Give my book as a gift to college graduates or other young adults – “Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life” ON SALE NOW

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.95 


1 – 4 = 10% off

5 or more = 20% off

If you are a new reader of BookNotes, you may not know this: I released a book a year ago, which I edited, called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your LifeSome people had been encouraging me to write and publish, although creating these on-line BookNotes reviews and regularly dispatching them into the world is more than enough for me to do each week. But when I got inspired to put this book together – Beth and I cooked up the project ourselves, with encouragement from the team at Square Halo Books – I pulled it together between our conference book displays, road trips and speaking engagements, and the day to day work in the shop. Our good staff here kept 234 East Main Street humming along and I put myself to pulling together a book of short essays, discussion questions, and a big ‘ol introduction by yours truly.

You can read all about Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life in a typically energetic BookNotes review here where we first announced and celebrated it last Spring.

Byron at podium at Geneva.jpgHere’s the gist: two years ago I was asked to deliver a commencement speech to the graduate schools of a Christian college in Western Pennsylvania. They awarded me an honorary doctorate which embarrassed me and gave me a shot at pouring my heart out about the impact of higher education on a young Christian life, and how to move out into the world, integrating what was learned and how one will live in the world.  The talk went well and a number of people wanted the transcript of my speech inviting students into a life based on 1 Chronicles 12:32 — becoming sons and daughters of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what God’s people should do.” My passionate call to the gathered young adults to be prepared to suffer for the sake of God’s reign, to understand our cultural moment and context in order to their use careers and callings (and the legacy of their particular college education in that storied place) for the sake of the common good, to use the tools of having been taught to think deeply and love well seemed to resonate and I was happy that a few people wanted copies. 

One person said it sounded like a keynote speech from the collegiate-oriented Jubilee conference, which, of course, I took as a great compliment.

A few weeks later Beth and I were very deeply moved watching the commencement speech given by Claudia Beversluis, then the Provost at Calvin College – which drew on a poem by Wendell Berry and beautifully described her hopes that students will draw deeply on their four years at college to serve the world well. I realized that that beautiful, generative speech should be printed and widely read. (You can watch it here, starting at 1 hour in.) That very moment, with tears welling up in my eyes, I sensed God’s prompting to find and edit and publish a handful of similarly inspiring speeches that we could make into a handsome little gift book for college graduates. 

As a bookseller and book lover and one who promotes the writings of others, I must say it was a very strange and glorious day when we unpacked the box, here at the shop as we usually do, but realized it was a case of my own little volume. Our staff treated it like the special moment it was, and we even got a cake to celebrate.  That was exactly one year ago.

My Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life is that book, firstly designed for college graduates, but also good for any twenty-something. This past year people have given it to any number of people in all walks of life. But it really was created for graduates entering the workforce or wondering what comes next as they move into the world as young adults.

And how nice it has been to autograph them, inviting readers to dream God’s dreams as I get to personalize each one.

serious dreams copies fanned.jpgWe wanted the book to be short but nicely designed (and oh what fun it was working with Ned Bustard, a graphic designer who manages Square Halo Books, known for beautiful design touches in all their artful books) but with a touch of whimsy, inviting for younger readers.

Ideally, it would be given as a little gift by churches, mentors, parents, friends or campus ministry organizations that have cared about the student over the years. 

(If your church doesn’t honor its college grads, you might take this up as an urgent project in the next week or so!)

 Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life is compact, nice to hold with a bit of a matte feel and paper with a slight creamy look. The occasional illustrations of leaves and acorns throughout allude to the cover art of mighty oak trees.  Okay, maybe that’s hoping a bit much, but we do think that reading serious Christian reflections about the transition out of higher education and into the world of work and public service will help young adults find their way, see their life (their whole life, every square inch of it) as the theater of God’s work.  There are heady tomes about linking the gospel to vocation and God’s grace to missional visions of the Kingdom coming. There are self-help books Christian and otherwise helping people learn to become all they were meant to be. This little book is meaty and mercifully brief, beautifully written and yet down to Earth. We think there is nothing quite like it, making it a very good choice for young adult readers.

We just edited a second edition, correcting typos and computer glitches and switched around a few grammatical quandaries that worked well when the speeches were first given, live, but that we needed to improve a bit for the printed page. We tried to retain the energetic tone of the speeches, given live as they were to real audiences, but needed to tidy it up a bit to make it better as a book.  My own was a bit tricky to edit since, well, let’s just say there was a lot to work on.  Ha.

I owe a real debt of thanks to the authors who presented the talks captured in this little book. I am very, very grateful for their generosity in allowing me to edit their pieces for publication.  I know personally almost every one of these authors/leaders and have studied all their work for years; in a way I have told some people that Serious Dreams is a Hearts & Minds primer. These are authors that mean a lot to me, and whose “visions of vocation” and whose own serious dreams shaped my own.  If you appreciate anything about our work here at the shop or the book displays we do at events or if you find our BookNotes reviews somehow helpful, I think you’ll like reading this curated collection of chapters, whether you are a recent graduate or not.

I hate to sound pushy, but the little indie publishing house that did such a nice job creating this for us doesn’t have much of a budget for publicity.  We’ve got no PR firms or agents or marketeers. I am counting on Hearts & Minds fans and friends to help us get the word out.  I’m asking you to consider buying a few of these and spreading the news. (Is there an indie bookstore in your community that might want to stock a few yet this Spring?)  I think you won’t be disappointed, and I am confident that those young adults who read it will be shaped, perhaps decisively, to think and care more faithfully about their own lives, their dreams, their passions and their vocations.

Here are the titles of the chapters and the names of the great speakers who delivered them:

Live Well, Be True, Do Good an Introduction by Byron Borger

In this introduction I frame the messages in the book, and remind young adults that starting small and living locally with an attentive sense of place, is a fine, good thing. We actually don’t have to change the world.  “Small things with great love” Mother Teresa once said. I have been deeply gratified to hear back from some readers who found this chapter particularly helpful, especially as they face less than inspiring circumstances. It’s going to be all right…

What It’s All About by Richard J. Mouw

Rich Mouw is a prolific author and hero to many who want to “think Christianly” and relate evangelical faith to public life in civil, fruitful ways. This nice chapter reminds young grads to remember that which they’ve learned in their college years and live it out in the real world, for the glory of Christ. It is basic, clear, and delightfully compelling. Mouw is a Kuyper scholar and past President of Fuller Theological Seminary and this is a very nice opening chapter. 

You Need Two Eyes by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Arguably one of the preeminent philosophers working in the world today, this very helpful chapter powerfully reminds us that we need both competence and compassion, Christian excellence in thinking well and the virtue of caring for the hurting. I have read this a dozen times and it still inspires me. One reader wrote and said this chapter alone was well worth the price of the book!

Rejoicing Your Community by Amy L. Sherman

Ms Sherman delivered this very upbeat and inspiring talk drawing upon insights from her excellent book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.  This chapter invites us to the many implications of Proverbs 11:10 which reminds us that faithfulness to God must be connected to service of the community, responding to the needs of the hurting world. Her longer book — or even this great little chapter — if taken seriously, could change how we think about our own work, and could truly transform our part of the world! 

The Memory in the Seed by Claudia Beversluis 

I noted that this was the speech, delivered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, that so moved Beth and I to compile this book and have this chapter be a centerpiece. (Talk about a bold idea – I can’t believe we actually pulled it off!) Claudia’s use of the Wendell Berry poem is itself beautiful, and the call to long-term, whole-life, culturally transforming discipleship is priceless.  The world needs you she said, and she is right. Do you believe it, really? Do the young adults you know believe it? How might they draw on the best visions of your past as you move with virtue and depth towards the future, God’s future? What “hard earned” memories do we carry with us?

Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber

I suppose you know that Garber is one of my good, good friends, and his two books (Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good) are among my own personal favorites. He is morally serious, always eloquent, drawing here profound connections between the Biblical use of the word covenant and the sorts of work and the kind of economy we want to envision in our times. And he cites Wendell Berry and U2.  This address was delivered at Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis and although offered for those going into vocations in ministry, it is substantive and offers thoughtful words and big ideas for us all.

Three Cheers for Sons and Daughters of Issachar by Byron Borger

Here is the one where I preach about cultural relevance, personal transformation, the integration of faith and learning, the need for hearts aflame and a robust, coherent worldview, through thick and thin, bearing witness to God’s ways in every area of life. I was so honored to speak about Geneva College’s heritage of promoting the Kingship of Christ and how that can inspire ordinary folks to live out their faith in the rough and tumble of a post-Christian society.  And I tell about Mahalia Jackson singing to Martin Luther King, long before that great scene in Selma.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Three Roads and the Three Rs by John M. Perkins

I hope you know John Perkins, a Mississippi-born, evangelical, civil rights leader, racial reconciliation mentor, and social justice advocate who has earned a number of honorary doctorates even though he only has a third grade education.  Considered a true elder statesman by many of us, I thought early on that if I were doing a book like this, I wouldn’t do it without Dr. Perkins involved. I was honored that he gave us his exceptional sermon delivered at  graduation ceremonies at Seattle Pacific University.  You may have heard or read in his many books about his vision of the 3 Rs but his “three roads” message was fully new and just fantastic. Right on — we all need to be on those three roads:  Damascus, Emmaus and Jericho.

Launch Out, Land Well an Epilogue by Erica Young Reitz

The sermons offered in Serious Dreams are all exciting and stimulating, provocative and inspiring. I think the little discussion questions after each are helpful.  I framed the big picture, breathy messages of the book in my introduction with a more quiet call to live well in our own unique context, inviting readers to listen to their hearts and pay attention to small stuff.  I wanted one more piece in the book, though, an epilogue by a wise guide to help young adults make transitions well with some clear-headed, practical advice. Erica Young Reitz is a dear friend whose own book After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith is coming out in August 2016. Erica has done college ministry with the CCO mentoring seniors, helping them “launch out” well.  We are very glad for this practical afterword. Her suggestions are good for those leaving college or, actually, for anyone in times of change or transition.  Thanks, Erica.

Serious Dreams Facebook Timeline banner.jpg

We would be delighted to have you support our work by ordering one of my Serious Dreams books. We think the pieces are strong, and the main chapters are written by Christian leaders who are certainly some of the most important women and men writing these days. (My own pieces excluded, that is, although I am proud of both of my chapters.) Without exception the chapters are nicely written and inspiring, each offering a vision of the Christian faith as a coherent world-and-life-view, calling forth a lifetime of robust, gracious discipleship. This proposes a faith that is a way of life that is strong enough to help young people not only thrive in their transition into post-college adulthood, but to come to desire that God uses them to impact the world, in big and small ways. I believe the title captures this bold idea well: we offer very serious dreams. For the rest of your life.

Might I ask you to share this with those who might have budgets or reasons to buy gifts for the young people in your church or fellowship? It sure would be cool to get to sign a stack of these, sending them out with love and big hope. Thank you very much.

Serious Dreams cover.jpg


Serious Dreams:
Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life

(Square Halo Books) $13.99

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20% OFF

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takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
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                                      Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333

“Silence and Beauty” by Makoto Fujimura ON SALE NOW

We hope you enjoy this BookNotes review, and we hope you will considering ordering Silence and Beauty from us at our discounted price. The link to the Hearts & Minds bookstore order form shown below will take you to our secure order form page at our website.  We will confirm personally and ship promptly. Thank you very much.

Please see below for our special sale pricing on a pairing of Mako Fujimura’s SIlence and Beauty and Shusaku Endo’s SilenceWe will offer 10% off for either one bought individually but will offer 20% off if both are purchased together.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (InterVarsity Press) regularly $26.00.

Thirty five years ago when we were dreaming up the idea of our bookstore we were faced with the question of what sort of novels we would carry.  Inspirational fiction published by evangelical publishers where on the rise and they were often pretty schmaltzy. As we explained our vision of stocking books offering a wise and thoughtful Christian perspective in different career areas and academic disciplines – engineering, nursing, urban studies, sports, biology, politics, business, and the like – and resources for those working on the burning social issues of our time (racial justice, environmental stewardship, being consistently pro-life, fighting slavery and human trafficking and on and on) we had to ask ourselves: what do we do about the popularity of so-called Christian harlequins? In the days when inspiration fiction was pretty uniformly of poor quality, we wondered, what, really, is Christian fiction.  

We had read Calvin Seerveld’s lively 1970s-era A Christian Critique of Art and Literature, Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, C.S. Lewis’s On Stories, and the stimulating work of Leland Ryken and the young Luci Shaw.

And the answer was obvious: even though they may not sell well in church circles, we will stock best-selling general market books that have something artful about them and something to say — we championed the work of Barbara Kingsolver from almost the beginning, for instance, and last year we were early fans of All The Light We Cannot See. And certainly we wanted to promote those writers who are people of faith but not in the evangelical sub-culture – from Walker Percy to Graham Greene to John Updike to Dorothy Sayers, Katherine Paterson to Susan Howatch, from books like Kristin Lavransdatter to The Memory of Old Jack to Buechner’s Book of Bebb. The very first book we sold the very day we opened was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

silence old cover.jpgIt was in that stimulating era for Beth and me when we were learning so much about literature and book-selling – she loved Things Fall Apart having read Achebe in college although I still hadn’t even read To Kill a Mockingbird – that we discovered what is certainly one of the great novels of the 20th century, the highly regarded, provocative, Silence by the Japanese Christian author Shusaku Endo. We had it on our shelves, I think, the day we opened, and have recommended it often to those who want a bracing, passionate, beautifully-rendered, historically-rich, religious story.

Richly multi-layered and complex, it is simple to summarize: it is about the persecution of Christians in late 17th century Japan, a brutally awful period of martyrdom in the enigmatic land of the brutal Shoguns and powerful emperors. It is not, I sometimes say, for the faint of heart. Shusaku Endo was awarded many prizes and is to this day Japan’s most celebrated writer; he was on the short list for the Nobel Prize in literature.  In a way, his Silence is a perfect example of the sorts of novels we think our customers should care about.

Alongside our interest in fiction is our interest in books about a faith-based perspective on aesthetics and the arts. We are truly thrilled when we get to sell books at CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) gatherings or other such event which nurture a Christian witness among artists and within the art scene.

makoto2.jpgThis is not the place to list titles for you of our large selection of books that attempt to relate faith and art, but I need to say that one of the best voices – an author, speaker and abstract painter of considerable renown – in the last decades is Mr. Makoto Fujimura, founder of IAM (the International Arts Movement/Culture Care) and author of several vital books in this field. His first published piece was a chapter in the altogether fabulous It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God published by Square Halo Books. His writing is eloquent and thoughtful, from his lovely (and beautifully designed) Refractions to the remarkable Square Halo Book release called Soliloquies showing how his work compares and contrasts with rare Georges Rouault pieces.  Mako, as he is endearingly called by his friends, contributed to a lavish art book we are honored to stock called Qua4tets, a collaboration with another painter, a writer, and a musician, culture care cover.jpgRefractions_coverE-380x570.jpgreflecting on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. And he has a very moving chapter in a coffee table book about Japanese print-maker Sadao Wantanabe called Beauty Given By Grace.

In 2011 his illuminated gospels The Four Holy Gospels (ESV) were released to much acclaim, the first time that a Bible was hand illustrated with modern art. We stock the hardback version of this, too. (Watch a gorgeous and interesting 8 minute film about it, here.)

The handsomely crafted 2015 paperback, Culture Care, is Mako’s recent manifesto for why Christians and other people of good faith should steward well the generative gifts that help culture flourish; it is impressive and important.  I’ve told customers that his Culture Care is a great book to follow up a showing of the spectacular For the Life of the World DVDs or to further explore the insights of Andy Crouch’s wonderful Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.

silence and beauty.jpgMr. Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist who came to Christian faith while studying as a National Scholar in Japan. Some of Mako’s own story — he worked with some very important Japanese artists, studied some of the best thinkers of the East, was met by thoughtful Christian people there — is told nicely in his stunning, significant new book, richly designed (with a beautiful translucent dust jacket) by the book artisans at IVP, called Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering.

Mr. Fujimura’s telling of his conversion to Christianity is interwoven with his journey to his parent’s ancestral homeland to formally study (the first non-native to do so) a very old Japanese style of art-making called nihonga. You can read for yourself how art and beauty, Asian worldviews and Western, gospel grace and good people conspired to draw Mako into the Kingdom of Christ, but, as is no surprise, those who took his questions and seeking heart seriously also affirmed his great talent and dedication to becoming a serious nihonga artist. Curiously, he didn’t use this complex style (which includes grinding precious metals into the paste-like paint – pulverization he calls it) in the traditional Japanese way, but, rather applied the intricate method to Western abstract impressionism.

bowl_makoto_fujimura.jpgAfter his study in Japan and conversion to Christian faith, Mako, who had studied in Pennsylvania at Bucknell University (from where, interestingly, his friend Tim Keller also graduated), practiced his craft, created increasingly popular and respected nihonga paintings, becoming known within the serious art scene in Manhattan. He was encouraged by patrons and reviewers and critics.  I met him in those years PTS_Poster_2015_0413Noon.jpgunder a small tent as he gave a powerful talk about faith and the arts at an edgy Christian rock festival in Lancaster; now he lectures before large, prominent crowds, has earned an honorary doctorate, and leads conversations about his work at some of the finest galleries in North America, Europe and Asia.

And — get this — recently Mako has served as a conversation partner and consultant for Martin Scorsese as the world-renowned film-maker was shooting his forthcoming movie based on Endo’s classic novel.  Mako tells us that Scorsese has thought about making this film for over 30 years and intends it to be one of his “life works.” 

As Mr. Fujimura explains in the brand new Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, he traveled back to Nagasaki (the location of the novel) and to a place called Martyrs Hill; his discoveries and reflections there were soul-shaking.  As a traumatized survivor of Ground Zero on 9-11, Mako often writes about the power of art to confront injustice and to help us heal from social dislocation, hurt, grief. (Indeed, after 9-11 he helped create a public art space in lower Manhattan for just this purpose which he describes movingly in his first book, Refractions.) Civilians in Japan have been the targeted victims of two atomic bomb attacks (the steeple of the largest church in Japan was the targeted Ground Zero for the second nuclear attack, a few days after Hiroshima) so it may be that they have much to teach us about grief and loss and resilience. Can beauty and goodness overcome such evil? Does the pulverization of rich minerals into refracting color perhaps speak to those who have themselves felt crushed?

I will not try to explain the many strains of thinking in this extraordinary book, but can assure you that it deeply explores several profound issues, topics and themes.  Theodicy, as it is abstractly called, is certainly central.  As Mako notes that reading Silence was “an excruciating experience.” He says that Endo produces “art of perseverance” and is a “novelist of pain.” 

He continues,

I deal with uneasy questions in this book. Not all of them will be answered satisfactorily, but they do open up a larger set of questions about faith, betrayal, and the question of evil and suffering, which theologians call “theodicy.”

In thinking about Mr. Endo’s own physical pain and medical issues and his hospitalization while a student in France – alongside his existential and spiritual struggles – Fujimura compares him to Flannery O’Connor (who was pained with lupus.)  Mako makes this fascinating evaluation: 

As I pondered Endo’s writings, it became clear to me over and over where Endo found his language: in the precision of the diagnostic terms of medicine and in the vulnerability of the experience of trauma. Endo must have experience the clear, concise communication of medical terms that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers, and he experienced trauma as a universal language that can connect cultures. Vulnerability and awareness of physical limitations lead to short, compressed, anguished expression in O’Connor’s memorable, violent short stories, but reading Endo’s work is like being tortured with slow drips of precise poison, but with a certain compassion…

silence endo new cover.jpgIt would be helpful to read Silence (recently re-issued in a colorful new cover, with a new foreword by Mr. Scorsese, most likely to tie in with the film which will come out late this year) as you read Mako’s reflections in Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith…  There is a helpful chapter by chapter summary in an appendix in the back of Silence and Beauty.

It is at least good to know that at the heart of the historical reality that Endo is writing about in his compelling novel is the practice of forcing Christians – Portuguese missionaries and their Japanese converts – to stomp on and deface pictures of Christ (or Mary) essentially forcing apostasy and demoralizing their fellow believers. There are many of these fumi-e pictures on display yet today in Japan (also at Nagasaki), their edges worn and dirty from thousands of feet stomping them in acts of betrayal and desperation.

Endo seeing one of these antique fumi-e for the first timecarrying the freight of past torture and repression and religious anguish — moved him deeply and his subsequent writings galvanized him into a leader among the post-war intellectuals in Japan. (When Silence was released in Japan in 1966 it created remarkable controversy and Japan’s minority Christian community was appalled by its graphic depictions; the similarities with the 1980’s culture-war opposition to Mr. Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ is not missed by Fujimura.) 

Mako writes, powerfully,

In the worn-smooth face of fumi-e, and the disappearing face of Christ, Endo found resonance. He found perspective on his confounding question. Endo’s writing does not answer the questions about suffering but it expresses empathy for those who cannot speak or write. Endo found his calling was to speak for them. In exploring the denial of faith, and faith that is hidden from the overwhelming pressure of culture, he opened up a path to probe the mystery of existence.

Silence and Beauty is not all about the hiddenness of God, the mysteries of pain, or the struggles with martyrdom and persecution – although, in the age of ISIS and the I Am N movement, this Japanese novel may be just what we need. Philip Yancey says as much in a brilliant, wonderfully lengthy opening foreword. (I have read Yancey’s chapter twice and found it extraordinary both times.)

Neither is Silence and Beauty only a thoughtful engagement of Endo’s Silence but it is more — it shares Mako’s own story of reflecting deeply on how art and beauty can help us (what is the word – cope?) with the world as it is. It about faith and creativity, about literature and art and God’s goodness.

As Gregory Wolfe, editor of the prestigious religious literary journal, Image, writes, “Above all, Fujimura enables us to sense that grace can live – and inspire new life – even in the midst of suffering.”

Or, as Thomas John Hastings, a research fellow of the Kagawa Archives and former theology professor at Tokyo Union Theological Seminary says, “…his layering of Ground Zero themes functions like a Rembrandt primer out of which a sublime beauty and grace emerges.”

Beauty and grace.  Indeed.

silence and beauty.jpgThere is much about Japan and Japanese culture here – including what Mako calls “fumi-e culture” – and much about his own journey with “the ambiguous.” Perhaps you, too, struggle with ambiguity, hiddenness, deep questions and considerable doubt. This book can help.  His chapter “The Redemption of Father Rodrigues” moves from The Silence to other great themes and is full of insight. His powerful penultimate chapter is “The Aroma: Towards an Antidote to Trauma.”  What a phrase!

There is a centerpiece section inserted on glossy paper in Silence and Beauty nicely showing full color reproductions of several important paintings about which Mako writes. In a nod to “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai (you’ve surely seen it and will recognize it as it is shown) he has a brilliant chapter called “Mission Beyond the Waves.” The final paragraph, summarizing this complex journey towards appreciating the Japanese insights about beauty and silence, and silence and beauty, and silent beauty, is stunning. In those closing pages Mako offers lovely, mature, deeply spiritual hope that can benefit us all. 

In case I have suggested to you that this book is too arcane for most readers either intellectually (citing the likes of Kierkegaard and David Bentley Hart and numerous Japanese scholars and historians) or emotionally (with its description of jarring scenes of brutality and the darker themes of God’s hiddenness) I want to invite you to reconsider. Yes, this is an intense book, but it is a beautiful book and a very engaging one. Mako cites J.R.R. Tolkien, which is always nice, and has a big section on Anne of Green Gables. He mentions Jane Eyre and even Star Wars.

Here is a beautifully filmed very short feature about Makoto’s work and his new book. There are moments when I sense that Mako is struggling for words to put to this profound, terrifyingly beautiful project.  I hope you watch it — it’s very well done.

‘Silence and Beauty’ by Makoto Fujimura from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

From his red barn studio and Institute in Princeton to his recent position at the important Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, informed by his considerable knowledge of modern American artists (Rothko, Pollock) to his first hand experiences in the Japanese art world, from moving words about Japanese saints to courage gathered from Martin Luther King, Jr., this new book will bless you with an extravagant learning experience.  It will move you to consider deeply the role of the arts in our lives, and, more, the curiously generative relationship of silence and beauty, of mystery and faith, of pain and hope, of sin and redemption. Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is very nicely made, majestic, grand — a truly remarkable book, a book excellent for our times.  

It would be our great pleasure to send both books to you. 

Mako Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty  AND  Shasako Endo’s novel Silence.


Buy either one at a 10% discount.

Silence and Beauty regularly $26.00 — at 10% off, sale price = $23.40                                           Silence regularly $16.00 — at 10% off, sale price = $14.40


Buy both together

20% off discount.

silence and beauty.jpg

silence endo new cover.jpg                            

Buy both together and save: package deal = $33.60



10% off

Silence and Beauty

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


Order any book mentioned, on sale, by clicking on the order form tab below. It takes you to our certified secure order form page at our Hearts & Minds bookstore’s website.  Or, if you have questions, give us a shout at the “inquire” page.  Thanks for reading our BookNotes column and for your interest in reading widely.

Let me just get something off my chest, for starters, so you understand.

I know I am not alone in admitting that I have had, and continue to have, great concerns — in today’s parlance, issues  — with the history, legacy, reputation, and behavior of what might generally be called “the church.”  

Christianity as a religion has brought many, many great blessings to the world, even as some representatives of the church have done great, great evil. There’s all manner of contemporary nastiness and rigid sorts of dogmatism and graceless legalism; we seem to know more about the unsavory stuff that happens in churches and denominations these days, and it often isn’t pretty.  Only a fool would deny it. Throw in the unfortunate experience of many who find within the church a general lifelessness, an apathy about the world at large, and a lackluster practice of the faith’s demands and, well, it’s no wonder there are books like Lyons & Kinnaman’s Unchristian that offers data about how unchurched younger adults report that the first things they think of when thinking about Christians are, well, not particularly good. 

Coming of age spiritual memoirs, testimonials of faith and doubt, have long been a staple of religious literature. I must restrain myself from a tangent here, but you know there are wonderfully-written books telling of writers who have been attracted to or departed faith. We have a lot of wonderful books in our memoir section here at the store;. They used to be more about coming to faith rather than the occasional story of leaving the fold; now it seems almost the other way around. 

once upon a time you had it all sorted out.jpgI have noticed in the last several years that there is a sub-genre of this kind of book and you surely know it too; I am referring to memoirs of former fundamentalists or evangelicals who have put pen to paper to tell of their growing disillusionment with the simple certainties of their youth, their frustrations with their old churches, books telling of faith journeys that end up perhaps still Christian (sometimes robustly so) but not quite of the sort they used to be. It really is a thing, nowadays.

Many of these books are good reads, offering illumination about the paths life can take, the choices people make, the deepest things that grab or bless or hurt or shape us.  Some are funny and entertaining (see Post Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing by Reba Riley), some may be infuriating for those of us who don’t quite understand why some are so turned off by a little messiness in the church. Some such stories of becoming de-churched are luminously written without any proscriptive intent (think of the stunning In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown County by Kim Barnes) while others (think of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans or Diana Butler Bass’s very thoughtful Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community) are as much about their own visions for what good church should be like, with their well-told personal story the vehicle for lament, advocacy and pleas for reform.

And so, again, what I need to get off my chest: I get it. I, too, have issues, big issues, with lots of stuff within the Christian community, among high church liturgical types and low church evangelicals, among mainline denominational denominations and charismatic/Pentecostal ones. Indeed, I’ve spent time protesting church complicity in injustice — how many of you have been physically carted out of a church and how many of you have lost a beloved ministry job due to offering prophetic critique (or, have, while I’m airing my dirty laundry, been fired from a Family Christian bookstore for having a bit too much integrity?) Oh yes, I’ve got issues.

But yet, the other thing I need to say: I sometimes grow weary of the recent, hip negativity (what one friend has termed the “valorization of exile.”) And what’s with these big, broadly generic accusations about “Christians” (what Christians?) “the” church (which church?) I sometimes tire a bit of all the whining blogs and expose articles, earnest and beautifully written as many of them are. I am not so sure that venting all the youthful disillusionment with evangelicalism is all that helpful — interesting as the memoirs may be and valid as many of the concerns are — if they tend to make cynicism and being jaded more acceptable.  As Rob Bell says in his powerful “Resurrection” video, “It’s easy to be cynical.”

Maybe I’m still too much of a baby boomer thinking we can change the world, or a do-gooder who thinks if you’re not part of the solution your part of the problem, but I want to note that I am sometimes surprised that evangelical young adults are surprised to learn the church is messed up. Sometimes I want to poke them in the chest and say who are you kidding: we all have some screws loose, no church is perfect, many of us have been wounded by harsh religion and your Captain Obvious story is getting old. Of course religion has been dysfunctional and of course we should be wary — haven’t you heard of the Crusades or the middle ages heresy hunting or the Salem Witch trials or Westboro Baptist? (For a good dose of healthy reality please pick up Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith edited by Mae Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah.) Surely you know that many evangelicals just a handful of decades ago stood by silently while blacks were lynched by good Sunday school teachers. You are surprised that the church is sometimes awful and even on a good day, pretty messed up?

Still, I like that old saw (attributed to Augustine and used often by Dorothy Day) about how of course we know the church is a whore. But she is still our mother.  And, I’d add, that means her members are still family to me.  So watch out who you’re bitching about — those fundies, liberals, wackos, Pharisees, evangelicals, emergents, missionals, mainliners, liturgicals, mystics, Pentecostals, Calvinists, Arminians, Catholics, postmodern, legalistic, old school, new light, whoever else you don’t like these days — they’re my peeps, for better or worse.

And, anyway, for every goofball bad Christian and toxic church there are two good ones, devout, lovely folks, living out their faith in good and healthy ways, quiet, sober, kind.  So the outrage I see on line sometimes makes me wonder if the aggrieved post-Christian prophets just don’t get out very much.  If they did, they’d know this is true. There’s a lot of quiet beauty and gospel grace out there.

Maybe it would help if we all had a bit bigger, broader view of that abstraction: the church. I’d recommend reading my favorite book on ecumenism, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church by John H. Armstrong and a few memoirs about ordinary church life, something like Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery by Richard Lischer or When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church by UCC pastor and very good writer, Lillian Daniel. Maybe Eugene Peterson’s memoir,The Pastor.  And, although it plays to the disillusioned and jaded looking for a way out of conventional church, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People made me weep with how ordinary her famously edgy church is in many, many ways — good but broken folks trying to love each other as they worship God and follow Jesus, through good outreach and lots of failings, too.  Reading these stories of local church life gives me hope.

So, having said all that…

I will list 5 recent books that capture this trend, this movement, if you will, this genre of writing that often appears as memoirs of those moving away from older certainties and towards newer understandings and expressions of Christian faith. These are voices to hear, good books to read in part because they are indicative of something going on and because — as a bookseller, I truly believe this — they can be helpful as you consider your own faith journey, church involvements, loyalties and convictions, doubts and fears.  Are you at peace about your own religious experiences? Disillusioned or hopeful? Have you emotionally grappled with and resolved some of the hard stuff you’ve encountered in your own church experience? Has your faith community discouraged asking hard questions or sharing doubt or are they safe and supportive and gracious?  Are you on the cusp of new layers of insights — listen to your life, Fred Buechner said decades ago —  and are you working through that in a local congregation? Do your questions about the Bible itself lead you to deeper study and good conversations?  Agree or not with any of these 5 books and authors, they are notable and they offer enjoyable, engaging reading and can be useful to stimulate your own self reflection.

Next, after those 5 recommendations, I will list 5 new books of theology that, if I may be so bold, might be helpful for those asking the big questions about the meaning of faith and what it might look like to (re)consider Christian faith for our time.

That is, if one of the trends we see in these memoirs and reflective studies is a disillusionment with old ways of getting the faith described and lived, then what might a better way be? These five theology books are, in fact, mostly conventional. We need an ancient-future view, you know, not just throwing the baby out with the bath water and all that, historic stuff explained afresh. I’ve said it before  — a wise teacher in art school once told students wanting to do abstract modern art that “you have to know the rules before you break them.”  So I might suggest these books of fairly classic theology or faith formation to those attracted to the artful memoirs of faith and doubt written by those seeking different kinds of church experience. Before serious, life-giving re-formulation can happen, we have to know the basics. If we are pushing away from old stuff, we have to know where we’ve been and what direction to head. I sometimes wonder if the authors of these sorts of contemporary books narrating a theological shift had these kinds of strong resources, and were part of faith communities reading this kind of meaty, good stuff together, how their lives and faith might have worked out differently?

If you are familiar with these sort of questions and concerns, then you know what I’m talking about and you will appreciate these books, I’m sure. But if none of this seems familiar to you and you aren’t a part of these kinds of conversations at all, perhaps these few titles and authors might be useful to alert you to the pain some feel about their churches and the struggles some have with conventional expressions and formulations of a faith.  Welcome.


Out of Sorts- Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.jpgOut of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith Sarah Bessey (Howard) $15.99  I very much liked Bessey’s last book, Jesus Feminist and really appreciate her thoughtful, creative writing style. I think Jen Hatmaker is right when she says “Sarah Bessey manages to be poetic but accessible, prophetic but gentle, crazy smart but approachable, strong but gracious.” She is in some ways a poster-child for this trend about moving beyond simple and dogmatic theological views and practices from her previous evangelical background. Like she says, her faith is evolving. In many ways, it is a lovely thing to behold.

Of this recent release Micah Boyett (author of Found) says, “Bessey writes with the fire of a preacher and the soul of a mother, critical thought without cynicism. This book is for all of us wonderers who long for Jesus and distrust easy answers.”  See what I mean?

The very lovely writer Shauna Niequist mentions s “complicated dance with church and all its tentacles…” Check.  Brian Zahd (who himself has a book about his own out of sorts journey, self-published and not available to us) says that Bessey is sharing “her search for an authentic Christian faith — a search that led her away from the church and then back home again.”

Bessey’s Out of Sorts is a beautiful book and the title and the subtitle itself evoke much of what it is about. Frank Viola says it is “honest, sober” and Pete Enns says it is “moving and real.”  I highly recommend it and think it captures exactly what many, many, formerly evangelical young adults are thinking and feeling.  You should read it.

Night Driving- A Story of Faith in the Dark .jpgNight Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark Addie Zierman (Convergent Books) $14.99  I cannot wait to read this new one  — I loved her very moving memoir, a quintessential example of this genre, called When We Were On Fire (which I reviewed at BookNotes and which Publishers Weekly named as one of the top five religious books of 2013.) Rachel Held Evans says, correctly, that Zierman is “a master storyteller” and, whewie, is she ever! She can turn a phrase and pull you into a scene. Having dipped in to just a few pages, I know it will be a great read. 

Here is the gist of this important new memoir: Zierman grew up with an emotionally-charged, fire-filled sort of faith that seemed so very real because one felt God’s touch. But now, at age 30, she tells us, she feels nothing. “Just the darkness pressing in. Just the winter cold. Just a buzzing silence where God’s voice used to be.”  The organizational structure of this is a road trip — she piles her two kids into the minivan and heads South in a last-ditch effort to find Light in the darkness. Each chapter is a different leg of the literal journey.

I love a good road trip and I love a memoir ruminating on finding faith, searching for lasting answers, meaning, hope. I think this fine writer, blogger, and speaker will deliver what I suspect is a beautifully-rendered sequel to her moving away from fundamentalism story told in When We Were on Fire. I think it is going to get a lot of attention. Enjoy.

.jpgThe Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs Peter Enns (HarperOne) $25.99  I sort of thought most people knew this by now, but apparently not: “having the right beliefs is not the same as having faith.”  If one is going to ruminate on the relationship between right belief and right behavior and the good life, Enns is a good choice to lead us in pondering this. He is a top flight Old Testament scholar, and formerly taught at the exceptionally theologically conservative and doctrinally rigid Westminster Theological Seminary where he lost his job by asking questions about the doctrines of innerrency and how to handle responsible criticism of the discrepancies in ancient Biblical manuscripts that seemed out of line with their own heritage. Dr. Enns has written serious books about all that (Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament) and more popular level books about how to read the Scriptures well, such as The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. But through and behind his story of being fired for what some might think to be fairly moderate theological positions, there is this bigger question: what is the role of rational truth in Christian faith, and what is the role of orthodox doctrine? What does it mean to know? And what kind of trust (and in what?) does faith demand? The Sin of Certainty is a very readable collection of fairly short chapters with insights from Enns’s own journey, his reflections on his own evolving views of the Bible and Reformed evangelicalism, and how these shifts have effected his own family, work, life, and church involvement.

Sarah Bessey says,

Enns is brilliant. This book is accessible, freeing, empowering, and beautiful. I underlined almost every page. I’m deeply thankful for Enns’s work and his new book is right on time for many of us.

Brian McLaren says of The Sin of Certainty

If you’re afraid that your theological questions and doubts disqualify you from being a person of faith, theologian Peter Enns has good news for you. Very good news. And it’s a delightful read, too!

And there is a lot of Bible study here. Walter Brueggemann notes professor Enns’s “puckish affirmation of the buoyant, sometimes outrageous, boundary-breaking capacity of biblical faith.”

There are other resources for this journey — I love books like Daniel Taylor’s IVP release The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment or his novel, for that matter, published by Slant, called Death Comes for the Deconstructionist.  Enns is not alone in deconstructing certain reductionistic ways of knowing and promoting more faithful, storied ways of understanding God’s authoritative revelation, and he explains how this debate about the roots of Western culture has been “festering for centuries.”  Anyway, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs — puckish as it may be — is an important new release, part behind the scenes personal story and part seminar on thinking about church, Bible, discipleship and true faith. Fascinating.

How-Jesus-Saves-the-World-from-Us.jpgHow Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity Morgan Guyton (Abingdon) $16.00  Okay, this is less of a memoir and more of a Biblical/theological church revitalization study, and the author (a United Methodist elder and campus minister) surely doesn’t intend to merely bad-mouth the church, inviting doubt and celebrating exile from institutional religion. No, he’s all in.  But his take is edgy and critical. And really interestingly written, in what Diana Butler Bass says is “Powerful. Provocative. And true…” She continues, “if you’ve been tempted to dump Christianity, give this book the chance to convert you to the possibility of a deeper life in and with God.”  

Listen to the back cover, noting not only how good and needed this is, but how it seems to capture something of this tendency these days to be critical of the church, to seek antidotes for toxic behaviors and bad attitudes.

It says,

Christianity has always been about being saved. But what Christians need saving from most today is the toxic understandings and behaviors we ourselves have been practicing! We have become precisely that Jesus came to stop us from being.

This is a book for Christians who are troubled by what we’ve become and who want Jesus to save us from the toxic behaviors and attitudes we’ve embraced.

This book with the interesting title, How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, offers ways to more faithfully participate in God’s redemptive work. It reminds us that “there are many reasons to lose hope about the state of our world and our church” but invites us to not give in or give up, but to rethink faith (“poetry not math”), worship (it’s “not performance”), church (“temple, not program”) and service (“solidarity, not sanctimony”) and live afresh into lives that are about “communion, not correctness.” 

I’m sure you can see ways in which some of these slogans perhaps need not be “either/or” and how in some places, some of Guyton’s accusations in the hard-hitting How Jesus Saves the World… may seem ham-fisted. But, mostly, I suspect he’s right and these antidotes are not only indicative of things the Spirit is saying to us these days, but of stuff we really need to ponder.  Guyton has seen young adults drift from faith for some of these very reasons; he’s obvious familiar with the data shown in UnChristian and knows about the anguish and discomfort many feel with what they know about church. This is his response.

girl and the end of the world.jpgGirl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future  Elizabeth Esther (Convergent Books) $14.95  This book came out two years ago so is not brand new, but it is such a great and moving read and such a clear example of toxic faith from which she does indeed need to escape and be healed that I wanted to list it here. She tells a very moving tale about her upbringing — secret family plans to be “rapture ready”, abusive “child training” stuff, being forced to preach fire and brimstone on street-corners as a child — that seems bizarre to most readers. Esther journeys through what can only be called PTSD and the realization that the authoritarian religion she knew was nearly cult-like, beyond the scope of most conservative evangelicals, for sure, and simply not healthy or true.

Sarah Mae, a fine writer of books for women, whose work we appreciate, says, 

Elizabeth shares with candor, wit, and near flawless writing about the religion she was so deeply hurt by. Her story is heartbreaking, yet redemptive, and we would all do well to pay attention to how religion without the love, grace, and truth of Jesus Christ is an empty and destructive force.

I greatly appreciate Rachel Held Evans evaluation:

What a story! Girl at the End of the World is witty, insightful, courageous, and compelling, the sort of book you plan to read in a week but finish in a day. Elizabeth Esther is a master storyteller who describes her journey out of fundamentalism with a powerful mix of tenderness and guts. With this debut, Esther sets herself apart as a remarkable writer and remarkable woman. This book is a gift, and I cannot commend it enough.

It isn’t a foregone conclusion in Girl at the End… nor in any of these stories, that there will be anything like renewed faith or healing or hope. Thankfully, Elizabeth Esther does experience great grace and displays even good humor in her masterful prose. We see the cowering girl who finds great awareness of God’s love and a more life-giving faith.  


Pictures at a Theological Exhibition.jpgPictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom Kevin J. Vanhoozer (IVP Academic) $20.00  I love the look of this, the format, the metaphor, which Vanhoozer creatively plumbs throughout.   It might become — it just came so I can’t say for sure — my favorite theology book of the year. It sure looks meaty and fun, edifying and interesting.  

I’ll let Marva Dawn say it:

I have always loved Pictures at an Exhibition, but the music and the art, and now that Vanhoozer has structured his theology book according to its promenade and galleries, I will remember his descriptions and clarifications that much better. He is a meticulous explainer, so his work in tis book is very unambiguous as he reckons with many issues such as the role of a pastor interpreting a text, the affective relation doctrine and worship, and debate about cognitive enhancement. Then there is the added prevention of his artistic sermons. Don’t miss this display!

One has to appreciate a book that somebody like Cornelius Plantinga says is “deeply revealing” and is written “with enormous discernment and love.”

Besides this walk through the exhibition hall, teaching about applied theology (“the church’s worship, witness, wisdom”) there are sermons interspersed as well.  This truly is a great plus.

Listen to Fred Sanders of Biola University:

Vanhoozer has a reputation for unveiling the big picture for us, but here he devotes his considerable critical powers to a series of small ones. For fans of his earlier work, there are characteristic delights and a few surprises–not least the interspersed sermons that answer the question, ‘Yes, but will it preach?’ Vanhoozer’s playfulness, recursions, puns and layered allusions all pay off exceptionally well in these miniature studies. And readers who have heard that Vanhoozer’s theology deserves attention but have wondered where to begin studying are well advised to start with these rich and accessible essays.

One reviewer — knowing Vanhoozer’s own interest in theatre and drama — calls this book an artful picture/play.  Still, though, it is mature, faithful, seriously orthodox theology.  Oh if only seekers and skeptics and shallow preachers alike would commit to doing this kind of good reading. We could recover what Vanhoozer calls our “discarded imagination” and recovery a theological vision that serves the church, enhances the lives of the people of God.

Delivered from the Elements of the World.jpgDelivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission Peter J. Leithart (IVP Academic) $30.00  I have got to read this big book before selling books at an event with professor Leithart at a Mercersburg Theology conference in Lancaster later this Spring. It is mature and meaty, not unlike his many other serious books. He is the president of Theopolis Institute in Birmingham, Alabama and an adjunct senior fellow at New Saint Andrews College; perhaps you read him at First Things.  His is, by all accounts, brilliant, a serious Biblical scholar who is at once utterly orthodox and yet a bit unconventional, feisty and remarkable.

I can best recommend this to you, and assure you of its importance, by offering these three breathtakingly good endorsements by three very important scholars.  Few books get this kind of acclaim:

When you read Peter Leithart, you suddenly realize how timid most Christian theologians are, tepidly offering us a few ‘insights’ to edify our comfort with the status quo. Leithart is like a lightning strike from a more ancient, more courageous Christian past, his flaming pen fueled by biblical acuity and scholarly rigor. In this book, he does it again–here is the City of God written afresh for our age, asking a question you didn’t know to ask but now can’t avoid: Why is the cross the center of human history? Couldn’t God have found another way? Leithart’s answer–this book–is a monumental achievement.”

–James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College, editor, Comment magazine

“Among contemporary theologians, only Leithart has the biblical erudition, theological breadth and rhetorical power necessary for writing a book like this one. His Christian creativity and love for Jesus Christ jump off the page. As an account of atonement, this book is also an account of the entirety of Christian reality, and indeed of the reality of Israel as well, in light of pagan and secular cultures and in light of the church’s own failures to live what Christ has given. At its heart is an urgent call for all Christians, living in the Spirit, to share the Eucharist together against every fleshly barrier and Spirit-less form of exclusion. Leithart’s dazzling biblical and ecumenical manifesto merits the closest attention and engagement.”

–Matthew Levering, Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

“Peter Leithart is one of our best and most creative theologians. In this wide-ranging book Leithart shows that doctrine is not some abstract entity disconnected from contemporary life but is in fact deeply relevant and pregnant with social and political insights. Leithart is biblically, theologically and culturally literate–a rare combination–and thus able to produce the sort of work we so badly need today. Attending to the doctrines of the atonement and justification, he writes in the best tradition of apologetics, namely that of creative, orthodox, contextual theology.”

–Craig Bartholomew, professor of philosophy and religion and theology, Redeemer University College

Core Christianity- Finding Yourself in God's Story.jpgCore Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story Michael Horton (Zondervan) $14.99  Okay, this is a different sort of book than the first two listed.  While Horton is a remarkable scholar, writer, journalist and radio host (see his White Horse Inn broadcast) himself and while he has written serious, mature books about the troubles of even the evangelical church for drifting from robust, serious theology, this book is not designed for heady thinkers and certainly not for the academy or scholars. It is simply what we believe and why it matters — an intro to the study of God that leads to awe and wonder and clarity about grace and our response to it all. Horton shows his pastoral side here and tackles, as it says on the back cover “the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. In addition to unpacking these beliefs in a way that is easy to understand, Horton shows why they matter to our lives today.

Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California so comes at this as a stanch advocate of the Reformed tradition. Yet, on the back, non-reformed authors (such as Scot McKnight) offer good recommendations. Kelly Kapic says it affords readers a change to “learn from a master who is not afraid to put things simply and clearly.”

Scattered throughout this book that is not much more than 175 pages are charts, interesting side-bars, definitions and a few pictures. It is strong on themes of the covenant, offers a Biblical sort of narrative theology approach and, as the subtitle illustrates, offers to show that solid thinking about Biblical doctrine should shape our own story, giving us meaning and direction, not merely intellectual certainty.  He’s up to speed on contemporary issues, but, more urgently, he’s old school, arranging historic views in sensible form, helping us know the basics of core Christianity. Nice.

The Dusty Ones bigger.jpgThe Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith A.J. Swoboda (Baker Books) $15.99  I named this as a spiritual formation sort of book to be read during Lent when it first came out a month ago.  I raved about A.J.’s A Glorious Dark noting that it is honest and raw, even, about our doubts and pains, the darkness that we know and that we attend to especially during the Holy Week rituals and the tridium. He’s a fun and colorful writer and a good storyteller but he’s also that kind of guy, naming real world stuff and inviting us to an authentic faith experience, even if at times (gloriously) dark.

I named this one as a broader sort of book, but similar. As you can tell, and as I explained, it picks up the theme of wandering, and what it means to wander well.  (I cannot help but note that the word sounds a bit like wondering — curiously asking — and then there’s that song “I Wonder as I Wander.”) So this is about being honest about deep stuff, about real questions, and about moving into those seasons and places when we are restless, doubtful or questioning.  The road may be “always bumpy” but Swoboda says it is “always worthwhile.”

I wasn’t sure this book fit my theme — five books about disenchanted faith or evolving faith stories and five books of theology that might offer ballast and a framework for those who are seeking or evolving.  This is perhaps even an example of the former, not the later.  Yes, there are stories here, some about hard times, about restlessness, even a chapter called “Displacement.” In a way, this very much represents the sorts of longings and rejection of easy answers expressed in books like Out of Sorts or Night Driving. 

However, The Dusty Ones is not telling of the awkwardness of bad faith or offering stories of shifting away from childhood certainties, it is a positive proposal for how questioning and wandering can be good. There is plenty of solid thinking here, good teaching about a Biblical vision and imagination, and theology of the sort that is formative and encouraging. It invites dusty journeys, honors those times when we feel lost, and doesn’t back off of faith that is provocative. But at the end of the day, as they say, being dusty is to be close to Christ, to be like most Bible characters, to be on the road with a lived and lively faith. He looks at our idols our “invisible loves” (he’s been reading Jamie Smith) and he invites us to walk, to go, to follow along that pilgrim way.

I like that the memoirist Seth Haines (recovering addict and author of the award-winning Coming Clean: A Story of Faith) says 

A.J. Swoboda is the kind of pastor, writer, and theologian today’s church desperately needs. Capable and engaging, he has a bent toward vulnerability that is simply honest and beautifully human. And it’s this human touch that makes The Dusty Ones a unique, well-rooted, and spiritually nourishing work. If you’ve experienced your own desert seasons or periods of wandering, this book is Swoboda’s gift to you.

Can you see why I again recommend this, listing it here, in this list. Some of the first books lament the lack of room their legalistic churches gave for those who wander, or even wonder. The evolving shift away from fundamentalist paradigms the increasing jadedness about conventional religion is partially because such rigid faith systems can sometimes become unhealthy, covering up doubt and the “beautifully human” plight of our limits and foibles.  And those congregations that aren’t fundamentalist, but still insist on wearing our “Sunday best” and protecting their status quo, can also implicitly discourage those who ask questions. If churches — more liberal or more conservative — used resources like this utterly Biblical, theologically fine book, God’s children would be better served, people would flourish in faith development that is rigorous without being rigid, open-minded without being shallow, truthful without fostering pride, honest about being lost and earnest about being found. I’m a fan of this kind of serious faith formation, theology on the road, spiritual development for the heart and mind, situation smack in the questions of a hurting, wandering world.  This is highly recommended.

51% Christian- FInding Faith After Certainty .jpg51% Christian: Finding Faith After Certainty Mark Stenberg (Fortress Press) $16.99  Well, I’m not sure what to say about this — it isn’t everyone’s cup of theological tea, I suppose. Stenberg is a founding pastor of two innovative, emerging churches, House of Mercy Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and Mercy Seat Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis. This is a recent release from the “Theology of the People” series (edited by Tony Jones) and carries a very moving foreword by Nadia Bolz-Weber. So that might help you place it.

But, don’t be fooled, thinking that its out-side-the-box, radical approach is too eccentric to be unhelpful. Stenberg may be iconoclastic and Russell Rathbun of House of Mercy may say he is “the funniest theologian I know” but this slight goofiness aside, this is a book grounded in pretty classic mainline Protestant formulations. It is laden with footnotes including one mentioning that Stenberg weeps — every time he says — that he reads Karl Barth on freedom. Now that, my friends, is commendation for a theological author, if you ask me: he doesn’t say he believes Barth is right about everything, but he knows enough about him and cares enough about these deep things that the dense Swiss thinker makes him weep.  That’s a guy worth reading.

Debbie Blue, author of two great collections of exquisitely edgy sermons and the extraordinary Consider the Birds says “Stenberg is a brilliant theologian. In 51% Christian he makes some of the most graceful and beautiful theology you could ever imagine extremely accessible without sacrificing depth and complexity.”  Another reviewer says the author “takes you on a wild ride across theological terrain few are willing to enter.”  Rathbun says he’s funny, but he also says he’s “the smartest theologian I know.”

This guy knows his theological stuff, classic, contemporary, radical. He often quotes Dale Allison (a Girardian), draws on the genius systematic theology of James William McClendon, and happily appreciates the Canadian John Douglas Hall. And St. Thomas Aquinas and (naturally) Martin Luther. 

And, I might add, the book makes some pop culture allusions, from Lewis Black to Bruce Cockburn to Malcolm X.

Pastor Stenberg has chapters with titles like “De-Greekifying the Divine, or How to Quit Thinking About God” and “Why Your Theory of Atonement Sucks.” I particularly liked “How the Cheatin’ Heart of Modernity Double-Crossed the Doctrine of Revelation.”

Okay, this isn’t J.I. Packer or John Stott or Abraham Kuyper; it isn’t even close to the previously mentioned authors named above, contemporary as they each are. But if we are inviting congregations or people to read serious-minded, practically-written, interesting theology that might make sense, moving away from nonessential dogmatism and heavy-handed, overly scholastic systematics, then this kind of neo-orthodox, very contemporary, provocative stuff should be part of that conversation. It seems to be helping some along the way, and even if it isn’t fully conventional, it is asking good, good questions, inviting answers that can point us to faith that doesn’t have to be cynically discarded or evolved out of with hurt and confusion. Let’s wander and wonder together, finding Biblical faith after unhelpful commitments to wrong kinds of certainty. 



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Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by Andy Crouch ON SALE NOW

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press) $19.99  sale price $17.99

There are so many reasons that we recommend the latest Andy Crouch book, Strong and Weak that I hardly know where to begin. There have been a number of other reviews by people I trust, although, for my own quirky reasons, I haven’t looked at anyone else’s comments yet. I hear they are very good; I am sure, come year’s end, S&W will be on many “best of 2016” lists.  We were so appreciative of Andy’s other good work, and a lecture we heard about this project as he was working on it that we wanted to tell you about it as soon as we knew we could take orders for it; maybe you saw our advanced promo of it at BookNotes at the end of last year.

culture making.jpgAnd then, it arrived just in time for me to shout out about it on the big stage last February at the CCO’s Jubilee conference.  It was delicious for us to have it right out of the gate, glad for the publisher’s eagerness to have it known among those gathered in Pittsburgh.  Andy had spoken at Jubilee previously, and his talk there a few years ago on the goodness of God’s creation and our “culture making” task to “make something of the world” is surely one of the great main stage talks at Jubilee.  You will enjoy the mastery of public speaking Andy shows, you will learn something, and be newly inspired to think about the large role faith can have in inspiring us to responsible action in the world as those who bear the creative image of God in the world.  I do think that his 2008 Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $22.00) is one of the most significant books we’ve sold in our thirty-plus years of our own trying to help make something better of the world here in D-town. His Jubilee talk captures much of that book’s insight and pleasing, reasonable energy.  WATCH IT HERE.

playing god.jpgPlaying God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (IVP; $25.00) was released in 2013. I sometimes say is the necessary follow-up to Culture Making. Insofar as we take up our callings to be creative in the world, paying attention to God’s presence in the wider culture, nurturing postures of holy, healthy involvement as Culture Making commends, we will, sooner or later, come up against hard complexities that we can abbreviate by words like sin or corruption or, less negatively, perhaps, power. There It is: if we are serious about culture-making, we will have to grapple with what it means to exercise power properly, what it means to speak truth to power effectively, and what it means to pay attention to institutions, local and national and perhaps global and to what some call our “social architecture.” The subtitle of Playing God is about “redeeming the gift of power” and that tips his hand considerably: power is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be exercised redemptively. Few Christian thinkers have thought adequately about helping us take up cultural influence in positions of power, even with the social architecture of institutions and mediating structures, in ways that might be called redemptive.  

Of course, taking up power is a vague phrase, and Crouch is exquisite in Playing God as he carefully explains what it may or may not mean, and exploring the different sorts of institutions and arenas where we might exercise power properly. Or where we might be seduced to betray Christ by exercising power unjustly; the book title itself does bear that ominous concern.  There are not many books like that one, and we have been promoting it since it came out, believing that it really is important. It is not only important, but it is so very thoughtfully written, with the right mix of astute theological awareness, good Biblical references, informed sociological analysis and tender (and at times powerful) storytelling from his own travels around the globe. Both Culture Making and Playing God are very good books.

S&W.jpgWhich takes us to the new, smaller – although still quite ambitious – lovely new work called Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing. It is (or so it seems to me) somewhat of a sequel or coda to Playing God.  It continues to ask questions about power and authority, servanthood and embracing vulnerability by taking serious risks, learning how to avoid the grip of idols that can lock us into ways of living that are not free and flourishing, and ways of leading or exercising influence that are not generative or fruitful.  As you should gather from the title, it draws upon in important ways – I only know a handful of books that seriously do this –  Paul’s claim in 2 Corinthians 12 about boasting in his weaknesses. What in the world does that mean?

Crouch’s book is a must for anyone thinking about leadership or anyone who is hoping to take up responsible mission in their areas of influence. Work, home, church, civic life, campus? This book can help.

Click here for a nice, short video clip of Andy speaking about the book. 

This video captures Andy’s smart prose, his remarkable insight, and the potent paradox this book explores.

However, as the subtitle suggests, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing is about full human flourishing, giving it a broader appeal than being about leadership as such. Yes, I recommend it to those wanting to be more responsible in “owning” their authority, their calling to exercise influence, for those who see themselves in positions of leadership, whether in the church or at work on within voluntary associations.

But I want to say that this book is wonderful for nearly anyone. If you are interested in reflecting on the very essence of the good life, if you are inclined to deepen your awareness of the nature of being in the very image of God, if you are willing to ponder some mysteries of the human condition and some curious angles on personal and societal flourishing, on personal growth and how that translates into wise and fruitful living in the world, this book will be one you will want to read and re-read. It is not simplistic, nor is it one of the nearly ubiquitous zippy pop treatments about getting stuff done or being happy; the first lines are these:

Two questions haunt every human life, and every human community. The first: What are we meant to be? The second: Why are we so far from what we’re meant to be?

So, yes, this book is for anyone seeking a good and meaningful life that is profoundly shaped by the Biblical story and faithful answers to these essential, haunting questions.

andy tension.jpgI’ve said this before and I hope it intrigues you — please don’t allow this description to minimize its sophistication or profundity — but much of Strong and Weak is an extended meditation on four ways of being, four combinations of authority and vulnerability.  It is, simply put, about a single paradox that generates a “fruitful tension” of “complexity and possibility.” It is not simplistic, but it is fairly simple to explain.

Each of the four positions or postures explored and appraised can be seen in one of four quadrants of a four-square, 2×2 chart. And he has reprinted said 2×2 chart in every chapter, with a strong chapter on each quadrant.

I laughed out loud when I heard Barna leader David Kinnaman quip that “spreadsheets are my love language.” I smiled similarly when Andy wrote “There is nothing I find quite as satisfying as a 2×2 chart at the right time.”

He explains:

The 2×2 helps us grasp the nature of paradox. When used properly, the 2×2 can take two ideas we thought were opposed to one another and show how they complement each other.

The world is littered with false choices. The leadership writers Jim Collins and Scott Porras talk about “the tyranny of the OR and the genius of the AND.”

You gotta love that, a reasonable, moderate fellow poking away at our either/or framework — taking up “the genius of AND.”  Consider how he does it, by exposing a less helpful mental model, contrasted with the more generative 2×2 four-square chart.

Imagine the standard continuum, a right to left linear line with one extreme on one side and another extreme on the other.  That’s how we often think about things, isn’t it? Contrast this with the four-quadrant 2×2 chart which transcends a simplistic this or that approach. As Crouch nicely says,

what we need is not a linear “or” but a two-dimensional “and” that presses us to see the surprising connections between two things we thought we had to choose between – and perhaps even to discover that to have the fullness of one actually requires that we have the fullness of the other.

Wow, what a quote that is!

He doesn’t belabor this (it is not at all tedious) but explains it helpfully.  In his clarifying examples, he shows that it is often unhelpful having a mental model that puts two attributes on the left and right of a linear spectrum, in opposition. For instance, he invites us to consider good parenting; should we imagine a single-line spectrum with the qualities of firmness and warmth in utter opposition (on one end of the line, the authoritarian, boundary-setting, disciplinary parent on the far left pitted against, on the other side, a responsive, interactive parent full of warmth)? Should someone pondering what it means to be a good parent embrace one side of the spectrum or the other — or some muddled middle half and half?  We are sometimes asked “where do you place yourself on the spectrum of…”

No.  Crouch continues with the parenting example, to help us see the point of the 2×2,

Firmness and warmth, it turns out, are not actually opposites. They can go together – in fact, they must go together for children to flourish. Their relationship is much better shown with a 2×2.

He puts one on a vertical line axis and the other crossing it on a horizontal line and shows it with a diagram.

Map firmness and warmth this way, and you quickly discover that either one, without the other, is poor parenting. Firmness without warmth – authoritarian parenting – leads eventually to rebellion. Warmth without firmness – indulgent parenting – leads eventually to spoiled, entitled brats.

In fact, there aren’t just two ways to be a bad parent – there are three! The worst of all is parenting that is neither warm nor firm – absent parenting.

I so appreciate his helpful pages working this out in parenting, exposing the false choice and the way the four quadrants help us see the results of bad mental models.  The lower left quadrant is perhaps the worst as it has neither warmness nor firmness. Up and to the right is the quadrant that combines firmness and warmth.  In a way, that is the theme of Strong and Weak: up and to the right!

In fact, Crouch says this in this good introductory chapter. “Actually, the deepest questions of our lives is how to more further and further away from the quadrant III (absent) and more and more fully into quadrant I (kind.)” He says that this really “leads from a life that is not worth living to the life that really is life. And that, in a nutshell, is what this book is all about.”  

Say it with me: up and to the right!

2x2 chart.jpgI suppose you see where this is going.  Plot authority and use of our power on an up-and-down vertical axis.  Cross it with the horizontal line marking vulnerability, risk, weakness.

Up and to the right? That’s the revolutionary Pauline/Christ-like combo of high power and high weakness. Can you imagine the lower right quadrant: no power and much vulnerability: that is called being exploited and yields suffering.  Or, think of the upper left: high degrees of power but no risk or vulnerability: raw power is called tyranny; whether in an office or church or family or in the halls of government it leads to the sin of exploitation.  And that lower left one: that’s what Crouch calls “withdrawal” and it could be characterized as low power and low vulnerability – those who live in this box take no meaningful risks since nothing is attempted and so there is little vulnerable in the safety of this room.  A cruise ship may be fine for a few days, but this lifestyle of seeming safety is something less than full human flourishing.  Authentic human flourishing is in that upper right quadrant, using God-given potential by taking risks to exercise meaningful authority, a paradoxical embrace of strength and weakness. Crouch doesn’t often use the term “servant leadership” (or cite the fabulous and moving book by Dan Allender called Leading with a Limp) but I gather this is what he’s talking about.  Up and to the right – high amounts of authority coupled with high degrees of vulnerability.

Here is a short video clip of Andy explaining with great clarity and eloquence the “paradox of flourishing” — combining authority and vulnerability. Don’t miss it.

It’s counter-intuitive. A paradox, eh? 

Well, welcome to Christology 101.  There is something more profound going on here then the already keenly profound Pauline “boast in my weakness” thing. There is the grand insight of Chalcedon, crystallized in Phillipians: Christ is fully God and fully human. As a human, he truly suffered. His incarnation necessarily involved taking on limits and wounds and pain and – yes! – even death.  The historic creeds insist, Andy reminds us, that Christ “descended into hell.”  What?

harrowing-of-hades-492x357.jpgIn a very moving chapter in S&W entitled “Descending to the Dead” Crouch tells of the Orthodox icon called “The Harrowing of Hell” that “shows Jesus, triumphant over death, grasping the arms of Adam and Even – in most versions of the icon they look rather startled – and lifting them out of their graves.”  Crouch continues,

Whatever exactly took place on Holy Saturday, that most solemn of Sabbaths, the day itself is crucial to the full truth of Jesus’ lordship as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There is a gap – between Jesus’ death and his resurrection….

After some beautiful writing that reveals how Mr. Crouch is nicely ecumenical and deeply rooted in the best spiritual thinking of the ancient Christian traditions, and after some psychologically profound comments about the fear of death, he comes back to descendit ad inferos. “The descent to the dead finds its way into the myths that shape our culture – and probably every culture” he notes, which leads to some fun nods to pop culture and ends up with a few serious lines about the exceptionally serious endings books of J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series.  I suppose most will recall that the otherworldly version of the famous train station is named King’s Cross. 

The most beloved children’s books of our time – or perhaps any time – are unflinching in their understanding that true happy endings are won only a the greatest cost, and that no king is truly a king without a cross.

And so it goes, from Orthodox icons to smart children’s literature, from anecdotes of respected Christian leaders illustrating vulnerability by their own transparent lifestyles to examples and laments of deep injustices – from the abuse of authority in the local church to horrific global matters such as sexual trafficking and child slavery.  Crouch is elegant in his prose, judicious in his stories, always clear, often moving, and occasionally delightfully understated.  This is not a loud or demanding book, it isn’t packed with breathy calls to change the world or high-octane stories of ostentatious transformation. S&W is a rich, thoughtful, mature, and remarkably interesting guide to taking better steps towards deeper human and cultural flourishing.

There are, to be clear, four key chapters in the first half of the book,  each on the disorders and possibilities within each of the four quadrants in his nifty 2×2 chart.  He has lived with this stuff well and has much to say in chapters simply named after the four quadrants:

  • Flourishing
  • Suffering
  • Withdrawing
  • Exploiting

s & w Andy Crouch better.jpgThe second half of Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing unpacks the process more, highlighting the journey “up and to the right.” These rich chapters include the aforementioned ruminations on the descent to the dead which I commend to anyone wanting to understand the grand paradox of Christian living (and dying to self.) There is a very provocative chapter called “hidden vulnerabilities” that is about the perceptions other may have of us, about carrying our own vulnerabilities in secret, a chapter that is a must-read for those in leadership positions. Read it, also, for the spot-on description of doing a public speaking gig with brand new shoes on! Ha!)

Yes, of course, Crouch quotes the now famous “Daring Greatly” TED Talk by Brene Brown, but this is no cheap swiping of the current phrase de jour.  Andy has lived into this deeply spiritual and truly challenging path and he helps readers by inviting us to several disciplines and practices – from confession of sin to laughter, from fasting to learning via ropes courses, and some clear-headed, if radical, advice about giving up power and willingness to suffer. Throughout S&W, he offers lovely description of conversations he has had with others on their own struggles “up and to the right.” From social justice activists in Central American war zones who work with the poor to seemingly wealthy entrepreneurs in their high-tech start-ups to fairly ordinary church folk dreaming up new initiatives in their parishes,  Crouch explains how the temptations and blessings of these four quadrants – three of them rooted in imbalances of power and weakness – are worked out in ordinary life,. He shows nicely how the move towards embracing vulnerability can lead to the proper exercise of power and can form within and among us the virtues of the good life. The life that is true life.

The invitation to deeper risk, greater embrace of our own vulnerabilities, of power embraced as part of Christ-like servanthood, is described more creatively and more carefully, more profoundly and probably more practically in Strong and Weak than in any other book I know. Crouch’s four-quandary 2×2 chart inviting us “up and to the right” is golden, solid, helpful, brilliant, even. Maybe Crouch himself feels a bit vulnerable taking this risk of appearing simplistic or cute after his magisterial Playing God. I don’t know. But I do know that I am grateful not only for this schema and the rubrics that he’s developed to help us imagine and talk about all this, but for his candid sharing of his own stories, making the book really helpful. I am very grateful for this near-genius way of getting at true flourishing, the kind of life we are made for, both/and, not either/or. Can we be both powerful and vulnerable, have authority and yet serve others? Does the path “up and to the right” make sense, and is it do-able? Should we take this seriously?  Read it for yourself and see. I think it is transformational. 

andy_crouch_is_too_cool_for_school.jpgHere are two final observations about this fine book.

First, I suppose you know that Andy is a prominent evangelical thinker and highly regarded journalist/speaker; his platform is well deserved. He has more experience than most in the halls of power, having worked in elite ministry at Harvard and having served on Boards as internationally known at International Justice Mission. His wife has a prestigious PhD in science and teaches at an Ivy League school. Andy plays classical piano, and, well, he’s a pretty sophisticated guy.  Even in this accessible work he draws on very serious scholarship (one may not realize this until one studies the end-notes which nicely comment on books such as the Cambridge University Press text The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology by Oliver O’Donovan or Victor Austin’s significant  T & T Clark masterpiece Up With Authority or the very, very good We Answer to One Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God by David Koyzis.) Mr. Crouch is aware of large issues in our culture, including freighted matters of race and privilege and class and the abuse of power – the pages on healthy views of policing are very, very good and timely — and I just don’t want anyone to think this is light-weight stuff based on his little chart or that he hasn’t done significant homework about the nuances and implications of this stimulating material. It is very nicely written, but every page reveals his fine, substantive thinking.

The second is this: Andy tells a few wonderful stories that show us that as scholarly and urbane and well-read as he may be, he, like most of us, lives in the ordinary world of raising teenagers, doing the dishes, getting along with extended family, paying bills and all the rest; he writes about going to a high school reunion, about college-age crushes, a pretty significant job failure, about his foibles as a public speaker, about coping with anxieties on a high ropes course, about dear, dear friends he has tragically lost to cancer. In that regard, he is like you and me, living day by day in the typical stuff of the real world.

Several times he tells poignantly of Angela, his own niece, who has a exceedingly severe handicapping condition, and the great joy and burden, the beauty and cost, of raising her well. At times I was moved to tears as he captured the stress and love within the extended family that has rallied in care for this beloved girl. In the hands of a lesser writer or an author of dubious character these revelations might feel maudlin or even tawdry. Like Henri Nouwen, though – I am thinking of Adam, his lovely book about his mentally-challenged friend Adam – Andy is frank and realistic and yet invites us to ask very hard question. Is Angela flourishing? Is her family? How does that work?

I certainly know (and you probably do, too) that this stuff — taking risks, being vulnerable, serving the poor, giving up idols in order to exercise Christ-like cultural power for the common good — “preaches” well. It really does sound great, doesn’t it?  It’s easy to say that we must give up control in order to embrace more authentic flourishing, daring greatly and all that. But, really?  What does that even look like in an ordinary life? And isn’t such a vision a lot more distressing and costly then we usually admit? Do we with privilege sometimes romanticize the plight of the poor, the condition of those who bear burdens like Angela and her parents?  Andy does not romanticize this or think about only in the abstract; his tender stories about his niece and her family become nearly iconic in the book.  This is where the rubber hits the road, this offering of insight into the implications of being strong and weak, of being truly human, of a deeply Christian view of what it means to embrace a life of love. 

Which is to say the book is serious and clear, potent and charming, powerful and gentle.

Maybe I should draw up my own 2×2 chart, putting heady, serious, institutionally-savvy, theologically-rich, culturally relevant, mature, important content on one vertical line.  I’d put wonderfully-crafted, charming, moving, poignant, touching, story-telling on the other, crossing it over, making that four-box chart.  Some books are high on the content continuum but they score low on the writing line. Others have strong writing but must be placed low on the serious content axis. (Ahh, and then there’s that lower left quadrant: bad content and bad writing. Yikes!) Andy Crouch and his three books, including the new Strong and Weak? They are up and to the right, high on strong content and created with well-crafted writing.  You should join him there.

Order Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by clicking on our order form link, below. It is certified secure for credit cards although we say there that we are also happy to send books and just enclose an invoice for you to pay by check later.  We are grateful for the opportunity to serve you.  Thanks.

s & w Andy Crouch better.jpg



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Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce B. Crump Jr. ON SALE NOW

To order any of the books mentioned at our BookNotes discount, you can use the link shown below which takes you to our secure website order form page. Or send us an “inquiry” for more information — or call the shop.  We’re open 10 -6 every weekday, until 8 on Friday evening, and 10 – 6 on Saturdays as well.  If you are ever in South Central Pennsylvania — our place — we would be delighted to welcome you.

Recently I had the great privilege of leading a two-hour workshop with a group of people doing church work, reflecting along with these leaders on the nature of long-haul, wholistic, hopeful, ministry. (Also speaking, doing remarkable Biblical study, was my good friend Don Optiz, a Presbyterian minister who serves as the chaplain at Messiah College; you may know his name as I often heartily recommend a book he co-wrote called Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness [Brazos; $14.99] which is my favorite book to press into the hands of college students.) We invited these folks doing outreach and disciple-making and educational ministry to ponder together what it means to do wise and fruitful work through their congregations or para-church ministries impacting the lives of others for the sake of the gospel.

I usually have much to say at times like this – imagine that! – and we had a nice Hearts & Minds pop-up book display, with titles about the nurturing of a Christian worldview and the Christian mind, resources for befriending and mentoring others, books about spirituality and living well in God’s good world, from personal growth to coping with hard times, from leadership development to public justice stuff, from church life to civic involvements. I made an announcement featuring the importance of James K.A. Smith’s new Brazos Press book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit and a handful of others.

In my workshop, though, I found myself just wanted to work with two books.  We had done some substantive Biblical stuff previously – think of the call to “seek the welfare of the city where God has sent you” vision of Jeremiah 29 – so I wanted to recommend to them, as I want to recommend to you, two recent titles, both which are fantastic.  Both would make great book club choices, with lots to discuss, and much to ponder. Both are accessible and not complicated to read and both will, as they say, rock your world. I will tell you about one of them, now, and will reflect more on the richness of Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Live, Risk and True Flourishing in the next BookNotes.  I ended my talk with these folks drawing on Crouch.

But first, I am thrilled to explain to you five things you can learn from this new book.

renovate a cover.jpgRenovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are Leonce B. Crump Jr. (Multnomah) $14.99  I just love the first words in large type on the back cover of this, a teaser that immediately grabbed me and made me wonder if this book would be as unusual and profound as I expected: “God Is Not Wiping This World Away. He Is In the Midst of Renovating It.”  And then, this: “Leonce Crump invites you to do what God did when He wanted to make a difference in the world. He moved in.”

Rev. Crump doesn’t unpack it much, but I suppose you know how the Hebrew Scriptures show the tabernacle – a portable, symbolic replica of God’s creation house where God’s glory dwells (Opitz in our workshop called creation “God’s B&B.”) And then, in John 1, tabernacle is famously turned into a verb. Eugene Peterson’s memorably translation of John 1 is “God moved into the neighborhood.”  Renovate: Changing Who You Are… is a book about God’s restoration of creation, God’s faithful commitment to the world God so loves, and as such, it gets at the Biblical vision of big hope for real renewal very, very nicely. It opens us to the Biblical story of creation-fall-redemption-restoration by way of underscoring the incarnation.  God came down, moved in, God got involved in an embodied way.  Among other things, the incarnate Christ modeled what Crump calls “the ministry of presence.”

Rev. Leonce Crump is himself a remarkable person, a clear, upbeat, honest writer who tells great stories. He is obviously a lively speaker and good communicator and his leadership at Renovation Church in the urban core of Atlanta is hard-earned. He tells of several failed church positions, fizzled church plants, and struggles in small-town Kentucky and urbane Atlanta.  That he has found his stride in a growing urban church is palpable and he is eager to share his ups and downs, the hard realities learned and the great, great joy of helping his church folks learn to love their neighborhood, their town, and the various vocations within their community. His church people seem on fire for Jesus and commitment to the hard work of social transformation.

There is a lot of stuff going on in Renovate, but I’ll highlight five very big take-aways from this very fine book — besides the sheer pleasure and great inspiration of reading somebody who can teach and encourage us with the right stuff.  My quick summary cannot do it justice.  His own stories and Biblical references and explanations enrich his key points, and his light touch makes it a quick, enjoyable read. 

First, God cares about the world, and intends to salvage it, not destroy it, so Christ’s death and resurrection, the grace of redemption, must be seen as both personal and social and creation-wide. The reign of God is “on Earth as it is in heaven.” (Rev. Crump even cites Al Wolter’s exegesis of 2 Peter 3 arguing that the elements of creation are not “destroyed” in the eschaton but “revealed”, and that the fire of final judgement is not annihilation but “smelting” yielding the “total renewal of the world.”  He cites the great book by Michael Williams Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, reminding us,

The structure of the biblical drama has matching book covers… It moves from a creation story through a drama of sin and redemption to a consummation in a new and restored creation.

Surprised by Hope-b.jpgcreation regained.gifWhen we opened our store over 30 years ago and talked about this, some thought us odd.  But the literature on this nowadays is vast and stimulating. Drawing on the popularity of books as diverse as Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright or A New Heaven and New Earth by Richard Middleton or the “four story gospel” explained in The Next Christians by Gabe Lyon or Salvation is Creation Healed by Howard Snyder or Creation Regained by Al Wolters or Reconciling All Things by Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole or any number of books about wholistic ministry and social justice and racial reconciliation, the “all of life redeemed”  theme is one to whichnew heavens and new earth.jpg many evangelicals are waking up and many mainline folks are recalling from their own DNA: the gospel can transform lives and social structures; Christ is savior and King, the Bible offers personal solace and assurance of pardon but also narrates a grand story of who we are, where we are, what is wrong with the  world and what God is doing about it; that is, salvation isn’t merely a life-insurance policy for life after death but offers a quality and caliber of life here and now, inviting us to make a difference in the broken-but-being-redeemed world. 

Which is to say, we need to do more than describe ministry as evangelism plus social action: we need a full-orbed, creation-wide, culturally-engaged vision of thinking and living faithfully in everything, everywhere. Christians are to be salt and light in the institutions of culture, agents of God’s healing and hope in every zone or sphere or area of life, because the Bible rejects any dualism between the so-called sacred and secular, so everything counts. “Every square inch” Abraham Kuyper insisted, and it is cool to see a former New Orleans Saint football star and black, urban pastor, citing the old Dutch statesman (not to mention his 19th century associate, Herman Bavinck.) Pastor Crump nicely explains all this with as much righteous vigor and down to Earth clarity as any simple book I know — brief, solid, vital. He admits in the beginning that he hopes this truth will be “disruptive” – that is, that you will be open to new insights, new vistas, new desires and passions, and new behaviors after deepening your awareness of the nature of God’s purposes and plans.   As he puts it expressing his own hopes, “the right words at the right time equals real change.”

The second key point – I read several whole pages out loud in my workshop the other day about this – is captured nicely by the great subtitle: “Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are.”  Again, Crump wants to see us transformed, to be changed by his lively material (I like a book that pulls no punches, that invites us to take its content seriously, that offers us some expectations. This isn’t presumptuous; it is, in my view, as it should be: Crump and other such authors put their sweat and tears into their work and into their writing so that it might make a atlanta_downtown map.gifdifference in how we live. Right?) And how do we really “change who you are”?  Crump is convinced: it is by “loving where you are.”

Are you content?  Do you take simple pleasure in your daily comings and goings? Do you know the topography of your region, appreciate your town? Do you know the history of your place? Are you, as we say, “invested” in the communities you find yourself in?

Renovate brings together helpful stories and offers useful principles for church life, urban ministry, neighborhood flourishing, and public justice by offering some very good thinking about nurturing a sense of place. He cites cultural studies gurus like Richard Florida and nature writers like Barry Lopez and Rebecca Solnit. As I wrote in a playful, enthusiastic tweet I sent out when I first looked at an advance readers copy of this, it is notable and fun to see a hip and urbane black church planter quoting Wendell Berry.  It was less surprising to see him drawing on some of the Reformed theological insights about culture and place from Timothy Keller. I was glad, but not terribly surprised, to see Crump draw wisely on the mature thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.  But Wendell Berry? Thanks be to God.  So, yes, we need to care about the places we inhabit, learn to love our locales, and have sense of God’s purposes within and for the local cultures and built environments and storied histories where we live.

Before moving on to the third major feature of this lively little book might I note that although Crump doesn’t clutter up the book with too many academic references or too many footnotes (although he does have some great ones!) I wouldn’t be surprised if he draws upon (without no home like place.jpgwhere mortals dwell.jpgquoting) the major books on the subject. Other theologically-informed writers have developed this topic with great depth.  Might I suggest the excellent No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place by Leonard Hjalmarson (Urban Loft Publishers; $16.99) by or the magisterial Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today by Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic; $32.00) or the powerful, detailed, complex, and extraordinary Beyond Homelessness: Christian Beyond Homelessness.jpgstaying is the new going.jpgFaith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh, all which offer a more substantive, robust approach to Crump’s theme. For a lighter, energetic, and truly wonderful book that is similar in many ways to Renovate, see Alan Brigg’s Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You by Alan Briggs (NavPress; $14.99) which we named as one of the best books of 2015.

Pastor Crump’s good stories – including his learning about his beloved Atlanta, his willingness to listen and learn, his struggles with gentrification and racism and injustice – make this a gem of a book but these others offer extra layers of learning for those on the journey to think Christianly and care faithfully about place and what Crump calls “placemaking.”

Another thing that we must grapple with if we are to truly love the places and people God has given for us to love has to do with a skewed sense (is this particularly American?) of the value of mobility.  From romanticizing wanderlust to the “grass is always greener” tendencies to our Promethean desires to transcend the limits of geography by being constantly on-line and virtual, we have a large problem. This is actually where Crump starts, and it captured my attention. He writes on page 2,

The obstacle standing in the way of our lives and our communities reflecting the glory of God is transience… the world we live in is one of almost limitless mobility. We can, physically and mentally, be almost anywhere in the world at any moment in time. This is a truly incredible time to be alive. But with all our advances in technology, I’m afraid something has been lost. Because of our now limitless mobility, the great majority of us have lost a sense of place that was inherent to previous generations. 

He continues,

It seems, at least from the perspective of most, having a sense of place is antithetical to the postmodern buffet of limitless options and unfettered mobility. In other words, wherever I am right now is the most important place in the world. And wherever I will be next will replace it. 

Part of what is wrong with this tendency is spelled out succinctly:

The bottom line is this: if I am only connected to a community to the extent that it can sustain me, we have a parasitic relationship, and I will siphon its resources without regard to its well-being. In an impersonal sense, it affects the culture of community. In a personal sense, it affects the people. 

Again, Pastor Crump wisely doesn’t footnote every major contribution by those who are attentive to this quandary in modern life. He knows his stuff and is a pastor-scholar, it seems, so I suspect he knows these additional books, and you should too —  books that not only commend a sense of place but alert us to the obstacles that prevent of from living well, the wisdom of stability.jpgsocial forces that stack the deck in favor of transience.  I very highly recommend The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — which sports a lovely foreword by Kathleen Norris (Paraclete Press; $16.99.)  I really enjoyed a fascinating study of how the book (and recent movie) On the Road by Jack Kerouac shaped generations of American youth,  guiding us away from staying in place, from making commitments to ordinary life by romanticizing being on the road, valorizing a sense of cynical exile through some bohemian sense of moving away.  See The Road Trip That Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory That Will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and Importantly, Yourself by Mark Sayers (Moody; $14.99.)

To explore the impact of virtual and on-line experiences on social relationships see, for example, Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books; $17.99.) This is a huge concern for many, actually — the little pocket book by David Kinnaman and Jun Young (part of the Frames series), The Hyperlinked Life: Living with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload (Zondervan; $7.99), documents that many younger adults, especially, actually feel they are too deeply involved in on-line stuff, and wish for ways out of the constant pressures of being artificially connected and perpetually distracted.

slow church.jpgBooks like Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison (IVP: $16.00) offer serious critiques of our efficiency driven, fast-past, hyper-mobile world, inviting us instead to stability and patience, resisting idols of productivity and success and “quantity over quality” all of which grow best in the fertile soil of an intentional, abiding sense of place.

I suppose it is fine to note that even I address this in my long introductory chapter in my own book for college graduates, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99) where I question the curious linguistic trick where we often, in affirming someone’s success, say “she really went far” as if staying home or living local is for losers. In that chapter I invite young adults to consider moving home without feeling ashamed, about resisting the lure to think that one must be some glitzy “world changer” by doing extraordinary things.

In Renovate: Changing… Mr. Crump reminds us that all followers of Christ are called and sent and that we should desire God’s grace and glory to be known everywhere; that is achieved best, in Crump’s view, mostly by “staying put” and by learning the contours of the contexts in which we form redemptive communities.  Yes, we are sent; yes, we are missional (a word Crump gladly does not use.) I do love the title of the similar book, though, Staying Is the New Going — Pastor Leonce would agree!

Early on, Crump writes, “This book is about fleshing out this solution of permanence and developing a theology of place. At the same time this thread of sentness runs through everything that is said here. They are dependent on one another; you simply cannot have one without the other.”  In other words, we learn to love our places because we are “sent.”pastor-leonce-crump-renovate-340x160.jpg

The third big point of Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are is both interesting and challenging (although he gives some nice suggestions about processing it and taking actionable steps.) Crump reminds us that we have to “go to school” to be educated by our place.  And every school, he reminds us, includes history lessons.  I appreciated that Crump came to understand that as much as he loved the idea of his living and doing ministry in Atlanta, and felt a growing love for the place, he didn’t really know much about the history of the development of the neighborhoods, the institutions, the good and the bad of the region’s past.  In my workshop the other day, inspired by Crump’s honest admission about his needing to “go to school” to learn the history of his place of ministry, I invited the particpants in the room to ponder how much they know about the history of the town and place where they served. On a scale of 1 to 10, I asked, how much do you know about the place you live?

How about you?  How about me?

Hear what Crump writes, after noting how “every place has a history that has shaped and formed the demographics, the population density or lack thereof, and wealth/resource distribution. Every city has scars, left behind from years of calculated and sometimes cataclysmic decisions.” He says,

I cannot stress enough that for you to truly transform a community; you have to understand how it came to be in the first place. So take a moment. Think about it. How well do you really know the place where you are? Can you narrate its story?  Can you place names and faces on the ideas and structures that presently govern its existence? Do you know why God needed to send you there?

Fourthly, there is something that follows from all of this: namely, that one must learn the culture and ethos of a place in order to communicate well, to contextualize the gospel in ways that are, to put it simply, spoken in the language of the people.

Of course, in many places, there are (increasingly so in North America) many languages spoken – metaphorically and literally!  So, to talk about “the culture” or “the language” of the locals is itself a bit specious, and it is a dubious proposition to name “the” language of a neighborhood, ethnic group, or generation.  Wealth, status, gender, race, professional association, age, family background and even personality type — not to mention religious convictions — are all influential in how people come to perceive the world, and even the most homogeneous neighborhoods or churches have those who are, say, deeply resilient and those that are terribly wounded; there are those who are old and young, men and women, locals and those who recently moved into your community, those who are liberal and those who are conservative and those who are something other.

leonce crump.jpgStill, Crump’s point is very colorfully told and a good thing to ponder: are we connecting with the primary “language” spoken in our community?  Crump tells a great story of a season in his life when he was doing ministry in a small, almost entirely white, small town in Tennessee. He had to leave his sophisticated learning and multi-ethnic/New Orleans urbane tendencies aside in order to – as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 9 – “be all things to all people.” He tells about watching Country Music Television and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour (and quoting Larry the Cable Guy in a sermon on John 5!) The connection that eventually developed as he embraced the language of his new friends in his new town, he reports, was nothing less than communion. Pastor Leon asks us to do some thinking about our own sense of the language and ethos and cultural mores of our own context and invites us to some self-reflection, being honest about our own struggles, and what might be behind those struggles, regarding our own incarnation of the gospel in our own context. What you do with page 75 of this book could be of immense importance, I think, and I commend it to you.

Lastly, I will note one other take-away lesson to be learned by reading Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are. It is very important, although not precisely central to his teaching about place as a key theological category and an essential missional strategy.  It is, simply, that as a black man Pastor Crump has had an inordinate amount of obstacles – stopped by cops more than his fair share, treated with suspicion or worse, called ugly names, etcetera, etcetera, sadly, etcetera – and that his commitment to advocating for racial justice is not only necessary in his own place of Atlanta, Georgia, but is most likely a necessary part of almost any ministry in almost any place these days. With a gospel-centered vision of reconciliation, and an obviously profound awareness of the depths of systemic injustice and institutional racism,  Rev. Crump is able to help us.  This will be important stuff to talk about with others, I think, and may be for some the hardest part of the book.  Go with Pastor Crump, though, walking towards the necessary implications of this embodied book: be glad that he moves us to deeper thinking about how racial prejudice and the tensions of working in racially diverse settings as well as our longings for (or lack of longings for) multi-ethnic ministry might be part of the story of our place and the story of God’s work in our place.

renovate a cover.jpgThe last chapters of this nice book are obviously written out of a deep passion for justice and considerable experience in naming and working for Christian answers to what some call “America’s original sin.”  Especially in our post-Ferguson world, any book about learning to love our places, learning the history and language of our regions, and doing incarnational, embodied ministry framed by a vision of God’s restoration a-coming simply must deal with race and racism. I am glad for this part of Renovate and this aspect of the ministry of Renovation Church, and it gives the book some considerable bite at the end.

That Leonce ends the book with a potent quote from Wendell Berry – from the Kentucky farmer’s  own book on race called The Hidden Wound – is helpful.   This is not a concern only for those in the ghettos or big cities.  As Berry reminds us, and as Crump knows, resisting injustice and doing Christ-centered, gospel-based, ministries of Kingdom restoration must be local, must be embodied in place, and therefore, must deal with the perplexities, joys, and sorrows of how the down-to-Earth realities of skin color, economic status, and cultural norms can divide and harm us, each in their own ways in our own unique places.

There is a curious chapter in the middle of Renovate which I skipped the first time through. It is called an “intermission” and is a “round table discussion” conducted by Pastor Crump, chatting with some friends who he obviously loves dearly.  Included are a white pastor of a nearby church in East Atlanta, another gentleman who has lived in Atlanta for 15 years, and the increasingly high-profile hip hop artist (who is a member of Crump’s church) Lecrae Moore. They talk about the new urban renewal movement, church life in a changing culture, and what it means to not just talk about cultural renewal, but, as Lecrae puts it, “actually stepping into it.”  They talk about counting the cost of all this, carrying our wounds, and learning to pray for the peace of the city. They drop the names of some people that have influenced them (Van Til!) and one of the guys mentions Eugene Peterson and the need to slow down, to be patient, to – like a farmer – “take the long view.”  

The transcript of this conversation in this one chapter isn’t edited, and it feels like an informal conversation. It annoyed me a bit at first, but then it hit me: this is as it should be. Pastor Leonce is showing us the real deal, here, walking the talk, revealing something about his own life in his own space among his own community. We need to do this, too: gather with friends and talk about important stuff that matters, stuff that matters to you, to you and your place, here in God’s redeemed house, Christ’s own restored B&B.  Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are can help.  I invite you to buy it from us, or your local bookshop (if you’ve got one) today.



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