundamental orientation of an agrarian view and not work the land. One can be an agrarian in the city and one can be a rural dweller and have no loyalties to place or sustainable practices. So Wirzba, a farmer and scholar, tells it like it is. His definitions and explorations remind me a bit of his excellent (and under appreciated) Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, if more studious.

Secondly, then, and the heart of this notable work, is how one can embrace a spirituality informed by the agrarian views and practices explored in the first portion of the book.  Given his view of the nature of being human, our human calling and task (and a whole chapter called “The Placing of the Soul”), his elegant convictions about relationships and “agrarian sensibilities and responsibilities” can transform our typical approach to spiritual formation and Christian living.

It is an agrarian spirit that informs the book and it is, yes, an agrarian spirituality that is on offer here. He shows how to embody and cultivate learning to pray (with eyes on God and creation), learning to see (ourselves as creatures, naturally) learning what he calls “descent” and humility and generosity. These are core values of a nonrealistic, deeply creational vision and the spiritual exercises he shares point us, finally, towards “learning to hope.”

I know I shared a few of these lovely endorsements before, but, to inspire you to pre-order it asap, here’s some wise words enticing you to buy and read and ponder this good book. As Bill McKibben puts it, “Norman Wirzba has done it again: this is — literally and figuratively — the most grounded (and grounding) book I’ve read in a long time. It will lead you to contemplation, and then, if you’re lucky, to change.”

This lovely book is full of invigorating surprises. For the many of us who don’t live on farms, Wirzba’s reflections offer an invitation to reclaim in practical ways our relationship with the earth and its creatures who, with us, depend on all that has been entrusted to us for stewardship, for sharing, and for grateful enjoyment. — Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Agrarian Spirit isn’t luddite, nostalgic, or angry. Rather, it’s a gentle, wise, and hopeful call forward, casting a vision for how to live as God’s people in God’s world. I loved this book, and it flooded my imagination with pictures of what the Kingdom of Heaven could be, right now, right in my neighborhood. — Andrew Peterson, author of The God of the Garden

The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 1, 2022

I have not mentioned this widely as of yet because it was, literally, a surprise. It is one of these books that was compiled without the honoree knowing, a festschrift. A copy was sent a few weeks ago, now, to Tim in New York and he and his wife were flabbergasted and impressed. Hooray.

Square Halo Book-meister Mr. Ned Bustard had this dream of honoring Keller. Their first big book, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God has a good chapter by Tim and as Ned explains in his own fabulous essay in The City for God, he has been inspired to do art and steward his gifts of creativity in part inspired by the steadfast, whole-life gospel preaching of the artful Reverend.  And so, as book-makers do, Ned set out to find a whole handful of friends and colleagues of Keller to offer thoughtful chapters in his honor. As a book it is a major success and a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to stand on the shoulders of Keller’s invigorating efforts at Redeemer in Manhattan and his lively City-to-City church consulting and planting ministry.

Some festschrifts, by the way, are too academic, random collections done in tribute, but not connected to the person or the reader, really, and not very useful. These are often written by next-generation scholars of a professor. This is not that. Others may be nice collections of stories and testimonials, self-published paperbacks offering earnest but often in-house tributes. This book really isn’t that, either, although most chapters have some very impressive stories about Tim and his character and his ministry. The City for God is a good tribute and it does honor Keller but the chapters (and there are some great stories, including the very first in the intro by Russell Moore) are so inspiring and the insights so vivid that I cannot imagine a person of faith who would not be blessed and, hopefully, impressed, by this wide collection of good, good words. In a way, it is a handbook of living robustly in-but-not-of the world. The contributors are teachers and business leaders, novelists and pastors, stay at home parents and working artists, theologians and activists.

Some of the authors are not surprising to see here, esteemed writers in the Keller orbit, from Scott Souls to Mark Bertrand to Katherine Leary Alsdorf (co co-founded with him the esteemed Center for Faith & Work and Gotham Fellows network.) Others are leaders in various arenas offering good insight on how Keller shaped them, and showing the fruit of having paid attention. A.D. Bauer has a piece on prayer; Denis Haack has an excellent piece on “accessibility.” Charlie Peacock (with jazz bassist John Patitucci) has a piece on jazz, actually. We get Jenny Chang on mercy, Judy Cha on counseling, Annie Nardone on apologetics, William Edgar on hope.  Wow. 

The 20 chapters are broken down into three major sections — gospel, city, and vocation.  We have great pieces on everything from rhetoric to creativity, from influence to cities, from work and business and leadership and legacy. 

Like most Square Halo books, The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller is expertly curated, wonderfully designed, and will hold up for years to come, not only as a retirement gift of one Tim Keller, but as a flare sent up into the dark sky, offering light that illumines our day to day lives. This is a wise and inspiring and enjoyable book. Order it today.

Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 16, 2022

Of this list of a dozen good books, this is one that is rightfully garnering some early attention. It may be the kind of book that you may think you understand (and thereby maybe don’t think you need to order it) or you may wait to just watch a video or listen to one of the many podcasts Ms Beaty is on. And, I dare say, you would be wrong. This book is more than you realize, timely and urgent, even, and, finally a call to most of us, to repent of our nonsense, grow up, and live well. Oh yeah — I started this mildly interested in some good gossip about salacious pastors (like Carl Lentz of New York Hillsong) and boisterous bros (like the macho-man Mark Driscoll.) Or some sober discussion of the horror of Ravi Zachary’s or Bill Hybels. The luxury living Lentz isn’t my cup of tea and there already was a whole podcast dedicated to the rise and fall of Seattle’s Mars Hill, so I was only moderately interested, I’ll admit. 

But already in her discussion of 19th century celebrity tools and the distinctions between fame and celebrity and how power plays into that, I was hooked.

I couldn’t stop reading Celebrities for Jesus and not because it gave the gist of the downfalls and poked at the religious rock stars. Rather, this urgent volume is a deeper study on the ways in which celebrity plays a role in who we will hear, who we trust, why we admire and even care about “stars” and the religiosity of all that. It examines how we perceive leaders (and how we often are on dangerous waters because we think more highly of them as we ought, and think about our own intimacy with those leaders more than is warranted.) The book offers sociology and story, wackiness and wisdom, and a firm, balanced exploration of platforms and profits. It reminds us of the seductive powers of media and fame and status.

I suppose I should admit that the chapter on the book publishing world was riveting. Oh my… from the amount paid  (to some) in advances to ghost writing to our own odd desire to see authors on Instagram to the ethics of back cover blurbs (which are themselves sometimes manufactured) it is a vital chapter for anyone involved in the religious publishing world. (Katelyn now works as an acquisition editor for a major publisher, and before that she worked as editor of Christianity Today, so she is well situated to talk about how we outsource our discipleship, always eager for formulas and products, and how money still tends to rule. She knows.) This chapter called “Chasing Platforms” will be crucial for many BookNotes friends.

Naturally, the book says what ought to be obvious: Beaty shows what celebrity is and how it is woven into the fabric of the evangelical movement (her chapter on the rise of Billy Graham, while not as compelling as the brilliant insights Kristin Du Muz in her Jesus and John Wayne, remains an important frame) even as she “identifies many ways fame goes awry, shows us how we all unwittingly foster a celebrity culture, and offers a vision of faithfulness to the Messiah who was despised and rejected.”

Did you catch that promise from the publisher’s pitch? It “shows us how we all unwittingly foster a celebrity culture.” That is, this is not a cheap shot at the obvious failures of the rich and famous. She could’ve been even harder and louder about millionaire pastors and mega-sized churches; I know she happens to prefer quieter and smaller congregations so this isn’t the work of a disillusioned former celebrity wanna be or one who was burned by a disingenuous  megachurch staff. Rather, it is a freighted reflection, inviting us to ask hard questions of our own faith and our own complicated hearts. I found it very, very interesting.

She says stuff like that all this fame and fortune is a “feature, not a bug” of the system. Wow.

The third part is eloquent, under the headline “The Way Up is Down.” She explores “brand ambassadors” and cites the important little Henri Nouwen book on the temptations Christ faced (In the Name of Jesus.) Her call to “ordinary faithfulness” as we follow “the obscure Messiah” is really, really good. Celebrities for Jesus strikes me as a book that is laden with riches and importance for almost all of us, beyond the unpleasantness she uncovers and reports.

Listen to Karen Swallow Prior, herself an author and a bit of a spokesperson for certain sorts of faithful cultural witness. She writes, ”Beaty brings knowledge and insights that will help anyone wanting to disentangle their faith from celebrity culture. But, even more than this, she offers an honest, humble self-examination that is a model many of us in the church need to follow.”

Don’t believe us? Here is what historian Jemar Tisby (author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism) writes:

Stupendously convicting and well-researched. Celebrities for Jesus provides a timely, sober reflection on the toxic culture that often arises when piety and popularity mix.

Happily, there are many others who suggest this book is a fabulously important bit of social criticism and a wise rejoinder to our platforms and movements that too often turn sour.  It got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly which noted that it is a “must read for anyone invested in the fate of evangelicalism.”

And, I would say, it is useful for anyone with stars or celebrities, whether liberal or conservative, mainline or progressive. We all have our in-house shibboleths and our fangirls and boys. We all make a big deal out of this or that. Personas and platforms and profits combine in various configurations, so, please, don’t think this is just for evangelicals or just about snark. It is so much more than that. It is, finally, about the nature of power and the lure of idolatry. 

Here is the table of contents:

Part 1: Big Things for God

1. Social Power without Proximity

2. The First Evangelical Celebrities

3. Megachurch, Megapastors

Part 2: Three Temptations

4. Abusing Power

5. Chasing Platforms

6. Creating Persona

Part 3: The Way Up Is Down

7. Seeking Brand Ambassadors

8. The Obscure Messiah and Ordinary Faithfulness

There is a fun and casual podcast called “Birds of a Feather” which is hosted by Australian Biblical scholar Michael Bird and US Biblical scholar Aimee Byrd. The other day they chatted up Katelyn Beaty about “fame vs celebrity, the role of publishers, influencers, consumeristic discipleship…”  Check it out HERE.

The Gospel of Peace in a Violent World: Christian Nonviolence for Communal Flourishing edited by Shawn Graves & Marlena Graves (IVP Academic) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 16, 2020

Our bookstore may have more books on peace and nonviolence and peacemaking ministries in the world than any store we know of. It has been a passion of ours since before we opened and we continue to stock old and new books on how God’s love pushes us to resist violence and injustice in uniquely Christ-like ways. Nobody buys these books, of course, so we keep a lot of them in our overstock warehouse (otherwise known as our basement.) There has been a good crop of fresh ones these days and we are truly excited about the renaissance that God seems to be bringing with newer and younger writers exploring public justice, Christian peacemaking, and Biblical nonviolence, applied to questions beyond the obvious of war.This major work is the fruit of this very sort of fresh expression of Biblical visions of shalom and it is nothing short of magisterial.

I call it that — magisterial — for two reasons: firstly, it is massive. It’s big book of over 430 pages and contains more than the obvious, — your investment in it will surely be well rewarded. It’s scope is amazing.

For what it is worth, there are four major chapters in the first unit, under the rubric of Biblical reflections (including chapters by Eric Seibert, T. C. Ham, Gregory Boyd and the great Thomas Yoder Neufeld.) Part Two includes fascinating chapters on “Learning from Others” which includes pieces by Randy Woodley, Aaron James and several others. Part Three is about war and violence and there is an excellent piece by Lisa Sharon Harper (which I read first), others by Ted Grimsrud, Mae Elise Cannon, and a chapter on “Christian Peace Practice in the Violence of Central America.” Part Four is on “Race, Gender, and Disability” and includes chapters by Drew Hart, Sheila Wise Rowe, Peter Goodwin Heltzel and others. Chapter Five includes a great piece on our food systems, a chapter on immigration by Marlena Graves, a chapter I can’t wait to read by Jacob Cook (“Trading in Worldviewing for Everyday Faithfulness”) which relates peacemaking and sustainability. Kathy Khang has a chapter on environmental violence. Their hope for communal flourishing and practical steps makes a great closing piece.

Secondly, it is magisterial because it is now perhaps a definitive work. As I survey recent literature, I think that it really ought to be considered classic, award-winning, conclusive, extraordinary for its quality and verve and perspective.

Thanks be to God for Shawn and Marlena for this very good work. They are both such solid, thoughtful folks, bringing together their deep spirituality and this vibrant gospel insight about public life. Fantastic!

Hope: A User’s Manual Mary McKibben Dana (Eerdmans) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 20, 2022

This is a lovely little book, one I have been dipping into these past hard weeks. Mary McKibben Dana is a fun writer, thoughtful and clear; as a younger woman she wrote the excellent Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time, one of the first books I read of this sort, which was a memoir about sabbath-keeping. Later, I enjoyed her impressive God, Improv, and the Art of Living in which she tells her story of taking improv comedy lessons and what she learned as a pastor doing that kind of unusual (and unusually funny) work.  In both cases she was letting us in on parts of her life, going public without fear or shame and telling with verve a bit about her upbeat adventures.

This new one is more substantive although is still mostly conversational in tone. The chapters are only a few pages long (and are followed by a reflection question to ponder and a practice to explore. Yay. Ms Dana is herself a writer, speaker, and ministry coach while she continues to pastor. The book emerged during the worst of the pandemic and seasons of quarantine. What is hope? How can it be resilient enough “to endure crises and crushing defeats without forsaking the here and now.” Having just come from our Bible study in the 20-some chapters of Isaiah, man, I’m telling you, this rings true. We need it.

As they say on the back, “This is a book about real hope” which she define as a “spiritual counter narrative.”  That is, it is not a cheap hope, the sort of culture tends to peddle. It is the more resilient kind since, after all, we need the virtue of hopeful vision exactly when things are bleak.  And, it seems to me, her “counternarrative” vision sets this “user’s manual” apart from some of the more simplistic views in books out there, helpful as they may be at times. This is a deeper dive,without being arcane or obscure.

Here is how Eerdman’s put it:

Hope is not optimism. It’s not toxic positivity. It’s not a promise of future success or progress. And it’s definitely not something that can be reduced to a scripty-font platitude on an Instagram post.

So what is it?

One thing is certain: real hope demands that we do something with it. That we live it out. That we use hope to participate in a bigger story playing out behind the bleak world we see on the news or in our social media feeds every day.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a person of faith, or someone disillusioned with faith, or someone who hardly ever thinks about faith: if you’re a human being who longs for a spiritual counter-narrative to live by, this book points to one resilient enough to endure crises and crushing defeats. If you’re tired of hearing about some heavenly hereafter amid the pressing need for justice here and now, this is a book about hope for this world–not the next.

After exploring what hope isn’t and then what it is, MaryAnn McKibben Dana reflects on the surprising place where hope is often found–in the messiness of our imperfect, flawed, beautiful human bodies. In the second half of the book, she talks about making hope real: sharing hope through stories, cultivating hope through simple practices, and nurturing hope in hopeless times–when only real hope can persevere.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s latest book. You must stop everything you are doing and read it now! Hope: A User’s Manual is a well-researched, thought-provoking, and wise guide to approaching life’s most unexpected and difficult moments. This book will be one I return to often for encouragement and share with many.  — Elizabeth Hagan, author of Brave Church: Tackling Tough Topics Together

Knowledge for the Love of God: Why Your Heart Needs Your Mind Timothy Pickavance (Eerdmans) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

RELEASE DATE – AUGUST 25, 2022

We just got our stack of these in, a bit early, and I’m glad to have them. It is a good book to suggest, especially for those who need some reminder of the balance (so to speak) of hearts and minds. Although it is not a philosophical piece, it is solid; although it is not particularly postmodern, it isn’t merely a logical call to intellectual credibility.  Notice the evocative title again: Knowledge for the Love of God. Doesn’t that sound rich?

As Kelly Kapic (author of You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News) puts it:

“Timothy Pickavance wonderfully avoids the traps of naive gullibility blind faith on the one hand and depersonalized and arrogant rationalism on the other.”

Anyone who can (in Kapic’s words) “ably situate the Christian faith reasonably within [both] scientific methodology and the place stories or testimonies, helping uprightly value knowledge in a way that both resonates with our experience and appropriately leans upon God’s self-revelation” has my ears. We can affirm our minds as gifts from God but we can honor their limits, too. Reason, in this book, is not a god or idol (but certainly not a boogeyman, either.) Let’s hear it for balance and multi-dimensional knowing and deep wisdom!

As the publisher suggests: “The reality is that our formation into Christlikeness relies heavily on our minds and that Christian belief is about thinking more, not less. Far from being a threat, the intellect is central to faith–so long as it is treated as an instrument of worship rather than as the object of worship.”

They continue:

Knowledge for the Love of God is for followers of Jesus needing to better understand the crucial connection between faith and rationality. Timothy Pickavance shows how learning about who God is and what he has done, is doing, and will do draws us closer to him — just as in any relationship. With stories from his own experiences wrestling with this aspect of faith, Pickavance relates a compelling vision of how cultivating the intellect strengthens our Christian worldview, helps us gain freedom in Christ, and enables us to love God with our whole being. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make this a book to be fruitfully shared among fellow believers desiring a deeper faith–one of heart, soul, strength, and mind.

This is a clear-headed and thoughtful call for those who want a solid and well informed faith. The author is scholar in residence in his PCA Church and is a philosophy prof at Talbot School of Theology at Biola. I did wish for just a bit more overt discussion about what facts and true truths are — so I suggest the recent, short volume Post-Truth: Facts and Faithfulness by Jeffrey Dudiak (Cascade; $12.00) to read along with it. This is in the ICS-created “Currents in Reformational Thought” series and in it, ICS grad and current college prof Dudiak explores “the fissures and fractures that vex our”post truth” era, searching for a deeper, dare we say truer, understanding of the cultural forces that have led North American society to become so polarized.” It is a true gem for thoughtful critics of an unexamined view of truthfulness. 

 

How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – SEPTEMBER 20, 2022

When you pre-order this forthcoming release from us we’ll send along a nice little free journal, a guided workbook resource to accompany the volume, compliments of the good folks at his publishing house, Brazos Press. While supplies last.

This is a book that I will certainly want to review more carefully — I have a lot to say about it as I’ve been pondering an early manuscript — but that I can summarize pretty quickly. It is a book, for starters, for fans of the work of James K.A. Smith, who friends call Jamie. I really think he is one of the most important and interesting writers of our day.  His generous and insightful interactions with other authors — from ancient philosophers to contemporary scholars — is notable and his writing is interesting. I mean that, he is always interesting. If you have read You Are What You Love or On the Road with Saint Augustine or his collection of pieces in the Calvin College Press release, Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture you know what I mean.

However, if you are not a fan of Smith, this forthcoming one may not be the first you should take up. In How to Inhabit Time he alludes to other works of his, from the readable and wise Augustine volume (which is highly recommended!) to his early and very important The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic, to the mighty conclusion of his cultural liturgies set, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. There are moments when I was quite glad that I read his overview of the complex Charles Taylor — he was ahead of the trend on that one, for sure! — called How (Not) To Be Secular. At the very least you should know his best-selling You Are What You Love.  Please order that one ASAP if you are one of the few who have not yet had the pleasure. And, to be honest, this does seem to come on the heels of his last trade book, the wonderful On The Road with Saint Augustine. 

Yet, there are those who may want to dive into this not because they are drawn to the author but because they are intrigued with the topic and are taken by the themes. Please, please do. I am a big fan of this, dense as some parts are, complex as it may be. Because I trust him so, and value his voice and writing, I hear him and smile when he warns in the long introduction that citing philosophers (not unlike citing poets and artists) is a chance for the reader to slow down. To ponder and reflect. This is a book which, he says, hopes to draw you more deeply into contemplation. It is, very much, about inhabiting. 

Look: there are other books on the formative power of the liturgical calendar; attending to the themes of the “church year” has become a more popular of late, even among those who are not members of sacramental churches. But How to Inhabit Time, while rooted in a liturgically shaped sense of the seasons, is more (much more) than a book about the church calendar. It is, as the title says, literally about time.

Again, there are good books about using time and even time management. This is not one of them. The second sentence warns, “If it promises guidance on how to inhabit time, please don’t expect formulas or methods or tips for managing your day planner.” (As if we’d expect Jamie to offer such mundane tips.) He continues,

Instead, the hope of this book is to occasion an awakening, a dawning awareness of what pitmans to be the sorts of creatures who dwell in the flux of time’s flow, who swim in the river of history. Knowing when we are can change everything.

Although it waxes eloquent at times about all manner of obscure goings on and explores in detail stuff like “A History of the Human Heart” and “The Sacred Folds of Kairos” or, as that chapter subtitle puts it, “How (Not) To Be Contemporary” it is at times clear and convicting. Very early on, and then several times later, he asserts:

Knowing whether it’s dawn or dusk changes how you live in the next moment.

To wit, he coins an annoying little word he uses throughout, about a debilitating ignorance about not knowing what time it is, or thinking we (and God!) somehow “floats” above it all, not concerned about being in time and in history: nowhen.

This is a book about temporality — which implies an awareness of where we are in history, how we have been generated and how we are to feel about it all; and, he is eager to help us understand the grace of living, appropriately, in a futural manner. The now is pregnant with the future and we live into God’s realm in fresh aways each day.  But first, of course, we must reckon with our past. I really resonated with how he used that word, reckoning.

With examples from the tangible, visible arts to poets and rock singers, with studies from philosophers and social critics, with plenty of Bible and church history How to Inhabit Time is a masterpiece, one of the best books 2022. Even if it is a time a bit arcane, a bit dense, a harder work that his most popular few of recent years.

When I review this more carefully, later, I will describe my reactions to his chapter “Embrace the Ephemeral” (which, happily, starts with a description driving through our local Susquehanna  Valley in late October.)  And I will share how much I enjoyed his “Seasons of the Heart” chapter helping us to “inhabit your now.” (Ahh, his bits about the Grand Rapids community garden are very sweet.) His deeper dive into the classic “a time for…” section of Ecclesiastes 3 (cue up Pete Seeger about here, or Cockburn’s version, if you like — it’s not the first Cockburn allusion) is richer than most of the obvious explication in standard commentaries. His call to discern the times cites Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis’s exhortation on holiness in today’s world and he explores how “seasons are transitory yet focal.” All of this is remarkably rich and very thoughtful and, yes — inspiring. From a Fleet Foxes song to a passage lifted from Proust, we come to see how in harder, quieter seasons we can learn much, even as we are attuned to Scripture differently than before. Smith notes that,

“…a life lived with God through time is a period of incubation in which the Spirit of God is creating the capacity within us to hear the same Word anew and to make the Word echo afresh in the new crevices of our heart.”

We are creatures of time. There are, as he notes more than once, vicissitudes. Jamie is a smart guy with a great vocabulary, but he is also a tender guy, sharing about his own depression, drawing out the contours of his homes, celebrating his marriage, a witness that it is. He is also a philosopher so expect some forays into some deep stuff, but even that is clever and readable. Only Smith calls Huesserl, whom he loves, “a fusty German” and draws on Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger (a student Kierkegaard) as well as Henri Bergson, “the great turn-of-the-century phenomenologist of time (where Proust was the best man at his wedding!)” Who knew?

Yes, you get some cool lines from the Avett Brothers and he cites the moving memoir of Brandi Carlisle and he goes on, righteously, about BLM and Alice Walker’s food revolutions. But you also hear his calm ruminations on Reinhold Niebuhr and other heavyweight thinkers. (Did you see his piece in the Christian Century about Niebuhr? It was quite good.) From Winn Collier’s lovely recollection of Eugene Peterson’s “aha” moment about becoming “unhurried” (as told in Winn’s biography, A Burning in My Bones) to his citation of a beautiful passage on leisure by Calvin Seerveld, he helps us live into the vicissitudes, and hear the “tempo of the Spirit.” I told you it was interesting. 

I’ll say more about this in another review later, but I’m delighted to be challenged to think more about being an eschatological person (or, better, to be part of a eschatological people.) The notion of longing for “kingdom come” is different, of course, than (as he explains beautifully) counting down the days to a rapture; fixation on the end times, he curiously shows, is, actually, rather a-historical, as we wait for God to wipe the slate clean. His vision of God’s renewal of all things is very, very different — nor nowhen.

James K. A. Smith shows us that time is a gift waiting to be redeemed, and a central conviction of this book is that ‘the Lord of the star fields’ is intimately attuned to our haunted, beautiful histories. Dwelling with these lucid, winsome meditations on ‘spiritual timekeeping’ was like listening in on a lively conversation between St. Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Baldwin, and Marilynne Robinson, while Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon played in the background.  — Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament

James K. A. Smith’s inspired work examines time not as hourglass sand running hopelessly through our fingers but as a divine gift that we can capture just enough to recognize the pearl of life that time shapes. A thoughtful and engaging book.  — Sophfronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

As mentioned, pre-order it from us and we’ll send along a nice little free journal, a guided workbook resource to accompany the volume, compliments of the good folks at his publishing house, Brazos Press.) While supplies last.

The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice Wendell Berry (Shoemaker & Company) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE =$19.20

RELEASE DATE OCTOBER 4, 2022

Well, we announced this earlier and have some pre-orders already — thank you. However, they have pushed back the released date of this from early September to early October.  It is going to be well worth waiting for, believe me.

Here are three things you should know, offered as succinctly as I can say.

Firstly, this is truly a major work. It is not a collection of essays, not (as far as I can tell) anything previously published elsewhere. This is a major contribution, one that he says in the forward, he started after being aware in 1969 when he realized the first edition of The Hidden Wound was inadequate for all he wanted (and needed) to say; it was published in 1970 and we might consider this somewhat of a long-awaited sequel.

As I hope you know, Mr. Berry’s perhaps most enduring nonfiction volume came out in 1977, The Unsettling of America, still an essential read. In a very true manner, the forthcoming The Need to Be Whole is bringing together those two seminal volumes, “exploring the themes of racial division and the devastation of land-based communities.”  I am sure I do not need to tell you that Berry sees our country fraught with destruction and disorder.  So this is hugely significant, for Wendell and for the literary community. For many, it may be the publishing event of the year.

Secondly, it is a conversation of hope. Parts seem overtly faith-based, as some of his work is. But he unfolds that slowly and carefully — I didn’t say tediously, but, as I’m sure you know, there are more lively essayists. But this is important and I’m working my way through it, slowly. There is a lot of history, some Kentucky history, citations of civil war and abolitionist stuff.  He has called it “pondering and ponderous.” My advanced reader’s copy that I was lucky to acquire is nearly 500 pages. So, in that sense, it is, again, huge.

Thirdly, just to be clear, it is a study of the “land ethic” of Aldo Leopald and so much more, showing his love of place (and therefore and properly nuanced sort of patriotism) and how racial injustice has afflicted people, even as displacement from the land has hurt us all. Which is to say it is not trendy or breathy; it is more about (or so it seems) the implications of, oh, say, Allen Tate or Robert Penn Warren (and Robert E. Lee, actually) than Ferguson or George Floyd. Berry says the book is bound to offend.  He opens the book with what strikes me as an endearing bit about a meeting with bell hooks and also tells of a correspondence with Eddie Glaude, Jr. That he is fond of Ernest Gaines (and his Gathering of Old Men published in 1983) should be evident. He is less fond, you will find, of the anti-rural snobbery of Paul Krugman. Believe me, you should pre-order this today.

Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community Bonnie Kristian (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

RELEASE DATE – OCTOBER 11, 2022

I wish this book were coming sooner as we hardly have time to spare in getting a handle on this increasingly complex matter, what we know and how we know it, the conspiracies fellow citizens promote and believe and how it is dividing our land and even our churches. While not exactly like the book I alluded to above, Post-Truth: Facts and Faithfulness by Jeffrey Dudiak, it is a practical study of the rippling results of a “truthiness” culture and, now, the odd acceptability of conspiracy theories. Wow. 

A few short years ago I scoffed at QAnon, confident that no serious-minded person would fall for that. Now we’ve got Eric Metaxas continuing towards madness and the Republican candidate for Governor of our Keystone State is enmeshed in exceptional far right weirdness and some of his fans— some posting violent pseudo-patriotic threats— are cult-like in their devotion. We have, indeed, what Bonnie Kristian calls a “knowledge crisis.” 

I know there are many books about polarization, and a few on the untrustworthy situation with many neighbors and friends falling for certifiable nonsense. (Like the claim that former President Trump won the 2020 election, just for example.) This is the first book that I know of that brings a thoughtful Christian perspective to this very question. With an impressive forward by David French, I am hoping this lively book gets plenty of publicity.  We need it.

Bonnie Kristian is a great writer, so that makes this important book that much more fun. Her earlier book was a brilliant doozy — showing for seekers or those in the throes of deconstruction, before it was called that, how there are many sorts of Christian habits and spiritual practices galore, all within an arguable spectrum of orthodox reliability. From Amish farmers to urban PCA hipsters, from Orthodox monks to Pentecostal miracle-workers, A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today had lots of sidebar interviews, good questions to ponder, and offered more truly Christian options for those considering faith than you can imagine. It’s a great read and, if read widely, would do a lot for ecumenicity, since it shows that despite varying faith practices and worship styles, there are a lot of good folks who are followers of Jesus. Our faith — or at least our sense of who is in and who is out — can benefit from a bit of flexibility. And Kristian Bonnie is a great reporter, hearing the stories and framing it out for us in helpful ways.

Although I haven’t noticed in my early review manuscript that she renounces any reasonable sorts of faith, she is clear in Untrustworthy: not everything should be accepted as truthful and not every claim is trustworthy.  Although her extensive journalistic effort putting together the fabulously broad Flexible Faith gave her plenty of experience with what some might consider the fringes of the Christian tradition (monks and mystics, Pentecostals and protestors, etc.) the conspiracy-addled folk she explores here are not another plausible option. This is life and death stuff. There is, she warns, a real crisis of truth in American life, faith, and politics.

I would wade through this like it was the forthcoming serious Wendell Berry book if I had to — it is that important! — but, gladly, it is written with great wit and grace. The chapter titles are mostly one-word phrases, looking at manifestations of the crisis in “media” and “mob.” She looks at “Schemes” and “Skepticism.” There is a move towards “a practical epistemology” and while I’m a geek for epistemological arguments (please read some Esther Meek, starting with the simple and provocative A Little Manual for Knowing) I often advise normal folks to skip books that sounds too philosophical. But not this — Bonnie is a Pittsburgh-based journalist, not a heady academic, and her chapter on emotions and her chapter on experience offers insights into how we develop a wise and watching worldview. Chapter 9 is called “A Building Plan” — don’t miss it.

The blurbs on this speak well to how this book can help us overcome current polarization through meaningful commitments to decent relationships and “building trust across fractured communities” (as Karen Swallow Prior puts it in her soberly raving review.)

Hear Front Porch Republic blogger and author of the wise, slow approach to news and media consumption (Reading the Times), Jeffrey Bilbro, who says this of Untrustworthy:

Many of us have a sense that all we once took for granted is now up for grabs. We are living through a crisis of knowledge, and the result can be a feeling of suffocating uncertainty. Untrustworthy opens a window and lets in a breath of fresh air–and hope. Bonnie Kristian offers a way out of pointless debates and fearmongering conspiracy theories. This book is never condescending and always sympathetic; it is never partisan and always incisive. — Jeffrey Bilbro, author, Reading the Times

Our country’s epistemological crisis is perhaps the greatest threat to democracy. And while it’s tempting to feel hopeless in light of ‘fake news’ and people who speak ‘their truth,’ Kristian offers us ways to move forward. Untrustworthy is an incisive, deeply researched, and personal analysis of our truth crisis. It should be widely read and discussed. — Alan Noble, professor and author of You Are Not Your Own.

The publisher summarizes it clearly: Drawing from her extensive experience in journalism and her training as a theologian, Kristian explores social media, political and digital culture, online paranoia, and the press itself. She explains factors that contribute to our confusion and helps Christians pay attention to how we consume content and think about truth. Finally, she provides specific ways to take action, empowering readers to avoid succumbing to or fueling the knowledge crisis. 

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NEW BOOKS about CHRISTIAN GROWTH — “Good and Beautiful and Kind” by Rich Villodas and more – 20% OFF at Hearts & Minds

We have been thrilled to get to send out books from the last several BookNotes lists — three cheers for those doing some serious summer reading and who have sent their order to us. Thanks for supporting our work here. We’re glad to be of help.

I hope you didn’t miss the one a few weeks back that described the remarkable Charles Marsh memoir, Evangelical Anxiety or the one that followed that on psychology and mental health. Then, I reviewed a recent fav, Bill McKibben’s The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon. Many said they liked the BookNotes post describing some compelling nonfiction studies, history, underdog sports stories, immersive journalism and that kind of narrative writing. Or last week’s post about patriotism, featuring the new Richard Mouw book, How to Be a Christian Patriot (always a good reason for Hearts & Minds to celebrate.) As we sometimes do, I suggest a handful of other similar titles or good ones to read together, with pretty different viewpoints, like when I listed Os Guinness and Jim Belcher next to Diana Butler Bass and David Dark, or Reformed Rich Mouw and Anabaptist Jonny Rashid. It was a good list, I think. Thanks for letting us help you read widely, friends!

After this string of BookNotes highlighting powerful reads on social concerns and public theology and the like, I thought I’d name some recent ones in the genre of “basic Christian growth.” We’ve never had a “Christian living” section in our bookstore [as many Christian bookstores do] since, well, what isn’t Christian living for a follower of Jesus? That always drove me crazy seeing such a dumb category in many Christian bookstores, or publishers saying to stock this book “in your Christian living section.” Like your art and politics and ecology and sexuality and technology sections aren’t “Christian”?

Yet, what does one call books that are not about the inner life of contemplative spirituality, say, or theology, proper, or Biblical studies?  For complicated reasons I’m not fond of the phrase “applied theology” (although I use it sometimes) and the word “discipleship” (as in Bonhoeffer’s significant Cost of Discipleship) suggests to some the process of disciple-making (evangelism and faith mentoring of new believers.) So we sometimes use the phrase basic [not meaning simple, but foundational] Christian growth, even though I’m not sold on the phrase. These sorts of books guide us in foundational habits and practices and help cultivate insights and passions for wisely growing one’s faith or deepening one’s core convictions about trusting God and how to live for His Kingdom. Again, a book about work or grief or racial justice is part of basic living for God, so my semantics are driving me crazy. I hope it annoys you, too. As we often say, after all, we believe in “all of life redeemed” and Christ is making “all things new.” So every category in the bookstore can properly be seen as helping our spiritual growth and discipleship. Right?

Still, we all need a boost sometimes, learning or relearning some basic stuff about fairly ordinary ways to grow in faith, to become increasingly Christ-like, to live into our sanctification. Consider this some informal counsel from your bookselling friend, pastoral guidance, almost about first things. These books are good resources and are fabulous reads that I’m sure would bless almost anyone. Come on, admit it: you just might need some basic rejuvenation.

First up is an eagerly anticipated title that is just now out and is one of the best books of the summer. I had an early copy and could hardly put it down. Hoorah! This author “gets it” — this whole-life, publicly engaged, generous sort of thoughtful vision for faith and real life. I’m talking about Rev. Rich Villodas (whose first book was very popular and is now in paperback,The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.) Allow me to tell you about his brand new one, Good and Beautify and Kind.

You can order these easily by click on the “order” tab at the bottom of this column. It takes you to our secure order form. Enter your info and we’ll take it from there. 20% OFF.

Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World  Rich Villodas (Waterbrook) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I am not overstating this, I sincerely say, when I suggest this is one of the handful of excellent books in this genre that will be talked about for years to come. I don’t know what is happening in the broader evangelical world but as some move into right wing weirdness and ugly politics (and others deconstruct and throw out too much of basic Christian thinking) we are finding a new generation of upbeat and honest, conversational but substantive, pastoral and prophetic writers like Villodas who bring a Christ-centered, gospel-oriented whole life discipleship that helps people really change, really grown, really learn the ways of God’s upside down Kingdom. Rich is a pastor of a large church in Queens, New York and is kind and caring — you can tell from the stories about his faith community and family and such — and yet has done his intellectual homework. He is widely-read and yet there is no haughty, name dropping of fancy theologians to impress. No — as I kept a finger in the back footnotes section, flipping back and forth with delight, I realized he was truly integrating important thinkers and using the poetic phrasing from fine writers to enhance his guidance into what the book promises: learning to experience a life of calm presence within this divided, anxious culture.

But this new book is more than a guide to finding a serene spirit or even about being more gracious in our divided times.  It lives up to its title exploring the way towards goodness and beauty and kindness. They are described wonderfully, we are invited into their virtue, and the interconnections are explored.

Why good and beautiful and kind? (Well, who doesn’t want that, eh?) Actually, the three-fold phrase comes from a poem by Langston Hughes called “Tired.”

Kudos to you if you knew that or connected those dots!  How good to have an evangelical pastor exegeting Langston Hughes.

I’ll share one of my own formational poets, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, who in “Summer Dress” sings,

I’m gonna go where the lights are bright

Where sacred secrets sail like kites

We’ve been sleeping, girl, all our lives

And we never lived we just survived

We never lived we just survived

I think these days there are many of us who are going through the motions, wishing for a place where “sacred secrets sail like kites,” where we do more than just survive. We are trying to be glad that we may be seeing — maybe! — the beginning of a slow down to the pandemic, we’re trying to be glad that maybe the leaders behind the January 6th insurrection will be taken to task and that we will find a way to rebuild within this cultural moment with something like grace and goodness and beauty. Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes worried that we needed to cut hard into our culture to see what was wrong, why we were tired waiting for a culture of kindness. Shawn Colvin names this brave journey towards beauty and hope in this song as stepping into the wilderness.

Villodas gets this. I was in tears reading the first chapters on how we simply must grapple with the problems, the sadnesses, the injustices, the sin of the world.  In the Langston Hughes poem he conjures all of this by calling us to “cut” and discover “worms.” Villodas almost playfully — he is never dour, even when serious — explores the worms of our lives. He’s sensitive to how unchurched friends are reading along, I’m sure, but let’s face it here: he’s talking about a doctrine of sin, and it is incredibly honest and true and freeing. He calls it “the fracturing of reality.” The first chapter there is on “a failure to love.”

There is in this book on kindness and goodness a second opening chapter that I really appreciated. It is on the notion of the “principalities and powers” which is a woefully under-appreciated New Testament key to understanding Christ’s victory. He draws on Walter Wink (as David Dark recently commended to us via twitter, by the way) and looks at both the personal influence of the dark forces around us and reminds us of the socio-political/cultural ways idols and evil spirits can pervade our lives. He quotes Berkhof, for crying out loud, and our old friend Marva Dawn. Thanks be to God!

And he realizes this leads to cultural disruptions and personal traumas. His insight comes from a deep study on his part into the scholars of trauma these days (including, obviously, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and his must-read The Body Keeps the Score and Sheila Wise Rowe and her book Healing Racial Trauma) and others as well. This chapter is called “Hindering the Wound, Holy Wounds.” He puts together “trauma and the hope of the world” as nicely as anyone writing on this.  

Having helped us understand (and not underestimate) the “forces behind the fractures” Pastor Rich guides us through the second central portion of Good and Beautiful and Kind by way of the call to “walking a better way.” This is poetic and mature and thoughtful and interesting. And, importantly, it is helpful. You will be reminded of the problem of prayer and how to be a “contemplative in a thoughtless age.” You will learn about the walls of the false self as he invites us to “humility and lowering our defenses” as one chapter puts it. There are good words on the page and important ideas in the air. Good and Beautiful and Kind is terrific. 

Villodas’s guidance on resisting reactivity (that is, the cultivating the virtue of humility and learning to lower the dial on our defenses) is so rich, thoughtful and, again, useful with plenty of take-away points. Again, he draws on exceptionally good sources and writes so nicely without any pretense or heavy tedium to slog through. This is how a book of “basic Christian growth” can be done and done well.

Best-selling author and guide Ann Voskamp offers in her wonderful forward (where she says the author “speaks the dialect of Jesus”) this advice:

As you read these compelling words, keep a pen in hand and then write down your own words, in the margins, in a journal, because these pages are drawing a pathway to the good, the beautiful, the kind. You will want to trace the way, engage it, listen to the Holy Spirit beckoning and convicting and moving. And you will need to leave your own ink tracks to the good and the beautiful and the kind that you are seeking. Read with attentiveness because attentiveness is the beginning of receptiveness. And this is a book that you fully want to receive — these words will profoundly reorient. 

I am still pondering the third portion of Good and Beautiful and Kind about being “a bridge not a barrier” as we pursue wholeness even in health conflict. This leans naturally to the “gift of forgiveness” and breaking the cycle of offense as he puts it. Can we love in public? Justice and action for public justice is part of the way of following Jesus so even in this lovely book about Christian growth in the ways of kindness, he knows he must help us “go public” with our faith and with our love for those who are particularly marginalized or hurting.  From Howard Thurman to Fleming Rutledge, from James Cone to Scott McKnight, Pastor Rich invites us to a fuller life, a deeply Christian life. Not just walking in the wilderness — just surviving, but flourishing with goodness and beauty and kindness, forging a life with a redemptive kind of wholeness. 

Good and Beautiful and Kind is a peaceful, gracious, and wise formulation of what it looks like to follow Jesus in a world ripping apart by a lack of love, by systemic powers, and by our own woundedness. Give yourself a retreat to spend time with this beautiful book. — Rev. Canon Dr. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, author of A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing

It’s not a secret that we are living in difficult and fractured times. Such times can be reasons for not just helplessness but more dangerously, hopelessness. Thankfully, there are servant leaders like Pastor Rich Villodas who don’t pretend to have all the answers and yet are not afraid to invite us to walk ‘a better way.  — Rev. Eugene Cho, President and CEO of Bread for the World, author of Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics

Having the Mind of Christ: Eight Axioms to Cultivate a Robust Faith Ben Stern and Matt Tebbe (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I would wax exponent about this new one but I will refrain — just trust me that this is one of the best books of this kind I’ve seen in a long while. Tebbe and Sternke are both pastors (connected with Missio Alliance) and serving as coaches in the “Gravity Leadership” group. They have a heart for visionary and missional outreach and they yet want to help equip people with guidance for real honest to goodness change and growth and spiritual maturity.

You may know that we see about four zillion books like this every month (okay, I exaggerate a little) and some are quite good. Many are helpful and the styles run from upbeat and cheery to dreadfully serious, from intense to almost goofy. Most are just okay. To each their own, so sure. Go get ‘em.

This new one, though, shocked me at how wise and insightful and compelling and good it seemed. Firstly, I like the title since having the mind of Christ is an overlooked feature of many handbooks for Christian growth. However, it is not a book I’d necessarily put in our “Christian mind” section as it isn’t primarily about thinking well, taking ideas seriously, or anything about worldviews, philosophy, or learning. So the topic of the title is broadly used but not by dismissing the life of the mind. It just isn’t primarily about that. I love those rare books that are thoughtful but not academic, about ordinary Christian formation but including the life of the intellect. They insist God cares about all of life and redemption includes all of our human-ness (God cares about it even more than we do is one of their axioms, in fact.)  Right on!

Which leads me to another surprise. For understandable reasons for those who know this sort of literature coming out of the deeper end of the evangelical gene pool, I naturally thought this was going to be a Dallas Willard re-do.  Which would be fine; from Jim Wilder to John Ortberg to some of Ruth Haley Barton, to a book called Seeking God coming soon from NavPress by Trevor Hudson relating St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard) we know some of our finest guides to our Christian lives are influenced by Dallas. His book Renovation of the Heart (I announced the 20th anniversary hardback a half a year ago) is a classic in evangelical spiritual formation and shows how inner transformation actually happens. All of Willard’s books are important (many adore The Divine Conspiracy parts one and two although I tout Spirit of the Disciplines as essential after Renovation.) I am sorry to digress because Tebbe and Sternke are not mostly re-gifting the good gifts of Willard. They cite him but in fresh ways and offer new hope even to the disenchanted. 

I love the back cover recommendation by Rich Villodas, who writes:

The work of formation into the image of Christ entails new practices, but unless the deeper assumptions we hold about God are addressed, we will be rich in practices but poor in transformation. It’s for this reason that I’m grateful this book exists. Ben Sternke and Matt Tebbe have done a remarkable job excavating some of the most important questions, mindsets, and beliefs that get in the way of new life in Christ. This book is a great gift to the church. 

I could tell you so much more about these axioms and why I think this is a very important book for our time. I’ll say just two things:

Firstly, they take very seriously that assumption that God is love and that love is the glue that holds the universe together. “It’s all about love” is axiomatic, but we need to hear over and over. Oddly, while serious theologians write in deep language about this truest truth, not as many basic Christian books in this genre draw on it as fully as they ought. These guys do. The first chapter is worth the price of the book.

Secondly, although I’d pitch this to almost anyone of any faith tradition, young or old, happy in faith or frustrated, sitting on the left or right side of the pew, it does seem to be written most keenly out of the authors’ own disillusionment with the pat answers of their evangelical background and with particular sensitivity to what those who use the word “deconstruction” mean by that these days. That is, if you wonder why the Christian life doesn’t seem to be adding up, if it doesn’t work as you thought it would, then this book is for you. One of their axioms is “God Meets Us In Our Messy Realty” which, although often said these days, isn’t teased out as these guys do for us. 

Okay, a third quick observation — they quote some amazing writers, surely making this an artful, good read.  The first footnote is from Anais Nin, maybe a first int this publisher’s history, I don’t know. I appreciated their wide reading and somewhat edgy engagement with contemporary theologians, thinkers, memoirists, scientists, and philosophers.

Listen to these two endorsements by people I trust and you will see why this book is so valuable.

Too often contemporary Western Christianity undermines its own claims of love and good news. Having the Mind of Christ acknowledges the inconsistencies and presses in with a deep longing for integrity, bringing healing as it goes. This book provides language and companionship for those doing the hard work of reimagining a way forward for the church of the twenty-first century, helping us recover from (and repent of) abusive faith practices, restoring us to the life-giving way of Jesus.  — Mandy Smith, pastor and author of The Vulnerable Pastor and The Unfettered Life.

Perhaps we are faithful Christians who have tried Christianity and found it wanting. But what if we were given the wrong lenses with which to view God, the gospel, and life? What if our spiritual eyesight is off? Ben Sternke and Matt Tebbe function as eye doctors offering eight axioms, not formulas, by which to live. These serve as corrective lenses that guide us toward honest and more intimate communion with God and embodiment of the gospel. This book is personal, crystal clear, and especially needed for those of us who long for more, to know and be known by God, and to be disciples of Jesus. — Marlena Graves, author of the Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age Jay Y. Kim (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to grow just a little weary of books that are about something or another “in the digital age.” There are so many good books on this, from Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and the must-read, wonderfully-written meditation The Life We’re Looking For by Andy Crouch to the recent academic ones like Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age and Digital Communion: Marshall McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age. A recent book from Fortress Press by Ryan Panzer is called Grace and Gigabytes: Being Church in a Tech-Shaped Culture which, like, say, the quick reader, Becoming A Hybrid Church (by Dave Daubert and Richard Jorgensen) is very helpful as congregations continue to serve those playing in safe in this not-yet-quite post-Covid era.

But this one, Analog Christian is one I’ve been eagerly waiting for. It is not jumping on a bandwagon: the dude is a tech guy who left the industry to plant a church in Silicon Valley. I’m not kidding — he knows his stuff and I loved his excellent Analog Church which, perhaps ironically, I reviewed right before the pandemic in March of 2020 kept us all at home until we figured out live streaming worship and Zoom Bible studies. Analogue Church was not an anti-technology screed, of course, but insisted on (in normal circumstances) an embodied presence. 

Analog Christian is a natural follow up to Analogue Church but, given our more prevalent enmeshment on digital platforms, now more than ever before, reflecting on discipleship in the digital age sure is needed. This is not cheap or cheesy, not just jumping on the hot topic of the year. I am confident this is one of the best books of this sort this year.

Kim notes that “the digital age is in the business of commodifying our attention.”

The back cover explains:

The technologies of our day are determined to keep us scrolling and swiping at all costs, plugged into a feedback loop of impatience, comparison, outrage, and contempt. Blind to the dangers, we enjoy its temporary pleasures, unaware of the damage to our souls. 

So how do we live before God’s face and involved with others, deepening our character and Christ-likeness in ways that enhance our “contentment, resilience, and wisdom”? This book shows how.  

Brilliant gospel futurecaster Leonard Sweet — who has become a tad more critical of technology in recent decades, it seems (see his marvelous little book called From Tablet to Tables) suggests that this good volume is also helpful for parents as their kids grow up in this digital world. He colorfully writes,

Jay Y. Kim is an ecclesiastical alchemist who shows us how to turn information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into truth. Analog Christian is a book no parent can afford to miss .— Leonard Sweet, author, Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future

And, wow, listen to this from trustworthy Bible prof and eco-ethicist A.J. Swoboda

I can’t express the inner jubilee I am having that this book is finally here. What a marvelous invitation to the primal Christian movement that is solely and singularly focused on Jesus as Lord of all in our fragmented and distracted moment. Analog Christian gives voice to a part of all of us that longs for a day when Christians are known for their fruit over their fame. This work will set Jay Kim up as an enduring voice for the church for this generation. Highly recommended. A must-read. —A. J. Swoboda, author, After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It

Harvest of Hope: A Contemplative Approach to Holy Scripture Mark A. McIntosh & Frank Griswold (Eerdmans) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE =  $18.39

Seeds of Faith: Theology and Spirituality at the Heart of Christian Belief Mark A. McIntosh & Frank Griswold (Eerdmans) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

These two books are just lovely companion volumes and look so good side by side. I’m not sure which to recommend more energetically or which to suggest that you read first. Both are just really fine, elegant reflections that invite you to mature rumination on spiritual practices that will enhance your Christian living in this world.

You may know that Frank Griswold is a retired Episcopal priest who was the former Presiding Bishop of that whole denomination. (He is also the father of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Eliza Griswold, who gets her curiosity, wonder, sense of justice and good writing chops honestly.) Mr. McIntosh is an Episcopal priest and theologian who died just last year as these books were at the publisher. He was the inaugural holder of Loyola University Chicago’s endowed chair in Christian spirituality. He served previously Professor of Divinity at Durham University and canon residentiary of Durham Cathedral, UK. McIntosh was the author or editor of several academic books on the interrelationship of theology and spirituality and a lovely one on Cowley Brothers publishing on Anglican spirituality.

I love how the publisher describes the first one as “an immersive introduction to the Christian faith that illuminates essential doctrines and propels readers beyond abstract knowledge to experience the living mystery who is God.” If you are the sort that reads a bit in mysticism and contemplative sorts of spirituality, it might be good for you to read this, which I assure you that you will enjoy, as it grounds your experience in doctrine and theology. More so, if you are a theology buff, this will wisely, as that quote above said, point you beyond the ideas to the encounter with God.  Nice

And, yes, the one on Scripture pretty much does the same thing, using the Bible as a resource for deepening our spirituality and finding, beyond and through the printed page, an experience of God’s own Spirit.  The publisher introduces it as not only a guide to the texts of the church year and the liturgical calendar, but a handbook on “praying the Scriptures, integrating theology and spirituality and Bible study.

As they say, “When we read Scripture, we learn about God. When we pray the Scriptures, we experience the mystery of Jesus Christ and inhabit his life.”

Drawing on scripture texts from the cycle of the church year, McIntosh and Griswold usher readers into their own interior process of lucid theological reflection woven into prayerful encounters with the Word. Here the disastrous rift that opened up between theology and spirituality in the Western church a millennium ago is healed. Reading this compelling and beautiful book is a grace in itself.  — Julia Gatta, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South and author of Life in Christ: Practicing Christian Spirituality 

The Beauty Chasers: Recapturing the Wonder of the Divine Timothy D. Willard (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I am glad that there are many books out these days for non-specialists on the arts, on what we might call appreciating the aesthetic dimension to life, as Calvin Seerveld taught in his seminal and glorious Rainbows for the Fallen World. We’ve seen in the last year several extraordinary books about how a sense of beauty —not so much art, proper, but an appreciation of the luminous and the awesome and the lovely — can enhance our lives, even our spiritual lives and Christian discipleship. Sarah Clarkson’s wonderful This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks Into Our Darkness was one of our “Best Books” of last year in part because of how she invited us to beauty in times of hardship. Believe me, many of us needed that. 

This new one is by an old acquaintance, a young performing artist turned theologian (with a fancy degree from Oxford where he lived for a few years exploring “northern aesthetics” in the works of C.S.Lewis.) He has written several books with his pal Jason Lucy, including Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society (which has quite a following and has won some awards) and a terribly under-appreciated, really good hardback called Home Beyond the Sun: Connect with God in the Brilliance of the Everyday which we continue to carry in great hope that it will be discovered.)

This brand new one — which the aforementioned Sarah Clarkson calls a “radiant invitation” — is the culmination of much of his recent work and scholarship, make accessible and lively for anyone needing a push into the “brilliance of the everyday.” God can speak through beauty, even though we have often reduced our sense of artful listening to watching TV or be taken up with empty amusement. As he puts it, “We treat beauty as a novelty while despair crouches near. Or we believe it is only for the elite of society — professors, art critics, pop stars.”

I am not enamored with the notion of “chasing” beauty but Tim does not overstate our role in discovering wonder and beauty. Perhaps it might also be described as a posture of attentive reception. Be open and eager. Maybe you don’t mind the title, but if you do, don’t let it keep you from it.

Here is how they put it on the back cover:

Beauty Chasers are thinkers and listeners. They see when the world goes blind. They embody quietness when all the world wants to do is scream. They give life to others when the world seems bent on destruction. Beauty Chasers live to a different cadence. They walk the path less traveled.

If you are interested in deepening your sense of and appreciation for these things, Tim Willard invites you to risk change.  He’s a fun and energetic writer and he tells some fun stories. He has chapters about curiosity and “a place called love” under the section called “Something Stirring in the Deep.” We need love and goodness and beauty and glory — including a “beautify and terrible God.” 

The next several chapters of The Beauty Chasers: Recapturing the Wonder of the Divine explore “holy wayfinding” and invites us to start participating in the “Footpaths of the Park.” Beauty takes our “reverent participation.” (Ohhh, I like that phrase!)  The next unit of chapters are about the mystery of it all (“Footpaths of the Hills” he calls this section) and he has a lovely chapter called “the riches of seeing” which I loved. The next chapter is about making spaces beautiful.

The final four chapters are about “the life-giving mark of beauty” and Willard calls this section “Footpaths of Mountains.” This includes some teaching on spirituality, a reflection on meekness, and, yes, about joy. I haven’t gotten to this part yet, but I am sure it will be a huge encouragement and a good guide for many Hearts & Minds friends and BookNotes readers. As novelist and memoirist Sean Dietrich (“Sean of the South”) wrote, “If this book doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet.” Ha. We are happy to recommend it to get your fire going. 

The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authenticity  Steven A. Denny (ACTA) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I have mentioned this before but it might have been missed as I was suggesting it on one of our BookNote newsletters about books to give to college graduates or maybe in one about deepening our capacities for spiritual discernment. It is such a fine and interesting and informative (and formative) book it fits here nicely on this list. It isn’t your typical Christian self help formulaic book and doesn’t offer jazzy talk about having more faith.

My friend Steven Denny is a former pastor and seminary prof who became a lawyer. Let’s just say he’s seen some stuff, experienced some ups and downs. At some point in his life rediscover the famous one-page chapter in Thomas Merton’s wonderful book Thoughts in Solitude that (you will remember if you’ve seen it) nothing but the prayer. Many know (or maybe have seen a Facebook meme) with a line from it, perhaps the part about not knowing where we are going or not seeing the road ahead. Or maybe the part about not knowing how to please God but how maybe the desire to so actually pleases God. The prayer is honest, searching, clear, and powerful. It changed Steven’s life.

This book looks at the often-cited prayer and, or so it seems to me, makes a valuable contribution to Merton studies because there isn’t anything like it. Merton fan or not, though, it is a tremendous resource to help you explore your own interior life, your motivations, your desires. 

There are professional done photographs to enhance the book and a good section introducing the life and ministry of the Kentucky Trappist. Merton really was a fascinating figure (we have a lot of books by and about him) and you’ll love Mr. Denny’s overview. He wants you to know something about the young monk who wrote the prayer, and then he wants you to embrace it for yourself.

To do that, you learn a bit about Steven’s own journey and how he used and was transformed by this deceptively simple prayer. 

As I noted in my earlier review the book not only includes the artful photos for visual imagery but six Scriptural studies that stood to the author. (He’s a former preacher, a teacher of New Testament Greek and a practicing trial attorney so he knows how to see connections and make a point.) Only such a guy would talk about “exegeting” Merton’s words and get away with it. But exegete them he does, helping us understand and more deeply appreciate their real meaning — as he puts it, “ask and keep on asking about, making your asking a matter of daily habitual behavior.” Keep turning the Rabbi’s used to say.  He even has discussion questions to help you process this or even use it in a small group of trusted friends on the journey.

As artful, spiritual formation writer Judith Valente puts it,

Steven Denny provides us with a long overdue exploration of The Merton Prayer, using a kind of lectio divina — a slow, contemplative, sacred reading — of each phrase. Remarkable.

The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You To Be James Bryan Smith (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Oh my, are we glad for this!  Unlike a number of books on this topic these days that are mostly remedial (shall we say) for those who need to clarity about a Biblical view of self esteem and God’s accepting mercy, offering a Christ-centered sense of identity — as important as they are — The Good and Beautiful You seems to me to be written not primarily as psychological or theological self help, but as foundational, keen and/or insightful every believer. This is very good stuff. I suggest it for anyone interested in a lively Christian approach to self and selfhood and for those wanting a slight dip in the waters of what could be transformational spirituality.

You see, this is the fourth in the series by James Bryan Smith known as the “Apprentice Series” and released in the always marvelous formatio line of IVP. The first three books in this series are all standards that we recommend when asked for books on spiritual growth — The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life and The Good and Beautiful Community. Happily, we’ve got to stop calling them a trilogy!

This new one, like the other, is clearly and nicely written, drawing on the insights of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson and other such clear-headed and down to Earth contemplatives. It may quote the poetry of Theresa of Avila or the mysticism of Thomas Merton or the good theology of Bonhoeffer but it offers the popular phrasing of Buechner or other contemporary, engaging stylists. I love books like this that are clearly substantive without being rigorously academic, that are thoughtful without being arcane, and, in this case, combine good psychology and good spirituality.

Each of these volumes have nearly a devotional tone and there are wonderfully-created exercises after each chapter. There are discussion questions, certainly making it ideal for a small group or class, but these experiences which are offered under the rubric of “Soul Training” pieces are a good way to get more out of the book, to live it. We highly recommend them all. Don’t miss this new one, The Good and Beautiful You about how you can “discover the person Jesus created you to be” — from the depths of your soul to the details of your sacred body! It is what one reviewer described as a “heart-piercing and mind-nurturing journey into redeemed personhood.”

With his signature combination of intellectual rigor, accessible language, and pastoral care, James Bryan Smith has helped thousands of us believe firmly in the goodness and beauty of God. But what are we to believe about ourselves? How do we fit into God’s good and beautiful universe? Merging solid teaching and carefully crafted soul-training exercises, The Good and Beautiful You firmly debunks the false narratives we believe about ourselves and replaces them with life-giving, soul-enriching truth. This book is a treasure. — Richella J. Parham, author of Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison

THREE SOMEWHAT MORE RIGOROUS STUDIES FOR FOUNDATIONAL CHRISTIAN LIFE

Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land Norman Wirzba (University of Notre Dame Press) $29.00                                               OUR PRE-ORDER SALE PRICE = $23.20

AVAILABLE TO BE PRE-ORDERED – DUE AUGUST 1, 2022

I hope you know the work of the remarkable Norman Wirzba who has written or co-written both lovely and accessible books like Making Peace with the Land and Living the Sabbath (both which offer joy and delight) and more academic studies such as one on the “phenomenology of prayer” and another “theology of eating” called Food and Faith and the recent, brilliant This Sacred Life that we touted early this spring. This soon-to-be-released forthcoming volume (due early August) is, curiously, a meaty work but yet very, very readable for educated readers. It is exceptionally thoughtful but not scholarly. He draws on insights of the sort made popular by his friend Wendell Berry and examines what it means to have an agrarian spirit. It is not, he explains, exactly what you may think.

Agrarianism is a certain movement that developed (popularized by Berry) in response to, among other dehumanizing and creation-damaging trends, big agriculture and the unstable placelessness of our upwardly mobile society. It focuses on place, on stability, or real skills and real care, standing even in rooted traditions.(He helpfully brings in some deep thoughts by Simone Weil, here.) Which is to say it is not primarily about being a farmer. As Wirzba explains, one can live in rural areas and be discontent and dislocated from the land; one can be a bad farmer. Similarly, perhaps counterintuitively, one can be an urban dweller with an agrarian spirit. It isn’t about where one lives, but how one lives.

As Grace Olmstead (author of Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind) notes, it shows what means to be “interdependent and embodied.” Nice!

Further, the point of this remarkable book is that this sort of well-grounded lifestyle can evoke a certain sort of spirituality. Not a pie in the sky piety that despises creation, obviously, nor an exceedingly interior mysticism that focuses inward.  I love this creation-based spirituality that strikes me as fully Biblical, rejecting the twine results of dualism, otherworldliness and privatization. I’m not sure if the Duke professor of theology and ethics — of an agrarian sort — who is Dutch thinks of the old theologian from Holland, Abraham Kuyper or not, but his spirituality seems to be what some might call (drawing on Al Wolters’ Creation Regained) reformational. This is a book attuned not only to Scripture and theology and a living, lively faith, but applies it’ll to contemporary needs given our politics, economics, and cultural disarray. He draws in insights from Biblical teacher and like-minded colleague Ellen Davis and an array of social scientists, ecologists, and philosophers I mostly did not know. 

But here is the thing: after three tremendous, sophisticated chapters exploring “Agrarian Fundamentals” there are six long chapters of what Wirzba calls “Agrarian Spiritual Exercises.” I’m telling you, this tells about spiritual formation of the sort you won’t find in most discipleship programs or in typical spiritual direction groups. It is serious, provocative, unique, radical in the best sense. The discerning and always elegant writer Marilyn McIntyre calls it “lovely” and “surprising.”

These smart chapters include Learning to Pray, Learning to See, Learning Descent, Learning Humility, Learning Generosity, and Learning to Hope. I am very much eager to hear how people have received Agrarian Spirit and how we can, as the subtitle invites, become people who are committed to “cultivating faith, community, and the land.”

If ‘incarnate spirituality’ sounds like an oxymoron to you, let Norman Wirzba be your guide to the agrarian arts of faith. This book is the culmination of decades of thinking and writing and work, and there is no writer better equipped to articulate how an agrarian sensibility should shape our spiritual practices.” ―Jeffrey Bilbro, author of Reading the Times and editor-in-chief at Front Porch Republic

Agrarian Spirit isn’t luddite, nostalgic, or angry. Rather, it’s a gentle, wise, and hopeful call forward, casting a vision for how to live as God’s people in God’s world. I loved this book, and it flooded my imagination with pictures of what the Kingdom of Heaven could be, right now, right in my neighborhood.” ―Andrew Peterson, author of The God of the Garden

Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics for Everyone: The Doctrine of the Word of God — A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners & Pros Marty Folsom (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Wow, who knew such a book would ever be done? If you’ve ever pondered wanting to know anything about the serious work of Karl Barth, maybe something beyond the wonderfully interesting Barth for Armchair Theologians by John Franke, this, then, is what you’ve been waiting for. I’ve started and quickly bowed out of more Barth books and more books about  Barth than I should admit. This is the one I’ve been waiting for.

This reader-friendly and upbeat and cleverly designed study of the great German Neo-orthodox thinker is the first in what will be an ongoing series exploring his multi-volume Church Dogmatics.(The second, on the Doctrine of God, will release Spring of 2023.) The Barth volumes are notoriously dense and expensive (and not numbered very sensibly, if you ask me.) So we need all the help we can get.

This paperback is pushing up towards 300 pages but the print is a nice size and there are sidebars and pull quotes and illuminating charts and good discussion questions; it is really nicely arranged. There are introductory points and summary sections.

Not only is this a serious but readable study of “The Doctrine of the Word of God” portion of Dogmatics (incredibly important in both the history of modern theology and for Barth’s overall project) but along with the insight of Marty Folsom (our “tour guide”) other authors show up for small bits. I love the way they have reflections by scholars or leaders saying why all this matters for them.

For instance, we have Douglas Campbell saying why those in Biblical studies might care about all this; Myk Haters does the same as a systematic theologian. We’ve got a pastor, a mental health professional, a director in spiritual formation and a scientist. Calvin scholar Julie Canlis offers a lovely piece on why Barth mattes to ordinary people. Nice! 

The author, Dr. Marty Folson, is a colorful New Zealander, theology prof unlike most, it seems, and is a very fine writer, too. Here is a quote (by Kerry Dearborn, author of Drinking from the Wells of New Creation) describing his good style, taken from the back of a previous book, Face to Face. We’re excited about Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics for Everyone: The Doctrine of the Word of God — A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners & Pros

With lyrical clarity and deep insight, Marty Folsom invites us to live into the rich mystery of the interrelatedness of all of life — life that flows from, and is sustained by, the Triune God, whose very being is self-giving love.

Common Callings and Ordinary Virtues: Christian Ethics for Everyday Life Brent Waters (Baker Academic) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Just the other day I had the chance to again tell a customer about how much I appreciate the new compilation of teachings about all sorts of ethics from the years of classroom teaching by David Gushee, Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today. An honest ex-evangelical and “still Christian” (as his memoir puts it) Dr. Gushee has emerged as a major voice of a certain sort of moderate/progressive, consistent life scholar and activist. 

And then I told him about this one, the new, breathtaking volume by leading ethicists Brent Waters which “offers a theological guide to thinking Christianly about the ordinary nature of every day life.” It may be a one of a kind study. What a book!

I’m not sure where to put this book in our store and I look forward to working through it myself, soon. It isn’t simple and it isn’t simplistic (if you catch my difference.) It admits to much nuance and it is, as Robert Song of Durham University puts it, “richly pondered.” As Sondra Wheeler of Wesley Theological Seminary describes it, it is “a lucid and theologically rich account of the centrality and power of the ordinary in moral life as Christians understand it.” Where do we shelve books about the centrality of the ordinary for the morally serious reader? In Water’s view, our mundane moments are formative and can shape us to be more Christ-like.This is, I’d say, a book about basic Christian growth.  

There is profound reflection here on creation, incarnation, and resurrection, on virtue and vice, or “rituals and the ordering of time and place.” These profound ruminations lead to explorations on neighbors, friends, spouses, children, strangers, citizens and the like.

The final section looks at any number of truly ordinary aspects of life — work (including housework and homework), manners, appearance, eating and leisure. There’s even a bit on “the good of being boring.”

Once again Baker Academic has given us a treasure, a book not just for academics but for all of us.

Listen to Gilbert Meilaender, the exceptionally thoughtful Lutheran ethicist from Valparaiso University, who writes:

I hope Waters will take no offense when I say that this book could not have been written by a young man. Wide-ranging in the topics it takes up, the fruit of much reading and much living, simultaneously respectful and politically incorrect — it cannot fail to provoke thought about the shape of a life well lived.

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Like Meilaender’s promise that the Brent Waters book will “provoke thought about the shape of a life well lived,” I think all of these books will help with that and, further, will help you not just think about life, but live it. Well. These books are gifts, guides, tools. Order some today.

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“How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor” by Richard Mouw and six other books – AND – Pre-order the forthcoming WENDELL BERRY book “The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice”)  ON SALE

I saw a note on Twitter the other day suggesting we are seeing more idolatrous Christian Nationalism these days. A reply from another friend rang true: there isn’t more, but we’re just realizing more what it is, noticing it. There are varying degrees and kinds of dangerous alt-right groups, of course. Some are fairly conventional fundamentalist or Pentecostal churches with a penchant for overstating the goodness of America even if they aren’t overly aggressive about it and there groups that are weird in their Christian-sounding lingo, even like the KKK, and are plainly dangerous. (Perhaps you recall a book I reviewed at BookNotes several years ago called Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America by Vegas Tenold, still one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read and as important study and a good read.) Almost nothing is a kookie as this cult that uses guns in religious services, whose leader has a crown made of bullets, and that our Republican candidate for Governor here in PA may have some connection with. Yikes.

It dawns on me that most BookNotes readers know a bit about why this is all so dastardly and maybe have even bought books from us offering historical anthological discernment about this heretical movement. (Just a few weeks ago we highlighted a new Oxford University Press book called The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy by Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry with a good foreword by Jemar Tisby.) Here is a  good list of 10 titles about this put together by our friends at the Englewood Review of Books (although not all are about recent nationalism as such.) I’d add to the list the brand new book by pastoral psychologist and Lutheran scholar (who teaches at Union in New York) Pamela Cooper-White, The Psychology of Christian Nationalism: Why People Are Drawn In and How to Talk About the Divide (Fortress Press; $21.00.) We stock all of these, actually; we recommend reading up a bit as this movement is not going away. These are, dear gentle readers, as John Adams put it, “serious times.”

And yet, still — what does it mean to embody a proper, balanced sort of appropriate patriotism? Condemning the heresies of the Trumpian wing of the religious right, while important, is almost too easy. How might we avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater? It may be a bit controversial for some, here, but I want to ask, with Richard Mouw, how to be a faithful Christian patriot. But first, a story.

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I will never forget a retreat presentation, the talks being given by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton whose book Transforming Vision had influenced the gathered group, and whose book on postmodernism, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, then just out, was also very important for many of us. Although there were several hot evangelical books that year all alarmed about the way postmodernism seem to erode a sense of truth and therefore was inappropriate for Christians, the Walsh & Middleton book really was the only one of all of them that actually used the Bible as a response to the famous pomo suspicion of meta-narratives. The Bible is full of deconstruction, they said, subversive, even. To this day, I recommend Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be for anyone grappling with the forces of postmodernity or the ideas of postmodernism or those grown cynical with conventional religion that chases after power and might. 

In that retreat one of them read one of the Psalms and, I think, a bit from Jeremiah, and, with gusty insight then associated nearly exclusively with Walter Brueggemann, they showed how the Bible itself offered (unpatriotic) critique of Zion, a view that was surely controversial and subversive in its day, singing the Lord’s own songs in protest against the Lord’s land. (Years later Brian would, with his co-author Sylvia Keesmaat, do the same thing with Romans 13 in their must-read Romans Disarmed commentary and Richard would bring his Old Testament contextualized reading to the vexing Abraham/Issac story in the must-read Abraham’s Silence, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) 

To make the point, then they read the Biblical text over the background of the fuzzy, acid-rock, distorted and mournfully brilliant version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” from the 1969 Woodstock album. Wow. This is what Hendrix was doing as a black man crying out just a year after the murder of Dr. King with a lament not disavowing the American story, but reclaiming it by naming the deep failures. Hendrix was not just doodling with hippy rock coolness but was offering a sober lament, a pained patriotic plea. And this is exactly what some of the most potent anti-Zion Psalms were doing as Brueggemann brilliantly shows in Israel’s Praise: Doxology Over Idolatry and Ideology. Get that subtitle — “Doxology over Idolatry and Ideology” — which reminds us that praise and worship must subvert our idols, even those good things given by God.

I doubt if you heard Hendrix’s messy “Star Spangled Banner” at church this weekend. You most likely won’t even hear the Psalms Brueggemann uses, either. But I do hope your worship exalted Christ alone as the only true King. I trust that isn’t too much to ask.

Naturally, I appreciated Brian and Richard’s critique (begun already in Transforming Vision) of the idols of the land — including the nation state — and resonated with the brave, subversive Hebrew prophets they taught us about who dared to raise their voices against bad worship and unjust public policy. I saw myself as a child of the late 60s, dismayed by the murders of King and Bobby Kennedy,  a conscientious objector against the brutal war in Viet Nam, made cynical by Watergate and Love Canal and TMI. One of the first books I read, in the mid-70s, about how my simple Christian faith informed my political life was by Richard Mouw, a long out of print paperback called Political Evangelism. It was deeply Christian, not conservative like most church people knew, but not lefty, either. It invited us to an integrated Christian social vision where politics and citizenship were coherent parts of our Kingdom discipleship — our loyalty to King Jesus — and not just a dry matter of our secular lives.  

Years later in a book on a passage in Isaiah that points to the restoration of all things in Revelation 22, the incredible When the Kings Come Marching In, Mouw envisioned despots and unjust rulers kneeling before their oppressed victims. Of apartheid leaders asking for forgiveness from the likes of their torture victims. It was a very powerful insight about the upside down Kingdom of Christ and how even power politics can be seen as being, someday, healed and made right.

I followed Mouw’s ongoing work for decades — it was an honor to have him talk about our bookstore and cite me in his last book All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight and he remains one of the thinkers and writers I trust them most. His inter-denominational (indeed, sometimes interfaith) generosity, his Biblical piety, his expansive Kingdom vision, his friendly style, his balance and grace, all appeal. Mouw’s own wonderfully interesting memoir is tellingly entitled Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground. I recommend it to one and all.

Very important these days is his tremendous book on civility — ahead of its time and still one of the very, very best in the genre — is called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. I will come back to this in a moment. It would be a good companion to his brand new one on being a patriotic Christian.

But now, sent to you with a smile from historic Pennsylvania on this 4th of July the year of our Lord 2022, I present to you Dr. Mouw’s brand new book, just out. I’d say “bring on the fireworks” but, really, this book is too reasoned and calm for that. It brings more light than thunder.

How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor Richard J. Mouw (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICER = $13.60

This holiday weekend (in the US, at least) I want to very highly recommend the brand new Richard Mouw book, How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor, even though it is even less punchy and more balanced than I expected and more patriotic than I believe is warranted. But, there it is: I’d read Mouw on anything and listen carefully to everything he says. And he gets everything that is most important very right here, even if I may wish for slightly different emphasis or conclusion on this or that fine point.

Since I’ve already admitted that I’ve got some minor disagreements (like, say, on the legitimacy of national flags in a sanctuary of worship, which I oppose and he very cautiously approves) I’ll say this: one of the great virtues of this little book, like all of Mouw’s books, is how fair-minded he is. He goes out of his way to explain for us the various positions on a topic, from the Mennonite opposition to swearing oaths to some Scottish Presbyterians views on theonomy to many black Christians understandable skepticism about too quickly saying US wealth is a blessing from God when it was significantly earned with slave labor on stolen land. Mouw has talked to people all over the world about all manner of topics both broad and specific and he recounts various views and points from real discussions as if you are a conversation partner. It is a most congenial way to learn. He is a very good teacher, less telling you what to think or believe, but inviting you to wrestle with the primary issues.

Mouw is very, very clear — and goes to very helpful lengths to explain why it is so — that our love for our land, our patriotic affections, are for our nation (that is, our people and our myths and our values and our shared history) and not so much any given government, let alone any one party. That is, he explains the distinctions in political science between a country and a state. He goes from Aristotle to JFK, St. Paul to MLK, exploring terms and helping us realize much. I chuckled when he said something to the effect that we may get teary eyed singing about our purple mountains and, with hand on heart (maybe), showing our affection, but such inspiring moments aren’t really about our local zoning ordinances or tax codes. Our patriotism is about kinship, about place, about care for others and for the civic values we might hold together, in our shared, if wounded, history. It won’t surprise those who track with this that he cites Robert Bellah and Robert Putnam and historian Jill Lapore. You might even think of the “Front Porch Republic” sort of patriotism exemplified in books like Bill Kauffman’s Poetry Night at the Ballpark. Mouw commends our involvement in sports leagues and the Boy Scouts and PTO and service clubs and other third-place groups that deepen our bonds to actual neighborhoods and real neighbors.

Mouw is always able to adeptly cite, with a quick explanatory nod and a quick caveat or two, older theologians like his favorite, John Calvin, and apply their deepest wisdom to the concerns of today. From Calvin to Mother Teresa, he reminds us that we are to contemplate well, to attend to, to care about our place and the dignity of others made in God’s image. The heart of the book really is profound, and explored in helpful ways, insisting that our loyalty to our country is an act of love. I have never thought of this, actually, but it is his chief motif and it was helpful for me. One of the chapters is simply called “Human Bonds.” 

Naturally, he highlights the standard Biblical texts about political life, and he treats them well — not woodenly, nor dismissively, but as authoritative light on the topic to be lived into in healthy and wise ways. As a thoughtful, moderate evangelical in a mainline church with ecumenical and interfaith friendships (as I mentioned, all over the globe, especially China where he lectures often) he handles the Word of God with admirable clarity but not simplistically. He brings the very big reminder that we must apply God’s truths in our own contexts with discernment, wisdom, and prudence. There is no one Bible verse that insists on this or that form of government let alone this or that specific policy, and thinking Christianly about government and public policy is no simple matter. He explores this a bit, but since this is not a book about politics, as such, he only gives the most basic overview and groundwork. (There is one fascinating chapter on the scope of government in which he tries to move us away from the simplistic binary of big vs small government and shows that all but the most radical libertarians surely appreciate safe bridges and clean water and regulation of airlines and fair tax codes and the like. Right?) It is good stuff that every church-going citizen should read, even if it only scratches the surface of what constitutes a faithful, wise, Biblically-directed sort of public theology and social ethic for a Christian understanding political life. His goal in this is to show why we should be glad for good government, appreciative, speaking with honor about the positive aspects of our civic life together.

In this lovely little guide, How to Be a Patriotic Christian, Mouw invites us to love our land, our people, our country. He explains how this can be done without falling for the temptation (which can turn very evil) to make an idol out of our own tribe or state or party. He warns against nationalism, about pride, in our own souls and in our collective consciousness. Incidentally, Richard was studying in Canada when President Kennedy was assassinated and he tells about how his rather anti-American friends there showed great empathy in those sad weeks. Our care for each other goes beyond national borders — of course. I wouldn’t be promoting a book that says otherwise! And Mouw makes a big deal of that, that the Body of Christ (our defining and ultimate loyalty) is global and transnational, multiethnic and multi-racial.

I appreciate his caution about his subject. He tells a funny story about feeling sinful as a child for buying a Mother’s Day card that insisted that his mom was the best one in the world. He had reason to think this wasn’t technically true, and wondered if God minded his dishonesty as an unacceptable sort of bragging. He notes that of course we needn’t really worry about such claims, but that patriotic declarations insisting that we are the best country ever (the academic theory is called American Exceptionalism) are considerably more dangerous. Remember this:

There is a problem with the patriotic version. My mother would not have been offended to find out that a twelve-year-old down the street told her mother that she was the greatest mother in the world. What was most important to my mother was how I cared about her. She did not see the mother down the street as a competitor for her own children’s loyalty.

But here’s the important part:

I’ll put it bluntly: my mother commanded no armies. She did not use guns and bombs to defend her right to be called the best mother in the world. Nations are obviously different in this regard. They go to war with each other. And sometimes they make decisions about such matters that some citizens call into question, and the result is that the questioners are accused by their fellow citizens of being unpatriotic.

And so, Mouw proceeds with caution in inviting us to love our fellow citizens well by honoring the land and country into which providence has placed us by saying repeatedly that we must never offer an unquestioning sort of ultimate loyalty. He calls us to wrestle with many things, grappling with various arguments and positions, but to agree to start here: we are to love our neighbors and one way we can do that is by loving the place, culture, social architecture, institutions, including governments, that we are a part of. Patriotism, properly understood, is one way to show honor and affection and love within our social fabric.

Professor Mouw has written before about the Roman Catholic social ethic of “subsidiarity” and the Dutch Calvinist / Kuyperian notion of sphere sovereignty so it may not be a surprise that he especially affirms our role in local and state civic life. Politics can be big and broad and abstract and yet knowing our local DMV worker or librarian or small town zoning commissioner or dogcatcher or school board member can be a good step for us in order to help our region flourish. He worries that not enough church people are involved in local stuff as day-by-day ordinary citizens and he commends those civil servants who do such public work. He calls us to pray for non-dramatic government employees and civil servants, those who try to help things go well. Disparaging bureaucrats (let alone damning the “Deep State”) is wrong, he says, and he is right. If we are to seek the shalom of the city where God has put us, even as exiles, (Jeremiah 22) we need to come to know those who serve us. We need to exercise our citizenship muscles, trying out involvement in local civic and even political initiatives. Like (or not) whoever lives in the White House any given year, appreciate or not the party principles of whoever is governing your particular state, there is much we can do apart from partisan politics to be good citizens. And, at least, loving our neighbors, including local public servants, can help us help our country thrive with greater civility and maybe even real friendship. Remember, one of his early chapters is about strengthening our human bonds, a sort of kinship in our land. He makes much of Simone Weil’s reflections on rootedness, almost sounding like Wendell Berry at times. 

Two quick asides:

First: you may want to pre-order right away the forthcoming Wendell Berry book that is due in early August called The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice (Shoemaker & Company; $24.00 / OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20.) It seems to be, in part, a long-awaited follow up to his book on racism called Our Hidden Wound and will obviously explore questions akin to the ones Mouw is raising about civic kinship and our commonwealth. It is going to be a release of considerable importance.

Secondly, I wish time and space permitted me to do some comparisons between themes in this new Richard Mouw book and his very important aforementioned Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP; $22.00 / OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60.)That book on pluralism and civility and kindness and styles of speech and attitudes of graciousness and a citizenship of patience (in a hotly polarized culture) are mostly here in one way or another in How to Be a Patriotic Christian. If you have that oldie (especially the expanded 2010 edition) perhaps you’d be wise to pull it from the shelf for a re-read. If you don’t have it, order it today. It is a fabulous companion to this one.  

In his brand new one about patriotism  Rich talks about the pros and cons of what is called (often derisively) civil religion and he is more positive about that than he used to be. He wonders about the efficacy (and the faithfulness) of public patriotic rituals — singing the national anthem at ball games, say — and he realizes this is freighted. (Ahh, I can’t wait to hear what Jamie Smith says about all this.) He has a section that is provocative about patriotism in church. He worries about how we don’t teach much about civic values these days, and while Mouw doesn’t cite him, this is something Os Guinness has said over and over for decades.

Again, this plea for a positive rendering of civic education is not a guise for hiding from the facts about injustice or overlooking the stains in our national history. He may be moderate in tone and enjoy patriotic songs and the like, but he is very clear over and over that a good patriot cares enough to have the occasional lovers quarrel with her country and its history. Our original American sins of mistreatment of first nation peoples, of slavery, ongoing racism, anti-immigration animus, cavalier mistreatment of creation, bellicose and often unethical foreign policies, and on and on are not to be denied by Biblical people and true patriotism is always eager for an honest accounting. There are other books these days, including some from what we might call the religious right, that water down facts about (let alone offer prophetic denunciations of) our national sins. Mouw isn’t breathy about it, but he is crystal clear. I am grateful for this and therefore can hear his words of patriotic counsel.

I bet most Hearts & Minds friends will really appreciate it in many ways. The writing is interesting and the book offers wise, good stuff.

Skip the military-themed, red-white-and-blue liturgies in MAGA megachurches and the pseudo-patriot scoundrels like Eric Metaxas that are dishonest about things like the January 6th insurrection. We don’t need more flag-waving showiness that verges on gaudy idolatry. Just ignore the ideological guys whining about the 1619 Project which wants to put an honest accounting about slavery more central in the telling of American history. (You may recall that I mentioned in a BookNotes review a week or two ago that Bill McKibben’s most recent book The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon has some extended conversations about the 1619 Project and I commend his easy-to-read overview of the urgency of such historical honesty.)

There are times we need “doxology against idolatry” (see above) and Hendrix’s plaintive version of a tragic national anthem is called for. Given the rise of so-called Christian Nationalism in recent decades, maybe that time is now. Granted.

But maybe Mouw is on to something, ahead of the curve in discerning what we also need. We need to do more than sound the alarm against what we do not want. We need to say what we are for. That is, we do not need to throw the patriotic baby out with the idolatrous bathwater. As this great read reminds us, we can be loyal in a limited way to our country, navigating a fine path between Christian nationalism on the one hand and bitter cynicism about all things American on the other. There are sticky questions all along this path and, in many ways, it is easier to just raise the flag or tear it down. A third alternative, neither right nor left, neither nationalistic nor anti-American, is possible. Loving the right things in the right way is a sign of Christian maturity and rightly ordered desires and properly ordered love is a healthy goal of Christian discipleship. I am not sure I will end up where Richard is in this book, but that’s okay.I savored every word and will re-read it soon for the exercise of practicing discernment.  I’d love to know what you think after you read it.

What does it mean to truly love our native land? What does it mean to be a good citizen? What does it look like to be a patriot that is firstly loyal to the international body of Christ? To be active as a citizen but not unquestioning, willing to say yes to some things and no to others, and showing gladness for the ideas and the freedom allowing participatory democracy? How can we render to Caesar what may be Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s? It was a trick question when Jesus first said it, and it is tricky yet today.

Mouw reminds us, gently, over and over, that even as our first loyalty is to the Triune God of the universe, known in Jesus Christ, and to his global Church, it is one of the great Christian insights —yes! — that we are all, every last one of us, made in God’s image and we each have a shared humanity with all fellow humans. Further, as creatures, we have a shared creaturehood with all things. St. Francis was pretty right with that “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” stuff. Yes, we can have a limited sort of affection for and provisional commitment to our own country, but we are, firstly, fellow creatures and fellow human beings. Our common ground with all others is the best place to start even as we explore how to be patriotic in our own particular place.

Which brings us to a fine little message at the end of How to Be a Patriotic Christin. Mouw may be a neo-Calvinist in the line of Abraham Kuyper who famously reminded us that Christ claimed “every square inch” of creation and that we must “think Christianly” about every theory, policy and practice, but he, like Kuyper, actually is a bit of a low-brow Protestant mystic. I’m not sure Richard would admit this, but he cites contemplatives and is not unaware of the importance of personal and communal spiritual formation. He loves his Bible and he loves old hymns and is unafraid sounding pious and spiritual. It is this ordinary mysticism, this Biblical spirituality, that can form us into caring people who learn to love our place, our region, our own country, even.

He invites us at the end of the book to slow down, to be contemplative, to ponder, to pay attention, to listen well to others. This, then, is to be followed up in the school of love: we must cultivate compassion, he says. Compassion leads us not only to acts of personal kindness but to a politics of grace, social righteousness, economic justice. A third guideline is fascinating: “go deep in the quest for rootedness.” Naturally this is sensible when learning to be more patriotic, to learn well about our land, our watershed, our place, our system of government. But as he means it here, he means to double down on, to lean into, to celebrate firstly our identity as members of the Kingdom of heaven, a citizenship that trumps all loyalties and an identity that pledged allegiance to the Lamb and our siblings far and wide. I’m not sure he says it in the final pages, but this big point about our Christian rootedness certainly relativizes any overzealous sort of patriotism. Our “hopes and dreams” (as he puts it) are not finally made manifest by government policies but by Jesus. To be assured of that, “in the deep places of our hearts,” he writes, “should inspire us to keep wrestling with what it means to be patriotic Christians.” 

SIX OTHER BOOKS TO READ ABOUT FAITH & PATRIOTISM

I have in several other BookNotes listed books that offer Biblically-based and thoughtful guidance on uniquely faithful citizenship based on Christian thinking about the nature and task of the government and the like. My views have been generally consistent for decades that we need to read widely in discerning the framework for a faithful sort of politics, not primarily driven by ideologies of the right or the left. Not a muddled, moderate middle, but something else, a way shaped by Christ’s Kingdom.

Here are books that are less about the shape of Christian politics as such but about this question of American civil religion, civic pride, our approach to the Founders, etc. Good for this season of American life, I think, to be read alongside or after How to Be a Patriotic Christian by Ricard Mouw.

We the Fallen People: the Founders and The Future of American Democracy Robert Tracy McKenzie (IVP Academic) $28.00                               OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This book has garnered rave reviews from thoughtful critics and won awards. I cannot do it justice here so we’ll let my favorite history prof, John Fea (author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?) has described it:

In the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr, Tracy McKenzie places original sin at the center of American political history. We the Fallen People weaves American history, historical thinking, and public theology into a compelling narrative that forces readers to rethink the meaning of our democratic experiment.

Dr. McKenzie, a history prof at Wheaton College, has two chapters under each of five main parts.  These sections don’t explain it all, but gives you a sense of his approach:
Part One: Governing a Fallen People: The Founders, the Constitution, and Human Nature; Part Two: The Great Reversal: The People’s Candidate Exalts the People’s Virtue; Part Three: Servitude or Liberty: Jacksonian Democracy in Action; Part Four: I Cannot Regard You as a Virtuous People: A Conversation with Alexis de Tocqueville;  Part Five: Remembering, Reminding, Responding: Lessons for Today. Fascinating and mature scholarship, offering a valuable theological contribution to our flag waving. Highly recommended.

Robert Tracy McKenzie has incisively identified one of the most subtle and insidious dynamics contributing to the present state of partisanship in America. That is, our stark societal divisions are often fueled by flawed approaches to making sense of the past. The genius of McKenzie’s book is in his challenge to us to think both Christianly and historically, demonstrating that the two are not mutually exclusive. He shrinks not from the exceedingly difficult task of drawing moral wisdom from history, and he does so with characteristic care and aplomb. We the Fallen People helps us to see the past more clearly, giving us the ability to think more rightly about ourselves. These are the indispensable first steps for us as we pursue the common good. –John D. Wilsey, author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea

Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship Diana Butler Bass (Church Publishing) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

I will not describe this short book in detail as I’ve reviewed it often before. (Enter it into the search engine of our “BookNotes” archives to find a few previous descriptions.) The short version is simply this: Diana worked for a church in Northern Virginia when they were understandably grieving the attack on the US on September 11, 2000. The nearby Pentagon was hit and people were killed. It was a horrible time, but, as many of us too clearly recall, our nation seemed to come together in a spasm of militarism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and civil religion that wasn’t healthy or good. United We Stand meant any number of things, but some with under that banner were prepared to launch nuclear attacks on Middle Eastern lands. The language of American greatest and vengeance was common.

Diana thought that a posture of shared brokenness was more appropriate and appealed to her colleagues for a ministry or at least tone of peacemaking, for a more sober sort of patriotism, not jingoistic or worldly. As her memoirs tells in moving detail, she lost her job over this call to reject aggressive God-and-country militarism. 

I am not ashamed to say it was deeply, deeply moving for me when I first read it and it sustained me as few books did in those complicated years. That it was reissued a few years ago is a publishing grace and I am glad to suggest it any time people are considering a faithful view of public life and Christian citizenship. 

The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend Our God-Blessed, God-Forsaken Land David Dark (WJK) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

David is another friend that I admire very much and who has become a bit of an internet sensation, enduring as he does in his vocation to be a pest to everybody on twitter by insisting that we pay attention, be honest about faith and justice, speak out, name complicity, live true. Agree or not all the time, he is one heck of a writer — you should sign up for his Substack blog — and he cares deeply about public life. That some of his deepest influences are Will Campbell and Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan and Padraig O’Tuama might give you a hint of his prophetic mantle. That he loves literature (and pop culture) means the book is garnished with tasty quotes from James Baldwin and Bono, Ocatavia Butler and Faulkner.

I highly recommended The Possibility of America this book in great detail when it first came out and then recommended it again at BookNotes when a second, expanded edition was released. It is a colorful, fiery, interesting read. I figure I should name it again, here, a rare and nearly essential book about civic imagination and public compassion. His tone is not as moderate or as reasonable as Richard Mouw, but it is passionate and good. Wow. 

Cold Civil War: Overcoming Polarization, Discovering Unity, and Healing the Nation Jim Belcher (IVP) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Okay, I’m not going to lie: I like Jim Belcher a lot, and raved here about his first book, sort of an intellectual travelogue, a record of he and his family traipsing around Europe to go to the spots of his favorite books, from C.S. Lewis’s favorite Oxford tavern to Bonhoeffer’s place to  That was called In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity. I appreciated his next book, a fine effort to adjudicate the differences between conventional evangelical churches and the postmodern emergent ones, nicely called Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. I am glad he didn’t keep the “deep’ theme going here or this new one might have been called something about the “deep state” which would have given the wrong impression. Ha.

But, again, I’m not going to lie: I did not adore this one as I did those two; it is a different sort of scholarship and more philosophical than either of his others. The footnotes are astonishing, from older political classics to update internet data from recent think tanks and research centers.  He draws on dozens of very heady scholars such as Deirdre McCloskey, William Galston, Patrick Deenen and James Caesar, a scholar who he seems quite indebted to. Dr. Belcher, by the way, got his PhD from Georgetown University; in recent years he served as President of Providence Christian College in Pasadena,Ca.

If Jim’s first two thoughtful paperbacks were exceptionally balanced and wisely ecumenical, this one, impressively issued in sturdy hardcover, seems a bit hard-hitting, maybe partisan. He tries to walk through the profound polarization of our “cold civil war’ and take seriously the deeper background assumption of both “sides” which is an important project, digging deeper. He invites us along for a deep dive into questions about the nature of order and the nature of freedom. By showing the strengths and weaknesses of various takes on these age-old political philosophy questions — and a clever four part quadrant chart to show surprising interconnections, actually — he offers ways that he thinks might help us create a new vibrant center that won’t be as fragmented. He talks about an American synthesis, which is fascinating. I kept thinking, well, yes, “good luck with that.”

And yet, he is on to something. I liked a chapter on patriotism for “resident aliens and alienated residents” Here is how Bradly Campbell (professor of sociology at California State University Los Angeles and author The Rise Of Victimhood Culture) explains the premise of Cold Civil War:

He argues that the four main political orientations act as countervailing forces that strengthen the country when in their more centrist forms, but tear the country apart in their more extreme forms. The way forward isn’t to abandon our ideologies entirely or for us all to agree with one another, but the country does need to move toward the ‘vital center.’ And Belcher offers a vision of how to do so.

I assume that my cynicism about his hopeful realism and this appreciation of the seeds of insight from each quandary is unfair. I want to get out of the left-right stalemate as much as the next radical moderate but yet I am not convinced that Jim is adequately above the fray to help us see everything that we need to consider. He cites David Koyzis’s essential Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, but nearly enough. I remained concerned about some of his judgments and am eager to hear others who grapple with his major work.

I appreciate those who have said this book was very clarifying for them and that they appreciated the faithful call to civility and hope. One former mayor said he had experienced people for whom politics and citizenship was a “blood sport” and this gave him a better framework.  That is a good thing, that scholars and activists and elected officials and serious citizens can all appreciate that this study of the history of ideas that have shaped our polarization can provide fresh insight and new approaches.  I’m not fully convinced, but there is something important going on here, and I wanted to list it for your consideration. 

Here’s a good line from the foreword by John D. Wilsey, the respected author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: 

Belcher’s work on our current state of affairs in cultural discourse, marked by hyperpartisanship, incivility, and political, social, and moral instability, contributes a needed perspective borne of clear, careful, and charitable thinking. It is reflective of deep thought and research that has obviously been ongoing for many years, and I’m certain it will spur further dialogue among scholars in the academy and citizens in the public square for years to come.

The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom Os Guinness (IVP) $25.00                      OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Here is what I wrote about this when I named it as one of the most important books of 2021. I have often said that as one of my personal heroes and favorite authors I would read anything written by Dr. Os Guinness. Of course I say that about the breezy Anne Lamott and funny, blue-collar, farmer-pundit Michael Perry, too, although with them, the promise isn’t as daunting. Os writes deeper, serious, and often challenging works, and, in this case, on a topic I am not naturally drawn to — the glories of the ideas behind the American Revolution. I’ve read Os on this before (such as his 2019 Last Call for Liberty) and heard him lecture about the ordered freedoms that the founders (despite their flaws) brought into the world in 1776.

I know Guinness’s work fairly well, having read most of his books more than once. I was not quite prepared for a few things in this magisterial, important work, The Magna Carta of Humanity. It wasn’t odd or alarming, but I’ve never recalled Os being so very passionate about Judaism, about Hebrew scholars, and about the extraordinary genius of one of the most significant public intellectuals of our times, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I got tears in my eyes when Guinness (somewhat uncharacteristically, perhaps) shared how Sacks read the manuscript of Magna Carta and Guinness’s explication of the significance of the very idea of the Old Testament law, and how appreciative Os was that Sacks wrote back, even as he was ill.

The revolutionary faith of “Sinai” in the subtitle is very significant and Guinness, always the teacher of important history, shows how the Hebrew worldview in many ways launched (and in some places critiqued) Greece and Rome, the medieval West, the British empire and, supremely, the American founders and framers and their revolution for a republic.

And, importantly, all of this is in contrast to the stream that moves from the French Revolution to Hitler and, more so, Stalin and Mao. How different were the bloodless English revolution and the American war against King George, offering the world a set of ideas that, if applied and nurtured, could offer the ordered freedom under law unlike anything the world had ever known.

Note the two pictures on the top and lower portion of the dust jack and realize they go with two dates — 1776 and 1789; those, in turn, go with the choices — Sinai or Paris?

The Magna Carta of Humanity is worth reading just for Guinness’s reflections on the Old Testament and the legacy of Exodus. He shows the significant consequences of the notion of the covenant, about which his writing is outstanding. He knows the work of Tremper Longman, say, or John Goldingay, Chris Wright, Walter Brueggemann, John Walton, or other eminent Christian Old Testament scholars, but he is drawn to Abraham Heschel, Michael Walzer and Rabbi Sacks, to whom the book is dedicated. It makes for illuminating reading.

A second theme of the book you will have to discover and evaluate yourself; I am firstly celebrating it here, not offering my own critique which must come at another time. I will just say this: I do not fully agree with Dr. Guinness (and I shudder to find myself typing these words) about his assessment of the greater threat from the cultural left these days than from the revolutionary far right. (He has yet another book on these themes coming in September 2022 which will will be called Zero Hour America: History’s Ultimatum Over Freedom and the Answer We Must Give; You can pre-order it now, of course, at our 20% off.) I have not seen this one yet, but in his major Magna Cara of Humanity I wished for more balance in his exposing the inconsistencies and dangers of progressive left.

For the record, Dr. Guinness, his wife, and his son, have worked tirelessly for a better world and have consistently renounced racism and social injustices, as he does in this powerful book, and I do not in the least suggest otherwise. (Just read chapter 8 for a compelling, solid Biblical theology of justice, hospitality, mercy and homecoming.) His 10 quick-fire points, though, against critical race theory, say, or his rebuke of the secular and postmodern progressive left, left me with more questions than reassurance that he was fully on target. Why suggest that the left are “twitter Jacobins” and not fret about the threats of rape and murder some Christian feminists face there from “brothers” on the right? Talk about cancel culture? The right has been at it for decades, as he well knows, having been the target of cruel rebuke himself for his public affirmation of political pluralism. Referring to a “mob” on one (leftist) side while not using such language against those on the right indicates, I think, a bit of a shift in Os’s own thinking and analysis. (He says as much, by the way, in his recent foreword to the celebratory 2019 re-issue of The Dust of Death.)

One need not agree with every word of every book to honor it, to celebrate it, to say that it was a favorite read and to highly recommend it. I do not hesitate to honor and celebrate and recommend The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom by the exceedingly informative and regularly inspiring Os Guinness. Like I said — I’d read anything he writes. Even if it pokes at my worldview a bit. Certainly as we think about a responsible and honest Christian view of American patriotism, this book by a Brit is a gift to us all and a must-read.

Jesus Takes a Side: Embracing the Demands of the Gospel Jonny Rashid (Herald Press) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

As you have seen, above, I really appreciate Richard Mouw’s call to think about a reinvigorated, reformed, sober sort of Christian patriotism. For those sentimental about the red-white-and-blue, it will be a no-brainer, I suppose, but I beg you to consider it. He invites you to be sure your patriotism isn’t idolatry, isn’t ideological, is rooted in our fundamental (and international, multi-ethnic) alliance to the Body of Christ. He wants a properly ordered love for native land, not a jingoistic American Exceptionalism so you may need to hear his careful concerns. Yet, if you are suspicious of any such talk (especially given the frightening presence of overt, militaristic white, evangelical Nationalism these days) you, too, can benefit from Mouw’s pleasant and teacherly exploration of what it might mean to deepen our civic bonds and love our neighbors well by being properly patriotic. It is a book that few will fully agree with but that nearly every Christian should appreciate wrestling with. 

I end this list about recovering a proper, balanced, thoughtful sort of Christian kind of love of country with this brand new book because — as Mouw says and as my reviews above all noted —we simply must be Christians first before any provisional concerns with the country in which we are “resident aliens.” Our loyalty to land or people is provisional and contextual. Our love for God and obedience to King Jesus is ultimate.

Or at least we say it is, right? Jonny Rashid will very helpfully hold our feet to the fire on this by insisting that if we are going to develop a Christian public theology, a Christian social perspective, then we have to, well, see what Jesus Himself says about such things.  Hooray!

It should go without saying, but as the back cover explains:

For the sake of our faith, for the sake of the least of these among us, and for the sake of Christ, Christians need to stand firmly for truth, peace, and justice. In Jesus Takes a Side, author Jonny Rashid lays out the political demands of following Jesus and offers strategies for how to engage politics practically and prophetically — even if it means taking a side.

For many, the specific teachings of Jesus — most thoroughly offered in the Sermon on the Mount — are nearly too idealistic to shape our witness in the rough and tumble and compromise of realpolitik. We preach these counter-cultural Kingdom values in church but we wonder if it is even plausible to call our country and our public officials to embrace such upside-down values. Well, Rashid, a pastor of Circle of Hope in urban Philly (where I have preached, years ago, btw) brings this Anabaptist insistence on the specific ways of Jesus to our citizenship. There are political demands of the gospel, in what another Anabaptist scholar decades ago called “The Politics of Jesus.” To put it bluntly, Pastor Johnny says, “Jesus sides with the oppressed. Will you?”

Blurbs on the back of this lively Biblical study and call for a radically Christian social ethic include great endorsements from indigenous activist and church leader Randy Woodley (author of many good books, most recently of Becoming Rooted, a devotional reader we’ve promoted) who says “Jesus Takes a Side leads us straight to Jesus and makes clear the path we are to walk with him. I enjoyed it immensely.” Melissa Florer-Bixler (author of How to Have an Enemy, another vital book  we’ve highlighted here) says it comes with “prophetic witness and embodied hope.”

Curt Willems, pastor of Brentview Baptist Church in Calgary and author of Echoing Hope puts it well when he writes,

This book will provoke important conversations about what it means to follow Jesus in any political system.

Here is one thing to think about as you consider this feisty and faithful study of pastoral and prophetic aspects of the gospel. Jonny Rashid and Drew G. I.Hart (who wrote a fabulous foreword) both push back about talk of a Christian “third way.” This perplexed me a bit until it dawned on me that both Dr. Hart and Rev. Rashid seem to see in that phrase some moderate middle ground that is afraid of being divisive, and thereby maybe attempts to blunt the sharp edges of Jesus’s vivid commands. As he puts it, “In a world divided by left and right, red and blue, many Christians have upheld a ‘third way’ approach in pursuit of moderation, harmony, and unity. But,” he very wisely and importantly continues, “if Christians are more concerned with divisiveness than with faithfulness, we have failed to grasp the gospel’s political demands.”

He writes, “We do not see Jesus taking a “third way” between oppressor and oppressed. And as followers of Jesus, neither should we.”  Drew starts his foreword with similar clarity against such views of moderate/middle third ways.

Here is my own push back, less against the book itself, which is excellent, but about this framing. In my experience, in my circles, and certainly in my own speaking and teaching (which, I suspect, Drew himself may recall) I have robustly called for a third way. However, by that I mean, a Christian approach that is something else again other than the typical binary social imaginary has it. That is, neither left nor right.  Not some blend or eclectic ideological mush or compromise just to prevent conflict, but a radical worldview that sees that typical options the world’s political theories offer are mostly two sides of the same bad coin.  A call to a third alternative as I’ve used it is an idealist hope for a radical, distinctive, fresh option, perhaps yet to be seen. Neither capitalist nor communist, subversive to all empires and principalities and powers, etc. etc.

(I am not sure I fully understand and may not fully agree with every detail, but for one sort of example of this see, at least, David Koyzis’s Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies and James K.A. Smith’s remarkable dialogue with Willie James Jennings and Oliver O’Donovan in his Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology or his very astute observations in conversation with four other Christian political writers in Five Views on the Church and Politics edited by Amy Black, which brings into point-counterpoint conversations a Lutheran political orientation, a historic black church view, a Catholic social teaching perspective, and a Mennonite public witness.)

Decades ago one of my heros, Ron Sider, tried to start a political action committed that would raise funds for rare political birds that were consistently pro-life: against abortion, yes, but also against the death penalty, war, racism, pollution, anti-immigrant hostility, torture, and the ravaging deaths of the poor both here and abroad. Such radically nonviolent, pro-feminist/anti-racist/abolitionist sort of pro-lifers do not find a home in any current political party.

To be serious about the ways of Jesus, if principles and values like those in Jesus Takes a Side were to be planks in a political movement, it would necessarily be a wildly alternative social ethic, different from conventional politicians from any typical political spectrum. Which is to say, when some of us argue for a “third way” in does not intend to conjure a view that is merely moderate and middle (even though it seems to me that one of the civic principles of the way of Jesus would be to find common ground and be civil and kind, seeking understanding; as Gandhi used to say, I don’t want to defeat my enemy, but I want to make him my friend.) 

Rashid and this vibrant new book pushes back against lingo of “third way” (even calling it a “lie” in one chapter) and I appreciate it insofar as he is pushing back against a milquetoast, moderate sort of mediocre witness that mostly doesn’t want to upset the apple cart. The view that is so impeccable in seeing all sides that it ends up not taking any stands, that is so abstract that it misses the forest for the trees. His warning about such high-minded abstraction in policy debates is vital, and comes, clearly, from a guy who is situated among those in the ruins. That helps.

Yet, if we take seriously the plea of this remarkable new book about “embracing the political demands of the gospel” it will look very different from anything we’ve seen in US political history; it will not be centrist, but will consistently stand graciously with the oppressed and hurting, making it a new way.  It will be like Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President, perhaps — I think Jonny would be glad for the connection to that book. No one should advocate some boring centrist space driven by fear of offending anyone. I am often haunted by Nelson Mandela’s line “I do not want my chains made more bearable, I want them removed!” Yes!

Maybe we should find something different to call such a movement, avoiding the “third way” lingo; fine. But if our rootedness is in Jesus, primarily, then we are not fundamentally loyal to ideologies of the right or the left and we are not ultimately loyal to red or blue parties. As black preacher Tony Evans once said, when Jesus comes back, he won’t be riding an elephant or a donkey. Right?  And so, read Jonny Rashid and know deeply that Jesus takes sides. We simply must “embrace the political demands of the gospel” starting, at least, in our own congregations, learning to be allies and advocates for communities who have been marginalized. Circle of Hope has done this and their pastor has learned much to help us in this journey. Highly recommended.

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More narrative non-fiction, history, expose, well-written, informative works. ALL 20% OFF from Hearts & Minds

We’re glad folks appreciated the long review I did last week of Bill McKibben’s study of what has happened in recent decades in his memoir The Flag, the Cross and the Station Wagon. My couple of paragraphs before the review (and the handful of other titles I listed at the end of the column) extolled the benefit of well-written nonfiction, investigative reporting, creative looks at stuff we can learn. It is part of our calling, we think, to share with you a handful of important and impressively done books.

My older brother sent me a tee-shirt a few years ago that was pretty funny and I put it on to write this column. It says, “I read books and I know things — it’s what I do.”  Ha. Is it what you do? 

(If only we could remember all we learn in the many books we read, right?)

Delightfully written and graciously artful telling of powerful stories about stuff that matters helps us not only “know things” in the simple sense, but it changes how we view and lean into life. As one reviewer of one of the books we commend, below, put it,

“Step up into this book, which like all great books, leads us to the center of something of great importance.”

As our friend Mary McCampbell explores in Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy, narrative art can increase our ability to care, make us deeper, even more kind. So can other nonfiction works if they are compelling enough. As I’ve said, we can enjoy and even be entertained by a nonfiction study if it is finely rendered and a page-turner. Such even academic reading can be transforming.

I offer this column also to illustrate that we really enjoy selling these sort of books — and, I guess, just to remind you that we here at Hearts & Minds carry all sorts of titles, not just religious or theologically-oriented books. (And can can order almost anything for you.) After the last BookNotes post, I wanted to highlight a handful of other immersive, stimulating nonfiction works. We do some of the heavy lifting for you by curating a selection, and offering titles here that we think are well worth your time and hard-earned cash. We are grateful that you appreciate our efforts and take seriously our suggestions. Here are some more we recommend, in no particular order, which we’d love for you to order from us. A few are on my own “to-read” stack and I can’t wait.  Let’s go learn some things!

America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization 1794 – 1911  Mark A. Noll (Oxford University Press) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

Allow me to say from the start that which most likely doesn’t need saying to our astute customers, but just in case you aren’t aware: professor Mark Noll is an esteemed emeritus history professor at The University of Notre Dame. He is a moderate in tone and social agenda, a thoughtful evangelical, and while this book is a studious exploration (almost 850 pages!) of the relationship of the Bible in early and mostly 19th century US history, it in no way would be aligned with what we call “Christian nationalists.” It isn’t even a study of that, although the question (about which Noll has spilled plenty of cautious ink) of whether the US was founded as a Christian nation looms large, then and now. Noll is impeccable and the most preeminent historian working with evangelical convictions in the religious convictions of American history. This book is not simplistic nor does its publication have anything directly to do with the modern Christian right. Just so you know.

We have long stocked most of Professor Noll’s important books, some on somewhat popular level publishing houses and those on the world’s leading academic presses (like this one.) This sweeping and epic study recounting the public role of the Bible in the US basically from the beginning of the republic through the early twentieth century is “a complex and fascinating story with measured judgement and penetrating insights” (according to George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War.”) He claim that Noll is “attuned to ironies and silences but is also deeply respectful of the human struggle with both scriptures and culture.”  It is, Rable tells us, both full of original research and an impressive project synthesizing others work.

My instinct when ordering this was that it may be what some will consider Mark Noll’s magnum opus since he has written much — often scholarly monograms, smaller hardbacks sometimes major, thick works, on everything from the role of the Bible in the earliest days of Europeans living in the so-called new world to the Founding Fathers to the theological problem and implications of the Ciivil War. I was not surprised to see an important scholar such as Candy Gunther Brown say that,

America’s Book shines as the magnum opus of arguably the most eminent historian of American Christianity of the past century.”

Dr. Brown continues, “This magisterial volume is the authoritative study of how the Bible and American national history shaped each other. Meticulously researched, compellingly argued, and masterfully written, it belongs on every serious reader’s shelf.”

Considered a landmark volume, another critic said “reviewers will run out of superlatives.”  Yet another insisted that “Everyone interested in American religion must reckon with this book.”  How can we not try to promote it here and sell it to you? It’s certainly one of the most important works in this field in our lifetimes. And we have it right here in Dallastown.

Brothers on Three: A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana Abe Streep  (Celadon Books) $28.99      OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

In my previous BookNotes I named Eliza Griswold as a great non-fiction writer. (I even have a blurb on the back of her Pulitzer Prize-winning Amity and Prosperity, and not a few readers have said how her Tenth Parallel changed how they viewed the geopolitics of world.) When she wrote that this Abe Streep book was “meticulously reported and exquisitely written” and a “masterwork of immersive journalism” I knew we’d want to carry it.

Another reviewer, Debra Magpie Earling (author of Parma Red), said it was a “heart-stopping, heart-stomping read.” She continues saying that it is “Unsentimental. Unforgettable. Astonishing. Brothers on Three captures the roar of a community spirit powered by blood history, loyalty, and ferocious love.” 

Here again is our hero Bill McKibben, quite the journalist himself, who has come to great solidarity and friendship with indigenous peoples:

Occasionally a sports team can reflect a community in all its complexity and beauty. The Arlee Warriors played with enormous grace under pressure, and this superb book — by being honest, real, and reflective — mirrors and honors that strength. You will not soon forget it.  — Bill McKibben, author of The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon.

But get this — a reviewer who says better what I’ve tried to say about good nonfiction works of this sort:

Beautiful. Extraordinary. Step up into this book, which like all great books leads us to the center of something of great importance. Who deserves a place in Montana, or for that matter, a place in America? To be not just the writer who wrote this book, but the person who could write this book, and ask these questions, took a sublime amount of humility and grace. Long live Arlee, its elders and its children. They bring honor to our world. — Bob Shacochis, recipient of the National Book Award, author of Kingdoms in the Air and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City Kent Babb (HarperOne) $27.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

One of my wife Beth’s favorite nonfiction reads is a story set in a mill-town in Western Pennsylvania, Aliquippa, and its legendary sports teams. It is a riveting social history of mills and immigration, race and culture, economics and, yes, sports. Football, especially. Playing  Through the Whistle is considered by some to be one of the great nonfiction books of recent decades and one of the great high school sports books ever.

We wondered if Across the River will become as respected, as beloved, as enduring as that and we suspect it will. It is a story about the poor New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers, set on the West bank of the Mississippi, which, as the author puts it, is “short on hope but big on dreams.” The gun violence is horrific and the Karr High School 2019 season is tense and deeply freighted. It has been called a classic of sports journalism, but obviously, is much, much more — you will learn about mentoring in tough circumstances, about urban life, about resilience. If you are like me, you may not want to read a football book in the heat of summer, but you should buy it now.

I’m not kidding about how esteemed it is. It has been called “deft” and eloquent”, “masterful” and “essential.”  Check out these amazingly good blurbs:

This is the story the country needs to read–raw, expertly told, stripped of political agendas and preconceived notions. This is not a story about football, but about what football can mean. — Michael Rosenberg, senior writer, Sports Illustrated

At the Karr High School introduced to us by Kent Babb there is the expression, ‘Give Em The Real.’ This book is ‘the real.’ It’s as real as birth and death and all the heartache in between. Through Babb’s eyes, the story of Karr football is so much more than a sports book. This is the other America that too many people don’t know – or care to know – exists. — Dave Zirin, sports editor, The Nation

A literary masterpiece. Lyrically written and deeply reported, Across the River reads like a gripping, can’t-put-it-down novel. — Lars Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Mannings and Chasing the Bear

There is no better storyteller in the country than Kent Babb. Period. I’ve never learned more about the fabric of one of America’s greatest cities than I did in this book. — Ian Rapoport, NFL Network Insider

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach That Starts in Your Yard Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press) $29.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.96

We have number of nature books, bird books, books about trees, books about animals, books about caring for your place, like the wonderful Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace by Christi Purifoy (not to mention her beautiful, full color hardback, Garden Maker: Growing a Life of Beauty and Wonder with Flowers.) So many lovely titles.

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach… is notably a handbook and practical guide for yard care but it is a real joy to peruse — the full color photos are great. A customer we respect encouraged us to promote Douglas Tallamy’s earlier Bringing Nature Home a few years ago since it is both visionary about ecological sustainability and the joy of caring for creation, but also packed with solid information and guidance for planting the right stuff. 

This new one goes even further, even as it backs up and explains more of his philosophy and plan for interconnected “wildlife corridors.” Many animal species are struggling because of the disappearance of native plants. You know what comes next — the whole eco-thing gets out of whack and the demise of this creature hurts that one, which impacts another and effects us all. Tallamy’s very informative guidance in how to plant native species is fascinating and righteous. If you are worried about the planet, he says, “change starts in your backyard.” Homeowners have to take environmental action into their own hands, as he puts it, “one yard at a time.”

Richard Louv (whose books we also carry) calls the author “a quiet revolutionary and hero of our time.” Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction) says, “Tallamy lays out all you need to know to participate in one of the great conservation projects of our time.” 

As one fan of the book and its ideas noted, this is “one area where individual action really can help makeup for all that government fails to do: your backyard can provide the margin to keep species alive.”

The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe Matthew Gabriele & David M Perry (Harper) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is not the only new history of the Middle Ages, but the title may be the most clever (or in your face if you still call that era of the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and the legal reforms of Charlemagne “the dark ages.”)  And it has been called “incandescent and intoxicating” and “lively and searing” so it’s the sort of nonfiction that we want — not dry arcane tomes. 

Many people have a natural curiosity about this fascinating era — before the secular Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation, but long past the era of the Greeks, Romans, and the early church. Whether it is a life-changing trip to the Cloisters in New York or youthful reading of the King Arthur stories or just a few too many viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this era has captured our imaginations. One of my favorite reads — not super scholarly and wonderfully written like all his “Hinges of History” series like the famous one, How the Irish Saved Civilization — is Thomas Cahill’s Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World. When I saw this new Bright Ages one, I knew we had to carry it.

Considered deeply responsible, this new approach insists that the medieval world was “neither a romantic wonderland nor a deplorable dungeon.” 

Matthew Gabriele is a professor of medieval studies and chair of the department of religion and culture at Virginia Tech. He is the author of the book An Empire of Memory: The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade, many articles on medieval Europe and the memory of the Middle Ages. David Perry is a journalist, medieval historian, and senior academic advisor in the history department at the University of Minnesota. He was formerly a professor of history at Dominican University. Perry is the author of Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, and his writing on history, disability, politics, parenting, and other topics has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, the Atlantic… They really seem to illustrate what we’re sharing in this particular BookNotes post — top notch scholars who can write really well and draw you in to the story they are tell, the stuff they are teaching. Intoxicating!

I loved these comments from the Slate review, and then one from the Boston Globe:

While all of this is the sort of stuff that professional medievalists love to see, the thing I like most about Perry and Gabriele’s effort is that it is fun. The Bright Ages is written in such an engaging and light manner that it is easy to race through. I found myself at the end of chapters faster than I wanted to be, completely drawn in by the narrative. You can tell how much the authors love the subject matter, and that they had a great time choosing stories to share and evidence to consider.  Slate

Incandescent and ultimately intoxicating, for as the chapters progress, it dawns on the reader that those who lived in this period were more conventional than cardboard figures… They were, in essence, human.  — Boston Globe

Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women Alissa Wilkinson (Broadleaf Books) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

I was not sure I should include this terrific new book on this list of nonfiction works since Wilkinson is, I suppose, an essayist, not a journalist, and the very title of this book suggests it has “lessons.” That sort of polemical or instruction or inspirational book is standard fare for us here at BookNotes and I surely could list this along with other titles of witty self-help stuff, or even applied theology and embodied spirituality. Sure. But there is so much fascinating content here about famous (or not so famous) women – and their favorite foods and cocktail recipes – that this imagined gathering around a table with a group of extraordinary woman really does seem almost like a hilariously fun and solid documentary.

Alissa herself is a writer with a story – homeschooled in a religious home that didn’t watch TV or movies, she became a Manhattan college teacher at a Christian institution and became a somewhat controversial film critic for Christianity Today. Still a film critic and feisty writer (for Vox) Wilkinson’s project here is classic: who would you invite to a fictional dinner party. Dead or alive, who would it be?

I wonder how many other writers have attempted to write books like this that were turned down? How many were less interesting or too driven by some agenda of what you’d learn from said dinner guests? I almost cringe at the thought. But yet, it is a fun party game, isn’t it?

Alissa Wilkinson is one sharp thinker and so I want to know who she’s inviting, and why. (And, boy, was I surprised in glancing through the table of contents.) Her earlier book (written with poltical theorist and public theologian Robert Joustra on how the philosophy of Charles Taylor might give us insight into zombie movies and how that might help us be better citizens (take a breath and read that again) called How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World. So, yes, she is an amazingly curious person and if anybody can do a book like this, for fun and education, it is she.

I love the comments of Lauren Winner, which ring true even before I start this clever volume:

Ostensibly, this book introduces you to nine women — nine amazing women, who all have something to teach about food and about life. Here we heard Laurie Colin’s wisdom about imperfection and vulnerability (and lentils) and here we hear from May Angelous about hope and truth (and hot dogs.) But, it is Alissa Wilkinson herself — the host of this dinner party and the author of this book — who turns out to be the most vivacious presence, It’s not nine companions this book offers; crucially, it offers ten.

Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives And On the Health of Our Nation Linda Villarosa (Doubleday) $30.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

When I saw this described in an advanced review source I knew it sounded important. The more we heard about it, the more important it seemed. Novelist Jacqueline Woodson said it is “groundbreaking, as brilliant as it is timely.” One prominent reviewer called it “brilliant, illuminating.” The New York Times Book Review called it “singular, expansive, eminently admirable.”

We wanted to stock it in our medical ethics area for local docs and health care providers to spot and also in our large section about racism. It’s just that important. It belongs on this list in this BookNotes column because it is not only vital stuff we need to learn, but, by all accounts, it is a rip-roaring read, a page-turner. It is empathetic, full of stories, sharp-sighted journalism and, powerfully, some of her own story. I have pondered the art on the cover, even, even though I”m not drawn to it.

I’ll let the blurbs on the back of Under the Skin explain why we are eager to recommend it.

Linda Villarosa, one of our fiercest and most cutting-edge journalists, has given us a classic for the ages. Through engrossing stories of people’s real experiences and her signature rigorous reporting, she reveals the biggest picture in American life–that racism has done us all in, and produced a nation so steeped in white supremacy mythology that we cannot take care of ourselves or each other. This book is a gift, a map and a necessity, relevant for every reader who wants to understand their own time. — Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

It’s no secret that Black people are subject to the cumulative effects of systemic racism. But Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin walks us through the inevitable consequences of living in a racist country on our bodies, our environments, and our healthcare system. The cultural manifestations of the physical and psychological traumas affecting Black People alter or distort all our lives. Those of us who understand that structural violence has physical ramifications will be in debt to Under the Skin. I am grateful for the arrival of this book. It is a relief to have the truth of racialized trauma exposed in such cogent, undeniable writing and with such genius analysis. This is journalism at its finest. If you read one book this year, let it be this one.  — Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen

In Under the Skin, Linda Villarosa has written a book that will transform how you understand the relationship between race and medicine, one that makes clear the connection between our history and our health. This is a book filled with indispensable research, but also filled with humanity. Villarosa tells us important stories, and also becomes part of the story herself. I’m so glad this book exists, I will be thinking about it for a long time.  — Clint Smith, author of How the Word Is Passed

Black Hands White House: Slave Labor and the Making of America Renee K. Harrison (Fortress Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I promised that this list will suggest only the most interesting, well-written, illuminating works of serious nonfiction. I have not spent as much time with this as I need to, but I will say that it is heavy, if not daunting.  At 375 pages it is a hefty (and well made) volume. As Fortress likes to say, it is “scholarship that matters.” Indeed.

One can only take so much horrible data but the facts in Black Hands White House are urgent to know and, in Renee Harrison’s good hands, the story is told with care and insight. Georgetown University historian Terrence Johnson said she writes with “clarity, precision, and agility.” And, yes, there is stuff about a “hermeneutical shift in the nation’s origin story” so it isn’t simplistic or simple. Still, it offers the sort of research that Bill McKibben’s The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon implores us to explore. It is a major academic work  — how long did it take her to learn all this? — so many of our most meaningful public and civic spaces were built from “the stolen days, and cemented by the stolen sweat, of enslaved African Americans.” It explores the building of the White House and the Capitol building as well as Jefferson Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon and other federal sites and memorials.

As Edward Baptist (of Cornell University and author of the seminal The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism) says, “Harrison shows us that the presence of enslaved labor at the heart of the United States tells us truths that we must confront with honesty, and with the commitment to repair. 

Part of the repair she calls for is a specific proposal for some national monument on the National Mall about this. As the publisher explains, “Given the enslaved community’s contribution to the US, this work questions the absence of memorials on the National Mall that honor enslaved, Black-bodied people. Harrison argues that such monuments are necessary to redress the nation’s role in forced migration, violent subjugation, and free labor. The erection of monuments commissioned by the US government would publicly demonstrate the government’s admission of the US’s historical role in slavery and human-harm.

Dr. Harrison, who is a professor of US religious history at Howard University, opens the book with a story of a “walkabout” as she calls it. What a good story comes from it! 

A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel William Edgar (IVP) $24.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I hesitated to list this one here for one main reason: it arrived a few hours ago and I haven’t had a chance to look at it for more than a few minutes. But, believe me, I’m excited. Even if you don’t listen a lot to the classic sounds of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, or Louis Armstrong — let alone modern jazz — this book is going to be a thrill and an education.

I don’t want to give the impression that, like some titles here, it is a scholarly tome. It isn’t on the IVP Academic imprint and is written for a general audience, by a music historian, theologian, popular culture scholar, and — yes! — a real jazzman. Professor Edgar has played piano in a jazz ensemble for years, and has from time to time done a stunning show which incorporates classic black music — old blues, early jazz and ragtime, and gospel — even as he lectures on the topics that finally have now made their way into a book. We’ve been waiting for years for this great contribution to the ongoing conversation about faith and culture.

Bill knows more about black music history than most and has pieced it together within a thoughtful Christian framework more wisely and astutely than anyone. As many have noted, he knows it because he has studied it as a scholar, he’s lived it — and the gospel of racial reconciliation — as a follower of Christ, and he’s lived it, man, as a real jazz player, hot musician, an artist. He gets it.

This marevlous book will need to be more carefully reviewed. For now, be the first in your circles to learn this stuff — we have it at 20% off, too.  Oh yeah!

Here are three blurbs on the back from there people who, if you know anything about the serious engagement of Christian faith and the arts and music, you know this is remarkable. Wow.

In my musician mind there has always been a deep connection between jazz, musical improvisation, and the disciple life. To risk the creation of improvised music armed with only imagination and talent is to dive right in to the center of grace. It’s in the grace of God through Jesus that the musician finds peace, receives love that casts out fear, and learns to trust the reconciling power of the gospel to turn every misspent note into a glorious tool of orchestration. I simply don’t know of any contemporary who has mined this field more than Bill Edgar. With A Supreme Love, the gifted Dr. Edgar invites all readers from every vocation to experience what he’s known and taught for decades now: Jesus and jazz are inextricably linked. — Charlie Peacock, Grammy Award-winning music producer and founder of the commercial music program at Lipscomb University

For many years, Bill Edgar has been a leading figure in the music and theology world. Here he shows how deeply intertwined jazz is with the Christian gospel. But not only does he have an impressive grasp of his subject, he is a practitioner par excellence. This double qualification means that anything he writes deserves to be listened to with special care. –Jeremy Begbie, Duke University, author of Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music

Jazz pianist Professor Edgar shows convincingly how jazz is rooted in the African American Black experience of daily persecuted suffering and Sunday jubilation. The biblical faith of spirituals and the psalm-like lament of blues constitute the very fiber of jazz. That is why jazz music can move from expressing deep misery to ending with sounds of inextinguishable joy. This well-written book has verve, is effortlessly informed, and offers a treasury of websites and books for anyone who wishes to understand and enjoy the gift of jazz. — Calvin Seerveld, professor emeritus of philosophical aesthetics at the Toronto Institute for Christian Studies. author of Rainbows for the Fallen World

The History of Contemporary Praise and Worship: Understanding the Ideas That Reshaped the Protestant Church  Lester Ruth & Lim Sweet Hong (Baker Academic) $44.99            OUR SALE PRICE = $35.99

This was released near the end of last year and I quickly listed it as one of the Best Books of 2021. I think I’ll share bit of what I wrote then about it:

I have had a few intellectual mentors even if I suspect they’d say that wasn’t so, as I didn’t offer them the rapt attention they deserved. One was a Dutch neo-Calvinist that studied philosophy under Herman Dooyeweerd in Amsterdam; another was R.C. Sproul, then a youngish “old Princeton” Calvinist who was, to my ears, just about the smartest person I ever met. I had a college prof who was important to me — he taught geography and I was surprisingly captivated. Each of them said, emphatically, that whenever one is seriously approaching a topic it is important to study the history and development of that topic. To have true insight and a solid analysis of something going on, one must know the context, which includes the rise and influence of the ideas and forces that shaped it. We don’t sell many books on the history of this or that here at the store, but when I notice an astute one, my heart pounds a little.

My heart pounded alot when I heard about this, even more when I first saw it earlier this year — a solid, serious hardback. And then I sighed, worried that those who need this most, to understand the background and history of contemporary praise and worship as it is often understood (by those who approve and those who do not) and practice it, will be unlikely to shell out this much for a complex, if exciting, account of this topic as it developed in the past 50 some years or so.

It is simply astonishing that a book like this, rich and wise and detailed and interesting, has not yet been done. (And there are some that attempt this, or that do it in bits and pieces. These two authors, in fact, have a rough guide from about five years ago called Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship that was published by Abingdon Press.)

A History of Contemporary Praise and Worship, in all 345 pages, does what no book has done and we commend it heartily. As my old influencers said, knowing the history of things that have reshaped our world, for better or for worse, is the first major step of being wise. The book is, by all accounts, the most comprehensive account yet given of the history of the development of “the liturgical forms that reshaped the landscape of Christian worship.”

The story is fascinating, starting in 1946 and quickly moving into the era 1965 – 1985. The two largest units are on “praise and worship” and “contemporary worship” and the final section explored the late 1990’s “new normal” and the confluence of the two.

Lester Ruth got his PhD from the University of Notre Dame and is now a research professor of Christian Worship at Duke Divinity School. Lim See Hong, who is native to Singapore is a Professor of Sacred Music at Emmanuel College of Victoria University at the University of Toronto.They are both astute, Godly, lively scholars and practitioners who care about the health of God’s diverse people in Christ’s diverse church.

Listen to Melanie Ross, who grew up in an evangelical church doing music ministry and now teaches liturgics at Yale Divinity School; she has written books comparing and contrasting the liturgy, music, and worship in several nondenominational/free churches and higher-liturgical congregations. She knows much about all of this and she extols the book, saying:

The story of contemporary praise & worship is fascinating and complex, and Ruth and Lim follow its twists and turns with historical precision, theological sophistication, and wondrous clarity. This book is a remarkable achievement. It will remain the standard work of reference on evangelical and Pentecostal worship for years to come.

And listen carefully to John Witvliet of the beloved Calvin Institute on Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, who is always worth listening to:

What a remarkably rich and thought-provoking account of the people and the convictions that have directly or indirectly shaped the worship practices of millions of Christians in several quite different traditions. Those who remember the people or events described here may well be astonished to see the contours of the larger story in which they played a part. This is a book that will help us slow down and listen attentively, a crucial task for anyone who is called to discern the nature of vital, faithful worship practices in the years to come, including Christians from traditions that seem at first not to be influenced by the worlds described here.

The Plateau Maggie Paxson (Riverhead Books) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This book got lost in the pandemic quarantine seasons and I am sure if we were out at events, or had browsers in our Dallastown shop, we’d have sold a few. It is beautifully written, and a compelling story, very informative and, in the words of one back cover blurb, is “exquisite, excruciating, fearless – a book not only for these times, when our need for understanding is so great, but for all times. A masterpiece.”

You see, this woman takes us on her own “wondrous, probing journey” in search of kindness and where and how it happens. (She is a professional anthropologist and knows well the vast amount of research done on war and violence and conflict; she tires of it, wondering why there isn’t more research on where and why goodness appears.) The book ends up revisiting a story and following the later generations) that was once told in Philip Hallie’s unforgettable Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There. In that book, Hallie makes his way to Le Chambon and discovers the church pastored by Andre Trocme and his wife, and how they welcomed and protected Jews during the Nazi holocaust. How did this Reformed pastor come to teach nonviolence and resistance to evil and how did the people in this common village respond as they did, putting their own lives above others?

Maggie Paxson takes us to Le Chambon today, wondering how the grandchildren of those who resisted Hitler are faring today. The answer? Today they are offering hospitality to the influx of refugees and immigrants in Europe and, again, standing for goodness. As did their grandparents and, we find out, as did those in this French area centuries before (even resisting the Crusades!)  The Plateau is a less religious story that Hallie’s was, but the legacy of the Trocme family has somehow endured. This is a book that some have said has “effected me in ways few books ever have.” Highly recommended. 

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation     Imani Perry (Ecco Press) $28.99                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Like other titles on this list this is what some call narrative nonfiction, written somewhat as a memoir or autobiographical sketch, reporting and ruminating from various trips taken to the American Southland, with lots to observe, lots to learn, much to appreciate, and even more to ponder. Written by a passionate and powerful black author, we are taught much, even as she observes and teaches so much. From her explorations of West Virginia Appalachia to how the enslaved found safe haven in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina (and how archeologist are still finding artifacts and tools from this generational, unnoticed community) to her curiosity about whether DC, or even Maryland, is really “the south” and then her journeys to the very deep South, we are brought along on a passionate, slow, jaunt. Her teaching about HBCU while visiting Howard is fabulous. Her writing about Annapolis is brilliant. I still have a few chapters to go — there is great depth of insight here, historical tangents, luminous prose, so I am going slowly, one chapter a night… One the face of it South to America is a really well-written travelogue; another reviewer said it is a “tour-de-force reckoning.”

For what it is worth, you will really appreciate this if you have read Lisa Sharon Harper’s important Fortune. There are even some overlaps with that narrative as Ms. Perry wonders with such longing and passion, about her old enslaved relatives from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Importantly, it seems like she is flipping the script, as they say, subverting the notion that there is just one or two primary views or archetypes of the South. It is amazing, teaching us so very, very much.

Please read and ponder these thoughtful endorsements from various reviewers:

Any attempt to classify this ambitious work, which straddles genre, kicks down the fourth wall, dances with poetry, engages with literary criticism and flits from journalism to memoir to academic writing–well, that’s a fool’s errand and only undermines this insightful, ambitious and moving project…. An essential meditation on the South, its relationship to American culture–even Americanness itself…. This work — and I use the term for both Perry’s labor and its fruit — is determined to provoke a return to the other legacy of the South, the ever-urgent struggle toward freedom. — Tayari Jones, The New York Times Book Review

Provocative, perspective-shifting…. Rendered in exquisite detail…. In this vibrant, revelatory book, Perry proves herself to be a radiant storyteller…like Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Nina Simone before her. — Oprah Daily

Perry is deft and disciplined, her efforts to situate the beauty, oddity, and terror that mark southern life are critical and compelling. As a travel writer, she embraces detours with an eye toward discovery…. Perry asks what it means to be tied to a ‘land of big dreams and bigger lies’ when one is committed to the pursuit of a truth that bursts the nation at its seams. — Vulture

South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read. — Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

Fulfillment: America in the Shadow of Amazon Alec MacGillis (Picador) $18.00                              OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

This is another one of these immersive journalistic stories that takes you all over the country, into the histories and backgrounds of places as different as small towns in Texas to the most posh neighborhoods of DC, from the crisp boardrooms of tech startups in the Silicon Valley to the industrial grim of hard working union guys in the huge Bethlehem Steel plant in Fells Point, outside of Baltimore (now an Amazon warehouse.) The local color is spectacularly rendered in Fulfillment and readers will be drawn into the cultures, economies, ups and downs, hopes and dreams, of various sorts of people – rich, poor, successful, forlorn, upbeat and angry – in various regions of the country. All revolve around and come back to (eventually, even if you have to hang in there a bit to see the connections, like an unfolding mystery novel or cop show) the shift to a one-click, on-line, faceless, automatized, mass market economy that has shifted the fabric of our lives and, almost always, has Jeff Bezos and Amazon at its center. 

For instance, there is a fascinating section – perhaps a bit nostalgic for anyone older than 25 and certainly interesting for almost anyone who has shopped anyway other than online –  about the rise of department stores and the segue to shopping centers and the eventual development of malls. (Remember malls?) MacGillis grounds his big picture analysis always in a place, and I was jumping out of my chair and yelling to Beth to “come listen to this!” when I realized he has a whole chapter about various businesses and the several malls in York, PA. He talked about our Queensgate Shopping Center, four miles from us, for crying out loud, and explored the rise of central PA shopping centers and retailers (Boscovs! The Bon Ton!) I don’t have to explain that the takeover of nearly everything by Amazon has contributed directly to the demise of real retail stores and the disruption of local economies and ruin of whole industries and locales and livelihoods. That they get gigantic tax breaks and are paid by municipalities and state and federal grants to open their grueling warehouses is well known although few crunch the numbers to show how Bezos et al our laughing their way to the banks, making a killing taxpayers expense.

MacGillis studies these things always using the structure/genre of reporting from the field, from real places. From the Latino businesses in Texas that specialize in business paper supplies to our central Pennsylvania clothing retailers to certain towns – all over – that have become shipping hubs and interstate trucking spots, to the posh Amazon lobbying offices in DC, Fulfillment offers remarkable glimpses into 21century life in these United States, in this economy, in these days. It is (as the New York Times Book Review put it) “Deeply humanizing… a picture of contemporary America.” I couldn’t put this down and it gave me many hours of fabulous reading. Highly recommended.

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains Kerri Arsenault (St. Martin’s Griffin) $17.99                       OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I admit to not realizing or thinking about how Maine is one of the primary locations for the dangerous logging industry and I admit I came to learn this when I read Dopesick, the riveting book about opioids, addiction, and the new century heroin crisis. Part of that powerful nonfiction study was made into the award-winning Netflix show by the same name. As the TV show and the book document, the Sackler company that aggressively marketed OxyContin firstly in two places where the people were often injured at work but had to keep working: coal miners in Appalachian West Virginia and loggers in Maine. And, naturally, in the nearby paper-mills.

This stunning read is called Mill Town but it is not quite like other books on steel mills and rustbelt plants and those working in the fading industrial factories. It is about a paper-mill in the working-class town of Mexico, Maine.

Mill Town is written with great affection, as the best exposes must be, and a “vividly human personal narrative uncovering a heartbreaking story that could be told in countless American towns, along countless American rivers.” There is pollution, there are cancer clusters. Some readers will wonder if there would be an Erin Brockovich type character. This reckoning is not that simple but it offers a remarkable tribute to a place that the author so loves. And we learn a lot in the meantime. This really is narrative nonfiction at its finest.

Mill Town is the book of a lifetime; a deep-drilling, quick-moving, heartbreaking story. Scathing and tender, it lifts often into poetry, but comes down hard when it must. Through it all runs the river: sluggish, ancient, dangerous, freighted with America’s sins. —Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

Part beautiful memoir and regional history, part investigative journalism, part environmental diatribe countered by a poetic ode to place. In short, it’s a fraught love letter to that fragile American entity, the small, rural, working-class town….Arsenault’s prose shines…She has done immense and important research and delivered an engaging tale that deserves a close read.” — Stephanie Hunt, The Post and Courier (Charleston)

Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest Jimmie R. Hawkins (WJK) $30.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

When a book is touted as having “astonishing ambition richly fulfilled” (and the person who wrote that line is the excellent writer Timothy Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name) you know you have to notice. Having grown up with that black-gloved hand raised at the 68 Olympics, with the disastrous but understandable revolt inside Attica (about which there is a huge and hugely informative book called ), and having learned early on that the Black Panthers did much good in their community before their gun-toting public image distorted the nature of their primary work, I  have long wanted a book about this topic, placing black protests and revolts and uprisings in a broader, organized history, and this book seems to do what no other book I know does. 

From slave revolts to Jim Crow-era resistance, from CORE to SNCC to William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign to various iterations of BLM, there is a rich and fascinating and important history of black protest.

This is the best volume on the subject, just published, written by the Director of the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA.) He is ordained in the PC(USA) so we are particularly proud to recommend this seemingly comprehensive chronicle of 500 years of outrage, organizing, and bearing witness to the hope for a better world.

What Your Food Ate: How To Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health David R. Mongomery & Anne Bikle (Norton) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

There are so many books explaining the need for and showing how we can reform our agricultural systems that it is hard to keep up. There are arcane academic ones, lovely inspiring ones, some with forwards by the likes of Wendell Berry, others with endorsements by high-end restaurateurs. From wise, outspoken foodies like Alice Waters and Dan Barber to food producers like Joel Salatin or Norman Wirzba and farmer activists like Gary Paul Nabhan (Jesus for Farmers and Fishers) there is so much.

We think this brand new one should be on any good shelf of these sorts of vital books. It is, granted, mostly about the kind of soil in which our food grows, so it is, as the subtitle suggests, about the relationship of land (literally) and our health.  But it isn’t just for agronomists. Paul Hawken says it is sure to become a classic and Emeran Mayer (author of The Mind Gut Connections) says it is “authoritative, informative and entertaining.” When a book can be eye-opening and called “stunningly good” we figured it’s one you should know about.

Dave Chapman, cofounder of the impressive Real Organic Project, says the old adage, “eat whole foods from healthy soil” is still essential. “This book,” he says, “gives us a riveting expose on why that is true.”

Gabe Brown, who wrote another great book we’ve carried, From Dirt to Soil, says  What Your Food Ate is “a must-read for farmers, ranchers, eaters, and scientists.” Okay, then.

The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America Michelle Wilde Anderson (Avid Reader Press) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00 

This may be a bit more scholarly than some are used to when thinking about civic engagement and social concern and the common good. It is not a handbook to activism or a guide to getting involved. But yet, it repays the time taken to work through it, I am sure, with deeper sensibilities about citizenship, about localism, about lifting up what is nearly a blueprint for reform. 

The author of The Fight to Save the Town is an esteemed and well loved professor at Stanford Law School. She has written widely in law journals and in the thoughtful popular press. Her area of research in this book, or at least what drew her into the topic, is how “decades of cuts to local government amid rising concentrations of poverty have wreaked havoc on communities left behind by the modern economy. Forty years after the anti-tax revolution began protecting the wealthy taxpayers and their cities, our high-poverty cities and counties have run out of services to slash, properties to see, bills to defer, and risky loans to take.”

Some discarded places, she reminds us, are rural. Others are big cities or small cities or historic suburbs. “Some vote blue, others red. Some are them are the most diverse communities in America, while others are nearly all white, all Latino, or all Black. All are routinely trashed by outsiders for their poverty and their politics. Mostly, their governments are just broke.” 

This book offers a “unsparing, humanistic portrait” of the hardships left behind in four such places. But the four cities (Stockton, California, Josephine County, Oregon, Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Detroit, Michigan) are all doing things to help their places rebound. This, finally, is a story of good news, fresh thinking, positive models.  Matthew Desmond (author of the extraordinary Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City) says of the blueprint for reform, “This book pierced means left me inspired.”  Even Alec MacGillis (author of the above mentioned Fulfillment) says it is written with “empathy, analytical acuity, and highly readable prose.” 

Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and The Long Journey Home Lauren Kessler (Source Books) $26.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59 

I opened this at random and started skimming a few pages and it was simply captivating. It is immersion journalism and very urgent about real lives, but it seems, then, there is an emerging pattern, a bigger picture, an insightful vision written “with clarity and heart”  showing that we can work for real transformation for those who have been incarcerated and need to make a fresh start once they get out. The six lives this book tells us of just six of thousands that could be told. Anyone who knows anyone who has had a hard time with “reentry” into the mainstream culture after time incarcerated knows how very complicated and important this kind of resource could be. 

Alex Kotlowitz, the respected and caring journalist who has written such poignant, powerful stuff, says it is written with “tenderness and empathy.” 

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimaging Chronic Illness Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead Books) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Since many of us know a bit about this topic of chronic pain and chronic illness (and now with long-haul Covid a reality among so many of us) we are committed to bringing important books on this topic into our store. We raved about the must-read story The Deep Places by Ross Douthat, about Lyme disease but so much more. We truly value those who tell their stories and tell them well.

The Invisible Kingdom is a book about this near silent epidemic of sufferers of a different tone and caliber. It is on the illustrious Riverhead imprint indicating, for starters, that it is serious and literary (if not exactly academic.) It is an account of her illness and is what one reviewer called a page-turner. There is beautiful writing and cutting edge science. Cathy Park Hong, author of the amazing Minor Feeling) says it is written with “poetic acuity.” Hong continues, “O’Rourke gives language to pain that eludes diagnosis. Bound to help countless patients overlooked by the medical industry, The Invisible Kingdom is also an astonishing must-read for anyone interested in how illness and suffering irrevocably change our sense of selfhood.”

Various reviewers have used superlatives, some saying that it is urgent, beautifully written, brilliant, and crucial. It is exactly this sort of serious, intelligent and important book we love to suggest for your reading.

In this elegant fusion of memoir, reporting, and cultural history, O’Rourke traces the development of modern Western medicine and takes aim at its limitations, advocating for a community-centric healthcare model that treats patients as people, not parts. At once a rigorous work of scholarship and a radical act of empathy, The Invisible Kingdom has the power to move mountains.  –Esquire

The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower  Michael Mandelbaum (Oxford University Press) $34.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.96

One of the interesting things about university presses like Oxford’s is that their books are first vetted with peer-reviewed to assure the reliability and academic significance of their scholarship. It is one of the reasons texts from scholarly presses are so expensive.  Well, this work by this scholar would be recognized around the English speaking world and, at just over 600 pages, the book could be a lot of pricey. It is a book that surely deserves to be on any list of significant, well written, remarkable, recent nonfiction books.

Dr. Mandelbaum is a esteemed professor and scholar at Johns Hopkins and has published numerous highly regarded work. He has his distractors, of course, but even those who may not fully agree with his often provocative theses, respect him and remark on how important his books are.  This one, which I’ve been eyeing up for months, now, is surely one of his most acclaimed.  It has been called a sweeping masterpiece, elegant, accessible, readable. In this day and age of course it is something we must more deeply understand and grappled with. People of Christian faith will want to bring a certain sort of ethical framework to the study, of course, but this looks to be, in Susan Eisenhower’s estimation, “invaluable.”

Just listen to these impressive recommendations. Of course we want to suggest it our customers!

Michael Mandelbaum’s new book is a masterpiece. I am often asked what is the best single book to read to understand the grand sweep and history of American foreign policy, and I will now say that it is this book. Mandelbaum uniquely combines the depth and knowledge of the best historians and the breadth and imagination of the best political scientists. His organizing paradigm of the great ascent of America through its four successive ages of increasing power–coming at the end of that ascent and at the beginning of a new age of diminished power–should be fundamental and invaluable to future scholars, policy analysts, and concerned citizens. — James Kurth, Claude Smith Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Swarthmore College

The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy is a masterwork — a defining contribution to the most critical international debate of our time. It is essential for anyone concerned about world affairs. Mandelbäum’s analysis contains unique perspectives and new insights for understanding America’s role in today’s turbulent era. A profound searchlight on the past and a guidepost for the future, it combines rare scholarship with lucid relevance. Vital for both general readers and professionals. — Ralph Buultjens, Former Nehru Professor, University of Cambridge;  New York University

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“The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon” by Bill McKibben – ON SALE NOW at Hearts & Minds

I often say that one of the great joys of reading nonfiction is finding those books that are so educational and informative (making it well worth the investment of time and money) and so well written and engaging that they can also happily be called entertaining. Of course, a book doesn’t have to be funny to be considered entertainment, but the reading has to be nearly effortless, the writing so pleasant or curious or artful that it is not only intellectually enriching but fun. There are plenty of books like this — some of them quite serious, but just so compelling that they are page-turners, as riveting as any good mystery novel.

Memoirs are a genre that sort of cheats at this as they are not attempting (I don’t think) to instruct much and can be written as playfully or as luminously as the author can manage.  I learned a lot about Marsh’s life and passions and gained good insight about our times by reading his excellently written Evangelical Anxiety, for instance, but as intensely true as it was, as a memoir, it wasn’t didactic. The reading experience of taking up a memoir, or really good historical writing, can feel like fiction.

Investigative reporting or polemical studies can be righteous and yet dry; they can be vividly written and wrong. The sweet spot is when a book is hard to put down because you want to learn more and more, and that is often because the author explains things with such color and zest that it is a blast being schooled. Praise the Lord for authors who can be educational and artful, informative and colorful, true and gracious. These are the books that, finally, are less about data and facts but about shaping our worldviews. Reading a book like that leaves you changed for good. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Just think of the popularity and respect of esteemed works like Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer or Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth by Deborah Rienstra. Think of the captivating writing in Bryan Stevenson’s page-turn Just Mercy or the unforgettable All That She Carried by Tiya Miles or the Pulitzer Prize winning study of fracking in two small Western Pennsylvania towns, Amity and Prosperity by the great Eliza Griswold. I couldn’t put down the very thick Dopesick (Beth Macy) or the very thick Soul Full of Coal Dust (Chris Hamby) and I am still gob smacked by the eloquent prose in the brilliant collection of essays Thin Places by Jordan Kisner which is one of my favorite books of recent years. Curt Thompson can write about faith and neuroscience as if our souls depend on it. Len Sweet has more clever wit per page than any serious author I know. I’ve often shared the joy I find in the writing of Michael Eric Dyson, black-preacher-sociologist that he is. As I will say again shortly, I think James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere are on the short list of the books that most entertained and influenced me. Like Calvin Seerveld’s dense and artful Rainbows for the Fallen World I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t read them and loved them so.

Whoa, sorry about all that; I couldn’t help myself. It’s hard to stop once I start listing wonderful books that deliver education and joy; good insight and good writing, gravitas with an aesthetic touch. I suppose I don’t have to convince you of this; you know what I’m talking about.

I would like to tell you about a book that I easily put in this category. It is about very important stuff, but conveyed in a pleasant and engaging way, teaching us much in only about 200 trim- sized pages. I suppose I kept turning the pages because I agreed with the author but even when I knew little about what he was writing about, I was captivated. I think this author is a modern hero, a fine, clear, writer, and his story is one I truly want to recommend to our Hearts & Minds friends and fans. Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce Bill McKibben of Middlebury, Vermont. I think the first book I read of his was the fascinating Age of Missing Information which contrasted a weekend spent with over 100 cable TV channels and a weekend of solitude in the woods; his most enjoyable was the tremendous Oil and Honey, about his activism against climate change and his rejuvenating retreat by learning about bees and beekeeping. His new, quite enjoyable, hugely important, quasi-memoir is The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened. Oh my, what a read.

The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened  Bill McKibben (Holt) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

The format of this memoir is, obviously, in three big parts. But first, why do I say “quasi-memoir”? I’ll leave aside if that is even a word, but the point is made clear in the beginning when McKibben wryly notes that the best memoirs have drama and adventure and pathos and since he grew up in a pretty ordinary, middle-class, stable family, was dealt a good hand and has had a fairly uninteresting life, his memoir, such as it is, is going to be more social history than gut-wrenching autobiography.

McKibben is a prolific author of great renown, actually, and he not only is a professor of note at Middlebury College in Vermont but has founded several environmental organizations. He has travelled the world. His campaigns to do MLK-type mass civil disobedience to try to stop dangerously polluting pipelines and his mobilizing even against the Obama White House is, frankly, quite thrilling and would be, for most, drama enough for several lifetimes, so he’s being a bit demure in suggesting that his life doesn’t have enough angst for a full-on memoir.  Maybe that will come later.

For now, though, he uses this storytelling format of recalling moments and eras of his life as a window to see other, bigger things. He has an agenda and it is to illuminate much about the last fifty years of US history and how patriotism, religion, and our consumerist way of life (rooted as we are in suburbs and automobiles) have shaped our culture and the world’s climate, how these things have themselves changed in recent decades, and need now to be reimagined and refined if we are going to rise to the occasion of being faithful in this day and age. That he is finally getting at how to more urgently and effectively mobilize to lower our carbon output and mitigate the disastrous climate change (of which he is an expert) should not surprise anyone who knows him. That he would do so with antidote and charm and a lovely survey of his own patriotism and faith, while not exactly surprising, is a writerly delight and makes for one tremendous book. I am not alone in suggesting this may be his best book yet. (And I’ve got The Bill McKibben Reader by my bedside!)

“Bill McKibben has written a great American memoir, using the prism of his own life to reflect on the most important dynamics in our society. Bill McKibben’s writing is poignant, engrossing and revealing. His message is a clarion call for a generation to understand what happened to their American Dream, and to fight for our common future.”  — Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us: How Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

THE FLAG

This is a fabulous couple of breezy chapters – not long — where McKibben shares his own passion for US history, especially colonial history. You see, he grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and worked as a teen as one of those New England historical interpreters, wearing his tricorn hat and waxing eloquent about the shot heard round the world and the nearby Battle of Bunker Hill and Paul Revere’s famous ride. He knows that stuff cold and his retelling of it is vital, and with enough local color and backstory to make it captivating. In memoir fashion, he is telling us of his telling of it (a standard colonial-era joke, playing the board game Risk while waiting for the next crowd to arrive, his “half hour spiel” to “maybe one family with a couple of bored teenagers, maybe an entire bus of Japanese tourists” and holding out that hat” to collect tips, which was his summer job pay.) This respected scholar and activist-leader and New Yorker writer who is known around the world was a pimply faced kid wearing that three-sided cap and earning tips by sharing his passion for the great US revolution. I loved it, hearing of his love for our country and its founding story.

As McKibben puts it, “I came by my patriotism honestly.” He writes about the account the guides would deliver and the lasting influence of the basic importance of the story,

It was a clean and brave story, and, as I say, it has informed me ever since. The valor of standing up to unjust and arbitrary power seemed to me its clear and obvious moral. Indeed in the years that followed, as I read more deeply in American history, the importance of that stand sank further in.

I want to talk about that – to tell how and why the Revolution came to seem so important to me. I want to draw the picture in as bold lines as possible. Because soon enough the picture is going to get much more shaded, much less noble. But not quite yet.

Here it gets even more interesting and provides good instruction for many of us. He tells briefly about the important work of the 1619 Project and what new insights it brings to our understanding of our nation’s early history. He is embarrassed that his teenage job holding forth about the revolutionary years in Lexington didn’t have him telling the truth about the indigenous people nor the role of enslaved people (or black freemen like Crispus Attucks, say.) He ponders which is worse, that they knowingly ignored the unpleasant fact or if they just didn’t think to include them – an example of the generous but candid self-awareness that gives this book much of its appeal.  That is, it is neither a white wash or a diatribe. It’s just a good man trying to say what he’s learned to be true and ponder its significance for us all today in our own cultural moment.

It is, as I’ve implied, earnest and fair and wise. Terry Tempest Williams (whose most recent, luminous writings are collected in Erosion: Essays of Undoing) described McKibben as an “everyday hero” and says the book is plainspoken, direct, and conversational. His candid and well-informed critique of the right-wing pushback against the 1619 Project is worth the price of the book; it is not overly zealous and it is not unfair. But on just a few pages and with a few key examples he shows why we need the insights of black and native peoples and why their stories need to be part of our national story. I’ve read a bit on the controversy and think McKibben is sensible and right; I’m surprised that some writers I respect have fretted about the Project – I just don’t get it, and so appreciated McKibben’s sensible generosity.  It is interesting how he gets a bit passionate and names what needs to be named, but comes back to the memories of his own early patriotism formed there in the Lexington Green.

(There is one paragraph unlocking a racially-consequential line in the famous poem about Paul Revere that will take your breath away if you do not know about it; I did not, and McKibben’s discovery is stunning.)

I do not know if this will be so, but Rep. Jamie Raskin has said that if we survive the “interlocking plagues of climate change, right-wing authoritarianism, and savage inequality” our future generations will – get this! – “utter the name of the New England moral visionary and activist Bill McKibben with the reverence with which we speak of Emerson, Thoreau, and Garrison.” Whew! In any case, this “graying American” looking back to figure out how the boomers and his 70s generation went astray is a great study. That it starts in his youth in Lexington, Massachusetts, is perfect.

There is a pivotal event that happened in the town when he was a kid and I won’t spoil the show by saying anything about it, but I want to say for the record that I so admire his parents and was very glad for this fascinating glimpse into small town New England politics in the late 1960s. Kudos to local historians and small town storytellers who write booklets and make tapes and keep records and oral accounts alive in local libraries and historical societies. McKibben comes back to this episode throughout the book, but I don’t want to ruin it by saying more.

There is a part that explains, too, about the economic realities that emerged from our troubling history of white privilege. Books like Richard Rothstein’s must-read The Color of Law, Dorothy Brown’s scholarly treatise The Whiteness of Wealth, Randall Robinson’s The Debt and Ta- Nehisiha Coates’s stunning 2014 call for reparations are mentioned and it becomes clear that McKibben’s commitments to the flag, seen in his telling of his pride in raising Old Glory with his Boy Scout troop – a lovely paragraph that made me smile — are now deeply tied to true truths about economic injustice stemming from a history of institutional racism. What the hell happened? This book explains it as clearly and succinctly as any I’ve read.

I needn’t say much more about his early formation as a proud, if now sobered, US citizen but I will note this: I can’t wait to read the soon-to-be-released Richard Mouw book coming in a few weeks from IVP on a rightly ordered love of country called How to Be a Patriotic Christian; I like and trust Rich Mouw a lot and will assume he and McKibben will have much in common in wanting to restore a glad sense of patriotism even as we know deeply the horrible aspects of our original sins. (Mouw’s subtitle is suggestive: “Love of Country as Love of Neighbor.” It is $17.00 but at our BookNotes 20% OFF sale price it’s just $13.60 — you should pre-order it now!)  Look: I’m inclined to protest, or, these days, at least compliment those who do, when things go haywire. But the sort of honest lament McKibben names about our sinfulness doesn’t mean we cannot affirm the good ideas and good things that emerged from our founding as a nation. McKibben’s reflections on the flag and proper patriotism are solid and, I think, very important.

THE CROSS

Beth and I were thrilled even by the first page or so of this section where McKibben describes the character and tone of his youth group (often held in “fellowship hall”) and church camp and mission/service trip and endlessly singing songs like “Kum Ba Yah” and “Day by Day” from Godspell. (Does anybody out there remember “Pass It On”?) These were the early and mid-1970s and kids didn’t sing “praise and worship” songs like they do today. His testimony of the value of his UCC church was as wonderful to read as, well, some of the scenes in Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads novel that I devoured last summer. His earnest mainline faith, his reading of the gospels, his telling of his own faith journey is simply delightful.

Those that have followed the nature writer, environmentalist, anti-global warming activist, and social critic, have known of his faith. He writes for Sojo and had a book published years ago (on Job, actually) by the prominent religious publisher Eerdmans out of Grand Rapids. But to hear him talk about his Sunday school teachers and his spiritual concerns as a young adult is terrific and encouraging. Importantly, his description is not offered only for the purpose of literary memoir but to make an observation, to testify, about the positive formative nature of much mainline Protestantism and the social ethic that emerged from this broad, non-fundamentalist youth ministry which so influenced him. In fact, this piece is, in many ways, a eulogy for a certain sort of healthy civil religion that allowed mainline Protestant public intellectuals (from Reinhold Niebuhr, say, to Martin Luther King to Dorothy Day) to have influence over the discourse and values of American culture.

I might want to push back in conversation about his take on mainline Protestantism although, given his framing of it – in the 60s we had Tillich and Barth and King and the brilliant William Sloan Coffin as public representatives of Jesus and in more recent times we have had the Jerry Falwells, Franklin Graham, and Trump sycophants that seem to care little for the Bible or Jesus – it is hard to argue. Hipster evangelicals mock “Kum Ba Yah” (as did Donald Trump, for that matter) but if singing that around the church camp campfire gave us the likes of Bill McKibben, I’ll take it.

McKibben is earnest, also, about his college years and it is a great grace that he sought out thoughtful Christian leaders while a student at Harvard. He is never proud or smug about this but it is clear that he was mentored, in part, by the black, Republican (and gay) preacher there, Peter Gomes. McKibben is nearly evangelistic when he wishes others would read Rev. Gomes’s book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?

There is little doubt that Christianity has been a hugely important influence, for better or worse, in both forming and fraying our social fabric in the last few decades. No social commentator can ignore the role of faith communities, or what we sometimes called “the religious landscape.” It is helpful that McKibben here shares both personally and more broadly, about his sense of how the Christian faith ought to be an influence for the common good. It is all so very interesting, informative and at times beautiful.

As in the previous section, he refrains from academic footnotes, but there is a fabulously interesting essay about sources and book recommendations in a final epilogue. His passion for early US history is evident and his suggestions there offer a year’s worth of reading, at least, starting, not least, with the important work of Gordon Wood (for instance, his early The Radicalism of the American Revolution.)

For the section “The Cross” he thanks his friend Diana Butler Bass (a fine church historian and contemporary writer who I mention often in BookNotes) and he commends her on-line newsletter “The Cottage.” He names the magisterial collection, The Future of Mainline Protestantism in American, edited by James Hudnut-Beumler and Mark Silk,  the fabulous edited IVP volume by Mark Labberton called Still Evangelical? and he highly recommends Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. I was glad to see that he pointed readers to Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s must-read Jesus and John Wayne — again, a book that we very, very highly recommend.

 THE STATION WAGON

I suppose it makes sense that McKibben uses the station wagon – indeed, one that his family owned and for which he has great affection to this day – as a symbol of the consumerism and social inequity caused by the rise of the American suburbs. I mentioned the rowdy critique of the ugliness and ecological harms of suburbia described with such wit and zeal by James Howard Kuenstler and McKibben stands in his tradition, I suppose, without any of his cynicism or rudeness. (I kept wishing for a quote from The Geography of Nowhere or Home from Nowhere.) Happily suburban bred and raised, McKibben realizes that the rise of individual homes, and the station wagons that transported the (mostly white) kids across this land in those glory days of the American Dream, became detrimental to the planet and here his passion about climate change begins to appear.

We knew it would, of course. He’s been writing about this since his 1989 breakout bestseller The End of Nature — inspired, as I recall, by his colleague Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth — and the influential Eaarth that came out, I think, in 2010. In the previous sections of The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon he exposed how the lovely boyhood and middle class, churched upbringing contributed to a distorted understanding of our society and how thinks work in the world, but here – oh my. His reporting continues to shine; his prose riveting and his insight brilliant. The relationship of the flag and the cross are coming into focus and much of it is about, well, not exactly the station wagon, but the money accrued from the homes where those station wagons were parked. I know housing bubbles and interest rates and zoning battles may not seem like the sexiest topics for an entertaining nonfiction read, but trust me.

McKibben has lived this stuff, but he has also researched it well, drawing on the definitive and the most fascinating works, such as Meg Jacobs, who he thanks, for her Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s.

Here, particularly, is where McKibben’s writing style makes this complicated stuff accessible – he is able to tell a story or two, bringing in a big picture analysis, and name the need for some kind of repair – all while keeping the prose light, the information interesting, the story compelling.

You see, he is showing the ways in which owning one’s home naturally creates wealth; generational wealth. Yes, certain suburban cul de sac lifestyles can cause increased pollution and alienation from place and creation, and yes, ice caps are melting due to our materialistic extravagance. But that is only the most calamitous of the implications. Along the way we got racist policies (like redlining and the gross injustice in disallowing black World War II vets access to the benefits of the GI Bill, educational opportunity, lines of credit, jobs.) Deeper wealth discrepancies developed and the economic injustices based on the rise of the US suburbs (and subsequent home ownership and banking) is damning. That he isn’t even more emphatic and prophetic in his denunciation is admirable. The social evils are so obvious in his telling, the book could have gone off the rails with screeds and anger and extremist proposals. He verges on it, but he returns to his town, the ups and downs, the good and bad, rooted in a good family and good faith and decent folks who mostly want to make a difference. The “Station Wagon” section, like the others, is a fair minded, honest critique. It is the kind of analysis that, if widely heard – that is, if this book sells well and is discussed widely – could become a compelling game-changer. We hope you consider it and order a few.

There is another episode that McKibben comes back to from his beloved hometown. It has to do with zoning stuff, a bit arcane, admittedly, but clearly a saga of huge significance. As a specific case study of how many predominantly white towns and urban areas vote to forbid multiple family buildings being built, his Lexington story shows not only our ongoing racial segregation but the ways in which institutional racism and NIMBY style individualism effects housing, neighborhood development, and assures an unequal playing field when it comes to wealth accumulation and family stability. From liberal white suburbs like his beloved Lexington to tony, progressive neighborhoods in San Francisco with all their anti-racist placards in their little lawns, nobody wants to sacrifice what they think is their property value.

And, finally, yes, this leads to more pollution and the crisis of climate change, which is deeply connected, our funky lifestyles causing, pretty darn directly, the suffering of people in low-laying parts of the globe, like the Bangladesh village he takes us two near the end of the book. It is a riveting few pages and an essential part of the story.

He writes about some of the big calculations that have been done by nonprofits such as EquoEquity that try to name the economic global impact upon the poor by our big homes and SUVs and the like. It is sobering, but his call to think about cause and consequence, about just reparations and public expenditure is rooted in a deeper sense of neighborliness. He wants to recover some of the public social ethics and prevailing communal responsibility that was actually part of the Puritan communities in his Lexington hometown’s earliest years. (Read that part, fellow Calvinists!) Our modern libertarian disinterest in the commonwealth, our retreat to private individualism, the erosion of commitments to public justice — these are what alarms him as much as rising temperatures and ocean levels.

I’m telling you, The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon is a great read, and it is really entertaining to read much of it. For instance, what a blast to hear his own story of the famous solar panels installed on the White House by Jimmy Carter and famously taken down, out of spite or ideology stupidity, by Ronald Reagan. (I recall that Ed Meese called them “a joke.”) McKibben actually knew a bit about those panels as they were rescued from some Washington warehouse and ended up being used effectively at a small college in Maine. Bill tells the rest of the story, including a large Chinese business startup making more of these panels, inspired by one they got from the college in Maine, and how he got some students to create some holy trouble when they brought some of the remaining panels — still working good as new — as a gift to Obama whose people refused to meet with them, let alone put them up on the White House roof.

In retrospect, McKibben writes, sharing his disillusionment, “it was pretty clear why Obama wanted nothing to do with those solar panels: they were tainted by their association with Carter. The 1980 election, thirty years later, still dominated our politics.”  Yup.

There is a final piece to The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon which I will only mention briefly, but it is his big altar call / patriotic ending. It is hinted at in the story about taking college kids on the road trip – stopping for PR events along the way – to the White House to give the historic Carter-era solar panels back to the Obamas. He mentions that he truly felt bad causing the disillusionment of the youth he had brought along. It was a tell-tale line in passing, but McKibben – as the subtitle notes – is graying. And this is how he ends the book, with some remarkable stuff about how older people can become mentors for younger ones, can encourage and fund them, how our more experienced citizens can mobilize alongside the idealistic younger leaders. He has (of course he has) started a great organization to help facilitate that and it is already going strong.  Check out his group, Third Act.

Mr. McKibben’s last, short chapter is inspiring, entitled “People of a Certain Age.” He is encouraged that many older people are ready to act differently. He notes that “many of us are now emerging into our latter years with skills, with more than our share of resources, and with grandchildren. Surely that might give us the capacity and the reason to help.”

After some beautiful lines about caring for our kids and grandkids, McKibben continues,

But older people have something beyond their kids and grandkids to think about. We also have the chance to partially redeem some sense of our history, and, for those to whom it matters, as Christians. Conservative political leaders try to do this by suppressing the truth – hence all those bills about banning the teaching of the 1619 Project, and, indeed all “critical race theory,” out of schools was premised on the idea that telling such truths “attempt to deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the US was founded.” I doubt very much whether this strategy will work: I think the actual blood on which America was too much founded will keep seeping through whatever whitewash we assiduously apply. I think the only way to make our heritage any better is to make our present and future better: if we change decisively in the direction of inclusion and fairness, then perhaps history – taking a very long view – will see something laudable in the promise that “all men are created equal” or in the Gospel injunction to love one’s neighbor; perhaps if we install enough solar panels, then the American science and engineering of the twentieth century (which birthed those miraculous devices) will be remembered for more than making the comfortable more so.

And so, dear readers of any age, I invite you to consider this great summer read, an informative and illuminating book written as a sweet memoir, a story of this ecological activist’s youth, his steadfast patriotism, his continued faith, his call for living in a manner that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable. He loves our flag, Christ’s cross, and his parent’s old station wagon. In his capable hands, they become icons of a sort, pointing us beyond themselves to great problems, from race to wealth to climate change, and, yet, also, to great possibilities of redemption. It’s a book I couldn’t put down. In clever prose and fine storytelling, he tells us what in the hell went wrong and what we all – especially those of us who are graying – can do.

a few others that come to mind, highly recommended to pair with McKibben

The Flag + The Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat To American Democracy Philip S. Gorski & Samel L. Perry (Oxford University Press) $21.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.56

This brand new book is from the prominent academic press, Oxford, and yet is readable and feisty. The authors are known in this genre of studying the relationship of Christianity and democracy and have written elsewhere about the rise of the authoritarian American right. With vibrant recommending blurbs by historians like Kristin Kobes Du Mez and Anthea Butler, and a foreword by fellow historian Jemar Tisby, these authors have given us a slim book that is potent and important.  I don’t have to explain how important this is.

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah (IVP Academic) $20.00        OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have written about this before as one of the several books that explore the so-called theological and legal basis for the stolen land, genocide, and other sorts of mistreatment of first nations people groups in North America. McKibben’s book refers to this a bit and admits he might have explore it more.  This is an essential volume in this history, informative and passionate.

Here is an endorsement from the preeminent Christian historian, Mark Noll,

Why should I endorse a book when I do not agree with some of its historical judgments? Answer: for the same reason you should read it. Charles and Rah attack a pernicious principle (the Doctrine of Discovery), review an evil history (the United States’ treatment of Native peoples), challenge a persistent stereotype (American exceptionalism), and psychoanalyze white America (in denial about the nation’s history). The entire book, even when you think things could be evaluated differently, will make you think, and think hard, about crucially important questions of Christian doctrine, American history, and God’s standards of justice.–Mark Noll, author of America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair Duke L. Kwon & Gregory Thompson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I have written about this before hoping to persuade customers to pick it up. Of the hundreds of books about racial justice that we stock, this is one of the most important, well-written, interesting, informative, theologically and Biblically faithful, compelling, and a fabulous call to action, pleading with us to become agents of repair. If you read this with or after McKibben, you will be glad you did.

Reparations is passionate, clear, smart, thoughtful, and blessedly troubling. I hope every American Christian leader — especially White Christian leaders — will read it because it is truly the rare book that, if taken up with an open heart, has the potential to change the world.
— Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest; author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

What hope do we have of racial reconciliation unless we right the wrongs of our past? Kwon and Thompson have argued convincingly that reparations is a necessary part of the healing of our churches and our nation, and that people of faith should be leading the way. Read this book and learn how to be a bridge builder…”
— Latasha Morrison, author of Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation

Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

To follow up McKibben, many of us will want to, naturally, reflecting on his own faith journey, ponder our own. Have Jesus’s own counter-intuitive values and teachings and the Biblical narrative towards restoration and healing of the cosmos become the story that has shaped our lives? How has the evangelical renewal from the Jesus Movement of the 60s on down through the last decades of the 20th century and the rise of everything from contemporary worship and megachurches and missional theology and liturgical spiritually and moral majorities and gospel coalitions and all that has changed in recent years effected your own faith. (Have you, like Diana Butler Bass, in her amazing book Freeing Jesus that I have talked about here often, seen a change in your understanding of Jesus, his nature and work and presence in your life?) There are hundreds of great books, many quite new, that offer fresh and needed insight about the ongoing work of growing in faith and fidelity.  Here is one important one.

Here is how the publisher describes it: “With our witness compromised, numbers down, and reputation sullied, the American church is at a critical crossroads. In order for the church to return to health, we must decenter ourselves from our American idols and be guided by global Christians and the poor, who offer hope from the margins, and the ancient church, refocusing on the kingdom, image, Word, and mission of God.”

There are lots of very enthusiastic supporters of this book. Here’s one by Jenny Yang, a fine example of why many leaders realize we need this book:

The church is flourishing in many parts of the world today, but it’s easy for those of us in the West to feel a sense of hopelessness as we see the churches we attend, love, and perhaps lead mired in scandals, materialism, consumerism, and nationalism. Our brothers and sisters around the world, however, are tackling the challenges of poverty, forced migration, trafficking, and natural disasters, pointing a broken world to a better way, and we in the Western church have so much to learn and receive about the good news being proclaimed in both word and deed from the broader church. This book helps us do just that, sharing the incredible work that God is doing around the world, pointing us to a better way to listen and learn from our brothers and sisters who are living out the ways and truths of Jesus to transform their communities and ultimately point people to Christ. The Bible is the story of God centering those on the margins, and this book teaches us as the church to do the same  — Jenny Yang, senior vice president for advocacy and policy for World Relief and coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger

A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic Work and Community Work of Brian Walsh edited by Marcia Boniferro, Amanda Jagt & Andrew Stephens-Rennie (Pickwick Publications) $34.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

This is another rare and stellar volume that I have highly recommended several times and it comes to mind, again, now. This is a book of essays, almost all simply extraordinary, all done to honor the retirement from campus ministry (at the University of Toronto) of Brian Walsh. Brian has done worldview studies, postmodern theology, written about eco-theology and just economics, He has been a scholar in residence at a homeless shelter and created innovative Biblical liturgies for early morning prayer groups at the U of T.  He and his wife, Biblical scholar Sylvia Keesmaat have written two unforgettable, subversive Bible commentaries — un-commentaries, we might call them — called Colossians Remixed and Romans Disarmed. If anybody has a voice to consider as an alternative to the religious mess McKibben writes about, it is Walsh and his friends and extended community.

These thought-provoking and important pieces offered in tribute to his work as scholar, activist, and organic farmer, are about faith and Scripture and economics and justice. It is about housing and home, about faithful ways of living well in this world. It is a book that offers heady perspectives that are perhaps more breathy and zealous that McKibben’s clear-headed prose, but it is just what he needs to follow up with a sustainable sort of faith that is deeply Biblically and faithful to the homelessness in this broken world.  I think many of our BookNotes friends need this vision as well. We recommend this a lot.

Mark D. Bjelland (Calvin College Press) $9.99          OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

This short book is part of the series by Calvin University professors called “Calvin Shorts.” (And, yes, there is a funny little logo of John Calvin in short pants. Ha!)

Each of the many books in this good series offer brief, solid, insight for ordinary readers giving a bit of the practical application of the scholarly research of the college scholars. Dr. Bjelland, for instance, is a Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies and his academic training and research is on how his ecological concerns might influence urban planning (and even engineering.) He has studied urban geography in Europe and the UK and here offers a beautiful, readable summary of a theology of place, a biblical framework for imagining how cities, neighborhoods, housing markets, and transportation systems work, and should work. We should care about zoning codes and local politics and neighborhood associations and real estate development — as Bill McKibben’s book suggests over and over.  Good Places for All is a good example of thinking Christianly about hospitality and places.

Stability: How an Ancient Monastic Practice Can Restore Our Relationships, Churches, and Communities Nathan Oates (Paraclete Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

McKibben rightly critiques the consumerism and wasteful lifestyles of our times and he is right to do so. Many of us learned years ago from the like of Ron Sider and his unforgettable Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger that materialism and excessive financial wealth can be idolatrous and that any faithful reading of the Bible should give us pause about our way of living. McKibben looks at accrued wealth from mortgages and bank loans and credit and that big picture stuff that goes with the rise of suburbia. He isn’t harsh and he doesn’t directly go after our constant moving and upward mobility which is part and parcel of this American Dream.

Oates, an evangelical pastor rooted in the monastic tradition, very nicely takes us in that direction, drawing on the old Benedictine virtue of stability.  Staying put, Caring about place, community, the common good of our own neighborhood. It’s sort of a spiritual sort of localism and it is a fine, fine book, inspiring and wise.

Nathan Oates is a modern prophet who has written a refreshing and important book. He does more than offer a critique of modern culture. Indeed, drawing upon the Bible and visions of St. Benedict, Oates shows us ways to reject toxic consumerism and replace it with a life-giving work of restoration. — Rev. Dr. Lyle Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism (ret) at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, AL

The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age Daniel Grothe (Thomas Nelson) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Again, I needn’t say much about this because I have reviewed it at length at BookNotes. Consider this your reminder to consider this, one of the best books on our big lists of Best Books of 2021. Grothe is a surprising writer, a small-time farmer mentored by Eugene Peterson (and the printed pages of Wendell Berry) who pastors a large, evangelical church in Colorado Spring. He’s a wise and good writer, reminding us not just of the virtue of stability (as the lovely Nathan Oates book, above, does) but to actually love our places, to be intentional about cultivating a lifestyle shaped by the contours of your own geography and local culture.

As Pete Greig says, “I can’t recommend The Power of Place highly enough. Everyone needs to read it! It is beautifully written, compellingly argued, and urgently necessary for a rootless generation like our own.”

Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind Grace Olmstead (Sentinel) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Although McKibben’s story is centered around the well trimmed homes of his small-town, upper-middle class New England town, some folks live neither in upscale towns or bland, ex-urbs. In fact, many folks are rural, hurting from brain-drain and dislocation. This is exactly the sort of place Grace Olmstead grew up and left. This beautifully written book — another that we’ve raved about here before — is her study of her town in rural Idaho and how many who moved away lost connection.

The stellar blurbs on the back of this wonderfully written book come from Sarah Smarsh (author of Heartland) and Chris Arnade (author of Dignity) and the ever-important Norman Wirzba, author of the soon to be released Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land. McKibben surely knows much about this literature and the deeply human need for roots. He knows that recovering belonging and stewardship and a sense of place are aspects of a renewed sort of way of life that will help mitigate the climate disaster.

Our Angry Eden: Faith & Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet David Williams (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I’m sure I named this as one of our Best Books last year and I know I’ve suggested it to anyone asking about the topic of understanding the urgent matters of a changing climate. God’s creation seems to have gotten even more angry since this book came out two years ago and so we recommend it now with a great urgency than before. It is, as it says on the back, “an unflinching yet hopeful call to faithful action.” Indeed, in Bill McKibben’s rave endorsement he says it shows how there’s “plenty we can be doing to fit in better with creation. Read it and change!”

But here is what is also interesting (recalling my opening monologue about nonfiction books that are well written, full of gravity and grace, informative and fun.) McKibben calls Our Angry Eden “beautiful.” Isn’t that interesting — a title that sounds scary (and comes to us in a flaming, hot orange color scheme) is considered beautiful?  That is some of what I said about it when I first reviewed it at BookNotes — it surprised me how down to Earth it was, how much I liked the rather pastoral tone of the small town preacher. Yes we have abused the creation and yes the Biblical witness is that the creation is afflicted, “groaning” as Romans 8 has it. But despite the moral crisis of our abuse of creation and its own anger, seen in the ugly facts of the hard science, Rev. Williams is mostly gracious, more hopeful than I expected, and pretty artful in his own telling of the tale. He is a novelist, after all — you’ve got to read his oddball post-apocalyptic story When the English Fall which involves the Amish.

Our Angry Eden by David Williams is a must-read. With clear-eyed honesty and a perceptive analysis of the existential threat of the climate crisis, Williams forces us to face the mess we are in, but he also conjures hope through lively storytelling, biblical insight galore, and sound practical ideas that embody God’s good future. — Steve Bouma-Prediger, author of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care and Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic

In a time when the words climate emergency send many people into a panicked despair or an overwhelmed paralysis, David Williams offers a third way. This book gives attainable, tangible ways to engage, while spreading out a rich theological foundation for how to love our neighbor as we care for our earthly home. — Anna Woofenden, author of This Is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls and founder of The Garden Church

Stewards of the Earth: Christianity and Creation Care introduction by Lorin Wilkinson (Lexham Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.38

This collection from the outstanding “Best of Christianity Today” series is exceptionally important and useful for at least three reasons. Firstly, it problematizes, as they say nowadays (I have my tongue in cheek as I hate that word) the narrative, partially assumed by Bill McKibben, above, that Christianity in general and evangelicalism, particularly, has been all shallow and worldly and fundamentalist and captive to the religious right or, at least churchy and spiritual and not very involved in stuff that matters. Christianity Today, now known as CT, is perhaps the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, not terribly fundamentalist (they hate them for being too liberal) and yet not progressive like Sojo, say. As Christian Century is to the mainline denominational churches and orientation, so CT channels the more moderate, often thoughtful, evangelical vision. For fifty years they have been writing — perhaps not enough, and perhaps sometimes in their own quirky way — about environmentalism, Earth-keeping, creation care, ecological ethics. This handsome hardback collects these five decades worth of essays, articles, interviews. It shows the diversity and the development of evangelical perspectives.

So, firstly, it is a good window into what some evangelicals have thought and publicly said.  It makes clear that evangelicalism, at least insofar as they are represented by CT, even if not always where it should have been, has been addressing contemporary social issues since their founding. The many editorials are here, and it shows some initial suspicions about the green movement, and increasingly the editorials are more faithfully engaged with the theology of creation care.

Secondly, many of these pieces are very, very good, sane, Biblical, inspiring, and needed yet today. Some writers in progressive social ethics journals write in odd ways with lingo and cadences that are not congenial to ordinary Bible-beliving people, and these essays often just shine. That is, they may be compelling to the perhaps unconvinced. Here you will find Bill McKibben (yes, in CT), Ron Sider, Leslie Leyland Fields, Andy Crouch. Tim Stafford’s marvelous piece on Cal DeWitt is here, respected global surgeon Paul Brand is here, there is an interview with Eugene Peterson.

The book’s contributors, granted, are almost entirely white and mostly male. The magazine’s makeup and vision is somewhat different even today. But these are good pieces and we wanted you to know about them. Kudos.

Recovering Abundance: Twelve Practices for Small-Town Leaders Andy Stanton-Henry (Fortress Press) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

This is a book that deserves a longer review but, for now, I just wanted to suggest it as a companion to the remarkable call to local action in the memoir by McKibben. He ends that book invite others — especially older folks — to be involved alongside others in the global effort to mitigate the crisis of climate change. This will involve speaking out about everything from community development to banking practices, from congregational mission strategies to racial justice initiatives, from recycling projects to land use questions.

We obviously need people of faith to care about their places, to be increasingly engaged in gracious and caring justice actions grounded and informed by thoughtful public theology. What does it mean for a local Christian leader — say, a pastor — to also become an advocate for place, caring about small town contexts and speaking out about rural and small town community flourishing?  We need all kinds of resources to help us on our way — we could hardly do any better than the great book Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society by Amy Sherman that I highlighted about a month ago. This one, though, specifically offers practices for small town leaders. There is nothing quit like it and I love it.  Kudos one and all.

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Christian approaches to mental health, psychology, counseling – ON SALE FROM HEARTS & MINDS

We’re glad folks enjoyed our big review of Charles Marsh’s stunning memoir Evangelical Anxiety that appeared in our previous BookNotes. The book is a fabulously written and entertaining rendering of his evolving faith as he copes with the repressive (and too often anti-world, anti-body) conservative evangelicalism of his Baptist youth, and, more interestingly, a story of his coming to terms with an anxiety disorder including panic attacks and the like. It’s a great read that will make you think.

Since that memoir explored the author’s psyche and a bit about his work in psychotherapy, I reviewed another book or two about coping with emotional difficulties and contemporary experiences of anxiety: It’s Not You, It’s Everything (by Eric Minton, a former evangelical pastor who is now a therapist and important social critic) and the soon to be released The Lord is My Courage by K.J. Ramsey, a trauma-informed certified counselor who has written beautifully about chronic pain and, in this brand new one, about toxic church leadership and spiritual abuse. Thank God for her insights drawn from Psalms 23.

And then I reviewed a study of five exceptionally detailed counseling cases by Catherine Gildiner (Good Morning Monster) and then added a description of The Emotional Life of Our Lord, a handsome pocket sized reprint of a little known essay by B. B. Warfield, the Princeton Seminary giant of the early 20th century. I hope you didn’t miss my brief comments about that thoughtful gem.

These books are not about developing a distinctively Christian perspective on mental health issues or a faithful theoretical approach to the academic discipline of psychology or the nature of what we might call Christian counseling; that’s just not their project. An annoying line in the otherwise brilliant Marsh memoir, though, got me thinking that there isn’t enough awareness of the many good books that are taking up the project of integrating faith and psychological scholarship. 

So without too much comment, I’ll list just some of the titles we have in this section of our Dallastown shop, starting with some books about a Christian view of psychology, then some books about mental health issues, especially in the church, and then some books about counseling. Naturally, we have others here on the shelf, but this is a good start, I hope.

By the way,  a mail-order customer who is a professional in this field recently wrote a note encouraging me in our book-recommending work and suggested that many colleagues of different sorts should seek to, “engage (hopefully wisely and charitably) with the psychologies using the lens of Scripture, rather than simply dismiss (as some of our neighbors to the right tend to) or uncritically embrace (some of our neighbors to the left tend to.)” He closed his email saying we all need to grow in this.  Nice, eh?

Maybe you have a church library or a fellowship group resource center or a ministry booktable… some of these might be helpful to share. I hope the listing is useful. Let us know how we can help. 

FIRST, FOR STARTERS…

Understanding People: Why We Long for Relationships Larry Crabb (Zondervan) $16.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is a really basic, easy-to-appreciate guide for those starting off this sort of study. A nice read for almost anyone. If you want to help people, we must first understand them. Here is how the publisher descibes this award-winning paperback:

“Exploring the inseparable link between spiritual and psychological realities, Understanding People offers a vital lens on how we’re put together–who we really are and what makes us tick in our relationships with other people, with God, and with ourselves. In three parts, this book first points us to the Bible as our source of insight into perplexing heart issues. Then it helps us come to grips with our brokenness as God’s image-bearers, and it shows how we can reclaim our ability to reflect him in our growth toward maturity and healed relationships.

Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans Scott Sauls (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Again, this isn’t exactly about developing a coherent Christian philosophy of psychology but it is brand new and Sauls is a great writer (and some have said this is his best yet!) It is certainly a good read for those stepping carefully into this field. He is an astute pastor, a caring person, a fine thinker and writer. The title really does show that this could setting the stage nicely for deeper studies of psychology and counseling, so consider starting here. From clarity about God’s great grace and help about practicing emotional health and how to “quiet shaming, wearying thoughts with God’s divine countervoice” this stuff about contentment and being more fully alive in our human experience is beautiful stuff.  It’s not every Reformed pastor who opens his book with a quote from Kubler-Ross and thanks Bob Dylan and Brandi Carlisle and calls the first chapter “tears on my shirt.”  This is going to be good.

I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $26.00       OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Another in what I might call the “prelude” category here, getting us warmed up for more academic studies of the discipline of psychology and mental health and counseling and the like. This, though, is a beautifully done, self-helpy kind of book that could motivate anyone to see God’s help in figuring out a healthy way to believe and life; Annie Down’s called it “a masterpiece” and Kate Bowler describes it as “Gentle. Loving.” and says, “This tender book asks us to listen to our pain, lean into our discomfort, and trust that we can be lifted back on our feet by God and each other.”

I like Niequist’s vivid, earnest writing (including her last one about stress brought on by perfectionism, called Present Over Perfect.) To understand the approach of this, consider that the endorsement on the back is by the honest, elegant, eloquent Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor. The good reverend says this:

There are so many ways you can lose the only life you know how to live. When that happens—as it will for all of us sooner or later—the number of people willing to walk through it with us can fall into the low single digits. With this book, Shauna Niequist becomes one you can count on, no matter what. She won’t lie to you about anything. She won’t offer you a spiritual bypass. Instead, she will keep reminding you that what you don’t know about where you’re going is what oils the hinge to new life. — Barbara Brown Taylor, author, Learning to Walk in the Dark

Why Do I Feel Like This?: Understand Your Difficult Emotions and Find Grace to Move Through  Dr. Peace Amadi (IVP) $18.00                 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Dr. Peace Amadi is an energetic and dynamic counselor, public speaker, and advocate for folks who need a bit of help learning to understand and manage their conflicted and sometimes painful emotions. Her emphasis on God’s great grace and learnilng to accept God’s love as a basis for our own self-worth and dignity is beautiful, but that becomes the generative foundation for teaching several helpful psychological theories and helping readers know what to do next. As one reader put it, this explains what therapists mean when they say you must “do the work.” She helps. This is a nice introduction to Chrisitan self-care written by a Godly woman and effective professional counselor.

Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $12.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60

A slim book by one of our great Christian public intellectuals, this invites us to consider the nature of consciousness, how the mind works, the relationship of our body to our interior lives. Again, this isn’t exactly a Christian view of psychology but a fine rumination on foundational stuff that will influence how we think about the social and healing sciences. I list it as a thoughtful but brief guide to start of our thinking about the topic. His insight about the role of silence, by the way, in helping us realize human flourishing is lovely and wise.

 

Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices Curt Thompson (Tyndale) $17.99                           OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

One of our great contemporary Christian writers, Curt is an MD who is a psychiatrist who really knows much about neurology and faith and healthy flourishing. Read his other books, too, (such as the splendid, even healing, Soul of Shame) but this is his most basic one.There are a lot of books these days on Christian faith and neuroscience and this one is very accesible. Highly recommended — would be great for a book club or small group study, too.

 

Preserving the Person: A Look at the Human Sciences C. Stephen Evans (Regent College Press) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I suspect this classic book may be a bit outdated but it is such a foundational book that we are delighted that Regent College (in Vancouver, BC) released it anew. Evans was a philosopher at Calvin College (with a Phil and PhD from Yale and a scholar of Kierkegaard) and here he assesses the pioneering thinkers in the social sciences, from August Comte to Sigmund Freud, from B.F. Skinner to Emile Durkheim, and he “shows how the attack on personhood has created tensions for Christian scholars in the human sciences.” His guidelines for recovering a robust and lasting concept of the person is needed now as ever.

SOME BOOKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY AND PSYCHOLOGY

Psychology: A Student’s Guide Stanton K. Jones (Crossway) $11.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59

A small book designed for college students, introducing the lay of the land of this field, from a traditional Christian orientation. This is part of a good series of short but intellectually oriented books called “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.” Know any students going off to college to major in Psychology?

While we’re at it, see also the first one in the series, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide, not to mention the good one on philosophy (by the late David Naugle), the one on history, the one on media/journalism, and certainly the one on education which I liked a lot.

Psychology in Christian Perspective: An Analysis of Key Issues Harold W. Faw (Baker Academic) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

We often suggest this for a solid starting study for psych majors or those new to the genre as it offers Biblical insight in a way that follows pretty much the standard flow of an intro psych text.  Nicely done.

 

 

 

Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide Paul Moesv & Donald J. Tellinghuisen (Baker Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

What a great text!  Solid and engaging prose, drawn from the authors many years teaching as beloved college profs at Calvin College. The authors are also scholars in the field — Moes is a neuropsychologist and Tillinghuisen is an experimental psychologist. Excellent.

 

 

Psychology and Christianity: Five Views edited by Eric L. Johnson (IVP) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

This is so good and is very highly recommended. Five different psychologists who all agree that there should be a principled Christian approach, but they disagree about how that “integration” works and what it looks like. Wow. Every field should have a book like this to compare and contrast various models and paradigm for faithful and fruitful Christian thinking. It’s simply a must-read book.

 

edited by Glendon Moriarty (IVP)  $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Here are the fascinating testimonies of twelve different scholars or practitioners  about how they live out their faith in their vocation. What a great and encouraging collection of insights. I love this. Every career area needs a book like this.

 

 

 

Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn from Psychological Science Everett L.Worthington Jr. (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

First published in 2010, it is considered by some to be a wonderful classic. Listen to Malcolm Jeeves, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, St. Andrews University, former editor-in-chief, Neuropsychologia and past president, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy. The esteemed Dr. Jeeves says:

Past discussions of how psychology and theology are related have tended to be written either from the perspective of psychotherapists and counselors or from that of psychological scientists. In a remarkably well-informed, wide-ranging review of the literature, Everett Worthington argues that ‘we are wise to look at all sources of information and wisdom we have at our disposal–and this includes both Scripture and psychological science.’ This outstanding book is an invaluable, up-to-date reference source on issues at the interface of psychology and Christian belief.

Theology for Psychology and Counseling: An Invitation to Holistic Christian Practice Kutter Callaway & William Whitney (Baker Academic) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I like this recent lively one as it is both foundational and framing the topic but with a trajectory towards practical application in contemporary culture. It is winsome and interesting by scholars trained in both theology and psychology. It shines in ways that make it exceptional — in what Sarah Schnitker of Baylor says is “a long-awaited addition to the conversation!”

 

The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach  William L. Hathaway & Mark Yarhouse (IVP Academic) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is a recent book and I think an essential resource, the fruit of many years of working out this integrated Christian perspective. No one serious about this ongoing discussion should miss this.

The authors’ attention encompasses five domains, by the way, are what they call

worldview integration, theoretical integration, applied integration, role integration and personal integration. This really is a comprehensive approach that yields plenty of fresh insights relevant for non-clinical areas of psychological science as well as for counseling, social work, and other related mental health fields. I’m grateful for publishers doing this kind of very impressive work. I hope Christians in the field take notice.

Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, Fourth Edition: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration David Entwistle (Cascade Books) $48.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $38.40

Earlier editions of this were considered groundbreaking and in this, a recently released 4th edition the respected author (professor at Malone University) adds even more to this classic big-picture survey of various approaches.  I like this (of many) lovely recommendations:

“Entwistle well represents the multifaceted nature of creation by graciously interweaving history, philosophy, science, and religion. His emphasis on the need for both intellectual caution and courage reinforces the integral role of intellectual humility as we seek to better understand the human condition. This book is a great asset for all who are interested in the integration of psychology and Christianity.” —Angela Sabates, Associate Professor of Psychology, Bethel University

The Person in Psychology and Christianity: A Faith-Based Critique of Five Theories of Social Development Majorie Lindner Guano (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

This book is fabulous — just great for anyone interested in how our deepest understandings of the human person influences our theories about society and psychology. This is a brilliant framework and fascinating project, by a fine professor at Calvin University. If you in the field, or aspire to think well about this, even if you find the cover off-putting (as I sure do) you should still buy this book. Listen to the respected pioneer and scholar in this field, David Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College and co-author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith

“Kudos to Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe for building a new bridge between psychological science and Christian belief. By viewing famed theories of human development through the lens of theology, she illuminates who we are―as embodied, purposeful, moral, accountable children of God. With her lucid prose, informative storytelling, and blend of curiosity and conviction, Gunnoe enlarges our human understanding and informs our faith.”

Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal  Stanton L. Jones & Richard Butman (IVP Academic) $50.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $40.00

I wish this amazing volume was not so expensive as I would recommend it to anyone working professionally in any scholarly field as a model for how to graciously summarize, evaluate, affirm and critique most of the main schools of thought and their subsequent practices in a discipline. For instance, this shows how various views of what wrong shape various views of what treatment modality to use. Assumptions about what’s going on, what’s wrong and what the answer may be are evident in each school of thought and wise Christians must be somewhat discerning about these presuppositions, postures, and proposals — not to be overly skittish or judgmental, but to be wise and faithful and truly helpful. I would say that if you are a professional in their field (or a leader, like a pastor, who shares opinions about these things sometimes) and you haven’t grappled with some of this content, you haven’t adequately pursued all that you should in developing your own view of these things. This extraordinary volume examines and appraises — and ends up with a view they call “responsible eclecticism” — therapies such as classical psychoanalysis, psychodynamic psychotherapies, behavioral and cognitive therapies, family systems approaches, and more…

Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal Mark Yarhouse, Richard Butman & Barrett McRay (IVP Academic) $60.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $48.00

This book is another in the style of the previous one but explores pathologies.  Again, they are attentive to the reality that disorders are seen and treated within various schools of thought. Assumptions about what’s going on, what’s wrong and what the answer are evident in each school of thought and wise Christians must be somewhat discerning about these presuppositions, postures, and proposals — not to be overly skittish or judgmental, but to be wise and faithful and truly helpful.  This looks at all kinds of issues from anxiety and mood disorders to psychosis to personality pathologies and sexuality stuff offering keen insights about faithful ways to help.  Agree or not with their apparels, it is a fabulous project. 

Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology John H.Coe & Todd W. Hall (IVP Academic) $38.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $30.40

We stock all the books in the The Christian Worldview Integration Series (edited by J. P. Moreland and Francis J. Beckwith) which seeks to promote a robust personal and conceptual integration of Christian faith and learning, with textbooks focused on disciplines such as education, psychology, literature, politics, science, communications, biology, philosophy, and history. (For what it is worth, I really, really like the business one!)

John H. Coe and Todd W. Hall tackle provocative questions in this volume of the series which offers what some might find a helful approach to psychology that seeks to integrate psychology and spiritual formation. This model “represents a spiritual formation and relational approach to psychology for the sake of servicing the spiritual needs of the church.” Their goal is to provide a unique model of doing psychology and science in the Spirit. As the publisher puts it,  “Here you will find an introduction to the foundations, methodology, content and praxis for this new approach to soulcare.” Wow.

To go deeper into this particular sort of integration of psychology and spirituality, see the magisterial, 720-page work by Eric Johnson called God & Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of the Christian Faith (IVP Academic; $60.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $48.00.)

Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Pastoral Care Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger (Eerdmans) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have several excellent books on what we might call trauma-informed theology.  This serious author from Princeton Theological Seminary writes with mutli-disciplinary insight and much grace. It is in the genre of “pastoral care”  but anyone interested in the psychological sciences should consider it — it is that good. Dr. Katherine Sonderegger, the respected professor and systematic theologian at Virginia Theological Seminary says it is, “Lovely, powerful, and rich. Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger brings to this book an analyst’s skill, a theologian’s wisdom, and a pastor’s heart, each in turn providing the language, the tools, and the hope needed in the face of great suffering. . . . This book is a treasure in our broken world.”

Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing  Justin Barrett & Pamela Ebstyne King (IVP Academic) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Co-produced with the faith/science organization BioLogos (in their books on science and Christianity series), this positively explores evolutionary psychology  This may be a bit above my own pay grade –it’s not the first on this smart list — but people I trust have told me this is nothing short of brilliant.  I love Debra Haarsma’s endorsement:

“This book is a model of Christian discernment, considering the latest scientific research in the light of Christian faith to address challenging questions of our day. Barrett and King explain the established findings of evolutionary psychology (EP) while shedding the pop psychology and anti-God baggage that is often added to it. Yet their goal is not merely showing the intellectual compatibility of EP with Christianity but ‘placing evolutionary psychology in the service of Christian theology’ to address larger questions. By better understanding human nature and the traits that make us unique from animals, we can better fulfill our purpose as God’s image bearers and work more effectively to build communities that thrive in the ways God intended. The book’s readable style, vivid examples, and helpful study guide make it a great book for students, book clubs, science fans, and pastors.”

Positive Psychology in Christian Perspective: Foundations, Concepts, and Applications Charles Hackney (IVP Academic) $45.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $36.00

A recent text co-produced by the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) this is the definitive study about what is called “positive psychology” showing what is both healthy and good about it and yes a Biblically-informed constructive critique. This is a readable and yet sophisticated bit of Christian scholarship. 

 

Neuroscience and the Soul: The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology  edited by Thomas M. Crisp, Steven Porter, Gregg A. Ten Elshof  (Eerdmans) $39.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.60

As I noted when I mentioned Dr. Curt Thompson’s first book that there are many books coming out on faith and neuroscience and Christian views of the mind, warranting a whole section in any good bookstore. This is a fairly early one that continues to be important and respected. Professor Dr. Charles Taliaferro of St. Olaf College called it a “superb collection of outstanding essays” and “an exceptionally important work.”  

 

Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications Michael Emlet (New Growth Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

I so respect this author and appreciate this little handbook that reminds us that there are times when pastoral care and deeper discipleship is needed to help with the foibles of wounded sinners and saints, and there are other times when medication is called for and that there is no shame in that. Emlet offered this little guide book for anyone helping others, clear and balanced.

BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH AND THE CHURCH

Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission Amy Simpson (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I’m sure you’ve seen us mention this before, a vivid story by Amy, a pastor’s daughter, whose mother became seriously ill with schizophrenia and left the family in paranoid delusions. She shares how this touched their family, how the church responded (both for better and for worse) and offers good insight about how we all might be more aware and faithful. A well written, moving story that is an excellent introduction.

 

Making SPACE at the Well: Mental Health and the Church Jessica Young Brown (Judson Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Dr. Brown serves as a Professor of Counseling and Practical Theology at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. Her model uses the acronym of ”SPACE” to examine Silencing the Stigma, Presence & Persistence, Application & Action, Cautions & Crisis, and Expressions & Exhortation. Young Brown is a clinical psychologist and vibrant woman of God working especially in the historic Black church. 

 

Hiding in the Pews: Shining Light on Mental Illness in the Church Steve Austin (Fortress Press) $23.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40

This is a remarkable, honest, raw book by a church leader who struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. The foreword is by Robert W. Lee who is also a person with bi-polar disorder. After the book was printed but before it shipped out a year ago the author took his own life.  Rave reviews on the back about the author’s courage and candor are from Aundi Kolber (of Try Softer), worship leader Paul Baloche, K.J. Ramsey, and Marc Alan Schelske.

 

Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith Monica Coleman (Fortress) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We have promoted this before not only for those wondering about mental health issues among the faithful, but also as a literary memoir. It’s a good read, powerful, energetic, vivid. (We even keep it it in a $26.99 hardback, if that is helpful for you.)   Rachel Held Evans, before she passed, said it was “a stunning, unforgettable read.”  Blurbs on the back include endorsement by Cornel West, Joshua DuBois, and Bishop Vashti McKenzie. 

 

Not Quite Fine: Mental Health, Faith, and Showing Up for One Another Carlene Hill Byron (Herald Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is very well written and clear as can be, but is mostly a practical guide about his best to care. She has had years of experience as a patient and a mental health advocate and researcher. We raved about this when it first came out in a  previous BookNotes column and highly recommend it here, again. You know, there really is a great need for resources like — has there been a time that you recall when so many people know themselves to be hurting? Please consider this.

Carlene Hill Byron wants the church to know there are a whole lot of us sitting in the pews dealing with mental health challenges. Her warmth, insight, and call to mature faithfulness will encourage every one of us to be more fully present in community, just as we are, even when we’re not quite fine.  — Michelle Van Loon, author of Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma

All Who Are Weary: Easing the Burden on the Walk with Mental Illness Emmy Kegler (Broadleaf Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This is recent book by the fiesty, queer author of the study of Scripture called One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins. I am sure it is thoughtfully written, deeply moving by all accounts, and one that we’re happy to suggest.

All Who Are Weary is a beautifully and gently written companion to those who journey with mental illness and a guide to help us all love one another better. No matter who you are or where you are on the journey, I hope you’ll get this book and allow Emmy Kegler’s powerful words to come alongside you. — Kaitlin Curtice, author of Native: Identity, Belonging & Rediscovering God

Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness Kathryn Greene-McCreight (Brazos Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

We have long suggested that this one is one of the very best basic guides to depression and a thoughtful Christian understanding and response. The author, an Episcopal priest, finds some solace in the Psalms, but this is still a raw and moving book. The foreword is by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Highly recommended.

 

Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness Matthew Stanford (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

As both a church leader and a professor of psychology and behavioral sciences, Crawford “has seen too many mentally ill brothers and sisters damaged by well-meaning believers who respond to them out of fear or misinformation.” Grace for the Afflicted really is designed to help educate Christians about mental illness from both Biblical and scientific perspectives. Solid, helpful stuff that we very highly recommend. 

 

Christ on the Psych Ward David Finnegan-Hosey (Church Publishing) $17.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36

The author is the College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College in Wilson, NC. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson with his wife, Leigh, and their dog, Penny Lane.

In Christ on the Psych Ward, David Finnegan-Hosey does something the Church has had difficulty doing regarding mental illness; he opens up the blinds and he lets the light in. David’s story is compelling, his voice clear, his insight profound, and his subject matter critical. A book like this is long overdue, both in and outside the Church. It will save lives. — John Pavolvitz, author of A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community and If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk

Grace Is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare David Finnegan-Hosey (Church Publishing) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

My, my what a fiesty read —honest and prophetic and snarky and real. And theological. And important. It is not only about mental health, per se, but is about the personal experience of living with this “pre-existing condition”, which is to say it is also about insurance and health care providers and a whole lot of messed up systems that need to improve if we are going to serve well our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

 

Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church Sarah Griffith Lund (Chalice Press) $ 17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Lund serves the UCC denomination as a Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice; she holds degrees from Trinity University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Rutgers University, and McCormick Theological Seminary. Here writes about her own family experiences (her father was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder) and how the church often responds. It’s an important, small book from her UCC context and many have found it helpful. 

Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage Sarah Griffith Lund (Chalice Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

Lund serves the UCC denomination as a Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice (and wrote the moving Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church.) This is a one-of-a-kind resource that offers stories and honest theological reflection and, as one reviewer put it, writing that is both “heartwarming and heart-wrenching.” 

 

 

Grace for the Children: Finding Hope in the Midst of Child and Adolescent Mental Illness  Matthew S. Stanford (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This is a rare and well written guide for those wanting to think through how the church can respond to mental health issues among children and youth. Based on DSM-5 diagnoses, it looks at all sorts of various topics and issues. Every church should have this good book as a handy resource! 

 

 

To Loose the Bonds of Injustice: The Plight the Mentally Ill and What the Church Can Do Marcia A. Murphy (Resource Publications) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This book offers an overview of the lives of those struggling with mental illness through the lens of Christian social justice and how the church can be more appropriate in providing care, inclusion, and advocacy for the dignity of the afflicted. It offers insight about policy and treatment standards and how this can cause even more distress. Drawing on resources of faith and the church, she offers a model that can remind us to do better and find real solutions. 

Dutiful Love: Empowering Individuals & Families Affected by Mental Illness Elizabeth L.Hinson-Hasty (Fortress) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Here are two great endorsements that convinced us to stock this important resource:

“Every so often a scholar writes a book that has the potential to reshape an academic discipline or at least establish an important new research area or subfield. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty has done that with this breakthrough Christian ethical engagement with the neglected issue of mental illness. This work . . . tackles a serious human problem involving profound suffering and injustice, attends to the voices of those most affected, diagnoses societal shortfalls that worsen the problem unnecessarily, brings serious biblical and theological reflection to bear in order to change our moral vision, and offers examples of a path forward for Christian communities.” — David P. Gushee, Mercer University,  Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today

“Hinson-Hasty gifts us with a groundbreaking liberation theology for mental health disabilities that speaks the unspeakable: how serious mental illness impacts all of us, including those living with serious mental illness and their loved ones. This book empowers us to create communities of belonging and to advocate for social change for disabilities and mental health justice.” — Sarah Lund, MSW, author of Blessed Are the Crazy

Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems John Swinton (Abingdon Press) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Swinton is a serious scholar of pastoral care and in recent years has been writing profound books which offer Christian insights into those with disabilities and special needs. This is an earlier one and still a classic that we recommend.  Stanley Hauerwas says he “sets a new standard for work in pastoral theology by… rediscovering the practice of friendship.” And, yes, this human practice can offer dignity and community and bear witness to the resurrection. 

A FEW BOOKS ABOUT CHRISTIANS AND COUNSELING

Saints, Sufferers & Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us Michael Emlet (New Growth Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Michael is a friend who we respect greatly; he was trained operates out of what we might called an electric (or even progressive) sort of “Biblical counseling” model as advanced by the CCEF. I will list this book first in this section because, as I said in a longer BookNotes review when it came out last year, it is really for anyone who wants to treat well and care for those going through hard times. It is clear that all of us are “all of the above” — saints, sufferers and sinners — and it is in that realization that a healthy approach to psychology and counseling emerges. Anyway, this is a fine book, a real treasure. As CCEF faculty and counselor Ed Welch put it, it is, like Mike himself, “clear, helpful, gentle, and wise.” 

Speaking Code: Unraveling Past Bonds to Redeem Broken Conversations Diana DiPasquale (Square Halo Books) $33.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.19

Although not written only for counselors, we think this certainly would be useful for anyone doing even informal, friendship or pastoral counseling.  We reviewed this in somewhat greater detail in a previous BookNotes, noting that it is a remarkable book, almost unlike anything I’ve read, an oversized volume (with room for notes) which serves as a  guide to faithfully discerning what people are really communicating. This notion of speaking code is shorthand — well not so short as she explores in from many angles, quite extensively — for the obvious idea that people say things with lots of baggage carried along between the lines. From unspoken cues to emotional hints to literally code words used to signify something special to that person, we really can learn to honor each other by attending to not only the simple words spoken but the code language that, as she explains, are laden with past stuff and sometimes other less obvious motivations and desires.  Diana is a exceptionally well-rounded person, learned in art, history, science, theology, urban life, and more. She is a working therapist and knows well how “we long for relationships where truth is spoken in love.”

Who doesn’t desire to be really heard and deeply understood? As it says on the back cover, “this book helps decipher cryptic conversations, allows us to see where God’s specific goodness enters our lives.” Call this a redemptive, gospel-centered vision for communication and a discernment guide, at least, for therapists and counselors, and, frankly, for anyone wanting to put in the time working through her lively case studies, exercises, and assessment tools.

Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches edited by Stephen Greg & Timothy Sisemore (IVP Academic) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I hope you saw the above listed title called Psychology and Christianity: Five Views. This one is like that one, building upon it, standing in the great tradition of comparing and contrasting different perspectives with each author not only presenting his or her view, but then replying to the others. If you do anything that you would like to consider a Christian approach to counseling, I beg you to read this remarkable, fascinating, compelling conversation among thoughtful Christian scholars and counselors There are contributions from Thomas Plante, Mark McMin, Diane Langberg, Gary Moon and Stuart Scott, each making their case that a certain model or paradigm is the most faithful to Scripture and theology and a sensible way to integrate Christian frame of reference and teaching with the actually way they do counseling. 

The perspectives are, as they put it, a Levels-of-Explanation Approach, the Integration Approach, the Christian Psychology Approach, the Transformational Approach and the Biblical Counseling approach. Very highly recommended.

A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry Heath Lambert (Zondervan) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

I am not persuaded that so-called “Biblical counseling” is the right model (and most of the books listed below are not of that particular movement.) But this is a foundational volume in that school of thought, showing the history of this counseling tradition (especially as it has developed in the the years after Jay Adams) and the Biblical and theological basis for their considered rejection of many commonly assumed views of secular schools of thought. Many will not agree with this particular use of the Bible and some many not think that theological doctine, as such, should be applied to counseling methodologies in this manner but it is, in my view, a live and good question. Agree or not, this is an important volume for anyone who takes Scripture and conventional theology seriously as a light for our path in this area and it is a volume from which we all can learn.

A Biblical Counseling Process: Guidance for the Beginning, Middle, and End Lauren Whitman (New Growth Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

Obviously I am no therapist or counselor and yet found skimming this small book to be quite interesting. It is rooted in the gospel-centered “Biblical Counseling” movement and offers, out of that paradigm, a concise discussion of the actual strategy and process of starting, carrying out, and finalizing some sort of redemptive therapeutic relationship.  Of course it doesn’t purport to be a recipe or formula but it is, as Jonathan Holmes notes, “brief but packed” with key notions. From “doable foci” to “clear benchmarks” this is fascinating. 

Embodying Integration: A Fresh Look at Christianity in the Therapy Room Began Anna Neff & Mark McMinn (IVP Academic) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is another of these recent CAPS Books that we are happy to promote which illustrates why it is ludicrous to suggest there isn’t a healthy and robust movement of those working out an integration of theology, Christian psychological perspective, counseling methodology, and caregiving practices. This book is rich, wise, humble, and a great example of a readable scholarly work. It is made particularly interesting in that it is a dialogue between two generations of intentional scholars — itself an instructive discussion — bit between a father and daughter, making it that much more fun, even tender. Highly recommended.

Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration  Elisabeth A. Nesbit Sbanotto, Heather Davediuk Gingrich, and Fred C. Gingrich (IVP Academic) $50.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $40.00

We are grateful that CAPS (Christian Association for Psychological Studies) does theoretical and intellectually stimulating books about the integration of faith and psychology and the ways in which even counseling methodologies can be shaped by and resonate with the gospel. This one shows the fruit of those carefully developed theories, offering skills and practices that make for effective skills in the counseling office.  This could be a text for training counselors or used by anyone that wants to be a people-helper.  I like the recommendations by Gary Moon:

Skills for Effective Counseling is a comprehensive yet accessible textbook written from decades of professional practice by the authors. It is for people helpers across a variety of roles—professional counselors, pastoral care providers, spiritual directors, and life coaches—and features a wealth of training activities, exercises, and transcript analysis. This is a welcome addition to the counselor education fields. — Gary W. Moon, executive director, Martin Institute and Dallas Willard Center, Westmont College, author of Apprenticeship with Jesus

The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community. Curt Thompson (IVP) $27.00             OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

We are not the only ones who named this extraordinary, thoughtful, beautiful book one of the Best Books of 2021 and we continue to recommend this, and his other two The Anatomy a Soul and The Soul of Shame. This isn’t exactly about how to do counseling, but he tells stories of his psychiatric practice, drawing on his understanding of neuroscience and our deepest longings for beauty and connection. Renowned visual artist Mako Fujimura wrote a wonderful foreword. Highly recommended for anyone, and certainly for those looking for some profound ruminations that could revolutionizer view of flourishing through therapy. 

Sin and Grace in Christian Counseling: An Integrative Paradigm Mark McMinn (IVP Academic)  $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

As one Christian leader who has done supervision of counselors put it, “Christians in counseling work tend towards being informed theologically but naive clinically ,or income d clinically but naive theologically.” McMinn, per usual, breaks out of this either-or model and offers an approach that is theologically informed and clinically sound. What a pleasure to know about these kinds of faithful, winsome, deeply integrated perspectives. 

 

Addiction and Pastoral Care Sonia Waters (Eerdmans) $26.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.20  

Rev. Dr. Waters is an assistant professor of pastoral theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and an Episcopal priest. I have heard from several well-informed scholars and practitioners that there is no better book on the market for thoughtful pastors wanting to help congregations help members in recovery. We do have a whole section of books on addictions and the recovery movement, but for professionals seeking a faithful perspective, this may be a life-line. 

 

Treatment of Childhood Disorders: Evidence-Based Practice in Christian Perspective Sarah E. Hall and Kelly S. Flanagam (IVP Academic) $55.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $44.00

Here is how the publisher describes this: “Caring for the mental health of children and their families is complex and challenging—and meaningful. Considering a variety of disorders commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, this unique textbook presents a research-based Christian integration perspective for treating these disorders that combines biblical, theological, and psychological understanding.”

Restoring the Shattered Shelf: A Christian Counselor’s Guide to Complex Trauma (2nd edition) Heather Davediuk Gingrich (IVP Academic) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Forgive me for once again naming a CAPS Book from IVP but these are so reputable and so important and look so interesting. Too few religious bookstores carry this sort of stuff and even fewer mainstream bookstores know or care. Gingrich is a professor of counseling at Denver Seminary and has a private practice working with complex trauma survivors. I’m told this is very, very useful so we really want to suggest it.  By the way, see also the 500-page, edited volume called Treating Trauma in Christian Counseling edited by Heather Davediuk Gingrich and Fred C. Gingrich, also done in cooperation with CAPS, published by IVP Academic ($60.00 – at 20% off = $48.00.)

Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective (2nd edition) Siang-Yang Tan (Baker Academic) $49.99                               OUR SALE PRICE = $39.99

Psychotherapy is a complex and serious sub-field in itself — read just a little bit about it in Charles Marsh’s memoir Evangelical Anxiety or the stories in Good Morning Monster by Catherine Gildiner that I reviewed last time —so there cannot be a simplistic Christian reply. This substantive text was years the making and was just re-issued in a considerably expanded edition this Spring. As the publisher notes “a leading scholar provides a comprehensive survey of major approaches to counseling and psychotherapy, offering a Christian critique and perspective.” But listen to this:

An already great textbook has been made better! In addition to updated original chapters, the second edition has new chapters on cognitive-behavioral therapies, constructivist therapies, and integrative therapies, including coverage of narrative and positive psychotherapy. All in all, the comprehensiveness, erudition, and Christian convictions and practices evidenced throughout make this book one of the most impressive examples of integrative scholarship in this or any contemporary discipline.    — Eric L. Johnson, Houston Baptist University, author, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal

Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice: A Four Step Model and Workbook for Therapist and Clients Joshua Knabb (IVP) $40.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

I’ll admit I don’t know much about all this — meditation or therapy — but it makes sense and resonates with those looking for deep spiritual practices alongside more conventional talk therapy. The respected Siang-Yang Tan of Fuller Theological Seminary calls it a “substantial book on a distinctively Christian approach to mindful meditation” and, in perhaps an unexpected manner, these beautiful practices are discussed with attention to science and research, drawing on empirical studies the author has conducted. With endorsements from scholars as diverse as Regent University and Harvard Medical School, Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice looks very reliable for therapists and clearly useful.

Contemplation & Counseling: An Integrated Model for Practitioners  P. Gregg Blanton (IVP Academic) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Perhaps there is some overlap with the Knob title, above, but this one offers less empirical data and useful suggestions as a bigger picture approach to this kind of integration of psychology and spirituality, counseling and contemplation. This paradigm builds on useful aspects of the contemplative movement to “balance various dimensions of the human person: emotion, cognition, and action.”

Dr. Blanton is a professor of psychology and human services at Montreat College in Black Mountain, NC, and founder of the Center for Contemplation and Marriage in Asheville, and has written an Orbis Press book on centering prayer.

Trauma-Informed Yoga: A Toolbox for Therapists – 47 Practices to Calm, Balance, and Restore the Nervous System  Joanne Spence (PESI Publishing) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

We have written about this before at BookNotes and wanted to add it in here since it is not really for the casual yoga fan, but for therapist who use yoga practices in ways that help their traumatized patients and clients. Joanne is a friend from Pittsburgh, active in her Anglican church, a spiritually aware leader and good trainer.  We’re delighted to recommend it and, as with all of these, offer our Hearts & Minds BookNotes discount. 

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

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“Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir” by Charles Marsh; “It’s Not You, It’s Everything” by Eric Minton; “The Lord Is My Courage” by K.J.Ramsey and “Good Morning, Monster” by Catherine Gildner. ON SALE – 20% OFF

The last BookNotes newsletter included descriptions and reviews of a handful of books for pastors and ministry leaders, including several that were those who are weary and perhaps disillusioned. I described how much I appreciated The Gift of Disillusionment by our friends Peter Greer & Chris Horst, how moved I was by The Resilient Pastor by Glen Packiam, and the powerhouse stories in Stuck: Why Clergy Are Alienated from Their Calling, Congregation, and Career by sociologists, one a former pastor himself, Todd Ferguson & Josh Packer. Not all were for those who are drained by their call to minister these days; I so appreciated Tom Nelson’s The Flourishing Pastor and can’t recommend it enough. Every pastor I know would love the fabulous The Pastor’s Bookshelf which offers pretty exquisite writing about the value of the reading life and the different ways reading widely and deeply can inspire and equip pastors in their important work. That reminded me of a post we did a month ago on the significance of reading thoughtfully and well which included amazing books like The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints by Jessica Wilson Hooten and Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy by Mary McCampbell and Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just by the very lively, righteous Rev. Claude Atcho. It’s been a good season, eh? Those of us who are book lovers and love reading about our favorite pastime will be grateful for these wise reads.

I want to start this BookNotes edition telling about a book that blew me away and which I am now reading for the second time. It is rare when I make time for an immediate repeat but this book was so engaging – that is, it was very well-written in a way that was artful and richly-crafted but was equally inviting and enjoyable. Not every book that is written with literary verve and gorgeous prose is, frankly, still that interesting. This, though, a memoir of a journey in and coming out of a southern sort of fundamentalism, and finding a way through the hurts and hang-ups of that milieu, is a page-turner. My mind is reeling thinking of a dozen things to say about it as there is so much going on in this breathtaking story.

And then I review several others, each pretty honest about our human condition and yet oddly enjoyable to savor. Good reading, friends!

ORDER ANY OR ALL OF THESE BY CLICKING ON THE “ORDER” TAB AT THE END OF THE COLUMN. THAT TAKES YOU TO OUR SECURE ORDER FORM.  THANKS.

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir Charles Marsh (HarperOne) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Evangelical Anxiety by Charles Marsh is some of what I might have expected in a memoir from him, knowing a bit about Dr. Marsh’s journey and scholarly interests. I am not sure I can describe simply his current, lively, Episcopalian kind of mere Christianity, but his conservative, Southern evangelical past is the swamp he has slogged through. As a Bonhoeffer expert (I heard him lecture gloriously about the martyred saint maybe 30 years ago and became an immediate Marsh fan with his second Bonhoeffer book, Strange Glory, an essential one), a scholar of and advocate for racial justice (and author of several excellent books on these exact themes, including one co-written with John Perkins called Welcoming Justice) and Director at the Project for Lived Theology at Charlottesville’s UVA, I assumed his story surely included some shift away from evangelicalism and distancing himself from the ugly compromises made by many white evangelicals in the last decades as they’ve drifted from gospel clarity and focused increasingly on right wing politics. When former evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr say that Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with their values voting, what is a somewhat socially progressive evangelical Christian to do? Needing to disavow the weirdness of a shallow God and Country sort of so-called evangelicalism has produced a number of memoirs and a number of serious studies about the value and wisdom – for the sake of the gospel! – to continue to use the phrase evangelicalism. Other books in this recent genre are less about the current state of the evangelical brand, and are artful tellings of the tales of living through what was often a toxic sort of legalism.

We have commended, for instance, the much-discussed Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey as a gripping look at the boyhood and young adulthood and ongoing faith journey set in this complicated and sometimes religiously harmful subculture. As any good memoir, Yancey’s book allows us to look over his shoulder and into his life as he navigated his broken family and harsh faith – it’s an entertaining if intense read; I often say that well-written memoirs provide a reading experience akin to reading great fiction. In some cases, one could hardly make up such astonishing stuff. Let’s face it, regardless of what one thinks about or what relationship one has with a given religious subculture, it makes for great literature.

(By the way, this is part of the appeal of the unforgettable true crime story Under the Banner of Heaven that is now a popular Netflix drama. We are not just drawn in by the grisly and tragic murders, but by the question of what kind of a religion can produce this kind of bad fruit. Especially in the TV series, that is the question the young LDS detective must struggle with. The show is as much about human questions of identity and religion and family and love as it is about cops and danger. And had highly recommended the book (with the subtitle “A Story of Violent Faith” by Jon Krakauer when it came out.)

This is a long way to get to a major point about the exquisitely written story, Evangelical Anxiety. It is, in fact, mostly not about the somewhat predictable question of how a smart young scholar and person of conscience with devout commitments to Christ can abide being am evangelical, given how grubby that phrase has become these days.  I was wrong to assume he was talking about that anxiety. (Although not as a memoir, Marsh did explore this already in 2007 with an acclaimed Oxford University Press book, Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity.) With Charles’s masterful writing chops and his extraordinary mind and learning, it would be fabulous to have a book about his worries, struggles, disagreements, cognitive dissonance, and theological ruminations, about his evangelical past. However, I was wrong about this being that kind of a story, really. It is, in fact, about his real anxiety disorder. In this stunning report that reveals more than I expected, we learn about Marsh’s years of psychotherapy to cope with his nearly debilitating panic attacks and something akin to depression.

Within the opening paragraphs we realize how very well written Evangelical Anxiety is and what an artful reading experience it will be. Wow. Soon enough, we realize that even as some of the themes are what we might first expect – a strict religious background giving way to a more expansive faith, the struggle to understand for oneself the spiritual life in the college and young adult years, the not uncommon journey from sparred down fundamentalist preaching services to a more liturgical (Episcopalian) worship — we soon realize that coping with real anxiety is much of what this book is about. And, well, well, well. What a story it is!

You should know this: Mr. Marsh wrote an earlier autobiographical account of his growing up years and it focused on an exceptional episode in his young life, a life-changing season at his father’s church, and while Evangelical Anxiety is not a sequel or second part of his life story, the remarkable stuff told in that previous one, does inform this new one. He explains those years briefly since it comes up over and again.

In The Last Days: A Son’s Story Of Sin And Segregation At The Dawn Of A New South, written in 2001, Marsh tells about how his father, a good preacher and thoughtful Baptist pastor, realized that there were violent KKK guys in his church, even on his leadership council. The Last Days tells of their horrible crimes, his father’s coming to terms with it. Like many Protestant pastors in those hard years in the South, Reverend Marsh was not an active anti-segregationist nor grossly bigoted. He was, perhaps, the sort of leader who would have realized that King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was, in part, addressed to him. He was a good man and a good father, if conventional in that Southern Baptist setting and slow to come around to the courage needed to confront the likes of Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Mississippi KKK who lived near the Marsh’s in Laurel, Mississippi.

The violence in the town, aimed at Blacks, of course, was in the air, and Marsh was not unaware of this fearful texture to daily life. But when his father removed the men of the KKK (and their families) from his church, the violence was aimed at his family as well. Young Marsh — athletic, popular, strong — couldn’t sleep at nights. 

In a nutshell – and Marsh describes it with considerable beauty and pathos and understanding and keen insight based on his own decades of studying the civil rights movement in the American south – this consequence, this violence and fear of violence, is the origin of Marsh’s own crippling anxiety attacks.

Yes, he reads literature and theology by authors outside of his evangelical world in high-school and then college; yes he ends up at Harvard Divinity School after Gordon College with some nearly anti-Christian teachers, or so it sounds. Yes, there is this refining and reframing of his faith and church life (perhaps akin to what some today call deconstruction) but all of that, or so Evangelical Anxiety suggests, is colored by the trauma of growing up in a repressive fundamentalist subculture, and of coming of age in a time and way that might suggest his fears are a fallout from his father’s fidelity to the gospel. Charles does not cheaply pat his father and mother on their backs and does not portray himself as collateral damage from their small, if belated, part in the civil rights struggle. But he knows the cost of discipleship in his bones. It drives him to seek help.

And this – oh my – is where the book gets even more captivating. He ends up (to make a colorfully long story of his circuitous path a bit shorter) in Freudian psychotherapy.

Think what you will about the appropriateness of a Biblically-trained evangelical young man heading to the couch to talk about his sexual desires and his mother and such, it is at the heart of this story. In a few spots, the book admits to Marsh’s own awareness of the irony of this (he knows all about Jay Adams and the anti-Freudian teaching from conservative evangelical thinkers who propose more overtly Biblical counseling; golly, he had a meeting with Francis Schaeffer when he was a teen as he sought guidance and direction. The story is made that much more fascinating knowing just how unlikely it was for this young man to take up such therapy. 

 (One small irritation at this point in the narrative: Marsh has my support in dismissing as inadequate the Bible quoting anti-psychologists in the tradition of Adams and his noetic counseling. Their view seems to me to be a good example of what Mark Noll has called “the scandal of the evangelical mind.” But surely Marsh knows about the extraordinary Christian scholarship published since the 1980s that illustrate the existence of an intellectually credible and creative movement exploring the integration of faith and the discipline of psychology and the practices of what might be called Christian counseling. Just look at the remarkable bibliography of Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) and their books published by IVP Academic, just for instance.  His declarations about evangelicalism’s alleged disinterest in such scholarship struck me as odd.)

As a broke young scholar with a new wife, feeling drawn into therapy, he ends up in a rare situation of doing analysis with a new shrink in a nearly free program in Baltimore. For those who know anything about this, you won’t be surprised that it goes on, almost daily, for years. Some of his breakthroughs and insights are disclosed here although the book never devolves into a mere account of his id and superego. It’s a great memoir, not a document of his therapy. Nonetheless, working on the couch has been a significant part of his life in coping with his disorders, and, well, there it is, written about with candor and wit. It is sharp and at times funny. 

As Jemar Tisby puts it:

“Marsh probes the realms of piety and mental health with engrossing prose and naked honesty, showing us how the sacred can be found in literature and on the therapist’s couch. Anyone curious about a better way to navigate mental health and belief will find hope and inspiration in this.”

I do not think I have ever read a book like this. The glimpse into a professional and religious life in which debilitating panic attacks and gripping depression and unusual ticks and so many concerns are described in such detail (without being overly dramatic or maudlin or self-pitying) is rare and so very interesting. I was stunned when I read early on in the book about his first attack. (Sorry for the spoiler alert — I hadn’t seen it coming. It is, no matter, an amazing piece of writing.) If you care about how some people cope with psychological disorder and their subsequent physiological consequences, this book will be illuminating. (Granted, he is from an educated class, a world-famous scholar, and award-winning author and the book is a memoir, not a guidebook, of his particular experience as a professor, academic, writer, and theologian.) I do not think it is a bad thing to say Evangelical Anxiety will be entertaining, a good read, as they say. There were descriptions and well-crafted sentences that just made me shake my head in wonder and there were episodes described that made me laugh out loud. Publisher’s Weekly called it an “endearing and rewardingly unusual account of mental illness and faith.”

Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day says,

“A harrowing book but, weirdly and wonderfully, also a hoot. I kept laughing aloud–and then sighing. A remarkable achievement.”

But, again: Mr. Marsh’s story unfolds against the backdrop of considerable anxiety around the religious questions of leaving behind a strict version of faith; it is, as more than one reviewer observed, connected to the questions about the relationships of the so-called secular and sacred; the split between body and soul, desire and duty. As in the Yancey memoir, moving away from the faith and very worldview of one’s youth, especially if it was a demanding subculture defined as over-and-against all others, can be painful and can create relational ruptures. Fortunately, Marsh’s parents were not toxic or harmful and some of his faith experiences (and the webs and networks of relationships he experiences) were perhaps less caustic that the caricature of this harsh setting might conjure; still, getting severely paddled by high school coaches and terribly shamed by youth group leaders was part of what was considered ordinary in that time in that place.

As Marsh comes of age in the 1970s there is cultural change in the wind, not unrelated to the seismic shifts begun in the 1960s. “The Times They are a Changin’” Dylan sang and the words were prescient. I feel it in my gut as I type it, knowing how I myself snarled out the words with my own cheap guitar in the ‘70s. Marsh reports well how one person and family – including his beloved wife K – negotiated these changes in these times as they moved into their early married years of the 1980s and on. Again, I could not put this book down and was very deeply moved by it all; I can at least say that anyone who is aware of the nature of Protestant life during the end of the 20th century and into the new millennium will find it fascinating.

We need you, dear and gentle reader, to know something else about this stunning memoir. It is honest. Marsh is exceedingly candid about his fears and his failures. Do I need to issue a trigger warning? Perhaps. He is candid, particularly, about his sexuality and, given the way purity culture was made into a fetish in some evangelical circles and how the Biblical teachings not to have sex before marriage were made exceptionally clear and linked to the looming threat of hell in his subculture, it is no wonder, I suppose, that he, uh, had issues.

A scene in Evangelical Anxiety of Charles and his then girlfriend reading wildly together while house-sitting in the home of Elizabeth Elliot of all people (look her up if you don’t know) is so erotically charged I don’t know how they remained chaste. In any case, there is some very frank talk in parts of the book. As a reader with a pretty wide palate for “language” in stories and who doesn’t think that human sexuality needs to be off limits for writers telling about their life story, I still have to say that some of this felt gratuitous. I think an editor should have put her foot down a time or two, even if Publisher’s Weekly enjoyed the “bawdy” parts.

Nonetheless, the book really does need to explore this stuff: it is an integral part of the story. It was the heavy-handed sexual repression combined with the ubiquitous racial violence that helped shape the psyche of a man who realized he could not manage a life in these modern times, as a faithful person, without unpacking it. And, so, he goes there, sharing without shame some intimate details of his life and not so unusual desires.

The very discerning James K.A. Smith called it “at once transgressive and faithful.“ Perhaps that’s it — both transgressive and faithful.

Other early readers also have raved about this long-awaited memoir by Mr. Marsh. We know it may not be for everyone but it is a major book by an important voice, and it was very difficult to put down. I’m happy to tell you about it and hope you’ll send us an order.

There is vivid storytelling, there are remarkable recollections of important stuff, and there is some broad-brush cultural analysis, placing his own journey in the context of the fundamentalist and evangelical world of the past generation, up to and including his own worship experiences today.

The opening page describing in smooth detail the crisp khaki trousers and brand name shirt of the Anglican worship leader presiding at worship, the tasteful praise songs, and the shockingly weird sermon, was so well written and deftly designed, shifting to a line at the end of the page that made tears well up in my eyes, alerted me that this was going to be one great read.

There is also great tenderness in Evangelical Anxiety. Marsh writes about taking his kids to a Christian camp. He describes his love for his mother, including the solace she offered during his fearful nights as a boy. He is deeply remorseful when he has hurt his wife. He struggles with how to relate his own scholarship – he writes about Bonhoeffer, after all – with his own practice of lived discipleship. He holds what he knows to be true about the world, its racism and violence, and is learning how to carry on as a sane and happy person. In a simple passage about finding joy in good things in God’s creation, the spirituality of the ordinary, so to speak, he mentions how his friend, the evangelical, black leader John Perkins likes blue berries. I got a lump in my throat, just such a lovely little line about a man who has suffered much and experienced great fame, Charles’s friend. Many who pick up this book and enter this story will also be struck by Marsh’s great love for literature and the often beautiful way he mentions novels and authors, his intimate relationship with their truths and artful pleasures. I so enjoyed reading about a man I respect and the books he loves and the authors who have informed him.

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir is one of the important books of the season, and we are eager to promote it. It is my hunch that few religious bookstores will celebrate it – it’s just a bit much for the safe tastes of evangelicals apparently without anxiety. And yet it is so rooted in the religious subculture of the American south, even in the rather elite New England and mid-Atlantic settings into which he later became comfortable, that I’m not sure if the hipster indie stores and the big box secular chains will get it. I hope so. For Hearts & Minds fans and BookNotes readers, I invite you to give it a chance, start a book club, maybe; Charles Marsh is an important scholar and leader you should know and bares much in this gripping new memoir. It is one great read.

This is a bold, beautiful memoir, at once transgressive and faithful. Marsh embodies a theology with the courage to tackle the taboo, including depression and desire, in prose that is evocative and seductive. In the end, we learn that the most astounding grace is found in the God we can tell our secrets. — James K.A. Smith, Calvin University, editor in chief, Image, author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

In this beautifully choreographed memoir, Charles Marsh’s lyrical prose dances as he recounts a tormenting anxiety disorder. Eventually he finds solace through years of a masterfully-described psychoanalysis (later supplemented with a bit of Prozac). Evangelical Anxiety is a courageous memoir where Christianity and psychoanalysis –worlds that rarely converge–interweave. — Dinah Miller MD, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of Shrink Rap: Psychiatrists Explain Their Work

 

It’s Not You It’s Everything: What Our Pain Reveals About the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life Eric Minton (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Well, I’ve opened a bit of a can of worms with this BookNotes, leading off with my rave review of the aesthetically rich, profound story of the great writer Charles Marsh as he narrates, among other things, his anxiety and panic attacks and depression and his experience of years of psychoanalysis as a way of coping with his religious trauma from his Southern fundamentalist youth. It’s a great read, candid and even shocking, all the more for being so very well written. Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir is, at least in part, about the quest not only for reasonable, radical faith in a secularizing world, but for emotional and psychological wholeness coming from a world of (to swipe the subtitle of her much earlier memoir) “sin and segregation.”) It is a memoir, not a study of counseling or a self-help guide but it does, in ways that are not oblique, explore questions of mental health.

This new Broadleaf book by Eric Minton also explores the quandaries of holding on to mental health these days and it is a stunner. Like Marsh, at least in some significant ways, the author has shifted from a harsh and restrictive religiosity that plagued him in his earlier days. As a former Southern Baptist minister turned therapist, Minton knows well the struggle to clarify (some might say deconstruct) unhealthy faith and discover a more faithful, coherent, graciously Biblical worldview that could shape a well lived life. He, like Marsh, has seen some shit.

What is so very impressive with this engaging book is how the author insists that our own anxieties these days, religious or otherwise, are amplified by the cross pressures of the age. Perhaps it has always been so, but it certainly is now. Trying to conform to a sick culture, he suggests, is part of what is making us so very restless, anxious, prone to depression and ill health.

I do not know (although it has surely been written about) how the weirdness of the Middle Ages affected ordinary people’s self awareness and sense of themselves, or how the early modern or industrial age left its mark on what we now call the psyche. Scholars tell us that common folk hardly had a sense of self in the modern sense of a certain sort of identity in ancient years, which some claim is a relatively recent construction. (One seriously significant study about some of that, by the way, interacting with Philip Reiff and Charles Taylor, is by the often brilliant, if sometimes a bit cranky, Carl R.Trueman, in his hefty Crossway volume, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.)

But, geesh, the writers of the Biblical Psalms sure seemed to have a sense of self, wounded and redeemed as they were.

In any case, we know a bit how society  — ideas and forces — influence us. We about the critique of the ticky tacky little boxes and the gray-suited zeitgeist of the corporate man during the post World War II era (and the consciousness raising that spawned the feminist awareness among suburban woman in the 1960s and 70s.) I just started the splendidly enjoyable end of the 20th century social history written as memoir by Bill McKibben (The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: And What the Hell Happened) and, again, we know that social trends and cultural forces create an ethos that influences and sometimes impacts harshly the mental health of people and families. Again, think of industrialization and urbanization, including the Great Migration, and the very real personal fallout from suburbanization. Or the “cultural amnesia and expressive individualism” Trueman writes about, finding its glory in the romantic notions of the counter culture and the “triumph of the erotic.”  Tell me all that doesn’t create some personal angst. Or, simply, consider the tragic loneliness of our time, despite our 24/7 social media access.  Maybe it’s like we’re back in Glome, the dark world of Lewis’s Til We Have Faces, a story about love.

The big contention of It’s Not You, It’s Everything, is that there is really hard stuff in the air now, weirdness in the water and our current zeitgeist nearly pushes us into stress and anxiety. From the well-documented influence of social media, the pressure to parent in certain ways (think the pressures of youth sports and the drive to have our kids achieve more and more at younger and younger ages) to our ubiquitous political tensions, the pace of life and shallowness of so much our entertainment (and religion, we might say, drawing on Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, at least) we are overly stimulated, longing for peace, worried about everything. It isn’t just you, it isn’t just me. As Minton the pastor turned therapist says, it’s everything.

I am a fan of It’s Not You, It’s Everything and I am quite sure reading it will be valuable for you, too. It will provoke you to think, to receive new insights; the book is, as public citizen and Christian writer David Dark says, “a profound gift.”

Mintor is a Tennessee troublemaker at least insofar as he names our alienation caused by the go-go-go of our hyper capitalist culture, the harm done by what Saint Dorothy Day called “this filthy rotten system.” He dares to explore how capitalistic pressures to bootstrap and succeed and brand oneself are savaging us. This stuff, written with grace and great kindness, and some nice stories, carries the ring of truth.

(There are hundreds of Christian social ethicists, economists, and public theologians who bring a strong critique of capitalism and our materialistic idols these days, and the harm these idols bring, of course. Just for three fairly recent ones, see Rodney Clapp’s Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, Bob Goudzwaard’s Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture, or the spectacularly interesting Disarming Romans: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh.)

Nearly anyone doing serious cultural analysis these days needs to grapple with both the personal and the public forces arrayed against our flourishing. Almost anyone doing Christian thinking about anything, in fact, or so it seems to me – considering church ministry, say, or child rearing or evangelism or taking in the news or our worlds of leisure and entertainment or how to undergird our frazzled family lives – has to consider how our personal lives and the mediating social networks and the civic fabric we are woven into, and the larger social architecture of our cultural landscape in which we are situated, are deformed and ill-shaped by forces akin to what the Bible might call “principalities and powers.” To ask, as Minton does, how economic and social forces and the pressures of this post-Christian, late-modern, competitive culture chips away at our joy, our meaning, the wholeness of our lives, eroding what might be more stable in less trying times, should not be controversial. If he quotes some pretty serious social critics and a bunch of medical and psychological studies to help him help us, so be it. Everything solid, after all, does seem to melt into air these days.

And so, this is one provocative, incisive, wide-angled and yet somehow intimately soothing, self-help book. It’s not all big picture lament; he draws nicely on Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle and the fabulous David Dark (especially his Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious.) He quotes artists and shows from pop culture (including a funny story about MC Hammer in the acknowledgments, which certainly dates his coming of age.) He has a few Cracker Barrel mentions and there’s that lovely story about the luminous night with fireflies. He obviously has Mr. Rogers at the ready, all right alongside Cornel West and James Baldwin.  With the skills of a pastoral counselor and the training of a rather radical social critic and the colorful storytelling chops of a good ol’ boy, counselor Minton brings it all together in a book unlike any I’ve read in a while. And who doesn’t need a bit of help just trying to make sense of, well, all of this. You know.

I like how author Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (who wrote a book called Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age) observes that Minton “challenges us to turn our anxiety and depression back out into the world.” Rogers-Valughn continues, saying how the book “illuminates a path beyond the hypercapitalist morass in which we find ourselves today.”

As I’ve said, it isn’t exactly rocket science to admit that our society is somewhat to blame for our weirdness these days, although knowing how to adjudicate that and what to do about it takes the gifts of the Spirit and a good bit of genius. I think Minter has a lot of both.

Here are the key chapters, framed by lovely stories of his youth, from being afraid of swimming and the rural American pastime of catching fireflies (or what recalled lightening bugs) in a jar:

  • Why Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? How Children Became Investments
  • Why Is Everyone Yelling on the Internet? How People Became Brands
  • Why Does Heaven Seem So Out of Reach? How Capitalism Became Religion
  • Why Does God Seem So Depressed? How Christianity Became Anesthetic
  • What If We Can’t Keep Doing This? How to Survive the Death of Your God
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of Our Feelings? How to Listen to Our Pain as an Act of Resistance
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of God? How to Reparent Ourselves
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of Dying? How to Do More Than Live Forever
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of Each Other? How to Be Complicated 

Here is what others have said about It’s Not You, It’s Everything.

With It’s Not You, It’s Everything, Eric Minton gives us a profound gift, inviting us into a genuinely therapeutic space where we can regard our own stretched-to-the-limit bandwidth with care, compassion, and good humor. There is difficult work to be done, but we can meet the task of seeing ourselves clearly and candidly. It can even be a joy. — David Dark, author of Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

In It’s Not You, It’s Everything, Eric Minton presents a compassionate and uncompromising assessment of the forces driving our spiritual anxiety and guides us toward questions that peel back the source of our discontent. In this book for people who can’t take much more, Minton offers us a hope with weight –hope we can hold on to. — Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor and author of How to Have an Enemy and Fire by Night

In It’s Not You, It’s Everything, Eric Minton sets out to delineate the ways the modern life does not support our thriving as spiritual, emotional, and embodied human beings, and to offer us a bold alternative way of being. He succeeds on both counts. With humor, vulnerability, and reference to a multitude of writers, activists, and scholars, Minton digs deep into what it would take for all of us to actually be okay. — Jessica Kantrowitz, author of The Long NightBlessings for the Long Night, and, 365 Days of Peace

The Lord is My Courage: Stepping Through the Shadows of Fear Toward the Voice of Light K.J. Ramsey (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39  RELEASING JUNE 14, 2020

Some of you may know the extraordinary book that we promoted a year or so ago by K.J Ramsey on her life and faith with chronic pain entitled This Too Shall Pass: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers. It was very well-written, honest and raw, and oddly inspiring as she learned to name the hardships of her painful life, With a brokenness that in one way or another we all have experienced she tells of learning to trust the God of covenant and grace known in the person of Jesus. It was a book I needed and that we still recommend for those facing chronic illnesses or other ongoing hardships.

This brand new one – due out next week, so you can pre-order it now, at our secure order form by clicking on the “order” link below – is, I might say, farther along and deeper in. It is not a sequel, really, although it, too, is written in the style of a memoir in order to help us all grow in our capacity to trust God, knowing we are held, accepted, loved.  This powerful book, The Lord Is My Courage, is truly useful for anyone, but I’ll say three things about it that might help you know if it is one you need, now, at least.

Firstly, Ramsey is a trauma-informed, licensed professional counselor. As a person of deep faith she describes herself not only as a therapist but “a writer whose work offers space to see every part of our souls and stories as sacred.” She holds degrees from Covenant College and Denver Seminary and she is gifted at sharing stories in a way that invites us into their mysteries, encourages us, helps. She seems to have the heart of a poet and is a bit of a visionary, it seems, but she knows what she’s doing. Believe me.

Secondly, this book is connected to and perhaps grounded in her own story of experiencing a dysfunctional congregation and a bullying pastor, going through what now some name as spiritual abuse. If Charles Marsh in his literary memoir, above, narrates his anxiety produced by growing up in an era of racial trauma and a restrictive fundamentalism, Ramsey and her husband experienced (more recently) a toxic religious culture and a harsh faith style in a church that, as she describes it, was complicit with cruel, crushing leaders. As she stepped away from that wilderness of religious trauma, she “discovered that courage is not the absence of anxiety but the practice of trusting we will be held and loved no matter what.” This book, arranged around but not fixated upon her experience of religious abuse, is about helping readers cultivate courage, especially when fear overshadows our lives. As the back cover asks, “How do we hear the Voice of Love when hate and harm shout loud?”

How, indeed? Well, part of the answer for K.J. is to search the Scriptures and to find oneself within their redemptive arc, learning to not only embrace the hope of the Kingdom but to encounter the God of the story. One way to do that, a time-honored way, is to dig deep into one text. For her, in this marvelous new book, it is the beloved 23rd Psalm. The Lord is My Courage is a play on the first famous line of Psalm 23 and her book explores much about the contemporary application of God’s heart as a shepherd.

Perhaps you have read a few books on this famous text (although, curiously, it is so well-loved and familiar that not many actually study it.) We were quite happy when Dallas Willard’s book (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23) came out, notable for bringing very deep truths in a readable way from this almost too-common Psalm. Similarly – but with a whole lot more psychological drama and edgy application – Ramsey’s The Lord is My Courage brings fresh insight from the Hebrew poem, helping us who have great fears and great needs learn to be brave as we trust God the good shepherd.

And, wow, K.J. does offer some fresh insights. (Her comments about “the rod” that the Psalms says is to be a comfort is worth the price of the book even if she is not the first to explain it so helpfully.) She’s got other good interpretations and creative applications, too. Fresh as her take on much of all this is, and as contemporary as her style (and story) are, Ramsey is drawing on good, good stuff. She knows the irreplaceable Ken Bailey’s work, she draws on N.T Wright and Eugene Peterson and Kathleen Norris, one of her favorites.  It’s lovely to see how she uses Julian of Norwich and contemporary Calvin scholar Julie Canlis and the amazing Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, not to mention her mentor Kelly M. Kapic (whose 2017 book, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering informed Ramsey’s first, and whose recent You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News is really worth reading.) It’s not every book that is so Biblically astute, so deeply spiritual, aware of contemporary neuroscience and psychology (she quotes a book about the Vegus nerve and ruminates on polyvagal theory, for Pete’s sake) and yet is a page turner, in part because of her own heavy story. All this makes for quite a read. The foreword is by Curt Thompson (author, most recently, of The Soul of Desire) which is quite an honor for any author and indicates the book’s wisdom and value. We are very glad to get to recommend it, now. 

We are not alone in trusting this author and commending her work. Here are just two of many that we invite you to read carefully. Just these blurbs are inspiring!

The message those who suffer hear most often is self-heal, self-love, and self-help, which only adds shame, guilt, and a suffocating sense of powerlessness. When we are desperate, we need not advice to act on, but a promise from God that he will be with us no matter what. If you have ever felt like darkness is your only companion, you won’t find yourself blamed in this book. You’ll find yourself pursued and embraced by the patient and compassionate love of a God who meets you in your pain. God does not command, ‘Heal thyself!’ but declares, ‘You will be healed!”– Justin S. Holcomb, minister; seminary professor; author, God with Us: 365 Devotions on the Person and Work of Christ

I trust people who have suffered to speak the deepest wisdom. K.J. Ramsey is such a person. In The Lord Is My Courage, Ramsey comes to us as a therapist with acute pastoral sensibilities who does not mince words about the destruction self-centered, power-hungry undershepherds unleash on individual parishioners and the wider church. But she does not stop there. She gently leads us through Psalm 23 and showcases God’s love for and delight in us — our belovedness — as revealed throughout the psalm. As we wind our way through Psalm 23, Ramsey offers us grace and direction as we seek to become whole, especially when we are dealing with pain and shame related to abusive shepherds and churches. Ramsey deftly demonstrates that God is our good and beautiful shepherd seeking our flourishing, and not some tyrant feigning godliness who merely uses and abuses people for personal gain. Listen to her. — Marlena Graves, author, The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

Good Morning Monster: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery Catherine Gildiner (St. Martin’s Press) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Although this recent volume has gotten rave, big-time reviews and is a fabulous chronicle of the life of a therapist, narrating the life situations of a handful of her clients over the course of a few years, we were first attracted to this merely because the author is such a great, great writer. Her own several memoirs of her eccentric girlhood, her coming of age and young adult years (Too Close to the Falls, After the Falls, and Coming Ashore) were New York Times bestsellers and among the favorite books Beth and I read a few years ago. If we ever got talking about memoirs – from James Carroll’s An American Requiem to The Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit, to Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me, to Just Mercy, Uneducated, and When Breath Becomes Air to Heavy, Hollywood Boulevard and Kin – surely Catherine Gildiner’s odd and entertaining tales would be on our lips. We loved this girl and her feisty stories.  In fact, I think I have to pick up those memoirs again — they are that good.

Here she is less outrageously upbeat (these are not her stories, really, but her story of working with these patience as a real life therapist in Toronto) but her wit and eye for clever observation remains. What prose!  She is generous and gracious as she invites us to see, really see and care about, the people’s lives she is telling us about in all their need and painful glory. As Paula McLain (herself a skilled and admired memoirist) says, the real topic here is, “heroism – writ large and with poignant specificity in five unforgettable patient’s lives. Good Morning Monster,” she continues, “will bolster your faith in human endurance, and make you root more fiercely for us all.”

At least that is the hope. There is some heavy stuff here, and, frankly, may not be for everyone.

This book really is captivating for those willing to sit through these sessions with Dr. Gildiner. She’s an expert therapist, apparently, and there are moments that shine (although I know some think she is off base on occasion; that may be.) I do admit, though, I kept wondering what she’d do with the evangelical anxiety of Charles Marsh or the spiritual abuse and physical pain of K.J. Ramsey, and what she would do differently if she took Eric Minton’s “it’s everything” cultural critique seriously.

Valerie Hemingway (speaking of powerful, well-written memoirs, she wrote Running with the Bulls: My Year with the Hemingways) calls it “a brilliant piece of work, both heart rending and chilling. I was moved to tears.”   I see that.

Here is how the publisher explained this book:

In this fascinating narrative, therapist Catherine Gildiner’s presents five of what she calls her most heroic and memorable patients. Among them: a successful, first generation Chinese immigrant musician suffering sexual dysfunction; a young woman whose father abandoned her at age nine with her younger siblings in an isolated cottage in the depth of winter; and a glamorous workaholic whose narcissistic, negligent mother greeted her each morning of her childhood with ‘Good morning, Monster.’

Each patient presents a mystery, one that will only be unpacked over years. They seek Gildiner’s help to overcome an immediate challenge in their lives, but discover that the source of their suffering has been long buried.

Seeing into the lives of others is why we read memoirs, and why the sorts of books named above are so very valuable. We learn more, I think, from observing and leaning in to the human condition, messy as it may be, than by just learning information in our heads about self-improvement. We are what we love, as Jamie Smith says (channeling Saint Augustine) in his marvelous book by the same name, and to grow as a person surely means to learn to love ourselves in our human condition, with our wounds and our needs and our desires. And, of course, to learn to love others as they, too, both mirror God’s image and stand broken and hurting. We’re all in this same boat, really, so reading widely into the healing journey can help.

Dr. Gildiner has given us a very great resource here, then, an exercise in learning to care, a book that unfolds like a collection of short stories, the sometimes gut-wrenching drama and real pain and hope of each, in each, culminating in insights gleaned. It reads like fiction, almost, as good memoir does (which into say it is not mere reporting or recounting notes for these sessions, although there is a touch of that.) Good Morning Monster is a gift and will be very valuable for some of us, entertaining for others. It, like the others above, is a very good read.

I am going to end this BookNotes with a bit of a bonus review, a quick announcement about a small book that might seem different that these about those going through often painful psychological traumas, from serious anxiety about faith to stressful restlessness in our hectic culture to emotional profound disorders. Our human hurts and foibles, our misplaced loves and complicated stories make for impressive reading in the hands of good writers. These memoirs and observations are interesting to read and we hope you enjoy them.  But if we who are Christians believe God came close to us in the person of Christ and that He was a truly human person, than Christ’s own identity and personhood is good to consider alongside these contemporary memoirs.  Check this out, a brand new contemporary edition of an old bit of writing from a century ago.

The Emotional Life of Our Lord B.B Warfield (Crossway) $8.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.19

B.B. Warfield, you may know (although I suppose many may not) was a exceptionally important, highly regarded professor at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851-1921, before the modernist vs liberal debates that tore many old seminaries apart in the early 20th century. He was, as they say, old school, and Old Light, I guess, meaning he wasn’t fond of the emotionalism and sensationalism of the “new light” revivalism sweeping America in those years. By the way, he spoke out against racial discrimination while the Principal of the seminary and was known for his “emancipationist” views. It was B.B.Warfield’s large presence at Princeton that inspired Abraham Kuyper to visit there in 1898 and deliver his now famous “Stone Lectures” about Calvinism as a whole world-and-life perspective.

In any case, Warfield’s love for the Bible and his love for Christ and his role as a leading theologian known around the world, then, caused him to write a bit, to put it mildly. His “complete works” came to ten big hardback volumes, but, oddly this essay was not included. In the foreword to this new, very handsome, pocket sized edition Sinclair Ferguson calls it a “hidden jewel” — hidden, because it is not well known and a jewel because of the tender and vital topic, namely, the emotional life of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. It was first published (with tons of academic footnotes to then current books and obscure Hebrew and Greek resources, that were nicely omitted in this edition) in 1912.  This is the first time, as far as I know, that it has been available in a stand alone little volume. Kudos to Crossway (and this whole series of “Crossway Short Classics” that also include other jewels such as Spurgeon’s Encouragement for the Depressed, Thomas Chalmer’s The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, and one with two of Francis Schaeffer’s sermons from No Little People. See the whole list here. Naturally, we stock them all.

I hope this little Warfield volume — which I first heard of years ago from my friend Steve Garber who has found it helpful in many ways and cites it sometimes — will remind us all that Jesus, our brother, felt things. As a man in broken times, he knew, what these above authors know: that it’s not you, it’s everything. That to love well and live well, we must somehow attend to our deepest feelings, including our sense of our grief for the wounds of the world, and, as we say nowadays, feel the feels. Jesus did so. Warfield, in a time and place and culture very different than ours, noticed it in a way many do not. His part on Jesus’s compassion and tears is remarkable to to this day even though written with a sober reverence that may sound a little formal to modern ears. Still, we recommend The Emotional Life of Our Lord, from 1912. Who knew? Enjoy.

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For many of us on these warmer summer evenings, some hard-earned bucks on a couple of good books ends up being pretty darn good entertainment value, too. These are captivating and fabulous books, complex and wise, mostly, as they explore human and heart-rending topics. From religious anxiety through healing and finding new courage, It’s not just you, it’s everything. Grab a couple of books at our discounted prices and dive in. There’s a lot to learn.

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