“A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh” AND “Practicing the Kingdom: Essays on Hospitality, Community, and Friendship in Honor of Christine D. Pohl” AND “Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now” ON SALE – 20% OFF

Thanks to those who responded to our last two BookNotes offering some extra sales on Lent and Good Friday and Easter books. It is such a central few days in the church calendar, we were glad to offer some resources for attending to it well.

In a Zoom Bible study I help with we’ve been studying the Epistle to the Hebrews. It struck me on Wednesday how the last few chapters seemed so appropriate for Holy Week, reminding us to consider Christ’s great sacrifice and suffering and then to run the race inspired by those who “by faith” knew the power of the gift of our great High Priest. Several times it takes a turn to the practical, reminding us that because of this great grace offered by God and recalled during our Holy Week commemorations, we are to encourage each other, help the hurting and show hospitality, even to strangers. We are to visit prisoners and work for peace. Like so much of the best theology in the Epistles it moves from the grandest of themes to the most direct action. 

On Maundy Thursday Jesus starts with a grand performance of key moments of the Old Testament — the Exodus of passover and liberation, covenant and captivity, promise and deliverance — then picks up the towel and kneels down. Love one another, he says. Serve others. I’m sure you heard sermons this week about both the large theological claims and the clear, if radical, mandates.

What books might help us better understand and actually live this way, kindling the spark you may feel to want to go deeper and live more faithfully? Some books are exclusively theological, and that’s fine. Some are all about personal morality and we need that, too. Some are highly rigorous and academic, and some are breezy and inspiring in a practical sort of register.  We’ve got all sorts, so do reach out to us if you have inquiries or need help or ideas.

Here are three that combine robust theological insights and serious consideration of the implications of it all. These are resources that are a special sort of blend of serious scholarship and compelling, creative writing to help move you to deeper discipleship and more faithful living as one who follows the enigmatic, suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

Maybe by the time you read this you’ll have moved into Easter joy, ready for what I sometimes call resurrectionary reading. This side of that first Easter, every day and every season is ultimately resurrectionary, so rejoice in that. But still, I wanted to name these books here in this darker mood of these darker days where it may still be “Friday” (even if “Sunday’s coming.”)

These three are not books about the Triduum (order A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda if you want a thoughtful but accessible one about that, or Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan Lewis if you want something even deeper.)

These are books about living out Christian faith that I was inspired by the Maundy Thursday mandates to tell you about. They are about community and hospitality and discipleship, about suffering and hope and enduring joy, inspired by three particular authors.

Since the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us to encourage one another, it seems there is something to be said about holding up a few living examples of the “great cloud of witnesses.” These three books are what are sometimes called festschrifts — books done in honor of a scholar or teacher, a book about their work. Honoring Brian Walsh’s work in campus ministry and in the streets and fields (as urban activist and farmer), we have A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh, one of the most interesting and unique collections of essays I have read in decades. Regarding the most important books on hospitality and community written in our lifetime, those by Christine Pohl, we have a book exploring her work put together by friends and former students, Practicing the Kingdom: Essays on Hospitality, Community, and Friendship in Honor of Christina D. Pohl. A similarly arranged book exploring the excellent work of Scot McKnight on discipleship and ministry in the way of King Jesus, that came out this fall is Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now edited by Nijay K. Gupta & Tara Beth Leach and others.

These three books offer remarkable chapters that are profound reminders of a whole-life, missional approach to discipleship, explained and teased out, sometimes with prophetic bite, sometimes with some playful winsomeness, in each of the three, by way of telling about the work of these three important scholar-practitioners. Walsh, Pohl, and McKnight deserve much acclaim and their biographies are fascinating, but these are not biographies but are more academic or polemical pieces designed to engage their work, explore their teachings, explain their books, and wonder, together, how to live out the implications of their public witness in the world. (There are more stories about Brian Walsh in the one that honors him than in the other two, by the way, which are mostly in conversation with the authors’ published books.) While I have more personal connection to the first (Brian is a friend and he has been to our store) each of these volumes are spectacular. They deserve to be known and discussed. Sadly, they are most likely not in most Christian bookstores or church libraries. It falls on us, good friends of Hearts & Minds, to buy the books and spread the word about them. They will (to swipe the language of whoever wrote Hebrews) “strengthen the tired hands and weak knees.”  

A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh edited by Marcia Boniferro, Amanda Jagt & Andrew Stephens-Rennie (Pickwick) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

I don’t know if it is exactly right to put it this way, but it seems to me that Brian Walsh, who this book honors, likes, or at least appreciates and values more than many, Lent and Holy Week. I’ve been wanting to write again about this book which honors him and now feels like the right time now when we are pondering this counterintuitively “good” story that feels so bad. When Brian was a CRC campus minister at the University of Toronto, pastoring a group called “Wine Before Breakfast”, he would send out a pastoral letter about the importance of, the hardships of, and the possible healing and renewal that comes from following Jesus in this complicated and disorienting road towards the cross. If we are followers of Jesus, the New Testament says over and over, we share the hope and joy of His Kingdom coming but, paradoxically, we enter into that, as Jesus did, through suffering. I have told before about Brian’s sensitivities to the world’s great sorrows and how he was one of the first — perhaps channeling Walt Brueggemann — who taught me about the Biblical basis for lament. His emailed Holy Week newsletters to his “Wine Before Breakfast” companions were passionate and honest and raw and the best stuff I’ve ever read on why contemporary Christians should pay attention to the part of the Jesus story that starts on Palm Sunday.

Many of the chapters in A Sort of Homecoming are tinged with this upside-down spirituality of sadness— not highlighting a religion of power and success but of brokenness and humility — and some are brilliantly about just that.  For instance, Richard Middleton’s excellent chapter “Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Lament Psalms” is worth the price of the book and don’t miss James Olthius’s creative essay, “The Wit(h)ness of Suffering Love.”

But yet, after Maundy Thursday and the Stations of the Cross and the Seven Last Words (it was Brian who I first heard name the cross and crown of thorns for what it is: a coronation) and the silent mystery of Holy Saturday, there is resurrection joy. It seems to me, however, that to keep this glory from being taken over by maudlin sentimentality (or co-opted by commercial pleasantries) we need to think in fresh ways about what is going on in our confident, Easter affirmation of resurrection. 

(In the last BookNotes I suggested N.T. Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Began, as one way into this topic; if renewing and restoring the whole creation is the “end game” of the cross and resurrection, how might that hope of “creation regained” inform how we understand, interpret, and preach the texts about the cross? I might suggest, by the way, that it is likely that Tom would say he learned at least some of how to think about this as he does from his interactions with his friend Brian Walsh forty some years ago… that Wright’s magisterial The New Testament and the People of God is dedicated to Brian is itself quite a tribute! Tom wrote the foreword, too, to Brian’s amazing, short, but powerhouse book, Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Dangerous Times.)

One of the remarkable contributions Brian and his circle of friends have made for those of us wanting all the Biblical help we can get in describing the death and resurrection of Jesus, who want faithful fresh language for our faith and for our life in God’s Kingdom, is seeing Christian salvation in terms of homecoming. 

Naturally rooted in a vital understanding of the meaning of humankind’s task in Genesis 1 and 2, and perhaps drawing on the wondrously rich language of returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, and Jesus’s own appropriation of that language, Brian (and co-author of Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Steven Bouma-Prediger) introduced a way of getting the big picture of the Biblical drama by using language and rhetoric that goes like this: the shalom of creational home / the alienation from place by exile / the joy of creational homecoming. (Astute readers will see that this is no Woodstocky “got to get ourselves back to the garden” sentiment but mirrors the popular Biblical summary of the interconnections of creation/fall/redemption.) Sylvia Keesmaat — who also studied with Tom Wright and is married to Brian — has also used this language generatively in her own work. You see it in all her published chapters and classes and, in her powerful call in her chapter to resist colonization by way of Leviticus and Luke.

Both Steven and Sylvia have unforgettable chapters in A Sort of Homecoming and they each stand up to repeated readings. Steven’s chapter is called “Holiness and Homemaking: The Christian Doctrine of Creation Performed” and Sylvia’s is entitled “Home Is Where the Wild Rice Is.”

Another layer of what is integral and not incidental to this approach to redemption as homecoming and renewed homemaking is radical hospitality. They realize that if we are busy building the Lord’s place, if we are to be a new Jerusalem (that is, a “city of shalom”) we must wonder about who is included (and who may be excluded.)  Miroslav Volf’s heavy, stunning Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation has echoes of this, as does the work of Christine Pohl, such as her Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition; Brian in his “Wine Before Breakfast Group” and during his time as a “theologian in residence” at a homeless shelter, and then at the “Russet Farm” ecological homestead that he and Sylvia steward, explored questions of such hospitality. What does it mean to offer a safe haven — a home, even — in a world of exclusion and exile? It makes sense that early on in his ministry of transforming visions he worked to include those who are often marginalized — native peoples, the addicted and abused, the poor, LGTBQ+ persons, folk who had been rejected from conventional Christian churches.

Indeed, one of the very impressive chapters in this collection (by Rachel Tulloch) is “Hospitality as Hermeneutic and Way of Life.” What a tribute to Brian that, in the start of her essay, she notes,

“What stands out to me about Brian’s academic career is how difficult it would be to talk about Brian’s work without talking about his life.”

Those who know his amazing Wine Before Breakfast devotionals (John Before Breakfast and Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament and Hope) know how beautifully diverse their community of inclusion had become. Many saw this explored in his and Sylvia’s mind-blowing and much discussed Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. It comes to even fuller fruition in Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice. Rarely does one find such robust and serious Bible study with such insightful cultural analysis and such curious application as in that amazing, creative “un-commentary” on Romans.

Homemaking. Hospitality. Feasting. Farming. Caregiving. Sabbath. A bit of Wendell Berry agrarianism and some liberation theology and a nod to a sort of Dutch neo-Calvinism. Prayer and politics and a rowdy soundtrack from the best of rock music, from Cockburn to Cohen. And always the Bible, the whole story of God for the whole people of God. Brian loves the Bible.

For what it is worth, Brian and Sylvia are friends with the very important writer Norman Wirzba. I know putting together a book like this on a quick timetable with a rag tag committee of eager friends doesn’t always allow for a perfect production, but I missed a chapter by Wirzba in here; it would have been icing on the cake. This year Wirzba released the beautiful and rich This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World (Cambridge University Press) and University of Notre Dame announced the August 2022 release of the must-read Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land. (We are, of course, taking pre-orders.)

A few of the folks who did contribute are somewhat famous (Biblical scholars N.T Wright and Andrew Lincoln) and a few have done major books — besides the previously mentioned Steven Bouma-Prediger and J. Richard Middleton, we’ve got here Matt Bonzo, who co-wrote an early book on Wendell Berry, and the prolific Rodney Clapp, now of Wipf & Stock. One of the contributors who has written a few books is Greg Paul, of inner city Toronto’s Sanctuary Ministries, who has an incredibly moving chapter, about Brian sharing his bereavement over the death of homeless friends and their affection for hard-up guys like Frenchy, Dana, Iggy, and others who were a part of their community. Greg’s chapter is “Iris and Nereus here and now” and if you’ve read Romans Disarmed, you will get the references. It is a heart-rending essay, and a good tribute to Brian’s care for his friends at Sanctuary.

When I wrote about this remarkable book almost two years ago, I said,  “This may be one of the books released in this hard year of our Lord 2020 that I feel as close to as any.” That remains the case. I saw it in early manuscript form, but I was sworn to secrecy about it because it really was a true festschrift — a surprise collection of essays and contributions surreptitiously published in honor off Brian’s retirement from campus ministry. They kept him in the dark for most of the publishing process even though there were folks all over the world in on it. I am truly impressed by the brilliance of some of these pieces, and am time and again struck by the fruitfulness of this metaphor of homemaking.

As I wrote in 2020, “It is an honor to help celebrate Brian’s ministry and writing and for his friendship with us as he encourages us in our work.”

Here, in fact, is something I sent them as an endorsement and blurb for their own publicity:

It is fabulously fun that a book in honor of author, chaplain, activist, and scholar, Brian Walsh is cribbed from a U2 song; Brian has exegeted popular music (including the boys from Dublin) in all of his work, scholarly and pastoral, for 40 years or more. Most of these contributors in this surprise festschrift are not musicians but their writing here sings, rocks, even, as it amplifies the good work of Walsh, offering creative, brilliant chapters about the things Brian has taught us to care about. And what a book it is, deliciously filled with essays on faith and public life, theology and place, justice and passion, city life and ecology, the church of Jesus the suffering King and its mission to include the outsider, the excluded, the ignored, the hurt. And the Bible; always the Bible, speaking wild and free to those with ears to hear. This book will open your ears to the hope and homecoming embedded in the Scripture’s story, with a chorus of voices serving as an encore to the vivid work of Brian Walsh. You should take in this show, and then read it again. It’s that good. And that important.

Seminary prof and author Christopher James put well.

Be forewarned, this collection will leave you with a case of holy homesickness. This bouquet of contributions explores a range of themes in Brian’s work – eschatology, empire, ecology, and exegesis  – held together by a robust thread of home. Poetry, places, and stories make it more than a festschrift; it’s an ode to the beauty of home and a prayer of longing to be at home–with God, one another, and all creation.  –Christopher B. James, author of Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil

There are so many good chapters in this book, each helping us name the brokenness and sadness in our lives and in this world, and each helping us develop a prophetic imagination that sees differently, that embraces God’s vision for what might be. Holy homesickness, yes, but pointers and guides showing us the way home. There are chapters on caring for the homeless (see, especially, the fabulous piece by Alan Graham) and on the arts (see “The Reconciling Power of Public Art in a Broken Home” by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin and Jonathan Chaplin, both working in the UK.) A literature prof (Deborah Bowen) ruminates very nicely on her own attentiveness to creation about her, and how places shape us.

There is a spectacular chapter by Stephen Martin who is fluent in the reformational worldview tradition of Brian’s earliest networks (not to mention the music of Bruce Cockburn, one of Brian’s great loves.) It is called “Springtime in Cape Town: The Sacramental, Prophetic Imagination of Desmond Tutu” and it brings together much of Brian’s own work, his own deepening into a “sacramental worldview” and a “prophetic imagination.” With a lovely but somehow remarkably astute bit of insight about Tutu, he shines a light on Walsh’s books and work. It is, I think, a central chapter.

Don’t miss Andrew Stephens-Rennie’s inspiring and honest piece called “Revillaging the City” about how “one congregation transformed its charitable food ministry into an agent of shalom.” And if you like good Biblical scholarship, you’ll be intrigued by several outstanding chapters. I loved the work of Wright on 2 Corinthians, an intriguing bit about jewels in the apocalypse by Grant Lemarquand, even Hendrik Hart’s dense piece about Jesus as the Face of God in John. One of my favorite chapters was by Beth Carlson-Malena, who told of how Brian and the Wine Before Breakfast community encouraged her to do a queer sort of church plant in Vancouver; the chapter is like a sermon, called “Of Tents and Temples” and it works just a bit with 1 Corinthians 3.

I like this description on the back cover. In this week after Holy Week, I really want to commend A Sort of Homecoming to you. It offers fresh images for faith and life and radical ways to be shaped by the grace of the gospel, even amidst what Paul calls in Romans a “groaning creation.”

We live in a culture of collective fear over climate change and mass migration, and we experience increasing intense personal anxiety and despair. How might the Bible’s themes of homecoming and homemaking address our physical, emotional, and spiritual displacement? This collection of essays honors the academic and community work of Brian J. Walsh upon his retirement as Campus Minister at the University of Toronto Christian Reformed Campus Ministry. The collection is a stunning mosaic at once academic and personal—representing the many elements of Brian’s life as pastor, theologian, professor, farmer, mentor, and friend. In an age when “home” feels physically and spiritually elusive for so many, this volume reawakens our imaginations to the foundational biblical themes of homecoming and homemaking. Academic, pastoral, personal, and timely, this volume honors Brian’s career and equips readers to engage the fear and anxiety of our age with the hope of the gospel.

By the way: Brian wrote another of my all time favorite books, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. Brian is teaching an on-line course on Cockburn’s work and for those interested in how this particular artist has given voice to Biblical ideas over the course of an evolving career, you should consider signing up. . Mr. Cockburn will be making an appearance in the class, by the way, so it is going to be very cool. Get out your Bible and sign up. Scholarships are available.  Here is a truly beautiful video of Brian explaining what’s going to happen and how to participate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVdvtr_-XAE

 

 

Practicing the Kingdom: Essays on Hospitality, Community, and Friendship in Honor of Christine D. Pohl edited by Justin Bronson Barring & Maria Russell Kenney with a foreword by David P. Gushee (Cascade Books) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

The back cover of this great volume says it nicely. “Throughout her academic career, Christina D. Pohl has helped the church rediscover practices that used to be central to its life, like hospitality, community, and friendship. Perhaps best known for her groundbreaking Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, she has also contributed significantly to discussions on Christian community, feminism and the academy, and the practice of friendship. Yet behind this lies a lifetime of “lived theology” that informs her life and her work, both inside and outside the academy.”

Besides the aforementioned “groundbreaking” and must-read Making Room Pohl’s Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us is in a class by itself. Not too long ago I reviewed at BookNotes her very inspiring recently released (co-authored) book called Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful Discipleship.

One can immediately sense, like with the tributes to the seamless life of Brian Walsh (above) we have here with Christine Pohl, a person whose life illustrated her teaching and her academic writing and books grew organically from her own life of integrity. I gather that her work was perhaps a bit less colorful than Walsh’s, but there is nonetheless a nice similarity. This festschrift is a book of tribute, thoughtfully compiled by former students, colleagues, friends. The opening piece about how available and gracious Pohl was to a student — now an adult and colleague — illustrates the way a life well lived can have such influence on others. She has had a profound influence on many through her vibrant life and ministry (apart from the groundbreaking book, whose historical impact cannot be underestimated.) This is a book that is both challenging and incredibly inspiring.

Practicing the Kingdom does more than honor Christine Pohl, a person worth imitating. In these essays, one is reminded of the urgency of the challenge each generation of Christians has to live lives that provide a glimpse of the reign of God in a culture desperate for hope, honesty, and hospitality. Those who read this book will be challenged to embody the biblical ideas of community that are a preview of the kingdom of God.  –Joy J. Moore, Luther Seminary

I could spend an hour describing chapter by chapter this very good collection. There are more than a dozen chapters in 220 pages. Some are by well known scholars who you should want to read —Richard Mouw (on “intellectual hospitality”) and Miroslav Volf (on “a religion of love.”) Most of the contributors are authors — some more academic, some having done important work on new monasticism and community and missional service. All are down to earth in their thoughtfulness, practical in their erudition.

There are four main “parts” or sections including several chapters within each. The first part has pieces about hospitality (don’t miss the lovely chapter called “Making Hospitality Ordinary: Living into Liturgical Seasons.”) The second part is about community, the third about friendship. The fourth set of four chapters is called “Practicing in Context: New Alliances and Good News.” It includes good stuff about disciple making, extending mission, an important chapter on feminism, and other insights about “practicing the Kingdom of God.”

This is a very readable book and includes plenty of tender and inspiring stories. Yet, most of the authors are scholars and there is plenty of creative, substantive, writing. One chapter on friendship is called “False Centers and Shifting Margins: Lamenting the Poverty of our Friendships” while another (by Justin Barring, one of the chief editors) is called “Transgressive Friendships, Subversion, and Fluid Hierarchies.” As you can guess, one of the themes of her writing has also been about cross-cultural friendships and authentic ministry partnership of mutual collegiality, not “us” helping or befriending “them.”

One especially poignant chapter is by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, whose work with the most vulnerable is well respected. (He has a book about community and Kingdom living in light of St. Patrick, and another drawing on St. Francis.) In “The Gift of Vulnerable Community” he writes about his own PTSD and depression and how his “Little Flowers” community became a safe space for him, eve as his the authentic nature of the relationships allowed for healing. And inclusion of others with complicated lives and deep needs. One can vividly sense the resonance here between the ethos and communities described in A Sort of Homecoming and in Practicing the Kingdom.

Even if most readers do not live in intentional commutes as described in a few of the chapters in Practicing the Kingdom — that is, not quite like Reba Place or Bruderhof or L’Abri and the like — the stories of doing life with others are striking and memorable. (Maria Russell Kenney, a prof at Asbury Theological Seminary, has an excellent piece which she calls “A Critique of Idealism”, which explores how concrete spiritual practices “ground life in community.” Tim Otto, a pastor of Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco, writes seriously about “the interdependence of individuality and community” in a chapter cleverly called “Resisting the Borg.” For anyone in families or close neighborhoods and certainly in congregations, this stuff is all very helpful.

Jesus, on the night before he was killed, gathered with his friends. Some of them struggled (John, later that night with the famous sword to the ear episode) with the ethics or way of life demanded by his holy mandate to love, always. Some of them, years later, were extolling the pastoral practices that made for lively and enduring communities of faith.  Practicing the Kingdom is the kind of book that can help us all work out the implications of our own journeys of faith, offering hospitality, building community, giving ourselves to the work of lasting relationships. We are very glad to recommend it now.

Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now edited by Nijay K. Gupta, Tara Beth Leach, Matthew Bates & Drew J. Strait (Cascade Books) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Wow, this book, a tribute to New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, is so full of solid chapters of solid Biblical insight about what it means to follow Christ today. As the title suggests (and drawing on, or at least alluding to, the lovely, accessible book by McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited) you can tell this isn’t a narrowly understood, truncated, minimized gospel “of asking Jesus into your heart” but is a fully Biblical gospel of the Kingdom and our lives as citizens under this reign of God. It invites us not just to believe but to follow, not to cheap grace but, as McKnight put it in another of his many books, to living out “The Jesus Creed.” It is asking us what kind of Kingdom vocation Jesus and his followers once had and how that might be embraced today. 

As Jeannine K.Brown (professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary) puts it, this book, in McKnight’s honor:

“offers fresh and compelling applications of Scot’s winsome vision for understanding the New Testament, church history, and ministry practice. Its cadences are both familiar and refreshingly insightful.” 

And, naturally, as McKnight explores so well in his One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, the gospel of the Kingdom calls us to realize that all of life, all aspects of our daily lives, are to be informed and shaped by our faith in Christ. We don’t have some separate “spiritual life” alongside some other public or “secular” life. We just have one life. And we follow Christ and live by His grace in all sides of that life and in all spheres of society and culture. So, yep, this “King Jesus gospel” presses us out into a quite robust, missional adventure. (That McKnight has done a commentary in the “Story of God” commentary series on the Sermon on the Mount ought not surprise us. As an Anglican, he sure seems to have some Anabaptist influences. Indeed, his soon-to-be-released small manifesto in the “My Theology” series will be called The Audacity of Peace. You should pre-order that asap.)

Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now is arranged in three major parts. The first part includes 7 chapters in over 100 pages about the New Testament’s teaching on this theme. You’ll read essays by lively (and much discussed) authors such as Michael Bird, Drew Strait, Matthew Bates, Lynn Cohick, Nijay Gupta, Dennis Edwards and Dana Harris. 

The second section of this ongoing conversation with McKnight’s work is called “Christian History and Tradition.” There are pieces here on how the church fathers viewed the nature of Christian living, a chapter on the Orthodox way, one on the liturgical renewal of the reformation churches, and a chapter on how the Anglican tradition might view the King Jesus Gospel, using the Book of Common Prayer as a formative tool for whole life discipleship and Kingdom living. 

The final part (about 75 pages in five great chapters) explores “Christian Life, Discipleship, and Community Today.” From David Fitch (one of the essential chapters comparing and contrasting various views of the gospel) to Nancy Ortberg with a delightful message about “small things” to the chapter by Dave Ferguson & Tammy Melchien (“Living the Gospel as an Apprentice to Jesus”) there are wise essays on how the gospel influences or shapes us. This is mature and thoughtful stuff. And then there are some that are more specific, from Derwin Gray (author of the new How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation) on the multiethnic church to Becky Castle Miller (on caring for abuse survivors.) (Ms Castle Miller, by the way, put together a few years ago a great collection of Bible studies and discussion guides that explore Scot’s work called Following King Jesus: How to Know, Read, Live, and Show the Gospel so she knows his work well.) That this collection ends with this sort of invitation to consider the implications of the Kingship of Jesus for our various gospel ministries is significant. It’s almost like the book ought not be over yet. Indeed, it isn’t. The next pages are written by us.

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Here in this first section are a few great Lenten books that we need to move out, which means we’re doing this one-week-only clearance sale. While supplies last we have these at 30% off. The 30% off sale ends April 15, 2022.

LENT BOOKS — 30% OFF

A Busy Parent’s Guide to a Meaningful Lent  Maria C. Morrow (Our Sunday Visitor) $16.95  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $11.86

This is a lovely book we highly recommend for busy parents. It was written for Catholic families, but, with the exception of a few uniquely Roman devotional notions, it is fine for anyone to use, offering quick and easy resource that starts the day off with Scripture, reflection, prayer.  One reviewer complimented the author’s “contagious confidence.” 

The author is fascinating, is a professor at Seton Hall University and wrote a book called Sin in the Sixties: Catholics and Confession 1955-1975. There’s a nice endorsement by the lively Mike Aquilina from KWTN. Nice — 30% off, while we have some left.

A Book of Days for Lent: Daily Reflections for the Seasons of Lent edited by Steven Moore & Fr. Richard Ganz  (Seedbed) $12.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $9.09

Produced by the excellent M.J. Murdoch Charitable Trust, this is an exquisite hardback full of short devotionals written by leaders of nonprofits and innovative ministries, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Murdoch does remarkable funding of charitable work, some overtly Christian, some more of what one of their colleagues calls “common grace for the common good” projects. A few of the writers are authors BookNotes readers will recognize (Steven Garber, A.J. Swoboda, Cameron Anderson, Brian Doyle) and others are unsung, but esteemed for their generous servant leadership. This is a handsome hardback with some full color art, and wonderful companion to  their equally solid A Book of Days for Advent. 

Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $23.99    OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $16.79

This author is exceptionally popular among many of our customers, who appreciate his clarity about how the gospel works, transforming out lives from the inside out as we trust the work of the cross to sanctify us into Christ-likeness. The history of redemption is an unfolding story with Christ at the center of the plot, and the cross at the center of his saving work. This “journey to the cross” is a handsome hardback with serious, Christ-centered, reflection.

As Ruth Chou Simons (of GraceLaced and Beholding and Becoming) says, 

Paul Tripp has once again led us past feel-good platitudes and into focused, Christward reflection. Through tension and tenderness, lament and thanksgiving, the Lenten season will transform us when it leads us to the cross of Christ.

The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent Aaron Damiani (Moody Press) $12.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $9.09

We’ve mentioned this more than once in past Lenten lists and it is a regular seller for us here at the shop. It seems two sorts of folks most appreciate this handsome paperback: first, those who have never really paid attention to giving things up for Lent or who don’t know much about Lenten practices at all.  It is a great (albeit conservative Protestant) introduction to this pivotal time in the church calendar and why it is good to spend a season being a bit more self-reflective and aware of our sins and foibles, needs, and desires.  I love the title and the subtitle, and Lenten-aware or not, it’s a great read. Secondly there are those who do, indeed, practice conventional Lenten habits and want to be into it. But yet… we need some help, some guidance, some reminders. Aaron Damiani is a good writer, a helpful sherpa on the Lenten way. He is the lead pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. 

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter edited by Charles Moore  (Plough Publishing) $24.00  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $16.80

One of our great Hearts & Minds event of the last year was the great opportunity given to us by Plough Publishing to help launch Charles Moore’s incredible book of readings from all across church history and theological traditions on the Sermon on the Mount (entitled Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together.) We did a well-attended Facebook live interview with Mr. Moore about his love for Biblical and spiritual teaching and his nearly encyclopedic awareness of great Christian literature from across the centuries. Well. Besides that robust anthology, we discovered (no surprise, really) that he was the editor behind two of our all-time favorite books, the Advent reader Watch for the Light and the Lenten anthology Bread and Wine. These are treasures — devotional books you can read and ponder over and over (in any season of the church year.) Having Bread and Wine here on sale is a great opportunity. While supplies last, as they say. A word to the wise.

A Time to Grow: Lenten Lessons from the Garden to the Table Kara Edison (WJK) $14.00  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $9.80

When we announced this earlier this Lenten season we sold a few and I ordered more right away — what a charming and fun book this is, reflecting on — or, I should say, helping us nurture — a sense of the organic nature of spiritual formation, a cultivation of an appreciation for growth. Edison is a United Methodist pastor and an avid gardener, a pastoral counselor and obviously an astute writer and theologian. Here she shows us that from the dead of winter (starting on Ash Wednesday) we long for Spring. Fertile soil and water and light, time and patience, work and trust, are all realties for her as a gardener and become metaphors as well. There are elements that can be used in congregations, there are some liturgies and even altar art ideas for decorating worship spaces. This is a great resource. Buy it now at this great discount and use it next year!

Grounded in incarnational spiritual exercises, this book marks out a Lenten journey of personal growth rather than denial.  T. Wilson Dickinson, author of The Green Good News: Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life. 

Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing Gayle Boss, illustrated by David Klein (Paraclete Press) $19.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $13.99

I know most of our BookNotes readers know of our affection for this kind of book that invites us into what Romans 8 calls the “groaning of creation.” Yes, this is a full-orbed, creation-based, reflection on Lent. It is a companion volume to the lovely, haunting, and wonderful All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (note that the title of that Advent one also has a title directly from Romans 8:19.) Wild Hope takes it’s inspiration telling the stories of animals on the endangered species lists. As poet Luci Shaw puts it, it offers, “Detailed, vivid accounts of an ark-full of wild lives in danger.” As Carl Safina writes, it is a “book pursued by grace on every page.”

Gayle Boss writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan while David Klein is a New York-based, award-winning graphic artist who has done illustrations with the world’s leading newspapers, magazines and publishing houses. We are happy to offer a few at this extra discount.\

Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week Jason Porterfield (Herald Press) $17.99  OUR SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF = $12.59

This is very much a “Holy Week” study, but we are so eager to get it into your hands, we have it here with our other 30% OFF titles. While supplies last, we’ll send this your way pronto at this extra bargain.

I was very pleased to write a bit about this when I did a list of books about peacemaking and the questions of violence a few months ago which it had just come out. (With the awful war waged by Russia, now, it is that much more relevant and complex, eh?) I noted that Fight Like Jesus was a very good new book, refreshing the arguments for Biblical pacifism and nonviolent resistance. The title should be appealing to all who are Jesus followers if we, indeed, committed to His ways.  We are in His way, after all, and should do whatever we can in appropriately Christ-like ways. And, man, does Jesus ratchet up what that looks like in his last days.

You recall his weeping as he enterer the City of Shalom (Jer-shalom) because they did not know the ways of peace. You remember that embarrassing with zealous John and that gross slicing of the ear, and Christ’s scolding John and healing the wounded guard. (John sure remembered it as he was still writing about it as an old man in his epistle when he said such non-violence was an example for us to follow.) Whew.

I will never as long as I live forget the moment I realized that Peter was an old man writing his first epistle in which he references Jesus’s nonviolence in the garden, saying that we were called to this and it is  an example to follow and how much regret the apostle must have been holding, all these years later, writing about the lesson he learned when Jesus rebuked him at one of his worst moments. 

For another example, many of us have preached — I hope you have heard it — about the implications of Jesus riding a donkey (not a warhorse or royal steed as they would expect) on Palm Sunday to fulfill the anti-war prophecy of Zechariah.

Well, those are just a few of the lessons of Holy Week and to have them and many others explore so forthrightly and tied together in one major book is a treasure. I’m very excited about this new book, glad for its lively readability and its good attentiveness to the Bible in its wholeness. (He has a degree from Fuller, by the way, and there is a forward to this by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight.) I very highly recommend it.

So many well known authors talk and write about the high esteem they have for the Bible (and look askance at those who they think do not) but as far as I can tell, they have never done this kind of solid work on this Biblical material. We all have blinders and miss stuff, so I’m very eager to commend Jason Porterfield for connecting dots, speculating a bit about what it all means, and preaching a full gospel message for those offs wanting to dwell in Holy Week a bit this Lent.  

HOLY WEEK BOOKS – 20% OFF

Seven Last Words: Cross and Creation  Andrew McGowan, illustrated by Bettina Clowney (Cascade Books) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

What a remarkable teacher and preacher Dr. McGowan is. (He is a Professor of Anglican Studies and Dean of the Divine School at Yale; he also wrote, among other texts, the excellent Ancient Christian Worship.) In this small book he reflects powerfully on the classic “seven last words.” There are moving art pieces that go along with each message, done artfully by Philadelphia artist and spiritual director Bettina Clowney (who died just over a year ago.) She attended Tyler School of Art, was trained in spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute, and studied iconography with Vladislav Andreyev. 

This is a moving and thoughtful and inspiring little book, highly recommended.

Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Perhaps you recall our announcement of this a few months back. Here’s some of what we said about it.

Readers of BookNotes know of our appreciation for this Jewish New Testament scholar who has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We have heard her, appreciate her feisty style, commend her books and DVDs full of insights about the nature of first century Judaism, the context in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement got started. I hope you know her book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week which is one of her most popular titles.

With AJ’s famous wit and vast knowledge of Scriptures in their historical context, she’s a helpful, enthusiastic teacher. In this new one, Witness at the Cross, she is studying the history, social context, and substantive views about the cross through the eyes of those who were present.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

Experience Holy Friday from the perspective of those who watched Jesus die: Mary his mother; the Beloved Disciple from the Gospel of John; Mary Magdalene and the other women from Galilee; the two men, usually identified as thieves, crucified with Jesus; the centurion and the soldiers; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Jews and Romans, friends and strangers, the powerful and the powerless, the hopeful and the despairing. In Witness at the Cross, Amy-Jill Levine shows how the people at the cross each have distinct roles to play in the Gospels. For each, Jesus has a particular meaning and message, and from each, we learn how those meanings and messages cross the centuries to any who would come to the cross today.

Praying the Stations of the Cross: Finding Hope in a Weary Land Margaret Adams Parker & Katherine Sonderegger (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE $17.59

It isn’t every day that a major, world class seminary professors and theologians like Dr. Sonderegger does a daily devotional of this sort. (Her first two hefty theological volumes in a multi-book series on Systematics are excellent.) Here she offers deep and thoughtful guidance about this ancient practice that can “strengthen our awareness of God’s healing presence.”

Margaret Adams Parker is also a theological educator and she is also a visual artist and here offers excellent writing and remarkable woodcuts. (She has an afterword about the painstaking process of creating these pieces, some that first started as charcoal sketches.) They are powerfully striking.

The process of these two well-informed, exceptional Protestant theologians collaborating (and some work previously done on their own) is itself a fascinating story. Their introductory chapter on visual art representations of Christ’s crucifixion is great and their history of the practices of “doing” the Stations of the Cross is very interesting, even inspiring. I’ve mentioned this one before, but felt like I should highlight it again. As Bishop Michael Curry notes, “Here, the weary will indeed find refreshment, and those in need of spiritual nourishment will be amply satisfied.”

This is truly a profound and spiritual moving book. The practice of the Stations is opened up and made newly accessible in a fully ecumenical way. The pervading spirit of the Stations is removed from self-absorbed penitential practices and wonderfully enlarged by the mercy of Christ toward the sins and sorrows of the world. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the result is generous orthodoxy in action.       — George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

Three Hours: Sermons on Good Friday Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I’ve recommended all of Rev. Dr. Rutledge’s books before, and most years I’ve shared that I am particularly drawn to her work during the moving time of Lent.

And, I have said, and I suspect most agree, that a small hardback with an artful cover that feels good in the hand and is helpful for the eyes, is just a gift, a precious thing to use devotionally. I cannot say enough about this fine little package, the well made, compact sized hardback, the theologically rich sermons in the grand Episcopalian tradition of this world-class Biblical scholar. Three Hours is an excellent little book, good to read any time, but, certainly, during Holy Week,  Thursday night, Friday or Saturday.

Three Hours isa profound and eloquent meditation on the most inconvenient Christian truth: that unless we reckon fully with the No, we dare not proclaim the Yes. Bold, generous, and force: Fleming Rutledge is a little bit on fire. I will cleave to this book in the uncertain days ahead.  — Charles Marsh, author, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Art of Holy Week & Easter: Meditations on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus  Sister Wendy Beckett (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Certainly one of our best selling Lenten devotions from the past has been The Art of Lent and we are thrilled that there is a somewhat shorter companion volume for Holy Week and Easter.

The thoughtful selections of classic paintings (some you will recognize, some you may not) coupled with a few contemporary ones by modern artists, brimming with Sister Wendy Beckett’s irrepressible wisdom and enthusiasm, this is a fabulous resource for your faith development and devotional life. Like the previous one, this is small, almost square sized (6.2″ x 5.4”) so easy to carry and not too expensive. 70 pages.

As one reviewer noted about the Holy Week one,“This little book explores the spiritual riches to be found in some of the world’s greatest paintings of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. Including thirty full-color masterpieces of Western art, this devotional will help you appreciate all that these paintings convey to the discerning eye.”

Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is a beautifully packaged, full Lenten devotional with a reflective tone, almost using an abbreviated sort of Lectio Divina. The readings are short and are so eloquent they deserve (and call forth) slow, meditative pondering. But yet, if you are like me, you sometimes like to read several at a time. (I know. Don’t judge me.) I really think you could use these short readings during Holy Week to great advantage. Maybe you’ll come back to it time and again more slowly. But you can start now.

Few authors have routinely with each new release captured our attention as has Marilyn McEntyre. Anyone who has heard me speak about books and reading has heard me rave about her splendid Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. A year ago her sequel to that, Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict, explores a handful of great writers whose prose and poetry is commendable. Some really liked her Make a List and her devotional Word by Word is great, as well. A book that perhaps isn’t as well known but which we have often highlighted in books talks and displays (back when we did off site stuff) was a small paperback called What’s in a Phrase? She wrote wise and interesting reflections on phrases in the Bible that just happened to catch her attention.

Where the Eye Alights is a Lenten version of that. Has your eye, like hers, alighted on a phrase? Might you ponder it, meditate upon it, pay attention?  That’s the trick, she seems to say. Listen to how she puts it:

Lent is a time of permission. Many of us find it hard to give ourselves permission to pause, to sit still, to reflect or meditate or pray in the midst of daily occupations — most of them very likely worthy in themselves — that fill our waking minds and propel us out of bed and on to the next thing. We need the explicit invitation the liturgical year provides to change pace, to curtail our busyness a bit, to make our times with self and God a bit more spacious, a little more leisurely, and see what comes. The reflections I offer here come from a very simple practice of daily meditation on whatever comes to mind in the quiet of the early morning.

The Undoing of Death Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

Yes, I know. I talk about this book every single year. Like her Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, it is an unparalleled and magisterial collection of remarkable sermons. There is so much in here, sermons that will stead you well for a lifetime. These are mostly Lenten and Holy Week sermons although there are some Easter, Easter week and Eastertide ones as well. From Ash Wednesday messages to Good Friday sermons (including a famous once preached about “The Cross at Ground Zero” dated September 11, 2001) through the whole season, these are the sorts of sturdy sermons we need. A few chapters have art pieces shown that she discusses to very good effect, including one on the “harrowing of hell.”

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering Jesus’s Crucifixion N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I guess most BookNotes fans know a bit about NT Wright’s visionary work about the Kingdom coming on Earth as it is in Heaven, the whole cosmos being redeemed and restored in a re(new)ed creation. Some of us still vividly recall his teaching from the then brand new book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels in our backyard. If that “surprised by hope” and “creation regained” worldview is the end game, so to speak, then what is the death of Christ about and for? Just to blot our our sins? Isn’t there more to it than that? Didn’t Jesus say something about the Kingdom coming? Isn’t the end of Revelation a healed creation? Here Wright looks at every key text in the NT about the cross, the crucifixion, the death of Christ, and exegetes the passages fairly, in view of the “new creation” hope.  I think Adam Hamilton could be right when he says that this is “One of the most important books on the cross ever written.”

The Crucified King: Atonement and the Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology Jeremy R. Treat (Zondervan Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I do not have time, now, to throughly describe this, let alone review it in a way that does justice to it, but I can say this: it offers a generative hybrid of rather standard, evangelical Protestant atonement theories and doctrines, and also a “Biblical theology” vision of the unfolding narrative and how the cross fits into the Kingdom vision of a renewed creation. Is it part John Murray and part N.T. Wright and part John Stott? Michael Bird calls it “judicious” and others have called it “provocative and elating.” How does the cross lead to the Kingdom? What kind of King wears a crown of thorns? Can we move from overly abstract systematic formulation and capture the vision of the trajectory of the redemptive narrative? 

A Community Called Atonement Scot McKnight (Abingdon Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I have often said that this is my favorite introductory book on the question of the meaning of atonement because it so clearly shares each of the several main theories of atonement in church history. McKnight is generous, a “both/an” rather than “either/or” approach, which is wise and ecumenical. So informative and inspiring…

Not only does he offer a primer on the role of the cross in God’s saving work in Christ, it insists — as authors like Michael Gorman would pick up in books like Cruciformity — that understanding this isn’t mere abstract theology, but it should shape us, informing the very nature of our congregations and our spiritual lives and our missional purpose in the world. 

Here is how the publisher put the implications of this. 

Christ identifies with humans to call us into a community that reflects God’s love (the church) — but that community then has the responsibility to offer God’s love to others through missional practices of justice and fellowship, living out its life together as the story of God’s reconciliation.

Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday Alan Lewis (Eerdmans) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

I believe this is the first book — okay, except for some Fleming Rutledge sermons, the only book — I’ve read about this remarkable and remarkably overlooked matter. And it was stunning to me, serious, academic, weighty, full of provocation and insight and what felt like a gift at the time. Douglas John Hall called it “a beautiful, sublime, and provocative meditation…”

Read carefully what a review years ago said in The Christian Century:

This is the most remarkable and moving book I have ever read. Every page was written by a dying, saintly theologian who stood in the very presence of God, before whom readers too will find themselves hushed in continuous prayer and deep meditation. As we turn over each page, we are led by the late Alan Lewis on a profound and moving theological pilgrimage from the foot of the cross to the garden tomb and through the darkness of Holy Saturday to the wonderful light of Easter morning. This is a superb book of rich dogmatic and liturgical theology that will bring readers to their knees and lift them up again into the audible presence of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus and the communion of the Holy Trinity. . . Between Cross and Resurrection is a book every theological student and every minister of the gospel should study, use, and cherish.

“He Descended to the Dead” – An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday Matthew Emerson (IVP Academic) $30.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

As the publisher notes: “the descent of Jesus Christ to the dead has been a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith, as indicated by its inclusion in both the Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds. But it has also been the subject of suspicion and scrutiny, especially from evangelicals. Led by the mystery and wonder of Holy Saturday, Matthew Emerson offers an exploration of the biblical, historical, theological, and practical implications of the descent.”

This is a tour de force! Emerson has given us a superbly written, incisively argued volume that makes the case for a doctrine that is often neglected or rejected outright by Protestants, illuminating many facets of its theological, liturgical, and pastoral importance along the way. Not everyone will agree with all the details, but this is an outstanding biblical, historical, and theological survey of Christ’s descent to the dead. I expect it to become the benchmark Protestant account of the subject for years to come, and it also opens up rich and fruitful avenues for further exploration.  — Suzanne McDonald, professor of systematic and historical theology at Western Theological Seminary, Holland MI

RESURRECTION – 20% OFF

Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything Adrian Warnock (Crossway) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This came out a decade ago and remains a much appreciated book for those who want a solid, pious, Biblically, evangelical explication of the point and power of the resurrection.  It is a serious read, but not overly academic. It is full of all sorts of implications of Christ’s victory and I’m sure it will be helpful to many. 

Raised with Christ is wonderfully accessible to ordinary Christians because Adrian Warnock is, in his own words, an ordinary Christian. Those who follow his popular blog will recognize his sincere and straightforward style, as he explains why the resurrection is not merely a dry doctrine about a past event but a promise that the life of the risen Christ can transform our lives today.             — Nancy Pearcey, Author, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity

Finally, a new generation of readers has a clear and highly readable book on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Raised with Christ, Christians are in for a delightful surprise as they grasp anew all the benefits which flow from Jesus’ resurrection–what an awesome difference it can make in our lives, our churches, and our communities! Thank you, Adrian, for helping to open our eyes to all the glories and the blessings of Christ’s resurrection and the power, present and future, which proceeds from it.  — Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder and CEO, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Exploring Its Theological Significance and Ongoing Relevance W. Ross Hastings (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This new release has been hailed as a “brilliant vision of Christ in all His redemptive resurrection splendor.” Hastings is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of a number of books, including Total Atonement, Theological Ethics, and Missional God, Missional Church. He has also served as a pastor in several churches so he is wise about exploring the riches of academic theology for real world discipleship and missional living.

In The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Ross Hastings demonstrates how central the resurrection is to the gospel, to Christ’s identity, and to our identity in Christ. Evangelical readers in particular will have their minds stretched and their spirituality enlarged by the dynamic resurrectional reality to which this book bears witness.  — Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary’s Seminary & University, author of Cruciformity.

Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

I have recommended this book to our BookNotes readers many times, and celebrated greatly when it came out in a handsome, compact-sized paperback (with a forward by Eugene and Jan’s son, Rev. Eric Peterson, himself a PC(USA) pastor.) This is such a great little book, a personal favorite, with three great chapters, each on one of the important post-resurrection encounters Christ had with his disciples. 

In Peterson’s hands, these become emblematic of a wholistic and properly human, embodied Christian life. He invites us to Resurrection Wonder, Resurrection Meals, and Resurrection  Friends. As it says on the back, “God made you for resurrection life.” Highly recommended!

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in April 2022. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR EASTER. ONE WEEK ONLY SPECIAL SALE PRICE – 30% OFF

ONE WEEK SALE ON LENT & EASTER BOOKS FOR KIDS.

And a few other books, too.
ORDER BY PALM SUNDAY at 30% OFF. 

While supplies last.

After April 10, 2022, these items return to the customary 20% OFF we often feature at BookNotes.

STAY TUNED: In a day or two we will have a list of adult books, some on sale, some specifically for reading during the end of Holy Week. 

As always, please use the order link at the end of the column which takes you to our Heart & Minds secure order form page. Once there, just tell us what you want and how you want it shipped. You can safely enter credit card info or we can send a bill for you to pay later. We will reply promptly and send your order out well wrapped from our central Pennsylvania shop. 

A Jesus Easter: Explore God’s Amazing Rescue Plan Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $12.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

Barbara Reaoch served with Bible Study Fellowship as the Director of their Children’s Division so she really knows what she’s doing. This is a wonderfully created devotional by an excellent, gospel-centered, fun teacher, complete with space for family journalling. This Bible study starts in the Old Testament, points us to the Christ, offers key lessons on Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Arranged with adaptable questions in a format of  explore, explain, engage enter in (which is a short prayer), a section of “Jesus Is___” exercises, and space for reflection and considering “answers.” A number of our customers loved her Advent one, A Jesus Christmas.

Bare Tree and Little Wind: A Story for Holy Week  Matali Perkins illustrated by Khoa Le (Waterbrook) $15.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.19

This is my favorite new children’s  Easter book of the year and it is fanciful and allusive, artful, the illustration stunning in a creative way and the telling a bit like a mysterious fairy tale. It isn’t a straightforward gospel narration but tells about Jesus and his death through the eyes of palm trees. We are invited to “join the wind and the trees who are celebrating One who brings life.” Bare Tree and Little Wind is lyrical and imaginative, with a conversation between the palm trees who tell Little Wind that the Real King is coming (but they meet Quiet Man instead of the loud and bossy king they were expecting.) When things go wrong, they wonder if they will ever clap again…

There is a scary bit when Roman soldiers try to burn down the tree garden, and they are scorched —  Jerusalem is darkened and the writer and artist hint at that gloom. (But after the resurrection they start to sprout green again and their seeds spread — an obvious analogy for adults to appreciate but it may take some conversation with children to figure out.)  Perkins is an award winning mainstream YA author and has a book on the Lutheran Broadleaf Books publishing house we have raved about called Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls.) This is a rare and stimulating book by a wonderful due of writer and illustrator. Highly recommended.

The Garden, The Curtain, and the Cross Carl Laferton (The Good Book Company) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

There are nearly a dozen of these very playful, interesting, and theologically robust stories in the “Tales That Tell the Truth” line, most connecting a New Testament story with a New Testament one. (The artist for almost all of them is Catalina Echeverri and she is energetic and whimsical, vivid, but the drawings are often small. What fun!) In this case the “garden” in the story is the Garden of Eden and it describes the goodness of creation, the fall and sorrow that came about, and the long hope for some answer to their mess. Jesus shows up, the story of the cross is well told (with a bit of a side story of the curtain in the temple tearing) and the happy news that we can be one with God again. It is solid and Biblically astute, yet really engaging. I love this series called “Tales That Tell the Truth.” A few have been made into board books, but I think they are abridged a bit…

Goodbye to Goodbyes: The True Story of Jesus, Lazarus, and an Empty Tomb Lauren Chandler, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

By the way, this one in the “Tales That Tell the Truth” series is really useful, too, for yet another way into the story, for young or old. This is about Jesus rolling the stone away from the grave of his friend Lazarus and saying goodbye, an allusive way to explain death. It shows how we all have to say goodbye sometimes. But then when his own death and resurrection are explained (with the disciples sad about saying goodbye) we learn about Christ’s defeat of death. And the celebration that creates. They have Jesus saying, “There is a day coming when we will say goodbye to saying goodbyes forever. Do you believe that?” Goodbye to Goodbyes: The True Story of Jesus, Lazarus, and an Empty Tomb is wonderful.

The Easter Story Brian Wildsmith (Eerdmans) $21.00  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $14.70

Those who collect high quality children’s picture books know the name Brian Wildsmith. HIs artwork combines intricate pen and ink drawings fully and vibrantly colorized laid over with gold, surrounded by often bright and always warm watercolor washes. This slightly oversized volume is excellently done, as you would expect, with a bit of busy whimsy, even (look closely and you’ll notice Jesus on the donkey holding a carrot.) With the vivid colors (and sometimes wings, added) one reviewer says his books are like the set of a grand opera.

‘Twas the Morning of Easter Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Elena Selivanova (Zonderkidz) $17.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

With lovely, conventional watercolors and good realistic art, this nice telling follows the cadence of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I was afraid it might be overly sentimental or cheesy, but I think it works really well. The soft watercolor paintings are excellent, making this a really nice book to enjoy and over.

 

The Easter Story for Children Max Lucado, Randy Frazee, and Karen Davis Hill, illustrations by Fausto Bianchi (Zondervan) $6.99   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $4.89

This great thin paperback book for ages 5-10 is nearly like a graphic novel with so many large, rich cartoons illustrations — it is dark and vivid and beautiful. It is drawn from the bigger hardback children’s Bible that was part of the “Story” project called The Story for Children.  Nicely done.

 

 

Easter Love Letters from God: Bible Stories Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sophie Allsopp (Zonderkidz) $16.99  ONE WEEK ONLY- 30% OFF SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $11.89

We really, really like this, as do the families we’ve sold it to in the past. There are two previous ones, Love Letters from God and one specifically for girls, Love Letters for a Girl’s Heart.) It is a very nice picture book, with great illustrations, telling the whole story of Holy Week but on each page there is a little pouch that looks like (well, actually is) an envelope that opens up with a hand written letter from God in the envelope. So besides the dramatic reading and aesthetically pleasing illustrations, there is this lift-the-flap action. The child gets to open the envelope, retrieve the letter, and read it, making it not only interactive and fun, but personalizing God’s great love. They say ages 4 – 8 but I’d say even a bit older, if they are open to this sweet approach. I think there are 7 “letters”, one for each of the major stories.

The Very First Easter Paul Maier, illustrated by Fransisco Ordaz (Concordia) $8.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – 30% OFF SPECIAL SALE PRICE = $6.29

This is a very nice book, nice paper, very lush, realistic art, a pretty straight telling of the story, sandwiched with a fictional device of a (very white) family having devotions, so it ends with some modern day discussion around the table with mom, dad, kiddos. That’s fine, if pretty traditional. There is a lot of text, so it wouldn’t work to read out loud in one “children’s sermon” I don’t think, as it is longer… But it gets the story told with vivid, conventional art.

A Very Happy Easter Tim Thornborough (The Good Book Company) $4.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $3.49

This is cute and yet sound and uses fairly basic language so it would work for little-er children. One of the fun things is that it says in the beginning to try to make faces that match some emotional words throughout the story. Worried, sad, happy, you know. It’s fun and actually a good way to communicate the impact of the story. Anyway, it would be fine to read out loud and have some fun with…  bright pictures of kids.  I hope you know his other distinctively styled (thanks to Jennifer Davision) Bible stories, including the popular Very Noisy Christmas.

SMALLER BOARD BOOKS

Holy Week: An Emotions Primer (in the “Baby Believer” series) Danielle Hitchen, art by Jessica Blanchard (Harvest House) $12.99   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

We are very fond of this but it’s a bit hard to know who can use it best and how. It is very simple, for toddlers, in a board book style, teaching emotions — joy, anger, sadness, fear, and more and helps them to understand emotions are good and made by God. So each scene from Holy Week offers in larger letters a one world emotion. It is really clear and honest and helpful and good, but is it too intense or sophisticated for the very young? Does the simplicity make it too mature for little children? I don’t know, but it’s a remarkable little book and are quite taken with it. There are a few in this series, teaching colors, numbers, and other things from the Bible.

Make Space for Jesus: Learning About Lent and Easter Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Boyajian (Paraclete Press) $11.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $8.39

Paraclete Press does very nice books, but their wheelhouse (what Roman Catholics might call a charism) is doing thoughtful books on spirituality. When they approach these sorts of themes in books for children, they are often really good. Laura Alary lives in Toronto and is a great storyteller; even though this is a short board book, you can tell she knows how to render the words just so. Ann Boyajian is a lovely illustrator; we have her Paraclete paperback Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children. This new board book, Making Space for Jesus is adapted from their larger picture book Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter.

Jesus Rose for Me: The True Story of Easter  Jared Kennedy (New Growth Press) $12.99

ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

This is a larger than usual board, but it does have those thick pages and just a few words on the page. Really bright, simple colors. It tells briefly the story of Jesus, his life and last week, death and resurrection. Here is how they describe it:  “Jesus is risen, and because Jesus is alive, every day is resurrection day! Jesus Rose for Me by author Jared Kennedy is a board book for children ages three to seven that captures the true meaning of Easter. Help your kids celebrate every Easter so they can learn how Jesus is our King.” I like that, despite the title, it seems to alludes to God’s huge redemptive project, not really just “for me.” But, at least, for me.

My First Easter Storybook Laura Richie, illustrated by Ian Dale (Cook) $8.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $6.29

Many folks liked their previous Advent Storybook and the little My First Advent Storybook. This one is quite small (like My First Advent Storybook) and has very nice art with Jesus and his people looking characteristically Middle Eastern and Jewish. There’s a cute little question with each for baby readers — “How many animals can you find” “Can you point to Jesus?” Nicely done.

 

 A FEW THAT ARE NOT ABOUT EASTER

Little Prayers for Ordinary Days Katy Bowser Hutson, Flo Paris Oakes, and Tish Harrison Warren (IVP Kids) $15.00   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.50

Oh my, even though there are plenty of little prayer books for children, there is nothing quite like this. Perhaps inspired somewhat by Tish Warren’s own Liturgy of the Ordinary or the author’s familiarity with Rabbit Room’s Every Moment Holy, this small book for kids is simple, the prayers short, nothing fancy, but sure and sound and God-glorifying. There are truly prayers for throughout the day, evoking God’s presence into the seemingly secular and mundane. Beth and I respect these women immensely and we are very eager to recommend it.  Perfect for a little Easter basket. Hooray!

The Tiny Truths Bible for Little Ones Joanna Rivard & Tim Penner (Zonderkidz) $12.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $9.09

Rather like a board book but more regular sized with a padded cover this is “perfect for little hands and little hearts.” It has twelve stories from the Old and New Testament, pleasantly told and illustrated with lovely, upbeat drawings. Okay, maybe they are a little goofy, but charming nonetheless. (This one matches the equally charming Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible and one called Wonder & Wisdom which retells some Psalms and Proverbs.) You will notice that these happily does not portray the Bible characters — from Moses through Jesus and his followers — as European but as persons with dark skin. Which is not to say (please!) that this is only for African American children. Right? Good for children maybe 4 – 6.

The Apostle’s Creed for All God’s Children Ben Myers, art by Natasha Kennedy (Lexham) $17.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

When we announced this several months back, some folks were just excited to see the thoughtful, theologically rich, Lexham Press entering the children’s book market. Some where glad to see the remarkably good (and remarkably brief) book on the Apostle’s Creed by Ben Meyers (The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism) done for children. And so we raved, glad for such a creatively illustrated, helpful, interesting children’s picture book on this important, ancient document. The explanation is child-friendly and poetic, solid but upbeat. The extra prayers and Scriptures are a real bonus.  Highly recommended.

Go and Do Likewise: The Parables and Wisdom of Jesus John Hendrix (Abrams Books) $18.00  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

You may recall us raving about this talented illustrator and graphic novelist and storyteller. His graphic comic rendition of Bonhoeffer called The Faithful Spy shows up as a classic by anyone’s standards. (His forthcoming illustrated study of the Holy Spirit [The Holy Ghost: A Spirited Comic] is coming next month and we’re excited, for sure!) This is a stunning picture book, but the strong, lavish art —not to mention the thoughtful retelling of the Lord’s stories and teachings — is so captivating, it should be appreciated by a wide range of children. See also his companion volume Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

How Much Is a Little Girl Worth Rachael Denhollander, illustrated by Morgan Huff (Tyndale Kids) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

How Much Is a Little Boy Worth Rachel & Jacob Denhollander  illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski (Tyndale Kids) $14.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.49

I hope you know the story of — and more, the person — Rachael Denhollander. She was the one who so bravely first exposed the awful sexual abuse of young women perpetrated by a doctor for the USA Olympic Gymnastic team; What Is a Girl Worth? My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics her own adult memoir, her story of learning to love gymnastics, her faith and athleticism, and the terrible negligence of those who should have protected these young women who were routinely assaulted. She is a strong woman of faith, a respected attorney, and a clear-headed but soft-hearted advocate for those who have been hurt. These two picture books (the boys one is brand new this week) are  both lovely and valuable, each reminding children that they are treasured and special, full of dignity and worth. 

Wonder Awaits!  Caroline Hamilton-Arnold (Chalice Press) $16.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.89

Several years ago there was a trend of using full color photography (especially of little children and nature) in kid’s books and it seems that has shifted back to illustration and artwork. It’s fun and striking to see one like this, again, with lots of full color, close up photos of real faces. Little ones will love this, I’m sure!  The words are bright but sparse, inviting kids to be curious, be present, be aware. This is very nice.

Breath: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time Laura Alary, illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund (Paraclete Press) $16.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $11.89

We noted our fondness for most of the kid’s books of Paraclete Press and the writing of Laura Alary, above. Here is one that would be nice to give at Easter, or sometime thereafter, as it moves us towards what comes next in the story: the Ascension. There are few books on this, let alone a lovely one like this that, in soft and gentle ways, also points us towards Pentecost.  Laura Alary got her MDiv from Knox College at the University of Toronto and her Phd at the University of St. Michael’s College. This juxtaposes a picture from Jesus’s day and a picture from a modern day family, exploring the question of “How can Jesus go away, yet promise to be with us always?” It is really nicely done.

Breathe is an invitation to wonder, delight, and celebration and incorporates breathtaking illustrations along with masterful reflection and prose. True to Alary’s style and other work, Breathe is a must-have for every parent and Christian Educator I know. — Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit  Esau McCaulley, illustrated by LaTonya Jackson (IVP Kids) $18.00  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

Oh my, many have been waiting for this one since it was announced a while back. The fabulous and respected IVP publishing house has launched out into kids books and this is not only fairly unique, but is written by one of their authors, the esteemed Biblical scholar Esau McCaulley (of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.) McCaulley, you may know, got his PhD in Biblical studies under N.T. Wright (I’ve heard him talk a bit about being a black guy from a deep South, black church studying with Anglicans in Scotland of all places!) Dr. McCaulley writes od-eds for The New York Times and one notable piece was about his experience of his wife being away on military service and him being for a season functionally a single dad. I have a hunch he knows a lot about the hair of his beautiful black daughter.

This book, though, is, truly, about Josey Johnson’s hair and about the upcoming celebration of Pentecost. In the story — energetically illustrated in a way that is just full of motion, it seems — Josey has to get her hair done and buy a new red dress as they get ready for the church commemoration. Besides the beauty shop, they visit an art museum, too. Of course there is the question, “What is Pentecost?” And, I might add, “What difference does it make?” Might it have something to do with the claim on the back cover that says:

We’re all different because God is creative. Each one of us is God’s unique work of art.

You’ll have to get this one to put it all together, but it is an exciting story, a tender story, an educational one for most of us (who may not know that much about Pentecost, actually.) So, yep,  this is a vivid story about a celebration of a girl’s hair and a key moment in the liturgical calendar. If that isn’t interesting to you, I don’t know what is!

The O in Hope: A Poem of Wonder Luci Shaw, artwork by Ned Bustard (IVP Kids) $18.00   ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.60

This magnificent and artful book came out near the end of last year, one of the very first IVP released when they launched their new IVPKids line. We have complimented it before and suggested it to our readers. Of course, who doesn’t love the poetry of Luci Shaw. And who that follows BookNotes doesn’t know how we appreciate Ned Bustard, creative director and editor at Square Halo Books? A clever poem, lined out with colorful visuals, about hope? A very nice Easter gift, we think!  Highly recommended.

The Biggest Story Bible Storybook Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway) $29.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $20.99

We have bunches of children’s Bibles with all sorts of literary and art styles, theological tones, reading levels and prices. We believe families of young children should have several and even when kids start reading, such volumes can helpfully supplement their efforts to read the Bible. There are so many and we love a lot of them.

This one is very new and is understandably getting a lot of attention. It is well made, hefty, the spine sewn, the paper sturdy, and it includes a ribbon marker. The art is edgy and modern and spectacularly colorful. The content, as the publisher notes, “features chapters that are short enough to be read in one sitting and imaginatively retells the biblical narrative in one continuous story, helping kids connect the dots from Genesis to Revelation.”

In fact, the The Biggest Story Bible Storybook is an expanded version of the earlier book, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden. If you ponder the subtitle a bit you’ll note the way that passage from Genesis 3 about defeating evil becomes the earliest promise of redemption and how the whole history of salvation unfolds with covenant and fulfillment with twists and turns towards Jesus and his Kingdom. I liked that colorful book and applaud the publisher for expanding it to this breathtaking, fuller book. With memorable retellings of 104 Bible stories in 524 pages (and a prayer at the close of each story) it’s a keeper.

DeYoung is a pastor formerly of Ann Arbor Michigan, now in North Carolina and has authored many books. He is also a professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.)

Don Clark is an artist and cofounder of Invisible Creature, a widely respected and award-winning design studio based in Seattle, Washington. He has worked with clients such as Target, Pixar, NASA, The New York Times, LEGO, and Apple. Don and his wife, Erika, have three children and live on a small farm just outside Seattle.

Everybody Always for Kids  Bob Goff with Lindsey Goff Viducich, with illustrations by Diane Le Feyer (Tommy Nelson) $17.99  ONE WEEK ONLY – SPECIAL 30% OFF SALE PRICE = $12.59

Whenever we are asked for upbeat and assessable books with a great message for elementary age kids, we recommend the children’s version of Bob Goff’s Love Does or, especially, this one, celebrating ways to love everybody, always. This retells Bob’s whimsical stories in Everybody Always (with the help of his daughter, Lindsey Goff Viduccich, who is an elementary teacher.) There are 40 entertaining stories and some colorful illustrations. A nice presentation page, too.195 pages. Fantastic!

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in April 2022. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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4 New Books on Literature and Art — “The Scandal of Holiness” by Jessica Wilson Hooten, “Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves” by Mary McCampbell, “Rembrandt Is in the Wind” by Russ Ramsey, and “The Art of New Creation” edited by Jeremy Begbie and others – ALL 20% OFF

One of the events we were honored to host here at the bookstore a few years ago was an author appearance/speaking engagement and celebration of a then just released book by Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books (Brazos Press.) Still enhanced with those fabulous linocuts by our friend Ned Bustard, it just came out in paperback (now $19.99.) At that event, Karen explained the thesis of the book — that reading classic literature can not only be entertaining and interesting and edifying, but can actually help form within us Christian virtues. The book has sold well and many have loved it. In it, she famously linked a certain classic novel with a certain virtue. It’s what I playfully sometimes call a “two-fer” — you learn both about virtue/character formation and you learn a Christian view of reading. You could even call it a three-fer” because you also learn the basic plot lines and themes of a dozen great works, from Austen to Dostoevsky to Melville to Dickens.

One of the questions I asked Karen was how this actually happens. I know some people that have read most of those great books and, frankly, they can nonetheless be real jerks. Heck, I have read some of those books and I have no illusion that I consistently exhibit these virtues. I read all kinds of good books and it hasn’t rubbed off all that well. I wonder why that is and maybe you do, too.

Dr. Prior shows that living with these great stories can deepen our character; she moves beyond what we can learn from them, to what we can become when we read well. But in that book, focused as it is on certain classic virtues cultivated from certain specific books, she seems a bit less interested in exploring how it happens. I’m still haunted by the question.

Now we have two brand new books that continue this conversation and, I think, help answer the question I posed to Karen. Enter Jessica Hooten Wilson and Mary W. McCampbell, with their two new releases, The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints (Brazos Press) and Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy (Fortress Press.) 

Both help us along by exploring specific stories that can shape us (so it makes perfect sense that Saint Prior endorses them both quite nicely) and both authors tell us a bit of how it happens. They are, I think, perfect for those who read On Reading Well and liked it and are eager for more. They go “further on and deeper in” to this topic, with verve and joy and upbeat relevance. Both are also, I think, good for those who got On Reading Well but didn’t like it as much as they thought they might (if there are any such souls.) Love On Reading Well or not, these are the two to read next. Prior herself says so. They are among my favorite books of this season, and I’m thrilled to tell you just a bit about them. And then I will add two more in the same ballpark, two about the visual arts.

The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Jessica Hooten Wilson is a very accomplished writer, and super-smart scholar with a PhD from Baylor University. She holds a prestigious position as the Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas. Her essays, literary criticism, cultural analysis, and spiritual reflections have been published in Comment, The Christian Century, The National Review, and the Englewood Review of Books. She wrote a major (and award-winning) academic book on “demonic authority in the fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky” which might give you a hint of her interests and tastes. Interestingly, she has another hardback book coming (from Zondervan Academic; $29.99) in May 2022 — we are taking pre-orders now for Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before (which introduces about 35 famous writers from various cultures and genres, ranging from Confucius, Augustine, Margery Kempe, W.E.B. DuBois, Simon Weil, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolfe, David Foster Wallace, through Marilyn Robinson and a poem by Wendell Berry.)

This brand new one, though,The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination…, is very much about fiction writers. Like Karen Swallow Prior, is convinced of and passionate about the formative power of reading. Her goal, rather than extolling virtues (a la Prior’s appropriation of Aquinas, say) is holiness, as taught directly in the Bible. Reading great literature becomes a spiritual practice. The foreword is wonderfully crafted by Lauren Winner. Winner’s opening ends with these lines:

I’ll be conversing with, riffing on, and returning to The Scandal of Holiness for months and years to come, because, although it is not fiction, like the best fiction, The Scandal of Holiness prods the imagination. It opens out. It exceeds itself.

This book is about a key aspect of the formation in holiness that Dr. Hooten invites us to — she shows that “learning to hear the call of holiness requires developing a new imagination.” Yes, this book is about the imagination.

By exploring many novels old and new (and citing all sorts of other writers, from Walter Brueggemann to Buechner to von Balthasar, she explains how “God opens up a way of living that extends far beyond what we can conjure for ourselves.” This is really, really good stuff — I speak about this often, myself, in workshops and classes, and can get rather fiery, but seeing it so eloquently described with so many, many respectable case studies and literary examples, reminds me how wonderful and important this line of thought really is.

As Russell Moore (who is quite an amazing reader, himself) writes of it:

This book will spur you to read more and will show you how to do it. Wilson knows the difference between being well-read and being holy as she calls us to strive for holiness even in our reading. This book illustrates how good literature can stir the imagination and how the imagination can stir us toward holiness. The voice of this book is not of an English teacher asking if you have done your reading but instead that of a smart and humble friend who says to you: ‘Let me introduce you to some friends who know exactly what you’re going through right now.’  — Russell Moore, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul

By the way, as Moore noted, this is not just a literature prof (or bookseller) nagging you to read more, but it is a friend and guide to a better life, a more deeply Christian sort of discipleship, beckoning us to more generous and wise vision of the world. She wants to know God and God’s ways.  In fact, there are icon-like drawings to start each chapter (not attributed, which is odd) and an excellent devotional reflection at the end of each chapter which includes a nice paragraph excerpted from one of the novels she discusses, a short Scripture, and a quote or prayer from church history. (There are also great discussion questions making it even a more useful resource for your devotions, and, certainly, terrific for book clubs.) We have only rarely seen this juxtaposition of fiction and Scripture and reflection, so these brief readings are themselves remarkable.

Here are just a few of the novels (or stories) that Wooten tells us about, showing how they can form our imaginative vision, our world and life view, if you will: Lazarus by Vodolaskin, That Hideous Strength by Lewis, Book of the Dun Cow by Wangerin, Man of the Mountain by Hurston, In the Time of Butterflies by Alvarez, Kristin Lavransdatter by Undset, Diary of a Country Priest by Bernanos, The Violent Bear It Away by O’Connor, The Power and the Glory by Greene, A Lesson before Dying by Gaines, and Last Gentleman by Percy. 

Surveying these and many more I kept thinking that I wish Eugene Peterson could have lived to have seen this book in his lifetime. He was an advocate for reading these very sorts of books (and wrote about their impact in his own life and ministry.) Hooten is certainly right about her thesis that spending time with these great authors and their acclaimed stories and draw us more deeply into the story of God, and can make us holy. Peterson would say it just like that and he would have endorsed this breathtaking volume. (Which makes me think of our friend, novelist and biographer of Peterson, Winn Collier, who has founded, at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. It did not surprise me to hear that he and Jessica are friends and that they are dreaming up some possible collaborations.)

Here, to further entice you to order this wonderful (225 page) book, is the admittedly allusive and suggestion-rich table of contents:

  • Foreword by Lauren F. Winner
  • Introduction
  • 1. Holy Foolishness
  • 2. Communion of Saints
  • 3. Creation Care as a Holy Calling
  • 4. Liberating Prophets
  • 5. Virgin, Bride, Mother
  • 6. Contemplative and Active Life
  • 7. Sharing in His Suffering
  • 8. Ars Moriendi
  • Conclusion

I love the cover, don’t you —the flame emerging from the book? Yes! The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints is quiet fire.

Imagining Our Neighbors As Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy  Mary W. McCampbell  (Fortress Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I think Beth and I first met Mary at her apartment in Grand Rapids a decade ago during the legendary Calvin Festival of Faith & Music, curated by Ken Heffner and his crackerjack team of pop culture savants. I do know she has a very, very nice line about Ken in the acknowledgements, as well as to her friend and colleague, film studies guru Dr. Joe Kikasola, of Baylor’s New York City arts program. These are not inconsequential influences. We love McCampbell’s perspective, her writing style, her wit and grace, not to mention her deep academic knowledge (her PhD is from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. Not bad for a Tennessee gal who has written about distinctively post-secular USA writers like Chuck Palahniuk.)

She ends the book telling of a conversation in a cool coffee shop with indie singer Monique Aiuto, wife of Brooklyn poet and pastor, Vito Aiuto, with whom Monique founded the quirky worship band Welcome Wagon, talking about their song Up on the Mountain which then segues to a line from Dave Eggers What Is the What and ends with a line from a 1957 Dexter Avenue Baptist Church sermon by MLK. It is that kind of fabulous book. 

In a way, Imagining Our Neighbors… is a step even further away from Karen Swallow Prior’s ‘learn virtue from the classics’ approach in On Reading Well than is Hooten Wilson’s The Scandal of Holiness. Yet, as with Jessica’s volume, Dr. Prior likes this one, too. A lot. Here is what she says on the back cover:

Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves will instruct and delight any reader who cares even a little about art, imagination, and humanity. Mary McCampbell is a faithful, loving guide who will teach you things you didn’t even know you needed to know, and this is a book you won’t even realize you needed until you’ve read it.                                          — Karen Swallow Prior, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books

Jessica Hooten Wilson, too, has raved about it, understanding as she does, why this volume is so very important, similar to hers, but different:

McCampbell has given us a vision of a flourishing community: one full of art, music, film, and fiction that tells the stories of who we are and the diverse gifts we bring to the table. Her book will have us opening our eyes to more clearly see those who are different from us — either because of gender, skin color, ability, or political opinions — as our neighbors.                                                                                                     — Jessica Hooten Wilson, University of Dallas, author of The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints

As you can pick up from these descriptions, Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves…is, like Prior and Hooten’s books, about the imagination. About deepening it, using it artfully, cultivating the practice of reading so as to enlarge the heart and set loose our imaginative capacities, all for the sake of see as God might want, even cooperating with God’s work in our lives and in God’s world. You know that promise that “glory to glory” promise in 1 Corinthians 3, showing that God is working on us, transforming us into Christlikeness from the inside-out? This is partially how it happens, with literature and the arts being conduits of virtue and holiness and Christlikeness and, yes, glory. She shows how the arts can be prophetic, even, helping us see the image of God in others, helping us understand a bit of what she calls “Divine hospitality” and motivating us, like the Hebrew prophets, to denounce idolatry and injustice. Such good reading and viewing and listening can give us sturdy hope.  As Mako Fujimura puts it, McCampbell, “paints a landscape of mystery, hope, and splendor for our imagination to be fed and to be nurtured toward the New Creation.”

Although the subtitle on the cover of McCampbell’s book says it is about how “the arts” can shape us, it focuses largely on what she calls “narrative art” (that is, fiction writing, music, TV shows, films, graphic novels, even memoir.) And it makes the very powerful case — a case I often try to make but never as thoroughly or as compellingly as Mary does here — that we become more empathic as we enter in, engaging with the narratives of others. 

Which is what makes this book stand out — it is about empathy. It is about learning to love. It is about what the New Testament calls agape. She actually explores a lot about how empathy works and why it is important for human flourishing, for justice, for fidelity to God’s ways in the world. She easily moves from Graham Greene to the Holy Bible, from Lars and the Real Girl to faithful theology, from The Hate U Give to spiritual formation, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to Pope Benedict, from The Walking Dead to Rectify to Blankets to Magnolia to Better Call Saul to that movie about Mr. Rogers to a quote from Henri Nouwen. Naturally, in the introduction she has a citation from David Dark’s classic Everyday Apocalypse and she invites us all to ponder how all this popular art can draw us into ways of God’s own mercy.

Please note carefully these words of Christina Edmondson, Christian psychologist and cohost of Truth’s Table podcast and author of the brand new Faithful Antiracism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change that we reviewed in a previous BookNotes last week:

McCampbell takes the ingredients of the familiar and invites us on a theological and experiential journey to self and neighbor compassion. In her book, both storytelling and story analysis, from film to Holy Scripture, inspire and equip us to grow what seems so lacking today: empathy. 

I so enjoyed skimming through this quickly (as I did with Jessica Hooten Wilson’s) like a kid in a candy store. But these books are not candy, tasty and fun as they are. Reading these books is important spiritual work; they are good tools for nurturing the Christian mind, resources for our journey towards Kingdom living, opportunities for fascinating faith formation for being thoughtful readers in these days. Christina Edmondson is right about both books when she says of Imagining Your Neighbors, “I’d encourage readers to move through the text slowly, learning from the phrases and insights, and even vicariously from McCampbell’s style of engagement with the arts, to strengthen their empathy muscle.”

Here’s some of your workout if you take up this particular soul-stirring, muscle-building agenda with McCampbell as your coach:

  1. Introduction: The Imagination as a Means to Love
  2. Art as a Model for the Empathetic Imagination
  3. Empathy for the Wretched and Glorious Human ConditionStories as Self-Reflection
  4. Who Is Our Neighbor?
  5. Structured for Empathy
  6. Growing Empathy for Our Enemies
  7. Conclusion — Empathy in the Greatest Story

Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith Russ Ramsey (Zondervan Reflective) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Perhaps you saw this brand new book listed over at our Jubilee Conference special online bookstore, that e-commerce site we set up to correlate with Jubilee 2022. (I explained all that and invited you to that website at a previous BookNotes, here.) Ramsey is a good and clear writer and is pizzzazed, charged up telling us all what he has been learning as he has fallen in love with great art. Like the above books on literature, this one, too, hopes to help us deepen our imagination, live more mindfully aware of the good gifts that artists can bring. He wants to do this “through the eyes of faith,” as the subtitle says, making it ideal for anyone wanting to relate art appreciation with Biblical faith. Because he doesn’t get heavy into aesthetic theory or interact much with the robust conversation that has been going on about faith and art, it is good for, really anyone. There is a very good forward by Makoto Fujimura.

Here is what I wrote about it there at the Hearts & Minds Jubilee bookstore website:

Ramsey is a pastor and preacher and an ideal teacher to help us become acquainted with a handful of the world’s most famous artists and art pieces. Not all of the painters explored here were good people — but all wrestled with God’s goodness and grace and offered stunning visual reminders of the deepest question of life, including matters of faith.

Rev. Ramsey thrills readers with background drama (including a riveting bit about one of the most costly art heists in history, which included Rembrandt’s painting of the disciples of Jesus begging him to calm the seas, which remains missing to this day.) There is Bible study, some basic inspirational teaching, and lots of good info about the artists and their masterpieces. This will appeal to anyone wanting to think about art in relationship to Christian faith — ideal to open up the relevance of our “Jubilee vision” where God can be found everywhere! What a great read!

You know, I read through this quickly (an occupational hazard) and found so much so very interesting. I didn’t ponder the deeper meaning that much (yet!) and still found it fabulously edifying. And then I saw these comments from my friend, novelist Shawn Smucker, who I trust very, very much. Get this:

Russ Ramsey was kind enough to give me an early chapter of this book a few years ago when I was preparing to go on a silent retreat and asked him for a work of art I might spend some time meditating on during my weekend away. Thanks to Russ’s recommendation, I spent hours contemplating Rembrandt’s painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. I was shaken by the depiction of this scene and the disciples’ question to Jesus, ‘Do you not care that we are perishing?’ Russ’s gentle shepherding of my understanding regarding the painting and the Biblical story behind it was a balm in my life just when I needed it. I know that this book will be the same for you.                     — Shawn Smucker, author of Theses Nameless Things, The Weight of Memory, Light from Distant Stars

See?

I might add, here, that besides being a helpful spiritual guide, Ramsey is a very fine writer and did a set of three books that are hard to describe — they are rich devotional reading in a series called “Retelling the Story” starting with The Advent of the Lamb of God, The Passion of the King of Glory, and The Mission of the Body of Christ. (Each is quite handsomely done by IVP and goes for $18.00.) If you know them you won’t be surprised that this new art volume is by the same author, a serious Bible guy, a creative himself, a writer who wants us all to grow in our imaginative worldview and live into God’s ways amidst a broken culture that still offers rumors of glory.

Ramsey also wrote a book that moved me very deeply, about his own human emotions and struggles when he came face to face with death. That memorable, award-winning book came out in 2017 and is called Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP; $16.00.)

In any case, Russ Ramsey is an author we respect, a writer you should know, and we are thrilled to promote Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith here at our 20% off BookNotes special. 

Here’s what I love about Russ Ramsey’s latest project–it understands down deep that Truth is exclusive to no party or sect; that Goodness arrives in the form of the lonely, the ill, and the outcast; and that Beauty, amid the church’s moral twilight, might be the last apologetic that holds. — Leif Enger, author of Virgil Wander and Peace Like A River

The Art of New Creation: Trajectories in Theology and the Arts edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, and W. David O. Taylor (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I must admit, that although this remarkable book may be just a bit of a niche taste, it is one I”m personally very excited about. It is just exquisitely good for those who care about the deep conversation around faith and the arts, Christianity and creativity, Christians in the world of the contemporary visual arts. Because it not only offers a glimpse into so many different artists and art styles (from modern dance to sculpture, classical music to abstract painting and more ) in dialogue with theology and Scripture and missional envisioning,  it is a book that I just want to press into the hands of almost anyone who reads BookNotes. Really, it is, in many ways, a model for thinking Christianly and witnessing creatively that could inspire similar dreams and visions in other fields and careers. I have anticipated this almost more than any other book this year, and we are wonderfully elated to get to tell you just a bit about it here, now. It’s just so very, very good.

Perhaps you may recall a breathy BookNotes we did last November after we had a book display at the wonderful CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) conference in Austin. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we didn’t get to display most of what we had hoped to at that big gig, so we did this big list here. (The 30% off deal is done, but they are still on sale at our BookNotes 20% off.) We had just heard about this book about that time, so listed it then as a pre-order. And now it is out!  Hooray!

I didn’t know the half of it then, but here is what I wrote about it in that November BookNotes art blog:

This forthcoming volume is going to offer great chapters from the breathtaking DITA10 Conference held at Duke Divinity School exploring how our understanding of the relationship between creation and new creation is informed by and reflected in the arts. I have not read any of it yet, but can’t wait. I know the great African American, Pennsylvania artist Steven Prince has a chapter as does the aforementioned Jennifer Allen Craft, here paired with Norman Wirzba, and loads of what look like breath-taking pieces by dancers and poets and visual artists and musicians.

And I shared this great quote which seemed to capture well the importance of The Art of the New Creation:

From music to painting to film, this volume brings theologians and practicing artists together to imagine God’s new creation that, as Begbie highlights, is ‘before us’ but not yet realized. This mind-bending idea begs for embodied expression, and our cultural moment—rife with fear and injustice—needs those who can transform our imaginations for a new world to come. This collection is an enlivening contribution to the theology and arts conversation, which can often be abstract in its conclusions and outcomes. Instead, we are offered perspectives revealing that the integration of theology and the arts can be a vital nexus from which to imagine God’s new creation in our broken world.  —  Shannon Steed Sigler, executive director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Seminary

Isn’t this just remarkable? We don’t hear that many sermons about “new creation”, really, let alone how artists can help us imagine what it means to live towards that vision. And we don’t have that many books, even among all the very, very good ones, about various careers and callings, that ask how this essential Biblical teaching informs our very practices. This really is a stunning idea and our hats are off to the DITA10 folks who put together this event, and the book that happily emerged from it. (DITA, by the way, is the Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts and there were a bunch of DITA conferences and symposia, this one in 2019 being the 10th. Hence, DITA10.)

Kudos also to InterVarsity Press (IVP) who did a nice job with both black and white illustrations and pictures and some full color plates in this paperback edition. This is in their on-going, substantive, “Studies in the Theology and the Arts” series and the cover art reflects the uniform design of that amazing series. I don’t know how an indie publishing house can afford to do these kinds of books that will obviously not be featured in the inspirational kiosks and typical big bookstores (too artsy for the Christian bookstores and too religious for the big secular stores, who would love this, but their religion sections are filled with Joel Olsteen and Left Behind novels.) So here we are, trying to champion this rare and vivid example of a fabulous entry into the world of modern art, in light of the restoration and newness that the God of the new Covenant has promised.

That N.T. Wright did the closing sermon makes perfect sense, and it is inspiring. Thanks be to God.

Here is the splendid table of contents. It’s almost as good as being at the event, even better if you are an introvert. Enjoy being a part of DITA10. Without out any travel costs. Order one today.

Table of Contents:

Foreword by Natalie Carnes
Preface: Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, and W. David O. Taylor

There Before Us: New Creation in Theology and the Arts  Jeremy Begbie
Part I: Soundings
1. In God’s Good Time: Poetry and the Rhythms of New Creation  Devon Abts
2. Sketching the Incarnation: Ephrem of Nisibis on the Theological Significance of the Artist’s Craft  Charles Augustine Rivera
3. Love’s New Creation: Reconciling Two Approaches to Theology and Arts  Daniel Train
4. Transcendence, the Arts, and New Creation: An Empirical Approach  Kutter Callaway
5. The Artist and the Environmental Crisis: A Paradigm for Human Living  Sara Schumacher
6. The White Savior as Diseased Creation: A Theological Diagnosis and Plea Jacquelynn Price-Linnartz
7. Singing Ourselves into the Future: Worship and the New Creation  W. David O. Taylor
8. A Singing Creation: Music Making and Christian Maturity in Colossians 3:16  Amy Whisenand Krall
Part II: Conversations
9. Placemaking for New Creation  Jennifer Allen Craft and Norman Wirzba
10. We Flourish in a Syncopated Peace: Creation and New Creation in Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets  Richard Hays and Micheal O’Siadhail
11. Creation and New Creation in J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis  Malcolm Guite and Judith Wolfe
12. Reflections on Performing: Living into the New Creation  Elizabeth Klein and Shadwa Mussad
Part III: Arts in Action
13. Leah Glenn, Dancer
14. Lanecia A. Rouse Tinsley, Visual Artist
15. Steve Prince, Visual Artist
16. Linnéa Spransy Neuss, Visual Artist
17. Awet I. Andemicael, Musician
The Surprising Faithfulness of God: A Sermon at DITA10  N. T. Wright

Thanks for reading our BookNotes.Thanks for sending orders to our shop in Dallastown. We’d love to get these books known and sent out. We appreciate your support as you help us help you. Like one of Karen Swallow Prior said in one of the quips about one of these books — they will teach you things you may not have even known you needed. We think this is true, and we hope this helps. May be books be a blessing. Enjoy!

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“This Here Flesh” by Cole Arthur Riley and 5 More Recent Books About Racism — 20% off

We are grateful for those who read, and even shared with others, our previous BookNotes, that list of what I take to be some important fairly recent books on race and racism that we’ve stocked in the last year. There were some good ones I missed, some I didn’t list because we had already pushed them a bit, and a few that are forthcoming, soon to be released that we will mention soon enough. But it was still a strong, current list.

I want to add this short addendum to that last BookNotes. I feared getting a bit long and I didn’t want you to lose interest so I wrapped it up prematurely. Here, now, is a quickie shout-out to six more important books about this topic that simply must be mentioned. The one I’ll start with is one I’ve already written about (and I even did a little facebook video announcement the day it came, just one month ago.) It is by Cole Arthur Riley, a friend that Beth and I both admire; it is her debut release, and I hope, not her last.

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us Cole Arthur Riley. (Convergent) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Cole Arthur Riley is a very talented writer and has hit a home run with this intergenerational memoir laden with poetic and creative reflections, Bible lessons, personal stories, ruminations on other great literature. It is filled with lament and laughter, too, making it a very compelling read. It do not mean to make it sound cheap like some bodice ripper or pulp fiction but it is a page-turner. She moves from creative reflection to hard, even painful stories of her family, to intimate details from her girlhood — her dad braiding her hair, her ashen knees, her taking up ballet with other little girls but having the wrong color shoes, her weird feelings listening to an overheated and overly graphic preacherman.  She tells of contemporary stuff — eye surgery, her struggle with a chronic illness that has her in a wheelchair during a very special trip to Paris, her husband tying her shoes, her interest in combining a life of spiritual contemplation and rigorous social activism, their re-naming their new property outside of Ithaca which had been named after the owner in 1820 (“we didn’t like the idea of adopting the name of a man who might’ve hated me or my Blackness or our love.”)  

Her gramma is in the book a lot and it is a privilege to get to know her a bit. She treated Cole tenderly and honestly and she has some remarkable spunk. (“Chile, I grew up on Spam and Daniel and the lion’s den” she says when talking about her own abuse and finding some solace in Bible stories. 

In wise lines, Cole reflects on these remarkable insights — not exactly character lessons, but deep wisdom of how things can be — from her gramma; in wondering why God did protect her from hunger (or the abuse from a man in the family, known only as “the man who was not her father”) she writes that “her belief in the existence of God was durable, which did not reduce her anger but enlarged it.” 

Her father is an even more colorful figure than her gramma, and it is worth the price of the book to learn of their relationship. He was a hustler, struggled with some hard stuff, seems to have a heart of gold. The father-daughter stuff here is, in the style good memoir, shown, not told, which is to say she bears witness their life together and the stories — like the stories of her grandmothers abuse (religiously and sexually and socially) — are redemptive. I have post-it notes in my copy of the manuscript citing passages I could quote (or read out loud if I were doing a book talk on it) and many are beautifully told episodes about her dad. I won’t spoil it for you, but you should know that this is curious sort of intergenerational memoir, and one that fiercely believes that stories such as these matter. I made me glad for her vivid memory, for her extended families willingness to tell the stories (it is apparently quite the custom, as many of these tales have been recited often, she notes) and for the hard work (mentioned only briefly at the end) of interviewing family members and getting these oral histories while there was still time. Yes, as she puts it near the stunningly beautiful final page, “stories are our greatest teachers.”

I believe my ancestors knew things about freedom I can’t even begin to articulate myself. Maybe liberation is not as linear as we assume. Each generation may seem more liberated, but there are always new forms of bondage — virtue signals, digital radicalization, activism perfected by a disordered appetite for influence. It is much better, then, to learn what freedom sounds like. Just because you’ve found it once doesn’t mean you will never wander again. We must teach our children and our children’s children what it means to be free. What it feels like to be whole. To exhale. And stories are our great teachers.

This Here Flesh is arranged in a way where each chapter carries a theme. It is not (as with her popular Black Liturgies instagram) primarily a devotional, let alone short quotable for serious inspiration. Nor is it straight memoir. It is a combo of reflection, story, exegesis —of her life, her past, the Bible, her changing faith — and delivered with exquisite lines. 

Most chapters start with what might be considered a creative writing entry. Some will adore these poetic ruminations, these artful word-images that bring to mind what the highbrow lit crit folks call magical realism. Like a good poem, these ought not to be rushed through, and, mystified, I’ve returned more than once to a few. Next comes a story, full of lively lines, great stories, powerful images. But these segue easily into reflections on what Ms Riley seems to think about the world, her faith, her journey towards a deeper, honest sort of spirituality and her own interior life. Much of the book is an interrogation, as the deconstructive scholars say, of standard fare evangelical religiosity.

She has never been a card-carrying, straight-arrow, evangelical theologian (thanks be to God, some of her friends will cry!)  but yet she knows that world well. Some of her most passionate entries — I’d call them tirades but that sounds negative; sermons but that sounds too self-righteous, calling them discourses sounds too aloof — are in reaction to unkind or uncreative ideas and habits she’s noticed within that subculture. (I chuckled when she mentioned hipster guys who use beard oil and read C.S. Lewis. I was less amused when she rightly chastised those in the movement integrating faith and work for being, as most admit, seem to be aligned solely with the well-monied professional class and less interested in poor and blue collar workers or those who are under- or unemployed. And I understood, I think, when she described being in a one-on-one Bible study at McDonalds as a college student and reported that she didn’t want Jesus in her heart, but wanted to meet him in the streets.)

In the pages of this nice hardback there are magically creative moments, very good storytelling, vulnerable self-reflection, and, yes, some rants. She insists — you’ll love it if you agree, but if you don’t, you may be persuaded by her truth telling passion —on much about the value of place, the goodness of the body, the importance of delight, the joy of wonder, the legitimacy of rage, the power of memory, the healing power of joy, the need for lament. I could go on; this young woman is a blessing to behold, as is her fervent commitments to peace and justice, to honesty and dignity, to liberation and freedom.

In a reflection on the story of Hagar (in Genesis 16) — which she admits she doesn’t like as it is mostly cruel — Ms Riley says, after noting that Hagar’s linage would be destined to exist in tension and struggle,

I am learning to attune myself to Hagar’s words in the story. Hagar names God “the God who sees”…Hagar’s story reminds me of the profound healing that can occur when someone is given the liberty to have their story told, their suffering named. To belong to a God who asks, Where have you come from?

Most of us will not have our stories told in such a public way, but reading alongside others, indwelling a bit with them in their own story, so generously told, is a great gift. I think This Here Flesh is just such a gift as we listen in on the family stories shared, as we feel with her her anxiety and regret, as we are offered glimpses into the life behind the popular “Black Liturgies.” We are stimulated as we follow Riley’s sharp mind as she interacts with novelist Alice Walker or theologian Miroslov Volf or mystic philosopher Simone Weil or the well chosen lines of poet Lucille Clifton. It is just such as gift as she tells us of her life, her hopes, her very flesh. 

All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep Andre Henry (Convergent) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

As I write, this book has just released and I have not finished my copy that came a bit early. I  knew a tiny bit about the frustrations (to put it mildly) this guy went through in his short time as the editor of the mostly white Relevant magazine (although there is a story from his time there that so bizarre one wonders what spirit has captured some folks.) I wanted to list this one in that previous BookNotes column, but it was just too new. I can say just the barest bones comments about it, but I believe this much to be true.

This is a powerful, powerful, book. It comes with a “warning” from the author (and from a few of the many who have offered endorsing blurbs.) As an aficionado of back cover blurbs, I sometimes grow weary of those who say a book is going to upset the status quo, that you will never be the same after savoring its pages, warning not to read it if you don’t want to be changed. I am not a cynic, not even about these overinflated endorsements (since, well, I’ve been tempted to be a bit breathy sometimes myself about such things.) In this case, I sense that this is all quite true. This is going to be a book that is easy to read, but hard to handle. He recounts conversation after conversation where white people (and some black friends, too, interestingly) say pretty dumb things, hurtful things. He has grown weary and has become a firm anti-racists with no time for this kind of slander or complicity with racist worldviews. The author, who writes for the Religious News Service, does a newsletter (which you should know about) which is called “Hope and Hard Pills.” He offers hope, to be sure, but there is what we might politely call candor. Or, what some might call some deep shit.

You might catch the theme of the book from the title — it is, in fact, the story of Henry’s decision to stop arguing about racism, to give up the illusion of being nice and forbearing and seeking common ground with gracious civility. (These are my words, not his.) His goal is to offer a proven path forward for people of color and it is not the way of merely getting along. One reviewer, a well known black author, says it is “militant, revelatory, and revolutionary in so many ways the world needs right now.”

Yet, his is not the way of power grabs or violence or inappropriate anger. Henry is, in fact, a student of nonviolence and has deeply considered how state-sanctioned violence (from overbearing police to colonial war-making) must be resisted with unflinching nonviolence. It is unclear to me if he most deeply draws on the traditions and ethics of Biblical pacifism — think of the Mennonites like Yoder or Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, say — or if he is motivated more by the broader movement of moral resistance of black church leaders like MLK, Bayard Rustin, or Vincent Harding. I do not, I’m a little ashamed to admit, know most of the names he cites in his footnotes. (Some of that is a generational thing, I suppose — I’m an old white guy in Pennsylvania, he’s a young, media-savvy LA activist, and is riffing off a dozen important underground journalists, protestors, organizers, artists, and emerging street-level spiritual leaders.) But I’m willing to learn. How this young guy came to a soul-filled political awakening is important to understand, I think, and I am eager to study this carefully.

One very interesting thing about All the White Friends…is how very global Andre Henry is.  Although the book would have been written a year ago, a glance at the footnotes shows that some of his conversation partners are Eastern European — talk about timely when it comes to scheming ways to resist imperial power. One of the scholars he cites is Srdja Popovic of the respected Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (with whom he studied at the Kennedy School at Harvard, btw.)

Listen to this from Erica Chenoweth, author of the Oxford University Press book, Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know

Poignant, urgent, and spot-on . . . In a narrative that is part memoir, part manifesto, and part how-to, Henry brilliantly weaves together his encounters with anti-Blackness and his political awakening with powerful observations about how nonviolent struggle can confront and transform racism. Don’t miss this profoundly important book.

I know that most of our BookNotes audience is white. I know many tilt towards the center, priding ourselves with our sober balance. This zealous book — although I think written mostly for black folks tired of these draining conversations and experiencing trauma from experiencing the news of the murders of names we all know — will be helpful for readers of all social circumstances and races. Writer Lauren Duca (of Teen Vogue, who has been called “the millennial feminist warrior queen of social media”, says it a mix of “memoir and manifesto.” Right on!

Forgiveness and Reparation, the Healing Journey Mpho Tutu van Furth (Fortress) $12.75 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.20

We have mentioned these small, thin, compact sized books in the recent “My Theology” series, before. There are more than a dozen of them — we are fond of Alister McGrath’s Return from a Distant Country and Malcolm Guite’s The Word Within the Words and I intend to read the recent Spirit Life by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. I look forward to “My Theology” released in May by Scot McKnight and Joan Chittister and John Swinton.

Forgiveness and Reparation may be, frankly, the most globally significant of them all. Mpho’s last book was one co-written with her famous daddy, The late Reverend Desmond Tutu. Like the others in this “My Theology” series, the author tells her story, explores how she got to the theological passions she has, and why her theology has the tone and texture it does.  Here, she offers her principal tenets and her vision for reparations as “rightly engaged is part of a spiritual process of forgiveness and reconciliation.” Of course, this leads to questions of atonement and restorative justice and the need for acknowledgment of the damage done to the enslaved and colonized.  As anyone familiar with her work, or Father Tutu’s, this process includes a “restoration of the lost humanity of the perpetrators and the repair of violated relationships.” You will learn the meaning of “Ndicela uxolo” even as many learned the power of Ubunto as a theological concept.

At under 80 pages (and including original poems and prayers) Forgiveness and Reparation, the Healing Journey is a challenge and a clarion call, short, gracious, Biblically-wise and vital.

Recovering Racists: Dismantling White Supremacy and Reclaiming Our Humanity Idelette McVicker (Brazos Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

PRE-ORDER NOW  NOT YET RELEASED // DUE April 12, 2022.

We wanted to highlight this  now, and invited you to pre-order it —it is due out within the next few weeks. I’ve got an advanced copy of this and I am pleased to tell you that it is an amazing, vibrant, challenging piece of work. My goodness, what a story!

Idellete (the name of John Calvin’s wife, by the way, for those who like historical trivia) McVicker is a white, South African Woman and here she shares her journey away from racism, helping us realize that “grappling with the legacy of white supremacy is a lifelong work that requires both inner transformation and society change.” It is, as she puts it, “a long walk.”

After training as a journalist in South Africa, she lived in Taiwan where she wrote for daily newspapers. I think this gives her a certain style — reporting honestly, yes, delving deep as an investigator, yes, but also writing clearly, passionate but concise. Much of this is memoir as she tells her story, describes her own involvement in racial injustices, and how she has come to work for equity and repair.  

She is the founder of SheLoves Media Society (an online forum for Christian women, a SheLoves magazine and the “Dangerous Women” membership community.) Her name might ring a bell for some who have heard of the “Let Us Be Women Who Love” curriculum which is cited in Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist.  Bessey, herself a remarkable writer, says, “Idelette is one of my greatest teachers, and I recommend her work with my whole heart.”

“Idelette has done the work,” says Lisa Sharon Harper in the powerful foreword. She certainly has been earning from the best teachers, reading books by African and African Americans and others who have much to teach us. (In fact, she cites Mpho Tutu and Andre Henry, from his “Hope and Hard Pills” column, and authors as diverse as Ruby Sales to Ada Maria Isai-Diaz to Isabel Wilkerson to Anthony De Mello to Abraham Joshua Heschel to Kaitlin Curtice. I admire her learning, her transformation, and her energy to help us all grow into deeper repentance of our racial assumptions, attitudes, and apathies. I love the subtitle of Recovering Racists  — “Dismantling White Supremacy and Reclaiming Our Humanity.” 

A beautiful, honest invitation to a better way of being human in which we embrace each other fully–I hope you’ll accept it.  — Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

A heartbreakingly honest and gloriously transparent account of the other side of racism, the one most of us deny. I hope and pray that everyone everywhere will read this book. — Danielle Strickland, communicator, advocate, and author of Better Together

An absolute must-read for white people seeking to be recovering racists and anti-racists. — Karen González, immigration advocate and author of The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong

Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World —and How to Repair It All Lisa Sharon Harper ( Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I wrote this a few weeks ago suggesting that this would be a fine book to study during Lent, a reflective, moving, story, inviting us all to repentance and renewal in the work of restoration. It has to be on any list of the best books about this released in the last year or so.  Here is some of what I wrote:

We have announced this a time or two, first inviting folks to pre-order it (thanks to those who did) and then, again, when it came out. I even mentioned it on that little video I did on facebook, the day This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley released. And yet, I’ve still not done it justice. Fortune was a hard book to read in an odd way. It was not gratuitous about the pain of the whip or the fear of lynching that African Americans have felt in their very bodies and it was not even that detailed about the abuses poured upon people of color in the late 20th and today. No, the brokenness this book describes is plainspoken and informative, passionate, yet, but written in a restrained way, getting at the “way race broke my family” in a way that is inviting to all. Who doesn’t want to know something about their family ancestors? Who doesn’t get a bit touched by those Ancestory.com ads? And who doesn’t cheer for an underdog, facing plenty of obstacles in finding the backstory of family heritage. Those of us older enough to remember recall why Alex Haley’s Roots was such a huge best-seller, before and after the much-watched TV show that exposed all America to the hard history of enslaved peoples here in so-called God’s country.

The title of this book is the name of a relative of Lisa’s, one whose story she traces in one of several chapters, each bearing the name of an ancestor. The book is mostly a family story, but it is grounded in the present as Lisa wonderfully describes her journey to archives and websites and museums and follows old roads to find old homesteads and imagine that this, this, this right here was where some relatives once lived. Most of the book is set in the past but she narrates it through the three decades it took her to explore ten generations.

In this way readers are drawn in, eager to know more, almost as Lisa herself was piecing it together, finding this true story, recalling that anecdote, holding on to that family heirloom, discovering these records or those news clippings. It is common enough stuff, but she tells it well. She has us on the edge of our seats in a few sentences about waiting for DNA results.

But — let us speak honestly, here — most white or even non-white Americans who do their ancestry detective work, do not have to consult purchase orders and billing ladings for the purchase of their ancestors. And for black people in America, this damnable fact is true: most family records are smeared and smudged (metaphorically but perhaps literally) with blood. Lisa does not overstate the horror of this, looking up records of who was purchased by whom, and only hinted at how it made her feel to do this particular kind of detective work. It is, though, what makes Fortune a different sort of book than most others who have told their dramatic story of finding their ancient relatives and where in the older worlds they came from. In this sense, Fortune is gut wrenching, not because Lisa is melodramatic or overstated; again, she is not. Still, it is, as they say, what it is.

And some of what it is, is exciting and lovely, learning about great-greats, marriages, travels, and the birth of little ones. She learns of cousins and stories of creativity and endurance. Lisa weaves her family member’s stories in with her own, placing it all in the context of the unfolding history of modern times. Ms. Harper has been through a lot — we have gotten hints of some of it in her Very Good Gospel. There is more revealed in Fortune. The great Ruby Sales has a blurb on the back simply saying that “Harper is a masterful storyteller.” Amen to that.

I had read this in an advanced manuscript, and when the hardbacks came we were delighted, but I had my spiral bound manuscript all marked up and pages dog-eared. So I didn’t open the hardback right away and then I discovered the bonus — there are photographs of some of the people she writes about (Lee Ballard, born in 1836, Phillip Fortune, born in 1835, Reinaldo and Anita Weekes (wearing a great hat), up through a fabulous picture of Lisa’s mom Sharon Lawrence with Lisa as a baby, a picture taken in 1969.) You will actually lay eyes on Hiram, who you have read about, and Richie Lawrence and Willa Belle Jenkins visiting Junias on a military base in Michigan during WWII. I’m not usually a fan of pictures of people we don’t know in an autobiography but these are the people this book is about. I was so excited to see these, and it drew me back into the book for my second reading.

There is some very good stuff as the story draws to a close about repair. Obviously no simple religious “reconciliation” will do without a full account of truth and justice. She explores the meaning of guilt and the nature of forgiveness. She writes helpfully a bit about reparative justice. She cites a few good public theologians and social ethicists  (and of course, tells of Desmond Tutu’s important work in South Africa, citing his powerful No Future Without Forgiveness.) Her message about the beloved community is moving and compelling and not without a challenge to be more active to the work.

Which makes this, my friends, a great book to read any time, but perhaps especially as a Lenten practice, to enter in to the story of another with such intentionality, to learn what she learns, to care, to be challenged.Is if fair to say this is, in some way, part of all of our stories, for better or worse? We owe Lisa a debt of gratitude. She waded in (as Sweet Honey in the Rock sing it, citing Harriet Tubman.) As one writer put it, “Fortune recovers the beauty of her heritage, exposes the brokenness that race has wrought in America, and casts a vision for collective repair.” 

Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God Jarvis J.Williams (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE =  $19.99

When I saw this book first announced last year I was both thrilled and a bit intrigued; what more can be said about this since there are so many books extolling the Biblical and theological value of a multi-ethnic church and how the local congregation, complicated as it may be, should strive for modeling cross-cultural relationships and, obviously, racial justice. Whatever it would bring, I sure liked the title, and any author who thinks of the people of God in that frame — a diverse people, a Kingdom people, needing Biblical theology — is an author I’d want to take seriously.

Well, Redemptive Kingdom Diversity does indeed bring something very helpful to these conversations about diversity in the local parish. Dr. Williams is a professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has written some solid, conventional, scholarly works (a commentary on Galatians, a book on the atonement, and one called One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology.) In this book he offers a comprehensive Biblical survey of the diverse people of God (from Genesis to Revelation.) This shows the multiethnic nature of the story of God’s covenant with the people and the multiethnic nature of the gospel itself. As Craig Keener, a New Testament scholar a respected writer (from Asbury Theological Seminary) notes that it “provides a resource for discussing and preaching about Christian interracial unity by explore Biblical questions regarding the identity of God’s people in Christ.”

Here is the Table of Contents so you can see how this unfolds, in under 200 pages:

  1. The People of God in the Pentateuch
  2. The People of God in the Historical Books, Wisdom and Poetry, and Prophets
  3. The People of God in the Gospels and Acts
  4. The People of God in Paul’s Epistles
  5. The People of God in the General Epistles and Revelation
  6. Synthesis: The People of God in the Old and New Testaments
  7. The People of God and Orthopraxy

Jarvis has made clear what many lovers of the Scriptures have always known, that God’s desire to create a multiethnic, just, and God-honoring kingdom for his glory is a truth that bursts forth from every page of the Bible. For those who want a guide that traces this theme as it winds its way through the twists and turns of Scripture, this book is for you.– Esau McCaulley, Wheaton College; author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope

Redemptive Kingdom Diversity revisits the multiethnic nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Scripture within the framework of God’s redemptive purpose throughout both testaments. Its call to inclusion of all races in the church is most timely and urgent as the church continues to battle the age-old sin of racism. — M. Sydney Park, Beeson Divinity School, author of Honoring the Generations: Ministry & Theology for Asian North American Congregations

There is, as you can see above, a good final chapter applying his canonical, Biblical overview to race, racism, and ethnicity today. As a gospel-centered, evangelical black man with strong teaching gifts and (besides being an academic professor) a caring pastoral calling, serving in the South in a largely white denomination, Dr. Williams has much to say that is well worth hearing. As a passionate but exceedingly careful Bible scholar we should listen to him for he allows Scripture to shape our views. As Dr. Anthony Bradley of The Kings College in New York says, “This is the first book evangelicals hold read on race in the church.”

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A big list of recent books about race and racism, racial justice and gospel reconciliation. ALL 20% OFF

Well, friends, I’ve been wanting to offer this list for a while, bringing you up to speed with some of the fascinating and often very important books on race and racism that we have for sale here at Hearts & Minds. We have always had a dedicated section about diversity, racial reconciliation, the history of the civil rights movement, and the like. Maybe that is why we got a very scary message under our door from the KKK one fine day decades ago, a threat that I wear as a badge of honor. Not many people bought these sorts of books (except, maybe, evangelicals involved in campus ministry through IVCF or CCO who have been on the cutting edge of speaking about this stuff for years.) But, like a few other categories of books we enjoy showing off, we have them because we should. And we wish they sold better.

Who knew that in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic and the quarantining two years ago there would be a huge, nation-wide uptick in interest in books by and about black culture, about white privilege, social justice, racial equity, cultural diversity? For a while we could hardly keep some key titles in stock. In 2020 we sold lots of Reading While Black, Be the Bridge, I’m Still Here, My Grandmother’s Hands, Stamped from the Beginning, White Fragility, How to Be an Anti-Racist, The Color of Compromise, Healing Racial Trauma, The Warmth of Other Suns, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, Just Mercy, Me and White Supremacy, Anxious to Talk About It, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and older classics, from authors like John Perkins and Brenda Salter McNeil to Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman and John Lewis to Oscar Romero and James Cone. I could name more. It was an exciting time for booksellers almost everywhere, at least those who cared about these things.

We sold books on the immigrant experience, too — again, we had a section on immigration and refugees since our store opened but interest from publishers and the book buying public and some churches grew noticeably. Within a year or so all sorts of newer authors invited white Americans (including white Christians of all sorts) into their world to read about First Nations/indigenous, Latino, Asian American experience, spirituality, and theology. Non-controversial books like Living In Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity or Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity by David Smith or Gracism:The Art of Inclusion by David Anderson were eagerly studied by church groups who had not previously taken up issues of social ethics or public justice. Those that could, dug a little deeper; some were intentional about framing the conversation by the light of Biblical doctrine while others just wanted to read, listen and learn from others, graciously. We sold memoirs and novels and poetry by people of color. New authors captured our attention — within the religious publishing world, at least; authors like Lisa Sharon Harper, Karen Gonzalez and Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Kaitlin Curtice and Kat Armas and Hak Joon Lee were in demand, and we were grateful.

Those wanting to go deeper worked through Matthew Kaemingk’s Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear or even Willie James Jennings Yale University Press title, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. 

We, here, have much to learn, but we felt like we were somewhat well-positioned to serve a growing interest among our customers. It was a season we will never forget and for which we are grateful.

And, then, the push back began. A few fair concerns and a lot of truly awful nonsense was spread alongside the disinformation about vaccines and the so-called “stolen” election about something called critical race theory. Authors and publishers who should have known better blasted away, often on Fox News or on loud, right-wing websites (although also from more respected sources which did breathy and illogical hit pieces.) These alarmist tirades often came with meager insight and seemingly not much compassion, and the books sold, I’m told, by the tens of thousands.

We’ve been trying to help customers get books they need (and we’ve earnestly tried to serve those on various sides of the culture wars) and we always remind readers to “think Christianly” and to exercise discernment. People of faith should agree in our mutual efforts to be wise and good. We are free, the Bible says, so we can read what we want, but our freedoms should be used for the building up of the community. We should be critical thinkers in generous ways so we can promote the gospel’s healing and hope. As Englewood Book Review founder Chris Smith put it in the title of one of my favorite books, we should be Reading for the Common Good. 

Which brings me back to this new list. We’ve just been too stressed and busy and constrained by the pandemic protocols, and attracted to so many books on so many topics, to get everything done we’ve wanted to. This list is long, but I skipped a lot, knowing I can’t describe all that we have. Here we will share with you a bit about some of the most interesting books in this field to appear in the last year or so. A few are very new.

Forgive me if this seems blunt, but if you, like me, have been properly busy reading widely, and you’ve perhaps fallen away from reading more intentionally into this topic, I invite you to follow through with the stuff you learned two years ago and the commitments you may have made then. Perhaps you feel like you’ve read enough on race and diversity, or maybe you can’t bear any more. I get it. But here ya go, anyway. I invite you to pray and seek God’s face and listen to the Spirit, which may be beckoning you further in. If so, here are some recent titles that might be worth reading and talking about with others who may want to refresh their commitments to learning more about racial justice. As always, thanks for caring.

ALL BOOKS CAN BE ORDERED AT HEARTS & MINDS BY USING THE ORDER LINK AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS COLUMN. 

ALL BOOKS ARE 20% OFF.  

SERIOUS BOOKS THAT STUDY THE HISTORY OF THE PROBLEM

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619 – 2019  edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World) $32.00 hardback // $20.00 paperback  OUR SALE PRICES = $25.60 (hardback) // $16.00  (paperback) 

Ibram X. Kendi wrote two of the biggest selling books in the recent renaissance of contemporary work in this field, the 2016 classic, Stamped from the Beginning and the 2019 polemic, How to Be an Anti-Racist. His co-author here, Keisha Blain, has written a number of scholarly books, including Set the World on Fire on the black intellectual tradition and a great book on Fannie Lou Hamer, Until I Am Free.) Here they have compiled “a chorus of extraordinary voices” — 90 passionate and often brilliant writers and thinkers, offering historical vignettes, vivid analysis, personal stories, fiction, and more. It has a startling array of different perspectives offering a “communal history” on 400 years worth of topics. Some of what they episodes and stories and concerns they write about you will have heard about, some maybe not. There is so much to learn. Some of these authors are famous, some are not. This is an amazing resource; I don’t say this often but we recommend the thick hardback, but we are glad for the less costly paperback.

The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America Joshua D. Rothman (Basic Books) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Much has been written about the international slave trade but less about the uniquely American story told here, about three respected businessmen capturing people from the Upper South and sending them to the cotton and sugar fields of the Deep South. This study of the under-examined US slave trade shows how it was integral to the rise of interstate commerce, the flow of credit, and the establishment of new transportation routes. It is a stunning, devastating, history, essential for anyone wanting to understand  the development of American business, capitalism, or who is speaking about faith in the marketplace. As one reviewer (in Rekon) put it:

In popular culture, we’ve cast slave traders at social pariahs but Joshua Rothman’s book refutes that whitewashed narrative. In many ways, slave traders were celebrated businessmen and he traces the stories of three of the biggest slave traders to show how much the economies of the South and the North relied on America’s original sin.

As Drew Faust of Harvard puts it, The Ledger and the Chain is,

A tour de force of deep research and vivid detail that illuminates big and critical issues. Beautifully written too. Moving, horrifying, unforgettable.

 

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America Clint Smith (Little Brown) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

This has been a significant New York Times best-seller and is being used in book clubs and classes — that a study of how slavery is acknowledged and commemorated has been so widely read is itself fascinating. This new lens for seeing is notable and it is important. Helpfully and gladly, Clint Smith (a staff writer for The Atlantic) is an amazing wordsmith who crafts very moving prose. Matthew Desmond, author of the powerful Evicted, calls it “a work of moral force and humility,” and Annette Gordon-Reed, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author The Heningses of Monticello says it is “beautifully written, evocative and timely.”

It is a vital history, and it once again explores the matter of slavery (and how it is remembered.) But the deep lesson is vital even beyond that. I like these words about it:

How the Word is Passed sheds light on the contested narratives beneath the surface of our collective national identity, inviting us to dig a little deeper, reminding us never to take received histories for granted.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake Tina Miles (Random House) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This unforgettable book earned the coveted National Book Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for a number of prestigious awards, from the Kirkus Prize to one of Publisher Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2021. The hardback was handsome but the paperback, now out, is very nice. 

I needn’t say much, but folks who have read this study of the humble items in this sack and how it was passed down have just loved it. The bag came from an enslaved woman named Rose who in 1850s South Caroline gave her nine-year old daughter Ashley a cotton bag with a few items as she was being sold away. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered the family history on the sack “in spare, haunting language.” It is a poignant story of resilience and, as one reviewer put it, “a testament to the power of story, witness, and unyielding love.”

The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice  Scott Ellsworth (Dutton) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I do not know if many Americans, at least most white Americans who were not from Oklahoma, knew about the horrific, heartbreaking, gripping story of what Rev. Dr. William Barber has called “one of America’s worst racial atrocities.” Searing as it may be, this is an important bit of ground-breaking research, called meticulous and elegant.  There have been books on this, some folks know about it, but most of us don’t.

Why did it take the death of so many unarmed black citizens at the hands of heavily armed police in recent years, and a brave football player who took the knee, and the formant of the BLM movement to create a space for this sort of storytelling to get a hearing? For this sort of horror to come to light, now? We are grateful for books like this, for the coverage NPR and other outlets gave it, and how this story is now acknowledged. 

The good Reverend Barber continues, noting that Ellsworth “shows us how we can uncover our past and come to grips with our future. His literally groundbreaking research and engaging prose pull us toward the call of justice today.”

America cannot address the crisis in which we find ourselves because we are unwilling to acknowledge the road that brought us here. We are determined to look away… Scott Ellsworth is willing to dig and willing to help us to see who we have been in hopes that we will rise to who we must be. The Tulsa massacre of 1921 is one of the most significant and revealing episodes of American history, and one we must confront in order to find our way. The Ground Breaking will rattle you, and it should. It will move you toward a harder wisdom, and it must.    — Tim Tyson, senior research scholar, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, author of The Blood of Emmett Till and Blood Done Sign My Name

Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution John Archibald (Knopf) $28.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I don’t know if the cover design evokes the early 1960s but this author was born in April 1963 in the white part of Birmingham. As he explains, “I never knew, until much later, that as my mother went into labor, the foot soldiers of revolution gathered across the county line, that at the moment of my birth, Birmingham readied for a battle that was long overdue. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not yet put his Dream to words, but he had come to this town to change the world with another masterpiece.” 

John Archibald graduated from the University of Birmingham and won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 2018 for reporting. He has a good eye for detail, is an excellent writer, and tells us here about what it was like growing up in the deep south in a long line of Methodist preachers. Can you imagine reading “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, maybe in college, and realizing it was addressed to, among others, your own father? To come to understand the nature of silence and complicity?  It is, as they say, a journey of discovery.

The Myth of Colorblind Christians: Evangelicals and White Supremacy in the Civil Rights Era Jesse Curtis (New York University Press) $32.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Dr. Curtis is a professor of history at Valparaiso and is a significant voice in the conversations about history, memory, and the role of religion in American culture. Blurbs on the back of this powerful volume are from Paul Harvey, Jemar Tisby, and Kristin Kobes Du Muz, all stellar historians and popular writers who have served us well with historical acumen offered for educated and open-minded fellow believers and all citizens wanting to learn about white evangelicalism in these turbulent years, and, especially, what some might call the post-civil rights years — the 70s and 80s. I am very aware of some of the stories he tells, including ‘70s-era conflicts at evangelical colleges, from Calvin College in Grand Rapids to Eastern in Philly; the ministry of leaders I admired such as Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner are described and evangelical church conflicts are explored, even as things like “personal kindness” or a focus on the gospel prevented some evangelicals for adopting a more comprehensive, structural understanding of how institutional racism works.  As Du Mez puts it, this is “religious history at its best.” She insists that it is an “immensely clarifying book.”

This book shows how platitudes about equality and not seeing racial differences actually perpetuated the segregated and unequal status quo in many white evangelical churches, colleges, and institutions. It is vital reading for understanding just how salient race remains in some Christian circles. This is the book on the history of white evangelicalism I have been waiting for. —Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism

Witnessing Whiteness: Confronting White Supremacy in the American Church Kristopher Norris (Oxford University Press) $28.95                   OUR SALE PRICE = $23.16

This is another exceptionally valuable book that came out this year that explores how America’s white churches tend to (in the words of M. Shawn Copeland, Professor Emerita of Theology at Boston College) “sacralize… socially constructed whiteness.” In other words, Norris calls on us to figure out how we got ourselves into this mess.

In the words of Jennifer McBride (herself a Bonhoeffer scholar, by the way, and author of the excellent The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness),

This is a stunning book. In captivating and accessible language, Norris argues that white supremacy is not a force in which white Christians are sometimes complicit but it is an invention of the tradition, defining its theology and practice.

Oh my. Could that be true? David Gushee — who has been immersed in various corners of the evangelical world (from working for Ron Sider to Al Mohler) and within more mainline Protestant and ecumenical circles — says Witnessing Whiteness “is a breakthrough work in the project of diagnosing, understanding, and repenting white supremacism in US Christianity.”

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press) $25.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

If I can get a few Hearts & Minds customers and BookNotes readers to buy a Dyson book or two, I can rest; he has a huge following but it is my sense that he is not well known and under appreciated within most white Protestant circles. He’s a scholar, a public intellectual, a media star (not long ago I linked to his witty piece about the best music on Colbert when they were pushing his big collection Entertaining Race) and pastor. This hand sized hardback is a good read, arranged as a set of letters reflecting on what exploded the previous year after the murder of George Floyd. It is eloquent and powerful — Robin Diangelo calls it “a searing cry for racial justice from one of our nation’s greater thinkers and most compelling prophets.” Yes, some put him alongside the likes of Cornell West, and that is very high praise indeed. I mentioned it before and thought I should highlight it again, here.

In Long Time Coming Dyson offers a “brilliant and fiercely eloquent work that traces the roots of racism.” Naturally, he has to explore slavery and Jim Crow and recent police brutality and ask tough questions about where we are today as a nation and a people. It is stuff we need to know, content we need to read about, and read about again — at least most white readers need to. Dyson is a good teacher and we should listen to him.

Michael Eric Dyson is one of the nation’s most thoughtful and critical thinkers in social inequality and the demands of justice. Long Time Coming, his latest formidable, compelling book, has much to offer on our nation’s crucial need for racial reckoning and the way forward. — Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

White Borders: The History of Race and Immigration in the United States from Chinese Exclusion to the Border Wall  Reece Jones (Beacon Press) $25.95    OUR SALE PRICE = $20.76

This is a book that simply needs to be known, making the case with meticulous research and exceptional history —what Pulitzer Prize winning author Greg Grandin calls a “damning inquiry” — that anti-immigration crackdowns, while often said to be about jobs and workers and respect for legal processes, are deeply intermingled with racist ideas. 

Reece Jones guides us through the long, tangled, and still developing history of how the United States came to know itself as a nation through the increasingly strict control of movement across its borders. Jones demonstrates in this assiduously researched and carefully crafted book that the nation’s borders are in fact central to making the state what it is: a key tool in the maintenance not just of white supremacy but of whiteness itself.    Brendan O’Connor, author of Blood Red Lines: How Nativism Fuels the Right

Asian Americans and the Spirit of Racial Capitalism Jonathan Tran (Oxford University Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

I have not read this thick text yet but I have it on my list — serious readers who I admire have ordered it from us and the early buzz has been significant. One person liked its importance to Willie James Jennings’ magisterial The Christian Imagination: Theologies and the Origins of Race. 

Listen to what James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin University (and recent author of The Nicene Option: An Incarnational Phenomenology)  writes of it:

This compelling book is a singular intervention in our current reckoning with racism and contemporary debates about antiracism. At once provocative and measured, Tran’s book is a feat: a careful argument that is also a bombshell. He shows us the insidious way capitalism breeds competition amongst the exploited, but also how Christian theology, in conversation with Marxism, imagines a hope beyond racial capitalism. I am still reeling from reading this.    

I hope this quote from Sarah Coakley, herself a dense and important theologian, illustrates something about this important scholarly work.

Jonathan Tran’s remarkable book breaks new conceptual ground in the analysis of ‘race’, racism and religion in the United States by providing a fearless critique of how standard scripts about racial ‘identity’, even when enunciated by those who claim to be fighting injustice most emphatically, simply reinstantiate what they are claiming to overcome. The problem is that these well-meaning discourses obscure what most needs exposure: the economic substructure which keeps the problematic core racial binary in place, and at the same time relegates those who do not conform to that binary (specifically, ‘Asian Americans’) into a strange place of collusion or further marginalization. But Tran is no standard neo-Marxist, either: through a rich use of comparative ethnographic studies he is able to show how Christianity’s core meanings, when truly activated politically, can still change these narratives and also their outcomes. — Sarah Coakley, Australian Catholic University

For a really intersting review, check out this one from our friends over at the Englewood Review of Books.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together Heather McGhee (One World) $28.00 hardback // $20.00  paperback $18.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40 (hardback) // $14.40 (paperback)

We named this as one of the Best Books of 2021 and while it is a serious read, really, truly commend it to you. Ibram X. Kendi says, boldly, “This is the book I’ve been waiting for.” Wes Moore (of the unforgettable The Other Wes Moore) says, “The beauty and power of this book is blinding.” The extraordinary George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) writes that it is “vital, urgent, stirring, beautifully written.” Chris Hays assures us that “Heather McGee is one of the wisest, most penetrating, most brilliant minds to set herself to the Big Problem of American democracy.”

The Sum of Us is an exploration of the nexus of race, class, and politics. It is written with care, with kindness, with insight, and without turning away from the complex matters of economics, racism, religion, and more. It shows in significant ways not only how we got into the mess we are in; it scrupulously tells the story of how public goods –- from parks and pools to functioning schools -– have become private luxuries… And it offers healthy ways to proceed, to move towards new ground. Some of it — the “solidarity dividend,” for instance — can happen, she shows, in houses of worship.

McGhee does not say all that needs to be said and she may or may not be right in all her analysis although with expertise in economics and policy (and a law degree) I wouldn’t want to argue with her. The Sum of Us is a very important contribution, for its insight, her authority, and the power to change that could come if we heed even some of what she proposes.

Here is how the publisher describes her project:

Heather C. McGhee’s specialty is the American economy – and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. As she dug into subject after subject, from the financial crisis to declining wages to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common problem at the bottom of them all: racism–but not just in the obvious ways that hurt people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It’s the common denominator in our most vexing public problems, even beyond our economy. It is at the core of the dysfunction of our democracy and even the spiritual and moral crises that grip us. Racism is a toxin in the American body and it weakens us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? To find the way, McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Mississippi to Maine, tallying up what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm–the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she collects the stories of white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams and their shot at a better job to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. 

Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm Robin Diangelo (Beacon Press) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Guess what? Maybe folks had had enough of these kinds of books by the time this book released in the summer of 2021 or maybe some had heard (sometimes fairly legitimate, in my view) critiques of Diangelo’s huge seller, White Fragility. I am not sure if it didn’t sell well elsewhere, but my hunch is this is a sleeper — important, slowly gaining respect, a lesser known but significant resource. It shows that good intentions simply are not enough.

Just listen to these serious recommendations:

With the hard-earned insights that come from years of study and leading workshops on racism, Robin DiAngelo captures the strategies often used by well-intentioned white people to avoid the self-examination needed to confront their own unrecognized racism. If you want to get beyond feeling defensive and increase your capacity for effective anti-racist action, do yourself a favor and read this book!  — Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race

In this illuminating follow-up to White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo integrates sharp insight, personal vulnerability, and compassionate guidance with the keen eye of an ‘insider.’ Focusing specifically on the more subtle patterns of white progressives, her work continues to be invaluable to the project of ending white supremacy. — Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

Spectacular! With the precision of a social scientist, Robin DiAngelo dissects and puts under the microscope seemingly benign ‘white moves’ — including her own — in ways that make undeniable how each functions to recalibrate white dominance and comfort again and again. A critical tool for white progressives wanting to know better so we can do better. — Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race

Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America John McWhorter (Portfolio/Penguin) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I have read other books by the provocative, brilliant, black professor of linguistics and have found him exceptionally erudite and entertaining. He has written about language, about truth, about hip-hop and rap, about “words from the gutter.” I am not sure I understand him fully, always, and I know I do not agree with him on some points. Still, for those wanting a thoughtful reply to some of the excesses of lefty woke platitudes, this is a very valuable resource.

He notes, by the way, in the opening pages, what the book is not. It is not against BLM, it is not against protest, it is certainly not against civil rights or the struggle for justice. He is worried about a religion-like ideology that he says, has seduced “New York Times-reading, National Public Radio-listening people who have innocently fallen under the impression that pious, unempirical virtue signaling about race is a form of moral enlightenment and political activism.” He continues that he is “of this world. I read The New Yorker, I have two children, I saw Sideways. I loved both The Wire and Parks and Recreation.” Well, then.

McWhorter has some bones to pick with Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Ibram X. Kendi. This is interesting, perhaps serving in a way Shelby Steele did twenty years ago. If your don’t think you need it, you maybe do. If your cheering, fine — but pick up one of the others on this list, too, to compare and contrast. They are all 20% off, ya know! 

Here is a nice summary of an NPR review that explores the book fairly, I think. I suppose Dr. McWhorter might think this critique might prove his point, but this review sees nothing good about it at all.

BOOKS THAT POINT WAYS TO CHANGE, HEALING AND HOPE

Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation  John Lewis (Grand Central Publishing) $22.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

It seems like cultural ages ago when the fine Christian statesman and veteran civil rights leader was honored in DC, resting in state in the US Capitol. We have enjoyed selling the three part graphic novel / comic style autobiographies (March, Parts One, Two and Three.) As a leader in SNCC he was arrested (and often abused) more than 40 times; he served in Congress for 38 years. 

Carry On is a collection of his pithy paragraphs, good words, stories, sermons, speeches, sort of a page-a-day inspirational reader, a keep-sake reader of one of the great men of our times.  A very nice book covering topics from gratitude to humility, mentors to activism, faith, hope, love.

You Are the Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, And the Black Experience: An Anthology edited by Tarana Burke & Brene Brown (Random House)  $27/00 (hardback) // $17.00 (paperback)  OUR SALE PRICES = $21.60 (hardback) // $13.60 (paperback)

Perhaps you will recall our highlighting this when it came out in hardback — what a powerful anthology this is, excerpts of essays, articles, testimonials, studies, and reflections on African American resilience. For years, both Tarana Burke and Brene Brown have been working, writing, and talking about shame resilience and empathy, both in the context of Tarana Burke’s “me too” movement and through Brown’s research. That they have created a space for black writers to explore and process the trauma of white supremacy and offer “a space to be vulnerable and affirm the fullness of black life and black possibility” makes this a fabulous book to have, to read, to share. Burke says she wants this resources “to be a soft place to land.”

Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures Michelle Ami Reyes (Zondervan Reflective) $22.99               OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

This book is outstanding. The rave reviews and commending blurbs by amazingly respected cross-cultural Christian leaders such as Soong-Chan Rah, Osheta Moore, Irwin Ince, Christiana Edmundson and Dorena Williamson indicate that Becoming All Things is one of the most important books of the season.  It is a road map, a guide book, a fine and practical resource from one who is considered, by everyone who knows her, a gifted and talented teacher and impeccable leader.  The lovely forward by Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile illustrates its fine evangelical clarity.

Michelle Ami Reyes, PhD, is an Indian American writer, speaker, and activist whose work on faith and culture has been featured in Christianity TodayFaithfully MagazinePatheos, and more. She is also the Vice President of the Asian American Christian Collaborative and Editorial Director at Pax. Michelle lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Aaron, and two kids.

Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism George Yancey (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Oh my, a new book by black sociologist George Yancey is always notable and this brand new one looks extraordinary. You may know that he has done scholarly work on ideological bias in the culture wars, on the allegations made by conservative Christians about discrimination in the public square, about racial tensions on college campuses, on inter-racial marriages, on multi-ethnic churches. His academic books have appeared on Oxford University Press, Routledge, Baylor University Press and the like. He’s done popular-level work, too, offering wonderful resources such as One Body One Spirit and the very interesting 2006 Beyond Racial Gridlock. He always is a voice to listen well to, a voice that tends not to be easily pigeonholed.

Here is uses an admittedly simple rubric, but it may be generative, a wise call for somewhat of a third way beyond our impasses in this essential conversation and movement. For Yancey’s purposes here, “Colorblindness ignores the realities of race and the history of injustice. On the other hand, antiracism centers racial concerns and in so doing often alienates people who need to be involved in the process.” Here, he offers an approach where “all parties contribute and are mutually accountable to one another for societal wellbeing.”  As he explains, this work is too important to settle for the impasse; we simply have to find ways to talk to and listen to each other for the sake of justice for all.

Listen to his good friend and colleague (and occasional co-writer) Michael O. Emerson, author of the still essential Divided By Faith:

Our racial division and inequality are extreme. In the midst of such challenges, we shout, we accuse, we point fingers, we divide into camps. And we get nowhere. Dr. Yancey proposes an alternative, rooted deeply in Christian understanding and sociological knowledge. He offers hope and clarity for our times. A must-read. — Michael O. Emerson, professor and head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois Chicago and coauthor of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

There is not a more theologically sound, empirically informed, well-reasoned, or rational voice addressing the complexities of race, class, and culture in America today than that of Dr. George Yancey. In Beyond Racial Division, he navigates nuance and effectively challenges readers to get beyond rhetoric to results in their engagement of diverse others. As did Christ with arms outstretched, Yancey herein seeks to unite motivations and to hold Christ-followers in tension so that we might walk a more productive path for the sake of the gospel, and in so doing lead others away from painful polarization, beyond the crippling distinctions of this world that otherwise divide. — Mark DeYmaz, President of the Mosaix Global Network, author of Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church

If you are well along in this journey, you know this author, I bet, and you will want to get this book. If you are somewhat new to the conversation, perhaps a bit anxious about it all, it is truly a must-read. It is not the final word, but it is a very good start to getting us out of ruts and into an honorable, faithful commitment to deepened responsibility and agency. Why not get this for your next book club or small group or buy it for your church library?

Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations Isaac Adams (Zondervan Reflective) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

When the brilliant Baylor prof and highly respected author and literary critic Alan Jacobs says a book is “sober and strong, wise and practical” what more do you need to compel you to pick it up? Talking About Race is, according to Rebecca McLaughlin (author of Confronting Christianity) a “prayer-soaked, Jesus-honoring, biblically-grounded kick start to better conversations about race.”

Adams had been a pastor at the conservative, DC-area church Capitol Hill Baptist but is now lead pastor of a congregation in Birmingham. He is the founder of United? We Pray, a ministry devoted to praying about racial strife. He offers his call to gospel centered hope with (as Laura Wifler puts it) “gentleness, wisdom, and pastoral care.”

It is always proper and salutary to pray, to root our ideas in the central goodness of God’s grace in Christ, formulated in light of clear Bible teaching. I hope you know what I mean when I say that there are some people who will never enter this conversation — talking about race, as the author puts it — and will be suspicious or dismissive of a public theology with a social ethic unless it is rooted in a piety like this. This is a book to give to folks like that and (who knows?) it could be just the open door they need to learn to care about race and racism and how it violates God’s will.

The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity Shai Linne (Moody Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

You may know Shai Linne as a hip hop recording artist and his conventional, Reformed Baptist theology which comes through his spoken word work. He has come out of (and has returned to) his hometown of Philadelphia, PA and is known in conservative theological circles and edgy, urban ministry circles.

Here he is riffing off his beloved reformation truths — the back cover assures us he loves the five solas — but invites us to this new, diverse, unified community. He truly lives for the glory of God and he offers this broad vision of ethnic and cultural reconciliation. Nicely co-produced by the record label humble beast.

By the way, Shai Linne’s wife, Blair, recently released a moving memoir full of gospel hope, Finding My Father: How the Gospel Heals the Pain of Fatherlessness (The Good Book Company; $16.99.)

Not So Black and White: An Invitation to Honest Conversation About Race and Faith  Reggie Dabbs & John Driver (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

These sorts of books — honest conversations between a black guy and a white guy — are not uncommon not, and I’ve read several. Some are really raw and honest, some are pretty theological, some not that interesting. This one looks to be really solid, honest and astute, showing, as one reviewer put it, “what real dialogue can look like.” These guys are theologically driven, deeply spiritual within the evangelical church movement, but reaching beyond that context. Reggie Dabbs happens to be a very sought-after public school speaker (sharing his own story of tragedy and redemption and hope) and Driver (who has written bunches of books with others) is a former history teacher who is now a pastor at a church in Nashville. 

In this impressive project they hope to equip black and white Christians to come together and fight the evils of racism “within our heart and within our systems.” They hope readers will hear stories of those who have found ways to reach across the racial barriers by learning to listen well, come to a “simple but robust” history of racism and learn to respond to the challenges of racism in your community. As the back cover promises, they help us “identify practical steps to engage bravely in conversations and actions to end racism.”

This book is an answer to prayer. Reggie and John walk the tightrope between honesty and hope as well as I’ve seen in this conversation. — John Onwuchewka, pastor, Cornerstone Church, Atlanta

Faithful Anti-Racism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change Christina Barland Edmondson & Chad Brennan (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I must say that this is one of the books I have been most eager to see, most eager to read, and most eager to promote. If my hunch is right about this, it will be one of the major books in their field for several years to come. The authors have much to teach us and are excellent thinkers and communicators with lots of experience helping Christians of all sorts move beyond talk alone and work to dismantle the deep-seated racism in our lives, churches, and society. Those who feel ill equipped to respond well will appreciate the careful title — this is an invitation to explore faithful anti-racism, that is, a sort inspired by Christ, informed by the Bible, shaped by our best theological truths. They proceed with care but with confidence in the promise of Jesus.

Two very quick comments which I hope help persuade you to pick this up soon.

Firstly, Christian Edmondson is an influential leader, a cohost of the exceptional Truth’s Table podcast and many who admire her have been eagerly awaiting her book. She has several advanced degrees (including in family counseling) and is a mental health therapist; She has served in a variety of roles in higher education including as the Dean for Intercultural Student Development at Calvin University. She is a certified Cultural Intelligence facilitator, public speaker, and a consultant in the areas of ethics, equity, and Christian leadership development. As a strong Christian leader she has written a sophisticated book that her colleague Kristen Kobes Du Mex says “is a gift to the American church.”

Secondly, Chad Brennan is founder of Renew Partnerships, a Christian research and consulting ministry that focuses on diversity and race in faith-based organizations. He is a coordinator of the Race, Religion, and Justice Project founded by Michael Emerson and this new book presents what some are saying is the most comprehensive study on Christians and race since Emerson’s own research that was shared in the 2001 Divided by Faith. This fresh data has immediate use, I am sure, regardless of your context, and we should thank God for Edmondson and Brennan for bringing it to us with such clarity and grace.

Faithful Anti-racism has been called “unparalleled” as it offers what Duke Kwon calls “a brilliant synthesis of current research, scriptural insight, personal story, history analysis, and practical wisdom.”

Called To Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion  Jonathan C. Augustine (Baker Academic) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is a brand new title that we are sure will be a good read for nearly anyone — written by an AME pastor with a JD from Tulane and a DMin from Duke) who is a scholar of reconciliation and an agent for helping others care for “the other.” Yes, this is an interdisciplinary study by an amazing, multi-talented preacher and professor who is a nationally recognized civil rights leader, a theologian, and black church minister.

I think one of the things about this title is that the author is not situated (as many books on reconciliation are) within the white evangelical subculture. As a black lawyer from the deep South, he knows well the demands of social righteousness and public justice. As a law school professor (at North Carolina Central University Law School) Augustine stays up to date with the details of the legal aspects of the struggle. But as a scholar and missional strategist at the legendary Duke Center for Reconciliation, he has a passion for God’s Kingdom uniting people who are at odds. This easy to read but stimulating book is a prophetic call to embrace Biblical reconciliation not as a simple, pious platitude shaped by colorblind ideology, but the hard, gospel-based work, the work of redemptive transformation.

That United Methodist Will Willimon and Episcopalian Michael Curry have essays — a forward and an afterword —in Called to Reconciliation is interesting (especially given Rev. Augustine’s role as a clergyman in the AME Church.) 

With a clear-eyed realism about the ways faith has been distorted to justify white supremacy, Augustine invites the church to face the demons that still haunt our public life and to discover the resources in our tradition for a moral witness that offers humanity a future together. God, grant us wisdom to receive the vision and courage to practice it together with our neighbors.  — Bishop William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach; cochair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

An absolute force of a book, required reading for clergy, lay leaders, and interested citizens alike. Augustine not only makes the case for reconciliation in the church but also lays out a clear road map for anyone who wants to take a step toward inclusion but does not know how. He has done the church, and the world, a great service. — Joshua DuBois, faith-based advisor to President Barack Obama; author of The President’s Devotional

At one of the most divided times in our nation since the Civil War, Augustine pleads with believers from different groups to embrace ‘the Other’ in a mutually beneficial and diverse community. This is truly a must-read.  — Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener, the National African American Clergy Network

Diversity Playbook: Recommendations and Guidance for Christian Organizations Michelle R. Loyd-Paige & Michelle D. Williams (Abilene University Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We have given this a shout-out on several occasions and remain confident that it will be a terrific resource for those working within Christian organizations, from colleges to para-church ministries, nonprofits and mission groups. Churches, too, frankly. We need a play book to guide us into this diversity work and section one of this one-of-a kind resource offers “wisdom for diversity professionals.” There are bunches of plans and projects, ideas and principles, visions and practices that can be applied within all sorts of social organizations. Loyd-Paige is the Executive associate to the President for Diversity and Inclusion at Calvin University (and the founder of a consulting firs providing diversity and wellness coaching services.) Rev. Michelle Williams is a writer, speaker, former seminary dean, and entrepreneur. He passion and positivity come through. This really is a timely guidebook to equip leaders, towards greater institutional commitments to creating a culture of flourishing for all. 

Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege Dominique Dubois Gilliard (Zondervan Reflective) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I have not reviewed this extensively but it has been one we have sold well since it came out late last summer. What a good, good, book it is! The author is a leader you should know; the book is remarkable. Latasha Morrison (who I’m sure you know from her bestselling Be the Bridge) says Gilliard is “a gift to the church.” Authors like Soong-Chan Rah and Jenny Yang and Jemar Tisby all rave.

Dominique DuBois Gilliard is a very fine writer — his first book was Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores published by IVP and it was insightful and vital. He is an ordained minister and serves as the director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church. (He is also on the Board of the Christian Community Development Association.) I simply thank God for him and his gracious commitment to Biblical righteousness in all its fullness and his kind (if frank) exploration of the privilege many of us carry and benefit from.

It is well-grounded in a Biblical perspective (and characters, from Esther to Zacchaeus) and calls us to faithful discipleship. 

The forward by Mark Labberton, now President of Fuller Theological Seminary, is itself very good and sets the stage well for hearing from this black brother as he helpfully explores what we mean by privilege, how to steward it well, what it might look like to “leverage it.”

Been in the Struggle: Pursuing an Anti Racist Spirituality  Regina Shands Stoltzfus & Tobin Miller Shearer (Herald Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Well, the work of dismantling racism won’t happen overnight — which is how this realistic and patient book draws you in. It nurtures your sense of this and fosters an attitude that this work is for the long haul. There are no easy answers and we have to open ourselves to new visions and practices. Like anything, it takes time, commitment and… and… God’s help!

This book is unlike many in how it integrates within it’s justice and peace-building, anti-racist work, a tru sense of seeking the Spirit, of being guided by God, of drawing on interracial relationship “to offer a vision for an antiracist spirituality.” 

We have carried and long recommended books by Shearer and we have followed Stoltzfus (a black Mennonite woman with a degree from Chicago but living in Goshen Indiana.) Both are respected anti-racist trainers and mature, wise, followers of Jesus. 

For what it is worth, this truly is an embodied and lively spiritually that they are inviting us towards. It is not primarily one of quietude or contemplation and they are not drawing on sources like Richard Foster or Richard Rohr or Ruth Haley Barton. This is deeply multi-ethnic, Anabaptist, refreshing stuff. 

Giving Up Whiteness: One Man’s Journey Jeff James (Broadleaf) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I’m not sure why I first picked this up — I pay attention to most Broadleaf titles, and there is a blurb on the back by Slot Welch (of Global Bridgebuilders and author of the excellent Plantation Jesus.) Also, there is a blurb on the back by young evangelical pastor and writer Jefferson Bethke, who I hadn’t expected to see here. He describes the book simply saying, “Giving Up Whiteness is a very personal and honest journey through how the idolatry of whiteness has influenced one man, but also hold powerful clues for fighting this ongoing evil.”

Who is this “one man”? He is a fascinating guy, and this story is rooted in his own faith, growing up in West Virginia, living around Philadelphia; there is a scene of him visiting Circle of Hope, a funky house church movement where I have visited and even spoken, years ago. (He attends a Damascus Road racial training event in Germantown, which is, by the way, the ministry founded by the aforementioned Regina Shands Stoltzfus & Tobin Miller Shearer.) It isn’t a straight narrative and there are helpful excursions into all manner of things James learns, but he ends up in Nashville. Is whiteness even a thing? Who came up with this stuff, anyway? 

It doesn’t surprise me, but there is a great endorsement for Giving Up Whiteness by Debby Irving, author of the popular Waking Up White. Nice.

Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace Osheta Moore (Herald Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I reviewed this earlier and have spoken about it in a few Zoom talks I’ve given — I’m a fan of her wit and passion and her candor. This is stuff a lot of us well-intended folks need to consider. It really is a great read and think it would make a great book for a group read — especially if you. have some sympathies for these concerns already.

As the publisher puts it, “Written in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Dear White Peacemakers draws on the Sermon on the Mount, Spirituals, and personal stories from author Osheta Moore’s work as a pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota. Enter into this story of shalom and join in the urgent work of anti-racism peacemaking.”

Osheta Moore’s good friend, the hip hop artists and writer, Lecrae, says it is a “must read for my brothers and sister in Christ.” If you want to feel more equipped to speak into this tough topic and be faithful as an agent of reconciliation, justice and the recovery of shalom in this arena, Dear White Peacemakers is a great guide, honest and good. It covers so much ground, sometimes with hard-hitting frankness and sometimes with snark and joy. What a read.

Osheta Moore has written not only an important book, but what some may consider an impossible book. In Dear White Peacemakers, Osheta calls us to fight racism while remaining true to the peacemaking ethic set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a smart and compelling work, and Osheta’s voice is both honest and hopeful. I benefited greatly from Dear White Peacemakers.”  — Brian Zahnd, lead pastor of Word of Life Church in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and author of When Everything’s on Fire

Anti-Racism 4REALS: Real Talk with Real Strategies in Real Time for Real Change Sheila Beckford & E. Michelle Ledder (Chalice Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Chalice Press is the publishing arm of the progressive Disciples of Christ denomination and has done bunches of upbeat and usable books about public theology and social justice organizing. We have highly recommended their very assessable Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White People Talk Faithfully about Racism (now in its second edition) by Presbyterian seminary prof Carolyn Helsel. This more recent one is perhaps a second (or third) step on this journey. It shouts on the back “How can we dislodge, disrupt, and dismantle racism for real?”

Rev. Dr. Richard Hayes, pastor of the Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church says, “Antiracism 4REALS is an indispensable resource for equipping all who are serious about the work of dismantling racism.” These two women — one black Latina and one white — have years of antiracism training experience. They offer concrete tools to train you to confront racism and bring about real change.

Church in Color: Youth Ministry, Race, and the Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Montague R. Williams (Baylor University Press) $44.95  OUR SALE PRICER = $35.96

Although this is one of those academic, peer-reviewed, scholarly books (with the salty price tag to match) the goofy cover maybe suggests it is casual or super-hip. You should know it is a major work, a serious study, a remarkable read by an incredibly talented young scholar. The author is, interestingly, a Church of the Nazarene guy, now a prof at Point Loma, teaching “Church, Culture, and Society.” He’s got a PhD from Boston University and his study in Church in Color of the future of intergenerational youth ministry in our racialized culture, is extraordinary. Strong black voices like Daniel White Hodge rave about it, as does Abigail Visco Rusert, the Director of the Institute for Youth ministry at Princeton Seminary and Andrew Root who says, “this is a book I’ll be assigning for classroom use.”

Can youth help us with our theological projects? Can they bring their “whole, embodied selves to the Beloved Community?” Can we imagine a fresh ecclesial vision that includes post-millennials with their experience of cultural diversity as a given?

Lewis Baldwin, a Vanderbilt prof and King scholar, says Church in Color is a “clarion call to action.” Dr. Williams knows King’s work well, invites us to draw on its wisdom, and apply it to a multi-ethnic vision of the church as it applies, especially to youth ministry and the role of teens in our faith communities. What a book.

Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength Kat Armas (Brazos Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We reviewed this when it came out early in 2021 — it seems like a long time ago — and yet, this book is still growing in popularity as more people discover its fabulous appreoach. A Latina woman inviting us to study women in the Bible alongside testimonies and memoir of the author and her family. She makes the case that mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters have something to teach us all, and have something vital to offer the project of doing faithful, relevant theology. As Sandra Van Opstal puts it, “Kit Armas masterfully integrates biblical truth with social reality.”

In this sense, it sits on the shelf next to Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence by Natalia Kohn Rivera, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Kristy Garza Robinson (IVP; $17.00) which we have often listen. Hermanas primarily looks at Biblical women in light of the experiences of these women while Abuelita Faith by Armas is a bit broad, more social analysis, more story and moret heological rumination, I think, but they both wonderfully bring the voices of brown women into the foreground.

Armas demonstrates that powerful named and unnamed women, who through the quotidian have affected the outcome of history, fill not only the Bible but also our lives. Let us sit at Armas’s feet that we might gain the wisdom we so desperately need to embody abuelita faith ourselves.
— Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

Young, Gifted and Black: A Journey of Lament and Celebration Sheila Wise Rowe (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Many BookNotes friends have greatly appreciated Sheila Wise Rowe’s previous book, the honest and very important Healing Racial Trauma. This new one is very interesting and inspiring — even for me, a guy who is neither young nor back, and not all that gifted, either, for that matter.  But I get the reference from Nina Simone. Here Rowe goes beyond the more common story that focuses on the success or struggle of black millennials and young adults and, rather, offers themes of celebration and lament, pointing towards hope, joy, and healing. It is a book quite intentionally written to be of encouragement for younger black readers — although it is helpful for others to listen in, learning from what Rowe has learned over her years as a therapist, listening well to those who have experienced great sadness and great joy.

The title alludes to a famous anthem from the civil rights movement from Nina Simone. Three cheers for Young, Gifted, and Black and praise God for Sheila Wise Rowe. Highly recommended.

Gospel Haymanot: A Constructive Theology and Critical Reflection on African and Diaspora Christianity edited by Vincent L. Bantu (Urban Ministries, Inc.) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00 

You may know Dr. Bantu for his work in the serious IVP volume A Multitude of All People: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity. He is a professor of Church History and Black Church Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and has a leadership role in the Meachum School of Haymanot and the Society of Gospel Haymanot. His expertise is brilliant and here he has edited a volume which forges new paradigms for evangelical black theology and public witness.

As it says on the back cover, “Through seven dominant voices in Black academic theology, Gospel Haymanot sheds new light on biblical authority issues, doctrinal orthodoxy, and evangelical theology on justice and liberation, which engage the Black Christian experience.”

If you know any black academics (or anyone in the broader church seeking “biblical orthodoxy and black liberation”) this is an important rare resource. Contributing scholars are Quonekuia Day, Cleotha Robertson, Dennis Edwards, Vince Bantu, Nicholas Rowe, Vincent Bacote and Jacqueline T. Dyer.) The forward, insisting it is a very important book, comes from the honorable Dr. William Pannell, professor emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary. Bill Pannell was the first black speaker I ever heard, I think, and was transformative for me, at the first CCO conference which I attended as a college kid in 1973, an event that eventually became Jubilee. Dr. Bantu did a special “Jubilee Africana” presentation the Friday night of Jubilee 2022. Our CCO friends were thrilled. 

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging Willie James Jennings (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I suppose it is fair to say that there are some of us who found Jennings often cited The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (perhaps alongside Race by Cameron Carter) a bit much. It is serious, dense, and a bit thick. And expensive, on Yale University Press. Granted.

After Whiteness is a short read, colorful and assessable, a study of how seminary education might be construed and re-construed “after whiteness.” It is the inaugural volume of a series started by Eerdmans called “Theological Education Between the Times” (and for or five have come out in the last two years, almost all by people of color, each creative writing about how we might do theology and, specifically, theological education, differently in these times.

If you loved Jennings’s The Christian Imagination you most likely already picked up After Whiteness as soon as it came out last year. We sold a few and it was exciting for us. Perhaps you are one who haven’t gotten around to his bigger volume — if so, this one might serve you well as a way to read something of this important voice and understand his fundamental critique of how there have been great distortions in theology due to whiteness (and its related constructs of masculinity and rugged individualism.)

Drawing on the likes of Saint Augustine and his work on desire (eros) Jennings calls for an erotic theology, for a sense of soul that “denotes the power and energy of authentic connection with God and our fellow human beings.”

This is a powerful little book, potent, provocative, challenging, transgressive, even. 

If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? Black Lives Matter & Biblical Authority Angela N. Parker (Eerdmans) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

For those of us in ecumenical conversations, and certainly for us situated here in our bookstore where we serve all sorts of readers from all sorts of faith perspectives, we know that the discussions about the role and authority and inspiration of the Bible are endless. And, often, not terribly insightful, generating more heat than light. I’m reluctant to add more to those “battles for the Bible” even though I think it is important to read about, to consider and ponder and take the question seriously. I often note — and I will again here — that sometimes those with the most rigorously developed and loudly insisted upon view of the authority of the Bible don’t, in my estimation, live in a way that indicates that they take their Bibles all that seriously anyway. And some who on some days say less than ideal things about the Bible end up being the ones who invite us to stake our very lives upon its vision and promises. Even Jesus warned about this — you remember: the one kid who said he would do the father’s bidding, but doesn’t, and the other, who didn’t say he would, but actually did. So, there’s that.

So it is vexing, but since I’m listing books here that are in many ways knowingly provocative, thought-provoking, challenging and stimulating, let me suggest this, a “challenge to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy that questions how Christians are taught about the way of Whiteness than the way of Jesus.”

How Professor Parker (who teaches New Testament Greek, by the way, at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology) deconstructs white evangelicalism is one good thing. How she relates that to her critique of a toxic authoritarianism that is linked to doctrines of infallibility is interesting and will be compelling for many. (The wise Brenda Salter McNeil highly recommends it!) There are those who will insist that if we are to reframe and understand the Scriptures rightly as texts of social righteousness, offering visions of justice and inclusion, we must value them highly as the Word of God that they are said to be and that Parker seems to be unclear about that. If they are not divinely inspired, then why bother to discern if their vision is egalitarian or not?

But, of course, it isn’t that simple — there are ways to honor the holy breath/inspiration of the Bible without holding to a wooden inerrancy; we can come around God’s Word in reformational ways that are not authoritarian or toxic, not essentially connected to white patriarchy. This, generally speaking, is a remarkable urgent project.

Dr. Parker brings the womanist ethic of resisting racism and sexism to her reconsidering the role of Biblical studies and faithful discipleship and it is passionate and insightful. She is, of course, insisting that our lived experience, our embodied identities will shape our hermeneutic, that we (always) engage the sacred texts as real people in real bodies and in real cultures and we need to acknowledge that. It is exciting, stimulating, a bit scary. 

Listen to Lisa Sharon Harper, author of The Very Good Gospel and, recently, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World — And How to Repair It All, who wrote this in the forward:

What does it mean to follow Jesus when we strip Whiteness and westernness from his skin and the Brown colonized context from which he rose? What happens when those at the bottom read the words of those at the bottom? What suppressed, covered over, hidden, and obliterated meanings rise again? That is the project of the next five hundred years. Angela Parker’s If God Still Breathes takes us one step further on the journey.

I’ve been waiting for this book! If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? brings a fresh perspective to the biblical text that makes it come alive with hope of liberation for all people. Dr. Angela Parker calls us past the superficial into a deep engagement with a contextual theology that is relevant and life-giving. We must rethink how to address the racial and social injustices taking place in the world today, and I am convinced that the way forward is womanist! So if you want to become brave enough to move from being a concerned bystander to an active participant — this book is for you! I highly recommend it. — Brenda Salter McNeil, author of Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now

Kudos to the publishers and their authors who have brought these sorts of hard hitting and even controversial books to the marketplace. For some, this comes with considerable risk of losing customers, losing limited funds. We feel that, too, sometimes, but — golly, if publishers can spend as much as they do bringing these kinds of voices and topics into the world, the least we can do is try to sell a few. Will you join us in this project, deepening our journey into understanding? Thanks for reading!

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

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk.

We are doing our famous curb-side customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

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

See the updated, new (supplemental) Hearts & Minds online Jubilee Bookstore — with a 20% off Promo Code.

As you know, we are a small-town bricks-and-mortar store and we do not have our ever-changing inventory online. We do send out weekly BookNotes columns which offer lists and reviews, my reflections, and discount deals on most titles we announce. Those old BookNotes are all archived at our website and searchable and make for a lot of interesting reading for those who like to browse through book descriptions that don’t come from a faceless, corporate algorithm that doesn’t really care anything about you (or the books they burp out at you.) We are proud of BookNotes, quirks and flaws and all. But I know some wish for more.

As I will describe below, there is a refreshed version of a supplemental website that we created a year ago which we have updated and expanded. We’d love for you to peruse it. Let us tell you about it and the promo code we created just for you to get 20% off.

 

This is an important BookNotes post, but it will be short. Short and sweet. Or a dangerous bookish temptation if you want to look at it like that. In any case, this is a fabulous way to see a bit more of our selections here at the shop by visiting a special website that we created and using a promo code to get 20% off.
If you have followed us for long, you know about the college ministry conference in Pittsburgh called Jubilee. You may know that Beth and I worked for the CCO and served on the committee helping with the early Jubilee conferences in Pittsburgh (back in the late 1970s.) In recent decades we have served as the conference bookseller. It is by far the largest off-site event we do. We have to take a lot of books to Jubilee each year — it is, after all, about Christ’s Lordship over all of life and God’s power to bring hope and transformation to every square inch of the good but fallen creation and all that implies for faith’s impact in every sphere of society. Sometimes, Western Pennsylvania adults would swing by just to browse at the crowded pop-up book display. We took so much to Jubilee that many people thought we brought most of our store. (The sign below was a cheat-sheet for us, listing our numbered categories of topics. Whoah.)
Like last year, Jubilee 2022 was held virtually with college students signing up to watch any time this month. Most enjoyed it from their respective campuses the day of the conference but you know how these online events can linger. Some are enjoying more workshops than they ever would if there were just there for the in-person weekend. Kudos to the terrific CCO staff who figure out creative ways to do ministry on campus, even in these complicated times, and even have fun getting unchurched kids to attend and get in on the very good (virtual) good news.
A REAL ONLINE BOOKSTORE          To try to duplicate our hefty presence at the previous conferences — offering a rare mix of resources to help students take the Jubilee vision back to their home campuses and job sites and churches — we created an online, e-commerce bookstore related specifically to the 2022 “Transform Everything” Jubilee conference. It’s a typical point and click affair and it has the US Postal shipping amount calculated automatically. It’s a bit too impersonal for our tastes (trying to redeem the online sales process with more personal emails and person-to-person interaction as we typically do) but it is efficient and handy. We think it’s pretty dang awesome. You should pay it a visit. Enter that Hearts & Minds online Jubilee Bookstore here.
You can browse through my short descriptions of hundreds of titles, specially chosen for that Jubilee event that highlights how to think faithfully about society and culture, about vocation and work, about integrating Christian faith into every career and calling. We show books on health care, business, film, technology, agriculture, education, science, art, business, sociology, urban planning, environmental science, psychology, law, special education, sports and outdoor experiences, economics, politics, history, philosophy, music, literature, higher education, blue collar trades, and more — all next to books for those preparing for careers in ministry, theology, and church work. Naturally we have some daily devotionals, books about prayer, and essential reads on race and racism, poverty and justice ministry, creation care, and thinking about the best Christian postures towards cultural engagement and evaluating the ethos of the times.
Of course have a section of books written by some of the speakers for the event (such as Ashlee Eiland, Curt Thompson, Bryan Loritts, Vincent Bacote, William Romanowski, Justin McRoberts, Vince Bantu, Michael Ware…)
I did three fast-paced videoed book announcements so we have those titles listed in three categories. We created some interesting suggestions that follow-up on the four main keynote addresses from the main stage — creation, fall, redemption, restoration. You can see each in their own categories. And there are another 50 “rooms” you can visit at the site, each selected for these eager-to-learn young adults.  Enter that online store right here:  https://heartsandmindsbooks.square.site/
Featuring books in each of these 60 rooms/categories allows us to show off many of our favorite titles. Some are simple and introductory, others more complex and sophisticated. We even have a category of especially provocative and serious reads which we saddled with the generic phrase “thought-provoking.” Actually a lot of these great books are thought-provoking. And could be life changing.
The CCO’s Jubilee conference has been a flagship event that reminds us, year after year, of the things we care about most — generous, Biblical faith, lively piety, relevant discipleship, life-long learning with an all-of-life-redeemed theology that refuses false dualisms between soul and body, sacred and secular, grace and nature, Sunday and Monday, prayer and politics, liturgy and life. It all matters to God (Colossians 1:15 – 20) and we think one of our bookstore’s wheelhouses is introducing resources to help ordinary folks live out the public implications of our deepest convictions. We want to help people live, as Steve Garber puts it in his small book, a “seamless life.”
There are no discounts shown at the Hearts & Minds Jubilee Bookstore website, but if you enter this PROMO CODE –  H&M20% we will deduct 20% off your whole order.
That promo code has to be entered precisely: H&M20% with no spaces.
(We know that some Hearts & Minds customers prefer to be billed so you can pay by check later. That’s helpful for us, actually, so if you want to browse that Jubilee online store and come back to our regular order form page at our website and ask us to just bill you, that works, too. We’re flexible. As always, send an email or call if you have any questions.)
This limited, pop-up, on-line, e-commerce H&M website does not replace our standard website with its secure order form and an interactive place to order anything and to select payment and shipping options. This new Jubilee-inspired supplemental online store doesn’t (by far) show our full inventory — not at all. But it does curate and arrange by category some titles you might not know about, all offered, firstly, for these college students that are attending the 2022 virtual Jubilee conference. It was created to supplement that event for those folks, but we very heartily invite you to check it out. We think you’ll be fascinated. Please?
For what it is worth, it is not too late to sign up to take in the four big Jubilee talks, my three book announcements, some inspiring creative videos made for the event, fabulous contemporary worship music, and dozens of workshops, recorded live via Zoom, but still accessible or everything from health care to civil rights, from being creative to seeking community, from citizenship to rest, with other workshops for teachers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, social workers, etc. Let me tell you, Heather Strong Moore’s final talk on “restoration” was one of the best such talks in the history of Jubilee, and worth the entire price of the conference to watch and watch again. Click for more information on joining Jubilee 2022 with their theme this year of Transforming Everything. I think it costs just $30.00.
(If your church is interested in young adult ministry, especially college outreach, you really should check out the Jubilee event and the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) who sponsors it. They partner with evangelically-minded churches of all sorts near campuses and can send you a trained campus worker. Interestingly, in a book about young adult discipleship and faith formation called Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock, highlighting the best practices for sustainable young adult ministry, they write about Jubilee and, specially, the book tables there, offering young adults not only a deeper, personal faith, but unlocking visions of vocation, helping then discern their callings at this critical time in their journey. They insist, rightly, I think, that this is a key to fruitful and effective young adult ministry. Hooray.)
Again, here ya go, the portal to our updated Hearts & Minds Jubilee-related online bookstore. Enjoy. And don’t forget to enter that promo code (H&M20%) to get a complimentary 20% off on any purchases there.

BookNotes

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Hearts & Minds

234 East Main Street

Dallastown  PA  17313

www.heartsandmindsbooks.com 
          read@heartsandmindsbooks.com
717-246-3333

We are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the hospitals are still crowded. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful. Please, wherever you are, do your best to stop this awful sickness going around.

We are doing our famous curb-side customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

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

MORE GREAT READS in the season of LENT (that are not about Lent.) ALL ON SALE

For anyone paying close attention to BookNotes, you may note that the last few appeared at our website (where they are forever archived) but didn’t hit subscriber’s email until several days later. There have been tech issues with the service we have that sends these book reviews to those who have subscribed, so we have secured a new (and hopefully more reliable) mail service provider. Not that most people care, but our BookNotes newsletter, from our Hearts & Minds bookstore blog, is now delivered to your inbox by MailPoet. Not a bad name for us to write a check out to each month.

And, more interestingly, you probably noticed some good books for Lenten reading that we shared last week, and some links to older BookNotes that announced other, older devotionals or studies for Lent. It’s not too late to order those at 20% off, ya know.

We realize that not everyone likes the page-a-day sort of devotional format even if you want to take some extra time to read reflectively this season. Not to worry: I’ve put together a list of a dozen or so other books (mostly new or recent) that might be good to pick up now as we shift gears and allow ourselves to be shaped into people that will take Holy Week seriously in about a month. Here are some books to help you on the journey of self reflection.

Please use the link to our order page shown at the bottom of this column. It will take you to our website’s secure order form; just follow the directions, telling us what you want and how you want it sent. We’ll do the rest, including a prompt reply confirming everything. Easy.

 

On Earth As In Heaven: Daily Wisdom for Twenty-first Century Christians N.T. Weight (HarperOne) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Not counting the books of his weekly lectionary resources, not since the 1998 Lenten-themed Fortress title Reflecting the Glory have we had a daily devotional from the prolific N.T.Wright, and never a year’s worth of short readings. This long-awaited anthology is a gem, lovingly curated by Tom’s son Oliver, culling good excerpts from his many Harper-published volumes. This is indeed a daily reader, and is arranged somewhat along the church calendar. Hooray. What a great, wonderful, even rare resource.

Here’s the fun thing: it starts with Easter. Knowing Wright’s large amount of work on the resurrection — its centrality to the Biblical story, its bodily historicity, its truest meanings and its creation-wide restorative power — it isn’t surprising, really, to have this collection start with resurrection. Naturally, if you get this now, you don’t have to start on page 1. I’d suggest opening to page 265 (which has his “Kingdom Translation” rendering of a New Testament text from 2 Corinthians) and then starts in earnest with readings from The Day the Revolution Began and Surprised by Scripture. 

Life Unsettled: A Scriptural Journey for Wilderness Times Cory Driver (Fortress Press) 19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I just had to list this guide for journeying through “wilderness times” since that just shouts “Lent” to many of us. This paperback includes some honest spiritual autobiography and some solid (if creative) Bible reflection. The author is a staff person of a ELCA synod, directing the Transformation Leadership Academy. He spent fourteen years living and travelling in Morocco and Israel to understand how people make sense of living in physical wilderness. If you feel lost or confused and want sometime a bit deeper to help you reflect on this hallmark metaphor, this just might work for you.

I like this little bit from the publisher:

The Hebrew title of Numbers is Bemidbar, which means literally, “in the Wilderness.” In this oft-overlooked book are stories of God’s passionate intimacy and anger, communal formation and struggles, and personal failures and triumphs. The author shows how the wilderness journey in Numbers has deep relevance for our time and personal journeys.

I’ll put it on our shelf by the often-recommended Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places by Chuck DeGroat (Faith Alive; $17.00.)

The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself Marlena Graves (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Beth and I have a real appreciation for this author, her writing, her leadership, her insight, and her friendly encouragement to us and so many others. She is the real deal, and it comes across in her prose that is both thoughtful and very significantly informed and yet conversational and approachable. She is an “every day mystic” that draws on the deepest wells of the contemplative spiritual tradition and yet lives it out in even prophetic ways, denouncing the abuse of power and standing with the marginalized. She brings together so many aspects of faithful contemporary discipleship that we are always happy to get a chance to highlight her books.

This title isn’t pitched as a Lenten read, but — whew! — it captures the themes of following Jesus, embracing his adventure of “downward mobility” and becoming a servant to others. (Think of Mark 10, right?) In The Way of is Down Marlena invites us to “the art of self forgetfulness) and promises that in this counter-intuitive way, we just might discover our truest selves.

One doesn’t have to be in the Lenten register to recall how very central to the gospel this upside-down wisdom really is. One doesn’t have to be considering how we follow Jesus to the cross to realize that his call to humility and servanthood is a hallmark of the Kingdom way.

This book won great accolades when it came out a year or so ago; we have announced it and celebrated it, but have been waiting for Lent in order to amplify its presence yet again. We are glad for this author, this book, and, the counter-cultural ways of Jesus. He promises this hard way as the doorway to life abundant. Read this book to be challenged to embrace it.

Read these, among many remarkably positive reviews:

I know of no one who cares less for the superficial ‘worries of this life’ (Mt 13:22) than Marlena Graves. She is a voice calling out in our generation, beckoning us to a vision of Christ that has nearly been drowned out by the rise of self-help pseudo-Christianity. And this book? This book is her heart on paper. If you want to sit under a spiritual giant, and if you want to remember just what kind of freedom we are called to in Christ, do not miss this message. — Sharon Hodde Miller, author of Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More

It is a rare and sacred gift for a writer to serve her raw heart–tender and salted with tears–to nourish the world. The Way Up Is Down is a profound act of Christlike service. Honest, poignant, and lyrical, this is a book that shows what it tells. It’s unforgettable, incisive, and deeply needed. Thank you, Marlena, for sharing your precious gift–your story, your yearning for a better way. I am inspired. — Paul J. Pastor, author of The Face of the Deep

Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose, Rediscover Your Joy Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

A new book by Bob Goff is almost a publishing event and while I admit to being just a tiny, tiny bit jaded about his endless enthusiasm and bundle-o-wonder joy, I love the guy and rolled my eyes and picked up the fabulously sky blue hardback. And, not surprisingly, I was hooked within pages and kept reading longer than I should have, wanting to hear his still-enchanting (and often hilarious) stories, and be challenged by his good sense, if risky, challenging, call to faithful, Christian-like living in ambitious pursuit of purpose. Like his previous Dream Big I wondered if I was too hold for this stuff. Beth and I pursued our dreams, too some hits, ended up starting a bookstore, which ended up a pretty good fit, or so people tell us. I don’t want to dream big, to be honest, unless it’s dreams of finding more time to read the books that have been stacking up in every room of the house for decades. I’m not sure I have it in me to dream big enough to get undistracted, since it seems fretting over my distractions have become my way of life.

Which is why I am not ashamed to admit that this upbeat, encouraging, honest bit of optimistic advice, without hardly any footnotes and nothing all that deep, is, well, more than a kick in the pants. It’s a holy call to be serious about one’s calling, one’s priorities and values and lifestyle. He promises a bit of happiness that might “transition into a deep and abiding joy with a longer shelf life.” Counter-intuitive as it might seem, this fun book is one helluva Lenten read.

We are distracted by our own fears and foibles. We are distracted by very real problems and limitations (Goff over and over acknowledges this, although his optimism could feel a bit dismissive if you feel called to lament and sorrow.) We are distracted by others who are intent on tearing us down; Bob gives good advice about not engaging with the cynics. We all have endless to-do lists and most of us scroll on our phones just a bit too much. The list of distractions, big and small, are endless.

Goff has an uncanny ability to make nearly anything a teaching moment. From some major heart problems to dashboard lights going out on a plane he was solo night-flying to the story of a high school wood-shop teacher missing some fingers, this guy can turn anything into a parable. I grate against zippy bromides and chicken-soup-for-the-soul happy thoughts, but, again —  even though Undistracted may seem a bit like that, with its pithy stories, life-lessons, urgent advice, and all those analogies and metaphors (the book is, he tells us, like those rumble strips along the side of the road, reminding you if your drifting off course) and I could not put it down. (And props to him for the never-ending delight of finding lessons in nearly everything!) He has good stuff to say and it is important stuff, even profound, even if he’s too busy having fun and spinning his magic to say it is. It is. As it says on the back cover, “Bob shows you the way back to an audaciously attentive life.” 

And he knows a bit about how this works. As he tells it he lived his youth in what he calls a “low-grade mediocrity.” 

I suppose some of his stories come off better live, spoken, but they are still really good. What fun and delightful wordsmith he is. And he can just add a punchy word or clever line that’s a little unsuspected. 

Speaking to young parents (or older grandparents) he says, 

Change the ringtone on your cell phone to “Cat’s in the Cradle” sung by Harry Chapin. You’ll pick up the phone less and your kids more.

Among other suggestions, he says,

Get some wood and light a fire. Find some chairs and fill them with people you have’t connected with in a while, then watch the flames dance. Go ahead and get some smoke on your, and the next day your cloths will smell like a dozen great conversations.

Do you need reminded who you are, what kind of life you really want to live? It is not too late. Not for an old guy like me, and I’m sure not for you. Maybe you just need to leave behind some unhelpful stuff and learn to not be distracted, find some friends and press on. As he shares some pretty weird stuff from his own family (including hunting down a criminal who ended up being a long-lost relative!) you’ll want to be honest about what stories you tell about your own life.  And you’ll be more generous with others. Maybe reading Undistracted is the Lenten practice you need. Highly recommended.

Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie (Convergent) $21.00  OUR SALE PRICE – $16.80

Okay, I just had to list this one right after Bob Goff’s fabulous call to live well, with joy and adventure, by being undistracted. He’s an optimist and a motivational life coach and he is a joy to behold. But what if you are dying of cancer. What then?

Well, Kate Bowler is more theologically trained than Goff (she teaches at Duke Divinity School) and she is more snarky and cynical before breakfast than Goff will be all week. He had her on his fabulously inspiring “Dream Big” podcast and they are now fast friends. I sometimes wonder if they are somehow related, like some whimsical good cop/bad cop sibs. (If you read Undistracted you’ll learn that Goff does have a bunch of scattered and apparently previously undiscovered relations.) They really do share a child-life joy in living and a simple faith that allows them to live into God’s Kingdom is freeing ways and they both love to laugh. I was kidding about them being related, though. She’s from Canada and he’s from California.

As a scholar of the heresy of the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel (see her Oxford University Press book, Blessed) Bowler has little time for cliches and simple answers, religious or otherwise. In fact, upon receiving her very dire cancer diagnosis, she wrote two books debunking this harmfully cheery theology, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) and No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear.) There are honest, raw, full of faith, funny, and are very well-written memoirs of her life journey. 

Which you all knew if you’ve followed BookNotes. Although we have announced it briefly, before, you may not know that Bowler’s new more-or-less 40 day devotional is now out. Co-written with Jessica Richie, it is called Good Enough. It embraces imperfection, revels in creatureliness, limitations, pain, suffering and our very human realities The hand sized hardback devotional has readings like “Buoyed by the Absurd” and “Mourning a Future Self and “When You Are Exhausted” and  “Being Honest About Disappointment.” Yep, this is very clever, at times pretty fun, but it is also very serious, about “the burden of love” and what they call “the in-between.” There is a moving prayer for “when God seems absent.” The book opens with “A Blessing for a Joyfully Mediocre Journey.” Maybe this is a devotional you could use this Lent. 

Blurbs on the back are from Sarah Bessy, Cole Arthur Riley, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Jeff Chu. 

Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems Our Pain Kurt Willems (Waterbrook) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

Well, this sure seems like a good thing to consider during Lent. We spend a lot of time leading up to thinking about the horrible last week of Jesus’s life, his saying goodbye to  his friends, their lackluster support, their betrayals, the trial, the interrogation, the torture, the humiliation.  Kurt Willems, a Seattle-based church planter (and host of the Theology Curator podcast) has reflected well, here, on this human-ness of Jesus. Even as the son of God, Jesus was not exempt from suffering — he felt real hunger and thirst, sadness and anger, he endured ridicule and all of this real stuff mattered to him.

This is a book about our own hardships and how, when life hurts, the “radical humanity” of Jesus can point us to hope.  With a good foreword by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, you know it can be counted on for being Biblically sound, reliable, solid, and creative enough to be interesting. For what it is worth (as McKnight notes) it is not saying that our own pain and suffering, in light of all this suffering of Jesus, is therefore “good” or redeemed. No, this “is not a book about how violence redeems but about the redemption on the other side of violence.”

Contemplative writer Mindy Caliguire says that this “careful look at pain in the context of Jesus’s life” could open up for you “avenues of discovery and healing.” 

Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom G.K, Beale (Crossway) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Not all faith traditions use this lingo, but for some there is a distinction to be made between “systematic theology” which studies abstract topics — the nature of God, the effect of sin, who Jesus is, what the atonement is, how we are to do church, the Spirit, ethics, what should we think about the end times, etc. Such theologians work out systems of logic that neatly teach through compilations of truth about these topics. And then there is what some call “Biblical theology”which seems more organic and creative, teaching theological themes as they emerge from the narrative of the Bible itself. Such approaches weave together the very literary structure of the whole Bible study from creation to new creation, seeing how themes unfold in the history of redemption.

I mention this because this book, Redemptive Reversals is part of a series of “Short Studies in Biblical Theology,” and many of them are really great — concise but meaty. I’m a fan of most of these in this series, and this recent one, by an amazing thinker who has written big books (such as one on our mission to “expand eden” and on the glory of God, about mystery, about the role of the temple, about idolatry, about the New Testament use of the Old) here gives us a great study that seems to be a very timely read as you prepare for thinking about Good Friday and Easter. The title says it all, eh? Throughout the Bible there are stories exactly about this, the irony of sensible human wisdom being overturned by the unexpected — even ironic! — victory of weakness over power. Beale unpacks this pattern throughout redemptive history.

The apostle Paul said that the gospel was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. The gospel is just as scandalous and surprising today — or to use Greg Beale’s term, ironic. To encounter that irony is to stumble into strong evidence of the gospel’s divinity. Redemptive Reversals is overflowing with anecdotal illustrations, pastoral cautions, cultural connections, and practical applications. It’s a refreshing, unique, and important book all serious Bible students should have in their library. — J. D. Greear, author, What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?Pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

Greg Beale is one of the most perceptive and fascinating New Testament scholars of our day. He reads texts in their historical context, but he also illustrates how particular verses and passages fit into the larger storyline of the Scriptures. In this wonderfully accessible volume, Beale helps us to see that God often works in ways that we would not expect and uses unlikely and ironic means to accomplish his purposes. We see from Beale’s work that God is sovereignly working out his purposes and his will and that we can trust him with our lives.
— Thomas R. Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, author, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers Dane Ortlund (Crossway) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We have announced this several times at BookNotes, sharing a bit about it, highlighting why so many have said it is one of the most moving, serious books about the work of Christ they have ever read. It is a slow, meditative, Biblically careful study of the person of Jesus, his humility and kindness. It is about grace and goodness and about his work on the cross. It says it is mostly about His heart.

Dane Ortlund does this, I must say, by studying and reporting on the serious work of  several Puritan preachers and writers (and near mystics, or so it seems to me.) He explores the heart of Jesus and his kind invitation to “come to me, all who are weary” by way of citing Thomas Goodwin and Richard Sibbes and John Owen. Goodwin wrote a book in the mid-1600s called The Heart of Christ. Sibbes most famous work, which we have carried for years, is The Bruised Reed (which alludes to the promise of God in Isaiah 42 assuring us that “a bruised reed I will not break.”) Obviously, if you have been meaning to read this very popular volume, now would be a good time. There’s a study guide, now, and a journal, and, published a few months ago, an intense sequel by Ortlund, simply called Deeper.

Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World —and How to Repair It All. Lisa Sharon Harper ( Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

We have announced this a time or two, first inviting folks to pre-order it (thanks to those who did) and then, again, when it came out. I even mentioned it on that little video I did on facebook, the day This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley released. And yet, I’ve still not done it justice. Fortune was a hard book to read in an odd way. It was not gratuitous about the pain of the whip or the fear of lynching that African Americans have felt in their very bodies and it was not even that detailed about the abuses poured upon people of color in the late 20th and today. No, the brokenness this book describes is plainspoken and informative, passionate, yet, but written in a restrained way, getting at the “way race broke my family” in a way that is inviting to all. Who doesn’t want to know something about their family ancestors? Who doesn’t get a bit touched by those Ancestory.com ads? And who doesn’t cheer for an underdog, facing plenty of obstacles in finding the backstory of family heritage. Those of us older enough to remember recall why Alex Haley’s Roots was such a huge best-seller, before and after the much-watched TV show that exposed all of American to the hard history of enslaved peoples here in so-called God’s country.

The title of this book is the name of a relative of Lisa’s, one whose story she traces in one of several chapters, each bearing the name of an ancestor. The book is mostly a family story, but it is grounded in the present as Lisa wonderfully describes her journey to archives and websites and museums and follows old roads to find old homesteads and imagine that this, this, this right here was where some relatives once lived. Most of the book is set in the past but she narrates it through the three decades it took her to explore ten generations.

In this way readers are drawn in, eager to know more, almost as Lisa herself was piecing it together, finding this true story, recalling that anecdote, holding on to that family heirloom, discovering these records or those news clippings. It is common enough stuff, but she tells it well. She has us on the edge of our seats in a few sentences about waiting for DNA results.

But — let us speak honestly, here — most white or even non-white Americans who do their ancestry detective work, do not have to consult purchase orders and billing ladings for the purchase of their ancestors. And for black people in America, this damnable fact is true: most family records are smeared and smudged (metaphorically but perhaps literally) with blood. Lisa does not overstate the horror of this, looking up records of who was purchased by whom, and only hinted at how it made her feel to do this particular kind of detective work. It is, though, what makes Fortune a different sort of book than most others who have told their dramatic story of finding their ancient relatives and where in the older worlds they came from. In this sense, Fortune is gut wrenching, not because Lisa is melodramatic or overstated; again, she is not. Still, it is, as they say, what it is.

And some of what it is, is exciting and lovely, learning about great-greats, marriages, travels, and the birth of little ones. She learns of cousins and stories of creativity and endurance. Lisa weaves her family member’s stories in with her own, placing it all in the context of the unfolding history of modern times. Ms. Harper has been through a lot — we have gotten hints of some of it in her Very Good Gospel. There is more revealed in Fortune. The great Ruby Sales has a blurb on the back simply saying that “Harper is a masterful storyteller.” Amen to that.

I had read this in an advanced manuscript, and when the hardbacks came we were delighted, but I had my spiral bound manuscript all marked up and pages dog-eared. So I didn’t open the hardback right away and then I discovered the bonus — there are photographs of some of the people she writes about (Lee Ballard, born in 1836, Phillip Fortune, born in 1835, Reinaldo and Anita Weekes (wearing a great hat), up through a fabulous picture of Lisa’s mom Sharon Lawrence with Lisa as a baby, a picture taken in 1969.) You will actually lay eyes on Hiram, who you have read about, and Richie Lawrence and Willa Belle Jenkins visiting Junias on a military base in Michigan during WWII. I’m not usually a fan of pictures of people we don’t know in an autobiography but these are the people this book is about. I was so excited to see these, and it drew me back into the book for my second reading.

There is some very good stuff as the story draws to a close about repair. Obviously no simple religious “reconciliation” will do without a full account of truth and justice. She explores the meaning of guilt and the nature of forgiveness. She writes helpfully a bit about reparative justice. She cites a few good public theologians and social ethicists  (and of course, tells of Desmond Tutu’s important work in South Africa, citing his powerful No Future Without Forgiveness.) Her message about the beloved community is moving and compelling and not without a challenge to be more active to the work.

Which makes this, my friends, a great book to read any time, but perhaps especially as a Lenten practice, to enter in to the story of another with such intentionality, to learn what she learns, to care, to be challenged.Is if fair to say this is, in some way, part of all of our stories, for better or worse? We owe Lisa a debt of gratitude. She waded in (as Sweet Honey in the Rock sing it, citing Harriet Tubman.) As one writer put it, “Fortune recovers the beauty of her heritage, exposes the brokenness that race has wrought in America, and casts a vision for collective repair.” 

Lord, Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace: The Complete Prayers of St. Francis, St. Clare, and other early Franciscans Jon M. Sweeney (Paraclete Press) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Jon Sweeney has written so many interesting books over the years and we carry much of his work. An early book about the medieval worldview illustrated by studies of cathedrals was fascinating. I loved his memoir The Lure of Saints which pushed to be, as another book put it, “almost Catholic.” He is known as a biographer, and has done books about the lives (or the teachings of) Saint Patrick, Thomas Merton, G. K.  Chesterton, Black Elk, Mary the mother of Jesus, St. Catherine, Meister Eckhart, even contemporaries James Martin and Phyllis Tickle. He has devoted more time and has published more volumes, though, about Francis and Clare. He knows them very well. (Another new book came out that we noted a few months back that, come to think of it, would make a good Lenten read as well: Feed the Wolf: Befriending Our Fears in the Way of Saint Francis [Broadleaf Books; $26.99.]) Again, Sweeney knows this Franciscan stuff very well.

Which is why this prayer book is so amazing. Sweeney has painstakingly found and studied and prayed and compiled great prayers by Francis and Clare and others in their medieval orbit (such as the inimitable Brother Juniper and St. Anthony of Padua.) This volume collects those and prints them liturgically, as litanies and in the style of an office. Yes, the Franciscans served the poor and sang and danced and are not known for Benedictine type prayer cycles or great silences. But here it is. You can pray these for yourself, or in your family or group, or you can just read them for the fascinating historical record. Lord, Make Me An Instrument is a major contribution to this sort of literature, compiling in one affordable (and nicely made) paperback, all these many prayers.

There is much other content in the book, too, lots of interesting chapters about Francis, about Clare, about the other characters who followed them — about their prayer lives, how to “pray alongside” them, and even  a chapter called “prayer in 13th century Europe.” Okay, maybe it isn’t for everybody, but I’m sure some Hearts & Minds customers will find this spell-binding.

Maybe being a bit of a holy fool would suit you well this season, loving God with greater abandon and praying more deeply, even learning to be used “as an instrument of your peace.”

Monastery Mornings: My Unusual Boyhood Among the Saints and Monks Michael Patrick O’Brien (Paraclete Press) $18.00                             OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I wanted to list at least one spiritual memoir for those who like just watching over the shoulder as one ordinary person narrates his or her life, and how they came to grow in faith and discipleship. This book seems like a good one to suggest here, ruminating as it does about the faith this book experienced as he hung out with monks at a nearby monastery in his rural Utah.

Yep, you read that right: one doesn’t immediately think of Catholics, let alone monks, living in Christian community in the land of Mormons and the great Western landscapes. But, yes, in the mid 1900s some Catholic pioneers — Trappists! — intended to form a contemplative monastery right there (as Jana Riess puts it) “in the unlikely soil of Mormon country.” Riess continues, telling of Patrick O’Brien’s 1970s boyhood in Utah, “O’Brien captures the expansive spirit of late twentieth-century Catholicism in America and the loving warmth of the monks who befriended him.” 

Monastery Mornings has been described as a “love letter to a community of Trappist monks who provided family when a young boy needed it most.”

Humbler Faith, Bigger God: Finding a Story to Live By Samuel Wells (Eerdmans) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

You have heard of people “deconstructing” faith. You’ve heard of the “spiritual but not religious” and now, the “Nones.” Certainly we have highlighted books here about these concerns, recently, the must-read When Everything’s On Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes by Brian Zahnd or After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It by A. J. Swoboda. We are eager to see the soon to be released book by Brian McLaren called Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned (coming in May 2022) which will be a sequel to Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It. Although to a more limited audience we have highly recommended Struggling with Evangelicalism: Why I Want to Leave and What It Takes to Stay by third-culture kid Dan Stringer.

Enter, now, one of the more thoughtful writers of our day, Samuel Wells, vicar of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, London. (You may know him from a stint as the head of the chapel at Duke Divinity School and author of many, many books. And we have most of ’em.) In Humbler Faith, Bigger God, Rev. Wells shows a different way into this conversation, an honest but bracing call to continue on in Christian discipleship without the pressures of certainty and hubris.

As the publisher notes, Wells offers a “reframing of Christianity that portrays traditional belief and the response of skepticism as two rival stories and offers a third story that incorporates doubts and failures into a renewed understanding of Christian faith.”

Wells is replying to the common criticisms that the church has perpetrated injustices and intolerances of all sorts, that religion is a “crutch” and “drug” and full of endless narcissism. Chapter by chapter he takes on one of these popular accusations, and offers an eloquent call to honest, historic faith, but one that is flexible enough to appeal to the cynic and the hurting, this redemptive “reframing.” Wow, what a balancing act!

Does he get it right?

Read these comments for some indication:

A book at once incisive, wise, compassionate, and deeply devout. Wells avoids with equal agility the traps of empty dogmatism and empty faddishness, never forgetting that it is the love of God and neighbor–on which depend all the Law and the Prophets–that provides the proper key to any interpretation of the Christian mystery. — David Bentley Hart, author of Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief

I’m not sure who else alive could have written this book. Scholars are not usually this accessible. Pastors not usually this sharp-eyed. Critics not usually this devastating. Advocates not usually so beautiful. This unusual book calls to mind Augustine’s heart, Aquinas’s mind, Day’s activism, Temple’s leadership. You say I exaggerate? Take up and read before you tell me I’m wrong. — Jason Byassee, coauthor of Following: Embodied Discipleship in a Digital Age

God has surely heard it all: the complaints, the objections, the silence of a back turned on faith. Samuel Wells asks us — those of us who still believe that God can be found in Christian faith and its expression — if we have taken seriously the protests of our disbelieving neighbors. Now is the time for humility, church. Now is the time to listen. Now is the time for us to put up or shut up. Humbler Faith, Bigger God is here to help.  — Katie Hays, author of God Gets Everything God Wants

Samuel Wells gets right to the heart of real questions people struggle with and the real challenges the church and the Bible raise for thinking people. He addresses all this with honesty, humility, intelligence, and love. This book is for seekers, doubters, questioners, and those who wonder what faith might mean in these days. — Heidi B. Neumark author of Sanctuary: Being Christian in the Wake of Trump

When the Universe Cracks: Living as God’s People in Times of Crisis edited by Angie Ward (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

With the pandemic, the threats of global warming, climate crisis, financial meltdowns, and social polarization, it seems there is strife and trouble everywhere. Do you sometimes wonder what leaders are reliable to help you follow Jesus through this current crisis? Who can you trust? Where can we get some serious help in thinking about all this that isn’t a 500-page philosophical tome or an ideologically driven screed? From women and men doing good work in good ministry with real wisdom to offer?

If you could find such a collection of wise voices, it might be a Lenten practice to slowly work through them, maybe one each week. Who knows? Could this be a Lent book for 2022?

When the Universe Cracks is a sweeping, multifaceted look at the role of crisis in the life of faith from an esteemed gathering of pastors, faith leaders, and experts. You’ll find honest and realistic reflections to help you navigate present trouble or anticipate changes — a skill we’ve all realized these past years that we need to cultivate. Inspired by the global pandemic, these writers examine the whole history of God’s people (and how social crises was handled in the Bible) and offer a fresh perspective for every time the universe cracks. Good accessible reflections, honest, evangelical, engaging.

Scholar and church leader Angie Ward facilitates this energizing and fascinating discussion. Thought leaders Jo Anne Lyon, Efrem Smith, Christine Jeske, D. A. Horton, Kyuboem Lee, Marshall Shelley, Matt Mikalatos, Sean Gladding, Catherine McNiel, and Lee Eclov each contributed a chapter.  We’re impressed and wanted to offer it here with other books that are timely, a bit sobering, maybe useful for a month such as this.

Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross 20th Anniversary Edition Michael J.Gorman (Eerdmans) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

What could be more Lenten than reflecting upon how the cross of Christ figures into Christian discipleship? About how our spirituality should be cruciform? About how the Bible itself — in this case, mostly Paul — uses this notion as a key to understanding our faith and lives? You may know that I named this one of the Best Books of 2021, but it just seems fitting that for any reader who is used to reading somewhat thick and scholarly prose, that this could be your version of a Lenten devotional. 

Here is some of what I wrote a BookNotes a few weeks ago when celebrating this recent anniversary edition of a contemporary classic of New Testament studies:

Speaking of Best Books and celebrations and Dr. Michael Gorman: it was twenty years ago his profound and game-changing work Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross came out. This past year, Eerdmans released an expanded edition, called the 20th Anniversary edition, with a new foreword by Nijay Gupta (which is fascinating) and a very lengthy new chapter by Gorman, giving a bit of the backstory to his work, how Cruciformity came about and how it was received, and some new updated of things he has considered since 2001 when the first edition came out. Certainly this new edition deserves a special place on any list of important books done in Biblical research this year.

Michael Gorman is that rare scholar who can write for both the academy and the church. Cruciformity is a gift to both. Gorman offers in readable form a thorough study of how the crucifixion of Jesus remakes Paul’s understanding of God and undergirds his views of what it means to be in Christ. In its exploration of how the apostle experienced God’s love and grace through ‘the strange story of Christ crucified, ‘ Cruciformity charts a path for how that story might continue to shape daily lives today, in cruciform faith, hope, love, and power.  — Rebekah Eklund, Loyola University Maryland, author of The Beatitudes Through the Ages

Thanks to Michael J. Gorman, ‘cruciform’ has come to describe the architecture of Christian community even more than the architecture of Christian buildings, with the term becoming an essential lens through which we view the apostle Paul’s pastoral theology. Cruciformity is an indispensable resource because Gorman’s careful scholarship and pastoral concern mirror the apostle Paul’s own efforts to illuminate the implications of Jesus’s ignominious public lynching. Bible teachers and students should keep Cruciformity nearby as a handy reference whenever studying Paul’s writings.  — Dennis R. Edwards, North Park Theological Seminary, author of Might from the Margins

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NEW, RECENT AND RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR LENT 2022 — 20% OFF

Thanks for the comments about and orders from the last two BookNotes, our celebratory set of reviews of our favorite books of 2021. It’s bittersweet doing our annual “Best of…” lists, as a book lover and bookseller, wanting to describe these titles that have in some cases become part of our common vocabulary here (at least among Beth and me, and sometimes other who are good friends on the same page literarily.)  We love telling about these, feel bad about leaving some out, and yearn for more orders coming our way. For almost 40 years we’ve eked out a living doing this work, and we’re glad for those who help us spread the word and who support our ministry here. We do wish some of the titles we honor were as popular as, well… you know. Both in the general market world and in the religious publishing industry there are a lot of best sellers that are at best foolish distractions and sometimes down right harmful. 

There is a scene in No Cure for Being Human where fearless (and theologically trained) Kate Bowler, in the hospital after her latest round of awful cancer treatment, shuffles, with oxygen tank being carted alongside her, into the hospital bookstore and insists that some of these religious titles ought not be sold there. They offer untruth, promises of faith healing and the like and she was outraged that such theologically erroneous and dishonest books would be sold in a hospital of all places, where people are sick and dying. The book buyer for that shop, we presume, is clueless, and just stocking the best sellers there in the Bible Belt without discernment or an apologetic.

We try to offer some curated listings of and arguments for a variety of really good books, and, yet, other stores that don’t care about these things get much more business than we do, and books that Bowler rages against are on the bestseller list. Go figure.

Which leads us to this time of year when we focus on this hard, complicated stuff. The smudges of Ash Wednesday, the opportunity to stare more honestly into the face of our sin and need, the classic notions of penance and remorse and lament, the intention to make space for God to confess and get more serious about spiritual practices that facilitate our self awareness and our journey towards Jesus and his suffering — all of this flies in the face of zippy American religion. These Lenten resources may not be on the bestseller list, but, once again, here we are.

We will briefly list some new Lenten titles for use this next month or so and a couple of seasonal favorites from other years.

And then I will briefly list some hand-picked recommendations for Lenten reading that could serve you well this time of year, even if they are not directly about Lent.

You can always browse our archived BookNotes archives at the Hearts & Minds website. I put in key words “Lent” and “Lenten” and found some previous year’s posts, for instance HERE HERE, HERE and HERE.  Many of those old titles are still in print, although the prices may have changed. Don’t hesitate to shoot us an email or hop on our inquiry page to ask about any of these.

We’ll do an Easter related BookNotes later, including some kids books for their Easter baskets. But, first, let’s journey to Jerusalem during this tim. of Lent.

15 NEW (OR FAVORITE) BOOKS FOR LENT

Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $23.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19

Perhaps you know the very big selling devotional by Tripp called New Every Morning or his many shorter books, either on Biblical counseling, or gospel-centered guidance for coping faithfully with practical, daily issues. He knows our good-but-fallen human condition and he truly knows how Jesus can transform us; the church is not primarily called to scold people into living more morally, but announce the good news hidden in our troubled lives: we know we need to be rescued and the Bible announces that that rescuer is here. So, we rely on His amazing grace to get us through, day by day.

Do you really want to know how this works, in fairly vibrant and historically orthodox language? (When I say orthodox, I do not mean Russian or Greek Orthodoxy, but just what Lewis called “mere Christianity.” Nothing new or odd, just what the hymn-writer called “the old, old story.” 

Crossway makes a nice hardback book, with colored end papers and a hint of two color ink throughout. Nice type font, even. I like the feel of this one.

Paul Tripp has once again led us past feel-good platitudes and into focused, Christward reflection. Through tension and tenderness, lament and thanksgiving, the Lenten season will transform us when it leads us to the cross of Christ.       — Ruth Chou Simons, author, Beholding and Becoming and GraceLaced

Like so many others, I have benefited richly, and for years, from the ministry and writing of Paul Tripp. This latest work is no exception. Journey to the Cross is a precious reminder–one worth returning to again and again–of not only the rich benefits we receive through Christ’s humiliation, death, and burial, but also of his dignifying invitation to properly lament the wrong that is in the world and the wrong that is within us. The season of Lent is a special, forty-day season to enable and empower God’s people to do just that, and Tripp has provided us with a remarkable roadmap for the journey. I can’t recommend this wonderful resource highly enough.   — Scott Sauls, Senior Pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tennessee; author, Jesus Outside the Lines and A Gentle Answer

Lent in Plain Sight : Devotions Through Ten Objects  Jill J. Duffield (WJJK) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

We featured this last year and it was popular; we sold during December her little Advent in Plain Sight: Devotions Through Ten Objects. This is solid Biblical exploration, creatively opened up by way of ten objects in the time of the Bible or the life of Jesus. These almost commonplace physical items (Dust, Bread, Cross, Coins, Shoes, Oil, and the like) are nice doorways into deeper Scripture reflection, spiritual insights, prayer and reflection. There are questions to ponder and a prayer of the day.

There are six chapters for Lent, there for Holy Week, and one for Easter (“Stones.”)  Short, thoughtful, interesting.

Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Readers of BookNotes know of our appreciation for this liberal Jewish New Testament scholar who has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We have heard her, appreciate her feisty style, commend her books and DVDs full of insights about the nature of first century Judaism, the context in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement got started. I hope you know her book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week which is one of her most popular titles. 

(We also stock her recent The Difficult Words of Jesus: A Beginners Guide to His Most Perplexing Teaching, her study of the parables (Short Stories Jesus Told) and Advent one and her “Beginners Guide”) to the Sermon on the Mount. She co-wrote a scholarly commentary on Luke with the United Methodist scholar Ben Witherington, and she has some kids books. Last week at BookNotes I celebrated the important hardback volume The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently. 

Anyway, with AJ’s famous wit and vast knowledge of Scriptures in their historical context, she’s a helpful, enthusiastic teacher. In this new one, Witness at the Cross, she is studying the history, social context, and substantive views about the cross through the eyes of those who were present.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

Experience Holy Friday from the perspective of those who watched Jesus die: Mary his mother; the Beloved Disciple from the Gospel of John; Mary Magdalene and the other women from Galilee; the two men, usually identified as thieves, crucified with Jesus; the centurion and the soldiers; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Jews and Romans, friends and strangers, the powerful and the powerless, the hopeful and the despairing. In Witness at the Cross, Amy-Jill Levine shows how the people at the cross each have distinct roles to play in the Gospels. For each, Jesus has a particular meaning and message, and from each, we learn how those meanings and messages cross the centuries to any who would come to the cross today.

Additional components for a six-week study include a DVD featuring Dr. Levine and a comprehensive Leader Guide  DVD Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

 

DVD A Journey Through Lent: Reflecting Christ’s Sacrifice for Us: A Seven-Part Sermon Series from Timothy Keller & David Bisgrove (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Here are seven good sermons about Lenten practices, inspired by the Psalms, preached a few years ago (each about 40 minutes long, with one being 33 minutes) at Redeemer in Manhattan by these two lively and intellectually stimulating PCA pastors.

Once we discovered these DVDs through friends there, we tracked them down and are excited to be able to offer them here.

A Journey Through Lent: Reflecting Christ’s Sacrifice for Us: A Seven-Session Study Guide by Redeemer Presbyterian Church Tim Keller & David Bisgrove (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church) $9.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.96

Again, this study guide is not widely known as it was an in-house curriculum piece the Manhattan church put together (with the help of a reputable publishing house)  to go along with a Lenten series on the Psalms that Tim and other pastors did a few years back. Once we discovered it through friends there, we tracked it down and are able to offer it, here. We are so glad to have these for sale at our discounted price.

This is a leader’s guide on 7 Psalms for 7 weeks of Sunday school classes or small group or person study. One doesn’t have to have heard the sermons, but for those that want to watch them, the DVDs are available from us, as shown above, DVD called (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church

A Journey Through Lent: Reflecting Christ’s Sacrifice for Us: A 40 Day Devotional by Redeemer Presbyterian Church  (Gospel in Life Resources by Redeemer Presbyterian Church) $4.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $3.96

This small book is a great daily devotional created for congregants at Redeemer to use during  Lent to supplement the Sunday sermons and small groups hosted using the above resources. Of course one can use it without having watched the sermons or without the great study guide. It’s very nice, inviting us to ponder how to make our hearts ready for the remembrance of Jesus’s death and the celebration of his resurrection 

A Busy Parent’s Guide to a Meaningful Lent Maria C. Morrow (Our Sunday Visitor) $16.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56

If there are any Roman Catholic parents out there, this is a must-have resource for approaching what some see as a nearly overwhelming season, one that is supposed to be meaningful and about which we are to be diligent, but which, often, ends up being less than what we’d wish for ourselves and our kids.

There are some very uniquely Roman Catholic insights and applications here — suggestions about novenas and guidance about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yet, it is so rich and full of Bible teaching offered in a clear plan for daily, achievable reading with daily practices, that almost any Christian could adapt this for their own liturgical and theological inclinations.

I love that this is for “busy parents” and is fairly quick, starting the day off with Scripture, reflection, and prayer. This is not for families to use together, but for the parents of families.  As one mom put it, Maria offers “contagious confidence.”

Bitter & Sweet: A Journey into Easter Tsh Oxenreider (Harvest House) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

During Advent we promoted her Shadow & Light which was very popular, especially with younger, thoughtful evangelicals who may know her from her social media presence. Like that one, Bitter & Sweet is made with nice paper,  handsome calligraphy and two color ink with some nice extra design touches. As we said about the Advent one, it is nicely done, smart and contemporary. She is fresh without being odd, honest and creative but with a fairly conventional evangelical orientation.

But here is what also makes Shadow & Light stand out as a very interesting devotional tool this season: she has a song to listen to (presumably that can easily be downloaded from the internet) and her taste in contemporary worship music is very smart and indie. She recommends tunes by The Brilliance, All Sons & Daughters, Porter’s Gate, Liz Vice, Sandra McCraken, Aaron Strumpel, even the Welcome Wagon. To see a Billy Graham quote and a suggestion of a Nina Simone song on the same page just delighted me. As did a recommendation by a song by gospel singer Cici Winans. So that is an creative touch and real gift.

Also, Ms Oxenreider has suggested some art pieces to look up and ponder — from a few medieval and renaissance suggestions to Fritz Eichenberg, a woodcut artist from the mid-20th century (often used by Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker) to contemporary artist Scott Erickson. That’s pretty great, too.

 To have a older evangelical publisher like Harvest House do a book with church calendar charts and a chart on the historic seven deadlines sins and cardinal virtues, with quotes from Catholic saints and mystics (alongside one by Jamie Smith) framing the basics of Lent by the liturgical year is very nice.

Bitter and Sweet has a lot going on in it, and a lot in its favor. Yet it is simple to use and the graphics are nice but plain. Nothing gets lost in the pizzaz, and it’s easy to use.

Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace Throughout Holy Week Jason Porterfield (Herald Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I was very pleased to write a bit about this when I did a list of books about peacemaking and the questions of violence a few weeks back. (With the awful war waged by Russia, now, it is that much more relevant and complex, eh?) I noted that Fight Like Jesus was a very good new book, refreshing the arguments for Biblical pacifism and nonviolent resistance. The title should be appealing to all who are Jesus followers, right? We are in His way, after all, and should do whatever we can in appropriately Christ-like ways. And, man, does Jesus ratchet up what that looks like in his last days.

I will never as long as I live forget the moment I realized that Peter was an old man writing his first epistle in which he references Jesus’s nonviolence in the garden, saying that we were called to this and it is  an example to follow and how much regret the apostle must have been holding, all these years later, writing about the lesson he learned when Jesus rebuked him at one of his worst moments. 

For another example, many of us have preached — I hope you have heard it — about the implications of Jesus riding a donkey (not a warhorse or royal steed as they would expect) on Palm Sunday to fulfill the anti-war prophecy of Zechariah.

Well, those are just a few of the lessons of Holy Week and to have them and many others explore so forthrightly and tied together in one major book is a treasure. I’m very excited about this new book, glad for its lively readability and its good attentiveness to the Bible in its wholeness. (He has a degree from Fuller, by the way, and there is a forward to this by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight.)

So many well known authors talk and write about the high esteem they have for the Bible (and look askance at those who they think do not) but as far as I can tell, they have never done this kind of solid work on this Biblical material. We all have blinders and miss stuff, so I’m very eager to commend Jason Porterfield for connecting dots, speculating a bit about what it all means, and preaching a full gospel message for those offs wanting to dwell in Holy Week a bit this Lent.  Start it now —it’s easy to read, but just over 200 pages. Highly recommended.

A Time to Grow: Lenten Lessons from the Garden to the Table Kara Eidson (WJK) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

Wow, this is really nice, a short bit of Lenten devotion reading picking up on ecological themes and creation care and food and sustainability — directly as spiritual practice. From Eden to Gethsemane, of course, to the garden where Jesus was buried and raised, “our story of faith wanders through much fertile soil.”

As the back cover puts it, “But in our current world of fast-food and to-go meals, we often do not make time to explore where our food comes from and how we break bread together.”

This little volume invites us to slow down, to think about sowing and seeds and nurturing and cultivating, about gardens and food and feasting and fasting.

From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, there are ten chapters (one for each week of Lent and a few extras, like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday) with thought-provoking reflection or conversation questions. There is also a section for worship leaders who want to integrate some of these “garden to the table” themes into worship services.

Kara Eidson has worked in campus ministry and now is a United Methodist pastor in rural Kansas where she and her husband love spending time tending to their garden with their ten chickens and two goats.

What Were You Arguing About Along the Way? Gospel Reflections for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter edited by Pat Bennett, introduced by Padraig O’Tuama (Canterbury Press) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

You may have seen this when we did a book list of books about peacemaking, civility, conflict and the like a few weeks back. This is an excellent, new resource for preaching, pastoral care and personal formation, I think, emerging as it does from the Spirituality of Conflict Project created by Padraig O’Tuama (who has written many of the reflections.) This is a lectionary resource with an introduction for the gospel of the day, a commentary and reflection, some suggestions of ways to respond to the text and teaching, and a closing prayer. Nice.

What is so very unique about this collection of dozens of entries is that they are Bible based but the authors all draw on the work in reconciliation in places like Corrymeela, Iona, Place for Hope, Coventry Cathedral, Holy Island and other local church and community contexts. They are both Catholic and Protestant. The royalties from the sales of the book will support Corrymeela’s Public Theology Project.

Pat Bennett, by the way, is a writer and liturgist with a background in science and theology and is a member of the Iona Community. Padraig O’Tuama, as I hope you know, is a poet, writer, speaker and broadcaster (who curates and presents “Poetry Unbound” podcast from the On Being studios. He has been a leader in the peacemaking community, Corrymeela in Northern Ireland. 

Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection  Christopher Rodkey, with illustrations by Jesse & Natalie Turri (Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

I am happy to list this among our Lenten favs even though I suppose it isn’t for everyone. Back at the start of the adult coloring book craze a few years ago, Rev Dr. Rodkey, a neighbor, friend, and Dallastown UCC pastor (and local candidate for PA State Congress) came into the shop wondering about adult ed options for December at his small, creative church. He had a hunch folks were burned out, tense, in need of some serenity. He thought about just doing an arts and craft thing for adults, a contemplative coloring time. It went over well and he set himself to the task of collaborating with some Pennsylvania illustrators and created this Coloring Advent, based on lectionary readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

There is nothing like it and his brief comments about the Biblical text — yes there are footnotes in a coloring book! — are beyond intriguing with his penchant for including lesser known feast days from the world Christian traditions, from Orthodoxy and Catholicism’s liturgical calendar. A thoughtfully arranged, annotated, ecumenical coloring book that follows the lectionary. Wow.

His subsequent Coloring Lent, which also is rooted in Rev. Rodkey’s deep awareness of ecumenical theology and global feast days and which follows the lectionary is equally great. (And then he did one that is equally provocative and interesting but not lectionary based, Coloring Women of the Bible.) As I’ve said before, these are both fascinating and fun. Coloring Lent An Adult Coloring Book was created right here in Dallastown and we are glad to list it here.

Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing Gayle Boss, with illustrations by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I do hope you’ve seen our description of this in past Lent columns (and, also, my recommendation of their All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings which has been out a few years, also.) We continue to enjoy them both. It is hard not to be in awe of the lovely writing and the very striking illustrations. It is just so darn nice, so moving, so evocative. Wild Hope is really good, a fresh way into this time of year.

Here’s how we described it once before at BookNotes:

Well, this sequel and companion volume to All Creation Waits is very similar — with great, great writing, fantastic artwork (again, engravings or woodcuts) and a book laden with goodness and grace. The most obvious theme of this powerful Lenten book — environmental activist and literature prof Bill McKibben calls it “overpowering” — is the beauty and sorrow of endangered species.

As spiritual writer Christine Valters Paintner (founder of Abbey of the Arts) says:

Full of power and poignancy, love, and lament. Gayle Boss invites her readers to groan together with all creation in grief at the profound loss of species. Lament is a cry of truth-telling, and in her portraits of these exquisite creatures, we hear the necessary and devastating truth of what we are losing.

Carl Safina, ecologist, author of Beyond Words and Becoming Wild; MacArthur Fellow and founder of The Safina Center, writes:

Wild Hope is the only book whose table of contents alone gave me chills. Here’s the deal: the living world, life on planet Earth, is sacred. Author Gayle Boss yearns to show us that we live in a miracle. And she succeeds in showing us that we are not alone on this holy planet. This is a beautifully elegant, deeply excellent book, pursued by grace on every page, in every stunning illustration.

And listen to this endorsement from a first-class poet and Christian writer:

At first I wondered how a connection could be made between the Christian season of Lent and the human ravaging of Earth’s creatures in the wild. But Gayle Boss’s detailed, vivid accounts of an ark-full of wild lives in danger, as our climate changes, convinced and challenged me. In the stories, and with powerful woodcut images, the beauty of living wild beings is revealed to readers as designed and beloved of the Creator.  – Luci Shaw, author, The Thumbprint in the Clay and Eye of the Beholder, Writer in Residence, Regent College

The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sister Wendy Beckett (IVP; $17.00OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

The Art of Holy Week: Meditations on the Person and Resurrection of Jesus  Sister Wendy Beckett (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Certainly one of our best selling Lenten devotions from the past has been The Art of Lent and we are thrilled that there is a somewhat shorter companion volume for Holy Week and Easter.

The thoughtful selections of classic paintings (some you will recognize, some you may not) coupled with a few contemporary ones by modern artists, brimming with Sister Wendy Beckett’s irrepressible wisdom and enthusiasm, these are just fabulous resources for your faith development and devotional life. They are small, almost square sized (6.2″ x 5.4”) so easy to carry and not too expensive.

As one reviewer noted about the Holy Week, one, “This little book explores the spiritual riches to be found in some of the world’s greatest paintings of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. Including thirty full-color masterpieces of Western art, this devotional will help you appreciate all that these paintings convey to the discerning eye.

Praying the Stations of the Cross: Finding Hope in a Weary Land Margaret Adams Parker & Katherine Sonderegger (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE $17.59

It isn’t every day that a major, world class seminary professors and theologians like Dr. Sonderegger does a daily devotional of this sort. (Her first two hefty theological volumes in a multi-book series on Systematics are excellent.)  Here she offers deep and thoughtful guidance about this ancient practice that can “strengthen our awareness of God’s healing presence.”

Margaret Adams Parker is also a theological educator and she is also a visual artist and here offers excellent writing and remarkable woodcuts. (She has an afterword about the painstaking process of creating these pieces, some that first started as charcoal sketches.) They are powerfully striking.  The process of these two well informed Protestant theologians collaborating (and some work previously done on their own) is itself a fascinating story. Their introductory chapter on visual art representations of Christ’s crucifixion is great and their history of the practices of “doing” the Stations of the Cross is very interesting, even inspiring. I’ve mentioned this one before, but felt like I should highlight it again. Highly recommended. As Bishop Michael Curry notes, “Here, the weary will indeed find refreshment, and those in need of spiritual nourishment will be amply satisfied.”

A profound and spiritual moving book. The practice of the Stations is opened up and made newly accessible in a fully ecumenical way. The pervading spirit of the Stations is removed from self-absorbed penitential practices and wonderfully enlarged by the mercy of Christ toward the sins and sorrows of the world. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the result is generous orthodoxy in action.  — George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing) $24.00 This is a perennial title from Plough and matches nice their popular Advent collection, Watch for the Light

 Here is what I wrote a while back at BookNotes:

This handsome hardback has brief readings from some of the world’s leading literary and spiritual writers, offering just enough meaty and aesthetically-rich writing to please and challenge anyone who wants to dip in to a more mature sourcebook. Bread and Wine (like its companion Advent volume, Watch for the Light) draws wonder-full excerpts from the likes of C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Philip Yancey, Jane Kenyon; from Frederick Buechner, Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry, Watchman Nee and Dorthy Sayers. How many books have such thoughtful excerpts of Tolstoy and Updike and Christina Rossetti, Fleming Rutledge, Martin Luther and Barbara Brown Taylor, Oswald Chambers and Alister McGrath. As you can see, this is really diverse, delightful, thoughtful; a publishing triumph pulling together such writers and thinkers, poets, mystics, evangelists. With each several-page excerpt linked to a brief Biblical text,  Bread and Wine is a wonderful devotional that you will use for a lifetime.

12 GOOD BOOKS FOR REFLECTIVE READING THIS SEASON

Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Practices for the Broken, Ashamed, Anxious, & Afraid Kellye Fabian (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I won’t say much about this here since I reviewed it at BookNotes note too long ago, then named it as a Best Book of 2021 (in our post last week) and, by the way, highlighted it at the 2021 Jubilee online bookstore that we did for that collegiate conference. It just seems so right to highlight a book that is honest about our hard human condition, and invites those who are broken or ashamed into this practice of being vulnerable before God. It seems a good time — Lent — to get real about all this in our own lives. I think Holy Vulnerability might just be what some of our readers might need most.

The first two chapters are about “absence” — our need, our unhelpful coping mechanisms, our fears.  The next six are great spiritual practices, stuff to do, to live into, and prayers and suggestions for how to do this good stuff.  The discussion questions are really good — robust, multi-layered, mostly safe but some poignant poking, too. They are themselves worth the price of the book and cheaper than going to a therapist. If you know we’re not okay, then consider this an invitation to a “deeper kind of wholeness.”

From Burnout to Beloved: Soul Care for the Wounded Healers Bethany Dearborn Hiser (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

If the Kelly Fabian book, above, strikes you as valuable, this, too, might be useful to use this time of year.  This author is another woman who knows a thing or two about pain and hurt, about burnout and depression, and who longs for a better world, despite all. As we said in a lengthy review at BookNotes, this is a book about burnout from caring, written by a social worker who, as a woman of faith, cast her lot with the marginalized, the hurting, the poor and oppressed. My goodness, she has done good work befriending the outcaste and the needy. And, yet, through it all, she wonders — how much more can I do, how much more can I stand? Like a workaholic for the kingdom of God, she ended up exhausted, even plagued with what psychologists call ‘secondary trauma.’

The good, highly engaging book explores in wonderfully helpful ways how Bethany found spiritual renewal (along with some self-aware self-discovery) based on knowing, deeply, truly, that she was a beloved daughter of God.

Whatever your ministry area, leadership responsibilities or areas of service, I bet you know some of her struggles, and I am pretty sure you would benefit from a season of reflecting on what is going on, and how you, too, can recover an awareness of God’s great love. Wounded healer? Caregiver or just one who cares? You will be empowered by this book  How about a Lenten practice of intentional soul care, perhaps aided by reading this so you might move “from burnout to beloved.”

Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson  (Broadleaf Books) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I have raved before about this fascinating book by a Hearts & Minds friend, a world leader within the global church and a very thoughtful and entertaining writer. As Wes explains in this fascinating, captivating book, he was nurtured in (and continues within) a Reformed theological church tradition that tends to overstate our intellectual responsibilities to understand proper doctrine, to described in often head-spinning detail the systematic ways that theologians have explain the character of God, the nature of saving faith, the precepts of the Kingdom. Alas, as he has aged and experienced robust faith on every continent, he has become less enamored with the “head knowledge” (as important as it may be) and has searched for a faith of the heart, of the soul. One of the ways he has experienced this is by going on pilgrimages, including the famous El Camino trail in Spain.

Without Oars has stories and theology, Bible and more stories. It is mostly a memoir of his journey and in 10 chapters (about 160 pages) he invites us to step into a spiritual pilgrimage. Blurbs on the back are from the likes of the Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, red-letter activist Shane Claiborne, Franciscan Richard Rohr, and evangelical activist for Middle East peace, Mae Elise Cannon. What an array of good folks inviting us all to follow Wes on this leg of his colorful spiritual journey towards the Spirit’s mysterious work.

Even Silence Is Praise Rick Hamlin (Word/Thomas Nelson) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I just started this and have found it to be remarkably clear-headed, nicely written, a fine introduction to the spiritual practices of solitude and silence. Meditation, if you will, Christian mindfulness, that stuff that comes from the ancients, like The Cloud of the Unknowing or many recent authors (George Keating or Basil Pennington, for instance, or Melvin Laird.) The phrase which is the title, “Even silence is praise” comes from Psalm 65:1.

 

Why are so many contemporaries carrying their yoga mats to their studios on Sunday morning? Why do so many have Zen apps on their phones, take mindfulness workshops, even at work? There are a lot of reasons for all of these cultural trends and Rick Hamlin (who has written several good and interesting books on prayer) does not despise or mock them. But he does wonder why we in the church haven’t done a better job helping our own people (not to mention the Zen and yoga crowd) to know about the hidden treasures of Christian meditation.

I love books like Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Silence and Solitude (and the deep, rich, trilogy by Martin Laird from Oxford, Into the Silent Land, A Sunlit Presence, and An Ocean of Light.) But this is not just an explanation of the mystery of it all but is nearly a guidebook. There are exercises and meditations, reflections and “moments” at the end of each chapter to process the content.

Hamlin is a longtime editor at Guideposts magazine and has had guest op-eds in the New York Times. I say that to suggest he is not a monk or a madman — hardly even a mystic. He’s a man who loves God, follows Jesus, and wants to help us “realize a new joy, contentment, and hope” even as we learn to practice the prayers sales of centering prayer and contemplative Christian meditation. Where even silence is praise.

Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $25.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

We have celebrated this at our BookNotes newsletter and in recorded video book announcements, recently, for the CCO Jubilee conference. It is in Comer’s cool and breezy style, similar to his other popular books like The Ruthless Elimination ofHurry and God Has a Name and Garden City. Man, I like this guy a lot, his fun and hip style, the easy to read shorter paragraphs, and, yes, his Kingdom vision of a culturally engaged faith where we are serving God in the real world.

And this is his most meaty, his most challenging, and one that I really was captivated by. It is perfect for Lent, even though I do not recall him using the word. It is about, to use an older theological language you don’t hear much any more, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

(A little aside that a few of our readers might care to know: I was impressed that he spent a page or two trying to clarify the tension of Paul’s language of “spiritual warfare” with the nonviolent teachings of Jesus. I don’t know if Comer is a principled pacifist, but he clearly is paying attention to how Jesus denounces violence, and so to write about spiritual warfare, even as a metaphor, he had to take a few pages to ponder that, to make sure readers don’t misunderstand. I liked how he struggled with this, actually, and applaud his efforts to come up with a satisfactory approach using the Biblical language without being glib or cavalier. Good for him!)

I think when I announced this before I quoted Rich Villados, who really knows good books:

John Mark Comer is a gift to the church. He writes with adept cultural nuance, theological savvy, and refreshing spiritual depth. In Live No Lies, he’s taken on a multilayered, ancient topic and brilliantly rearticulated it for our generation. This is a gem. — Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship and author of The Deeply Formed Life

In a time where deception seems to have settled upon the land like a dense fog, Live No Lies offers us a clearing to see how we have been deceived, to learn how we deceive ourselves, and to flee from the one who deceives. An essential guide for discernment in our contested age. — Mark Sayers, leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia, and author of a number of books including Disappearing Church and Reappearing Church

J Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life Paul Miller (Crossway) $22.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I know that many aren’t used to reading applied theology, deeper teaching about how dying with Christ and rising with Christ really effects us. But, I’m telling you, Lent might be the perfect time to embrace some intentional study, slowly working through this material for a month. Some serious churches have teaching sermons and workshops and lectures on this sort of thing, but most do not. So I applaud this fine work for forging into some deeper waters, trying to see how some fairly complex theological truths play out in the real world.

Miller is a fine writer, a man we’ve heard and appreciate. He has a spectacular book on prayer, a good book on loving like Jesus did, and a really good little study on the book of Ruth. This is his most thorough book and he is utterly gospel gobsmacked, fascinating with how the salvation offered by Christ is not just a “once and done” ticket to heaven but also — in the lingo of the old timers, “sanctificaiton.” That is, as Luther put it, we “preach the gospel to ourselves” and thereby remind us of God’s love, Christ’s empowering righteousness given to us, etc. etc. 

This, though, is a bit more than even that, a formulation for how the transforming truths of God’s atonement help change us from the inside out. No, this goes in a Lenten direction, it seems to me, of us joining Christ in his death. The Bible says that over and over (and some of our more liturgical churches recite it as creed.) Paul calls it the J curve.

We go down, (the left downward swoop of the J and then, in that good ascending bar on the right, we move upward with Him.) Our oneness with Christ is not just a nice and pleasant union, because we are unity with a Lord who died. Which is to say, the J Curve is about suffering.

As Miller says, though: “the J-curve roots our hope, centers our love, and tethers our faith to Christ.” Wow.

Here is a striking recommendation by Joni Eareckson Tada, one who has suffered much and who knows Jesus well:

Never have I read a more practical work on how a Christian can flourish through deep affliction. This book will revolutionize the way you look at your sufferings and your relationship with Christ.

 

Christ the Life: A Gospel Psalm Thomas K. Martin (Paraclete) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Thomas Martin is described as a literary artist. I might say that means he is a good writer, an artful author, maybe poetic, even if he is doing prose. And this seems right for this scholar of Renaissance literature (and chair of the English Department of Wheaton College.) Wheaton’s English department has a certain reputation for entertain in solidarity many classy Christian writers — I think of their friendship Frederick Buencher and Madeleine L’Engle and, of course, they did a major symposium (and published a book) out of their time with Pulitzer Prize winner, Marilynn Robinson. In any case, Martin is a word artist.

And here, he writes remarkably poetic ruminations of the life of Christ. Each page offers a Biblical text at the top, and he runs with it, writing artfully a prose-poem, meditative, sermonette to paraphrase the passage with beauty and grace. 

Christ the Life isn’t exactly a full on biography of Jesus and it isn’t really a paraphrase of the gospels. It is almost like a set of poems directly inspired by the Biblical text, but I do not think the author or publisher intends to call these poems. 

Here is how some other literary scholars with good eyes and ears describe it. They do it much better than I ever could:

Christ the Life is replete with rough-hewn fragments, like the quick notes of a man entranced by a vision and needing to get it all down, gradually, echo by echo and image by image. These rise into the full music of wonder and praise.   –Thomas Gardner, author of John in the Company of Poets

It is an intellectual and spiritual joy to read Martin’s poems, but ‘The Life’amazes by the way it incarnates timeless complexity into realist simplicity, subtle nuances tensed to surprise the reader. Among its principal strengths are the embedded allusions providing a parallel contextual bridge between the Old and New Testaments, just as Christ does in the Gospels. Incarnational words crystallize a connection between past and present (the simultaneous, paradoxical present of Jesus and the reader) and a future union. Whatever audience it receives here, I’m reminded of what Gerard Manley Hopkins said about Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode: that there is a greater appreciative audience in heaven… —Steve Blakemore, Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Florida Atlantic University

Some commentaries on the life of Christ drown in jargon even as they attempt to be relevant, or obscure in historical arcana as they pursue some new theological speculation. Tom Martin’s subtle and stirring The Life recreates the story of Jesus for readers as its meditative, literary language puts them back in first-century Palestine. What might be long familiar scenes come to life in fresh language that delivers the original’s power, poignance, and pathos. The images are unforgettable and the spiritual insight invigorating. Somewhere, George Herbert is smiling. — Duke Pesta, Associate Professor of English Literature, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope Amy Julia Becker (Herald Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is a brand new book and I intend to spend more time with it myself — do you ever have one of those moments in a bookstore or library and you think, “This book is calling out to me.” This could be one of those moments. I’m sure I’m not alone in needing to ponder some deeper truths (in an upbeat and well-written way) about what healing is and isn’t, what health and wholeness looks like in these hard days, what it means to be well. (The day this book arrived I was listening to an old Mark Heard song where he sings the passionate plea, “I just want to be well.” The song is “I Just Want to Get Warm” from his poignant folk-rock album Second Hand. I wondered if it was a sign.)

So, yes, don’t we all wanna get well.  And don’t we need a gentle guide, a thoughtful writer, one attuned to various issues and aspects of our hurts and unwellness. A decade ago Becker wrote a very good book on having a child with disabilities called A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny and more recently, a wise and tremendously written work called White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege. She is the calibre of thinker and so good at her craft of writing that she ended up in the top-drawn anthology (one of our Best Books of 2021) Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year (co-edited by Comment magazine’s Anne Snyder and Plough’s Susannah Black. I say all this to establish her credentials in our view, as a thinker, lay theologian, and excellent writer. She has a bi-vocational license to pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church

There are at least three things I am excited about in To Be Made Well. First is her solid understanding of Scripture; as an evangelical who studied at Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary she has done her homework; she knows her way around Bible and theology. I’m eager to see how she approaches healing narratives and explores “restoration” (a word she uses in several chapters.) 

Secondly, I am eager to see how she exposes what the chapter titles suggest are “barriers” — barriers of distraction, shame, anxiety, and status. Wow. 

In this Lent, I’m interested in how she weaves together four final chapters on healing of body, spirit, community and society. I only know one serious book on healing that has a section on “social healing” and I’m very glad to see this wholistic and multidimensional perspective. 

As the back cover nicely says, “For anyone facing pain of loss, for anyone concerned about the things that divide us, this book goes beyond wellness and beyond miraculous physical transformations to explore how we can — personally and collectively — be made well.” And, as she notes, how, in so doing, we can ourselves become agents of healing.

Timely, practical, and full of hope, To Be Made Well is a beautiful offering for our weary, splintered, and hurting world.    Vivian Mabuni, author, Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God

 

A Wilderness Zone Walter Brueggemann (Cascade) $21.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

This isn’t a conventional daily devotional — a bit more meat than that, I’d say —but a bit less demanding than some of the hefty collection of Brueggemann essays. Each of 20 chapters offers a Biblical reflection applied to a contemporary social issue. Or, maybe, a contemporary social concern explored in light of Biblical teaching, as Brueggey sees it, at least. This will be generative and thought-provoking, get you into serious Bible reflection, with a heart of the brokenness of our hurting world. 

I’ll skip the many accolades and recommendations from a wide cast of predictable suspects, and let Walt tell you what he’s doing here:

In these several pieces I have worked to trace out possible interfaces between specific scripture references and matters at the forefront of our common social life. It is my hunch that, almost without fail, such an interface creates a very different angle of vision for any element of our common social life, because it situates such a topic in the context of the biblical narrative that is occupied by the holy agency of God. Such an alternative angle of vision helps to defamiliarize us from our usual discernment according to the master narrative of democratic capitalism that is most widely shared across the spectrum of conservatives and progressives. Because our common angle of vision shared by progressives and conservatives has a very low ceiling of human ultimacy, we (all of us!) easily come to think that our particular reading of social reality is absolute and beyond question, even if dominated by a tacit ideology. It is my bet that an interface with biblical testimony can and will deabsolutize our excessive certitude and permit us to look again at the social “facts” that are in front of us. I do not think and do not suggest that such interfaces with scripture are inevitable; they are rather suggestive, impressionistic, and fleeting, the kind of linkage that is available in the matrix of faith that is not fixed on certitude.

Hey, will you, dear reader, do me a favor? Read that again. Or at least those last two sentences, where he says:

It is my bet that an interface with biblical testimony can and will deabsolutize our excessive certitude and permit us to look again at the social “facts” that are in front of us. I do not think and do not suggest that such interfaces with scripture are inevitable; they are rather suggestive, impressionistic, and fleeting, the kind of linkage that is available in the matrix of faith that is not fixed on certitude.

He is suggestive, yes, but I’m pretty sure he’s fairly sure about a lot of this. He’s got that prophetic imagination, ya know. This is a great new book and I commend it for your reflection.

White Lies: Nine Ways to Expose and Resist the Racial Systems That Divide Us Daniel Hill (Zondervan) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Isn’t it odd that just a few years people were in the streets, usually peacefully, raising awareness about consistent, routine police brutality, seemingly, often, due to race, and other systemic matters of racism in our land and world, and now, many have moved on. Many white Christians have moved to good activism and ongoing education, and we’re grateful to see allies in the ongoing struggle. Older folks and newer ones brought things to the table from a variety of perspectives and cultures and theological traditions.  Good, good, books keep on coming [more on that in a future BookNotes] despite some pretty reactionary foolish ones.

Maybe this Lent we should refocus our waning attention on what many committed themselves to a year and a half ago: reading, learning, deepening empathy and awareness. Maybe this Lent some of us (myself, certainly) might “give up” the notion that we know enough about all this racism stuff.

Daniel Hill wrote in 2017 a very good, honest, insightful book called White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White. I liked it in part because he is such an earnest, thoughtful, even fairly woke white evangelical; not a beginner, but admitting there is a lot to learn about white privilege. Dan explained how he eventually realized that he, despite his good intentions, needed to settle down and learn more cross-cultural stuff — heart and soul, mind and skills — if he was going to be successful in his efforts to be a multi-ethnic ministry leader. And that included considering some of what we call privilege. White Awake was a very nice introduction to all that.

Then, he did White Lies and my sense is that it was not used as much, not as well-received. That it was issued in a more costly hardback was part of it, that it had a more assertive, in-your-face title maybe didn’t help. And there was Covid. We were so derailed that we hardly mentioned it at BookNotes, and I’ve felt bad for a year.

It now strikes us that this is a great Lenten read, even a good book club study for a time such as this. It isn’t an utter downer, not laden with guilt or regret. The subtitle gives it the upbeat, feisty feel it has — these are nine things to do, to work on. Ways to “expose and resist” these diabolic institutional forces that hurt us. Daniel Hill is a saint, here, honorable and helpful, and he invites us white folk along with him on this next step of the journey. Maybe this could be your next step, too. 

Aside from the meticulous research and copious real-world examples, what makes White Lies so compelling is that its author speaks with integrity. Hill is doing the work of confronting the temptation to believe ‘White lies’ in his own life and in his ministry as the pastor of a justice-oriented, racially diverse church. If you’re ready to take the next step in the journey of racial justice, then you must read White Lies.— Jemar Tisby,  author, The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism.

This book has given me biblical language and spiritual strategy for the dismantling of White supremacy in my life and also in the world around me. As a Christian, I walked away from this book full of hope that heaven is in this with us and we have been given enough grace through Jesus Christ to engage, learn, and listen. Daniel Hill has written a book that reminds me at every turn of the page that what feels impossible for us to overcome is possible with God. — Kristene DiMarco, worship leader and Christian recording artist

Daniel Hill has done it again. In White Lies, he offers perceptive analysis, a pastoral heart, and an ability to mark a path forward… I believe this book will serve as an important catalyst to reframe the work of justice and reconciliation and to move us to be the kind of people God calls us to be in the world.– Rich Villodas, lead pastor, New Life Fellowship, and author of The Deeply Formed Life

You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World Alan Noble (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

I needn’t say much more about this book and its wonder — so well written, so thoughtful, a bit challenging, provocative, and certainly a terrific balanced book that brings the joys of spiritual insight and cultural criticism. This rich work draws on ancient creeds and texts that remind us that we are not our own, that we belong to God. But — ahhh, here is where it gets tricky. The social imaginaries and worldviews of our time (conservative or liberal) all seem to assume some sort of individualism. For some it is more blunt and rugged, for others it is more genteel as we exercise our freedom to be whatever we want, do our thing, But either way, this assumption of that we are the captain of our ship, as the old warhorse poem put it (or, that “You’re not the boss of me” as the TV show put it) just doesn’t carry carry adequate weight. We cannot bear it. No man is an island, as Donne said, and that’s just the start. We are in this together, and God is in charge.

I don’t know if that radical deconstruction of the Western creed works for you, but it is one of the truest things that can be said and one of the most urgent in the early years of our century. Alan Noble is saying what needs to be said and we all need to learn it well. Lent is a time of reconsideration and repentance and now might be the time to take this up. Read it. 

Tish Harrison Warren, and good thinker and writer says it is eloquent and perceptive; Karen Swallow Prior says it is “astonishing in its breadth” (“and even more remarkable for its compassionate and practical wisdom.”)

Duke Kwon writes:

Using one of the most beautifully articulated truths in creedal history as its guide, You Are Not Your Own examines one of the great sicknesses of our age –the soul-crushing malady of self-belonging. With the learnedness of a professor, the meticulousness of a tutor, and the empathy of a friend, Noble guides the reader through crucial questions around personhood, identity, and meaning. And he does so in a manner that is at once exposing and healing for those exhausted (and seduced) by modern life. Importantly, this book offers more than cultural insight and a Christian anthropology; it offers much needed hope, not by commending religious techniques that only add to the burdens of self-optimization, but by commending Christ —t he one to whom alone we must belong. Here is a book that is penetrating, accessible, convicting, and in the end, hopeful.

Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the EarthDebra Rienstra (Fortress Press) $23.99OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19

The creation groans, as it says in the mostly hopeful, beautifully resurrectionary Romans 8. But groan it does, and groan we all do, each in our own way. Some of us more than others, perhaps.

We have a recent book, edited by an acquaintance of my daughter, called Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church by Hannah Malcolm (SCM Press; $25.99) and that, too, might be a collection of stories and readings to tide you through these groaning days. There is much to lament.

But, to be honest, this Refugia Faith, that we highlighted a few weeks ago, is *the* book to read and recommend, a beautifully written, deeply wise, caring, Biblically faithful reflection on places of refuge, of the “ordinary wonders” of this good Earth, of what the healing of the planet might look like. As we noted at BookNotes, Rienstra is a writer and English professor (at Calvin University) and has worked hard to have her own imagination and views of her work shaped by Scripture and her Reformed faith.

We have sold a number of these and more than one satisfied customer went out of their way to write to say it is one of the best books they’ve ever read. It is tragic but hopeful, sad but gorgeous, gentle and radical. There are stories and reflections and nature writing and plenty of good words to help you process the groaning of all things as we anxiously await rebirth. Not exactly a Lent book, but, hmmmm: maybe it really is.

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Hearts & Minds Bookstore BEST and FAVORITE BOOKS of 2021 — PART TWO

THE HEARTS & MINDS VERY BEST AND PERSONAL FAVORITES of 2021 – PART TWO

Well, here we go again, more lists of some of our favorite reads of last year. Hope you saw my little meditation on our state of the art here in D-town. And that first great list.

Again: much of what we share here as “the very best” is subjective and colored by my own memory of what I read a half a year ago, conversations that helped us realize how certain books struck people, and, I suppose, what people we respect thought about certain titles. And, of course, there is the question of for whom a book may be “best.” One size doesn’t fit all. I’ve got some unique tastes and interests, I suppose. We’re glad you want to consider these and we’d be very pleased to send some soon.

Please order by using the secure order form page at our bookstore website by clicking on the “ORDER HERE” tab at the very end of this column. Thanks!

THE ARTS & LITERATURE

Discovering God Through the Arts: How We Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity Terry Glaspey (Moody Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

We have carried all of Terry’s many books and have been proud of his good, good work. We rejoiced when his 50 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know was picked up and re-issued in paperback by Moody Press ($24.99.) Good call!

And thanks to Moody Press for doing this one early this past year, and doing it so nicely (at a great price, too!) There’s lots of full color art, lots of examples of the sorts of stuff he writes about, chapter by chapter. We reviewed this at BookNotes and I’m proud to have my name on the inside as an early rave endorser. What a joy.

And, yep, others have awarded this as a Best Book of 2021, so the word is getting out. Discovering God Through the Arts is useful as a tool for ordinary folks wanting to deepen their discipleship, it is good for those who need sort of a “spiritual” excuse to appreciate classic and contemporary art, it is a blessing for those who intuit the implications of art appreciation but just have never studied all the ways in which artfulness can help us. From learning to contemplate to understanding the Bible better, from nourishing our imaginations to cultivating empathy, art can help us become more of what God wants people made in his image to be. More urgently, attentiveness to creativity and the arts can help followers of Jesus take up their cross and follow Him. I think this is one of the best books of spiritual formation and radical discipleship, even though it gets there gently and with great grace. Surely CT and others are right: Discovering God Through the Arts: How We Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity is surely one of the Best Christian Books of 2021.

Art and Faith: A Theology of Making Makoto Fujimura (Yale University Press) $26.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

I announced this when it first came out, and named it again in a long BookNotes list of books about aesthetics and the arts that we did after the fall CIVA conference. Naturally, this is one of the key books in this whole movement of Christians in the visual arts and we, along with many others from across the social and theological spectrum, esteem Mr. Fujimura for this egregiously good abstract art and for his fine, thoughtful prose. That N.T. Wright wrote a good forward to this Yale University Press hardback might illustrate not only its solid theological orientation but its world class prominence.

This “theology of making” is one of the important books in this genre and we are very happy to honor it here again at Hearts & Minds.

Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God Malcom Guite (Square Halo Books) $18.99   OUR SALE PRICE= $15.19

Did you see our explanation of this (in the aforementioned long BookNotes art book list?) Square Halo is a boutique publishing house run by our dear pals Ned & Lesley Bustard and Allan & Diana Bauer. We stock everything they do — including several good new books this season. This, though, is a coup; Malcolm Guite is an internationally esteemed poet, priest, liturgist, writer, and theologian (see his brand new little book in the “My Theology” series from Fortress called The Word Within the Words.) Guite speaks on several continents and is well loved among many from various theological spaces.

Lifting the Veil includes lectures given at Regent College in Vancouver and is enhanced with artwork and etchings, graphics and nice design. Square Halo does this sort of thing quite well and it makes this little book even that much better — an artful book inviting us into the redeemed imagination. What a book! Congratulations to Square Halo for all their good books released in 2021; Lifting is my favorite of ‘em all.

God in the Modern Wing: Viewing Art with Eyes of Faith edited by Cameron Anderson & Walter Hansen (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I do not read many books about the arts, although we are interested in curating a good selection here about faith and the arts. We stock books on art and music and literature and aesthetics (and the process of developing a creative process) andwe appreciate the divergent perspectives of authors from various angles of vision. That is, we have Orthodox scholars pondering medieval art and evangelicals looking at modern art and Catholic thinkers ruminating on all manner of aesthetic theory, spiritual directors writing about pondering paintings as prayer, etc. etc.

We are partial to the wondrous writing of Calvin Seerveld (Rainbows for the Fallen World, just for starters) and so value those in his wake as many contemporary writers from across the world are. IVP has a set of books called “Studies in Theology and the Arts” and they are all excellent and I suspect each cites Seerveld at some point.

God in the Modern Wing is the latest in this ongoing “Studies in Theology and the Arts” series and it captures a bunch of lectures given a few years ago about artists whose work is displayed in the “Modern Wing” of the Art Institute of Chicago. First Presbyterian Church there, with the help of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts), hosted a lecture series with each lecture exploring the religious theme of an artist in the nearby museum, followed by a walk through the museum. What a rich, wonderful, faithful program, which happily became this superlative book.

I was won over by the introduction to this book explaining why the Chicago church did this program and how they pulled these nationally known scholars and artists together for the course. That they eventually put it into a book and published it through IVP Academic is a great grace and we are thrilled to celebrate it here, now.

Perhaps not everyone is generous about all this. However, even Hans Rookmaaker, the Dutch art historian who influenced Francis Schaeffer and was famously worried about the nihilistic worldview expressed in some modern art, would have loved this project; I am sure of it. God in the Modern Wing, with the blocky cover from Mondrian is the fruit of a major collaboration of several Christian groups and this good church near the Modern Wing and we are eager to honor it as one of the great books of 2021. Thanks be to God.

Touching This Leviathan Peter Wayne Moe (Oregon State University Press) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

Some books just show up somehow and I am drawn to them, perhaps from an allusive title or a lovely cover. In this case, it was both — what is this even about? The description in the University Press catalogue seemed itself allusive, but I was curious enough to order it in for the shop. Was it natural history, about whales? I like whales. But I didn’t expect this:

Touching This Leviathan asks how we might come to know the unknowable — in this case, whales, animals so large yet so elusive, revealing just a sliver of back, a glimpse of a fluke, or a split-second breach before diving away.

How might we know the unknowable? I didn’t see that coming.

Here is more of how they described it:

Drawing on biology, theology, natural history, literature, and writing studies, Peter Wayne Moe offers a deep dive into the alluring and impalpable mysteries of Earth’s largest mammal.

Entertaining, thought-provoking, and swimming with intelligence and wit, Touching This Leviathan is creative nonfiction that gestures toward science and literary criticism as it invites readers into the belly of the whale.

Did he say theology? And, “the belly of the whale”? Yes; it ends up this author is biblically literate, to say the least, and has written for Image journal. He is a Christian who teaches English at Seattle Pacific University and oversees the writing program there.When I saw the good comments about it from Image editor Jamie Smith, I realized I had stumbled upon something extraordinary.

Breaking Bread with the Dead:  A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin Books) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

This, too, is an honorable mention for 2021 because it came out in paperback this past year. Had I done a Best of 2020, it surely would have been listed. I have more than one friend who are exquisite readers, who read seriously, widely, and a lot. They both insist it is one of the best books they’ve ever read, a magnificent and provocative experience inviting them to ponder the wisdom of ancient writers.  As we said at BookNotes a while ago, I couldn’t put it down.

Reading ancient writers, Jacob’s says, allows us some freedom from the anxieties of our own age. Mature and yet clearly written, as you’d expect from professor Jacobs, one of our favorite public intellectuals and an engaging, artful writer.

Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith Daniel SIlliman (Eerdmans) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

We announced this at BookNotes and I might have said in that early review that we are unsure where to put this volume in the shop. Is it mostly history? (Historian Mark Noll has a blurb on the back as does Kristin Kobes Du Mez.) Is it literary criticism? (Karen Swallow Prior raves.) Popular culture studies? Should we just put it with the novels it discusses?

Reading Evangelicals is a play on words, right? We can “read” evangelicals and understand their worldview and place in the culture, we can understand them, by reading and interpreting them. And, we can look at those we might call “reading evangelicals.” What Silliman is brilliantly doing here is looking at the readings habits of certain sorts of mainstream evangelicals. So he “reads” evangelicals by exploring “reading evangelicals.” Or at least certain reading evangelicals and books popularized by evangelicals, mostly. It is thrilling to anyone who follows these things and informative for those who do not.

As one who has sold — often not terribly enthusiastically — these very books, we can attest to their importance. They are often very valued by the readers (God bless them) and important for how they shaped attitudes, especially about key things in what has become known as the culture wars. For better, but mostly for worse, a handful of representative books and authors shaped and influenced a whole segment of conservative Protestants in the last half of the 20th century and how they think about the world.

In a world where I had more time, I’d convene a panel or two about this provocative book. Is he astute in selecting these particular titles? What might other cultural critics say about the impact of these authors on evangelicalism’s late 20th century ethos? Have these influences reverberated across Y2K and into the current century? Why or why not?

And what about ordinary readers of, say, Christian romance or Amish fiction or the supernatural thrillers of Frank Peretti? Did The Shack cause the current rage for faith deconstruction? Do hundreds of thousands of Left Behind fans really think that since we are going to be raptured away from this evil world we really don’t have to care about the threat of nuclear weapons or the damages of climate change? As many of these very sorts of customers we know and love, I cannot say if Silliman’s thesis is fully water-tight. But he is on to something, something big, electric, even. These books have millions of readers.

Reading Evangelicals is a very interesting book about a very interesting topic but is more than just of a passing interest; this is a matter of great consequence. It may help us understand the very tenor of our times, from evangelical support of former President Trump to the religiosity behind some anti-mask/anti-vaccination fury. I’d like to think that Eric Metaxas is self-aware enough to know that he might be subconsciously living out a Frank Peretti novel, but I have my hunches. Silliman’s book might be a key to unlocking a whole lot of mystery these days. In any case, it’s one of our favorite books about books, one that captures some of our forty years here serving dear customers in Dallastown.

Reading Evangelicals is a winsome, yet incisive study of evangelical culture and life through Christian best-selling fiction. It is a Pilgrim’s Progress for twentieth- and twenty-first-century evangelicals, decoding their fears, hopes, and dreams through Christian fiction. A worthy and essential read for anyone who wants an in-depth, compassionate look at the evangelical culture of reading. — Anthea Butler, author of White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America

The clever double entendre of Daniel Silliman’s title is more than matched by the insights and sheer readability of the book itself. Its patient account of million-selling evangelical novels is full of unusual wisdom about the authors of these books, but also their publishers, the bookstores that sold them, and (not least) the multitudes who have read them. Silliman’s depiction of American evangelicalism as an ‘imagined community’ defined in large part by these best sellers is thought-provoking in the best way possible. — Mark Noll, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Toni Morrison’s Spiritual Vision: Faith, Folktales, and Feminism in Her Life and Literature Nadra Little (Fortress Press) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

This is not the first book on the moral imagination and broader social vision of this significant black woman writer. It is, surely, the one that explores her Catholicism more adeptly and appreciatively than any other. For this, alone, we want to honor this important contribution to understanding how Christian faith influences culture, and, in this case, a world-class novelist and essayist. Nadra Nittle is herself a black Catholic writer and journalist who has written for Vox Media, Atlantic, Salon, the Guardian and the Jesuit journal, America.

Toni Morrison’s Spiritual Vision is the seminal text for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of an under-appreciated yet central part of Morrison’s life and literature: her Catholic faith. — Ekemini Uwan, public theologian and cohost of Truth’s Table podcast and co-author of the forthcoming Truth’s Table: Black Women’s Musings on Life, Love, and Liberation 

Nittle has written just the book we need: an engaging and thorough consideration of Toni Morrison’s religious vision. For too long Morrison’s significant spiritual influence has been unspoken or, at best, misunderstood. No more. — Nick Ripatrazone, author of Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction and Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness

Art and Sacrificial Love: A Conversation with Michael D. O’Brien Clemens Cavallin (Ignatius Press) $14.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.96

Oh my, I wanted to read this from the moment I saw it — an incredibly classy cover in a small but handsomely constructed paperback, and that title! Art combined with sacrificial love. Wow. Skimming it quickly I was drawn in to several pages here and there each convincing me I’d read it carefully. Not every book, not even every good book, that ends up here at the shop is one I take home. This, I think, is one I will be recommending to others, anyone drawn to love in a hurting world, and certainly to those involved in the creative process. The book is an interview with the beloved, deep, Roman Catholic novelist and painter Michael D. O’Brien.

Perhaps you know his massive Ignatius Press novel Father Elijah: An Apocalypse or his earliest Sophia House. I have a friend who reads good literature deeply and he recommends most of his stories.

This little book is a rumination, a conversation, a correspondence about things that matter to every thoughtful person, and certainly to artists trying to be faithful to God in their work.

As Joseph Pearce, literary critic and historian (and author of books on J.R.R. Tolkien) notes, “Michael O’Brien’s art is quintessentially personal, in the sense that it incarnates the extraordinary vision of this marvelous man.” Elizabeth Lev, an art historian (and author of How Catholic Art Saved the Faith) notes that, as was said of Fra Angelico, O’Brien is “living truth while waiting truth.”

O’Brien’s conversation partner and author of the book is Clemens Cavallin, a professor in History of Religions at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and professor of Religion, Philosophies of Life, and Ethics at Nord University in Norway. He has written a bigger book on O’Brien called On the Edge of Infinity.

A Compass for Deep Heaven:   Navigating the C. S. Lewis Ransom Trilogy edited by Diana Pavlac Glyer & Julianne Johnson (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

How could we not list this as a notable book of the past year? It is almost one of a kind; I can name on less than the fingers of one hand the books about the great trilogy popularly known as “The Space Trilogy.” There are nearly too many books on Narnia, but, my, my, why not more analysis and inspiring explication of Our of the Silence Plant, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength? Square Halo deserves a halo themselves for working to get this book out to the reading public. (And if your local bookstore doesn’t stock it, why not invite them to look at your copy and see what they think?)

Two quick things about A Compass for Deep Heaven. Firstly, there are some renowned Lewis scholars involved (you should know the name Diana Glyer, not least for her amazing Bandersnatch.)However, most are by younger scholars, some of them published here for the first time. I’m impressed.

Secondly, this book does what many attempt and few pull off: it is basic enough to intrigue the beginners, interesting enough to entertain the fans, and, yes, there is some remarkable insight that will reward even the studious scholar of the works of Saint Clive.

As the Square Halo team puts it, “these books allude to everything from H. G. Wells and the World Wars to Medieval cosmology and Arthurian Legend; there is much to be gained from an introduction to Lewis’s broad and eclectic interests. It provides the background information, historical context, and literary insight readers need to navigate the cosmos of Lewis’s science fiction.

I’m not the only one saying cheerio about this:

A Compass for Deep Heaven is a carefully-crafted and beautifully-edited
volume of ten fine essays that explore a common theme: the mythological,
philosophical, scientific, theological, ethical, and literary influences behind Lewis’s science fiction. Each chapter references and builds on the others,
offering multiple layers of critical and popular analysis. Detailed references and a good glossary provide added value. — Michael J. Christensen, author of C. S. Lewis on Scripture

FAVORITE ESSAY COLLECTIONS

These Precious Days: Essays Ann Patchett (Harper) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I suppose a collection of essays and articles by a highly regarded, highly awarded novelist and bookstore owner could be housed under, or at least near, literary criticism. This one isn’t mostly about books and writing, bookselling or poetry, but there are ample references to her writing life and how she crafts her stories. Most, though, are about her home life, her family and friendships. And dogs, There’s dogs.

I cannot tell you how much I loved these pieces — her cadence and way with sentences is remarkable. Patchett is very, very smart, and very, very accomplished, but the book never felt highbrow or pretentious or tedious — just really, really fine writing and funny, sad, interesting, inspiring tales. I was shocked by a few, blown away by a few, delighted by most. There are a lot of good pieces here about all sorts of wild stuff from her curious life, about her friend an elderly nun who serves the poor, her airplane flying, doctor husband, her rumination on book covers, her discovery of the books of Kate DiCamillo. Her dogs. Her own books. The title essay about her friendship with Tom Hanks’ assistant, Sookie, a great dresser and wonderful painter, is one I will never forget. Which is all just to say when you see this described as “essays” do not think it is like Marilyn Robinson, say, or Wendell Berry. Extraordinary talented wordsmiths that they are, I can’t imagine them doing most of the stuff Ann gets herself into. Even her sitting at table and a very serious luncheon with John Updike is told with a fan-girl goofiness that just made me grin.

Through them all, Ann is kind-hearted, down-to-earth (if more capable than most, able to do so very much) and earnestly good. I am in awe of her.

In a way this collection is maybe even more personal than the extraordinary, wonderfully written, 2013 This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, another great essay collection that we truly treasure. (There is in that one a long chapter (“The Getaway Car” which is both autobiographical about her early love for writing, but also no-nonsense (well, with a bit of wry silliness) advice about college classes, MFA programs, writing Fellowships, and doing the hard work of imagining a story and writing it down.) Both are exceedingly good, entertaining, moving. We very highly recommend both. And we certainly name These Precious Days as a favorite book of 2021.

To read this collection is to be invited into that sacred space where a writer steps out from behind the page to say Hello; let’s really get to know each other. Stoic, kindhearted, fierce, funny, brainy, Patchett’s essays honor what matters most ‘in this precarious and precious life.’ — Oprah Daily

Thin Places: Essays From In Between Jordan Kisner (Picador) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

If I were giving awards last year (2020) which I sadly missed due to Covid-related business junk, I would have said (and I have said, perhaps not enough) that this was one of my favorite books of that year. I had a very nice, trim sized hardback, published by the prestigious Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. I am not as fond of the new paperback cover (blue and white) but the essays here are still luminous, profound, so very interesting, well done, heart-felt, and etcetera. The paperback came out in 2021, so it’s a Best of this year, too.

I do not know exactly why I was first drawn to this, perhaps because she was acclaimed as a good writer and a clever wordsmith and an honor storyteller. And that she was a born again Christian who had given up her faith, or at least most of it. I am always interested in how people contour their lives and find meaning in these days we are given and I am drawn to those sad stories of those who have drifted from vibrant faith. What can we learn as we listen well, as we honor, even, sadly, these people who find themselves needing to move on? What might have been different? In any case, her piece called “Jesus Raves” was captivating.

Ms Kisner, who has written for all manner of good journals (The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, the Paris Review, the Guardian) and has won a Pushcart Prize and teaches creative writing at Columbia. She is a heck of a writer in my estimation, artful, luminous at times, terrifically fun and very compelling. That a person of sincere faith ends up getting published with rave reviews from the likes of Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams) who says her essays are “like intricate tattoos: etched with a sharp and exacting blade of intellect, but made of flesh.”

The details are there, her ability to notice and attend to things is admirable. I think she said she is offering “encounters with the ineffable” and, as Phillip Lopate (author of Portrait Inside My Head) puts it, she is full of “risk and daring, urgency and contact.” This really is a fresh voice and her topics are intriguing and matter. Read the opening essays here to see what I mean.

Places I’ve Taken My Body: Essays Molly McCully Brown (Persea) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

I was attracted to this, I’ll admit it, by the warmly appealing, clean cover, the slightly small sized, nicely made hardback. I love this book for its very design. Which is sort of introducing as this is, in fact, a collection of essays — most autobiographical, appealing to those who appreciate literary memoir — about a woman and her body. Her disabled body. It is a book that conjures places, physicality, stuff. And it is very artfully done.

Molly McCully Brown is a nationally recognized, award-winning poet of great literary substance who teaches at Kenyon College in Ohio. (She is the poetry Fellow for the prestigious Kenyon Review.) In these seventeen intimate essays, she “explores living within and beyond the limits of a body.” In her case, she has cerebral palsy (which she describes as an “often painful movement disorder.”) As she notes, in spite of her limitations, she has led a peripatetic life.(Go ahead, l look it up.)

This book is, quite often, about her travels. These are eloquent and elegant essays and exceptionally profound. She is pondering deeply (even with religious faith) the nature of her body and things that have defined her (inside and out.) She is, again, a serious scholar and literary figure so these essays — crisp and engaging — are mature and sophisticated and yet full of much tender humanity.

Perhaps you may recall a few years ago I raved about a memoir of a woman often confined to a wheelchair, a sassy and snarky and brilliant rant of a book that I adored; it was called Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by the very hip Rebekah Taussig. I mention this favorite and often recommended book because Places I’ve Taken is not that. It just isn’t. I would love to get these two women in a room and listen to their witty conversations, but Professor Brown is less an agitator and her beautifully crafted pieces are careful, lush, and what one reviewer called “wrenching” and another called “searing.” I don’t really mean to say she is a better writer, just a different kind of writer. There is no doubt, though, that Ms Brown is bringing a very special voice to the literature of disability.

I want to press this book into the hands of everyone I know. Writing from the locus of her own constantly changing, often intractable body, Molly McCully Brown captures the fullness of the human experience — desire, loss, flesh, faith, poetry, place, memory — with lyric compression and expansive grace. Reading these exquisite essays made me want to get out and do something with my own body — kneel at an altar and recite the Hail Mary, stub out a cigarette in Bologna, stand on a hilltop and shout expletives at the Trump administration. Which is to say, these are urgent, compelling essays that remind us how to be fully alive inside our own bodies, wherever we take them.–Jamie Quatro, author of Fire Sermon and I Want to Show You More

These remarkable essays invite us to look long and hard at our own interior landscapes, and to negotiate exterior ones with as much grace and gratitude as we can muster.— Eliza Griswold, author of Amity & Prosperity, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

DEVOTIONS & SPIRITUALITY

Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

A wonderful collection of Rev. Rutledge’s sermons, edited to be of similar length, useful for a once-a-week devotional. Her work is very highly regarded for very good reason and we were elated when we heard they were doing a “reader” of sorts, a devotional with more than a year’s worth of her substantive, interesting, often moving sermons. Kudos to Laura Bardolph Hubers, the wonderfully thoughtful and enterprising Eerdmans employee — in marketing, actually — who did the editing, culling and trimming of the sermons from their hefty backlist of Rutledge material.

Fleming is very happy with the result of this hard work and we applaud not only Ms. Huber but the whole team at Eerdmans who produced a book that is so worth owning, a volume in a solid, handsome hardback with a striking Mako Fujimura painting on the cover. One of the best books of this sort in 2021, but, as an anthology of one of our best preachers and thinkers and writers, this may be one of the finest books of the decade!

Every Moment Holy Volume 2: Death, Grief, and Hope Douglas McKelvey & Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00 [and, now, as of February 2021, there is the new, compact-sized, flexible, leather edition; $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00.] When ordering, please stipulate which edition you want.

I suppose you know the extraordinary, handsome, and wildly popular Every Moment Holy Volume 1, a prayer book full of short liturgies and blessings and intercessions for all sorts of things throughout the day. This is a very special second volume, which, as the subtitle suggests, offers liturgies of lament, prayer for grief and loss. We enthusiastically award this handsome, tan, leather-bound hardback as one of the great books published in 2021 but you should know that just last week (in February 2021) we got the smaller, compact sized, softer leather edition. So both EMH Volume 1 and Volume 2 come in two sizes, bigger and smaller, all in leather. There are the $35 leather-covered hardbacks and the $25 pocket sized, flexible leather ones. And we have them all at 20% off. There should be a liturgy for ordering it, since it is (I am not kidding) a holy moment when you do.

Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song Sandra McCracken (B+H) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Sandra McCracken is a very cool and very talented songwriter, a true artist and storyteller. She is known by many for country-tinged, singer-songwriter songs of faith — psalms, laments, hymns, and pop influenced by deep truth. She is a beloved presence in the Indelible Grace projects and we adore her voice, her contemporary folkie style, her spiritual depth.

(She has, just for the record, worked with all sorts of folks we like —Porter’s Gate, All Sons and Daughters, Ellie Holcomb, and she is one of the moms in the terrific Rain for Roots. Significantly, she has worked with the good folks at Art House Nashville. Her brand new release (February 2022) is Carry Each Other which is a collection of cover songs, from Neil Young to Irving Berlin, Dylan to REM, Leonard Cohen, Nico, and more.)

Sandra has, perhaps more than some of us, experienced sadness in her life; her album Songs from the Valley on lament is extraordinary. She clings to the cross, to sovereign grace, to God’s goodness and grace, and continues to imagine the Kingdom coming. Those who know her music, religious and otherwise, know this about her.

This is, as far as we know, her very first book and it is a fabulous, smallish sized, handsome hardback. It is, I suppose, a daily devotional, but it is more than the typical short reflection on a Bible text. Send Out Your Light is nearly a memoir, a collection of short, personal essays, good words about her life, living in the light about God’s common graces in this world, in these times. As a performing artist and songwriter, she knows well the power of story and song, so Send Out Your Light does often come back to the power of music, including the songs in Scripture. It’s very good. Congrats, Sandra!

(Here is a one minute video about the book that is almost too pretty, but she says a good line or two, and there is a very cool bass line… She says, “Darkness does not have the final word.”)

Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship Jonathan Gibson (Crossway) $29.99  OUR PRICE = $23.99

I hope you saw our announcement of this in December, describing it as a lush and classy hardback in a slip case, a liturgical prayer book with a Reformed theological perspective. It is designed with a Celtic aesthetic but it is not new age or pantheistic as some recent Celtic theologians tend to be. In fact, the daily offices are quite conventional, the Biblical ruminations historically classic Protestant orthodox, and the readings assigned for reflection are from the Reformed documents, the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechism. Whether this is fully your tradition of not, this daily prayer book is nearly one of a kind and we are glad for it. More than glad, we celebrate it and applaud those doing this kind of resource for those who want this kind of guided help for liturgical daily prayer. Excellent.

A Companion in Crisis: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions Philip Yancey (Illumify) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Slim as it may be, this is a book we simply have to name as an exceptional read this Year of our Lord, 2021. I described it at BookNotes, so here will just share the information the publisher (or perhaps Philip himself) wrote to describe it:

As the world entered a long dark night, Philip Yancey returned to a nearly 400-year-old manuscript for guidance. In it, he found a trustworthy companion for living through a global pandemic – or any other crisis. As Yancey says, “Nothing had prepared me for John Donne’s raw account of confrontations with God.”

Preacher and poet John Donne wrote Devotions in 1623, during a pandemic in his city of London. For a month he lay sick, hearing the church bell toll for others while wondering if his death would be next. From what he believed to be his deathbed, the great poet wrote a triumph of literature that has given us such familiar phrases as “No man is an island…” and “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls…”

This new version of a classic work is arranged as a 30-day reader based on Donne’s meditations, with startling relevance as we face similar questions.

7 Ways to Pray: Time Tested Practices for Encountering God Amy Boucher Bye (NavPress) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

We have known of Amy Boucher Bye for years (we crossed paths decades ago when she worked with author and public speaker Os Guinness.) Over those decades she has moved to the UK, has studied Christian spirituality, earned a serious degree from the University of London, has published books and articles and devotionals, and has worked in evangelical ministry while raising a family.She is beloved and respected around the world. As we honor this book as a favorite this year, I’ll repeat just some of what I wrote in a longer BookNotes review last September.

This book is one that fills a certain kind of niche and we are very, very pleased to tell you about it; for us, this is the kind of book that we are always on the look-out for but (to be honest) is harder to come by than you might think. It is almost counter-intuitive that such a basic, clear, earnest, spiritually-minded book written with chatty storytelling and nice testimony would be such a stand out. Isn’t there a whole industry of evangelical self-help books, of pious and Biblically-based inspiration? Yes, but few that are as rooted in the broad and wide Christian communion and the ancient teachings of church history. And that, dear readers, makes 7 Ways to Pray nearly an anomaly. It is about the most clear-headed and basic (and I mean that as a compliment) guide to ancient prayer practices you are going to find.

Those that follow BookNotes or browse here at Hearts & Minds know that we love this whole genre of the literature of spiritual formation. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline remains an essential read, one of the best books of our lifetime; I appreciate his Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home even better.We stock a lot of books like this, from heavyweights like the desert fathers and Orthodox mystics to Thomas Merton to the lovely and wise Henri Nouwen, from ancient classics like Theresa of Avila (and Theresa of Lisieux) to the more modern evangelical channels of this stuff such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Ruth Haley Barton.)

But yet, as Godly and deeply spiritual as most of these authors are, they are often just too deep for many of us. (One friend joked that he gets lost in the hallways of the Interior Castle.) And for those raised with the passionate and intimate language of evangelical revivalism and devotional piety of that sort, hearing about even the Examen (let alone prayer beads or icons) just doesn’t work, at least not at first. Sure, some make the effort and have a trusting heart so they forge into deeper waters with guides that sound a little odd to them. What we need is a translator, a clear writer who can simply tell of her own walk with the Lord and how these older, deeper saints can help us in our own discipleship.

And, as I suppose you can guess, Amy Boucher Pye is just that woman. Did I mention she writes for Our Daily Bread? She has this knack for telling a nice story to serve as a nice illustration, dropping into these accessible messages, rich, thoughtful quotes from Bernard of Clairvaux or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Madame Guyon or Teresa of Avila or John Wesley. What a combo, lovely storytelling prose, Bible teaching, and intellectually solid spiritual guides to give it gravity.This really is a very fine, little book

Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Practices for the Broken, Ashamed, Anxious & Afraid Kelley Fabian (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

As I think of the many great books about spiritual formation, prayer, devotions, and cultivating our interior lives, I think also of those that can touch those of us who are weary, hurting, burned out, cynical. Yes, these laments are ancient — that is why there is so much of it in Holy Scripture — but there is a particular need in these stressful days.I am convinced this is one of the best books of the year because there is a need and this rings true. So true.

We’re grateful for this thoughtful woman who cares deeply about good questions and good, Biblical answers (she wrote the fabulous and fairly in-depth daily devotional called Sacred Questions: A Transformative Journey Through the Bible that we have touted.) But she knows (as she says in that earlier year-long devotional) that seeking solid doctrine and intellectual answers only gets us so far — we have to bring our whole (hurting) selves to God, we have to be, as she puts it here, vulnerable. If that previous book was a honest search for real answers and a Biblical imagination, this is about meeting God even if we’re not okay

“Our brokenness,” she says, “is an invitation to a deeper kind of wholeness.”

The forward to Holy Vulnerability is by Scot McKnight, a very successful New Testament scholar and ecumenically minded pastor. He has named this his favorite book this year about spirituality. He’s right, this is remarkable stuff as we offer our wounds to God, who will love us at those places.

The Sacred Pulse: Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls April Fiet (Broadleaf) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

When this book came out, released this fall by the Broadleaf imprint, I wrote a bit about why we were eager to carry it, and why I hoped to dip into it soon. After a quick skim, and drawing on what the publisher told us, and the good reviews by people I trusted, I wrote about it. And then I got a few personal notes thanking me. Ms Fiet has a following, apparently, and she is a good colleague of folks I respect. It’s good when we get to connect like that and in time, she and I have exchanged a few quick emails. I have since come to value the book even more and we are pleased to honor it here in our overview of our favorite reads from last year.

As it says on the back cover of The Sacred Pulse, Fiet is offering insight into how “in a world of hustle and bravado, silencing the noise takes practice.” For those feeling “frazzled, overwhelmed, and out of sorts” from our contemporary life, this book might help us “examine the frantic pattern of perfection and production” so we might “reclaim deeper, sacred pulses.” Actually, she lays out twelve practices to help us do that. She says they are “sustainable and sustaining.” Who doesn’t want a more joyful and holy sense of things, a rhythm, even?

April Fiet is a pastor, writer, and blogger, She co-pastors First Presbyterian Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and is on the editorial board of In All Things. She is a graduate of Western Seminary and has written in places like The Reformed Journal. And she has chickens, so what’s not to love?

Here are others suggesting this book to you. Wow, if these folks celebrate her work, we should too. It is surely one of the best of the year. Why not order one today?

April Fiet welcomes readers into a space that is both contemplative and practical. The book draws on a wealth of spiritual insight to help readers retreat from the busyness of life and recenter their lives around rhythms that heal, restore, and sustain.                   — Kristin Kobes DuMez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne

I felt seen by this book, in a way that was uncomfortable at first. The unsettling insight into my frenetic performance for God was the opening I needed to hear April Fiet’s invitation: to learn to dance with God again, finding rhythms that are, paradoxically, like rest in motion. — James K. A. Smith, author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

Community Henri Nouwen (Orbis Press) $25.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Wow, you read that right — a new book by Henri Nouwen. That deserves an award right there, doesn’t it? We rejoice.

It is compiled and lovingly edited by our friend Stephen Lazarus. (Stephen used to work for the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) in Washington DC and now lives in Toronto, serving as Director for Research and Special Projects act the Henri Nouwen Society.) This book draws together transcripts of talks and messages that have never been published before, together with excerpts of books and articles (again, some that have not been widely seen.) Together, with this new material and nicely woven together previously published content, we have what surely can her called a new book. Even if all of it was previously widely known, pulling his stuff on community together would be a service and make a lovely book. That some of this is from notes from retreats and transcripts of public addresses that have never been published makes this truly an extraordinary publication. What a gift to the world and how very needed it is now. 

The good forward is by the senior editor at Orbis, Robert Ellsberg (who knew Henri, not to mention many colorful characters of the last half a century such as Dorothy Day.) He tells of first trying to get Henri to submit articles for the Catholic Worker, the famous paper founded by Dorothy that he was editing at the time. It’s a good story, and one of those early pieces is now chapter four of this new book. The longer introduction is by Stephen and it soars. What a lovely introduction to this longing for community in our lonely age and what a great introduction to this core theme of so much of Nouwen’s body of work, written and lived. 

For many of us, it is hard to believe that this past year marked the 25th anniversary of Henri Nouwen’s journey to daybreak, his final return to the loving Father. How sad we were upon hearing about his death in Holland in 1996, on the way to film a talk in front of the famous Rembrandt painting (“Return of the Prodigal Son”) that graced the cover of one of his most popular books. 

But his life and ministry live on, especially in L’Arche communities that continue with wounded healers of all kinds sharing life with the mentally and physically disabled. (One of Nouwen’s last full books was Adam, which told the story of a person he came to know at the Daybreak L’Arche.) Deep community, in other words, is one of the great legacies of the spirituality of Henri Nouwen.

Community, edited by Stephen Lazarus, has 10 solid chapters, in about 140 pages. Very, very nicely done, and a great grace for us all. I don’t want to seem pushy or crass, but you know, this really would make a lovely gift to somebody you know who loves Nouwen. Lots of people have many of his books and would be thrilled to hear about a new collection like this. It is an urgent topic, compiled with great love and care. We honor it as one of our favorite books of the year

THEOLOGY

Tear Down These Walls: Following Jesus into Deeper Unity  John Armstrong (Cascade) $23.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40

My friend John Armstrong has devoted three decades or more to the work of Christian unity. His story and ministry have encouraged many around the world and now they are reflected in this study, which includes some of his own story, almost like a theological memoir of a life devoted to unity.

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one-as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21, NLT).

As John notes, “For most Christians these words of Jesus seem like an unreachable ideal. Or they promise spiritual unity without a visible demonstration between real people. Some even read these words with a sense of fear seeing this text used for a compromise agenda. How should we understand this prayer offered for all who follow Jesus?”

The publisher explains:

What if Jesus really intended for the world to “believe” the gospel on the basis of looking at Christians who live in deep unity in a shared relationship with him? What if there is a way of understanding what Jesus desired so that we can begin anew to tear down the many walls of division that keep the world from seeing God’s love in us? Is our oneness much bigger and deeper than we could imagine?

I adore this important work, growing out of John’s important work as an evangelical commitment to inter-denominational unity — shaped by a vision to reach the watching world (which he calls “missional ecumenism.”) He is the founder of The Initiative, which is described as a community of Christians from many backgrounds who walk together in a covenant with Jesus and his followers so that the love of Jesus might exceed all divisions. He is the author/editor of fifteen books and a minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America.

A few who follow BookNotes know that we used to promote his early book on this topic, Your Church is Too Small, which meant, of course, that your idea and experience of the church is often too small. We think of the church as our congregation, our denomination, our tribe. That book formed the basis for this greatly changed and significantly reworked new volume, written with the same heart for the gospel and loyalty to the people of God, where Christ’s church is found. This is inspiring, good stuff, helping us live out in church life the sort of love he wrote about in his excellent 2107 book Costly Love: Costly Love: The Way to True Unity for All the Followers of Jesus. 

Reformed Public Theology: A Global Vision for Life in the World edited by Matthew Kaemingk (Baker Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

It is hard to convince readers how rewarding it is to own a collection of dozens of great pieces, on so many different topics (from Christian views of fashion to refugee ministry, from a theology of work to a Christian perspective on citizenship) written by smart scholars/practitioners from around the world. It is still sometimes hard to suggest that theology is not just doctrine for church life but can be opened up and generative for public thinking as well. I am positive that for many of our customers, if you had a volume of “public theology” like this readily available, you’d dip into it as a reference the next time somebody makes a comment or asks you a question about the arts or colonialism or worship or economics or other topics of public interest. It is a treasure chest of Godly insight, written by folks (using case studies) from all over the world.

I award this a Best Book of 2021 award not only because of the breadth of scholarship and the wisdom embodied by the authors of the fascinating individual chapters — a collective testimony to the vanguard of the Kingdom of God, showing renewal in many areas of life, from many corners of the globe — but because of how the book holds together. You see, it is a book that honors the leadership, public thinking, and mentorship of Richard Mouw. This was a surprise volume, compiled and released to honor his retirement from Fuller Theological Seminary and the authors almost uniformly offer some hat tip to the neo-Calvinist worldview that shapes the public philosophy and social theology and sweet piety of Dr. Mouw.

Remember that BookNotes we did a few weeks ago celebrating a book exploring the strengths and weaknesses of Abraham Kuyper and his famous “Stone Lectures” about the Lordship of Christ across every sphere of society? In some ways, some of that renewal of Dutch Reformed thinking influenced Mouw, who himself mentored dozens of young, global scholars. Indeed, one of the editors of Calvinism for a Secular Age, Jessica Joustra, has a good chapter in here. She, too, here, celebrates Rich Mouw as a friend, mentor, and distinctive public intellectual. This book is a treasure and it deserves to be honored among us, even as it honors the work of Richard Mouw. 

Do You Believe? 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $32.99  OUR SALE PRICE = 26.39

I am eager to honor this book as a favorite book we’ve carried this year, even though I’m not fully sure I agree with all of it —again, that may make it a good book, pressing us to think for ourselves, to ponder both the ideas it offers and the fruit it generates. I am excited about Do You Believe? as it offers a lively, systematic, thoughtful but not arcane overview of the major classic doctrines that most Christians should know about and cherish. Whether we end up articulating them in the way Tripp does is not essential, but knowing something about the historic and classic perspective he offers here is helpful. This is one of the better books of basic introductory theology for ordinary readers that I have seen in years. 

Here is a reason this handsome book (complete with some graphic design touches and symbols for each of 15 key doctrines) is better than many. Following each chapter there is another chapter on how this theological truth could positively effect your life and impact your life with God, your sense of your very self, your relationships with others, your understanding of your church, your responsibilities in the world. If all this studious theological orientation doesn’t form us as better followers of Jesus for the sake of His glory and our neighbor good, if it doesn’t better our faith and our service in the world, then, really, why bother.

A big thumbs up for this major effort to write a theology book with practical application, to root our hope and healing of our troubled lives in the historic doctrines of faith as understood, at least, by Tripps’ fairly conservative, Reformed theological tradition.

He has written other books about applying the Bible to life — with books about awe and wonder, with books about sin and brokenness, with books about our personal fears and foibles, and with books about relationships and personal integrity. He has written about sex, money, addictions, parenting, and more. One of his most beloved books is an intense daily devotional called New Morning Mercies. 

Whenever a fresh article or book by Paul David Tripp is released, I take note. I am an avid follower of his counsel, for no matter how many others might cut me slack–I am, after all, a lifelong quadriplegic–I know Paul David Tripp will insist that I interpret my difficult circumstances, as well as my response to them, solely through the lens of Scripture. Although we rarely cross paths, my friend knows my heart, and how prone I am to wander. It’s why I am especially excited about his new work, Do You Believe? Our life in Christ thrives only when we are rooted in the great doctrines of the faith, and Paul David Tripp does a stellar job of presenting the fundamentals. Whether you already have a grasp on Christian doctrine or are just getting started, this should be your next read!  — Joni Eareckson Tada, founder, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It A. J. Swoboda (Brazos Press) $18.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This is another great book that we highly recommended at BookNotes when it came out last March. We were early fans and very glad for it. It is the best book on this perennial subject in quite a while.

(I must say I had hoped, but did  not have time, to compare and contrast it with the book on doubt that Brian McLaren had released a few months earlier called Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It ($26.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59. Brian is following up that book, by the way, with Should I Stay Christian:A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned, coming in May 2022 and we are sure to suggest it here later this Spring.)

Swoboda is a very sharp thinker and we have stocked all his books and often recommend his must-read Subversive Sabbath and the excellent one he helped with, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis. Almost always in any Lent lists we make we recommend his very helpful, raw, even really like called A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience which is perfect for that dark time from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. And before that, he wrote The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith. Do you see a theme here? The brother – who has also written about the joy of the Holy Spirit experience in his exuberant Pentecostal past — has experienced some hard stuff, has wandered and wondered and doubted. Most of these excellent books have led up to this, his magisterial work, After Doubt.

I did not list this book in our PART ONE of our “Best Books of 2021” although I surely could have, there among basic Christian living sorts of titles. This is not an academic book on systematic theology as such. And yet, it is so astute about theological arguments, about doctrinal questions, and about how our own consonance with all of that does or doesn’t ring true, that it seems that this is what we might call applied theology at its best. 

Swoboda could do academic theology with the best of them, straight down the line. But here, he works as a fellow pilgrim, a doubter who isn’t afraid to wonder. As we said in our first BookNotes review, it is ideal for those who are deconstructing their faith, for those afraid of their journey, who wonder about how to question faith in a fruitful way.  It is meaty, but not super scholarly, thoughtful without being dense. Perfect.

Struggling with Evangelicalism: Why I Want to Leave and What It Takes to Stay Dan Stringer (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Again, I suppose this is not theology proper, but it is very much about theology, or a theological tradition. Or at least a movement with certain sorts of theological dispositions and tones. What is evangelicalism, anyway? And why would a justice-seeking, seriously academic, third culture kid with amazing cross-cultural and global sensibility care about this rather specific, in-house debate about the movement and tradition we call evangelicalism? Well, you’ve got to read this remarkable book to learn more, but I am confident it will help man. Those with big, understandable beefs with the tradition and those who, like Dan, still see beauty and goodness in the simple, gospel-centered focus of evangelical faith and discipleship. 

There have been other such books and this now stands alongside another excellent collection of essays on this topic, Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning (including authors who say, more or less, yes, no, or maybe.) As a more sustained narrative, Struggling with Evangelicalism is, perhaps now, the best book I’ve seen on this.

I love the small detail on the cover— the matchstick and the nail. That is, do we burn down this dysfunctional house, this wooden structure around the good news, or do we get to work and rebuild it as needed? As the generous forward by Rich Mouw notes, there are very legitimate matters at stake here, and some of it seems to be generational. Mouw says that Stringer was once his student but now he is his teacher.  Mouw notes that this good book helps him understand “both the brokenness and the beauty of this tradition I love.” It can help you, too. It is a great gift, one of the best of the year.

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

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

We award IinterVarsity Press Academic a very cool award here for this combo set of two books, one by a theologian wishing Bible scholars would pay attention to their deep concerns, and the other by a Bible guy, explaining why he wishes theologians would pay a bit more attention to their Biblical studies. Both make really good points. I liked them both, mostly (alhtough Boersma’s apologetic for a Christian sort of Platonism is more than a bit odd, if you ask me.) Their respective forwards, each to the other guy’s book are friendly and collaborative — nice!

This is really a great project and you’ll learn a bit about theology (and, too, how Biblical studies work goes) by reading them. These are thoughtful, but not arcane, very helpful for all educated readers, each bringing good insight and balance to the other. Kudos.

 

 

Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History John Dickson (Zondervan Academic) $28.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I suppose a book of honest church history may not be theology proper. But we wanted to honor this, so I’m sneaking it in here, naming it as a treasure published this year, good for any number of readers.  I don’t know this, I suppose, but this very good work could have been done at least in part, I might surmise, to convince the skeptic and seeker that even with the awful stuff that has been done in God’s name through the church, the gospel still might be worth considering. If so, it is a winner in the apologetics category as well, because it is very useful, if an honest skeptic will work through it. Perhaps you need to read it and be prepared to summarize it’s candid approach.

As Dr. Teresa Morgan (Professor of Graeco-Roman History at the University of Oxford) says, it is “one of the most honest, challenging, and compelling cases for Christianity you will ever read!” 

Bullies and Saints is compelling, then, because it shares the “good, the bad, and the ugly” and this is one of its great values. But, aside from that strategy, offering an unvarnished approach, it really is well written, full of fascinating information, a college class between two covers. Some church history books are just too tedious, detailed with frankly more than most of us care to know. Others are too brief; some are sectarian and woefully biased, and many explore mostly the doctrines and heresies (fair enough, it’s all very important) and miss the social/cultural/political goings-on. For a lay reader, Dickson seems to get it just about perfect in a good style and delightfully balanced and paced. Others who also say so include Tom Holland and Philip Jenkins and Michael Spence who calls it “erudite and immensely readable.” That’s an achievement right there, no?

Listen to this great encouragement from Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin, author of Confronting Christianity:

This is a measured and masterful retelling… Read it and weep, smile, question, cogitate and sing.

RACE & RACISM

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

I reviewed this in early April of last year and there I said it would be considered one of the best books of 2021. I still think so. It is worthy of honoring, celebrating, buying, reading, discussing. You may not think their Biblical and theological study is adequate, but it is very good; you must admit that. You may not agree with their very tentative conclusions; even they may not be sure what comes next. But it will make you think, and, possibly, think in new ways, animated by Biblical teachings and guided by a passion for public justice. Golly, if that isn’t the mark of a good book — helping you think well in light of Biblical teaching and applied to modern perplexities — then I don’t know what is. Read my remarks about it here:

Here’s a paragraph or two from that review:

Perhaps one of the reasons I think this is surely one of the best books of 2021 is because it is tackling a question that has been raised in several places, talked about in almost quiet hushes as a dreaded topic. Who doesn’t want to work against racism? Who doesn’t even realize there are some structural or institutional obstacles that have to be addressed (not least prejudicial policing and judicial practices that cause what has come to be called racist mass incarceration. Most people of good faith know that racism remains an issue and cause for lament and anyone who knows their Bible knows that breaking down cultural and ethic barriers is a constant theme of the gospel itself.

But reparations? Really?

This is controversial stuff and seemingly endlessly complicated, impossible, perhaps, to wisely adjudicate even if one concedes that the wealth of most established white Americans has been derived from systems set up years ago that were exploitive, unjust, and caused a unarguable housing, education and material asset gap between races. Most of us know now about the inequities even after World War II, how white people of my parents generation got what we all called the G.I. Bill, even though black soldiers did not. Most of us now know that loans were widely available for baby booming young white families to populate the growing suburbs in the middle of the 20th century but red-lining and other fundamentally unfair banking and real estate practices continued even after they were denounced and, in some cases, prohibited. But, still, that was years ago and who should pay whom to make things right? It’s almost too much to ask, and so we do not think about it much. Are we all really implicated in our place in history? There is no overtly Christian book like this that I know of that is doing this sort of serious, thoughtful, and important work, adding to this necessary conversation.

Again, I think Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair, is very important and although I guess I cannot promise this to all readers, I found it hard to put down. It is gripping, compelling, interesting, inspiring, wise. Our friend Tish Harrison Warren calls it “a rare book” that is “blessedly troubling.” The Biblical scholarship is impressive, the footnotes are fabulous, the stories moving, and careful suggestions really stimulating.

I am glad for the long introductory chapter that highlights three sorts of understandings of, or levels of, racism, to which they add a fourth. This is very good stuff and worth the price of the book just to have these clear descriptions and insights at your fingertips. A valuable book for any year, and a Very Best of 2021.

Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege Dominique Dubois Gilliard (Zondervan) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I have been planning on doing a long list of recent books about race and racism that we appreciated having here in 2021. There are a few great ones that fit the needs of our audience and this is certainly one of them. I have not reviewed it extensively but hope to — allow me just to say that this author is a leader you should know. Latasha Morrison (who I’m sure you know from her bestselling Be the Bridge) says he is “a gift to the church” Authors like Soong-Chan Rah and Jenny Yang and Jemar Tisby all rave.

Dominique DuBois Gilliard is a very fine writer — his first one was Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores and it was brilliant and vital. He is an ordained minister and serves as the director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Evangelical Covenant Church. (He is also on the Board of the Christian Community Development Association.) I simply thank God for him and his gracious commitment to Biblical righteousness in all its fullness and his kind (if frank) exploration of the privilege many of us carry and benefit from. 

The forward by Mark Labberton, now President of Fuller Theological Seminary, is itself very good and sets the stage well for hearing from this black brother as he helpfully explores what we mean by privilege, how to steward it well, what it might look like to “leverage it.” 

As Soon-Chan Rah puts it,

Gilliard calls us into a deeper discipleship that takes us further into God’s Word so that we might find the healing balm of truth.

to Lasting Connections Across Cultures Michelle Ami Reyes (Zondervan Reflective) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I highlight this as one of the best books of the year in part because it is so very practical. It is rooted in a solid understanding of race and racism in the Bible and it understands much about the questions of equitable inclusion and multi-ethnic diversity.As a leader of the Asian American Christian Collaborate, as co-executive of Pax, and as a scholar in residence at Hope Community Church, a great multicultural church in Austin, she knows how to carefully navigate meaningful change. She would not deny that large policy questions are important, that we need a truly Christ-like view of questions of immigration and voting rights and funding of poverty-stricken schools. But, also — and this is the burden of this fine book — we have to learn to adopt the Apostle Paul’s adage (of being “all things to all people”) in plausible and helpful ways.

Can small changes really “lead to lasting connections across cultures”? He watches it happen in her work in Austin and she knows how to equip us to follow suit. As oneDorena Williamson (author of Colorfull) writes, “This book stirs in me, after decades of multiethnic leadership, an even greater desire to experience God’s diverse kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”

Do you need a book to “stir you” to desire God’s (multiethnic) kingdom? We simply cannot ignore discussions about cultural identity and cross-cultural engagement. This is a helpful guide to help you walk through this work.

If you are ready to lean in and grow in your understanding of your “neighbor,” then Becoming All Things is the book for you.— Terence Lester, author of When We Stand and I See You

As a mixed-race Christian professor of ethnic studies, I wish that I had read this book twenty years ago. Reyes offers a road map for cultural understanding that is vital for the rebuilding of the church in America.—Dr. Robert Chao Romero, author of Brown Church

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together Heather McGhee (One World) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I should hardly have to explain why this is so very good. Ibram X. Kendi says, boldly, “This is the book I’ve been waiting for.” Wes Moore (of the unforgettable The Other Wes Moore and Five Days says, “The beauty and power of this book is blinding.” The extraordinary George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) writes that it is “vital, urgent, stirring, beautifully written.” Chris Hays assures us that “Heather McGee is one of the wisest, most penetrating, most brilliant minds to set herself to the Big Problem of American democracy.”  I has been reviewed widely and discussed on the good chat shows on NPR.

Sum of Us was long listed for any number of prestigious awards (including the National Book Award) and the Andrew Carnegie Medal. It was on the Best of 2021 lists in many major book review journals and it is our delight to add our voice, small and late as it may be.

This study, The Sum of Us, is an exploration of the nexus of race, class, and politics. It is written with care, with kindness, with insight, and without turning away from the complex matters of economics, racism, religion, and more. It shows in significant ways not only how we got into the mess we are in but ways to proceed.And some of it — the “solidarity dividend” — can happen, she shows, in houses of worship.

McGhee does not say all that needs to be said and she may or may not be right in all her analysis although with expertise in economics and policy (and a law degree) I wouldn’t want to argue with her. The Sum of Us is a very important contribution, for its insight, her authority, and the power to change that could come if we heed even some of what she proposes.

Here is how the publisher describes her project:

Heather C. McGhee’s specialty is the American economy–and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. As she dug into subject after subject, from the financial crisis to declining wages to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common problem at the bottom of them all: racism–but not just in the obvious ways that hurt people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It’s the common denominator in our most vexing public problems, even beyond our economy. It is at the core of the dysfunction of our democracy and even the spiritual and moral crises that grip us. Racism is a toxin in the American body and it weakens us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out? To find the way, McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Mississippi to Maine, tallying up what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm–the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she collects the stories of white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams and their shot at a better job to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country–from parks and pools to functioning schools–have become private luxuries…

Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right Randall Balmer (Eerdmans) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is a thin, compact-sized hardback and, as they say, worth its weight in gold. He is not the first to document this sinfully tragic mingling of fundamentalism and politics and how it was driven by racism, but it is concise, clear, exceedingly compelling with undeniable documentation. We have in recent years told folks that Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise is the essential must-read book to introduce people of faith to the way Christianity in the US has been compromised (since our founding) by crass, unbiblical, ugly, cruel racism. We must add this, now, to that “must read” list, specifically for those wanting a powerful study of recent history.

In fact, Jemar Tisby himself writes:

Fantastic… Before you read another headline or write another social media post about religion, race, or politics, read this book.

Lisa Sharon Harper, author of the recently released historical study, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World–And How to Repair It All, puts it colorfully:

Bad Faith is the essential reader for all who want to know how America was pushed to the brink and how the evangelical church was led off a cliff.

Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

This is another in the compact sized hardbacks Dyson has graced us with. He is one of the most important and interesting public intellectuals in our time and is a great writer, a distinguished professor, a pastor, and a vivid public speaker (Obama once said, probably referring to himself, “Anyone who speaks after Michael Dyson pales in comparison.”)

I so value his remarkable book about RFK and Baldwin; his Tears We Cannot Stop could break you open. This is a third in that compact sized series and is fierce and eloquent, tracing the roots of racism in clear, fresh ways. Bryan Stevenson says it is “formidable” and “has much to offer on our nation’s crucial need for racial reckoning and the way forward.”

Entertaining Race: Performing Blackness in America Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press) $32.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.00

I raved about this in a previous BookNotes but I’m not sure people believed me when I told them how exceptional it is, how learned, informed, thoughtful, funny, fascinating and important it is. It is a feast, so informative and interesting. I linked, I think, to a hilarious bit he did on Late Night with Stephen Colbert where he kept extolling Beyoncé. It was a hoot. I love this book, a veritable greatest hits of his many, many pieces about black artists, entertainers, public figures, activists, preachers and, did I mention Beyoncé?

Here is just a little of that BookNotes review I did:

Entertaining Race is a book to spend years with, perhaps, laughing and crying and maybe scratching your head a bit. He is hard-hitting about racism and injustice, but is not only in the key of lament. Dyson truly enjoys pop culture, film, music, theatre.Some of these chapters are about sports, which he obviously enjoys.Some about politics and some are pretty weighty. He knows the West’s intellectual history well and is schooled in philosophy and intellectual history and can also bring in hip hop and Hollywood references in his discussions of Descartes or Abraham Lincoln or in discussion with, say, Jean Bethke Elshtain. And did I mention he adores Beyonce?

But that doesn’t mean he’s always seen as cool, let alone beloved — he got death threats and called out by his chancellor, with demands that he be fired from the University of North Carolina in 1996 when he defended pop culture, citing Kurt Cobain to Snoop Dogg in a notorious, big commencement speech. He includes it here, saying, “you can read for yourself whether the criticism was warranted.”

POPULAR CULTURE

Rock Me On the Water: 1974 – The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics Ronald Brownstein (Harper) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

If you are a fan of the early to mid-70s, if you remember the early Eagles and the rise of Joni Mitchell and the huge shift in movies and TV about that time, not to mention the rise of certain sorts of soul, the ongoing anti-Viet Nam war movement (and the documentary “Hearts & Minds — ahem!), the controversies with Jane Fonda, the rise of celebrities engaged in radical politics, etc. etc. this book is the best thing I’ve read in years. I couldn’t put it down.

I graduated from high school in 1972 and was working part time in a record store at the time and these were my coming-of-age years. I have never quite considered all that happened in this one seminal year and I never quite placed it all in LA.New York became important later, with disco and punk and SNL. But CSN? The Godfather II? The rise of Archie Bunker and MASH and the major shift in TV? Month by month, Brownstein walks us through the drama and tragedy and idealism of the city of Angels. Rock Me on the Water book blew me away, pointing out on almost every page fascinating stuff about popular culture that I never quite pieced together. It is amazing how older and conventional the most popular films and TV were even in, say, 1968. Cultural critics who say the 60’s didn’t end until almost the mid-70s are right on!

I really, really loved this book, and not just because of the Jackson Browne title on the cover. The film parts, the TV, the politics? All fabulously interesting.

Rock Me On The Water documents the high-octane storybook world of Los Angeles in 1974 with masterful intimacy and fearless cultural analysis. His well-rendered portraits of Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Joni Mitchell, David Geffen and other luminaries of the time are sublime. This is an extremely kinetic historical document, and a testament to Brownstein’s lasting importance as both a fact-driven journalist and elegant prose-stylist. A must read! — Douglas Brinkley, author of American Moonshot

Brownstein’s kaleidoscopic account of a historic generational transformation that took place in American culture, American politics, and American life in the crucible of modern Los Angeles during the magical year of 1974. It encapsulates in compelling detail the moment when young people and young ideas were moving in on an older generation, based on the strength of new-found creativity and idealism. It documents the triumphs and failures of that new generation with vividness, humor, and, most of all, deep understanding. Running through every page is the author’s deep love for his adopted home. A beautiful ride through an unforgettable time.— Jon Landau

The Lie About the Truck: Survivor, Really TV, and the Endless Gaze Sallie Tisdale (Gallery Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Every once in a while we want to salute a book just because we know somebody out there cares. You know who you are.

Do you know the reputation of this inquisitive and glorious writer? Some say she is a genius. The Boston Globe says that although she is an easy, chatty writer, she “never says anything the way you’re expecting which makes reading her a pleasure.” The Seattle Times says her prose is “music for the mind’s ear.” Colorfully creative as a wordsmith, her research is considered meticulous.

Meghan Duam, author of The Problem with Everything, says that “Sallie Tisdale is the real thing, a writer who thinks like a philosopher, observes like a journalist, and sings on the page like a poet.”  You just have to like an author described like that!

Do you know the truck? More specifically, the lie about the truck? I did not. I did not care, for that matter. I still, don’t, really. And yet, here we are, listing this as a book to be honored this year.

I read a great review in maybe Publisher’s Weekly and was hooked. Here is how the publisher themselves describe this:

What is the truth?

In a world of fake news and rampant conspiracy theories, the nature of truth has increasingly blurry borders. In this clever and timely cultural commentary, award-winning author Sallie Tisdale tackles this issue by framing it in a familiar way — reality TV, particularly the long-running CBS show Survivor.

With humor and in-depth superfan analysis, Tisdale explores the distinction between suspended disbelief and true authenticity both in how we watch shows like Survivor, and in how we perceive the world around us.

Well, if that is even somewhat true, it deserves to be held up as a significant title for this year.

Music Is History Questlove (Abrams Image) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Time is running out for me here, and I’m not finished with this yet. It is more substantial than I expected. It is about music. It is about history. I should have realized that.

We love Questlove and we respect his work as an artist, as a spokesperson, as activist. In Music Is History the five-time Grammy musician, producer, and bandleader, the musical director for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, shows his chops as writer. We picked this up in the wake of the breathtaking, spectacular Summer of Soul that he produced, one of the cultural highlights of this hard year of 2021. I figured the book might be mostly about those well known black singers.

If Rock Me on the Water was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, understood, related to — I’ll admit I briefly met a few of the people mentioned — some of Music Is History is new stuff for me. Questlove starts in 1971 and goes year by year up until the present, explaining music that was popular and music that was popular in circles I didn’t travel in. He is curious about history and combines his deep expertise in pop music to explore what America has been about in the past 50 years.

It is an intimate conversation with an influential musician of today and it is a black musician’s take on recent American history. What a book! What a blast!

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs Sarah Smarsh (Scribner) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that I wanted to tell folks about it all fall of 2021, when I discovered the paperback that had just released. (Yes, the hardback came out in 2020, but, like Dolly, I’m making the most of things the best I can.) I have to admit that the main thing that drew me to this at first was that it was written by Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth. It is a mid-West / heartland memoir about her rural family with working class roots (who, among other things, listened to Dolly Parton music.) Smarsh and her mom are fiesty, smart women who were not well off and, well, her own life story seems to converge, or at least cross over, the Appalachian story of Dolly and her roots music. Dolly and her struggles, her darn hard work, her faith, her loyalty to her Appalachian life.

She Come By It Naturally was, in fact, mostly published in the fabulous Americana music journal No Depression and Smarsh’s weaving it into a great little book earned her a finalist position in the National Book Critics Circle Award (and was on several end of the year “must read books of 2020.”)

I had no idea Dolly was so extraordinary, such a character, so accomplished at so much. I didn’t realize how her wholesome feminism was controversial — there was a bit about it in the great Ken Burns’ documents on country music, I recall — and Smarsh colorfully dishes on all of it. Her intersectional study of the relationship of class and gender and race and geography is insightful without being pedantic. As the back cover says, “Infused with Smarsh’s trademark intelligence and humanity, this insightful examination is a tribute to Dolly part and the organic feminism she embodies.”

I like the line from the Time review:

Stirring, insightful… Smarsh anoints Parton a badly needed beacon: in a divided country, she remains that rare someone who everyone can love.

I enjoyed this so much, I think I’m going to read it again real soon.

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry Into the News Jeffrey Bilbro (IVP Academic) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

If my other awards for favorite reads and best books in this category are upbeat and bold, pop culture as typically understood, this is gentle, quiet, thoughtful in a restrained and sober manner. Bilbro is a serious student of Wendell Berry and is a weighty voice in the conversations at Front Porch Republic. He is a solid person of Christian conviction and wonders how we all might be wiser about how we take in the news. If our media-driven, fast-paced, information-overload — as explained by Neil Postman, say, in Amusing Ourselves to Death or mentioned by Steve Garber in his wise works — is part of our formation, shaping how we think and feel about the world, then attending to how we follow the news is essential.

And this is a book that is unlike any in print today, I’m sure. It is careful and judicious, yet interesting and inspiring. It is not entertaining in a way that name drops pop singers or fun TV shows the way the other books I’ve mentioned here, but it is fascinating. I name it as one of the memorable and important books of the year without a doubt.

There may not be any greater need in this moment —for both the church and the larger culture — than a practical theology of the news. Reading the Times is a book that addresses a discipleship crisis of our day. It may be a generation too late, but it’s not a moment too soon. — Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

I really can’t do better than this long endorsement, which explains it well: I am so grateful for a book that steps back from the flash and distraction of headlines to think deeply about the purpose of the news and how Christians are called to engage. In Reading the Times, Jeffrey Bilbro provides readers with a theological framework for our contemporary discourse. He offers examples from the tradition, from the Old Testament to modern heroes of the faith, such as Frederick Douglass and Dorothy Day, that we might apprentice ourselves, as Bilbro puts it, before these models. Like a teacher, Bilbro questions readers about our ways of responding to media, and he leads us to consider how our participation with contemporary news forms us and our community. By contextualizing our reading of the news within kairos, Bilbro shows Christians how, as T. S. Eliot writes, ‘to apprehend the point of intersection of the timeless with time.’ A relevant and timeless book about how Christians should belong in but not of this world. — Jessica Hooten Wilson, Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas, author of Giving the Devil His Due: Flannery O’Connor and The Brothers Karamazov

Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls Matali Perkins (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

We love books about books and we love books about kids books. There are several (and we are glad we saw this year the re-printing of the fabulously interesting, if a bit weird, Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children’s Literature by Jonathan Cott from the University of Minnesota Press.) More inspiring and fully wonderful, though, is what is, for now, at least, the best book I’ve read about children’s literature. Steeped in Stories is fabulous!

We admire the fictional work of award winning Metali Perkins very much and we are delighted that she here shares some of her own understandings of the role of stories in children’s moral and faith formation and what is going on is so many of the best youth books these days. (And she offers some warnings, too, which are helpful and wise.) We are glad for Broadleaf doing this in the nice, compact hardback format — what a great book it is. We hope this shout-out inspires many to buy it, as it is simply a must-read for parents, school educators, Sunday school teachers, curriculum writers, fiction fans, maybe even sharp teens. Steeped in Stories is a timeless winner!

Mitali Perkins’s winsome way with words seeps through every page of this useful guide that’s so much more than a guide. Her love of classic writing, even with all its flaws, serves as a compass for us to navigate the ins and outs of timeless stories so that they do more than entertain our modern craving for amusement. — Tsh Oxenreider, author of At Home in the World and Shadow and Light

Steeped in Stories is a timely exploration of timeless classics, clear-eyed about cultural blind spots, yet still enchanted by the wisdom, beauty, and wonder of these marvelous stories. This is one of the most brilliant guides to children’s literature I’ve read. — Karen Swallow Prior, professor and author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

It Is What You Make of It: Creating Something Great from What You’ve Been Given Justin McRoberts (Thomas Nelson) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

As I thought back over last year, I immediately thought of how much I enjoyed this easy to read, entertaining and inspiring book. I devoured it. The author is a friend and I admire him a lot so, of course, wanted to read it right away. And while I try to use a few colorful Ines here in my writing (and some might say our whole entrepreneurial thing, here, indicates some sort of maker inclinations) I don’t view myself as a creative type. A “creative” (in the noun, form, as the kids do today.) And — hey, hey —It is What You MakeIt was a book I very much needed to read.

I was going to list this as a Best of 2012 in the “personal growth” category, and I suppose I should have. The others there were characterized, mostly, by coping with pain, about thriving amidst difficulties; that is, they were rather psychological in nature. This is more about being creative and “making something” of whatever you are given (I now cringe every time I hear myself saying, “it is what it is” since he teaches us why that is not so.) But, still, I didn’t want to list this with more directly artistic books, either. Justin is a singer-songwriter and record producer (he just did a kids’ album!) but this book about taking risks to exercise our God-given capacities to make a good life and make a difference, so it is not just for aspiring artists.

So here it is, listed, for better or worse, under popular culture. He did have an air-guitar KISS band as a kid, and he did play and sing — it’s a great story — with the loud punky ska band Five Iron Frenzy on tour for a while.There’s a story about a failure of a gig (or was it) in far-away Edmonton, Canada. And he talks about the band Primas, for crying out loud. Where else would I list this book?

This is a book about recognizing our gifts, using our resources, accepting the collaboration with others who God brings into our lives and sharing our time and taken with others. There are, as the back cover says, “hilariously relatable anecdotes and antics.” Indeed. There’s Bible study, thoughtful exercises, and a upbeat call to get serious with our lives and make something of our communities, our faith.

And, as a bonus, It Is What You Make of It gets an award for the worst cover of 2021 until you read the book to explain what the goofy cactus is all about. And then — bingo — it’s one of the best covers of 2021 once you know what it’s all about. It’s worth the couple of bucks for the book just for that story that explains, well, just about everything.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS / CIVIC CULTURE

What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era Carlos Lozada (Simon & Schuster) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Since I have a lot of favorite books in this area, I have to be brief. I will say this: I have read a lot and there are excellent reports of our political life these past years. I was glued to several unbelievable books about the former Presidents last crazy months, from Peril by the famous Woodward to Michael Wolff’s third volume on the Trump years, Landslide. Yes, things were weird.

What Were We Thinking, though, is not a behind the scenes accounting; it is not investigative journalism or grandstanding. It is a very sober-minded, nicely written, wise, even, survey of the books about Trump and Trumpism. The author tells us in the beginning how many books about the former President and his administration and the 2016 elections he has read and reviewed (he is a Pulitzer Prize winning book critic for the Washington Post.) Lozado knows the lay of the land, the pro and con arguments, the sassy ones, the fair-minded ones, the ones that focus on race or economics or the carnage of the rust-belt or the evangelicals or whatever. There are books documenting the famously (and simply non deniable) over-the-top dishonesty of the President and his spokespeople and the incredibly sloppy know-nothing zeal he revealed in. There are books that wonder why — who voted for him and what motivated them. He has studied them all. Which is to say, he knows the books, has seen the coverage, has explored the political, cultural, and philosophical thinking behind it all and give us here a wonderful survey of the gist of so much conversation. As the New York Times review put it, “There is a simple, piercing clarity to many of Lozada’s observations.”

I do not want to overstate this, but I have read some and are familiar with many of the 150 books referenced here and I am glad for some that he picked (including, for instance Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse by Timothy Carney) and I appreciate his weaving their various points of view and insights into some key principles and takeaways.

Granted, as one person noted, it is “an irony of our age that a man who rarely reads has unleashed an onslaught of books about his tenure and his time.”

I appreciate that Mr. Lozada is less impressed with polemics and those that sound more “righteous than right.” So here is his provocative argument, that I found award-winning:

Whether written by liberals or conservatives, activists or academics, true believers or harsh critics, the books of Trump’s America are vulnerable to the same failures of the imagination that gave us this presidency in the first place.

I loved this real-time intellectual history of our time. As the LA Times put it, “the meta Trump book you didn’t know you needed (and wanted) to read.” Ha!  So meta, so 2021.

The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship Daniel K. Williams (Eerdmans) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

I have written much about a distinctive, Biblically-wise, multi-faceted view of politics and government and have often suggested that Christian people who want to honor the Lordship of Christ over all of life, including our citizenship, would be well to not primarily seem overly loyal to one ideological camp or political party. It may be idealist to talk about a “third way but surely Tony Evans was write when he preached that when Jesus returns he will not be riding a donkey or an elephant. We should be more interested as one group I admire puts it, in principles before parties. You can see some of those lists HERE or HERE

And so, I’ve offered book lists and review that help us nurture our uniquely Christian mind about law and politics and that offer non-partisan guidance on citizenship. This book, out in 2021, could have fit in any number of those previous lists. It is exactly about that very thing by a wonderfully serious Bible guy, helping us all get beyond the inane partisanship (as Thomas Kidd called it) that characterizes American political life. As he said, if you aren’t interested in getting to a better place, then The Politics of the Cross is not for you.

You can read my longer review at the BookNotes archives, but why not just order it now? You can rejoice that authors as diverse as John Fea Kelly Kapic and Collin Hansen all raved about this. In any case, this was a favorite book of mine this year for its sheer audacious hope that we might take Jesus seriously in our relationship to what seems to be mostly a two-party system, without falling to far off the gospel rails, one side or the other. You will learn much, you will be inspired, and maybe you, too, will be encouraged. I sure was.

Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind Grace Olmstead (Sentinel) $27.00. OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Grace Olmstead’s very good book was one of my favorite favorites all year because it was so gorgeously written, it evoked such a sense of place, it was honest about the implications of caring about “the places we’ve left behind.”I introduced it and raved a bit and invited folks to buy it. It is published by a conservative publishing house and promoted mostly by a network of sharp folks that years ago were called “crunchy cons” — conservatives who care about traditional values, localism, caring for the land (but conservation into the conservative lexicon) — not mostly economic growth or giving big business a pass when they egregiously pollute or disrupt. These folks who talk about a “front porch republic” know as much about Wendell Berry as de Tocqueville and are more interested in a life well lived than winning hot-button issues of the culture wars. I might not have realized that this is the ethos surrounding much of this book, and it doesn’t matter, really: it’s a darn good read and will be engaging for anyone who cares about our civic life, our social fabric, our roots, our parents and children, if we have children.

Read my review at our BookNotes archives but, to be honest, read this review of Uprooted by Valeri Weaver-Zercher that was published in the Christian Century. Valerie is one of my favorite book reviewers and I’d like to award this review of hers as my favorite book review of the year. But, of course, it is based on an amazing book, one of the best of 2021.

Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age Rodney Clapp (Fortress Press) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I am a sucker for big picture social critiques, authors naming the spirit of the age like some Hebrew prophet. From audacious, large scale analysis of genius like McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World to Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide to the amazing (must-read!) Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brain Walsh to Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew’s Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture. I suppose it is why we awarded as a Best Book of 2021 (in Part One of this BookNotes list) The 1619 Project, which is nothing if not sweeping. I think it was Francis Schaeffer who once said we sometimes need to turn from the microscope and pick up the telescope for a wider-lens view.

And so, in that spirit, and to that end, we are eager to award Rodney Clapp’s Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age a Best Book of the Year, honoring him for this careful, studious, detailed study of what is mean by Neo-liberalism and how that phrase captures so much of our contemporary ideologies and so much of what is bringing turmoil to our world. And it is well deserving of our celebrations for the contributions Clapp makes not only to our big-picture and behind the scenes understanding, but in his lively invitation to do something about it; to live by a different story, catechized into an alternative world by the church of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

In my feeble efforts to review this at BookNotes last summer, I was buoyed by the great endorsements that others wise than I have offered:

Rarely are critiques of neoliberalism followed by beautiful, constructive proposals for alternative ways to live. By giving us both, Clapp offers this book as a gift to the church. The converse is also true: it is important not only to identify the life-affirming work churches are called to do but also to help congregations name and understand the dominating power of our age. Only when we are clear about what the gospel frees us from and frees us for, Clapp well argues, may the church be a relevant witness against the power and principality of neoliberalism that opposes God’s reign. — Jennifer M. McBride, author Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel, professor of theology and ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary

This concise and accessible analysis takes us beneath the fear, inequality, war, hunger, and environmental devastation of the present age and shows us how they operate. Rodney Clapp unpacks the ideologies that try to convince us that the world must be so, and then offers resources from the Christian tradition to enact a more livable world. No one is more skilled at bridging the scholarly and pastoral contexts than Rodney Clapp. –William T. Cavanaugh,DePaul University

 Lillian Daniel, senior pastor of First Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa and author of Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To wrote honestly when she said: “Let’s be honest. As pastor of a politically split church, I am not looking for ways to introduce more politics into congregational life. In an age of tweets and squawking, I thirst for the Peace of Christ. But after reading Rodney Clapp’s Neoliberalism, I also see how hungry and lonely I have been, while wandering in this desert of culture wars, for some weight and wisdom from a spiritual tradition that is older, larger and deeper than I am. Somehow, Clapp uses a hot button topic to model how to have a cool Christian conversation, across the aisles of politics or pews. I would gladly introduce this book to my church members, for its sense of perspective but most of all for its contagious hope for a church where God is still speaking louder and more lovingly than the pundits.”

It may be a bit academic to give to everybody at your church, but I like Rev. Daniel’s optimism. Let’s do try to get this read and discussed. We need the big picture sometimes, the serious critique, and the viable vocabulary of faith as an alternative

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

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

I know Guinness’s work fairly well, having read most of his books more than once. I was not quite prepared for a few things in this magisterial, important work, The Magna Carta of Humanity. It wasn’t odd or alarming, but I’ve never recalled Os being so very passionate about Judaism, about Hebrew scholars, and about the extraordinary genius of one of the most significant public intellectuals of our times, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I got tears in my eyes when Guinness (somewhat uncharacteristically, perhaps) shared how Sacks read the manuscript of Magna Carta and Guinness’s explication of the significance of the very idea of the Old Testament law, and how appreciative Os was that Sacks wrote back, even as he was ill. The revolutionary faith of “Sinai” in the subtitle is very significant and Guinness, always the teacher of important history, shows how the Hebrew worldview in many ways launched (and in some places critiqued) Greece and Rome, the medieval West, the British empire and, supremely, the American founders and framers and their revolution for a republic.

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

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

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

A second theme of the book you will have to discover and evaluate yourself; I am firstly celebrating it here, not offering my own critique which must come at another time. I will just say this: I do not fully agree with Dr. Guinness (and I shudder to find myself typing these words) about his assessment of the greater threat from the cultural left these days than from the revolutionary far right. I wished for more balance in his exposing the inconsistencies and dangers of progressive left. He, his wife, and son, have worked tirelessly for a better world and have consistently renounced racism and social injustices, as he does in this powerful book, and I do not in the least suggest otherwise. (Just read chapter 8 for a compelling, solid Biblical theology of justice, hospitality, mercy and homecoming.) His quick-fire points (10!) though, against critical race theory, say, or his rebuke of the secular and postmodern progressive left, left me with more questions than reassurance that he was fully on target. Why suggest that the left are “twitter Jacobins” and not fret about the threats of rape and murder some Christian feminists face there from “brothers” on the right? Talk about cancel culture? The right has been at it for decades, as he well knows, having been the target of cruel rebuke himself for his public affirmation of political pluralism. Referring to a “mob” on one (leftist) side while not using such language against those on the right, some of whom, well, read his books — indicates, I think, a shift in Os’s own thinking and analysis. (He says as much, by the way, in his recent foreword to the celebratory 2019 re-issue of The Dust of Death.)

One need not agree with every word of every book to honor it, to celebrate it, to say that it was a favorite read and to highly recommend it. I do not hesitate to honor and celebrate and recommend The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom by the exceedingly informative and regularly inspiring Os Guinness. Like I said — I’d read anything he writes. Even if it pokes at my worldview a bit.

And next up, Dr. Guinness has a brand new release that arrived here early. I am thrilled! It is called The Great Quest: Invitation to an Examined Life and a Sure Path to Meaning (IVP; $16.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80.) I can assure you that it will be one of the great little books of 2022.  Very impressive.

 

BIBLICAL STUDIES

Cruciform Scripture: Cross, Participation and Mission  edited by Christopher Skinner, Nijay Gupta, Andy Johnson, and Drew Strait. (Eerdmans) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

This is a book we are so glad to honor, happy to shout out about, naming it as a most significant book of 2021 for a few reasons. I think the major reason is because it is — without announcing it on the cover — a book in honor of the work fo our friend Michael Gorman. Mike was a Dean and know is a professor at Saint Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore, and we admire the whole program there very, very much. Mike is well liked by all and really respected by those in the know, professional Bible scholars and ecumenical church leaders. He has written many books but a few he did on Paul’s view of what he calls “cruciformity” has been nearly revolutionary for some. This book is a collection of essays drawing on or interacting with his work. As such, it honors him — hooray! — and it serves the church by refining, more and more, what faithful theology and spiritually and discipleship looks like, inspiring by the cross of Christ. These essays are theological, cultural, a tad philosophical, even, but mostly Biblical. The editors, are all New Testament scholars and most of the chapters are either about the gospels or the epistles.

We celebrated this when it first came out earlier in the year and we are glad to add our little voice here in Dallastown to the chorus of others who have congratulated Dr. Gorman, and, especially, these scholars who put together this book in his honor, for the sake of God’s people who are called to serve the world. It is scholarship that matters and is a resource you should have on hand, read slowly, spend years, with, even. It’s that kind of volume.

Some of the important authors with fascinating insights include Dennis Edwards, Rebekah Eklund, Stephen Fowl, Richard Hays, Sylvia Keesmaat, Brent Laytham (who now serves as Dean at St. Mary’s), N.T. Wright, Patricia Fosarelli, and more.

Kind reviews on the back, encouraging folks to pick up and read these many pieces, are from Richard Bauckham (of the University of Cambridge), Douglas Campbell (of Duke Divinity School) and Scot McKnight, of Northern.

Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE =  $32.00

By the way, speaking of Best Books and celebrations and Dr. Michael Gorman: it was twenty years ago his profound and game-changing work Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross came out. This past year, Eerdmans released an expanded edition, called the 20th Anniversary edition, with a new foreword by Nijay Gupta (which is fascinating) and a very lengthy new chapter by Gorman, giving a bit of the backstory to his work, how Cruciformity came about and how it was received, and some new updated of things he has considered since 2001 when the first edition came out. Certainly this new edition deserves a special place on any list of important books done in Biblical research this year.

Head up, too: Gorman has a new commentary on Romans coming hopefully before the end of March 2022. Yes!! You could PRE ORDER that, here, too, at 20% off. It will be about 350 pages and will called Romans: A Theological & Pastoral Commentary Michael J.Gorman (Eerdmans) $39.00  OUR SALE PRE-ORDER PRICE = $31.20

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

I reviewed this a bit at BookNotes and wish I had time to say more. This is certainly one of the most thought-provoking, stimulating, provocative books in many a year. Richard has been a friend of ours since his co-authoring (with Brian Walsh) The Transforming Vision and Truth is Stranger Than It Used To Be. He has spoken at the CCOs Jubilee conference, having shared there a keynote message from his brilliant book about Biblical eschatology (A New Heavens and a New Earth.) I have raved about his seminal work on the nature of what it means to be made in God’s image (The Liberated Image.) We here at Hearts & Minds are happy to recommend anything he writes.

This new one is serious and complex, but we can describe it simply: Middleton thinks that Abraham should have said no to God when God asked him to sacrifice his son. Drawing on the law and the prophets, wisdom literature and the lament Psalms, he makes a cogent case that God expected him to protest, not acquiesce. This is a deeply coherent argument rooted in the Bible itself, written by a respected Bible scholar and passionate Kingdom leader. Wow. It really could help you rethink a lot, being more faithful to the Scriptures, not less.

First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament  Terry Wildman and others (IVP) $20.00 paperback OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We were delighted that some of our customers bought this when it released in early September, and the publisher was glad to hear lots of good feedback, almost immediately. It was, apparently, more popular than anyone anticipated and appreciated greatly. As we’ve said, this is the fruit of a big project of several tribal leaders who are Bible scholars. It is thoughtful and intentional, rendering the ancient Greek into words, phrases, metaphors and images that ring true to the Candace and linguistic structure of indigenous people’s language. This is nothing odd — missionaries translate ancient Scripture into contextualized idiom all the time. Thanks be to God. I kept thinking I wondered what Eugene Peterson would have thought. Surely a publishing event of the year!(The hardback seems to be seriously confounded by international printing and supply chain issues. We can put you on a waiting list for that one if you want to wait; it goes for $35.00.)

The 30-Minute Bible: God’s Story for Everyone Craig Bartholomew & Paige Vanosky with illustrations by Martin Erspamer (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I have a handful of short, readable, wise, insightful introductions to the Bible. This is a real winner, one of the very best, by a author who has done worldview-ish, insightful Biblical overviews and a woman who has taught big picture Bible classes for years. Together they have given us a short reading about every key moment in the Bible, a fabulous, handsome, small, spot-on way to dip in briefly and get the whole story in 30 readings. They say 30-minutes a day, but you could do this in considerable less time than that. A gem. Buy a bunch!

Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together edited by Charles Moore (Plough Publishing) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I hope you know that we did a Facebook live event with Dr. Charles Moore and it was a bit intimidating — he is one of the most widely read people I have ever met — and a wonderful time of chatting with hundreds of people from around the world tuning in. This is very much like the equally potent Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, also done by Plough, or, say, his exquisite anthologies Waiting for the Light and Bread and Wine. Yep, these are collections of the best reflections on the Sermon on the Mount from all sorts of writers from all sorts of social locations and theological traditions from throughout church history. Only Charles Moore could have pulled this off — entries from Bonhoeffer and Merton, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, Saint Benedict and Philip Yancey, Richard Foster, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, N.T. Wright, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle and one of his heros, Eberhard Arnold. What a book! Radical discipleship in community with other followers of Jesus never was unpacked with such depth and joy, clarity and provocation.

The Theology of Jeremiah: The Book, the Man, the Message John Goldingay (IVP Academic) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60                                        The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Jeremiah John Goldingay (Eerdmans) $75.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $60.00

Yes, the good professor and prolific Bible scholar gets a double award here, a twice underlined accolade for two books on the same topic. One was released in January 2021 and the other in December, so, well, that just deserves to be noted as a charming bit of good fortune for a geeky bookseller like me or book buyer like you. Right? Golly, this guy is faster than his friend Tom Wright!

Seriously, for anyone who cares deeply about this extraordinary prophet who wept and dreamed and acted out his way into the Holy Scriptures as Jerusalem was crumbling around him before and during the awful deportation and destruction of 586, these two books are exceedingly valuable and a cause for rejoicing, even in our own sort of exile.

I heard a sermon or two as a young person on Jeremiah that influenced me for the course of my life, I think. I read a book about Jeremiah by James Sire maybe 40 years ago and that got me hooked. I’ve perused and borrowed from countless commentaries over the years — this shorter overview from IVP (The Theology of Jeremiah) is the one I was waiting for. The Eerdmans NICOT one (that is the one that is over 1000 pages), as many of our customers who use them know, is a bit over my pay grade. But it may be the definitive scholarly work at this point. (And, interestingly, since we’re honoring Goldingay’s notable output of late, he also just released in the first month of 2022 another serious NICOT volume, this one on Lamentations. Wow.) Two books, both very  impressive.

The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler (HaperOne) $34.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99

This who follow us here at BookNOtes know that we often announce the new books by Amy-Jill Levine. Having met her and sat under her mesmerizing, witty, righteous passion for the early church and the gospels they produced, I have ever since been eager to learn from a Jewish woman what she might say about our New Testament and our Savior. Often she is really, really good — and funny.

She is a good scholar, though, and she has done some hefty work that is important for Christians, especially. This 2021 one, co-written by her colleague Marc Zvi Brettler (who worked with her on the Oxford Jewish Annotated New Testament) is a book that deserves to be awarded as a major release this year. It is just that unique, that rare, a book that, upon hearing of it, I thought to myself “Why hasn’t anyone done that before.” Levine teaches at Vanderbilt and Brettler teaches at Duke; they are both beloved profs and exceptionally qualified to write about, at least, how Jews view their own texts. I have on occasion wondered why they didn’t bring a Christian Old Testament scholar on board with this, but I suppose that is part of the genius.

The book does exactly what it sets out to do. At almost 500 pages it is a major study. It is easy to follow, not arcane, and very informative. That it unlocks for us the reality of varying interpretive traditions, different communities of reading, is itself a great gift.

In an age where polemics and talking past one another is common, the appeal to respectful interpretation and dialogue is refreshing and helpful. Perhaps it is not too much to expect that we see ourselves as others see us or see our sacred texts as others see them.  Highly recommended. — Dr. Ben Witherington, III, Asbury Theological Seminary

Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation: Thirtieth Anniversary Expanded Edition edited by Cain Hope Felder (Fortress Press) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Just two years ago we raved about a new voice in the world of Biblical studies, a strong African American New Testament scholar at Wheaton who got his PhD in Scotland under N.T. Wright. Esau McCauley has become a major voice for serious conversations about race and racism in American evangelicalism, especially and his book Reading While Black seemed to open many readers to the ways in which social location — in this case, being black in America in the era of mass incarceration and BLM— might color how the Bible is read, understood, interpreted, preached, applied. Dr. McCauley, a historic black church guy who is now an Anglican, certainly (certainly) is not the first to develop a uniquely black hermeneutic but his wonderful book has been accesible and contemporary and mostly well received.

Stony the Road We Trod is one of the urtexts in this field, one of the remarkably formative scholarly, classics that we have carried since it came out 30 years ago. The back cover of this new, anniversary edition says it is the first volume to explore distinctly Black readings, and I’m not so sure of that. But it is the first major work, widely received in the broader Bible guild, and used in mainline Protestant seminaries, that not only gave voice to black hermeneutics and scholarship, but united rising Black scholars in the field in a seminal text. It represented a major window, what Jacquelyn Grant of the Interdenominational Theological Center called “a paradigm shift.” Gail Yea called is, rightly, “a landmark volume.”Others have called it “groundbreaking.”

And so we are glad to honor its significance, its heritage, and celebrate this new, re-issued, expanded hardcover edition. The long introduction to this30th Anniversary edition is by Brian K. Blount (now President of Union Theological Seminary in Richmond VA and Charlotte NC.) and is nearly worth the price of the book as he explores why there were not many black and brown PhD Biblical studies scholars even into the 1980s; he shows the background, importance, and the trajectory of Stony the Road. Other new chapters are included and some of the other original texts have been updated. This new volume is a major release of 2021 and we are pleased to name it here.

Just so you know (I’m sure most do, but figure this is a chance to note it) the title of this volume is a line from the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson, written in, I think, about 1900, then put to music and widely known as “The Black National Anthem.” Rev. Felder’s evocative use of this line says much. He died in 2019.

CHURCH LIFE

The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership Tom Nelson (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

We have a lot of books about the vocation of being a pastor, the meaning of the role of the clergy, being a minister or priest. I read a good number of them, thinking of the men and women who I know who serve often under difficult conditions in the local church. I suppose you know the data showing how unhappy many, many clergy are, and I know you know the reports that in the last years, more and more have walked away from the calling and their churches. In many cases, it was a healthy thing to do. I do wish more read more books about the qualities of a good pastor and the characteristics of those that flourish. There’s a lot of good ones from many different angles.

I need not explain all the reasons, but it is my judgement that this is one of the very books books of this kind in many a year. I admire Tom, and I so respect his big picture of the Kingdom of God, networking church leaders for making a difference in the community. His “Made to Flourish” organization emerged out of his passion for thinking about work, Christianly, and realizing that much good that happens happens outside of the church doors as congregants are encouraged to relate Sunday worship to Monday work, so to speak.

If that is his expertise and good, Kingdom passion, helping people reflect on calling and career, vocation and work, what, then, might this have to say to those whose job is to be a minister, a preacher, a leader of the local Body? The Flourishing Pastor really is wise and emerges not only from Tom’s acute insight into the Bible and the theology of the shepherd leader, but also from his passion for thinking about sustainable and meaningful work stewarding our callings well.

Here is how the publisher pitches it; I think this is award-winning stuff:

With the risk of burnout at an all-time high, pastors need a new framework for ministry that will help them move from survival to flourishing. Drawing on the image of the shepherd leader, Tom Nelson offers pastors wisdom and timely vision for leadership that integrates in-depth biblical teaching and whole-life discipleship, providing a roadmap for ministry resilience and longevity.

Preachers Dare: Speaking for God Will Willimon (Abingdon Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Some of the books on preaching that I have enjoyed the most — I know, it’s a weird hobby, reading books like this — have been those that are from many who give the annual Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale. I will never forget reading several in a row, thinking they were some of the most interesting books on preaching I had read.

Preachers Dare is adapted from Will Willimon’s Beecher Lectures and is inspired by a quote from the great theologian Karl Barth.

Here is how the publisher tells it:

In a world in which sermons too often become hackneyed conventional wisdom or tame common sense, preachers dare to speak about the God who speaks to us as Jesus Christ. Willimon draws upon his decades of preaching, as well as his many books on the practice of homiletics, to present a bold theology of preaching. This work emphasizes preaching as a distinctively theological endeavor that begins with and is enabled by God. God speaks, preachers dare to speak the speech of God, and the church dares to listen. By moving from the biblical text to the contemporary context, preachers dare to speak up for God so that God might speak today. With fresh biblical insights, creativity and pointed humor, Willimon gives today’s preachers and congregations encouragement to speak with the God who has so graciously and effusively spoken to us.

Willimon is world renowned, of course, and has written many other books on preaching (and more than one on Barth.) I’ve crossed paths with him at a workship here in Dallastown, believe it or not, and as a keynote speaker years ago at our Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. I’ve admired him, disagreed with him, thought he was too understated, at times, and yet, he is one of our finest theological voices for church life today. And this great book says why.

I think, for the record, the cover is beyond cheesy and such a fine work from a prestigious lectureship deserves better. Don’t let it fool you — this is one of the best books of the year.

Becoming a Hybrid Church Dave Daubert & Richard Jorgensen (Day 8 Strategies) $11.99. OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59

There have been a flurry of books about doing church amidst the pandemic, offering insight and guidance about virtual church during a time of quarantining and social distancing. Some are fine, offering common sense and helpful reminds.Others are more meeting, like the excellent and provocative Managing Congregations in a Virtual Age by John Wimberly, Jr. (Fortress Press; $20.00.) This one, though, Becoming a Hybrid Church, written, admittedly, by two friends of ours (one a neighbor and favorite regular here at the shop) is the best of ‘em all. It is short, necessarily concise, clear-headed and yet, oddly visionary. And it reminds us of very important things that some of us still need to hear. (We don’t “watch” worship on line, we participate, even if not person-to-person.) Our descriptions and word choices matter, our policy discussion must be discerned in light of not only congregational needs but the common good, and, sorry, but this thing isn’t going away. Being hybrid is now, for better or worse, a thing.

These two ecumenical leaders — one a wise and earthy church consultant from the Midwest, the other a central PA ELCA staff member for the Synod — know how to help us all get serious and remain faithful, even energized, about the new possibilities God is doing among us. Get a few of these and share them with your congregational leaders.

Here is how they describe it, which says it well:

As we adjust to a new reality, every congregation will need to find ways to continue on-the-ground ministry while also finding ways to use the online world in new and creative ways. Using an adaptive framework to start reflecting on these changes, the book’s concise chapters cover a variety of congregational ministries (worship, servanthood, congregational care, stewardship, spiritual formation and more) that are enhanced when congregations include online ministry in addition to working in more traditional ways. Each chapter includes a closing section with scripture, questions for reflection and a prayer that make it the perfect book for small groups, leadership teams and anyone who wants to think about what the next chapter looks like in the congregation where they are.

Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful Church Eric E. Peterson (NavPress) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I have reviewed this before and wondered if my highlighting did it justice. It is a very wise book, a delight to read, just so well done — interesting, faithful, and full of wisdom from a seasoned (perhaps beyond his years) Presbyterian pastor. This is a set of letters to his church and you can read it as inspiration for your own church, learning a bit of “looking over his shoulder” wisdom, almost like a memoir unfolding, of his own pastoral work. (Think of Winn Collier’s fabulous novel in letters, Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church; this is sort of a real life version of that, minus most of the fictional drama.) In a way, this is a very good way to learn, not shaddowing, exactly, but a honest-to-goodness glimpse. I liked it just because it was so interesting to me, so nicely penned, but I commend it because you really could learn a lot from Pastor Eric.

Eric Peterson (I might as well say it) is the ordained Presbyterian son of Eugene and Jan Peterson, brother of a brother who is a novelist and poet and of a sister who is an artist. No wonder this pastor can turn letter-writing to his congregation into an art form.

For some reason, even in this season of pandemic and sadness, and maybe, soon, fresh starts, Letters to a Young Congregation seems spot on. Congrats to Eric for such a fine, edifying, even entertaining book that strikes me as at once reasonable and radical. Read it to find out what I mean.

The Deepest Belonging: A Story About Discovering Where God Meets Us Kara K. Root (Fortress Press) $21.00OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

This is another book about congregational life, about the story of a church, written by a Presbyterian pastor, but it is not a “how to” book about being a clergy, or even guidelines for being a more effective or faithful church. It is more like a memoir, a narrative, a story. Actually it tells three interlocking stories.On the back cover, in larger print, is asks, “What is church for? What is a pastor? What does it mean to be truly human?”

Kara Root’s vision of faith, we learn right away, is rooted in “joy, freedom, and trust.” And, as they say, The Deepest Belonging “invites readers to walk through surprising doorways — weakness, vulnerability, smallness, rest, and honesty — into a new perspective of the Christian life and the role of the pastor.”

I highlighted this at BookNotes more than a year ago and I want to honor it here, now, as one of the most engaging, warm, provocative, and even luminous books of this kind I have read in ages. I am sure, before, I quoted some of those who rave about its on the back. It seems a good way to celebrate the importance of this book and honor its growing reputation as a very important volume.

This is simply the best book of Christian faith I’ve read in over a decade.                     — Mark Yaconelli, executive director of The Hearth, author of The Gift of Hard Things

Kara Root has an exquisite gift for paying attention and then speaking what she sees, showing us along the way that there is sacrament in the telling of our stories.              — Jan Richardson, author of Sparrow: A Book of Life and Death and Life

Quicksilver smart, deeply honest, and blessed with a gift for language, Root invites us all into a deeper exploration of our faith. — Thomas G. Long, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life Andrew Root (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

These days I am almost tired of people writing about the magisterial (if notoriously dense) philosophy of Charles Taylor and his seminal The Secular Age. I value those who have drawn on him — Jamie Smith’s must-read How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, the easy-to-understand chapter on Taylor in Tim Keller’s small Preaching, even Alan Noble (Disruptive Witness) and Jake Meador (In Search of the Common Good.) And, my favorite — the heady but captivating, How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World by Rob Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson.

Of all of these, there are three more that are, in my view, essential for modern church leaders and these are the ones that make up the trio by the always insightful (who just keeps getting better and better) Andrew Root. Although one does not necessarily have to read them all or in order (there, I gave you permission), the first (released in the fall of 2017) was Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness; the second volume was released in 2019, The Pastor in a Secular Age: Ministry to People Who No Longer Need a God. (What a title, eh?) The final volume in the trilogy released early in 2021 and is very, very important. The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life 

Yes, he cites Taylor and talks about the cross-pressures of late modernity. (And, he notes, with some concern, that the calls for change in the church often collude with the constantly accelerated lives demanded by our era.) This book, which shows how to move “from relevance to resonance” starts not only with a solid bit of cultural analysis, but examines “congregational despondency.” One of the great realities of our times, he notes, is “depressed congregations.” (Even, I might add, those that are quite zippy and exceedingly busy with the Lord’s work.)

Kudos to the hard working prof (at Luther Seminary in St. Paul) and to Baker Academic for doing this sort of amazing, fruitful work.

By the way, we just got yet another book by Andrew Root that is said to be a fourth in this series, although it can read as a stand-alone title, Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age (Baker Academic; $27.99OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39.) We might as well just say right now that this will be on next year’s list — it looks remarkable.

Embodied Liturgy: Virtual Reality and Liturgical Theology in Conversation C. Andrew Doyle (Church Publishing) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

In just under 150 pages, and with a bunch of really fascinating footnotes, C. Andrew Doyle (an Episcopal bishop in Texas) has given us what seems to me to be the best (and, to be honest just about the only) substantive study of virtual reality and liturgy, which (of course) for Episcopalians and Anglicans — not to mention others of us — includes Eucharist. Doyle argues that the Eucharist is not a formulaic rehearsal of words and rituals but an “embodied and lived experience that requires a shared place and presence.” Of course, “the context of the ritual — with people, objects, words, and all sorts of nuance — creates intimacy with God and each other.”

I want to be clear that this is not primarily about the necessary practices of the hybrid church because of the still-spreading pandemic virus. It is not, nor is my recommending it, weighing in on the firestorm from Tish Warren’s unfortunately worded New York Times piece. (I wonder if she drew on this very book in her own ruminations?) I am not sure I agree with all of this (and, to be honest, I’m not sure I understand all of it, given my limits of understanding of semiotics and Anglican sacramental spirituality and eucharistic theology.

Agree or not, realizing it is about the digital age and the meaning-making going on in virtual reality, and not about pandemic protocols or public health concerns, Embodied Liturgy is nothing short of brilliant. As Ian Markham says, “The scope of the argument is breathtaking.” The Rev. Dr. Kate Sonderegger notes that Doyle “has brought the full compass of contemporary thought to bear on the controverted question of virtual Eucharist.”

Another review notes that, “Andy Doyle approaches the question with the same dignity and care to which he calls any who would dare to engage in deeper conversation about this complex and at times emotionally charged topic.” I liked the phrase that one supporter used saying the book offers a “generous intellectual landscape.”

This may be a serious, landmark Anglican text, but those of us from other Christian denominations and faith traditions should listen in; indeed, we are all “language making” creatures and we all form liturgy of some sort. Embodied Liturgy is important and a good example of how to ponder theologically the ideas and the practices that makes up much of our lives: worship and communion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church Bridget Eileen Rivera (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I hope you saw this in a previous BookNotes when I noted how very, very important I think it is. I think back to what I recall is the third gay person that I ever met (that I knew, of course), an upperclassman at my college and a devout, seemingly admirable Christian. He took his own life shortly after speaking with me, before “coming out” was a phrase I knew — why did he tell me, I wondered? And why would someone feel so badly about any troubles in their life to be driven to such a tragic outcome.

I have in one stumbling step after another tried to understand question that for almost 50 years; I have talked with many LGBTQ persons, read tons of books, and continue to worry that religion would ever be damaging thing to anyone. The “heavy burdens” in the title of this book comes from Jesus’s own warnings, of course, so, obviously, this book is urgent for anyone who is serious about not doing what Jesus warned about. We dare not weigh people down the way the Pharisees of old did. This author, by the way, is not fully prepared to fully embrace the open and affirming motto, and stands by fairly conventional sexual ethics. But she knows the heavy burdens, the way LGBTQ Christians have been hurt, have been harmed.

I think this is a very, very important book and while it is surely not the only thing that needs saying these days, it is one of the most urgent. Perhaps it will save a life of an excluded and shamed young person, and, if those who are habitually hurtful learn to repent, it might save their very souls.This is a study we need and advice we need to heed.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Woman Became Gospel Truth Beth Allison Barr (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I suppose this could be listed under “Biblical studies” as well — the author offers lots of reflections on how Biblical texts are understood in different kinds of faith traditions (and in different eras of church history, which is her main expertise.) I’ll honor it here under congregational life given the story of the authors church life and the discussion of various camps and movements within the religious landscape.

I think it was a few days before our shipment of these first arrive. I was reading an advanced copy the publisher had sent and Beth (Hearts & Minds Beth, that is) was listening to an interview with Beth Barr on NPR. She came to me to say how impressive it was and that she really wanted to see the book. I had the book in my hands and was about ready to tell her that I was very, very impressed, that she’d want to see it. We both became fans that day, and dug in, realizing she had quite a story to tell and the unique academic chops to tell it in a compelling way.

Dr. Barr was a Southern Baptist evangelical historical with a speciality in medieval studies. She knows how nuns and ordinary women — Catholic and Protestant — read the Bible and lived their lives down through church history. She knows that the recent lingo about “Biblical womanhood” is a fairly recent movement, and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are not as simply Biblical as their supporters seem to suggest. Ends up, in great heartbreak, her husband lost his job as a church youth pastor because of his support of her resistance to the mistreatment of women. And so we begin again.

Here are some excepts of my much longer reviewed (paired with three other important words) from an early June BookNotes column.

No lesser a light than historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez of Calvin University thinks that with this  book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood there could be a groundswell shift of views, a tipping point.

One can hope. And, taken alongside Du Mez’s own devastating historical critique (and the careful, irenic, and exceptionally sound Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Aimee Byrd) and a handful of other such texts, we might see an erosion of the unbiblical and hurtful hegemony of Christian patriarchal views and the other unfortunate social consequences that follow from them.

Professor Du Mez is right about Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood. It is fervent and bold and, for those with ears to hear, very compelling. Dr. Barr is a clear and passionate writer whether she is telling her own story as a longstanding Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) wife of a youth pastor, driven from her beloved local congregation over her (and her husbands) honesty about their egalitarian convictions or her work in the academy as a respected medievalist. She can tell a convincing tale about the machinations of a local evangelical/fundamentalist church as well as she can inspire us with stories of empowered 12th century nuns who taught Scripture or late Middle Ages pastors whose wedding sermons (in Latin, of course) say little about gender roles (as do those pushing for so-called “Biblical” womanhood) but invite men and women to mutual submission as they both honor Christ alone.

The thesis of this passionate book is simple: a certain movement of mostly Reformed, often Baptist, theologians and popular writers who wrote the “Danvers Statement” and formed the “Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Denny Burke, Kevin DeYoung, etc.) insist that they are right in teaching what Biblical womanhood and manhood is and it has created within evangelicalism a strict and harsh movement that has demeaned and hurt many. (And, for some, this male-centric worldview has propped up even a heretical view of the Trinity called “the eternal subjugation of the Son to the Father” showing how their social agenda about power and hierarchy has influenced even their view of God.) They say that this simply what the Bible really teaches and they run with it (with guys like John Piper instructing women who are at home when a mailman visits how to speak in a way that doesn’t deflate his masculine identity; I’m not making this up.)

As a historian, Barr shows that this late 20th century and early 21st century push-back against more egalitarian soundings within evangelicalism, is not in keeping with the beautiful orthodoxy of the best of church thinking down through the ages. She – perhaps inspired by Du Mez, but perhaps not – explains how this pitching of Christian patriarchy as “complementarianism” arose (as the back cover puts it) “from a series of clearly definable historical moments.”

As Scot McKnight (who says, “I could not put this book down!”) writes of it:

Barr’s careful historical examples drawn especially from medieval history hold together a brilliant, thunderous narrative that untells the complementarian narrative.

Beth Barr begins her story with her own inner anguish. It is her story to tell but she and her husband are increasingly out of synch with their strictly anti-feminist church body. It is painful. In these sorts of churches, a woman like her – with a PhD in theological history and a professor at a Christian university – dare not teach teen boys Sunday school. This obsession with one or two verses (misunderstood, many would say) of Saint Paul (while missing other clear texts) silencing women in church creates a fetish so odd that one of her late teen college kids sincerely asked if she had her lecture notes given in the university approved by her husband. She assured him her husband – who did not have a PhD in medieval history – had no desire or authority to do such a thing. The young man was appalled.

Also, there is very good (and lively) scholarship here. Professor Barr explores the Biblical texts and the history of their translation and interpretation. She shows how some women are “written out of” the English Bible – for instance, see her exploration of the infamous Junia vs Junias rendering of Romans 16:7 (and the question of what it means to consider her as one with the apostles.) Barr looks at specific Biblical texts, writes well as a historian about the early church, the pre-Reformation times, and Reformation era understandings of key texts. She shows that the road to what many now call “Biblical womanhood” is rooted in whole lot of very unique debates about specific Biblical subjects. It was fabulously interesting and added new levels of conviction and passion in me.

…for instance, Barr describes the backstory of those traditionalists who alleged that the use of gender inclusive language (that is, “humankind” instead of “mankind,” etc) of an updated NIV was driven by some compromising spirit of the age and which eventually lead to the formation of the ESV translation, done quite openly as an anti-feminist translation.

With chapters like “Sanctifying Subordination” and “Making Biblical Womanhood Gospel Truth” there is some overlap with the Du Mez history from Jesus and John Wayne. There is more Biblical exegesis and as a medievalist she is able to describe pre-and-post Reformation documents and practices regarding women, the home, the family, the church.

The last chapter of The Making of Biblical Womanhood is especially moving, entitled “Isn’t It Time to Set Women Free?” Barr writes about women of the past who fought for recognition of their gifts and authority. She nicely tells of C.S. Lewis’s friend Dorothy Sayers (a 1915 graduate of Oxford who, to Jack’s dismay, affirmed women’s ordination in the Church of England in 1948) and a thirteenth-century female author of Christian fiction (yes, she says, thirteenth century readers loved “trashy romance novels”) named Christine de Pizan who fought against crude and misogynistic views in then-contemporary fiction. Dr. Barr tells about women church historians who are discovering long suppressed stories of women missionaries, preachers, teachers, translators, evangelists.

Barr reveals one of her darkest experiences, involving a guy shaped by the exceptionally authoritarian Bill Gothard Seminar movement. If you’ve read Du Mez (or any number of mainstream exposes of the ugly side of the evangelical movement at the end of the 20th century) or paid attention to sexual abuse scandals among the “pro family” religious right you know the name. God bless Beth Allison Barr for channeling the trauma from her own story and for stewarding well her own professional scholarly gifts in a way to serve us all. It will help heal the pain that some readers experience and it will introduce others to the harmful impact some accepted teaching has.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth is a great read, an important expose, exciting, and a helpful foundation for formulating your own view of gospel truth. One of the best books of 2021.

The Women’s Lectionary: Preaching the Women of the Bible Throughout the Year Ashely M. Wilcox (WJK) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

I’m not sure this Quaker (and graduate of Candler School of Theology and Willamette University School of Law) gets every story or pericope quite right. And she plays with the lectionary calendar a bit (it ain’t set in stone by God, ya know!)But, wow, to have an entire lectionary-based commentary on passages about women in the Bible (and feminine imagery of God) is a long-needed resource. Fairly mainstream Bible scholars (like the respected Luke Timothy Johnson) and teachers of preachers, (like Thomas Long) rave. As Emmy Kegler put it, it offers a “delicate balance of academic and wonder.”

She draws on solid, predictable, respected, sources such as Elizabeth Achtemeir, Katharine Door Sakenfeld, Gail O’Day, Wilda Gafney, Ray Vander Leeuwen, Gail Yee, Carol Meyers, Terence Fretheim, Pheme Perkins, Joel Green, Beverly Gavanta, N.T. Wright, Amy-Jill Levine, Juliana Claasens, Walt Brueggemann, and Renita Weems, just to name a few.

For those who might catch the reference, as a child she attended a Reformed Christian school and was a bone fide Calvinette.

ACADEMIC

The Nicene Option: An Incarnational Phenomenology James K.A. Smith (Baylor University Press) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

In recent years the brilliant Calvin University philosophy prof has become known for more popular level books such as Hearts & Minds favorites You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine. We have crossed paths with Jamie in various locations and hosted him for a Hearts & Minds public lecture; his many books remain important to thoughtful Christian folks all over the world and to me personally.

This work, which I was proud to struggle through, is a collection of his very deep philosophical essays. Some were chapters previously published in major philosophy texts and some were in academic, peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Finally combined into one major text, this is Christian philosophy at its finest, looking, especially, at contemporary phenomenology and continental philosophy. I even did a bit of a review at BookNotes and thought that deserved some kind of year end award, maybe for audacity. I know enough to know I enjoyed this, mostly, and it is a must for philosophy majors, for those who want to dig deep into contemporary philosophy, and for fans who know the importance of reading Smith, on almost anything.

Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale, Christopher Devers, with a foreword by George Marsden (IVP Academic) $25.00OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

This is not a book that is overly academic, actually, but it is about the role of Christian scholars and how their work might “go public” and serve the culture at large. This emerged from an extraordinarily good edition of the usually rather studious and restrained scholarly journal, The Christian Scholars Review (Summer 2020) and has been released by the good folks at IVP Academic. I do not know who reads a book like this but I am deeply, deeply moved by this sort of work, calling for the very thing we idealistically imagined ourself somehow facilitating 40 years ago when we followed God’s call to open our shop and try to nurture a community of life-long learners wanting to make a difference in this hurting world. I nearly cry thinking of the possibilities of Christian scholars using their considerable gifts in this way, and the joy of a whole book about it. I applaud these curators, these collegiate dreamers, these nerdy scholars who know enough to know that their work really matters. Thanks be to God.

The Unbroken Threat: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos Sohrab Ahmari (Convergent) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Again, this is not a full-on academic title nor is it on a scholarly/academic press. It is big and thick and erudite and about the history of ideas. And what a good bit of serious thinking it is.

I’ve recommended this in our BookNotes newsletter before, knowing it is a bit more rigorous than some of what we review. Here is how I briefly described it recently over at the new Jubilee Conference on-line bookstore site that we put together:

Sohrab Ahmari is a brilliant public intellectual, a stunning convert to Christian faith and a lively Roman Catholic apologist. (His own conversion narrative is told in his previous book, From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith.) He writes columns for The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post but here he offers a compelling, scholarly discussion of the role of tradition, of what the role of conservation of older ways and values might be. The militant secularizing French Revolution, based on the secularizing rationalism of the Enlightenment, shaped modernity in a way that it is nearly in the air we breath, always considering “progress” a good thing, that we necessarily should move away from the old (or, better, mock it.) This book is a tour de force inviting us to resist such “newer is always better” assumptions and a critique of liberalism’s individualism — being a “self made” person. He charts a way to return to a wiser, deeper approach because, as Rabbi Meir Soloveichik puts it on the back cover, “we abandon the wisdom of the past at great peril to our future.” Learned, fascinating, provocative.

Playing As Others: Theology and Ethical Responsibility in Video Games Benjamin J. Chicka (Baylor University Press) $44.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $35.99

I have snuck in a few accolades here in our “Best Books of 2021” list, I’ll confess, not because I myself loved the book so very much but because, as a seasoned book-list watcher, reviewer, and intuitive second guesser, I discern that a certain book really is good, important, even. Even if I’ve only skimmed it. This is one of those times. So sue me.

Look: I know next to nothing about this topic so I’m on the lookout always for books that seem to bring bold and profound insights, ethics, at least, and a fresh way of thinking about the whole big thing. I  am not alone in thinking that this exceptionally academic Christian university press is on to something here. Playing As Others is — I’m out on a limb here — a very good book. I dare you to read it and disagree.

Okay, maybe it is worth debating. Here is what we know: it “draws on the theology and ethics of Tillich and Levinas to explore how nontraditional video games can foster empathy and moral formation.” So there’s that.

Theology is capable of uncovering the depth dimension of culture — every aspect of culture, in principle. But video games? Yes indeed. Benjamin Chicka takes theology of culture a lot more seriously than most, and he shows how deep the culture of video games goes. Read this book to find out where ultimate concerns and ethical principles are explored in video games. Read to find out what Paul Tillich and Emmanuel Levinas have in common. This book will forcefully remind you that theology is profoundly connected to every aspect of our lives. Game on!  — Wesley J. Wildman, Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics, Boston University School of Theology

United in Love: Essays on Justice, Art, and Liturgy Nicholas Wolterstorff (Cascade Books) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

Deftly pulled together byJoshua Cockayne & Jonathan C. Rutledge and with a heady foreword by Alan Torrance, this volume is a fabulously rich introduction to three of the largest concerns — looming large for many of us, I’d say — of Christian philosopher Nic Wolterstorff. While this is a part of an ongoing “Analyzing Theology” series, and while Wolterstorff can do arcane, scholarly theology with the best of them, most of these essays are not in the field of theology, proper. He is working as a political philosopher and aesthetician and lover of worship. For what it’s worth, the excellent pieces in United in Love were gleaned from stand alone chapters Wolterstorff has offered for other anthologies — some of them from overseas publishers, or expensive volumes from Cambridge University Press or Yale University Press or, in some cases, rather obscure publishers. Having these solid works in one good volume is a major gift to the serious reading public and we rejoice.

The Aesthetics of Discipleship: Everyday Aesthetic Existence and the Christian Life Adrian Coates (Pickwick) $31.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.80

This is a very readable dissertation and it assumes that discipleship is embodied. “Formation in the Christian life is not an otherworldly exercise but one that plays in in this world, interwoven with everyday sensory experience in ordinary life.” You can see why I like it!

The Aesthetics of Discipleship is a bit philosophical, and it interacts with Kierkegaard’s framing of “aesthetic existence” and compares this with others who have written about the aesthetic dimension of life, from Bonhoeffer to Iain McGilchrist, Graham Ward to Nicholas Wolterstorff. (And, yes, he cites Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows for the Fallen World. I would not honor it so if it did not.)

Does mature aesthetic awareness, anchored in love for God and an attentiveness to God’s creation, matter for a life of virtue, a life of discipleship? Does faith formation happen better when shaped by imagination? One heady academic who writes about this sort of thing says that Coates’s study is “engaging and ambitious.”The foreword by South African ethicist (and artist) John de Gruchy is fabulous; Coates, who has studied at Regent College in Vancouver, is himself South African.  Naturally, Craig Bartholomew, a South African who studied with Calvin Seerveld loves it.

Listen to these rave reviews, although, remember — these are themselves academics, so their robust encouragement to read it might be leavened by a reminder that this is drawn from the authors PhD thesis and is quite scholarly.

We have, thankfully, an increasing number of books on embodiment from Christian thinkers. We now also have, finally, a book that recovers the importance of lived sensory experience for Christ’s call to discipleship. Coates brilliantly connects our shared human aesthetic existence to Christ-centered, incarnational living. I highly recommend this book for all readers interested in how to follow Christ, and therefore in the pursuit of true humanity. — Jens Zimmermann, Regent College, University of British Columbia

Nurturing Faith A Practical Theology for Educating Christians Fred P. Edie & Mark Lamport (Eerdmans) $44.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $35.99

This is one of these major tomes that I have not read but just have to celebrate here – surely one of the most significant looking releases of this year in this category. Edie is a United Methodist pastor and veteran youth worker and an associate prof at Duke Divinity School. Lamport is a professor of practical theology who has written and published widelyon themes of formation and Christian education.

After this exceptionally current and quite comprehensive guide to CE ministries in the twenty-first century there are responses from Martin Percy, Almeda Wright, Craig Dykstra, Kiresetn Sonkyo Oh, Elizabeth DeGaynor and Thomas Groome. Wow. I’ve read these responses, first, because, well, that’s how I roll. Its pricey, but with endorsements from the likes of Will WIlimon, Justin Welby, Peter Phan, you know it is substantive.

Honest, inquisitive, theological, practical, comprehensive, and collaborative, Nurturing Faith is an essential primer for “all God’s fellow workers who tend God’s garden where he gifts and grows faith.— Ahmi Lee, Fuller Theological Seminary

The Invitation: A Theology of Evangelism Richard Osmer (Eerdmans) $24.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Jason Byassee says this is the “definitive book on evangelism today and likely for years to come.” I don’t know about that, but it at least deserves a good shout out here as one of the most important books this year. There is no doubt that it is rigorous — theologically and Biblically. As a long-time Presbyterian educator at Princeton Theological Seminary, Dick Osmer naturally has some issues with what we might call the “conversationist” approach and offers a “beautiful reimagining” of what we typically think evangelism is and is about. We are going to have to talk about this one, folks…

I kept thinking our friends at the Mercersburg Society would very likely appreciate this. If you get that reference, then you just might need this, too.

Osmer’s Bible study of evangelism in most of the New Testaments writers (and then a chapter putting them in conversation with Karl Barth) is so stimulating.

Throughout, we learn, that he holds to “the essential truth that it is Christ and the Holy Spirit who calls converts and makes disciples—not Christians. Thus, we can invite our neighbors to the wedding feast while remaining reassured that the table is already set.”

Models of Evangelism Priscilla Pope-Levison (Baker Academic) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

This is another book that I believe is well worthy of being listed, and should be studied and discussed. Some have called it a “landmark contribution to the literature on evangelism.”It basically looks at what she has developed as eight different models of doing evangelism. Wow. Of course, some in mainline churches (this author’s theological context) don’t do evangelism much, or have come to believe it is always pushy and odd. Not this woman! For others, I suppose, evangelism is just a simple thing and this may help bring needed nuanced, if not a righteous complexity. Many have raved about it, from Adam Hamilton to William Willimon who said it is “one of the decades best books on evangelism.”

Just consider:

The familiar faces of evangelism are hot, coercive mantras and cool, manipulative marketeering. Priscilla Pope-Levison will have none of that! Instead, she provides a rich, comprehensive taxonomy of the various spheres of evangelism, each of which reaches out in hospitable ways to different populations. This book will be for a long while the state-of-the-art articulation on this urgent subject. It is a welcome articulation!  — Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

This is a landmark contribution to the literature on evangelism. Steeped in detailed historical study, written with grace and wit, and informed by years of reflection, Pope-Levison’s book gives us a splendid overview of our options for evangelism. It is a total pleasure to recommend it without hesitation or qualification.  — William J. Abraham, Southern Methodist University

After writing this little announcement, I learned that Outreach magazine name Models of Evangelism a 2021 Resource of the Year. Congrats.

Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age Felicia Wu Song (IVP Academic) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I have described elsewhere how this amazing, astute, scholarly work emerged from lectures given among the network of Christian Study Centers at universities around the country.

There are lots of good books that explore the social and cultural impact of digital media. There are lots about habits and practices in our own life as we navigate being disciples in this digital age. However, there are few books that bring together such serious socio-cultural analysis, important philosophical considerations about technology, vibrant faith and a hopeful Christian imagination as does Restless Devices. I really want to honor it as one of the more significant titles of this sort this year.

As one reviewer noted, “In our current digital ecologies, small behavior shifts are not enough to give us freedom. We need a sober and motivating vision of our prospects to help us imagine what kind of life we hope to live — and how we can get there.”

And isn’t that a huge, elephant in the room whenever we are setting ground rules about our use of technology — what kind of people are we becoming and what kind of people do we want to be?

Listen to these excellent recommendations. No wonder I celebrate it here, now, as a Best Book of 2021.

I have been looking for this book for years. Dr. Song brings the top scholarship and the deepest Christian reflection to bear on the important spiritual topic of how we faithfully engage our devices. In this digital age, which requires new forms of moral and spiritual reflection, there are few topics that could be more relevant or more needed. This is a book I will read again and again.— Elaine Ecklund, professor of sociology at Rice University and author of Why Science and Faith Need Each Other: Eight Shared Values That Move Us Beyond Fear

I have longed for a book like Restless Devices to be written. Felicia Wu Song compellingly examines the addictive qualities of digital media – its ubiquity and totalizing power. But her depth of expertise and profound Christian imagination allow her to go further than mere critique. She offers us practical hope in the ‘counter-liturgies’ of the Christian faith. I highly recommend this powerful work of spiritual formation to all who seek to live humanely and faithfully in our digital age — Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

Christ-Enlivened Student Affairs: A Guide to Christian Thinking and Practice in the Field Perry L. Ganzer, Theodore F. Cockle, Elijah G. Jeong, Britney N. Graber (Abilene Christian University Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

There are not many distinctively Christian, well-researched, principled, seriously professional books for those with the vocation of working in collegiate student affairs; indeed, friends of ours published what may have been the first evangelical contribution to the field (edited by David Guthrie, Students Affairs Reconsidered, and cited nicely here.) These authors bring that groundbreaking volume up to date, exploring theories and practices, faith and the calling into higher education, offering “a robust theological perspective for Christian student affairs.”

The book is animated by a love for God, a profound care for students and a passionate engagement with the best thinkers in the field. It includes a lively discussion of research from a national mixed-methods study.

MEMOIRS

No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) Kate Bowler (Random House) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

We have been big fans of this incredibly talented writer, her two well-known memoirs ofher life with her cancer, and her two works based on her fascinating academic research topic (one on Oxford University Press about prosperity preachers and another about the lives of women leaders in evangelical and charismatic megachurches.)

Not only was No Cure for Being Human one of my favorite memoirs this past year, it was one of my favorite books! Bowler’s great wit, heart-wrenching pathos, love for family and friends, her considerable sass, intelligence, faith — deep, but not cliched or fundamentalist — made for great reading; many times I’d just set the book down, sigh, exclaiming how darn good the line or phrase was. The joy of reading her word-smithing line by line aside, it is a page-turning story of her ongoing coping with cancer. I loved the earlier Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I Needed to Believe) and this is even better. Surely a book of the year

We’re excited, by the way, that her brand new daily devotional (Good Enough) is just now out. Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection Kate Bowler with Jessica Richie (Convergent) $21.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.80

I was thrilled, by the way, to see the name of our friend Cole Arthur Riley, whose amazing new book This Here Flesh just released a few days ago, in an endorsing blurb, right there on the back cover, right by Barbara Brown Taylor. I know that is happening in real time, this week, in 2022, but this is worth a shout out now:

“With humor and wit, Good Enough guides us into a spirituality that is at once rich and humble, challenging us to search for beauty and meaning in deep waters, yet never asking more of us than a tender and compassionate God would. This devotional is medicine for all those thirsting for mercy in the mundane.”—Cole Arthur Riley, author of This Here Flesh and creator of Black Liturgies

Where the Light Fell: A Memoir Philip Yancey (Convergent) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I have read many books by Phil Yancey, watched videos, did author events watching him sign books, and done classes on his work. I’m a fan, and highly recommend his thoughtful, eloquent, but clear and accesible prose to all. This is his long-awaited memoir about his toxic, racist, home church, his tough childhood, his faith journey, his troubled brother, and more. I rejoice that he is still a gentle Christian, a sharp evangelical, a reliable Christian witness. Now we know a bit about why he is over and over drawn to themes of suffering and themes of grace.

Raw, honest, beautifully written, and at times searing . . . We live in a world that is always clouded by ungrace, by strife and anger and division, according to Yancey, and Christians should be on the other side . . . The pain of [Yancey’s] early life gives his words and his witness an authority and authenticity that he would otherwise not have. He has become, over time, a person to whom the wounded and the brokenhearted are drawn, compelled by his message of grace. — The Atlantic

Where the Light Fell is in many ways a classic spiritual autobiography tracing one man’s conversion from cynic to believer. But it’s more. It’s a searing family story as revelatory as gothic Southern fiction. It’s an exposé. It’s a social critique. It’s a tragedy. It’s a tale of redemption. . . . The memoir itself is an answer to the question that looms throughout: What do we do with the burdens, sins, and pain of our past?” — Christianity Today

Philip Yancey is not just one of my favorite Christian writers, but one of my favorite writers, period. He is fearless in addressing the toughest questions and hardest times, the crucifixions we will all know during this life, the hope and shapes and colors of resurrection.   Anne Lamott, bestselling author of Dusk Night Dawn

The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery Ross Douthat (Convergent Books) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

I think that my longer review at BookNotes is worth reading —I couldn’t put this vulnerable book down and couldn’t stop talking about it — but the short version might go like this:

For the many who have been made seriously ill by Lyme or other tick-born diseases, we know well the painful disorientation, the desperation, even, for a cure, or at least for a doctor who believes us, who understands. This eloquent and sophisticated writer — a fairly conservative columnist for The New York Times and a devout Roman Catholic — was laid low by a mysterious illness which ended up being chronic Lyme. He was not prepared for how this lead him to underground networks and odd associations, searching for healing insight, for help. He writes that a year earlier he wouldn’t possibly have imagined himself being with people who were also conspiracy theorists, even weird and troubling, but there he was. They shared a common passion to get better, no matter what.

The Deep Places is truly an exceptional memoir, fascinating and informative, about illness, but much more than that. It tells about being a young man at the top of his career with a wife and kids, buying a home, and coping with unbearable chronic pain. Finally, though, it is a question of who to believe, how we know what is best (how do we really know anything?) what is true, especially regarding medical mysteries. I find myself wanting to shout about this from the rooftop as it is so very important, even in these Covid days… and so moving. The Deep Places is wise and caring and intersting and very important for any and all of us. Anybody who has had Lyme will understand! Very highly recommended.

Read these comments about the wonder and value of this book, please:

Douthat artfully weaves two stories together. The first is the story of his own illness, the increasingly outlandish treatments he is willing to try, and the havoc the affliction wreaks in his life. As he looks for a cure, he uncovers a second story: the strange tale of Lyme disease itself . . . No two chronic illnesses are exactly alike, but even so this book will likely resonate with anyone who has suffered from a chronic condition or has cared for someone who has. — Paul W. Gleason, LA Review of Books

To call it a memoir about illness is to seriously underestimate this beautiful new book. Douthat brings a believer’s heart, a journalist’s curiosity, and a writer’s talent to tell an achingly human story that is, ultimately, about life. — James Martin, SJ, bestselling author of Learning to Pray

I read the book in one sitting. It is so profound and truthful about the human condition. I wanted it to go on and on. I had no idea that Douthat was such a poet of pain and hope. — Rod Dreher, bestselling author of Live Not by Lies and The Benedict Option

No Place: A Spiritual Memoir Margie Haack (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Happily, this has been one of our big sellers this year — we so appreciate the Ransom Fellowship support that Margie and her husband Denis have given us over the years, and they’ve sent many of their devout fans our way. As we’ve said in two fairly long BookNotes reviews, this is a remarkable memoir of the early marriage of Margie and Denis, their slow move away from a legalistic and toxic sort of fundamentalism even as they deepened in their honest desire to serve Christ and his Kingdom, finding their way to a more honest and culturally engaged faith style. And what did cultural relevance look like in the very early 70s? They were part of a counter-cultural Jesus-people community in New Mexico offering hospitality and gospel care to hippies of all sorts, from druggies to revolutionaries to occultists. That they were on the cutting edge of contextual mission in those days is putting it mildly. (And, how did this idealist sort of work effect their marriage? Their ability to find work in a more conventional church, later? Did it put them on a path towards their later life ministry? My, my, what a story this is. What a life they’ve lived.)

No Place is a splendid memoir of a new marriage, the high octane cocktail of religion and counter-cultural life of the late 60s and beyond; it stands on its own merits as a fine sequel to Margie’s excellent girlhood memoir The Exact Place. Yet, we have suggested that this great book is more than just an entertaining story, a literary memoir that tells of some interesting times that you will enjoy. It is, in many ways, a parable of life and times, of faith and life, of radical discipleship, of a search for meaning and purpose and, yes, home. I think you will be a God who is faithful as you read it.

By the way, as we have noted, her earlier The Exact Place has just been reissued in a newly edited version from Square Halo Books with some new content and a brand new (matching) cover. Volume Three of the set, which was once called God in the Sink: Notes from Toad Hall has new material, too, and has just been reissued as This Place.

No Place (the middle one) is the one that released in 2021; the new Square Halo editions of the older first and third ones are just now out in February 2022. Buy all three in their new matching editions — The Exact Place, No Place, and ThIs Place. In cany case, don’t miss going on their early 70s journey to no place, where they find a real place. No Place is one of my favorite reads of 2021.  All three are 20% off.

Sparrow: A Book of Life and Death and Life Jan Richardson (Wanton Gospeller Press) $24.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Oh my, I can hardly say in plain words why this elegant book deserves to be on any list of best books of recent years. It is a memoir of loss, the artistic, spiritually-deep author writing well about her husband’s death, and more. This is a beautifully made hardback book and poetically written, as you would expect from poet, writer of prayers and blessings and liturgies and devotions. Sparrow is a book that feels holy to hold, about enduring love and grace. It is the memoir that perhaps could be seen as the backstory of the moving prayer-poems in A Cure for Sorry which we also stock.

Here is how it is describes by her publishing venture:

“Who am I, when the person who saw and knew me best in all the world is gone from this world?” Jan Richardson’s question lies at the heart of Sparrow, a book that began as notes written to her husband, the singer/songwriter Garrison Doles, while keeping vigil for him in the hospital after a disastrous surgery just a few years into their marriage.

Six months after Garrison’s death, Jan returned to those notes and began to write again. The pages grew into an unexpected conversation as she worked to make a new life. Here, Jan invites us into that conversation. She resists simple answers for deepest sorrow, entering instead into the raw complexities of grief, which she calls “the least linear thing I know.”

In Jan’s distinctive spare and elegant style, Sparrow traces a path through the first few years after her loss, articulating not only the ache of grief but also the strange graces and stubborn hope that live within its landscape.

On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity Daniel Bowman (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I hope you recall my rave review of this at BookNotes last summer. Daniel Bowman is a beloved professor at Taylor University and a thoughtful Christian scholar of literature, a writer and poet. In this exceptionally moving story he tells of his own experience of neurodiversity and what it is like to be an adult Christian leader who is on the autism spectrum.

Interestingly, there are many books about being autistic and many are not written by persons with autism. Here he remedies that by telling of his own struggles, his theological considerations about the gifts of neurodiversity, and how we might all learn from one another. This is a great read, good for all of us, and one of my favorite books of last year.

Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story Julie Rodgers (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I have written about only a few of the many books I’ve read about the experience of LGBTQ Christians, learning from their stories, their anguish, their joys and sorrows. In talks about reading widely I often mention the gifts of empathy and care we can develop as readers when we “walk a mile” in another’s shoes. I have been criticized for this scope of reading and yet resolve to hold up stories of people many of our customers may not be inclined to consider.

This memoir of Bible believing, evangelical Julie Rodgers is illuminating for a variety of reasons. The short version would say how she was a poster child for one of the ministries that tries to “pray the gay away” and that she often went on the road with a male leader of such a ministry, learning to give her testimony and share with others about God’s eagerness to change their same-sex attractions. It is a poignant glimpse into conservative, evangelical para-church ministries, her caring home life, her home church and her own coming of age as a young evangelical leader. The problem was — most of this simply wasn’t true, and the story became one of her coming out her leaders, slowly realizing that she was not who they wanted her to be. In a remarkable part of the story, they wanted her to just keep on telling the tale, essentially asking her to deceive others about her own life and about the promises she was making. When she finally couldn’t keep up the charade, this mentor who had professed spiritual care for her dropped her. It is a terrible part of the story.

Those who have studied the demise of Exodus and other such ministries know well that hardly no one had the sort of transforming change they alleged to have had and few were fully honest about their desires and interior lives since they didn’t fit the narrative.

The next part of Rodger’s journey was as an out gay Christian but one committed to celibacy; there are others who have written powerfully about this faithful option — I think of Wes Hill and his Washed and Waiting, say, or the nicely written books by Greg Cole — and in this new sort role as a new sort of spokesperson, Julie was hired by a well known evangelical college, perhaps the first such out gay follower of Christ to take up a position in any such college. She started doing Bible studies and providing safe fellowship spaces for LGTBQ students, many who were holding on to their faith by a thread, some who were deeply distrustful of evangelical faith. She thought was being supported by the college but as she tells it that was not the case. I won’t offer a “spoiler” but it is a dramatic story, full of anguish and betrayal and institutional politics that should embarrass the college leadership. The book tells of loss and change and renewed sorts of faith.

I found this to be another memoir that I was very deeply moved by, a story that needs to be heard, learning how some of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, experience their faith as those with same sex attractions. Memoirs are a real gift, a window into how others constue their lives and tell their stories. Agree or not it, it is their own story to tell, and therein lies the great gift.

Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle Dante Stewart (Convergent) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

After reading some of this a second time I am even more sure I want to honor it as one of the best books of 2021. Here is some of what I wrote about it last fall:

When people we know and respect so highly promote a new author, we notice. For instance, Calvin University scholar and popular historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez says:

“A magnificent debut. . . If you read one book this year, make it this one.”

Robert Jones, Jr., himself a New York Times bestselling novelist (author of The Prophets), says:

Only once in a lifetime do we come across a writer like Danté Stewart, so young and yet so masterful with the pen. This work is a thing to make dungeons shake and hearts thunder.

The advanced recommendations and rave endorsements kept coming in, from Krista Tippett, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Imani Perry, Kiese Laymon, Bishop William Barber, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, even the Pittsburgh-based fiction writer Deesha Philyaw. The praise has been shoutin’.

In a way, this book stands among many memoirs naming the complexity of the black experience in white America. Tisby is right — the prose is arresting, the meditations emotional, the insights revealing. One reviewer said Shoutin’ in the Fire is written with “unparalleled candor” which, while perhaps not technically accurate, does illustrate that his is one of the voices in the movement of black authors being real; really real, telling it like it is as we used to say. (This candid truth-telling by black writers is not new, of course, but it does feel particularly frank and fresh, given Stewart’s role within the church and how that is part of his story of “groan and ache.” If you have appreciated the highly-regarded memoir I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (the same publisher, the same shape of trim-sized hardback) Shoutin’ in the Fire should be on your list. It is a book you will find it hard to put down.

I needn’t say much more other than to say that we feel privileged to get to recommend and to sell such important books by black authors of this calibre. Young Mr. Stewart is a very good writer — you can tell from the very first pages — and he is rooted well in a black family in the black community in the black church.

He knows whose shoulders he stands on, too — he cites before each biographical chapter a good epigram, authors like James Baldwin (there’s that fire language, eh?) And bell hooks, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, Ta-Nehisi Coates. And Maya Angelou, of course. And, happily, near the end, rapper Kendrick Lamar. So Danté is a lover of language, nearly a rural poet himself, coming up in Calhoun County, South Carolina. His BA degree was in sociology from Clemson (where he also played football) and he’s currently studying theology at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. As a writer and speaker, he is one young leader to watch. We all need, as Stewart puts, it in a closing note to Baldwin, “praise breaks and prophetic lines: We shoutin’ in the fire.”

Kin: A Memoir Shawna Kay Rodenberg (Bloomsbury) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

We are told that “This startling memoir of a wild soul will electrify you. The unbreakable Shawna Kay rises again and again to forgive, despite every institution that failed her.”

And, yep, that was true.

Or, this, from Rosanne Cash: “Kin moved me, disturbed me, and hypnotized me in a way very few memoirs have.”

I know Ms Cash is especially literate and has endorsed another memoir or two that were remarkable. She, like many of the other reviewers, have noted that this story is written as “an intimate portrait of hardscrabble life in a much-derided, little understood place.” Michael Patrick Smith (author himself of The Good Hand) continues:

With the grit of the damaged yet hopeful, Rodenberg crafts the raw notes of faith, addiction, and generational trauma into a hymn to survival. By focusing on the deeply personal lived experience of a family, Kin contains worlds.

Indeed, it “contains worlds.” Like other memoirs of abuse and complications of family and place, you may not exactly imagine yourself there, and yet, yet, you relate. There are universal themes here, including a love of place, shame about poverty, relationships that are toxic, religion, faith, spirituality, education, culture, and adult children loving their parents despite the often horrible mistakes. And — oh, my — forgiveness.Who wouldn’t benefit, or at least be stimulated if not inspired, by looking over the shoulder at one truly memorably family coping with so much grit and grace?”

Here’s the deal with this complicated, well-written story. First, you should know that Shawn had a very hard upbringing with hard-scrapple extended family in small towns among the mountains of Appalachia. She is now a somewhat sophisticated, college literature professor in another State and the book opens as she is serving as a liaison to the local folk in the holler with a big city TV crew doing some kind of documentary. The New Yorkers disdain for the local people (and their crass stereotypes, asking her to help them find shots that simulated the hillbilly optics they wanted) is exceedingly annoying and Shawna Kay’s keen capacity to relate to two different worlds is obvious. I do not make comparisons of the people or even the books, but because many readers will get the reference, I suggest that she is, in some ways, like Tara Westover of Educated and J.D. Vance of Hillbilly Elegy and, more recently — in some surprising ways — perhaps even Philip Yancey of Where the Light Fell.

Yancey describing growing up with a faith that was harsher than most, “much worse.”

Kin narrates a story that was “much worse.” And not only worse, but much more weird.

You see, Shawna Kay Roderberg (who tells her story with “near heroic self-awareness and insight,” as one reviewer put it) was raised on-again, off-again, in a very strict fundamentalist cult in Minnesota. Maybe not a cult, but at least an expression of exceptional Pentecostalism and hyper-fundamentalism that drew her parents to live in a sectarian community, off the grid, prepping for the end times. She was raised — at least during her time in the fellowship — on a rural compound, eating meals in what sounds like a church camp setting, living in cottages that are meagerly appointed and hardly heated. This in the late 1970s and 80s, with parents who renounced the world and forbade their children most toys and books and most contact with the outside world. How her parents got into this heavy Bible teaching of Reverend Sam Fife is another part of the story and the ways she both appreciated and hated the rules of the place are fascinating. (To say Shawna is precocious is quite the understatement!)

I award this as one of the best books of 2021, without a doubt. It is playful and funny at times, horrible and horrific at others. The fellowship believed in corporal punishment, of course, and there are some scenes of harsh abuse (and other bizarre stuff that seems almost expected in these kind of highly authoritarian religious sects.) Even when they move away (backsliding, as they might call it) they connect yearly with others in this network at larger gatherings.

I hope I’m not saying too much when I hint that her parents themselves have an epiphany or two about the heavy-handed and anti-worldly fellowship. They get a job serving the movement away from the intentional community and, on some days, allow a more normal lifestyle. Their faith wavers, they fall away, they move back to Appalachia.

And we thought the people in the Minnesota sect were toxic and odd. Well, man, this story is just heating up.

Shawna, knowing little about 1980s junior and senior high fashion, let alone popular culture, enters her school in Eastern Kentucky.

Shawna was permitted and has nearly memorized from repeated re-readings the Little House on the Prairie books and the way those stories keep coming up is a fun device. It is a part of her childhood that she clings to even as she gets older. The narration of her years in school back in small town Kentucky — learning how more ordinary rural kids live in public schools, enjoying time at DQ and Pizza Hut and going to the Dollar Store and school events and attending more ordinary country churches — is striking. How little she knows about school life, popular culture, attire, even. Not to mention, shall we say, sex, drugs and rock and roll. But she is a fast learner. So there’s that.

To make matters worse, although it is not explored in detail, there are hints of PTSD from her father’s Viet Nam war service. Which perhaps explains some things…

This family is troubled, and various branches of their relatives have their strengths and weaknesses. It will keep you turning the pages, I promise. Rodenberg both makes Appalachian life and near poverty vivid and compelling but her story dispels many stereotypes (even as it might reinforce others.) Her angle of vision and the tone of the book is decidedly not Hillbilly Elegy. I love the blurb on the back of Kin, that says, “Whatever you believe about Appalachia, prepare to have those beliefs upended, or at least beautifully complicated.”

Beautifully complicated. That’s it! Kin and my feelings about why I loved it so are beautifully complicated.

This recent book, a personal favorite this year, is a high-octane memoir full of vivid descriptions, colorful stories (and colorful language) telling of the struggles of deep faith, distorted as it may be, family love and dysfunction, violence and harm and goodness and redemption. Can telling a story like this itself be an act of hope, what too many reviewers too casually call redemption? I think so. In that sense the above-quoted writer who said this is “secular Scripture” is wrong. It is not Scripture, of course, but it is not utterly secular either. This is a story of some sort of amazing grace and through the ups and downs, extravagant weirdness, family mental illness and unreliable choices, the story shines

Hollywood Park: A Memoir  Mikel Jollett (Celadon Books) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Okay, I will admit I am on a roll here, recalling the most vivid prose, the most creative writing, the most breath-taking stories of 2021. (See my November 2021 list of memoirs for some others that I read last year, but did not come out in 2021, like the stunner by Carolyn Forche or the investigative story Soul Full of Coal Dust.) This one, though, this one, was a book I will never forget. Beth says that, too, as we both turned pages and pages late into the night, first me and then her. We both were heartbroken and perplexed, entertained and moved.

I want very much to talk about this, but I know I have written more than many can hardly endure. I am sorry — these are some of my favorite books and I want to describe them in a way that is enticing but honest. Some may not find them suitable, and I understand. And this is one, too, with some pretty harsh language and some pretty rough stuff.

I have liked Mikel Jollett as a free lance writer, a guest on NPR, a rock music critic, but mostly as front man for the alt-rock band Airborne Toxic Event. (Anybody who names their band after a line from a Don DeLillo novel is pretty cool if you ask me. This is not gospel music, mind you, so don’t misunderstand. If you are interested, I especially appreciate their second studio album, 2011s All At Once.)

This very complicated and incredibly well-written memoir tells of Jollett’s life growing up (as a very young child) after his mother and father snuck him out of the drug-treatment center turned oppressive cult, Synanon. The place was corrupt, evil, even, and the book explores — after years of family weirdness and break up and a very dysfunctional mother and an addicted turned good guy dad and horrific treatment on many fronts — Jollett’s attachment disorder and damage done having grown up in a communal setting without connections to parents or siblings. The story unfolds with increasing awareness of the horror of the cult, and Jollett finds solace, finally, in song writing and going on the road as a performer. His passionate writing about being on stage is some of the best rock and roll writing I’ve ever read.

The new millennium post punk scene was fascinating; the drug stuff (among teens!) was shocking to me; the narcism of the mother was among the most tragic bad parenting I’ve ever read about… and yet, Mikel loved her, cared for her, as he had too, really. Eventally, Jollett grows as a writer, grows as a musician, and, well, he tells an amazing story about struggles and longing and loss and some sort of redemption. The Hollywood Park in the title of the book alludes to an old LA-area horse race track and figures in as a place he and his dad would. There is a scene near the end that, well… get the Kleenex out is all I’m saying. This is one of the most fascinating memoirs I have ever read, a book I think I will never forget.

BEST BIOGRAPHY (of C.S. Lewis)

The Making of C.S. Lewis: From Atheist to Apologist (1918- 1945) Harry Lee Poe (Crossway) $32.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.39

Okay, I didn’t want to be overly pompous declaring this the best biography of the year. I have not read that many biographies (and even though we named the Robert E. Lee bio by Guelzo last week in Part One of this list of favs, I had the good sense to list that under “history.”) Best biography? That’s above my pay grade.

But I am quite confident that this second volume in what I gather will be a trilogy is, without a doubt, the best biography of Lewis in many a year. Alan Jacob’s wonderful The Narnian and Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life – Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet are contemporary standouts, but this, being a multi-volume set, certainly is able to explore deeply. It’s begin touted as one of the best.

The first volume, on Lewis’s boyhood (Becoming C.S. Lewis) is said to be the best work on the subject to date. This one proceeds, without sentimentality or breathy prose, where the first one left off, in 1918 as Jack is convalescing from the famous and painful shoulder wound because of which he was evacuated from France. Poe plainly reminds us that the shrapnel remained in him, troubling him for years, as did the headaches and night terrors. “His wound,” Poe notes, “may have inspired the shoulder wound of Frodo Baggins when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings.”

This, then, follows his coming of age during the great war, as he returns to Oxford, his love of literature, his poetry. Of course his friendships with Tolkien and the other Inklings and his slow conversion to Christ. Most know that what became Mere Christianity were firstly aired on the BBC as radio talks. Many know about his friendship with Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and other Inklings. Some may know about brother Warnie and Mrs. Moore, Addison’s Walk and the Kilns. But there is so much detail, clearly told. It is, as Lewis scholar Colin Duriez puts it, “refreshingly accessible as well as deeply knowledgeable.”

Kudos to Crossway for a lovely design, the black and white photos so sticking as endpapers and the textured dust jacket. In every respect, this deserves to be considered one of the best books of 2021

FAVORITE NOVEL

Crossroads: A Novel  Jonathan Franzen (Farrar Straus & Giroux)  $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I have held up this whole newsletter, this award sheet, this ramble of a year’s worth of some of my favorite books, or books I think are important, or need to be honored here, just because I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about this. To pick a novel is hard; really hard. Beth couldn’t even begin — she served this year on a judges panel for an ECPA award for fiction, and she has really enjoyed so many this year. (And they sent her the books for free! Yay!)

IfI had to pick a work of fiction that has stood out for me, that I lost myself in, that was worth every penny of entertainment dollar spent, it is clear which I would say. Without a doubt, my favorite novel this year was this much-discussed, very surprising, very contemporary bit of serious fiction, Crossroad by the famously talented Jonathan Franzen.

Some do not like Franzen; he is too hip, too cool, maybe, too much of a symbol of new millennium novelists, so full of artful detail and yet social commentary. I don’t know about that, I just know some love him and some hate him. I really, really liked The Corrections and Freedom. And I was captivated by Crossroads, every one of the 580 pages. (Well, except that last page; I’ve got issues with that.)

I really hate to spoil the fun — I didn’t know a thing going in to it — but I suppose you could know this much. It is about (get this!) a liberal, mainline church (maybe UCC, although it is called “First Reformed”) and their youth ministry, a hang-out place full of psycho-babble and group authenticity, set (before the considerable flashbacks) in 1971. There are urban ministry trips (maybe well intended, although sometimes not, suburban white folks going to the ghetto) and there is an epic youth mission trip to a Native reservation. There are prayer services and church staff meetings and some college-age folk singers who are maybe going to make it big, (but they have their principles, man, you know?) They debate the war, in more ways than one. There is professional jealousy, all sorts of theological stuff (including a smart teen of a mainline pastor who finds herself born again at a neighborhood Baptist church and critiques her father’s vapid sermons and boringly goofy theology.) So, so much of this rang true (yes, the youth ministry place was called Crossroads) and much of it just astonished me.

This is a very contemporary novel, haunted by God, but not at all what some might call a “Christian novel.” Again, I am astonished at how very much faith and theology and heart there is in this story set in the troubled family of a mainline clergy-person. How did Franzen learn about this stuff? How does he get so much right (and some things that seemed not quite right for early 70s church life.)

I will also say this: I am not sure what it means to say a book is postmodern but it is very knowingly self-aware about the interior lives of the characters, all of them, and there is more fear and doubt and guilt and shame and sex and drugs that you can imagine in book about religious people. So, as with some of the memoirs named above, this is not for those unwilling to engage the mores of modern fiction and the ethos of, of, of, whatever is going on here. Does it offer glimpses of gospel? Does it revel in showing the crummy humanity of even the religious? Does it understand grace, despite all the talk of it? Is it all ironic? Is he a Christian?  I can ‘t say. But it was a heckuva a story, a sprawling epic of unhappiness and church and justice and love. Even the Kirkus Review says it had moments that were “uplifting” and declared that it was, “in a word, exquisite.”

It is said that Mr. Franzen has two more in the saga of these 1970s Hildebrandt’s. I can’t wait.

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717-246-3333

We are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the hospitals are overcrowded. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful. Please, wherever you are, do your best to stop this awful sickness going around.

We are doing our famous curb-side customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

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