4-Day Only 40% off (and 50% off) Post-Jubilee SALE

Okay, friends and faithful BookNotes readers: I won’t do an epic post-Jubilee conference report this year, but our big Pittsburgh gathering sponsored by the CCO, as I write, is nearly done. It’s the Monday after the conferees have left and we’ve been working hard boxing up the remaining books. Teamsters at the Convention Center are using forklifts and pallet jacks to move pallets full of boxes onto their loading dock where Beth and our buddy Sean – a rare bird who is a happy, energetic helper, incredibly strong, and a well-read philosopher who casually mentions Merleau-Ponty or Herman Dooyeweerd alongside his amazing knowledge of Scripture – are getting things into the rented truck so we can get it back across the state and unloaded by Tuesday, before they charge us for another day. Our backs and legs are sore, our brains a bit fuzzy, but our hearts are full.

 

The joy of talking about how books can inform us and help us embody a distinctively Christian lifestyle in and for the world, even in college studies, work, and civic life quickly shifted to trying to figure out how to get odd shaped boxes and boards and displays and cash registers and gobs of paperwork into a truck without them getting damaged. Dreaming with college students about the Jubilee vision with speakers like Steve Garber, CPJ Director Stephanie Summers, After College author Erica Young Reitz, Redeemer City-to-City leader Abe Cho and selling books to serious Christian students and seekers, too, as well as workshop presenters, speakers, and CCO staff is so rewarding, but now we’ve got some serious unloading to do. Will have hundreds of boxes unloaded into the shop later tonight. As the old catchphrase by one of the first black Hollywood stars goes, “Feets don’t fail me now.”

I’d love for you to read my past missives about Jubilee HERE, HERE, or HERE or HERE – each explains a bit about how Jubilee has influenced how we think and much of what our store has been about, helping equip people of faith to think Christianly about God’s care for all of life and to nurture a “spirituality of the ordinary” so people can find joy and make a difference in every zone of daily life. Of course the local church is a key to all of this, and that is one vital aspect of the whole missional movement, but it is surely not the only institution God cares about and ought not be the singular focus of our Christian lives. But, yet, prayer and church and gospel proclamation and gentle spiritual formation are all foundations for a robust, imaginative, embodied, Kingdom life in and for the various spheres of God’s good but fallen world.

Some young students with whom the CCO campus staff works and who they bring to Jubilee are nurtured by churches that do not have much of a Kingdom vision. Mired by a deep dualism between the so-called sacred and secular, resulting in a gap between Sunday and Monday, with a disconnect, then, between, say, prayer and politics or worship and work, or spirituality and studies, those students are astonished to learn that God cares about their majors (and future careers) or that there is a Biblically-informed worldview that can frame how the think about and live into their various callings in their real-world lives. Jesus isn’t just about going to heaven when you die? This is huge news for some, and, as the conference theme put it, it “changes everything.”

Think about that. Does your church or small group or Bible class or nonprofit organization integrate faith in creative but faithful ways into the very style in which you do your work? Has the news of the Kingdom “changed everything”? Do you equip people to read widely so you can think Christianly about all areas of life, including work and careers, citizenship and civic life, leisure and entertainment, money and creation-care? This call to read and study and embrace life-long learning towards deeper fidelity in learning how to navigate faithfully within our Babylonian culture of idols and ideologies is a great challenge, a new aspect of discipleship for some. I hope your faith community is about all of that.

(And, of course, although Jubilee [and the books we suggest here at BookNotes] reminds us of the need for deep cultural analysis of the distorted ways of thinking about structures, institutions, ideas, and policies, we must also think quite practically. We care about public affairs and the more personal — are leaders taken with power and egoism? Is servanthood and kindness commonplace? Do people pray for one another and treat each other with respect? Do we embody personal integrity? Is there trust within the folks within your church or organization? These, too, are Kingdom practices discussed often at Jubilee.)

We hope our bookstore has helped in some small way as you have worked to be a gracious agent of change, in your church and in your circles in the broader world and the culture at large. We need books to help us know how to be faithful salt and light and leaven. As we head home from this stellar, extraordinary, Pittsburgh event with students each February we are also so struck by the great opportunity we have been given to serve our store’s customers and various organizations across the country. We are thankful.

Now, for the slow unboxing and reshelving. This only shows one corner of our store — there are boxes everywhere! Wanna make it a bit easier on us?

Buy some books.

40% off for the next 4 days; 50% off the final two listed // Sale ends Tuesday (2-27-24) night at midnight.

Here are just a few of the books we had for sale at Jubilee — a bit of what we call in the biz “overstock.” These are excellent titles and we’d love to get them into your hands. Order a bunch. We’ll sell ‘em now at 40% off (or 50% off for the last two listed) but for four days only and while supplies last on each. After February 27, 2024 they will revert to our typical BookNotes 20% off.

We take about 150 categories of books, including lots of scholarly and semi-scholarly texts. From legal theory to aesthetics, urban planning to nursing, from disability studies to business, politics to sexuality to science to schooling, we have lots. But these are some general ones, mostly, that you might enjoy. They are 40% off for the next four day.

What If Jesus Was Serious About Heaven? Skye Jethani (Brazos) $16.99 SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.19

I highlighted this from up front, happily noting that it is an easy read, but provocative, with cartoons. Perhaps like N.T. Wright’s perspective offering insights about the Kingdom of God, Tish Harrison Warren (who has done main stage talks at Jubilee) says it offers aid “and a luminous, sturdy hope.” Highly recommended — for adults, of course, but youth could read it, too. Yes!

 

Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi  (IVP) $24.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $14.40

Another study which explores the under-explored theme of the reign of God. In what ways is the gospel the announcement of the regime change happening, of the inauguration of the Kingdom coming, “on Earth as it is in heaven?” Wakabayashi has shared the gospel of Christ’s salvation often, and when he came to study the theme of the Kingdom, we realized he had to tell the gospel story more faithfully. This is an amazingly useful book, one that I know has trasnformed countless lives and healthy ways. It is very highly recommended.

 

Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and A Guide to Finding Your Place In It  R.York Moore (Moody Press) $13.99   SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $8.39

York is the fairly new President of the CCO and a friend; this clear book excites me each time I look through it; I like it a lot. Easy and delightful to read, Do Something Beautiful invites us to enact goodness in the world, to add beauty. What a solid but creative way of announcing the Kingdom and showing the implications of the gospel as it is unleashed in the world.  It’s a colorful, handsome, little book, too, a joy to behold. For anybody who has muttered, “There has to be more than this, right?” Hooray.

A Liturgy in the Wilderness: How the Lord’s Prayer Shapes the Imagination of the Church in a Secular Age D.J Marotta (Moody Press) $14.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $8.99

The subtitle says it all. Marotta is an Anglican priest and smart, smart guy — you may catch the allusion to Charles Taylor — and this lovely little book is a fine example of his solid, creative work. It was a joy to meet him (and to hear about another book on the saints of the church that he has coming out before too long, done collaboratively with an artist in his parish) at Jubilee this year. This recent one explores so well that ancient notion of how what we pray shapes what we believe which shapes how we actually live. Amen and Amen.

Your Minds Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $8.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $4.80

I will not wax eloquent on how I love this little booklet but if you are curious by what we mean by “thinking Christianly” or what a generative, creative, view of worldview might be like, or why study and reading widely matters, this booklet is worth its weight in gold. In the few minutes I have up front to talk about books during each major plenary session, I choose to take a minute and read a moving passage from page 8. Men and women, adults or students should all have a few of these on hand, always.

 

Being God’s Image: Why Creation Still Matters Carmen Joy Imes (IVP) $22.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $13.20

I’m sure you’ve seen me highlight this before, insisting that it is just grand, so informative, unlocking many aspects of what we are to believe and do when we reflect on God’s original plan. A study of the creation narrative, removing a theologically rich and Biblically astute picture, Being God’s Image is one of my favorite recent books. Dr. Imes — a respected and increasingly in-demand Bible scholar — did the Jubilee talk on creation last year (2023) and hit it out of the park, as they say. This book wasn’t out yet, then, so this year we touted it, hoping those who so enjoyed her last year would pick it up. And many did. We wanted you to have an opportunity to grab it now, with this deep discount. Maybe you have a Bible study group or Sunday school class who might want to work through it. Believe me, it’s readable yet profound, asking about who God is, what it means to be human, and why we should care about God’s good world. Hooray.

All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World Catherine McNiel (NavPress) $15.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $9.59

When we start the Jubilee conference on Friday night there is a talk on the goodness of creation; all of us live and move and have our being (as the apostle Paul put it, swiping a Greek pop culture adage of his day) in an ordered cosmos upheld by the Triune God who declared it all good. One can hardly serve God in the world (let alone in careers and professions) without knowing this foundational truth. One way to deepen that awareness, of course, is to read the arts and sciences and explore stuff like Andy Crouch’s must-read Culture Making. But I also like to highlight narratives like this…a beautiful young writer meanders through four seasons in her life, finding God’’s presence in the good and the bad, the beautiful and the broken. Lovely, luminous, wise (and with a foreword by poet Luci Shaw.)

Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey Sarah Shin (IVP) $18.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $ 10.80

Often, for those of us who have empathy for the marginalized or repressed, we’ve learned a bit about systemic racism and social injustices. Often we talk about race and ethnic diversity in light of the gross sin of racism. At Jubilee, I like to highlight this book up front the first night suggesting that before we talk about racism, as such, we can celebrate that God made the possibilities for an ethnically diverse world; multicultural concerns are not merely a result of the fall, but are the way things are supposed to be. God honors us with different sorts of racial and ethnic configurations and while it is true that we, as humans, have distorted our ethnicities, it can be said, still, that our ethnicity is a foundational good part of who we are. Hooray.

This book explains much of this and more. It is important and challenging, what James Choung has called “groundbreaking.” Ken Wytsma, after noting how beautifully written and astute it is, says that “Sarah Shin takes readers on a deep, honest, and spiritual journey… I can’t recommend Beyond Colorblind highly enough.”

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Eerdmans) $24.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $14.99

If we open the Jubilee event with a talk on creation, the Saturday morning main stage keynote talk is about what theologians call “the fall.” That is, the goodness and beauty and order of creation, is now — as we all know — “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Some years I highlight this vital title, even if it is maybe more than what some young adults are ready to read. It is a serious theology of sin, but it is so well written and wise and even charming (it is Neal Plantinga, after all, who can hardly pen a bad or boring sentence) that I assure them that they will learn much and enjoy it, too. Few believe me that reading a book about the brokenness of the world, the fall, the Biblical doctrine of the fall is necessary. Hence we have some left over. But believe me, this helps illuminate your world, bringing the lights on in fresh ways, offering this summary of sins in a way that is (as The Christian Century review put it years ago) “comprehensive articulate, and well-written.” It illustrates the topic with lots of then-current news reports, studies, and pop culture references and shows that most foundationally, sin is “a vandalization of shalom.” He, too, starts with creation (and has a final chapter on re-creation, the renewal and restoration the gospel brings) so it is ideal for the story Jubilee tries to tell. It is lively, marvelously done, and offers a wholistic account that we need, badly. First Things called it bracing. Indeed. Don’t miss it.

For Shame: Rediscovering the Virtues of a Maligned Emotion Gregg Ten Elshof (Zondervan) $16.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.19

I reviewed this several years ago at BookNotes and I think I’m going to read the book again. As you might guess, at an event aimed at young adults, there is much interest in self-help sorts of topics; we’ve got books on forgiveness and depression and sexual ethics and eating disorders. From our families of origin to the anxieties and stress of contemporary living, many young adults are struggling and many are hopeful that books that point them towards gospel-centered, helpful answers can be redemptive for them. Naturally, we have a handful of books in a section on shame and this one seemed to stand out, in part because of its contrary viewpoint. Most books — from Lewis Smedes to Curt Thompson to Brene Brown to Ed Welch and more — have a negative view of shame, but here, Ten Elshof (himself, interestingly, a student of world religions) offers a balanced and nearly positive view of the disturbing emotion. Of course we need not be permanently ashamed in a debilitation manner. But have you no shame? That might be a problem, he says.

Ken Shigematsu, who has written marvelous books on spirituality, and a new one on shame called Now I Become Myself: How Deep Grace Heals Our Shame and Restores Our True Self says:

“Brilliant, clear, and cogent! In the age of social media, where our lives are more exposed than ever, Ten Elshof shows us that the journey out of shame cannot be made by an individual alone but depends on a community of others who will bring the person honor.”

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a a Distracted Age Alan Noble (IVP) $24.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $14.40

The great (and oh, so droll and witty) Alan Noble was at Jubilee again this year (and his books You Are Not Your Own and On Getting Out of Bed) sold well. This little guy was an award winning title a few years back and remains a major work (in my humble opinion) that ought not be missed. It is a clear-headed but nuanced and rather sophisticated study of distraction and how our daily lives have acquiesced to the trends of “the secular age.”

Karen Swallow Prior suggests that this book shows just “what the next generation of evangelicalism could and should look like — grounded, faithful, and circumspect.” As she notes, Alan “asks all the right questions and leads us to better answers.” What does bearing witness look like in our time and place, in this era, given our zeitgeist? Published in 2018 Disruptive Witness is more timely now than it was then.

It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity is About So Much More Than Going To Heaven When You Die Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson) $16.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.19

Are you new to the Christian faith and feel a bit confused about what it is supposed to be all about?  Or maybe you have kids or grandkids who are pushing back against conventional piety and church life? I’d say that may be a good thing — let them let go of bad religion. So often, despite our best efforts, we have been getting the story wrong. This young buck is fun and feisty and, as an evangelical pastor, offers really fun chapters on various misconceptions about faith and religion. I highlight this from up front, hoping some students who think they know what Christianity is will pick it up and be walloped or charmed into a bigger, better vision of relevant, faithful discipleship.

Jeff has written another terrific book that rattled more of my assumptions about Jesus. This is a good book, by a trusted friend, about an awesome God who doesn’t play by the rules we keep trying to give Him. — Bob Goff, author Love Does and Live in Grace, Walk in Love

With a deep discernment of the times we’re living in, Jefferson spotlights many misinterpreted truths in the Bible and puts a voice to the true heart of God’s Word. His desire to bring us into a more intimate encounter with God jumps off of each page. Christians need this book–now more than ever! — Lysa TerKeurst, author of Forgiving What You Can’t Forget

The StoryChanger: How God Rewrites Our Story by Inviting Us Into His David Murray (Crossway) $14.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $8.99

This is a short book, really engaging, a fine little reminder of the big picture of how we live and how we come to faith. That is, it is about the story of our lives, how that story gets lost, and how Jesus changes the script, overlaying His redemptive story onto the messed up narratives of our own lives. Everyone’s life tells a story. There are joyful parts and hard stuff, exciting times and boring moments. As it says on the back cover, “Sometimes you may wonder who controls the course of my story? If it goes off track, can it be revised? How will it end?

David Murray (PhD from the Virgo Universities in Amsterdam) is the pastor of First Byron Christian Reformed Church and that curious church name has nothing to do with me. But, man, this is a sweet little book, handsomely made with some full pages of color and practical questions to help readers understand God’s grace and have their own story transformed.

The Jubilee conference theme this year was “this changes everything.” Friends, it starts here. Many of us are trapped in a story — moving in a direction, shaped by values or principles that are not viable — and only God can re-route our direction, giving us a new story. This captivating look at Jesus as the StoryChanger is really something. I’d even recommend it for high school students.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press) $19.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $11.99

One of the challenges of selling books to contemporary college students — especially just a year or so after the pandemic — is that they frankly often don’t know the rock star authors who are popular among their tribe even a few years ago. Jamie Smith has spoken at Jubilee more than once, knows CCO well, shares some influences (like the early leaders of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto) and he once did a knock-out, fabulous main stage plenary address back in the era of “Occupy Wall Street.” Smith called that talk “Occupy Creation” which was a fabulous reflection on our calling to be engaged faithfully and energetically in God’s world. As his teacher Calvin Seerveld used to say, “culture is not optional” and Jamie reminded us of healthy ways to live well in a good, if fallen, world, in a very complicated, technological culture. Smith’s work is quintessentially Jubilee-esque. But yet, today’s rising generation doesn’t know who he is.

There was a workshop option (among so many) this year early on the early church learning from the first few centuries of Christian thinking, with a bit of a long stop on Augustine. Naturally, the presenter drew on Austin Gohn’s A Restless Age: How Saint Augustine Helps You Make Sense of Your Twenties and, of course, Smith. Jamie makes the case that the north African bishop, even before his rise to become one of the enduring theologians ever, was a seeker, a restless soul, one with burdens to be confessed, who knew what it meant to discover God. He is ideal for 21st century, postmodern-ish young adults and Smith’s book is an ideal invitation to that kind of an intentional life.

If you’ve not read this book about Smith’s journey into Italy following the steps of Augustine, you really, really should. Smith is on my short list of those I’d read anything he writes; I might suggest he serve you in that way, too. In any case, this great book is now in paperback and we have some left over after our great Jubilee experience telling students about it. Maybe they are too young for it. I bet your not. Please, check it out. It is, finally, as one reviewer put it, “a tour of the human heart.”

Not every Christian book these days comes with back cover blurbs from a member of the Avett Brothers, the heavy philosopher Charles Taylor, radio guru Krista Tippett, Jesuit James Martin, and United Methodist church historian Justo Gonzalez. Wow.

The Spacious Path: Practicing the Restful Way of Jesus in a Fragmented World Tamara Hill Murphy (Herald Press) $18.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $11.39

I am not saying anything new to remind you that we live in very, very hectic times. Young adults all complain about being too busy and our on-line digital habits have not always helped; many scholars have suggested it has been insidious, creating a toxic culture which has eroded many people’s mental health. In any case, we have to figure out how to enter into, as Tamara puts it, “a life ordered by restful rhythms of listening and love.”

For centuries, the “Rule of Life” was a spiritual tool to help us find a loving pathway for living out the whole gospel. There was much talk about this at Jubilee, with books on sabbath and spiritual practices. (Even Justin McRoberts was there again, teaching on his recent book Sacred Strides, which is an upbeat hoot of a title, wise and fun.) I featured this in a big stack hoping students would resonate with this idea of a restful, slower pace of life but also of the invitation to create a rule, to form communities that are shaped by such Benediction notions. As Lisa Colon Delay puts it, The Spacious Life is life-giving. “Her rich work reveals many specific ways that we can feel God’s embrace; and even better, how we can always begin again.”

Working From the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World Jeff Haanen (IVP) $18.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.80

It is a long story than you need to learn here, but I believe that the 1970s and early 1980s Jubilee conferences played a role in the now blossoming faith and work movement, from helping to inspired Tim Keller’s Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer in NYC to being early platforms for the then vital speaker and author William Diehl of Bethlehem Steel to generating conversations about distinctively Christian banking philosophy with Pittsburgh’s own black leader and friend, Robert Lavelle (of the respected Dwelling House Savings and Loan.) More than once as a young man at Jubilee in the late ‘70s I heard the CLAC (Christian Labour Association of Canada) talk about their work in industrial relations.  In any case, the grand truth that God invites humans to partner with God to develop the creation (see Genesis 1: 26-28 and, again, Genesis 2: 15) offers a foundational framework for thinking about work and all our labors.

Now, decades later, we are moving to newer ways to talk about our vocations in the work world and Jeff Haanen has been one of the key leaders of what I sometimes call the faith and work 2.0 movement. He is one of this generation’s brightest spots, an important voice, President, until recently, of Denver’s Institute for Faith + Work. This new book explores how our interior lives shape us to be fruitful in our “outer” work. This new book is a living gem, easy to read, thoughtful, so very, very helpful from a sophisticated and wise leader. We touted it up front at the day-before “Jubilee Professional” event along with the new one by his colleague, Johanna Meyers, Women and Work and Calling by Joanna Meyer. Kudos.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Step Garber (IVP) $20.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $12.00

Steve is one of my dearest friends and a regular cheerleader for our work in curating book lists and selling fiction and nonfiction to friends far and near. You know his three very well written, exceptionally thoughtful works, Fabric of Faithfulness, Visions of Vocation, and the lovely, collection of shorter essays, The Seamless Life. If you have followed BookNotes long, you know I circle back to his books time and again. Did you know he once directed the Jubilee conference back when he worked for the CCO and lived in Pittsburgh? (Some of the stories in Fabric, actually, about higher education and young adults living into notions of truth and having mentors and forming life-long friendships) emerged from his work with folks at Jubilee. He was back, again, this year, and did several presentations. I adore this Visions of Vocation book which is rich and thoughtful and broad and wide and deep. One cannot easily summarize his work or his writing, but between real life stories and wise insights from movies and novels, he invites us to live for the world, propelled by love, knowing, as we do, that the world is good and very, very broken. Can we love well even after we know how complex our hurting world really is? God does! We take up visions of vocation and, like Christ, lay out our lives in joy for the world as it is and as it could be.

This is one of the great books of our lifetime, I believe, and we’re delighted to share a few now at this deeper discount, while supplies last. Please don’t miss it.

Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege Ken Wytsma (IVP)  $18.00 SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.80

This book is a bargain at any price but at 40% off, it should be one you get a few of and read together with others. I thought young students might be put off by the critique of privilege and while I don’t know if they were disturbed by what their home preachers who are shaped by Fox News might warn against as “woke” or “CRT” this great book by the great Ken Wytsma is thoughtful, balanced, deeply theological, and insightful about his systemic racism works. In our Saturday morning sessions at Jubilee we were exploring sin and our tendency to lean away from God’s ways and some years speakers tackle racism as an example of the distortions caused by sin and idolatry.

In any case, this one is a good case study of structural sin and social issues and remains, obviously, an urgent topic. This is one of the best overview treatments of the “roots of racial injustice” that I have read and I highly recommend it.

The Myth of Equality is written so skillfully that it’s easy to miss how much it accomplishes. The first part brings to light, with unflinching honesty, how deeply racism and white privilege are embedded within the founding documents and practices of the United States. The second part masterfully shows that this inequality violates the call of the gospel to justice and unity. And the third part offers some wise suggestions to those of us who are white Christians about how we can ‘lay down’ our white privilege. I have no doubt that some readers will be angered by the claim that they participate in and benefit from structures of racism and white privilege, well supported though that claim is. I predict that there will be more who are convinced and inspired by the patient, passionate, and non-defensive way in which Wytsma makes his case.

— Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University, senior research fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $26.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $15.60

John Mark Comer (who has graced the main stage at Jubilee in years past) is an edgy, cool, youngish writer that young adults seem to know. We sold out of his new one (Practicing the Way: Be with Jesus. Become Like Him. Do as He Did which I joked is “Dallas Willard for Dummies”) and of one of his early books, Garden City which I highlight the first night of Jubilee every year. It is a nearly perfect Jubilee book, energetic and entertaining, subtitled “Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.”

But this one. Oh my. Between other titles like The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and God Has a Name, there was this, which is — without sounding weird – on spiritual warfare. You know that triad of dangers the Bible (and, famously, Luther) spoke of — the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yup. This is the best contemporary exploration of these enemies of our souls that I know of. I suspect, despite how beloved Comer is, this one was just a bit too scary. (Even if it is for those who feel depleted and that it is somewhat couched in lingo about living a false narrative, not just being told lies, but living them.) It’s really powerful. I dare you. Lent is a perfect time for this book — buy one for a friend and go through it together.

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture (Zondervan Academic) $49.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $29.99

I didn’t think many of these would sell to students at Jubilee, even with the foreward by the late Timothy Keller, who some may have heard of, but there are a lot of sharp adult shoppers, too, but, alas, we now have a few too many left over. While supplies last, we have ‘em at 40% off — the best price around. This is a very big book, demanding, extraordinary in its learnedness and, in a way, a bit frustrating in what it does and doesn’t accomplish. It is, frankly, an overview of the Bible and how Biblical theology should unfold in a way that engages in fresh ways the many ideas and ideologies in the surrounding world. It is not an expose (or deference) of “cultural Marxism” or a slanderous critique of Critical Race Theory, although I suspect the goofy zeitgeist that got people who knew nothing about it using CRT as a shibboleth, played into the naming the book as they did. Mostly, it is a study of how the Scriptures can be formative for our intellectual lives and our world-and-life views.

Here is how the publisher succinctly tells of it’s nearly 675 pages which seems, to some, to be an modern update of Augustine’s magisterial City of God:

In Biblical Critical Theory, Christopher Watkin draws a winsome vision for biblical cultural engagement in which faithfulness to Scripture and sensitivity to culture walk hand in hand. If Christians want to speak with a fresh, engaging and constructive voice within our culture, we need to press deeper into the core truths of the Bible.

I suppose I can’t fault our 19-or-20 year-old Jubilee kids for not knowing about all this, but many of our BookNotes readers may be inspired by these sorts of rave reviews:

Chris Watkin maps a path out of some of the most fundamental impasses of our time . . . Urgent and weighty, Biblical Critical Theory is, simply, a tremendously exciting read. — Natasha Moore, Centre for Public Christianity

An effervescently brilliant book, that rare volume that excels both in biblical and cultural exegesis. — Bruce Riley Ashford, Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology The Gospel of Our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian

This is the best yet most accessible exploration of the intersection between Christianity, culture, and philosophy I’ve read in recent years. — Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, DC, Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction

The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor Kaitlyn Schiess (IVP)18.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.80

One of the great aspects of Jubilee 2024 was the panel discussion sponsored by CPJ (Citizens for Public Justice) which brought together their director (Stephanie Summers, co-author with Michael Gerson of Opportunity) and founder James Skillen (author of, among other brilliant, reasonable works, The Good of Politics) and Wheaton College prof Vincent Bacote (three cheers for his exceptional wise, if short and simple, The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life.) In and among these old friends of the CCO came Kaitlyn Schiess who I’m told was spectacularly insightful and fun (as she is on “The Holy Post”, the podcast she helps host.) With endorsements from Matthew Kaemingk, Mako Fujimura, Molly Worthen, Jim Skillen, Kristen Deede Johnson,Sharon Hodde Miller and other authors we love, you should know this is an incredible book, a resource maybe able to help you ask others — especially younger believers, but oldsters, too — what shapes your public life, from what sources do you get your political ideas, how did you come to believe what you do about politics? She insists that “the way out of our political morass is first to recognize the formative power of the political forces all around us and then to recover historic Christian practices that shape us according to the truth of the gospel.”

In a way, this could serve as a companion to the new Michael Wear book, The Spirit of Our Politics: Spiritual Formation and the Renovation of Public Life. Her work is so good. Schiess has also recently written The Ballot and the Bible and is currently working on a PhD at Duke, studying with Luke Bretherton. Get The Liturgy of Politics today and if you like it as I hope you do, maybe plan a book club to read it together with others. Before this fall!

A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers Ethan Brue, Derek Schuurman & Steven Vanderleest (IVP Academic) $28.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $16.80

I hope you recall me touting this before, insisting it is nearly a one-of-a-kind volume, a spectacular example of what we mean by “thinking Christianly” and “integrating a Christina perspective with a discipline or vocation. These guys are remarkable — one has a PhD in mechanical engineering, one has a PhD in electrical engineering, and the other a PhD in computer engineering. Each has worked in industry and are now professors. They are good writers and this book does what any good book might do — inviting us to think well about the field, about technology in general and about how engineers do their work in particular. Can designing and using technology actually be a way of loving God and our neighbors? Very highly recommended.

Three Views on Christianity and Science edited by Paul Copan and Christopher Reese (Zondervan Academic) $18.99   SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $11.39

Every career area should have a book like this (and a few do, like, say, one on psychology and one on politics.) This assumes that there is some natural relationship between faith and science. Of course, many agree that we need to integrate our convictions about God from the Bible into and alongside our study of the natural world; who doesn’t want a “Christian perspective”? But even how I said it just now is perhaps problematic and different serious thinkers about this question have different nuances of the details of what this project looks like. Which is right?

Here we have an “independence view” (where science and theology operate independently of each other, seeking answers to different questions) and a “dialogue view” (where science and theology are distinct areas of human knowledge yet can engage in legitimate and productive dialogue) and what the third author calls a “constrained integration view” where each discipline (science and theology) mutually inform and constrain each other, since all created reality is the conceptually integrated product of the divine. These three views are explained by Michael Ruse, Alister McGrath, and Bruce Gordon and after each chapter, the other two reply. As with other books in the Counterpoint series, we get different views and rebuttals and replies.

The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl Giberson & Francis Collins (IVP) $24.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $14.40

This is a fairly easy to read hardback in a good Q & A format, offered in cooperation with the great BioLogos Foundation. Giberson is a “theistic evolutionist” who has written as an evangelical biologist and Francis Collins, you may know, is a world-class geneticist. This book is “destined to become a classic” says the Senior Medical contributor for ABC News (Dr. Tim Johnson.) Rave reviews come from folks as diverse as Harvard scholar of astrophysics, Owen Gingerich and philosopher of science at Fuller, Nancy Murphy.  We always feature it at Jubilee as it is a good entry level book for young science majors or anyone interested in “the language of God” and how modern science and Biblical faith might relate.

Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves How Art Shapes Empathy Mary McCampbell (Fortress Press) $28.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $16.80

What a blast it was having the always-fascinating, lively, and seriously-Christian insights of Mary McCampbell at Jubilee 2024. She spoke about what CCO calls academic discipleship — that is, how students can learn to love God with their minds and relate Biblical insights naturally into their college classrooms and studies — and, of course, did a workshop on this extraordinary book. It is a bit on the scholarly side so maybe it was a bit much for some students, but they were enhanced by her stories, illustrations, and very impressive discernment about narratives of various forms.

As you may recall, when we first announced this we talked about how it shows how narrative can shape empathy, and she uses as examples work from novels, naturally, but also TV shows, country songs, graphic comic books, video games, stories of all sorts. The opening section on the formation of empathy, drawing on the story of the Good Samaritan, is among the best stuff I’ve read on this. Narrative can make us better neighbors, she insists. She shows how it works.

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us Cole Arthur Riley (Crown) $18.00  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $10.80

Beth and I have had our names mentioned in books before but to be acknowledged in this best seller has really, truly, meant a lot. You see, Cole (and her husband) have had connections with the CCO and have been involved in Jubilee’s past and have been dear to us for a long time. This memoir is a gorgeously written, raw and real story of Cole’s early days as a child in Pittsburgh, her experiences as a black woman sometimes hanging with mostly white evangelicals, and the formation and sometimes alienation that all of that helped cause. It is a story about faith and about the body, her learning to live stories and her living her own story — and writing it! — with great beauty and integrity.

I won’t say much but if you know her famous Instagram platform, “Black Liturgies” you will know a bit about her. We also have, by the way, her latest, which I have also highlighted here at BookNotes, the spectacular Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Staying Human. In any case, This Here Flesh is a book we take everywhere and it was fun explaining to some who were browsing our memoir section at the conference, that we knew her.

50% OFF THESE TWO

WE’VE SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST — WE ARE SELLING THESE TWO AT HALF OFF. For the next four days, this is obviously a great opportunity for you as we sell them at a price we can rarely afford to offer. While supplies last, of course. Both were main stage speakers at Jubilee 2024 and although we’ve featured their good books before, now they feel like new friends. Hooray! Let’s do this.

Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt (Baker Academic)  $29.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $14.99

This is one of the great books of last year, a lush and glorious text, with many, many full color reproductions. Dr. Weichbrodt is a stellar, young scholar, a passionate Christian working with a solid angle of vision, telling us about why the arts matters, how to better understand visual cues in paintings, exploring the fascinating interpretations of art history, and helping us all relate faith to our efforts at art appreciation. We’ve honored this book before with robust enthusiasm, and having heard her speak (and watched her browse the book display, including our titles on the arts, creative, aesthetics, and such) we are huge fans. This is a great book by a great Christian scholar and we invite you to take advantage of this flash sale. After the deadline the regular BookNotes discount of 20% off will be back in place, but for how, this is a great deal on an excellent book.

I wish Redeeming Vision had been in my hands when I was a young Christian seeking to understand how to connect my faith, my love of art and beauty, and my mere humanity. This book isn’t just for art lovers; it is for thinkers, believers, skeptics, wonderers, and all humans. Redeeming Vision is instructive, engaging, delightful — in a word, outstanding. — Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books and The Evangelical Imagination

Redeeming Vision is an erudite and yet wonderfully hospitable invitation for the layperson to engage deeply with art and art history through a profoundly Christian theological perspective. A vital contribution to the library of any sincere student of visual culture and its central importance in our lives. — Bruce Herman, gallery director, Barrington Center for the Arts

Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos Press) $19.99  SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $9.99

Oh my, speaking of a fabulous flash sale on a great, great book — at ten bucks you simply can’t go wrong. In my own speaking (about the importance of books and nurturing the reading life) this year I’ve been quoting from this; there are a couple of paragraphs that are so very moving I can’t help but share them. I’m a huge fan of Father Atcho, an Anglican priest, church planter (in Charlottesville, VA) and a part-time college prof, teaching literature to young adults. My, my, he’s my kind of guy.

This is a book that explores the value of literature, especially historic black literature. Each chapter brilliantly relates a theological theme found in a classic text of the African American experience. For instance he explains the image of God in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and our understanding of sin in Richard Wright’s Native Son. Salvation is explored by telling about the great Zora Neal Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain. By engaging other great authors Atcho explores healing and memory (from Toni Morrison’s Beloved) and topics such as justice and lament and hope. Wait until you see what he does with Jesus from Countee Cullen. There are discussion questions, too, which would make this a great book club choice. Come on, people!

Atcho offers us one part riveting English class and one part soul-stirring theological groundwork. His work reminds us of the truth that Black voices are more than trendy. Atcho’s words inspired me to revisit each and every work he profiled with fresh eyes and renewed appreciation. — Jasmine Holmes, Carved in Ebony: Lessons from Black Women Who Shape Us and Crowned with Glory: How Proclaiming the Truth of Black Dignity Has Shaped American History

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The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.70, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.50. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Keep in mind the possibility of holiday supply chain issues and slower delivery… still, we’re excited to serve you.

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Sadly, as of February 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the impact of disease. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers, old and new.

We are happy to ship books anywhere. 

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.

LENT 2024 — all books mentioned 20% OFF

Maybe you saw my Facebook video about us packing up for Jubilee, the big collegiate conference in Pittsburgh (and the Friday afternoon event, Jubilee Professional.) It’s the biggest gig we do all year, an event that has been important to us since the late 1970s, before we ever became the event bookseller. With the truckload of stuff we take we become one of the most interesting bookstores in the tri-state region for those three days and we are working hard today to get the rented truck loaded up (in the snow) and on the road to Pittsburgh (about four hours West.) It’s been a long obedience in the same direction for us these many years and we are grateful to the CCO for holding this visionary event and allowing us to play a role year after year. To get a glimpse of what it’s all about, read my BookNotes last year’s epic post-Jubilee post or visit the current 2024 conference website.

Since we’ve been working 15-hour days for several weeks straight I am sorry to say that I didn’t get a good Lenten BookNotes newsletter out in time. Pray for my frazzled brain. But we’ve got 40 more days (and I will circle back before with more appropriate titles for Holy Week) so here are a few new titles I want you to know about. See a few other Lenten suggestions HERE or HERE. You can, of course, use the search engine at the BookNotes tab at our website and find even more older lists. Just known that some books may have gone out of print and certainly prices may have changed…

Here are some that are mostly new this year. 20% off.
Our staff are here at the shop and are eager to serve you. Scroll to the end to use the secure order tab. Thanks.

Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal Esau McCaulley (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This was the first release, last year, in the lovely and wise Fullness of Time series. Many adored Tish Warren’s Advent which was followed by one on Christmas (which was excellent, by Emily Hunter McGowin) and the famous Fleming Rutledge’s Epiphany. You will be hearing more in a month or so about Pentecost by Emilio Alvarez. The senior editor and curator of this whole series is Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley, who wrote the important Reading While Black and a stunning memoir, How Far to the Promised Land. His small-sized Lent is the first in this series and we obviously couldn’t let the season pass without offering this fine overview. The first paragraph reminds us that “Lent is inescapably about repenting.” Yep. Don’t miss it.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded: A Liturgy for Daily Worship from Pascha to Pentecost Jonathan Gibson (Crossway) $32.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.39

I’m not sure you’d see such a handsome, thoughtful, nicely printed, slipcased volume of liturgical prayers from a conservative Reformed guy like this before the recent renaissance in litany and prayer books, but we are thrilled. Gibson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is ordained in a UK Presbyterian off-shoot denomination and currently teaches OT at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His previous volume, like this one, is also slipcased and offered liturgies for daily prayer in a Celtic sort of spirit called Be Thou My Vision.)  This new devotional is arranged with a Call to Worship and words for adoration, the reading of the law, confessions of sin, assurances of pardon, creeds and praises and catechism and more. From prayers for illumination before Scripture and Prayers of reflection and intercession after, this prayer book is artfully designed and obviously well crafted. It is very much about what Christ has done in his temptations, life, trial, passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension. And Pentecost. Wow.

Unburdened: A Lenten Journey Toward Forgiveness  Carol Penner (Herald Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

What a lovely and good book this is about how sin weighs us down and, yet, how we long for freedom. We stock almost all the new books Herald Press does and while they are true to their Mennonite tradition, not all of their authors are necessarily Anabaptist. In this case, the author has served as a pastor and campus minister and a prof at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario (which is Mennonite.) She has written books on worship and on resisting violence against women, even in historic peace churches. We’ve respected her from afar for quite a while.

Unburdened is not sentimental or cheap and it realizes that forgiveness can be elusive. Her reflections are serious and wise and there are prayers, Scripture and stories (about both individuals and communities, people and institutions) that have taken steps towards freedom by practicing the Christian art of forgiveness.

Blurbs on the back are fascinating, one nice one from poet Luci Shaw, another by Baylor University prof (and serious scholar) Jonathan Tran, and an endorsement from Isaac S. Villegas, a contributing editor for the Christian Century. It has been called “beautifully honest” and “challenging.”

Although these six weeks of reflections can be used individually, there is a small group discussion guide in the back as well. Nicely done.

Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings Henri Nouwen (Crossroad) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

Maybe it was just me (probably it was just me) but I thought this had gone out of print. I swear a year ago nobody could find it, from the big chains on down. Although over 50,000 have sold since it first released in Holland in 1992, Show Me The Way is a beloved, modern classic. And this year, we have it! Hooray.

The appropriate cover art by Vincent van Gogh matches the other compact-sized paperbacks in this great series, such as Life of the Beloved, Here and Now, Finding My Way Home, The Only Necessary Thing. 

“The longing and expectation of the 40 days of Lent are deeply expressed in this collection from Father Nouwen’s extensive writings. For each day, he offers a scripture guide for the path to Calvary and speaks as one who shares our difficulties in making the choice for Christ over the promises of worldly power and riches.”  –The Bulletin

Pause: Spending Lent with the Psalms Elizabeth F. Caldwell (WJK) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Liz Caldwell is a beloved Christian educator, popular in several denominations (and certainly in APCE, the Association for Presbyterian Church Educators) and she has written several books about the faith life of children. She has done children’s Bibles and was a member of the Common English Bible board of editors. (She has taught pastoral theology at McCormick and Vanderbilt.) Pause, one reviewer noted, is “an immersion in divine poetry.”

The endorsements on this new guide — for personal use or small group study — are evocative and moving. One calls it a “soulful volume” while another says it is a “holy handbook.” Jack Seymour says she “guides us to drink deep of the wisdom of the Psalms.”

Most Biblical citations are from the NRSVue and CEB. There are great questions to ponder. There’s a good teacher’s guide in the back, too.

Women Who Followed Jesus: 40 Devotions on the Journey to Easter  Dandi Daley Mackall (Paraclete Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I’ll be honest — a few years back I rolled my eyes at some sweet children’s Bible book that this author had done until one of my more attentive colleagues here at the store assured me that it was actually pretty good; impressive, even. Her simple kids books were better than we might expect from some evangelical publishers, and we became nearly instant fans. We’ve followed her books for children and middle school readers, and, increasingly, her adult books as well. She has been awarded and graced with very impressive reviews. Her Three Wise Women: 40 Devotions Celebrating Advent with Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna (also published by Paraclete) was wonderfully done, well written and creative without being overly edgy or provocative, and it was gorgeously designed. That one clearly set the bar for this brand new one.

Women Who Followed Jesus offers the classic 40 day’s worth of readings for Lent which invites us to “contemplate, ponder, and glory in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” Mackall readily helps us do that because, well, she is a novelist. A storyteller, a teacher. Her exploration of the lives and faith of eight faith-filled women who walked with Jesus will be helpful to you, I’m sure. They are somewhat thought-provoking and quite Bible-based.

As it says on the back, “At this special time of. year, allow the sacred stories of these women devoted to Christ to encourage you with their examples of persistence, hope, sacrifice, grace, and love.” Not bad, eh?

Women Who Followed Jesus is nicely created with some handsome violent ink on sturdy paper, a satin, ribbon marker, and some handsome floral illustrations. Kudos to Paraclete. Not bad from a gal from rural Ohio, eh. Hooray.

Season of Beauty: A Lent and Easter Treasury of Readings, Poems, and Prayers Paraclete editors (Paraclete Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

We so appreciate Paraclete Press, the classy, indie publisher from near Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Their story is not mine to tell, but they haves in the liturgical churches (Catholic and Epsiopalian), in charismatic renewal, intentional Christian living in community, and in upscale publishing on spiritual formation, Catholic renewal, and historic, solid, ecumenical faith expressions. (They are also known for their Gregorian chant CDs, choir recordings and ministry, and a line of books about faith and the arts, not to mention a very impressive imprint for faith-based, gritty, serious fiction.) But I digress.

This is a lovely volume created by their team including Scripture, poems, writings from beloved authors — including mystics, poets, and saints — arranged alongside reproductions of great works of historic religious art. You will see Gustav Klimt and Renoir and Botticelli (and some which may surprise you) next to excerpts byDostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Louisa May Alcott and more. (There are more modern voices, too, from the likes of Scott Cairns and Nikki Grimes.) They’ve added handsome full color illustrations on solid, glossy paper, and a nice, yellow, ribbon marker.

They say, “It is our prayer that these words and images will capture your heart, mind, and spirit, and help you to contemplate the love of Christ during these holy days of mystery and miracles.” Kudos.

I was saying to somebody that we were taking these last two from Paraclete to Jubilee for our little Lent section in the book room there but noted that I wasn’t sure if hip, college kids would be drawn to these lovely, hardback volumes. The person replied that maybe they’d buy them for their mothers. Perfect! Maybe your know an woman of a certain age who would especially like these bonny books.

A Different Kind of Fast: Feeding Our True Hungers in Lent Christine Valters Paintner (Broadleaf) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This has been our biggest seller so far — I oddly felt like I should announce it during Advent, since that, too, is a sober time of waiting and fasting and yearning, and a number of folks got it from us.

Alas, it has sold well all over the country, we are told — although I doubt that the robots at Amazon have a clue about it — and even the Lutheran publisher is out of it. WE EXPECT MORE BACK IN STOCK THE FIRST WEEK OF MARCH so know if you order it now, it won’t come to you for a few weeks yet. The publisher is glad such a title is in demand, but apologizes for running out.

Fun little fact: there are some handsome woodcuts in this lovely-to-hold paperback volume by an artist who also designed a few album covers for commemorative vinyl releases of records by my pal Bill Mallonee. So there’s that.

+++By the way, if you order this AND another book, it would be good if you tell us if we should send one now and the other one in March, or if we should hold one until that comes, sending them bundled and consolidated. It will help us know how to serve you best.+++  

While we’re at it, we also have most of her other older books, including the recent one called The Love of Thousands: How Angels, Saints, and Ancestors Walk with Us Toward Holiness (Sorin Books; $18.95.)

TWO NEW BOOKS NOT DIRECTLY ABOUT LENT BUT THAT WE TRULY RECOMMEND FOR READING THIS SEASON.

Nearing a Far God: Praying the Psalms with our Whole Selves Leslie Leyland Fields (NavPress) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I could go on and on about how much we respect this woman who is at once nearly glamorous and as down to Earth as can be — she is a commercial fisher-person living and working on an island off the coast of Alaska — and a poetic, creative soul who yet is neither arcane nor abstract. She is artful and real, upbeat and realistic. She has written about fishing, about writing, about storytelling, about parenting (and the other vocations parents also have) and she edited my favorite book on food and faith. She has done an important book on forgiving parents and she has done many workshops, retreats, and church gatherings. Anyway, it is always good when a new book by Leslie Leyland Fields turns up.

And one just turned up yesterday, a bit early, and it seems providential to get to give a shout -out to it here at the beginning of Lent. We have bunches of books on the Psalms, heavy commentaries, devotionals, thoughtfully done explorations. I’ve read Peterson and Berrigan and Gordon Wenham and Brueggemann and more (mostly men, granted.) A favorite is David O. Taylor’s Open and Unafraid; it is a great book, with the added bonus of a forward by Peterson and an afterword by Bono.

Fields doesn’t quote any of these and at my first glance was struck. But you know what she does quote?The Psalms! This really seems to be a solid, honest, maybe even raw, look at what one singer once called “poems, prayers, and promises.” God offers all this in a bewilderingly brilliant and enduring songbook which has shaped the prayer lives of millions who have gone before us.

Does God listen when we talk to him? Does God actually care what we’re feeling? Is it true that this seemingly distant God is actually near — even intimate with us?

Here is what it says on the back:

The ancient pathway of the Psalms can show us how to come to God with our fears, failures, doubts, and wounds and find how much he cares. The psalmists give voice to every human experience — cries of lament, whispers of fear, shouts of praise — and God responds. These raw prayers reveal what an intimate relationship with God looks and sounds like. They provide a clear pattern for us to move toward joy.

Oh my, this is exciting to me, and in her hands, I’m sure this book will soon be on my list of favorite and most-often recommended titles on the Psalter. She is a concise and compelling teacher / writer and there is an activity of sorts at the end of each chapter inviting you to “practice transformative writing.” She offers insights into and helps you engage the seven different forms of the Psalms and by guiding you into an experience with “brain and body.”

The Wood Between the World: A Poetic Theology of the Cross Brian Zahnd (IVP) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I suspect I will want to do a fuller review of this once I have read it, but I’ve been holding off sharing about this again (I had done a brief highlight to invite people to pre-order it.) Now that it is here, The Wood Between the Worlds looks really, really good. There is so much about the atonement, the cross, the work and model of Christ, and how it shapes our own cruciform lifestyle, that it is hard to keep up with the scholarly approaches and fresh insights. Maybe you have even grown weary of the discussions.

Zahnd is making a contribution to this discussion and I gather he offers gentle critique to singular models that don’t give an adequate account of all the might be going on as Jesus suffers and dies and rises again to defeat Death. And yet, this is no standard theology textbook. It is, after all, “a poetic theology.” Even that line should resonate as it points to Lewis’s imaginative fiction.

Make no mistake: Zahn insists that “everything about the gospel message leads to the cross and proceeds from the cross.” In the narrative of Scripture, the crucifixion of Jesus is literally the crux of the story — “the axis on which the biblical story turns.”

I have been impressed with a Lenten message I’ve watched a time or two where Zahn preaches (in front of an enlarged medieval painting) in which he also brings in a story of Dostoevsky. Anyway, it is, as one reviewer put it, “a capacious portrait”

As Eric Peterson writes, Zahnd “breathes new life into the mystery of the cross: the supreme centerpiece of God’s love that radiates redemption and ushers us into the peaceable kingdom.”

There is an insert of full color plates of ancient art and there are inviting quotes from Orthodox and ancient theologians as well as poets like Yates and Hopkins and Eliot, alongside modern writers such as Frederick Buechner, Richard Bauckham, James Cone (juxtaposed with Neil Young) and, of course, Fleming Rutledge. At once a learned, thoughtful book, it looks remarkably inspiring. You should read it this Lenten season.

The Gift of Thorns: Jesus, the Flesh, and the War for our Wants A.J. Swoboda (Zondervan) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I have long been an AJ fan, and appreciate Swoboda for his candor, faith, and realistic application of good, Spirited theology to all of life. He has a book about wandering through hard times, one of the very best books on doubt, an excellent one on sabbath-keeping, a few on eco-theology. This brand new one offers some “personal vulnerability” and — in the words of Nijay Gupta, “biblical wisdom and pastoral hope.” Gen Pollock Michel (who has written about desire) says that Swoboda has “comprehensively argued a faithful theology of desire” and that it is “prophetic, pastoral urgency that ignites his words.”

It’s not every author who quotes Abraham Kuyper and Catherine of Siena, Marva Dawn and Thomas Merton, Jamie Smith and Stanley Hauwerwas. What an author he is!

I like that he explores how some demonize desire and others deify it; surely neither is right and we need a better perspective. This is going to be huge and we’re glad such a reliable guide is helping us with this important topic.

Humility: Rediscovering the Way of Love and Life in Christ Michael W. Austin (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This book arrived just today and I’m very eager to read it carefully. I am sure I’ll enjoy it — Austin is a philsophy prof (at Eastern Kentucky University) and serves as a scholar at the Dietrich Bonheoffer Insitute. I’ve read his work on conspiracy theories (and QAnon) as well as an excellent survey of the gun debates in America. He is clear, caring, and a voice calling for a focus on character and virtue. It should not be so uncommon, but he insists that love is central to the way of Jesus and he shows here, it seems, that out of love can flow a healthy sort of humility.

I have not yet tackled Humility Illuminated by Dennis Edwards which I highlighted in a previous BookNotes. With a foreword by Marlena Graves and a back cover blurb by Michael Gorman, I am very eager to read it — his Might from the Margins was itself mighty.

But now comes this handsome, small books that I have long awaited, nicely written and mature, by Austin.

As it says on the back cover, “Amid culture wars and church division, Michael W. Austin calls us back to the authentic Way — following Christ in humility and love. Austin gudies the reader through spiritual disciplines to aid in the formation of this virtue, from praying the Psalms to building healthy communities. For Christians seeking union with God, in their souls and in society, Humility is the ideal companion.

As one reviewer notes, it is “about eternal things while very much in the present.” Napp Nazworth continues, in the “up-and down, rough and tumble process of becoming more Christ-like” as he faced his own life, death, and resurrection, Jesus shows us the way. Not a bad book to ponder during Lent, eh?

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Sadly, as of February 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

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NEW AND BRAND NEW BOOKS — 20% off at Hearts & Minds

The last few weeks have been a blast for the sort of book lovers who read BookNotes, or at least it has been fun for us, serving those who send orders our way or stop by the Dallastown shop. We did two BookNotes naming some of our favorite titles of 2023; a few were truly exceptional and seem to us to be “must-reads.” Then we did one on some of the more scholarly or academic books we enjoyed talking about this year, and then, less than a week ago, we named a bunch of the novels that we enjoyed. (You can find them archived at our website, of course.)

Right after Christmas and the turning of the calendar into January, new books kept on coming. Don’t ask me why a publisher chooses to release a title a day or two before or after New Year’s  but, complicated as it may be for those who work in retail, we’re thrilled. So thrilled — you see where this is going, I’m sure — we just have to tell you about them.

Here, then, are some new books that have come out while I was busy reminding you of the Best of 2023. Who knows? Maybe some will end up in our “Best of 2024” a year from now.

I’m going to try be brief since, well, I haven’t read most of these, and have only finished one or two, so I’m winging it. But my book spidey-sense is tingling, and I think I can say with confidence that many of our readers will want to know about these. Enjoy.

ALL BOOKS MENTIONED ARE 20% OFF. Scroll to the end to click on the “order” tab.

Gratitude: Why Giving Thanks Is the Key to Our Well-Being Cornelius Plantinga (Brazos Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Plantinga is a very good thinker and an incredibly talented wordsmith. His little devotional Under the Wings of God was praised by many who read it (and I am holding up in front of the big Jubilee conference later this month two of his books, one on sin and one on learning. He can write well about anything!) This brand new one just came and it is, as you can tell, about gratitude. If it were nearly anybody else I might yawn, but I’m sitting up and taking notice. Calvin University philosophy prof says it is “a treasure of pastoral wisdom on a signature virtue of the Christian life.” Austin Carty, the great author of The Pastor’s Bookshelf, writes, “While reading this book I found myself mentally preparing the sermon series that I will no doubt be preaching on its account.”

He continues:

It is a treasure, and all people — pastors and parishioners, people of faith and people not of faith — would be well advised to read it. Trust me, you’ll be grateful that you did.

Land of My Sojourn: The Landscape of a Faith Lost and Found Mike Cosper (IVP) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I was given an early version of this and when the time was right I inhaled it. I read every paragraph, many twice, and couldn’t believe how good it was. I cried and laughed and sighed and shook my head. I wanted to cuss and I wanted to praise God. Okay, I did both.

It is a complex but easy to read book — and not that long — about two major things: his teacherly account of a couple of trips he took to the so-called Holy Land and his Biblical reflections on these inspired places. It is the best I’ve read in this genre. Enough said.

It is more fundamentally a book about his efforts starting ups (and more, sustaining) an edgy church in Louisville plant for disillusioned artists, cynics listening to hard indie-rock, kids who maybe were deconstructing their evangelical faith before that was a thing. Look; I’m not that interested in church planting (in fact, I’ve been known to make a case that we have too many churches and the last thing we need are more, heaven help us.) But I’ve read my share of books about all this and this was amazing. The hopes and dreams. The passion and care. The beauty and goodness and friendship and common vision. Until it, well, wasn’t.  Until narcism and toxic stuff emerged. His faith was shaken and he and his wife found that some friends who they assumed they “do life” with were hardly speaking — in part due to tensions at the edgy cool church, and, oddly, even there, due to the Trump thing, the fear of all things woke. Man, he didn’t expect that.

It is a sad book, an honest book, an account of a journey unlike what many of us have endured, I would guess, but yet — oddly — I related to every line. This book meant a lot to me, even though it has not been my experience directly. Whether you directly relate or not, this book could provide both a huge glimpse into what has been going on in certain parts of the church in recent decades and the emotional impact  that it can be for those who have been driven into exile, so to speak. It’s heartbreaking.

You may know Cosper for a great book he did on worship and another on re-enchantment in a secular age. I liked a very good one he did on TV and appreciated on he did on Esther as a model for culturally relevant ministry in a post-Christian era.  He’s sharp and a fine writer, but in this new one he pours out his sad story and it is a blessing.

And, you may know, he did that recent, award-winning, multi-part podcast called “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” — and now I realize why he did that. Whew.

And, to bring it more full circle — he links his emotional story of pathos and failure and doubt to the respite found in study at in the places Jesus walked, the holy land portions of each chapter. It really works, marvelously so. Highly recommended.

A Quilted Life: Reflections of a Sharecropper’s Daughter  Catherine Meeks (Eerdmans) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I met Catherine Meeks decades ago when she was travelling with John Perkins, I think. It was half a lifetime ago, and now she has written another autobiographical account of her journey. (I Want Somebody to Know My Name came out in the late 1970s.) She has led quite a life — including service in higher education, in anti-racism work, and as a writer of spiritual formation resources.) This may be the one we’ve most waited for, the wisdom she has garnered over her whole life “from her father’s sharecropping fields to the academy and beyond.”

Gregory E. Sterling of Yale Divinity School calls it “a mesmerizing autobiography.” Angel Sims of Colgate Rochester/Crozer Divinity School calls it “a candid account of a life shaped by juxtapositions and informed by a faith-filled and fierce determination to find her own voice, see beauty in a racist world, and be well.”

The Emancipation of God: Postmarks on Cultural Prophecy Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I gave a shout out about this when I was listing our favorite books of 2023. Conrad Kanagy had written the extraordinary biography of Walt Brueggemann and I mentioned that he was also editing a volume of Walt’s short, recent pieces that congealed around a theme, and that it would be out soon.

And it is. And is it! The Emancipation of God is a thrilling, excellent, thought-provoking collection of Brueggemann’s reflections about the nature of God (and it’s implications for church and culture.) As you can guess, God is free, but chooses to be in relationship which — well — causes God great grief and regret and hope and rage and investment in God’s own promises.

W.H. Bellinger of Baylor notes that it is a “jewel of delightful and remarkably crafted biblical interpretations” and it seems that is surely the case. Brueggemann is always worth reading, but there is something about Conrad’s wise framing of this, understanding, as he does, that emancipation has been central to Brueggemann’s interpretation project. Of course, part of this is that God is surely free from our attempts to control, and that means, we, as God’s church, should live into greater freedom in this often toxic culture of conformity. This is wild stuff, “a resource that will serve us well.”

Reversing Entropy: Poems Luci Shaw (Paraclete) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

This just arrived and I couldn’t be happier with it. There are French folded covers, giving it a more classy feel, and there is a nice, brief introductory essay about the notion of entropy. (She notes that what she says there is what she has been trying to do most of her life, which should make us take notice.) Besides this nice prologue, there is a good introductory foreword by the great Paula Huston. The endorsements are extraordinary — good words from Julie Moore and Paul Mariani, and Marilyn McEntyre.

“Luci Shaw is the patron saint of wonder. Of all the loveliness she’s captured, over many decades, this might be her best collection yet.” — Sarah Arthur, author of Once a Queen

“Luci Shaw is the patron saint of wonder. Of all the loveliness she’s captured, over many decades, this might be her best collection yet.”

Telling Stories in the Dark: Finding Healing and Hope in Sharing Our Sadness, Grief, Trauma, and Pain Jeffrey Monroe (Reformed Journal Books) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I hope you recall Jeff Monroe’s name as he is the author of the very best book about the great Frederick Buechner. You can sense his appreciation for Buechner in the very allusions of this title, his brand new book.

Telling Stories in the Dark is exceptionally moving and a great read. Not only is it good storytelling but it accomplishes two things really well. Firstly, it holds up its thesis by believing, deep in its writerly bones, that storytelling matters, that our own habits of sharing our life drama, of doing memoir, is redemptive. Especially in hard stuff, it helps to know we are not alone — although, as he shows, it is deeper than that. In any case, each chapter is a well told telling of somebody’s tragedy. It is beautiful, serious stuff.

But here is the second thing: Monroe shows us how to think about these stories — not in a simplistic or cheesy sort of “moral of the story” or formulaic “lesson learned.” Rather, he invites another scholar, counselor, writer, pastor, or poet to help him process the story he has told, stories about lost dreams and lost children, suicide and injustice and more. Some of these folks in the second part of each chapter are authors we have promoted — Chuck de Groat and Marilyn McEntyre and Makoto Fujimura. (Mako helps evaluate Monroe’s moving story of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book Lament for a Son and Nick’s own journey after the death of his son.)

The book is edifying, touching, and, finally, very helpful. If you need help thinking about your own story, or the stories of those around you, this puts you in touch with the raw pathos but also with some helpful analysis and guidance about appreciating the drama of the lives described.

This is simply a one-of-a-kind book and you will be better for having read it, I promise.

Wounded Pastors: Navigating Burnout, Finding Healing, and Discerning the Future of Your Ministry Carol Howard and James Fenimore (WJK) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Another brand new one, I have not even cracked the cover for more than a moment, but I know two things: Carol Howard is a great writer whose work I’ve appreciated much; her co-author is himself a former pastor and seasoned psychotherapist. (She is an ordained Presbyterian pastor herself who grew up in a fundamentalist church and she knows a thing or two about bad images of God and hurtful spirituality, besides this more general question about burnout and hard times in the ministry.) The two, I am sure, have a ton of experience and wise insight.

The book looks to ben quite thoughtful, naturally, but also tender. It will be, I am sure, a solace to many in ministry who have not found resilience or hope and who need to move into a time of discernment about what went wrong and what to do next. It seems practical.  Listen to this, from the publisher:

(The authors) join their expertise to offer validation, support, and guidance for pastors who have been hurt by the church. With wisdom that can come only from experience, they describe and define aspects of struggle and pain readers may have difficulty articulating or claiming for themselves, and they offer compassionate, informed guidance on how to find healing. A systems approach to conflict sheds light on the dynamics of church conflict and how clergy can tend their own well-being amid leadership challenges. The final chapter helps readers consider their overall vocational path based on what they’ve experienced and decide whether they can remain in congregational ministry or need to pursue a different line of work.

Hope Ain’t a Hustle: Persevering by Faith in a Wearying World Irwyn L. Ince (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I’m not sure why but I couldn’t put this down — I read it almost straight through one recent Sunday. It is a light study of the book of Hebrews. But — if that exaltation of Jesus the Christ and a Christ-centered worldview isn’t enough — it is written by a respected Black pastor who has written well about multi-ethnic ministry and the imperative of the church to be racially just and culturally diverse. (See his Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best for his solid study of that.) In a way, this is a sequel, inviting us to ponder what faith looks like, where hope comes from, and how to live that out in a complicated world. It holds up Jesus and invites us to perservere. The forward is by the important Christina Edmondson (author of Faithful Antiracism and co-author of Truth’s Table: Black Women’s Musings on Life Love and Liberation.)

This wonderful book is a pastoral, homiletical gift to those in need of encouragement. Diagnosing the problem of our era as a failure of hope, Irwyn Ince shares the fruit of his profound meditations, study, and preaching of the book of Hebrews. This is the kind of strong medicine needed to restore hope in a generation that has been disappointed by apathy, injustice, and scandal. He shows us that the hope of the gospel is the secret to joy and endurance. For those who are discouraged, sorrowful, and struggling, this wise book helps us to have eyes to see the beauty of Jesus anew. — Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Prayer in the Night

Divine Generosity: The Scope of Salvation in Reformed Theology Richard J. Mouw (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

Whoa — you may know I jokingly call myself a Mouwist, so you know I had to read this right away. It isn’t academic, but it isn’t breezy, although it is as generous in tone as it is in concept. I’d like to write about it more, but for now you can be assured that it is serious theology that isn’t arcane or overly detailed. But it does get into the weeds. What weeds, you wonder?

Believe it or not, some Reformed preachers (like, say, Jonathan Edwards, brilliant philosopher, academic, scholar, and pastor, and infamous for his  “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon) believe that many, many more people will be in God’s new creation than we might suppose. That is, while they do not disbelief in judgement over evil (that is, they are not universalists) they argue for, and certainly hope for a breadth in God’s mercy. Mouw is unsure of some things, and is as honest as anybody can be before Scripture and theology. He walks us through the key questions, the various spokespersons (especially in his own Dutch Reformed community) for a more limited view of salvation or a more generous sort of scope of redemption. Who has the gift of eternal life, we all should agree, is up to God and we must follow the clues we can in Scripture and the best thinking about Scriptural theology. Mouw helps us through this conversation, cheerfully inviting us to think along with him about divine generosity.

Not everyone will like this, but this is how the publisher reminds us of its importance:

Learned yet approachable, Mouw explains how Christians can affirm God’s justice while holding hope for the wideness of his saving mercy. Congregations today face pressing questions about how to reconcile orthodoxy with empathy in increasingly pluralist neighborhoods and communities. For Reformed pastors, students, and interested laypeople, Divine Generosity serves as a biblically based, doctrinally sound guide.

Jesus Human: A Primer for a Common Humanity Leonard Sweet (The Salish Sea Press) $27.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.36

You may know how much I love reading Len Sweet — he is an amazing thinker and knows more books about all sorts of stuff than almost anybody I’ve ever met. He’s got a photographic memory and weaves together quotes and notions and ideas and concepts from all over the world with the hope of helping those who follow Jesus understand the times and know what in the world we should be doing. He’s a postmodern Wesleyan, an evangelical semiotician, and a whimsical writer who, as he says in the acknowledgements, wants to be theologically sound (hence his Reformed brother’s read-through and thumbs up.) Sweet knows Victorian history and early church doctrine; he reads contemporary rhetoric and ancient science (and vice versa) and, here, ancient cosmology and early church Christology as well. Man, just the footnotes will provide an hour of entertainment for the intellectually curious. I’m not kidding!

This book is complicated— Doc Sweet admits that he jumps too quickly from thing to thing and apparently some editor helped home him in, but, God bless her, she didn’t quite pull it off. Every sentence is a wonder, a full-blown (and often provocative) idea, and then he’s on to another. It hangs together, mostly, so far. What a book.

The explorations are creative and generative with some finger-wagging preaching at foolhardy stuff that needs to be called out. There’s lots of grace, too, and lots and lots of energy. He’d call it the Holy Ghost.

As you might tell from the title it is about the full humanity of Jesus and, equally, the need to be fully alive as humans. Call it theological anthropology if you want to sound fancy pants, but this is gospel truth, preached wildly and packed full of the implications of these foundational claims. We are made in God’s image. As Christ-followers we become more human, not less.

We are in dehumanizing times; dangerously so — Sweet calls Abolition of Man prescient which, of course it was. Given modern tech from AI to gene splicing it should be obvious how urgent this project is. (Sweet was one of the first evangelicals to write about Dolly the Sheep — remember her?) It could be argued that our very humanity is at risk and we urgently need a robust theology of human-ness. This is one fun, fairly scholarly, mind-blowing, visionary-sounding place to start.

Whew — I can hardly contain my enthusiasm, even though it is hard to explain the charm of his manic writing and his endless love of alliteration. Enjoy. And then take this big, sturdy book to heart and press on. You know the old line from Ireneus about the glory of God seen in a person “fully alive”— and if you don’t, get this book immediately.

Rooted Faith: Practices for Living Well on a Fragile Planet Sarah Renee Werner (Herald Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This recent book came in last fall and it took a bit into the holiday season to spend some time with it. I kept being drawn to it and wished I had named it a fav of 2023, but I just hadn’t studied it. Now, as I page through it, it really does seem to me like a brand new 2024 title — admittedly, I’m a little late — so forgive me if I announce it again, here, now.

Rooted Faith on Herald Press is a great read, a lovely story about ordinary lifestyle choices of making home well here on this “fragile planet.” You may recall how I raved about one of my favorite reads this past year, At Home on an Unruly Planet, an epic story of four places under threat from climate change. And you surely know we did that webinar recently with Brian Walsh & Steve Bouma-Predigar about the 15th anniversary edition of their heavy, breath-taking, broadly conceived study about cultural displacement called Beyond Homelessness. Well, Rooted Faith captures the same passions as these books, but is more down-to-Earth, faithful but imminently practical, inviting us to consider stuff we can do as intentional practices to care well for the ecology we are a part of.

Writers and activists have raved about this, with a common thread of how generous and whimsical and pleasant and winsome it is, even as it is very serious. Ched Myers notes the “poetic imagination” and Randy Woodley says it “reaches us where we live.”

Debra Rienstra says it provides “a friendly entry point.” I am sure some would enjoy studying together…

The Matter of Little Losses: Finding Grace to Grieve the Big (and Small) Things Rachel Marie Kang (Revell) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This brand new book is so creatively conceived and so delightfully written that I can tell just by glancing that it is one I will want to revisit, and share with others. The author, Rachel Marie Kang, did another very nice book, Let There Be Art which is a practical and inspiring guide to creativity. It was very well done. This new one is full of stories and rather sophisticated reflections about grief and losses (and the subtitle says, both big and small things.)

But here’s the happy catch, the unexpected delight — I ordered it sight-unseen since I trusted her from her previous book, even though, frankly, we’ve got way too many books about grief and loss and lament on our shelves, not realizing the organizing structure of the book. Each chapter starts with a meditation on a flower. As Ms. Kang takes us into the meaning of the scientific name or the natural history of the plant or the color or aroma or habitat, she gets at something helpful, lovely, even, that moves from God’s common grace to something profoundly Biblical to help us cope.

So, yep, it is set apart in that it helps us with all sorts of grievances and losses and it does so by reflecting nicely on flowers. How ‘bout that? Kudos.

Life Is Hard, God Is Good, Let’s Dance: Experiencing Real Joy in a World Gone Mad Brant Hansen (Thomas Nelson) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Again, this is a book I ordered because we like the author, in this case, Brant Hansen. His Unoffendable sold well throughout the country (we’re told) and I’m glad, as there is way too much outrage and judgmentalism and his fun book was a bit of solid, winsome outrage against the outrage. Ha. And I adored his book about human sinfulness, The Truth About Us, which was playful and wise, showing (including through social science research) how people usually overestimate their own ethics and expertise. Nope, we’re all a mess and we might as well admit it. I think the first book of his that I read was Blessed are the Misfits. Yep.

Knowing his fun writing style and his lively podcasting tone — he was even once a morning DJ — and the inviting, curious title, I was all in. We ordered a bunch and they came a week or so ago and now you can be the first on your block to learn to live all the truths in that witty title and the hopeful sub-title. Just having a book like this around could be good for your attitude, eh? I keep thinking of David Bowie, whose song “Let’s Dance” said we should “put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” Publishers Weekly called these essays “quirky” and an “optimism booster.” Enjoy.

(And, if anybody is noting it, ahem: I read the acknowledgements. You bet I did.)

Just Be Honest: How to Worship through Tears and Pray without Pretending Clinton Watkins (The Good Book Company) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Okay, if the previous one on brokenness in our fallen world was also upbeat and funny, this one is anything but. The author is from central Pennsylvania, a good and thoughtful guy who works in campus ministry, and I helped him a tiny bit choosing some books to research as he wanted to write about the Biblical teaching of lament. I sent the books and wished him well. Little did I know.

Little did I know that Clint and his wife had come to know that their baby wouldn’t live and that they would carry a beloved child that would die at birth, if not before. They were so excited about this baby — announced it to family and friends, picked out a name, bought the stuff. And then the awful news. How does one even begin to cope?

As serious and mature young leaders they knew they could lean in to God’s promises, but yet the horror and outrage and sadness and awkwardness… they needed the Biblical resources of lament in all its human pathos and they needed a faith community that wasn’t so cheery as to exile them from their sacred space. And it was hard.

Well, you can imagine — it was hard even to worship, to praise the goodness of God; it was awful to hear dumb remarks, it was painful to hold such anguish during times that to others was just ordinary time (let alone even happy times.) What to do?

Just Be Honest is not a scholar’s study (although it is informed by solid work) but a father’s awful story of being vulnerable, honest, raw. The first paragraph is one I will never forget. Realizing their son’s Eli day of birth and day of death was one in the same was gut-wreching to read and I felt great admiration for Clint in his willingness to tell this story, starting when his wife’s first pregnancy turned “from wonder to terror.”  I’ve read a lot of books about grief and several good studies of lament and this short one gripped me more than any such narrative, I think. I highly recommend it to any and all, since we will all experience loss at some point, but, perhaps more urgently, there are people in your life that need you to know what to do; that they themselves may need permission to “pray without pretending” and “worship through tears.” This little gospel-saturated, candid story could help.

The Lost World of the Prophets: Old Testament Prophecy and Apocalyptic Literature in Ancient Context John Walton (IVP Academic) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Oooh, my, here is one that just came and I haven’t more than swished through the pages yet. I hope you know Walton — his PhD is from Hebrew Union College; and he is an emeritus Old Testament prof from Wheaton College and Graduate School. He has written several academic resources, Bible references tools, and studies of many themes of God’s covenant in the Older Testament. (A very recent in-depth study of how best to read the OT is Wisdom for Faithful Reading.) In recent years he has done a series of books that puts the social and political context of the culture in which various Biblical portions were written, such as The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Adam and Even (on Genesis two and three) and The Lost World of the Flood. This one on the prophets is my own little bit of wish fulfillment — after the ones on Genesis I said out loud, “Wouldn’t it be great if Walton did one on the lost world of the Hebrew prophets.” Oh yeah, here it is.

A superb guide to reading the message of the prophetic literature with integrity and faithfulness to the God of Israel and Jesus Christ.” — J. Richard Middleton, author of Liberating Image, Abraham’s Silence, and A New Heaven and a New Earth

Reckoning with Power: Why The Church Fails When It’s on the Wrong Side of Power David E Fitch (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

We have a lot of books about leadership and while some are quite useful and really fine, I’ve often had this suspicion that too often some seem to take pop level best sellers in the leadership genre and add a bit of Bible on the top, like icing on a cake, and re-purpose essentially secular notions. And, there have been bunches of books saying that, almost tirelessly so, over the last years. They are asking what does it mean to lead, to be in charge, even, when our Master says it is greater to be a servant; think, just for instance, of Arthur Boers important Servant and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. Hooray.

In the last couple of years a few other very good books have come out on the core of the question of power. Some of these may be about leadership per say like the magisterial and provocative The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church by JR Woodward, (with a good foreword by none other than David Fitch) while others have been more generally about how the church takes a posture towards power, generally; one need not be too Biblically aware to see the toxic influence of grasping after MAGA power has had on evangelical witness. Now, with David Fitch as a guide, we can get by that nearly obvious “low hanging fruit” — see the brilliant The Kingdom, the Power and Glory by Tim Alberta for the best expose of that weirdness — and explore even deeper and more subtle ways church folks seem to get “on the wrong side of power.”

How much more, really, can be said?

Ends up, quite a lot, I gather. I just started this and had to set it down for now, but I am sure this is going to be one of the most discussed books — at least it should be — of the year. It shares with Boers and Woodward a vision of Christian postures and practices that aren’t merely mimicking worldly power but is trying to ascertain a truly Biblical and Christian view of power itself. That is, in Reckoning Fitch seems to be doing more, here, than studying power as it has a detrimental effect on leadership, but it’s polluting on our whole Christian culture, and certainly the local church. He is asking what power is and what we mean by it and how it can (or cannot) be redeemed and “adopted” Christianly. As he does this critical assessment I am sure the book is going to be hard hitting. Good blurbs on the back are from the likes of Brian Zahnd and John Fea and Beth Felker Jones.

I am a fan of Andy Crouch’s exceptional Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power and Fitch is not, although I think he mis-reads him (or maybe just doesn’t agree with Andy’s doctrine of creation and all that it implies about the ordering of reality.) But that’s a fine tuning discussion — as I said, this should be one of the most discussed books of the year.

The Servant Lawyer: Facing the Challenges of Christian Faith in Everyday Law Practice Robert Cochran (IVP) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Speaking of books we had a tiny hand in helping with, we were so very proud to be among the first to highlight The Servant Lawyer by our friend Professor Bob Cochran. He has written scholarly stuff on jurisprudence and is a lover of the Bible, committed to justice, and a thoughtful advocate for thinking Christian about the legal profession. He has ordered books from us and we’ve met at CLS (Christian Legal Society) events over the years.

Bob was absolutely right to realize that we need a thoughtful, wise, serious book that is not academic and for what we might call ordinary working lawyers.  Most attorney’s — despite what some might think — are not doing the dramatic stuff you see on TV nor are they advocating around those causes that have attracted many Christians such as religious liberty or legal aid clinics or fighting trafficking. Most ordinary lawyers are just practicing their profession and trying to be faithful, day by day.

The Servant Lawyer should be reviewed and explained in great detail, but as I said when we first invited readers to pre-order it, we need a book like this. Every career should be so fortunate as to have a book like this. It will make you think and invite you to deeper discipleship. It is fun to read and exceptionally practical, even as it is informed by the best theoretic stuff on the market. For those in the profession wanting to live out their vocation in ‘everyday law practice” this is simply a must-read volume. Kudos.

Living Undivided: Loving Courageously for Racial Healing and Justice Chuck Mango and Troy Jackson (Baker Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Do we need yet another book on racism, faithful anti-racism, church unity and the call to do justice? Well, since the many great ones we have haven’t yet fully done the trick — although some of our books have moved the needle for some, we are told — we can always use fresh new takes, Biblically informed and historically aware calls to this important aspect of living in God’s Kingdom. And these authors are extraordinary. We are very impressed and happy to highlight this brand new resource.

Here’s an interesting thing — although Chuck Mango is black, Troy is a white guy who, by the way, was contacted years ago by Coretta Scott King to go through old papers of her beloved Martin’s sermon notes and sermons. The prestigious collection of the works of King made room for a major scholarly anthology that Troy put together — how cool is that. He has subsequently published other very good books on being a multi-ethnic urban church in Cincinnati and he’s a voice I immediately want to listen to.

Troy’s co-author and partner in good trouble Chuck Mango is the founder and CEO of LivingUNDIVIDED. His desire is to activate people to not only participate in acts of mercy and reconciliation but also challenge systems of oppression and injustice. He, too, lives with his wife and kids in Cincinnati. They both tell their respective stories in the first two chapters and I was hooked.

Saint Valentine the Kindhearted Ned Bustard (IVP Kids) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Hooray for this! I need not say much. You know Ned’s unique style of linocuts from his amazing work illuminating Square Halo Books titles, and his excellent art and design work co-producing the three exquisite Every Moment Holy volumes. And, certainly, you know his lovely, simple, rhyming, but seriously informed children’s books Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver and Saint Patrick the Forgiver.

The brand new Saint Valentine the Kindhearted is wonderful, colorful, clever, and (let’s be honest) very much needed these days. I think even more than the first two, good as they are, there are very few well-crafted children’s books on this second century saint  — and who doesn’t want a book offering examples of Christian leaders who showed kindness, even to the seemingly unloved? There is more that could be said about Saint V and, as always, Ned’s lovely little author’s page in the back is worth the price of the book. We have it now, on sale. Like all of the others, it is 20% off. Why not order a few? Or pair it with Saint Patrick. March isn’t that far away!

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Sadly, as of February 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

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Some of our favorite novels of 2023 — all 20% off. ENJOY.

For any number of reasons I’m feeling tired, weary, sad, even. Comes with the territory these days, I guess. I take heart in the fine replies we’ve gotten from friends who appreciate our BookNotes suggestions, and trust somehow we will continue to be able to make a living selling these kinds of thoughtful books. It’s been over forty years in Dallastown and we remain deeply grateful for our vocation in the book biz. We are glad for local  and on-line shoppers and especially for those who bought books from our first three installments of our favorite books of 2023. You can find those easily by visiting the website — all our past BookNotes columns are archived there (as are the discounts.)

Sometimes one of the many reasons to read fiction is to get a fresh perspective. I don’t usually like to talk about “escape” (let alone “guilty pleasures”) but those popular tropes get at something about the fabulous and refreshing ways in which a story can take us outside of ourselves and into worlds that sometimes are — weird as they may be — as true as the best nonfiction. Some of these novels really did that.

Here, then, are a handful of novels Beth or I enjoyed this year, books we liked talking about, showing, selling. I don’t know if these are “the best” but they were among our recent favorites and we’re happy to recommend them.

All are 20% off. Scroll down to the bottom to get to the order link.

Happy reading.

Demon Copperhead Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $32.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.00

What can I say about the great Barbara Kingsolver? We have loved most of her novels and both of her splendid, rich, intelligent, and oh-so-important nonfiction collections.  Beth started this almost immediately when it first arrived at the end of ’22. Some of us were a bit slower to nab it.  Most know it is a bit of an Appalachian retelling of David Copperfield. Brilliant, eh?

As you may know it won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Here I’ll just copy and paste how it was simply described at the Pulitzer Prize website:

Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.

Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens’ anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.

Search: A Novel Michelle Huneven Penguin $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Okay, this came out in 2022, but the paperback released in 2023 and it was doubtlessly one of the most fun books I read all year. It is about a food critic, Dana Potowski, who is, in the story, friends with an intelligent and good preacher at her Unitarian Church and who is thrown into a bit of a tailspin when he announces his retirement. She gets on the search committee and, well, if you’ve ever wondered how congregations that have these sorts of committees with every demographic represented actually do their work, and the politics (and prayer) that goes into it, Huneven gets it just about right. Oh my, does stuff come up — from theological differences to generational stuff. Talk about church politics intermingled with prayer.

I mentioned that the main character is a food critic so there are luscious descriptions of food and — yes! — recipes. Who knew that a book reviewed in all the important mainstream places could be about church life (albeit a liberal Southern California one.)  It most likely isn’t like your church, but it was still a blast, and rang true in some ways.

The Beautiful Madness of Martin Bonham: A Tale About Loving God Robert Hudson (The Apocryphal Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

How can I describe this marvelous witty, page-turning story about a contemporary college professor and his spiritually-alive student who are at odds with the stuffy seminary next door to the campus? It is a hoot and a half, fun and funny, yet. I could not stop reading, and hardly did as I raced through it, wondering what would happen next.

The lead character is a usually staid literature prof whose academic publications include books on the medieval mystics and poetry that passionately portrayed the experience of the love of God. As you might guess, the academic theological critics next door are not a fan of his mystical poetry, but a burned-out, religiously disillusioned seminarian approaches him for conversations about the difference between knowing about God and actually knowing God. They ask all sorts of professors of various faiths to weigh in and, after bunches of faculty meetings and conflict, actually start a department of Theophily — the study of loving God. 

This is part sitcom, sure, and the brilliant Hudson (himself an academic who has published about the history of mysticism and ancient prayer) says it is “like a Venn diagram in which C.S. Lewis and P.G. Wodehouse intersect” which is, I’d say, putting it mildly. This Gen-Z seminarian and her confession to Martin Bonham has indeed thrown the whole campus of Cupperton U into an uproar. It is almost believable and a great time.

By the way, it is almost overdone but Hudson knows his literary quotes and puts them into the epigrams and mouths of Bonham and others. It’s an education just listening to this guy quip and goose others with ancient blurbs. I have never read anything like it.

By the way, if you care at all about higher education, if you’ve ever worked on campus in any capacity, you’ll find this to be a blast. And if you care at all about the differences between learning about God and knowing God, well, come on in.

“An accomplished and seductive book you will never forget.” — Leonard Sweet

Bastille Day: A Novel Greg Garrett (Raven /Paraclete) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I hope you recall my longer review of this last summer, naming Greg Garrett as an important scholar (having written about memoir, Christian reflections on film and on literature, and, recently the Gospel According to James Baldwin) not to mention several well-done novels. This is a powerful and very entertaining story about a troubled war correspondent, trying to get back to more normal reporting, who ends up in Paris and, well, you’ll see. What a story!

A remarkable novelist who has the courage to explore in classic terms the great theme of the human soul.  — Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

The Passenger Cormac McCarthy (Vintage) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Beth reads a lot of novels but I don’t think she ever read McCarthy’s classic, The Road. So I was surprised to see her dive in to the meaty, serious Passenger (and, then, the odd sequel, Stella Morris.You’ll recall they were published almost back to back last year, and then came out in paperback in 2023.) She endured — which, for some, is what you do with a vulgar and dark McCarthy story — and came away impressed. They made her think, and she pondered them long and hard, well after the last page was turned. Granted, they are rather harsh and not for everyone.

I’ll let the review from Esquire do the talking, here:

“A one-two punch…The Passenger is an elegiac meditation on guilt, grief, and spirituality. Packed with textbook McCarthy hallmarks, like transgressive behaviors and cascades of ecstatic language, it’s a welcome return from a legend.”

And then, again:

With the publication of The Passenger and its companion novel Stella Maris, McCarthy seems to be done mining the myth of America. Instead, he ponders what it means to exist, and what our history tells us about our future… He digs into the big ideas of the universe, like human existence and what it means, as well as what our history and memory mean. He’s searching for something different… Where other writers venture into the mind and soul, McCarthy has leapt past that to ask what a soul is — and if it even exists…. McCarthy is no longer searching in the dirt trail across the West and saying, ‘This is it. This is our human nature.’ In The Passenger  and Stella Maris, he’s trying to see the God that made the man who wrote those words. — Kevin Koczwara, Esquire

Tom Lake  Ann Patchett (Harper) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I’ll admit that this was a particularly charming read as Beth was in the thick of our advanced galley of it as we were heading to the lovely Bay Village Chautauqua in NW Michigan, just a town away from where this book is set. Two daughter’s return home to  during Covid to help their mother harvest apples in the family orchard and they learn about their mother’s past. We left the book there with a lucky participant and took some pre-orders. Interestingly, I myself was re-reading right then some of Ann Patchett’s beautifully-crafted essays in These Precious Days. Beth and I are big fans.

Out of Esau: A Novel Michelle Webster Hein (Counterpoint) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Speaking of Michigan, this is one of my favorite stories of the year, which I found hard to put down. It is, to cut to the chase, about a single black pastor in a mostly white Michigan village, and a troubled woman who may be the lead the character, after all, and, well, yeah; you’ve got to read this redemptive story. Karen Bender said of it altho is has “gorgeous, glittering prose”  David Heska Wanbli Weiden (author of Winter Counts) calls it one of the best books of the year, saying it is “a tremendous achievement.” There is even a lovely endorsement by Sophfronia Scott, a novelist and author of several nonfiction spirituality books.

How It Went: Thirteen More Stories of the Port William Membership Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $16.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.56

Again, this was released in 2022 but the paperback came out in 2023 and we were delighted. These thirteen new stories “explore the memory and imagination of Andy Catlett, one of the well-loved central characters in Wendell Berry’s fictional town Port William, Kentucky.” These short-stories span Andy’s lifetime, from the outbreak of World War II to the contemporary times as rural life is increasingly threatened. Booklist called it “a work of essential American literature.” I like what Kirkus Reviews said about Berry’s effort here: “Berry has that gift for entertaining amid serious intent, and the many lighter, very human moments in his elegiac, cautionary, wistful stories keep them from sinking into jeremiad without diminishing his message.”

American Roulette: A Novel Matthew Best, J.M. West, and others  (Milford House) $22.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.36

I have been wanting to write about this since it came out a few months ago; a south central Pennsylvania pastor was involved as were a number of other local writers (and a few nationally-known ones, as well.) The topic is critical important and the style is ingenious. It should be getting much attention but I am afraid that since it is published by a small, indie press here in the area, it may not become as widely known as it deserves. I will write about it again, I am sure.

For now, I will say it is heart-rending and somehow hopeful. The topic is the story of a mass shooting (in a mall.) Yes, the authors know some about this horror and some have been advocates for reasonable gun control measures for years. They wanted to tell the story that created less an argument for legislative policies and more one that evoked complexity and human empathy. It strikes me that, like anti-slavery Parliamentarian William Wilberforce recruited Hannah More who wrote novels about the morals of the day, knowing that stories could influence the popular mindset and values that necessarily preceded successful legislative initiatives, so these authors, in telling a on-the-ground story, might do more to change the hearts of folks than any number of well-documented and well footnoted policy arguments. So the book is a novel about a horrible day in the lives of a bunch of people.

Ahh, and then there is this: one or two of these caring folks came up with a plan: they asked each writer to do a chapter without consulting the others. Each one tells the story of somebody involved in the crisis that ensues at this school. A couple of them intended to serve as editors to help the chapters coalesce and weave them seamlessly into a coherent plot and — as you might be surprised to hear — very little editing was needed. The stories held together and the plot unfolds in various voices in a way that feels natural and compelling. The first third of the book just introduced each of these folks, and, knowing what you know, you wonder how they might fit into the tragedy that is sure to unfold. It’s almost like micro-fiction, short stories of each of these varied people whose fates will meet, in one way or another.

American Roulette ought to be known because it is one of the view novels that explore this topic that every American knows and wonders about — how does this happen? Will it happen near us? And, further, for anyone interested in experimental fiction and literary collaboration, this is pretty darn cool, just as a writing project that came together well. It’s not going to win a Pulitzer for luminous prose, but it’s a story that is captivating and well presented.

It is a notable paperback of 2023. Spread the word won’t you?

Transcendent Kingdom: A Novel Yaa Gyasi (Vintage) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I know I was a bit late to this, but this is a book that the Washington Post described as having a “blazing brilliance.” Of course Yaa Gyasi became very well known for the devastating and blazing and brilliant Homegoing, which begins centuries ago among African tribal groups and the invading power of the white colonialists, and follows generations through the middle passage into slavery, the great migration, New York, and more. What an unforgettable, powerful, epic story that was.

This is a very moving tale, set in modern times, among yet other descendants from Homegoing, and a woman named Gifty from Alabama who is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine. There has been great sorrow in her family and now her mother is depressed, nearly dead in her bed, while Gifty is studying the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. In a way, this is a story — called luminous and redemptive by one reviewer —  about the relationship (and not only in the abstract) between faith and science.

I almost jumped out of my seat at one point when I realized that this was not just a passing phrase or two in the narrative but a real theme of this lovely, moving story.

Sun House David James Duncan (Little Brown) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

One of the most amazing authors of our lifetime, quirky, complex, funny, with complicated stories — we adored The River Why and The Brothers K — has finally (finally) finished this audacious book he’s been working on for decades. I’m not kidding — this is one of the great literary events of 2023. Sun House is a massive book and I’m not going to say whether I finished it, yet, but, man, this is the book of almost a lifetime.  And, believe me, you get your money’s worth!

Sun House is a book of healing that will earn a place on the shelf between the world’s ancient wisdom texts and Mark Twain…Here is a book like nothing I have ever read, an epic story about how we may be made whole in a broken time.— Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Pine Island Paradox

This is a classic epic novel with 21st century humor and timeless spirituality. I laughed so much and cried just as often. It’s sexy, politically astute, visionary, and bold. I love this novel. I love David. Read it now. — Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Where’d You Park Your Spaceship? An Interplanetary Tale of Love, Loss, and Bread Book One: Welcome to Firdus Rob Bell (Backhouse Books) $23.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40

Not going to lie, I was thrilled to discover this — it hasn’t gotten much publicity and is self published by our hip, California guru — and it is supposed to be fantastic. Witty, seriously written, fun, and well-construed, it is, as you might guess, a vehicle for Rob’s ever curious mind and the interlace of faith spirituality, science, life, and, well, “love, loss, and bread,” I don’t know if this will resonate with those who loved his amazing Drops Like Stars or if it has tones of his legendary “Everything is Spiritual” lecture series, but you know he’s a extraordinary thinker, a clever entrepreneur and now — hooray! — a novelist. This is Part One, with a second coming, maybe, someday.  The first section of this grand novel is “This is the Out.” Okay? Anybody you know read this year?

The print is larger than normal, which is weird, and it’s way over 500 pages, although it needn’t be that thick if it used normal-sized type.

Renaissance: A Novel Susan Fish (Raven) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I was interested in this firstly because the Raven imprint is a new publishing venture by the ecumenical publisher that features mostly spiritual formation books (and albums of Gregorian Chant) called Paraclete Press. We appreciate them so much and over the years they have released outstanding poetry and a few good novels (and some stellar memoirs.) They’ve created this imprint of quality fiction with a faith orientation, but which isn’t what some think of when they think of pious and wholesome “Christian fiction.” They are going for authors who can write profound stories and do important, honest, art; their moving novels are for those who are seeking meaning and deep value  and who are not afraid of the Christian tradition, but are not seeking books that preach. This, I gather, is what Christian fiction could and should be. I will admit that I was also drawn to the cover, one of the nicest of the year.

Renaissance is a story of Elisabeth Fane who is turning 50. Instead of celebrating with friends and family she is alone, on a plane to Italy.

Liz, as she is called, plans to prune olive trees at a convent and explore the city of Florence. Okay, right there! What more do you need? It’s a book about gardening in Florence. Exquiste, huh?

The back cover puts in plainly: “She meets four women — five if you count the large painting of the Virgin Mary — with who she converses regularly. Eventually, these conversations allow Liz to consider the rift between her and her family, reveal why she left home, and sort out what it will take for her to return.”

I guess Renaissance is a coming-of age story “about a woman of a certain age.” As one reviewer noted, this is a “rare combination of two journeys: a vivid external tour of Florence, Italy, and a deep interior path through a  woman’s struggle.”

Yes, there is some sorrow here, but it includes a discovery of great love. I highly recommend it. My friend Bob Tribe had a nice review of it that he posted a week or so ago at our Hearts & Minds Facebook page.

Girls They Write Songs About: A Novel Carlene Bauer (Picador) $19.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

This is one of the books that, again (like most, I guess) I have to say is not for everyone. This is a story of two writers — both women are contemporary women, feminists, literary types, working in the field of rock journalism in Manhattan a few years back. They are self-consciously academic, talking about their critical theory and their writing courses and their artists retreats, their awareness that they are pretentious, even, as they surely are. But I loved these women, and their work in the thick of pop culture. Their friendship is moving, until it is not, and their respective romantic attachments and life with families unfolds over the years. They continue to write, one more commercially successful than the other, and their friendship forms the core — at times luminous, often sad — of this extraordinary story.

The New York Times review (by Molly Young) says it is about “the cycles of enchantment, disenchantment and re-enchantment that make up a life.” Another reviewer said it isn’t about friendship but about the question: “what did we really want?”

I picked this up because of the rock music context, but mostly because I loved the “dazzling” epistolary novel nearly a decade ago, Frances and Bernard. It was a favorite this year, but, again, may not interest most folks.

Brisbane and A History of the Island Eugene Vodolazkin (Plough) $26.95 each  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.56 each

We have promoted these two heady books over the last years as it isn’t every day you get such intellectual fiction from — get this — a Ukrainian living in Russia! His novel Laurus, translated into English nearly a decade ago won quite a lot of acclaim and, in paperback, now, is a great book to enter a conversation about calling, vocation, grief and guilt, and the healing powers of a doctor. (It is set in a time of plague and pestilence in fifteenth century Russia.)

Some have likened his readable but intense prose to Umberto Eco (if that gives you a sense of the weight of these works) and the two newest have been brought to the English speaking world by the fabulous little publisher, Plough Press, run by the literary minded folks at the Anabaptist alternative community known as the Bruderhof.  As we have explained before Brisbane is about a celebrated guitarist who is diagnosed with Parkinson’s and has agreed to allow a biographer to do his life story. One might think it is about mortality, but it is also about so much more… The more recent History of the Island has been called a “masterpiece” by Rowan Williams; it is a story (about monks who are “devious and devout” and an “age-defying royal pair”) who chronicle the history of their fictional island — from medieval times to modern days.

Is A History of the Island a tragedy or comedy? Is it a satire of European history (and the myth of progress)? It may be about the futility of war, and knowing about the homeland of the author as the book came to press, it makes it all the more urgent. A little weird, but urgent. I’m not sure how the Russians or Ukrainians say it, but “wowza!”

Trust: A Novel Hernan Diaz (Riverhead) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

The other day I heard Beth talking on the phone, extensively, with great passion, with one of our best and longest friends. He had read Trust and wanted her opinion. She had told me how much she loved this book — it also, with Demon Copperfield, was a winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize and is now out in paperback — but I didn’t realize how much she was taken by this story of the stock market crash of 1929. At first the tale seems straightforward about this mighty Wall Street tycoon as the “roar and effervescence” of the 1920’s in New York gave way to the stock market crash and the 1930s. In the novel, there are four manuscripts about the era, one (in the story, of course) published in 1937 as a book called Bonds; each in one way or another asks the big question — at what cost the immense wealth was gained? There are four competing voices, then, in this immersive story and one will learn a lot about the quest for truth, the importance of lasting relationships, and the matter of deception that tends to come with the “reality warping force of capital.”

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams Daniel Nayeri (Levine Querido) $21.99  OUR SALE PRIUCE = $17.59

It was such a delight the week this came out — it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review (which we shared at our Facebook page) and we enjoyed highlighting it as a YA novel that, frankly (like most great ones in that genre) could be equally enjoyed by adults. This summer I lead a book club conversation at my church on his splendid, unforgettable (and quite autobiographical) Everything Sad Is Untrue: A True Story (now out in paperback, by the way) and was reminded again that it is one of the best books we’ve sold in our 40 years here. As Kirkus put it, that one was “a modern epic.”  It won many awards — I do hope you know it — and now this one, The Many Assassinations of… was just awarded with a prestigious Newberry Honor Award. Congrats to Daniel, a great writer and lover of stories (and bookstores!)

Beth noted how she felt this really helped unlock more of the Persian storytelling traditions that shaped young Daniel (as described and shown in Everything Sad.) This one, set along the enchanting silk road and a caravan of characters (including Samir) takes it to a higher, wilder level, with story upon story, and the power of story actually being the point. Or so it seemed to us.

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There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.70, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.50. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

We are happy to ship books anywhere. 

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.

FAVORITE BOOKS of 2023 PART THREE: 24 academic & scholarly books, mostly. ALL ON SALE

Thank you to all who read PART ONE and PART TWO of our favorite books and good reads of 2023. Even as I shared a bunch, I keep thinking of other books I’ve read, happy Sunday afternoons and too many late nights, devouring the latest. Oh, I read a lot that I don’t truly love (an occupational hazard) and I can get worked up about stuff I find wrong-headed. Don’t get me started.

I love well-written, moving books (who doesn’t) and our tastes have evolved, I guess, over the years. I am not a scholar or academic but I do like to learn and have a curiosity about what might be good books, that sound intriguing, so I try a few fairly serious ones most years. (And if they are too dry or too heavy, I send ‘em back. Life’s too short to waste time on stuff I don’t enjoy at least a little…)

Here are twenty-four fairly academic books that I read (mostly; I’m not telling how many I finished and which I skipped a chapter or two and which ones I’m in the middle of, kinda. Ha.) These are really fine books, though, and while maybe not “the best” scholarly works, they are books that I value and we recommend. We want to honor the and their authors here as among my (serious) favorites of 2023. Congrats.

[Perhaps you noticed last week but a few from the previous list were pretty rigorous, too; I’m thinking of Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World by Jeremy Begbie (on Baker Academic) and The Cult of Creativity (Oxford) by Samuel Franklin and, frankly, the Secular Mysticisms one by Andrew Root (also Baker Academic.) But I’ve already named those.]

As always, we’d appreciate it if you send some orders our way. Use the “order” link at the bottom of this column. They are all 20% off which in some cases may be the best deal around. Thank you very much. Read on!

More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture Paul Louis Metzger (IVP Academic) $48.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $38.40

One the great, serious books of the year, so very important, and, frankly, theological and philosophical as it may be, it is very readable, intriguingly so. One of the great highlights of 2023 — for me personally and for our store’s reputation, such as it is — was doing a webinar with Dr. Metzger and coming to count him as a friend and ally. This is a great book, inviting us to think through the implications in our personal lives and in our public discipleship, even as we advocate for reforms in the public square, of treating people as persons. This model of “personalism” is exceptional and is explored consistently here showing how it plays out in many sides of life and on different topics, from war and racism to medical ethics and space explorations and so much more. Highly recommended.

Creation and Christian Ethics: Understanding God’s Designs for Humanity and the World Dennis P.  Hollinger (Baker Academic) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This rigorous book arrived late in the year and we want to honor it as a 2023 title, although I’ve just started it here in the new year. Dr. Hollinger is an old acquaintance who has invited me to speak at his campus (when he was Dean of the Chapel at Messiah College) and who has visited our store. We’ve admired his other good books, included a captivation ethics title melding the strengths of virtue ethics and “law” ethics, adding what he called at the time “worldview” ethics. He’s a broad and sharp thinker, prominent for leading several exceptional evangelical institutions, and I am always glad whenever he releases a new work.

Creation and Christian Ethics does just what is needed these days, affirming the doctrine of created reality, asking what the Biblical teaching about the robust and revelatory creation has to do to forming a wise and livable Kingdom ethics.

I am grateful for this as he gets a bit more detailed than the excellent generic approach offer, often, by neo-Calvinists in the tradition of Abraham Kuyper, say, and the rather speculative and strict stylings of those committed to natural law.

There are very impressive endorsements on the back cover from Vincent Bacote, Richard Mouw, Kelly Kapic, Autumn Alcott Ridenour. Scott Rae of Talbot School of Theology (at Biola) says it is a “first-rate work… important”

The Overlooked Americans: The Resilience of Our Rural Towns and What It Means for Our Country Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (Basic Books) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

I almost listed this in the last post as I appreciated (and enjoyed) it so. It offers rigorous discussions of qualitative and quantitative sociology research but, actually, it doesn’t read like a scholarly text. She is animated, shares her own opinions as she travels the country (and, during the worst of Covid, engages in dozens of Zoom calls) learning to hear and respect people from small towns all across the country. Word of mouth spread and she had plenty of folks eager to chat and she did this gathering of oral histories and honest opinions with great gusto. The book reads almost like a virtual travelogue with lots of excerpts of lots of interviews and her candid take on the views and styles of her rural interlocutors.

And you know what? She ends up having more in common with many heartland folks in flyover country that she ever realizes. She talks economics and racism, religion (and more religion), asking about people’s convictions and concerns, visions and values, faith and frustrations all across these fruited planes. She knows her stuff— social and cultural capitol, meritocracy biases, college aspirations among the working class, the new geography of jobs, etc. etc.  Currid-Halkett is a professor of public policy with a speciality in urban and regions planing (at the University of Southern California), has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and holds a chair of modern culture at the Library of Congress. Elite reputation that she may have, she offers this urgent appeal for Americans to connect across a rural-urban divide that, she shows, “is’t so wide after all.” I loved this book and all it’s hopeful detail.

Natality: Toward a Philosophy of Birth Jennifer Banks (Norton) $27.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.36

I ordered this because it seemed really rich and I was impressed with the notion — there is a lot written about mortality but not so much about the philopshy of being born. (Ahh, a popular level quasi theological work simply called Birth: The Mystery of Being Born by James Howell did a very nice job in 2020 in their helpful, wise, “Pastoring for Life” series.) I seemed like a winner.

Then a very sharp customer ordered it and then a second person inquired, wondering if we heard of it. It apparantly was reviewed someplace pretty reputable the if two calls in one week on a fairly obscure philosophical treatise means anything, I realized I had called it right. Natality is remarkable, rare, maybe, but important. Hooray.  Little did I know that she was a person of faith and that writers that are important to me would grace the back cover. Check this out:

In this resplendent tapestry, each chapter a riveting discovery, Jennifer Banks witnesses the hidden gestations within the wombs of literary history. Natality is not just about giving birth. Natality is at the heart of culture care, of all generative making, and it opens paths uncharted.–Makoto Fujimura, artist, author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

Natality is a quietly disruptive book. At a time when public discussion of motherhood and childbirth too quickly devolves into political talking points, Jennifer Banks unearths voices from the past that challenge us to consider the profound and inscrutable nature of birth. Natality reminds us that there has never been a singular conversation around childbirth, but by tending to the mystery, beauty, and contradictions of birth, we contemplate humanity itself.–Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne

By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners Margaret A. Burnham (Norton) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

It may be that, officially, this is considered (not unlike other on this list) a trade book and not a scholarly text. But, still, I list it here because it is excellent, exhaustive, history and exceptionally rigorous writing about important details of our nation’s past (particularly 1920 – 1960) and, yes, how that lingers into todays social and political landscape. It isn’t so academic to be difficult, but it is a hard read, unpleasant, ugly. Yet, it is one of the great books of the year, important and demanding, in so many ways. I very highly recommend it…

By Hands Now Known official released near the end of 2022 and earned great accolades on the “best of” lists of 2022. I started it in 2023, so I’m naming it here. By the way, it was a Finalist for the prestigious 2023 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History.

Saving the Protestant Ethic: Creative Class Evangelicalism and the Crisis of Work Andrew Lynn (Oxford University Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

I am sure you know that one of our passions — not shared by all our readers, but we keep trying to share the good news — is how embracing God’s Kingdom message necessarily calls us to vocations in the world. We are missional people living out the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life, including (maybe especially including for most of us) our work lives. We simply must see the need for thinking Christianly about the philosophy of and the practices that flow from, a uniquely Christian approach to our particular careers and jobs. At it’s best, this is the conversation emerging from what we can call a movement — the “faith and work” conversation or the movement to related Sunday worship and Monday work, however you want to describe this call to marketplaces, shop floors, schoolrooms, farming fields, medical clinics, or the sacred spaces of home and childcare. You get the point.

There have been many inspiring books about all of this and now Oxford University Press has brought us a goldmine of insight, a scholarly overview of this movement and the pros and cons of the way it has been advanced. Andrew Lynn is a Postdoc Fellow at the famous Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia where his work spans organizational theory, religious studies, and the history of ideas surrounding ethics and economics. This book “captures the in-group tensions and creative adaptation” among American evangelicals as they “navigate changing class and political dynamics that shape American society.”  It has been heralded as an “extraordinary descriptive project’, “masterful”, and “impressive.”

Decades ago Oxford published a bit of a manifesto studying the early days of the faith in the marketplace movement written by David W. Miller, now Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative. Miller has reviewed this book and offers much insight about it.

He writes:

“The faith at work movement is an ongoing and evolving social movement, not a flash in the pan or a passing fad. Andrew Lynn brings us a strong contribution to the growing number of scholarly studies of the surprisingly diverse nature of the faith at work movement. Lynn’s provocatively titled Saving the Protestant Ethic focuses on and brings us fresh insights into the conservative evangelical Protestant wing of the movement, whose search for meaning and purpose drives their economic activity.”

Self Made: Creating Our Identities From Da Vinci to the Kardashians Tara Isabella Burton (Public Affairs) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

A few years back Tara Burton caused a bit of a buzz as many thoughtful Christian pundits we citing her amazing book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. She has a PhD from Oxford and has written for forums as unique as American Internet and National Geographic. Her new one is stunningly researched, deep, thoughtful, offering a

Here is how the publisher describes this study of identity formation:

As the forces of social media and capitalism collide, and individualism becomes more important than ever across a wide array of industries, “branding ourselves” or actively defining our selves for others has become the norm. Yet, this phenomenon is not new. In Self-Made, Tara Isabella Burton shows us how we arrived at this moment of fervent personal branding. Through a series of chronological biographical essays on famous (and infamous) “self-creators” in the modern Western world, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment to modern capitalism and finally to our present moment of mass media, Burton examines the theories and forces behind our never-ending need to curate ourselves.

Wow, this is a very important idea and she is an energetic, interesting author. You should consider this.

A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship  W. David O. Taylor (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is the sort of academic book that should have a wide readership, certainly in seminaries and in places preparing pastors, preachers, and worship leaders. And, you would think, also in well educated churches. If you are a pastor, choir member, worship leader, liturgist, or maybe you teach Sunday school and teach children and youth about worship, this sort of robust creational theology will stretch your mind and enrich your worldview. That is, it will help you imagine a world the way God sees it, including our bodies. God must love matter, C.S. Lewis once quipped, He sure made a lot of it. Indeed.

So, then, given that, what is the role of the physicality of worship? Artists and those advocating for a more aesthetically pleasing and artfully enriching worship space have helped us all embrace some attention to the colors and banners and vestments and arrangement of chairs and maybe flowers in our spaces. But what about our very bodies that inhabit those spaces? What about the very presence, embodied (I’d say in literal space or through for-real, virtual / on-line participation) of our bodies, our various, frail and fragile, strong and sexy, large and small, from various tribes and people groups?  We are all made in the image of God which certainly involves our creaturely selves, and, of course, our senses.

This excellent book is not just about using more color for the eyes or incense for the aroma or hip surround-sound for our ears (although, heavens, if some churches don’t invest in better microphones and basic sound enhancement, I don’t know what they are thinking. Geesh.) This good book goes beyond the obvious and asks deep questions about the human body, why it has not been considered much in worship studies, and how God’s own design for our embodiment might influence how we think about and construe and practice regular corporate worship. And, yes, Taylor more than once attends to the questions about those with disabilities or handicapping conditions. His footnotes are fascinating and offer a whole new curriculum for further generative study. The book is pretty ecumenical and wil be helpful for almost anyone willing to work through this thoughtful text. It is one of the most surprising and best books of 2023.

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture Christopher Watkin (Zondervan Academic) $49.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $39.99

As you might guess, I was very excited to read this; Keller’s endorsement meant something and the vision of using the Scriptures wisely as a worldview shaping, formative text which would set us towards culture (with a critical edge) seemed ideal for the transforming vision we need for living in the “city of God even as we are living within the city of man” (as Augustine put it.) William Edgar, a top cultural apologetics thinker (and jazz musician) declares that this book is a feast.  Bruce Ashford says it is “effervescently brilliant.”

I am not as taken with it as these esteemed thinkers have been but it surely is a very important book.

Christopher Watkin’s expert, timely compendium of Christian Scripture’s subversive engagement of dominating themes of our modern age brings welcome healing to our world. — Esther Lightcap Meek, author Longing to Know and Doorway to Artistry

Theology and Technology: Essays in Christian Analysis edited by Carl Mitcham, Jim Grove, Levi Checketts (Wipf & Stock) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

In the Spring and into the Summer of 2023 it seemed like discussions about artificial intelligence and ChatGPT and the like look the nation by storm. Trying to bring some perspective to the often alarmist debates I did a special, long BookNotes column (June 11, 2023 if your searching for it) about technology, digital culture, and a few books addressing the pros and cons of AI. In that listing I was reminded of this weighty volume on our shelves and I was delighted to mention it. This is actually the first volume of a two volume set, a collection of essays inspired by and in conversation with a seminal piece from forty years ago. I’ll let the publisher explain it:

“The first volume offers five general attitudes toward technology based off of H. Richard Niebuhr’s five ideal types in Christ and Culture. The second volume includes biblical, historical, and modern theological engagements with the place of technology in the Christian life. This ecumenical collection ranges from authors who enthusiastically support technological development to those cynical of technique and engages the Christian tradition from the church fathers to recent theologians like Bernard Lonergan and Jacques Ellul. Taken together, these essays, some reproductions of earlier work and others original for this project, provide any student of theology a fitting entree into considering the place of technology in the realm of the sacred.”

We were especially glad to see an important essay, as important now as when it was written decades ago, by Egbert Schuurman, who taught engineering and reformational philosphy at several universities in The Netherlands. He served in the Senate, as well.

The Minor Prophets: A Theological Introduction Craig Bartholomew & Heath A. Thomas (IVP Academic) $45.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $36.00

I have read (or skimmed) many volumes, long and short, easy and difficult, on the so-called minor profits, the twelve, with Hebrew names like Amos and Joel and Hosea and Nahum. The more I read the more I am convinced these are major voices for our times. The writers of this commentary certainly agree and the tone of this — which is rigorously thoughtful and very well informed (Bartholomew is one of the best Bible guys writing and you should know his work.) As it says on the back cover — and this really is central! — “the good news from the minor prophets is that even in dire times, God speaks.” It will take someone with insight into hermeneutical questions and cultural awareness to help us hear God’s voice in these odd texts, and Bartholomew * Heath are up for the last. Both are connected to the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology in Cambridge (although Thomas is President at Oklahoma Baptist University.)

This may be a primer but at over 380 pages, it is detailed enough. It’s historical-redemptive, biblical-theological orientation and framework makes this more than a customary survey. It offers, as one put it, “unblinking honesty and uncompromising hope.” Highly recommended for anyone who reads the Bible seriously.

Union with the Resurrected Christ: Eschatological New Creation and New Testament Biblical Theology G.K. Beale (Baker Academic) $49.99

Holy smokes, this hefty, well-bound, scholarly book certain deserves another shout-out in addition to our first announcement of it when it released in April, ’23. It is, I’ll admit, a sequel to the highly regarded A New Testament Biblical Theology and it fleshes out nineteen “significant theological realities and benefits of the believer’s union with the resurrected Christ.” I do not think you have to read the first one, however, as this really is a summarizing, practical application of the historical-redemptive, Biblical theological approach to doing New Testament work. It is, though, sturdy, heavy, academic, what Richard Gaffin at Westminster Theological Seminary says is the “mature culmination” of much of Beale’s “decades-long biblical theological work.” Impressive? It sure is, if you are trained in this sort of thing. Some will find it a slow slog but for those with the eyes to see, it is surely nothing short of brilliant.

As Robert Yarbrough of Covenant Theological Seminary says, “I am not aware of another book that demonstrates so sweepingly the relevance of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to believer’s union with him in its rich benefits and inexhaustible glories.”

Okay then. Strap in. We are united with Christ (and participate in His work) and are incorporated into His resurrection (within the body of others who are likewise blessed.) We are living now in a being-renewed creation, holy as it is. This heavy theological hope is punctuated with “application” sections, a nice touch for what some call this prolific author’s magnum opus.

Baptist Political Theology edited by Thomas Kidd, Paul D. Miller & Andrew Walker (B+H Academic) $59.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $47.99

I am not a Baptist and, knowing what we know about the SBC these days, I was not particularly interested in this big collected volume. And then I saw the table of contents and realized who all was in it. My goodness, for anyone interested in responsible, evangelical social ethics and Christian political theory, this is a resource that is not to be missed.

It is a handsome, thick volume— almost 775 pages! — it includes masterful contemporary scholars highlighting various topics such as “Baptists and the Civil War” (by Gregory Wills), “Religious Liberty” (by Albert Mohler) “Just War and Baptist Political Theology” (by Paul Miller) and “The African American Baptist Tradition” by Kenneth Reid. Nathan Finn does one called “The Christian Right: From Reagan to Trump.”

There are historical studies on Baptists and slavery and such and there are more contemporary studies of contemporary issues like environmentalism and bioethics and gender.

And then there are very insightful pieces on various individuals — a few historical ones are on names like Roger Williams and John Leland and Isaac Backus. There is a good piece on progressive Baptists focusing on Walter Rauschenbush and others; there is one on the “political theology of Martin Luther King, Jr” by Daniel Lee Hill, and one on the late 20th century giant, Carl Henry. This is a very sharp anthology and, to be honest, one that ought to be used to shape the public witness of conservative evangelicals.

The Kingdom of Children: A Liberation Theology R.L. Stollar (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I highlighted this at BookNotes when it first came out this fall — little did I know then just how fascinating it would be and how important this project is. I am not sure I agree with all the methodology or conclusions, even, but that is all right. Few have written so provocatively about a theology of childhood and we really need to be inspired by this sort of conversation. Agree or not, this kind of theological orientation isn’t just arcane stuff for academics, but should undergird and shape how we think about parenting, families, and, of course, the church — from worship practices to Christian education, mission and (obviously) creating safe spaces for the kids among us.

Gender as Love: A Theological Account of Human Identity, Embodied Desire, and Our Social Worlds Fillipe do Vale (Baker Academic) $34.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99

I have only started this — it landed in our store in early December — so I can’t say much. But the foreword by Beth Felker Jones was simply one of the most generous and compelling introductions to a book I’ve seen in a long time. It made me want to dive in and honor the author as Jones so highly recommends. Others, too, trust the integrity and scholarship of this evangelical professor.

It claims to be a fresh and holistic approach to understanding gender (and I’ll admit I don’t even know what that means, a holistic approach.) It does says that it attempts to break current deadlocks within gender theory and theology” by drawing on questions about gender framed by the more foundational theology of the nature of human love.  Which, of course, is grounded in the love of the Triune God.

Here is what Amy Peeler says:

A breath of fresh air that has the marks of a rush of the Spirit, do Vale’s work clears the confusion, fear, and acrimony that has clouded around the concept of gender. Gender as Love provides erudite guidance through the theory and, even more, rich exegetical and theological resources for living justly in response to God’s undeserved gifts, including the gift of gender. The joining of confidence in Christ with an epistemic humility that results in godly patience makes this author and this work a timely gift and a necessary read. — Amy Peeler, Wheaton College, author of Woman and the Gender of God

If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution Vincent Bevins (Public Affairs) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

This is not exactly a scholarly work but I list it here because the reporting and coverage — vibrant and first-person account that it is — is grounded in such a remarkable knowledge of history and recent anti-fascists movements, that my head was swimming just reading about how very much this journalist and writer knows. Those who know his hefty, riveting, expose of the brutality of repression in Indonesia, The Jakarta Method, (where, with US approval, maybe a million people were murdered) will know he is one heck of a reporter. His background study is exceptional and his brave, on the ground connections, are amazing.

This book tells a fascinating story and suggests a fascinating thesis: there were, in about a decades time, uprisings all over the world — remember Arab Spring? He documents the groups that met and the comrades that risked arrest, torture, or worse, over and over, to claim public spaces in repressive regimes. He mets up with the hackers and punks and trade unionists and students and old revolutionaries, some who ended up martyred, and he listened well. (Do you remember the story about the US State Department under George W. Bush training movements across the world to use digital tools? Andrew Sullivan wrote a famous piece in The Atlantic, “The Revolution Will Be Twittered.”  From Iran to Turkey to Ukraine, Brazil to Hong Kong to Chile, there were performative protests, marches, actual revolutionary efforts to dislodge power, and some reformists efforts to get activists elected. All failed. All. Failed.

What happened? Bevins, writing from South America, watched years worth of on-going protests among street leaders in the cities of Brazil, and wondered how word traveled (through which social media channels and which underground papers) from nation to nation, across continents, from South America to North Africa to the Far East (and, for a bit, even to New York City for “Occupy Wall Street.”) How did these seemingly disparate movements (some drawing on high level Marxist and Leninist discourse, others inspired by Western democratic ideals, others inspired by churches or religious organizations) work together and connect (or did they)? What compromises were forced upon them by the powers that were? What sort of plans did they have?

If We Burn is, in the words of Greg Grandid (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The End of the Myth) says “this is a wondrous work of mystery writing, an effort to solve the riddle: why has a decade of large-scale rolling revolts produced no revolution, no significant structural reform?” He continues:

“I can’t think of any journalist other than Bevins who would dare to ask such a question, or be capable of weaving together seemingly discrete global events into a stunning history of the now.”

Bulwarks of Unbelief: Atheism and Divine Absence in a Secular Age Jospeh Minich (Lexham Academic) $32.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.39

Many of our customers a few years ago were taken with the big, fat volume The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (and then the more accessible, abridged version, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution) by the often cranky, if brilliant, theologian and cultural critic. Agree or not with the details or normative proposals, his study of historical and philosophical shifts towards “expressive individualism” is important.

This recent 2023 volume by Jospeh Minich carries a vital foreword by Professor Trueman in which he draws the connections. Trueman’s first sentence cites Charles Taylor and moves to explain the importance of Minich’s methodology (which draws on the tradition of phenomenology.) As Trueman promises, “this is neither a lament nor simply a descriptive analysis of where we are today. Dr Minich also presses forward to positive constructive.”

Does that make this more than a resource for those wanting to understand the below the surface zeitgeist of our secularizing culture? Is it apologetics of a particularly deep sort?  In the first pages of Minich’s introduction he tells a story of Herman Bavinck how little he address atheism in his massive  early 20th century dogmatics. He follows that up with the fictional character of a John Updike story who, in 1910, “felt the last particle of faith leave him.” And I was hooked.

I don’t mean to sound overly heady (as I have not read Charles Taylor’s magnum opus) but Michael Horton promises that “if you found Charles Taylor’s analysis persuasive I think you’l find Minich’s even more so.” Wow.

Nothing Gained is Eternal: A Theology of Tradition Anne M. Carpenter (Fortress) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

I have a young Roman Catholic friend (who happens also to know quite a bit about the insight of Bernard Lonergan) who sometimes tells me the very best theological stuff coming out in his thoughtful circles. Ann Carpenter is, apparantly, quite the rising rock star in theological circles and this book — “a theology of tradition” — is heady, rigorous, above by own pay grade, but, apparently, very significant. Her work has been called inventive and ambitious, an argument “poised to usher in a new wave of theological reflection on tradition.”

If this is systematic theology, it is analyzing questions about tradition versus liberation, I guess, united those things that ought not be seen as oppositional, building bridges within, at least, various Roman Catholic camps. Andrew Prevot of Boston College says it is “a provocative work of conceptual synthesis and prophetic insight.”  Jennifer Newsome Martin (of Notre Dame) calls it “at once a celebration, a chastening, and an expansion of conventional formulations of religious tradition.” This is about history, about action, and, I gather, about memory. Whew.

People of the Screen: How Evangelicals Created the Digital Bible and How It Shapes Their Reading of Scripture John Dyer (Oxford University Press) $29.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.96

I really, really liked John Dyer’s little introduction to thinking Christianly about contemporary technology, a title published by Kregel, now updated, called From the Garden to the City: The Place of Technology in the Story of God) and when I realized it was this same author doing academic research on the influence and even impact of reading the Bible digitally, I was all ears. As a programmer himself, and as his first book shows, Dyer is interested in a wholesome, Biblical perspective of the benefits and perils of digital culture. But in this book he is asking more pointedly a question about dignity technology for Bible readers.

I often find it odd when somebody pulls out a phone to read a Biblical text, especially in worship. I’ve got my reasons. But this is more about the subliminal aesthetics of not holding a physical, enduring book, but the bigger question of our perceptions of the Bible in a digital society.

The history of all this is longer than you know, I bet, and if you are interested at all in Bible software you’ll find this intriguing.  You’ll be delighted at the lovely prose in this wise bit of reporting and evaluation and, more, you will find it compelling. This is a topic that is nearly ubiquitous and few are writing about it. This book is a must.

The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society edited by Jason Thacker (B&H Academic) $34.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99

Speaking of digital culture, I have highlighted this before at BookNotes, too, and find it to be a one-of-a-kind resource at this point where people of thoughtful evangelical faith weigh in on the proper questions about justice in the public arena as we think about questions of digital life together. That is, there are essays here about legal theory, copyright stuff, hate speech, freedom of (online) speech, questions of censorship and sexual ethics and conspiracy theories. As it says on the back cover, “Top contributors, including David French, Patrica Shaw, and many others, cast a distinctly Christian vision of a digital public theology to promote the common good throughout society.

You’ll find Bonnie Kristian here, Keith Plummer, Jason Thacker, of course. Blurbs on the back are from Matthew Kaemingk, Dru Johnson, Ben Sasse, and Russell Moore.

The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism: How the Evangelical Battle Over the End Times Shaped a Nation Daneil G. Hummel (Eerdmans) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

With a foreword by award winning historian Mark Noll this book (weighing in at over 350 pages) is a thick, careful, wide-ranging study of the unique (and mostly American) theology of dispensationalism, that, naturally, gives rise to speculations about the rapture, the end times, the role of Israel, and those supposedly “left behind.” As most BookNotes readers know, this is a contentious and — in the grand scheme of church history — oddball view that, despite the millions of copies of The Late Great Planet Earth and the “Left Behind” franchise, is not fully Biblical or theologically sound. (And yet, a book about being “rapture ready” was a best seller this fall.)

The Rise and Fall… literally explores where this notion came from, its prominence in certain evangelical circles, and how the question about it all “shaped a nation” from pop culture to politics. Yep — who knew that in-house Christian theological divisions influenced our culture and set the stage for, well, all sorts of civic mayhem.

Daniel Hummel is one smart cookie and his work is nearly magisterial; it is without a doubt the most interesting, broad, and vital stuff I’ve read on this well-worn topic.  With rave reviews on the back from John Fea and Molly Worthen and others, it is surely one of the most discussed religious books of 2023. Very impressive.

Don’t believe me? Listen to Richard:

What do you say about a historical study that reads like a whodunit? Dan Hummel’s book is a page turner, shedding light on details that I already knew from dispensationalist pop culture, filling in the gaps through patient analysis and good storytelling. Historians will love his patient analysis; it’s the storytelling that hooked me. At the end of each chapter, I had to know what came next. Not only is The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism a superb academic study; Hummel’s analysis of the gap left by the decline of dispensationalism helps us understand the ideological crisis of the so-called evangelical church today. — J. Richard Middleton, professor of biblical worldview and exegesis, Northeastern Seminary, author of New Heaven and New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology

The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World Volumes I and II Iain McGilchrist (Perspective Press) $95.99 –  no discount on this item

Okay, now I’m just showing off. I haven’t even opened these two volumes from their shrink-wrapping, so can’t speak to their contents or writing style or, well, much of anything other than to say that Iain McGilchrist is a lively, exceptionally innovative, and astute writer (who maybe needs an editor — I don’t know.) Each one of these volumes looks to be nearly 800 pages, and together they have to be among the most exceptional academic releases of the decade. Released in paperback earlier in 2023 only in the UK, some folks who love his work were immediately interested or so we heard. You may know his previous major book — intriguing as it is captivating — The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press.) It is a big, serious book we’ve often stocked, now out in a second edition.

Living, I’ve heard, on the Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland, Dr. McGilchrist describes himself as a psychiatrist, neuroscience research, philosopher, and literary scholar. He is a true polymath and is also erudite and intellectually ambitious — and has been called “the William James of our time.” This two-volume set is said to be seminal, game-changing, unsurpassed, without parallel, a truly magnificent achievement. It is about learning from reality, moving toward relationally, reciprocity, harmony, maybe, writ large. Volume one is subtitled “The Ways to Truth” and Volume two is titled “What Then Is True?” We can be sure that he critiques and provides an alternative to the reductionism of scientific materialism, working in not only his expertise of neurological research but in terms of story, narrative, and the visionary search for meaning.

Varieties of Christian Universalism: Exploring Four Views edited by David Condon (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Don’t hate me for showing this. You know, one of the longest reviews I ever wrote — a four-part BookNotes and then a video clip — was my ruminations about the 2011 hubbub around the Love Wins book of Rob Bell, who himself wasn’t then fully adamant about a Christ-bought universalism, but wrote nicely about it. I framed the topic, explored the Biblical teaching about the renewal of all things, explained some of the unfair accusations hurled at Bell, and mostly came out saying folks should read the lively little book and make up their own darn minds.

Older work from the likes of the generous Edward Fudge influenced the thoughtfully tentative hopes of evangelical leader John Stott (about not universalism as such, but about how some may be annihilated, as per the Hebrew worldview, rather than living in eternal agony.) Since then books on the topics of heaven and hell, salvation and judgement, have continued to come out, with clever titles like Razing Hell and, then, of couse, the brilliant Orthodox thinker, David Bentley Hart, released in 2019, That All Shall Be Saved.

This new book offers four different theologies of Christian Universalism, and while it is enough to make your head swim at times, these point/counter-point volumes are excellent ways to get up to speed on the lay of the land and the nuances within contending views. All four of these favor a universalism of sorts, but each have their theological and Biblical reasons for making the particular kind of case that they do.

The four views are (hold on to your hat, this gets deep):  patristic, evangelical, post-Barthian, and existential. You may be surprised by the thoughtful hope these theologians offer.

I love some of the gracious recommendations for it, in this case, one from a Pentecostal scholar and one from an Orthodox theologian:

This book introduces four strong sets of arguments by thinkers who have been exploring these matters substantively over extended periods of time. Come ready to engage with the warrants and justifications for these various universalist options, and if you do, you might become a better theologian, if not a better Christian, even if you remained unconvinced about becoming a universalist in any of the ways invited to in these pages. — Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary, author, Mission After Pentecost: The Witness of the Spirit from Genesis to Revelation

Caricatures and misrepresentations often fuel theological debates, especially on controversial themes such as Christian universalism. These essays offer clarity on the variety of universalist theologies in response to the perennial question of Christian universalism, at a time when this debate is again having a moment and in a way that does not offer a definitive conclusion but provides the conditions for a real conversation. — Aristotle Papanikolaou, Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University

Uncommon Unity: Wisdom for the Church in an Age of Division Richard Lints (Lexham Press) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Perhaps it is right to end this big list of some of my favorite serious reads this year with this one, that I am reading slowly and still savoring. It is a rigorous work by a serious scholar, but it is by no means a dry, academic tome. This is a plea from the heart and a wise contribution to many such books calling on us to work towards some sort of unity within the broken body of Christ. In this age of division, how can we bear witness to the grace and love that is to characterize the church? How can we think about the goodness (and limits to) diversity?  Is there are connection between “denominations and democracy”?

Curiously, Lints — serving as a consulting theologian with the Redeemer City to City efforts — exposes problems with what he calls “the inclusion narrative of democracy” and shows a better away forward for fostering unity in the midst of extreme diversity. This has great implications that can help fund our advocacy for a  genuinely pluralistic society; at the end of the day, it seems, this book is less about ecumenical unity within the church, but how our vision of being included by the gospel might spill over to provide a more enduring framework for our American civic culture, mired with disunity that it is.

I like the evaluation of Anthony Bradley, an African American scholar (and former professor of the late Kings College in NYC) who says of it:

Uncommon Unity is the beginning of the imagination needed to carry the application of God’s redemptive mission deep into the twenty-first century.

“The beginning of the imagination.” That’s a good line, maybe applying to many books, maybe a way to think about why we read nearly any books. May we all be willing to use these great gifts of books, even those that are more demanding of our time, attention and pocketbooks, to savor, to learn, to have our attitudes (and our imaginations) awakened and refined, for the sake of the world.

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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

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PART TWO – BEST BOOKS & FAVORITE READS of 2023

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PART TWO: BEST BOOKS & FAVORITE READS OF 2023

We hope you saw the first part of our listing of the Hearts & Minds 2023 awards, such as they are, telling of my favs from 2023. You can, in fact, read all of our old BookNotes posts since they are archived at our website, near the order form page. You can see the last one (PART ONE) right here.

I am hoping to post a PART THREE soon, which will name some eccentric stuff, some top scholarly books a read, and maybe a novel or two. Please keep an eye open for that. As always, we are grateful.  Stay warm and safe out there.

All books mentioned are 20% off and can be ordered by scrolling to the bottom and clicking the “order” button, which takes you to our secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll do the rest. 

BEST BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS

Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

When I go out and do talks about books or meet with Zoom groups to cheer-lead for reading circles, I often cite other authors, more eloquent than I, who make a case for reading deeply, widely, seriously. Like the truest sports fans who love reading good sports writers or the foodies who not only experiment with their cuisine but love reading about it, so many readers love books about books. We’ve got a section like that in our store and many are near and dear to our hearts.

This 2023 is a gem, a treasure, a wise guidebook to knowing what we mean when we invite people to read widely and how to go about doing that. Hooten Wilson is a great teacher, a fine writer, and here she not only shows how reading should be a spiritual practice which can lead to notable transformation, but gives vivid case studies. She explores how key Christian thinkers of the past read and engaged the printed page, showing us how to read like Augustine or Julian of Norwich or Frederick Douglas or Dorothy Sayers. Her piece on Flannery O’Connor was perhaps penned as she was working on O’Connor’s unfinished novel Why Do The Heathen Rage that just came out a week or so ago (kicking off 2024 to a grand literary start!) This is fabulous, inspiring, winsome and learned all at once, wrapped up into an award winning best book of 2023.

Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith Jennifer L. Holberg (IVP Academic) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00   

Humans are story-shaped creatures, the back cover tells us, boldly. And we know it, don’t we? We “make sense of our world, pattern our lives, and reflect on what is ultimately significant through language and the words that compose our stories.”

The Bible, Professor Holberg is quick to remind us, is also a book of story; even the legal commandments, the ethical teachings, the theology and doxology, happen in the context of a grand meta-narrative, the unfolding drama from Genesis to Revelation. Might our story and God’s story intermesh? Can stories — you know, novels and short stories, classics and modern ones, poems and pop songs, movies and TV shows — can stories help bridge our story and God’s story? Can narratives be nourishing and help us make sense of our life and our faith?

You know the answer. This is the most lovely, interesting, upbeat, tender, thoughtful book about all this stuff that I have ever read. Holberg teaches literature at Calvin University and is a co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing (I hope you are coming to their 2024 Festival this Spring!) She knows a bit about the reading life, about the power of books, about how to “understand how stories nourish our faith (and) to discover how our stories are part of God’s great story.” I hope you saw my earlier BookNotes review where I hinted that it was one of my favorite books of the year; it was suh a lovely, inspiring read. Months later I agree, now more than ever. Hooray.

Not only is Jennifer Holberg a clear, compelling, and beautiful writer, but her words in Nourishing Narratives are also filled with truth and goodness. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that made my heart sing along as this one did. Nourishing Narratives will open your eyes, grow your faith, and feed your soul. — Karen Swallow Prior, author of The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images & Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis

Funny and approachable, erudite and smart, this book is not merely a celebration of literature–it is an invitation to learn how to read as if our faith lives depend on it. Jennifer Holberg shows us why we love stories and, more importantly, why we need them. –James K. A. Smith, editor in chief of Image journal, author of You Are What You Love and How to Inhabit Time

THE MOST CREATIVE APPROACH TO SOCIAL ETHICS (AND MUCH MORE)

We Become What We Normalize: What We Owe Each Other in Worlds That Demand Our Silence David Dark (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

David Dark is always my teacher and I learn something about the world, about the meaning of integrity, about faith and politics and art and life, with nearly every tweet or social media post or printed page he does. That’s a lot of learning going down and if you are still moved by the primal cry of, say, David Byrne —“my God, what have I done?” — and want to be done with “same as it ever was” — then this book, believe me, this book is for you.

And if you don’t get that, that’s okay. Because David is patient and kind and wants to invite into his orbit of conversation all sorts of people, all sorts of readers. I do not think I know anyone who so earnestly endeavors to be good news in a hurting world, also by being gracious, if forthright, always. And when he blows it, he admits as much. He knows that our modern technologies sometimes facilitate us harming others and he is attentive to that; he’s learned some stuff and shares it here. Following how he calls out political leaders and the preachers that seem to cover for them in his home state (again, on social media) is an instruction.

This recent book carries that project on; it emerges from his heart and gives shape to the shape of his work. He is, as I tried to say in an earlier review, not only wanting to resist idols and fake news and the temptations of power but he wants to build connection and community. This book shows how, in very creative prose, in wild stories, in a few allusions that might seem weird — especially that “White Supremacist Antichrist Poltergeist” bit and the subsequent robot soft exorcism thing, but hang in there, it makes sense eventually. You will appreciate this stuff about “courage, conscience, and deferential fear” and how to manage our feelings, even in these polarized times. You’ve got to read the chapter “Beyondism.”

This book is brave, some have said, and it is: David tells his own story of complicity and his own story of breaking free from his own sense of safety, moving towards beloved community. He is from the South, raised in a Bible believing home, and grew to love rock and roll, movies and films, performances and protests. From sci-fi to Fred Rogers, he illuminates his tales with wisdom and goodness. He is not messing around, except when he maybe is. (A note near the end speaks of the “healing game of infinite play.”)

I said some things about We Become What We Normalize in BookNotes when it first came out and only said a bit of what I wanted; there is just so much. I have read it twice and am still left needing to consider more. I invite you to know that I am awarding it an obvious Best Book of 2023 award and, small time bookstore that we are, I hope it inspires somebody to give him a try. He’s bold and allusive, edgy and playful, serious and spiritual, without any of it being predictable or normal. I compliment David to say I don’t think I know a writer out there doing what he does. Skip Kafka or Vonnegut or whoever else you turn to for edgy inspiration. David is the real deal, a prophet of sorts, Biblically literate and a follower of the Way, a Tennessee Bono-like leader, getting things done. There is no shame in all of this; there is humanness and joy. He offers, as put in a remarkable back cover blurb by the remarkable Hanif Abdurraquib (They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us) “a light flickering in the midst of darkness.”

THREE FAVORITE BOOKS ON WORK

Every year we look for a favorite read or two in this exceedingly important field, and while there is always a good one or two in recent years, this year we offer a special Hearts & Minds award of appreciation to the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Members of their team have created three titles this year, each which seem, to me, to be “just what the doctor ordered.” These three each deserve a whole lot of attention. Hooray.

Working from the Inside Out: A Brief Guide to Inner Work That Transforms Our Outer World Jeff Haanen (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I was glad to highlight this when it first came out and while I don’t think I’ve ever met Jeff, I feel like we are so simpatico that we are comrades of some sort. (I know, a dumb thing for a bookstore owner to say to an esteemed writer.) I had waited for this when it was a work-in-progress and happily announced it when it first released a month or so ago. It may be one of the very best introductory books on this field for one who wants a mid-level, exceedingly thoughtful resource. But not only does it offer a vivid and solid vision of the importance of our vocation and callings into the world worlds, but it, as Chris Horst (of HOPE International) puts it, “In Working from the Inside Out, Jeff Haanen takes on what takes us on.” Exactly. Very highly recommended.

Read Katherine Leary Alsdorf’s astute description and know why we want to honor it as one of the very best books this year.

I can’t wait to give this book to some important people in my life! As the title suggests, Jeff Haanen’s most valuable contribution is his focus on our inner spiritual life and the promise that a life attuned to the hope, love, and grace of the gospel changes us. Work is a crucible; it forms and shapes us–for better or for worse. Jeff’s five guiding principles (seek deep spiritual health, think theologically, embrace relationships, create good work, and serve others), developed and tested during his decade with Denver Institute for Faith & Work, offer a way toward work forming us ‘for better.’ — Katherine Leary Alsdorf, founding director of Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith and Work

Women, Work, and Calling: Step Into Your Place in God’s World Joanna Meyer (IVP) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

Of course women should read any number of the classics in the field — the premier title is co-authored by Katherine Leary Aldsorf (Every Good Endeavor with Tim Keller) and we always recommend it. But for someone wanting a fairly simple, uniquely Christian study of work and calling specifically for women this is simply the best thing out there. We’ve long appreciated Katelyn Beaty’s 2017 title, A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World which is necessarily broad. Meyer’s is more focused, direct, updated, and since it emerges from her work at the Denver Institute it is exceptional — savvy about careers as well as the contemporary cultural  moment. It is short and powerful and is a very important contribution for the movement of integrating faith and work. One chapter is called “A Gospel as Big as the World” and another says, “God Grows Your Soul Through Work.”  Some will appreciate her playful “Don’t Lean In, Lean Hard.” You’ve got to read this, or give it to a woman you know.

In this much-needed book, Joanna Meyer explores internal and external challenges that Christian women face in the workplace. In short and accessible chapters appropriate for individuals or groups, Meyer draws on Scripture, social science research, and the voices of Christian leaders to provide guidance for navigating these challenges. I highly recommend this book for women at every career stage, from the college student to the seasoned professional, and everyone in between. — Denise Daniels, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Wheaton College, author, Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work

Faithful Work: In the Daily Grind with God and for Others Ross Chapman & Ryan Tafilowski (IVP) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

Only once did a Christian scholar enter our store and demean us for not being academic enough. Often, many think we recommend things that are a wee bit too challenging, too hefty, too complex. We know different sorts of books are designed for different sorts of readers and for those wanting or needing a very short, really basic, nicely simple, altogether lovely book about the huge amount of time we spend in the work world, then this is the one to read. We are really proud to have such excellent, brief, basic books and want to honor this one, for sure. Chapman and Tafliowski show how “work is a way to love God, serve our neighbors, and demonstrate the gospel.” With this broad understanding of God’s work in the world, they say, “we engage our daily work as part of how God makes all things new.” Exactly.

Hooray for this and congrats to Rod Chapman as the new CEO of the Denver Institute for Faith and Work. He holds a DMin in faith, work, economics, and vocation from Fuller so knows what he’s doing. Ryan Tafilowski is a theology prof at Denver Seminary, a pastor, and holds a PhD in systematics from the University of Edinburgh. For a while he was the “theologian in residence” at the Denver Institute. This may be short and sweet but it is not shallow or superficial. Excellently done, award winning, I’d say. Yay.

THREE ONE-OF-A-KIND SMALL BOOKS ON THE CHURCH YEAR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent: The Season of Hope Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00   

Christmas: The Season of Life and Light Emily Hunter McGowin (IVP) $20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Epiphany: Season of Glory Fleming Rutledge (IVP) $20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

 

I have written about all of these three marvelous books previously, and they are preceded by the others so far released in the great “Fullness of Time” series curated and edited by Esau McCauley. The first two were Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal and Pentecost:A Day of Power for All People, both which were quite good. These three, though, were so very excellent, they made their way onto our Best Books of 2023 list. I’d say something Latin if I could: these are extraordinary, rich, readable and short. Thanks be to God for all three of these fabulous books. Highly recommended.

Whether you are an aficionado of liturgical studies or are more traditionally free or low-church or even if you aren’t sure what Advent is all about (let alone the religious significance of the twelve days of Christmas or Epiphany, whatever that is) I invite you to order these. We believe they are deserving of much attention and offer thanks to the authors and to Dr. McCauley for his expert guidance in the project. Will more come later in 2024?

BEST FAMILY DEVOTIONAL THAT ATTENDS TO THE CHURCH CALENDAR

Sacred Seasons: A Family Guide to Center Your Year Around Jesus  Danielle Hitchen, illustrations by Stephen Crotts (Harvest House) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is hands-down our favorite family devotional that we’ve seen this year, mostly because it is oriented around the church year. I do not know if the author is Anglican or has found another sort of intentionally liturgical worshipping community, but she surely gets it. The book is fresh and fun, utterly Christ-centered, and illustrated handsomely with just the right touch of class. Harvest House is a pop level evangelical press who occasionally does extraordinary books and this is one of great surprises of the year.

Danielle is a thoughtful teacher whose invitational spirit will help you learn and grow alongside your family as you journey through the liturgical year. This deeply rooted offering is informational yet accessible, historical yet approachable. The spiritual rhythms, routines, and rituals in this artful collection are sure to resource families for years to come. — Kayla Craig, author of To Light Their Way and creator of the Liturgies for Parents podcast

More than any resource I know, Sacred Seasons makes following the Christian calendar approachable and enjoyable. This book is meticulously researched and theologically robust–it will be an enormous blessing to anyone who wants to enter more deeply into the rhythms of grace God has given his church. — Matthew Lee Anderson, author, Called Into Questions and founder of Mere Orthodoxy

FAVORITE 2023 MARRIAGE BOOK

How To Be Married (To Melissa) – A Hilarious Guide to a Happier, One-of-a-Kind Marriage Dustin Nickerson (Nelson Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I don’t recall what I was even thinking when I started this crazy book. I knew the author was a clean comedian, working in the mainstream of comedy clubs and such, a person of some kind of faith, and that he sells his marriage book at his stand-up gigs. That itself is, if not exactly hilarious, kind of funny. I was game.

And I was utterly captivated, sometimes almost like a train wreck that you just can’t stop watching. Nickerson tells (in pretty funny writing that sometimes is really funny) of fights they’ve had, how old baggage can haunt you, how to solve problems, stuff about money, and a bit about sex. Yep, he goes there, in a cringy/funny sort of way. And did I mention fights? These guys fight about everything.

And he’s friends with Taylor Tomlinson who wrote a fabulously great foreword; it doesn’t sound like she was bribed on anything, although she admits she didn’t read the part on sex; she just didn’t want to hear about that from him, sort of a second dad in the comedy biz.

And you know what? This is one of the most honest, realistic, practical, fun, and hopeful marriage books I’ve read, maybe ever. He mouths off about all kinds of stuff — he’s a stand up comedian, after all, an introvert, no less, too — and then his wife Melissa chimes in with rebuttals or sidebars or postscripts. Like their marriage, this is a pretty collaborative process and they obviously like each other and respect each other a lot. And they love their kids fiercely, even if they make fun of them a lot. It’s that kind of family.

As the back cover says, “Marriage isn’t always funny. But that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh about it.”

“Marriage isn’t always funny. But that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh about it.”

There are two valuable aspects of this that I loved but that you should know about: first, they insist that no marriage book can do it all, that every relationship is unique and there are no easy answers to a happy marriage, let alone simplistic formulas. I think he’s a bit hard on all the other books out there, as many are truly great, but he’s got a huge point, right? They implied this in the subtitle, so there are no grand one-size-fits-all plans.

Secondly, they have been through some pretty hefty evangelical stuff in a church that made national news for being dysfunctional and toxic. They had already left that place by the time it imploded, but they have that background. They know their Bible and doctrine and they love Jesus, but, well, it just isn’t as central to the book as some might wish. They haven’t exactly “deconstructed” but it comes out in a section where they, as always, invite people to lighten up a bit and laugh about, say, the goofy stuff you do when your trying to herd fighting cats into a car to get to church on time looking all happy and sanctified. Ha.

As the back cover promises, “this book will help your marriage if by no other means than looking at Dustin’s dysfunctional marriage and feeling better about your own.” That’s one award winning bit of promo copy if you ask me. One of the best of the year.

BEST 2023 BOOK OFFERING INSIGHTS ABOUT AMERICAN HISTORY

I already named Saying It Loud: 1966–The Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement by Mark Whitaker as one of my favorite books of the year in our previous first part of this Best Books post. That obviously could be placed in this category, too.

Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West Andrew Wilson (Crossway) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

I would give this book more than one award if I could — everything now and then this publisher just makes exquisite volumes, with nice endpapers, quality paper, a good heft, and a textured, neat cover. As soon as this arrived I took delight, knowing that much was special. Then seeing the remarkable endorsements on the back from folks like Alan Jacobs and Karen Swallow Prior and Mark Noll — who calls it a “triumph” — made me pay attention.

Also (let’s be honest) when a publisher who tends to tilt rightward on many social issues and is known for non-compromising commitments to their rigorous theological angle does a book on American history, I sort of assume it might play somewhat into the hands of nationalists and those who make American history an example of exceptionalism of a civic religious sort. I loved the look of the book and was curious why Jacobs and Noll and Prior and the discriminating colonial scholar Thomas Kidd (who said it was a “tour de force”) would rave so.

I was pleasantly surprised that the thesis alluded to in the subtitle is exactly what this book is about. Wilson colorfully examines things that happened in a single year in the late eighteenth century that “changed the trajectory of the Western world.” Arising from 1776, he shows, we have things like globalization, the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the dawn of romanticism and the rise of post-Christianity. Yes, he draws on key documents and historical figures, but it is lively and easy to follow. I think it deserves being on our list of Best Books.

And it deserves some award for this, too: Wilson uses an acronym to help us follow the plot. He says that these political, philosophical, economics, and industrial changes “shaped the modern West into a WEIRDER society: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic, Ex-Christian, and Romantic.” What a hoot — who knew that’s where our weirdness comes from? You’ve got to read this amazing volume. More than 350 pages including the voluminous notes.

A FAVORITE COLLECTION OF OP-ED ESSAYS

Opinions: A Decade of Arguments, Criticisms, and Minding Other People’s Business Roxane Gay (Harper) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I love reading short form essays, articles, columns, op-ed pieces. Among my all time favorite reads are two marvelous, vital collections of essays by Barbara Kingsolver and two lovely, wise, moving collections by Ann Patchett. I adored (a year ago) Thin Places: Essays from In Between by Jordan Eisner and although it came out a year ago, one of my most moving reading experiences this year was taking up Terry Tempest Williams’ essay collection, Erosion: Essays of Undoing.

Anyway, much of this is one more directly political and whether I agree with her or not isn’t the point. A book like this collects provocative, blazing pieces and that, as Slate called her book Bad Feminist, “arresting and sensitive.” Her book Hunger was one of the most moving books I’ve ever read — her questions about black bodies and about being fat will stay with me forever — and I like that the New York Times Book Review has called her writing “luminous intellectually rigorous, and deeply moving.”

She works hard at her craft of writing and her op-ed work is important. Her longer pieces — a few celebrity stories, and some from her “Dear Abby” type advice column make for entertaining reading. Naturally, many will not agree with her fully, or rarely, for that matter. Still, this is a handsomely bound collection of a decade of her work and I was really pleased to have it. She is a vital force, a voice for the outcasts, and she is worth honoring.

FAVORITE MEMOIRS

Oh my. This is my favorite genre, often, and what I’m often reading at bedtime. Some are so well written, the lives they narrate so interesting, that I’m transported, perhaps even more than reading mere fiction. I’ve read a lot and reviewed a few. Here are my highlights, personal favs, each for different reasons. Maybe these aren’t all for everyone, but I liked them. A lot.

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir Beth Moore (Tyndale) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

This was perhaps my biggest surprise of the year, realizing quickly just how very much I loved this book and how very much I came to admire this iconic Southern Baptist women’s Bible teacher who became disillusioned with their sexism and cruelty. This is one heck of a page-turning story, well told, earnest, important. She’s a good writer, really! You will learn some things about her life and marriage and family and some of it will grab you in a way from which you may never recover. Surely one of the best books of the year.

 

How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South Esau McCaulley (Convergent Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

We were glad to see how much press this book got, his fairly straight-forward story was so well told and illustrative of so much that it ended up on some major newspapers and mags Best Books of 2023 lists. It chronicles his journey from rural, poor, Jim Crow Alabama (and his role in a Pentecostal church) to becoming a PhD candidate in Scotland, landing a job as New Testament prof at Wheaton College. The details of his own family and their story is insightful and, as much black writing as there is these days (happily so) this stands out. Publisher’s Weekly is right to say it is written with “uncompromising honesty and deep introspection.” Kudos.

I love this comment about it:

Esau McCaulley’s riveting memoir holds together tensions that many of us pry apart: systemic injustice and personal responsibility, accountability and forgiveness, honesty and sympathy. This book is prophetic without being preachy, and heartwarming without being cloying. . . . A triumph of storytelling. — Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

 

How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told Harrison Scott Key (Avid Reader Press) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

I have been waiting for another moving, thoughtful, hilarious book by this intelligent, entertaining, respected prose writer since we devoured The Largest Man On Earth and Congratulations, Who are You Again?, two of my all time favorite reads. Little did I know that in subsequent years his wife had an affair and he wrote about it all, in gruesomely honest detail, including his (understandable) unChristian hatred for the guy, an uninspiring neighbor. In my review of this earlier in the year I mentioned how funny this was, how I ripped through it, breathless, hoping against hope for some kind of happy ending. I won’t spoil it all, but it is one of the best books I read all year.

I almost wanted to name this at the start of the last post where I had those ultimate top two favorite books, but I really wanted it to be here among the memoirs. Still, it really is a Best Book of the Year, if you can take it… and it is funny, in a tragic sort of way. Kudos to all involved and hats off to the gang that helped him through.

Where the Waves Turn Back: A Forty-Day Pilgrimage Along the California Coast  Tyson Motsenbocker (Worthy Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

I hope you recall my long review of this last summer — the short version is that Tyson (a hip, Gen X singer-songwriter) spends a long and harrowing forty days hiking an ancient trail carrying the ashes of his beloved mother who died too young. He dodges all kinds of bullets, meets hoboes, connects with old friends, and does the whole hiking memoir thing with a casual meandering tone that ends up winning. So good — on of my favs of the year, for sure.

Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City: A Memoir Jane Wong (Tin House Books) $27.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.36

If you know Jane Wong for her highly regarded poetry you will want to know about her life growing up in a New Jersey Chinese restaurant (she says such kids are called “restaurant babies) and her girlhood, ongoing studies, love lives, cross-cultural experiences, intense struggles; it not a linear autobiography and at times seems nearly random. But I couldn’t stop reading. Some of the book is nearly light-hearted (and you’ll love her colorful mother) but some of it is heavy, too. I appreciated her rage, especially about fetishizing sexual violence against Asian-Ameircan women.

Ms Wong loves her metaphors and it became fun catching some that make no sense whatsoever. She’s a poet, I kept saying to myself. But, man…

Kirkus Review says it is:

A generous, steaming stew of a book loaded with personality and originality and sprinkled with the fiery chili of rage.

It was a favorite read this year for me, and, anyway –any book that can inspire that kind of a line deserves an award, right?

Leaping from the Burning Train: A Poet’s Journey of Faith Jeanne Murray Walker (Slant Books) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This, too, was not only one of the best memoirs I read this year but a book that I so enjoyed that I’ve promoted it to folks who may not be directly interested in how a poet came to emerge with faith intact from a strict, conservative, fundamentalist upbringing. It’s just a great read on its own term, a splendid memoir, narrating a fascinating life.

Unlike some deconstruction narratives these days, this one is — for starters — really wonderfully written. Walker is a thoughtful, faithful, lover of literature and it shows in clear, clean, writing that is full of images and metaphors and ideas, but never grows obscure. She has seen some forms of faith that are not fully healthy and are certainly not intellectually viable, but this is not a horrible story of toxic faith and religious harm. It is just the story of coming to terms with how we all make sense of things and how she moved away from the literalism of her funky little Christian school and revivalistic faith and her frugal, frugal parents.

She can name the moment it became clear — through the study of literature and poetry — that we interpret stuff. Indeed, there are different readings (some more plausible than others, perhaps) and insight is always contingent, understood within the skin of the interpreter. Ahh, that seemingly secular learning helped her understand that we “seek through a glass dimly” and need a more flexible and humble faith, makes for a wonderful plot switch. And yet, she can’t shake her faith. Her ups and downs are chronicled here so wonderfully I am sure I’m going to read this one again. Beautifully done; very highly recommended.

The Women They Wanted: Shattering the Illusion of the Good Christian Wife Shannon Harris (Broadleaf Books) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

I want to name this because it was a really important glimpse into a toxic faith community that was, not long ago, respected by many, including people I once knew. For those who want a hard, painful, anguishing expose of really stupid stuff going on in a nationally known church movement with celebrity pastors, this is the one. It was infuriating how evangelicals could become so strict, and so wrong about gender roles. Married, finally, to Joshua Harris (famously the young author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye) who was groomed to replace the needlessly arrogant C.J. Mahany at the Sovereign Grace movements mothership in Gaithersburg, this tells Ms Harris’s story as am earnest woman in a misogynist subculture. We learn about their rigid views — more harsh perhaps than some of us realized — and their admixture of charismatic renewal and hyper-calvinism. We learn about their Bible studies and mentoring groups and less than adequate relationships, even as the church leaders seemed to think they were doing it all so well. Spoiler alert: it took some time for the toll to be taken but it was a deadly mix and it ruined their marriage.

Mr. Harris has come to renounce all of that (perhaps leaving the faith altogether) and in The Women They Wanted she offers her candid howl of grief for all those lost years. She understandably struggles with what sort of faith might rise from these ashes, and my heart went out to her, even as I kept wondering why she put up with such oddball stuff.  When church leaders made her disinvite her oldest best friends from being in her wedding, she should have bolted right then and there — but you can imagine how one somewhat new to the faith and new to the church and being raised up as a celebrity pastor’s stellar wife, she played along, despite this huge red flag. The way other conservative evangelicals overlooked this toxic stuff and the way the church failed to show adequate grace and insight is horrifying, making this book, if not a literary masterpiece, certainly an important report from the scene.

And that cover! We should talk about that…   

A Living Remedy: A Memoir Nicole Chung (Ecco) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

You may know of her previous memoir, much about being an Asian American child adopted into a kindly white family in a largely white region in rural Oregon. There are, as they say, troubling truths. Yet she loves her extended family and, as a writer of remarkable talent, she explores the story of her fathers illness and death, the bereavement of her mother, and, through it all, the horrible situation created in part by our inadequate health care systems.

I had underlined a passage that I later noticed another reviewer had cited: Her father’s death, she says, felt like “a kind of negligent homicide, facilitated and sped by the state’s failure to fulfill its most basic responsibilities to him and others like him.” I’ve been thinking about this narrative, it’s great love and it’s portrayal of family life amidst great sorrow.

Shattered: A Son Picks Up the Pieces of His Father’s Rage Arthur Boers (Eerdmans) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

When an amazing, highly regarded literary figure like Andre Dubus writes a stunningly great introduction, as he has here, one wonders how good a book can be to garner that kind of praise.  Well, as I tried to express in a long review last spring, Arthur Boers tells in glowing prose and extraordinary insight the nature of a life lived in a strict, Reformed, immigrant subculture with a violent father. His father worked in glass manufacturing so the “shattered” language of the title is luminous and serves any number of meanings. It is a rich book, one I will never forget.

Several reviews have noted that Arthur has not only emerged in his faith in somewhat different styles and perspectives, but has wisely offered balanced and healthy leadership in the various spaces he has served. He was raised in a Dutch Canadian, conservative Calvinist community with their particular continental worldview and found a lively faith in a nondenominational group in his public school, until he found a home in an Anabaptist faith. He was active as a Mennonite where he developed friendships (that bore fruit in several important books) with the likes of Presbyterian Eugene Peterson and Roman Catholic philosopher and cultural critic Albert Borgman. Although it isn’t the concern of the book — it is a memoir of growing up and finding some degree of healing from his father’s rage — he is now a Canadian Anglican, with a ministry in spiritual direction. It ends beautifully describing this sort of contemplative vision and a restful attention to the natural world. It is a breathtaking book, hard and wondrous, a true award winner, a notable book of 2023.

The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening Ari Shapiro (HarperOne) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Ha — this was such a blast I couldn’t wait to announce my decision to name it as a vivid favorite this year. I reviewed it at BookNotes and you can search for those comments if you want more, but, believe me, this was a really fun read, lovely, even, and a very inspiring story of the famous NPR voice. What a kid he was, one of the only Jews in his Fargo, North Dakata school.

The journey to and of a “life spent listening” is fabulous, making the book so interesting, pleasurable and insightful. It was a great read.

Some may not know of Ari’s role in the peacemaking efforts of the rowdy, diverse band called Pink Martinis, but he is part of that singing group, and that, too makes for some fun stories of them singing Israeli folk songs to Arab Muslims or pushing other ethnic tunes in places where it might be considered dangerous to do so. As is often the case, good art wins the day, and this book — mostly about learning the craft of being a globally known reporter — is a testimony to the art and craft of being a good human being.

Lessons for Healing in a World That Is Sick Lyndsey Medford (Broadleaf Books) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Almost every year I find myself wiping away tears and taking notes while reading a book about chronic illness, whether it was the must-read reflection about having Lyme disease (by reporter and scholar Ross Douthart) or the beautiful story told so eloquently in The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke (an editor at the Yale Review.) I believe that this year, the book that stood out in this sometimes painful reading genre is My Body and Other Crumbling Empires. Some of it was simply captivating for the unfolding narrative and other pages were the sort where you have to put the book now to to think, to ponder, to take it in. She is a heck of a writer and is doing something pretty audacious. She is working on everything from theodicy to liberation theology to the nature of feminist embodiment ideals for our Christian living, to a more systematic understanding of the principalities and powers that make the whole world sick. In her hands, this story of being ill, seriously so, causes her to rethink everything.

The publisher explains it nicely: “My Body and Other Crumbling Empires points out the beauty and ubiquity of our limitations; the importance of accessibility, broadly construed; the interconnected nature of individual and public health; and the badly needed wisdom we have gained from living with our particular bodies.”

Friends — agree fully or not, resonate at first or not, this is what books can do. Wow. Wow. And I love that great art on the book jacket. Again, wow.

I’m inspired by Lyndsey Medford’s deft mix of gentleness and fire. She speaks the truth we crave and manages to do so with the voice of a trusted friend. — Shannan Martin, author,The Ministry of Ordinary Places and Start with Hello

BEST BIOGRAPHIES

King: A Life Jonathan Eig (Farrar Straus Giroux) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

At about 650 pages and obviously thick, I wanted to give this some heavy award; heck, I will admit I have not even finished it yet. But there is no doubt that this is a book that is simply definitive, enduring, perhaps never to be surpassed. There have been plenty of good biographies of Dr. King and I have read several. There is plenty for those who want to know more. When I first heard that this was the first major biography in decades, perhaps to better the classic ones — like David Garrow’s say — I sputtered a bit. Do we really need yet another biography?

Ahh, but here is what makes Jonathan Eig’s so incredibly important. It is the first major work that was done on Dr. King since the FBI released formerly declassified files. This archival stuff obviously offered fresh information, and now, in King, we have a book that is an immediate classic, the release of which is a true literary event.

Blurbs rave on the back in a mighty choir of testimony— Peniel Joseph David Garrow, Lerone Martin, Ken Burns. This is one for the ages. It is not only the first major biography of King in a generation, it is one of the most important books of the decade.

Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination: A Theological Biography Conrad L. Kanagy (Fortress) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Well, Walter Brueggemann is not as famous or influential as MLK but, you know, in his own way, he has left a mark perhaps unlike any Biblical scholar in the last 50 years. In the religious landscape of mainline denominational folks he is a household name; among thoughtful Catholic and evangelical scholars and activists, he is revered. He is an icon among the progressive, social action faith movements, like Sojourners, say, where he often publishes. In the guild of academic Biblical studies he has (if not single-handedly, almost) causes a shift in the patterns of thinking that pervade critical Biblical scholarship. To this day, his many books — including a brand new collection of marvelous blog posts expertly edited by Kanagy —keep coming and his Biblical comment, prayers, and social observation is legendary.

This is the first, and perhaps landmark biography of the Bible scholar and seminary teacher and mentor to many who coined the phrase “prophetic imagination.” It emerged as the central Pennsylvania Mennonite pastor Kanagy got to know Brueggemann over weekly Zoom calls. As Walter’s stories unfolded, as Kanagay pressed him to tell more, the two of the realized they had a book. It is a wonderful biography, a notable tribute, a great tool to help us understand how Brueggemann understands the Bible, God, the vocation of Christian fidelity, and what it means to speak truth to power in these days. It will help us all (in the words of Duke professor Ellen Davis) “make sense of our experience of what is still possible with God…”

Beth and I have crossed paths with Brueggemann several times over the years, selling books at events, and he has always been alert to the Scriptures, attentive to those in the room, and very kind to us. How did he become who he is? How does he combine the pastoral and the prophetic? This book gives a clue. If you don’t own it yet, you should. Congrats to Kanagy and thank you to Dr. Brueggemann.

Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography Holly Ordway (Word on Fire Academic) $34.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.96

Well. If this wasn’t on the major book lists, something is fishy because, by all measures and reports from those who know, this is a major work, done with an exquisite style, by an extraordinary woman who is known for being an expert in apologetics and in literature. Obvious, if these nearly 550 pages show anything it is that she is up to the task, offering a diligent (but not tedious) study of the great writer’s life and the way in which his Catholic faith shaped his life, his writing, his work, and, of course, his friendships.

There are forty chapters (and a number of appendices) that will delight any true fan of Lord of the Rings and there is enough in here to illustrate how JRR’s had such an influence upon his pal and writing buddy, C.S. Lewis. Of course we could fill pages naming important words about Tolkien and his Inklings. (Forgive me if I just name-check a few: I suppose most know Tom Shippey’s highly regarded J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century but please don’t miss Joseph Loconte’s  A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918. A few years ago mainstream critics raved about by Philip and Carol Zaleski’s The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and of course many BookNotes fans know Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by the impressive Diana Pavlac Glyer.) But this, this, this gives the great JRR his due, and explores his faith in ways that no other book has done. It is not common to get to say that about a topic, and this, indeed, is pioneering.

Tolkien’s Faith is the first systematic, book-length exploration of the influence and importance of the Christian faith in Tolkien’s life. It should establish that his Catholicism, as a fundamental and pervasive presence in his life, works, and concerns, was at least as significant as were his professional pursuits and war experience, and that recognizing and exploring this influence in detail is at least as illuminating. — Carl F. Hostetter, editor, The Nature of Middle-Earth

Ordway’s detailed yet accessible book will soon become an essential compass for anyone who has the desire and courage to deepen their relationship with the author of The Lord of the Rings. Instead of excluding or exploiting his religious commitments, this biography, journeying to the foundations of his humanity, neither censors Tolkien’s faith nor idealizes it. — Giuseppe Pezzini,  Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford; editor, Journal of Inkling Studies

Holly Ordway is the Cardinal Francis George Professor of Faith and Culture at the Word on Fire Institute and Visiting Professor of Apologetics at Houston Christian University. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is an editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies. Her book Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages received the 2022 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.

Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation Colin Hansen (Zondervan Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Although it came out before Keller died this past May, there was an urgency about reading it as many knew his time was nearly up. Even the secular, mainstream media covered his passing, indicating he was an important figure in culture, representing (as most BookNotes readers would know, even if not all agree with his orientation) an enlightened sort of gracious kind of evangelicalism, taking a winsome but intellectually serious faith into the public squares, making a case for faith lived in the marketplace. He appealed to those with justice sensibilities (even if he didn’t go far enough for some) and he appealed to those with a need for clarity about Reformed doctrine and theological details, which he had in spades. He was cultural astute, philosophical wise, quoted Tolkien and befriended abstract artist Mako Fujimura. I will never forget being at Redeemer in Manhattan when he hosted and dialogued with the great civil rights attorney Bryan Stevens. How did a guy who loved his theology and doctrine end up working it out in the midst of one of the great urban centers in the world, starting up a highly regard “Center for Faith and Work”?

This book explains it all. It explores his faith and formation, the books he read, the scholars he esteemed, his work in seminary and his early church ministry. As he sensed a call to Manhattan, the plot thickens and Hansen expertly explores the details of how Tim and his wife studied and learned and preached and prayed their way into helping launch a globally respected church in one of the most secular regions of North America.

Agree or not with Keller on any number of theological or strategic topics, this intellectual biography is admirable as it shows what happens when one family ordinary Pennsylvania Lutheran kid decisively responds to the gospel in college and dedicates himself to Kingdom service. It is interesting, instructive, commendable.

BEST BOOKS ON CREATIVITY and the AESTHETIC

Why We Create edited by Brian Brown & Jane Clark Scharl (Square Halo Books) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This book is small — a smallish compact size — and yet is so thoughtfully done that it absolutely takes its stand next to much larger, verbose, and costly volumes. It is lovingly produced by the Anselm Society and (as I said in a rave review earlier this year at BookNotes) it includes writers, visual artists, theologians, and thinkers who offer life-giving insight about the creative life. Why do we create? And what is involved in the creative process? Listen to the likes of Marilyn McEntyre and Leslie Bustard ruminate on that, framed by foundational theological stuff (in the section “God creates”) by Hans Boersma, Peter Leithart, Jane Scharl and Paul Buckley. Some of these authors have crafted their own good books (Grace Olmstead, for instance) or are themselves artists (Matthew Clark, for instance.) The heavyweight critic Anthony Esolen offers a moving Epilogue.

In 2021 Square Halo produced a similarly sized, lovely and wise little volume called Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity. I loved that one by Stephen Roach. This is a bit more sophisticated in tone and is a brilliant follow up. Kudos one and all.

The Cult of Creativity: A Surprisingly Recent History Samuel W. Franklin (Chicago University Press) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

I have pondered this book long and often and recall the electric sort of joy of discovery while reading it, nearly unsurprised this year, reading something that I literally knew nothing about, and taking it in, page by splendid page. Who knew this stuff about the history of the notion of creativity, and where it came from? It is, or so Franklin argues, as the subtitle puts it, “a surprisingly recent” history. Kudos to this very good writer for offering this survey of something that has oddly not been studied that carefully.

You will have to read it yourself but (as one reviewer explained) “after World War II a fascinating ensemble of psychologists, advertising executives, and other assorted gurus attempted to explain and quantify human ingenuity.” But why? Was there something that might even be called sinister afoot? The ideas and practices, programs and technologies became, surely, what we might call an ideology, and it is playing out all over today, from the design world to high tech, from self-help messiahs to bohemian hipsters creating the latest aperitif. I’m riffing in a way that he does not, restrained scholar that he is, but I really appreciate this cultural historian (from Holland!) A bit heady, but, man, this provided one of the best serious reading experiences I had this year. Hooray.

BEST BOOKS ON CHURCH LIFE

The Church in an Age of Secular Mysticism: Why Spirituality without God Fail to Transform Us Andrew Root (Baker Academic) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I hope that you know the mighty, five volume “Ministry in a Secular Age” series produced over the last few years by Luther Seminary prof Andrew Root. Much has been written about them all and this capstone is not only the final release in this series but in many ways the best. It offers some good summary of the whole project and, as do the others, interacts with some of the most important philosophers of culture writing today. He is creative and upbeat even when he is rigorous in explaining philosophical notions. It is — hooray! — an insightful blend of theology, philosophy, cultural studies, Biblical reflection, and a bit of practical application for the ordinary, local congregation.

As Angela Reed of Truett Seminary notes, he is “a gifted practical theologian” and he “invites us to wrestle with the nature of historical and contemporary mystics in the Western world..”  I’m not sure if it is immediately clear why a Theo-philosophical critique of contemporary (godless) mysticisms is “practical” but if you hang in there with him, it will become evident. Can we reclaim our classic convictions about the cross offering the only path for the transformation of the self? Can we reject a secularizing sort of mysticism that is stripped of transcendent power and Christian discipleship? Can we learn to center the practices of confession and discover authentic grace and gratitude and surrender?

Reed calls all of this the work of a “practical theologian” because, simply put, Root is asking how to do ministry in a world such as ours and, frankly, how to do ministry with those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” That alone deserves a Book of the Year award. Cheers!

: A Future for Your Congregation Beyond More Money, Programs, and Innovation Andrew Root & Blair D. Bertrand (Brazos Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I am a bit reluctant to celebrate this honorable book because I don’t want you to skip the magisterial volumes of the “Ministry in a Secular Age” series, and certainly not the above-mentioned The Church in an Age of Secular Mysticism. This little book does not replace that big one.

But yet, it is wise that this When Church Stops Working released this year as it is exactly the sort of book of which there are so many — a practical guidebook to stimulate busy church leaders with actionable ideas for congregational renewal and health — but it is informed by the serious cultural analysis developed in the five big books that preceded it.

I hear that the backstory is something like this: Blaire Bertrand (himself with a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary) has done church consulting in all sorts of places (including Malawi, Africa) and knows a thing or two about integrating a thoughtful framework with practical stuff ordinary church leaders can try. He seems to have approached the heady Dr. Root and said, in so many words, “let’s do this!” So, here, they show how the habits of “watching and listening for God” can bring life out of death for churches in crisis today. The solution (if we’ve been paying attention to Roots magisterial project) isn’t “more money, people, programs, innovation or busyness.” It “rejects pithy slogans and slick approaches” of course, but approaches the crisis of church decline is (first) a better diagnosis and secondly, as Mandy Smith puts it in her back cover blurb, “a helpful, human way forward.”

I think it may be that some of what Root and Bertrand rail against as gimmicks or formulas aren’t as bad as all that; is every innovation driven by the spirit of the age? But for those drawn to that sort of quick fix, this call to return to God, first, could be life changing. It’s the best practical book of church health stuff I’ve seen all year. And it’s fun, too — maybe you saw the neat excerpt that appeared in the latest edition of Comment magazine. Wow.

Pivot: The Priorities, Practices, and Powers That Can Transform Your Church Into a Tov Culture Scot McKnight & Laura Barring (Tyndale) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

A year or more ago the great book A Church Called Tov came out, exploring that Hebrew word (for a rich and healthy sort of “goodness” and more) and how the local congregation should exhibit this kind of safe, flourishing, gracious, good kind of culture. It was excellent, thoughtful enough, and practical, or at least a bit. It documented the problem with bullying and abuse in churches and offers the “tov” image as a motivating Northstar by which to guide efforts at renewal. There was already in the works a sequel, a guidebook for living it out, for transforming the sub-culture, offering a glimpse of a better environment and a more wholesome “good” tov ecology in one’s church or ministry organization.

The cover design of Pivot shows a great play on words — it is a fabulous sequel, invigorating and provocative, even as it is realistic and sober. Throughout it is practical and do-able, complete with “tov tools” and assessment guides. with God’s help, you can do this! We must build a culture that would be able to spot red flags and cultivate goodness.

Pivot is a prophetic invitation to move. Move towards healing, move toward the light, move toward being the change that is so needed right now. This is exactly what I pray for — the wisdom and clarity to move toward wholeness together. — Danielle Strickland, author, Better Together

Earth Filled with Heaven: Finding Life in Liturgy, Sacraments, and Other Ancient Practices of the Church Aaron Damiani (Moody Press) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

It is a happy, cool day when the publisher world’s standard habits are upended just a bit and we honor this book (and their publisher) for this 2023 surprise. As I said when I first reviewed it at BookNots, Aaron Damiani is an urban Anglican priest (and first came to our attention when he wrote a book about Lent called The Good of Giving Up written for those without liturgical or sacramental leanings.) As a former fundamentalist, he has discovered the depth and beautify of Anglican worship and a sacramental worldview, as Alexander Schmemann might put it. Earth Filled With Heaven is a book about liturgy and other sorts of ancient practices as exercises within more liturgical congregations and traditions.

I am not a high church guy and don’t worship at a particularly formal liturgical church (although we are traditionally mainline Presbyterian.) So I’m not saying this was a favorite because it convinced me to start attending an Episcopalian or Anglo-Catholic service, but because this focus on the sacramental Jesus and the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and baptism and the church calendar was edifying and helpful.

As it says on the back, “while secular life erodes our humanity, practicing the sacramental life shows us how to recover it. Enter and experience an enchanted Earth Filled with Heaven.” I dig that. This is a handsomely done book — with some colored ink — and we want to celebrate the spiritual rhythms and ancient church orientation it promotes. Perfect for newbies or for old time liturgists who need a fresh reminder of what this style of worship and faith-formation can be. Lovely, healthy stuff.

The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout Sean Nemecek (Zondervan) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Every year there are, increasingly, even, new books on resilience for clergy, for healthy patterns of work, for renewal. Just this week a pastor noted to me that few of their flock had any idea the weight they carry, the human toil of serving the church. We have any number of good books refocusing pastors on the point of all this, and how to do it well. (Think of Justin Writebol’s recent Lexham title, Pastor, Jesus Is Enough: Hope for the Weary, the Burned Out, and the Broken or last year’s award winning The Resilient Pastor by Glenn Packiam, or an older gem, The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine, or a personal favorite by the wise, honest, Mandy Smith called The Vulnerable Pastor.)

The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout, though, stands as one of the best such books I read this year. Therapist Chuck DeGroat calls it “exceptional” and other rave reviews remind me that I’ve got to name this as one of our Best of the Year titles. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from it. Maybe you should order more than one.

The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout is essential reading not only for those who are experiencing exhaustion but for all who have been called to ministry leadership. Nemecek writes with the practical and compassionate wisdom of lived experience, offering theological and psychological insights, compelling stories, and spiritual practices that help us cooperate with the Holy Spirit for transformation and freedom…. Sean holds up mirrors so we can see our compulsions and captivities, and with that healed vision, see more clearly the invitations from Jesus to rest in his love and yield to his grace. — Sharon Garlough Brown, spiritual director, author of the Sensible Shoes and Shades of Light series

BEST BOOKS ON PERSONAL GROWTH & PSYCHOLOGY, ETC.

How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen David Brooks (Random House) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I know a few people don’t quite trust David Brooks — he used to be much more right-wing than he is now, and he can be a bit sophisticated at times. But I really respect him and have read all of his books; when I highlighted this when it first came out I think I resisted how much I loved his splendid sociology of younger rich folks who have bohemian values even if they are bourgeois. “Bobos”, he called them. Genius!

This is brilliant and, frankly, a very good bit of reflection on any number of things needed in our culture these days. From the loneliness epidemic to the overt alienation people feel from their churches or other institutions these days, from the political and social polarization to a generation of young adults who have not been given standard tools of personal or civic etiquette, we all need to know a bit about being known. And more how to make others feel known.

This is a deeply Christian book even though I am sure it isn’t pitched like that. But if the gospel of God’s grace is the truest truth, then we can look at the glorious ruins we all are — that is, ourselves and our loved ones, our neighbors and even those we despise — as made in God’s image and deserving of care. How do we really care? And show that we care?

Mr. Brooks is a pundit, a sociologist, a trend-observer, a politico and very good writer of columns from places like The New York Times and his perch on PBS. That he developed a friendship with several thoughtful evangelicals (not least, with the late Timothy Keller) in recent years seems to show, informing his concerns about “knowing” and “caring” with this mostly implicit gospel grace. Brooks is famously curious, wants to know what makes the world tick, and wants to listen to others. The fruit of that in these recent years is this exceptional, profound book, inviting us to better conversations, forming communities of care, learning to even bear the burdens of others when we can.

This is surely one of the great books of 2023.

The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope Curt Thompson (Zondervan) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

As I said when I first reviewed this at BookNotes, I am a Curt Thompson champion, a fan, a cheerleader for his good books. His previous three are among the most recommended books whenever conversations move in the direction of this sort of psychological advice. But I admitted that when I heard that The Deepest Place was more directly about suffering and resilience (about which so much has been written lately) I was almost (almost) worried. What new could Curt bring to this well-worn topic? Do we need yet another book on this topic?

Man, was I wrong. The Deepest Place touched me at my deepest places and his call to the formation of hope was some of the best stuff I’ve read on that, ever. He has laid out his profound framework (using the Bible and neurology) in his previous masterpieces and now this stands alongside those as must reads. It is one of the best books I read this year and is happily here on our list of favs. It is, trust me, very helpful.

With his formidable intellect and compassionate heart, Curt Thompson draws from Scripture, neurobiology, and inspiring stories to help people advance on the path from suffering to hope and redemption. This is a spiritual formation tour de force for anyone ready to look life’s inescapable pain in the eye and make something better of it. A must-read. — Ian Morgan Cron, author, The Story of You

Holy Unhappiness: God, Goodness, and the Myth of the Blessed Life Amanda Held Opelt (Worthy) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

When I first announced this, I highlighted how very much I liked Opelt’s previous work, a really good book on various ways that various cultures have developed mourning practices. It was a fabulous read, a wise and helpful book, evolving from her own experience of loss when her beloved sister, author Rachel Held Evans, died so suddenly.

This book is equally well written, delightfully honest, at times real and raw, about being honest with oneself and honest before God about less than pleasant feelings or attitudes. This is not quite a memoir although she shares very nice writing about her own interior life, and it isn’t exactly a book of psychological self help. I like this blend of genres, this sharing of her journey, that doesn’t feel formulaic or simplistic. I am not alone, either, in appreciation. Others we respect have said very impressive things, assuring me I’m not wrong to name this as one of our favorite books of 2023.

Holy Unhappiness is the gospel for our pain and difficulty. I can’t commend the tenderhearted approach that Amanda embodies here enough. A balm for the soul. And hope for our scars. What a glorious read. — A.J. Swoboda, professor of Bible, theology, and World Christianity, Bushnell University, author of After Doubt.

Amanda’s lovely blend of reflection and memoir flows from a heart acquainted with grief and unsatisfied with the cheap remedies our churches and culture too often prescribe. This is a work of immense honesty and prophetic clarity. — Chuck DeGroat, Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality, Western Theological Seminary, author, Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self

A Quiet Mind to Suffer With: Mental Illness, Trauma, and the Death of Christ John Andrew Bryant (Lexham Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

There are a number of faith-based books about mental illness, various sort of memoirs and evaluations, about those suffering with various concerns, from depression to bipolar disorder. This is one that is so very good in part because it is both exceptionally well written — Bryant really is a creative writer, and Wes Hill has described it as harrowingly frank — and because of how it so naturally integrates a faith in the gospel of Christ and the realities of his own traumas and disappointments. This story is candid about his illness and foibles (and how that feels to him) and it is honest about the broader social context and his life’s situation (he was not accepted into a ministerial program he had hoped for.) This young writer has much to offer and we are grateful for the handsome, thoughtful book.

The useful forward is by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, an Episcopal priest whose own Darkness is My Only Companion is a contemporary classic.

BEST BOOK FOR ROCK AND ROLL LOVIN’ BABY BOOMERS

Bridge and Tunnel Boys: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and the Metropolitan Sound of the American Century Jim Cullen (Rutgers University Press) $31.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.56

Okay, I’m just going to say it: nothing beats Bono’s book of last year, his stirring memoir, Surrender, which made me weep with joy. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I adored the big fat memoir that came out last year by Rolling Stone magazine founder, Jan Wenner’s Like a Rolling Stone. I like books about pop culture and rock music and the like. I just wasn’t sure if any that I read this year was award-worthy.

And then I read this —  thanks to Springsteen fanatic, historian John Fea, who had ordered one from us. I really loved early Billy Joel, especially, and wondered how this author (who I had previously read on Springsteen) compared and contrasted and related the two. And what does “bridge and tunnel” mean, anyway?

Cullen is not your typical rock biographer or fanboy but is an esteemed historian, so when a reviewer says this is “thoughtful and probing” he means it is not just for fans, but it is “a work that evokes a broader sense of the time and place in which the music was made, and how that music continues to influence the wider culture.” (Fred Schruers.) The great Tom Perrota loves it and notes that it is both entertaining and provocative, and should “appeal to anyone interested in pop music and its relationship to the historical currents that influence its creation.” Love it!

THE BEST BOOK OF 2023 ABOUT COLLEGE LIFE

Learning to Love: Christian Higher Education as Pilgrimage Alex Sosler (Falls City Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I know, I know, not every Best Books of the Year lists have a category specifically for young adults about their journey through college, let alone from a distinctively Christian perspective. But you know part of the origin story of Hearts & Minds — we used to work for the CCO in Western Pennsylvania helping college students get a vision for their lives where their learning in college was somehow related to their alliance to God’s Kingdom, so that they could discern visions of vocation, someday serving their neighbors and making a difference as butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, as the saying goes. Eventually CCO adopted a slogan that still animates their Jubilee conference (that Beth and I still serve with a large book display) saying that they express the gospel in ways that “transform college students to transform the world.” That’s audacious, eh? It’s the DNA in our bones, too offering books that might transform readers so they might transform the world.

And so, we are always on the lookout for books for college age students, for CCO workers (and other parachurch ministries like IVCF, DiscipleMakers, Cru, and the like) and congregations near churches that they can easily use with their students to help them understand that they must think Christianly about their learning and see their experiences within institutions of higher learning as deeply related to their own spiritual formation. We need books like this since (let’s be honest) not many churches tell their youth that or mentor collegiates in this vision.

I guess I should admit I helped a tiny bit with some minor editing with this remarkable volume; I did so because I believed in it even in early manuscript form. I love the author and I love this book. It does a simple thing or two with such verve and insight (and breadth of learning) that any college student would benefit from picking it up. And it is pleasurable reading, fun, even.

The things it does are simple enough, but I must say something that will qualify it just a bit; here goes: the book is designed to help first year college students who are attending a church-related or Christian college to see their moving through their college experiences as a pilgrimage. Sosler (who is a professor at Montreat College in Black Mountain, NC) guides kids through this idea of pilgrimage, a journey, a process, a movement of being formed to want the right stuff. Drawing on Augustine (and, more hip, Jamies Smith’s You Are What You Love) he shows how amidst all the classes and extracurricular activities, friends, and mentors one finds in the college years, it is best seen as a journey towards redeemed desire. Oh man, this is revolutionary, and very, very cool.

Here’s the switcheroo that I want to make: it is written for use in Christian colleges but it is so good that I want to say that with the explanation and caveat needed, any student could appreciate it, whether they are at an small, private, liberal arts college or a major, pluralistic university. With the easy-to-read talk about virtue and character formation, pilgrimage and deep ways to know things, I think even a secularized professor would agree: students that search for meaning in their learning, framing it all with the call to love, will surely be better learners and happier students. Want your student to “get” a reason for being in college: give them this fine introduction to some stuff I would bet they have never heard before.

And, by the way, college profs? Any of you out there reading along? Check out Learning to Love to see if your teaching and demeanor are consistent with this high calling of the role of education as mentoring students into a life of care and calling.

Citing everybody from Wendell Berry to Steve Garber, from Parker Palmer to Jamie Smith, from Esther Lightcap Meek to varied saints and mystics from long ago, Sosler makes the text interesting, and, insofar as he exposes wrong ideas and values and style of learning, he is offering something radical. In the very best way. Extra credit, too, for the fabulous questions at the end of each chapter inviting students to ponder the personal implications of all this talk about learning to love. Even if they just grapple with some of those, the investment will be worth it. This author deserves a medal and this book deserves lots of attention. Three cheers!

BEST 2023 BOOK ON THE LIBERAL ARTS

The Liberating Arts: Why We Need Liberal Arts Education edited by Jeffrey Bilbo, Jessica Hooten Wilson & David Henreckson (Plough Publishing House) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I have rambled on about this at BookNotes and before live audiences this past year and it is a book that, admittedly, is not of immediate interest to everyone; it is about college and learning and the power of the liberal arts. Granted. But my guess is that if you are reading this you know somebody connected to higher education and may, yourself, have great opinions about being a life-long learner. You read fiction and poetry and — if you are a typical BookNotes fan — lots of nonfiction, religious and otherwise. Welcome to the world of ongoing education. We read, we learn, we grow. You will love this book.

Plough is a tremendous, thoughtful, delightful publishing house that does classy little books on all sorts of topics. (I hope you know their excellent, stimulating, journal that comes out weekly online and in a quarterly glorious print journal.) Here they bring together more than a dozen fabulous writers weighing in on why we should love to learn, what the liberal arts have historically been about, why many in higher education have drifted from this classic perspective. Does our consumeristic, secularizing culture effect how we think about learning? What can be done? Listen in to really smart, faithful, authors and join this urgent conversation. For many of us, this surely is a great read for 2023 and beyond. Hooray. Contributors include Anne Sander, Steve Prince, Lydia Dugdale, Noah Toly, David Hsu, John Mark Reynolds and many more.

FAVORITE BOOKS ON DAILY DISCIPLESHIP

Centering Jesus: How the Lamb of God Transforms Our Communities, Ethics, & Spiritual Lives Derek Vreeland (NavPress) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I have tried to promote this before and it seems at once nearly self-evident that this is what the gospel entails — focusing on Jesus — but yet in these days (like most eras, I guess) we need to be reminded. Too quickly our worldviews are synthetic, a mix of this and that, maybe a bit of Bible and a bit of American self help, or a bit of Jesus and a bit of Trump, or a commitment to faith but, well, milquetoast respectability (let’s not get too carried away.) Look, if Jesus is Lord, he is, well, Lord. This book explores this. That he reminds us that the Bible refers to Jesus as the “lamb of God” suggests something pretty counter-cultural, nonviolent, even?

Vreeland reminds us that “when we lose our focus on Jesus, the church’s credibility suffers.” We can agree on that much, can’t we? That Jesus teaches us to love relentlessly, too, we can agree on that, right? So how might knowing Jesus — at the center of our lives— as the Lamb, ushering in an upside down Kingdom, help us be more faithful and glad in our daily discipleship? I like how he offers some pretty radical and grand ideas, but brings it down to key areas of our ordinary lives, our morals, ethics, our common life together in the church, and the like. This is a book about spiritual formation, about the “inside out” formation of character and virtue, and how this shakes down. As Tony Evans has been known to say, Jesus, when He returns, won’t be riding a donkey or an elephant and that is the serious last chapter of this fabulous book. Give it a try; there are good discussion questions, making it a perfect sort of thing we need, centering Jesus. I’ll award that, for sure!

Ordinary Saints: Living Everyday Life to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Am I allowed to nominate for a Hearts & Minds Best Book award a volume in which I have a chapter? I almost forgot that little “conflict of interest” thing until I started paging through it (once again) to see what I might highlight to illustrate why it deserves a truly honorable mention. Okay, so what? There you have it: I’ve got a piece in here and I don’t know if it is award winning, but it’s pretty darn good, about the details of running a retail operation, thinking Christianly and behaving normatively in the nitty-gritty of selling stuff.

You see, that is what makes this book so very deserving of a “Best Book” award — every chapter is down and dirty, real, honest, and, often, a load of fun. The book is as eccentric as they come, offering God-drenched chapters on what it looks like to honor the Lordship of Christ, giving God the glory, in the little details of life. From work to play, hobbies to research, happy stuff and tragic stuff, each author shares how they glorify God as ordinary saints in God’s good but broken world. I am confident when I say that there is nothing like it. At all. Square Halo Books deserves an award just for coming up with the idea of this. They deserve another for pulling it off so well.

In my earlier reviews I explained that there are a few famous people here, a few friends, and a lot of ordinary people who you’ve never heard of. And they pen excellent pieces about Christian perspectives on, and Godly motivation for, everything from raising chickens to roller skating, drawing comics to collection serious art, from lovemaking to knitting, we discover here something not only about giving God glory in all things, but we discover something here about the sanctified notion of being fully human. Who wouldn’t want to be glad to read about the joy one takes in karaoke, home repairs, or picking the best briefcase? How about Malcolm Guite writing about his pipes? And who won’t be inspired by. Reading about those who find the capacity to honor God while coping with mental health issues or reflecting on the hardships of grand parenting, or living through chronic pain?

In a way, this book is a tribute to much of what Ned and the late Leslie Bustard and their colleagues (A.D. Bauer and Diana DiPasquale, who both have excellent chapters here) have been doing for twenty-five years, managing this niche, little publisher in Lancaster, PA, raising up the goodness of art and creativity done by “ordinary saints.” Kudos to them, and thank God for this fascinating, exceptional volume.

And, if I may, I think this is one of the coolest book-covers I’ve seen in a while. Yes!

Sacred Strides: The Journey to Belovedness in Work and Rest Justin McRoberts (W Publishing Group) $18.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I have written about this extensively, and joyfully, because, well, one can’t write about this hoot of a book by this creatively fun guy, without having a blast. But I’m going to try to be sober and serious and succint.

I enjoyed this book immensely, read it twice, enjoyed it even more the second time, learned a lot and took great encouragement from what I got. It is worth your time, too. Justin is a good guide, a friend to many, a coach, podcaster, thought leader (and great singer-songwriter.) He may cite Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer but he also names some rock and roll lines, too.

Here’s what you should know about why I think Sacred Strides is a big cut above the average book on Christian book on living with God day by day. First, it is beyond upbeat, it is energetic, at times electric. He tells stories, makes you laugh, and sometimes may draw tears. Heck, he may draw blood. It’s a punchy, powerful book, direct, but gracious. Did I say he’s a great storyteller?

Besides the energy and its well-written tone — he has worked on his craft as writer over the years and each book keeps getting better — there is the faithful, wise insight, which, again, is not commonplace.

You know we appreciate the many books about rest, about sabbath, about rhythms of life, rules of life, silence and solitude and mindfulness and the like. I’ll be honest: I’ve read more than enough of these and maybe you have, too. I also have read (and celebrated — please see above) many about the Biblical call to work, the big picture of a vision of the Kingdom coming that relates to all of life. So, yes, we need to continually remind people of our holy calling to take up our jobs for love’s sake, as unto the Lord.  But, you know what? Often these two kinds of books are at odds — those saying to do something, those saying to stop doing stuff; those that highlight the good we’re to be about, those that say our identity is not what we do, but that we should just be. Some try to resolve this dichotomy and talk about balance, but it never seems quite right.

Justin, in a stroke of genius, has figured out how to talk about these aspects of our creatureliness and the image he offers is the sacred stride with the needed posture to live it out well. This, friends, leads to an awareness of our belovedness and a whole lot of sanity.

“A full life in God,” he says, “is found and practices in work and rest.” And somehow, we do them together, not one, for a while and then the other for a bit. You’ll have to read this profound book to see how he explains this striding business, but it’s good. Very good. It is not only brilliant, but fun. Sacred Strides is one of the best books of the year for this sort of basic Christian living writing and, believe me, we need this more than you may even know. Buy a couple and give ’em out and see who else says it was one of their favorite reads of the year!

BEST POLITICAL BOOK THAT MOST SURPRISED ME

The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatives Matthew Continetti (Basic Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I could write pages about how much I learned from this excellent historical overview and why I think it is important, regardless of your political leanings. I’ve read a lot trying to figure out how the conservative movement imploded (and how some with conservative principles stood against the Republican Party to resist the very not-conservative Donald Trump.) Continetti is a bona fide conservative, even married into a family of a very respected journalist and thinker on the right. He knows his stuff.

I had little clear idea about the heritage of the right in American history (from one hundred years ago) and this upbeat telling of the tale of the development of varying political philosophies ends up being a page turner. When he gets to the McCarthy years, and the John Birchers and eventually Nixon, and on through Reagan and such, I couldn’t stop reading. Agree or not with his fair-minded in-house critique of his own tribe, The Right is a masterpiece and Continetti is a very, very good writer. This book deserves to be considered as one of the great books of political thinking in our time.

BEST BOOK ABOUT THE POLITICS OF AMERICAN EVANGELICALS

The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism Tim Alberta (Harper) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

This is a big book, reported with exquisite detail, by an author I immediately liked. I had not read his previous American Carnage about the rise and campaign and election of then President Donald Trump. As Alberta tells in the first chapter of this new one — that released mid December, so I’m not even finished with its almost 500 pages yet —he did a press interview for that book on CBN (the Christian Broadcasting Network.) He is himself an evangelical, his father a Gordon-Conwell grad and a respectable, good guy, but he worried what his dad would think with him being so candid about his disapproval of the President’s ethics.

Tim soon found out that his father had died unexpectedly while he was on the air, and within a day Tim was back in Michigan, mourning with his tight-knit, Christian family, at their home church. During the viewing, literally, by the casket, several people wanted to argue with Tim about his political views; he got nasty notes at the viewing, and it got ugly during the funeral. He couldn’t believe how ideological captured these church people were, and he decided to use his training as a political news investigator to explore how it came to be that so many white evangelicals got mixed up in all this despicable stuff. So began years of research and travel, and this excellent, important book.

Although very well known in the mainstream world of political reporting, Tim Alberta has maintained his faith and here he is writing about the religious landscape telling stories and exploring episodes and documenting his passionate insights. It is, in many ways (as the new York times Book Review said about his previous work) a degrading story. It is one we need to continue to follow and of the plethora of books on this very topic, this one is simply essential. Five stars!

H&M AWARD FOR UP-TO-DATE RELIGIOUS REPORTING

Taken By Surprise: The Asbury Revival of 2023 Mark R. Elliott (Seedbed) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

Dr. Eilliott is a retired history prof who knows a bit about the history of revivals and God’s renewing movements. Seedbed is an evangelical publisher that has arisen over the years in Asbury, emerging from the good Methodist seminary there and, of course, the college. The town — a very small place, with most of the population affiliated with the college and seminary — is the place which drew international attention last winter when a group of students felt led to stay in the chapel, which became one of the longest ongoing times of worship and praise and confession and renewal certainly in the last 100. Years. Hughes Auditorium became an extraordinary holy space and people flocked from all over the country and students had to figure how to manage the guests, seekers, and fellow worshippers. The inundation of thousands of pilgrims soon turned to tens of thousands. And the kids were alright.

This moving book documents the first sixteen days of round-the-clock, continuous worship and confession and the palpable sense of the nearness of God. The reality of the outpouring of God’s Spirit last February in this very unique way is undeniable and most inexplicable. This book tells the story and it deserve some very special attention; naturally, there are things I’d have wished were addressed but not every book can do everything. As Peter Greig (of 24-7 Prayer International) notes that Taken By Surprise offers “the facts and the essential DNA” of the outpouring. Kudos to Seedbed for releasing this less than a year after the event and doing such a nice job.

THREE FAVORITE BOOKS THAT DEFY SIMPLE CATEGORIZATION

Singing the Psalms with My Son: Praying and Parenting for a Healed Planet T. Wilson Dickinson (Cascade) $23.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40

Oh my, this is a beautiful book, tender, honest, humble, and at times kind of funny. Dickinson “weaves meditations on individual Psalms with reflections on life as a parent.”  And therein lies the rub. I bet a number of publishers loved this author’s writing chops and I’m sure many appreciated his profound religious faith. And who doesn’t know that books about eco-theology and a faith response to the climate crisis aren’t timely enough to maybe sell a few? But this? Bible reflections and memoir, parenting and pollution, Psalms and prayer? This is a reader’s delight, a lovely account of life as it is lived — multi-dimensionally, down-to-Earth, messy and playful and real.

As it says on the back,

“We accompany Dickinson and his son as they find the sacred and revolutionary possibility of ordinary activities — like reading children’s books, playing in the backyard, and celebrating holidays. Coupled with guidance for personal and communal use, these meditations invite us to harness the power of parental love and childish wonder to work for a hopeful future.”

I guess you can see why, quirky bookseller that I am, I had to name this as one of our favorite books of last year. Hooray and hooray again!

In Thought, Word, and Seed: Reckonings from a Midwest Farm Tiffany Eberle Kriner (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We’ve raved about this in a previous BookNotes so if you were betting on whether this would turn up in this big Best Books list, you win. How could we not list it — it was so luminously rich, so lovely, so well-written and thoughtfully conceived that I had to keep reading. The question is, do we put it under memoir, under agriculture and farming, or in our literary criticism section.

I suppose it is a memoir, the story of a college lit prof and her husband buying some land and learning to care for it, but since it offers exegesis of poetry and glimmers of politics and insights about land use, it isn’t a typical sharing of ones interior life and times. It isn’t Wendell Berry, exactly, and offers not only beautiful nature writing, although you could be forgiven for thinking of Aldo Leopald or Annie Dillard. It is a nicely crafted collection of essays that are intertwined — so maybe it goes with essays.

Theology prof Beth Felker Jones hints at the diverse genres operative here:

Kriner is fearless in her exploration of the difficulty of place and land in a peripatetic and racially scared America. Here are shades of Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, and Julian of Norwich, but In Thought, Word, and Seed, has, first, a voice all it’s own. Luminous. Audacious. Holy.

Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness Kathryn Schulz (Random House) $19.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

While one review declared that the writing in this book is “sublime and compassionate”, Oprah Daily said it “exemplifies the best of what memoir can do.” However, it isn’t a straight memoir, although that is the genre, I guess. As Schulz carefully narrates the story of her grief over the death of her (colorful, beloved) father, and tells the story of her falling in love with the woman who became her partner, she goes for pages —pages and pages — explaining the science and myths about losing things, about the facts and stories about finding things. How curious, and what fun! She writes beautifully about the various sorts of human experiences that make up happiness (and how that figures in to losing and finding things.)  This stuff is captivating, elegant, interesting, and rings true in all the ways that matter most. She writes about her simultaneous experiences of wild joy and terrible grief. Yep, it’s all here.

Again, there is social history and excursions that flow naturally from her narrative into science experiments and literary studies. As a professional writer (for The New Yorker) she knows her way around good prose and, indeed, won a Pulitzer Prize for a previous book. So I recommend this to anyone who just loves endearing writing — not sentimental, even if about love lost and found —and who will glory in her finely tuned and often complex sentences. As it says on the back cover it is a memoir, but also “part guidebook to sustaining wonder and gratitude even in the face of loss and grief.”

She makes it clear in unpretentious and plainspoken ways that she is not a believer. (Her family was Jewish, many killed in the holocaust, and that itself is part of the plot.) Yet she speaks of religion and certainly the quest for spiritual truths throughout in a way that often made me nod. And when she falls in love with a person “whose first and most abiding relationship in life is with Jesus” (which she wouldn’t have supposed “in my wildest imagination”) she takes it in stride, despite their very different cosmologies.

Do you believe in love at first sight? What does that even mean? Do you enjoy those who tackled such questions bit by bit, interviewing gorgeously honest writing and fascinating social science, leveling with fabulous storytelling? This book is a gem. It came out first in 2022 (and won the National Book Award) but we got it when the paperback came out in 2023, so I am naming it as a personal fav here, now, a luminous set of essays on disappearance and discovery.

BEST BOOK I DIDN’T READ

Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I’m not going to lie: we had a good handful of these in the shop but we had more pre-orders than we expected and our small batch was gone the day it arrived. I swear, I didn’t even open the cover. It released officially in early December and the publisher (and every other store in America, I gather) has been out of stock ever since.  We will get more within the week, we are told.  So, nope, I’ve not even touched the thing.

But we’ve long admired Wiman as poet and thinker, memoirist and writer. And all that we’ve read about this impressive new book has led us to believe it is truly one of the great contributions to the literary world published this year. From the interviews and reviews, the endorsements and media conversations, I’m confident that this is important. I’m sure it is excellently crafted and very well-written. I don’t know if I’ll love it, so I’m not listing it as a personal favorite (although I assume it will be.) But I can say this: it is a major release by a leading public intellectual who has spoken clear-headed Christian truth in one way or another. With blurbs on the back from the likes of Marilyn Robinson, you don’t need my hoopla to convince you, now do you? Amazing! I think…

Besides the clever line in the New York Times “editor’s choice” rave, saying Wiman could “charm an atheist out of a tree”, hear this, from The New Yorker:

Wiman is among the most distinguished Christian writers of his generation . . . Now he hopes that his experimental book — part poetry anthology, part memoir, part theological treatise — can help others live . . . The rewards for readers are immense and renewable. Word by word, Wiman resuscitates ancient ideas, from being to spirit, leaving our faces pressed hopefully against the here-and-now window of the poem.

BEST BOOKS ABOUT JUSTICE

Just Discipleship: Biblical Justice in an Unjust World Michael J. Rhodes (IVP Academic) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

There are bunches of shorter, simpler, books about social justice in our faith tradition and for those just starting out something like What Does Justice Look Like and Why Does God Care About It by Judith & Colin McCartney (Herald Press) or Gary Haugen’s IVP classic, Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World, would work well. For a nearly magisterial, large, careful, detailed, comprehensive study, this Biblically-based overview simply cannot be beat. I do not think I have ever seen anything like it.

There has been some pretty dumb push-back in recent years against talk of social justice by Christian people who ought to know better and this study of what the Bible says and means by justice and what that Biblical theme has to do with racism, poverty, political liberty, human rights and such is illuminated beautifully. Rhodes is a Bible scholar and argues that “the Bible offers a vision of justice-oriented discipleship that is critical for the formation of God’s people.” Since justice is central to the Bible and central to the teachings of Jesus it, obviously, not only stands at the heart of Scripture, but in the very heart of God. This book is absolutely extraordinary in its evangelical heart and its undeniable Scriptural clarity.

Do you recall Part One of this Best of 2023 list in which I lauded the recent book by Steven Bouma-Prediger and his Creation Care Discipleship, which shows that care for creation is part and parcel to normal, faithful discipleship? This is like that, although even more rigorous: Rhodes offers this “clarion call” to embody God’s justice in the ordinary things of our daily discipleship. This is a book about formation, indeed, but it needs to make the persuasive case that justice is part of a Biblical world and life view and that working for justice is required by those who hear God’s Word in the Bible. Excellent.

Real World Faith Walter Brueggemann (Fortress Press) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Many a year we have named a Brueggemann book in our annual summary of our favorite reads. There have been a number of Biblical study books released by (and about) Brueggey this year — not to mention his two splendid, little books of prayers (Acting in the Wake: Prayers for Justice and Following Into Risky Obedience: Prayers Along the Journey) so I was stumped to pick a favorite for 2023. Re-visiting them and was struck again and again by the pieces in this collection.  Although it may seem a bit incongruous, Brueggemann has been blogging, and Real World Faith is the first collection of some of his greatest hits on social media these past years.

And what a book it is. It includes lots of short sermons, Biblical studies, cultural explorations, words of rage about the dysfunctions of the economy and expressing horror at the attack upon our very American fabric.

There are three major groupings of pieces here, the first part on the nature of the church and its mission; naturally this is, in his view, deeply related to our work for our neighbor and seeking the shalom of the city in which we live.  The second unit is entitled “Social Pain and Possibility!” (Note that rare exclamation point.) He moves on to another half a dozen essays about “civic membership, responsibility, and failure.”  The next unit are reflections on war and peace. He does some Biblical work in all of these (how can he not) and examines our typical views with how he might think God thinks about all of this.

The final handful of pieces are more occasional, about personal stuff — his cat (and Buber!) — and these are quite beautiful; even in a splendid essay about baseball and sports writing he insinuates much about a good and beautiful Christian understanding.  The last piece “Undeserving in Michigan” is nearly worth the price of the book. His view of a Biblically liberating faith simply is not constrained by the ethos of the empire and this book offers the implications of his prophetic imagination as nicely as any.

By the way, one of the first new books of 2024 is the brand new collection of short Brueggemann blog pieces. It’s remarkable, called The Emancipation of God: Postmarks on Cultural Prophecy, edited by Conrad Kanagy (Fortress; $28.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40.) Just saying…

Poverty By America Matthew Desmond (Crown) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Who among BookNotes readers hasn’t at least heard of Desmond’s masterpiece from several years ago, Evicted, which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, a National Crisis Circle Award, a Carnegie Medal and more. Its study of homelessness in Minneapolis offering riveting reporting and astute analysis. What a book that was.

This is the long awaited follow-up where Mr. Desmond (a sociology professor at Princeton University) turns his study to the broader question of poverty in America. That he calls the book “by America” is more than an allusive bit of wordsmithing, although he is a good writer. He is making an argument here about systems and structures and policies and the causes of poverty. Like the Bible (see above) he knows that the problem of poor folks isn’t merely that they don’t work hard enough and that often public policy can deepen economic anxiety among the most vulnerable.

This serious book asks what kind of problem poverty is and documents the meaning of it all as well as nearly anything I’ve read lately. There are shades of the concerns of some of our most urgent writers on these themes — from Jonathan Kozol and Ron Sider and the prophet Amos — but he draws most on his academic work and the sociological thinkers who have done the research on the underclass and the working poor and those who have crunched the data. He obviously draws on William Julias Wilson and cites Richard Rothstein and even The Rev. William Barber but mostly the footnotes reveal a hefty plethora of scholars and researchers. And then, yes, almost surprisingly in this data heavy text, there is a beautiful citation from Walter Brueggemann. Like I said, what a book!

A VERY SPECIAL AWARD FOR VERY FAVORITE POETRY VOLUME

The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living: Selected Poems by Leslie Anne Bustard Leslie Bustard (Square Halo Books) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

It isn’t every day that a small town bookseller has a customer and friend who ends up slowly realizing she is a poet and slowly getting published here and there, writing in classy online magazines and ending up on podcasts and doing readings, eventually gaining acclaim from serious artists and world renowned poets (like Malcolm Guite.) Such were the later years of our friend Leslie Bustard and I am fighting back tears as I type, recalling that when I first highlighted this book last winter she was still walking on the Earth. She is alive, now, more than ever (“awakened on Mercy’s shores”) but is gone from us. I am glad that Square Halo Books published this expertly curated collection of some of her best work. Had she not died, I am sure I would be celebrating this book here, anyway. Now I simply must pay tribute. Many writerly folks have endorsed this book, complimenting her good, creative work (and there are several different sorts of poems here, too, making it a real delight.) The wonderful Hannah Anderson did the preface. Kudos.

(The above mentioned little 2023 poetry volume will be enhanced and expanded and re-released as a fuller collection of her work, releasing, we hear, in late February, 2024. It has been edited by Thea Rosenburg, will be soon published by Square Halo Books, and is to be called Tiny Thoughts That I’ve Been Thinking: Selected Writings of Leslie Anne Bustard. $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99. We, of course, are taking pre-orders now. It will be on our list of Best Books of 2024, I promise.)

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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

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Hearts & Minds BEST BOOKS OF 2023 – PART ONE

Dear, dear friends, customers, fans, and followers.

Here is our long-awaited Best Books of 2023 list. (At least I hope it was awaited by somebody out there.) We had a lot of end of year mail order work (thank you!) and then I got sick and we were exhausted and we had two webinars (thank you!) and, and, well… enough with the excuses.

All books are 20% off. Scroll to the bottom to find the link to our secure order form page at our website. We will reply promptly and confirm everything. THANKS for your support.

As I say in different ways each year — sometimes with more subtlety — I am not qualified to say what the “Best Books” are. Our metrics surely aren’t sales data, let alone our sales data, feeble as it is. No, I’d say these are just some of my favorites, although I’ve eliminated a few that brought Beth or me real pleasure or interest this year but they may be less than viable for a list that I hope gets noticed, at least in some rare corners of the interwebs. So these are some of our favorites that we hope to sell.

I think these are excellently written and/or wisely considered and/or nicely making a significant contribution. Not every one is rocket science but most offer something very, very special. I stand by them all and we applaud these authors for making it onto our list of true favorites. I recommend them, one and all and think you will be glad to expand your library a bit with these Hearts & Minds award winners.

You will notice that I try to honor one or two particular books but in several categories I name a few, not knowing how to discriminate which is “better.” In most categories, there are really strong books that are good for this reason or that, appealing to this sort of reader or that. I can’t often say just one is *the* very best.  Sorry.

Please stay tuned for PART TWO landing in subscriber’s inboxes in the next day or so. I’m already working on that and it, too, will be a fun and rewarding list.

Ladies and gents, book-lovers, all, here we go:

MY TOP TWO FAVORITE NONFICTION BOOKS OF 2023

Saying It Loud: 1966–The Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement. Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

I’m starting with a biggie, right out of the gate — my very favorite books, the best book I read all year. I tore through this, mouth agape, reading stuff out loud to Beth and anybody else that would listen. I thought I knew something about the history of the civil rights movement and I have read a number of excellent books on various aspects of the topic. This one is riveting, informative, extraordinary, stunning. I may focus on a specific year of the civil rights movement but its breadth is amazing and it is a page-turner that will make you want to know even more, and appreciate the work of contemporary historians. Kudos!

I think you may want to have this important work in hardcover but we are starting a waiting list for those who want the paperback (at $19.99 – less our 20% off = $15.99) which releases on February 6th, less than a month away. If you want to pre-order the cheaper paperback let us know.

I was in high school in 1966, and it felt like the edge of history. In his brilliant new book, Saying It Loud, Mark Whitaker has taken me back there, and the journey is both enthralling and a riveting reminder of the tumult, inspiration, and potent possibilities of the Black Power movement. It’s also novelistic in its fully realized human portraits of the movement’s backstory. I can’t say it any louder: this is not only a compelling read; it’s essential for understanding where we started and where we might find lessons in determining where we go from here. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University, author, The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

At Home on an Unruly Planet: Finding Refuge on a Changed Earth Madeline Ostrander (Holt) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Although somebody somewhere has formally categorized this as a book of science, and in some ways it may be, it is vivid, robust, dramatic storytelling in the form of embedded reporting, a years-in-the-making expose of four very different locations impacted by global climate change. The brave and generous (and oh-so-talented) writer Madeline Ostrander visits four locales, telling us about individuals she meets with, over and over, as they grapple with extraordinary tragedies in their lives which have been upended by bad climate matters.

She embeds herself with rural forest fire-fighters in Idaho, bringing us to the heartbreak of whole towns being wiped out, telling the tender stories of those who lost everything in several of the largest fires in American history. She goes to Saint Augustine, Florida, a historic American city if ever there was one, threatened regularly with flooding, learning from historical preservationists and civic leaders the dangers of losing artifacts and space and wondering what to do as the sea levels rise. (She visits Annapolis, Maryland, as well, as a connected story about local citizens caring to preserve the rich places and stuff of American history, and it was riveting.)

Thirdly, she tells the exceptionally dramatic story of North America’s first bone fide climate change refugees as she moves to a cold (but warming) rural, Alaskan, Yupik village learning about the melting permafrost, glaciers, and formerly solid ground that is sinking, literally, below their feet. Whole Yupik villages must be moved and the industrial vehicles needed sink in the mud; will these native peoples endure in their homes and schools and towns? Ostrander’s prose will keep you turning the pages, perhaps between gasps and tears. You will learn about the realities of climate change (don’t let anyone fool you as if this isn’t happening to our fellow citizens) but, more, you will learn about a sense of place, a view of home, of homefulness…

Fourthly, she visits repeatedly an ongoing story of mostly black, urban activists in San Francisco who are unbelievably impacted by one of the largest examples of flagrant pollution, with explosions and fires and toxic dumps from a nearby Standard Oil refinery ruining urban gardens and endangering tens of thousands of mostly poor folks in the Richmond neighborhoods. These sections are inspiring as she tells about brave leaders doing urban activism, working for economic development and civic renewal all the while involved in demands for justice and restitution from the powers that be who were in league with the refinery’s negligence.

As she takes us into the lives of those rebuilding communities in the wake of climate disasters, she is not only giving us a set of interwoven stories to show how the climate emergency effects so many different sorts of ordinary Americans, but she offers stores of resilience and hope.  As author Michelle Nijhuis puts it “Amid the devastation and loss, she finds creativity, vital hope, and a sense of home that outlasts any address.”

Her writing is often luminous, her reporting detailed, her vision about the role of home and local renewal is nothing short of beautiful. With frontispieces from Wendell Berry and Barry Lopez, you’ll know she is a fine writer. When she reminds us, in the words of Greta Thunberg, to “act like the house is on fire because it is” you will know this long and compassionate book is worth every page.

Shows that the meaning of home is so powerful that people will make surprising, imaginative, even transcendent leaps to hold on to theirs. By this book’s end, you realize that maybe you could, too.” — Alan Weisman, author, The World Without Us

MY FAVORITE BOOK ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION

The Language of the Soul: Meeting God in the Longings of Our Hearts Jeff Crosby (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

What a huge category this is. I’ll weave through this column a few more great reads on contemplative spirituality and faith practices that enhance our interior lives but if I were to pick one that I truly know touched my heart and brought such pleasure in reading it, it would doubtlessly be this release from last Spring by the former senior editor of InterVarsity Press and now the head of the ECPA (the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), our friend Jeff Crosby. I admire Jeff very much, not least because he is a lover of the printed page who appreciates all sorts of writers and who knows a thing or two about very good books. His lovely balance of gentle, thoughtful writing, good stories, and a very fun sub-theme of loving music, makes this a book about spiritual formation and longing and affection and care and renewal and more. I kept turning the pages, taking in his finely chosen quotes, his Biblical reflections, and his illuminating stories. Crosby knows many a fine writer — such as Christopher de Vinck, a best friend of both Henri Nouwen and Mr. Fred Rogers, if that gives you a hint of his range — and there is a fine forward by spiritual director Suzanne Stabile and a beautiful afterword by James Bryan Smith (of the “Good and Beautiful” series.) It doesn’t offer arcane mysticism or an over indulgence in eccentric monastic practices, but wise, solid, reflection on what we long for, what we love, how God guides us through life’s journey. You will learn more about how to name all this as this book will give you a fresh language for your soul. Highly recommended.

HONORABLE MENTIONS in spiritual formation

There are many great titles in this genre that deserve to be mentioned honorably, but I’ll name just two that I think are among the best this year.

The Gift of Restlessness: A Spirituality for Unsettled Seasons Casey Tygrett (Broadleaf Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Maybe you, like me, have a love for, but slight discomfort about, the many books that arrive in the category of spirituality. From deeply mystical works to those promoting inner transformation through focus on God’s grace to those that seem more psychological in nature than deeply relying on the Holy Spirit, they are often really good, yet, sometimes, I fear that most carry some baggage, sneaking an implicit dualism between faith and life, soul and body, the sacred and the seemingly secular. Do some of the modern contemplatives merely assume the medieval and early church synthesis with Neo-Platonism and Greek dualisms? Too many have some distinction between our inner and outer lives, our personal and public lives, what some even so bluntly might call our higher and lower lives.

Yet, many good writers of spiritual transformation properly affirm our life in God’s good world, our public, civic, and communal relations, our daily discipleship before God, rather than overindulging in navel-gazing and inner ecstasies. One such balanced, robustly human, deeply Christ-centered author is Casey Tygrett. He wrote a book about the human task of remembering and another on the joys of curiosity. Hooray.

The Gift of Restlessness is a book that reminds us that we are human. It is, in the words of one reviewer, “honest and raw and real.” It invites us to “reset” but not without adequately honoring the fragility of our human condition. As it asks on the back, “what if spiritual questions are not problems to be solved but invitations of the soul.” You see, here he “upends the notion that restlessness isa sign that we must move up, move one, or move out.” No, he invites us to pray well (using Jesus as a model) to create “a spirituality study enough for our unsettled seasons.” He writes well, so much that Marlena Graves calls it “a beautiful book.”

I was captivated by his well-written first pages as he sat in a treatment facility with his wife as they were admitting a teenage child amidst a mental health crisis; the sorrow was palpable, the situation plain enough, his comment that he wanted to pray but couldn’t quite, fully understandable. I was hooked. You will be too.

This is spiritual formation for real people in the real world. He invites a reflective attention to deeper questions about who we are and the nature of the world and the fidelity of God. He tells good stories and invites us to know God, even in our times in the wilderness. Which for most of us, is most of the time.

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

Long time readers of BookNotes will know how we so esteem our friend Ruth Haley Barton and how much her several books mean to us. She is at one ecumenical, drawing on the best spiritual writers from throughout time and denominational affiliation, and clear, practical, kind. Not every spiritual director (believe it or not) has such pastoral sensibilities and not every mystical writer has the charming ability to connect with ordinary readers. Ruth is one of the top tier writers of whom I often say that I would read anything she writes.

Alas, I wasn’t so interested in this one. It is a struggle for us in our family business to keep a mature and wise Sabbath; we have rarely taken lengthy vacations and a sabbatical is simply out of the question, as it is for most folks with normal jobs.

Yet, yet, yet: I am so glad I read this remarkable book, this mature reminder that “the goodness is in the rhythm.” I love that she reminds us that the journey to sabbath practice is “slow and gradual and it is a journey we need to take in community.” Oh my. How I related to her own story of practicing sabbath, her hard-won insights, even if her story is somewhat different than mine. How I appreciated, once again, reading about practical steps for “embedding sabbath rhythms in our personal lives, as well as our churches and organizations.” Many of us have a long way to go, despite the many good books and resources about this theme. Embracing Rhymes is a fabulous contribution and a major work. That some of it is about extended retreats and sabbaticals is important for anyone in ministry or those who care about this in ministry, even if it isn’t evidently obvious that most of us can do this. She isn’t unaware of this, either, and her insights are friendly, supportive, and direct.

There are tremendous quips and blurbs on the back, from Reformed theologian and teacher Kelly Kapic to racial justice activist Brenda Salter McNeil, from leadership scholar Tod Bolsinger to black poet, pastor, and organizer, Drew Jackson. There is a tremendous, nearly rare introduction by the great Catholic writer Ronald Rolheiser who not only shares why this book is so useful, but why it is especially important for faith leaders.

BEST BOOK OF POPULAR THEOLOGY

Why the Gospel? Living the Good News of King Jesus with Purpose  Matthew Bates (Eerdmans) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We have our share of academic textbooks and major work of serious theological scholars. But our wheelhouse is what some call popular theology or applied theology, serious and oftentimes systematic study of the doctrines of the Christian faith but for ordinary readers (not the academic guild) showing out basic Christian living can be deepened and enhanced (of not revolutionized and reformulated) by reading accessible ruminations of theological themes.

Professor Bates is a master of this sort of stuff, having written two academic books (that are, nonetheless, approachable enough that any college educated reader could handle them — see, for instance, his magisterial Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King or the more popular level summary of that in Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ published by Brazos in 2019. He again has now popularized his work in an easy to read and (for some) mind-blowing little book showing how the way he formulates the gospel is most faithful and why it matters. In asking “why” Jesus came and why the gospel message is so powerfully needed, he gets at so many of the weaknesses of both casual mainline liberal theology and pious evangelicalism as well. The gospel, as many have shown these days (just think of N.T. Wright) is not that we are forgiven, but that the new King has come, that there is a regime change on planet Earth, that a historic announcement has been made that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated.

If you still think that the gospel proclaimed by Jesus and Paul is that Jesus died for your sins, you need to read this little book. Of course, Jesus did die and rise and ascend for our sins, but the message of the Bible is that this good news of salvation through faith by grace is only the door into the real “gospel” Good News which is that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

And we are called to participate in that, sharing, quite literally, the glory of Christ in his new temple — all creation!

Why did God do this? Why does the Bible explain the gospel in these broad terms (of what some may summarize as “creation regained”?) Why have we missed so much? What does our allegiance to the Kingly reign of Christ matter so much? This little book of fresh and sensible exploration of solid Biblical teaching is my vote for the best book of applied theology I’ve read this year. Please, please, spread the word. This would make a fabulously rich and profound book for an adult ed class, a small group study, or Zoom course.

A provocative book because the church needs this kind of provocation, Why the Gospel? draws from complex and cutting-edge research to present timeless truths with inviting clarity. Anyone who senses that the gospel they’ve received is a tepid and ineffective counterfeit to God’s revelation of grace and power will benefit from Bates’s bold reminder that Jesus is King. —Amy Peeler, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College, author of Women and the Gender of God

Previous generations asked if there was evidence to support the claims of Christianity. Mountains of apologetic resources were created to address this question. But a new generation has emerged that isn’t focused on the gospel’s credibility, but rather its plausibility. Before asking whether it’s true they want to know why the gospel even matters. Matthew Bates has written the book our generation needs. He not only helps us rediscover the radical message of Jesus and his apostles, but he shows why this gospel is far larger than a narrow call to individual salvation. It’s the message the church, and the world, has been waiting for. — Skye Jethani, cohost of The Holy Post podcast, author of What If Jesus Was Serious

HONORABLE MENTION in popular theology

The Collected Christian Essentials: Catechism – A Guide to the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer Peter Leithart, Ben Myers, and Wesley Hill (general editor Todd R. Hains) (Lexham Press) $36.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $29.59

Many customers have loved the small white “Christian Essentials” hardbacks on several topics published by Lexham (with great looking black and white interiors and just enough substance to be substantial, but short and accessible enough for nearly any reader.) We’ve really appreciated these; I have said, I think, that Ben Myer’s one on the Apostles Creed is the best concise treatment ever and BookNotes fans might know I am a fan of Wes Hill and read all his work. His ruminations on the Lord’s Prayer are second to none.

I suppose it was Martin Luther who first put together a short catechism composed of the Ten Commands, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. I am only being somewhat tongue in cheek, but, golly: what more do you need to know? In this lovely trim sized hardback, these three small books are combined into one solid volume. It was a stroke of marketing genius, I thought; sure. All three in one. But upon opening Catechism: The Collected Christian Essentials s realized how much care and attention the publisher offers to make this not merely. a three-in-one compilation, but a true resource for Christian growth. There is a very good opening piece about the nature of catechism. There is a several page article on ordered prayer, offering a guide for liturgy, especially some texts for confession and forgiveness. There are some morning and evening prayers, Biblical texts to use, all typeset handsomely with some touches of color and something akin to a sacred Celtic design.

Man, this is well done, with some gold-colored pages, some graphic type, even including a ribbon marker, making it a really handsome study resource and a very nice gift. I suppose Anglican or Lutheran folks might most appreciate its somewhat liturgical feel, but, truly, this is a great book for anyone. We are delighted and happy to highlight it here in our end of the year’s “Best of” list. Thanks be to God.

BEST BOOK OF CULTURAL ANALYSIS

Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement Stephen Bouma-Prediger & Brian J. Walsh (Eerdmans) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

As I hope you know, I highlighted this recent 15th anniversary edition in a recent BookNotes and hosted an hour-long webinar conversation with these two scholars (Shane Claiborne calls Brian a “theologian activist”) about this expanded version of the older book. Reading the new preface (by Ruth Padilla DeBorst, writing from her hopeful community of hospitality in Costa Rica) and the long new chapter bringing many of the arguments of the book up to date, I was even more moved than I was the first time I read this stunning work. I reviewed in 15 years ago, citing how it covers so very much — from postmodern mobility that allows some rich people to have many houses but no homes, and some poor folks to be unhoused but still with some sense of place in the world through their community of home — that is all closely related to our ecological homelessness. These two (one a farmer ecologist theologian and one a professor of theology with an emphasis on creation care) have so much insight about the changing culture and contemporary philosophy and yet their expansive work is always rooted in the Biblical narrative and always down-to Earth. They care for the poor quite literally and show their solidarity with the marginalized by citing poets of the street and telling the stories of indigenous friends.

Whether you need a really fresh and creative dive into the Bible or whether you want a big picture study of Christian cultural studies or whether you want to understand domestic poverty and its connection to global capitalism, well, this book does it all. It was an award winner 15 years ago and deserves to be honored as such now, again.

(Stay tuned here at BookNotes and at our store’s Facebook group page where we will link to last week’s webinar once we get it polished and ready to share. Hooray.)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS in cultural analysis

The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis  Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos Press) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I have written about this several times this past year and have ballyhooed it heartily where’ve we went. (Yes, including the knowingly tacky cover!) It has been one of my favorite books this year (and I am not alone) and a real pleasure to read. I learned much and enjoyed much.

I thought it was very well written and an exceptionally important testimony, in part because of Karen’s own rather public life as a scholar who taught beloved students at Liberty University, even as Falwell was destroying the integrity of the place. She never quite fit the fundamentalist mode, there, and never was a right-wing MAGA-type, so, like some other well know women who dared to offer a moderate voice among the idolatry of the far right, she paid dearly. On-line abuse, threats of sexual violence, gross and disgusting trolls and lost friendships came her way, shockingly, for those of us who don’t live in that world of far right extremism. Who knew it could be that ugly — among Christian people! She endured on with a gracious and moderate tone guided by a Biblical sensibility and continued to write about life and literature, public faith, and evangelicalism’s strengths and foibles, which she came to know more personally than I suppose she had expected.

In some ways, this well-researched work follows from her previous deep dive into early Victorian faith from when she produced the notable biography of 18th century writer and activist Hannah More (who was a colleague in abolitionist work with the more famous William Wilberforce, both who died in 1933.) Prior shows that much of American evangelicalism as a faith tradition has roots in Victorian English culture and religious impulses from previous eras which offered a social imaginary as much as a doctrinal system.

This fabulous book is both a history and contemporary study, again, less of an exploration of how evangelicalism’s doctrinal and theological views have come to be understood — she is an evangelical herself and holds to most of those standard convictions — but more how the “stories and images and metaphors” shaped the way most evangelicals see the world and lean into it. It is very much about just what the title promises, the evangelical imagination. If American evangelicalism is suffering from an identity crisis (and what religious tradition is not these days?) then this book could help, surely it could help. In analyzing her own sub-culture’s history and stories and art, she offers not only a glimpse into how to be self-aware about one’s religious biases and how they play out but gives tools and insight for all of us to understand the religious landscape of the 21st century. Evangelical or not, you should read it. It is that important.

Prior is among the most helpful Christian literary critics writing today. Her call for the reformation of evangelicalism is a call to repent, to allow new metaphors and analogies to drive us to more faithfully read and put into practice the Scriptures. An insightful work of love that aids a holy transformation of our imaginations. –Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

As an artist and follower of Jesus often falling into the gaps and fractures of the church and the world, I found this book to be a refreshing and eye-opening guide to navigating beyond the borderlands. Sanctified imagination is critical in developing as the body of Christ, in being the harbingers of hope and creators of beauty, and Prior is one of the most trusted voices to help us find our thriving. — Makoto Fujimura, artist, author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

QAnon, Chaos and the Cross: Christianity and Conspiracy Theories edited by Michael Austin and Gregory Bock (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to name this as a “Best Book of 2023” — it seems outlandishly niche, and maybe even controversial.  But I sure feel that I need to mention it, as honorably as possible, suggesting it surely as a favorite and, more importantly, as one of the most timely and needed books of the year. There are a few other such volumes, and one or two coming, so wise publishers are realizing that normal people need resources to help us navigate this screwy world of conspiracies and weird disinformation and profound polarization. This 2023 book is a very wide collection of various sorts of fairly academic pieces, all highly connected to traditional Christian faith and the best theological wisdom. It deserves a special place on this list as there is nothing like it. Many of these articles and essays are very, very helpful even if, as with any large collection of essays, some pieces will interest some readers perhaps more than others. It’s over 285 pages with two dozen contributors.

As David Gushee puts it, this is a “generous and substantive engagement with the problem of conservative Christian susceptibility to conspiracy theories.” It is both a reasonable call to resist Trumpian misinformation (no matter how many ‘best dressed lists’ Eric Metaxas gets on, I might add) and a deeper exploration of how the rhetoric of conspiracy works (and how it might relate to our gospel-centered faithfulness.) A few of these chapters really made me think, and a few I’m eager to reflect on in the coming season.

There are a number of authors I do not know, but there is a surprising breadth of insight here from scholars I trust such as the amazing Dru Johnson (whose think tank on Hebraic thinking was housed at The King’s College and is now at Hope College), the fine communication scholar Tim Muehlhoff, our young hero, political theorist Kaitlyn Schiess, and a fine chapter co-authored by Marlena and Shawn Graves. Chase Andre has studied the rhetoric of MLK and now teaches at Biola; Scott Culpepper is a historian at Dordt University; Rick Lander is a much appreciated author on winsomeness (with two splendid books on IVP.) I’m struck by the social and theological diversity of this compilation and glad for Austin and Bock’s important curating of this vital resource. Kudos!

BEST BOOKS ON CREATIVITY AND THE ARTS
I will list three tremendous books that I have reviewed at BookNotes, each very special, and I will summarize by categorizing them as somewhat more basic, mid-level serious, and pretty rigorously academic. Something for everyone, and each is exceptional.
Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt (Baker Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
This is nothing short of stunning, a fabulous read, a lively study, and a great introduction on thinking Christianly about the arts and aesthetics evans it is an “instructive, engaging, and delightful” guidebook. There are full color reproductions and just so much great information, offered as a service to the Lord by serving her readers so well. There are few other books that might be compared to this — I’m thinking of the marvelous work by Terry Glaspey, say — but this comes with an artist’s eye and an art historian’s scholarly insight. Dr. Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt, who teaches at Covenant College, has a PhD from Washington University in St Louis and has come to be beloved in many circles which some of our best customers know well — the Lancaster Square Halo conference, the Calvin Festival Faith & Writing event, CCO’s Jubilee in Pittsburgh this February, maybe the Rabbit Room gang. In any case, this book is truly fabulous whether our tribe knows her or not, and it is only going to become better known as her reputation spreads.
I think, as one reviewer put it, Weichbrodt’s offer of “useful interpretive tools” is a real benefit of this book and you might want it if you long for “frameworks for faithful and generative engagement” with a real range of art both old and new. Scholar of modern art Daneil Siedell says it is “a remarkable text that will play a crucial role in helping to initiate countless curious but often confused seekers into the practice of looking at art.” Let us hope.
Bruce Herman says it is “an erudite and. yet wonderfully hospitable invitation” and I am sure many will enjoy it very, very much. One of the best books of 2023, for sure.

The Artistic Sphere: The Arts in Neo-Calvinist Perspective edited by Roger Henderson and Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker (IVP Academic) $45.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $36.00

We reviewed this heartily earlier this fall in a BookNotes all about resources on creativity and the arts. I explained that this neo-Calvinist worldview orientation is part of my own spiritual orientation and I value their direct conversation with the legacy of old, old Abraham Kuyper, and the likes of Hans Rookmaaker and Herman Dooyeweerd and Calvin Seerveld (who has an amazing chapter in this multi-authored volume.) Yes, it is a bit theologically specific, and some chapters are a bit more arcane than others, but, my, my, my, this really is one of my favorite books of 2023 (so much so I almost listed it at the very top of this BookNotes Best of 2023 post.) It is a bit more academic and rigorous, I guess, with some chapters on aesthetics and some on philosophies of art history, all exploring this “artistic sphere” in God’s good but fallen world.
I would be happy to send out a large list of many other books on this topic we have — some quite delightfully introductory and others more substantive, and this one would surely be on any sophisticated list. For those who follow this sort of work, it is an obvious must-have, nearly rare sort of volume. The lovely design (kudos to IVP) and color art and quite specific reflections by folks like Nicholas Woltersdorf, William Edgar, Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin and many more. Perhaps read my review here and see if this is for you. In any case, celebrate it with us here, now, with this little “Best of 2023” award. Hooray.

Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

I’ve highlighted this previously, but surely it is, as one reviewer insisted, “A remarkable achievement that breaks new ground.” It is a bit above my pay grade, mature theological study that it is, but I simply have to list it here as one of the Best Books in the genre in this year of our Lord 2023.

As I said a month or so ago in my review of it, we have obviously appreciated — and carried — every Begbie book since his extraordinary (and scholarly) work on music, released years ago. A few years ago he did one exploring what theology has to say to the arts, and another one on what the arts have to say to theology. He is prolific, academic, passionate, and a master of classical music. He is one of the finest writers in this whole genre, at least for those who want rigorous, dense prose.

Here he is doing much more than affirming that God cares about our creative juices or saying that our faith should give us lenses through which we can perceive goodness and delight in the arts of our fellow humans.In Abundantly More Begbie is making a major argument against one of the grand themes of Western philosophy and culture, a notion often  summed up in the word “reductionism.” Think of C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, perhaps, or other critics who explain how reducing life to just this or that is always troubling and never ends well. No, we need a robust, opened-up, multi-dimensional view of things, appreciating the very “teeming” creation God has given us.

As it says on the back, “In a culture that so often seems to shrink and flatten our vision, reducing the world to mere atoms and us to mere things, the arts can break our imaginations open.”

James K.A. Smith has written much against this anti-creational vision or reductionism, and recently, in a column in Image (the arts journal he edits) he explained how very important this new book is.  Here is what Smith said on the back cover; he happens to love the book, and I trust his judgments on these things a lot.

As only Jeremy Begbie can do, this book weaves theology and music, philosophy and poetry, science and Scripture to explore and celebrate the uncontainability of the triune God and the irreducible complexity of creation. Beginning with an astute analysis of our modern tendency to reduce, flatten, and de-complexify the beautiful, swirling kaleidoscope of divine and created reality, Begbie articulates a creative, constructive pneumatology that deepens our understanding of the resonance between theology and the arts. A remarkable achievement that breaks new ground. — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; editor, Image; author How to Inhabit Time.
BEST BOOK ON CREATION CARE

Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is an Essential Christian Practice Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Almost every year we tip our hand about our own reading habits and what we try to curate for our customers by highlighting books like this. Steve has already carried away a Hearts & Minds award (see above) but we’re offering him this second award: hooray! This is the best book on this topic I’ve read all year. And I’ve read a lot, believe you me. As I have said before, I find Bouma-Prediger exceptionally helpful, wise, thorough, deeply Biblical without being tediously exegetical. But he opens up so much, brings so much to the fore, and helps us all understand how creation care and ecological insight is central to the calling of all Christians, integral, not incidental (as writer Steve Garber might say) to our life of discipleship.

Not unlike the major work Beyond Homelessness, Steven here offers exceptional, fresh, creative, and faithful Biblical meditations between each chapter. These, too, are worth the price of the book, keeping the faithful eye on Scripture and showing the extraordinary way in which this story (that “begins and ends with rivers and trees”) should shape our daily lifestyle. Hooray.

I love the many blurbs on Steve’s book that commend him as a teacher, for this clear distillation of his several big books, and for his passion as an outdoor adventure guy. Hear this, and then buy this book, please:

I was twenty-one years old when I read my first Bouma-Prediger book. From that moment on, my life has been a sequence of events reverberating from reading this brilliant thinker. This book will have the same effect on a whole new generation. I can’t commend it enough. — A. J. Swoboda, Bushnell University; author of After Doubt

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS about creation care

I’ve read a number of other books on a Biblical-theological vision of creation care, the climate crisis and such and I want to highlight these other two as, among others, exceptional and stellar. Thank you to the authors and their publishers for allowing us to stock such good books. I hope your favorite local, indie bookseller has these sorts of things. If not, send us an order pronto. We’ve got ‘em! For now start here.

Following Jesus in a Warming World: A Christian Call to Climate Action Kyle Mayaard-Schaap (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

We highlighted this when it first came out, suggesting it was one of the best evangelical studies of creation care, a theology of earth-keeping, and an accessible study of recent research in climate change science. More and more young Christians are waking up to these realities and Meyaard-Schaap (as vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network) knows a lot about this; he was previously the national organizer and spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

Blurbs on the back are moving and compelling, from Kristin Kobes Du Mez (who calls it “an essential guide”), Debra Rienstra, Bill McKibben and Michael Wear (who reminds us that this book helps us see anew how “caring for the environment and how issues of environmental praise and degradation can bring us closer to Jesus.”)

So We & Our Children May Live: Following Jesus in Confronting the Climate Crisis Sarah Augustine & Sheri Hostetler with a foreword by Patty Krawec (Herald Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

What makes a book like this stand out other than the sheer urgency and centrality of this topic for contemporary faithfulness? What does a new book bring to our reading table that makes it necessary, among the many others? It’s a fair question, but there is something about this one that makes me want to shout it from the rooftops. We honor it in this “best of” list because it is urgent, yes, but also because it is so very nicely written, captivating, interesting, compelling.

And there is this key matter: as they say on the back cover, “ecological justice requires us to challenge our assumptions about creation and our relationship to it. It requires decolonization. We must turn to the leadership of Indigenous communities who struggle for all life as protectors of land and water, and we must call on people of faith to join them…”

There are other important scholarly works about environmental racism, about decolonizing the way in which most white folks think about environmental stewardship, about the relationship between ecological renewal and people of color. This one gets at all that from a very distinctively Christian perspective and is lovely in helping us all see the ecological crisis as a lively invitation to rethink a lot, and reassess our typical theological views, postures, practices, and habits.

Nathan Cartagena, a professor of philosophy of Wheaton College says the book is “a tour de force” and “a gift for us, our children, and our children’s children.” He is right. Native author Kaitlin B Curtice calls it “essential.” She is right.

You may know of Sarah and Sheri from their important work Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery podcast. (Sarah Augustine also wrote a book with that same title.) Both are active leaders on justice issues from within their Mennonite faith communities.

FAVORITE 2023 BOOKS ABOUT FOOD & COOKBOOKS

The Just Kitchen: Invitations to Sustainability, Cooking, Connection, and Celebration Derrick Weston & Anna Woofenden (Broadleaf Books) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

We love and concur with Adrian Miller, a James Beard award-winning author of Soul Food, who calls this a “heart-warming, soul-satisfying, and salivating meditation.”  But it is more than a meditation — it is a handbook, a cookbook, a guidebook, and, yes, a theological and political exploration of justice in our foodways and cooking habits. It is a meditation on that room in our homes we call the kitchen and it is a reflection on those memories we have of food, eating, family, and nourishment. Of course as justice-oriented followers of Jesus — one black, one white — they bring an edge of urgency and a lot of joy to the journey.

The black and white illustrations are handsome enough, if inadequately repetitive, so some touches of color would have made the design considerably better. Still, this is one of our very favorite books in this genre in many a year. We toast the authors and cheer for their good work. Hooray.

Bread of Life: Savoring the All Satisfying Goodness of Jesus Through the Art of Bread Making Abigail Dodds (Crossway) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This beautiful book does not have the full-on Kingdom vision of food and sustainability and justice that is shared in The Just Kitchen and its God-centered devotional nature could have been expanded to include a bit more about the social ethics of food preparation and faithful eating. Still, it is nothing short of one of the most handsome books of the year, with lovely design touches from the inside covers to the type font to the warm, artful pictures. The text is dense and serious, if warm and lovely.

The topic is bread-making but the theme is God’s provision. As the publisher notes, “in this beautifully-photographed book, she shares 11 delicious recipes and shows you how to find your ultimate fulfillment through Christ, the all-satisfying bread of life.”

I worry sometimes when an author sets out to celebrate something good in God’s creation — as we should — and then merely “uses” it to make a bigger, “spiritual” point. I do not think this is the case, here, as she naturally weaves together recipes and redemption, food and faith, bread and the Body of Christ. Sure, it is finally, mostly, a Godly devotional, full of insights pointing us to desire God above all. But, man, those recipes look fabulous! From “Not Your Average Zucchini Bread” to “Weeknight Naan” to “Holiday Chocolate Babka” to something she calls “everyday cottage bread” (and more) these are so fun. I wish she had a gluten-free option for those with Celiac or serious gluten allergies…

Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family Alice Randall & Caroline Randall Williams (Potter) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

We admittedly do not do much fancy cooking and we don’t know that much about historic black cooking. I’ve read (and listened to radio documentaries) about the legendary history and sociology of black cooking.  When we discovered this fabulously illustrated cookbook, complete with sidebars and historic notes, we thought it seemed just wonderful. The great Viola Davis has a blurb on the back saying “Soul Food Love has preserved our traditions but reinvented how they’re prepared. Its focus on health is a godsend.” So there ya go: a healthy mother-daughter duo who “reclaim and redefine soul food — with 80 recipes to help everyone live longer and stronger.”

As the back cover puts it, “Soul Food Love relates the author’s fascinating family history, which mirrors that of much of black American in the twentieth century, explores the often-fraught relationships African American women have had with food, and forges a powerful new way forward that honors their cultural and culinary heritage.”

Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others – Recipes, Menus, Advice  Amy Thielen (Norton) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

It is curious what we end up finding to carry in our Dallastown store — out of dozens of reviews of forthcoming or brand new cookbooks this one caught my eye. I didn’t realize that Amy Thielen was a beloved and respected food writer and cook, but I liked what they said about its inventiveness and how it was designed for pleasurable, creative cooking for those who say “let’s do it at my house.” I lived the title, a phrase our family used as I was growing up, about having “company.” (Do people still say that?) I know that many church groups and missional communities are increasingly teaching about hospitality and the ministry of shared meals and home events and this seemed, if a touch high-brow and urbane, pretty darn cool.

Who of us shouldn’t throw a few more parties?

Ends up I was right: this is on the “Year’s Best Books” list of nearly every major foodie publication and has gained rave reviews from all the major papers. Epicurious named it the Best Cookbook of 2023. What struck me was a NPR interview where an impressive critic said it was her favorite cookbook to read — that she had it by her bed, enjoying the instructions and advice and visions of hospitality. The first part I read was “A Note on Cleaning Up” where she admits that “we cookbook people” don’t talk about that much. Uh-huh.

By Bread Alone: A Baker’s Reflections on Hunger, Longing, and the Goodness of God Kendall Vanderslice (Tyndale) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Bread is central to God’s story— and your story, too, she says. I hailed this when it first came out early this past year as a gem — a memoir, a theological treatise, a missional project of care and hospitality. Vanderslice is a graduate of Wheaton College, Boston University, and Duke Divinity School so you can surmise she knows her stuff. She does workshops on bread baking as a spiritual practice and while the above volume – an oversized and exceptionally attractive cookbook and devotional — may cover somewhat similar grounds, this really is broader and remarkably interesting.

The back cover tells us that Kendall has struggled with hunger for as long as she can remember — “hunger for bread, yes, but also for community and the ability to “tase and see” the goodness of God. She has learned that bread offers a unique opportunity to heal our relationship to the Body of Christ — and our own bodies.”

By Bread Alone weaves her own faith-filled journey together with original recipes and stories about bread in Scripture, in church history, and in our lives.

By Bread Alone is a powerful invitation into the rhythms of baking and the rhythms of faith. As Kendall explains, these are complex journeys of nuance and transformation that mirror each other. Through a robust exploration of breadmaking and her own story, Kendall vulnerably and insightfully offers an alternative to the “Wonder Bread theology” that often plagues the church. This book nourishes and satisfies our deepest longings for the Bread of Life. — Kat Armas, author of Abuelita Faith and Sacred Belonging: A 40-Day Devotional on the Liberating Heart of Scripture

By Bread Alone is a soulful, searching glimpse into trusting the goodness of God when it seems most opaque. Kendall Vanderslice trades toxic positivity for the promise of sustenance, and the result is deeply honest and curiously comforting. These pages are dusted with the flour of daily bread. If you are lost, longing, hope-weary, or barely hanging on (aren’t we all?), read this and be nourished. — Shannan Martin, author of Start with Hello and The Ministry of Ordinary Places

BEST BOOKS OF BIBLICAL STUDIES

Into the Heart of Romans: A Deep Dive Into Paul’s Greatest Letter N.T. Wright (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

The last major book Tom Wright has released in the US was the Galatians commentary in the Eerdmans “Commentaries for Christian Formation” which came out in 2021. There will be a new co-authored Wright book (Jesus and the Powers: Christian Political Witness in an Age of Totalitarian Terror and Dysfunctional Democracies — we are taking pre-orders) coming in March. For now, amidst a newly edited edition of his New Testament translation (now called The New Testament for Everyone) and the new editions of his compact-sized NT commentaries (with new covers and study apparatus in the back) we have this extraordinary release, a publishing event of such importance that I’m surprised we haven’t gotten more orders than we have. It is a major work, if not overly technical, and a bit of a new angle on any number of central theological concerns emerging from his study of “Paul’s greatest letter.” Dating back to controversies from his early lectures on Jesus and his first entry on Romans in theNew Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Wright has long been attracted to Romans. This, interestingly, is not a full commentary on all of Romans, as such, but is a deeper dive into Romans 8.

Naturally, he moves backwards and forwards as deftly as anyone, framing all of Paul’s magisterial letter by the broad “acts” of the unfolding Biblical drama. He and Brian Walsh worked out some of that seminal stuff years ago (and it shows up often in Wright’s work, so I was glad to see, of the very few commentaries he cited, he names Romans Disarmed by Walsh & Keesmaat.) If you love Romans 8 — and if you do not, you should! — then you need this book. Thanks be to God for new looks at the old, old, story.

N. T. Wright has long made it clear that Romans 8 is a text that is dear to his own heart and understanding of Paul. In this book, we encounter Wright as pastor, professor, and scholar. He teaches us how to read a text (as professor), what he discovers in the text (as scholar), and why Paul’s message in one of his most significant passages still matters for the church today (as pastor). It was also refreshing to witness Wright model the ability to grow as an exegete revising one’s opinion when better readings present themselves. This book is an exemplar of a pastorally and exegetically rich analysis of a dense but rewarding section of Paul’s most famous letter. — Esau McCaulley,  professor of New Testament, Wheaton College, author of Reading While Black.

Being God’s Image: Why Creation Still Matters Carmen Joy Imes (IVP Academic) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

One of the great highlights of 2023 for our work lives was selling books, as we do, at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. One of the main-stage speakers and rock stars of the event last year was Carmen Joy Imes, an upbeat scholar with a heart for teaching and a passion for deep Biblical research that matters. Although she has written other good stuff , her important, award-winning book called Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters came out in 2019; this is a companion and is even better than that great one. It is asking, very much in light of the Genesis creation narrative, what it means to be human. It is a question that “proves foundational as we seek to understand purpose, identity, and significance.” In this very readable, but meaty, book, she offers a theological rich exploration of the Imago Dei and the implications of this “kinship relationship with God” for work, sexuality, gender, creation-care, and our eternal destiny. This is a major book, not overly technical, and a joy for anyone that loves God’s Word.

An interesting little feature of this book is how she has partnered with the amazing folks at the BibleProject (indeed, Tim Mackie has a recommending blurb on the back) to offer video clips throughout the book which help illustrate her major points. What a delight! Very highly recommended.

Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Almost every customer we talked to who has read this — save one, a good friend and Christian leader — has reported how much they enjoyed it, how much it either challenged them to think about Revelation in a new way or reinforced in their mind that they are not crazy to be suspicious of the end-times / rapture stuff that has for so captured some corners of the broader church. This book about “dragons, lambs, and strange beasts” can help us follow Jesus today, and it isn’t by preparing to applaud war in the Middle East, expecting a tribulation and rapture, but by resisting those popular misconceptions about this mysterious book of the Bible and realizing what is really going on.

There are a lot of books on this (just ask and I’ll send you a list) and there are deeper and more systematic commentaries. For an overview with an eye to reclaim a more legitimate and faithful and fruitful reading written by a beloved evangelical scholar, Revelation for the Rest of Us by Scot McKnight deserves a huge thanks and earns this silly little award from us here in South-Central Pennsylvania. Our hat is tipped.

Here are two good endorsements that will show you why we want to honor this book as one of the favs of 2023. One is by a woman who is a Texas, Baptist historian, the other a Methodist New Testament scholar from Baltimore, both very fine authors and leaders. Check this out:

A brilliant, fast-paced narrative that does so much more than make an incomprehensible book comprehensible. It shows us how white evangelicals lost our theological grounding, becoming the very monster we were supposed to resist; it emboldens us to become dissident disciples, leaving team dragon and returning to the side of the Lamb; and it gives us hope that a world where justice rolls down like water will one day be more than a dream. This is the most powerful interpretation of Revelation I have ever read, reorienting us away from bizarre prophecies and fiction bestsellers back to the truth of the gospel. You do not want to miss it. — Beth Allison Barr, Professor of History at Baylor University, author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

If Revelation is not a book for speculation about the antichrist and the millennium, what is it? Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett have gifted the church, especially (but not only) its evangelical wing, with a revelation about Revelation. It is a call for dissident discipleship. This challenging but also pastoral book is a must-read for anyone concerned about the new forces of Babylon confronting the church and the world today. — Michael J. Gorman, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Baltimore, author of Reading Revelation Responsible: Uncivil Worship and Witness Following the Lamb into the New Creation

BEST BOOK TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THE PALESTINIAN CRISIS

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy Nathan Thrall (Metropolitan Books) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

We did one long BookNotes list of titles that we pulled off our shelves back with the war in Gaza was in its early days and tried to offer balanced, wise, informative resources to help just a bit in understanding (as the great book edited by Mae Cannon puts it, A Land Full of God.) On that list we named one book that I had just started; it had gotten considerable attention in mainstream literary and publishing circles for being so moving and well written, but I do not know many faith-based spaces who have talked about it much.

I was blown away by this book and name it here as one of the most unforgettable books I have read this year, one I am haunted by, one I wish I could press into the hands of those who seem oblivious to the ongoing injustices perpetrated by Israel with their crass land grabs, occupational forces, road blocks, checkpoints, arrests without due process, and the like. These repressive conditions should be well known and those that don’t admit to some awareness are being willfully, sinfully, ignorant; of course, since some Palestinians have resorted to violent resistance and some of those have evolved into despicable terrorist organizations (like Hamas and Hezbollah) who have done horrific things, it is hard to offer a balanced and wise view, trying to be the peacemakers which we are called to be. Always we must condemn the violence on both sides and try to understand the decades and generations of injustices that have lead to this horrible situation and the understandable fears and hurts on both sides of the literal walls and borders.

This remarkable book is about a Palestinian school bus that was in a horrible accident while visiting a play space just beyond a checkpoint in which, we eventually learn, some little children died, burned to death in this terrible event. Of course the ambulances couldn’t (or wouldn’t) come in time, the checkpoint backups which are routine (if dehumanizing and frustrating) inconveniences for Palestinians who live and work in Jerusalem’s sprawling neighborhoods, became barriers for parents to find their children in the hospitals to which they were taken (or not) and, eventually, the appropriate morgues. It is nothing if not tragic, large social and political issues made somewhat understandable in this one particular episode of sadness. Some of the scenes are brutal and much is terribly sad.

Much of the book, though, follows the father of the title, tracing back his life and work and joys and loves, his arranged marriages, his faith and his many good friendships with Jews and Arab Christians. Some of his Palestinian Muslim relatives are more radicalized, most are not. There is a multi-generational saga being played out and much of it is simply fascinating. Where people live, what they do, how they navigate the infuriating laws and lack of rights in their own homelands — not unlike the old apartheid restrictions in awful South Africa — is helpful to read about. If it were not so fullof gravitas, I’d say it was fascinating; seeing how dignity and love and family and human-scale stuff goes on, even in times of turmoil, is a good benefit of the read.

Much of the Day in the Life of… book, which reads almost like a page-turning novel, follows this extended family even as the narrative heart focuses on this awful day when they could not find if their child was one who died or not and the indignities faced at the hands of Israeli repression and bureaucracy.

Like the best creative nonfiction and long-form narrative reporting, there are no singular good guys or bad guys (although this one way into understanding the daily grind of persecution and injustice experienced by most Palestinians I have ever read.) This is not a screed nor even a passionate bit of advocacy. It is storytelling at its finest, around a troubling and unforgettable vignette, and the good and bad people and systems that surround this “day in the life” of one Abed Salama.

Nathan Thrall knows this land and its peoples well. He is a great reporter, and good writer, and an excellent person to tell this tale. I agree with the award winning scholar, historian, and writer Adam Hochschild, who describes it well:

It is hard to think of another book that gives such a poignant, deeply human face to the ongoing tragedy of Palestine. Thrall’s evocation of both a terrible crisis and the daily humiliations of life under occupation is nothing short of heartbreaking. — Adam Hochschild, National Book Award finalist and author of American Midnight

I know of no other writing on Israel and Palestine that reaches this depth of perception and understanding… One could read the book as a précis of modern Palestinian history embedded in the personal memories of many individuals, each of them drawn in stark, telling detail. To get to know them even a little is a rare gift, far more useful than the many standard, distanced histories of Palestine. –David Shulman, New York Review of Books

By the way, Abed and Haifa Salama’s five year old boy’s name was Milad.

SPECIAL AWARD OF HONOR – BEST OF SHOW

Every Moment Holy Volume III: The Work of the People edited and compiled by Douglas McKelvey (Rabbit Room Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

I don’t know what Best of Show really means outside of the dog world, but this is an award we are naming to seriously honor this extraordinary release, the third in the excellent series of Every Moment Holy prayer books published by the good folks at Rabbit Room Press. We are delighted to carry and commend this book for any number of reasons, not least because it is so very well made, so attractive, so well designed. (Huzzahs to my friend Ned Bustard for the layout and design, curating the art — some of which is his — and all the good details from the typography, colored ink, and ribbon marker.) This full-sized, leather-bound hardback volume is a sight to behold and a beauty to hold.

As important, but related to the elegant, beautiful design, it offers “the work of the people” — liturgies and litanies, spoken prayers and poetic pleas to God, written with liturgical grace and some unique rhetorical charm. Prayers books can be stuffy and overly wordy while many, these days, are nearly too colloquial and chummy. The Every Moment Holy books have struck a good balance, bringing us prayers to use in ordinary life moments (so there is indeed a mundane sort of ordinariness to them) but with an elegant sort of spiritual class in the vocabulary and the robust faith shaping them.

Indeed, these “liturgies” which attempt to consecrate “every moment” to holiness, are crafted, like the first in the series, for ordinary (and sometimes rather exceptional or unique) moments in our daily lives. (The second volume in the Every Moment Holy series, is specifically about loss, grief, sorrow, and lament. It is loaded with various sorts of prayers and liturgies for reading in various sorts of circumstances, but it is blessed by that specificity.) This third one, like the first, covers the most mundane moments to the most unusual. It has liturgies for various jobs and vocations, liturgies of creation and recreation, blessings and celebrations, petition and provision. There are prayers of sorrow and “prayers of the moment.” I cannot tell you just how grateful I am for the rich theology which undergirds these 400 glorious pages. I promise you, you will find this useful.

Unlike the first two, this new 2023 one, Volume III, is crafted by a variety of authors and the art, though in keeping with the style of the former, is made by several different contributing artists. In this new one you will find prayerful liturgies by known authors and poets (from Malcolm Guite, Luci Shaw, Leslie Anne Bustard, Fernando Ortega, Sho Baraka, Philip Yancey) and includes (unlike in the previous volumes) words from older saints such as Augustine, St Francis, John Donne, Johannes Kepler and Dorothy Sayers.)

PART TWO OF OUR FAVORITE READS OF 2023 WILL APPEAR SOON. There will be some really fun books, some serious stuff, a few scholarly ones, and a bunch of our best delights. Please stay tuned…
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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

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YOU ARE INVITED to a free webinar author conversation — meet Brian Walsh & Steve Bouma-Prediger, authors of “Beyond Homelessness” THIS THURSDAY, January 11, 2024

REGISTER FOR THE FREE WEBINAR WITH ME, STEVE BOUMA-PREDIGER & BRIAN WALSH RIGHT HERE.

About this time every January I’m sweating it out trying to craft a manageable list of my favorite books— some we might call the very best —that I’ve read the previous year. I’m squirming badly now as there are just so many to name and you will be surprised by some, I bet. We are thankful to God for this vocation of bookselling. We are grateful to each and every one of you who have supported us, sent orders our way, or otherwise promoted our little shop here in Dallastown.

One thing I am sure of, though, is that one of the very best books — in terms of importance and in terms of the sheer artful quality of the writing and the breadth and brilliance of the research — is one that I am so excited about that we are hosting a (free) live webinar this coming Thursday (January 11th – at 7:00 PM, EST) to talk with the authors. I invite you — I implore you — to join us. It’s going to be fun and, I think, quite compelling.

I’m not big on declaring one big “Book of the Year” but, golly, this one is surely on the top of my favorites list for 2023. Oddly, it isn’t even a brand new book, but an updated, 15th Anniversary Edition. I loved it 15 years ago and I love it even more now. I’m talking about Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Brian J. Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger (Eerdmans; $39.99 — OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99.)

It is a vast, fast-moving, delightfully complicated book, complex in all the right ways, and yet not arcane or difficult to read. Yes, these are both serious scholars with PhDs who have taught philosophy and culture and know their way around postmodern studies.

But they are also fun, down-to-Earth guys who quite literally have their feet on the ground; Steve teaches environmental studies as a theological ecologist (at Hope College in Holland, Michigan) and writes movingly about hiking and wilderness experiences and his love for the local watershed (where he bikes a lot, I’ve learned.) Brian is a former campus minister, and now a farmer, caring, with his wife and partner, author Sylvia Keesmaat, for The Russet House Farm in Ontario. They are Biblical people, full of Godly hope, and they enjoy life, good meals, (and have a mutual admiration for any number of folk and rock musicians, not least of which is Bruce Cockburn, who Brian has a whole book about.) They are, truly, “kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight” and, it seems, having a blast doing it.

As you can tell, I like these gents and I am sure you will enjoy listening in and participating in the online conversation on January 11th. The webinar is sponsored by their publisher, Eerdmans, and you can register for free HERE. The book is amazing and there will be a lot to talk about, so don’t miss a bit. We start at 7:00 PM Eastern Time.

By the way, there will be a free giveaway of a book during the conversation, compliments of the publisher, so be sure not to miss that. I told you it’ll be fun.

There are a few big things going on in Beyond Homelessness and I’ve written quite a bit more (years ago, when the first edition was released) which you can find by searching the BookNotes archives. I’ll explain just a bit here, now, about what is so good about it and why we are eager to have you attend our little online book discussion. For what it’s worth, the late Marva Dawn said of the first edition that it is “broadly researched and splendidly written” and that “this book is essential reading for anyone who wants truly to comprehend and mend our culture!” Wow and Amen!

First, in this new anniversary edition there is a new foreword by Ruth Padilla DeBorst (writing from Central America) which is simply inspiring and beautiful. There is a new preface that is touching and good. And there is a long “post-script” which is actually a lengthy, new, full-sized chapter that makes it well worth having. One friend who devoured the first edition purchased this expanded new edition and insisted, later in an email (with a picture of a page and all his underlinings and marginalia), that I can with confidence tell others to get this new version, even if they have the first edition. It’s that good.

Secondly (and this is what lies at the theological vision behind the book) there is the best Biblical stuff I’ve ever seen on the topics of home, creation-care, placemaking, exile, alienation, homecoming, reconciliation, and other such Biblical themes related to place, land, culture, agriculture, shalom, rootedness, neighborliness, ecology, and the like. They know and love the Scriptures and I am happy to recommend that you spend some time under their refreshing tutelage, learning what might be somewhat new terms alongside more conventional doctrinal rhetoric. They are nothing if not Biblical people.

Many have heard the overarching Biblical story described as a play with several acts, most succinctly naming the flow of the drama as creation/fall/redemption. They spin this as something like home/dislocation from home/homecoming. We are made in God’s image as home-makers and even East of Eden the gospel of Christ, the second Adam, returns us to our primordial calling, along with the other creatures in God’s household, to what they call homefulness. This fecund word is amazing and their Biblical scholarship exploring it is second to none. They draw on bunches of good scholars (evangelical and more mainline, Reformed and others found in fabulous footnotes) including helpful quotes from their friends Richard Middleton and Tom Wright; they make a fabulous, nearly breathtaking case of how the Scriptures invite us to the remarkable blessedness that comes from being grounded in place. This is not a fringe ethical concern or additional aspect of an eccentric social ethic, but is a nearly revolutionary re-articulation of the whole of the Biblical narrative and our place in God’s world and the meaning of our redemption in Christ. Read Beyond Homelessness with your own Bible handy and see if you don’t agree.

To supplement their detailed (but delightfully readable) explication, they have, between each chapter, extended creative tellings of various Biblical passages which they call “interludes.” They are retelling Biblical episodes in moving first person narratives or monologues and they are worth the price of the book. In the preface they strongly recommend that readers study these passages in Scripture, too, so the nuances and playful renderings they develop in the interludes are more fully understood. In any case, these Bible pieces are really well done and are a vital connecting thread tying their ideas together. N.T. Wright has raved about this and has called their Biblical reflections “lyrical.”

Further, their painful ruminations on our alienation from place — citing everybody from Dorothy of Kansas to Wendell Berry of Kentucky to James Howard Kunstler of New York — show further just what they mean. Sin and idolatry and bad ideologies have messed up everything and they wisely help us see just how far and deep the rot goes. Not only are we dis-placed — late capitalism and stuff like car culture and corporate agribusiness has had its way with us and a dualistic faith concerned about the so-called “spiritual” (which for many either means heaven or the internal nature of their souls) takes our eyes off the mundane and ordinary stuff of life — but our lack of interest in our places have allowed a climate emergency unlike nearly anything our (home) planet has ever faced. Being nearly disembodied and tragically displaced leads to ecological crisis. The creation groans and their profound Biblical insight about all this is simply the best stuff I have read, anywhere.

And you just have to read the final, colorful, poetic portions of the last chapter, “Redemptive Homecoming” to be captured by the vision of where all this is going… My, oh my.

Just so you know I’m not gushing just because I like these guys, it is true that many great thinkers, theologians, and activists have offered their own great reviews of this project. Listen to Shane Claiborne:

A daring exploration of one of the most primitive longings in all of us — home. Whether we are in the lonely suburbs or the lonely slums, whether we are cultural refugees or undocumented immigrants, here is good news. In these pages is a call to community, to live deeper, to discover that if we have the eyes to see and the imagination to dream it, there is another world at hand where every alien and orphan and estranged executive has a home and family, for there is a kinship that runs deeper than culture or class or biology or nation.

By the way, the new long extra chapter in this new updated edition cites the generative and important The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, one of the great theological works in recent years. I’m glad they did but, to be honest, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh’s work in Beyond Homelessness remains seminal. There is no book like it.

And there is this remarkable part of the work: Perhaps equally foundational to their thesis of needing to be shaped by a rootedness in the Biblical story of creation, of home/exile/homecoming, is this notion that we are also shaped by a society that fails to honor a sense of place (again, think how Wendell Berry’s novels have explored this, or even Barbara Kingsolver’s, both hose work they plumb nicely.) Because of this we are unable to deeply inhabit our places and we are (oddly) numb to the suffering that goes on around us. Sometimes, the well off and upwardly mobile among us are nearly nomadic. (Ironic, isn’t it, that in this gig economy we have economically poor nomads migrating due to poverty and we have the uber-rich flying around, placeless, like in the novel and movie Up in the Air.)

Their opening description of Kenny (a guy who has seen some hard times and is without a house but who has some sense of community) and Kenneth (a guy with several well-appointed houses but no real home) invites us to ponder much. What is a home, anyway? What makes a house a home? What is the broadest vocation of home-making? Has the American Dream of suburban bliss in a fancy house created emotional cul-de-sacs, neighborhoods without neighbors? How might Kenny, who serves his needy neighbors, instruct us who live lives so busy that we hardly know our nearest neighbors? Why are so many writing about community these days, but yet fewer have lives that are available to others? What is with the current epidemic of loneliness? And what might the notions of postmodernism and the experience of postmodernity have to do with any of this? Can a Biblical vision of homefulness and kinship provide an enduring hope? How so?

And yes, the book is also about literal homelessness. Those who are unhoused and economically poor are hurting everywhere in our lands and it is a crisis that must be addressed. Their insight into economics — both global and local — including the housing crisis and domestic poverty, is excellent and helpful. They make complex matters understandable.

Many who follow BookNotes, I suspect, have read Matthew Desmond (Evicted and Poverty, By America) or Edin, Shaefer, and Nelson’s serious The Injustice of Place which explores the legacy of rural poverty in America, or the Pulitzer Prize winning report Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City (by Andrea Elliott) or the upbeat memoir of near homelessness, Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education by Stephanie Land.

We’ve got excellent Christian guides to understanding the needy and being involved in homeless ministry, such as last year’s Grace Can Lead Us Home: A Christian Call to End Homelessness by Kevin Nye and one called Welcome Homeless: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home which is by the amazing Alan Graham. Graham, we find out, has been influenced by Beyond Homelessness and touts it often.

Brian and Steve have both visited Alan’s one-of-a-kind project called Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, that emerged from his effective Mobile Loaves and Fishes mission. They tell of the transformation of his own faith and life through his work among the poor in the postscript to Beyond Homelessness and it is thrilling. (Alan was, in fact, the first person to honor Brian and Steve and the new anniversary release of Beyond Homelessness when he interviewed Brian at his podcast last month, which you could listen to here.) So, yes, although the book covers much, much, more, it explores the hardships of those without shelter.

From the stimulating and generative Biblical study about the call to homefulness to the wildly interesting cultural studies on how the sociology of place-less-ness has corrupted North American society, and what this “geography of nowhere” has done to us as people, on through to the burning (and related) contemporary crises of pollution and poverty, Beyond Homelessness circles around again and again to how a Biblical worldview (and the experience of exile as described in the Scriptures) can shape our very consciousness / imaginations and help us want to inhabit our places more intentionally. These two authors have seen sorrow and know that the Scriptures invite us to “weep with those who weep.” They want to live in what one of their mentors calls “the wild spaces of love.” Consequently, in faith, they are actually quite hopeful, and they take much delight in small, ordinary things.

This book will help you get on track. From knowing the species of trees in your neighborhood to knowing the names of your neighbors; from caring about gracious hospitality as a key to forming loving community to resisting the destabilizing forces of modernity that erode our care and kindness, Brian and Steve bring so much to the table — including Biblical explorations about the nature of tables — that one small review like this can’t do the book justice. So please join us for the on-line webinar this Thursday, January 11th at 7:00 EST.

So: please join us in celebration of this major work, prescient and important when it was released 15 years ago, and all the more urgent now. We will chat about our friendships, I’ll ask some questions about the book, we’ll invite them to tell us about their own lives in their own places that gave rise to this fruitful, collaborative work, and we’ll take questions from participants during the online webinar. It’s going to be informative, but more importantly, formative. I bet you’ve not often heard this kind of stuff, and it will make a difference, for you, for us, for God’s work in the world. Join us, please. Register here.

Register here now: https://streamyard.com/watch/K6Jj4sDCxFdC

 

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Buy the book now if you can, at our 20% off sale price.
We will send it right out, with pleasure. But don’t miss the webinar next week. Register today.

Beyond Homelessness explores the meaning of ‘home’ and emphasizes God’s covenantal and homemaking love for humanity. The authors nod to Barbara Kingsolver’s theory that home is simply a place of belonging–and a place where we share that belonging with others. If we have been gifted a place of belonging, love and affirmation, isn’t it our responsibility to share that with others? — National Catholic Review

“This fifteenth anniversary edition could not be timelier. Here are the stories of prophetic vision and hope that we need. Beyond Homelessness has the power to change the way we view who we are to one another. — Mark R. Gornik, author of To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City 

Not to confuse matters, but this would be a perfect place to remind you that a year or so ago I wrote passionately about a book done as a surprise for Brian Walsh at his retirement from serving the CRC as campus chaplain at the University of Toronto where he helped lead the Wine Before Breakfast community. A festschrift full of fascinating pieces and lovely stories to honor him, it was called A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh edited by Marcias Boniferro, Amanda Jagt, and Andrew Stephens-Rennie (Pickwick Publications) $34.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $27.30.  Four people I’ve mentioned above, Alan Graham, Richard Middleton, N.T. Wright, and Beyond Homelessness co-author Steve Bouma-Prediger, all have excellent pieces in this amazing collection. And there’s plenty more. One reviewer, an urban church planter, said it will “leave you with a case of holy homesickness.” And I said, “This book will open your ears to the hope and homecoming embedded in Scripture’s story.”

Steve Bouma-Prediger, himself, by the way, had his own new book out this past fall, that we highlighted at BookNotes not long ago: Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is an Essential Christian Practice (Baker Academic; $25.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79.) It now stands next to several others that are vital for our ecological studies section here in the shop.

More on that next week when we celebrate it in our “best of” lists for 2023. It’s fantastic!

 

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  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.12; 2 lbs would be $4.87. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.50, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.20. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

We are happy to ship books anywhere. 

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.

FREE BOOK OFFER — a free Calvin Seerveld book with a purchase of any DAILY DEVOTIONAL from this list. All 20% off.

FREE BOOK OFFER, THIS WEEK ONLY

(UNTIL JANUARY 7, 2024.)

ORDER NOW AND WE WILL SEND A FREE BOOK BY CALVIN SEERVELD WITH EVERY PURCHASE.

 

 

Yep, buy a daily devotional from this list (this week) and receive as our thank you gift a personal favorite which I have mentioned occasionally before — On Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World which has Calvin Seerveld reflecting on art objects and Biblical texts to inspire us to see what it means to be human. There are seven detailed chapters, black and white art reproductions (and an Advent hymn, written by Seerveld.) This gift is made possible by a donation of books by Seerveld himself, given to support our work.

Offer expires January 7, 2024.

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While some are reading this on New Year’s Eve, others may have already turned their calendar to 2024. I’ll invite you to skim back to the last BookNotes where I shared some titles about the classic church calendar and how following some sort of liturgical seasons can help us –as Jamie Smith puts it — “inhabit time.” The point of that Christmastime BookNotes was to share a free link to the webinar conversation I had with Paul Metzger around his book Setting the Spiritual Clock. It was a fun on-line conversation and I hope you can check it out at your leisure.

Now, I bet many are thinking of new habits and daily commitments (whether you call them “New Year’s Resolutions” or not.) Lots of folks are in the market for a daily devotional. We’ve got over 200 here at the Dallastown shop — some offer classic 365 page-a-day readings with a verse or prayer and others maybe have 30 days of devotional reading for those who want to give it a try or some have 52 entries (for us once-a-weekers.) Whatever your style — in format or content or style — we’ve got something for everyone. I hope our descriptions are helpful.

I’ve got some other lists of favorite older devotionals if you want to email me — I could send those to you via email. Just tell us what style or perspective or format your looking for. For now, though, here are some we thought we’d announce today.

(Might you send this out to a friend or two? We need more BookNote subscribers, more on-line readers, more customers for Hearts & Minds. We’d be grateful if you’d help us stay sustainable doing this. Being broader in tastes than some religious bookstores puts us in a rather unique niche, so it’s not necessarily viable.  We appreciate your help and support here at the start of a new year. Thanks.)

As always at BookNotes, these are all 20% off. Scroll to the bottom of this column to see the easy link to our secure order form page. As always, thanks for your support.

On Earth as in Heaven: Daily Wisdom for Twenty-First Century Christians  N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $29.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

We’ll start off with a Biblically mature, theologically sophisticated, serious-minded collection of 366 readings from our acquaintance and a bit of a hero, Tom Wright, arranged somewhat around the church calendar. Want to dip into a good handful of Wright’s books? It’s a great way to be introduced to his thinking, his understandings of the great story of Scripture, and how Christian faith is rooted in the unfolding drama of redemption, creation regained in Christ the risen Lord.

 

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional Ted Tripp (Crossway) $24.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is one of the biggest selling devotionals of the last 25 years, at least, and it is well worth having. Tripp is a Biblical counselor and faithful preacher, relating the ugly and broken stuff of ordinary life to the glories and power of a gospel-centered life. This focus on the gospel — that is, through the cross of Christ and the power of His resurrection we, received into union with Him by grace, can see fresh ways to allow the gospel to transform us, equipping us for coping with our foibles and fallenness — is what sets this apart. It does offer simple bromides of faith and religiosity. It assumes our complicity in sin, and celebrates that God’s “yes” is bigger and more transformation than any “sin management” or cliched religiosity. This shows how we can preach the gospel to ourselves, first, and receive new mercies, day by day. We even have a handsome, deep maroon imitation leather edition of New Morning Mercies ($29.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99) with wide margins for note taking.

Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is a meaty gathering of 60 some of Rev. Rutledge’s great sermons, an extended message for each week. The publisher has done several big collections of her famously well-crafted sermons and these are drawn from those other volumes, arranged for the church year. Rave reviews on the back are from Marlena Graves and Samuel Wells, Alan Jacobs and Rich Villodas. Tish Harrison Warren calls it “brilliant”, noting Rutledge’s luminous prose.

For those wanting substantial theological sermons, based on the Biblical text, from this respected, elder preacher (one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church) this book is terrific; a gift, a blessing.

The One Year Shine Your Light Devotional: 365 Inspirations on Living Out God’s Love and Your Calling Chris Tiegreen (Tyndale) $24.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I like the theme of this — who wouldn’t? — about serving God in the world, sharing God’s love, taking up our call to be responsible agents of God’s Kingdom in the world. Each reading is substantive and the closing words are lovely. I recommend it but, to be honest, one of the reasons we like to show it is that some prefer (for themselves or a gift for others) a handsome leather-like volume. This is a rich deep blue with gold embossed dots that look like lightbulbs on a hip outdoor string of lights. There’s a yellow ribbon marker — it’s cool to hold and use.

Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $26.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I love to tell the story when I’m showing somebody the hilarious, fun, hard-hitting, inspirational best-sellers Love Does or Everybody Always how I was with Bob when he was doing this book. He had convinced the publisher that the next books he owed them would be a bunch of short devotionals. How hard can that be? He was thinking of 30. The publisher wasn’t having it — he had to do about 320 more; I assured him I’d pray. I doubt if he needed my intercessions because, man, he can tell a story, he can write, and he knows His Bible. He lives full of extravagant grace, loving (as he explains in his earlier books) everybody, so there is always plenty of source material. He’s known for redemptive hi-jinx and infectious optimism, leaking the love of Jesus on everybody he can.

This great book is ideal for those not used to overly pious daily devotional reading and while every entry is based on a Bible text, there’s usually a practical application and a good story, some of which are simply unforgettable.

Savor: A 365-Day Devotional for Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $22.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I loved this book when it first came out with it’s rough-hewn, burlap-like cover; the textured cover and earth tones fit my style. I’m glad they re-issued it, though, with a more artsy set of paintings, a more contemporary look, ideal for anyone but seemingly pitched to younger women who are learning to “lean in to the sacred right where you are.” There are good devotions on which to meditate, Scriptures reminding us to savor each day and to “live on the lookout for shimmers of hope from a God who gives every good thing.”  We like this a lot.

Sacred Questions: A Transformative Journey Through the Bible — 365 Days of Responding to God Kellye Fabian (NavPress) $22.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Allow me to set the stage reminding you of another book we’ve celebrated and often mentioned by Kellye Fabian — Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Practices for the Broken, Ashamed, Anxious, and Afraid; such an earnest book invites the hurting or ashamed to explore practices of faith formation that will enhance their trust in the goodness of God. That guide to “holy vulnerability” resonates with this hardback devotional, even if this one’s focus isn’t necessarily on the bruised or broken. Rather, this one is for the skeptical, curious, or eager, those wanting to start fresh and figure some stuff out.

Sacred Questions is unlike some on this list as the format isn’t one that offers a quick several minute read and a question to ponder. Rather, there are prayers, verses, questions, reflections, stuff that pushes you and pushes you again to draw closer to God, to take up a real dialogue, spending time to listen and learn.

It can be done, generally, in 20 minutes a day, but you have to work a bit. As it says on the back cover:

On this yearlong journey of transformation, 14 intentional sections will guide you into a holy space where God will uncover your deepest questions and respond. Come, draw closer to the one who loves you. You will discover more of who he is… and who you are.

Buy this one and commit to some intentional study, reflecting seriously about what it means to know God and trust God’s grace, eating to, as she puts it, “eyes lifted to Jesus and your hands open to a waiting world.”

Nailed It: 365 Readings for Angry or Worn Out People Anne Kennedy (Square Halo Books) $27.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Anne Kennedy is herself, she might note on twitter sometimes, a bit angry herself. Or at least snarky. And that is what makes this 365 reader shine — at least for those who appreciate dark humor and snide remarks scattered around a pretty traditionally evangelical view of the high regard for the Word of God and conventional faith practices. Well, except maybe those idealistic “read the Bible through in a year” plans — the back cover asks with a wry grin, “How’s that working out for you?”  It continues: “That’s okay, everyone gets stuck. Just ask Jael, or worse, Jonah.” Ha.

There are a lot of frustrated, confused, and worn-out people in the stories of Scripture. This brings them together, inviting you to spend a year, helping you turn your eyes on God’s grace in Christ every step of the way, despite yourself. Some who are not into daily devotionals have appreciated this fresh Bible teaching.

Heaven and Nature Sing: 365 Daily Devotionals for Outdoor and Nature Lovers edited by Sharon Brodin (Brodin Press) $16.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

This thick collection of a year’s worth of devotionals is a great bargain. It’s a big, handsome book and there is nothing like it out there. And it is out there — out in creation, that is. It offers fairly conventional Bible reflections, nature writings, discipleship messages, and stories of spiritual formation set in the great outdoors. There are rock climbers and hikers and paddlers and campers of all sorts, offering their on-the-trail insights. Take it to a wilderness cabin or read it around a campfire (or, like me, snug in my house, living vicariously Ha!). Kudos to a friend from the CCO’s experiential learning /wilderness  department who has a couple of really great entries. Nice!

Let Creation Speak! 100 Invitations to Wonder Michael Guillen (Tyndale) $19.99   OUR SALE PIRCE = $15.99

What a cool hardback (sans dust jacket) this is, offered by Emmy Award winner, the former ABC News science editor, Dr. Michael Guillen. Here he offers fascinating and inspiring daily readings based on the astonishing universe we inhabit. Surely the cosmos is more than a cosmic accident. Surely there is more to life than the daily grind. Being inspired by these succinct science writings to be pointed to divine purpose and hope.

I’m sure you know somebody who might not want a more typical Bible study, but would delight in these faithful reflections, taking delight and new hope in God’s presence in the world.

Upon Waking: A Sixty-Day Devotional Jackie Hill Perry (B+H) $22.99   OUR SALE PIRCE = $18.39

I know there are many who really respect Jackie; she’s an excellent writer, a strong, theologically-conservative black woman who rocketed to fame with her first memoir Gay Girl, Good God, followed by the important study of God’s trustworthy goodness seen in His holiness, called Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him.

This new collection says on the back cover:

“There is nothing in your hands that God won’t replace with more of Himself. So let it go. Let it fly. Let it burn. God is better, anyway.” It’s a call to “discover ourselves and the God we were made for.”

These are Scripture-soaked and gospel-centered, with just a bit of hip-hop poetry edge. There’s a nice ribbon marker, too.

Journey to Love: What We Long For, How to Find It, and How to Pass It On: 40 Reflections on Become a Better Human Matt Mikalatos (NavPress) $7.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39

Yep, this is a small book, compact sized, and delightfully written. Matt’s a fun guy, a good writer and a thinker who brings a lot to the table, as they say. This is a story-driven set of reflections “about how to increase your capacity to give and receive love.” There are practical exercises and reflection questions — do it alone or with a friend. This will invite you to a space of knowing you are loved, and being inspired to share that love, opening your heart, being more fully alive.

I hope you know Mikalatos’s books, including his recently co-authored, award-winning Loving Disagreement: Fighting for Community Through the Fruit of the Spirit. In any case this short reader packs a wallop — you won’t regret spending time with this!

Undone: A Modern Rendering of John Donne’s Devotions Philip Yancey (Rabbit Room) $18.00   OUR SALE PIRCE = $14.40

We have promoted this before, last year when the earlier version was published as A Companion in Crisis and then earlier this year when the good folks at Rabbit Room Press re-developed it, added some texture on the cover, some French folded flaps, and a new title. But, the core of it is the same — the brilliant, clear-headed Phil Yancey astutely telling about the devotions written by John Donne so many years ago.

You may only know the “no man is an island” line from the great 17th-century poet and writer, but even Yancey himself said that “Nothing had prepared me for John Donne’s raw account of confrontations with God.” Yes, there was stunning suffering during the time of the plague and, with the global pandemic taking so many lives, Yancey realized how very helpful these very devotions (from a 400-year old manuscript) could be for contemporary guidance. He edited them severely, slashing anything archaic or obscure. He updated the language, paraphrasing if necessary, making this useful and clear for moderns. Follow the arc from fear to trust in 30 short but substantive readings.

Pierced By Love: Divine Reading with the Christian Tradition Hans Boersma (Lexham Press) $22.99   OUR SALE PIRCE = $18.39

You may know Hans Boersma as a profound thinker, an ecumenical theologian who has (or so it seems to me) bridged the uniquenesses of the Dutch Calvinist Reformed tradition and the older Orthodox tradition, shaped by the patristics and early church fathers and mothers, the monks and the mystics. This book is not exactly a daily devotional but he makes the eloquent and elegant case that “holy Scripture requires holy reading.”  At the center are a set of extended reflections (with titles in prayer-book-like red and some ancient art) on ways to helping us learn to read slowly, carefully, devotionally. A friend recently told me how very much she appreciated his candor — Lectio Divina is not simple nor is it always a pleasant task, yielding lovely delights. Reading to hear God speak takes some practice and coming face-to-face with the Divine can be jolting, challenging, even. Be prepared to be pierced. By love.

Sacred Belonging: A 40-Day Devotional on the Liberating Heart of Scripture Kat Armas (Brazos Press) $18.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

We announced this enthusiastically when it came out this fall and it surely should be mentioned again here. This is well worth having on hand — it offers 40 days worth of imaginative reflection, inviting you into “a deep, expansive, and healing way of encountering Scripture.” Blurbs on the back rave, exclamations from Pete Enns, Kaitlin Curtice, Emily Freeman, K.J. Ramsey. Thoughtful, open-minded, and passionate leaders for goodness and grace all agree — this invites us to a more liberated relationship with God, the Bible, and our callings and vocations in the world. You’ll be shook a bit, I’m sure, delighted, maybe peeved. Each reflection is several pages with a good reflection question at the end of each.

Faith & History: A Devotional edited by Christopher Gehrz & Beth Allison Barr (1845 Books / Baylor University Press) $14.95   OUR SALE PRICE = $11.96

Oh my, this is a rare treat, but very, very cool, informed and inspiring, educated and edifying. Don’t let the bland cover or bargain price fool you, this is really great stuff. As Kate Bowler of Duke puts it, “This volume has brought together brilliant authors to dig deep into texts and pull out hidden gems and spiritual insights which will nourish our souls and minds.” Or, as Jay Green (of Covenant College) notes, this is authored by “some of todays’ most thoughtful Christian historians..” It “masterfully displays the integration of keen and learned historical insight with genuine, warm-hearted devotion to Jesus.”

It would be very cool if every discipline had a devotional done by scholars and leading lights in their field. For now, this collection of over 50 devotional readings on favorite Biblical texts allow these historians to shine in their Biblical insights, adding a prayer and thought exercises for reflection or discussion. There are over 40 writers, from George Marsden to Kristine Kobes Du Mez, Jemar Tisby to John Fea, Mark Noll, Margaret Bendroth, Shivraj K. Mahendra, and more.

On Love & Mercy: A Social Justice Devotional Stephen Mattson (Herald Press) $21.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Happily, there are other books like this these days, inviting people to daily Biblical and spiritual reflection to equip us to be more intentional in our discipleship for justice-work and peacemaking. This handsome hardback of 60 sturdy readings will serve you well.

It is both a hope-filled and Christ-centered devotional, doubling down on the call to live into a life of justice action all emerging from a worship of and love for the second person of the Trinity. Praise God for those committed to Jesus and to serving the poor and marginalized in the world. Each days entry affirms your instincts to care about these things and strengthens your holy resolve. As it says on the back cover, this devo “validates social justice practices within the Christian faith by centering the example of Jesus as the ultimate standard.”

Blurbs on the back are lovely, from leaders like Karen Gonzalez, Rev. Brandan Robertson, Jim Wallis, and Kaitlyn Schiess (author of The Liturgy of Politics.) The author, Stephen Mattson, graduated from Moody Bible Institute and his first book (also with Herald Press) was the excellent The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ released in 2018.

The Practice of the Presence of Jesus: Daily Meditations on the Nearness of Our Savior Joni Eareckson Tada with John Sloan (Multnomah) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I hope you know Joni Tada who has been a hero of ours for decades. She is exceptional in her faith and trust in the sovereign grace of God, despite her severe accident in the 1970s which led to her conversion (and eventual memoir and movie about her.) Her ongoing story as advocate for the disabled and for those who are hurting is strong, and this wise use of Lawrence’s famous mid-1600s work is more than a delight, it is nearly brilliant. There are very nice small illuminations here, too, which Joni (an accomplished artist, despite being a quadriplegic) did with the paintbrushes and pens between her teeth.

As it says on the back,

The Practice of the Presence of Jesus offers wisdom from these two everyday saints, written nearly four hundred years apart, that teaches you how to experience the nearness of God in your life. Through rich devotional content from Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God and through original art and new meditations from Joni, you’ll encounter a unique weaving of past and present spiritual reflection on a God who never changes.

As we recognize God with us moment by moment, our mundane becomes holy. Our pain becomes peace filled. And our uncertainties fade into the greatest, most certain hope of all.

Every Day Holy: 60 Devotions to Embrace God’s Gift of Time Meredith Barnes (Paraclete Press) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is aimed at women, it seems, and is by an upbeat speaker and online presence, inviting readers to slow down, attend to God’s voice and work in their lives, and in so doing “embrace God’s gift of time.” The emphasis on the liturgical calendar reminds us, as this does in a parallel way, that our whole orientation in life can be shaped for more righteous flourishing once we see our very days as sacred, as we practice the holiness found in the mundane when we stop trying to put God in a little box for 15 minutes each morning.

These upbeat but solid devotions invite us away from worry and stress, away from performance anxiety and perfectionism, towards an intimacy with God that is grounded in the real lives of the real world. This is lovely and I’m sure it will be helpful for many.

Under the Wings of God: Twenty Biblical Reflections for a Deeper Faith Cornelius Plantinga (Brazos Press) $18.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

We have so many different books of daily devotionals from so many perspectives and styles that it would be hard to pick a “best” for any given year. Still, the evidence we’ve got come from feedback from customers and this is the most-talked about daily reader in quite a while. From a men’s group at a conservative Reformed church to a young adult gathering with evangelical connections to a mainline denominational prayer group, Under the Wings of God has been seen as a real winner — a blessing to be read and re-read. There are only twenty entries, but each is worth pondering. I trust Plantinga’s vision and orientation and he is a clear and even elegant writer. This is a great little book, highly recommended.

A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal edited and compiled by Sarah Bessey (Convergent) $21.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

I have some acquaintances who have contributed prayers or reflections or essays for this compact book, jam-packed with visionary faith for social change, justice, raw honesty, lament, and trust. From Black leader Lisa Sharon Harper to Episcopalian and wordsmith Barbara Brown Taylor, from hip hip spoken word artist Amena Brown to the edgy, tatted-up Lutheran Nadia Bolz-Weber. This prayer book tilts progressive in important ways but even for those who desire broadly orthodox faith perspectives, this collection will bring you before important writers with much to say. And some of it is deeply spiritual, righteous, good and true. Enjoy.

Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth Randy Woodley (Broadleaf Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Whether your interest in nurturing a more ecological faith or whether you are interested in submitting to indigenous Christian leaders to learn from them, this devotional by an esteemed Christian scholar, activist and teacher, is fabulous. We’ve highlighted it before, noticing how nicely it is written, how wise, how deeply in tune with a Biblical worldview, even as it offers uniquely native views to refine our imaginations. Woodley has written widely on earth-keeping, on Bible-based views of multicultural education, and, recently, about the problems with a colonialist sort of missiology. He is a Cherokee descendant, recognized by the Keetooway Band and, with. His wife, Edith, sustains the Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice at their farm outside Portland, Oregon.

Face to the Rising Sun: Reflections on Spirituals and Justice Mark Bozzuti-Jones (Forward Movement) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Rev. Bozzuti-Jones is a popular writer of several books, a former school teacher and an Episcopal priest at the famous Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. Hailing from Jamaica, he knows the black spirituals of the African American experience very well.  (A popular one also offering  devotions on the spirituals is one to be used during Lent called Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word.) These old spirituals are songs of abiding faith passed down through centuries, that offer “a remarkable view of resilience, courage, and love. Formed in the crucible of fire, these songs express the suffering and horror of slavery as well as the love of God and the promise of a better future.” There are 31 readings, with lines from the spirituals linked to Biblical texts, a closing reflection question and closing prayer.

Arise to Blessedness: A Journal Retreat with Eight Modern Saints Who Lived the Beatitudes  Jen Norton (Ave Maria Press) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

This Catholic writer and artist did a colorful devotional based on eight modern saints — some I had not heard of — based on their life of witness to the countercultural teachings of the Sermon on the Mountain. As they embodied the Beatitudes, they inspire us, and this book with illustrations and graphics and swirls of color invite readers to journal, write, draw, and color. There are some lectio visio type experiences, prayers to ponder, guidance as you “arise to blessedness” inspired by the likes of Saints Oscar Romero, Mark Ji Tianxiang, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and more.

Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice  Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

You know we are often touting the wise and well-stewarded words of this essayist, author, poet, and devotional writer. From her excellent and important little book Doctor to her When Poets Pray, from her Lenten book When Words Alight to her most famous Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies she is an author our BookNotes readers and friends of our work here generally admire. This book explores the very power of language, and how it can (in the words of Shauna Niequist in her acclamation about her love of the book) “heal and instruct us, challenge and shape us.”

There are fifteen chapters, each with a one-word title, evoking themes such as listen, receive, enjoy, accept, follow, rejoice, dare, leave, welcome, and more. There are seven days of rumination on that word so you work and pray with one topic per week, with eloquent daily guidance.  It’s a lovely, rich, thoughtful work.

Unfolding Grace: 40 Guided Readings Through the Bible ESV (Crossway) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is nothing more — and yet, how powerful it is! — than wisely selected Bible passages showing in forty sittings how to read through the core redemptive plot line of the whole Bible. This is a handsome hardback with the ESV text set like a normal book (that is not in columns or with interrupting chapters or verses. The table of contents shows the respective Scriptural passages; naturally, the evangelical scholars who arranged this are not saying that an “abridged” Bible is all we need or that other un-included passages are not vital. Still, this is a way to do a daily reading of key texts that hang togethers as the unfolding drama. There is also a nice black and white woodcut before each reading, which makes it handsome to use, enhancing the sense that every key portion hangs together and tells a unified story of grace and redemption.

Morning and Evening Prayers Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

For some, a daily reading, no matter how handsomely created or winsomely written or Biblically astute, just isn’t what they need. Some prefer a collection of prayers. We have plenty, from the classic Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie to the poetic Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson to the remarkable prayer book by Shane Claiborne and others, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. And you know how we’ve promoted the three volumes of Every Day Holy.

If you are looking for well written, theologically aware, down to earth prayers with just a hint of traditionally classic rhetoric, I think these 31 days of page-long morning prayers and page-long evening prayers are hard to beat. Very highly recommended.

AND THESE —three volumes of Every Moment Holy. These are contemporary classics, must-have, extraordinary volumes. As we’ve happily explained often, they are prayers for ordinary stuff, bringing liturgies of litanies (two or more voice prayers) to daily tasks and special occasions. The linocuts are amazingly relevant (with hidden notes, sometimes, relating to the prayer for that situation.

There are a few for grief and death and illness and lament in the first one, and those, not surprisingly, got the most positive feedback (well, those and the one about coffee) so the second volume is just that, prayers for various occasions of loss and grief.

The third is special as it expands the “work to the people” beyond Douglas McKelvey and Ned Bustard to offer poetic, liturgical, and dignified prayers by various authors and black and white woodcuts and prints by various artists.

The first two are available in two sizes — the somewhat larger, leather bound hardback and the compact, personal size, soft, flexible, leather bound. Both versions are leather and both are richly made on quality paper, two color ink, a ribbon marker. The new third volume is only available in the somewhat larger, hardback style, in a rich, blue leather. These are stunning in their theological beauty and in their artfully designed and crafted with attention to detail. Once again, our kudos to our friends at Rabbit Room for this great gift which has blessed thousands.

Please be sure to tell us which edition you want, and which version. Volumes 1 and 2 come in two sizes/styles while the newer Volume 3 comes only in the larger, leather-covered hardback.

Every Moment Holy volume I – leather-bound hardback  Douglas McKelvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Every Moment Holy volume I – leather-bound flexible softcover, personal size Douglas McKelvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Every Moment Holy volume II: Death, Grief, and Hope – leather-bound hardback Douglas McKelvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Every Moment Holy volume II: Death, Grief, and Hope – leather-bound flexible softback, personal size Douglas McKelvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Every Moment Holy volume III – leather-bound hardback edited by Douglas McKelvey, art design by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $35.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Again, this new third volume only comes in the handsome, leather-bound slightly oversized hardback. The writers and contributors for the prayers and litanies are diverse and there are several artists who have contributed pieces, making this very much like the others, but perhaps with a bit more variety in tone and cadence. Like the others there are tons of prayers to recalls God’s presence and consecrate all manner of experiences, such as after a child has a meltdown, before playing board games, before teaching, for being single going to church, for when breastfeeding isn’t going as planned. There are prayers for sleeping, fishing, for mechanical repairs, for leaving ones home, for a child in foster care, for yard work. My, my. Very impressive.

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TO PLACE AN ORDER 

PLEASE READ, THEN SCROLL DOWN AND CLICK ON THE “ORDER HERE” LINK BELOW.

It is helpful if you tell us how you want us to ship your orders.And if you are doing a pre-order, tell us if you want us to hold other books until the pre-order comes, or send some now, and others later… we’re eager to serve you in a way that you prefer. Let us know your hopes.

The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.12; 2 lbs would be $4.87. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.50, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.20. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Keep in mind the possibility of holiday supply chain issues and slower delivery… still, we’re excited to serve you.

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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

We are happy to ship books anywhere. 

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.

Here is the webinar we did with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger a month ago on his book “Setting the Spiritual Clock” and 7 more books about the church calendar and sacred time – ALL ON SALE

Beth and I and the rest of our team here at Hearts & Minds — Amy, Debi, Diana, and our little dog Rory — offer you greetings for a Merry Christmastime. We hope your Advent yearning has in some ways shifted to a celebration of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, discerned most clearly in the story of the incarnation. A pastor and author we admire, Rich Villados (author of Good and Beautiful and Kind), posted on Facebook some words of advice to preachers who were prepping before last Sunday’s services, and he said to just “trust the story.” Yes, yes, indeed. We hope you are learning with your families and faith communities to indwell this unfolding redemptive story where the long-awaited Baby King comes to heal the groanings of all creation. It’s a story of comfort and joy we hope you have found your own place in that story.

One of the ways we are reminded to do that — over and against the secularizing creep of the world’s pressures and its encroaching upon our imaginations — is to see our days and seasons in light of the big story told by the church calendar. One need not be in a highly liturgical church to have one’s sense of time shaped by the liturgical calendar, and there is (we are slowly finding) a unique benefit of spiritual formation when we pay less attention to the worldly and American celebrations and are instead more intentionally shaped by the church reminders over the course of a year of the life of Jesus. Sometimes these reminders are allusive and symbolic, which I think might be part of their normative power.

This was, in fact, why we hosted a webinar a month ago with my friend, the theological rock star, Paul Louis Metzger. We chatted for more than an hour about a book released not long ago done in association with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, a lovely study called Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse (Cascade; $34.00; OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20.)

It is almost a daily devotional, written with thoughtful pieces to last a whole year, through and about the church seasons and we really, really appreciate it. It is a different book than his previous More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture (IVP Academic; $48.00.) IVP expertly hosted a free webinar with me and Paul discussing that book earlier in the year — you can check that out, HERE if you’d like. It was an impressive hour, believe me.

If More Than Things was a studious, deep bit of theological work on public life, social ethics, offering a Biblically-inspired vision of caring for people as people well (in contexts as diverse as disability studies, gender and sexuality, war, racism, medical ethics, and so forth) this Setting the Spiritual Clock one is easier to read, a guide full of Biblical reflections that help us focus on the highlights of the church year. (But the author’s wise, socially conscious worldview seeps through, offering more than an internal piety that doesn’t touch the real world or a fastidious traditionalism.) Starting in Advent, Metzger offers inspiring pieces that will surprise, delight, and challenge. On it goes through Christmastide and Epiphanytide into Holy Week, Eastertide, and Ordinary Time — with a couple of surprising devotionals on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, on Mothers and Fathers Day, Halloween, Earth Day and the like — this book promises to help us “reset” if we are “out of joint.” And who isn’t?

Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse (Cascade; $34.00; OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20) invites us to and gives us tools to live into the story of God, to imagine time as sacred, to have the seasons and rhythms of God inform our days and lives. It’s almost 290 pages and one of the grandest devotionals you can get. It was an honor to talk with him about it at that webinar and it is our delight to share it with you here.

HERE is the free link to the on-line conversation we had about Setting the Spiritual Clock. It is about a book we truly value by an author whose friendship means much. It was a discussion about a book that we were honored to help promote and I wanted to suggest it even now as we are soon to turn our calendars ahead to a new year. We hope you enjoy the recording of the webinar. Part way through you’ll discover that there were provocative questions offered by online participants and we jive around all over, with Paul masterfully responding to all sorts of questions and comments. One or two were a bit skeptical, one or two wondered how he might expand his insights about the rhythms and seasons built into the creation, and others wanted some practical help about how to get one’s spiritual formation practice more attuned to the liturgical seasons. Can this really help us as people? And what about church — what about worship styles and practices? As always, Paul invites us to read more and think together, to pray and seek God, to trust the Spirit. I think you’ll enjoy the chit chat and appreciate his warm and wise insight.

Dr. Paul Metzger is an excellent scholar (Professor of Theology & Culture at Multnomah University and Seminary and the Director of the Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins) and yet is so personable and gracious and helpful. It’s a fun conversation. (Thanks to publisher Wipf & Stock for helping us pull it all off.)  Again: here it is, the link to the webinar we held in late November. Enjoy.

7 MORE BOOKS TO HELP YOU THINK ABOUT TIME & THE CHURCH YEAR – all 20% off

Epiphany: The Season of Glory Fleming Rutledge (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I really appreciate the “Fullness of Time” series edited by Esau McCaulley, including the most recent — and quite timely — Christmas: The Season of Life and Light by Emily Hunter McGowin. Here is what I wrote when I advertised it in an Advent BookNotes column more than a month ago:

Well, if Tish Warren’s warm but serious study of Advent in the Fullness of Time series made me cry and Emily Hunter McGowin’s remarkable study, Christmas, made me gape in wonder at the full 12 days, this brand new one by the great Fleming Rutledge is nothing short of spectacular. I was so very glad when I heard that she was invited to contribute to this series — how could she not be included! — and while she has the magisterial, definitive collection of sermons on Advent and Holy Week (in Advent and , respectively) she has not written much about Epiphany.

I have skimmed this already, not really wanting to study and underline and ponder its glory quite yet — it feels like cheating — but I can tell you that it is substantive, serious, excellently researched, loaded with Bible exploration and preacherly cadences. It is just over 160 pages (granted, the compact sized hardback isn’t huge) and she offers wisdom, insight, some rebuke, some warning, and lots of very good news. This little release is, in fact, a huge publishing event. I don’t know if it is Fleming’s last book but it is important and to be cherished.

In Epiphany: The Season of Glory, Rev. Fleming Rutledge shows how recovering a delight in the glory of God in Jesus Christ is ‘needed by the church right now as a drowning person needs a lifeboat.’ Written with joyful urgency yet patient wisdom, this book should be required reading for pastors seeking to recover the wonder of Epiphany. Veterans and newcomers to celebrating the liturgical year will find a treasure of biblical and theological insight in this succinct yet potent work. Moreover, anyone who aches for an alternative to the empty ‘glories’ so widely pursued today will be nourished by this exposition of the strange yet beautiful reality of God’s resplendent glory, displayed in the crucified Lord. — J. Todd Billings, professor of theology at Western Theological Seminary, author of The End of the Christian Life

With palpable reverence and predictable erudition, Fleming Rutledge unearths the riches of the most overlooked season of the liturgical year. Epiphany is all about glory, chiefly the glory of the person of Christ revealed in majesty and power as the King of the Jews and Lord of the Gentiles in key moments of the biblical drama. In Epiphany and the season leading up to Lent, the church gathers a fresh chance to behold the glory of her Lord and to renew itself in the work of proclaiming his glory to the world. — Katelyn Beaty, journalist, author of Celebrities for Jesus

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

Those who follow BookNotes know I am a big fan of Jamie Smith. While a few of his books are very philosophically deep, and all are informed by his work as a Christian philosopher, many of his books are ideal for what we imagine as the thoughtful layperson. Not technically a scholar, but readers willing to spend the time to read substantive, important books. Smith can move from deep theological truths to contemporary culture in the blink of an eye and is one of the very best writers showing us how to “hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as the saying goes. (And he’ll have a footnote saying who first said it, and another about a scholar who might warn us from misguided attempts.) I love him dearly and his book on time was a bit more elusive than some. It is a bit more demanding than You Are What You Love or even On the Road with Saint Augustine but it is not academic. One of the things that maybe made How to Inhabit Time a bit challenging is because, well, to be honest, as Metzger put it, there is this “secular creep.” We just find it hard to think about time, to imagine it, let alone to do so influenced by what Christian thinkers with Biblical wisdom have taught. Your typical pop-level book about Christian living just doesn’t touch this foundational stuff, even if it is the very air we breathe.

This offers sustained reflections on “the spiritual significance of time” starting with a riff on why many of us don’t even consider it. Like our “geography of nowhere” we are, too often, “nowhen” We are disconnected from the past and (at least some brands of Christianity) have us suppose that are above the fray, “above the flux of history” or immune to it.  And get this, as it says on the back cover (and as he makes an remarkable case in several important chapters) our “lack of an awareness of time and the effects of history — both personal and collective — (cause us to be) native about current issues, prone to nostalgia, and fixated on end times.”

This question of how we think about time sounds a bit heady, sure. One of the blurbs on the back is by Sophfronia Scott, who is a student of the mystic Thomas Merton. Granted. But even the great Archbishop of Canterbury (The Most Rev. Justin Welby) — who knows a thing or two about the liturgical calendar, obviously — has said, simply, that “this book has helped me — genuinely.” If the distilled wisdom and applied cultural thinking has helped him “think about time in a fresh way” I am sure it can do the same for you.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. Bobby Gross (IVP Formatio) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I have admired Bobby Gross for years and when he released this lovely daily devotional about the church year and sacred time, we wanted to host him here — our book party ended up being an Epiphany worship service. Ever since I’ve been very touched by certain devotional readings in this year-long collection and recommend it often. Usually, we display it whenever we set up a section at a book table that includes daily devotionals. But here, when pondering the influence of the “spiritual clock” and highlighted this webinar with Paul Metzger, I have to give it a renewed shout out. Bobby did not grow up in the liturgical church and so when he started attending a solid Episcopal church in New York (with his friend writer and poet and spiritual guide Madeleine L’Engle) he wanted to write a guide to this practice of keeping time in a way that those unfamiliar with the seasons would appreciate. Add to this one of the most influential essays I have ever read — the brief introduction by Lauren Winner — Living the Christian Year is a fine, conventional devo with 366 succinct daily readings, including a Bible text and a closing prayer. Highly recommended.

Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year Robert Webber (Baker) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I could say much about the late, great Robert Webber, an liturgical evangelical who was raised in a low church, Baptist-like setting. He rose to prominence by writing several extraordinary books about Christian and culture (The Secular Saint and People of the Truth) but increasingly was drawn to writing about worship. He predicted in the 1970s (in Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail) that more evangelicals would be drawn to liturgical churches and his work on worship — dozens of books both large and small — invited everyone to think harder about the form, content, and aesthetics of true worship. He began calling his project “ancient future” which had certain resonance with younger evangelicals and postmodern emergents. His Ancient Future Church was seminal and his Ancient Future Worship and Ancient Future Spirituality were excellent. This, then, Ancient Future Time, invited the newbies to more liturgical and artful forms of worship and prayer to consider the influence of the historic practices of the seasonal church calendar. For Bob, as he was called, it was more than simplistic rules about colors or holy days, but about how we construed time, our worldviews, our spiritual formation as Christians in the modern world. Metzger and Smith and Gross (above) all are quick to affirm that they are in his debt.

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life Joan Chittister (Thomas Nelson) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

In the years before she died, the great literary, down-to-Earth spiritual writer (and advocate for healthy change within the book industry) Phyllis Tickle curated and edited a set of books called the “Ancient Faith” series. More could be said about each — they included titles like Sabbath by Dan Allender and Fasting by Scot McKnight and a beautiful one on fixed hour prayer by Robert Benson and more — but this one, on keeping the church calendar, was a highlight for many. Written by a progressive Catholic Benedictine nun (who has long been an active peacemaker and public justice leader), Sister Joan is beloved by many. About half of the book’s 30-some short chapters are about time, calendars, spiritual formation, following Jesus, worship, sabbath-keeping, feast days, and how the liturgical life “is not a relic from the past, but a resounding reality of life in the present lived out of an ancient but living faith.” She is wisely setting the stage for the second half which reflects on each of the seasons and times important in the cyclical church seasons. As Sister Joan puts it, “the liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus…it concerns itself with questions of how to make a life.”

Feasts for the Kingdom: Sermons for the Liturgical Year Khaled Anatolios (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Who better than pastors and priests in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition to teach us how to understand the highlights of the church calendar? And what better way than to spend time reading sermons preached in keeping with the liturgical calendar, by an eloquent Orthodox preacher. These remarkable sermons are just that, messages offered in a real congregation (in a Melkite Greek Catholic Church, actually, a denomination that has its roots among Arabic-speaking Christians in the Middle East.) The messages are not generic, but specific, always based on the Bible, with a focus on Christ. Most sermons are about what their tradition calls Feast Days, which is to say, the celebrations of the seasons. They are made germane, even if deeply theological and festive, by being related to issues of the day. A few sermons are unique (one is an “election homily” entitled “Voting in Christ: Evangelical Counsel Before a Federal Election” and a few funeral and wedding homilies.

In a stirring forward, Reformed Protestant preacher Cornelius Plantinga notes that Father Anatolios trusts the text. He does not try to supply “his own juice” but trusts the power of the gospel. These messages are guided by their place in the liturgical seasons, but, finally, they are about the Kingdom of God, about salvation, about union with Christ in the struggle of daily discipleship. They will prepare your heart for feast days and other sorts of days as we grow into “resetting our spiritual clocks.”

Sacred Seasons: A Family Guide to Center Your Year Around Jesus Danielle Hitchen with illustrations by Stephen Crotts (Harvest House) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Here is what I wrote about this marvelous, handsome, big family devotional when we highlighted it at BookNotes a few weeks back:

Kudos to publisher Harvest House for doing a evangelically-rooted family prayer book that is attentive to the liturgical calendar. Some of you enjoyed that webinar we did with Paul Louis Metzger last week (around his book Setting Your Spiritual Clock ) and had I found time, I would have given this new resource a big shout-out. It is just slightly oversized, a nice hardback, with some handsome etchings and woodcuts in gold and red ink — it’s fabulous; very cool without being too glitzy.

UK Anglican poet Malcolm Guite has a great endorsement on the back (which is sort of rare) saying that Sacred Seasons is “a warm, winning, and above all practical introduction to the traditional church year.”

It is a handsomely designed book but it also has fun activities, delicious recipes, alongside the meaningful liturgies. It gently invites families into the ancient Christian disciplines of attending to the rhythms and cycles of the church calendar with a clear gospel focus on Jesus. Very nicely done.

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TO PLACE AN ORDER 

PLEASE READ, THEN SCROLL DOWN AND CLICK ON THE “ORDER HERE” LINK BELOW.

It is helpful if you tell us how you want us to ship your orders.And if you are doing a pre-order, tell us if you want us to hold other books until the pre-order comes, or send some now, and others later… we’re eager to serve you in a way that you prefer. Let us know your hopes.

The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.12; 2 lbs would be $4.87. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.50, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.20. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Keep in mind the possibility of holiday supply chain issues and slower delivery… still, we’re excited to serve you. Blessed Advent.

BookNotes

Hearts & Minds logo

SPECIAL
DISCOUNT

20% OFF

ALL BOOKS MENTIONED

+++

order here

this takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want to order

inquire here

if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313
read@heartsandmindsbooks.com
717-246-3333

Sadly, as of December 2023 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is bad and now getting worse. It’s important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

We are happy to ship books anywhere. 

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.