Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber (IVP) ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

visions banner.jpgI just love hearing stories of how churches have special liturgies or ceremonies to honor people’s work lives.  Of course, some do this during the Labor Day season; more than once I’ve helped organize litanies as people brought to the front of the church items from their workplace. 

moveable feast tt.jpgThe great new book that I mentioned last week, A Moveable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days (ImaginationPlus; $12.00) by our friend Terry Timm, offers a whimsical, smart, and inspiring theology of worship that realizes and develops the inherent relationship between corporate Sunday worship and our various offices and tasks to which we are called on weekdays. (In fact, there is a wonderful appendix that offers an entire service around the themes of work, with worship aids, prayers and litanies and such.) It might be worthwhile Labor Day meditation for some of you.

Mainline denominational churches, it seems, were hot on this topic twenty or thirty years ago (with good books by standard denominational publishers.) Now, evangelicals have been the most thoughtful and — to use the overused word  — robust in promoting a uniquely Christian view of work, based on a mature theology of calling and vocation, drawing on themes such as common grace, public faith, the renewal of institutions, the dignity of labor, and the common good. From Os Guinness’ seminal and still essential, eloquent volume The Call: Finding and Fulfilling Your Life’s Purpose (Thomas Nelson; $17.99) to the exceptionally insightful book co-written by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Dutton; $16.00), we have seen in the last decade or so a remarkable consensus of the importance of themes of calling and vocation, leading to intentional reflection on the meaning of labor and the spiritual practices needed to be faithful and fruitful in the work-world.

I have written here about why all this is so vital and exciting for us (check out that live James Taylor video doing “Millworker” this Labor Day!) Here is a piece I wrote about this topic, inspired after a forum on faith & work here in our area with Steve Garber. Here is a piece I wrote after one of the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith & Work annual conference. (I hope you find the rumination and reviews helpful, but the special sale announced there is over.)

Here is a large bibliography on vocation and work that I did a few years ago which some have found helpful. It is one of the most-visted pages at our website, I gather.

visions of vocation.jpgThrough many, many of these conversations and in the development of new ministries, non-profits, think-tanks and publications from coast to coast, there has been one person, our good friend Steve Garber, author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00; our sale price = $12.80.) 

Steve has encouraged city-wide organizations helping professionals think and serve faithfully in their varied professions, and has helped seminaries develop curriculum to equip pastors to think about their priestly work among workers. I have written before how he has been influential in my own life,and my small connection to his earlier book.  He has been influential, and especially among our friends in Pittsburgh who run the Jubilee conference for college students. I know there are other strategic leaders and authors, but Steve has nurtured relationships and conversations around themes of caring for God’s world, taking up our places in various spheres and careers, that have been transformative and consequential. He has been showing up behind the scenes in church basements and coffee shops, workshop rooms, or retreat center spaces for years, inviting people to deeper discipleship, thoughtful, relevant orthodoxy, and an “all of life redeemed” sort of wholistic Kingdom vision.

Garber’s reputation as a mature thinker, eloquent speaker and author, and a caring friend andfabric of f.jpg teacher grew nation-wide after the publication of his much-acclaimed book about the years beyond higher education called The Fabric of Faithfulnness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior (IVP; $17.00; our sale price = $13.60) In that book he uses pop culture and heady philosophers and cultural critics to ask the huge questions of those trying to figure out the meaning of their lives: what does it mean to know something, and how can I keep on, with Christian convictions lived out with character and integrity, in community with friends. I has been very positively reviewed and is esteemed by very reliable authors and leaders. The new Visions of Vocation book has echoes of similiar themes, and in some ways it is a sequel. Yet, it seems more accessible, and will surely attract a broader audience. I think VoV is a good place to start if you haven’t worked through FoF.

So, again, this new book — which we helped launch into the world at Jubilee in February — is called Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. I had the great privilege of reading an early manuscript and so knew how very good the book was before it was released. We confidently announced as we took pre-orders last winter that it would doubtlessly be the 2014 “Book of the Year” and I have no reason, now more than a half a year later, to back down from that big claim. There are some fantastic books that have come out this year, but this truly is the most eloquent, wise, interesting, stimulating, and valuable book I’ve read in years. It surely will be the Hearts & Minds Book of the Year.

VoV speaks volumes of Steve’s long obedience in the same direction as he pursues his own calling to be a raconteur and traveling professor and friend to many, helping folks “weave together believe and behavior” as they consider their own tasks and callings and places to serve.

You know that famous Buechner quote about our vocations being that place where “your deepvocation - buechner quote.jpg gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”? Garber agrees, it seems, that “neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do” and he helps people explore that, day by day by day and although he doesn’t say so, Visions of Vocation could be seen as an extended mediation on that potent quote.

I could ramble for way too long about the merits of this exceptional book, or citing the rave, rave views on the cover and inside pages (wow!)  but instead I will be relatively focused, naming four things I like about it, things that I think will benefit you as a serious reader. 


If you are familiar with the language we often use here — the integration of faith and learning, aVoV.jpg wholistic Kingdom vision, the unfolding story of God’s redeeming work in the world, taking faith into public life — you will know that Garber’s worldview and vision are consistent with (in fact has helped shape) our perspective here. I hope you know I am sincere when I say that if you appreciate our work at the bookstore, our curating of books at events, and these BookNotes reviews, you should get this book!

That is the first thing. Steve, without using much of the breathy rhetoric and lingo to which I so often resort, stands in the tradition(s) that have helped evangelicals learn to speak so passionately about cultural engagement, social change, and a long-term vision of living with integrity “in the world but not of it.” He reads Kuyper, Al Wolters, N.T. Wright, writes for Comment magazine, The High Calling blog and more. Steve is humble, increasingly an older, capable friend to rising leaders, trusted because he himself has been guided by some of the best evangelical leaders of the previous generation, those that have held together solid theology, deep piety and prayer, and a non-partisan, sensible, radical Christian view of life and times. From Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness to J.I. Packer and John Stott, Steve has been informed by lasting friendships with important leaders.

And, he reads widely, carefully, delightfully, even, awed, often, by good lines from Dickens and Marx, Walker Percy and Camus, Chaim Potok and Wendell Berry, the contemporary novels of Thomas Wolfe and classics like Victor Hugo and, always, the poetry of Steve Turner. For those who want to know these things, he often cites Church of South India missionary Leslie Newbigin and Jewish Biblical scholar Abraham Heschel. I love a guy who quotes Dutch Calvinist Geerhardus Vos and the famous British Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Lutheran intellectual Jean Bethke Elshtain and the poetry of Madeline L’Engle.

So, Garber gets it. God cares about all of life, we must move from thinking about worldviews to embodying restorative ways of life, and we do that over a lifetime of being shaped by worship and Word, reading and talking, slowly and carefully, drinking deeply from the deepest wells, renewed so that we can be the people God calls us to be in this creation being restored.


Secondly, not only does Steve’s book call us to this wide-as-life, creation-regained worldview that pushes us to discern our vocations and callings and take up our places in the work God gives us to do, but he does this heavy lifting with eloquence and real tenderness.  He is an excellent writer, knowing how to develop a theme with quotes and stories, Scripture and song, drawing on older authors and the latest sociology, pacing things just so with some sophisticated analysis and some charming prose.

For those who just love a good book, this quite simply is one of the best.

There are many books these days written with whimsy and upbeat energy. These are cool and fun and commendable, especially for younger readers or those who need the hip banter and jokes to keep their interest. But these titles and their authors, I’m afraid, will not last, and will not guide us very deeply, not for a lifetime. On the other hand, I hardly have to say that dense, stodgy works that are dusty and dry don’t help many of us very much, either.  

GSteve Garber Jubilee headshot.jpgarber strikes a balance, with his gifted style, his deep knowledge, his mature guidance, and his very stimulating stories, richly told. He delightfully cites movies, mentions meetings with pop icons and rock stars. U2, Mumford & Sons, Dave Matthews Band, are quoted. He exegetes poems and rock songs and films, always offering exceptional insight, gifted as he is at doing these things. He doesn’t just cite a star so he can seem hip to a demographic, or because some editor asked him to lighten up. Steve is one of the most naturally gifted discerners of popular culture who can speak with profundity and intellectual acumen, keeping a foot properly planted in what some call the real world. 

So that’s the second thing: he not only gets the big picture of the Biblically-saturated mind and the way toward a reformingly Christian perspective, he writes really well, striking a rare balance between serious insight and great stories. I truly believe this to be one of the best written non-fiction books of applied theology I’ve seen in a long while. I know that Steve poured his heart into this manuscript for years and years, not rushing to complete it, letting his life and words simmer so they sounded out truth truly and nicely.


Thirdly, besides the perspective and the prose: I think this book strikes an amazing tone of joy and sorrow, of idealism and realism, of honesty and hope. Books like this are all too rare. Many religious books are glib, happy-clappy, or superficial in their positivity. (There are also those that are so harsh and hard that, while beneficial, can be almost too somber or angry, creating agitation in the reader, not wisdom and hope.) So the third strength of this book is how it handles the hard stuff of our lives and our world.

Actually, this is a major theme of Visions of Vocation. That is, it is not just another rumination on the doctrine of calling or the joy of a purpose driven life or a rousing call to make a difference. It isn’t mostly about labor and the work-world, even though that is a large part of the consulting and teaching he does through his remarkable Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture. If it has “vocation” in the title, but isn’t a book mostly about callings and careers, exactly, what then does he mean by the title?

I think it is mostly this: we are, indeed, called by a covenant-making God who initiates redemptive work in our lives, recruiting us for God’s own purposes in the world. That invitation — that call to us — comes with a large consequence: like Jesus, the incarnate One who models this very calling to serve God, to pray and live “thy Kingdom come, on Earth,” we are called to behold the world, and realize its deep sorrow. This is our vocation: to care for the world as God does, to love, to take upon ourselves some of the aches of our time. If we are not to grow jaded or cynical or apathetic or pessimistic, we will simply have to figure out how to love well despite disappointment. Although not a cheap “self help” book,VoV will help you do that. 

I recall years ago, in a story that is hinted at inVoV, Steve shared how when he and his wife were first married, and she got to know him more intimately, privately, learning of his deepest flaws and foibles, he wondered if, knowing who he really is, could she continue to love him. That is a very fundamental question for us all, isn’t it?  Once we are known, we wonder if people will still love us as much as they did before they saw us as the broken, stupid sinners that we are.  And what kind of a person can do that?

And so it goes, as we are called to care about the world, to serve God in the world, to be Christ’s agents of change in the culture, to take up our own place in the choir, even as we find out that it isn’t as easy as we thought. It is messy. Change the world? I can hardly change myVan Gogh sad man.jpg attitude. Make a difference in politics or business or media or medicine? I can hardly make a difference in my own skin or my own family. It’s a bumpy ride, this journey to live well in a screwy world, and Garber thinks we need a strong and lasting sense of vocation to withstand the tendencies to grow cold, to care less, to give up. We need to internalize deep and solid and fruitful visions of vocation, knowing just what we are called to do and be. 

So, this book, unlike almost any other, gets us to think about what we most care about, how we choose to live, in light of various images and ideas about our calling into the world. Can we know the world, and still care?  Can we care and not burn out? Can our relationship with the rabbi Jesus help us shed tears like He did, to flare up in righteous anger as He did, in holiness and mercy, to reach out and heal hurts, in some way, as he did? Can we be Christ-like image-bearers even in our public lives, in the spheres of influence where we spend our dollars and our days?

As Steve asks, more than once in this profound book, knowing what I know, what will I do?

That question really is the heart of the book.

I mentioned that he tells good stories, and that they aren’t cheap little inspirational nuggets gathered from some writer’s anthology of neat illustrations. Steve walks alongside people — medical researchers stationed in Africa, movies stars stationed in LA, college students stationed in Ivy Leagues colleges, mothers pondering the art and vocation of caring for families — and the stories he tells of them are inspiring and, frankly, somehow extraordinarily meaningful. He has a way of underscoring and illuminating the dignity and meaning of the struggles of these brave folks to serve God where they are, even in their own brokenness. I cannot put my finger on it, but Garber sees into the holy reality of these friends of his, and tells their stories in ways that capture dignity and purpose.

From his pals in Jars of Clay (and their Blood:Water Mission) to his friend Hans who started anb-wm.jpg environmentally-sensitive burger chain using organic ingredients and grass-fed cattle to a Korean friend who works at the World Bank to a Lawrence, Kansas, carpenter guy, a former student of his who now owns his own small construction business, rebuilding homes with integrity, stories are shared as examples of people who are intentional about their live’s callings and the fidelity needed in that arena or responsibility. In each case, these folks have stepped into a way of doing their work that starts with deep knowing. He describes one as a person with “a seriousness about things that matter and a softness of heart.”

One story he briefly tells is of a school teacher who struggled with the deep implications for education found in C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. Another is of a white South African, now in the states, who tells of his journey towards political action for public justice by his regular reading of the Psalms; yet another friend he tells us about is an Anglican priest who is recasting his vision of ministry, learning to be a pastor to people who take their work and public life seriously. Another couple has a gift of hospitality, serving good wine with good laughter among friends and guests. 

Of them, Steve writes, “People who keep at their callings for a lifetime are always people who suffer. The world is too hard and life too broken for it to be otherwise. And that is true for Deirdre and Claudius.” After describing some of their illnesses and surgeries and hardships, Garber continues, “But they live with gladness and singleness of heart, which at the end of the day is the best that any of us can do.”

As he reflects on this couple and the witness of their lives, he writes,

Their life for others is a window into the meaning of common grace for the common good. From the hospitality of their table to the way they live in their neighborhood to the work that is theirs in the worlds of law and psychology, they have chosen vocations that give coherence, making sense of what they believe about God and the human condition, and have unfolded habits of heart that are a grace to the watching world.


I suppose this captures the fourth reason I think Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good is such a stellar book, a wise gift to us all, a work well worth reading. It offers an exceptional idea, really: that the Christian life is to be offered for the watching world, as a grace, as he puts it. It may not come as a surprise that Garber has been influential among those who made the popular For the Life of the World DVDs that I have raved about here. The title of that video series is an answer to the question “What is our salvation for?” Interesting, isn’t it?

“A grace for the watching world”, he says. 

Igrce&peace.jpg know there is much written these days about a gospel-centered life, about the doctrine of grace, both as it helps us understand the work of Christ’s cross (for our justification and sanctification) and as a style of nonjudgmental living, a gracious shift away from legalism. Yes, yes, we need gospel-drenched teachings. But Garber talks also about what some call “common grace” which is to say that God (in patience and mercy) upholds the creation for all creatures under the sun, and all of life somehow can point us towards the truth of the God who is there, and the sustainable abundance of life as it was meant to be. We can happily live in the real world, spending our ordinary days, in our ordinary occupations, knowing of God’s presence we can offer grace to a needy world. Perhaps our gift will be mundane; in our day to day we will learn to incarnate goodness, showing forth lives that embody meaning. In other words, living well for the sake of the world, because of God, makes sense, unfolds the meaning of our days. I think that may be close to what Garber means by a call to coherence — to craft lives that makes sense because the gospel is true. 

We take up our human calling to care and we find ourselves complicit and responsible; therein lies the beauty and the joy. We can, in Christ’s power, take steps to reverse the curse, to live for better things, to actually do what we know. Words can become flesh. 

Garber writes,

The Hebrew vision that echoes across the centuries through culture offers a different way to be human, where knowing becomes doing. And the Christian vision incarnates this conviction, telling the story of the Word become flesh, and of words becoming flesh in and through our vocations.  This vision calls us to know and to care about what we know; in fact to love what we know. And, strange grace that it is, it becomes possible to know without becoming disillusioned, to know the worst and to still love – not only people, but the world in which we live. We will never do that perfectly, only proximately, at our very best. But in this now-but-not-yet- moment in history, that is enough.

Visions-of-Vocation Van G.jpgHere, then, a quick summary. 

FOUR GOOD REASONS TO BUY Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. And we have it at 20% off, too, a reason I hardly need to mention.

1.   1.    It is one more very good example of a growing body of literature about cultural engagement, about serving God in the world, especially in our work, and this big picture of how to imagine the Kingdom coming — moving from worldview to way of life — is timely, important, and offers insights into the best way to live out daily discipleship. If you like books about a Christian worldview (and I hope you do!) this is great. If, however, you don’t resonant with that word, this book is really great — I don’t recall that he uses the W word at all. Steve’s ecumenical, orthodox vision is broad and important, a transforming vision.

2.     2.  Visions of Vocation is very well written, eloquent and inspiring, without being cheap or glib. The stories are well-told, offering important clues into lives well-lived, but aren’t so dramatic or historic that we cannot relate. This is a beautifully-crafted book, profound and realistic, even as it is written with a seriousness of vision and an exceptional command of language. The sentences are good, the paragraphs and pages sometimes sublime. One reviewer said “love and vulnerability exudes from every page.” I think the artful cover even hints at this: this is a beautifully-done book to own and to share.

3.     3.  The heart of VoV, like FoF before it, is profound and vital, and something we just don’t hear much: not only are we invited to be agents of Kingdom transformation, serving Christ in all areas of life, but to do this will inevitably cause us to suffer. In fact, the deepest meaning of our human-ness is to know how to be responsible in a complex, broken world. Can we love well, even knowing what we know? Will we resist the tendency to sell out, burn out, or to grow cynical or apathetic? I predict that 20 years from now, some people will report that the reading of this book was one thing that helped them keep the faith, in part because it was honest about the human condition and the state of the world. To say it is realistic about our pain and the agonies of the world is a deep, good thing, and sets it apart, even making it urgent.

4.    Visions… points us to coherence, to a meaningful life that makes sense, a way of being that is sane and good and full of faith, hope and love. That is, it is an uncommon grace to us; God will use it to inspire you as you realize how you serve the common good. As you care about the world you will thereby find ultimate meaning: loving God and loving neighbor. Put simply, I am sure this rich book will help you discover a depth of meaning and significant coherence to the story of your life and will help you flourish, yes, for the sake of the world.

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You are invited to “Just In From Iraq: An Evening with Author and Activist Jeremy Courtney” as he speaks about his book Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time – Friday, September 5th, 2014 at First Presbyterian Church YORK, PA

Preemtive Love poster.jpgOver the years, we have hosted some famous people and
important authors here at the shop, or in partnership with nearby
churches.  We are always a bit
surprised, if truth be told, that folks of the renown of Jim Wallis, Os
Guinness, Ruth Haley Barton, David Kinnaman, Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, Margot
Starbuck, or Tom Wright would show up here with us in south-central Pennsylvania.
We are always honored and grateful; it is a real encouragement to Beth and me
and our staff when writers visit. Of course it helps book sales when an
important author appears (which, for a struggling indie shop like ours, is
sorely needed.) Best of all, it is a delight for our customers.

For instance,
we know it will be a fantastic time for fans when we host novelist Beverly
Lewis on September 11, 2014 to sign her brand new Amish tale, The River.

My heart is especially full, though, as we prepare for what
feels like the most important event we’ve ever done, hosting a young author (on Friday, September 5th) that
has accomplished more in the last decade than most people have in a lifetime and
who has written a spectacularly thrilling book about it. 

Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
(Howard Books) $24.00 hardback; $15.00 paperback both editions include full-color pictures.

Jeremy Courtney is the author of Preemptive
Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
andpreemptive love.jpg founder of the Preemptive
Love Coalition
. Both in his book and in person he has a way of bringing together important concerns of ours —
peace-making, multi-culturalism, global justice, interfaith dialogue, gospel-centered
nonviolence, Christian mission — in an accessible way as he tells the story of
his advocacy for sick children in war-torn Iraq. The “one heart at a time”
subtitle alludes to his work arranging pediatric heart surgery for children in
Iraq, but is also a large, large metaphor.

Jeremy and his wife Jessica are
people who are often guided by their hearts, their big hearts, and the book,
laden with political history and medical facts and edge-of-your-seat drama as
critical and controversial surgeries are done in dangerous locations such as
Kurdistan and Fallujah, Mosul and Kirkuk (the legendary burial site of the biblical Daniel) nevertheless uses beautifully a true language of the heart. They are
self-aware and honest about their deepest longings, their dreams, their faith,
their foibles and fears; they live out their desire to trust others, to do what
they think is right, and live out that line from Bill Mallonee’s song about
Vincent van Gogh, “sew your heart on to your sleeve and let the chips

And let the chips fall, they do. Preemptive Love tells the
amazing story of the consequences of “loving first and asking questions later.”
It is a way of life that is inspiring, even probing, for any
reader who longs to live with integrity — do you trust God, put the needs of others first, hedge your bets, hold grudges, maneuver for power, shade the
truth, live in fear, failing to heed the hints of the Spirit?  Although this book tells the tales of
stuff most of us will never experience, the confessional nature, about their
experiences exploring the efficacy of love, applies to us all.

Can love win,
after all?

TJeremy aand baby.jpghis way of life, being intentional about being open to God
and grace, living in mercy and love, is also a way of life that leads to adventure, if
not some serious trouble. In their
desire to save the lives of kids with heart disease — Iraq has one of the highest
amounts of pediatric heart disease anywhere in the world! — they have to navigate
broken medical systems, deal with the results of bombings and embargoes (and the subsequent damage to
literal infrastructure and on the communal psyche of many people groups) not to
mention religious bigotry and fears. They face down donors that will give money to help “Arabs only” or “Kurds only.” They tried to build trust with fearful Iraqi
parents who have been convinced by certain mullahs that working with the
Preemptive Love Coalition and allowing Israeli doctors to help them is just a plot
to bring harm and dishonor. Alas, on the other side of the country, they’ve
faced parents whose religious leaders similarly forbid them, proud Kurds, to
send their children with the Coalition to hospitals in the land of their former
brutal enemies, the Turks.

Every chapter has its own drama, and it deepens and grows
more complex as the story unfolds. We eventually learn that Jeremy and Jessica
have been under surveillance — the betrayal that led to their offices and home
and bedroom being bugged is as stunning as anything you’d read in a spy novel —
and when radical Islamists issued a fatwa
(death threat) against their team (and anyone who cooperated with them)
they knew they had to evaluate if this medical mission was worth the dangers. 

Few of us have faced such challenges in our own efforts and
ministries, naturally.  But we can
learn much from these kinds of stories, and it is spectacular to hear of meetings
with sheikhs and imams and mullahs, of sharing the gospel of peace with angry
tribal leaders and offering hope to Turkmen, Yazidis, Muslims, Christians and
Jews alike. The book describes vivid internal organizational debates among the small, young staff of the
Preemptive Love Coalition about all kids or remarkable matters.  Should they serve the children of known terrorists, what
expenses might be spared (or justified) as they triage the backlog of tens of
thousands of needed surgeries. They nearly exhaust themselves trying hard
to be fair, learning how to be wise and just in such perplexing,
anguishing situations, with literal lives at stake.

(Like most places in the
world, those with money and power seem to be able to get themselves to the
front of waiting lines, pushing their own agendas and demands; when this is
combined with ethnic and religious hostilities, you can see that Jeremy and his
team were literally in the middle of life and death situations, sometimes
connected to significant back-stories of infamous people, with cultural/political
ramifications.) The ethical dilemmas and emotional tensions faced almost every
day among their teams makes for a gripping read. 

I couldn’t be more glad that we named Preemptive Love one of
our Hearts & Minds “Best Books of 2013” and am confident that you will
thoroughly enjoy reading it if you haven’t yet.


iraqi food.jpgIt is fun, too, to read about the feasts and meals, complete with local
coffees, chai teas and other regional delicacies. What
a culture that can be so hospitable and relational, full of gift-giving,
charitable customs, and tangy food: eggplant and olives and humus and roasted
lamb and sometimes tobacco. The book tells of all sorts of celebrations as they hold
meetings and share long conversations about God and chai teacups.jpgpeace and hope
and almost always the growing crisis of a particular sick baby or handicapped child. (And how weird it is, reading about being with sheikhs and clerics
embracing Jeremy with kisses and hand-holding — “Brother Jeremy, you are a true
man of God!” — only to realize that some of these same new friends are also in
league with people who want to kill him.) 
Again, this book is fascinating to read as we learn about Kurdish klash shoes and fenjan cups of Arab coffee and jamming with the three-stringed
Persian tar. What fun!

And yet, let us be clear: Preemptive Love is a book
mostly about following God’s leading to be agents of healing and transformation,
reversing centuries of hatred and mistrust by providing life-saving medical
health to dying Iraqi children and showing gracious love to all.

The back-stories and description of
these surgeries — the drama of Arab families trusting Israelidoctor_image.jpg doctors, of
Kurdish families submitting to the help of doctors in Turkey (from the region
that had committed genocide against them), of cooperating with all manner of
governmental agencies and mid-level autocrats and diplomatic rules, fighting
for money and visas and permits, always against the ticking clock of failing hearts — are
surprisingly moving. This
narrative is very well-written, with colorful language and vivid storytelling.
The pacing is just right as the book moves from the medical details of a
certain heart procedure to a father of a dying child bringing a bomb into
Jeremy’s office, from the struggle to procure funding for this or that child’s
surgery to the politics and drama of families learning to trust, to forgive, to
love, even after serious conflict or missteps.


For instance, read this account of a surprising move by an
important sheikh whose own baby was dying:

We made haste to get Hussein’s gutsy initiative to send baby
Noor to surgery under way. A group from Baghdad helped with logistics; a church
in South Carolina gave generously. The day of her departure, we spoke one last
time with her family by phone. Sheikh Hussein was intoning words of comfort in
Arabic as they sat in the airport waiting for their flight to take them out of
the country; they would be the first in the history of their entire family to
leave Iraq. I’m certain the sheikh’s smile was felt as much as it was heard on
the receiving end of the line. Suddenly, he said, “Okay, one second…,” as he
passed the phone to me.

Putting the phone to my ear in the home of this cleric where
I had never seen a woman, I felt like I was breaking some taboo as I heard
Noor’s mother on the other end whispering something to the person beside her in
Arabic. Turning her face back to the mouthpiece, she took a leap across the
Great Gulf of Language in an effort to get to me and convey her gratitude:

“Mister… my child,” she said haltingly, “good… is good. You
save my child.”

Her daughter’s name, Noor, means “light,” and is often
construed to mean “God’s light” or “light that guides.” And here she was this fifteen
month-old little baby girl in the Baghdad airport, illuminating the way into a
future where God’s light, unlike all the other luminaries by which we live,
does not cast a dark shadow across our ethnicity, geography, of history. Light
was driving back darkness. The obviousness of it all only made it more
profound, as though someone has planned it that way so we would all get the

I handed the phone back to Sheikh Hussein, where he received
a final barrage of blessings for the both of us and hung up, fearful of what
still lay ahead, but overjoyed that we had risked it and taken the plunge
together. With the fatwa still looming in the distance, it seemed like the
history of a people hanged in the balance.

And who’s to say it didn’t? How many hearts were really
healed that day?


What does it mean to be loving in all things, to be merciful
and just and decent, even to one’s own enemies? Should you, for instance, re-hire a
staff person who have betrayed you? Should you confront someone you think is lying to
you, or give them the benefit of the doubt, if even to allow him or her to save
face? He only once quotes the classic spiritual book The
Imitation of Christ,
but we gather that this is an extraordinary life
experiment in being formed in the ways of Jesus.

But yet, Courtney is quick to point out that this is not the story
of a do-gooder Westerner helping backward, hostile Arabs. In fact, he reminds readers of “the countless times in this story in
which Iraqis acted first, offering protection, intervening, or taking a risk to
welcome us in, even though we were often cast as their enemies.”

Such experiences have given Jeremy opportunities to learn much, and we will be better forjc red tie.jpg having read his story. What does it take to tell a poor peasant mother that her
first born has died on the operating table? (Indeed, what does a young
Christian idealist like Jeremy know about repatriating the body of a child
who did not survive surgery back to a proper Muslim funeral, from a plane out of Turkey
to a pick-up truck heading to a desert village?) And how does all of this
effect the marriage (and parenting) of this young Christian couple, once from
Texas, now far away from family and friends and church?  Preemptive Love, we come to realize, is
not just a strategy for peacemaking in a war-torn society or the ethic for a
medical mission, it is also the way of life for couples and children, offering
counter-intuitive wisdom for friendship and fundraising.

Is it possible that preemptive love wins in this broken world, full of broken people like the
unlikely cast of characters in this amazing book?  Among people like you and me?  Can we actually step into a faraway country (as Jeremy
sometimes calls the beloved community of the reign of God)?  If so, this book and its witness of
healing hearts will surely help show us the way.

preemptive love.jpgSo, yes, this fascinating, page-turning book, so full of
edge-of-your-seat, page-turning drama, upbeat stories, intrigue and glory and
tragedy and insight, informative politics and gospel truth, is a winner.  The paperback is due out any day now, and
we are the first bookstore to help Jeremy launch it.

We are honored to sponsor this event and not unaware of the
gravitas of the moment; as Iraq explodes and the world watches in horror, we
are grateful for the opportunity to host a conversation with Jeremy and
Jessica, home for a bit as they make new contacts, raise money and
promote their hope that preemptive love is the way of the future.

Does all of this make a lasting difference, besides the obvious
difference in the lives of the kids and their families who are healed?  I love the last line of this paragraph,
written about Arab families who, against religious and political pressures,
allowed the Coalition to arrange surgery for their kids by traveling to Israel.

Thankfully, four of the families had the courage to stand
their ground in the face of intimidation and moved forward with their scheduled
surgeries in Israel. Like those who had gone before them, they found the
doctors and nurses and social workers in Israel to be wonderful people who were
full of kindness and love, absolutely nothing like the horror stories they had
heard. The mullah’s nightmare – and that of his friends in parliament – had
just come true: of these thousands of
children whose lives we would save, some would one day carry the scars on their
chest to law school and on to parliament, where a new story of preemptive love
would be told to the people of Iraq which would turn over a new page with the
people of Israel

Preemtive Love poster.jpg


If you are able, please join us for a public lecture, “Just
in from Iraq: An Evening with Author and Activist Jeremy Courtney” at First
Presbyterian Church, 225 East Market Street, York, PA at 7:00 PM.  There’s free parking in a lot behind the church, which is in downtown York.  After his presentation, there will be
time for questions, healthy discussion, and a reception (with some appropriate
refreshments, although we won’t sit on the floor or smoke hookah.)  Who knows, maybe even some music. Preemptive
books will be available for purchase in hardback or paperback, and
Jeremy will gladly autograph copies. 
We think it will be a splendid, informative and encouraging

Please help us spread the
word — if you know anyone anywhere near central Pennsylvania, this will be an
amazing opportunity.

If you are unable to attend and want us to get an
autographed copy of the book, just let us know. Tell us if you want hardback or paperback, and to whom it should be inscribed and we will try
our best to make it happen. It
will be a very full night, and we trust we will have copies left available for this, but customers present with us there will naturally get first dibs.

 * * *

Enjoy this short excerpt, from the closing pages of Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

Where you are sitting in the world as you finish this story
may influence how you interpret my idea of preemptive love. If you are in the
States, you may think first in terms of American kindness toward enemy Iraqis.
If you are in Iraq, however, you may be more quick to see the countless times
in this story in which Iraqis acted first, offering protection, intervening, or
taking a risk to welcome us in, even though we were often cast as their
enemies. The truth is, preemptive love does not begin in the heart of humanity.
Neither Americans or Iraqis are inherently better at loving first than the
other. We are all tribal, programmed to protect our own,

Instead, preemptive love originates in the heart of God. The
one who made the universe and holds everything in it – the one to whom Muslims,
Christians, and Jews are all ostensibly pointing – is the first and the last
enemy lover. And in the end, it is not our love that overcomes hate at all.  It is God’s…  Preemptive Love is who God is…

What Jess and I learned in that broken-down neighborhood so
many years ago is still true today: we don’t need power to live in peace.
Because even though fear, hatred, and violence conspire to unmake the world,
preemptive love unmakes violence. Preemptive love fulfills the fears of
fundamentalist fatwas, making children love their enemies. And preemptive love
overcomes fear.

And before all is said and done, the far country is the
near-and-now country for all who enter the marathon, lean on love, and make it
to the finish line


Preemptive Love:
Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

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


I don’t usually just swipe other blogs for our BookNotes
reviews, but, as they say,tom in our back yard.jpg there’s a first time for everything.  I found
these descriptions of these brand new editions of older Tom Wright books in an Eerdmans Publishing blog to be very helpful. And so, he says a bit sheepishly…

And, hey, the new cover designs themselves deserve some celebration!  They are quite striking.  So, I borrowed heavily from the
Eerdmans blog — EerdWord, it’s called — which describes seven older Wright books,
each freshly adorned with all new covers.

                                                                                                                                                                                           Tom Wright speaking in our backyard, Spring 2013.

We ourselves have had
a long relationship with Wm. B. Eerdmans Co. The first “sales rep” I ever
worked with, I’m eerdmans.jpgsure, was an Eerdmans one, who helped us learn a bit about the book biz. And they’ve published some of our perennial best sellers — When the Kings Come Marching In by Rich Mouw, Creation Regained by Al Wolters, and authors such as Marva Dawn, Eugene Peterson, Ken Bailey, Nicholas Woltersdorff, and so many more.

And, yes, early N.T. Wright, whose early paperbacks thrilled us, back before he was so internationally acclaimed.

So, we’re happy to share
the news of these redesigned and reissued affordable paperbacks. I hope you like uniform
covers and sets of books like this as much as I do.  I think these are
very handsome, and we’re glad for the time and care that Eerdmans put
into this project.

A few of these books with new covers are
now actually back in print after having been unavailable for a while.
 Three big cheers for that!

However, please see the note at the end: we
have some of the older editions which we have to clear out to make room for the new ones.  We have these with the original Eerdmans cover designs at a really good
discount, while supplies last.  More on that, below.

But first, here, with permission, a bit from a recent Eerd-word blog.

He’s a brilliant scholar. A respected church leader. A best-selling author.

N. T. Wright is . . . well, according to Christianity Today’s April cover story (“Surprised by N.T. Wright”):

People who are asked to write
about N. T. Wright may find they quickly run out of superlatives. He is
the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the
most important apologist for the Christian faith since C. S. Lewis. He
has written the most extensive series of popular commentaries on the New
Testament since William Barclay. And, in case three careers sound like
too few, he is also a church leader, having served as Bishop of Durham,
England, before his current teaching post at the University of St.
Andrews in Scotland.

But perhaps the most significant
praise of all: When Wright speaks, preaches, or writes, folks say they
see Jesus, and lives are transformed.

at Eerdmans have enjoyed our long friendship with Wright — and a
fruitful publishing partnership that, back in the 1990s, resulted in a
number of excellent books.

A few of those books are still
easy to find today. Others, though, have followed the natural life cycle
of print publications, moving gradually into our print on demand program or even — gasp! — going out of print entirely.

But not anymore. 

This summer, Eerdmans will be releasing fresh new editions of seven modern-day classics by N. T. Wright.

And so, EerdWord first
announced these new covers. (Actually, I was privy to them previously as I even got to
have a bit of input on some earlier suggested drafts.) These are, I
think, very cool.


We just got these in last week and have them at a BookNotes 20% off discount. Just
click on the order link below to go to our certified secure order form

But, first, back to Eerdmans helpful descriptions.  My own brief comments are in italics.

Ffollowing jesus n.jpgollowing Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Eerdmans) $14.00 our price = $11.20

first outlines the essential messages of six major New Testament books —
Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, and Revelation — looking in
particular at their portrayal of Jesus and what he accom
plished in his
sacrificial death. In the second part of the book Wright tak
es six key
New Testament themes — resurrection, rebirth, temptation, hell, heaven,
and new life in a new world — and considers their significance for the
lives of present-day disciples.

 I often tell people who do not want one of his thick, scholarly works that this is one of the best books with which to be
introduced to Wright’s good Bible study. This is fantastic, about Jesus, about other New Testament writers, and about the call to contemporary whole-life discipleship. I very
highly recommend it.

Wwho was jesus n.jpgho Was Jesus? (Eerdmans) $14.00 our price = $11.20

Written from the standpoint of professional biblical scholarship yet assuming no prior knowledge of the subject, Who Was Jesus? shows convincingly that much can be gained from a rigorous historical assessment of what the Gospels say about Jesus.

This is very good
for anyone studying the authors who contribute to the “quest for the
historical Jesus and who question the reliability of the gospel

Tcrown and the fire.jpghe Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit (Eerdmans) $14.00 our price = $11.20

long-popular book contains thirteen powerful meditations and sermons
challenging readers to reassess their own responses to Jesus’ death, his
resurrection, and the continuing influence of his Spirit on those who
follow him today

You most likely haven’t seen this, so it is a must
for any NT Wright fan.  I think it is very strong. He hasn’t written that much on the Holy Spirit,
so this is very, very important for his oeuvre.

Tlord and his prayer n.jpghe Lord and His Prayer (Eerdmans) $11.00
our price = $8.80

In a
series of pastoral reflections, N. T. Wright explores how the Lord’s
Prayer sums up Jesus’ own agenda within his first-century setting.  
the Lord’s Prayer clause by clause, Wright locates this prayer within
the historical life and work of Jesus and allows the prayer’s devotional
application to grow out of its historical context. He demonstrates how
grasping the Lord’s Prayer in its original setting can be the starting
point for a fresh understanding of Christian spirituality and the life
of prayer.

Yes! Amen! Loaded with Kingdom vision, this makes a great study for a prayer group or any small group.

Ffor all god's worth n.jpgor All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Eerdmans)  $14.00 our price = $11.20

This insightful book by N. T. Wright explores both the meaning and the results of worship. Based firmly on sensitive and creative readings of the biblical text, For All God’s Worth is an inspiring call for renewal in the worship and witness of today’s church.

this is one of my all time favorites, reflecting well on traditional
(corporate) worship as well as the worship we offer, twenty-four/seven, even in our
jobs and vocations. An early call to relate Sunday and Monday, worship
and work. I highly recommend it.

Wwhat saint paul really said nn.jpghat Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity (Eerdmans) $18.00
our price = $14.40

leads readers through current scholarly discussions of Paul and gives a
concise account of the actual contribution Paul made to the birth of
Christianity. Wright offers a critique of the argument that claims that
it was Paul who founded Christianity and shows clearly that Paul was not
“the founder of Christianity” but was the faithful witness and herald
of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and the risen Lord of the
Christian faith.

Wright has written a lot lately about Paul, much of
it deep and the books expensive. Buy this one, for sure, to get the major themes
of his recent thinking, and how he compares to other critical scholars.  Very impressive.

Tway of the lord.jpghe Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today (Eerdmans) $14.00  our price = $11.20

this inspirational and informative guidebook for Christian
pilgrims, Wright explores all the sites that travelers usually visit on a
tour of the Holy Land, explaining not only what is to be seen but also
the context of faith that makes these sites, and the events associated
with them, famous around the world. By weaving together Old and New
Testament stories, poetry, and original insights, Wright helps readers
enter imaginatively into each scene. He also sprinkles his narratives
with reflections on the nature of pilgrimage generally and with
discussion of vital contemporary issues related to the Holy Land.  This
is another that is not well known, under-appreciated, and about which
we can rejoice that it is now once again available.  Yes, it is about
places, a theology of pilgrimage. Brilliant and inspirational!

We do hope you like these new covers — I happen to like the use of modern
art, suggesting something classy, but yet contemporary, enduring like
good art, but a little edgy.  And thank goodness that we have such
readable books from such a scholar.  We’re very glad to announce them. 
Don’t forget, these handsome new editions are all 20% off.

HALF OFF ORIGINAL COVERS while supplies last.for all god's worth old.jpg

And now, the sale on the older covers. We have a limited supply of a few which we are sellingwhat st paul old.jpg for BETTER THAN HALF PRICE.  What Saint Paul Really Said usually sells for $17 and we have ’em at just $8.  For All God’s Worth used to sell for $13 and we have ’em for just $6. Who Was Jesus, The Lord and His Prayer and The Way of the Lord are also, while supplies last, just $6. Nice, eh?

Here is what would be helpful: if you are ordering the older editions, please note that.  And then you should tell us, if we are out of the older editions, if you are willing to take the new ones.  If you only want them if they are super cheap, let us know that, please, so we can honor your intentions and send just the right ones.   


20% off

(except for super sale older editions, priced as mentioned)
order here

takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

                                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313

Good Books to Follow the FLOW — 20% OFF

We are glad to welcome some new friends to Hearts & Minds – perhaps you’ll become one of our tribe, our gang, our fam. We are grateful for those who read BookNotes (you can subscribe so that the reviews come right to your inbox) and we are very appreciative of those who send orders our way.  Some say that they really like the mix of titles we suggest, our curated lists and unique inventory here at the shop, and we are glad for customers who become friends, friends who become almost like family. Sometimes we joke, saying we give new meaning to the idea of a family business! Anyway, thanks for caring, about books, about God’s work in the world, about Christian literature, and about our work.  Our team here couldn’t do this without writers, publishers, readers, and book-buyers.  We think this kind of reading can make a difference, for God’s glory and our world’s repair.

Wfield guide FLOW.pnghich leads me to mention yet once again the vivid For the Life of the World DVDs and the newly published Field Guide study books ($9.99. on sale here for $7.99.) If you decide to use this video curriculum with a small group or class this fall, you really should have a few on hand, especially for those who many not be able to easily access the on-line version.  It really is a good participant’s resource, full color, nice paper, great discussion questions, background stuff, packed with ideas to maximize your use of the films.  I hope you are thinking about calling some folks to watch this together this fall, if you haven’t yet.  I love it and the conversations you will have around it will be provocative and interesting, I’m sure.

For now, I hope you are enjoying the good days of summer, maybe using this time to reflect on the goodness ofSurprised by Hope-b.jpg God’s world, the ways in which Christ’s glorious atoning work brings redemption to all areas of life, and how we can live faithfully in every zone of life and society with real hope. I’ve recently re-read a little of N.T. Wright’s classic Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $24.99) and have again recommended the DVDs by the same name (Zondervan; $36.99 for the six session DVD and a participants guide.)

The For the Life of the World DVD – which is abbreviated FLOW — is a good follow up for those who have used that down-to-Earth hope-ster stuff from the always-eloquent Tom Wright. Or, vice-versa: Surprised by Hope would be a great DVD curriculum to follow up your use of FLOW.  There really are some theological connections, for those with eyes to see…


Here is a handful of resources that seem to me to be useful follow-ups to at least some of the themes of the For the Life of the World DVD.  If you want to live well in the world, aware of the abundant, orderly economies of creation and the creation-wide scope and consequences of redemption, you may need some help. To wit, some practical and inspiring resources to help you in your journey into a life in-and-for the world.  Enjoy.

Aastonished.jpgstonished: Recapturing the Wonder, Awe, and Mystery of Life with God  Mike Erre (Cook) $14.99  One of the great themes in FLOW is that God made a good world, the various economies and spheres are themselves wondrous, and we are invited to a world of wonder. The interview in episode 6 with Mako Fujimura may seem to be about the value of the arts, but the deeper theme is that while most of us are not artists, we are all able to nurture the eyes to see and to stand in awe. (Read the wonderful essay inspired by this episode by my friend Bruce Herman, “Wonder Is Not Just For An Artistic Elite” here.)

Well, Mike Erre’s easy-to-read, playfully good book is less about awe in the world at large, but how we can respond in awe to the mystery of faith. It is a book about, as Rick McKinley puts it,  “rescuing us from being underwhelmed by a God of our own making.” In a way Astonished: Recapturing the Wonder… reminded me of another lovely book I often recommend, WonderStruck: Awakening to the Nearness of God (Worthy; $14.99) by the ball of energy and goodness known to the book world as author Margaret Feinberg. Erre and Feinberg are both creative and fun, upbeat and energetic, offering insight about knowing God better, nurturing one’s spirituality in ways that help us attend to the beauty and realty of the world around us and God’s awesome presence around us.  Perhaps a more subtle and sophisticated approach would be to read the updated second edition of the Oxford University Press book, now out in paperback, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by philosopher and classicist Paul Woodruff ($17.95.) That is a very impressive work, helping us “see” our world and our place in it with great dignity and deep meaning.

Nno home like place.jpgo Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place  Leonard Hjalmarson (Urban Loft Publishers) $16.99  This may be the most important book that you’ve never heard of.

I say this, that it is so important, for three reasons.  First, a sense of place is a huge theme these days (thanks, Wendell) and localism is a major interest (thanks, IndieBound, ShopLocal and anybody who shops at the farmer’s market) that most of us still need to ponder and pursue. It is an important principle, but even if one isn’t quite fully enchanted by the locavores, it could be argued that you should read up on this because it is a theme of importance to your neighbors, and to the rising generation. So, it’s important; you should know what the fuss is about, and this will help. 

Secondly, I say this book is important because it is so very rare. There are a few books that develop a Christian perspective on place, and the two other must-reads (Where Mortals Dwell by Craig Bartholomew and Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faithfulness in a Culture of Displacement by Brian Walsh and Stephen Bouma-Predigar) are thick and a bit heavy; rewarding, important, but not easy. No Home Like Place is meaty enough and considerable, but perhaps a better primer. It is winsome; Brad Jersak nicely says “to find someone rebuilding place after the great postmodern deconstruction is beautiful.” So, it is very well written and nicely engaging, even “joy-filled” as another reviewer said. 

Thirdly, you need to know this book because it is, without quite saying so, part of the vision of FLOW. The Acton Institute that funded and produced the FLOW project seems to stand in a mostly Catholic tradition where small is, most often, better than large, and local control is better than distant rule – the Catholic social teaching calls it “subsidiarity.” Those in the line of Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Reformed theologian and social architect that influenced the actual writers of FLOW, had a distinctively neo-Calvinist approach which also has tendencies towards the local, if not the whole “small is beautiful” view. Although this has complex implications for the ordering of society – populist and democratic – at the very least we can say it means starting where you are, attending to your neighborhood, caring about your own context.  No Home Like Place will give you the theological and missional foundation for appreciating a sense of home, a sense of place, resisting the homogenization of the Big and the loss and injustices experienced in, as Walsh and Bouma-Predigar put it, “a culture of displacement.”

Leonard Hjalmarson helps us with all of this in ways that are theoretically insightful, theologically beautifully,Missional-Spirituality.jpg and spiritually alive. He co-wrote the wonderful Missional Spirituality: Embodying God’s Love from the Inside Out (IVP; $16.00) which was substantive and inspiring, bringing together the too-often separate themes of the inner journey and the outer, piety and politics, formation and faithfulness in the world. The very notion of missional spirituality is ripe with potential, and that book has helped readers grow deeper in their interior lives as well as see that spiritual transformation as part of a Kingdom vision, missional, engaged. Hjalmarson brings that same vision of caring about God’s work in the world and our aligning ourselves with the redemptive purposes of God in how he approaches this neighborhooded view of place.

There are a few important themes in No Home Like Place. We are “sent” of course – this is missional 101 – but can our sentness effect how we inhabit our own places, our homes? Is there, as Dwight Freisen puts it (in his rave review blurb) a way to attend to our locatedness? 

Or, as sociologist Mark Mulder of Calvin College writes, “In a world of increasing mobility, No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place makes a compelling case for Christians to be more attentive to the places they inhabit. Hjalmarson calls us to consider how cultivating connection is integral to the incarnational mission of the church. Moreover, this book prompts a re-imaging of how the recovery of place might foreshadow the coming Kingdom.”

Notice the words: inhabit, incarnational, cultivating connection.  These are themes that are common in various missional organizations and networks these days and it is no surprise that the book has gotten rave reviews from the prominent leaders in these movements such as J.R. Woodward, David Fitch, A.J. Swoboda, Alan Hirsch, Paul Sparks, MaryKate Morse, Stuart Murray, and the like. That No Homenew parish.jpg Like… draws on the savvy analysis of culture and cultures makes it in itself a good intro or reminder of the conversations and discoveries in church life these days. Hjalmarson not only draws on his strong educational gifts (he is an adjunct professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, and George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland) but on his own leadership in the Parish Collective, and his missional community on the shores of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Parish Collective, I might as well say, published the stellar book about local missionalism, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community written by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight Friesen (IVP; $17.00.) It’s in this same ballpark, too.

There are generative ideas in this book about place and localism, stuff about theology and eschatology and culture, creation, and covenant. There is good advice about exploring place and the practice of place. He looks wisely and knowingly about the urban landscape and is helpful in a good chapter called “Politics and Public Space.”  Here is a surprise, though: one chapter is called “Re-placing the World Through Pilgrimage.” (Yep, go figure; there’s nothing wrong with travel, of course, and our sense of home can be enhanced by our trips.) There is another really important chapter about localism and the arts, enhancing our sense of home and place by deepening ourspace between.jpg embodiment and creativity. (It isn’t a simple chapter, by the way, and it left me glad for the fresh thinking but wondering how to live it out.)

Put this book on your list as soon as you can, and ponder it for years to come. Read it alongside the aforementioned books on place, and resources on neighborhoods such as the two by Eric Jacobson (Sidewalks of the Kingdom and The Space Between, which are essential.) I am sure that you will learn something new, be inspired to new, ground-level commitments, and your own neighborhood and locality will be blessed by your attentiveness.  There are even some prayers and litanies that have been used that give voice to these good concerns. 

Sgo small.jpgmall: Because God Doesn’t Care bout Your Status, Size, or Success Craig Gross (Nelson) $15.99  If I were just reviewing this one book, and had unlimited time and attention, I’d just copy the foreword by Josh McCown, Quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who talked about his short stint in the NFL, being traded, demoted, his dream of stardom not panning out as he had hoped. Inspired in part by reading an early version of this, he determined to lower his big dreams and overly visionary expectations and focused on being good and kind to whoever he was with, which ended up being a small high-school team in Waxhaw, NC. 

Well, you get the point: the old adage “go big or go home” is not, according to Gross, a sustainable way to live, and it is an cultural attitude which chews people up and debilitates us all with chronic unhappiness.  Rather, he suggests that it is in the seemingly ordinary moments of life that God does His greatest work, and that to trust God and serve Christ well, we neither have to go big nor go home.  We can endure, day by day, in the small stuff, the mundane, even. “It’s time to invest in stamina, to cultivate endurance, to recognize the miraculous world of the ordinary, little things.”  It’s time to go small, and keep at it.  This is inspiring, includes upbeat Bible stories, and helpful reminders about humility,  acceptance, and the “wrench in the works.” Gross has done a lot of pretty extraordinary things, so there are exciting stories, and lessons learned, making this fun for small groups that need nice and practical resource.

Iis reality secular.jpgs Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews Mary Poplin (Veritas Books/IVP) $18.00 As I considered resources to share to accompany you and your group in your journey into the FLOW DVD sessions, I didn’t want to just cite the obvious. So I let my thoughts ramble a bit, and I couldn’t stop thinking of this very thoughtful, richly written, substantive book that offers an evaluation of the claims made by those worldviews which insist that the world is secular.  What does this even mean? Who makes these claims? And what do the most vital world philosophies say about it?  Maybe this has something to do with the other big book here this summer, Jamie Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. 

I’ve written in the last post on memoirs about Mary Poplin, the brave, faithless college teacher whose life was transformed by working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, who advised her to “find her own Calcutta” back on college campuses.  Ms. Poplin took up her call with gusto, involving herself in relating faith and scholarship, bearing witness to her new life among colleagues and academics, students and parents. She became friends with Dallas Willard (who wrote a very good foreword to this book.) She studied and loved and cared and entered into dialogues with not only thoughtful Christians, but many who were antagonistic to her new-found faith. 

As the back cover puts it, “at the root of our deepest political and cultural divisions are conflicting principles of four global worldviews – material naturalism, secular humanism, pantheism and Judeo-Christian theism. While each of us holds to some version of one or more of these worldviews, we are often unconscious of their differences.” The For the Life of the World DVD doesn’t directly evaluate alternative visions of life under the sun, but they are not unaware that the multi-dimensional, whole-life, Kingdom vision they propose is to be lived out in ways that are different than the typical visions of the meaning of life on offer. (The center of each film is, after all, a “Letter to the Exiles.”) 

This book by Mary Poplin will help us be aware of the spirit of the age, the issues of the day, the ideas that matter.  This is a stunning, brilliant work — even the non-Christian writer Michael Ruse affirms her: “Mary Poplin and I take very different sides on the topics discussed in her book. That is why I prize her writings, because they are so fair and comprehensive.  She shows me clearly what I must grapple with and defeat – or give up and join her side! Very much recommended.”  Other heavyweights have raved, as well – Robert George of Princeton and John Lennox of Oxford and J. Budziszewski of University of Texas at Austin. 

Not only heavyweight philosophers, though. Popular pastor John Ortberg says this: “Truth, as wise man said, is valuable because it is what allows us to navigate reality.  Mary Poplin has done us a great service – she helps us explore where truth lies and how it guides.”  I think that captures why I couldn’t escape thinking about this as a serious follow-up to the down-to-Earth pleasantness of the For the Life of the World movies. This will give some intellectual grit and deep cultural criticism to our life “in but not of” the world in which we sometimes seem as exiles.

Jjourney to common good walt B.jpgourney to the Common Good  Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $17.00 I do not need to belabor the importance of Old Testament scholar, Dr. Brueggeman, and he remains one of my favorite authors, and a church leader who has influenced me significantly. I recommend almost all of his books (a new one on the Psalms called From Whom No Secrets Are Hid is to be released by WJK in few weeks, and the much anticipated Ice Axes for Frozen Seas: A Biblical Theology of Provocation comes from Baylor in mid-September.) I have enjoyed almost all of his many works.  His most recent – Sabbath as Resistance -also comes to mind as a very appropriate study to enhance our joyful life as exiles who are “against the world, for the world” as envisioned by the good folks of FLOW.  I am not sure they would be as enamored with Walt as I am, but these do seem apropos.


This one, Journey to the Common Good, is a true favorite, the transcripts of stunning talks he gave at Regent College in British Columbia. His evangelical vision is evident as he invites us to deep study of the Hebrew Scriptures to fund our commitments to the common good. That FLOW mentions this phrase (and many of the speakers who make cameos like John Perkins insist on our commitment to Biblical justice and love of others as the true heartbeat of any Christian lifestyle) is notable.  The very title of the films – For the Life of the World — and the question it seeks to answer (“What is our salvation really for?”) should make it clear that a perfect follow up would be a study of the notion of the common good.  Journey to the Common Good is sophisticated and invigorating Biblical reflection that once again shows how deep, thick reading of nearly any part of the Bible yields a grand vision of public justice, social righteousness, and a “seek the peace of the city” orientation that desires the flourishing of all peoples and cultures and the deepening of the common good.  It’s a journey worth taking with Walt.

CChrist Plays in .jpghrist Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology  Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $16.99  I still love my first Peterson books – A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (on the Psalms of Ascent) and Run with the Horses (on Jeremiah) which I read in the late 70s. Perhaps these are your first, too; they remain very popular and highly regarded. Like his many others, they certainly are consistent with the vision of FLOW – embodied, patient, non-ideological, nurturing habits of faithfulness that over a lifetime lead to life as it was meant to be lived, in God, for others.  Yes, yes, those are good.

Yet, there was no doubt that I wanted to cite this one from 2005, for what should be obvious reasons. If you read my review you will know that FLOW cites the famous Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, the very “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” poem from which this Peterson classic takes its title. I have discussed this mature book before, and it is complex, but orderly. It is the first of an extraordinary set of five volumes that Peterson calls his “spiritual theology.” Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology goes to great length to show how – according to the Bible! — Christ shows up in creation itself, in history, and in community with other believers. In each of the three long sections he shows how Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection are the good news that affirms these three locations of grace. (There are three attendant threats to getting this right, too, and he offers three necessary practices to overcome these threats to the true good news.)

And, yes, again, the title is from Hopkins. Evan, in FLOW, is wearing a Hopkins tee-shirt in one of theQuotation-Gerard-Manley-Hopkins-poetry-Meetville-Quotes-269509.jpg episodes (you can learn about all seven of the tee shirt portraits in the Field Guide.) The reading in the DVD of that good portion of the poem is nearly worth the price of the whole set. I’m sure that the FLOW guys knew this poem previously – many do – but I also bet that Pastor Peterson’s work was an inspiration. The whole set of his momentous spiritual theology books are exceptional, but this one is foundational.  As Marva Dawn observes it’s “Eugene Peterson at his best – poet, storyteller, wonderer, biblical scholar, sage, practiced disciple, and lover of God… A life-transforming and liberating book.”  Yes!

Amoveable feast tt.jpg Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days Terry Timm (ImaginationPlus) $11.99  Well, you may not know this name, but I’m happy to share that he is a hero to many, a great, caring pastor of a fine missional church in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.  Terry has worked with Steve Garber (using his Visions of Vocation) to help his parishioners get a vision for their lives, framed by Garber’s line that “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.”  Pastor Timm has focused on his lay people and their own Kingdom callings, equipping them well, and holding up this wholisitc vision of the common good, cultural renewal, creational flourishing.

As a celebration and follow up to this year-long study of vocation and calling and the mission of serving the common good,  group from his church took the four hour road trip to Hearts & Minds, allowed me to share with them our vision for using books to help think Christianly and creatively about this “in the world but not of it” sense of taking up the tasks of serving God in careers and callings.  You’ve got to love a pastor like that, eh? 

So it should come as no surprise that Terry Timm and his church have been big supporters of a cadre of churches in Pittsburgh using the For the Life of the World videos. (This gang is even bringing in Jars of Clay for a concert where they’ll play some of the live tunes recorded for the FLOW project.) This new book, in so many ways, is a fantastic follow up (or prelude to) FLOW.  As Gideon Strauss (of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary) puts it, “A Moveable Feast will be a gift to those of us who know ourselves to be called into struggle with, and gratitude to,  God who loves every thumbprint patch of this wondrous, shattered world.”

Terry has shaped his congregation around this very theme — that worship is a “moveable feast” and that we worship, actually, 24/7. As Lisa Slayton, the President of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation puts it, “This book tells the story of what it looks like when a Biblical community truly begins to realize that God desires their ‘everyday, walking around life’ to be offered as an act of worship, that worship is not just what we do on Sunday morning corporately but what we don Monday… We all need help bridging our theology to our praxis. This book serves as such a bridge.”

Although the vision of this book is, indeed, how we serve God in all areas of life, in all our endeavors, the heart of it truly is about the recovery of worship, mature and solid, good and effective, honorable and fruitful.  I think many a contemporary worship leader would benefit from it for its wise council. And, the implications of this God-centered, gospel-fueled view — “worshiping for the other six days” as well — are so very nicely spelled out, too.

We are thrilled to be one of the first bookstores to carry this brand new indie press book by Rev. Terry Timm. It is handsomely done, nicely written, covers much good ground, and includes a good study guide (“feasting together.”)  There is even an appendix called “an ordinary, everyday liturgy” which outlines an entire worship service with prayers and litanies designed to honor the ordinariness of daily life, the goodness of work, the calling to serve the common good.  I think that this powerful book could help nearly any kind of congregation deepen their sense of these things, and I hope church leaders buy it and use it.  Terry is the real deal, a friend to Hearts & Minds, and his book is yet another example of the fresh sorts of things being written during this 21
st century renaissance of “all of life redeemed” wholistic faithfulness.  Whether you’ve used FLOW or not,  Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days is a delight.  Thanks be to God.



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The Power of Story: Memoirs for Pre-Evangelism, Spiritual Insight and Enjoyment, too ON SALE from Hearts & Minds

In my previous column offering resources for apologetics and
sharing the gospel, I mentioned that we might use memoirs for what some call

That is, as we try
to help people construe meaning and find their way, books of others doing that
can be both reassuring and helpful. Religious seeking, even confusion, is not uncommon — and, yet, as Echoes of a Voice: We Are Not Alone, the
James Sire book mentioned yesterday indicates — many people have what might be
called epiphanies, or acute awareness of what might be called signals of
transcendence.  Some memoirs helps us appreciate that.


Of course we read memoirs, like we do novels, also for the
pleasure, for the joy ride of immersing ourselves in a well-told story. I adore this genre and have bunches of
favorites (not all about the profound search for meaning or spiritual
experience.) Some of these books I cherish. There are more than I can mention…

I think of the luminescent story about grief, The Tender Land: A Family Love Story by
Kathleen Finneran (one of the most beautiful, well constructed and moving books
I’ve ever read) or the beautifully
told journey of Andrew Krivak preparing to become a priest, A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious
I loved Wild: From Lost to
Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed, who can write like
nobody’s business; the memoirs of Elizabeth Gilbert are nicely done, and I
adored Mary Karr’s must-read trilogy (and will say more about one of them,

The down-home, rural writer Michael Perry from Wisconson is a writer who’d I read no
matter what he’s describing; Beth, too, and her favorite is his wonderful book Truck while I favor Coop, although they are each splendid examples of what he calls “roughneck grace.” Perhaps you’ve tasted the foodie memoirs of Ruth Reichl like Comfort Me With Apples (who now has a
novel out, too, but I digress.) And how about those memoirs about homesteading, farming, or living more sanely —  any number are so nice.

Years ago I wrote a review about The Cliff Walk: A Memoir
of a Job Lost and a Life Found,
a stunning story about a literature prof
named Don Snyder who got laid off, lied about his shameful unemployment, but eventually
found a sense of calling to a new vocation as construction worker.  Someday I will re-read that magical
book. Terry Tempest Williams is a truly magnificent writer, and I am better for
having read her work.  Start with Refuge and then Red which are about her loves for the deserts of Utah, and her departure
from the conservatism of her Latter Day Saints family. Which reminds me of a
cult-classic that I’ve read twice: Desert
by the indomitably crusty Edward Abbey. I really do love this genre!

Recently Beth and I discovered by serendipity the great,
great writer, Catherine Gildiner whose story of her girlhood near Niagara Falls
Too Close to the Falls and her coming of age in the crazy late 60s, After the Falls, defy being put down –
they are so entertaining and nicely written, funny, even.  These were just so fun to read, and we
both were struck not only by her writerly skill, but were amazed how authors
can tell their life story this way. 
Do order them from us if you’d like, but be prepared to stay up late,
following her escapades.

Some biographies carry this
same theme — telling how somebody pieced their life together, finding hope, or
not.  I hope you’ve read the
excellently written, unforgettable Unbroken:
A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
, by Laura
Hillenbrand, about Louis Zamperini (which, finally, was just released in paperback.) Even those of us not drawn to extreme sports have been
thrilled, and moved, by books like Into
Thin Air
which aren’t memoirs per se, but have that feel. Krakauer’s account of the tragic story Into the Wild gives us all pause, and makes us ponder. Although not
a memoir, the sports biography of Joe Ehrmann, a Baltimore Colt football star
who went to seminary and learned to coach inner city kids, ­­­­­Season of Life: A Football Star, A Boy, A Journey to Manhood written
by Jeffrey Marx, is beautifully done.

I don’t know if Jonathan Kozol’s poignant pieces about urban kids in
failingstride.png schools count as memoir, but they are nearly that, and movingly written
– with titles like Amazing Grace and Ordinary Resurrections you pick up that
something important is going on. Stride
Towards Freedom
by Martin Luther King Jr. I think, counts as memoir; in retrospect it is a very large story, set as
it is in the days of the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott. It is one of my all-time
favorite reads, and it chronicles Dr. Kings faith, his doubts, his intellectual/theological
struggles, his prayers, and, finally, his trajectory to becoming the
leader he became, all set in the blazing history being made in that famous city.

Some of these stories address important issues, and some are
about faith, but many are not.  Still,
I love reading the delightful and moving ways people tell their stories and
think, at the least, that helps us have greater understanding of others, and perhaps empathy towards their search for meaning.

Of course, this is nothing new:  just think of the popularity, even in the mainstream press,
of classics like Seven Story Mountain by
Thomas Merton or The Long Loneliness
by Dorothyyou converted me.jpgcon.jpg Day or Surprised by Joy by
C.S. Lewis. Even Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love,
which took the country by storm and then was made into a movie with Julie
Robertsit is about her search for
meaning, and even God, is it not?

you remember the first time you read The
Autobiography of Anne Frank
, or, say,
The Hiding Place
by Corrie Ten Boom? Or
the quartet of autobiographies by Frederick Buechner? Or Kathleen Norris? (Surely if you are a Hearts & Minds
fan, you’ve read Buechner and Norris!)  

Did you know that the first person in history, or so they
say, to do a self-conscious spiritual autobiography is one former African
Bishop, Augustine of Hippo, whose Confessions
we carry in any number of editions? Talk about an enduring story — sexy party
boy turned sober Christian leader!

Here I will list a fabulous batch of books that are, mostly, about
the search for religious truth, the journey towards the Divine, and, in some
cases, towards Christian discipleship of one sort or another. Leaning over the
shoulders of some of these writers as they reflect on their pilgrimages is a
good way to help others think through their own lives, and a good way to help
people see how it is done.  Perhaps
you could share them with seekers and skeptics, friends and loved ones. Or
maybe you yourself might enjoy following along the trek some of these writers make, and
their ruminations offered for us all.

Again: while few of these end up with the sort of
distinctive, historic Christian faith I might endorse, their reporting about
their quests are certainly well worth reading. These are mostly not
classic conversion narratives (although a few are) and none are simple; their
allusive and artful telling about their sometimes disappointing struggles and
their epiphanies and joys is the point.  Perhaps these books can be used in the kinds of conversation
where simple conversion testimonies wouldn’t typically work; it is why I
sometimes suggest that these are pre-evangelistic.
(Lewis, you know, had his “imagination baptized” by reading a fairy tale,
before he committed himself to Christ.) These books may not necessarily bring
the gospel clearly (some do) but they all offer us the language of story,
coherence, plot and searching, and the vocabulary of self-aware consideration.

recommending them, we are aware that some are not presenting a
Biblically-shaped worldview, and their use of language may be more R-rated then
many readers of Christian books are comfortable.

story.jpgSo, there. Hope that helps. All are on sale, too, if you are a BookNotes reader. Just use the order link, below, or click the “order” tab at the top of the website. It leads you to a secure order form page and you can just tell us what you want.

Ppilgrim.jpgilgrim: Risking the Life I Have to Find the Faith I Seek Lee
Kravitz (Hudson Street Press) $25.95 
What a delightful, plainly told story of a baby boomer raised Jewish, who experimented (rather unsuccessfully) with Transcendental Meditation in the ’60s (the Beatles, ya know) and who always had a desire for deeper spirituality. Living now in (post 9/11) New York, with teenagers and a successful career, he is knowingly seeking spiritual depth.  Kravitz moves from very liberal Judaism to hosting an interest in Protestantism, joins a
Quaker meeting, eventually trying Zen. As Hope
Edelman writes, “Lee’s Kravitz’s journey of spiritual renewal leads him right
into the heart of what matters most: family, community, and love.”  StoryCorp founder David Isay says it is
“a courageous work filled with wisdom and life lessons.”

Lilit.jpgt: A Memoir Mary Karr (Harper) $14.99  Her searing story of growing up in a
rough family in hard-scrapple East Texas, The
Liar’s Club
, and her next book further reporting on her descent into some
very, very crazy stuff, Cherry, are
legendary, both used in writing classes, and cited as examples of the
renaissance in quality memoir in our time.  In this one, Ms Karr pursues her literary career even as she
remains an alcoholic, so the title itself is a punchy double entendre. How she
lives into her eventual sobriety, her literary career, her hunger for God, her ongoing
family problems — recall that stuff in her earlier books; that doesn’t go away
easily, you know — and her new found faith is extraordinary, wonderfully
written and exceptionally compelling. What a life. What a read. Superb.

Ssurprised by ox.jpgurprised by Oxford: A Memoir Carolyn Weber (Nelson) $15.99 I
have reviewed this fast-paced, intellectual conversion story before, and raved,
also, about her follow-up memoir of being a busy Christian professor and mom,
seeking spiritual guidance for each day (Holy
Is the Day
– so good.)  Surprised
by Oxford
is a major autobiography, focusing on her year of study
in England, and her conversion there to reasonable, heart-felt, evangelical
faith.  The allusion in the title,
of course, is to the more famous Oxford conversion story, Surprised by Joy. This really is a marvelous book, for anyone who
is in academia, a serious student, or who has studied abroad (or, more
importantly, wondered about great literature and the Christian vision of life.)
Lyle Dorsett says that Weber is “an unconventional thinker whose engagingly
told faith journey will speak to folks who still believe that thoughtful people
cannot be Christian.”

Texact place.jpghe Exact Place: A Memoir Margie L. Haack  (Kalos Press) $16.95   I did a long, rave review of this when it first came out, and
we declared it truly one of the best books we had read in 2013. Margie is a
fine writer (look for a collection of essays coming later this year) and
her style is intelligent, honest, poignant at times, but not sentimental. She
writes here about growing up poor in a shotgun shack in rural Minnesota, and,
evoking a strong sense of place, wonders if she was at “the exact place” she
needed to be all along, the place where God could draw her to Himself in divine
mercy.  This is not the least bit
preachy, and in the beautiful closing she offers up that take-away
insight.  Anybody who starts their
book with a line from Wendell Berry, and then makes us laugh right out loud
with antics, and causes us to get a lump in our throat reading about her afflictions, so that we finally
come away with insight and wonder, well — this is that kind of amazing sort of book.  Highly recommended, written by a friend
of Hearts & Minds, and an artful, good storyteller.

Tlittle way of ruthie l.jpghe Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the
Secret of a Good Life
Rod Dreher (Grand Central Publishing) $16.00  This really is a spectacular book, very
moving and sad (it is about the sickness and death of the author’s
sister.)  But it is also a look at
a caring community, offering a serious sense of place, and the discovery of a
slower-paced, more humane pace of life in small town. 
The New York Times calls it “illuminating.”
Ann Voskamp has a gorgeously crafted rave review. The epigram in the front is
from St. Therese of Lisieux, “What matters in life and not great deeds, but
great love.”  Tell me this wouldn’t
create good conversations for seekers, skeptics, or those sensing a hunger for
a sustainable, flourishing life. Watch this short Youtube clip by the author to get a sense of how good this book really is.

FFalling into Place- A Memoir of Overcoming.jpgalling into Place: A Memoir of Overcoming Hattie Kauffman
(Baker) $17.99  This handsome book
is well written — the author is an Emmy Award winning broadcast journalist, so she is wonderful with words. Hattie Kauffman
is, in fact, one of the only Native American’s working at this level in this
profession. She is determined, focused, and knows how to get to the heart of a
story, and her story is very much worth telling.  A veteran CBS/NBC colleague
notes how many good stories she has covered and says, “Now she shares her own
heart.  And that’s the best story
yet.”  This is a true story both
heartbreaking and redemptive, pointing to what is faithful and true.  Very moving, very nicely done.

Ggirl meets god.jpgirl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life Lauren Winner (Waterbrook)
$14.99 This is the book that catapulted Lauren to considerable fame and those
who love good memoir will certainly see why. Few contemporary conversion
narratives have captured the angst of Gen X young adults, and her particular
journey – into conservative Orthodox Judaism and then into Episcopalian faith –
is so well told that it is often used as an example in classes on writing
spiritual autobiography.  Beth and
I love her writing, and care for her very much. This is one of the great
memoirs of our generation. You should have an extra to share  — it is that good.

Fflirting with faith.jpglirting With Faith: My Spiritual Journey from Atheism to a
Faith-Filled Life
Joan Ball (Howard Books) $14.99  There are many books in this genre, and
this one is told with verve and what Len Sweet in his rave review calls her “attitude” which he compares to Anne Lamott. Sweet also says, “her splendor of
rendering life in the spirit is unmatched.”  Wow.

Becky Garrison, an Episcopalian
writer who has some attitude herself, has a blurb on the back: she says, “Joan
Ball reveals the scarred soul of an avowed atheist who found herself
unexpectedly God-smacked. In Ball’s story, readers will find another broken
believer who walked a crooked spiritual path that eventually wound its way to

Ffinding calcutta.jpginding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work
and Service
Mary Poplin (IVP) $16.00  Speaking of academia, this is a very nice story, the journey
of a non-Christian, liberal feminist college professor who takes a year to
serve alongside Mother Teresa, trying to make sense of her life, and finds a
deep relationship with God. In wondering what to do next, Poplin is told by
Mother T to “find your own Calcutta” in higher education. There are plenty of
hurting young adults and colleagues in modern universities, and she should
serve there, she was told.  This is
the story of her time in Calcutta, her religious awakening, and, then, her
moving efforts to live her new life as a Christian college teacher. Very, very nicely

Ssunday in america.jpgundays in America: A Year Long Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith Suzanne
Strempek Shea (Beacon) $16.00  When
Pope John Paul II died, Suzanne Shea, who had not been an active member of a
church community for some years, recognized in his mourners a faith-filled
passion that she longed to recapture in her own life. So she set out on a
pilgrimage to visit a different church every Sunday for one year – a journey
that would take her through the broad spectrum of contemporary Protestant
Christianity practiced all over this country.  Want to sit in the pews with dozens of different
congregations, getting to know all manner of spiritual experience and
congregational life? Humor and grace abound as she allows us to join her in
this year-long road trip through 30 states, and 52 different churches.

Mman seeks god.jpgangeography of bliss.jpg Seeks God: My Flirtation with the Divine Eric Weiner (Twelve) $26.99  Of course this is not the only book one should read if one wants to know about comparative religions, and it obviously does not bring a uniquely Christian, or Biblical framework to the project, but still — what a fun read! But what a curious project it is. Perhaps something like Bruce Fieler (Walking the Bible, The Year of Living Biblically, etc.) Weiner, who calls himself a “spiritual voyeur” and inveterate traveler, wants to actually experience what various religions have to offer, so he actually tries to adopt them the best he can. From practicing with Hindus and Buddahists, to serving with Franciscans, to some lesser known outfits, he tries to see what is good about them all. It is a clever read, and one really does show at least some of how these faiths are practiced on the ground. 

By the way, I really, really enjoyed his previous one, where he visits the countries that have been measured to be the happiest on the planet, to see what they do right. That one is called The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World (Twelve; $14.00.) Fascinating and fun, and a bit instructional, too, about what really makes us happy.

Ssalvation on sand.jpgalvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern
Dennis Covington (DeCapo) $14.95 I have often said this is
one of my all time favorite books, a high octane, powerhouse story by a great
writer, a gutsy, wounded journalist who is assigned to do a serious story on
the snake-handling sub-culture in rural, very Southern West Virginia. I will
not spoil the story, but you should know this is beautifully written,
energetic, fascinating, and very surprising, even as this author ponders some
of the biggest stuff we can ask about religion in America, and faith in our own
lives.  What a book! By the way, I
was blown away by the story he wrote with his wife, novelist and essayist,
Vicki Covington, about their troubled marriage, movingly called Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage. What

Ddemon camp.jpgemon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism Jennifer Percy (Scribner)
$26.00  I heard about this from an Episcopal
friend and then on NPR and it made me think a bit of Salvation on Sand Mountain. This exploration of demons and exorcism
didn’t come from Oral Roberts or super-charismatic Pentecostals, but from a
mainstream, secular writer (of the literary caliber who gets reviewed on NPR.)
This is one helluva book — is about post traumatic stress, telling the story
of an emotionally wounded vet who is convinced he is being haunted by demons.
He finds help (or does he?) from an almost spooky exorcist ministry in very
rural Alabama. This brilliantly told story traces not only the surreal narrative
of the demon-haunted vet, but of the journalist herself, as she accompanies him
into the memories of the horror of the battlefields in Afghanistan and the
horror of serious spiritual warfare. I am left wondering what to think about
this, and you might as well. Whew.

Bblood brothers.jpglood Brothers Elias Chacour (Baker) $12.99 I have wanted to
remind our friends about this since an updated second edition came out a year
ago.  This is the dramatic story of
a Palestinian Christian working for peace in Israel. The late James Baker III
wrote a moving afterward. Father Chacour, known to be a delightful and generous
man, is an Archbishop of the Middle Eastern Melkite Church and founder of the
Mar Elias University in Galilee. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace
Prize three times, by the way – and his story here is a stunning example of
Christian advocacy for justice, for reconciliation, and for Biblical
nonviolence.  It is a riveting life
story and a beautiful vision of the hope for peace amidst the Arab-Israeli

Iin the wilderness coming of age.jpgn the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country Kim
Barnes (Anchor) $15.00  I found
this to be one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long, long time, and
continue to ponder it, even though I read it several years ago. It was a
finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in fact. Barnes, now a novelist, was raised in
rural Idaho, born into a rustic family of nearly migrant loggers.  When her isolated extended family
became involved in nearly cult-like fundamentalism, her life changed – as did
her family’s relationship with the land, with others, with everything from
sexuality to politics to work and education.  Her rugged journey out of this worldview, and away from her
formerly close-knit family, is riveting reading.  Here is how the back cover described it: “Into the Wilderness is the poet’s own account of a journey toward
adulthood against an interior landscape every bit as awesome, as beautiful, and
as fraught with hidden peril as the great forest itself. It is a story of how
both faith and geography can shape the heart and soul, and of the uncharted
territory we all must enter to face our demons. Above all, it is the clear-eyed
and moving account of a young woman’s coming of terms with her family, her
homeland, her spirituality, and herself.”

Thungry for the world.jpghe subsequent sequel by Ms Barnes, Hungry for the World: A Memoir (Anchor;
$15.00) is passionate and well worth pondering, again, wonderfully
written with intelligence and grace, although it has some sexual stuff that may
trigger painful memories for some readers. This is literate, never gratuitous,
describing her profound exploration of the meaning of it all, and her search
for a healthy, sane life.  

Nnorth of hope.jpgorth of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey Shannon Huffman
Polson (Zondervan) $16.99  I have
on occasion said that this is perhaps the most literarily rich book every
published by this evangelical publisher. I have met Polson, and know that she
is an extraordinary writing talent, a deep thinker, and a thoughtful Christian
writer.  In this gutsy memoir, she
retraces the steps of an outdoor river adventure through Alaskan wilderness
coming to grips (in the exact journey, at the exact spot) where her parents
were mauled to death by a bear the year previous. Is this a helpful way to
grieve a tragic and gruesome loss? Why is she doing this? How does it
feel?  As she prepares for this
journey, she is also rehearsing her role as singer in a Mozart Requiem, and
these interludes are themselves gloriously written and deeply affecting. What a

Tlife you save may be your own.jpghe Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage Paul
Elie (Farrar Straus Giroux) $17.00 
A renowned book, a labor of love, highly literate and exceptionally well
researched, this was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics
Circle Award. It explores the lives of four great writers who sought to change
lives through their work, and the way their own lives were changed by
books.  In a way, it can be
described as four interlocking biographies, telling us in beautiful prose about
Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy.  If one is at all interested in American
literature, the world of intellectual Catholicism, or the impact of the
Catholic left, this is “a perfectly realize work.” For three decades, by the
way, these four read each other’s work, corresponded, and grappled with what
Percy called ” a predicament shared in common” as they strove to bring together
faith and art.

Mmy bright abyss.jpgy Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer Christian
Wiman (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) $13.00 
I have written about this often, and hope you know that Wiman was for a
long time the editor of one of the nation’s most respected poetry journals.
When he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he wrote not only a poem with
this title, but a piece in The New Yorker, which eventually became this book.
Here, he reevaluates his drift away from Southern fundamentalism – his
description of faith in his Texas boyhood is worth the price of the book – and
wonders if liberal Protestant faith is adequate. This much-discussed book by
this thoughtful professor at Yale (yes, he lived!) is exceptional. Endorsements
on the back are from the likes of Marilynn Robinson and Kathleen Norris and
other intellectuals who long for faith, even if not of the evangelical sort.

DDays of Oblation My Argument with My Mexican .jpgabrown rr.jpgys of Oblation: My Argument with My Mexican Father Richard
Rodriguez (Penguin) $15.00  I hope
you know Rodriguez, a fine, fine Catholic writer, whose memoir Brown and Hunger of Memory have all won awards. One prestigious reviewer
wrote that (it) “looks into American – north and south of the Rio Grande – as
penetratingly and eloquently as Camus did when he compared the mental
landscapes of France and Algiers.” The
Village Voice
said is explores “the grandeur and grief of the American

TThe Color of Water-  Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother .jpghe Color of Water:  Black
Man’s Tribute to His White Mother
James McBride (Riverhead) $16.00  James McBride is a fine wordsmith and a good
novelist, but here he gives us his own story, and that of his remarkable mother, a woman who was worthy of having a book written about her!  This book is certainly one that readers adore, and it remains a popular seller in bookstores everywhere.  It is touching, and informative — as The Washington Post Book World puts it, “As lively as a novel, a
well-written and thoughtful contribution to the literature on race.”  Indeed, this inspiring story is “suffused
with issues of race, religion and identity.”  This is a very eloquent book, finally about family and grace
and goodness. Highly recommended.

Aan american childhood.jpgn American Childhood Annie Dillard (Harper) $13.99  Okay, she’s won a Pulitzer, is a
delightful Presbyterian writer, and there is a scene from her Pittsburgh
hometown painted on the cover.  One
critic said it will “take the reader’s breath away” and another says it is “breathtaking…
a work marked by exquisite insight.” The Philadelphia
reviewer wrote, “The reader who can’t find something to whoop
about is not alive” and went on to say it was one of the very best American
autobiographies. Another critic said it was about “the capacity for joy.” So.
What kind of conversations can you have in a book group with a resource like

Llittle black sheep ashley c.jpgittle Black Sheep: A Memoir Ashley Cleveland (David C. Cook)
$17.99  I hope you know the rowdy,
gravelling voice of rock and roller Ashley Cleveland.  Now you can know her story – raised in a dysfunctional,
hurting family, struggling with her own destructive days of drugs, alcohol and
sex, and her eventual encounter with a forgiving God.  Dan Allender says of it “This book delivers me face-to-face
with a God who just might be good news. To say that I enjoyed the book is far
from the truth.  I devoured it.
Wept. Raged. Swore. And said yes again to Jesus.”  So, yeah: that’s just what a good story can do. You should
give this to somebody who needs to know there is a better way.

Ttraveling mercies1.jpgraveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith Anne Lamotte (Anchor)
$15.99  How can I not list this?
Anne is a beloved writer, novelist, essayist, and this is her most famous work,
the one in which she gives up her own (drunken) way, and yields to Jesus. If
you have a bohemian, lefty friend who needs a “shot of love” (as Dylan put it)
this crazy story of hard times, wild writing, and earnest faith just might
help. Look for a new anthology of pieces about coping with grief and getting by
amidst great pain, coming later this fall. She is a good, clever writer, and
her story, unorthodox as it may be, is a treasure.  This continues to sell well, and we take it everywhere we

Ddancing through it.jpgancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet Jenifer Ringer (Viking) $27.95  There are so many good autobiographies
of those involved in the arts, and some are truly fascinating, and many illustrate
(for those with the eyes to see, at least) the longing for God of beauty that
often accompanies those with creative spirits. Here is a rare story, written by
a strong Christian and exceptionally talented dancer. Ms Ringer has been the principal
dancer in the New York City Ballet!  
Not only does she draw accolades for her talent, and her story, from
critics, but her friend Kathy Keller (of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan)
says it is “an honest an exhilarating look into the life of a young dancer,
with both the excitement of achievement and the desperate anxiety given proper
treatment. ” She thinks it is good “for any young person passionately following
their dream.  Jenifer was fortunate
to have help in conquering her eating disorder and other demons, and this book
may be a help to those wrestling with their own issues.”

Techo within.jpghe Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling Robert Benson
(Waterbrook) $13.99  I love this
gentle, sensible writer who can speak of very deep spiritual truths on one
page, and tell a self-effacing episode from his own storied life on the next.
Benson’s good books aren’t exactly full memoirs, but they all share so much of
his life, casually told, nothing splashy, that I wanted to suggest them on this
list: he is a master writer, storyteller, with an eye to see the deeper things
behind his daily life. From his early books on learning about contemplative and
liturgical prayer (Between the Dreaming
and the Coming True
and Living Prayer)
to this one on his own discovery of his own sense of calling as a writer, (to
one on caring for his back yard, or the year he had to help his aged mother
move to an assisted living place, or his new one on the craft of writing) he
invites readers into his life, names important stuff, and writes so clearly
that one can’t help but want to reconsider his or her own life patterns,
assumptions, and ways of being in the world. For memoir lovers who are writers,
artists, or anyone seeking a meaningful calling, this book on vocation is a
fun, fascinating glimpse of how it is discerned, and how it can be done.

Wway below the angels.jpgay Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled But Not Even Close to
Tragic Confessions of a Real Life Mormon Missionary
Craig Harline (Eerdmans)
$22.00  You know this has to be a
good book for the editors of one of the most storied and prestigious religious
publishers in America to offer it as one of their biggest titles of the season.
No, this guy doesn’t covert to Protestantism, and there is no grand conclusion,
but, wow, does he write well – colorfully and creatively (does the subtitle
give you a hint that he’s upbeat about it all?) And this memoir is certainly about his pondering his own faith,
choices, the nature of spiritual experience (including failure) as he ponders the role of religion in his life, and in our culture. And did I mention he’s a good writer?  As Jana Riess
writes of it, “How could a memoir that primarily deals with religion and
rejection be so flippin’ hilarious? Craig Harline’s experience as a Mormon
missionary in Belgium in the mid-70s are ingeniously funny, but they also point
to important issues – how religious people deal with apparent failure and
navigate grown up faith after childish certainties have proven
inadequate.” The demanding Kirkus Reviews said it displays a “fine
mix of pathos and hilarity… a touchingly human memoir.”  Here is a nice, thoughtful interview with him in a 15 minute video clip.

Aa severe mercy.jpg Severe Mercy: A Story of Faith, Tragedy and Triumph Sheldon Vanaukan (HarperOne) $14.99  Do you know this book? It was very popular a few decades ago, and I keep hoping there will be a renaissance of its popularity.  A whole new generation of readers should know this heartbreaking story of romance and intellectual discovery, of tragedy and grief, of loneliness and friendship, of God and grace. Part of the story includes the illness and death of Davy, Sheldon’s young wife, and his grief as he correspondied with and become friends with C.S. Lewis, whose moving letters are enclosed in the book. (Lewis, you know, lost his wife, Joy, shortly after their marriage.) What an amazing, wise, powerful book, about a truly memorable couple and a nearly universal story of love, loss, and hope.

Ffaith and other flat t.gifaith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of
Andrea Palpant Dilley (Zondervan) $14.99   I have written about this before,
partially because it rang so very true, partially because I think this story
needs told as it isn’t uncommon: a girl whose parents are evangelical
missionaries returns home, attends a conservative Christian college, is
attracted to the bohemians and skeptics, ends up nearly losing her faith, laden
with new ideas, moving feely into the world outside of the religious
sub-culture, and yet can’t shake her love for family and church. Through a
faithful older friend, she is enfolded back into the faith, perhaps less sure,
but perhaps more deeply faithful and wiser. This is a fine young adult memoir
that captures the texture of “the critical years” and is an entertaining read, compelling
us to care about the author and her tale of doubt, “flat tires” and set-backs
on the journey towards mature faith.

CCracking the Pot- Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him.jpgracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him Christine
Berghoef (Resource Publications) $22.00 
I know, the subtitle makes this sound like merely another emergent
anti-evangelical manifesto, but it is not; it is an engrossing memoir.  It includes her journey exploring “the
simplicity and complexity of faith” and offering honest, tested hope. Rave,
rave reviews come from Brian McLaren and Cornelius Plantinga.  Phyllis Tickle, who reads more widely
than almost anyone, says “Theological autobiographies are rare, and intriguing
ones are even rarer. Few of us have the candor to construct them, much less the
skill to endow the result with grace. Christine Berghoef has all those things,
however, and the result is this enormously appealing memoir of a questing
Christian mind.”  If Phyllis calls
it “enormously appealing memoir” it’s worth reading. By the way, Berghoef’s husband, Bryan, has a book called Pub Theology: Beer, Conversations and God (Cascade
$15.00.) They are church planters in
urban Washington DC.

Rradical reinvention.jpgadical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church Kaya
Oakes (Counterpoint) $15.95 This book, I’ll say from the start, isn’t for
everyone, but I couldn’t put it down. The indie-girl, radical-punk-anarchist
author will appeal to transgressive readers and socially progressive folks –
and all will be surprising how her deep desire for a meaningful life that makes
sense of the biggest questions and gives motivation to address social concerns
draws her to the historic Irish church of her youth.  She grows to love the Mass, she meets some feisty feminist
nuns, and joins a “pray and bitch” circle with other misfits trying to find
their voice in what they think is an outdated institution. What a story — the
journey from an ex-Catholic punk to an (unconventional) amateur theologian. And
a great writer.

Tgirl in orange.gifhe Girl in an Orange Dress: Searching for a Father That Does Not Fail Margot Starbuck (IVP) $16.00  I continue to tell people they just must read this extraordinary book, this story of a young woman who was adopted, whose adopted dad(s) left her, and her subsequent struggle to discover if God as Father was a viable notion, whether He was really there, and if He truly cared. Is grace real, and does it matter? I simply loved this book about this good woman’s life which is both poignant and full of pathos and yet delightful to read and laugh-out-loud funny at times. This is just a fantastic memoir, a great read, and loaded with very important deep-down insight. We love this writer, and, will say it again: you must read this book!   And then read her others, too.

UUndistorted God Reclaiming.jpgndistorted God: Reclaiming Faith Despite the Cultural Noise Ray
Waddle (Abingdon) $15.99  I just
started this brand new memoir, a faith journey written by a religion writer,
wondering how Christianity might work for him; he had seen plenty of distorted
faith, disconnected and confused. Yet, “people are yearning for connections –
with one another, with God, and with a usable and undistorted faith.”  He “avoids coy or watered-down
spirituality and instead gives breathing room for the “divine patience” in this
“shaggy, swarming, world.” Nora Gallagher, an eloquent writer herself (and Episcopal
priest) says “This book is like a poem, or a room suddenly cleared of clutter
so you can see its fine, clean bones.”

Wwhen we were on fire.jpghen We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and
Starting Over
Addie Zierman  (Convergent) $14.99 
This is not so much a narrative of a conversion to Christian faith, but
the story of one young woman’s near journey out of it, or at least of the fundamentalism
of her youth and her struggles now with clichés big and small.  I have reviewed this before, and found
it hard to put down – she is a feisty writer, and this is good for anyone
wondering if one can maintain faith even if one is no longer confident in the
evangelical subculture and its commercial trappings. Less intense, but very popular,
is Rachel Held Evan’s book about “growing up in Monkey-town” (the town of the
infamous Scopes Trial against Darwinism) recently re-issued as Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the
Answers Learned to Ask Questions
(Nelson; $15.99.)  You really ought to know these, and
ponder their stories, their lives, their new kind of faith. 

FFaith, Interrupted- A Spiritual Journey.jpgaith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey Eric Lax (Knopf) $26.00  What a clear, interesting telling of the tale of a boy growing up in the household of an earnest, happy, and thoughtfully traditional Episcopal priest who grew into doubt and confusion in mid-life after a boyhood of piety and conviction. Lax’s description of being a pastor’s kid is remarkable, and his eventual shift — having a “foot in both cultures, dubious as plain believers, equally dubious as plain unbelievers” is how Jack Miles put it in a glowing review–  is told with eloquent honesty. This quiet spiritual autobiography is, for him, a story of discovery (and, perhaps, rediscovery.) Lax has written other books, including  best-selling study of Woody Allen, who makes an appearance or two in this story.  (As does, by the way, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a host of other figures important within the Anglican communion of those years.) Is it natural for faith to flow and ebb? This is a fascinating story which will appeal especially, I think, to baby boomers raised in, or interested in, high church Protestantism.

Ttorn.jpgorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate Justin
Lee (Jericho Books) $15.00 There is a shift in evangelical literature about the
topics of gender and same sex attractions, and it is not now my point to weigh
in on the many recent books; I list this here because it is a very moving story
of an evangelical boy who came to realize he had homosexual desires, and worked
to bring some sort of dialogue between his evangelical family and friends and
the gay friends he had in college. That is, it works as a spiritual memoir, the story of a life quest. Lee was nick-named “God Boy” as a teen and his
loving family supported him through his coming of age. It is disarming, honest,
and painful, documenting his disillusionment with the “ex-gay” movement and the
courage of his convictions that God would accept him as he ways. Although there
is more here there mere memoir, it is, at heart, a touching story of a guy
trying to figure out his life, his family, his identity, and his faith. Agree
or not with his conclusions, it is a nicely written story and a good example of
the narratives experienced not a few young Christians.

Tatake this bread.jpgke This Bread: A Radical Conversion Sarah Miles (Ballantine) $16.00 I
have read three books by this beautiful writer, astonished and delighted that
one can string together such beautiful lines, good phrases, moving paragraphs
about such heart-breakingly beautiful stuff. By narrating her life in literary
memoir, she brings an intimate detail to view, helping us sense just what her
life is like. And, wow, what a life. As you may know, this first book of hers
narrates her conversion to Christ by simply partaking – for the first time
ever! – the elements of Episcopalian Eucharist. Realizing she encountered the
living Christ in this parish’s open table and profound hospitality to her, a
stranger and outlier, she figured the next step was to “go and do likewise.” Or
almost: she started a food pantry for the poor in the San Francisco
neighborhood in which the church is located.  A sassy, quick, and clever lay theologian, now, she tells us
about not only her interior life, but her struggle to serve the marginalized,
bring gospel news to the broken, and use food and eating as a way to build
human community in the context of her liturgical church.  This is a story well worth reading –
enjoyable for the sheer verve of the writing, and extraordinary for the complex
and beautiful story it narrates.

jesus-freak.jpgI came late to Christianity,” writes Sarah Miles,” knocked
upside down by a mid-life conversion centered around eating a literal chunk of
bread. I hadn’t decided to profess an article of doctrine, but discovered a
force blowing uncontrollably through the world.” The punchy sequel to Take This Bread tells powerfully how she carries
on her new found faith and her life of radical discipleship, serving the poor
and hurting within this progressive, liturgically rich urban faith community —
it is called Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead (Jossey-Bass $21.95.) You most likely
haven’t read anything like it. Wow.

PPastrix.jpgastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint Nadia
Bolz-Weber (Jericho Books) $22.00  I
have said before that I almost didn’t read this as I figured I well understood
the “I’m no longer a straight-laced fundamentalist” arch of this story, and had
read enough of the cool emergent stories celebrating their post-evangelical shtick.  I am so, so glad Beth and I both read
this, and will admit that we found it to be a remarkable book, very well-written,
funny, engaging, surprising, and very thought-provoking. We loved hearing about
her journey out of ultra-fundamentalist faith, her struggles with addictions,
the reconciliation with her alarmed faily, and, despite her foul mouth, her
call to become a Lutheran clergy person who preaches sermons about law and
grace.  Yes, she has part of the
church calendar tattooed across her torso; yes, she sometimes wears a clergy
collar, and yes, many of her community are marginalized from the mainstream;
her artfully emergent Denver mission congregation is called “House of All
Sinners & Saints” and is as culturally-diverse and engaged in transgressive
hipster culture as one can be; it is not for everyone. But it is a sample of a faith
journey that will be a life-line to some. 
I sometimes joke that if Anne Lamotte is too tame or too old, try
Nadia.  Her writing is like Anne on
steroids. And it just might open conversations about the meaning of faith in
our time – even if you don’t agree with her theology or congregation’s style. A truly fascinating, even eccentric, perhaps one might say
postmodern, contemporary memoir.

FFinding God  A Treasury of Conversion Storie.jpginding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories edited by John
Mulder  (Eerdmans) $22.00 With
almost 400 pages, this is a jam-packed, potent collection of some of the most
thoughtful, dramatic, or literate examples of Christian conversion narratives
anywhere in print. There are sixty inspiring stories, here, of life-changing
experiences. Endorsements are from Randall Balmer and Richard Rohr and Joel
Carpenter, very different writers, all interested in the contours of faith and
culture in our time. Here you will find short excerpts from the memoirs of
Martin Luther and John Calvin, Therese of Lesieux and Toyo Kagamwa, but also
Evelyn Underhill and Albert Schweitzer and Bono. You can read about the
surprising Christian conversions of Black Elk and Charles Colson and Dorothy
Day, and the rigorous thoughts of philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and
scientists like Francis Collins. 
This monumental, wonderful, and a very useful resource for anyone not
only needing good examples of authentic faith, but for anyone wanting to share
these stories with others.



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Because this list includes my own rambling ruminations and then a long list of titles, we’ll post it as one of our occasional “columns” at the website.  We do our BookNotes blog regularly, and then, sometimes, offer even longer lists which can be found over at the “columns” tab at the website. Some of those longer reviews or bigger lists are well worth browsing through, and we hope they are still useful.

Anyone who knows even a little about the cultural zeitgeist or what is sometimes called thehow not to be secular.jpg postmodern turn will not be surprised that James K.A. Smith ends his book How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans; $16.00) with a reminder that in our current story-laden culture, the gospel will seem more interesting and more plausible to people if it is presented as more than data. Mere facts, religious or otherwise, just don’t draw folks in the 21st century as do winsome stories. 

Interestingly, though, as readers of C.S. Lewis know, this was the great scholar’s concern in the middle of the 20th century, as well. It is no surprise, for instance, that Lewis retold the Greek myth about reason and imagination in his classic novel Til We Have Faces. Art Lindsley reminds us of that in his creative book about Lewis’s own conversion in C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ: Insights from Reason,c.s. lewis's case for png Imagination and Faith (IVP; $16.00.) Lewis was logical and learned, but he also knew the need for what today we might call the right-brained and imaginative approaches. Lindsley’s book explores that very nicely.

And so, James K.A. Smith in his amazing book trying to read the (secular?) signs of the times through the lens of Charles Taylor suggests that those of us interested in offering testimony to the redemptive gospel of Christ within this postmodern and secular age learn to use the arts – literature and music and film and the practice of storytelling.  Most of us wouldn’t know it, but the magisterial Taylor book ends there, too — making suggestions about the role of the arts to bear witness. To bear fruit in “the secular age” we need not “dumb down” the truth of the matter, but we can tell it in allusive and storied ways; we need the poets and film-makers and video gamers and cultural creatives. The gospel is really a messy, sprawling, love story, after all, and a large account of the “true story of the whole world” as one favorite intro to the Bible has it.  

Atelling the truth buechner.jpgs Frederick Buechner explained so many years ago in what is still a must-read work of his, the gospel is “tragedy, comedy, and fairy-tale.” Certainly a key text for our times, and important for this column, is the 1977 classic, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (HarperOne; $17.99.)

There is little doubt that we now have to rethink how we present the gospel, and perhaps create new ways of talking about what is often called “apologetics” (the way we defend the Christian faith in conversations with critics and skeptics.) 

After the Jamie Smith lecture that we co-hosted with the CCO in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, where he commended a more imaginative approach to postmodern witness, a few in attendance browsed our book display wondering about how we might redefine apologetics if arguing people into the Kingdom doesn’t work as well as it once did (if it ever really did, I often say, although there is considerable evidence [that demands a verdict] that it did.) In our secular age, how do we construe the nature of answering the critics and helping the skeptic? 

 I know I sold a copy of The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Contextend of apologetics.jpg by Myron Bradley Penner (Baker Academic; $19.99) which is exactly about this topic. We showed off a brand new title by the ever-evolving and always interesting James W. Sire: Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really is Believing (IVP Academic; $18.00) which looks at “signals of transcendence” in ways that are alluring and winsome, perhaps not quite postmodern, but still offering an approach that is more than proofs and charts and arguments. It looks very, very useful, and I hope it is widely read.

Another book that came out a few years go reflecting deeply on questions of evangelism in our postmodern setting is written by a former campus evangelist, actually, and well worth considering for those that want a serious but earnest study: Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age (Brazos Press; $16.00) is by Brad Kallenberg who teaches at the University of Dayton  (and who, by the way, has a book on technology that Jamie Smith likes, and a recentlive to tell.png book on Christianity and engineering.)

It is a bit controversial, but the brilliant scholar and colorful British writer Francis Spufford has written Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (HarperOne; $25.99) and that, too, makes a (compelling?) case less for the historical truth of Christianity, but for the feel of its heft. Is this a silly bit of “truthiness” or something like Lewis’s myth and the “weight of glory”? No matter what you think, it is a much-discussed book, and seems to fit this conversation. Naturally we had it at the Smith lecture, and we stock it gladly in our store, spicy language and all.

Another benefit of this less rationalistic approach to the persuasion of the heart, is that rather than wielding apologetic weapons which invite argument and assent to dogma, relationships move into the foreground and our own stories of love the ultimate apologetic.jpgpain and brokenness and experiences of God’s presence become central to our testimony. Even rigorous rationalists have said this at their best, by the way – again, see Art Lindsey’s very lovely and very important study Love, the Ultimate Apologetic: The Heart of Christian Witness (IVP; $15.00) which draws its title from a famous phrase used by Francis Schaeffer.  My, my, how I wish folks would read this!

Guys like J.P. Moreland or William Lane Craig and other older school debaters seem rooted in an Enlightenment epistemology and have oodles of books on how to defeat this argument or scale that secular wall or reason through this quandary or doubt, but surely they, too, affirm (even if they don’t say it very often) that relationships matter, that showing love is essential and that there are mysteries that cannot be accounted for in our systems of logic. None of them would disagree with Lindsey, so there is no need to caricature them as one-dimensional brainiacs.  Still, the tradition of evidentialist apologetics which specializes in learning to defeat the arguments of the atheists is waning – perhaps because it isn’t as effective these days as it once was.

One book that we had at the CCO book display with Smith isn’t for everyone, but a must-read iffive views on apologetics.jpg this topic intrigues you. Five Views on Apologetics is compiled and edited by Steven Coward in the Counterpoints series (Zondervan; $19.99.) You know how these work (we have a lot of them, on all manner of topics.) Each author presents his or her view, and then the other four reply.  The second portion is the second guy offering his perspective, again, with the other four offering a counterpoint.  By the end of the very orderly collection, you’ve learned not only five main viewpoints, but the critiques offered by each of them.  What a way to learn!

In this 398-page paperback you hear from representatives of five views: Classical, Evidential, Presuppositional, Reformed Epistemology and a Cumulative Case view. Who knew there were such profound differences of why and how to defend the faith.

That a friendly and fruitful argument can occur in the context of trusting relationships can beletters from a skeptic.jpg seen in a wonderful book of Greg Boyd’s, who published a fascinating set of letters written back and forth between he and his father, Ed, when the younger Boyd became a Christian (much to the dismay of his secularist father.)  Letters From a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions About Christianity (David C. Cook; $14.99) is a regular seller for us here at the shop as we find many folks are drawn to the way this attempts to answer or reply to specific questions from the unbelieving dad, but isn’t merely a handbooks of arguments answered. It is really a story – a father and son, story, even — and it matters that the letters are warm, caring, familiar, even humorous. Dare I say that such projects are perfect for those interested in hearts and minds?  That this combines the evidences and arguments responding to honest questions with a winsome and creative backstory? I do recommend it often.

A very interesting book which, again, calls us to a more wholistic account of the hope that liesno arg for god.jpg within us is called No Argument for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith by John Wilkinson (IVP; $15.00.)  Written by a otherwise conservative evangelical, it understands that mere data doesn’t cut it these days, and the multi-faceted and deeply personal gospel story itself cannot be proven with proofs and evidences and the like. I like Scot McKnight’s discussion of this book when he says,

Some people know the truth with a cock-sure confidence that is both admirable and annoying. Others have been through the battles of doubt and walk away from the battle with a limp, a limp that reveals that person is still walking straight ahead but with the humility that emerges from deep engagement with God in the shadows of life. John Wilkinson’s book is for the limpers, and it is a wonderful post-apologetics apologetic for an authentic faith.

Anyway, Jamie Smith opened a nice little can of worms in our Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture by inviting us to story, to winsome, multi-dimensional ways of witness that go beyond proofs and cases and reasons, but also that refuses to reduce Christian evangelism to mere social action or cultural reformation or wordless witness.  For Smith, and for us, this question is not about being more liberal or less clear about the first things of the gospel. We do have to find ways to share the gospel without being needlessly pushy or attached to rationalistic strategies that end up being more argumentative than inviting. For love’s sake, we want to be effective and fruitful as we enlist others to join the great adventure of Kingdom living.

I hope these things are of interest to you.  If you are a follower of Christ and a member of nearly any kind of church you surely know we are commissioned to share the gospel, to reach out to others with an invitation to join in the movement of God’s work in the world. You know we are to preach the cross, to declare the goodness of the gospel, to announce the Kingdom, speak truth into a hurting world, to be ready to talk about the hope we have.  

And I suspect that you, like me – if you are willing to host these thoughts for more than a minute – have great anxiety about it all, fearful that we aren’t doing a very good job at our great commission and not even sure about how to talk about it all.  Evangelism?  Yikes!  In a post-Christian, post-modern, secularized, pluralistic, culture? Double yikes!

* * *

Aocbp house.jpgnd so it was that I was particularly attentive to these things last week, just days after the Smith lecture on “the secular age” and the “nones” and the book-selling conversations about books that offer new approaches to apologetics as I was hanging out for several days in Ocean City NJ with 40 young evangelical college- student leaders from campuses across Pennsylvania and Ohio. As I always discover in my annual pilgrimage there, these students have engaged in fascinating and fruitful conversations throughout the summer with CCO staff and guest teachers, reading good books together, and immersing themselves in the drama of Scripture.  They know a bit about how faith is a way of life based on a deep, heart-felt and Biblically-shaped world and life view.  They know Christ as the Redeemer King whose grace, as the Keller video curriculum that they watch puts it, “changes everything.” Most wouldn’t call themselves post-modern, I gather, but all are coming of age in the second decade of the 21st century (and are, of course, glued to their smart phones and i-devices.)

Tocbp kids 2014.jpghey come from campuses where they have seen a lot — there are cheesy and simplistic examples of faith all over but they want to offer a better vision and form communities of spiritual integrity. When hostile professors or administrators chastise these young Christians (as they sometimes do!) it is usually because these profs disapprove of the silly faith and reactionary politics they’ve seen; they aren’t the first to be turned off to lively faith by what they’ve seen on the television.  When sharp, caring students talk about their work fighting sexual trafficking or global warming and offer their professors Lewis’ Mere Christianity or The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers or Orthodoxy by Chesterton or the reputable, contemporary scholarship of N.T. Wright, even hardened secular professors can be impressed. 

I was once told by a special ed prof at my alma mater (IUP) that if I didn’t believe that thescientism word cloud.jpg scientific method was the “only way to truth”  — “Yes, Truth with a capitol T,” she scolded – “you have no business being in a modern university.”  This kind of hostile scientism and naturalistic philosophy is still prevalent on campus, but, I suspect, less so, here amidst the postmodern turn.  

There are a lot of books that cover that topic — worldviews in the university, scholarly freedom, academic discipleship.

But, let’s be clear: these young students working in ocean side shops and boardwalk joints, cleaning hotels and slicing cold cuts and cheese at the local deli, or making smoothies for the tourists aren’t talking with hostile intellectuals this summer.  They are talking with co-workers and townies, street people and tourists, ordinary people from all over the country and world.

And, boy, do they enjoy being hospitable.  Every evening they would introduce whoever they happened to bring home for the big communal supper — a co-worker from Bulgaria, a guy who plays Frisbee on the beach, a boss from the morning shift at the bakery.  Some of these guests to the OCBP house inevitably wondered over to the book room I had set up in the living room, and these students got me talking with their new friends.  What did I have that would convince a skeptic, that would show why Christianity makes sense, that would answer some of the questions they had?

A big artful novel about meaning or a postmodern guide to wonder and mystery didn’t seem to scratch where it itched.  These curious young adults – drawn in by the community and hospitality and laughter so evident among these joyous, loud lovers of Jesus – were already leaning in, eager to know what was going on among them. Maybe they would take up a pro/con study like the Greg Boyd book, mentioned above, or maybe a classic like C.S. Lewis. One guesttrue story of whole world.jpg really wanted to know what we meant by the Big Story of the Bible, and we gave her The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Narrative by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew (Faith Alive; $15.99) the abridged version of their bigger Drama of Scripture, just out in a new expanded, revised edition (Baker; $22.99.) I also like to show the edgy, smallish book called The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense of Life by Justin Buzzard  (Moody; $13.99) that gets at this in a fun way, too – a Bible overview that shows its central plot and invites us to see our lives as making sense as we enter that plot-line. 

How do we find ourselves in the story of God?  One gal in the house told how Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller (Thomas Nelson; $16.99) changed her life; perhaps you know the famous first lineblue like jazz.gif of those reflections: “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. I used to
not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this
happened.”  I of course pointed then to A Thousand Miles in a Million Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story (Thomas Nelson; $16.99) Miller’s wonderfully enjoyable narrative about making his life a true narrative (with an assist from Bob Goff). We had all of his books there.

Of course, there are so many great memoirs, stories of folks making sense of their lives, and these are often good for “pre-evangelism” and nudges towards developing a religious vocabulary to name one’s longings. Even those that are not exactly about Christian conversion are helpful, I think, to let a person know that she is not alone, not the only one trying to figure out these things. Perhaps one day I’ll do a list of a few of my favorite memoirs about searching for faith. 

At least one young women pressed me for specific answers, though, and she wanted a book that responded to the standard challenges raised against Christainity.  I think she eventually took Thcase for faith.jpge Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity by Lee Strobel (Zondervan; $15.99.) We also had Strobel’s The Case for Christ which is excellent for those wondering if the gospels accounts are reliable, if Christ could be who He said He was, if the claims made about him hold water.  The Case for Creator is, like the others, an anthology of meaty but readable chapters, in this case, authored by scientists who see God’s design fingerprinted onto the scientific facts of the world.  These, though, were not her primary questions – so we shifted to the ones in Case for Faith — if God is good, why is there so much suffering, did Jesus really say He was the only way (and what is with that?) Do miracles really happen?  Why have Christians been so violent and vile throughout the ages? These questions about not just the truth claims about Christ but about this other stuff, and it seemed like it would be helpful. 

Allow me a brief observation, a quick story from OCBP, and then a random book list of titles I want to tell you about. This list isn’t anywhere near comprehensive — we have a lot of these kinds of books in our shop, books on apologetics (modern and postmodern), books on doing evangelism, and books for seekers or those with significant doubts.  These are some good ones to get you started.


I am really, really moved when I am around people who have a passion to talk about how the Divine works in their lives, about the good news that the Kingdom is coming, who share about the need and possibility for others to enter into a relationship with their Creator God by way ofbullhorn.jpg the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In other words, to see evangelism done well is a great joy, and is so much better than my more common shtick about how bad pushy evangelists can be. 

That some do it wrong and say it badly – no small thing as they hurt people and confuse some and make ministry harder for all of us due to their unfriendly and injudicious style – is frankly not nearly as interesting as seeing how some do it right. I wonder why so many churches nearly pride themselves that they don’t do evangelism? Doesn’t it get a bit boring just saying what we don’t do? 

Being with the OCBP kids, watching them offer hospitality and grace and gospel to friends and strangers is remarkable. Please don’t throw out the idea of evangelism and the possibility of seekers becoming Christians just become some religious groups overplay it. If you’ve not shed tears lately hearing stories of God-caused transformation, pray for a chance to experience it.


One athletic, young sophomore guy broke down in tears as he told us about what happened that day at work, exclaiming how it was “so cool” that he got to say a prayer to receive God’s salvation for and with a co-worker; the OCBP student’s college-age co-worker agreed his life was messed up and that he needed God. He knew very little about the Bible or the gospel, and Gabe “told him everything” about the grand Scriptural story (from Genesis to Revelation: they even took a bathroom break in the middle), about creation, fall, redemption, about law and grace, about hope and new creation. Gabe talked about his own trust in Jesus and offered his buddy the assurance of salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit within him, and a new quality of life, starting right then and there. Picture these two college men praying out loud together in a boat rental warehouse as one entered into the Kingdom of God for the first time; hearing about it brought many of us to our knees.   

Does this – this storied report of one person leading another to Christ, of somebody praying for salvation for one unfamiliar with the good news – happen in your church?  Perhaps it does, but in some, it just doesn’t. This is not the time to speculate about why that is, but for many of us, we just don’t quite know how to share about the deepest things; we just don’t feel safe or confident to go there. Sometimes we don’t offer good news because we think that only fundamentalist weirdos do that.


As always, reading books can help. This is not the only answer, of course, but reading books about evangelism, the art of apologetics, and having resources to answer questions, while learning how to talk comfortably about deep things can really give you new confidence and inspire you to take steps towards sharing your faith when appropriate.  Read them to see how it’s done, to learn the vocabulary of this art, and to know you aren’t weird for desiring to tell your story, proclaim the gospel, and invite others into the community of people that live the story you believe to be true.


Ahospitality.jpg Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises Michele Hershberger (Herald Press) $12.99  I suppose Making Room by Christine Pohl is still the semi-scholarly classic on the topic, but this is the go-to, must-read, amazingly good resource for anyone who wants to live in such a way that they are open to God’s work day by day, eager for surprises, and open to sharing life with those who come along.  One of the speakers at OCBP  — the indomitable funny guy Dr. Terry Thomas — spoke highly of this, and we sold out of it. This really is a starting place to think well about Kingdom evangelism: living out of grace in a way that is open to giving, open to others, breaking down hostilities and open to sharing life.  Get this lovely, serious book today — you won’t regret it!

Spspeak.jpgeak: How Your Story Can Change the World Nish Weiseth (Zondervan) $14.99  This new book is not primarily or exclusively about evangelism, but just about discovering the power of sharing your story and learning the grace to hear the stories of others. Speak is a call for grace, openness, and vulnerability, encouraging church folk to share their own stories of transformation.  She is all about building bridges, being an advocate for social change, for investing in others in ways that makes disciples and builds the Kingdom. Weiseth is a young blogger and founder of A Deeper Story, a collaborative website where over sixty writers share their stories in order to address important issues within Christianity and the culture at large. There is a beautiful foreword by memoirist Shauna Niequist.

Tunexpected adventure.jpghe Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People About Jesus Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $14.99  I often show this book as a great starter book on evangelism — it invites you to pray for 40 days, each day asking God to give you the eyes to see opportunities to serve others, speak about spiritual things, or say something about your faith in Jesus. Then, the authors report their own experiment in faith, with a daily story of something that happened to them. These are great case studies — some pretty dramatic, most not, all quite interesting. Almost like a daily devotional, I am sure you will be touched by some of these occurrences that seem like divine appointments, nice episodes that remind us that ordinary, daily opportunities abound. This is a truly helpful books, lovely to read and inspiring to apply.

Ii once was lost.jpg Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About the Path to Jesus Don Everts & Doug Schaupp (IVP) $15.00  I raved about this when it came out several years ago and hope you know of it. These guys wondered how young collegiate actually made the journey towards following Jesus and interviewed to over two thousand people who had come to Christ during their college years (mostly through IFCF.) There were, not so surprisingly, barriers to overcome, relationships that mattered, stages – ” postmodern evangelism is a mysterious and organic process that nevertheless goes through discernible phrases, as people cross thresholds from distrust to trust, from complacency to curiosity, and from meandering to seeking.” This is not an excuse to refrain from talking clearly about things that matter, but it is a reminder that this usually takes time, that there are factors that influence how people shift in their perspectives and become open to the gospel.  If you are concerned that old-school evangelistic strategies no longer work, if you want to explore intentional “relational evangelism” (especially among those who are skeptical and un-churched) this little book is a gold mine of ideas and winsome guidance.

Ggod space.jpgod Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally  Doug Pollock (Group) $14.99  Ahh, this is one of the best little books on evangelism of which we know. It reminds us that conversations about spiritual things can happen naturally, and that we certainly do not want to be pushy or weird.  OCBP staff and students about whom I’ve written really love it, and several explained that they felt it gave them a great framework and vision to learn to talk about the deepest things in ways that lead to a natural telling of what God is doing in their lives and the nature of the gospel.  I’ve said it before, but I do really, really recommend this short, insightful book. Nice cover, too!

Oout of the salt shaker.jpgut of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life Becky Pippert (IVP) $17.00  Well, this is certainly one of our all time biggest sellers here at the shop – we hosted Becky here in our early years to help us learn about effective, faithful, relational evangelism. She is an amazing person, with tons of great stories, and much solid insight. This book is a true classic, and if you haven’t read it, I beg you to.  I think it is that good. 

 “I Can” Evangelism: Taking the “I Can’t” Out of Sharing Your Faith Elisa Morgan (Revell) $12.99  I have made many lists of evangelism books in the past, and enjoy explaining this or that one. There are those that are theologically mature and profound (please, please check out The Heart of Evangelism and Learning Evangelism From Jesus by Jerram Barrs [Crossway; $16.99/$18.99] for important, fabulous Biblical foundations) and then there are those that just give us that nudge, that invitation, the simple suggestions that “you can do this.” I read this almost in one sitting when it had been released under a different title and delighted that they re-issued it with a new title; this edition is now out of print, too, but we have a few left. It is so clear and encouraging and am glad to recommend it will I can. It isn’t too simplistic nor is it cheesy or pushy. It is helpful, motivating, and very, very nice.  Elisa Morgan has been through a lot, her life is a great testimony, and this book can help you, I’m sure.

Faith is Like Skydiving And Other Memorable Images for Dialogue with Seekers and Skepticsfaith-is-like-skydiving-and-other-memorable-images-for-dialogue-with-seekers-and-skeptics.jpg Rick Mattson (IVP) $15.00  I love this book! It is chock full of stories and good (and, well, not so good) examples of Mattson’s own efforts to share the gospel, mostly on college campuses. These honest reports from his own checkered efforts are worth the price of the book, but the real point is that he has learned to us various metaphors, stories, and simple analogies to communicate this or that complicated point or theological truth. You’ve most likely heard some of the objections to the faith that Mattson tells us about, and you may even have heard some of his winsome, clever replies. But a lot of these were new to me, and I will store a number a way, I’m sure, to pull out when it may be instructive.  Please know that he isn’t all about just mimicking trite illustrations and he makes a passionate case for caring for each conversation partner, for being honest and candid about the weight of many painful questions and challenges to faith. But yet, being prepared with some helpful analogies, some illustrations to us, some images to draw on is fantastic.  This is one of the most helpful book about apologetics I’ve seen in a while, packed with takeaways, loaded with stories, and written by an author with lots of experience, written in a caring, honest tone. Nice!

Ttelling the gospel through story.jpgelling the Gospel Through Story: Evangelism That Keeps Hearers Wanting More Christine Dillon (IVP) $15.00  Christine is an OMF missionary from Australia and knows that “everybody loves a good story.” This is a thorough guide to learning how to tell the Bible stories as stories and how to us this “storying the Bible” as a tool for good conversations and evangelism. I like what Sean Gladding, the author of the fantastic The Story of God, the Story of Us says, “Christian Dillon calls us to recapture the beauty, power and mystery of storying the gospel, and does so with the wisdom of a practitioner.”  This is great for anyone who wants to reach out to others in evangelistic hopes, but also for Sunday school teachers, educators or preachers. Very impressive, loaded with insight and guidance, and a good study guide, too.

Qquestioning-evangelism.jpguestioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did Randy Newman (Kregel) $13.99  This award-winning book is a wonderful guide to listening well and asking good questions as one engages in apologetics and evangelism. There are imagined scripts and case studies of ways we can ask probing questions of those with whom we are in conversation.  At times, Newman’s bias is a bit conservative (when he is showing how to have fruitful dialogues about social issues) and although he is all about inviting relationally-sensitive discussions, his hope is to offer gospel news and offer compelling Biblical answers of a fairly conventional sort. Gladly, there is a wonderful chapter on having compassion, which is fantastic, and a final essay on unanswered questions, which is very nice. 

Ggood news and good works.jpgood Words and Good Works: A Theology of the Whole Gospel Ronald J. Sider (Baker) $20.00  I often remark how very important this book is, and how carefully Ron explores, compares, contrasts, differentiates and wisely and helpfully studies different models and views of evangelism.  He gives a wholistic Biblical vision of what evangelism is and isn’t, and it is as important for mainline denominational “social gospel” folk as it is for evangelical “evangelistic” folk. As you may know, Ron has been a leader of evangelical social action, calling for radical lifestyles of generous justice, service to the poor, peacemaking and the like. And yet, he continues to be interested in his earliest passion — to be an apologist and defend the credibility of faith among the intellectuals.

Despite that interest, Ron was called by the Lord He loved to work raising the consciousness of evangelicals about racial injustice, urban poverty, world hunger, the need for sustainable economics.  Through these activist networks he helped forge (international) conversations about the relationship between word and deed, helping craft declarations at Lausanne about what we mean by witness, evangelism and by social action. This title is one of the very best books of the late 20th century explaining why we need both personal evangelism and social action, words and deeds, good news and good policy, and also how we ought not conflate or confuse them (even as they are deeply intertwined.) A great book on the Biblical vision of the Kingdom of God, with an inspiring tone and some healthy advice —  it simply has to be listed here as we offer resources for thinking about relevant evangelism in our time. This showed, years ago, now, that we must “show” and “tell” and that our words must point to a real community living differently — vital ideas for anyone thinking about fruitful, Biblical, evangelism in the 21st century.

Nnudge.jpgudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There Leonard Sweet (David C. Cook) $19.99 There are dozens and dozens of books in our evangelism section, but I’d be remiss not to name this one.  Len is a wonderful cultural analyst, a critic of mean-spirited or dull views of faith and evangelism, but also one who has great, great passion for creatively offering good words and good news to people shaped by our postmodern times. He is upbeat, always quoting fascinating episodes from history or great writers, and is a joy to learn from. Len is less critical of postmodernity than some, and has a winsome ability to playfully make connections between our crazy times and the crazy good news of a God who Is. We can nudge one another along the way — that’s it! This book is a provocative one helping you learn some new ways to think about evangelism, offering new energy and Spirit-given confidence to help folks make connections with Christ Himself by using our many senses. Yes!

Uunbinding the gospel.jpgnbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism  Martha Grace Reese (Chalice Press) $20.99  For the last few years, we have happily sold this (or the three companion volumes) at nearly every mainline denominational event at which we sold books. With rave endorsements from The Christian Century, the Congregations newsletter of the Alban Institute, respected Protestant leaders such as the former President of the UCC, it has snowballed into a best-seller, used in 15,000 congregations in more than 50 denominations.

Evangelical scholars have raved, too.  Dick Peace, formerly of GCTS, now at Fuller, says “This should be required reading in all our mainline churches.”  George Hunter (Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Asbury Theological Seminary and a respected author of many books on relevant, contextualized evangelism) says “I expect Unbinding the Gospel Series to move [thousands of] churches into their first invitational foray into the community in anyone’s memory.”unbindlogo.jpg

The four volumes (Unbinding the Gospel, Unbinding Your Heart, Unbinding Your Church, and Unbinding Your Soul) came out of Reese’s research with a national Lilly Endowment project on evangelism and congregational transformation. One reviewer was glad that they use “humor, whimsy and joy” and were “written to provoke, to tease, and to charm us back into telling our story.” We have written about these before, but glad to list ’em here again.

Tart of neighboring.jpghe Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door  Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon (Baker) $14.99 There is, assume you know, a national movement to renew local communities. Government and non-profits are all learning to care about the local, and increasingly churches are being missional in ways that start with their own neighborhoods. Building lasting relationships with those around us ought not seem like rocket science and many of us may think we don’t need a handbook to making a difference in our own locales.  But, alas, it just doesn’t seem to happen these days, and this book is “thought-provoking and practical” (as Margaret Feinberg put it.)

The Mayor of Duluth, Minnesota writes,

 “The Art of Neighboring has united many churches in Duluth and has helped us to launch a neighboring movement. I’m excited about the influence it is having in my city and its potential to impact other cities around the county.”  

Even serious neighborhood scholars and community-based sociologist like John McKnight the co-director of the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University have endorsed it.  Not many books draw on old-school evangelism classics (Master Plan of Evangelism, say, or the work of Dawson Trotman) as well as mature analysis like Exclusion and Embrace by Volf or the community organizing stuff of Robert Lupton. Check out their website for more info.

Tmystic way.jpghe Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach Elaine Hearth (Baker Academic) $19.99  I have written about this before, and hold it up and show it off often, in part because it is so very interesting, a curious, refreshing and profound perspective to help the church get out of its “dark night of the soul” but also because it is just so very rare to find a truly new angle and approach to sharing one’s story in evangelism.  This author, a professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, draws on the usual suspects — Merton, Nouwen, Gerald May, Richard Rohr and the like. (Ahh, but also Wendell Berry and Kalistos Ware, Bonaventure and Wesley.) This includes theory and practice, using the classic spiritual formation lenses and the teaching of the mystics to helps us gain a more holistic view of the gospel and a helpful way to invite people into the deep waters of true spirituality.  As we ponder what sorts of approaches to evangelism which may bear fruit in this postmodern era, maybe connecting with the hunger of spiritual encounter which runs so deep these days is a more than a clever idea, but essential.

Ttrue story .jpgrue Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In James Choung (IVP) $16.00 With the coffee cup stains on the napkin on the front, you get that this is pitched to a younger, hipper crowd – indeed, the “likewise” imprint of IVP is missional, authentic, edgy, even. This is a great, great book for folks — the young adult crowd, or those eager to be challenged to think younger — wanting fresh ways to think about what it means to invite people into the story of faith, especially those that are aware that the gospel has been grown oily in the hands of hucksters and weird on the tongues of ideologues.  Yes, if you are wary of sharing your own faith journey because of how badly it has often been done, and long for a sane and sensible -and maybe even creative and exciting – way of doing this kinds of work, this book is for you. 

First, you should know much of it is written as a novel – a parable, if you will.  Caleb is a disillusioned believer and Anna is a hostile skeptic yet they both wrestle with the plausibility of the Christina story in a world of pain and suffering. They ask each other tough questions about what Jesus came to do and what Christianity is supposed to be about. 

As activist and joyful prophet Shane Claiborne writes of it, “This book is an urgent cry not to settle for the dream of America over the dream of God, nor to allow cynicism to suffocate the hope that another world is possible.”  Yep, this is a cleverly construed story within a book ruminating on new ways to explain the Kingdom of God to others, to invite folks to a new story, and to show forth a gospel that is true and worthy.  Maybe this is the kind of (post-modern?)based on a true story.jpg apologetic that we are searching for.  Certainly it is a creative and interesting way to present the gospel.

And, as the napkin on the cover alludes, there is a scene where some stuff is scribbled — and you can even by the little booklet, the story as explained in the drawing.  They make nice discussion tools to use in appropriate settings. ($1.25.) Fantastic!  

Rreal life.jpgeal Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out James Choung (IVP) $17.00 After the fun success of True Story, James Choung then wrote a sequel of sorts, a book for those who are mentoring others, discipling and training young believers in the journey of faith. It introduces new characters, but is similar — a mix of a novel and an evaluation of what is going on, and how the characters learn to live their faith. And there are diagrams — woo-hoo.  This one, too, is so, so helpful for anyone who needs trained (or retrained, as the case may be) in learning to do ministry in our postmodern age. 

Here is what it says in its promo:

Engineer Stephen wants to encourage his younger colleague Jared in his spiritual journey, but both feel at a loss. Stephen’s friend Bridget offers insights on how Boomers, Xers, Millennials and younger generations approach spiritual questions, with implications for discipleship, community and service. Together they walk through deepening stages of faith as they discern how God is calling them to live. Join Stephen, Bridget and Jared on their journey of following Jesus, as they discover what it means to move from skeptic to world-changer. And find new pathways for Christian discipleship and disciple-making in a world yearning for hope.  

Btrue story and real life .jpgoth True Story and Real Life are fabulous examples of the fresh, creative, and passionate work being done by a new generation of campus ministers and authentic, caring evangelists. If you are in a fairly traditional setting in a conventional church, you may think these are not for you. Let me suggest otherwise: surely you know un-churched or de-churched young adults with whom you need to connect. So, you could use these with them, perhaps. I bet if you’ve been at this a while in a fairly standard, older church setting, maybe you could use some fresh assistance in reaching out to those who most likely don’t come to your church.  Even if you don’t use this book with younger adults in your orbit, maybe you could use it with your leaders or duplicate it’s schemes and dreams within your own context; it will freshen your imagination, remind you of the big questions and point you towards (maybe) new ways to speak the story just by seeing how some proclaim the gospel or call people to discipleship these days. 

DDifferenceMakers.jpgifference Makers: An Action Guide for Jesus Followers M. Scott Boren (Baker) $13.99 One of the great things about these CCO students living together at OCBP that I’ve mentioned is that they are eager to reach out, to serve others, to make a difference where they can.  And it seems they have been inspired and somewhat equipped to do so — some have been to the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh, and some have already bought books from us, so they get the whole “all of life redeemed” worldview vision.  But, like most of us, they need equipped, trained, guided.

So here’s the thing: many of us want to do evangelism, to make disciples, serve God in good ways whether it is the day to day stuff, paying attention to our neighborhood, or being involved in initiatives for social justice.  Do you feel like you’ve been trained or equipped to reach out and let your light shine, as they say? And, further, if you wanted to do ministry with others, serving others to learn how to be so equipped, would you know how to “disciple” and mentor them?

Aren’t these questions that many of us ponder: how do we serve God better, and, if we see ourselves as leaders, how do we inspire and empower and mentor others along the way? We want to make a difference, and we want to influence others to make a difference, for God’s glory and our neighbors good. We want to do winsome evangelism, but don’t know where to start. Just how do you do this? How does one influence the world, and how does one influence other Christians in ways that empowers them learn how to be salt and light and leaven in the world? This book is simply one of the best resources I’ve seen about how to get active, be more missional, prayerfully and attentive pour yourself into others, mentor and guide and inspire them to be “difference makers.” If you know someone who wants to be culturally engaged or socially active or who wants to lead a Bible study or learn to share their faith, and you want to come alongside them to encourage them, you need this book. 

Funny – and I mean no offense here – but many well-trained pastors don’t seem to know how to do ministry, working with people outside of committees or pastoral counseling sessions, and they’ve not been taught in seminary the social and emotional and strategic skills about being a spiritually formative influence on others.  They preach good sermons to inspire us to be God’s agents in the world, some can teach, but don’t quite know how to come alongside those struggling to figure out how to be a faithful presence in the world. They often don’t know how to “make disciples” living out, say, 2 Timothy 2:2, hanging out and passing on and equipping others to do the work of the Kingdom.  The creative insights and “doable first steps” found here in this great handbook will help. Pastors, campus ministers, Christian educators, small group leaders, work through this book with your people. Pass this out and do the prayerful lectio exercises which will be transforming. Difference Makers: An Action Guide… is a missional training handbook, par excellance. 

Ttactics.jpgactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions Gregory Koukl (Zondervan) $14.99 I have suggested in this column that the days of harsh argumentation and developing air-tight intellectual strategies for presenting truth claims in absolute ways are nearly over.  That is certainly the position of a few of the books listed above (like Myron Bradley Penner’s or John Wilkinson’s, for instance.) Yet – yet! – that simply isn’t the case in some quarters, and if you expect that you might have reason to dialogue with rationalistic skeptics or thinking seekers, this guidebook will teach you how to maneuver comfortably and graciously as you share your faith with others. I have some quibbles about some of the rhetoric here, but overall, it is a very useful tool, and I do recommend it.

 On the back cover it says “learn how to navigate mine fields, stop challengers in their tracks, turn the tables and – most importantly – get people thinking about Jesus. Many big name apologists from this evidentialist school of argument (note the rhetoric in the above sentence) rave about this. Norm Geisler says, “There is no better book to equip Christians to think clearly, soundly, and inoffensively.”  William Lane Craig says “Tactics will make you a more effective ambassador for Christ.” J. P. Moreland says it is “the authoritative treatment about how to employ various strategies in conversations with unbelievers about the Christian faith.”  

I think it is helpful to study communication theory, to learn to more skillfully manage details of dialogue, applying principles of sound thinking, adopting engaging and disarming styles to use when people raise objections. Learning these “techniques” can soon become a natural impulse for you, to be thoughtful, rigorous, clear, but also a good listener and kindly. So this is good.  I do believe that if you want to be effective in Kingdom witness in these days this isn’t the only book you should read, as this “tactical” strategy for conversation is a bit heavy on the left brain, and seems to carry an assumption that most nonbelievers or seekers are skeptics wanting to have heavy debates about truth — minefields and all that.  Some do, and this is a helpful resource, but (despite the raves by Moreland, McDowell, et al) it isn’t the only tool to have, and is only one style of faithful response. But what it does, it does quite well.


EEchoes of a Voice.jpgchoes of a Voice: We Are Not Alone James W. Sire (Cascade Books) $29.00  I mentioned above the new book about apologetics by James Sire. This is nearly a companion volume, also quite new, which documents the ineffable — these “sudden, unbidden, unexpected, strange experience” that we all have.  What are they? Is there Something Other? Sire has studied a large number of accounts of those who have had some luminous sensation, paring them with his own experiences.  He turns to scientists, philosophers and theologians.  As it says on the back cover “These experiences, he concludes, are signals of transcendence or what N.T. Wright calls echoes of a voice – “the voice of Jesus, calling us to follow him into God’s new world.”” Put simply, this book is an account of Jim’s fascinating journey to this conclusion.

Listen to what Sire’s friend Os Guinness says of it,

For dwellers in our modern ‘world without windows,’ or for prisoners in Plato’s cave content with the flickering shadows on the wall, Sire has given us a brilliant and helpful survey of pathways to the sun and freedom – some sure and some illusory. Echoes of a Voice should be read by all who wrestle with communicating faith persuasively today.

Here is another fabulous blurb from the back cover:

Despite the grinding tyranny of contemporary materialism, the human spirit persists in longing for transcendence.  Deeply personal and impressively erudite, Echoes of a Voice explores how our experiences constantly point us in a direction beyond this physical world and the various ways that we have tended to interpret those experiences. Ultimately, Sire challenges us to look for that which satisfies our deepest longings for meaning, for community, and for relationship with the God who constantly reveals himself to his creation.  Gene Fant, author of God as Author

Tend of exploring.jpghe End of Our Exploring:  Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith Matthew Lee Anderson (Moody Publishers) $13.99  Do you know this line from the end of the famous “Little Gidding” poem by T.S. Elliot? (My old friend Brooks Williams used it in what became one of my all-time favorite songs, “Wanderer’s Song.”) The thesis of this book is simple — it is fine to ask good questions, to doubt, to wonder, to explore. I know some have foolishly been taught that this isn’t safe, or healthy, or they’ve not been guided towards asking good questions, and exploring well. This is very well-written and covers much good ground, from a very reliable and insightful author who has studied philosophy and theology, and writes in a clear, inviting way.  You may know somebody for whom this little book could be a lifeline, an offer of freedom, intellectual credibility, and a guide to the best answers.  I think it is good for anyone, which is why we’ve highlighted it here before. Do check it out —  highly recommended!

Tsacredness of questioning.jpghe Sacredness of Questioning Everything  David Dark (Zondervan) $15.99 One might think that inviting people to this ancient, sacred task of questioning simple truths, investigating matters, upsetting the apple carts, deconstructing, if you will, might be disruptive to evangelical faith.  Maybe so. But this is so essential for healthy human flourishing and personal development (and such an accepted part of postmodern culture) that to fear (or dismiss with snarky comments) the good heart of this good project, is to miss extraordinary possibilities of engaging with seekers, skeptics, those who wonder (and those who wander.) David Dark is a very, very, creative thinker, sometimes nearly sensational — he writes almost wildly, at times, and knows so much about so much (including pop culture; I hope you know his wonderful book Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons which, by the way, could be another helpful resource for postmodern evangelism.) Eugene Peterson has a wise endorsing blurb on the back of this; I do too, for that matter.  Check it out.

Rrecapture the wonder.jpgecapture the Wonder Ravi Zacharias (Nelson) $12.99  Ravi Z is renowned the world over as one of the most eloquent and articulate defenders of Christian orthodoxy. He is a powerful speaker, a gracious but hard-hitting evangelist, and a scholar who has conversations with some of the world’s leading atheists, political leaders, and scholars.  Yes, he seems like an old-school rationalists, yet here he moves towards the contemporary ethos, wondering why we all seek wonder.  “Deep within all of us is a longing to recapture a sense of wonder,” he writes, “to marvel at the mystery of God and His creation as we did as children.” Has our capacity for wonder been stifle by busyness and ambition?  Have we “resigned ourselves to explaining away all that once made us gasp in awe?”  This offers an argument for this deeper, sensuous life, offered with poetic insights, and pointing the way to allowing our minds to embrace the deepest desires of our hearts and experience life as God intended it to be.” If you know RZM you know he is a serious, thoughtful author.  I hope you have not overlooked this lovely one, what one thoughtful reviewer called “the right medicine for anyone who may be disillusioned with life.”  “We are disillusioned, he argues,” Charles Colson wrote, “because we have lost our sense of wonder, and that is a problem that has a cure.” This book can help believers and seekers alike.

Ddrained -  plough.jpgrained: Stories of People Who Wanted More Johann Christoph Arnold (Plough Publishing) $8.00 We are delighted that Plough Publishing is back in business after a hiatus of many years – they are a fascinating indie press that brings together quotes and insights from sophisticated literary figures with a down-to-Earth search for meaning, framed by their radical, Anabaptist faith community called the Bruderhof. With the almost punk cover design, this would be appreciated by anybody searching for help in the middle of struggles, but especially those who may be on culture’s margins, who are feeling lost, stressed, betrayed or confused. These are not testimonies of clean or clear Christian conversion, but stories of those who refuse to run on empty, who long for greater meaning, or were willing to search for more and hear the truth of the power of love and the profundity of service. Revolutionary stuff!

Icleary.JPGn the Absence of God Richard L. Cleary (Xulon; $24.99) At the Jamie Smith lecture, another book we had stacked up in our apologetics section there (and that we proudly feature in our store, of course) is a novel about these very questions about the existence of God, the nature of truth, and whether there really is such a thing as right and wrong. Set on a college campus, written by my very good friend, neighbor, and local philosophy teacher, it is a hefty tale, with a lot going on, making it ideal for those that want to consider life’s big questions in the form of a story.  This takes up Lewis’s and Smith’s call to use the novel form to do “pre-evangelism” and communicate the terrain of  philosophy and ethics — and is very moving in many ways. I’ve mentioned this novel before, but if you don’t have it yet, it might be useful – it follows the conversations between professors (Christian and otherwise) and students (including some football players and a couple who are dating) on a typical college campus. Cleary is quite passionate about intellectual credibility; he seems to be taking the Dostoevsky line about how anything is permitted if there is no God and has his character’s explore the implications of such arguments among these students and teachers trying to figure out right and wrong.  It is a good story, with lots of intellectual dialogue, with the biggest questions one can ask being explored by the characters.  I am not the only one who has wished for a sequel… maybe someday.  For now, check it out and pass it on.

Cclear winter nights.jpglear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After Trevin Wax (Multnomah) $13.99  I love small, chunky-sized, compact hardbacks – and this novel is a delight. Whether you know people who are searching for real faith (or no faith at all) this story tells what happens when a young Christian dealing with significant disillusionment and doubt spends a weekend with an elderly retired pastor.  Of course, they talk – and no subject is off limits. This isn’t as long or heady as Cleary’s In the Absence of God (had has less of a dramatic plot.) The conversation ranges from  disillusionment and forgiveness to the distinctiveness of the gospel of grace… it is a lovely little read, and could be a great thing to share with others and talk about in a book group. Randy Alcorn says that it is “warm, compelling, and thought-provoking.”

Tthe journey.jpghe Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims Peter Kreeft (IVP) $13.00  What a great little book this is, especially appealing to those who are interested in not only a fun story, but honest seeking, the history of philosophy, and the big questions. In this imaginative journey, a modern seeker makes a journey through time, meeting various characters who offer bits and pieces of true knowledge and glimmers of wisdom.  From Socrates on, he grapples with meaning and materialism, cynicism and relativism, pantheism and nihilism and more.  In a sense, it is like Pilgrim’s Progress or even Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress. 

Os Guinness notes that it is “pithy, illuminating and witty… a delight for tough-minded thinkers, whether believers, seekers, or skeptics.”

Tloser letters.jpghe Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism Mary Eberstadt (Ignatius Press) $13.95  Well, this isn’t the sort book (and Eberstadt isn’t the kind of author) who coddles postmodern relativists, despite the insights of Smith or Taylor.  Yet, she isn’t just a dry “argue the proof and insist on the dogma” gal, either; note, this is a story!  It is, in fact, a wickedly witty satire. This chronicles the conversion of a young adult Christian to atheism, a tragicomic heroine who writes a series of open letters to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to help them win over more converts to atheism.  Eberstadt is a conservative and savvy Catholic, and this rivals The Onion or Screwtape Letters for black comedy of sheer genius.

Rreason for god ipage.gifeason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism Timothy Keller (Dutton) $16.00  There are a number of reasons why CCO tends to favor Tim Keller, but this was the book in this category that sold the best at both the Smith lectures and at the OCBP week. It has such a reputation, and is one many people give away, or have given away and want to replace.  Keller is sophisticated, thoughtful, eloquent, tough-minded, and offers the opportunity for skeptics to “doubt their doubts” and study fairly the plausibility of all views on the question.  The New York Times once likened his thoughtful and literary approach to C.S. Lewis, and it is nice to see students wading through such significant work.

Bbelief.jpgelief: Readings on the Reason for Faith edited and introduced by Francis Collins (HarperOne) $19.99  The backstory of this is part of the fun – Collins, as you most likely know, is the former director of the Human Genome Project for the National Institute of Health, and now the Director of the NIH. As a leading geneticist he is a world-renowned scientist and, happily, an outspoken, humble, “mere Christian” (yes, he’s a Lewis fan.) Although he has authored and co-authored several books on the wise interface of faith and science, he is still often asked about his own faith journey, how he grew out of his unbelieving background, and how he came to conventional Christian faith. He found himself passing out chapters of books, suggesting readings, finding this piece or that author, and decided to compile them into a reader, sort of a handbook of primary source writings that explain the reasonableness of faith, and the classic quality of some of the best thinkers who have offering insights for these complex conversations.  The book is divided into 10 categories, with several readings in each section.   

The first section goes under the heading “Classic Arguments for Faith and Reason” and includes readings from Plato to Augustine, Anselm to Aquinas, Locke to Pascal. More contemporary authors are found in the “Meaning of Truth” unit, including Os Guinness, Madeleine L’Engle, and Dorothy Sayers. The rest of the book follows this pattern, with a few older authors (Elton Trueblood, Elie Wiesel, G.K. Chesterton) with many more recent ones, from Alvin Plantinga to Alister McGrath, Tim Keller to John Polkinghorne. There are a few cultural conservatives, and many icons that will appeal to progressives (Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu.) I cannot even tell you how useful this is, with such a diverse range of writers, curated and described by this fine, reliable Christian thinker. It is personal, persuasive, life-giving and helpful for any serious skeptic.  N.T. Wright wrote a wonderful first chapter.  As Philip Yancey said of it, “As I read through the chapters, I felt I was at a banquet table with old friends. What a feast Francis Collins has served.” Meaty, mature, and very, very good.

Isis god a d.jpg God a Delusion? What’s the Evidence? Nicky Gumbel (Alpha) $10.99  There are dozens of books somewhat like this, offering basic questions and plausible replies. Some include fairly standard questions many of us have, and some (like this one) are more focused on the questions coming from the new atheists. We stock many other fine ones on the atheists, with different tones, levels, and answers, but named this one because it is quite readable, brief, and written in a very colloquial, inviting tone. It basically replies to the accusations that science has disproved God and that religion poisons everything.  I suppose you’ve heard of the effective Alpha evangelism program, and we stock most of the books used in the Alpha classes. This one is upbeat, clear, and really quite useful for most folks. Let us know if you want some that are perhaps more philosophically substantive.

Ssimply-christian-cover1.jpegimply Christian N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.95 Although many students I know want to read C.S. Lewis, and Mere Christianity remains a routine seller, there is this sense that much of his argument, and the tone of his writing, resonate less and less with 21st century readers. Maybe it is the postmodern thing, maybe it is merely the academic and rhetorical rigor which is beyond many readers; the thoughtful and eloquent N.T. Wright felt this, too. There needed to be a book that  started not with (as Lewis does) a longing for home, drawing on sweet memories of a loving family, but that started with the longing for peace, justice, sexual integrity and a few other major, anxious themes present in the current landscape. Another thing Wright wanted to do is root the apologetic for Christian faith in the Bible and its sweeping narrative in a way that Lewis did not.  So he set out to write Simply Christian, which (like Mere Christianity) is of great benefit for seekers and the unchurched, making a case as it does that the Bible can provide a framework for thinking about the longings and concerns of our times, but it is also a very, very helpful read for believers. I wish it were not a hardback; still, it is one of the best books to make present a meaningful, relevant, Biblical faith applied to real life that has been written in our time.

VVoV.jpgisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $16.00  I know nearly any well-written and thoughtful Christian book can be given to seekers, but a few are so profound, drawing on such universal themes, and are written with a hope that even those outside of the church will be able to appreciate them, that they could easily be mentioned on a list like this.  This is one of those. Many authors write books that are plainspoken, full of Christian guidance, and are fun and easy to read (think Max Lucado, say) and many have been shared with nonbelievers, who have found comfort and help in their pages. Yet this book digs deeper, and offers a vision of life that is coherent and passionate, aware of the great sorrows of the world, and will be useful to smart, curious, passionate adults trying to figure it all out, especially.  By telling stories of all kinds of amazing folks — from writers to rock stars to political activists to artists — and asking how they came to take up their passions in the world, despite its deep pain and brokenness, Garber shows that what we do in life matters, and that caring about the common good matters.  Steve invites us to ponder perennial concerns, and the current interest in the meaning of work and for living in ways that are authentic and significant makes this handsome paperback very timely for any serious reader. You could be proud to give this as a gift to any thoughtful person with serious concerns, I am sure.

Garber observes that the band U2 sings sometimes explicitly Christian songs but the whole world is able to sing along, to resonant on some level with their theologically rich images and lines, sometimes even from the Bible. Interestingly, I think Visions of Vocation is like that, written with this same texture, obviously by a lover of God and lover of Scripture, but which thoughtful readers of any persuasion can appreciate and be drawn in by.  Recommend it and see! 

Kknow doubt.jpgnow Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith John Ortberg (Zondervan) $12.99  We have in our store over a dozen good books on doubt. Some are a bit philosophical, others less so.  Several are really, really good, but I often come back to this one for anyone who has wrestled with uncertainty or who has “stumbled” in faith. Ortberg is fun to read, thoughtful, clear, pastoral, and, of course, affirms those who realize that being totally honest about doubt and questions is a good thing. He offers his own struggle with doubt, traces the line between belief and unbelief and finds that it is “less a dividing line between hostile camps than a razor’s edge that runs through every soul.” I find that many are unaware that doubt is a common thing even among the devout and feel demoralized by haunting questions.  Get this wonderfully-written and carefully considered book for anyone you know who may feel this need, or keep it on hand for those whenever someone ends up “in two minds.” Highly recommended.



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