Okay, we’ve paired a number of good books — mostly new, although a few chestnuts, too — with a particular sort of reader, someone maybe on your gift list to whom you might want to give a book. Of course we simply couldn’t be exhaustive, but if you have a certain person and are stymied as to what sort of book to give, send us a quick inquiry or call. We’ll see if we can help find for you a good book to give to that hard to buy for person.
It’s a perfect time of year to give almost anyone a little gift and sharing a book now may be done without awkwardness, so why not take this opportunity? Been wanting to help inspire or inform someone dear? Maybe this will help, or at least get you thinking.
HERE’S OUR “JUST THE RIGHT BOOK IDEAS FOR … ” list. Ideas for those interested in science, art, history, spirituality, work, family, seekers, cynics, and more. Books for parents, books for college students, books for video gamers, books for memoir-lovers, theologians, politicos, and more.
Sorry we didn’t show all the covers… call us if we can help explain anything at all.
ALL ON SALE, while supplies last. We’ll deduct 20% off the regular retail prices that are shown. Order below.
For what it is worth, we can send small packages (a book or two or three) to most places in the country via US Priority Mail cheaper than UPS and often quicker. We cannot guarantee it, of course (unless you pay extra for expedited service, which we can easily do), but it is our sense that orders that go out on Monday would be received most places by Thursday. How’s that?
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN HISTORY
Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past John Fea (Baker Academic) $19.99 We have raved about Professor Fea’s award winning, detailed and impeccably balanced Was American Founded as a Christian County; this little volume backs up and makes the case for why Christians (and anyone, for that matter) should care about the enterprise of reflecting on our past. This is a lovely little book, highly recommended.
Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions Jay Green (Baylor University Press) $34.95 For those who are interested in the Christian pursuit of serious academic scholarship, this will be an edifying and important example of the integration of faith and learning. It will be thrilling for those interested in the philosophy of history, and how people of faith should think about the foundational questions in this field. Fair, wide-ranging, theologically rigorous, this is a magisterial contribution to thinking about how we write, research, interpret and read history.
In the Beginning Was the Word: The BIble in American Public Life, 1492 – 1783 Mark A. Noll (Oxford University Press) $29.95 What a handsome big book this is, studying in impeccable detail the rise of the use of the Bible in the earliest days preceding and during the founding of these United States. Noll is an esteemed historian and this simply a must-read for anyone interested in the colonial era.
Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents Gary Scott Smith (Oxford University Press) $34.95 A few weeks ago I put this 665 page magnum opus on a list I did for the Center for Public Justice, for those interested in the history of US political life. Smith had won remarkable awards for a previous book a decade ago on the faith of some of our Presidents and in this brand new one, he bests himself, wonderfully exploring the unique religious convictions of eleven others. This has garnered fabulous reviews from those who study the history of Presidents, those curious about the inner working of the White House, and how faith has or hasn’t impacted US policy, in the distant past and in recent decades. A fascinating, great read!
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN CHURCH HISTORY
Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past Robert Rea (IVP Academic) $20.00 For many contemporary Christians, questions about the role and value of church history can be difficult to appreciate. Professor Ray is a clear teacher, passionate and helpful, showing over and over why knowing how the church unfolded, for better or worse, is vital to know today. This is nearly a one-volume overview of church history, but it’s main concern is to explain why it matters. especially for those who are clear that their life and ministry are to be Bible-based. Yes!
Theologians on the Christian Life (Crossway) $18.99 or $19.99 each We have dozens and dozens of books on church history, from the earliest first century founders of the Way to the church fathers and on into the modern era, and American and global faith expressions. And some people really geek out on this stuff, so give us a call if you think we can help.
This series of handsome paperbacks is not exactly church history, at such, but draws on the spiritual wisdom of important figures, asking how their own theological insights in their day might be useful for our own faith development today. Call it applied theology from the past, these are almost all really, really interesting and very, very helpful. Read the Bonhoeffer one by Steve Nichols if you don’t believe me, to see how they not only teach about the person, his writings, but also how it can aid us in our own spiritual journey. The Luther one is important, John Newton’s fascinating, Wesley inspiring. If you know about Francis Schaeffer (the only really modern person studied) the one by Bill Edgard is very good. A nice set with uniform covers, why not buy a few and wrap them up together?
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN THE ARTS
Rainbows for the Fallen World Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press) $30.00 I list this old classic as it is one of the most esteemed books in the contemporary conversation about faith and the arts, aesthetics, and the role of these matters in our daily life as the people of God. Seerveld has written much, often quite dense, about aesthetic theory, and there is some of that in here, but many think this is his most useful book, energetically written, truly profound, and somewhat hard to find. We’ve stocked it since the day we’ve opened and folks are still delighted to discover it. Whew.
It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99 I routinely say this is my favorite collection of good essays about faith and the arts, about aesthetics, about beauty and about how serious people of faith can create important, mature, contemporary art. There are some that are more basic, some that are more complex, but this is simply a must-read for anyone interested in the arts. Some lovely design touches and full color illustration make it a particularly nice volume.
It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books( $24.99 Did you see what I wrote above? It goes double for this one, 33 fabulous chapters that are not simplistic or too obvious, but not heady or overly deep, either. There’s fascinating, faith-fueled pieces here on various genres (jazz, blues, hip-hop) to various practices for and by musicians (rehearsal, song-writing, collaboration, performance) and some for all of us, on using music in worship, singing the Psalms, music as solace during grief, how to host and listen well to live music.) A must for musicians, classical or contemporary, and a delight for anyone passionate about songs.
Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination Brian J. Walsh (Brazos Press) $22.00 All right, this isn’t for everyone, but I love to show it off — I even helped offer some input along the way, so it means a lot to me! Cockburn is an esteemed, progressive Christian who has won just about every award one can get in the contemporary folk rock and global music stuff. Last year his big auto-biography appeared called Rumours of Glory: A Memoir (HarperOne; $28.99) and I reviewed it at great length. But this one is a serious, challenging, and finally inspiring interplay between Cockburn lyrics and Biblical texts. Walsh is deeply (deeply) immersed in Cockburn’s social imaginary and knows all his albums well, and he is one of the best Bible guys I know. Fabulously entertaining and seriously exploring a Christian view of art, music, and how rock artists like Cockburn can help us along the way.
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY, ETHNOGRAPHY OR URBAN MINISTRY
Witness: Cleveland’s Storefront Churches Mark B. Greenlee (Greenlee )$39.95 This is a truly fascinating, beautiful coffee-table book of wonderfully reproduced photographs taken by a good friend of ours, a thoughtful Christian lawyer who in his free time got involved in photographing buildings around his beloved city of Cleveland, Ohio. Eventually, as he matured in his skills of seeing and getting good shots, he focused on store-front churches, mostly ethnic, many Pentecostal or other spiritual flavors very unlike his own mainline denominational loyalties. As Greenlee got to know the pastors or lay-leaders of these quirky, small ministries, he grew increasingly eager to tell their stories, to show their houses of worship and their often eccentric-looking worship spaces. There are over 500 buildings in that one city alone that have been re-purposed for urban worship! I wish I had a picture of it to show you — we have a nice stack of them here and I promise you won’t be disappointed!
This special book offers at once an inclusive vision of the church — there are so many kinds of folks following Christ — and a study of urban ministry, often giving great and colorful dignity to the poor and oppressed and marginalized. This would be a great gift for anyone interested in urban affairs, in the story of under-the-radar street missions, and of racial and ethnic diversity. Also, I must say, it would be a cherished gift for anyone interested in architecture or urban buildings, as these photographs capture such wonderfully curious spaces. It is very well produced, originally prepared in cooperation with Kent State University Press, on glossy paper, and very nicely reproduced photos. Witness is a rare find, which I promise will be an intriguing a blessing to that special person — even if you’ve never been to Ohio!
FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES WELL-WRITTEN, INTRIGUING MEMOIR
Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon And Caught My Breath Jennifer Garrison Brownell (Pilgrim Press) $18.00 From the first paragraph I was hooked — what a powerhouse of a punchy, good writer! Brownell is an almost mid-life UCC pastor but this book is rather surprising: it is a moving, enjoyable, captivating memoir, telling of her interior life and thoughts — snarky at times, fearful, raw, a bit inspiring — as she concludes she wants to do a triathlon. She is not — I repeat, she is not — an athletic type at all. This ends up being somewhat of a reflection on the role of our bodies, especially since her husband is himself pretty seriously disabled and wheel-chair bound. (Some of this is, then, about her marriage.) As the feisty, excellent writer and preacher Debbie Blue writes, “This is not an inspirational tale about cheerfully conquering adversity. It is a funny, heartbreaking and wise story about telling the truth in all its messy beauty and learning to love it. It’s about finding grace and gratitude in the ordinary and extraordinary details of life and memory. It is wonderful and hopeful. I loved it.” So there.
The Year WIthout A Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting Scott Dannemiller (WJK) $16.00 This unassuming little volume is certainly one of my favorite books of the year — it made me laugh right out loud, made me cry and made me wonder what in the world they’d do next. And what in the world I might do next. It’s fun and funny, as Dannemiller offers an insiders look into this family’s zany plan not to buy anything for a year (except food and essentials. And the stuff they might cheat on.) Margot Starbuck says it is “playful, thoughtful, substantial” and she is right;! This family really did try to connect with others, living well on less, and it is told with a wink and a sly grin, even as it is nicely inviting and even compelling. Of course you don’t have to do what the Dannemiller’s — Scott, Gabby and two loud, smart kids — did. But you can give this book to anybody who likes a family drama, with a view to being more just, sustainable, joy-filled, and faithful. Yeah.
Ordinary Light: A Memoir Tracy Smith (Knopf) $25.95 This has been on my list to read myself, and if you know somebody who is interested in complex, literate, important memoir, this is getting named on a e Pagels, Abraham Verghese, Julia Alvarez? It is lyrical, evocative, poignant without sentiment. Jamaica Kincaid says it is “at once common and ordinary, while also being singular and unique.” There is much love in this harsh story written by the “dazzlingly original Pulitzer Prize winning poet hailed for her ‘extraordinary range and ambition.'”
Tracy Smith was the youngest of five children born into an affectionate, God-fearing African American home. Her parents were part of the struggles for human rights in the contentious Civil Rights era in Alabama; Tracy ends up at Harvard in a new century, but her mother gets cancer right before she goes off to college.
It is said that “Ordinary Light is the story of a young woman struggling to fashion the own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.” . It is “shot through with exquisite lyricism, wry humor, and an acute awareness of the beauty of everyday life. I like what it say on the cover: “Here is a universal story of being and becoming, a classic portrait of the ways we find and lose ourselves amid the places we call home.” Smith teaches creative writing at Princeton University.
Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home Amber C. Haines (Revell) $16.99 I wonder if anyone recalls the review I did from this late last summer? I explained how very creatively written this is, a certain sort of moving voice, emerging from a poetic, young Christian woman, being honest about her life and faith journey. God makes himself known in broken places, she learns, and from her conservative, Southern ethos she moves to a wider understanding of God’s grace. This reflects on her deepest desires, about her wanting a certain sort of husband and certain sort of family and how it wasn’t quit meant to be. I think any young woman who lies creative non-fiction would appreciate this, and if the woman is a wife and mother and doing ministry and having a hard time fitting it, it would be even better. The remarkable writer Sarah Bessy says “this book made me feel homesick and at home all at he same time.” Nish Weiseth, who wrote the very helpful Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World calls Amber Haines a “once-in-a-generation voice.” And I love how Emily Freeman (author of the recent Simply Tuesday and last year’s A Million Little Ways) puts it: “How can a woman with a story so different from my own be telling my story too? Amber Haines has found a way, and I am deeply grateful for her artistry, her honesty, and her courage. This captivation book has stunned me speechless.”
God in the SInk: Essays from Toad Hall Margie Haack (Kalos Press) $11.95 Okay, this isn’t a full-on autobiographical memoir, it is a collection of essays and ruminations, stories about her own life, her faith, her struggles, her family and the remarkable ordinariness she finds, day by day. I say that the ordinariness is remarkable because Margie and Denis are remarkable folks, with an incredible ministry — hospitality, mentoring, cultural criticism and appreciation, writing, teaching, embodying the gospel in their own place, among those whom God brings to their door — so you’d think as evangelical rock stars they’d have some spiffy, notable life. And you would be wrong. You may know their stellar magazine, Critique and may appreciate their engaging honesty and spiritual depth. These are essays that have appeared in Margie’s own newsletter, formerly called Notes from Toad Hall, and are about finding God in the mundane moments of life, about feeling deep things, worry and annoyance and sadness and joy, even as she realizes God’s grace blesses us smack in the middle of our stumbling ways.
I love this book, it’s honesty about ordinary things, and commend it to men or women, young or old, who are up for an honest look at real life through the lens of woman who is sincere, devout, but a bit snarky, complaining, just shy of cynical. And joyful, did I say joyful? Glad for knowledge of God, merciful because she knows mercy. This is a grand and great book, lively, wise, funny, and a perfect resource for those who want to read more than a predictable devotional, but not a major theological tome. Get two, one for you and one for your friend or relative. You won’t regret it. Soon, you, too, will find God in the kitchen sink.
The Art of Memoir Mary Karr (Harper)$24.99 Mary’s stunning memoir The Liar’s Club was followed by the equally breathtaking Cherry and helped set off the last 20th century fascinating with memoir. Her excellent third volume — again, it is so interestingly written and such a story! — Lit, includes her story, such as it is, of her conversion to Christ. These are exceptionally well regarded works by the literary world, and her recent book on how to write memoir will be interesting to anyone who follows the genre, or who cares about Ms Karr. It is one my own bed stand and I cannot wait to read it for my own pleasure, soon. Cheryl Strayed (Wild) says,
Mary Karr has written another astonishingly perceptive, wildly
entertaining, and profoundly honest book-funny, fascinating, necessary. The Art of Memoir will be the definitive book on reading and writing memoir for years to come.
FOR ONE WANTING TO KNOW WHAT — OR WHO — TO READ NEXT
Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf Douglas Wilson (Crossway) $16.99 The spectacular writer Doug Wilson — who drives me crazy sometimes, I might point out — self published a great, great little book on writing on his odd little publishing house, Canon Press, called Wordsmithy. I’ve read it twice, and if you are a young writer you should, too. Out of that, perhaps, came this, too: good writers, good thinkers, good Christians in the contemporary Western world, should be readers, and thoughtful ones at that. This book explains why, and gives you nine names whose works you should read. As it says on the back, “If books are among our friends, we ought to choose them wisely.”
Why are some authors truly important, considered great? Why should we go out of our way to read these, at least? Can we become better readers as we take up the books of the finest writers? Wilson curates a list here, guiding us through some books that he thinks we should read, and tells us why. From Chesterton, Eliot, Mencken, and others, to P.G. Wodehouse, Robert Capon, Marilynn Robinson, many will love his discussion of these authors and their work. You may be annoyed when you realize he included his colorful son, N.D. WIlson, with such august company, but I think it’s a fine choice for what he is doing here and I’d not expect anything other from D.W. This is a fine, fine list and great advice for any eager reader. You should heed him, or at least mostly heed him. This book is a fun, good start.
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN POLITICS
The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life Vincent Bacote (Zondervan) $11.99 Call this a little stocking stuffer with a big bang. You may know we hosted Dr. Bacote to lecture out in PIttsburgh last summer and we were thrilled to hear him make this basic, important, nuanced claim that Christians must be involved in public life, without ideological loyalties to the right or left, but to offer uniquely Christian witness as citizens committed firstly to God’s reign. Neither agitated or cynical, this is the most clear-headed, basic, and nicely short book on Christian engagement in civic life of which we know. Part of four-book series of “Ordinary Theology” which includes fantastic small books on urban planning (CIties and the City to Come), on surgery (The Scalpel and the Cross), and one on sexuality (Faithful: A Theology of Sex.) Get all four!
The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Introduction James Skillen (Baker Academic) $24.00 Skillen is one of the premier thinkers about the reasonable relationship between faith and politics and a exceedingly needed voice these days. He has written careful, important books for four decades or more. (In fact, he founded the Center for Public Justice decades ago, written widely on Kuyper, social justice, and political pluralism and, by the way, has been one of the inspirations and intellectual mentors to the above-mentioned Vincent Bacote. And me, too.) I have raved about this, naming it last year as one of the most important books of the year as it offers a solid, detailed exploration of how government has been understood throughout church history and how various denominations and traditions have often failed to grapple with all that the Scriptures teach about the nature of God’s creation, the common good, and the task of the state. A must-read for anyone wanting to develop a faithful understanding of civil society, the role of law, and the nature of public justice,statecraft and citizenship.
Five Views on the Church and Politics: Five Views edited by Amy Black (Zondervan) $19.99 This is brand, brand new — we got it a bit early into the store just this week! It is one of these useful, if almost tedious, studies that offers six views, and then, after each chapter, the other authors offer their own response and critique. By the end of the book you not only hear great examples of these varying viewpoints, but the responses back and forth of the other positions. What a great way to learn! The perspectives and orientations of this amazing collection include a “seperationist” view written by a Mennonite/ Anabaptist, a “two kingdoms” approach written by Robert Benne, a Lutheran, a classic Roman Catholic view, a prophetic black church perspective and an integrationist/Reformed view by Kuyperian James K.A. Smith. I must admit I read Jamie’s chapter first and it is brilliant, concise, insightful. I’m eager to join this conversation, and trust you know somebody who will be grateful to get this as a gift.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE TEACHERS
Teaching and the Christian Imagination edited by David Smith & Susan Felch (Eerdmans) $22.00 This literally just arrived today and I’ve been eager to see it for weeks and weeks now, having heard about it from the publisher and one of the authors. Talk about brand new! This is a wonderfully conceived and wonderfully written anthology of great pieces about three central metaphors for teaching — pilgrimage, gardening, and building. A rave review on the back by Dorothy Bass of Valparaiso University notes that readers will “encounter BIblical texts, poems and works of art that will help you see what you do every day with new eyes.” Perry Glanzer of Baylor says “I have never read anything quite like this delightful book.” This will be soul-nourishing and encourage educators — from elementary to high school to college instructors — to greater faithfulness and excellence in their craft. It includes some important folks who have written about faithful views of education such as Barbara Carvill, Kurt Schaefer, Timothy Steele and John Witvliet. Smart, thoughtful, and I am confident it will be fabulous for those serious about teaching. Smith, by the way, is the director of the Kuyers institute for Christian Teaching and Learning and director graduate studies in education at Calvin College while Susan Felch is director of the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and a professor of English there.
Making a Difference: Christian Educators in Public Schools Donovan Graham (Purposeful Design) $16.95 This is a book I regularly suggest, perhaps the best in this small genre of thoughtful, faith-informed view of serving as a public school teacher. We have books that are more detailed, studying theories of education from a Christian worldview, and we have some that are lighter, encouragement and prayers and devotionals, but this is just right, a helpful survey of how to be “salt and light” and make a difference in the lives of the children one teaches in public schools. Nice.
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN SCIENCE
The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl Giberson & Francis Collins (InterVarsity Press) $22.00 We often recommend this nice hardback as a very solid overview — in a useful question and answer sort of format — helping people in the science community realize faith is not a detriment and helping people in the church world realize that science can be approached rigorously without compromising appropriate, BIblical theology. This is not only about the questions of evolution and origins, and it is not from the view of “creation science” so it should have very wide appeal. Highly recommended as one way into this vital conversation.
Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church Edited by Deborah Haarsma & Scott Hoezee (Center for Excellence in Preaching) $16.99 You most likely won’t find this book anywhere else, but we couldn’t be more thrilled to promote it. Created by a scientist and a preacher, this is a collection of stories of various scientists, people of deep faith, describing what they do. The goal of this fine book was to alert preachers what many of their parishioners actually do, and how these Christians in the science professions relate their sense of vocation and calling to their research. There are testimonials here from earth scientists, environmentalists, an astronomer, a psychological researcher, a chemist, an engineers, a mathematician, a scholar of bio-ethics and more. What’s also great as it was nicely designed with breath-taking pictures, some handsome color graphics, and a very nice, classy touch here at there. (Kudos to our friends Rob and Kirsten Vander Giessen-Reitsma for their good work.) What a great paperback book to enhance anyone’s vision of the delight we can have in God’s wondrous world and the good work done by those with the vocation of service through science.
The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory Susan Wise Bauer (Norton) $26.95 I hope you know — and stand in awe of — the vast learning and good writing of Ms Bauer. She is known for a several remarkable, big volumes such as The Story of the World andThe Well-Educated Mind (called a “landmark” achievement, reviewed well in the New York Times and America, for instance) and is esteemed in both classical and home schooling circles,. She has been published in exceptional journals and many news outlets. This recent one is, as you might guess, her well-organized and nicely-written overview of the history of science. Or, more precisely, it is a guided tour through the best science writing. Called “a riveting road map to the development of modern scientific thought” it will surely appeal to those who appreciate a bigger picture, or for those who want to read groundbreaking science writing for themselves, rather then having it be interpreted in public debates by journalists and politicos. There are twenty-eight succinct chapters illuminating the entire history of science by examining the writings that have been offered by the scientists and scholars.
Mathematics Through the Eyes of Faith James Bradley & Russell Howell (HarperOne) $19.99 This is a remarkable book, interesting to anyone in the STEM fields, asking about the relationship of chance and divine providence, what concepts like infinity might offer to theological reflection, and wondering whether math is, in fact, discovered or invented, and why it is so effective and important in the sciences. Most of the earliest Western mathematicians believed in God and some were lively Christians. The rich intersection of faith and math has never been more exciting and vital to explore.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN TRANSFORMATIVE DISCIPLESHIP, SPIRITUALITY FOR DAILY LIVING
The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows
The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ
The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love
James Bryan Smith (formatio/IVP) $24.00 each
Any one of these three from the “Apprentice Series” could be life-changing, and each have garnered some of the strongest reviews we’ve seen in decades of selling books about the interior life, spiritual renewal, and contemplative discipleship. The late, great Dallas Willard has said that these offer “the best practices I have seen in Christian spiritual formation.”
They are handsome together as a set, but they do stand alone, and we are sure that they would be helpful to someone you know and love. For what it is worth, these are our favorite sorts of books: thoughtful and wise and profound, without being overly mystical or deeply eccentric. Just what most folks really need, plainspoken guidance on transformation from the inside out, based on our understanding of God, our commitments to Christ, and how the Spirit works in community!
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $16.00 I suppose you know we’d suggest that you give this to a special someone; VoV is one of my all time favorite books, and it speaks so very eloquently and deeply about the things that matter most — how we construe our lives, the meaning of history, the nature of God’s promises in Christ — that is should be read by all thoughtful people, religious or not. It’s largest themes, though, keep circling back to questions of how to care about the world without giving up, how to love well, finding passion particularly in one’s own discernment about calling and career. Can we take on God’s messy world, serving well, offering our best selves to make a difference right where we are? We will sustain faithful Kingdom living for the common good if we are clear about our own visions of vocation and trust God to work through us, in but not of this crazy world. I love this book, and you should give it to someone who hungers for integrity, who will not abide cheap answers, who wants a good writer and serious thinker. Such a nice cover, too. Highly recommended.
Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00 This is a truly handsome paperback and, truly, one of the most important spiritual books I’ve read in years. I cannot easily summarize Dr. Guinness’s profound insights, but it does at least say this: we must trust God for social renewal, public justice, and cultural transformation, and we cannot expect to manipulate it with power, media buys, church growth or other man-made strategies to change the world. We should, indeed, use our gifts and callings to serve God robustly in all of life, but we should also realize that a spiritual renaissance comes from the gospel itself, not our own efforts. It is at once a stinging rebuke to the idols of our culture and a critique of churches (liberal or conservative) that fail to live distinctively. If you know someone who needs a reminder of robust, orthodox seriousness and a pleasant and inspiring call to hope, this might be the perfect small gift. It’s not a large book, but it carries a large, large message: trust and obey, live in hope. What a fine, eloquent book.
The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving To Receiving Joy Susan Phillips (formatio/IVP) $17.00 We have highlighted this book throughout the fall at various events, and folks have appreciated this lovely tone, the gracious, ecumenical perspective, and how this woman, who is a professor of sociology and a spiritual director, weaves together fresh visions for living well. A great forward by Eugene Peterson reminds us that this book helps us wisely walk through the disconnected “circus” of our fast-paced modern culture. As Phillips puts it, “Cultivation requires a kind of attentiveness that is counter-cultural to our age of distraction.” Know anybody ready to leave the circus?
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God Timothy Keller (Dutton) $26.95 This is surely one of the great Christian books of the year, a major work with solid theology and wise counsel and helpful application. Keller is famous for being both astute and serious-minded, popular among his parish of mostly young, sophisticates in Manhattan. This is rich, grounded in the best thinking of the ages, applied smartly to modern believers. Very good. This is a sturdy hardback that just came out in early November. See, also, his brand new devotional, The Songs of Jesus, described below.
FOR SOMEONE WANTING A UNIQUE DAILY DEVOTIONAL
The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms Timothy and Kathy Keller (VIking) $19.95 Yep, this is a daily devotional, a short reading from the pens of Tim and Kathy, inspired by their own practice of reading the Psalms day by day throughout the year. There is solid exegesis, some helpful spiritual insights, and a bit of their own life shared together in a very handsome compact sized hardback with a ribbon marker. This is a wonderfully reliable, thoughtful, handsome. Highly recommended.
One Year Home and Garden Devotions Sandra Byrd (Tyndale) $15.99 This attractive paperback devotional covers one whole year and offers an encouraging, applicable, sometimes humorous, and always personal message each day for contemporary women of all ages who delight in being busy at home. This is earnest and often quite personal. The publisher offers this sentence as one example of the insights which emerge from caring for one’s home life.
There is something poignant and meaningful about up-cycling an abandoned planter with its well-earned patina while considering how the lines of life has etched on us actually makes us more appealing.
Disciplines: A Book of Daily Devotions 2016 The Upper Room (Abingdon) $15.00 This perennial best seller is a favorite among many. It is a handsome, somewhat trim sized, handy paperback written mostly by working United Methodist pastors, seminary profs and preachers. Each d;ay has a selected Bible reading, of course, a meditation on the scripture passage and a prayer or suggestion for reflection. The authors are from a variety of backgrounds and each one does a week’s worth, offering 53 different voices. Very nicely done.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN PROGRESSIVE FAITH, A DOWN-TO-EARTH SPIRITUALLY, AND DISCIPLESHIP ORIENTED TO OUR COMMON SPACES
Grounded: Finding God in the World — A Spiritual Revolution Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99 I have reviewed this just a bit on line, and hope to write more about it someday, but keep coming back to it’s basic structure and main points. It is arranged in a fascinating, generative way, the first third being luminous, important, and excellent descriptions of how Christian faith must be informed by our “natural habitats” of dry, water, and sky. For those that recall Diana’s beautiful memoir Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage in Community you know that she can write wonderfully, weaving seamlessly social and cultural analysis (she is trained as a church historian) and vulnerable testimony of her own personal story, doubts and warts and all. Here, she writes more beautifully than ever, drawing on science writers and naturalists (Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard) to help us understand our place on Earth. And where God is being discovered even among those who are most attentive to concerns about the state of the environment.
The second, perhaps even more interesting portion of the book, explores “Human Geography” by writing of how spirituality evolves and is embodied within structures of roots, home, neighborhood and the commons. Any one of these chapters is well worth pondering, and I am grateful for her passionate storytelling and her broad theological reading as she points us to a faith that is grounded, for the life of the world, in service to the common good of the whole cosmos. A few of these chapters moved me deeply (despite asides and sentences that I found troubling, even off putting, at times.) This manifesto for real world faith, grounded in places — yes, she cites Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, too — will resonant with many who are seeking belonging and fidelity amidst a culture of displacement.
I think this very handsome hardback will make a nice gift for many, but I am a little reluctant to promote it widely. Conservative evangelicals will find some of her theological sources suspect — she draws on Paul Tillich and Sally McFague and Marcus Borg and mystics such as John O’Donohue and John Philip Newell. It might be fair to say she stands in the tradition of deep immanence, favoring panentheism — citing authors like Brian Greene and Matthew Fox. In a way it is the next logical step after her much-discussed 2012 watershed release, Christianity After Religion. It is, however, more beautifully written and more personal, as she shares of her own deeply anguished journey about “Christianity for the rest of us” and how to sustain church involvement and spiritual practices while moving increasingly towards involvement in the post-Christian but deeply spiritual ethos of our ecological age, to what really is.
I would recommend Bass’s Grounded to be read with discernment and with healthy conversation partners — there’s so much to ponder and discuss! — by nearly anyone, but it will be an especially cherished gift for those who have these intuitions about faith that is expressed in less dogmatic and more experiential ways, attuned to what God is doing in this new era of awareness of both the threats to and the blessings of God’s good creation. Shauna Niequist says “Grounded made me love this beautiful world more deeply, and made God’s presence more visible everywhere I looked.”
If one needs a Biblically-oriented, historically orthodox, theology book that places the search for awe and wonder and faithful practices of environmental sustainability within a more conventionally evangelical worldview, this may not be the one…
FOR NORMAN WIRZBA LOVERS, CREATION-CARE ADVOCATES, OR THOSE FOLLOWING THIS SERIES, EDITED BY JAMES K.A. SMITH
From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World Norman Wirzba (Baker Academic) $19.99 I can tell you of at least three sorts of folks who would love having this book gifted to them, during this time of year or anytime. It is going to be a beloved gift, I’m sure…
Firstly, and most obviously, it will be appreciated by those who love Wirzba’s writings. He’s pals with Wendell Berry and has served to edit some of Berry’s populist, agrarian work. He has written a major book on the spiritual roots of the modern environmentalist movement, and a major book on the theology of food (Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.) We adore his very accessible co-authored paperback Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation — written with farmer Fred Bahnson. Professor Wirzba’s Living the Sabbath is a delightful read, challenging and wide-ranging as we learn the rhythms of rest and delight in God’s good world. Many friends and customers of Hearts & Minds are fans of Wirzba.
Secondly, of course, there are those who simply care about these issues, that really are interested in the outdoors, environmental protection, creation-care, living lightly in their own place, but maybe don’t know his serious body of work. This would be a great choice, deep and foundational, important and clear.
Thirdly, one of the most talked about and often-cited contemporary Christian thinkers and writers these days is James K.A. Smith. We have hosted lectures with him and count him as a friend — even though his serious output (even as editor of Comment magazine) is hard to keep up with. This volume, From Nature to Creation, is the most recent in a big series Jamie Smith has edited, a series of weighty paperbacks called “The Church and Postmodern Culture.” In each, European (and often French, deconstructive) post-modern philosophy is brought into conversation with historic Christian theology and church life. Although this one seems perhaps a bit less obviously postmodern — others in the Smith series include books with titles like Whose Afraid of Postmodernism?, Whose Afraid of Relativism? What Would Jesus Deconstruct and Globo-christ, just for instance — this Wirzba one will take its place on the shelf next to others in the series, especially The Economy of Desire (Daniel Bell) and The Politics of Discipleship (Graham Ward.) Anyway, there are those who have been collecting this whole set. Earlier in the year we reviewed the previous one in the Smith-edited series, the excellent Fieldwork in Theology: Exploring the Social Context of God’s Work in the World by Christian Scharen. Norman Wirzba’s, I’ve heard, is the final one in this 10 book series. We’ve got em all.
FOR THE SPIRITUAL OUTDOORS ADVENTURER
Backpacking with the Saints: WIlderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice Belden Lane (Oxford University Press) $24.95 We only have a very few of these left, but it is remarkable. You may know our love for his deep and stunning similar book The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (also Oxford University Press; $) As I’ve described before, this serious book studies great religious mystics, each read and explored in a particular outdoor mountain climb, river expedition or wilderness sojourn This offers mature reflections on classic spiritual writings — from Therese of Lisieux to St. John of the Cross toLuther to Merton and more — and some nifty outdoor hiking tales in some pretty fabulous locations.
Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God Todd Wynward (Herald Press) $15.99 Be warned! This outdoorsy book — set in the stark, striking American Southwest — will rock your world. Wynward is a wilderness guide who has spent more than one thousand nights in the great outdoors. He founded a wilderness-based public charter school. He is passionate about how we need to be in touch with the power and rhythms and wonder of God’s creation, but this is not just a book about outdoor adventure. It is a serious and uncompromising call to reject the ease of modern life, to faithfully follow Christ, to be “wild” in our understanding of faith and whole-life discipleship. I quipped to one friend that he reminds me of Shane Claiborne, but in the desert wilds rather then the urban slums.
Wynward is a fine writer, an exceptional visionary, a creative educator, forming communities able to help us reject soul-deadening affluenenza and culturally-accommodated church; importantly, he’s alive to the ways of Jesus.
Best Day on Earth: The World’s Most Extraordinary Experiences From Dawn till After Dark Rough Guides (Penguin) $19.95 Okay, this is a large sized, full color, brightly arranged paperback that is so much fun to behold, I can hardly contain myself. Imagine — okay, it takes quite a leap — to plan the ultimate 24 hours on Earth. Witness nature’s greatest spectacles, be inspired by off-road adventures, try a new adrenaline sport in a far-flung destination, and see famous sights in a different light. Search the internet all you want, you will be hard pressed to find such lush photographs, so coherently arranged, taking you on this mission impossible. Rough Guides are legendary for their accuracy and back-roads insight, and have done similar fun books, such as their popular Make the Most of Your Time on Earth and First Time Around the World. (Yeah, the rough-riding guide to the first time you travel around the globe.)
This Best Day starts at daybreak as you “marvel at otherworldly Cappadocia” in Turkey and watch the famous stilt fisherman at work in Sri Lanka, and then on to see dawn break over Bagan in Myanmar. And on it goes, short entry by entry, with amazing full color pictures. You can “haggle at Cai Rang Floating Market” in Viet Nam or wake up in the Mojave Desert in the USA. There’s a great map, and lots of options — maybe you’d want to experience rush hour in Mumbai, India, or try the life aquatic in the Red Sea. You’ve got to see the picture of the active volcano Irazu in Costa Rica.
You’ll be back in Myanmar to see the Golden Rock at dusk. and will enjoy the brightly colored lanterns at Hoi An’s Full Moon Festival — if it’s the fourteenth day of the lunar calendar, at least. Later, you can see an all-night parade in Rio and after trying your late night luck in Vegas, admire the Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland. What a fun picture journey all over the world.
FOR SOMEONE WHO IS SERIOUS ABOUT STUDYING MISSIOLOGY
The Gospel and Pluralism Today: Reassessing Lesslie Newbigin in the 21st Century edited by Scott W. Sunquist and Amos Yong (IVP Academic) $28.00 This is an amazing work, compiled by two leading evangelical thought leaders, with several major contributors (including our friend Dr. Esther Meek.) It just came out so I have not studied it, but I am confident it will be considered one of the most significant books of the year.
Here’s what it says on the back cover: toward the end of the twentieth century, Lesslie Newbigin offered a penetrating analysis of the challenges of pluralism that confronted a Western culture and society reeling from the dissolution of Christendom. His enormous influence has been felt ever since. Newbigin (1909-1998) was a longtime Church of Scotland missionary to India and later General Secretary of the International Missionary Council and Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.
They continue, the essays in this volume explore three aspects of Newbigin’s legacy. First, they assess the impact of his 1989 book, Gospel in a Pluralist Society, on Christian mission and evangelism in the West. Second, they critically analyze the nature of Western pluralism in its many dimensions to discern how Christianity can proclaim good news for today. Finally, the contributors discuss the influence of Newbigin’s work on the field of missiology. By looking backward, this volume recommends and advances a vision for Christian witness in the pluralistic world of the twenty-first century.
FOR INKLING FANS WHO THOUGHT THEY HAD IT ALL
Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings Diana Pavlac Glyer (Kent State University Press) $18.95 There may be no other book like this, a serious and mature study of the creative process used by this legendary group of Christian writers. It has been eagerly anticipated; Glyer’s older book The Company They Keep broke new ground in understanding the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien. This one is a joy to read and is a fabulous invitation to think about collaboration in work and in cultural creativity.
Michael Ward of Planet Narnia fame writes,
No one knows more than Diana Pavlac Glyner about the internal workings of the Inklings. In Bandersnatch, she shows us how they inspired, encouraged, refined, and opposed one another in the course of producing some of the greatest literature of the last on hundred years.
Charles Williams: The Third Inkling Grevel Lindop (Oxford University Press) $34.95 I joked that this could have been called “the weird Inkling” as William’s fascination with the occult and spiritually mystical traditions was an important contribution to his work with Lewis, Tolkien and the others. Eerdmans still has some of his mysterious fantasy novels in print; one is said to have influenced some of Dancin’ in the Dragon’s Jaws by Bruce Cockburn. His church history, The Descent of the Dove, remains a true classic. Colin Duriez says, “A ground-breaking and compelling biography establishing, after years of neglect, Charles Williams as a poet, writer, and critic of unusual importance.” Almost 500 pages, it was just released a few weeks ago.
FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN SERIOUS THEOLOGY
The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $45.00 I hope you saw our major announcement about this at BookNotes a few weeks ago as we had the opportunity to be one of the very first bookstores to promote this and to be with this renowned Episcopalian preacher and scholar as she lectured during a recent book launch event. This very new 668 page book is a stunning, serious, tour de force, acclaimed by folks all over the theological spectrum for being a classic, historic study of the meaning of the cross, the nature of Christ’s death and how our justification is received through God’s grace. What a major work, surely to be much discussed in years to come.
Joy and Human Flourishing: Essays on Theology, Culture, and the Good Life edited by Miroslav Volf and Justine E. Crisp (Fortress Press) $39.00 Fortress almost always overprices their books, but this, this, is worth every dollar, an excellent collection of important essays by some of the finest working theologians writing today. It is a book about joy, about life lived in God, about human and cultural flourishing; you can read chapters by Jurgen Moltmann, N.T. Wright, Marianne Meye Thompson, Mary Clark Moschella, Charles Mathewes, Miroslav Volf. The very introduction will bless you and stimulate your thinking: it is called “Bright Sorrow” which is a phrase from Russian Orthodox scholar Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. Endorsements are from Willie James Jennings, the African American scholar now at Yale, and John Ortberg, the popular pastor at Menlo Park EPC Church in California.
Listen to what Nicholas Wolterstorff says of Joy and Human Flourishing:
If ever a book filled a gap, this is it. Joy is a central component in the New Testament description of life as it is meant to be lived. Yet theologians have given little attention. Philosophers have done no better. This volume is an excellent beginning at filling that gap. It’s ground-breaking.
Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto (Collected Works in Public Theology) Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press) $49.99 This is the first of an comprehensive, years-in-the-making publishing program translating (sometimes for the first time) into English the legendary theology of common grace created by the prolific Dutch scholar and civic leader. Kuyper lived in the end of the 19th century into the early 20th century, and the recent interest in his work is nothing short of phenomenal. As I cited in my review a few weeks ago, Greg Forster writes, “It is a scandal and a disgrace that we have all read Burke’s response to the French Revolution, but few in the English-speaking world have read the equally profound and equally consequential response of Abraham Kuyper — a response that has at least as much to say to twenty-first century readers as Burkes.”
Gordon Graham (Henry Luce Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminary) says “Kuyper’s ‘anti-revolutionary’ vision, worked out here at length, provides an illuminating historical lens through which to see contemporary debates between Christianity and secularism.” Fascinating. This is a large sized hardback with lots of annotations and helpful aids to work through this seminal work of public theology.
FOR A SAINT FRANCIS FAN, OR ANYONE WHO LOVES ART FROM THE MIDDLE AGES
The Story of St. Francis of Assisi In Twenty Eight Scenes Timothy Verdon (Mount Tabor Books) $24.99 Do you recall last years absolutely lush, classy and quite hefty book by Verdon called The Art of Prayer? What a great gift that makes for anyone interested in older Christian art, full color reproductions designed to show how beholding ancient beauty can enhance one’s spiritual life. Here, the esteemed Christian art historian (trained at Yale and now the Academic Director of the Mount Tabor Centre in Barga, Italy) offers a lovely short biography of the life and mission of Francis, by reflecting on twenty eight art pieces.
These aren’t just any art pieces, but are the legendary thirteenth-century frescos by Giotta that cover the walls of the famous Basilica in Assisi named for the saint. Here is what it says on the back of this handsome book: They are reproduced in full color, together with a schematic drawing showing their placement in the church. Through detailed descriptions and illuminating commentary on each of the famous frescoes, Verdon tells the story of Francis’s extraordinary life, allowing today’s reader the opportunity to “read” the art on those walls in the same way that a medieval Christian might have done.
Wow. Frankly, even if one isn’t all that interested in the poor monk himself, this idea of exploring the experience of viewing these intentionally placed frescoes — as perhaps millions of people have over the centuries! — is itself a remarkable experience of the Body of Christ, seeing what others have seen, and learning what others have done, from the 13th century onward. Produced well on heavy stock paper, this is a fine, fine book and will be a treasured gift for someone special. Be sure to take a peek yourself before you wrap it and share its glory.
A MODERN DAY MEMOIR ABOUT READING AN ANCIENT BOOK (FOR SOMEBODY WHO NEEDS A SELF HELP BOOK BUT WON’T READ A TYPICAL ONE.)
How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem Rod Dreher (Regan Arts) $29.95 I have written about this at length, and shared my appreciation for this often in these last months. It is technically a sequel to The Littel Way of Ruthie Leming his tear-jerking and altogether lovely memoir of leaving the fast-paced, high-powered life of a culture reporter, political pundit, and film critic to move to rural Louisiana to be with his extended family after the death of his beloved sister. Alas, he gets settled in to this family-oriented, slower paced Southern town only to realize not all is well in the family system. He gets depressed, develops an auto-immune illness from the stress, gets into counseling, helps plant an Orthodox church, and — low and behold — finds the thing that helps him out of his serious funk and the serious dysfunctions of his not so warm and friendly way of life is reading The Divine Comedy. This is a southern, nearly Gothic tale, a study of Dante, and the thinking person’s self help book. I loved it.
Eric Metaxas gets it right when he says,
Sometimes a book comes along that you want to press into the hands of everyone you know. A brilliant, searingly honest account of one man’s path to real healing, and an invitation to the rest of us to join him.
Ronald Herzman, the SUNY professor who teaches the audio Great Courses lectures on The DIvine Comedy says “Dreher has assimilated what is most urgent in Dante and makes The Divine Comedy passionately real.
A KILLER MEMOIR FOR THE HIP AND RELIGIOUSLY CYNICAL, WHO LIKES A RAW, HONEST TELLING OF A MESSED UP EMERGENT CHURCH
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People Nadia Bolz-Weber Convergent Books) $23.00 Okay, this is not for everyone. Trust me on this. Give this to your up-tight, Victorian fundamentalist aunt and her grey hair will turn purple! Give it to your young, truly reformed crusader and he’ll put up his dukes to smack you down for pushing heresy, GLTB dignity, and women preachers, tattooed up, no less. She is edgy and a little odd and a little jaded and ornery and part of a community that is assured of the righteousness of being progressive. This isn’t the soft edge of evangelicalism and it isn’t mere dressed up liberalism. This is far out Bible-reading, serious stuff about law and grace.
So, if you know somebody who is comfortable within the youth-ish culture that uses the F-word casually, who writes with irony and postmodern edge, and who still loves Christ and His holy church, well, this author of Pastrix might keep them in the church, and might make them thank you profusely for years to come. This book is as weird and funny and sacrilegious and inconsistent and sinful and creative as anything I’ve read all year. And you know what: it sings grace, it lives out evangelical hospitality, offers good news of acceptance and dignity to all listening in to her story about her peculiarly named church with right-on theological meaning: The House of All Sinners and Saints. It isn’t my subculture and it isn’t my style of speaking and it isn’t my theological tendency, but it was won of the most amazing reading experiences I’ve had in years! It moved both Beth and I deeply, and we are grateful to have experienced it.
One reviewer said it is “a triumph of faithful storytelling,” Another write of it that “this book made me so happy to be a Christian. Honest and funny, deep and insightful Accidental Saints disarmed me and then, right when I was vulnerable, Nadia’s words snuck right in to mess with me.” Another says “Nadia understands more than most that we are messed up people living in a messed up world with other messed up people. She gets the human condition. She refuses to sugar coat the depths of her own desperation and need. And that’s why she get’s grace — our dire need for grace… I couldn’t put this book down.”
I couldn’t either, and I appreciate much about her counter-cultural vibe, her emergent Lutheran faith community that invites all manner of oddballs to show up. I like A.J. Jacobs famous quip that Nadia is what you get if you’d mix the DNA of Louis C.K., Joey Ramone, and Saint Paul.” She is a recovering addict, a former late night stand up comic, and an ex-fundamentalist now serving as a liberal Lutheran in punkish attire — and often wearing that liturgical dog collar. She’s a darned good writer, stunningly s