Three rare, exceptional, recordings: Life is More, Songs for a Revolution of Hope and Heaven in a Nightclub

Ethan B.jpgLife Is More

I don’t know exactly when it happened for us, but a creative, thoughtful and very friendly youth leader in Missouri became a friend of Hearts & Minds.  Ethan Bryan calls to check up on us, chats with our staff, prays for our family.  Significantly, it seems, he asks us what books he should be reading, and pays close attention to my BookNotes blog reviews.

I don’t know exactly when it happened for him, but this creative, thoughtful, and very curious follower of Christ, who also happens to be a church staff member doing youth work and leading worship, became more intentional about relating his seminary training, youth min experience and Hearts & Minds reading regimen to his deepened discipleship, his work and ministry, especially around issues of social concern and public justice.  He seems to have ramped up his faith and fidelity, taking risks in joy and hope and contagiously getting others to join in.

You might imagine—if you’ve walked this road at all—that Ethan’s zealous (if gentle and kindly) proclamations of the holistic Lordship of Christ and the creation-wide politics of Jesus brought him renewed energy for sermons, Bible studies, prayerfulness, mission trips and service projects within the context of his own discipleship and his work in disciple-making.  He redoubled his work to make clear Christ’s call to resist the idols of the culture of materialism and invited others to be involved in social service and public protest.  He was starting to form the character and concerns of his youth and those with whom he worshipped into agents of social transformation.  Reading Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution, Jesus for President) and Walsh & Keesmat (Colossians Remixed) Ron Sider and Gary Haugen, he increasingly found his ministry moving in new directions.  He mentored teens in their efforts to aid the homeless, raised money for a local shelter.  He worked with a very, very sharp young gal who started her own organization to work against sexual slavery a la Loose Change to Loosen Chains (watch out Zach Hunter!  Sally Rymer’s Clapham Sect: Phase II for student abolitionists is pretty great.)  Ethan was kept up at night with tears for the outcast, struggled with matters of personal integrity—how to move downwardly mobile when one has huge higher education debt?  What does it look like to be a suburbanite if God’s intentions for the outcasts are your dream? How do we balance the pastoral and prophetic, in our own lives, and in youth work?  How can we be outspoken leaders and yet remain truly humble?

And, as you might also imagine, there have been some criticisms.  Why does he teach the youth this stuff?  Is this safe?  Why be so critical of the American way of life?  Is being anti-war really part of the gospel of Christ?  And, of course, these concerns are taken to heart, weighed and pondered; as any of us who have heard such remarks know, it is draining thinking it all through.  I don’t know if I sent it to him, but others taking similar halting steps towards the poor, from evangelical backgrounds that may not have opened up the Biblical teaching of social justice and political advocacy, are described in Justice in the ‘Burbs by Will and Lisa Sampson.  It helps tell the story, would be a great ally for your journey.  Our new mail-order pal could have been a character in that book.

With steadfast gentleness he and his wife are raising their daughters to be kids who care about their world.  He and his wife and youth group aren’t described in Tom Sine’s The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, Tom’s recent collection of fabulous examples of all kinds of new ministries, new communities and new visions, but they could be. Again, Ethan isn’t alone–there is a movement among the younger generations, a global story of church renewal linked to cultural awareness and social change;  it is a story Sine tells well.  As I write, I’m looking at a lovely drawing Ethan’s very young child did for us, a crayon drawing of what she imagines our bookstore is like (she knows her daddy orders books from us, books like the one by Tom Sine that her family could well be in!).  Other pictures she sold at a showing at their local coffeeshop to raise funds for the needy.  What a fun family to know—new conspirators, indeed!

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I tell you all this so you might pray for us as we try to nurture and influence customers who become friends, readers who become leaders.  And that you, too, might be inspired to continue to ponder in real terms how to creatively live out the ideas and challenges in the books you read.  Knowledge can puff up, the Bible says, and as booksellers we worry, on occasion, if we are just adding to the “words, words, words” problem of a culture weighed down with information overload.  My friend Steve Garber’s fine book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior comes to mind as the best book on this very matter; how does one learn in such a way as to live what one believes, to nurture a worldview as a way of life, for life?  Or, Dennis Hollinger’s fabulous Head, Heart, Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action, which asks how discipleship in the ways of Christlikeness is actually formed.  It is, of course, multi-faceted: a matter at least of content and knowledge, affections and feelings, and actual living and doing.  That is surely one of the most holistic views of faithful learning we’ve seen, and it reminds us to pray for our customers, that they might feel deeply and live faithfully the ideas that they learn in the books we sell.  Watching our friend Ethan from a distance and his leadership in the areas of social concern has been a real privilege as a bookseller.

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life is more.jpgI tell you this, though, for another big reason (finally, the big point): Ethan has released an album of folk-pop songs that have emerged from his journey.  We are pleased to tell you about it, ask that you consider buying it (we’ve got to help him recoup the dough spent in this risky step of audacious faithfulness.)  He really felt God calling to do this, his first recording ever, and it seems to be a Spirit-led event.  He has released this new CD with some of his musician friends, under the mysterious name 5n2.  The album is called Life Is More.  You can visit their website, here.

Life is More is, for starters, one of the most interesting contemporary Christian music concepts in quite a while.  Each song on the CD is inspired by (if not exactly about) a certain ministry/cause/project which Ethan and his youth support.  Any monies raised by selling this disc will support these agencies and the CD liner notes point listeners to the issues and groups behind each song.  What a great idea!

If one is attentive to books like, say, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire you can see the ideas in the songs of Life is More.  The idea that we are to bear the image of God, resto
red to us in Christ, is a theologically underpinning of Ethan’s critique of the ubiquity of corporate branding and the sweatshop economy that supports many multi-national products and their ads.  One doesn’t have to read the anti-globalization handbook No Logo or Sam Van Eman’s Christian critique of advertising, On Earth as it Is In Advertising: Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope to understand the first line of the first song:

I will not your billboard be
Carbon-based commodity
Spinning myths, consuming greed
Oh, I will not your billboard be
Walking ads for all to see

That song alone is worth the price of the recording, if you want to discuss this kind of stuff with a small group, especially a youth group.

Okay, though, let’s say it: I think the line “I will not your billboard be” is clumsy, cheesy even, although my very literate 25 year old disagrees.  The poetic quality of some of these lyrics is a touch sophomoric. Perhaps that is perfect for, uh, sophomores.  (He’s a youth worship leader, recall.)

Life Is More is not great, amazing art; the poetry will not endure like Dylan, Bob or Jacob.  He’s no Bruce Cockburn, he doesn’t turn a phrase like Rich Mullins or Derek Webb, even.

Still.  Life is More is full of heart, big, big heart.  Recorded on a very low budget, raised from friends, it exudes the real indie spirit—not the ultra cool, hipster vibe that corporate media now calls indie.  This is indie, as in no label, truly independent, nearly homemade, indie as in indigenous.  These are songs that emerge from the socio-political and spiritual journey of a local church slowly joining the irresistible revolution.  Cut him a big ‘ol break if it ain’t Bono or Bruce Springsteen.  Nonetheless, this, dear readers, is the real thing, a young musician pouring his heart out doing songs that matter.

Here’s what also marks Life Is More as a real gift to any of us wanting to explore holistic servant faith: there is a free book that comes with the CD which includes a meditation study that explores the themes of each song, a really good Bible study (using The Message and inviting a missional interpretation) and fabulous discussion questions.  This booklet turns a heart felt, social justice-oriented, low-fi, and oh-so-sincere record into a great ministry resource.  Play any song on this disc, do the study, and then pray and think and talk your way into new levels of awareness, care, conviction, and action.  “Head, Heart and Hands” indeed.  Ethan Bryan is a very gifted writer; his powerful stories in the booklet and the specific missional options for involvement are truly top-notch.  (YS, Group, are you listening?)

I’ve suggested that not every song is as artistically rich as many singer-songwriters working these days; it isn’t Iron & Wine or Bill Mallonee.  Yet, there are many wonderful lines, well-developed images, allusive ideas.  It feels very earnest, but not like propaganda.  Lines like “another world is whispering still” linger.  He sings that we are “putting on shoes before God” and it didn’t hit me at first what a reversal of images this is of Moses and the burning bush.  Wow.  Let that one cause you to ponder…

The CD is never mean-spirited or harsh, but it does have a bit of a bite (although not as much as you might think, given how it has been described and its raison d’etre.)  “Jesus of America” mocks the shallow and self-absorbed subculture of American evangelicalism, complete with jabs at praying for parking places, Christ as buddy, and dumb Christian T-shirts (and the commercialization in Christian bookstores!)  And then, this:

Heard he was homeless so we built him a home
Now we can keep him there, everyone knows
He’s got his time and place, when we choose to go
Come follow Jesus of America

Not all of the songs are about social justice or political themes, although several are.  Perhaps the strongest song on the album, with gorgeous, masterful, violin and a haunting female vocalist, is the third track.  One of the agencies/movements he promotes is To Write Love On Her Arm.  You may know the story–just hearing it again often brings tears.  A teen gal who had been cutting herself had a friend write the word “love” on her arm to remind her that she was cared for by others when she was tempted to hurt herself.  The movement—writing love on the skin of a friend who is hurting —has caught on as one small, tender response to cutting, and the movement’s website is powerful.  5n2’s song “Falling” has double meaning: as a song about depression that is a lament, this is a crying out about falling deeper into sadness—“worn out from weeping.”  Yet, the song is finally a witness to hope, “falling in mercy.”  Few CCM hits or worship songs offer contemporary laments.  When 20% of teens will suffer from depression before adulthood and untreated anguish is increasingly manifest in cutting and self-injury, we desperately need songs like this.  If you work with youth, play this song for them, visit  It will be an important experience and generate healing conversations, I am sure. 

From Jars of Clay’s spectacular Blood: Water Mission to the very useful to the Not for Sale campaign, (based on David Batstone’s excellent and powerfully readable book, Not for Sale) to their support of a local transitional housing ministry (Hillcrest, in Independence MO, has won a “best practices” award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness) Ethan and his gang have chosen to highlight some very great organizations.  Life is More points people in fun, musical ways, to ministries that matter, causes which need our advocacy, and a zealous faith that is honest, true, active and alive. 

The music includes some strong, if basic, guitar strumming, a bit of finger-picking, lots of lovely violin, very strong female voices on several tunes, various male singers, usually Ethan.  There is a nice mix of slower ballads and a few feisty upbeat songs with loud drums.  A few could be learned and sung in your youth group, college fellowship or contemporary church settings.  Life is More is not a spectacularly sophisticated release and therein lies its greatest strength: it is authentic, real, indigenous.  God is alive in the community that is served by this fine “fool”, as he likes calling himself.  It comes from a real place, reflects the struggles of a real community, invites us to imagine a better world, shaped by the yearning heart of an innovative and prophetic youth worker and worship leader.  A youth leader and worship leader that reads good books, writes good songs, offers good gifts to the movement of those who are trying to live out the fullness of a subversive, informed, socially-active Kingdom vision. 

I hope you buy Life Is More now, the CD with the free comb-binding study booklet.  Some day, you may hear it again, perhaps recorded with God’s limitless budget, or sung live, with an angel band, in the New Earth, when the tears from these injustices are wiped away.  We may look back in the Kingdom Hall of Fame and remember this little gang from the US mid-West who once gave us this great gift when it was so needed.  This is surely the wind of heaven, the stuff of Earth.  Only $10; study guide included.

songs for a revolution of hope.jpgSongs for a Revolution of Hope: Everything Must Change
Brian McLaren, The Restoration Project & friends

A few years ago, emergent leader and thoughtful theologian and writer Brian McLaren pondered the state of much of contemporary Christian music, especially the praise and worship stuff.  Much is okay, perhaps more than some realize, but it is well known that much is overly sentimental, terribly individualistic, nurturing a passion for some glorious experience of God, without the Biblically-required response of sacrificial service, missional engagement, commitment to culturally reformation.  Brian wrote an open letter to contemporary Christian artists, inviting conversation around themes of new music, good hymnody, seeker songs and songs for an open-ended journey.  The letter, originally published in Worship Leader magazine, encouraged singer-songwriters and worship leaders to create stuff for our listening pleasure and liturgical use, especially as the emergent conversation was increasingly calling for communities who cared about social justice, peacemaking, global concerns.

Many of us, including we here, have been saying this for years.  You may know of my own deep appreciation for the old hymns done anew by Indelible Grace and it is hard to beat the folkie Americana groove of these old Puritan lyrics.  We love stocking and selling ’em, as well as the solo ones by Matthew Smith, their frontman.  As solid and heartfelt as these recordings are, though, rooting listeners (and congregations who use them in public worship) in solid theology, include a space for grief and expression for lament, even these marvelous CDs fail to lead us much into the public ministries of human rights, creation-care, the contemporary struggles for peace and social justice.  There is no doubt that we need worship songs that are Biblically faithful, robust, artful.  And that help us sing together about the concerns of the 21st century.  Brian was right on in his gentle rebuke and his generous invitation to work on this.  He reports that he started hearing from worship song leaders from all over the world.

As you may know, McLaren wrote an book called  Everything Must Change which carried the thrilling subtitle of Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope which is now happily out in paperback!   Informed by his work in Africa, his long standing concerns about creation care, his reading of thoughtful social ethics and analysis of ideology such as that done by neo-Calvinist economist Bob Goudzwaard, and his friendship with Sojourners leader Jim Wallis, and Red Letter Christian Tony Campolo,  McLaren asks, in EMC,  the biggest questions about our time and ponders a faithfully Biblical, Christian response.  We liked the book quite a lot and have been eagerly promoting it as best we can.  Not everyone who has followed the postmodern turn and the emergent movement’s call to reach out to younger, disaffected post-evangelicals have followed Brian in this shift to post-colonial, Kingdom thinking.  Still, it is clear that this conversation about global concerns is central to our time.  His book captured much about the issues of the day and how a Biblically faithful view of the Risen Christ can help free us from the principalities and powers (he calls it a “suicide machine”) and empower us to frame a new story as we work to bring God’s shalom in the face it all.

Thank God for Tracy Howe (of The Restoration Project) and others who took Brian’s call to new music seriously, who partnered with him, then, to create essentially a soundtrack for the book Everything Must Change.  Sung together in his DeepShift EMC tour, the recent album Songs for a Revolution of Hope was written and preformed collaboratively, although is seems that Brian wrote most of the lyrics.  (Did you know he cut an album or two of early CCM back in the 70’s?  No wonder he quotes such good music, like Bruce Cockburn, in most of his books—he is a guitar player and singer-songwriter himself!)

Songs for a Revolution of Hope is a recording that I love.  I have found a few friends that don’t “get it” but I wonder if it is because they don’t quite feel the urgency of the need for new songs, deeper lyrics, songs that address the politics, economics, struggles (personal and social) of our day.  That is, their disinterest in the songs may be connected to their disinterest in the topics, which, of course, is rooted in their mis-reading of the Bible.  Like Ethan Bryan discovered, who I describe in the earlier review, and his Life Is More album, when one reads McLaren and Jim Wallis, Bob Goudzwaard and Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, Desmond Tutu or Wendell Berry, when one “gets” the implications of N.T. Wright’s (and others) understanding of the new creation being birthed in the here and now as Christ’s people serve as salt and light, as we think through the big issues of the day and realize the ways in which Christ’s Kingdom subverts the empires and ideologies of our modern era, we will rediscover in the Bible quite a new worldview. As Brian Mc puts it, we will see a new framing narrative.  If we are living within, and out of, that new narrative, that Biblical story, we will need new songs to inspire and give poetic voice to our new yearnings and new visions of transformational ministry.

And so, Songs for a Revolution of Hope is an album full of confessions, laments, songs of political concern, structural change, poems about creation, about joy and pain and hope.  There are a few tunes to words written in the middle ages (lyrics by Julian of Norwich, for instance, and a great rendering of a classic Saint Francis prayer about creation, with feisty nylon string guitar-work.)  A few are nearly spoken word pieces (think middle-era Bruce Cockburn) and a few are rip-roaring country-folk with rowdy harmonica.  Songs of praise include absolutely orthodox Christology, Trinitarian understandings of God, but are set in the context of our human joys, a good creation tarnished by greed, the call to be new kinds of people.  It is hard to describe this blend of chants and choruses and worshipful ballads, shaped, as they are, by the full-orbed Kingdom dreams of Brian and his musical gang, plotting goodness, as they say.  Check out the chord charts, licensing, and other information at  Learn the songs that cry out the themes of Micah 6:8 or the one that has the powerful ending of multiple voices crying “let your Kingdom come!”   Have fun with “Today” or use “Let’s Confess It” as a creative liturgical confession of sin.

There are criticisms I could make—the Gregorian-like chant used on one song (“Chant”) sounds ethereal and otherworldly and while I suppose I appreciate this nod to tradition, to use that styling for an anti-Gnostic hymn like Colossians 1 seems to distract from the this-worldly power of that wonderful ancient Scripture.  One song verges on agit-prop when it talks about greedy businessmen and politicians who lie to stay in power, as if they all do.  Such cheesy lefty stuff is well intentioned but pate
ntly unhelpful.  (And pu-lease, what is that line in an otherwise gorgeous song, about us being agents of progress?  Progress?  Why not substitute healing, or shalom, or goodness, but anyone who studies the framing narrative of the “suicide machine” knows that from the Enlightenment on, and perhaps before, “progress” was code for humanistic mastery over creation, materialistic, anti-Christian autonomy.  Nowadays, it is the mantra of the neo-cons and the cheerleaders for urban sprawl.)

Still, we can take a few sour notes in an experimental, vital, musically interesting, (and lengthy) recording full of relevant (postmodern?) praise and holistic spiritual yearnings. Half of the CCM-produced corporate worship albums have ridiculous lines, stuff that when we sing it in church I say to myself, “well, I just don’t even believe that.”  Or I hold my nose thinking it means well, but still smells funny.   I do like some of the best of some of the new worship leaders; I love Delirious, for instance, and of course David Crowder; Charlie Hall has some pretty holistic stuff;  I know some folks who really like the new Tommy Walker.  The mellow me likes the new Michael Card collection of old hymns.  But none of those artists are thinking much about social justice, few confess the sins of complicity with a broken social scene.  Songs for a Revolution of Hope with its jazzy moments, its flaming mandolin and occasional fiddle, its spoken word edginess, is the kind of album that, if you let it grow on you, can become a soundtrack to living into the new world Christ is birthing in our midst.

 Like it all or not, this is a must-have for anybody thinking about the role of music in the emergent churches, or how awareness of embodied justice-seeking spirituality can be integrated into contemporary worship music.  Tracy Howe is a true collaborator with Brian on this; she has traveled in the hipster tribal scene like the Enter the Worship Circle folks, knows the rowdy, political band The Psalters and sometimes works with her pals at The Cobalt Season.  Her own records can be found at The Restoration Project.  She, Latino musicians April and Nuc Vega, Harp 46 and a handful of other friends of McLaren are to be thanked and supported for making this experimental project available.  We happily endorse it, highly recommend it.  Please let us know if you want to order some—we have a bunch.  $15

heaven in a nightclup.jpgHeaven in a Nightclub 
William Edgar, Ruth Naomi Floyd, John Patitucci & friends

I have been wanting to tell about this amazing recording for months now, and have simply not felt capable. The live recording Heaven in a NightClub was the brainchild of Hearts & Minds friend Karl Johnson, director of Ithaca’s Chesterton House, a collegiate study center on the campus of Cornell.  It was Karl’s dream to put together an evening of serious jazz performance in a classy New York city club, complete with some conversations about the meaning of it all, set in the (largely unspoken, but hinted at) context of a reformed Biblical worldview, the show illustrating the call to be culture-makers and culture-redeemers.  The vision was amazing, really;  solid and something with which we, here, of course, would resonate.  That we were asked to sell books at the concert made it, well, heaven in a nightclub.  What a gig.

The evening went off flawlessly; the hall was splendid, the acoustics rich, folks of all kinds showed up, music was played, God was honored.  What some don’t know, though, was that the whole evening was recorded, and a flawless double disc has been released by the Chesteron House.  It is a fund-raiser for their Christian study center there at Cornell, and is a great example of the kind of thoughtful elan that Karl represents.  Thanks be to God.

Here’s what I can tell you.  The host for the evening (who does not appear on the album) was Andy Crouch, whose wonderful, important, if a bit controversial, hardcover book, Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling will come out in the summer of ’08 on InterVarsity Press.  (As a classical pianist himself, Andy was a great emcee, even a bit of a symbol for those with eyes to see, of the evening’s overall hopes and perspective.  Doing this kind of stuff—hosting an informative jazz show in Christ’s name–is part of what we the people of God should be about!)

The main jazzman pianist for the show was Westminster Seminary professor, writer, theologian, and cultural critic, Dr. William Edgar.  Anyone who has heard Bill lecture–say, at the annual Jonathan Edwards Institute conferences—-know that he plays a very mean piano, all styles, but mostly jazz, ragtime, blues, stride, and such.  Man, can that guy play; he insists it is most a hobby, an avocation for a stuffy Calvinist seminary prof.  Well, he sure tickles the ivories like a master, and his knowledge of the music, its heart and soul, gives him an extra bit of insight: I am confident that Bill knows and feels what this music is about.  He is talented with the chops, and he is solidly immersed in the story the music tells, the story of which it is a part.  That came out just remarkably as he explains the songs, tells anecdotes to introduce them, reminds the listeners of the point of jazz, gospel, blues.  A-men.  As the amazing book by Dr. Jeremy Begbie puts it, this is Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music.  The weighty and beautiful book, by the way, cites Bill Edgar.

The bass player for the evening was the world-renowned, Grammy-award winning John Patitucci.  Anybody who follows instrumental music or the contemporary jazz scene knows Patitucci.  (That he is a PCA deacon may not be as well known…his pastor is a Hearts & Minds friend so we feel somehow distantly connected ourselves, happy to know this famous artist is a brother in Christ.)  I clearly am not a jazz connoisseur, and am even less aware of the intricacies of the electric or upright bass; I might even admit I’m not fond of any overstatement of the instrument.  But holy moly, when Edgar sets him up for his requisite solo, he just blazes, just plays the most amazing dark and smooth and deep notes.  The audience was stunned, and broke into spontaneous applause that honored this amazing virtuoso.  When Bill jams around the Westminster café, I bet he doesn’t have that kind of award-winning bassist with him.  It makes for a very cool album, with some really, really deep grooves.

Edgar’s jazz improvisations do, though, often have an absolutely stunning female vocalist with him, and the renowned Ruth Naomi Floyd traveled with him to perform in the Heaven in a Nightclub show.  They play together often in the Philly area, and Ms Floyd is very highly regarded as one of the best jazz singers of our time.  In NYC, when she sang, they mostly did jazzed-up versions of old black spirituals.  As Edgar explained the context and importance of these songs, briefly, he sounded like some brilliant Reformed griot, talking of common grace and black theology, drawing on insights as deep as James Wendell Johnson or his contemporary friend Carl Ellis, author of Free at Last?.  Edgar explained the hidden anti-slavery and deeply spiritual meanings of many of the old  tunes, and showed how, in reworking them into a jazz setting, th
ey kept the freedom story alive.  With Ruth belting, breathy and low at times, full-throated obbligato in high register, yet again, scat singing all over the charts, she stole the show.  To hear this African American treasure singing with Dr. Edgar, Christian author and theologian, jamming the keys to keep up, my, oh my, oh my.

Of course there was a sax player—-and what a jazz player he is! Joe Salzano is apparently highly regarded, hails from the old school jazz scene in Rochester, and has played with tons of famous headliners (like Joe Sample!) Man, the cat did some serious blowing. (I’m trying to sound like I know what I’m talkin’ about here…it’s a stretch, I admit, but I’m tellin’ ya the dude testified on that thing.)  I cannot presume to tell you what was good about his horn work, only that it was powerful and an excellent edition to the combo (it was not in the foreground, usually, though, and a bit understated, I think.)  Salzano has quite a testimony, himself, and was a vital part of the event.

Heaven in a Nightclub is a rare recording of a rare summer evening, educational, inspiring, and tons of fun—it moved some tears and was called “beyond spectacular” by one participant.  If you don’t like jazz much, or don’t own much traditional African American music (older spirituals, say) this is a must-have addition for a well-balanced CD collection.  If you just want to be blown away by God’s presence in a jazzy show, if you like the idea of relating faith and the arts, if you want to support even the idea of this great project, please order one.  I am confident it will be a blessing to somebody you know, and a good and faithful witness, a great piece of collaboration and improvisation.  Not a bad theme for a project that implies that one can find God’s sacred presence, yes, even in a New York nightclub, eh?  $24.99 (double CD)

A final, sad note (not an inappropriate closing remark for a recording that traces the sad history of African Americans and the role of blues and jazz.  The album is dedicated to a dear friend of ours, a good colleague of Chesterton House, Christian Anible, who died last year of cancer.  Christian worked in ministry with grad students and faculty at Cornell, was a guitarist himself, a rare PCA peace activist.  Many miss him, and the last time he and I spoke, we talked about this upcoming project.  I am glad that his name is mentioned in the liner notes.)  The proceeds carry on the work of the Chesterton House, their new collaboration with the CCO, and, in this way, carries on the spirit of Christian’s work.  Thanks.

April review at the monthly column: Spiritual formation

typewriter.jpgNear the end of April, I did a blog post announcing some wonderful new books on spirituality, such as the new Richard Foster, a new Brian McLaren (the first in the Ancient Practices series), a new one on praying the daily offices by Robert Benson, and a similiar, fabulous one on being attentive to God throughout the day by Leighton Ford. There were some blog discount specials offered, too, as I recall. 

 I promised I would describe these fantastic, rich books a bit more in an upcoming monthly column, and I realize I’ve never directed you to that long piece, naming other books and reviewing some other new ones, too (like the new John Eldridge—betchaya want to know what I say about that, now, doncha?)  Check it all out, here. I trust it will be good for your soul.

By the way, this week, I’ve read more carefully the most recent Gary Thomas, called The Beautiful Fight: Surrendering to the Transforming Presence of God Every Day Your Life (Zondervan; $14.95) (the title is a
nod to an Orthodox phrase, actually.) This was just fabulous and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. As usual, Thomas show he is ecumenical and widely read, and yet utterly reliable theologically, pleasantly written with lots of moving, faith-filled stories.  Four stars, that one.  I read it along side good, challenging, stuff by
Dallas Willard (I’m listening to Renovation of the Heart on CD, too) and the very useful and wide-ranging, really smart book that I call “spirituality as worldview formation”, Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life by Kyle Leeson Strobel (Baker; $14.99.)  I didn’t mention these in the April column, since they aren’t brand new, but they would have fit in nicely.

And this, just in today, so obviously not listed–but I think I will have to blog about it eventually:Sacred Chaos: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life You Have (IVP; $15.)  In the review article I mention the Formatio line of books which IVP has released, and this is the latest in that imprint.  Of it, Gary Thomas writes, “Sacred Chaos is a sacred gem…her best work yet, a tour de force of real-life spirituality.”

Even as you read my remarks about formation, prayer and the inner life, perhaps you will pray for us.  In the last few days, we’ve be asked by customers to assembly recommendations on everything from thoughtful books about the gnostic and alternative “gospels” to serious and Christian resource on domestic violence.  One customer had a terrible tragedy befall a young college age friend, another asked for help with how to help a young believer develop interests in stuff other than the rapture.  Never a dull moment, here, and we feel like we are often in over our heads, suggesting books that are, thankfully, wiser than we.  Pray for our staff, our family, our customers.  Thanks to one and all for supporting good books and good bookstores.  Don’t forget to read that April column.  The May on will be up soon, and it will be interesting!

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313  717-246-3333

Brand New: The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John M. Frame

We had a thrilling time in Pittsburgh, selling the very thoughtful, accessible and nicely written New York Times best-seller, A Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism,
at the author appearance with Rev. Tim Keller.  I hope you read our
last post about him, and followed some of the good links.  If you
wanted to hear his presentation, here is a podcast video version of one that, I’m guessing, was very similar, done in Berkley California.

We still have some of these for sale for $20 if anybody needs to order any this week (while supplies last.) 

Carnegie Music Hall was certainly one of the most ornate locations in
which I’ve ever had the privilege of selling books. Even though the
lecture attracted causally dressed college students and working class
pastors alongside the well-heeled from Pittsburgh elite circles, it was
a thoroughly classy evening, with  Keller’s literate presentation a
perfect fit for the thoughtful crowd in that elegant setting.  We thank
the CCO for allowing us to be
the bookseller, and thank the Kellers for their friendliness to us as
we worked the gig.  After packing up and running some errands we eat a
very late night meal with Derek & Scott, I ended up arriving home
just before the sun came up Friday morning.  Whew.

doctrine of the christian life.jpgWhat
an extra thrill, then, to see that the UPS guy has just brought a big
stack of a thick new book, the long-awaited and magisterial third
volume in John M. Frame’s “Theology of Lordship” series.  Entitled The Doctrine of the Christian Life,
(P& R) this weighs in at over 1000 pages and sells for $45.95.  It
is classic Frame at it’s best, I’m told, with rave, rave, rave reviews
from serious Reformed writers, ethicists and Biblical scholars (like
Richard L. Pratt and P. Andrew Sandlin.)  As therapist David Powlison
puts it, “Frame sets forth God’s commandments as broad and deep, as
sweetly adaptable to the varieties of human experience.  He shows how
the person, promises, and actions of our redeemer God are always
intrinsic to our wisdom, faith and love.  He sets forth a vision for
the Christian life that, in fact, glorifies the God of glory.”

is a brilliant teacher of ethics, complex and fair and thorough,
utterly sound and faithful to Biblical revelation.  He’s aware of the
disagreements within the broader Christian community, is widely read in
all kinds of literature, and knows post-Reformation Reformed thinking
better than most.  He is trying hard not to capitulate to secularized
categories (conservative, liberal) but is holding up a standard of
radical Christian perspective.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life
may spend more time on methodological questions than typical readers
may wish, and there will be sections some may want to skim through
(skim through a full half, and you still get your money’s worth!) 
Still, the vast amount of material, the lucid account of how decisions
are made and ethics developed, and the deeply pastoral desire to help
folks address relevant contemporary topics makes this the sort of
significant resource that isn’t often published.  Kudos to the
publisher, Presbyterian & Reformed,  for their brave commitment to
such sound thinking, for vital book publishing, and for daring to
release such a massive volume of such serious stuff.  May many find it
worth owning, and may many learn to live out this vision of the
Lordship of Christ, across every sphere of life and culture.
unpacks all of this carefully—exploring what we mean by culture,
explaining various schools of thought about spiritual maturity,
teaching solid stuff about church, world, Kingdom… Sadly, not many
church folk know this kind of material very well, but it is a splendid
example of the renaissance of thoughtful evangelical literature, and it
would be a useful resource to have in church libraries.  (His long and
detailed study of the application of the Ten Commandments is itself for
thorough than many lesser books on the subject. Anybody teaching on
this subject will have to consult this.)  I am not using bookseller
hype when I say this is magisterial;  I am aware that I disagree with
the good doctor on several important matters, but that is just beside
the point.  This book is an amazing contribution to the scholarly field
of Christian living, ethics, and seriously Christian witness in public

One need not have read the previous two, but I thought I’d name them, here.  The first was The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God and the next was The Doctrine of God.  It
is in these seminal texts that he develops his thought about
multi-dimensional knowing, applied, then to our relationship with God.

We are selling this at about 25% off

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313  717.246.3333

Author and pastor Tim Keller to speak in Pittsburgh this week


One of the great pastors and churchman of our time is doubtlessly Rev.Timothy Keller, a PCA church planter who founded Redeemer Church in Manhattan.  Keller is known for his seriously orthodox Reformed theology, his great vision of cultural engagement, their center for encouraging the relation of faith and work, and his creative and persistent support of Christians in the artistic community.  He’s been written up in city magazines in NY and is widely respected among civic and religious groups there.  As he often says, quite nicely on the Christian Vision Project’s Where Faith and Culture Meet DVD curriculum, the Jeremiah 22 passage about “seeking the peace of the city” means not only a concern for urban ministry, for shalom and justice, but for a commitment to a sense of place, to a locale.  His loyalty to the city, to New York City, is as palpable as is his commitment to the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom.

reason for god.jpgKeller released a book this winter that is getting rave reviews in a variety of circles, a book which invites skeptics to examine their doubts and which invites Christian believers to explore doubt with a bit more freedom. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is the title of this book released by the major New York house, Dutton Books ($24.95.)  Some have suggested, with good reason, that it is the Mere Christianity of our day.  These are his responses to some of the most typical objections to faith that he hears in his work in New York, and, as such, is useful for any who may have or hear these kinds of concerns.  It is smart and interesting, and includes many anecdotes and stories of his evangelistic work among the young adult and very multi-cultural tribes in lower Manhattan.

I need not review it here, although it is worthy of considerable review, as it covers so many important topics in apologetics, philosophy,  culture, spirituality, and faith.  We have promoted it since its release last February, and many of our most loyal customers are fans of Keller and the many church plants that have emerged from Redeemer Presbyterian through-out the region.  It is, we are confident, a book that will endure.

We want to announce (and ask for your prayers) that we will be with Rev. Keller at a free lecture in Pittsburgh, this coming Thursday, May 22, 2008.  His event is sponsored by the campus ministry organization of which we are associated, the CCO.  We will set up a book display of Reason for God in the prestigious Carnegie Music Hall and help with an autograph session with Rev. Keller after his speech.  We are thrilled to have this opportunity. Here are the details, if you can make it, or want to tell anyone you know about it.

Want an autographed book?
 We are selling them for $20 and if you give us the name to whom
it is to be made out (by late Wednesday night, please)
 I will try to get “Ëœem autographed for you. 
We can send them, then, signed, sealed, delivered

I have to admit this is a bit dicey.  I will be manning the book table, Keller’s time will be limited, we have to see how supplies last.  Still, I’m thinking it would be a sweet gift for somebody you know, and we just might be able to pull it off.  (If we cannot, if something goes haywire, I will email you back on Friday.) 

Let us know.  Send an email soon; give us the proper spelling of who you want it made out to.  We’ll be in touch.

In the meantime, check out this important and significant spokesperson for creative cultural engagement out of thoughtful, caring, historic, evangelical faith. Pay a visit to the Reason for God website, which includes a nice video clip of Keller talking about the book. Here is a very thorough collection of Keller articles, sermons, news clipping about him, video links and such.  Here is a recent Newsweek story.  That his vision has born such fruit in the city of cynics is a testimony to the substance and fidelity of Redeemer’s approach and we are pleased to commend Keller’s earlier books, one on social ministry (Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road) and a chapter he contributed in a book called Worship By The Book.  Mostly, though, we thank God for his good work in NYC and hope his presentation bears fruit in Pittsburgh.  We hope you enjoy knowing about him, and consider joining us if you can, this Thursday, in Pittsburgh, PA.  It will be an evening to remember.

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313    717.246.3333

The Weight of Story: Prince Caspian

I am sure that many of our readers read and re-read the classic C.S. Lewis essay in the book by the same name, The Weight of Glory.  The clever play on words in this Christianity Today interview with the Producer of the newly opened Narnia movie just took my breath away.  The Weight of Story.  I hope you know enough about Lewis to know that he would happily concur.

Here is an interview, which is very, very nice.  I found it fascinating, less about the story, I suppose, than the making of the movie.  One of the interesting lines was Doug Gresham’s observation that Prince Caspian is, as a book, not as good as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, but the movie ended up better!

inside prince caspian.jpgThere are, of course, oodles of books that have come out about the Caspian story, and many seem to be very good.  We read and reviewed many that came out for the fist Narnia movie three years ago, and some of the same authors have written on this one, now, too. Lyland Ryken, of course, deserves honorable mention, A Readers Guide to Caspian (IVP; $15.00) and Gene Vieth’s is great (The Soul of Prince Caspian published by Cook; $12.99.)   I think I am prepared to say that the best of the lot is Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia which is written by Devin Brown, author of Inside Narnia, both published by Baker. It sells for $12.99 and is a very, very good guide, considered by smart guys like Eric Metaxas, as “wonderful and absolutely necessary.”   It studies Caspian in light of Lewis’ wide body of work, but doesn’t focus on the theology and religious meanings (the way Vieth does [very well] for instance.)  It does close literary work, and, believe it or not, is really, wonderfully enjoyable. (Here is a very thoughtful little review of the book which just might win you over, if you’re understandably reluctant to read a book about a Narnia story.)

Another new Lewis-related book is a real hoot.  One of the very best books of the batch two years ago on Narnia was the one on good and evil in the stories, written by the brillant Robert Verlarde, one which recently has been reissued with a new title, now called, The Heart Of Narnia: Wisdom Virtue and Life Lessons from the Classic Chronicles (Navpress; $12.99.)  But the brand new one that has to be mentioned is a novel-like story of a guy who alledgedly meets Lewis, and chats him up about a whole bunch of stuff.  It is imaginative and insightful, well-written and fun— Conversations With C. S. Lewis: Imaginative Discussions About Life, Christianity and God (IVP; $15.)  It’s no bus ride through hell, mind you, just a playful exploration of what it might be like to get to grill the Oxford don if he wandered into your town nowadays.

Speaking of imaginative work on Lewis, have you heard of the heavy weight scholarly study of Lewis and the symbolism of planets, secret code stuff uniting into coherence all of the Chronicles?  Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward (Oxford University Press; $29.95)  may be the most important new work on Lewis in decades, and while I have no idea about any of it, serious reviewers have paid close attention to the close attention the author pays to cryptic hints. (Stunningly rave reviews from guys like Walter Hooper!)   Read some reviews, at least, or form a study club, if you can find anybody who knows the Chronicles of Narnia well enough to evaulate it all.  Pretty interesting, eh?

But the movie, yes the movie.  Here is the link to the Harper Prince Caspian website, with their nice motto, “Read itprince caspian cover.jpg before you see it.”  Nice trivia games and other good stuff, including trailers for the film and such.  Spread the word.  Read the books, or books about the books.

Here, if you haven’t seen it, is yet another cover;  we have several editions, trade paper size, or rack (smaller, trim) sized ones, some with full color art, colorized work of Bayles, some with the original old black and white drawings, some older covers, and these new vivid ones, done in watercolor.  Happily, no one has messed with the text.  

Brand new Doug Pagitt: A Christianity Worth Believing

Doug Pagitt.jpgHey, with all my connections (yeah, right) in the big publishing world (ha) do you think I could score an advanced copy of Doug Pagitt’s forthcoming book?  I’ve been his pal on Facebook, not to mention in real life, joined up with his promo team, and asked the officials at his otherwise friendly publisher.  But nooooooooooooooo, as Belushi used to say.  No dice.  So it is now released, just came today and I’m not hip like the other hipster reviewers with a leg up.

Maybe it’s bad karma because I harbor a secret dislike for the title, a dislike that is secret no more.  What?  Real, orthodox, ordinary, historic, decent faith, like the kind of my mother and father, ain’t believable?  Maybe Dougie doesn’t know the right people, solid and good and utterly orthodox in belief and lifestyle.

Okay.  Got that off my chest.  I probably wouldn’t have had time to read an advanced copy anyway, and I’m really not that peeved by the title, just wary of an implied jab, which I suppose it may be, of old school faith. Nevertheless, I am very excited it is here, and, provocative title or no, it is gonna be a late night.  I can’t wait to start reading this thing, eager to ponder and dream and hope and probably be convinced that the title is just fine.   I hear it is a bit autobiographical, too, and I love a good testimony.

Anyway, any book with such a great subtitle has to be taken seriously; listen to this: A Christianity Worth
christianity worth believing.gif Believing is Hope-filled, Open-Armed, Alive-and-Well Faith For the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in Us All.  So there ya go,  the new book by one of the leading voices of the open-ended emergent conversation about the nature of faith in our time, pastor of Solomon’s Porch, author of Church Re-Imagined and Preaching Re-Imagined, and an odd little prayer book called Body Prayer (yep, check that out if the sacred-secular dualism weirds you out or if you’ve heard that God somehow dislikes our bodies.)  CWB is for anybody who feels left and or let down.  Excellent.

I like Doug as lot.  He has a little reputation for being a bit of a loose canon, maybe even with a big mouth, albeit one that laughs a lot.  So?  As my friend Vince used to say, “It takes an agitator to get the cloths clean.”  I’ve always found Doug to be a caring gentleman, a fun speaker, an engaged spiritual leader, winsome and sincere. I have no idea what he will say here, but I suspect he’s going to be saying things that need saying; as a pastor of an informal church that invites the mixed up to feel safe and a part of the community, I suspect that the theology he’s doing here will be contextualized to the hurting and disaffected, the needy and, well, left out.  He will say it in creative ways, relish in the calling to make us think, and I am confident he will interact with Scripture.  Maybe he will overstate some things, or understate some things, I don’t know.  I just hope folks give him a chance and that those fearful of this edge of the Body of Christ don’t overstate their critique.  He’s an honest brother, hanging out in the Kingdom of God, offering what Phyllis Tickle says is “emergence Christianity at its clearest and best.” 

Check out Pagitt’s own description of this, his most ambitious book yet, here.  It is a very, very nice introduction to the project, how and why he came to write it, and his awareness of the complexities of it all.  (Just don’t click on the silly corporate links at the end, but come on back here, please.)

So, come on, join me and many others this week in finding time to read this must-read book, to think, pray, ponder, and, if the Spirit uses it to work a change in your heart, you will be that much more passionate and alive, reaching those who perhaps haven’t yet seen a Christianity Worth Believing.  Or for whatever reason have grown sour on faith as they used to know it.   Maybe you’ll give a copy or two away to somebody who needs just this approach.  May God be pleased to use it well.  I am sure nothing would make Doug happier.

A Christianity Worth Believing: Hope-Filled, Open-Armed, Alive-and-Well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in All of Us
  Doug Pagitt (Jossey Bass) $21.95

A Christianity Worth Believing
25% off
Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717.246.3333

David Wells, J. Philip Newell, the Heidelberg Catechism, and Jesus Brand Spirituality

We sold books for several days last week with a great gang of friends, pastors of the Penn SE Conference of the United Church of Christ and I promised them this shout-out.  They are a caring group, kind to me, and fun to be with.  They buy a wide variety of books and although obviously deeply rooted in the ecumenical and mainline denominational context, it is always interesting, even a bit surprising, to see what sells.  The very first customer asked about the brand new release by Gordon-Conwell scholar David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in a Postmodern World (Eerdmans; $25) which looks to be a readable finalization of his remarkable, thorough, serious and culturally-conservative series that began with No Place for Truth and moved to the stunning God in the Wasteland then Losing Our Virtue and concluded—or so we thought—with Above All Earthly Pow’rs, his important, if somber, socio-theological critique of postmodernity’s influence on Christian thinking and living.

The second person, as I recall, bought the new Joyce Rupp book on prayer; the mystical Catholic nun was their speaker last year. It is simply called Prayer and is part of a new series published by Orbis ($10.)  Everywhere we go, you should know, we sell books about spiritual formation, monastic practices, Sabbath and contemplative prayer. 

 Several folks got the brand new J. Philip Newell Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (Jossey-Bass; $19.95.)  We here at BookNotes, of course, love much of celtic spirituality–thank God for it’s affirmation of creation and the cosmic scope of redemption— and read Newell’s stuff joyfully.  I fret about his harsh critique of traditional views of the cross, though, and his quirky appreciation of Palagius, although plead ignorance on the veracity of his perspective.  Some of my UCC pals my senior know much about this and I am glad for good conversations.

The biggest seller was a newly translated edition of the old Heidelberg Catechism, freshly
Heidleburg Catechism.jpg rendered by Lancaster Seminary theologian and all around genius, Lee Barrett III.  Lee has written a very useful introduction, a long chapter explaining why even modern mainline churches ought to pay attention to the role of catechisms and confessional traditions.  It is fine stuff, thoughtful and solid, and, while I’m no linguist, it is said that this is a vast improvement upon the older translations, which were based on odd German editions.   Thanks to the UCCs and their Pilgrim Press for releasing this little gem…

One of the books I announced to them, that had just arrived here that very day, is a book that I’ve long awaited.  My good friend and Nelson sales rep assured me it would be one I’d appreciate.  Wordsmith, publishing whiz and spiritual genius herself, Phyllis Tickle, wrote an absolutely stunning introduction, noting that the sheer beauty of the core of this book—Jesus Himself—moved her to tears.  When it finally arrived, all I could do was hold it up, babble about it and read them a quote from the back about a guy who left the Christian faith, but wondered, after having read the book, if he would have left the church if his pastor sounded anything like this.

jesus brand spirituality.jpgI refer to the fabulous and generous new book by Ken Wilson, entitled Jesus Brand Spirituality (Nelson; $19.99)  I was sure these mostly liberal UCC leaders would resonate with the way in which this charismatic (from the Ann Arbor Vineyard) pastor sounded out a deep fidelity to Christ and the complexities of the best of the Christian tradition, and within various sorts of Christian churches, while distancing himself from fundamentalism, the religious right, and all kinds of simplistic or sloganeering religiousity. I read them the first sentence, where Wilson declares, “Jesus wants His religion back” and told them his open-minded thoughtfulness reminded me of the sorts of ministries I gather they are about.

The book, happily, is not just another (nowadays fairly common) critique of the shallowness of evangelical certitudes or the meanness of some of the religious right or yet another call to be open and in conversation as we emerge into new ideas.  It is a thoughtful and deeply engaging and mature study of the ways in which we can approach Jesus, how to make sense of life in light of His ways, about how the best of four streams within Christianity can unite to help create a passionate, faithful and yet grace-filled, life-giving spirituality.  (The four dimensions are, by the way, the  active, the contemplative, the Biblical and the communal.) Wilson himself is very widely read, with great and interesting footnotes (where does a Vineyard pastor buy these kinds of books, commonplace stuff here at H&M but rare in most evangelical stores?)  He is obviously really smart and a clear, inspired writer. He tells good stories, some moving, some understated, gentle.  I can see why Tickle–a woman with a good eye for good words if ever there was one—raved so about it. 

Jesus Brand Spirituality is ideal for any mainline person who wants to make sure their liberal theology doesn’t go off the tracks, who wants to stay close to Jesus and the earliest Biblical truths, even if they are not quite where the more traditionalist conservatives are.  It is equally helpful for anyone committed to historic Christian orthodoxy, but who may sense that the recent cultural conflict, dogmatism, moralism and overlays of the evangelical subculture may have obscured some of the clearest elements of the faith.  And—please don’t miss this–it is also a fabulous read for anyone who is a skeptic or seeker; at times, it seems like it is written precisely for those who just are willing to get “one step closer to knowing.”

 Yes, it is a U2 song title, and Wilson wisely cites it.  This book really is a beautiful invitation.  Join the journey, find out more about our connectedness, to God, one another and, indeed, all created things.  The book is nearly a pilgrimage, to be read and considered as we take new steps toward Christ and into Christ’s Kingdom.  Join this ecumenically-minded evangelical pastor (the only Vineyard pastor to have been had hands laid upon him by a bishop and assistant to Pope John Paul II) who himself has a degree in science and is passionate about how faith and the best contemporary thinking can not only co-exist, but feed each other into deeper and complimentary ways of living out vibrant, authentic and solid Christian spirituality.  No matter where you are on your spiritual journey, or with what denomination or tradition you stand, I am confident this is a book that will challenge, stretch, inspire and bless you.  The excellent discussion questions will be very useful for book clubs and they are obviously created with great sensitivity for the cynic, skeptic or searcher.

As Tickle puts it in the foreword,

The faith we Christians claim has been so dented and chipped and discolored by the centuries, so institutionalized and codified an
d doctrinalized, so written upon and then so overwritten into palimpsest, that there are few Christian who still can discern the contours of the original.  There are fewer still who know, and can persuasively teach, that Christianity was only and always just the container, the wrapping paper being used in shipment through the centuries of time.  It is the Jesus beyond dent or chip or discoloring that is the beauty.

For those that might wonder about the title, Wilson plays with the “brand” language a bit but is aware that it can been seen as a crass capitulation to consumerism (the very stuff David Wells rails against.)  Don’t be put off by it as he isn’t cheesy or crass and it isn’t really a substantial aspect of his thought.

In the beginning, he does write,

I realize that the word brand can be used in a negative sense, as shorthand for the crass attempt to “sell” Jesus in a consumer culture.  But there are two positive senses in which Jesus is a kind of a brand.  First, like a brand-name product, Jesus has a distinct as opposed to a generic identity.  Jesus brand spirituality is not a generic spirituality concerned with processes that can support any number of outcomes.  It’s about forming certain kinds of persons, capable of certain kinds of deeds, creating a certain kind of world: persons, deeds, and a world infused by love, properly understood.

No, this isn’t a feel-good, universalist call to generic spirituality; it is a call to the Biblical Christ and His church and the specific story of His redemptive plan in the world.  This “love, properly understood” is the subject of one whole chapter, and it is very, very good stuff.  There is so much good here, it is hard to describe in a simple post like this.
Here is an interview with him, and a video, too, which is pretty great.   Here is his blog, onestepcloser.

Wilson notes that copyright infringement of brands is commonplace, and it
is the duty of the real brand owner to do exercise proprietary
rights. Throughout church history there have been those who have infringed upon the Jesus way, distorted it for other purposes.  “We can only hope,” Wilson writes, “that Jesus will continue
to challenge every effort to hijack his brand, because he is, and
always will be, the main attraction.”

We are pleased to announce this good new book to you, a book that seems similar, yet a cut above, many that are raising these kinds of questions these days.  We think it is truly useful, and truly enjoyable.  Jesus Brand Spirituality is a beautiful book, and the claim is true: Jesus Wants His Religion Back.  May this book help it be so.

Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back  Ken Wilson (Nelson) $19.99


Jesus Brand Spirituality
$5.00 off
Order Here

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313        717.246.3333

Hearts & Minds on the road again: Bookselling with Brian McLaren, Ravi Zacharius, Art Lindsley

brian mclaren.jpg

ravi pic.jpg
Even when it entails surreal all-nighters and renting vehicles for stalwart friends who meet us at 3 am to transfer boxes of books, the demanding work of lugging boxes out to conferences and setting up displays for events remains a thrill—rewarding and usually fun, once the brain-draining prep work is done.  Arranging tables, draping and taping fabric, building shelves and laying out the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of titles is daunting, but when the customers tell us how pleased they are to find good books—stories of the dearth of thoughtful Christian literature in local bookstores and church libraries abound—it is all worth it.

As you can guess, we enjoy mixing it up, selling books at all kinds of events, and feel like it is right and good to support those groups and ministries that seek us out.  In most cases, we feel so honored to play a small role in the events of folks we’ve come to respect and admire.  For instance, this weekend, we sold books at the Everything Must Change event with Brian McLaren at the Latino Pastoral Action Center in the Bronx, New York.  Raising deep questions about the shifts of perspective needed to address with Biblical fidelity the most urgent issues of the day—poverty, environmental degradation, war—is the focus of this tour, and partnering with this renowned, New York-based, Spirit-filled, politically savvy urban ministry this time was a real treat. (Here is a brief essay about Rev. Ray Rivera and amazing work.)  Thanks to McLaren and the good people at the LPAC, and the Latino emergent cohort there for allowing us to serve them by selling books.  Thanks to my guys Scott, Damen and Bill for manning the display with gusto, talking up Hearts & Minds, and making books available that folk might not otherwise see.

We’ve written here often about the Biblical call to do justice, to be involved in transforming institutions that are broken, about how the imaginations of church folk should be unleashed to forge social innovations; we believe that the Biblical worldview and our best theological traditions call us to this.  We are thrilled that Brian and his Everything Must Change tour team are helping stoke these fires, and we hope you bookmark the EMC interactive website the tour has generated.   If you haven’t picked up Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and a Revolution of Hope (Nelson; $21.99) yet, you really should.  It usually sells for $21.99 but we have it here for $20.

At the same time this weekend, Beth and I and some other helpers were selling books at a huge event in Falls Church VA where the C.S. Lewis Institute hosted the internationally renowned apologist and Christian thinker Ravi Zacharius.  (Do check out his website. What a rich and thoughtful resource.)  We’ve sold books for Ravi before and it was a true honor to be with him again.  We provided oodles of his own thoughtful books and many more about apologetics, evangelism, cultural engagement, theology and serious spiritual formation (not to mention quite a bit of Lewis, books about Lewis and all things Narnia.)

In his impeccable style of oration (tinged with that charming Indian accent) Ravi told powerful stories of seekers who’ve come to Christ, skeptics who have become convinced of the truth of the gospel, conversations he is having with persons of various religious views, all over the world.  He told of death threats he gets (from radical Muslim groups mostly) and his compassion and faith in the face of very taxing speaking settings.  It was delightful to hear of his ability to hobnob with the very richest and most powerful and how he is at home, often it seems, with the very poor, with common people from Bangalore to Singapore.  He shared astounding stories of his lectures in the halls of world-class, post-Christian academia (his degree from Cambridge doesn’t hurt) and to congresses and parliaments of developing countries in Africa and Asia.  When the atheist leadership of Albania asked him to make a case for the truth of the Christian worldview for a group of scholars and museum directors, they offered him a special treat—white gloves to handle the gold-painted 4th century parchment of the gospel written by John Chrystostom.  (It was recovered in an archeological dig there in the 900s!)  He opened to the page in Matthew where a woman pours extravagant perfume over Christ and the prophecy is given that her story will be proclaimed far and wide.  Indeed.

End of Reason.jpgDr. Zacharias’ latest book is a cogent critique of the new atheists, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins et al., entitled The End of Reason: Responding to the New Atheists (Zondervan; $14.99.)  The theme of his lectures, though, was taken from the subtitle of the recent volume of apologetic essays written by his RZM staff.  That excellent book is called Beyond Opinion (Nelson; $24.94) and the subtitle is this: Living the Faith We Defend. 

Living the faith we defend.  In an age of increasing secularization and anti-Christian sentiment among the intellectual elites, we must know how to present the truth of the gospel in ways that are clear, compelling, and consistent with Biblical revelation.  But, yes, yes, dear gentleman Ravi begged us, we must live it.  The truths we teach in public must be true in our private lives as well.  As he eloquently writes in his recent book The Grand Weaver (Zondervan; $18.99), God is at work weaving a coherent and deep purpose in our lives, and although we must learn to be articulate in our faith, we must first learn to see God’s own hand shaping us, molding and maturing us.  Our evangelism must be rooted in good doctrine and sophisticated understanding but it even more must be lived in community with authenticity and integrity.

 I know Ravi and Brian would not see eye to eye on every matter of doctrine and it seems they have very different understandings of the complex blessings and curses of postmodernity.  They stand together, though, I am sure, in holding up the message of Christ’s cross as an entry into the Kingdom of grace where true life and lasting social change can be found.  Our books, we hope, helped both of their events carry forth their unique take on Christian ministry.  It was a privilege to serve them both.

Love, Ultimate Apologetic.jpgOh, by the way.  I will tell you more later, but one book we took to both events is the brand spanking new work by Hearts & Minds friend and CSLI resident scholar, Art Lindsley, a book that uses the great Francis Schaeffer line that love is the ”
final apologetic.”   Although Art’s approach is clearly more aligned with the rigorous and conservative Dr. Z, and perhaps suspicious of any movement that shifts away from historic orthodoxy on core doctrinal matters, his basic premise is one that is consistent with the best impulses of nearly every Christian reform movement, left, right or center, namely, that our deepest call to faith and repentance must be spoken in love.  “By this all will know”¦” Jesus said.  After two important InterVarsity Press books on apologetics, True Truth ($15) and C.S. Lewis’ Case for Christ ($16), Lindsley’s new book underscores the theme raised in slightly different accents by both speakers this weekend, Brian and Ravi:  we must live out the faith we defend, and we do that in love.

I will write more soon about the unique insights of this very thought-provoking, substantive book—not only are there few books on love,  there are none that I know of that does what this one does.  For now, know that we premiered it at both events this weekend, and we have it here in stock at the shop.  Love: The Ultimate Apologetic, The Heart of Christian Witness  (IVP) $15.

The Psalms of Lament, and other emotions

One of the events we do each year, setting up a large display of books, is the conference of the Eastern region of APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.)  Your denomination, if you have one, probably has a similar  professional association for encouragement, training and networking of educators.  If your faith tradition has church educators—heck, even if you have Sunday school teachers—you should befriend them.  Judging from our experiences, and certainly at EAPCE each year, these are stellar folks, creative, caring, forward-thinking, working (hard, at too little pay) to make things happen in the churches.  From training nursery care-givers to recruiting Sunday school teachers, from doing small group training to organizing service-learning and short-term mission trips, educators are truly “in the trenches.”  They buy books for their own spiritual formation and tons of kids books.  We spent about 10 hours setting up a large display full of stuff on everything from programming for special needs kids to spiritual formation of teenagers, from intergenerational curriculum to picture books about cultural diversity and God’s love for all the peoples of the Earth.  These last few days were exhilarating as we talked about the most artful illustrations in children’s Bibles to the theology of suffering in the Psalms.

The main speaker was Dr. Beth Tanner who teaches Old Testament at New Brunswick seminary andPsalms for Today.jpg has been working hard with some other women Hebrew scholars on the forthcoming Psalm’s volume in the prestigious NICOT commentary series for Eerdmans.  It will be a while yet, but she does have a delightful, new, introductory-level book, The Psalms for Today (Westminister/John Knox; $14.95.)  Very useful for small group study or adult classes. 

There were good and serious conversations about the Psalms of lament.  Many of these dear educators had pretty weird stories of people in the church who were not permitted to share grief or express anguish about God’s seeming lack of care.  My goodness, a third of the Psalms have lament and rage and I sort of thought our churches had gotten over this overblown sense of propriety and fake faith;  to shame those who express doubt or pain is just wrong.

Walter Brueggemann wrote a classic reflection on the Psalms years ago, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg; $18),  one that Tanner drew upon and which reminds us that there is a shape to the Psalter:  there are Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation, and then, mostly after exile, Psalms of re-orientation.  This “good–bad–better” flow naturally reminds us of the bigger theme of the entire Bible, the schema of the Story, “creation-fall-redemption.”  That the Psalms can take us through these realities, give voice to these emotions, frame our experience in faithful and true ways is a great benefit of spending much time in the book of Psalms. The publisher Wipf & Stock recently re-issued Walt’s smaller book Praying the Psalms, too ($14.)  Very nice.

I got back from APCE late last night, thinking about the Psalms of lament, the church’s occasional failure to be a safe space of honest conversation and authentic sharing.  Today, I heard a first hand story of a very unpleasant episode where a fella unloaded a host a Bible verses on a very hurting guy, offering discouragement and what seemed like judgment on this guy—a combat vet—who had shared his pain and frustrations.  None of the verses this guy cited included the lament Psalms.  So, it looks like we do need to remind God’s people of the Psalms of lament, the ways in which God invites (through these holy poems) us to share our deepest stuff.  It sort of reminds me of Bill Hybel’s recent book title Holy Discontent

For someone new to this notion, I have noted here before Michael Card’s  A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in The Lost Language of Lament (NavPress; $13.99)and his The Hidden Face of God: Finding the Missing Door to the Father Through Lament (NavPress; $12.99.)  Both are fabulous examples of how lament is not only permitted in the Bible, but a way in which we can come to know the deep care of a God who can take our cries of anguish. Highly recommended!  Here is a review of the CD that Card did to give voice to his own sorrow, sort of a soundtrack for the book.  Let us know if you want us to ship you one.

The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender & Tremper Longman (NavPress; $14) is another amazing book, co-authored by a psychologist and an Old Testament scholar.  The subtitle reads “How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God” and it a study of the various emotions of the Bible.  There are chapters on “righteous anger” and “redemptive despair” and ” constructive fear” (even as they are contrasted with in appropriate versions of these emotional state. I’ve read everything these two guys have written together and it is all good.

Sally Brown and Patrick Miller compiled an extraordinary volume on the laments of the Palms and how to used them in preaching and counseling and in daily life,  simply called Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew & Public Square  (Westminster/John Knox; $24.)  A bit academic, rooted in the most thoughtful scholarship and long involvement in mainline church ministry.

feel.jpgSpeaking of emotions, we just got the new book by Matthew Elliott called Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart (Tyndale; $13.99)  Some reviewers have called it “the definitive book on the proper God-given place for emotions in our lives.”  This really looks good—Elliott has a PhD in New Testament from Aberdeen and works in publishing in the developing world.  (You can visit his website here.)

I didn’t get to share these titles with my APCE friends, although Dr. Tanner drove them to the Psalms.  If we all remain rooted in the practices of reading, studying, teaching, praying and singing the Psalter, I am sure we will deepen in our emotional lives, find hope and courage in hard times.  And we will “see” life in light of these grand themes of orientation/disorientation/re-orientation.