God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas by Eugene Peterson, Scott Cairnes, Emilie Griffin, Richard Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Luci Shaw, Greg Pennoyer, Gregory Wolfe — 30% OFF (one week only OR while supplies last)

I hope you saw last week’s list of good Advent resources, books to help you, as I put it
advent word.jpg(rather cleverly, if I do say so myself), get ready to get ready.  

Included in that post last week, I offered links
to previous Advent and Christmas lists from older seasonal BookNotes. A few of those titles from other years may be out of print, but most are still available.  I enjoy
telling you about these kinds of helpful little books, and invite you to avoid the
malls and check out those book lists — I think reading book annotations is itself a nice, educational habit.

I want to note one quick point, now (and a book to go with it, of course) and
then revisit a previously published Advent/Christmas book that is one of our all time
favorites, which we have on an
extra special discount deal for a limited time or until we run out.

First, the quick point: it is said among those who study the liturgical
calender and church year that Advent is less a time of counting down to our
celebration of the incarnation at Christmas, but is a time of getting in touch
with our longings and hope for the final consummation of God’s plan for
history, the restoration of all things, at Christ’s glorious return.

Insofar as Advent includes creating space for naming our
waiting for the second comingnew heavens and new earth.jpg (which in a mysterious way has already begun now as we inhabit
“the already and not yet”) it would be very apropos in Advent to study J. Richard Middleton’s new book
A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic; $26.99) which I raved about in a BookNotes review a week or so ago. It is one of the most impressive and
important books of Biblical scholarship I’ve seen in years. (Richard himself makes the connection with Advent overt in his week’s worth of Advent devotions in Advent of Justice [Wipf & Stock; $9.99] which was edited by Biblical scholar and farmer Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat, with contributions by Brian Walsh and Mark Vander Vennen.) I reviewed that here.  Reading Middleton this time of year would be great, I’m just saying.

If you want a more traditional, seasonal selection of readings with a warm and reflective tone, written by beautiful writers who have paid much attention to their own interior lives and the nature of seasonal practices in the church and world, allow us to remind you of what, when it was released 5 years ago, we said
was one of the best Advent books
we’ve seen in all our years of
book-selling. We don’t usually run
repeats of our reviews, but we have often done annotations of this one, and
wanted to edit a few of my earlier comments, and share them with you here.  If you know this book, you know how lovely it is.  And that it makes a
great gift as well.

THIS ITEM IS NOW OUT OF PRINT — We don’t really want to take down our review, but please note we did say (in Advent 2014) “while supplies last.”  There are no more of the hardcover.  HOWEVER there is a new and quite lovely paperback edition, very richly produced, but with only a few art pieces. It is called GOD WITH US READERS EDITION and sells for $18.99. We will describe that in a future BookNotes blog, offering it there at our usual 20% off.)  Read on!

GGod-with-Us-9781557255419.jpgod With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas 
edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete) regular price $29.95  SALE PRICE 30% OFF = $21.00 

some of the previously mentioned ones have the great strength of including a diversity of authors,
theological and literary, and they include enough material to take you through
Epiphany in early January, this one has as its great strength two more wonderful
features: the stunning, gloriously reproduced, serious artwork through-out and
the quality of the five primary authors who offer five great chapters. (Five, of
course, because they wisely include the week after Advent, between Christmas and
Epiphany.) This is printed on high-quality, glossy paper, and includes a
ribbon marker, making it a glorious gift, a fabulous book to hold and

The authors
include Scott Cairns, the Orthodox poet and eloquent contemplative, Emilie
Griffin, the wise Episcopalian writer who has done books on spiritual formation
(and serving God in the workplace),the  late Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran
scholar and pastor who became Roman Catholic in mid-life and founded the
rigorous public policy journal First Things,
the wonderful Presbyterian memoirist and essayist, Kathleen Norris, and the splendid poet and advocate for the
creative arts, Luci Shaw. There is a nice forward by Eugene Peterson and a nice page about the church calendar and an interesting appendix about Epiphany dates written by Beth Bevis. The page design and graphics nicely accentuates the accompanying art. My, my, this is a great

Important, too, is that this work emerged from the mature writing in the pages
of our best literary journal, Image, a sophisticated, faith-based
quarterly of literature and art and criticism; Pennoyer & Wolfe are extraordinary thinkers and writers
themselves, and have put together what is without a doubt one of the most glorious books you could own. (Except, perhaps for the long-awaiting, luxurious sequel, God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter which Paraclete released this past Spring [regularly $29.95.] What a great set of books, so similarly produced.)

Eugene Peterson’s introduction to God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, is lengthy and
robust, wise and beautiful. Here is how he starts,

Birth: wonder…astonishment…adoration.  There can’t be very many of us for
whomn the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take
off our sandals before the burning bush. We cath our breath at the sign of a
plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lovish existence in
which we feel a deep sense of kinship – we belong
here; we say thanks with our lives to Life. And not just “Thanks” or “Thank
It” but ThankYou. Most of the people who have lived on
this planet earth have identified this You with God or gods. This is not just a
matter of learning our manners, the way children are taught to say thank you as
a social grace. It is the cultivation of adequateness within ourselves to the
nature of reality, developing the capacity to sustain an adequate response to
the overwhelming gift and goodness of life.

And then Pastor Pete continues,

Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring this
fullness, this wholenesseugene peterson hands open.jpg, of human life. Once a year, each Christmas, for a few
days at least, we and millions of our neighbors turn aside from our preoccupations
with life reduced to biology or economics or psychology and join together in a
community of wonder. The wonder keeps us 
open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can
account for, that always exceeds our calculations, that is always beyond
anything we can make.

He goes on from there to reflect on the meaning of this
season, the particularity of Jesus’ birth, and the relationship between
creation and incarnation, between God’s work and our own.  It is really, really rich, a wonderful
opening to this handsome, deep volume and deserves repeated readings.

Peterson eventually offers a few beautiful lines that are truly memorably (and quotable) and then
follows with a very astute observation. Notice: people in the first century were not credulous, even as they were influenced by their culture’s religious and political ways:

Birth, every human birth, is an occasion for local wonder.
In Jesus’ birth the wonder is extrapolated across the screen of all creation
and all history as the God-birth. “The Word became flesh and dwelth among us” –
moved into the neighborhood, so to speak. And for thirty years or so, men and
women saw God in speech and action in the entirely human person of Jesus as he
was subject, along with them, to the common historical conditions of, as
Charles Williams once put it, “Jewish religion, Roman order, and Greek
intellect.” These were not credulous people and it was not easy for them to
believe, but they did. That God was made incarnate as a human baby is still not
easy to believe, but people continue to do so. Many, even those who don’t
“believe,” find themselves happy to participate in the giving and receiving,
singing and celebrating of those who do.

Yes, even those who don’t believe “find themselves happy to participate…with those who do.”

I don’t need to tell most BookNotes readers that we disapprove of those Christian organizations that want to turn this holy season into a battle-ground against the secularists, protesting those who say “happy holidays” and whatnot. Ugh. We think being winsome, respectful, and gracious during this time of year is the better way, and, anyway — as Peterson has suggested — most people are at least vaguely interested in Christian Christmas practices. Rather than pick a fight, why not show some good will?  And be ready to explain the hope that is within us…

book giving, tan paper.jpgI have long thought that Christmas is a wonderful time for
natural, winsome evangelism, for showing that we live with hope and expectation. People really do sing theological truths in the
carols; even the malls blare songs with religiously-rich lyrics. People do ponder “the hopes and fears of all the years” in the quiet moments of December. People are truly open to getting gifts and cards. It is a great time to give books about the Christian faith to those with
whom you otherwise may not feel comfortable taking about
your faith.  It may be one of those
rare opportunities to share a book or CD with your un-churched friends and it
won’t seem intrusive.  Lots of people give books this time of year, and an Advent devotional of this literary and artistic tone would work well as a gift for nearly any educated friend. 

30% off red.jpg

We are happy to sell this throughout the season at the customary 20% BookNotes discount, but for this week only — until December 5, 2014 — we have it at 30% off.

Or, until we run out — it’s “while supplies last” as they say.   You can order by clicking on the “order” link below. Or give us a call, if you’d like to talk.  

god with us open.jpg

god with us on beige cloth.jpg


30% OFF
this week only
offer expires December 5, 2014

God With Us:
  Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
edited by
Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe
(Paraclete Press)

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     717-246-3333


12 Great New Advent Books for Your Seasonal Spiritual Formation: 20% OFF (and a free book offer, if you order now.)

Okay, friends, here it is, our annual description of new
Advent resources.  Don’t delay —
we are giving away a free Advent book if you order anything in the next 72

After that, all these fine
resources (and some that we’ve mentioned other years, here, here, or even here, if they are still in
print and still available) still qualify for the BookNotes reader’s 20%

And don’t forget my review of the newly re-issued The Advent of Justice devotional by Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, and Mark Vander Vennen, which I described here. 

So, if you order by the
end of day Sunday, we’ll toss in an Advent book or study (of our choice, something nice, with real value, as our gift to you.) After that, we still offer a 20% discount, deducted off the retail price that is shown.   

Spread the word, gather your group, send an email to Santa or do
whatever you have to do.  There is
something for almost anyone. We’re here, helping you get ready to get ready.

Tthe-season-of-the-nativity.gifhe Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent,
Christmas & Epiphany Extremist
Sybil MacBeth (Paraclete Press)
$17.99  Wow, what’s not to like
about this – written, as it is, by a self-professed season “extremist.”  Ha!  I love that! (And, as a good liturgical aficionado would,
this resource includes ample stuff for Epiphany!) The spiffy ad copy on the
back – with a design that looks warm and contemporary – says “Christmas
sparkles brighter – when you celebrate the season in all of its fullness.”  Okay, there’s an allusion to Advent,
Christmas, and Epiphany – but it
means more, I think.  Ms MacBeth,
you see, is the author of the very, very popular Praying in Color (and the pocket edition, and the kid’s edition)
that invites us to doodle and design and be creative in our playfully serious coloring
our prayers.  From colored pencils
to other creative options, that book, like this one, is fabulous for those who
can’t just sit still and read and meditate.  When this invites us to celebrate in “fullness” it means to
suggest a multi-dimensional, holistic kind of engagement.  And – kudos to the Sisters of Paraclete
Press – the design of this colorful book is as lovely as the idea.  It really is vibrant, colorful, and

Listen to what Lauren Winner writes about it.  (She was, by the way, an early booster
of MacBeth’s earlier projects.)

This gorgeous book is going to remain at my reading chair, dog-eared
and bookmarked, all through the Yuletide season. It will also be under the tree
of just about everyone on my gift list. We will all have more interesting
winters, and greater intimacy with Jesus, because of it.

Aall I really want abingdon cover.jpgll I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas Quinn G.
Caldwell (Abingdon) $15.99  Well,
somewhat like the Sybil MacBeth one, this looks cheery and upbeat, like one of
those bright red advertisements for chain department stores that are so
alluring this time of year (until you look carefully at the lower right corner.  Ha.)  But – but! – this is some pretty radical stuff, not
just a pretty package.  As the
author (a pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC Church in Syracuse NY) writes,

“Let’s get one thing straight: this book is not going to help you ‘simplify the
season.’ It’s not going to help you throw a stress-free Christmas party or
create the Best Christmas Ever in five easy steps. I’m not here to simplify
anything for you.  Neither is God.
If you have too many cookie exchanges or whatever, you’re just going to have to
find a way to deal with that yourself. This book is actually designed to
complicate the season. It’s here to invite you to think and pray a little more
deeply about it.”

So, yeah, there’s that. 

As Lillian Daniel writes of it, “Accept this invitation to a
five-week birthday party for Jesus, populated by aggressive cousins, evil
dragons, and last-minute shoppers. Your Christmas is about to get hilariously
complicated.”  Or, listen to the
punchy, passionate Debbie Blue (you do know her crazy-good, very provocative Birds of the Bible don’t you?) “I love
that the suggestions are surprising (set something on fire, decorate garishly,
believe in a God that can co-opt the culture’s co-option.) It’s playful and
funny and theologically profound.” 
These readings are pretty amazing, sure to make you think, knock you off
balance a bit, maybe even knock some sense into us all.  As Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard says,
he “releases us from forced cheerfulness and invites us to relish the rich,
complex darkness of the season…” 

TThe Christmas Countdown .jpghe Christmas Countdown: Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for
Margie J. Harding (Paraclete Press) $15.99  I’m always a little suspicious when a
book promises “meaningful and fun activities” for families with children.  I’m not sure that most of these sorts
of earnest resources work that well. 
Maybe our family was just spiritually dull or religiously lazy (or, at
times, overwrought?) but we were often a bundle of antsy un-cooperation.  I wish we’d have had this handsome book
when our children were young: it combines moderate, ancient, solid theological
insight and interesting, earnest, maybe even fruitful activities, from word
puzzles and games to recipes and songs. 
There are readings, discussion questions, prayers. There are “action” steps for adults and
“prompts” for kids of varying ages, including an “onward” session for after
Christmas.  I don’t know how “new”
these traditions will be – but if you’ve not tried this sort of thing before,
or if you haven’t found it meaningful, well, this could be a good next step.   Very nicely done.

LLight of Lights- Advent Devotions from The Upper Room.jpgight of Lights: Advent Devotions from The Upper Room Upper
Room (Abingdon) $10.00  This little
guy is a gem for a few reasons. It is brief, inexpensive, pocket-sized
(almost.)  It could be used
personally, as any devotional guide would be; the readings are mature,
contemplative, well-written, as you’d expect from the altogether lovely Upper
Room. But this is the main value and point: it is designed, really, to be a
resource to be used with an Advent wreath.  There are four weeks of devotions with the themes (of the
Advent wreath) of Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. There are some little tips for
including the tradition of the wreath in your home or congregation, and there
is a small group guide in the back, so it could be used in a small group,
Sunday school class, or other faith community setting. We highly recommend this
hands-on customer – especially if you have kids that like fire!  Light of Lights suggests a
flame-retardant artificial wreath, but we say “humbug!” to that.  Go get some fresh-smelling pine or
holly or anything real.  Let
Christ, the very God of very God, be your light of lights!

Nnot-a-silent-night-leader-guide.jpgot a Silent Night: Mary Looks Back to Bethlehem Adam Hamilton
(Abingdon) $16.99  I suppose by now
you know of this Kansas-based, United Methodist pastor, nearly a rock star, one
of the biggest selling religious authors these days, a passionate, powerful
speaker who appeals very widely. 
His previous studies of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and the
life of Jesus (see, The Journey and The Way) have been very useful, and are
purchased by individuals, families, and, of course, congregations.  Like many of the others he has done, this book (which can
be read as a stand-alone devotional) has a DVD, a leader’s guide, a youth
version, a children’s resource, even a little flash-drive full of
congregational ideas and preaching resources. We gave the different components, for sure!

Anyway, if you’ve read any of his other thoughtful, inspiring
books, you’ll want this. I suppose
the “spend Christmas with Mary” has been done before, but maybe you’ve not explored it — at least not like this, imagining
Jesus from Mary’s point of view. 
Hamilton starts at the end, with Mary at the crucifixion and
resurrection, and then travels back in time as she witnesses Jesus’ life and
ministry, and ends at the beginning, “with the Christ child born in a stable,
Mary’s beautiful baby.” Wow.

UUnwrapping the Greatest Gift.jpgnwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99  Last year we raved about a very handsome hardback devotional by Ann Voskamp, the amazingly good writer of the very popular One Thousand Gifts.  It was called The Greatest Gift.  There is a fabulous DVD curriculum to use with it, which explores the great, rich tradition of “The Jesse Tree.”  We were fond of that book and DVD, too, but can hardly express how this material has generated yet another Advent book by Ms Voskamp — a full-color, oversized hardback with good, glossy pages, which beautifully helps families explore moving scenes from the Bible that lead us, step by step, through the history of redemption and towards the birth of Christ and the Advent of His Kingdom. Vivid, contemporary illustrations enhance the Scripture readings and questions and activities; links for downloadable ornaments are included that help communicate the stages of salvation history, starting with the Garden of Eden.  On the back cover of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift they invite us to “Celebrate the best love story of all time with your family!” Indeed, this helps your family retrace the linage of Jesus and fall in love with the story of God, unfolded bit by bit, with very nice artwork and these great downloadable ornaments. 

This is a beautiful book you will want to keep, because, we hope, it is one you will cherish.

Ffeasting on the word Advent Companion.jpgeasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (Westminster/John Knox) $25.00  You very well may know all four volumes, of all three liturgical cycles, all 12 of the Feasting on the Word preaching commentaries.  And you may have used some of the creative, helpful Feasting on the Word Worship Companion volumes which offer liturgical resources, prayers, litanies, and such, drawn from and inspired by the Feasting… project.  Well, the rumors are true: they’ve created one convenient volume for Advent (and Christmas eve and Christmas day) use, that includes preaching ideas as well as worship aids, with ideas on everything from Advent wreath litanies, suggested hymns and carols to children’s service ideas and ready-to-use options for a mid-week service.

I know we’ve mentioned this earlier in the season, but it is useful for those that need such an all in one pastor’s companion and deserves to be listed with the other best of 2014 Advent resources.

EEvery Valley- Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah.jpgvery Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel’s Messiah foreword by Albert L. Blackwell (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  This is an amazing, wonderfully done hardback (at a great price, I might add) that prints the libretto from Messiah (crafted by GFH’s friend Charles Jennens) and the NRSV Biblical texts upon which they are based.  The 40 Biblical meditations are by a variety of pastors, scholars, and mainline denominational writers, adapted or drawn from the exegetical and theological material in — wait for it… — the preaching commentaries, Feasting on the Word Year A, B, and C.  Actually, this is a great idea, with sophisticated, brief theological reflections based on these classic texts, presented in a very nice devotional format. As it reminds us on the back cover, “These memorable words can easily be heard in a kind of sentimental haze, familiar from countless church choir concerts and Christmas eve services. But the Scriptures Handel set to music in his most beloved oratorio also tell as powerful story — of God’s promised one, from prophetic foretelling to birth, death, resurrection, and ultimate victory.  Find inspiration for your holiday season and year-round faith with these forty insightful meditations.”  Hallelujah! 

TThe Messiah- The Texts Behind Handel's Masterpiece (Lifeguide Bible Study).jpghe Messiah: The Texts Behind Handel’s Masterpiece (Lifeguide Bible Study)  Douglas Connelly (IVP) $8.00  You may know that the Lifeguide Bible Studies are the most popular small group Bible study guides out there, basic, clear, thoughtful, inductive without being self-evident.  This doesn’t have too much about Handel or Messiah and so could be done by those who have little interest in classical music.  It examines in 8 sessions the key Bible texts that make up the grand oratorio.  Maybe you could even do a few weeks of it now, and safe the last portions for Lent or Eastertime.  There is a very nice suggestion at the end of each study (which they call “now or later”) which invites a careful listening to the music, attending to this feature or that characteristic of the performance. It would be fantastic to do that as a group – I favor the “now” rather than the “later” – but they realize not every group wants to do that.  This really is a nice part of this inexpensive study, and we highly recommend it.  Maybe this is a bit overstated, but on the back it suggests, “Perfect for Advent or Lent, this guide leads you through Scripture passages used in Handel’s Messiah that highlight who Jesus is and what he came to do. It might change the way you listen to Handel’s oratorio. Even more, it might change the way you live.”

IIn the Manger- 25 Inspirational Selections for Advent Max Lucado.jpgn the Manger: 25 Inspirational Selections for Advent Max
Lucado (Nelson) $9.99  I think of
all the many, many great books and devotionals Max has done over the last 30
years, God Came Near is one of his
best, and remains a enduring, lovely, moving set of ruminations on the
incarnation.  In this handsomely
designed little hardback, we get short excerpts from this and other popular
books by the evocative author. 
Sentimental, challenging, insightful, worshipful, tender – each page is
a delight, nicely done, helpful.   Lucado has written a lot of beloved books over his career, and this little compilation is very nice, not pushy or heavy, but yet compelling.

 In the Manger is the kind of book that you will enjoy
if you are a fan of Max Lucado, and it is very nice book to give away to those
who may not know his rich, inspiring prose.  A perfect stocking stuffer or gift to tuck in with another
gift or greeting.

UUnder Wraps- The Gift We Never Expected .jpgnder Wraps: The Gift We Never Expected Jessica LaGrone, Andy
Nixon, Rob Rendroe, Ed Robb 
(Abingdon) $12.99  Okay, the
“unwrapping” gifts has been done before in too many sermon series, Christmas
tracts, Advent devotionals. I know. 
I don’t even love the cover of this with the silly (retro?) type font.  But you know what? This is a truly
lovely book, handsomely designed with some very nice artful touches inside,
with mature and meaty insights, good reflection questions and eloquent prayers.  I like it a lot.

The writers have been teaching pastors
at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas, and this is solid, accessible,
interesting stuff.  I was almost
bowled over by the simple paragraph that talked about God becoming incarnate in
Jesus “under wraps” and as I opened myself to reflecting on these short sets of
readings, concluded that this is a very faithful, very fine, easy-to-use
resource. The chapters attempt to reveal the attributes of God throughout redemptive
history, in chapters called “God is Expectant”, “God is Dangerous”, “God is
Jealous” and “God Is Faithful.” 
There is a final section for use during Christmas week called “A Season
of Joy.”

Besides this devotional, they’ve produced a DVD, a Leader’s Guide, a
youth study book, a children’s resource, even a worship planning flash drive
with lots of good stuff for sermons, PowerPoint, creative liturgical
resources.  Call us if you want more info, as we have all the various supplemental pieces, including the nice DVD.

Llight-upon-light-a-literary-guide-to-prayer-for-advent-christmas-and-epiphany-31.jpgight Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer
for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany
compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete
Press) $18.99  Dare I tip my hand
and say that I intend to use this often this season?  It really is an extraordinary book, a literary and spiritual
feast full of fiction, poetry, and excerpts of great literature. The book is
elegantly designed with French folded covers, and an equally beautifully
tone.  Perhaps you know Arthur’s
previous one like this, At the Still
which was for use in Ordinary Time.  This includes a daily prayer which is most often a poem
(including some surprising choices) and then a Psalm, Scripture readings, and
then some daily offerings of poems and short excerpts of fiction.  If you believe in the holy coming to us
in the guise of literature, this is for you. 

As poet Luci Shaw writes of it, “Sarah Arthur illuminates
our whole year with the gift of flaming words. A treasure of
enlightenment.”  Just a thought:
even if you aren’t interested in Oscar Hijuelos or MacDonald’s Gifts of the Christ Child or Elizabeth
Barrett Browning or Gerard Manley Hopkins or Fred Buechner or Christiana
Rossetti, you surely know some lit-lovers, English majors, or aspiring poets
who don’t want a more customary Advent devotional.  This would make a beautiful, appreciated gift.



20% off
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     717-246-3333

Hearts & Minds presents: Eight Great New Books, all 20% OFF at BookNotes

Lots of great books keep coming in to the shop. Sales may be down in indie bookstores,
but the publishing world is strong, writers doing their thing, publishers releasing important work.  What a joy, what a gift, to be a reader
in these times.  Here are a few you
should consider for your own library, or maybe for your small group. At least you could put some on that Christmas list you know you’re making.  Or maybe you can’t wait for that.  Send us an order, today!

Rrebel souls.jpgebel Souls: America’s First Bohemians  Justin Martin (De Capo) $27.99 I love
books that do social history, placing ideas and movements within a broader
context, that unlock the personalities of people (famous or less so) showing
how they reflected (and in some cases caused) features of our society that we
now take for granted. In Rebel
Justin Martin tells us about Pfaffs, a storied 1850s bar in New
York City that became (quite knowingly) the first place in America to forge an
alt-community of artists and creative thinkers who called themselves bohemians. The word, coined in Paris a decade before, was inspired, in fact, by Puccini’s
classic opera, La Boheme (which, in
turn, inspired the long-running Rent,
set in the East Village.) Walt Whitman
was a nightly feature at Pfaffs, and the coterie of these creative, troubled
souls, had a reach that was stunning: into this story comes Emerson, Mark
Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and some very important, if lesser known folks, including, perhaps America’s first stand-up comic. They had
no word for stand-up comedy in the 1850s so they called the performances of
Artemus Ward “comic lectures.”

You may know Justin Martin from his nicely-written, very informative,
fascinating books such as the highly regarded Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted; he is a fine
historian and great writer. Pulitzer Prize winner Debby Applegate says about Rebel Souls,  “A terrific book about a magical
time and place in American history – Pfaff’s basement saloon on Broadway on the
eve of the Civil War, where boozers, brawlers, and barflies, journalists,
comics, actors, and poets came together to create a bohemian paradise.  Like the West Bank of Paris of the
1920s or Greenwich Village during the Beat Generation, Pfaff’s scene burned
brightly and then burned out…” 

space permitted, I’d tell you about the role of their writings and reviews, and the lasting significance. I’d tell you about the
Naked Lady, the guy who wrote the first book (a big seller, published by Harper
& Brothers!) on hashish, the role of theater in those years, the role of women, the Pffafians relationship with John Wilkes Booth, and –
of course – more about the one who became the Good Grey Poet himself. I learned so much, and enjoyed the story greatly.

Also, I’d be sure to tell you how important it is to
understand the ethos and orientation of bohemia for understanding today’s new
romantics, hipsters, neo-hippies, many artists and indie rockers, and some of
the emergent religious communities. 
As Martin tells us early in the book,

The Pfaff’s Bohemians were part of the transition from art
as a genteel profession to art as a soul-deep calling, centered on risk-taking,
honesty, and provocation. Everyone from Lady Gaga to George Carlin to Dave
Eggers owes a debt to these originals. They were also the forerunners of such
alternative artists groups as the Beats, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and the
abstract expressionist painters who hung out during the 1950s at New York’s
Cedar Tavern. 

The pendulum continues to swing from rationalism to
romanticism, control to freedom, thinking to feeling, from the straight and narrow to the wild and
free (and it is not a stretch to say, red states and blue states.)  For at least one major
manifestation of a zeitgeist that still attracts, hang out a Pfaffs for a bit
with Whitman and his rag-tag crew of cultural creatives. Experience how this
bawdy group of writers and thinkers shaped, in some ways, the very way some
artists increasingly imagined their own vocations and work. Follow Whitman
after the Civil War to DC, and then to Camden NJ, even as he publishes yet
another edition of Leaves of Grass,
this time with “O Captain! My Captain!” included. Think of Robin Williams, even, and say a prayer.

This is a wonderful book about bohemian culture, a fascinating history that reverberates yet today.  Thanks to Mr. Martin for his painstaking research and the obvious care of his subject that come out so nicely in his writing.

Ffather factor.jpgather Factor: American Christian Men on Fatherhood and Faith edited
by R. Anderson Campbell  (White
Cloud Press) $17.95  I do hope I
can write more extensively about this later, because it is truly a fabulous,
fabulous book, interesting, well-written, helpful. There is a small backstory
or two: The “I Speak for Myself” series of which this is a part includes two
books of young Muslim writers telling about their lives. These were helpful testimonials written by young Americans who were Muslims, one by women, one by men — lovely stuff.  The third in the series was Talking Taboo which we reviewed and
touted, a wonderful, important project of young Christina woman talking about
their experiences as women in the church. A host of important writers I admire
and a few friends were in that one, and we carried it around to many places
we’ve done book displays.  The new
fourth one is perhaps the best yet, with really, really good writing, and very,
very moving stories.  I happily
admit that Mr. Campbell is aanderson campbell.jpg friend I admire, and a dad I admire, and that two other former CCO staff
friends — Kurt Ro and Brian Shope — are included among these 30 writers under
30 years old. (I don’t think
my judgment is too clouded here) but their pieces are amongst the strongest in the
book.! Congrats, friends.

To summarize, these moving
pieces are ruminations on the fathers of these guys, or their own role as a
father, on knowing God as a father, and on this whole messy male business.  Sometimes, naturally, the
reflections include both recalling their own dads, and their being a dad; you can imagine.  A young dad wants to be just like his own father; another young dad
does not at all want to be like his own father.  There is joy and sadness and faith and rage and great grace
in these pieces and I truly recommend them.

Matthew Paul Turner notes that “In many ways, Father
is a work of art, a beautiful collage of humanity and soul, a
thoughtful collection of stories detail the lives, dreams and fears of American
fathers. The essays in this book will make you laugh, bring you to tears, and
at all times, cause you to rethink your approach to parenting. But most of all,
will give you hope.

I was fortunate enough to get to offer a blurb, alongside
more famous and better writers, from Richard Mouw, Christena Cleveland,
Eboo Patel, to my friend Lisa Sharon Harper.  For what it’s worth,
here’s what I wrote:

I love memoirs — who doesn’t love a good story? — and these short
narratives are a joy to read, a reader’s delight, getting a glimpse into
the lives of others. There is wonder, loss, love, joy, pathos, romance
and laughter, a little cursing and a lot of praise. But there is more:
these are exceptionally brave stories from many different sorts of men
reflecting profoundly about God the father, their own fathers (for
better or for worse) and their own particular journeys into fatherhood.
This is not a self-help manual, but guys from all stages of life will learn much and be better fathers because of it. Highly recommended. -Byron Borger, Hearts & Minds Books, Dallastown, PA

Llife together in christ.jpgife Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community Ruth
Haley Barton (IVP//formation) $18.00 
Do you long to experience transformation in community?  Ponder that, and ponder it again. You know we’ve admired Ruth Haley Barton for years,
view her as nearly a spiritual mentor, and have read and commended all her many books
over the years. This, though, I must say, really, really touched me. I believe it was just what I needed, and it
may be what you need, too.  She offers a
concise, powerful, but sensible call to combine two things, two things we all long for, and yet are rarely adequately combined: community and spiritual growth, or, in other words, relationships and

Life Together in Christ  provides a model that is specifically created to help you be more intentional about your
journey into spiritual growth by being in the company of others.  I love her reflections (sometimes
fairly obvious and lovely, other times creative and extraordinary) on the
much-loved story of the two walking on the road to Emmaus. The back cover promises that she
“offers substantive teaching and direction for small groups of spiritual
companions who are ready to encounter Christ – right where they are on the road
of real life.”

There are some great conversation starters at the end of
each chapter, some things to ponder solo highlighted in sidebars and boxes, as
well as some resources for small group use, making this not only inspiring but
very practical.  Some of us don’t
value the “processing” stuff in these books, but for this one, it is essential.  As I’ve already pondered some of these
bits, I can am confident that they will be worth your time, valuable for you
and your group.

There are, not surprising, rave reviews here from authors as
diverse as Mark Labberton and Ronald Rolheiser, James Bryan Smith and J.R.
Briggs.  And they are right – this
is an excellent resource, a lovely book, and a sure guide to deepening one’s
life, by allowing God to bring transformation to a group walking together. 

Bbeloved dust.jpgeloved Dust//Drawing Close to God By Discovering the Truth About
Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel (Nelson) $16.99  I have been pondering how to describe
this book; I had an advanced copy, as I respect these two thinkers
immensely.  Goggin edited one of
the best books of earlier this year, a serious, semi-scholarly work inviting
evangelicals (and others) to be more intentional and thoughtful as they take up
the best mystical and devotional classics; Stobel (who is, among other things,
a Jonathan Edwards scholar) has a real gift to take deep, sanctifying truth and
make it upbeat and helpful for readers who are perhaps not used to wading in
deep spiritual waters.  

At any
rate, Beloved Dust is a very contemporary book, with a self-awareness about life and
times, written in a witty and at times clever narrative way. But, but, believe me, this is remarkable material, including
some excellent Bible study and some guidance into patience, prayer, and
openheartedness. If you want to
truly know God, John Calvin taught, one must know oneself. And knowing ourselves as we are –
beloved dust – is the heart of this book about spiritual formation.  This is one of a great kind of book
I’ve noticed recently, a happy blend of pretty ancient, dare I say profound
stuff, presented as only young, contemporary pastors can. Maybe it’s the double-slashes in the title, maybe it’s the subtitle, artful cover.  But this is a cool book, but one that,
as cool as it is, has a degree of gravitas. Nice!

If you’re not sure if a heavy book of serious spiritual theology could be written in a very contemporary way, and be as solid as it is winsome and inviting, just check this out, and then come back and place an order with us.

Wwhat your body knows about god.jpghat Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve,
and Thrive 
Rob Moll (IVP)
$16.00  Where to begin to let you know how great this book is?  How about this: Christianity Today gave
this a very rare, exceptional five-star review.  Singer-songwriter Michael Card wrote a truly lovely,
well-written foreword. Scot McKnight and Richard Sterns and Katelyn Beaty and
other good writers have added their rave reviews. You really should know about this.

Or, get this, from the very smart Jamie Smith:

“The theologian Henri de Lubac once said that human beings
were created with a natural desire for the supernatural. This marvelous,
accessible book by Rob Moll picks up on this conviction brilliantly, inviting
us to embrace our bodies as the gifts they are. The incarnate God meets us in
our bodies and brains. An excellent exposition of the bodily basis of

I loved Rob Moll’s 2010 IVP book The
Art Of Dying
which was beautiful and wise and worthy of repeated reading. This new examination of neuroscience and brain studies and religion
is, without a doubt, the best one of this sort I’ve yet read (and there have been a good handful the last few years.) Moll tells a lot of very tender and
engaging stories, including a brave section about his wife and her mysterious chronic illness. He does mature and solid Bible study, he draw connections between all sorts of things
and invites us to take seriously that God has wired us for God’s own self,
which – get this! –  can release
stuff in the brain that literally can help us become more empathetic and kind. You will learn a bit about amino acids and the role of the brain and the body in our faith (even a chapter on worship.) You will learn that Moll works for World Vision and cares deeply not only about our own molecules and the mystery of our spiritual lives, but of the brokenness of the world, and efforts to bring redemption and hope. The title and subtitle of this important new book is very helpful to explain
what it is like and just what the book is about.  It is a real winner.  Spread the word!

Mme to we.jpge and We: God’s New Social Gospel Leonard Sweet (Abingdon)
$17.99  I hope you know my
appreciation for Len Sweet, as a thinker, a writer, a leader, a public speaker,
preacher, and friend.  I’m a fan, and
that won’t easily change.  His
early books were important for me, his recent ones fantastic.  They are always energetic, playful,
learned, and always worth the price tag in part due to the truly extraordinary
amount of fascinating, unexpected, and important footnotes.  One can enhance one’s plan for being a
life-long learner just by reading carefully Sweet’s own reading recommendations
and sources.

Like most of the books on this little list, this new one
truly deserves a long and more attentive review.  Time and space do not allow, but I can say these few things,
too quickly.  If you like Sweet you
will like this, but you may have to, as with some of his books, overlook a few
jumps in logic, one ADHD leap from topic or illustration to another. Although
the “house and garden” metaphor, drawn from the magazine title, I guess, figures
prominently, I still don’t know what he means by that.  I track with most his stuff pretty
well, but I was left scratching my head on occasion, maybe moreso in this one
than in others.  (Take that as a
dare, friends, not a warning.)

Secondly, you might surmise this, but if you don’t know, you will learn
right away: Sweet may be seen as an edgy postmodern prophet, but in his
heart of hearts he’s an old school Wesleyan revivalist of the holiness tradition.  He has no patience for those who might
drift from a Bible-based, God-exalting, Christ-centered, cross-preaching,
church-going, soul-saving, true gospel. 
He is ruthless in dismissing the liberal social reformers of the early twentieth century, and, seemingly, as hard on the new century post-evangelical, hip, emergent folk
who seem to similarly allow their missional vision to become so attuned to (at
least the rhetoric, if not the work) of social justice that the first things of
the gospel are squeezed out. He
is, on this score, not unlike Scot McKnight or even John Piper.  As deeply as he swims in the waters of cultural studies, he does not sound like Brian McLaren, let alone the politico Jim Wallis. Yet, despite his apparent disapproval
of the so-called Christian left, he is adamant, as he always has been, that our
gospel work must be culturally-relevant, socially-engaged, communal, green.

It isn’t that complicated, but in Sweet’s witty, provocative
hands, this stuff sounds wildly innovative, perhaps a viable alternative
between the right and the left, the conservatives and the progressives.  Sweet cites Ivan Illich and Wendell Berry
a bit (and calls him “the world’s best living poet”) and he affirms some of the
passionate voices who critique consumerism and materialism. He offers some interesting ruminations
on racism, a little tirade against “simple living”, and some blunt observations
about the anti-globalization movement. A good part of the last half is about what
it might take to birth a new (Christ-like) economy.  He works creatively with Genesis — “tend and keep” (the garden) becomes “conserve and conceive.”  Whether you pick up on and draw energy from his endless
plays on words or whether you roll your eyes, his framing of the gospel as
both/and – me and we – is immensely helpful. His hinting at or briefly stopping to give a cursory critique to all kinds of stuff in light of his relational/holiness theology along the way is
evocative, and his weighing in on a few major day issues of the day is
important.  He invites us to see
the world in a very different way. When an author – through profound wisdom
or sheer literary elan, or a bit of
both – can do that, that, my friends, it is worth buying a few, gathering some
people together for a night or so, and chatting it up. 

In this case, it may be a bit of a roller-coaster ride, and you may be a little
dizzy when it is all done.  But
you’ll not only be glad you took the Sweet ride, you’ll be very glad for the
“we” that emerges from that shared experience.  Heaven knows we
need a social gospel.  A new kind
of social gospel. Me
and We: God’s New Social Gospel
will make you think about that in ways you haven’t before. 

Iimagination redeemed.jpgmagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind
Gene Edward Veith, Jr. & Matthew Ristuccia (Crossway) $16.99  I have been waiting for this book for a
long time, and I think we need a Biblically and philosophically faithful
Christian view of imagination that is written in a way that ordinary people can
appreciate and learn and grow from it. 
This is that book, the best thing I’ve seen at an accessible level, and
no other book that I know of does quite what this does. Redeemer Presbyterian’s Center for
Faith and Work had Matt Ristuccia speak at their annual event a week or so ago,
and everyone raved.  The Executive
Director of CFW, David Kim, wrote about the book “Through their seasoned
pastoral and scholarly gifts, Veith and Ristuccia have done the church an
incredible service in lifting up the critical role of the imagination in the
Christian life.”  When a scholar of aesthetics and musician of the caliber of Jeremy Begbie says it deserves to be
widely read, you know it is important.

I’ll say just a few quick things.  Firstly, Vieth is clear and succinct in his unpacking of the
role of the imagination, which he insists is merely the ability of the mind to
create mental images.  I think he’s
a bit wrong about that, and his latent conservative rationalism colors this
book, as it has his others. Still, it’s an informative, instructional and even colorful read,
and his parts are a valuable contribution.   I’m pondering (among a whole lot of other things, the cover, too, by the way.  What is going on there? And what kind of cover would have been evoked to serve a book with a more robust, wild, less linear view of imagination? Just some kind of inchoate hunch here…)

This is not exactly the place to pick scholarly nits — imagine a mental image for that, if you will — and in any regard, I am not enough of a philosopher, I’m afraid, to do so. (I say this as I’m working on a long review of a new set of Calvin Seerveld books which I’ll publish soon, by the way, DV.  Dr. Seerveld, I would suppose, might not locate the human ability to imagine in the brain as simply as Veith & Ristuccia do.) If you like to think about these things, certainly you should get this book and let your mind run wild, as you consider what the imagination is and what it means for our daily life.

The second part of each chapter is written by Rev. Ristuccia, who does,
basically, a vibrant, evocative Bible study of Ezekiel, and it is quite good. (The few lines where he compares the different visions
of Ezekiel with different Beatles albums is, uh, spectacular!) This bit of prophetic imagination is splendid, solid, helpful, and makes for good reading. Three cheers, right there! 

If you are not drawn to a critical evaluation of the
assumptions about these things — is Veith right about what the imagination is, and how it works, and is Ristuccia right in bringing Ezekiel to the table like this? —  then, by all means, read the book happily, and
be glad that this literary scholar/professor and Bible scholar/pastor have
dreamed up this very interesting book. You will be glad to consider how things like remembering and planning,
learning and listening, dreaming and hoping, are contingent on a robust,
redeemed imagination. You will learn about the goodness of how God made us, be reminded of the vexing ways sin can disrupt and distort our imaginative capacities, and will be invited to open up your efforts to enhance this aspect of your God-given mindfulness. 

There is, finally, a nice concluding appendix which will be of special
appeal to some, a suggestive reflection on how paying more sustained attention
to the imagination (and the arts) can help in our apologetics.  There are full books on this, thank
goodness, and it is nice to have these few extra pages included in Imagination
This is good stuff, and we should be sharing this book widely
– it will help us embrace this too-often ill-considered gift of our human-ness,
this part of the mind that is a gift of God designed to bolster and deepen our
faith and lives.

VVainglory.jpgainglory: The Forgotten Vice Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung
(Eerdmans) $14.00  It isn’t every
day that we get to announce a mature, thoughtful, but popular-level book
released from the prestigious philosophy department of Calvin College;  we are happy to note that Dr. DeYoung
is a stellar prof at that productive, legendary department. Her scholarly work
has been on Aquinas and a previous excellent book called Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Deadly Sins and Their Remedies was,
in my view, not as widely read or valued as it should have been. I suppose it is fair to say that this new
one is a bit of a follow-up, related, obviously, to her study of sin and dysfunction
in the human heart and how culture can reflect the sad situation.

The books starts in an eloquent, but nonetheless funny way:
she is to give the heady, respected Stob lectures, and is wondering if it is
prideful, or even vainglorious, to be glad about such a thing.  Should she tell of her own struggle
with vainglory as she explores the topic in the lecture (or is that, in itself,
vainglorious?) Does not talking about her own foibles imply she is above the
fray? Is that reflective of some
distorted desire? She ends up
inviting her students to check her, making lists of instances of pride,
vainglory, or hints of false humility. 
Ha – even those pages were a razor’s edge, and she navigated it
wonderfully.  I was hooked, knowing
she would be a thoughtful, nuanced, and pleasant, an honest guide.  Early on, I realized that she would be
candid, but not gooey, erudite, but easy to read, even as she was rigorous with
herself and her readers. The book
maintains these standards and seems to me to be a quintessentially excellent
Eerdmans release.

First, you should recall this: vainglory was one of the
earliest, deadliest sins in that nasty list, but was dropped somewhere along
the line. Through nuances of
definition and translation, we now more commonly talk about pride.  Or vanity. Vainglory, though, is a particular sin, and although we
don’t use the word, much, we all know the sin. In others, and, I suspect, too often, in ourselves.  Especially (as DeYoung explains in one
very good section) those of us who are public figures, teachers, preachers,
artists, writers, all whose job it is to publicly impress others.  I suspect not a few BookNotes readers may find this important to their own developing virtue.

It is always good – at least for our little corner of the
book world here at Hearts & Minds and our little BookNotes niche – to see philosophers,
spiritual directors and pastors all endorse a new book with equal
enthusiasm.  Robert Roberts (who I
seem to think is a Kierkegaard scholar) has written deeply about the spirituality
of emotions and the psychology of virtue, says “DeYoung’s Vainglory is the best
thing out there on the vices of pride. 
It’s profound, readable, witty, telling, historically informative, and pastorally helpful.”  William
Mattison notes that “DeYoung writes with the wisdom and expertise of a
theologian of psychologist, yet with the accessibility of a college roommate
discussing life over a meal in the dining hall.”

And then there is this from Richard Foster, who is judicious
in his endorsements:

At last a book that takes head-on what is perhaps the capital vice of modern culture.
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung draws from the classical tradition of Christian moral
thinking to introduce us to the life-giving virtues, which alone can free us from the plague of narcissism that is the cultural zeitgeist
of our day. I recommend this book highly.



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FREE BOOK OFFER: Buy “A New Heaven and a New Earth” by Richard Middleton at 20% OFF and get a free Richard Mouw book

I know, I know, I’ve already declared (months ago) that
Steve Garber’s exquisite, profound, deeply thoughtful book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) will surely be the Book of the Year, which we will properly announce in our Best of
2014 awards column at the end of the year. 

There have been so many other good
releases this year — there will be a handful of other true very honorable

It may be that the just
released A New Heaven and a New Earth:
Reclaiming Biblical new heavens and new earth.jpgEschatology
by J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic; $26.99) is the most
important book in its field, a magnificent, innovative, lasting contribution
to the field of Biblical studies.  I can hardly understate just how significant this new book is. 

Walter Brueggemann says, “when his book catches on, it will have an immense

James K.A. Smith notes
that “Richard Middleton has been one of my most important teachers. Every
encounter changes me.  This book is
no different…. if as widely read as I hope, this book would transform North
American Christianity.”

Interestingly for many Hearts & Minds customers, this
book about God’s promises to renew all things, is actually not unrelated to Garber’s
important voice about recovering a sense of vocation in a fallen, complex
world.  It is also somewhat related to what
has become our biggest selling item in years, the colorful, nuanced, delightfully interesting, and very useful DVD curriculum published by the Acton Institute, For the Life of the World. All three have some connections to
Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies graduate school in the 70s where they
were, in one way or another,
influenced by the legendary Christian philosopher of aesthetics, Calvin
Seerveld, and the philosopher cum Bible scholar Al Wolters who wrote the
often-cited Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview.  Like Transforming Vision, which Richard Middleton co-authored in 1984,
these innovative reformational thinkers at ICS did their high level scholarship
in light of the inherent connection between different acts of the Biblical
drama: creation-fall-redemption-and restoration/consummation. 

HCFR.jpg bonnie jpgere, on the left, is how my dear friend, Bonnie Liefer, an artist working for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) has shown the Biblical story, inspired somewhat by these same teachers back in the 1970s. Notice the themes from Genesis 1 and 2, Genesis 3, Matthew 27 and Revelation 22.

Richard’s passion to explain a full-orbed and fully Biblical holistic eschatology, the last square on the lower right, so to speak — God restoring all creation, following the revealed trajectory in the Bible of a good creation, a radical fall into idolatry and distortion, a decisive redemption by Christ, and a creation-wide restoration — was nurtured by that story, taught by scholars in that place in those years.

Understanding the historical-redemptive unfolding of the
Biblical drama in light of this grandbig story (moody).png story has been one of the most popular
developments in popular-levestory of god, story of us.jpgl Biblical literacy in this generation and nearly
antrue story of whole world.jpgy church plant (in this remarkable era of so many fresh church plants)
nowadays, besides cool graphics and nifty names, will invite people to find their story
and meaning in light of the big story of God’s redemptive work in
the world. From emergent to missional, from Acts 29, The Gospel Coalition, the Fresh Expressions movement, to the 1001 new projects the Presbyterians are working on, the language of story, and the appreciation for the vision of the Kingdom of God and this renewed emphasis of the overarching trajectory of the Biblical narrative is central. It seems
that all kinds of folks are surprised by hope these days.

Yes, Surprised By
Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection, and the Mission of the ChurchSurprised by Hope-b.jpg
(HarperOne; $24.99) by the
former Anglican Bishop, N.T. Wright, may have popularized these themes more than
early books of Wolters, Middleton, et al, but there is no doubt that Wright
himself was influenced by them (and was in conversation with them in the late 70s via his
friendship with Middleton’s co-author, Brian Walsh, whose recent work I
highlighted just a week or so ago, here

If you do not know the magisterial, much-discussed Surprised by Hope you should know
it. It is surely one of my all time favorite books.  If you aren’t much of a
serious reader, the Surprised by Hope DVD curriculum expertly produced by Zondervan, is an informative, clear-headed, lecture series with N.T. Wright and is very creatively
produced.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Both the book and the DVD remind us,
to put it simply, that many of our most cherished assumptions (and much of our
popular vocabulary) about heaven and the afterlife are not Biblical.  

Of course it is more complicated, and
there are perplexing Biblical texts and notions from church history – for better
or worse – that must be examined, but the short version is sensible, but counter-intuitive for many, still: God’s Kingdom comes “on Earth as it is in
Heaven” and the end of the grand Biblical narrative (Revelation 21-22) is not about us leaving the Earth, but Emmanuel, again, God with us, in a restored, healed cosmos.  That is, Left Behind and
Hal Lindsey and apocalyptic bumper-stickers about the rapture notwithstanding, we don’t go to
heaven to live forever.  Heaven
comes to Earth.  The meek inherit the Earth. As Paul Marshall puts it in his tremendous book about living out the Christian life in various arenas and sides of life, “heaven is not my home.”

This is the carefully argued thesis of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, Richard Middleton’s careful, complex, book of fascinating Biblical study.


I can hardly tell you (based on my own intentional
observations about these things for nearly 40 years) just how important this all is.  It is not arcane or an eccentric little side matter. In what feels like a lifetime
ago, I considered writing a book about it. 


You see, it is almost always the case that people live their lives in
light of some sense of what they expect in the future. Garber lapses into Latin and talks beautifully
about our telos.  “Why do you get up in the morning”
is a more playful way of asking it, he notes in the powerful first chapter of his
first book, Fabric of Faithfulness:
Weaving Together Believe and Behavior
(IVP; $17.00.) What gets us up, our
sense of what matters, the goal of our purpose driven lives, our telos, always animates and
guides and informs and shapes how we live.  That is, our view of the end of things matters a lot.

Wbyron speaking at montreat.jpghen speaking on this very theme at Montreat College in
North Carolina last week – at a symposium for students on work and vocation,
arranged around keynote talks exploring themes of
creation/fall/redemption/restoration – I cited, I think, Romans 8, that
mentions that the whole creation is groaning, awaiting the salvation of
humankind so that the creation itself can be healed. John 3:16, I reminded them, uses the Greek word cosmos for world, which is to say that when Jesus
says “God so loved the world” He means just that. (And Leonard Sweet once quipped, if God so loves the world,
why don’t we?)  

Yes, we should care
about God’s good, if fallen world, because God loves it, and intends to rescue
it. The verse does not say that for God so loved our souls, or for God so loved our churches.  Cosmos.

When more than one professor thanked me profusely after that talk at Montreat, I shared
my own little concern: am I just firing people up with my natural talent for
enthusiasm, but not really saying much new? Maybe my big insight that God died
to save the universe, that the new creation is really this world restored, that (as C.S. Lewis put it) “matter matters,”
is really just a lot of stuff we all know, dressed up as some big paradigm
shift. But just not that urgent to keep saying, over and over, as I tend to.

But — and this is the
point, for now — both professors insisted that they hear “all the time”evangelical ecotheology.jpg people
saying that we need not care for this Earth since “it’s all going to burn,
”  Yep, we live inspired by our view of the end, and if we think God is whisking us off to some other place — we’re “only visiting this planet” as one famous Christian rocker said — then why care about current events, or much of daily life, really?  I was once scolded (one can’t make this stuff up) for caring about world hunger because, as my critic explained, the worse things get here on Earth, the sooner Jesus will come back to carry us home to heaven.  So, let ’em starve was the take-away of that awful eschatology. And it made a difference in that person’s daily living, including a blatant disregard for the poor and starving.

One professor of environmental studies at Montreat says he oddly gets asked from
evangelical church folks why a Christian college would teach ecology (again, since it is all going to burn.) Interestingly, he has also been asked this by secular colleagues from state universities as well. Why indeed would you (at your Christian college) teach environmental studies, they wondered, if your religion tells you it is all going to burn?  Odd, both the skeptics from the church
and the secular university each assumed that a Christian college wouldn’t care about
caring about the Earth. Because God is going to destroy it all anyway and “take us to heaven to live with him there” as the beloved carol Silent Night puts it.

Which is just one example of why we’ve got work to do to
give a better account, to the church and to the world, of God’s gracious (Triune)
goodness in creating the world, blessing it, sal means.gifsustaining it, and – after our rebellion and tragic fall from
grace, the “vandalization of shalom” as Cornelius Plantinga put it in his
excellent Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be
– Christ’s own redemptive work to reclaim and restore the world He so
loves. That “salvation is creation
healed” (as Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett put it in their great book of that
title) needs to be proclaimed with Christ-exalting clarity. That God is not scraping the covenant
made with all the critters (see Genesis 9) and nuke the creation, but intends to
remain faithful to the promises, and will remake and restore and heal the world is a
major theological truth that must be understood and explained, taught and
preached, appreciated and lived.


Enter Dr. J. Richard Middleton, (PhD, Free University of
Amsterdam), whose new book will help us more than any other serious study yet
done on this topic. 

Middleton is professor of Biblical worldview and exegesis
at Northeastern Seminary andj-richard-middleton-2012-left-facing.jpg adjunct professor of theology at Roberts Wesleyan
College. (He has also taught at
Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School for a season.) I have already mentioned that he co-wrote The Transforming Vision and its sequel, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be with Brian Walsh. His large, scholarly work on what it
means to be human, exploring the nature and consequences of the Biblical
teaching about the imago dei is
called The Liberating Image (Brazos Press;
$27.00) and it has been considered by some to be the definitive book on the
subject. Heavy as it may be, it is
an extraordinary work, with vast implications, and should be on the shelf of
anyone with serious interested in Biblical theology. It is that important.

Anew heavens and new earth.jpg New Heaven and a New Earth is also a bit hefty, over 300 pages, some of it fairly
detailed.  But it is not designed
only for the guild, or Bible professors or even clergy, but is offered as a
serious gift for anyone who wants to read and study and learn. It is, like Liberating Image, so significant in its research and so fresh in its
articulation, that it might be considered definitive. The great wordsmith and thoughtful preacher Cornelius
Plantinga observes that it is “comprehensive, learned, accessible, and
exciting.”  Al Wolters says he is inclined to call it “magnificent.”  Terence Fretheim of Luther Seminary
says it “deserves wide attention.”

We helped “launch” this book at the very first place it was sold, last weekend’s conference on imagination and innovation in the workplace at Redeemer Presbyterian’s NYC Center for Faith and Work. Apparently Keller’s team there thought it was important enough to have him speak at their famous yearly gathering about this brand new book.

The book opens with a poignant story of Richard as a young man, sitting with a friend atop a glorious mountain in his Jamaican homeland. They climbed there to enjoy a beautiful
sunrise, and were deeply taken by the sublime beauty of it all.  As they praised God for this moment,
Richard’s friend said “what a shame it is all going to burn up.”  Even as a young guy, he recoiled. A strong evangelical Christian with early familiarity and love for the Bible, Richard sensed that this was
not so.  He set himself, he tells
us, to explore this theme in the Bible, and it has been a passion of his ever since.


He pokes at bit at some old hymns that talk about going to
heaven, to live there forever. 
From obvious examples like “I’ll Fly Away” or “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” to lines in “Love Divine, All Love Excelling” or “My Jesus, I Love Thee” to “Silent Night” and
many others, he documents our fuzzy thinking about all this. (Wasn’t it the revival preacher A.W.
Tozer who said the church doesn’t have to tell lies, we just get together and
sing them?) I have my own
list of stupid lines that I find detrimental, and these few pages are striking and will cause us to think.  Again, we have our work cut out for us
if we are going to unlearn centuries of poor articulation and outright unbiblical

After this opening foray in Part 1, sharing the journey “from creation to
eschaton” and showing the real plot of the Biblical storyline, Middleton walks us
through in Part 2 what he calls “holistic salvation” in the Old Testament.  From “the exodus as a paradigm of
salvation” to “earthly flourishing in law, wisdom, and prophecy,” and even the
nature of the coming of God in both judgment and salvation, he offers
excellent, illuminating, clear Bible study, including some formulations that
may be new to some.  This is rich, fresh, solid stuff.

Whether you
are at a mainline church or an independent, evangelical one, whether you are
highly liturgical or less so, I am convinced some of this material will simply
rock your world. You will be made to reconsider shibboleths and sacred cows and you will have “aha” moments.There are
fascinating and useful footnotes, too (a lot of them — hooray!) and Richard’s passionate insight about the
Biblical text is matched by his fluency in the most important literature, old
and recent, scholarly and popular.

In the next 50 or so pages, Middleton offers in Part 3 two
strong chapters under the headline “The New Testament’s Vision of Cosmic
Renewal” and here he echoes N.T. Wright’s good work about how the resurrection
of the body implies so very much about our future hope.  (Middleton also explores “the
restoration of rule” which is excellent and generative, drawing somewhat on his previous work on our task as image bearers) even as he points us to
what it means to say that God intends “the restoration of all things.”  Again, this is dynamic, fresh, and for some, new, radical material. I have not read a book about the Bible as exciting as this in years!

For what it is worth, I had an advanced copy of the manuscript, which is how I had the good fortune of getting to study this long before it arrived this week.


Part 4 of A New Heaven and a New Earth looks helpfully at problem texts for holistic
eschatology.  After my presentation at
Montreat College’s symposium on this topic last week folks
lined up to talk about the rapture, the curious I Peter passage about the
elements being destroyed (or does it say “disclosed” as any good study Bible
will note?) and other contested texts. This part of the book is immensely helpful, and you will need it if you are using the creation-fall-redemption-restoration drama as part of your own spiritual formation work.  If you see salvation not as an escape plan from the world, but as a “homecoming” and restoration to our place in a (re)new(ed) earth, these few problem passage must be addressed.

The Greek word used in the popular “all things new” promise of
Revelation 22 is the word thatall things new graphic.jpg means re-newed (not “brand new.” They had a
word for that, but that isn’t what John saw in his vision; it is a restored earth, not a brand new earth, indicating some continuity, between, as they say, this world and the next.

Why do we continue to think of eternal life as some ethereal place for
disembodied souls (and worse yet, why do we say dumb stuff when a child dies,
like “God needed another angel” as if humans ever become angels?) The Biblical tradition is does not
offer some dream-world, some woo-woo spiritual soup into which we all merge — Christians give a different account for our hope than do Hindus, Buddhists or Platonists.  

We care about the environment because God has pledged his Holy Self to it. 

And Jesus entered it, and died for it.  He — remember Colossians 1 — holds it all together, and is reconciling “all things” through the blood of His cross.from the garden to the city.jpg

The Bible teaches that this
good world will be saved and restored and renewed and transformed as we, in renewed,
resurrection bodies, rule once again in some kind of culturally developed paradise.  As the very good book on technology and digital culture by John Dyer (who did a workshop Montreat) puts it, we move “from the garden to the city.”


Does all of this really matter that much?  I will give you my short answer, and tell you about how
Richard answers it, as well.

As I tried to develop in my passionate Montreat College
talk, I am convinced (as I wrote earlier) that how we think of the future does
indeed effect the tone and vision of our contemporary lifestyles. It’s that telos thing mentioned previously: how we think about the future, our end-goal, colors the sort of hope we have now, which shapes the kind of life we live, the things we invest in, the stuff we do, and how we do it, and how we explain it to others.

When a couple finds themselves to be
pregnant, it slowly changes everything: the birth which is to come starts to
effect daily choices, from nutritional decisions to economic ones to even legal matters. The couple grows closer in their love
as they dream together about the good future they will share with their
offspring. They start preparing
the baby’s room, shopping for a crib, picking names. Oh yes, this future blessing has present consequences.  The reality of what is to come rubs off in the here and now,
and nothing is ever the same. The
present itself is pregnant and the future is like a magnet, pulling us toward
its hope.  As we sing at
Christmastime, “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met in Christ. This alludes to our past longings and
anxieties, but perhaps also to those regarding the years yet to come. I truly believe that our daily
discipleship is deepened and enhanced and given direction by a proper
understanding of the new creation God has promised to bring into our
midst. We start to live in the “already” even though we know the Kingdom’s fullness is “not yet.”

N.T. Wright assures us of the confidence we can have, given that Christ Himself has walked into and through death, and come out alive on the other side, in the reality of new creation. It is, he says, like a call we may get in the middle of the night from an earlier time zone.  It may seem like night to us, but — in fact! — the caller is calling us from the future, and it is bright as day there.  Yes, with Christ’s Easter victory and ascension, we know the future is assured.  He is risen, in the body, a first hint of the new creation which is ours.

David Arms offers this artful rendering of the creation/fall/redemption/restoration story:cfrr art.jpg

As Marva Dawn and Tom Wright and Brian Walsh have all
written, our current-day faith communities can be seen as actors doing
improvisation, acting out a missing scene or two in coherent ways, inspired and
informed by the parts of the play we have: the first part and the last
part. We know how the playwright worked in the past.  We know how the story resolves. Here in the middle of time,
we improvise, knowing the plot of which we are a part, and knowing how that
story ends. 

Understanding the
ending correctly is essential for getting our daily work now right. This stuff really does matter, and it matters a lot.  Which is why I think this book is so very right for our times, when there is renewed interest in the fate of the Earth and the full picture of the Story of God.

Here is how our friend Sylvia Keesmaat (co-author of Colossians Remixed and editor of The Advent of Justice) puts it, in her rave review blurb inside the front pages:

Richard Middleton is talking about a revolution! Why should Christians settle for the anemic goal of eternity spent in heaven when the Bible’s robust vision is one of a resurrected humanity on the new earth? Set your imagination free from the chains of other-worldly dualism, and enter into the brilliant and fascinating world of the biblical story, where the vision of all things redeemed breathes new life into our discipleship.

Richard Middleton also wants to show how this has vast consequences; almost like he’s talking about a revolution. He ends A
New Heaven and a New Earth
with a major section exploring how this all
might matter now. 

He calls this
section (perhaps unwisely, in my view) “The Ethics of the Kingdom.”  He does not mean only ethics as some
might think of that word – what we are to believe about euthanasia or lying or genetic engineering or sexuality)
but he means how we live out our daily life, in a full-orbed, multi-faceted,
way that is animated by a Kingdom vision, embodied in society. 
He starts with Luke 4, that famous passage where Jesus reads from an
Isaiah passage which alludes to the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25.  This Nazareth manifesto insists that
Jesus is the long-awaited God of Israel who is bringing this new era of shalom and grace
to the culture. Richard’s explication of the implications of this Jubilee
theme is remarkable.

He begins the second chapter in this last section like this:

In the receding chapter I argued that Jesus’s proclamation
of the kingdom of God in his sermon at Nazareth was good news because it
addressed his hearer’s full-bodied, concrete earthly needs. But the episode at
Nazareth did not end on a positive note, with the praise of his audience. It is
the burden of this chapter to explore how Jesus went on to complicate this good
news, so that it would not be understood superficially and self-righteously.
Rather, the good news of the kingdom can be grasped only through a radical
challenge that requires a fundamental reorientation of life.

I wish I could summarize this provocative chapter where he
does close readings of many gospel passages, and draws out important mandates for our Jubilee vision. He is both prophetic and pastoral, here, and I appreciate how he warns us – including
those who are fond of worldview education, and kingdom language – to seek God’s
Spirit to guide us in these perilous days ahead. I have read this chapter twice, now, and commend it to you
as an excellent way to end this extraordinary, vital work.

Ahh, but that isn’t even the end. 

There is an appendix that will appeal to those interested in
Christian scholarship, in other books on this topic, and on recent church history. The appendix is called “Whatever Happened to the New Earth”
and there Middleton annotates a variety of books and schools of thought, explaining in this
literature review the twists and turns of the story where we’ve tended to get
this topic so very wrong.  He does
review Wright, and Randy Alcorn, and others who have in recent years reminded
us that (as Wright put it in our
backyard a few years ago, preaching from his book How God Became King) “Orthodox Christian doctrine affirms the
rescue of the created order itself, rather than the rescue of saved souls from the created order.”

Richard is not alone in making a case for a very robust,
very multi-dimensional, very “this worldly” sense of God’s rescue plan.  He is not alone in insisting that this
is exactly what the Bible teaches, misunderstandings and heresies and bad pop
theology notwithstanding. But with A New
Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology
he has become the
preeminent scholar who has given us the preeminent work on this vexing, vital
subject.  It is my hope that every
Bible teacher, every pastor and preacher, and every Christian who longs for a
more coherent, meaningful, faithful daily discipleship struggles long and hard
with the content of this book. It is that important.  Our visions of the future, and our faithfulness to the
Biblical story, matters more than we may know. 

Getting this right is urgent.  This book will help.

new heavens and new earth.jpg


To sweeten the deal just a bit, if you buy this book now at our sale price we will –  this weekwhen the kings come (Mouw) good.jpg only
– send you also a free copy of one of my all time favorite books, a little book that
is as life-changing as any I know on these topics, Richard Mouw’s lovely When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah
and the New Jerusalem
(Eerdmans; $15.00.) 

You know (and you will know better, if you read the Richards — Middleton and Mouw) that humankind was given the grand task to “tend
and keep the garden” which, as Genesis 1 puts it, means we are to “fill the
Earth.” This so-called “cultural mandate” implies God wants us to cultivate or “fill”
creation by developing its glorious potential. From schools to CD players, from games to governments, art to astrophysics, humankind
has filled the Earth. Mouw reminds us that the Psalmist claims that the Earth
is the Lords and the “fullness thereof” which is an allusion to the
“filling” – which is to say, the development of human culture, skyscrapers and all. God must love the Beatles and Monet and chocolate and ipads,
perhaps. In the famous “wealth of
the nations” passage of Isaiah 60, this filling, this stuff, the cultural
artifacts (like lumber from Lebanon) are renewed and purified for the new
creation, another signal that we are not destined to inhabit some disembodied
heaven singing worship songs for eternity. Isaiah and John imagine a new city filled with good
stuff, animals and culture and restored civic life. “What are [the international commercial vessels] the ships of Tarsish doing here?” Mouw asks?

I hope you wonder that, too. Knowing at least a bit about what God is working towards will help us discern norms and patterns for our engagement in culture, now.  We will give you this great book for free if you order
Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a
New Earth
right away. While
supplies last, naturally — we’re not in the new Earth yet, so we have some limits. Our offer ends November 16, 2014. 

The BookNotes offer of 20% OFF A New Heaven and a New Earth remains indefinitely, of course,
but we can only give away the Mouw book for the next few days. I hope you agree that these two books, one on sale and one for free, could be very helpful for you and yours.



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Slow Church event with C. Christopher Smith: Friday, November 7th, 2014.

Crazy.  That’s what we sometimes call our busy schedule, schlepping books here and there, serving others with a few boxes selected for a small event, or a truck load for a larger gig, often two or more events at the same time, and, all the while, keeping the shop open, six days a week. Of course Beth and I enjoy this “on the road” aspect of our work (and we couldn’t do it without our dedicated staff who work hard each and every day in Dallastown.) Sometimes, though, we grow weary. I’ve heard people say that they get tired just listening to our wacky schedules.  We sometimes wonder if it is healthy, being stretched and stressed, juggling a too few many balls in the air some months, so often in a hurry. 

We loved our time at Montreat College this week, and respect the remarkably good work theymontreat books.jpg are doing there at that small, liberal arts college tucked into a mountainous cove in the Black Mountains of North Carolina.  Doing workshops and selling books and speaking there, serving their “Faith and Vocation Symposium,” was surely one of the most memorable and rewarding things we’ve done this year. Thanks to folks there for hospitality and receptivity (and for help with the book packing!)  It was a whirlwind event, but very meaningful for us.
But we’re reminded again of our crazy schedule — we had to hurry back, not lingering there, or on the beautiful Route 81 drive north because Friday night (tonight, November 7th) we are hosting C. Christopher Smith, co-author of the very provocative, thoughtful, and important book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. (You can read my earlier, longer review, here.)  
Yes, we are having an author appearance, book reading, and slow church conversation withSlow Church poster-2.jpg Chris, starting at 7:00 pm over at the nearby Living Word Community Church, 2530 Cape Horn Road, Red Lion, PA. (We’re very grateful for their support of our occasional projects, and their great coffee bar, free parking and warm space to host a book signing like this.)
Ironic, eh?  We are nearly burned out from a bunch of events, a lot of hustle, and too much speed, only to hurry back to this slow, patient conversation about, uh, yeah: slowing down, learning patience, resisting the tendencies of our culture that suggest We Can Have It All and We Can Do It All. 
In what Christopher Smith and his co-author call the “McDonaldization” of the church, modern congregations sometimes seem to adopt strategies out of the fast food industry — ending up with seemingly tasty offerings efficiently delivered with speed and uniformity, maybe even with zippy ad campaigns to complete the consumerist brand — and have thereby unknowingly subverted or compromised what should be at the heart of any church: relationships, community, authenticate care for people and places and the quality of our life together.

Faith, of course, is not a product to be marketed or consumed, and church is not a business.
Large or small church, evangelical or mainline, most of us know that.  But sometimes, we need to step back and ponder the pressures, to wonder a bit about it all.

Slow Church takes a cue from the “slow food” movement, and invites us to think about church being informed by terroir (the foodie term explaining how the local ground seeps into the very taste of wine or food), stability (“fidelity to people and place”), and patience. They invite us to take up deliberate slowness which allows a greater attention to relationships and context; such relationships, not incidentally, allows us enter more deeply into the suffering of others.
The book begins with a little study of the industrialization of the church, which has paralleled the industrialization of agriculture — not to mention the near demise of the family farm. They quote Joel Salatin (who’s book about farming we stock here, and showed at the farming workshop at Montreat, btw), Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc. The profound social criticism of Salatin, Pollan, Wendell Berry, and the like is wise and important.  Applying it to the church is a stroke of generative brilliance. In Slow Church Salatin is quoted noting that 
conventional agriculture experts view the soil as merely a convenient way to hold up the plant while it is fed from the top in the form of ever-increasing doses of chemical fertilizers.  He describes this process as superimposing a mechanistic mindset onto a biological world.  Nature, in contrast, feeds the plants from the bottom up, through the soil. Thus, for the conscientious farmer, the health of the soil is a top priority.
Ahh, you can see the connection to church, can’t you?  Caring for the foundational stuff, patiently bearing good fruit by attending to the soil.

Slow Church continues:  
Western Christianity has similarly adopted shortcuts that are the church equivalent of imposing a mechanistic mindset onto a biological world. When evaluated in terms of efficiency — defined as the easiest way to get someone from here to there, from unsaved to saved, from unchurched to churched — these top-down inputs seem to yield impressive short-term results: they can sometimes pack the pews. So, on the upside, the church has been busy.

But then, this: “on the downside, it’s not clear at what long-term costs these methods have been employed or how helpful and sustainable they will be going forward.”

That is just the beginning of the remarkably interesting, well-written, and deeply considered rumination offered in Slow Church and we are thrilled to have Chris with us to continue the conversation over at Living Word Friday night.  
As the authors put it, “Slow Food and other Slow movements hold important lessons for the American church. They compel us to ask ourselves tough questions about the ground our faith communities have ceded to the cult of speed.”
The cult of speed.
In a way, this is something I need to hear, now. My own workaholism, my own tendency to live as if God’s creation has no limits, my assumptions about scarcity (rather than the generous abundance of God’s economy in which we can rest) all need to be evaluated and refined. Of course, most churches — indeed most of us with super-hectic, busy lives, want “quality over quantity” and no church I know is only interested in metrics and numbers, growth for its own sake. Of course, I don’t know any bone fide mega-churches, but from what I gather, folks at places a lot like Willow Creek, for instance, resonant deeply with these very concerns. Willow Creek themselves have been very committed to nurturing a more contemplative spirituality and a radical social vision, including notable wor
k in peace and justice, charity and service.  Chris has spoken about the book, and it is being used, in a number of fairly large churches who are eager to apply the books principles within their own fast-paced, very professional context. 
It is clear that even those of us with very good intentions, who have read books about slowingunhurriedlife_sm.jpg down, practicing spiritual disciplines, keeping Sabbath, focusing on quality, being deeply faithful rather then merely popular, we too often are undone by our own bad habits and co-opted imaginations. (Alan Fadling’s An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest is just one recent book that I found very, very helpful and wise in this area.)  As Jamie Smith has reminded us in his stunningly important Desiring the Kingdom, our passions and desires and habits and practices are most often informed more by the secular liturgies of the world than the often thin formation generated within the local church.
So, ironic as it may be, Beth and I are zooming ahead, creating this program, and are fretting that we get enough turn-out. Our guest author, Mr. Smith, may care less about this than I do,  but my eagerness for numbers — people showing up, books being sold — perhaps needs to be adjusted.  Is repentance too demanding a word?  This “slow church manifesto” does make me squirm a bit.
If you are in the region, come on by.  It will be a good conversation, you’ll get to meet a low-key, down-home, small-church leader who will help us talk about our culture and our lives, our churches and our ministries.  
If you want an edition autographed by Chris, let us know right away, and we’ll see if we can make that happen, too.  It would make a nice gift for a church leader or pastor you know.
Thanks to those who have extended very warm words about my fast and furious closingbyron speaking at montreat.jpg plenary talk at the Montreat Faith and Vocation Symposium. I hear they might post videos at the Montreat College website of all four talks, each which were quite good. The first was on creation/vocation, by Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters;  then the fall and sorrow was explore profoundly by Steve Garber, author of Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation (starting with a Mumford & Sons song); next, a broad and decisive redemption was gloriously proclaimed, eloquently and powerfully spoken by Messiah College chaplain, Donald Opitz, co-author of Learning for the Love of God: A Guide to Academic Faithfulness; lastly, there was yours truly, preaching about the adventure of living out this hope of a restored creation, the implications of this kind of big gospel, a closing with a meditation on “Standing in the Breech” from the new album by that name by Jackson Browne.  This grand Biblical story that calls us to work in the world, for the life of the world, by realizing that God’s Kingdom is best known as the creation regained, is not only taught by the books I drew upon in my final talk —  When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem by Richard J. Mouw and Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church — but, interestingly enough, also in this wonderful Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus.  The vision of a wholistic worldview, if you will, shaped and informed by the epic rescue plan portrayed in the flow of the drama of Scripture, is what we talked about with the students and faculty at Montreat (especially applying it to college life, majors, callings, and careers.)  It is also what Smith and Patterson remind us of in the dynamic and evocative middle part of Slow Church and apply it to the nature of the local church.
Just listen to the conversation topics in the “second course” of this meal (in keeping with theirSlow Church-Cover1.jpg slow food theme, each unit of the book is envisioned as one of a three course meal.)
They call the second course “ecology” and they talk about wholeness (that is, the reconciliation of all things), work, by which they mean “cooperating with God’s reconciling mission, and, then, also, sabbath, which they invite us to consider as the “rhythm of reconciliation.”  This gracious good news of God reconciling all things, restoring all things, bringing healing and wholeness and hope to the creation that is so loved, appears to us here in the midst of our broken history and dysfunctional culture and often less than faithful churches.

Can our churches learn to be crucibles of the Kingdom, to be places where, in deep and real relationships, we replace fast-food-like cookie-cutter, quick and easy techniques with more mature, sustainable,  deeply spiritual ways of pursuing a missional lifestyle of wholistic discipleship? Can our formation in community allow us to become more missional, taking up vocations to care about the Story of God?  Can we?

Well, yes we can.  We saw glimpses at Montreat.  We know of glimpses at our host church, Living Word Community Church in Red Lion.  You have tasted deep spiritual quality in your own life and relationships, too, I’m sure. We just have to slow down enough to allow God’s abundance to take root.
If you can, please join us at 7 tonight for a casual evening with Chris Smith designed to ponder this slow process of spiritual formation in a local church that is radically Christian, maybe even considering how to be counter-cultural, willing to resist the pragmatic and glitzy, in search of a deeper, more communal expression of radical discipleship.  
If you can’t join us, you can order the book from us. It’s tasty, almost gourmet. But be prepared to chew a bit.  And be sure to read it with others.  Slow food together is much more fun.



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order here
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10 brand new ones — don’t miss this list: 20% OFF too.

I hope you saw our last BookNotes post — they are all archived here at the website, of course.  Some have subscribed and get them coming into their inbox each week, others just click through to the website from twitter or facebook.  The formatting is always a little ragged when it goes out via email, but if you click on the top headline, it will take you to the somewhat nicer viewing on the real page.

Last time I told you about my affection for Brian Walsh, his books co-authored with Richard Middleton (Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be), Steve Bouma-Predigar (Beyond Homelessness) and Sylvia Keesmaat, (Colossians Remixed.) I think these are stunningly important, well-written, passionate and wise.

But, per usual, that was the set up, the background, helping you realize a bit of the backstory of the three new ones I told you about. 

I explained about an important, if lesser known book that had been out of print and has just been newly reprinted in an updated version, Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Dangerous Times (Wipf & Stock) and a newly re-issued set of daily readings for Advent (co written with three others, including Richard and Sylvia) called Advent of Justice.  I closed with a summary of the brand new St. John Before Breakfast, homilies, reflections and some liturgies that have emerged from Brian’s work with a campus community at the University of Toronto.  It is provocative, powerful, and generative.  Again, it isn’t terribly well known (self-published as it is by their little Wine Before Breakfast worshiping community) which makes my short review so important.  We need to help get the word out about it, and these other rich resources. I sincerely hope you were pleased to hear about these remarkable books, although the pleasure was mine to get to write about them a bit.

You can read or re-read it here; perhaps you could pass it on or share the news…

Between chasing a chipmunk out of the store today — you should have seen the little rascal scurrying and literally jumping off of a big stack of Old Testament texts, doing a little flip — and packing our rented van to head to our next venture (speaking and selling books at a symposium on faith, vocation, and work for college students at Montreat College in North Carolina) and getting ready for our evening with Chris Smith (author of Slow Church) next Friday, November 7th, I realized a ton of great new books have arrived. 

They are the kind of books that I simply cannot not tell you about.  Beth and I will be on the road, and if I don’t post something now about them, I’ll be thinking about it non-stop for the next nine hours as we drive down the edge of the now snowy Appalachians.

So, then.  Here ya go:  we list the regular price.  We’ll deduct the BookNotes sale discount of 20% off if you order them from us. The order form page is secure — just type in what you want. Easy.

TWay of Tea and Justice.jpghe Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage From It’s Violent History Becca Stevens (Jericho Books) $22.00   Maybe you know the deep, profound, tender, feisty writings of this strong woman, who has given us lovely, thoughtful, good books in the past.  Her own memoir, called Thistle was powerful and wonderfully written.  Here she tells the story of her cafe and soap-making business that employs former prostitutes and addicts, giving them a new lease on life.  Who knew this work with Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Cafe would end up not only being central to new stories and new lives for countless woman who have been abused, trafficked, silenced, but has become part of an astonishing movement to bring freedom and fair wages to women producers worldwide where tea and trafficking are linked by oppression and the opiate wars. As it says on the inside cover, “in this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for cafe workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on Earth.”

PPrayer- Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.jpgrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God Timothy Keller (Dutton) $26.95  I probably don’t need to tell you that Tim is a thoughtful and articulate spokesperson for historic, Reformed faith, and is situated in Manhattan doing successful ministry with some of the world’s leading artists, financiers, designers, movers and shakers, along with the ordinary, forgetaboutit New Yawkers. Skeptic, seeker, struggler — anyone wanting a mature, no-nonsense, theologically mature exploration on the meaning and practice of Christian prayer will find this exceptionally valuable.  Given that Tim’s own wife and he himself have suffered serious health issues (not to mention the stress of such a high-profile, demanding leadership calling) it should not come as a surprise that they have learned to practice daily prayer, and have considered its meaning, carefully, deeply.  What might be surprising is how it didn’t come naturally, and how he has had to ponder, think, study, and obey the commands (and take in the promises) of the God of the Bible.  Rev. Keller, as you might guess, is not fully comfortable with some of the more subjective mysticism floating around out there, and he does a good job distinguishing Christian spirituality that is wise and grounded from more trendy sorts of fascination with the inner life. More should be said, but this is an important book, a rare substantive contribution to a field that is loaded with titles, some good, some less so.  Agree with all his conclusions or not, take up all his suggestions or not, this is very higly recommended.

FFierce Convictions.jpgierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist Karen Swallow Prior (Nelson) $24.99  Oh my, where to begin? I want to read this because I don’t know much about the remarkable woman who came alongside William Wilberforce in his on-going struggle against slavery (perhaps you recall her small role in the film Amazing Grace.) I am sure such a valiant woman’s story will be very, very valuable to many, and I for one need to know more about this era, and her role.   Secondly, Karen Swallow Prior is the smart and sassy author — her first book was a memoir about influential books in her life — and I think I’d line up to buy whatever book she had on offer after that brilliant debut. And, then there are these magnificent, ebullient blurbs: sometimes you pick up a book just because so many people you really respect rave about it.  From the foreword by Eric Metaxas (whose earlier book on Wilberforce was fantastic) to Richard Mouw to Mark Noll to Ann Voskamp to Leonard Sweet, many are insisting it is one of the best of the year.  Sweet (who knows a thing or two about the Brits in this era, by the way) writes, “Here is that rarity of a book: scholarship of impeccable rigor that’s also a compulsive page-turner. Reading Karen Swallow Prior feels like a privilege.” Yes!

The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit  David F. Ford (Brazos Press) $19.99 

Again,The Drama of Living- Becoming Wise in the Spirit.jpg with this release, Brazos shows themselves to be one of the most important presses in the North American religious publishing landscape. I’ve been waiting for this sequel to The Shape of Living for, oh, gee, maybe fifteen years.  I read that book about the time my father died in car wreck (not realizing there was a chapter on death) and it took my breath away.  Subtle, nuanced, deep, beautiful without being flamboyant, this wise, thoughtful theologian has given us practical theology and a spirituality of life itself. It isn’t simple, but it is eloquent.

Endorsements for the US edition are from the likes of Ellen Charry of Princeton, Geoffrey Wainwright of Duke, and the award-winning poet Micheal O’Siadhail (to whom the book is dedicated, by the way, and whose poems enhance the text.)  In the acknowledgements he thanks (among many, many others) Rowan Williams, Richard Hays, Jean Vanier, Randi Raskover, (formerly of York College here – hey, hey) and the Irish Presbyterian mystic and Wild Goose songwriter John Bell.  Kudos to Brazos editors Bob Hosack and Lisa Ann Cockrel for working on this project.  I cannot wait to spend some slow, quiet time with this.

Tzimzum.jpghe ZimZum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage Rob and Kristen Bell (HarperOne) $24.99  I suppose you know Bell’s pushing the boundaries, very creative, delightfully interesting and poetic writing style. I think you know he speaks to and for many, many people of diverse faith.  I think he brings a lot of very helpful, Biblically-informed insight, and here he writes — perhaps almost like he did in that amazing little book on grief (Drops Like Stars) about a very personal, human situation: marriage. Tzimtzum is a Hebrew word, used at least in the Rabbinic traditions, as a way of getting at this energy of of creation. It’s about mutuality, and I suppose it is fair to say this new book includes a little sciency stuff, a little theology, a little self-help practical advise rooted in the deeper mysteries of grace, something built deep into the very fabric of the universe.  There are some funny dialogues between Rob and his wife, and one I read touched me right away. 

Do a google video search and you’ll find a number of promo video clips with Rob and Kristen talking about this “space between” a couple — big, wild, heart-breaking, sacred.  He’s going on tour with Oprah, too.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life Eric Metaxas

Miracles.jpg (Dutton) $27.95  I am sure you know: this guy is a way too talented follow, an amazing writer, a great conversationalists, a fabulously entertaining storyteller, funny as all get out (yes, it is true, he used to write for Veggie Tales) and his early books were very clever, straight one questions-and-replies for seekers and skeptics.  This sort of brings all of this together in an amazingly energetic study and apologetic for that one-word title that has been appropriated by everybody from C.S. Lewis (always worth re-reading) to the smarmy tele-evangelist that is hardly worth watching for a moment.  Yes, this topic has been done and redone, explored well, and poorly.  This books has tons of fun and exemplary endorsements — from the hilarious Susan Isaacs and very smart actress to the artist Makoto Fujimura to the Daily Beast journalists Kirsten Powers. 

Novelist Brett Lott says it has “the cool rain of intelligent truth.”  This is storytelling, science, and a bit of journalistic magic: profound, curious, honest.  As one author put it, “As a secular reader, I come to such books with a certain resistance. Metaxas won me over instantly by meeting me where I live. His intellectual honesty, coupled with an openhearted wonder at the sheer breadth of human experience, is irresistible.”  You should buy two: one for yourself, and one to give to that person you are thinking of right now. You know who.

GGod's Wider Presence.jpgod’s Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation Robert K. Johnston (Baker Academic) $25.99  Wow, I have got to get to this, and soon. Johnston is one of the premier faith and film scholars, having written widely about the common grace that comes to us through engagement with the arts, and specifically, the art of cinema. As Michael Frost says, “Johnston weaves a marvelously rich tapestry that opens up our understanding of how God’ whispers to us through nature, conscience, and culture. Who else could reference baroque art, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ingmar Bergman, C.S. Lewis, and Star Wars in such a scholarly and yet readable fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed every page.”

Richard Peace (who himself has a lovely book in hearing God’s voice in natural surroundings, among others, in service, in solitude and the like) says it is “seminal., one that greatly enlarges our understanding of the multiple ways in which God is present in the world.” Amos Young says this “reconsideration of general revelation moves the discussion  light years beyond the sterile binaries” and says it is “a new starting point for twenty-first century theological reflection on important matters regarding the human experience of and encounter with God.”

I could cite other rave reviews and interesting observations about this brand new, fresh release. I think it is going to be much discussed, and you should know about it.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir Bruce Cockburn (HarperOne) $28.99

I zipped through the more thanRumours of Glory.jpg 500 pages of this in a few days over a weekend — my friend Jeff blessed me generously by giving me an early manuscript that he somehow acquired, and I’ve hardly been happier all year. What a read! How fun to revisit old songs and earlier albums, learning about them all.

Although, truth be told, my musical hero comes across as I feared: Mr. Cockburn no longer calls himself a Christian (although he is very, very candid about the earnest and thoughtful faith he held for years) and he is a bit spicy in his language (nothing new there.) He’s an eccentric dude, we know, and I realized this more and more in this very revealing memoir. He is honest about a handful of romantic relationships that haven’t worked out. Like many artists, he’s got some issues; he is also a remarkably virtuous person in many ways.  His narrations of making music, writing songs, preforming with other great musicians, his production of his many albums — I know each one by heart! — is fantastic and a must for true fans. If you are interested in popular music, or care at all about this telling of his tale, this really is a great book.

Cockburn’s well known lefty activism, his philanthropy, his reporting from all over the globe, his travel-based research and bearing witness to repression, war, poverty, ecological crisis, and more makes the book not just entertaining and a good read, it is riveting, vital, important, deeply moving at times. We need to hear this stuff — from the awful ways in which the US funded torturers and death squads in Central America to the way the “radium rain” came down after Chernobyl to the land mind issues in Cambodia and Africa… one really learns a lot from this, and his explanations are often first hand and come from solid research. This is first hand story-telling, with politics and prayer, romance and sex, fear and bravado, song-writing and art, mixed together in a life story of one of the more important pop singers of our time.

Jackson Browne (who appears in it, of course) says

This is the story of the development of one of the most astute and compelling songwriters in the English language. Bruce Cockburn’s journey, both as a musician and as a thinker, draws us with him into spiritual and political realms and becomes a chronicle of his engagement in the major issues of the past thirty years. Rumours of Glory is highly personal account by one whose quest for expression engages the most important social questions of our time. 

Lewis Hyde, author of that amazing book on creativity and generosity, The Gift (which inspired Bruce’s great song of that same name) says “Cockburn gives us a finely-grained account of the ground from which he harvested some of the finest songs of his generation.” 

I have written elsewhere about my appreciation for Cockburn, and I’ve reviewed at BookNotes Brian Walsh’s book Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination, but I might add here, for those reading along — I first discovered Brennan Manning through the liner notes of Cockburn’s Big Circumstance album, and I once gave Cockburn a bi-lingual collection of some Nicaraguan poetry, while back stage chatting with him, Sam Phillips and Mark Heard. Unforgettable.  Not in the book, though. 

Let us know if you are interested in the huge, autographed, numbered box set of CDs that go alongCockburn boxed set.jpg with this (8 CDs, one an entire disc of previously unreleased or rare releases) and a video of concert footage, as well as a 90-some page booklet that is said to be beautiful. It retails for $149.99 but we will sell it on sale, for $20.00 less– $129.99, if you just have to have it.  It, too, is called Rumours of Glory: Limited Edition Boxed Set.

SSmall Talk.jpgmall Talk: Learning from My Children About What Matters Most Amy Julia Becker (Zondervan) $15.99  Becker writes about faith, family, and disability for parents.com, the  New Yorker Times, The Christian Century, Huffington Post, etc. Her first book (A Good and Perfect Gift about “a little girl named Penny” was excellent, and widely admired. (It was named one of the Top Ten Religious Books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly.)  This just came in today, so I haven’t yet read any of it, but we all know that sometimes God uses the smallest voices to teach us great truths.  The three main parts of these essays are “Holding On” “Letting Go” and “Growing Up” and I think it looks very, very good. excellent writers I admire give rave reviews — women like Margot Starbuck, Rachel Marie Stone, Ellen Painter Dollar, Rebekah Lyons. Looking for a smart, entertaining,reminder of the joys and issues of parenting, by a beautiful, thoughtful writer. This looks fabulous!

SSoul Feast- An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life.jpgoul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life  Marjorie J. Thompson (Westminster/John Knox) $17.00  This newly revised, expanded, updated edition just came out, and I’m glad it did.  It carries a new foreword by the always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor (as well as the classic one by Henri Nouwen.)  Whenever anyone asks about good primers on spiritual formation, or a handbook for deeper growth, this is always one of the first I think of.  From the contemplative practices of meditation to the corporate practice of worship, from Bible study to prayer, this offers nuanced, wise insights and helpful, good advice. She worked for over a decade as the Director of Congregational Ministry with Upper Room Ministries.  We recommend this as a tool for your work, or, as Taylor says, “a map to living water, along with a packing list of what you might need…”



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