Last night I visited with the fellowship group of our friend, Vickie. She offers wise and good leadership to a singles ministry (of various ages) at a local church. Her group, with the cool name, SoulPurpose, asked me to speak about responding to the call of God, the spirituality of surrender to God’s grace. Later, I will meet with them to do a series on faith lived in the workworld, the vision of vocation, and the integration of our commitments to Christ’s reign and transforming ways, with our daily grind of (so-called) secular occupations. For now, though, they are working their way through the extraordinary Surrender to Love, the wonderful first book of David Benner’s small spiritual formation triology published by InterVarsity Press.
They didn’t just ask me to talk about calling and vocation, about seeking God’s will, about yielding our lives to God. That would be plenty, but they’ve had excellent speakers, already. I was invited to consider the ways in which a few saints have actually done this. As poet-farmer Wendell Berry has warned, “abstraction” finally isn’t helpful, so we need examples, models and ways to actually live into this whole Soul Purpose thing.
I compared and contrasted the journey and spirituality of two men I greatly admire, one who has effected me by his writing, the other, more by his legendary life, Henri Nouwen and William Wilberforce. I had at my disposal, of course, here in the shop, numerous books by and about both of them. I hadn’t really worked through any of the several good biographies of Nouwen and really enjoyed doing that in preparation. I more than enjoyed it, I found it deeply, deeply moving, being reminded of his hard journey, his pain and anxiety, his insecurities and desires. It is well known that Nouwen talked openly about many of his fears and his longing to know God so well as to find healing and wholeness, making him a “wounded healer” who has moved towards greater authenticity and hospitality. I suggested, as I read excerpts of Henri’s journals and books, that his surrender, his vocation, the focus of his particular spirituality was less on what he did, but mostly on who he was. His gift was to be, to teach us all about the inner journey and the call to love. (Not unlike John Calvin, Nouwen regularly related the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self.)
Wilberforce, about whom I will soon write in my monthly website column, will be someone we will be hearing more about with the February release of the amazing film, Amazing Grace. I trust you know about Wilberforce’s “great change” (as he called his evangelical conversion) and how the writer of the song, Amazing Grace (John Newton) influenced him not only to grow in love for Christ and a submission to the central truths of orthodox conviction, but to work year upon year for the abolition of slavery in England. What a momentous influence Newton had upon this young and influential parlimentarian, who has come to be known as the world’s greatest social reformer. And what a life of struggle, faith, trust, philantrophy, suffering and activism Wilberforce lived! As John Piper tells us, in his excellent new (if very brief) book, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, it was a life of hardship and yet obvious joy; he was known for his humor and pleasant demeanor and insisted that service to God is a matter of immense joy. His response to God’s call, like Nouwen’s, was intimate and deep, but, more than Nouwen, he left his mark in the history-making things he accomplished in his public career.
Two styles of response, one known more for being, one for doing. Both were engaged in public issues, significant outreach and regularly showed their compassion for the less powerful, children, the needy. Both made room for guests and seekers and friends galore. Both had a ministry of correspondance, and both were known by some of the finest artists and philosophers of their day. Still, Nouwen’s legacy is as the gentle contemplative who teaches us about the nature of our deepest inner issues, even as they spill over into peacemaking, servanthood and “downward mobility.” Wilberforce, along with his Clapham community, reminds us to “think Christianly” and strategically work for political and cultural reforms that are rooted in the clarion call of the gospel. I enjoyed refreshing myself by studying these two titans. I hope you have such influences, know such books, have written resources around you like the writings of these men (or the books they so often cited) to draw upon when you have a sabbath hour to ponder such things.
The new Leonard Sweet book is so much fun, packed with so much interesting information—how does he find all these eccentric statistics and factoids, anyway? —and important cultural analysis that I really, really want to tell you all about it. I understand that for some who do very heavy postmodern studies (pro or con) his popular level books arenÃ•t exactly what you may need. Fine. But for most of us, these popular books are jam-packed with provocative sentences, winsome Christian insight, innovative connections between faith and culture, and a surprisingly fun reminder of core convictions of the Christian faith—-stuff like our passion for Jesus, GodÃ•s ability to use our broken lives, the goodness of creation, the importance of beauty, the way GodÃ•s Spirit calls us to participate in authentic community, how love can triumphÃ‰basic good stuff. Sweet stuff, if I might say so.
To tell you about his new book The Gospel According To Starbucks I have to make a disclaimer or two. In fact, I will write about my critical concerns at length, below, after my enthusiastic promotional overview here. I do, in fact, have some concerns, but the main reason I want to note them is so that you donÃ•t resist getting this book because you share these same concerns. Len once advised me, Ã’Byron, you can do ministry in the world weÃ•ve got, or the world you wished we had.Ã“ Uh-huh. This doesnÃ•t mean, of course, that we shouldnÃ•t be discerningly critical, but that we should at least look at things the way they are. He wasnÃ•t trying to shut down my discernment of how best to engage the culture; he’s very interested in that questionÃ‘in fact, he edited a great book with five different participants in conversation (from Orthodox writer Frederica Mathews-Green to Mosaic dream-caster, Erwin Raphael McManus; from Straight Arrow Calvinist Michael Horton to emergent guru Brian McLaren. In the middle of them all is the ever-thoughtful and exceptionally balanced Andy Crouch, who at the time edited the supercool and very substantive re:generation quarterly. It is called The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Views.) So Sweet isnÃ•t shallow or a one-note tune. And I suppose I think of that story now as my criticisms below are of that sort that authors find perplexing (Ã’Why did he complain about what I didnÃ•t sayÃ‘or review the book I didnÃ•t writeÃ“ some authors understandably ask. Ã’If you wanted to say all that about the topic, why didnÃ•t you write such a book,Ã“ one author told me when I chided him for not doing the book I wished he had. Fair enough.) I am so enjoying this new Starbucks book that is so clever, passionate, and informative that I donÃ•t want anybody to dismiss it casually. It is worth reading, even if youÃ•ve heard SweetÃ•s song(s) before. Or even if you donÃ•t like Starbucks.
The Gospel According To Starbucks: Living Life With a Grande Passion (Waterbrook; $13.99) is a fun and handsome paperback that basically uses Starbucks as an example of the postmodern shift to what Sweet has famously coined as EPIC. This stands for Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich and Communal. And he makes the case pretty well, at least a superficial one, that Starbucks is a leading edge new business with an EPIC perspective, offering folks not so much a product, but an experience, not just an item you get, but one which becomes an inter-active experience, etc. This EPIC handle is really useful, and I think goes a long way in helping us appreciate very recent trends (like, say, Reality TV or E-bay.Or the legendary customer-loyality of Starbuck’s patrons.)
As IÃ•ve implied, it doesnÃ•t really matter if you like Starbucks (more on that below) and it doesnÃ•t even matter if you enjoy coffee. The point is that this one cultural phenomenon, an unavoidable one, has been nicely studied and plumbed as a case-in-point of the postmodern way of being in the world. He uses it as a preacher does, as a springboard. So, to be clear, the book is less about Starbucks and more about our EPIC culture (and how, sometimes, the church is anything but.)
For instance, in a truly brilliant section he reports on the decline of standard athletics and the rise of participatory sports. (Ahh, with more snowboards being bought than ball gloves, what are we to think about the great American pastime? Remember that guyÃ‘a huge Detroit baseball fanÃ‘who infamously leaned over the outfield wall and messed up an important play in a big play-off game for the Tigers? As only Sweet can and would, he makes this guy into an icon of participatory trends, saying that the writing is on the wall, so to speak. People donÃ•t go to games just to sit and watch them any more (think of how tailgating has become such a big deal, or, better, how about this trend of painting your body? Whew!) That more kids play video game baseball than watch it is very important. (Sweet observes that the computer game industry is much larger than, say, Hollywood, yet there is little Christian analysis of it.) That NASCAR has mics inside the racecars so fans can “be there” becomes a matter of great cultural importance in Sweet’s hands, and it is an important little section. If you donÃ•t quite see where he is going with all this, you have to get this book. If you like these kind of discernment exercises about Ã’readingÃ“ cultural texts (the decline of baseball and the rise of extreme sports, say) than you will just love this book, jam-packed as it is with episodes and examples of just such provocative stuff. Either way, I think it is a great little easy read, loaded with wit and insight.
Sweet is clearly on the pomo edge of things, as he has been for years, in part because he insists that Jesus Christ is not a proposition, but a Person, and our knowledgeÃ‘yada, yada, yada, is the intimate Hebrew word of “knowing,” remember—is a relationship, not mere intellectual assent. That writers and theologians as diverse as John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, or John Wesley and A.W. Tozer all said similar things may remind us that SweetÃ•s wholistic, post-Enlightenment epistemology isnÃ•t heresy. It just seems a bit Ã’out thereÃ“ when he unpacks some of the implications of taking a multi-sensory, non-reductionistic, various-ways-of-knowing, whole-life approach to Christian discipleship, explaining it not only in terms of Bible texts, but by way of cultural icons like American Idol or iPods, or our love for the frappachino.
Sweet is a coffee fanatic, and he does love Starbucks. He has some good reflections on their in-house lingo, their excellence in barista training, their dÅ½cor, their unorthodox marketing plans, and such. But, again, this book (it seems to me) isnÃ•t really saying that the local church should mimic the franchise and do Ã’StarbucksÃ“ services. Come on, left-brain literalists, give him a bit of credit for his imagery hereÃ‰work with him, let the book tickle your fancy, your spiritual taste buds, your imagination. He isnÃ•t saying we should do away with ordinary church and classic worship and have Zen meetings down at the espresso bar. But he is saying that Starbucks, and other emerging, new businesses, are onto something. They both reflect and contribute to the cultural zeitgeist, and we would be wise, at least, to pay attention. And, if Sweet is even partway right, we have some learning to do.
It isnÃ•t the main point, hardly even a minor point. But I suppose it is all right to say it. At the very least, we can learn that a good quality coffee roast is important to many of us. Churches, fellowship groups and Christian retreat centers could serve up a better cup o’ java, couldn’t we? And that may, at least, be a start. Read this book and see what you think. As the subtitle puts it, he invites us to live with a grande passion. I love it!
Leonard Sweet (Waterbrook) $13.99
Okay, here are my concerns. I have already indicated that I donÃ•t think this book is really about Starbucks, as such. It merely uses this popular business and itÃ•s unique vibe as a springboard for his EPIC spiel, which I like. So whether or not you like Starbucks is really beside the point. One doesnÃ•t really have to be married, you know, to appreciate a book on the Ã’bride of ChristÃ“ imagery from the New Testament. One need not be a card-caring pacifist to study a good book on the Biblical principles of peacemaking, perhaps learning from contemporary examples of those who have worked for reconciliation. It doesnÃ•t matter much whether one likes U2, say, or 24 or Tolkein. The books that have explored the spiritual themes in these works are fabulous and can be appreciated in their own right. And, if you donÃ•t know much about those cultural artifacts, maybe that is all the more reason to read about them. So, again, I commend this book with vigor whether you like coffee or Starbucks or not.
But, Sweet does say some pretty positive things about the Starbucks corporation, their founder and their shops. He does hold up their coffee shops in an exemplary manner, indicating that we should celebrate their successes and affirm their insights and emulate their practices. And so I want to get on record a few quick (Light) Notes. (Sorry, little in-house Starbucks joke, there.)
First, while I do not boycott Starbucks myself, I appreciate that some think that we should only support independent shops. [Just today, I drove past a Starbucks while out of town to buy from an overpriced indie shop, as a matter of principle, and had a righteous, if sub-standard brew.] As one who waxes angrily eloquent at the mere mention of Amazon, and has testified in public hearings about the expansion of a local Wal-Mart, I understand deeply the concern about the invasion of out-of-town chains that may hurt smaller, local businesses. (YouÃ•ve seen YouÃ•ve Got Mail havenÃ•t you?!) Big box stores are nearly iconic of modernist applications, though, with mass-marketed Ã’productÃ“ selected by somebody somewhere else, based more on “numbers” than quality, displayed in slick, big, ways, with little earnest charm and sometimes, not even much knowledge or care. (Barnes and McNoble may have sophisticated literary selections, but I have had some very frustrating conversations with staff who, to say it nicely, donÃ•t seem to be passionate about books or bookselling.) I am not sure that Starbucks is the same as Amazon (a faceless, mostly un-normative business, I think) or the big box retailers, since they do nurture a local touch, are passionate about their product, and, as Sweet observes, attempt to nurture participatory community in each locale. Still, I am very concerned that Sweet does not mention this concern, and wonder how I would feel about the book if I owned an indie coffee shop. Or, if he wrote a book about the (imagined) glories of Borders. IÃ•d be irked. Again, The Gospel According to Starbucks is a call to rich and sensory and communally experienced faith, using the never-ending wit of SweetÃ•s over-caffeinated brain, by way of a quickie look at the cultural zeitgeist that the commercial success of a place like Starbucks signifies. It isnÃ•t a study of the economics, stewardship, justice or appropriateness of national chain franchises entering local economies. So IÃ•m willing to cut him a break on this and am happy to promote the book, as a way to reflect on that which the book is actually about—postmodern sensibilities, EPIC discipleship, full-on Christian passion and purpose. I think it is nonetheless an oversight that he did not at least approach this matter, and he should have at least broached the subject.
Secondly and closely related, is the whole movement that some have called the search for Ã’third places.Ã“ I will blog, eventually, on the Great Good Place book, and my friend Larry Bourgeois, a renowned coffee Master himself, who has written about his coffee-house/meeting place in the sequel, Celebrating the Great Good Place, and on the need for real social places, safe havens that truly foster community and hold the possibility of cultural restoration. Sweet himself has written nicely about his vision of a Ã’Soul CafÅ½Ã“ in his book with that title, and understands the need for retail places that promote conviviality, community, local responsibility. He used to run a retail shop that only sold products that had a “story” and were made by real folks, with some connection to somewhere particular. To the extent that Starbucks promotes their take-out attitude, paper cups and drive-through windows (!) it is a stretch to imagine that they are deepening real care, celebrating local culture or even helping people meet each other. Although SweetÃ•s call to connectedness and community in his EPIC acronym is right on, the reality is that Starbucks may be deconstructing local neighborhoods, dumbing down the practices of serious latte culture, and foisting on us an overpriced experience of haste, hurry, consumerism and disposability.
Thirdly, the fair-trade movement is one that Sweet has promoted, and he brings it up here. Earlier books addressed these fundamental justice concerns, even his great, older book on the Holy Spirit. His groundbreaking Soul Tsunami had excellent chapters on the green movement and global justice issues. However, there is some debate about how Ã’fair-tradeÃ“ Starbucks really is. They claim they pay above the industry average, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. They have in recent months increased some of their publicity (at least around here) about how they support bio-regions, and they do a bit of geographic teaching in some of their lovely brochures. Still, those that know me know that IÃ•ve embarrassed myself and my baristas more than once with my complaint that we ought not to have to choose between helping the workers or helping the Earth. To have to choose between a bag of the earth-friendly shade grown, or a bag of the organic (good for consumer and farmer) or a bag of their fair-trade just isnÃ•t right. Being such a large, lucrative, and influential staple of the worldwide coffee culture, they should be leading the way towards being entirely certified fair trade. We should be grateful that Sweet talks about all of this in the book, affirms StarbuckÃ•s policy efforts and chides them (in more than one particularly pointed sentence) about not promoting the idea of fairly traded goods.
My favorite coffee bean company, by the way, is Peace Coffee, which we buy at the local FarmerÃ•s Market. They specialize in dark roasts, and are all shade-grown, all organic and all certifiably fair trade. And they have that nifty, Biblical name. There are others, and we are grateful for missionaries, justice activists and denominational church offices that make fully fair trade certified blends available. Before you jump too fully on the Starbucks train, check out other local, vibrant, indigenous shops, working with them to offer fairly-traded products to your locale.
For one friendÃ•s story of starting up a coffee shop (in Beaver Falls, PA) that has struggled admirably to attend to these matters, see Ã’Working With BeansÃ“ in Comment.
One of the best brief articles, with helpful resources on the agricultural impact of coffee growing, see this from our friends at Catapult, Ã’Fair-Trade Coffee Is For the BirdsÃ“
So, having hopefully Ã’head off at the passÃ“ any closed-minded bias against my suggestion that you should read a book with Starbucks in the title, duly noting these important concerns, we invite you to think more deeply about your own economic patterns and purchasing choices, and buy The Gospel According to Starbucks from some independently owned, personally-caring booksellers you may happen to know. We think it will be a fun book for small groups or book clubs and will help you not only deepen your cultural awareness, but may help you embrace an EPIC faith in the One who is the Living Truth. Which is LenÃ•s biggest passion, giving folks a taste of the goodness of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Those who read Lewis in any more than a casual way know that his letters are gems. From his kindness in corresponding to the hypochondriac woman in Letters to an American Lady to his wise counsel on prayer in Letters to Malcolm, we not only take great pleasure in older styles of correspondence, but drink deeply from the wells of his wisdom. Letters are also a good way to see in to both the biography and the character of a person. There is a reason that the letters of nearly all famous people get published.
An appendix to this hefty volume includes the early philosophical exchange between Lewis and Owen Barfield, who had become interested in Rudolf Steiner and a view that now might be called “new age.” These debates—at a time before Lewis’ conversion when he was a secular naturalist (with no hint of anything supernatural)—are particularly fascinating and may be useful for many, today.
Pieces to other literary and theological figures are here, including all fifty letters he penned to Dorothy Sayers. And, of course, Joy Davidman—letters to and about her!
Mr. Hooper’s decades of dilgent work bringing these letters together deserves a medal of honor; his work as literary advisor to the Lewis Estate is well-respected. Lewis fans, students and scholars alike will thank God for him for bringing these letters to publication.
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Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Family Letters (1905-1931)
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Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy (1950-1963)
The first two are available in a slip-cased paperback set ($39.95) or in hardcover at $34.95 each.)
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It is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and each year, especially later in the day, I feel like I sometimes do on Sabbath; something is special, and something is not right. There have been times, a long time ago for me, I’m afraid, when this important day brought forums, protests, anti-war activity and worship in black churches. These days had me feeling somehow more authentic in my admiration of the Nobel Prize winner. Today, my little framed picture of King with a rough cop twisting his arm behind his back in a classic 1958 arrest scene—as iconic for some of us as Fr. Dan Berrigan flashing the peace sign low to his waist, handcuffed—sits as a reminder of King’s insistence not only on non-violence, but on civil disobedience. But we don’t talk about it much, except when I marvel at the popularity of youthful “ordinary radical” Shane Claiborne, author of Irresistable Revolution ($12.99—on sale here for $10.00.) He gets it as much as anybody, is being read by a young generation of evangelicals, and is, happily (and mysteriously, it seems to me) published by Zondervan. Who says God doesn’t work in mysterious ways?
Brother Martin almost had all that commitment to non-violent love and Sermon on the Mount guts stolen from him when he studied at a liberal Protestant seminary, but recovered a passion for the ways of Jesus by studying Gandhi. It is one of the great shames of my heritage—mainline Protestantism—that when it mattered most, we had little to aid this heroic giant of a Christian leader. Thank God (as Bonhoeffer had discovered earlier in the century when he worshipped at Abyssinian Baptist while studying at Union in 1931) for black gospel songs and the evangelical truth they carried.
Today, I thank God for those who most helped me in this area, a black roomate in college, who turned me on to the jazz-funk of War and traditional gospel, and affirmed my interest in James Cone. Thanks to Clarence Jordon, Tom Skinner and Bill Pannell, John Perkins and, more recently, Vincent Harding and Cornell West. And Vince, an Italian goofball who came to Christ through Young Life and lives like a combo Abbie Hoffman & Saint Francis, who stood alone for so many years, protesting Carnegie Mellon University’s war contracts and their refusal to honor Dr. King. Tonight, I listen to the vapid news stories and read the paper about all the services in his honor with politicos of all stripes saying they admire him, and wish I was doing something more true. I wish I could at least sell his books, so people know.
To wit: a book recommendation, at least. We here at Hearts & Minds stock more about King than most bookstores, and more about racial reconcilation and justice than perhaps any Christian bookstore anywhere. Nobody much notices, except the Klan, once, but we’ve got ’em. So call us sometime if you want an update on oldies or goodies.
This year, though, you must know that the third and final volume of one of the most significant historical works of our lifetime came out this year, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968 by the renowned Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster; $35.00 in hardback, just out this week in paperback; $20.00.) This completes the much-acclaimed triology that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 and Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965. Like the first two, Canaan’s Edge combines meticulous detail well told on a broad social canvas; passion and zest with a notable lack of sentimenality. Fair and serious and interesting. It weighs in at over 1000 pages. There may be easier ways to get some of this (Vincent Harding’s splendid Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement comes to mind) but nothing as significant, as thorough, as truly magisterial. This is what a good book is all about and will be something to treasure for the rest of your life.
From the dust jacket:
In At Canaan’s Edge, King and his movement stand at the zenith of America’s defining story, one decade into an epic struggle for the promises of democracy. Branch opens with the authorities’ violent suppression of a voting-rights march in Alabama on March 7, 1965. The quest to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge engages the conscience of the world, strains the civil rights coalition, and embroils King in negotiations with all three branches of the U.S. government.
The marches from Selma coincide with the first landing of the large U.S. combat units in South Vietnam. The escalation of the war severs the cooperation of King and President Lyndon Johnson after a collaboration that culminated in the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.
After Selma, young pilgrims led by Stokely Carmichael take the movement into adjacent Lowndes County Alabama, where not a single member of the black majority had tried to vote in the twentieth century. Freedom workers are murdered, but sharecroppers learn to read, dare to vote, and build their own political party. Carmichael leaves in frustration to proclaim his famous black power doctrine, taking the local panther ballot symbol to become an icon of armed rebellion.
Also, after Selma, King takes nonviolence into Northern urban ghettoes…
Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 ($17.00 paperback)
At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 $35.00 cloth or $2o.00pb)
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Today I had two fascinating, long, good conversations about what many call, these days, a “purpose-driven life” or a “search for significance.” The first was with a gang of high school business students at Central York High School, where I was asked to speak about why we started Hearts & Minds 25 years ago, what the benefits and liabilities of owning your own business might be, and how to integrate personal convictions and vision with a business plan. While I mentioned our business goals and advertising plans and money management, I felt strongly to invite these future entrepreneurs to think big, seek out their passions and gifts, and ask big questions about life, times, vocations and community service.
I got to share some of our early dreams (how young we were) to cook up this thing, our passion to run our own business, our love for books and love for people, our hope to forge a way of life that harmonized various sides of life—family, work, church, community, politics…
Shortly thereafter, I talked with a friend I admire, a guy who has great vision for relating faith and business, right livlihood and corporate ethics, and who happens to be involved in helping plan others’ financial futures. Righteous dude that he is, he knows that his clients may have money to manage, but the real issue is that they have lives to life. He wants to help them get a vision for what they feel called to, and help them think about their personal goals and assets in a way that is consistent with their values and best hopes. Come to think of it, maybe he should have done the High School talk.
Anyway, here are a few books that might be of interst to anybody who is thinking about purpose, meaning, vocation and such. Instead of listing serious theological books on this as I am sometimes wont to do, I’ve listed some pretty easy reads. My new high school friends might even get a kick out of some (even though a few swore that they don’t read.) And my professional guy could use these with nearly any of this clients.
You should know (if you read this blog or my book reviews over at the website) that I have been deeply moved and greatly influenced by the excellent and wonderfully-penned classic The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Word; $17.99) by Os Guinness. I won’t even mention that one here. And I won’t make one of those computer facey things with a semi-colon that looks like a wink.
Living on Purpose: Finding GodÃ•s Best for Your Life Christine & Tom Sine (Baker) $14.99 Tom is the only guy I know who is more energetic and visionary than Tony Campolo; he brings a broad social vision and offers very practical advise about creating a personal mission statement, so that families can form communities with others to make a difference over their life-time. Focused on GodÃ•s call to transforming culture and whole-life discipleshipÃ‘around the theme of purposeÃ‘before Purpose Driven Life. IÃ•ve promoted it as a perfect follow-up. My kind of folksÃ‰
What Now: Making Sense of Who You Are and Where YouÃ•re Going Marc Estes (Relevant) $19.99 This brand new one is one of the first hardcovers that Relevant released; handsome, young, vibrant. Ed Young (who is really popular these days) wrote the forward. All about finding a fulfilled and passionate life, through focus and resolve to pursue the bestÃ‰nice. It really is rooted in very traditional Christian doctrine and has several appendices with inventories about spiritual gifts and such.
Made To Count: Discovering What to Do With Your Life Bob Record & Randy Singer (Word) $13.99 This includes acess to a free online personality profile and gifts analysis. This starts off asking not what are you best at, but “What is your greatest fear?” Fascinating, for anybody that wants practical advise about how to leave a positive imprint on the world…and yet struggles with fear of failure. Both visionary and quite practical.
Whose Life Is It, Anyway? Neil Hood (Authentic Books) $9.99 I love the depth and clarity of these, thoughtful, British evangelicalsÃ‰this goes along with a nice companion handbook about work, called Whose Work Is It Anyway? The subtitle of this reads: “A Lifeline in a Stress-Soaked WorldÃ“ and has chapters on various sides of life, showing practical ways to develop a uniquely Christian perspective. There is some good, brief teaching on resources, money, stewardship; stuff on work, citizenship, ethics, etc. Applied worldview thinking.
Don’t Waste Your Life John Piper (Crossway) $15.99 Radical Baptist preacher man John Piper doesn’t mince words. He insists that the Bible teaches that we are made for joy. And joy comes from finding pleasure in God. So everything we do—everything!—must be done for God’s glory. What freedom, purpose, danger. What a life. This edition comes with a DVD of him preaching up a storm at the Passion conference. Kids: you can watch the video, and then read the book.
Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Personal Vision Andy Stanley (Multnomah) $12.99 Some people really love this book, a practical guide to develop GodÃ•s blueprint for your life, and for maintaining personal vision. Powerful, but basic. Very good for emerging leaders.
Life-Mapping John Trent (Waterbrook) $14.95 This is a workbook on getting oneÃ•s life going in a healthy direction. Invites evaluation of various sides of life, bringing the journey together, knowing where your going, overcoming roadblocks and detours (get the driving metaphor!) I think this fresh look at the map could be very helpful for many folks.
Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists and Innovators Who Are Changing the World Through Faith Heather Zydek (Relevant) $14.99 This is it, kids: hipster magazine formate with short biographies of, well, activists, artists and innovators. Who are changing the world. Through faith. Very, very cool. That H&M friends like Shane Claiborne and Lauren Winner are in here makes it even better. Check it out!
Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition Brian Mahan (Jossey-Bass) $19.99 Now this is of an entirely different calibre and tone than the others I’ve noted before. It is beautifully written, deep and rich, thoughtful and exceptional. That Harvard prof Robert Coles wrote the lovely forward speaks volumes. For those who have read, say Listen to Your Life by Parker Palmer or who want to pursue this question of how to be called to a vocation of service, and still want to exhibit healthy ambition. Highly recommended.
Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth Derrick Bell (Bloomsbury) $13.95 I have written about this before. Bell is a renowned civil rights activist, legal scholar, and African-American lawyer who gave up several prestigious jobs in order to take a stand for what he thought was right. Gotta love a guy that get’s fired for doing the right thing. He has stood on the right side of things often, and at personal cost, so he is able to tell moving stories about this question of ambition, social change and the call to work for justice. Great!
Scheer not only has these relational and ecclesiastical connections, his new book, The Art of Worship: A Musician’s Guide to Leading Modern Worship (Baker; $15.99) is all about connections: he brings together various strains within worship theology, connecting charismatic, liturgical, traditional and contemporary stylings; he brings considerable passion for serious theology and very practical, specific planning expertise. This book unites more formal musical tastes with more rockin’ sensibilities. As a music associate with the prestigious Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, he interacts with academic scholars and working church musicians. This book is all about bringing stuff together. You can see his useful website, here.
With endorsements from the likes of Robert Webber and John Witvliet, this will be a book that is talked about for years. It is rooted in a thoughtful, Biblical worldview and emerges from his work in very respected congregations. While the theological underpinnings are discussed in greater depth elsewhere, this book is a reliable and user-friendly guide.
I don’t remember what I advised Greg about his manuscript in those nearly-forgotten phone calls from years ago. I think I might have said that if we are going to have yet another book on church music and contemporary worship, it will have to be exceptional— not just a rant against how cheesy so much CCM is, or how unsound so much CW music is, and not just a reactionary screed for traditionalism, and not just a mushy middle. Not scholarly but not unconnected to serious thinking. Something as quality and radical and interesting as he himself was. I’m happy to report that that book is now here, written by that very exceptional now not-so-young man. Thanks be to God.
Yesterday, I invited you to read the article I wrote about the joys and significance of reading, published in a special issue for college students, on-line at Comment. Not a bad suggestion for a bookseller, eh, to highlight an essay on reading? In case you missed it, scroll back to yesterday and read my little bookish cheerleading. You may note that the hard copy magazine which collects Comment’s “Making the Most of College” series is available for sale, here.
Yes, yes, you may say, I want to be a better reader. I at least want to be familiar with the better books, the classic authors. I’d like to know my way around the discussions and debates about the canon, at least know which century in which great writings appeared, and have a reputabile guidebook to the very best. Where do I start?
There are a few great guides. I’ve often recommended the great little paperback by an old H&M acquintance, Terry Glaspey, The Book Lovers Guide to Great Reading: A Guided Tour of Classic and Contemporary Literature (IVP; $11.00.) It is still one of the greatest inspirations for book lovers in one typically-sized paperback. Well written, with lot’s of opinions, and loaded with practical suggestions (even how to run a book discussion group) it is a sweet, helpful winner by a very well-read young man.
Today, though, I’d like to announce—heck, I’d like to shout and sing and tip my hat and spritz a confetti shooter or something—a truly wonderful resource which has recently been released in an inexpensive paperback edition. I refer to the magnificent Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to the Books You’ve Always Wanted To Read which was masterfully compiled a few years ago by Louise Cowen and Os Guinness. Baker Books has just released an affordable $24.95 edition, in paperback, which still has all the very rich illustrations, the quality, glossy paper, the full-color reproductions. It is fantastic! We’ve stocked the handsome hardback previously, but wished for one that we could promote that was more affordable. (We do have the hardback, which is sturdy, selling for $34.99.) Thank goodness, for your New Year’s Resolutions or up-coming Ephiany gifts (who do give ephipany gifts, don’t you?) it is now out in paperback!
An Invitation to the Classics is just that: an invitation. It gives nice summaries of great authors, overviews of important literary and historical writings, and places these great books in thoughtful context, with suggestions for further study or discussion. That Cowen and Guinness and their extraordinary team of colleagues are themselves so remarkably well-read, and can so naturally evaluate the Western heritiage through responsible Christian lenses, make this a treasure trove of deep insight. Some may want to read it cover-to-cover, others will use it as a lovely coffee table book for occasional edification. Still others will refer to it often as a reference tool and handbook.
Reading is a delight and joy. Knowing our literary heritage makes reading that much more fun, more fruitful. But, also, it helps shape who we are, our character, our ability to be effective and well-spoken, wise contributors to our society. It is no accident that Dr. Guinness developed the vision for this reader while working with The Trinity Forum in his efforts to mentor leaders in the public sector. Great literature can be an ally in efforts to bring Christian wisdom to the culture. Cowen & Guinness et al make that case here, and have enriched us with a fabulous guidebook. We are happy to commend it.
while supplies last
Invitation to the Classics
firstname.lastname@example.org or 717.246.3333
I know I am not the first to wish you a Happy New Year, although, if you subscribe to this blog and read it promptly, I might be the first to wish you a Happy Tenth Day of Christmas. (Do you see any Lords A-leaping anywhere?) And, if you are like most North Americans, youÃ•ve considered, even if you arenÃ•t the resolving type, what you might want to do differently in this new year of our Lord. Some of you, IÃ•d bet, are hoping for deeper spiritual lives, wiser use of time, somehow remaining faithful to God in ways that are fruitful, in your personal and public lives. I hope my occasional book reviews are at least somewhat helpful as we commit ourselves to learn and grow. I need not remind most of my readers that the Christian word disciple means to be a learner.
I usually announce books here, and have avoided linking you to other blogs or articles. But to an article that I wrote, well, that is permissible, isnÃ•t it? Our good friends at Comment (an opinion journal published by the Work Research Foundation) did a series of essays last fall for college students, at their on-line journal which always features thoughtful, rather serious pieces on how a broad vision of living out Christian principles can impact culture in the slow, hard work of responding to GodÃ•s call to bring reform to ChristÃ•s creation. For that batch of articles they asked me to write one about the discipline of reading, the call to love good books, the ways in which busy, post-modern young folks can take up the task of life-long learning by appreciating the printed page.
I must admit IÃ•m a bit proud of it (not only to be published in such a fabulous series) but because I think what I wrote is a bit unique. Too many bookish types are priggish on popular culture. Some have a philosophical presumption that pits words over images, that blames the lack of reading on TV, that seems, finally, somehow rooted in dualisms that just donÃ•t seem right to me. So I call for a celebration of electronic culture, an appreciation of the arts, a realization that God has made us as multi-faceted creatures with (therefore) different ways of knowing. I offer hope for a balanced lifestyle even as we insist on the need to read books, love books, buy books, study hard, read widely, for fun and profit. I think it is a pretty important piece and some have told me theyÃ•ve found it helpful. Read Learning to Love Good Books here.
And while your there, feel free read the other essays, too.
Perhaps you will want to read this article to remind you why you love books and why, almost surely, your New YearÃ•s hopes include making more time to spend between the covers of some well-chosen titles. Or maybe you will want to share it with somebody who doesn’t quite get your passion for authors, bookshops, reviews, and all things bookish.
I announced this earlier, but you may have missed it: the folks at Comment publish a hard (real magazine format) copy each quarter– a Ã’best ofÃ“ their on-line journal. The one on college life, with my article in it, came out this fall and it is very nice, with articles on learning how and when to talk about faith in college, on learning to evaluate art, on developing important friendships, on studying history. Cal Seerveld has a demanding piece on philosophy, and Jeffry Davis, a creative writing instructor from Wheaton, has a great piece on learning to write well. Gideon StraussÃ•s spectacular article is called Ã’Asking Big Questions.Ã“ It is advice not just for collegiates, IÃ•d say, but for all of us who want to start off the year knowing we are life-long learners, disciples.
Check it out on line and if you like it, please order the hard copy from us here. It sells for $8.00 and is a great resource. Perhaps you could send one to a student you know?
Welcome to part two of the annual Hearts & Minds Books of the Year list for 2006. Please skip back to December’s column for the first half where we unveiled our picks in several important category (including overall Best Books, spiritual formation, humor, academic, memoirs and others.) Here are some other titles and authors we are pleased to honor. If only our Awards earned them something important. They may alert you, though, to some good reads, some commendable books, more bread for your journey. Enjoy.
MOST LONG-AWAITED BOOK THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE OUT IN 2006 BUT WILL ARRIVE IN EARLY 2007 BUT WE WANT TO HONOR IT ANYWAY
It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God
Ned Bustard, editor (Square Halo Press) $24.95 Okay, I admit to a gratuitous manufacturing of a category, but it just had to be awarded. I saw many of the newer chapters of this re-issued and considerably expanded version, and they are very, very good. I happen to know that everything from copy-editing to the printing quality of the full-color reproductions were done with personal care and commitment to excellence by our friends at Square Halo. Is using this dumb award title just giving a cheap, free announcement, because Square Halo mentions us on their website? No, not at all. I am glad to have an informal friendship with SH but this book would get the goldest of gold medals regardless. It was a highly esteemed book in its first edition, used as a text in classes on religion and the arts or Christian views of aesthetics. It’s blend of mature depth and practicality made it a winner in its first version; the expansions add important new chapters by important writers. For a collection about the arts written at a step above entry level, by an amazing collective of artists, critics, patrons and participants, this book is a must-have. One of the best of any year!
Saving the World
Julia Alverez (Algonquin Books) $24.95 I discussed this in a column mid-summer and I’ve not stopped talking about it since. We all have read many novels here this year, and each of our staff has their favorites. I believe this truly was the best of ’em all—-well-written yet engaging, a good story, much to learn, much to consider. The plot revolves around two parallel stories, one set in the 1600’s (and a medical plan to immunize natives of the New World) and a modern-day US Latina writer, married to an NGO worker doing AIDS work in the Dominican Republic. Faith, politics, science, romance, culture, writing, passion, purpose. A lot for even these two interwoven stories, but Alverez succeeds with a pair of well-drawn tales.
This Heavy Silence
Nicole Mazzarella (Paraclete) $14.95 The newly released paperback now comes with a reader’s guide for book groups and an imprinted seal of the Christy Award. When we reviewed it at the fiction column last June it had not yet garnered that prestigious award, but even then, I knew it was on our short list of the best novel I’d read in quite some time. A very well written story set in the hard times of an Ohio farm, it tells of motherhood, duty, land, and the debts we owe.
Andy Catlett: Early Travels
Wendell Berry (Shoemaker & Hoard) $23.00 Berry is a writer of integrity. We would award, I believe, anything he wrote. I will be honest: none of us have read this yet, save the beautiful excerpt in Christian Century. Set in 1943 when Andy (who is familiar to those of us who have inhabited the Port Williams fellowship) is nine years old, he is set upon a bus, alone. "As I saw it," young Andy recalls, "it was nothing less than my first step into manhood." We are glad this arrived a few days after Christmas so it could qualify for a much deserved (we are sure) listing on any year end list.
MOST PLEASURE IN A NOVEL
A Dark Oval Stone Marsena Konkle (Paraclete) $23.95 How to tell of why we wanted to offer a unique award for this very special story? It may be that we are acquainted with Marsena and her family. It may be that we understand her broader framework for thinking about writing, the arts, Christian faith in the post-Christian world since she once worked for Critique the excellent publication of Ransom Fellowship. So we had anticipated this for a long while, and we imagined the joy and trepidation of her friends and family as it finally arrived, and we started it. So, yes, this was special for Hearts & Minds. But—and please, know I am being honest here!—this book brought pleasures to me that were more than the fact that we care about the author. (We’ve had other friends write books too, books that did not necessarily have this effect.) A Dark Oval Stone really did grab me, it held me, it gave me pause, it brought laughter and tears to my eyes. I recall putting it down, sitting at my backyard picnic table, and wishing it were not over. And starting it again. That is rare for us and this work is well deserving of a very honorable mention.
A Compass of Affection
Scott Cairns (Paraclete) $25.00 There are few working poets today who are as esteemed within the Christian community as Cairns, and his Orthodox worldview and his serious commitments to excellence and insight are manifest. A very handsome volume with mostly previously published works and some new. We wish we could sell more, as he is truly a marvel.
Mary Oliver (Beacon) $25.00 One reviewer notes that her poems–since before her Pulitzer in 1984—have included an urge for transformation "yoked to a joy in this moment, this life, this body." The Women’s Review of Books reviewer says "I think of Oliver as a fierce, uncompromising lyricist, a loyalist of the marshes. Hers is a voice we desperately need." This lovely, thin, yet weighty hardback is certainly deserving of more important awards than ours. Keep your eyes open.
BASIC CHRISTIAN GROWTH
What Jesus Demands of the World
John Piper (Crossway) $19.99 It isn’t often that I have been so engaged by a commentary, well-informed by time spent in the pastor’s study, that had such immediate, spiritual implications. I turned to it during a time of crisis, a time of hardship, and a time of fear. I struggled with his explication of the gospel accounts, and thanked God for his clear-headed, sober pastoral advice on how to see and do what the texts say. I don’t agree with all of it; even St John P has his blindspots. Still, it was one of the most useful books for me that I have read all year. Kudos.
N.T. Wright (Harper) $22.95 There was a lot of press buzz about this being Wright’s attempt to do a contemporary Mere Christianity. Well, maybe. This may be nearly sacrilege, but it is, in my view, a much, much more usable book, at least for most people. Whether you give it to an unchurched friend, a seeker, or use it for your own introduction to the big questions, and the big answers the Biblical story provides, this overview is just spectacular. We could have awarded it in any number of categories (the Best Book category last month already had a Wright book, anyway.) Please get this book. Tell others to get this book. It is a wonderful introduction to Wright’s vision and style, and, better, an introduction to the faith, thoughtful and readable, Biblical and relevant.
Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who will help you)
Jim Palmer (Word) $13.99 I reviewed this at length at the blog, showing off it’s bright, hip cover, and talking about how each chapter introduces a different out-side-the-church (heck, outside-the-box) characters who helped this messed up puppy find a deeper relationship with God. I must admit I loved each chapter more than the next, grew to care for his story, his life, his voice, and was deeply moved by his (not terribly original) insights that God shows up all over the place. Perhaps he is the next Donald Miller, I don’t know. We loved this book so much we couldn’t wait to list it here, happily naming it one of the very best of the year.
Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess
Douglas Jacobsen & Rodney J. Sawatsky (Baker) $12.99 I really enjoy "Jake" and Rodney was the President of Messiah College, near here, until he died (just after finishing this book) of a brain tumor. He notes in the preface that there is a certain liberating freedom in writing a book while dying. I found it interesting that I expected a book about acceptance and inclusion, being welcoming and full of loving grace. And this is a book that is intentionally ethical, inviting us to ways of living that are grace-filled and kind. Yet, it really is a very useful introduction to the doctrines of the Christian faith. With endorsements by solid thinkers like Richard Mouw or Dennis Okholm, you may realize that this doesn’t play off graceful living and graceful conviction. Richard Hughes has exclaimed "I have never read a more lucid or compelling summary of the Christian faith."
WORLDVIEW STUDIES & CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT
Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview
Albert Wolters (Eerdmans) $12.00 We have often said this is one of the best books to understand our approach here at H&M and Al has been an influence since the 70’s. This new edition includes two new chapters, interestingly, one that shows the relationship of Wolter’s Dutch neo-Calvinism to the missiology of Leslie Newbegin, and another, which links the “unfolding drama of creation-fall-redemption”Â that is so central to CR to the popular Biblical work of N.T. Wright. Al revised this new edition just a bit, it has a nicer cover, a better type font, and with the new substantive chapters, it truly is an award-winning volume in it’s own right. We, especially, are very pleased to put it on the 2006 list. FYI: I’d put it on the list of the most influential books of the last 25 years. Ask me why, if you want to know…
A Mind for God
James Emery White (IVP) $12.00 At this price, and with a handsome, rich, dust-jacket, this very small book is a lovely gift, a treasure to have, a good and important reminder of much of what we believe God’s people should be about: thinking deeply, reading widely, caring much, acting wisely. To be fully human, it reminds us, is to think, and we are to "take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5.) Those who have heard me speak or preach now how pivotal I believe this verse is, and why our bookstore set out to help followers of Jesus act well in the contemporary world by thinking well. This lovely book helps us break from cultural captivity through the spiritual discipline of reading, study, and reflection. This deserves more than a "best book" Award. It deserves to be a best-seller. Please order one, pass it on, form a group, spread the word. You will be better for it. Soli Deo Gloria.
Catalyst: A Study for Next Generation Leaders: The Culture Issue
Jeff Shinabarger, editor (Nelson Impact) $16.99 This magazine-style "Groupzine" is volume two in the series that began with the eye-popping 2005 release of Challenge the Process which was also billed as a study for "next generation" emerging leaders. That new-looking resource blew us away and we promoted it often. Here, again, there are articles, essays, study questions, Biblical pieces, testimonials, and book reviews by some very helpful leaders and activists on the task of cultural engagement. Oodles of folks we know and love are in here: Andy Couch and Eugene Peterson, Shane Claiborne and Lauren Winner, Leonard Sweet and Andi Ashworth, Gary Haugen from the International Justice Mission and Josh Jackson from Paste magazine and Erik Lokkesmoe from Brewing Culture. There are good writers we like Donald Miller and Mark Buchanan and James Emery White, and topics that are extraordinary, all presented with breath-taking graphics and useful study apparatus. Whoever came up with this line-up deserves some kind of Hearts & Minds Editor of the Year Award or something, because this is really, really off-the-charts good stuff.
Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action J. Budziszewski (Baker) $19.99 I blogged about this with great gusto this summer, and was very excited to show it where we could. Four writers who have been influenced by each of these evangelical heavyweights share a chapter testifying and explaining how that scholar shaped their particular tradition of evangelical cultural engagement. The four voices include Carl F.H. Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer and John Howard Yoder. If you are a fan of these kinds of books you know this will be a treasure trove and a bundle of fun insight. If you are not terribly interested, trust me: this is an important work that we would be wise to understand. Mike Cromartie did a good introduction, and Jean Bethke Elshtain did the afterword making this, besides one of the best book on Christian public life, one of the most collaborative books of the year. Thanks to all involved.
Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace
Miroslov Volf (Zondervan) $12.99 This was named, a year ago, early in 2006, as the chosen book by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a book for Anglicans to read together during Lent. Volf’s renowned Exclusion and Embrace, his work on the Trinity in several edited volumes, and his brand new one, The End of Memory (which will surely be a 2007 winner) illustrate that he is one of the small handful of truly world-class and world-renowned theologians. That alone makes him important to read especially when he offers a set of reflections of this nature. Gratefully, these essays are nearly devotional in nature, are quite readable, accessible for the thoughtful layperson, and yet meaty enough for all of us to ponder for a lifetime. The subtitle nearly says it all.
Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement
Mark D. Baker, editor (Baker) $16.99 What a fabulous idea: a variety of contributions from esteemed authors such as Richard Hays, C.S. Lewis, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brian McLaren, Luci Shaw, Rowan Williams and others, each preceded by an introductory piece where the editor reminds us what is a stake in this particular reading. After the essay, there are some concluding reflections offered, as well, making this not only a fabulous reader, but a very useful study tool. As Marva Dawn puts it on the back, "(this) book offers us a treasure chest filled with complementary truths presented in distinct and surprising packages. Each chapter—a gem of poetry, drama, story or sermon—is a unique gift to enable us to see with fresh perspective and greater fullness what God has done for us in Christ at the cross and empty tomb. This collection is an outstanding contribution to widen our comprehension and deepen our adoration!"
Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah
Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $35.00 Those who follow Dr. B’s striking career know that he has done some remarkably deep stuff. (Indeed, he has a brand new commentary just out from Cambridge University Press on Jeremiah.) In Like Fire…, though, he offers semi-scholarly essays, a variety of articles and sermons, that any serious Bible student can handle, compiled together neatly in a remarkably nice slim-line hardback (to match his earlier similar compilations such as last year’s The Word That Redescribes the World.)
New Interpreter’s Bible Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey
(Abingdon) $39.00 and $37.00 You may know the giant, big, black set of New Interpreter’s Bible Commentaries that were so highly reviewed as they released, one by one, over the last decade. Now, in two nice volumes, they’ve taken the introductory essays from each and compiled them into very insightful survey form. With contributions from mainline scholars who are very different that they excessively liberal bias of the earlier Interpreter’s series from the 60’s, you get the best of mainstream scholarship. Elizabeth Achtemeier, Carol Newsom, Walter Brueggemann, Donald Gowan, Christopher Seitz, Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, Richard Hays, Pheme Perkins, N.T. Wright, Duane Watson, Andrew Lincoln, Luke Timothy Johnson…and more! I would say this great idea of drawing the articles and pieces from those famous, serious commentaries is an idea that deserves blue ribbons. And, more importantly, the books themselves do. Congratulations!
The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter With Jewish Midrash
Judith M. Kunst (Paraclete) $15.95 This book deserves a number of awards—the gracefulness with which it is written, the exquisite curiosity and good-hearted nature of the author, the informative content about Jewish customs. And, oh yes, the illumination of God’s Older Testament, the Jewish Bible read, creatively, through Midrash texts, by an evangelical Episcopalian. How’s that for a recipe for a fascinating read? More than fascinating, this is wonderful. Three cheers, or more, and a place on the Hearts & Minds Best of 2006 list.
Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)
Tremper Longman, III (Baker) $39.99 Although Bruce Waltke’s two volume set on Proverbs may not be surpassed, this is certainly one of the defining commentaries of this bit of Wisdom literature. Longman is a scholar we trust, a guy we like, and an author the church should rejoice in. He’s widely read, open-minded, and evangelically orthodox. I don’t know how to sell more commentaries, but they are so very useful, and awarding this as an example of the kind of useful work we need, we hope, may help a tiny bit.
Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?
N.T. Wright (Baker) $18.99 I wasn’t sure if this slim volume deserved the accolades of a Hearts & Minds Best Book award. (Like Canon Wright need us! Ha!) I’d just as soon forget this little business of this goofy alleged gospel, and stash the Time cover story with other old quickly forgotten fads. Alas, upon closer look, I see that Wright not only clarifies the whole business of alternative gospels with great aplomb, but also goes after Gnosticism, and holds forth on the historicity of the gospels themselves. And he is good! Skip Judas if you want; even skip Da Vinci Code. But this is a very, very reliable and pleasant overview of issues that will not go away, and we are happy to say that Wright is a good guide to help us understand these matters and respond with both cultural insight and Biblical truth.
Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics
Willard M. Swartley (Eerdmans) $34.00 As one reviewer noted, few have undertaken what Swartley has done here, "develop a thorough, and thoroughly theological, analysis of the theme of peace as it is interwoven into the New Testament account of the work of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the reign of God." This may be the most thorough Biblical account of how peacemaking and the gospel are so intimately related. Groundbreaking and sure to be a classic.
FAVORITE PAPERBACK RELEASES OF FORMER HARDCOVERS
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Faith
Rob Bell (Zondervan) $14.99 I love this book, especially the last couple of chapters about the Kingdom vision of the redemption of all things, and the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of life in God’s world. The "White Album" look of the hardback was impressively artsy, but it is nice to have a cheaper paperback version. Four different covers, too, of friends of his doing the trampoline thing. You really ought to read this!
Lauren Winner (Paraclete) $14.95 It is a shame this paperback isn’t priced a bit more reasonably (can we give the publisher an anti-award for dumb marketing on this one?) Still, and I hope you hear me well: it is worth every penny! Don’t skimp, get a few. This is one of our favorite books of the decade for about a dozen different reasons. Each chapter is a delight, and truly, truly, (I say unto you) worth the investment. Come on, folks, let’s get this back in circulation again after the several year wait for the paperback edition. Or buy the hardback, which is still available. The paperback has a new sub-title, reading "An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Disciplines" which is nice. It could also read, I’d say, "Stuff about embodied spiritual practices that I did better when I was a Jew but now that I am a Christian I must work harder at it and I think I even know some of the reasons why." Or, more simply "Things about embodied practices to enhance spirituality that Christians could learn from Jewish traditions told well by someone whose been there." We are all about this book and could make up even other sub-titles. More importantly, though, it is wise and good and faithful and funny.
Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity
Lauren Winner (Baker) $14.99 We did a major review of this at our webpage a year or so ago when this came out in hardcover. We have, as have many others, declared this to be the best book on the subject for thoughtfully Christian young adults, especially. We are very glad it is now more affordable in paperback, and will get a bit more distribution. It deserves to be well-read, considered (argued with) and enjoyed as she reminds us of God’s good ways.
The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
Jonathan Kozol (Three Rivers Press) $14.95 I have been a serious fan of Kozol since reading The Night Is Dark and I Am Far From Home in maybe 1975 and the American Book Award Winner Death at an Early Age (first published in 1967.) Many folks, gratefully, are paying more attention to urban affairs, racial injustices, domestic poverty and community development. Too few study the fundamental injustices of the "savage inequalities" of how schools are funded. Kozol and I shared a long car ride a decade or so ago, and we talked, mostly, about Jesus. He is a good man who cares deeply, and is one of our nation’s most relentless prophets for justice. We are very glad this previously very expensive hardcover is now available in an inexpensive paperback. Maybe you should send one to your congressperson. After, of course, reading it yourself, first.
Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture
Michael Frost (Hendrickson) $19.95 Anybody who has followed the Emerging Church conversations knows of Frost & Hirsch’s Shaping of Things to Come. This follow-up is spectacular and, I think, very important. Frost is not the first to appropriate the imagery of exile, but to put it together with a call to justice, the pomo sensibilities of the emergents, and the missional perspective makes for a powerhouse of a book. Very highly recommended.
Breaking the Missional Code
Ed Stetzer & David Putman (Broadman & Holman) $17.99 The sub-title explains it well: "Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community." There are plenty of books which make the case for cultural contextualization, and some of them are trendy and not, finally, helpful for most of us. This, however, surveys all the current literature, has a very properly Biblical and wholistic perspective, and sites evangelical (and other) authors that are surprising and good. If you are buying just one book on this whole emerging field, this, well, award-winning.
Left Behind in a Megachurch World: How God Works Through Ordinary Churches
Ruth A. Tucker (Baker) $16.99 You hopefully have seen our Book of the Year award to Diana Butler Bass, who takes us through similar territory in her Christianity for the Rest of Us. This book, though, stands as award-winning in this category as it could be very useful and inspiring for those who are feeling like their smaller congregation, perhaps having plateaued, are doomed to mediocrity. Where Bass takes us through churches that have developed unique practices that become their strengths, even that may be a bit audacious for many. Tucker really tells it like it is, with very mundane churches quietly doing forming their people into Christlikeness. She does some study and critical evaluation of the church growth literature, too, which is a very helpful contribution. Yep, this book deserves to be on the Best Book list, right here on the important shelf of congregational life and books about the best practices of ordinary churches.
With All Thy Mind: Worship That Honors the Way God Made Us
Robert P. Glick (Alban Institute) $18.00 The veritable Alban think-tank has been doing a good series of books in a series called "Vital Worship-Healthy Congregations" that are co-published by the wonderful folks at the ecumenical Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids. They have all been good, and yet this one really caught our eye: what a great title, what an idea, that we, as humans, are called to worship God, of course, in a manner God demands, of course, but, also, in a manner commiserate with who we are and how we are made. In this case, this leads the author (a Presbyterian church organist and Director of the Master of Church Music program at Erskine College and Theological Seminary) to do–get this!—brain studies. As Marva Dawn comments, "Glick’s book is as holistic as his purpose." Who else has thought to acknowledge the role the brain works and how it has played a role in our worship (and the recent "worship wars.")? It isn’t every book that carries a dedication not only to C.S. Lewis, but to various sorts of right-brain and left-brain thinkers the author loves. We wanted it on the list of our favorite books of the year, for sure.
In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice
Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Jossey-Bass) $21.95 This great book is the latest in the Practices of Faith series that we so love. What a fun and instructive study of children, the role of children, a theology of family and how to develop thoughtful Christian habits that include deeply spiritual approaches to caring for children into our midst. The endorsing blurbs on this are all worth quoting, but this one by Wendy Wright may give a taste of how some have reviewed it: "What does it mean to ’sanctify the ordinary,’ to ’redeem the waking, walking, buzzing routine itself’? With wonderful honesty and a wisdom born of informed theological reflection, sound cultural critique, and the lived experience of parenting three boys, Bonnie Miller-McLemore helps us to ponder and to clarify the deep questions that stir in those of us who raise families, hold down jobs, and want our faith to mean something in the real world." There are many self-help kinds of books about family and marriage, many that are quite useful, and we happily recommend them. A Best Book of the Year listing, though, demands an extraordinary work that is enduring and important. And this, we are happy to exclaim, is one of these kind of exceptional books. Get one for your church library.
The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On
Dawn Eden (Word) $13.99 The first customer we sold this two emailed us back in about 48 hours saying how she devoured this fascinating story and told us to recommend it to other Sex and the City generation women and men. Eden writes well and, in this personal memoir, tells of her painful journey to sexual sanity and orthodox faith. The estimable Maggie Gallagher called it a "brave, beautiful book." She has thousands of eager fans on her Dawn Patrol blogsite. We think she deserves even more acclaim and are happy to list her here.
Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child With a Christian View of the World
Kenneth Boa & John Alan Turner (Tyndale) $13.99 We are not excited about this because of the name, although I must admit it makes me smile. I am eager to promote this book and want to celebrate it because it does what so few parenting books have done, namely, to work specifically on the theme of nurturing a distinctively Christian worldview. Shaping hearts and minds is the goal of this well-researched and solid book. We haven’t seen a book like this in this category for years…
BEST WRITTEN BOOK OF THE YEAR
Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans
Thomas Lynch (Norton) $14.95 I didn’t feel I could list this as the Best Book of the Year since it came out in 2005. I didn’t want to only list it in best paperback re-issues, although it is now out as a 2006 paperback. It deserved better. It almost went in the category of the book I most enjoyed, the one that brought the most pleasure. But even that paled in significance to what I wanted to say about this extraordinary memoir and reflection on Lynch’s trips back to his ancestral homeland in rural Ireland. You may know that his previous two his work in the undertaking biz, The Undertaking: Life Notes in the Dismal Trade and Bodies in Motion and At Rest: Essays on Metaphor and Mortality are among my all time favorite books. This, too, is a wondrous, peculiar, deeply-felt collection of pieces written over time, about, well, about everything. But mostly Ireland, Lynch’s family, the dead and the dying. And the living. It is about the living. It is one of the best books of this or any year.
BEST SCIENCE BOOK
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Francis S. Collins (The Free Press) $26.00 This is really an easy call: Francis has garnered such acclaim for his work as the head of the Human Genome Project that his evangelical faith has become renowned. (He shared some of his own testimony when he gave the commencement address at MIT a few years back.) We have a huge science section, and have enjoyed some very good ones this year, from a variety of perspectives. This is a solid, readable work, bringing together his faith and his work as a scientist. He walks a "third way" between the naturalistic assumptions of the Darwinists and the anti-evolutionary views of creationists. He discusses and brings some brief critique to the Intelligent Design movement, as well, (to which I hope ID scholars will reply.) It is good to have such a good man at the helm of such a momentous scientific project and such a large government agency. We were happy to see him debating Dawkins in Time glad the book has a buzz. We think he deserves the honorary mention here on our list.
Science and Grace: God’s Reign in the Natural Sciences
Tim Morris & Don Petcher (Crossway) $17.99 I was first struck by the great, sharp cover. I saw on the back that these guys have been influenced in their philosophy of science of the likes of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd. And, yep, this is a truly fascintating book, artfully told and solidly Reformed. Here is what Gene Vieth has said: "This is an extraordinarily important book filled with "paradigm-shifting" ideas. The authors break new ground in showing how Christians can come to terms with both Modernism and Postmodernism. Showing how Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, and other worldview thinkers anticipated the ’paradigm’ thinking that characterizes Postmodernism–which, in turn, can be appropriated by Christians today–is brilliant. Morris and Petcher write about complex issues in a remarkably clear and engaging way. " And that is what the Hearts & Minds Best Book Awards are all about.
BEST NEW AUTHOR WE DISCOVERED IN 2006
Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals
Bill Kauffman (Intercollegiate Studies Institute) $25.00 I can’t tell you how I enjoyed this feisty writer, a guy who brings to mind James Howard Kunstler, with his palpable disdain for the modernist ways of suburban homogenizing, and, finally, profoundly ungodly ways of contemporary America. Here, he tells winningly about all kinds of oddballs with a better vision, from Dorothy Day to Wendell Berry, novelist Carolyn Chute to American Gothic painter Grant Wood, to President Millard Filmore. A cranky, fun-loving, historian with a sense of place, Kauffman is the man to watch. But, as Dylan famously said, about those "Down in the Flood," "he ain’t going nowhere."
Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive
Bill Kauffman (Picador) $13.00 If you’ve ever fought Wal-Mart or wished you had, if you’ve sent a check to your local historical society (or volunteered for them) or wish you had, or have ever been a fan of your home-town ball team (just be glad they aren’t called the Muckdogs, as Kauffman’s failing squad is) well, this book will win your heart. It is learned and passionate and yet is a down-home cry for place, for decent ways. Why do we say, "He’s going to go far" when we mean that someone is successful, as if leaving your home place is a sign of virtue? This love-letter to Kauffman’s goofy small-town in upstate New York, to which he returned after a speedy season inside the Beltway doing Big Things, and to the ball team that he loves, is a great, great book. We are glad we discovered this guy. Thanks to Caleb for the great recommendation. Now we have a category, just for him.
How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy And Art
Crystal L. Downing (IVP) $18.00 Downing teaches at near-by Messiah College and, truth be told, I had no idea how amazingly learned she is, how thoughtful and active, and how the deconstructionists have come to mean much to her in her profession as Christian literary critic and as follower of Jesus. This book should be read by anyone that wants to understand the deep ways of the deconstructionists. Or anybody that wants a better understanding of postmodernism. Or anybody that has doubts about the sustainability of the Christian faith in our post-Christian culture. Or anybody that just wants to think. It was one of the best reads of the year, and there is no doubt that it has helped (or frustrated) many. There are way too many people writing on the relationship of faith and pomo culture these days. Few have the fluency in the field or a mature grasp on the writers. Happily, Ms Downing does, and we are grateful for this teacherly, passionate and insightful book. It deserves a place on this short list of best books in this category.
Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church
James K.A. Smith (Brazos) $17.99 This is another key book that has jumped to near the top of the list of the most important (and helpful) Christian books on postmodernism. Jamie is a philosopher I really admire, and we are grateful for the many ways he has served the church through his speaking and writing, mentoring and teaching. These were lectures, the preface tells us, originally given at Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri and, given that many who are in Schaeffer’s tradition are nearly rationalists who are very leery of what they consider to be the relativism of postmodernism and the nihilism of postmodernity, they must have been difficult talks to give. Jamie was raised Pentecostal, though, and I believe the Spirit has anointed him well: these are some of the most cogent and impressive presentations on this topic I’ve seen. We are happy to mention these and honor him with our highest accolade.
BEST RE-ISSUE AFTER BEING OUT OF PRINT
Let Justice Roll Down
John Perkins (Regal) $19.99 Perkins has been the African American evangelical, and his influence is second to none within evangelical circles who now are passionate about racial reconciliation. That he has told his story tirelessly for decades, now, and organized not only in rural Mississippi and urban LA, and has lead the Christian Community Development Association, may remind us that he is a man of remarkable stature. It is long overdue that his powerful, simple story—originally published in the mid-70’s—is now again available. Shane Claiborne wrote a very moving forward, enhancing this new hardcover.
Things We Wished We Would Have Said: Reflections of a Father and Son
Tony & Bart Campolo (Authentic Media) $14.95 Why this fabulous back-and-forth co-authored book had to be re-published in England is a question worth asking, but, more urgently, how can we let people know it is now available? And how good it is! With a new forward by Bart, this is a tender book, a moving book, and, I think, a very helpful and wise one. I read it through different eyes this time (I think it came out 20 years ago, when Bart was just out of college.) My oldest daughter is now 24; my son is off at college; my own father and father-in-law have died. While we delight in our teenage daughter at home, I think about my older children, and my own role as a somewhat public leader, and I wonder how they would evaluate my parenting. I cried my way through some of Tony and Bart’s book. This deserves an award in a couple of categories. A big thank you to those who dressed it up with a new look, and got the thing back in circulation.
There is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Africa’s Children Melissa Fay Greene (Bloomsbury) $25.95 We considered listing this under memoir, since it is a moving, first-hand account, but it is such an informative book, it deserves to be known not only in literary circles who like impressionistic story, but for anyone who cares about our world, is interested in international development or the horrors of the AIDS crisis. Greene first came to our attention years ago in a collection of essays on Africa published by an evangelical publisher (Regal) and then gained fame for her book about a church working to overcome racism in the rural south, Praying for Sheetrock. If you wonder if this deserves to be on our Best Books list, listen to Alex Kotlowitz: There Is No Me…is spectacular, both in its intimacy and in its reach. Greene"s writing sings. It agitates. It inspires. Even those who think they know about the AIDS crisis in Africa will savor this book, and for those who know little or noting about it, this is the way in, a way paved with decency and with hope. It is our contemporary Shindler’s List, one person’s heroic efforts to right a tilting world. After you read There Is No Me Without You the world will never look the same. "
IMPORTANT BOOK WITH THE MOST CLEVER TITLE
How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok Glenn Greenwald (Working Assets) $12.00 I must admit I haven’t paid much attention to the debates about the constitution, the power of the President to do wire-taps, detain people without warrant, wage war against terrorism without traditional legal assent. This author was not a political man, ill-informed and mostly supportive of the Bush administration’s involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he started reading about the rule of law, FISA and other seemingly arcane matters, started blogging, and now is widely read. I picked this up mostly because I got such a kick out of the play on words. Detailed legal arguments aren’t my favorite reading, but I couldn’t put this down. I want to commend it in some category, so I made one up. I wonder if that is legal?
So Smart, But”Â¦How Intelligent People Lose Credibility and How They Can Get It Back Allen N. Weiner (Jossey-Bass) $24.95 You’ve got to see this cover—a hipster young leader with a snazzy aluminum brief attachÃƒÂ© which has fallen open, and his (oh so important) papers fluttering all over at his feet. That serious leadership scholars (like James Kouzes) have given advance praise shows that I’m not just being cute to award this for the fun cover design. Credibility is one of our most valuable assets, vital for personal success and certainly for professional and cultural impact. Tired of sabotaging yourself? Want to have a life that "gets it" and projects not just self-confidence, but credibility? Surprisingly good
BIGGEST SELLING BOOK OF THE YEAR
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical Shane Claiborne (Zondervan) $12.99 This may be the biggest news around here, that because of Shane’s support of our feeble efforts, he sends customers our way from his cool website from their urban activist community in Philly. Consequently, we have become one of the stores that have sold the most of this wonderfully provocative, very fun, very challenging (and not a bit troubling) call to radical discipleship, service to the poor and non-violent peacemaking. We reviewed this at length here at the Review column, and have blogged about his work from time to time. We are happy to share our snaps for this, and glad to generate some book-buyin&8217; zeal. We are also fully confident that this book, the publisher who bravely released it, The Simple Way community from which it emerged, and all our many mail-order friends who ordered it, deserve a big ol, magnanimous honorable mention.
DOUBLE DOUBLE AWARD FOR BEST AUTHOR WITH TWO AWARD-WINNING BOOKS THIS YEAR
Joy in Divine Wisdom: Practices of Discernment from Other Cultures and Christian TraditionsMarva J. Dawn (Jossey-Bass) $21.95 The third in the important "Enduring Questions in Christian Life" series, this explores ways to make decisions that are less about decision-making and more about spiritual discernment, less about being right and more about being wise, and–and here is what really sets it apart from other recent works on the spirituality of discernment—it invites us to do this together, communally, rather in typical North American style of individualism. This is rich, rare, high-octane Christian teaching and we simply must award it as one of the most important books of the year.
The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World Marva J. Dawn (Eerdmans) $16.00 Although there have been many good books in recent years about Sabbath and the spirituality of restfulness, Marva’s stunning Keeping the Sabbath Wholly was one of the first in recent decades, taking the thoughtful insight of Heschel (among many others) and making them available to a contemporary Christian readership. That book may be, when we think about such things in the next generation, one of the most important works of the last 50 years for the way it put that topic "on the map. " Years later, Marva has now re-visited those same four sections and asked how they influence our Kingdom service the other six days of the week. What a great idea, and what a great book. It would deserve to be on this Best Books list in a number of categories, so we made up one just for her. Highly recommended.
BOOKS ABOUT ECONOMIC LIFE
Following Christ in a Consumer Society (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition)
John F. Kavanaugh (Orbis) $16.00 This book was important when we discovered it our first year of business, and it felt like we were among the only shops telling people not to buy so much stuff. Now, we realize there is a righteous cottage industry of books exploring our cultural addictions. We want to honor this long-standing book and compliment the publisher for doing the re-issue, and this blurb seems a worth way: "What I first read this important book nearly two decades ago, it was utterly life-transforming…Kavanaugh’s impassioned plea that we turn away from the false and dehumanizing gospel of consumerism and embrace our true humanity in Christ is a call as urgent today as when he first wrote it. " (Philip D. Kenneson)
Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace
Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $14.00 There are plenty of great books about the vocation of work and the role of business in our lives. And Paul Stevens, Professor of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College has written many of them. Here he gives us the finest and most in-depth, highly readable overview of the field yet done. As the ever-eloquent Max De Press notes, this is "…a challenging and beautifully worthwhile book."
BEST BOOK WITH A RIDICULOUS TITLE, GOOFY COVER AND EVEN WEIRDER THEME THAT IS STILL REALLY, REALLY GREAT (IN ITS OWN FUNKY WAY)
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild, Wild West Steve Sheinkin (Jewish Lights) $ 16.99 Yep, you read that right, pardner. These are classic Hasidic tales, retold in a graphic novel, with the lead being a Jewish rabbi in, yep, the wild West. To say this is a fresh look at Jewish folktales is an understatement. To say it deserves an award, uh, is also an understatement. The inestimable Rabbi Edward Feinstein writes, "For every kid who ever sneaked a comic book into synagogue, there is a new hero—Rabbi Harvey, who tamed the Old West with Jewish wisdom and humor. I’m hiding a copy of this in my tallis bag, hoping my kids will find it."