caring for creation 2.jpg***Don’t forget, if you are local, or know anyone local, that we are having an in-store “release party” and author appearance to celebrate the brand new book on Christian faith, climate change and earth-keeping stewardship called Caring for Creation by Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas. Join us at 7:00 PM, September  29th here at the shop in Dallastown.

If you can’t attend but want a copy autographed by both authors, just let us know.

We hope you liked our little list of new titles of note in our last BookNotes. It isn’t every day we get significant new releases by important religious writers like Timothy Keller and Brian McLaren or books as grand in looking at religious tends (particularly showing how faith impacts civic and political life) such as the new book  by legendary Newsweek writer Kenneth Woodward. What a fascinating list that was; I hope you saw it.  I love sitting outdoors in the cool evenings in the fall reading with a light I drag out there – I hope you can find a good spot to do some extra reading this month. There’s some truly great books these days!


We hope you know that we have tons of books about spiritual formation here at the shop and that we love introducing people to the kinds of spiritual writers who will help them in what some call “the journey inward and the journey upward.” Our spiritual formation into Kingdom citizens committed to Christ’s Kingship occurs in a manner of ways — certainly as we worship well with the gathered people of God, being attentive to how Christian worship invites us into the redemptive story of God. (See James K.A. Smith’s must-read “book of the year” You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit to explore this (the middle portion on worship is extraordinary.) Or, see Mike Cosper’s excellent The Rhythm of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel as one accessible and interesting title which gets us thinking about this fruitfully.)

But, of course, we read books alone and in small groups, too.  Some of us have spiritual directors or companions and some of us are called to walk alongside others offering spiritual guidance and encouragement.  Books are tools in this side of life, too, and have long been used as the primary way to teach others to pray, seek God, and walk in the power of the Spirit. I hope you have some in your collection.

There are wonderful classics, however — as we sometimes say when folks write to us asking for assistance In selecting good titles — what is considered a “classic” and most useful depends on one’s own faith tradition and religious scruples. For some, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is the very best; for others, they may prefer Donald Whitney’s similarly arranged Spiritual Disciplines for Christian Growth which draws on more Puritan and Reformed writers (in contrast to Foster who draws on everybody within the broad stream of Christian spirituality, from Julian of Norwich to Thomas Merton to A.W. Tozer.)

Some think Richard Rohr is one of the best recent writers for inner formation – his book on contemplative prayer called Everything Belongs was very well received and his last book, What the Mystics Know, was a helpful overview of much classic thinking about spirituality and discovering our true selves. Rohr’s forthcoming one, The Divine Dance, is due out next week and is described below. Some find him too willing to adopt unbiblical Eastern sensibilities and thinkers like Jung or de Chardin to be fully trustworthy.  So what is best for you in your own journey and what you’ll find most helpful in pointing you towards the Risen Christ may depend on what your used to and what you’re willing to read (with discernment, always, always, always.)  We are happy to chat further if it would be helpful to have a bookseller “on call” for advice.

In the last month I heard two stories that bear repeating here.

One person went into a mainstream chain bookstore and wanted a book to help her know God better. A fairly average Christian, sincere but in a church that doesn’t teach much deep content, she was ill-prepared to wade through the neo-pagan and self-actualizing and hyper-prosperity stuff all on display side by side there in their classy shelves. From Course in Miracles to Pema Chodron to Creflo Dollar, she was simply overwhelmed. She knew that some folks (myself included) generally like Rob Bell, but Be Here Now didn’t seem to be much about God.  She left confused since the sales associate there suggested something about witchcraft. I’m not making this up.

The other person went into a large mainstream evangelical Christian bookstore. She knew a bit more about religious writing and seemed to want something like she might see in the footnotes of Richard Foster – maybe Sacrament of the Present Moment or maybe Merton or Henri Nouwen or some sort of Ignatian spirituality.  She knew Dallas Willard influenced Foster so she was eager to see his stuff. The store had no Roman Catholic writers and no Dallas Willard.  She saw stacks and stacks of Beth Moore and Joyce Meyers and those little devotionals by Sarah Young.  But nothing that seemed deep and thoughtful and mature and helpful for her.  Even the books on prayer, apparently, seemed cheesy and formulaic.  She did what many of us do in times like this, she turned to google and by some miracle found my BookNotes list of some good books on prayer for various levels and styles and tones.  It seemed, she said, just what she needed.  

So, anyway, I hope you find something good when you shop with us, and hope you are glad to support our little efforts here to provide a different curation of books than is found in more popular stores, a selection that’s deep and wide but not snooty or overly eccentric.  We want to help ordinary folks and ordinary churches with a creative but faithful selection.


U w C good.jpgUnion with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $19.99  Oh my, every now and then a book comes along that I categorize as a “sleeper.” That is, few know the author, the publisher isn’t particularly renowned, the national press most likely isn’t going to do stories about it.  But it is worth its weight in gold, ought to be known, is a true winner. We can only hope that Wilbourne’s new book gets noticed and used and stays in print long enough to become very well known.  UwC is a book that does what we might think of as basic Christian growth, just solid teaching about the nature of God and how God works with and within us, but it is better than most such books.  It offers clear-headed (and often very inspiring) advice, not terribly dressy or loud, just solid teaching, guidance, motivation, good stories, good quotes, well put.  Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God answers big worldviewish kinds of questions – who am I? Why am I here? Where am I headed ? How can I become that which I want to be?  Pastor Wilbourne is good on questions like “what is the gospel” and invites us into a way of thinking about Christian formation that is practical and wise. 

On the back of the book it asks “Do you secretly wonder if there’s more to life… but feel stuck?”  I can’t quite figure out if this marketing line is useful – it is obviously trying not to seem like a heady theology text or a mystical spirituality book: it’s practical, it is saying. Maybe it is just the way they think to market stuff at David C. Cook given their own understanding of the market for their often passionate, often upbeat, often young-adult oriented evangelical books. But I’m telling you, Union with Christ is more than a call to be passionate and change the world for God, more than a cheap promise that if you find God with enough enthusiasm, voila, everything will come alive. It may be perfect if you feel stuck, but it isn’t primarily about that.

No, this book reminds us that this formation stuff is a longer, slower process, and it is dependent on getting a few very foundational truths right.  One of these classic truths – a favorite of John Calvin’s, by the way – is the notion of “union with Christ.”  I was first introduced to this notion by a book also called Union with Christ that has been out of print but is now available again by the beloved Lewis Smedes. Others have written on it – you will see the next book I list is about this as well, which is curious. Wilbourne’s, though, is very, very special.  He studied at Princeton Theolgoical Seminary  and is not only well read but a great storyteller. It is a really, really good book and I commend it to you.

In fact, Tim Keller says “This is simply the best book for laypeople on this subject.” 

Less succinct but equally compelling is this endorsement by John Ortberg who wrote a very nice forward:

I’m trying to remember the last time I was more excited about a new book or a new author. Rankin Wilbourne brings a remarkable flair for writing, and a great breadth and depth of learning, to the most important subject in the world: What is the true and sufficient destiny for human life?

Wow.  Keller says it is the best book on the subject and Ortberg says he can’t recall when he was “more excited about a new book or new author.” It doesn’t get much better than that this season.

The author is artfully literary (with an epigram from Dante in the front) without being too highbrow, draws on pop culture, too, and tells some good stories. He’s theologically conventional and orthodox, which is to say, he isn’t off the rails or weird.  Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God has this tone of urgency – it is important, important content – but is reasonable and lucid. It is helpful, trustworthy, interesting, insightful, and I am glad to have found it. It deserves to be well known.  Kudos to Cook for the handsome hardback design and making this such a nice, good volume.  It deserves to be taken seriously.

closer than close.jpgCloser Than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ Dave Hickman (Navpress) $14.99  It isn’t every week that we get two great books on the exact same topic (unless it is justice or marriage or prayer or… well, actually we often do get new books that are similar.) But never on this topic, as few are writing about it.  Like Wilbourne, Rev. Hickman is well grounded in this doctrine that is woefully not explained as much as it should be in our churches.  He is taken with how we are one with Christ and explores what that means, but, like Wilbourne, he has an extraordinary capacity to take big and even controversial theological matters and apply them to ordinary folks living ordinary lives.  Like Wilbourne, Hickman is a pastor who is eager to help people overcome a gap in their lives.

The gap, it seems to me, includes a gap between Sunday and Monday, or, between faith and life. Hickman (as I’ve mentioned before when I announced this book a few weeks back) wants us to be able to live out faith with missional energy and whole-life Kingdom vision by appropriating what we most deeply believe and allowing the good news of the gospel to sustain our fidelity  to the gospel, day by day by day.

The second gap, besides this big question of how to live out faith and advance God’s Kingdom in our ordinary lives is this more internal question: how do we really know God? How to we discover God’s grace in ways that allows us to have intimacy with God? We may not always do it, but at least we sort of know what it looks like to follow Jesus. But to know Him? To abide in Him? To be one with Him?  There is a gap here between head and heart, it seems to me, or between heart and hands.  We simply don’t always know what it really means to have a “relationship” with Jesus.  And we too rarely explore that in light of a robust theology of the Trinity.  Hickman really gets this stuff right, and Closer Than Close is a true gift, full of life and passion and insight. It take evangelical cliches about Jesus being in our hearts and explains what that does and doesn’t mean. And what to do with that awareness.

If God takes up residence in us, if we become a new creation in Him then we can live into that friendship with God.  My CCO friend Phil Schiavoni often reminds us that John called himself “the one Jesus loved.”  Can we see ourselves that way? Do we really realize we are beloved  – also “the one Jesus loved”? And that He dwells with us as we are one with Him?

I bet most readers of BookNotes know we can’t earn or come to deserve our salvation, that God’s grace is gift, that all of life is, finally, a great gift.  But yet, we find ourselves in these cycles of striving and trying to make our relationship with God “work.”  We sing hymns or praise choruses that speak of this intimacy with God but it isn’t quite our own experience. We maybe are okay with that, or maybe we carry within us longing (or even shame) and wish for something better. I believe Dave Hickman’s book can help. 

It is interesting to me that Fil Anderson wrote the forward to Closer…  Fil himself “crashed and burned” in his own spiritual journey, a moving story he told with considerable rawness years ago in Running on Empty.  He sees in Hickman a similar sort of insight learned the hard way.  Anderson writes:

David’s scorching honesty and humble transparency ravished my heart and brought me to tears. Despite the severity of his physical and emotional struggles, what had most plagued him was his soul’s desperate search for what he’d already been given. Clearly, the greatest discovery of his life was when David woke up to the truth that he had been perfectly one with Christ since the day he gave his life to Christ. 

In a way, this is a book about experiencing the love of God. It is about how to receive from God the deepest truth that God cares and that in Christ we have an unbreakable relationship.   As Fil says, Anderson “writes as a man who has been ambushed and held captive by the consuming fire of God’s love. It is a love, David writes, “that crossed all boundaries not just to be close to you, but to be closer than close.”

Part one of this book is called “Divine Mystery” and part two is called “Divine Reality.”  He draws on early church fathers, medieval mystics, deep theologians  like Paul Tillich and popular spirituality writers such as Jean Vanier and Brennan Manning, not to mention many contemporary Biblical and theological scholars from across the theological spectrum. How I enjoyed seeing Meredith Kline and Abraham Kuyper sharing footnote space with Karl Rahner and John Murray. Anderson is the founder of Charlotte One, a network of churches, so he has a huge commitment to the local congregation; in fact, there is a chapter on the role of the local church in nurturing this kind of union with Christ. His MDiv is from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  Closer Than Closer: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ is his first book although he has a fantastic chapter in a great and honest book called Inciting Incidents: 6 Stories of Fighting Disappointment in a Flawed World. He’s the real deal.

The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality- The Age of Edwards, Newton, and Whitefield .jpgThe Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality: The Age of Edwards, Newton, and Whitefield edited by Tom Schwanda (Paulist Press) $39.95  I hope you know Tom Schwanda; his previous book is beautifully entitled Soul Recreation which is a provocative and compelling argument that the staunch Puritans were – get this – more contemplative and mystical in their spirituality than many may realize.  Seriously Reformed dogmatists draw on the exceptionally rigorous and exceedingly logical theological formulations and systematic schemes of major Puritan pastors and preachers but Schwanda shows that they have an often-missed mystical side to their deep piety. Schwanda (who teaches Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College) is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America; his PhD in historical theology is from Durham University in England. He is a remarkable individual and is doing very, very important work.

So it makes great sense for the prestigious “Classics of Western Spirituality” to recruit him to edit this long-awaited volume in 18th century evangelical piety.  He knows this good material as well as anyone and has the eyes – might one say “the eyes of the heart” – to really see what is going on in their deep faith.

From the post-Wesleyan Anglican revivals in England (think of John Newton and William Wilberforce and poetic hymnists like Augustus Toplady and William Cowper) to the awakenings happening in the colonies – think Jonathan Edwards through the revolutionary war-era Whitefield – Schwanda pulls together a fantastic array of primary sources.  Wisely, he includes letters and poems, diaries and hymns and other sources that aren’t necessarily formal theological writing or sermons (although there are plenty of sermons) and he includes men and women – Anne Steele, obviously, and Hannah Moore, among others. There is a great guide to each of the authors in the beginning, a useful resource itself. This book is a treasure trove of spiritual writing and will appeal to Reformed and Anglican fans as well as anyone drawn to mature, meaty Biblical piety. What a book!  I so appreciated what Karen Swallow Prior (author of the wonderful book Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformed, Abolitionist) said of it:

In displaying the richness, variety, and deep texture of the evangelical movement’s beginnings, The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality is as interesting and delightful as the age it examines… a gift to church history and evangelical scholarship.

After a fantastic overview of the good arrangement and organization of the book and a bit about the historical era by esteemed Notre Dame historian Mark A. Noll (which itself speaks volumes for the integrity of this work) there is a lengthy, meaty, and tremendously inspiring introduction by Professor Schwanda, again, almost worth the price of the book alone.  The primary texts are then given, arranged by theme. He has readings on “New Life in Christ”, a chapter on the Holy Spirit, a section on the use of Scripture, and a great unit on varying spiritual practices (including some remarkable stuff on family prayer, the art of reading sermons, fasting, the Lord’s Supper, and more, from known authors like Francis Asbury and Jonathan Edwards but also by the likes of Anne Dutton and John Witherspoon, from his famous sermons preached at Princeton in May of 1776!) The next section is called “The Love of God” followed by stunning section on love for neighbor. I guess is obvious that most writers just don’t do it like that any more.

“The Classics of Western Spirituality”  is a “library of great spiritual masters” (as they have branded themselves) and is overseen by a world-renowned interfaith editorial board. There are hundreds of volumes now, and we can get any of them.  They have already released big volumes on the Pietist and evangelical traditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with volumes dedicated to the Methodists John and Charles Wesley and German Pietists like Philip Jakob Spencer and August Hermann Francke.  Some of this European stuff really did influence subsequent American spiritualities, and it seems to me that anyone wanting to delve more deeply into the roots of our contemporary religious scene (at least among Protestants, and certainly among evangelicals) would be wise to be familiar with some of this.

As Mark Noll says in the first paragraph of his good foreword:

To that general strand of Western Protestantism, Tom Schwanda has now added a wide-ranging sampling from individuals from the eighteenth-century Atlantic -wide British empire who, if they could not always see eye to eye among themselves, stood together as the recognized pioneers of a distinct form of modern spirituality. 

These are “the recognized pioneers of a distinct form of modern spirituality.”  As church historian Douglas Sweeney writes of Schwanda’s Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality volume, it “offers the best introduction to early Evangelical piety that has ever been produced – must reading for anyone interested in the history of Christianity.”  We are thrilled to stock this, glad for Schwanda’s good work, and hope it is recognized as the treasure trove that it is.

Divine.jpgPRE-ORDER NOW  The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell (Whittaker House) $23.99  Well. I have mentioned Richard Rohr often in these pages, and I greatly, greatly appreciate his deep desire to integrate a profound, deep spirituality with an active, even prophetic, public faith.  I have read or listened to him for years – he was known early on as a leader in Catholic charismatic renewal, an early voice in the conversation about postmodernism, a long-standing activist for nonviolence, creation-care, and service to the poor. (He is a Franciscan, after all.)

His Center for Action and Contemplation attempts – imperfectly, obviously – to open up space to consider that huge question so eloquently asked by Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer and so many others: what does it mean to be actively contemplative, or, put differently, to be contemplatively active.  Richard has a little book called A Lever and a Place to Stand (now reissued with the new, evocative title Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer) which potently tries to show us how a life of peace and justice activism must be sustained by prayer, and that a life of inner spirituality must give rise to active, even subversive faith against our broken, idolatrous, dangerous world.  This is his thing – even though he has books on all kinds of stuff, including male spirituality, addictions, and aging. 

Mike Morrell is an activist of sorts, involved in a range of progressive projects from The Buzz Seminar, The Wild Goose Festival, and is the Communications Director for the Integral Theology think tank.  He writes on all kinds of stuff including the arts, social media, permaculture and more. He is, to use a phrase from Richard himself, a young wild man.

And this makes sense. Morrell is a former evangelical who discovered Rohr and it seems natural to have Mike working with Richard to work out a view of the Trinity that is at once orthodox and feisty, serious and joyful, mystical and practical, ancient and future. Brother Rohr has taught on the Trinity before and many have wished for him to clarify his views and help us all learn to join this dance.  Morrell is a perfect conversation partner and surely helped Rohr make this book a bit edgy and cool and situated among the yearnings of those looking for some third way between conservative fundamentalism and wishy-washy spirituality unconnected to Biblical faith.

So if all this makes sense, given the new interests among progressives it is also important.  Richard Rohr has been saying that The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation is his most important book ever.  (Wow!) The book therefore deserves not only attention, but eager anticipation.

 I have an advanced copy of The DIvine Dance and have only slowly begun to work with it.  It is extraordinary, I will tell you that. I covers all kinds of stuff – “body-based knowing” and the role of metaphors and a beautiful bit called “suffering’s surprising sustenance.”  As you might guess, it is a bit creative – drawing on quantum physics and the writings of Ken Wilber and accounts of early church debates. A beautiful forward is from William Paul Young, author of The Shack and Eve. There is the colorful and nearly playful connecting-the big-picture–dots we sometimes get form Rohr There is considerable Bible exegesis and lots of quotes from medieval saints and theologians and a few modern ones, too.  He recommends Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on the trinity which is, shall we say, a bit odd and a bit unorthodox.  So, yeah. 

But here is what doesn’t make any sense, and which I am intrigued and excited about. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation is published by Whitaker House, a publisher known for older school Pentecostal authors, deeper life pietism, and sometimes some pretty goofy charismatic authors. They publish much mature work — old books by Andrew Murray, say and so sometimes offer a few surprises — a nice edition of Athansius’s On the Incarnation or a novel by George MacDonald. They are not usually friendly to Catholic authors. There are some new editorial folks there, I have heard, and some read a bit more widely than perhaps their founders.  Their tastes are expanding, I suppose, and the backstory of how this small and not-very-ecumenical publishing house acquired this new manuscript surely has something to do with friends and favors and new efforts to present to kinds of Christian literature to this corner of the religious world.  If Whitaker House is turning over a new leaf this is certainly a dramatic way to do so.  As ecumenical and open-minded as I tend to be, I am beyond perplexed by this move. The book seems eccentric and less than conventional.  It doesn’t strike me as close to anything else in their entire catalogue. Publishing it at Whitaker House will be considered wildly brave or exceptionally foolish. 

In any event, a new book on anything by Richard Rohr is, these days, nearly a publishing event. A book by him on the Trinity is remarkable.  A new book on a small, Protestant fundamentalist/ Pentecostal outfit is more than remarkable, it is amazing! If Father Rohr’s Divine Dance was on HarperOne or a progressive publisher like Convergent or Jericho, or any number of liberal Catholic houses it wouldn’t be at all surprising. So what did Whitaker House see in this? What does Mike Morrell bring to the mix? How does this take on the Holy Trinity help us in these days and how will being on Whitaker House effect Richard Rohr’s footprint in the publishing world?  Smarter people than I will have to say.  I are sure that many of our customers will be eager to read it even though I refrain from saying anything much quite yet.

I will say this.  Mike and Richard both knew the late Phyllis Tickle.  Phyllis, you may recall, was a beloved Southern scholar of religion who became Episcopalian as a younger woman, was known and loved age-of-the-spirit-web.jpgthroughout the religious publishing world as an editor, writer, and vigorous cheerleader for authors and bookstores. You may recall that Phyllis’s last major book (besides a lovely book collection of poetry) was The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. I mention this to suggest that this new book by Richard Rohr is another indication that Phyllis was on to something. We need good conversations on the Trinity and we need help in understanding the work of the Spirit.  Our own transformation and our participation in God’s gracious redemptive work in the world is at stake.

There is a lot of mystery here, but a lot that is critical to get right. I for one, am eager to learn whatever I can, from wherever I can. The stakes are high, but Phyllis is right: from the church’s earliest days we have been baffled and (too often) fighting about the nuances of the nature of God and our engagement with the Divine.  The brand new The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (due out the first week of October) may be outside the box – in content and in the curious partnership with this smallish Western Pennsylvania publisher – I, for one, am looking forward to how this book will be received and how we can all grow in our discernment of God’s Triune presence.  Maybe we really can join the dance.

Buy it today and we will send it out as soon as it releases next week.

Meeting God in Scripture- A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina .jpgMeeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina Jan Johnston ( IVP) $17.00 This handsome new paperback just arrived and I’ve not yet used it – it isn’t a book to quickly skim but to work with, to explore, to sit with, to practice.  There are 40 guided meditations nicely arranged, so obviously it is a book to use, to absorb, a resource for your own quiet time.  As with some of her earlier work it is a beautiful blend of contemplative prayer and Bible study. The whole lectio process is explained well and she gives us these generative exercises and Scriptural meditations to find a richer encounter with God even as we reflect carefully on the Biblical text.  Jan is a skilled and faithful interpreter of this ancient practice and a fine, fine writer. We have promoted her many other books (including the gorgeous When the Soul Listens and Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace.)  Meeting God in Scripture is going to be a great asset for those just starting out with this contemplative practice or will be an addition to those who collect these kinds of Bible study resources.

Punching Holes in the Dark- Living in the Light of the World.jpgPunching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World Robert Benson (Abingdon) $16.99  I have said often and will say again that I will read anything I can get my hands on by Robert Benson. If he wants to send me his grocery list or last will and testament, I’m all over it. He is a master of great sentences, an enjoyable writer who tells gentle stories about his life, honest tales of insight learned in the push and pull of the day to day.

A lifetime ago he was affiliated with the famous Southern Gospel and evangelical pop music scene – yes, he is from that Benson of Benson Music Company – and his family is legendary in one of the fundamentalist denominations from the South.  He has since moved a bit left in the big pew that makes up the church and although delightfully ecumenical, Robert is a contemplative, a retreat leader, and an Episcopalian. He sometimes refers to Jesus as The One Who Came Among Us and God as The One Who Made Us, a verbal tic which ends up being quite endearing.  His writing is not breathy or zealous; it always strikes me as calming, even when he is telling a story that moves from heartbreaking to hilarious, all on the same page.

Although he has written about baseball, the writing life, moving his elderly mother, Miss Peggy, into an assisted living facility, taking care of the landscaping of his yard (Digging In), other books which I’ve mentioned here include several about contemplative themes, about prayer (Living Prayer and In Constant Prayer) and more generally about the spiritual life (Between the Dreaming and the Coming True is stunningly beautiful.) He has books on Benedict, on the sadness of our brokenness within the Body of Christ, and a lovely book on the Eucharist. That he likes good food and movies and baseball and his lovely backyard and treats with dignity the poor and others in his own neighborhood reminds me that he is not a mystic holed away in a monastic community; he visits retreats (often as a public speaker, which gets him some good stories, too) but he truly is a pretty ordinary guy, living a life like some of us do.  His lives out this contemplative, spiritual life in some pretty common place ways with some fairly down to Earth experiences and writes about friends and neighborhoods and church meetings and work and worries and family.

And yet, throughout his amusing stories and his tender tellings of family concerns – not all pretty, I might add – Mr. Benson brings a deeply sacramental view of life, a contemplative tone, a wisdom born from time spent in silence and in liturgical worship.  Although, it is true: his description of his own foibles and insecurities even while at retreats remind me why I like this guy so much.  I, too, often skip out during these “sharing” times from hell. I love that he says how much he loves people and has a few friends, but that he just likes them better when they aren’t around.  Ha.

The theme of this latest book is clear from the title, Punching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World. He is working a bit from St. John’s gospel,  with issues of light, of faith in the One Who Is Light (see what I did there?) and trusting that the Light is breaking into our lives and into society in redemptive ways – often through very broken people. It is almost a cliché these days, but think of that line from Leonard Cohen,  “There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.”  Consider Benson’s book a commentary on that evocative line.

He does like his literary quotes, although he uses them with discretion.  A story from Jackson Brown shows up, a line from Mary Oliver, a quote from Annie Dillard, an epigram from Thomas Merton. That he draws on good lines from the Book of Common Prayer offers theological substance and genuine elegance. That the Frederick Buechner offers a glowing endorsement on the front (and Eugene Peterson is on the back) gives you a sense of how wonderful Punching Holes in the Dark really is. Buechner notes that Benson looks at his life “with candor and hope.”  That the words “dark” and “light” are in the very title – and that it calls us to something (punching holes in the dark) gives us much to chew on. 

Yes, this is a book about the spiritual life, but he doesn’t offer formulas or disciplines or practices. He tells his story of deepening his walk with the Light, he tells us of the goodness of God, he invites us to follow Jesus by loving others well. He is deep and humble and funny and wise, at least mostly wise. I like it that he’ll introduce a story saying “A year or so ago I inexplicably made the third or fourth dumbest move I ever made.”  Maybe you too have made some dumb moves, but want a serene and candid storyteller to remind you of the Way.  Maybe you need reminding that the Kingdom is coming, that it is, in fact, already here. This book will help you “let the Light of the World sneak in.” Thanks be to God.

Robert Benson is a graduate of and an adjunct faculty member of the Academy for Spiritual Formation and a member of the Friends of Silence and the Poor, an international ecumenical prayer community. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.



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NINE BRAND NEW BOOKS from Keller to McLaren to Springsteen — a great example of the diverse titles we carry. ON SALE

Some weeks we find it hard to keep up with new book boxes stacked all over. It’s been one of those hot ones here and it makes me smile for a bunch of reasons.  It will annoy and confuse some of you, I know, but I just love that we got a brand new book by Timothy Keller and one by Brian McLaren the same day. Religious publishing these days is refreshingly interesting and endlessly fascinating; for those with discernment and Biblically-shaped wisdom, many of the best books can be remarkably helpful.

We don’t carry just any old thing, that’s for sure. But we do have a bigger berth here than many book shops.  Not just the ones expected to sell (as in the big secular chains) or the one’s that toe the conservative line at the evangelical chains. We are rather intentional about curating a wide selection here and this weeks new ones just illustrate some of the diversity of topics and perspectives that can help you ponder faith’s mysteries and implications. Just for fun, here’s what came into the shop int he last 48 hours or so.

For our BookNotes fans, they are all one sale, 10% off. Use the order form link below, and we’ll deduct the discount and confirm everything.  By the way, the PRE ORDER price for the forthcoming Bruce Springsteen autobiography is 25% off. See below.

making sense of god.jpgMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00  This extraordinary book deserves to be carefully studied, it deserves to be reviewed well, and it is certainly adequate to send to friends who are deeply agnostic, seriously skeptical or who think that the Christian faith is so odd and untrue that it needn’t even be explored.  I can only announce it here, but I do so with great pride: to get to promote such beautiful, thoughtful, informed and honest books, sturdy in more than design, is a great privilege and great joy. Regardless of what you think of Keller’s broad-ranging cultural engagement based on a fairly conventional, gospel-centered sort of thoughtful Calvinism, his apologetics — based on years of real face to face conversations with serious and often sophisticated urbane secularists — is not only admirable, it is worth engaging. Read this book, work on it carefully if you have to. It is rich and deep and interesting and good.  By the way, if you know his excellent Reason for God, this is a bit more philosophical, a bit headier, perhaps; it is what might want to call a prequel.  Here’s how Tim puts it:

While that book has been helpful to many, it does not begin far back enough for many people Some will no t even begin the journey of exploration, because, frankly, Christianity does not seem relevant enough to be worth their while…. this volume begins by addressing those objections. 

The Reason for God does not address many of the background beliefs that our culture presses on us about Christianity, which makes it seem so implausible. These assumptions are not presented to us explicitly by argument. Rather, they are absorbed thought the stories and themes of entertainment and social media.  They are assumed to be simply “the way things are” They are so strong that even many Christian believers perhaps secretly at first, find their faith becoming less and less real in their minds and hearts. Much or most of what we believe at this level is, therefore, invisible to us as belief….

If you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then this book is written for you. If you have any friends or family who feel this 

way (and who in our society doesn’t?) this book should be full of interest for you and them as well.

This book is nearly 300 pages with good footnotes. It is, in Keller’s style, accessible for educated readers, informed by contemporary philosophers (Charles Taylor), cultural critics (Robert Bellah, of course) films, classic literature and a bit of standard evangelical thoughtfulness from the likes of Lewis, Tolkien and, in a lovely afterward that I’ve already read, Langdon Gilkey from the moving Shantung Compound. 

Designing Your Life- How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life .jpgDesigning Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life Bill Burnett & Dave Evans (Knopf) $24.95  Speaking of lovely, sturdy books this fine work was just released by Knopf — surely one of he more prestigious mainstream publishers.  Evans had some connection with Tim Keller, as a matter of fact, making it a rather serendipitous occasion for this book to come out this week, too. It can be explained rather simply: it looks at design thinking and offers very specific guidance for how to take those artful principles and apply them to your own search for a life and career and calling of purpose and meaning and happiness. David Kelly (founder of IDEO) says it is “the career book for the next decade…the ‘go-to’ book that is read as a rite of passage whenever someone is ready to create a life he or she loves.”  Wow.

The book is arranged around a set of dysfunctional beliefs and shows how to reframe this sort of thinking towards a “design solution.”  It shared practices to do, quit specific exercises and longer-term habits to embody these new ways of seeing.  The back covers says a well-designed life will offers “a rich portfolio of experiences, adventures, and failures that teach us important lessons.” But how do we become the sorts of people who are open to learn, adjust, apply to insights from our previous failures? How to we reframe new questions from older questions, moving deeper (or upward)?  Designing Your Life promises to help.  This is a creatively designed work, a very handsome book, and, I think, will prove very helpful for folks looking (as one of the chapters puts it) for “how not to get a job.”  

Networked Theology- Negotiating the Faith in Digital Culture.jpgNetworked Theology: Negotiating the Faith in Digital Culture Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner (Baker Academic) $22.99  I hope you know this “engaging culture” series from Baker Academic. We stock each and everyone and they are thrilling. I don’t know why they aren’t more discussed and more widely used in churches. (Maybe they are in some places.) These are thoughtful, serious, but not systematic theology texts; they are applied theology, each taking up aspects of contemporary culture and thinking about it and within it from a Biblical vantage point. (The last one was magisterial and a lot of fun to read — Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives by Paul Heintzman.) Kudos to William Dyrness and Robert Johnston for editing this astute series.

Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner are apparently up for making a new contribution to this important series — she has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is associate professor of communication at Texas A&M; he has a PhD from University of Auckland and is the head of school in the School of Theology at Laidlaw College there. Both have written widely and speak often on technology, faith, and new media.  

I know this may sound tedious, but read this blurb by Fuller Theological prof Amos Young — read it carefully and it will surely help you see how serious this work is:

Networked Theology is robustly theological in (1) addressing the nature of being human (theological anthropology) in an era of network individualism, (2) analyzing the nature of human social relations (ecclesiology and theology of society) in a time of connectivity commodification, and (3) revisioning the form of Christian faithfulness (theology of culture and mission theology) in our digitally mediated world. Amid the emerging literature at the intersection of theology and technology, Campbell and Garner give us the first sustained assessment of contextual and public theology for living in and against Web 3.0.

With his background in computer technologies and hers in communication it makes a great pairing to help us all figure out where we are in this new world that grows more digital every month.  If you are at all interested in the intersection of faith and digital life, of networks and mass media and being mediated, this thoughtful book will be really, really useful. One chapter is about how faith is lived out in a networked society. Another asked “who is my neighbor in the digital culture?” and yet another ask about “developing a faith-based community response to new media.” You can see, this is vital, urgent stuff!  An endorsing blurb from Quentin Schultze (author of the must-read Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media) makes me glad, too. Must be good!

earth psalms.jpgEarth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature Francine Rivers with Karin Stock Buursma (Tyndale) $16.99  Do you know the beloved, often moving, spiritual novels of Francine Rivers? She has a major, dedicated following for those who read Christian fiction — Redeeming Love is a Western re-telling of Hosea, for instance. Here the talented inspirational writer does a very different sort of book — a weekly devotional based on the beauties of creation.   We have a major section in the store of what some called nature writing and we have books for the outdoorsy types, finding God in the wind and rain and such. Some are luminous, poetic, some nearly pantheistic, I fear.  This, though, is utterly orthodox as she takes us to the joys of beholding a persistent woodpecker, the majestic redwoods, a glorious sunrise. This is sweet and dear stuff — finding God’s goodness in good things, realizing God’s presence and nearness, God’s attention and joy and love. Happily, there is stunning full color nature photography enhancing every reading making this not only a moving book to hold but a glorious one, too. There are glossy pages, a ribbon marker, and a truly beautiful cover.  The Lord offers us “countless blessings” it says in handsome calligraphy. This book is one of them.

Spiritual Leadership- Why Leaders Lead and Who Seekers Follow.jpgSpiritual Leadership: Why Leaders Lead and Who Seekers Follow Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon Press) $19.99  We got quite a shipment from Abingdon this week – we’ve ordered almost every single book they’ve published this season, it seems.  There are some standard authors they release and Bandy is one of them. (Bill Easum, too — we got his new one in this week as well. More on that, called Execute Your Vision, later.)  In keeping with my theme of the variety of good books that show up, week by week, this is surely one we’ll want to read and explore and stock as we do book displays on the road this fall. The back cover has bunches of raves reviews — from a Protopresbyter in the Greek Orthodox Church to Lovett Weems, Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, to Cory Sparks who is the Director of the LANO Institute for Nonprofit Excellence.

Sparks says this is “big data meets theology” and he explains that Bandy’s book helps us consider how broad trends and lifestyle segmentation — think of The Big Sort, maybe  —  might effect how we perceive leaders, even spiritual leaders.   As one reviewer puts it, it “unravels the enigma of why some pastors and their flocks resonate with one another and other clergy and congregations live in a state of constant conflict.”  Yes, he’s using detailed analysis and a bit of what can only be called typologies. (He has major sections on leaders he calls “organic” “constant” and “extreme.”  He explores how leaders within and between types — including how things transition and blend.  At the end, Bandy offers a leadership inventory (of course he does. It’s that kind of book.)  Spiritual Leadership: Why Leaders Lead… looks like a fascinating bit of analysis and we’re glad to have it here. 

The Great Spiritual Migration- How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking .jpgThe Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian Brian D. McLaren (Convergent) $21.00  I have read about half of this and am eager to continue on as I find time this crazy week. I think Brian is always worth reading and agree or not with every emphasis and every new insight there is little doubt that he offers kind and pastoral wisdom about many things. He is balanced and fair and eager to bear witness to the truths of Christ as he sees them.  Just last night I was addressing a mainline denomination known for it’s more liberal styles and views. I encouraged them to read this as it ends up being a bit close to what they could be, but with a zeal and passion that is characteristic of a evangelical. This is not a lazy or sloppy drift towards liberal, ambiguous (non)theology, it is a robust and passionate call to faith that is creative and liberating and full of love and grace. Granted, I may wish Brian had a tiny bit of Keller in him, and I may wish Keller had a bit more Brian. I hope I”m not alone in enjoying them both and seeing a place for both.

Listen to what some of Brian’s fans say:

This is Brian McLaren’s finest book: a beautiful exploration of a hopeful, joyful, mystical, and just faith that invites Christians to move from fear to love. On every page, he calls out to longing readers, Don’t give up. A better world, a better way of belief is possible. And he is right. 

Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded: Finding God in the World A Spiritual Revolution 

Anything written by Brian McLaren is always filled with insight, courage, and creative 

theology, refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time. Read this and surely enjoy it, for it will assure you that you are not crazy making in what you are seeing and suffering today.

Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation 

A refreshingly honest, totally committed, enriching and profound analysis of the Spiritual Moment that is changing all our lives. If you are concerned and at the same time excited by what is going in churches these days, read this book. Both hope and a path to it await you here. 

Joan Chittister, author of Between the Dark and the Daylight 

I have such respect for Brian McLaren; I would follow him anywhere, and so should you. Follow him out of fruitless dualities and false polarities. Follow him on a restless journey, a quest, a spiritual migration from an apathetic facade of a faith to a joyfully questioning, boundary crossing, ethical spectacle of a faith. This well-conceived, intelligent, warm, truthful book is our guide to a space where a life of faith is defined by love-in-action.

Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister, Middle Collegiate Church 

McLaren continues to have his finger on the pulse of a new kind of Christianity that challenges familiar and limiting structures of faith. A prophetic and winsome invitation for all the join the work of the Spirit in spiritual, theological, and missional transformation. 

Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than               Our Correct Beliefs

Finding God in the Waves- How I Lost My Faith and Found It .jpgFinding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science Mike McHargue (Convergence) $24.00  Wow, what a book. I am not sure what to make of this — haven’t read it yet. But I’ve seen the very attractive trailers done on line and am eager to check it out. Rob Bell, not surprisingly, wrote the forward — Rob has long been interested in quantum physics and string theory and the like, and it seems that this “science guy” had a weird rediscovery of his faith by studying the intricacies of what Barbara Brown Taylor has called  (in her collection of beautiful pieces about faith and science) “the luminous web.” This guy was an atheist and science — cosmology and neuro-biology, actually – lead him to faith in the Risen Christ. He says you can meet Jesus even if you don’t understand it all.  Well, yeah. He’s very, very smart, really, really funny, and full of faith and doubt and courage and heart. I’m excited by this. With blurbs on the back from Pete Holmes (of a HBO comedy show) and Tanya Luhrmann (a prof at Stanford) and Franciscan Richard Rohr and Donald Miller, well, this has something for everyone. 

Getting Religion- Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama .jpgGetting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama Kenneth L. Woodward (Convergent) $30.00  No offense to the edgy, cool, thoughtfully progressive Christian Convergent publishing, but I thought this would have been on Random House or Knopf or one of the prestigious New York houses. I suspect it will appear prominently on the New York Times bestseller list and be taken serious on the Sunday morning talk shows.  Woodward, you know, was the religion editor for over 40 years for Newsweek.  As news stories and trends emerged and evolved in the last half of the last century, he was there. He says this and it doesn’t seem prideful, just a matter of fact. This is his eye witness account, in many instances, of history makers from Martin Luther King to the Dali Lama, from Dorothy Day to an aging Billy Graham, from Abraham Heschel to Sun Myung Moon. He knows about liberation theology and EST, PET and Roe v Wade, TM and the Jesus People, consciousness raising and compassionate conservatism.  He tells about being in Nicaragua with Ernesto Cardenel and tells of Wheaton College grad Michael Gerson tutoring George W. Bush on Catholic social thinking with concepts like “subsidiarity” and “the common good.” This is living history par excellence.

Of course his lively writing and his extraordinary bearing witness to the volatile (a word he uses) shifts of religion in our culture these last 50 years doesn’t mean he’s right about how he interprets and assesses the relative import of various movements. I’ve not read enough to have an opinion, but it is a vivid, big book — almost 450 pages. He wasn’t a strong fan of the Berrigan brothers, just for instance — he wrote a very critical review of Dan’s book To Dwell in Peace in the New York Times in those years and I recall thinking it mostly right, despite my own acquaintance with brother Phil — but he does place a lot of weight on the Catholic left.  His stuff on John Paul is maybe more important. He has a major section on feminism in the culture and religious studies. He writes a lot about Eastern faiths. He is struck by how some religious expressions became ascendant in the 70s. Some religion we all get from our parents, but increasingly, that isn’t the case — now, we want experience, not dogma.

Anyway, this is a major work, a big book, and should appeal to those who are interested in history, culture, faith in its varying forms, and the way religion has shaped American culture and, consequently, American politics.

Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker says Getting Religion is “brilliant.” James Martin, who says that Woodward has “the inability to write a dull sentence” predicts that “You may open the book for the historical tour but you’ll stay with it because of your brilliant guide.”

John L. Allen of Crux writes 

No American journalist has patrolled the borders of that often-troubled relationship between faith and culture longer or better than Kenneth Woodward. He s a reporter of the old school, taking the time both to get the story right and to be artful about how he crafts his prose. As Woodward says himself, being there matters, and in this book, you ll find the wisdom of someone who s just flat-out been there. This is a superb book.

born-to-run-9781471157790_hr.jpgBorn to Run Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster) $32.50  STREET DATE SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

Okay, we can’t sell this before Tuesday, although for those who pre-order it, we can ship it for you to receive on Tuesday.   OUR PRE-ORDER PRICE IS 25% OFF — $24.37.

All I can say about this long-awaited big bio at this point is that Bruuuuuce’s  story will appeal to fans, maybe even those who aren’t hard-core fans. It deal with his family, his dad especially, and a bit about his own faith; there is plenty in the lyrics, pretty overtly, of course.  It’s a big one, too — 528 pages! It’s like that story about how The River was first a regular single album but they just knew it needed more, so they wrote and wrote and practiced and played and obsessively recorded and turned in a large double album set. I guess The Boss just couldn’t stop writing. It is, shall we say, colorful, to say the least.



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Amy Simpson’s “Troubled Minds” and “Anxiety” and other books on mental illness. ON SALE NOW

What a great privilege it was to join with the Central Pennsylvania Faith-Based Health Ministries Network  – including groups such as No Longer Alone Ministries – for a day long workshop on mental health issues and how churches can be more intentionally inclusive with those with painful emotional needs and mental health issues and other illnesses, disorders and disabilities.  We were thrilled to be able to hear author Amy Simpson, whose very informative book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (IVP; $17.00) is perhaps the best book we know as an introduction to the topic and how the church might respond. Her second good book is called Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (IVP; $16.00) and is very nicely done — honest and clever and good and useful. We have mentioned both books here at our BookNotes newsletter and recommend them. How good it was to connect with her.

amy simpson.jpgAmy profoundly touched us all as she told her own story,  one of her own mother’s psychosis, and their family’s long journey into the world of mental health  treatment (and, to be painfully honest, mistreatment, in the church, in public, and even within the health care systems.) Any of us who have had hard experiences with chronic illness or unhelpful insurance companies or judgmental church folk or who have cried out to God in pain and confusion certainly understood. There were moments in her talk when there was this communal sigh and room full of nods in agreement. At other times you could hear a pin drop.

troubled mind banner.jpg

Simpson tells about this in Troubled Minds and it is a book we’ve been glad to promote before, but having heard her teach from the book we are vividly reminded of why we must push for honest and healthy conversation about  these things.  Some of us – ahem, I am speaking to myself, here – who like to think of ourselves as fairly well informed and aware of the hurts others bear may be surprised at just how pervasive our mental health crisis is. The statistics are stunning: everyone reading this probably been touched by someone stricken with some sort of mental illness.

(And, as should be obvious, there is an astonishing connection between the homeless population and the incarcerated. The three largest “mental health clinics” In the US (that is, places that do some feeble mental health management and dispense drugs for those with mental illness are Cook Count Jail, Los Angeles County Jail, and Rikers Island in New York. Sad, outrageously so.)

We had ten tables packed with resources on the integration of faith and psychology, books on Christian views of counseling, and all kinds of titles to help those with all kinds of human foibles.  We brought just some of the many books we have here at the shop on things like drug and alcohol recovery, domestic violence, guilt and shame and forgiveness, co-dependency, eating disorders, sexual struggles, depression, and the like.  We had maybe a dozen books on faith and neuroscience. We had a few academic ones, a few memoirs, a few clearly designed to help Christian caregivers serve the broken and hurting.

called to care.jpgtransforming care.jpgAlthough the focus of the workshop was mental illness, and built around Ms. Simpson’s good books,  many of the participants were parish nurses so we had some stellar books on parish nursing (there are a number of them) as well as bunches of good books on faith and health care such as the classics Called to Care: A Christian Worldview for Nursing by Judith Shelly Allen & Arlene B. Miller (IVP; $30.00) and Transforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice by Mary Molewhk Doornbos, Ruth E. Groenhout, and Kendra Hotz — each sharp professors at Calvin College (Eerdmans; $25.00) and Commitment and Responsibility in Nursing: A Faith-Based Approach by Bart Cusveller, Agneta Sutton and Dsnal O’Mathzna (Dordt College Press; $16.00.)

being there.jpgOf course every church worker needs resources to help them serve those coping with the anguish and stress of hard health struggles that parishioners carry; most churches haven’t hired parish nurses. So you might want to know that we had selections from our bookstore what grieving people wish you knew.pngcategories of coping with cancer and other chronic illnesses, books on death and dying, and titles on bereavement and loss and grief. We have so many helpful books that are for those living with loss and into their grief and we have books for caregivers, helping solve the big concern about how to minister to and walk alongside those in bereavement, including children! (It is interesting that we even sell books about pet loss, for adults and children.)

These parish nurses and pastors and Christian educators were eager to see these kind of resources and it makes us glad to know we can be of service, helping people know which are most useful for what kind of situation. Why not give us a call the next time you need resources  to work with folks with such needs? Or, better, why not order some resources now, before you urgently need them.  We really think it is wise for church leaders to be proactive in this stuff, and we can help.

By the way, I hope to write more, soon, about several very good recent releases about medicine and faith-based views of health and wellness (such as the brand new and must-read Pursing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo, MD just published by Crossway.)  Watch for that.

Here are Simpson’s two books and a few others we featured prominently at the conference.  Perhaps you or your congregation needs to have some of them.  Order from us, please:  help keep this conversation alive and help equip people to take steps towards serving those who are often so needy and so stigmatized.  These books can help. They will inform you, touch your heart, provide plenty of captivating reading, and serve as yet more tools in your tool-belt,  tools needed to serve well in this big old sad, sorrowful, complicated, wonderful world.

troubled mind good.jpgTroubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission Amy Simpson (IVP) $17.00  Here she tells her story of her mother’s oddness which moved to profound brokenness and an eventual full on break with reality.  Her father used to be a country preacher and in the new city where they lived they found little support and there are tragic stories of how they were (shall we say) not served well. It is a call to the church to be more aware of mental health issues, she profiles several congregations that are doing good work with those who have special emotional and mental health needs, and inspires us all trust God as we move into some rough waters.  What a book!

anxious.jpgAnxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry Amy Simpson (IVP) $16.00 This is also a book very much worth having even though it is less the big picture of faith-based insights into our mental health crisis and more of a personal story.  Perhaps it is fair to call it a bit more of a self-help/personal growth book, although it is informed not only by her own journey, but by the best data and social science regarding this remarkably prevalent spectrum of disorders.  For what it is worth, don’t be put off by the subtitle, as if we can do away with illness by  just having more faith: Simpson clearly opposes such bad theology; in both the Troubled Minds and Anxious books she is vibrantly evangelical and deeply spiritual but offers no simplistic clichés or false promises.  I am sure you know somebody who will benefit from this story, who needs this insight, who will benefit from learning to faithfully live while coping with anxiety, stress, fear and the like. 

Darkness is my Only Companion.jpgDarkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness  Kathryn Greene-McCreight (Brazos) $18.99  As you noticed above, I am a big fan of Simpson’s two books, and the first, Troubled Minds, is the best to read if you’ve never read anything along these lines. It outlines (in part through personal narrative) her families struggles with psychosis and homelessness and loss; she tells what churches should and shouldn’t do. I commend it.  But, having so commended it, I think I want to say that this one, Darkness Is My Only Companion,  is my favorite book, on the subject – at least for those who want a slightly deeper and more reflective read. Green-McCreight is a trained theologian and a powerfully, elegant writer. She bravely takes us into the darkness that often accompanies depression and anxiety disorders and brings the awe-full situation onto the page in and into our own imaginations so beautifully. She draws on the Psalms (including the Psalms of lament) which have served her as her own lifeline. As we might expect from Brazos Press, the book is mature, theologically ecumenical (Greene-McCreight  is associate chaplain at The Yale Episcopal Church at Yale and priest affiliate at Christ Church in New Haven) and simply deserves to be read. It is out in a revised and expanded edition. It is a book that is at times troubling, at times remarkably hopeful, always insightful, and you will be glad you read it.

Here are two extraordinary blurbs on the back which might help you appreciate its importance:

“I am often asked by people who have read Hannah’s Child, my
memoir wherein I tell the story of what it meant to live with someone
suffering with bipolar disorder, how to go on in the face of such an
illness. I simply recommend Greene-McCreight’s Darkness Is My Only Companion.
I do so because the story she tells is shaped by her profound
Christological commitments and wisdom, making this a book that we simply
cannot live without.”

–Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School

Greene-McCreight takes the reader on her private journey through the
hidden world of mental illness. Personal, painful, and informative, this
experience is shared so that others may be healed. This book is a must
read for every person struggling with a mental health problem, every
pastor that ministers to those in distress, and every family member
whose loved one has been taken away from them by a mental disorder.”

–Matthew S. Stanford, author of Grace for the Afflicted

Grace for the Afflicted.jpgGrace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness  Matthew Stanford (IVP) $20.00  Both Simpson and Greene-McCreight draw on this book and see Dr. Stanford as an important friend and colleague, and it is, along with those listed above, an essential volume for anyone wanting to start a library on this topic.  I cannot say enough about how clear and wise and thoughtful and sound all this is.  If the previous books drew on the author’s own stories, Grace for the Afflicted brings a clinician’s expertise and training to bear.  It is a remarkably good and thorough handbook, offering detailed information about various sorts of disorders.  He nicely weaves together his medical/scientific training and his Biblical faith.  It is so good to see this natural and wise use of the Bible even in a book that offers such clinical professionalism. The author has a PhD in neuroscience (from Baylor University) and is a nationally recognized researcher in the area of aggressive and impulsive behaviors. (He has done some pretty significant investigation of those with post-traumatic stress syndrome as well as brain injuries.) Amy Simpson told me that he’s a really great guy, too, as she has shared the stage with him and worked well together.  This is a major contribution and a wonderfully informed and faithful work.  You should know it.

Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families.jpgMinistry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families Robert Albers, William Meller, Steven Thurber (Fortress) $29.00 This is a very helpful resource and we highly recommend it, too.  I think what makes this particularly helpful is how it draws on such a variety of authors from such a diversity of backgrounds, faith traditions and experience in mental health stuff.  As you might expect from Fortress Press (a publishing house affiliated with the ELCA) this is perhaps aimed at those who are situated in mainline denominational parishes; the author includes pastors within the United Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopalian tradition. Several of the chapters are by respected researchers and psychiatrists who are published in their own specialty area.  It is about doing ministry, of course, by which they mean congregational ministry, so it is certainly useful for pastors, Christian educators, deacons, Stephen’s Ministers and the like.  Even though Fortress is known for doing academic titles, this blends some rigorous, dispassionate medical and theological studies with narrative and testimony, making it at times lively and eye-opening. Besides the expected chapters on bi-polar disease and personality disorders and depression and such there are chapters on autism, brain injury, dementia, addictions… it is a fine, serious handbook covering a lot of ground.

Bipolar Faith- A Black Woman's Journey with Depression and Faith.jpgBipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith Monica A. Coleman (Fortress) $26.99  Wow. I just started this a few weeks ago and it is passionately written, eloquent and bold, as this woman shares her own anguishing story. This is a major work, released as part of the cutting edge People’s Theology series edited by Doug Pagitt and serves as a fine example of the old adage about theology emerging from autobiography.  Coleman has very bravely here shared her own experiences as a black woman, with the issues and anguish one might expect. There is not only some account of racism but also a vivid account of sexual violence – what we might now call date rape – and more. As the book develops the tension deepens and we seem to know what is happening.  Kudos to all involved in allowing this kind of story to be told.  Take heed.

soul of shame.jpganatomy of a soul.jpgAnatomy of a Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships Curt Thompson (Salt River/Tyndale) $15.99

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves Curt Thompson (IVP) $22.00  

We were especially glad to feature a nice stack of these at the event, hoping folks would realize how we value the great work of this very good author and H&M friend.  Anatomy of a Soul is, in our view, one of the best books about neurology for ordinary folks; it offers basic Christian growth and spiritual formation guidance in light of how God has wired the brain to work. Knowing a bit about brain studies as he does, Dr. Thompson – a very fine psychiatrist with a healthy counseling practice – helps us learn about personal growth and healthy relationships and more. AoaS is a wonderfully useful, really interesting book and we recommend it heartily.

His second release, by the way, The Soul of Shame is without a doubt one of the best books in this genre I’ve ever read and very highly recommend it to anyone who struggles with issues of lack of worth or guilt or shame; it will bring insight and wise counsel – no easy answers, but solid hope. We also recommend it for anyone who wants a fresh take on the unfolding Biblical drama of restoration and wholeness within the framework of God’s redemptive work, establishing Christ’s healing Kingdom; Curt’s Biblical insight is really, really generative!  Finally, we recommend both books to anyone who does ministry with others – pastors or campus ministries or youth workers or counselors or health care workers or  parents or Christian educators  or college teachers who mentor others ; you will be more wise and sensitive to others with this material under your belt. By the way, interestingly, Curt has a chapter in SoS about how our shame may effect our vocations and even the tone of the workplace.  So important.  Neuro-science is hot right now, and there are some marvelous books out there.  Start here.


Counseling and Christianity- Five Approaches .jpgCounseling and Christianity: Five Approaches Stephen P. Greggo and Timothy A. Sisemore (IVP Academic) $25.00  I suppose you recall our rant from time to time about how – if we have a high and holy view of calling and careers – we must therefore “think Christianly” about the theories and assumptions that guide our practices and work in each and every vocation.  We want to think through what that rhetoric means and allow God to shape our ideas and practices in our work. For those in counseling, this is pretty obvious: good Christian folks disagree (sometimes adamantly) just what it looks like to integrate faith and counseling. What model do we use? How does the faithful counselor use the Scriptures? What is a faithful perspective on what might be called “Christian” counseling? What does that even mean?  This book offers a forum to explore these varying approaches with their distinctive “takes” on what it means to do counseling in a faithful, healthy manner. What a great discussion, illuminating the issues and offering the “best cases” for different perspectives.  

Psychology and Christianity- Five Views edited by Eric L. jpgThere is a more academic title that is even more foundational – Psychology and Christianity: Five Views edited by Eric L. Johnson (IVP Academic; $25.00) that we also really recommend. It is arranged the same way, with five different views and each view responding to the chapter authors by each representative perspective. I suspect that, for whatever reason, most professionals involved in Christian counseling don’t want to take the time and energy to work through that one (even though it would be valuable. I would think that Christians in this field would be snapping this up and starting book clubs within their church or clinic.) At least, though, they should grapple afresh with this debate by reading the more obviously practical Greggo and Sisemore one.  Check ’em out!

preventing suicide.jpgPreventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors Karen Mason (IVP) $18.00 I don’t need to say much about this–we have a small section of good books that tell about the grieve of losing a love one to suicide. (One of the most beautifully written and wise is by our friend Albert Hsu who writes of the loss of his father who took his own life, entitled Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers Hope.) I do not know of a better book on prevention that  equips us all to be more proactive in doing this kind of work.  I hate to be heavy handed but look: if you lose someone in your parish to suicide, you may regret it for the rest of your life, wondering what you could have done, what you might have seen or known or done. This book could help you save a life.  

Recovery-Minded-Church.jpgThe Recovery-Minded Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Addiction Jonathan Benz and Kristina Robb-Dover (IVP) $16.00  Several decades ago we became known as a store that had one of the best selections of recovery resources around.  Eventually, 12-step stores opened, recovery work became a cottage industry and went mainstream. It peaked and we don’t have – for whatever reason – as many requests for this kind of stuff as we used to.  From drug and alcohol abuse to eating and sex and relationship addictions, from multiple personality disorders to post-traumatic stress to garden variety co-dependencies and the baggage from being raised in dysfunctional families, we have resources that can help.  This new book, published earlier this year, is a great title that helps congregations see themselves as part of this movement. It is very, very good and a useful thing to think about as congregations are discerning new missions and new identities and new paradigms.  Get this on your radar, part of your vocabulary, part of your vision. Benz, by the way, is a certified addictions professional out of an evangelical background; Robb-Cover is a PC(USA) pastor who went to seminary at Princeton.

Jesus Wept- When Faith and Depression .jpgJesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet Barbara C. Crafton (Jossey Bass) $19.95  Again, I don’t have to say much about this – we have an entire shelf of books about depression; it is such a commonly experienced disorder that I’m surprised we don’t sell more of these sorts of books.  We have some that are very profound, some that are a bit too simplistic for my tastes.  They come from a variety of perspectives and offer a variety of angles.  From Gerald May’s Dark Night of the Soul to the moving recent memoir by Gillian Marchenko, Sill Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression, we have a lot. Jesus Wept, we think, is one of the best short reflections that offers not only a glimpse into the experience of those struggling with depression but also a multi-layered and thoughtful vision of God’s presence through it all. Rev. Crafton is a great writer and beloved as an Episcopalian priest and author and spiritual director.

healing the wounded heart.jpgHealing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation Dan Allender (Baker Books) $16.99  Again, we have bunches of books on this topic and, sadly, they are needed, widely so.  We have a few we most heartily recommend (depending on the emotional needs and writing style and religious tone preferred by the person reading it.) But near the very top of our list has for years has been the classic The wounded heart.jpgWounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by the very, very reliable, insightful, and caring author Dan Allender (NavPress; $16.99.) Do you know him? He’s written bunch of stuff, often with his friend  Tremper Longman, the renowned Old Testament scholar.  Allender spoke on the main-stage of the CCOs Jubilee conference a few years ago, and you could watch him, here.

Published earlier this year, Healing the Wounded Heart is the long-awaited follow-up to the best-selling Wounded Heart — written twenty-five years after the first one. We sell the new Healing the Wounded Heart Workbook, too, for $14.99. I am not usually the biggest fan of ancillary product, workbooks and such, but in this case, it is essential to do everything one can to process, absorb, apply and live into this life-changing (maybe life-saving) content.  Buy the first book, the new sequel, and the workbooks for both, too. They are good to have on hand, vital to share with those who need their support and wise, deep, faith-filled counsel.  Frankly, I think it is worth reading this new one even for those who haven’t experienced the horror of sexual abuse.  We all need to be made more wisely aware of this dark side of our broken human community.  I recommend it.

if you feel to much.jpgIf You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For Jamie Tworkowski (Tarcher) sale price $15.00 while supplies last  This collection of stories, memoiristic impressions, rants and epiphanies about some sort of grace that can be experienced even in hard times remains a very popular, much-discussed book among young adults who are often hurting, bewildered, feeling alone, disconnected, unappreciated. As we’ve explained before, this edgy book tells of Jamie’s passionate and hopeful episode writing “love” on the arm of a woman who was cutting herself and how a group of late-night, music-loving rock fans surrounded this despairing friend.  Can we come alongside the lost and hurting? Can those who feel a lack of love find new hope? Does God’s love somehow leak out onto the cool kids anguished by their alienation as well as the run-aways and underground?  This book reaches so many folks and we are glad to keep telling people about TWLOHA mission and Jamie’s moving tribute to this way of loving others no matter what.  Called “hauntingly beautiful” it reminds us that it is okay to admit that things are right for us and it is okay to ask for help.

DEAL: Here’s the deal with Don’t Feel Too Much – we have some of the first edition left, the cool hardback sans dust jacket, which usually sells for $18.00 which we have on sale for $15.00.  We also have the brand new expanded edition with a bit of new content, for $18.00  We’ll do the discount off of either edition… just let us know which you prefer. While supplies last, of course.

Wholeheartedness- Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self .jpgWholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self Chuck DeGroat (Eerdmans) $15.00  I absolutely loved his first book Leaving Egypt: Finding God in Wilderness Places publish by Faith Alive. His second was excellent, but perhaps not of interest to everyone – The Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life — Including Yourself. But, really, who doesn’t need some help here?

This newest one, though, Wholeheartedness, is spectacular, just so well written and so interesting and so wise in helping us all cope with the sense of being worn out and exhausted; torn.This, of course, is walking in territory covered by other books about rest and Sabbath. (See, of instance, the lovely An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling and the new The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap by John Koessler, both beautifully published by InterVarsity Press, alongside classics on Sabbath like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Marva Dawn, Robert Mueller Dan Allender, Mark Buchanan, and the like.) But this Wholeheartedness is more than just reminding us to entered into the rhythms of good time management. It is asking large and generative questions about our sense of worth, about the divided heart, and out aches and foibles and hopes and experience of God’s presence. Why do we work ourselves to exhaustion? What are we trying to prove? Is ambition a bad thing?  We took this to the conference to display with other books on professional development as it seems that many leaders, pastors, care-givers and others who work with people are particularly tempted to ways of life that lead to burn out.  But this is not just for professionals or leaders. I bet that you have this concern, you’ve got this problem, or you know somebody who does. This book can provide answers, help, deep wisdom for real life. Very highly recommended.

Listen to what preacher, pastor, theologian, author, and radio host Steve Brown says:

His other books have made a difference in my life; this one came just in
time to salvage this old cynical preacher from almost giving up on ever
finding healing in this busy world. It will do the same for you. Read
it and rejoice! 

The God Who Heals- Words of Hope for Times of Sickness.jpgThe God Who Heals: Words of Hope for Times of Sickness curated and edited by Johann Christoph Blumhardt and Christoph Blumhardt (Plough Publishing) $18.00  This. This is one of the most beautiful collections of great readings that we’ve seen this year!  You may know the Plough classics that were put out for Advent and for Lent compiling quotes from writers, theologians, mystics, poets. This looks like and is shaped like those beloved treasures, a handsome hand-sized hardback that offers small excerpts and pieces. These mature reflections are all from the older Blumhardt (who lived in the 19th century) and the son Christoph, who was a contemporary of Karl Barth and Bonhoeffer. Pastors and hospital chaplains and those who do home visitation – Stephen Ministers or local church deacons or visiting nurses, say – should have this for their own deepening of how to think about illness, healing and wholeness, but also to share with the sick or bereaved.  Here you have 60 pieces (each linked to a Biblical text) and gentle, encouraging, insightful words of blessing. Highly recommended. By the way, you may recall that Saddleback pastor Rick Warren lost an adult son to suicide and he and his wife have written and spoken bravely and helpfully about that tragedy. Warren has a very moving forward to this Blumhardt book. Kudos to Plough for making old, rich writing seem handsome and new.



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Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment by Mitch Hescox & Paul Douglas (Bethany House; $14.99) ON SALE NOW







CO-AUTHORS OF Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment


As you will see in our review below, the Rev. Mitch Hescox is a local friend, a former coal industry engineer, beloved United Methodist pastor and now President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.  Paul Douglas is an award winning meteorologist and techie innovator, having invented certain 3-D computer weather graphics. Now working in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, we are thrilled that Paul will join Mitch here in Dallastown for this exciting evening to launch their book into the world. 


caring for creation.jpgCaring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment by Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas (Bethany House; $14.99)

Hearts & Minds SALE PRICE $13.49

Please use our link to the order form page below.

In our last BookNotes newsletter we offered a few words about Labor Day, linked to previous Hearts & Minds lists and bibliographies showcasing books about work, celebrating that the Spirit is doing something in this arena in these days, calling church folk to wake up to the need for a Christian perspective in their ideas about work and the nature of their jobs leading to a lived out Christ-like suite of practices in the workplace.  I hope you read it and enjoyed the reviews and links and suggestions.

The book we want to tell you about today is not overtly about work or career or calling, but yet these themes are near and underneath much of the great story it tells. It is a great case studies in many ways about how people discern their vocations in life and how personal faith can lead to public action.  Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment by Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas (Bethany House; $14.99) is such a good read in part because these two gentleman have a story to tell, not just about the details of climate change, framed by Biblical teachings about creation care, but a story of their own professional awakening.  Mitch used to work in the coal industry.  Paul is a world renowned meteorologist.  Both are Penn State fans, which is mostly beside the point, but I had to say it.  They are both those kind of guys.


paul douglas head shot.jpgMr. Douglas, formerly of Lancaster, PA, is known in his field not only as a weatherman who makes jokes about the Amish Doppler (that would be a window, a helpful scientific tool in weather forecasting) but as a creative professional who, in fact, invented some of the best Doppler technology. One of his early companies (EarthWatch) brought 3-D weather graphics to TV stations and Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg used his special effects for Jurassic Park and the film Twister. Douglas even has a cameo and speaks one line in it.  He notes that if you sneeze you’ll miss it and his last residual check from Warner Bros was, literally, one cent.  (“So much for my film career.”) Didn’t I say this was someone about discerning one’s calling?  Ha.


It is important that Mr. Douglas is an entrepreneur – he sold some of his tech stuff to Garmin in 2007 and now works to brief Fortune 500 companies on global weather risks and threats, “helping weather-sensitive companies operate more efficiently, profitably, and safely with desktop and mobile applications.” You see, he’s not a crunchy neo-hippy or anti-pipeline activist.  He is a science guy who works in the corporate world, is a entrepreneur who has “sweated out payroll” and – get this:  “believes the power of markets can help transform our world for the better.” Which is to say he is a Republican, of the Reagan sort.  Joking about how rare this combo may seem, he calls himself “an albino unicorn.” Alrightee then.

Mitch-Hescox.jpgAnd then there is my friend and almost neighbor from here in South Central Pennsylvania, Reverend Mitch Hescox.  He was raised in a coal mining family in one of the scrubby industrial towns in Western PA. He has regaled me with stories of growing up as I imagined my own father did (my grandfather was a coal miner and died of Black Lung disease) playing in the toxic pools of water fouled with sulfur and messing around in the mine shafts and strip mine fields. 

“One vivid memory,” Hescox writes, “was the volunteer fire department’s siren going off in the middle of the day. In our town, that siren typically wasn’t a warning of a fire but rather a coal mine accident. On more than one occasion, those accidents involved at least one of my family members.”  Of course he worked the mines, too, until he left the region to get an engineering degree.  As he puts it,

I spent the first fourteen years of my professional life in the coal industry. After college, I began my career selling, installing, and eventually designing equipment for use in coal processing or in coal-fired utilities. My last coal-related position saw me designing grinding equipment for pulverized coal boilers in China, India, and South Africa.

Which is to say, he helped create sub-standard technologies that would not even have been permitted in the US or Europe as they were cheaply made and polluting.  He doesn’t say this in the book, but without a robust vision of vocation he was able to compromise basic values and was part of a larger industrial system that was in dire need of reform.  I can’t help but think of the brave whistleblower such as Jeffrey Wigand portrayed in The Insider,  the must-see, award-winning movie about the tobacco industry.  Mitch was not that guy.

But he sort of is now.

These authors, then, have been deeply involved in the very sciences and skill sets in the fields that we must understand if we are going to wrap our minds around the topic of climate change – the energy industry and meteorology.  There have been many books on this, even some by devout people of faith, but none that are overtly Christian and written by such industry insiders.  

And certainly none that are whimsical, upbeat, easily understandable, written by Bible-believing, fairly conservative Republicans. They joke about how they do not genuflect when they hear the name Al Gore.  I’m telling you, this is a book that deserves to be read and discussed and considered.  Kudos to Bethany House, part of the Baker Publishing Group, for releasing it.

Mitch says in the wonderful introductory chapter that “coal is part of my legacy, but so is God. Growing up, a little white country church was the center of my life.”

As it ends up, during a tumultuous time as a college student at the University of Arizona he cactuses_sunset_photo.jpgre-dedicated his life to Christ; he called that season his Jonah experience.  (Interestingly, in a theme that will re-emerge later in the book, his own spiritual re-conversion happened while on a grueling hiking journey in the wilderness, witnessing a blazing saguaro cactus deep in the Sonoran Desert. It is notable, they later say, how many people say they find God in nature, and have had significant spiritual encounters with God while in the beauty of creation. Not a bad reason to care for creation and steward well our eroding environment! These guys are conservatives that believe in conservation!)

Mitch eventually became a United Methodist pastor and served the local church well for almost twenty years. He has had a good ministry helping the church become more Christ-centered, more spiritually alive, and more missional, as we now say, outward focused and service-minded.  He was a good pastor and a fruitful church leader.

As Mitch continued to be open to God’s leading he increasingly felt called into the fray of energy policy and creation care – perhaps atoning for his years facilitating some of the worst polluting on the planet by selling these sub-standard scrubbers to third world nations?  He doesn’t offer much about how he sensed this call, although “it was no overnight epiphany.”  He speaks for his co-author Paul as well when he describes their growing interest in stewarding the earth well.  “Our conviction built gradually; a slow-motion realization that the threat was real and people of faith have a moral obligation to step up.”

Mitch is now the President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the largest evangelical group dedicated to creation care, an organization we have gladly followed since its inception. Their former leaders and current staff are folks I greatly, greatly esteem!) As such, he has been an international spokesperson, spending time educating others and doing public advocacy, writing op-ed pieces in the national media and testifying before congressional hearings, the EPA, and the like. He is still an evangelist at heart and has told me about some of the beautiful conversations that have opened up (even on airplanes) when non-Christians or formerly churched folks hear that he is an evangelical and a climate activist. I would say he is now living into the role of being both pastoral and prophetic, always eager to talk about God’s grace shown in the gospel but also willing to denounce the idols of the time when necessary. He’s balanced, and this book captures that beautiful tone. 

caring for creation.jpgCaring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment is spiritually vibrant, passionate and clever.  It is easy to follow although jam-packed with stats and data and a few charts. (Please: if you are like me and are pretty allergic to books with charts – don’t fret. They explain everything quite nicely and even in those few pages that show the math, the figures and footnotes are really clear and helpful.)  Caring… is not academic, although it is informed by good science, lots of it.  It is not theological, although they can quote N.T. Wright and John Wesley and John Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah 24 with the best of ’em. They are decidedly evangelical (and quote Billy Graham, of course) but they also happily cite Pope Francis.

And it is a good thing, too: his Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home is very, very important and an excellent, beautiful  document. We have been happy to stock several editions of it since it was released last year.

I could describe other features of Caring for Creation as I was enthralled with it. (And, for the record, I have read a lot of books on this topic, both the general genre of books about Christian Earth-keeping and environmental stewardship and specific stuff on the science and policies around climate change. See a passionate piece I wrote here which includes a good list.)


Here are four good features that might make Caring for Creation appealing to you or your book group. There are more than four, but these are four good reasons to buy the book.  Maybe it is a book you’ll give away to someone you wish would more carefully consider this topic.

paul douglas weather art.jpgFirst, again, it is nicely written with a light touch, even though there are oodles of footnotes, many from academic journals, meteorological studies, and prestigious scholarly sources. Like great college professors or others with the gifts of teaching they are able to explain complex and detailed stuff with quips and motivational passion drawing us right into the content.  This is as fine an introduction to this topic as you are going to find.  If you need convincing that the melting icecaps and change in ocean temperatures and sea levels and storm intensity isn’t a huge, human-caused pattern that must be addressed, Caring for Creation will help. The evidence they marshal, the balanced, non-ideological view, the common sense writing and the interesting explanation of good science from all over the world will be very compelling.  It’s a great book for ordinary readers. 

And, not surprisingly, they have a little bit about the relationship of faith and science,  what it means to be a person of truth and integrity, resisting ideologies of the right and left and following the data wherever we can.  Again, this book is lively and interesting but it covers a lot of the current debates about the scientific consensus, discussion of junk science, and of why people of orthodox Biblical faith and evangelical spirituality should be eager to follow the science.

(A Little Book for New Scientists- Why and How to Study Science.jpgPermit me a little digression, here, but we just got into the store the pocket sized, truly brilliant, long needed A Little Book for New Scientists: Why and How to Study Science by Josh A. Reeves & Steve Donaldson (IVP Academic; $12.00) which is tremendous, just tremendous, on these very themes. Designed for college students, it is great for anybody who likes reading about the interface of religion and science.)

So, yes, Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide… is easy to read and helps us understand the consensus about the climate science and the dangers to our health from pollution and a bit about why some are skeptical for these concerns. It’s a great read, informed and smart and obviously important.

Secondly, we commend this brand new book because it really does frame all of these concerns in light of joyous evangelical Christian living. These two guys and the organization they represent love Christ, they live for the gospel, they are eager to share their own faith and spiritual testimonies. They nicely ground their expansive social vision and desire to make a difference in the hurting world in their personal experience in the church and their good understanding of God’s Kingdom. They got a winsome, attractive faith — not strident or contentious as some might fear in a book like this. There other books that more systematically and seriously relate theology and ecological work, better and more comprehensive Biblical studies on creation care.  But Caring for Creation is obviously written out of a great confidence in God’s ways and the author’s commitments to being faithful to what God demands of us in these days. It is refreshing.

Thirdly, Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment frames some of the environmental material – I hope you find this as curiously attractive as I do – in light of what it means to be pro-life.  EEN has done stellar work connecting the way mercury pollution, for instance, effects the unborn; they have made good strides helping traditional anti-abortion folk become more consistently pro-life.  To expand the vision of the pro-life community to include quality of life issues, the dangers pollution presents to the unborn, to insist that a pro-life perspective include protecting pregnant moms and, of course, all children, is a huge, noble undertaking. They’ve attracted to the cause of fighting air and water pollution many who have not been politically or socially active before, including many whose entry to these issues have been mostly motivated by right-to-life principles.

consistent life protest.jpgI wish they would have talked about this more but since it isn’t the primary concern of the book they don’t explore it, but it is my experience that there are a lot of closeted pro-life folks within the peace and environmentalist movements; similarly there are closeted “greens” within the pro-life movement, too; in both cases they are nervous about admitting their true concerns to their associates. To see this book bravely advocate for issues that are often (needlessly) perceived as liberal or left-leaning by linking them to an authentic and wholistic pro-life vision perhaps frees other pro-life folk on the left or environmentalists on the right to make connections and shift the bi-polar ways these things are unhelpfully discussed. Maybe this isn’t as exciting to you as it is to me, but it’s a sly little aspect of the book, innovative, even, bringing into conversation folks who are too often polarized and not talking to each other.  Reading CfC reminds us that green is not a liberal color and that caring for a healthy environment can help us transcend partisan politics.

In other words, this book is pleasantly paradigm shaking, surprising at times, not predictable.  They are not the only anti-global warming activists who lean right politically and they are not the only voices linking concern for the unborn with a robust program of fighting toxic pollution, but it is still striking. This refreshing take on things makes for a really rewarding and even inspiring read.  

Fourthly, I think many will appreciate the practical (if visionary) proposals they weave into the book.  Of course we all need to consider lowering our carbon footprints, we need to push our organizations towards more faithful, sustainable practices. We are fastidious about recycling and try to watch our energy consumption and hope you are too. But there are bigger fish to fry, and Hescox and Douglas make some pretty big and quite thoughtful proposals about policy and our own advocacy as citizens.  This stuff is inspiring and very interesting.

Paul, the science guy who serves as a meteorological consultant with businesses and organizations all over the world, has seen how institutions work, knows corporate culture, and has been involved in global conversations with thought leaders and executives. It seems he has an awareness of what works, how to get typically conservative institutions and agencies to move proactively.  Mitch, the former engineer who worked in global technology transfer and who became a small town pastor and now serves as a faith-based environmental activist, has testified before congress, before sub-committees at the state and national level, has done daunting media work and sat in the White House at high level meetings.  These guys know what they are talking about.

Their reputations and insight are hard-earned and they deserve our respectful consideration.  This book deserves to be read.  Again, there are more sophisticated, advanced-level policy books with arcane details about the global summits, international treaties, and carbon use protocols; for non-specialists, though, Caring for Creation… brings us up to speed with just a small bit of policy proposals, ideas that can fuel good conversations and better citizenship among us.  I recommend it  for this reason, too.

By the way, there is a little motivational page or two that reminds me that Mitch has lived here in South Central PA for decades. He cites a major report done by our local York Daily Record newspaper editor, James McLure, who explained what was well known during the World War II years as “The York Plan.” Created in 1942, it included a 15-point plan which had to do with converting industry, coordinating business plans, creating a “all hands on deck” cooperative vision that would allow business and industry to focus on the public good and the urgent crisis facing the country.  Our small town industrial base became the generative context for creative thinking about solving large, looming problems.

As they describe it, The York Plan “called for shared expertise; sought cooperation and joint resources; and cared for health, housing, and fair wages for all.” It was “adapted quickly for national use, provided the blueprint to defeat a common threat; our society coming together to find solutions, work in harmony, remain competitive, and value its employees.”  We need to rekindle this vision and concept, they say, and this book truly inspires us all to understand, to care, to take steps both personal and civic, allowing God to lead us to better practices of our grand call to be stewards of the creation God made and so loves. 

Hope you noticed (above) that we are hosting both authors to talk about the Caring for Creation book here at the bookstore on Thursday night, September 29th.  If you can’t come but want an autographed copy, let us know before then.  We can have them inscribe it, even, if you give us a name to whom you’d like it made out.  See our Facebook events page, too, for a reminder or to RSVP if you’d like.



for the beauty of the earth.jpgFor the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care 
(2nd edition)
Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $26.00  Okay, this isn’t new. And, although my theology of creation care was early formed by Francis Shaeffer’s 1970s still-in-print Pollution and the Death of Man and I am very much taken with the recent, serious contribution of Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis by Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler and A.J. Swoboda of George Fox University and looooved the lovely Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation by farmer Fred Bahnson and agrarian food philosopher Norma Wirzba, this one by Hope College prof is still my major go-to book for anyone wanting a comprehensive theology of creation care. It is a must-read, if just a bit academic at times. It is worth every moment studying it and bears repeated reading.

Embracing Creation- God's Forgotten Mission.jpgEmbracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson (Leafwood Publisher) $14.99 This wonderfully done new book is so refreshing and interesting as it relates a wonderfully robust view of new creation in the Bible to our environmental crisis.  It invites us to explore the full story of God’s work in the world — God, creation, humanity, sin, redemption, promises of restoration. It draws on brilliant and well known friends of ours such as Richard Middleton, Al Wolters, and N.T. Wright as well as some of the finest Christian thinkers about environmental science and creational stewardship.  All three authors have advanced seminary degrees and are not only Biblically astute, but have studied church history and know flow of ideas, the ups and downs of theological insights and how they have been applied. Hicks teaches at Lipscomb (he earned his PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary) while Valentine is a pastor in Tucson AZ. Mark Wilson (whose first Master’s degree was in biology) has worked for 36 years in conservation through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. How great is that?

I really, really liked Embracing Creation and it offers a fabulous framework for thinking well about our mission in the world.  It explores creation and new creation from the perspective of what is called in American church history the “Stone Campbell Movement” that gave rise to the Church of Christ denomination. Each chapter ends with some take-away bullet points and excellent discussion questions.  It is very nicely done and I happily recommend it.

Hospitable Planet- Faith, Action, and Climate Change.pngHospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change Stephen A. Jurovics (Morehouse Publishing) $18.00 This author is remarkably skilled at thinking about both big picture stuff about climate change and how energy use can be refined and reformed, both institutionally, in our church buildings and in our own personal lives. With a PhD in Engineering, mitigating climate change as been the focus of his engineering work for two decades. (He has nearly 20 technical, scholarly papers published and he has presented at many professional conferences.) So he knows what has to happen about the sorts of structural changes we need to make.  As a person of faith, Jurovics realizes that the Scriptural teachings of the Older Testament law and prophets “contained instructions relevant to contemporary issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, preserving biological diversity, treatment of the land and sustainability.”

The forward to this was written by the passionate MD turned evangelical earth-care leader, Matthew Sleeth. Blurbs on the back are from mainline denominational leaders such as Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, Fletcher Harper, the Executive Director of GreenFaith, and The Revered Gerald Durly, the beloved Pastor Emeritus of the storied Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. Some will surely appreciate the interfaith tone of some of this one.   For instance, Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg raves about Hospitable Planet.

Rabbi Greenberg says:

Based primarily on the Five Books of Moses, sacred to both Christians and Jews, this book is written with passion, wisdom, and intelligent. The author’s sensitivity enables him to speaking movingly to people of faith, offering a handbook on the Bible’s greatest mandate for mortal existence – to choose life for the earth (which is the Lord’s) and all its inhabitants.

Windfall- The Blooming Business of Global Warming .jpgWindfall: The Blooming Business of Global Warming  McKenzie Funk (Penguin) $18.00  I named this as one of our favorite books of 2015 and re-announced it when it came out in paperback.  I was struck by the curious range of rave reviews it got – including Wired and The Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones. It is thoroughly enjoyable (“as entertaining as it is disturbing” The New Yorker said.) The environmental/literary journal Orion awarded it one of their books of the year, which is impressive. I just have to announce it here, again.

The reporting in this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know about what big business is doing to cash in on climate change – mining in what used to be ice lands, profiteering around wild fire dangers, making water out of melting Swiss icecaps to fight African drought. I’m telling you, you haven’t read anything like this and at times it made me glad for such human ingenuity. What fascinating stuff… who knew? There are some colorful characters and extraordinary entrepreneurs who show up. Other times it seemed nearly grotesque – what the oil companies know and believe based on internal documents – and an indication of a massive crisis, with victims already.  Windfall was called “darkly humorous and brilliantly researched.” The WSJ said it “brings a dizzyingly abstruse phenomenon down to a more human scale.” I very, very highly recommend it.

Tropic of Chaos- Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.jpgTropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence Christian Parenti (Nation Books) $16.99 Now out in paperback, this book was awarded “Book of the Year” status from numerous nonfiction reviewers; Bookforum says “if you read one book on climate change this year… Tropic of Chaos should be it. The way you understand the changing climate and the resulting conflicts that serrate our world will be transformed.” This is a book of science, yes, but also of political affairs, perhaps even of geography. It is a study of violence through the lens of the environment. As such, I think it seems extraordinarily important and we’re glad to have it in paperback.

Mr. Parenti is an esteemed writer with a PhD from the London School of Economics. As an intrepid reports he takes us from the drought stricken savannas of Northwest Kenya to Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, from the slums of Brazil to the increasingly militarized US border. “Climate-driven rural crises in the South are pushing people into the furnace of the urban drug wars…”  What a book.

Great Tide Rising- Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change .jpgGreat Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change Kathleen Dean Moore (introduction by Sister Mary Evelyn Tucker) $26.00 I have said often that some of Moore’s early writings are among my all time favorite books. I adored Riverwalking and Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World and commend her eloquent, insightful prose for those who read Terry Tempest Williams or Annie Dillard, even. To call her writing lyrical was obvious and I longed for better ways to invite people to read her glorious essays. Wild Comfort is about “the solace of nature” and, as one reviewer wrote, her “descriptions are powerfully visceral. Readers will find that the world seems larger, wilder, and yet safer than they had thought – more beautiful and more like home.”  I think I have read all of her books, and have been deeply moved by them, even though I do none of the outdoorsy exploring she and her family do. Whew!

Moore has grown increasingly agitated by the crisis of climate change which, as a naturalist she observes plainly. As a philosopher professor she struggled to affirm a moral worldview; a few years ago she helped edit the big, demanding reader Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril
asking what we are obliged to do, seeing what we see, knowing now what we know. In her own latest, the glorious Great Tide Rising, she offers her most urgent book yet, a “clarion call to summon the moral courage to ‘rage against the dying’ of the Earth.”  There is beautiful nature writing here, there is stuff about her adventures and observations, but also about resilience and courage and loss and hope. From “the art of watching” explored in the chapter “On Joyous Attention” to her “Every Parent’s Prayer” and “Because the World is Wonderful”  it becomes clear that Moore is a likable, caring, even ordinary sort of mom, neighbor, friend. Yet she compellingly and seriously offers “a call to witness” and “a call to action.” This offers stories about her love of water, the tides, the natural history of her place, but it moves to  environmental passions with huge political implications. I have not finished this as I am reading slowly, wanting to honor the books weight and beauty by treating it well and attending to it. I invite you to it, too.

Trace- Memory, History, Race, and The American Landscape.jpgTrace: Memory, History, Race, and The American Landscape Lauret Savoy (Counterpoint) $25.00 I list this for a few reasons but I do believe that many of us will become more aware of our need to grapple with the questions of environmental stewardship not just because we come to realize the Bible tells us so or because we realize the crisis is imminent but because (think of Jamie Smith’s books) we love well. That is, we love the world the way God does.  So, nature writing and books which maturely ponder a sense of place and that help us see and stand in awe of God’s good creation are bound to be helpful. (Also, some of this genre offers some of the finest writing by some of our most artful essayist and memoirists working today — for instance, certainly one of the most widely and universally acclaimed books in the last few years was the luminous, gripping bestseller H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.) Hence, even for those who are not outdoorsy or wilderness types, reading well about the great outdoors is a good practice.

We carry a lot of these sorts of books (see here for a pretty amazing list) although I have in the past noticed that much of this sort of good literature is written by white folks. (We just got into the store what looks to be a tremendously fun, historical study called Under the Stars: How American Fell in Love with Camping by Dan White which, no doubt, comments on this matter. At least I hope…)

I have commended the serious (and fascinating) book by a woman of color named Lauret Savoy called The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural World that was the only book I knew that explored these things directly.  Are there readers and leaders out there who care about racial justice and multi-ethnic ministry who also are engaged in experiential education in the woods or rivers?  People who read Belden Lane’s Backpacking with the Saints and Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness but who also are interested in human culture and the quandaries of race relations?  Well, just such a friend recently asked me if I heard of Savoy’s new one, Trace. I had not but we promptly ordered it in and realized it is considered quite an important work, a more personal story as a follow up to her work in The Colors of Nature.

Terry Tempest Williams (who has a new book out on the national parks, by the way) says :

We have waited a very long time for Trace by Lauret Savoy. Too long. Her words are a stunning excavation and revelation of race, identity, and the American landscape. I have never read a more beautiful, smart, and vulnerable accounting of how we are shaped by memory in place… I stand in awe of Savoy’s wisdom and compassionate intelligence. Trace is a crucial book for our time, a bound sanity, not a forgiveness but a reckoning.

I realize this book is not the same sort of book as Hescox and Williams, not by a long shot. But it follows — our love for place, our stewardship of creation, our sense of who we are and why we are here.  Ms Savoy is a serious literary essayist, a woman of color reflecting on this huge, huge but deeply personal story.  Perhaps immersing ourselves in this sort of literature will help us all rediscover our place, find our voice. And pick up the task at hand as revealed in Caring for Creation.  Let us pray it is so.

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Before launching into another list about books on the work world and some links to older BookNotes lists I thought I would reprint something I wrote one year ago.  It needs saying often — thanking our staff for their work, thanking you for your support of our work. And, all of us thanking teachers and others who have taught us well  — we wouldn’t have many readers or book buyers without teachers, eh?  So, hat tips all around. I hope you take a moment and read this.

As we are heading into the Labor Day weekend, some of us will have some time off. Restaurant workers, preachers, many health care providers, law enforcement personnel, those who work in the media, and those in retail may have to work extra hours this weekend to commemorate the significance of their labor.  And those of us whose wages are on the lower end can’t afford to decline any overtime we might be offered. 

Some people romanticize bookstore work, but our staff could quickly tell you about the difficulties here day by day. We are looking to hire a new staff member here and find it hard to even know what to call the opening. “Sales associate” sounds so antiseptic but I’m allergic to trendy monikers like “dream weaver.” Whatever we call the multi-tasking team here that keeps this ship afloat – Kimberlee, Amy, Patti, Robin, and Diana, the mail-out queen that wraps your packages so carefully – Beth and I are grateful beyond words. I know some of you are too, knowing that their love for books, people, and God’s Kingdom conspires to serve you well.  Their work is worth much more than they are paid. While we don’t do this bookstore ministry for the acclaim, we are grateful for and to those customers and fans that notice. Thank you for caring about our work and for being a part of our story here.  

Writers and readers and the booksellers that bring them together, yes, but there are so many more who are involved. We are grateful for publishers, printers, bookkeepers, sales reps and marketers, truck drivers who transport the cartons of books, the critics and reviewers and those who tweet and blog, those who tell others about good books they love.  But also thank God for the manufacturing plants that make the paper  — who manufactures the ink, and where, I wonder? who made the conveyor belts and loading docks at the distribution centers? who wrote the ad that caught your attention or the back cover copy? We daily praise God for the gifts of the artists that designed the books covers, even if we debate the wisdom of their aesthetic choices sometimes.

Thank God for it all, this wild, beautiful, life-changing business of books. We celebrate the many, many good writers whose work grace our shelves, but you – the readers! – are what it is finally all about. Without you buying the books, the whole process falls like a house of cards.

Which reminds us — we all should thank our elementary teachers or parents who taught us to read in the first place, and those other teachers and mentors who inspired us to want to remain readers and life-long learners.  

So, thanks be for all who play their part in this exciting story.



Show of hands if you’ve heard a sermon about labor at church this (Labor Day) Sunday or maybe even if there was a prayer offered, for those in the workforce, for what most of us do day by day. 

Yeah, I thought so.

Which is why we yet again want to remind you of our passion for books about faith and work, thinking Christianly about what we do with the work of our hands (or minds.) 

The disconnect is simply inexcusable.  We have to do better.

The other day I almost turned apoplectic when a friend who I admire greatly affirmed on social media a line by C.S. Lewis saying that one job above all others was “ultimate” in a sentence where C.S. also opined that we work in order to have leisure. I would guess Saint Clive learned that from pagan Plato, but it is simply — to use blue collar workplace lingo — bullshit. Of an unbiblical sort, no less.  The Bible, brothers and sisters, says nothing of the sort.

But I suppose it is a bit much to ask for mature theological discernment about this since — as I think we all know — most churches simply don’t offer much time or energy or space in their resource centers to equip folks to think faithfully about labor. That even on Labor Day some congregations — ahem! — don’t even hint at the importance of the day, with nary a whispered prayer for us ordinary workers in the world, illustrates that we need these books now more than ever.

Sometimes I feel like congregants just have to be responsible and do this kind of work-faith integration on our own. We should gather together people in our fields outside of our own church and get reading, learning, praying, not excepting help or encouragement from our pastors, who are usually busy with their own work.

Other days I feel like the vision to be agents of the Kingdom in the workplace has to come from the clergy, from the pulpit, from the foundation of the liturgical space where worshipers gather to hear the word proclaimed and the Kingdom announced in all its fullness. It is the task of the church to equip the members for ministry in the world.

So maybe we should send this list to our pastors. Or maybe we should just skip them and find curious people in our own industries or workplaces or neighborhoods and spheres of influence who already are passionate about the offices or labs or shop or sales floor or board room. What do you think?

(See, by the way, a book we’ve listed often on other lists, Work Matters by Tom Nelson for the story of a pastor who began to shift his own congregation’s life together around these themes. Or, see the one described below called Radical Sending, for what local congregations are doing.)


factory man.jpgLast year, right before Labor Day, I reviewed a splendidly interesting book about the furniture industry in Virginia, and a colorful character who tried to fight the import of cheap stuff from China and tried to save his local factory. Not a terribly religious book, and the church isn’t very present in this story. Still, I thought it was sensational, riveting, heart-rending, inspiring. The book is called Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town, well-written by award-winning journalist Beth Macy. After describing it I listed six reasons why I think it is an important read.

You can read that review here.

In that same review I paired it, rather whimsically, I suppose, to The Jesus Cow, a hilarious novel set in small-town Wisconsin written by rural, blue-collar writer Michael Perry. It seems right to name them again now if your Labor Day weekend considerations inspire you to read something somewhat related. 

Finding Livelihood.jpgRight before that, on September 3, 2015, my BookNotes newsletter was about one of the most eloquent and moving books about the spirituality of work I have read in years, Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy Nordenson.  Nothing has come out this year that can rival this for the sheer beauty and bravery of her intense exploration or her hope for a seamless, integrated life.

Alongside the glorious book by Ms. Nordenson, I described one that a number of folks enjoyed: Invisibles: Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of the Workplace by David Zweig.  He writes about people who are excellent at their work, sometimes extraordinary at a craft, but that is performed out of the limelight.  It takes a certain sort of person who wants to be really, really good at their job but expects no acclaim or recognition.  Invisibles explored a unique sort of work experience. And Finding Livelihood told of the authors particular work, but also her life — universal stuff, it seems to me.

You can read those two reviews here.

the world beyond your head.jpgBy the way, Invisibles brought to mind the very, very important book The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (now out in paperback!) by the brilliant thinker, writer and motor-cycle repairman Matthew Crawford. It includes extended essays reporting on his fascinating interviews with skilled workers who have muscle memory and street smarts, who are at the top of their game when doing their hard, skilled work.

See my brief BookNotes comments about it here.

I assume you know Matthew Crawford’s previous best-seller Shop Class As Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. We’ve talked about it here for years, and it has gotten a lot of acclaim. A bit too academic, at times, it does hold up mechanical and industrial work as a good thing, a very good thing, and commends the importance and beauty of the vocation of being a tradesperson. He laments the shift away from shop class as we foolishly think we live in a “information” age. Anyway, both of Crawford’s books are well worth your time if you like fairly deep stuff.



cfw logo.pngFor those that want to explore some important, serious, foundational  work-related books in a certain number of professional fields, I was honored to be asked to curate such a list for the Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work. I so respect their creative, faithful, work in this area and commend their resources and conferences to you.

The industries that we resourced with recommended readings include academia, advertising/marketing, architecture, the arts, business, creative communication/design, education, entrepreneurship, fashion, finance, food, healthcare, law, retail, and science.

You can find these annotated lists that I did for them here.

I hope you know that we keep these kinds of books in stock the best we can. Send us a note if you want to talk more about any of this… or share the appropriate list with folks you know.


You probably know that I’ve compiled a number of lists of good faith-based books about the work-world, and have written essays about why church leaders should attend to the callings and careers of the congregants. I hope you don’t mind me revisiting this from time to time.

I invite you to read or review this good list, or this post (where I have a James Taylor video and talk about Tim Keller’s important book Every Good Endeavor and others.) The prices may have changed a bit since I first listed them (some books that were hardback are now maybe available in paperback, say.) Still, maybe you could share it with somebody who might find it helpful.  Maybe you know a pastor or clergy person who might benefit from knowing this is a thing.  

I list some essential classics in those lists and there are so many really, really good ones on vocation, calling, careers, and the faith/work intersection that I hardly need to update it; this list shows that there is a movement afoot, that this is a thing these days. 


But thanks be to God that there are even more books that have come out in the past few years. We’ve been in the vanguard on this for more than thirty years, and we are increasingly noticing folks all over the country doing excellent work in talking meaningfully about work.

I stand behind those previous posts, but consider this addendum, well, a sequel of sorts, more of the story that you are surely some part of.  Thanks for telling the story, spreading the word.  

Garden City- Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.jpgGarden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99  I raved about this previously, holding up its solid vision, its chatty, easily understood vision, its young-adult-friendly design and cool style. Love it. And, happily, many others do, too.   This may be the best new contribution to this topic in ages — fun, clever, and, I think, truly insightful.

Here is what Bible scholar Scot McKnight has written of it:

In Garden City John Mark Comer takes the reader on a journey—
from creation to the final heavenly city. But the journey is designed to
let each of us see where we are to find ourselves in God’s good plan to
partner with us in the redemption of all creation. Smack-dab in the
middle of this set of ideas is Comer’s excellent sketch of work, a
sketch I find both pastorally mature and an exhortation to each of us to
know that all we do has value before God. There is in Garden City an
intoxication with the Bible’s biggest and life-changing ideas.

I really respect the writing and insight of Skye Janthani, and I agree with his take on this:

There is an awakening happening in the Western church. We are
rediscovering that God’s mission includes all of creation, not just
church work, and he intends for us to be flourishing people, not just
religious disciples. John Mark Comer’s book continues this awakening
with accessible insight into forgotten biblical truths about the
importance of our identity as women and men created in God’s image, the
value of our vocations in the world, and a ravishing vision of the
beautiful future we are building with God today. Everyone who reads this
book will see themselves, their work, and their world with new eyes

Callings- The Purpose and Passion of Work - A StoryCorps Book.jpgCallings: The Purpose and Passion of Work: A Storycorps Book Dave Isay (Penguin Press) $26.00  I suppose you’ve heard StoryCorp on NPR, those great little story-telling audio features. This brilliant book is the best survey of our attitudes about and stories of work since the classic Working by Studs Terkel. These short chapters are grouped under the categories of Dreamers, Generations, Healers, Philosophers, Groundbreakers. You might be surprised to see which jobs are described in which categories — Groundbreakers include a video game inventor, a county clerk, a pastor,  a chef and restaurateur, a NASCAR driver, and a building contractor.  Philosophers include a beer vendor and beekeeper and science teacher. (Not to mention a “salmon slicer.”) Healers might seem more predictable — lovely stories from an oncology nurse, a hospice chaplain, a 9/11 first responder, an Ob-gyn doc and an ICU nurse, but also iron workers, a grocer, and an English teacher. I loved the pieces by those who are doing what their forefathers or mothers did (farmer, actor, firefighter, a tool and die maker, an engineer, an oil rig driller, and more.) The book opens with those called Dreamers and it could include many of the workers who tell their stories, but these are especially powerful — an NBA referee, a library assistant, a dentist, a forensic artists, a street corner astronomer..

You get the point — this is a veritable handbook of thinking well about one’s calling in life, with these lovely testimonials by interesting folks. Christian readers, and certainly pastors, could learn much from this (even if most of the contributors do not use conventional theological categories to understand their jobs and passions.) A great, great book!

The Gospel Goes to Work.jpgThe Gospel Goes to Work: God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal Dr. Stephen Graves (KJK Inc. Publishing) $10.00  For the price, this small paperback is one of the best bargains around. This book is mature, thoughtful, helpful, innovative, and uses a handsome two color ink design with very nice graphics giving it a contemporary, classy feel. Graves has been at this for decades and this is a very fine update to the state of the art of this conversation about Christian faith and daily work. This approach — which he calls “The Baseline and the Blue Sky” — offers practical pointers for whole-life discipleship framed by God’s big picture work. This is excellent.

a-womans-place-.jpgA Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books) $22.99  This is a very nicely written book, thoughtful and at times provocative, insisting that God has created us — male and female — to reflect the image of God by working (paid or unpaid, at home or in the world) but that in our culture women have certain obstacles to overcoming in finding their own voice in the typical work-world culture. (And one of those obstacles may be unhelpful attitudes and teachings from some very prominent Christian leaders.)

I agree with Karen Swallow Prior who says “Whether you are a man or a woman, whether you work at school, an office, or home, A Woman’s Place will inform, challenge and inspire you.” It draws on Amy Sherman’s must read Kingdom Calling and cites often Katherine Leary Aldorf, who co-wrote Tim Keller’s essential Every Good Endeavor and many interviews of many women who are making a difference in quiet ways, day by day, in their work. Dave Blanchard (of Praxis) calls it “excellent” and Scott Sauls says it has “elegance and prophetic strength.” It isn’t exactly Lean In for Christian women, although she does have a chapter on Sheryl Sandberg’s important book.  Agree or not with every page, appreciate her humor or stories fully or not, this is an essential book in part because there is hardly anything in print like it. This book deserves to be discussed.

You can read my longer review here.

WorkPrisonOrPlaceOfDestiny.jpgWork: Prison or Place of Destiny? David Oliver (Authentic) $14.99  This was written in 1999, published in England. I really like the sort of forward-thinking- real-world evangelicalism across the pond.  This book seems a bit more practical than some more abstract ones, and yet more charismatic in tone, lively, Biblically, Spirit-lead, seeking churches that are in the front lines of God’s revival. This edition has been updated and there is an excellent afterword by Dr. Christian Overman who offers an overview of the theology of work centers and grad programs (in North America) that have sprung up in recent years. There is, by the way, also a chapter by Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He used to work in advertising so knows well the struggles and temptations and opportunities within the so-called secular corporate world.

Every Waking Hour- An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians .jpgEvery Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians Benjamin T. Quinn & Walter R. Strickland (Lexham Press) $12.95  We discovered Lexham Press because they are doing the on-going project of very large, handsome, excellently translated hardback editions of Abraham Kuyper. This one — Every Waking Hour — is equally well done, but in a a compact, small hardback; it is part of a trio of companion volumes, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians by Bruce Riley Ashford and Every Good Thing: An Introduction to the Material World and the Common Good for Christians by David Jones. All three of these are handsome, clear, Biblical, a bit conservative in orientation. They are created in cooperation with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m very glad to see seminaries working on this stuff. Every Waking Hour is a very fine, no-nonsense introduction to this topic.

The Gospel at Work- How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs .jpgThe Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert (Zondervan) $16.99  I think this is a fabulous contribution to this topic…. again, it covers standard stuff, affirms the priesthood of all believers, invites us to reject a churchy sort of view that places ordinary work-world Christians as some kind of second class believer. Okay — clear enough, good enough. What this one brings to the conversation, though, is a robust and deep reliance on the gospel itself, the transforming power of Christ’s cross, the way we must put Christ first in all things, and understand the way grace transforms everything. It is like any number of books in its call to relate Sunday and Monday, to think Christianly about work. But fewer books invite us to a serious self-assessment about whether we have made our work an idol. Can trusting God alone and the goodness of God’s grace free us from the cultural pressures of either working too much, or maybe not enough? These good authors help us see how the gospel can free us from “both an all consuming devotion and a punch-in, punch-out mentality — in order to find the freedom of a work ethic rooted in serving Christ.” When this book says it will help us “find God’s vision for your job” it isn’t kidding. It’s solid, mature, transformational stuff, rooted in a gospel-centered approach.  Good discussion questions, too.

Radical Sending- Go To Love and Serve the Lord.jpgRadical Sending: Go to Love and Serve Demi Prentiss & Fletcher Lowe (Morehouse Publishing) $18.00  I find it interesting that some of the finest books in the 70s on this topic — the few that existed — came out of mainline denominational churches. (I think of the Lutheran Bethlehem Steel executive William Diehl who wrote Thank God Its Monday.)  Dutch Calvinists at the alternative labor union in Canada were writing as were Mennonites and Catholics, but not too many evangelicals. Now, the faith/work conversation and the centers to study this are led by thoughtful evangelicals and conservative Protestants, it seems.  This, though, comes from the mainline Episcopalian church and documents great examples of mainline, often liturgical parishes, that are equipping congregants to see their work as a mission field and that their work matters to God. Dorothy Sayers (who wrote the seminal “Why Work” essay) was Anglican, of course, so it is fitting to see Episcopalians taking up this tradition, rooted well in their own Book of Common Prayer and its call to the missio dei.

I explained a bit more about this good book in our “Best of 2015” column, which you can scroll through to find here if you want to read more. Kudos. 

Consider Your Calling- Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation.jpgConsider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $16.00  I have long appreciated Smith’s clear, intense writing about spirituality. He’s in the league with Richard Foster and the late Dallas Willard — and his recent work has insisted we need a more deeply rooted, spiritually-mature, Christianly-shaped sort of character (see Called to Be Saints!)  One of his books which we listed on previous BookNotes bibliographies about calling and vocation is Courage and Calling; it is substantial and thoughtful. I have sometimes even called that one “Richard Foster meets Os Guinness” in that it has a robust view of calling but has a bit of a contemplative tone. In this newer, compact little book he gives us six questions to ask in reflecting upon one’s calling, a thoughtful guide to doing some inner work in considering one’s vocation. We reviewed it previously but it deserves to be on this list as it is so very useful and wise. Highly recommended.

Your Vocational Credo by Deborah Koehn Loyd .jpgYour Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose Deborah Koehn Loyd (IVP) $16.00  I have to sometimes whittle it all down to one book — at the Jubilee conference each February, say, when students who want a practical, visionary, but useful book on discerning their own sense of call. So many young adults are still unclear about choosing a major, a field of study, a future career. And, I have to say, at least at this past year at Jubilee 2016. this was the one that most resonated with college age students. it is fun, upbeat, energetic, has lots of stories, a missional zeal, even. And it seems practical, even it is full of wonder and mystery and daring.  If the smaller more sober one by Gordon Smith (Consider Your Calling, see above) appealed to those who wanted just those six questions, or a slightly more prayerful tone, this one seemed happily to meet the needs of many. Written by a wise young woman who promises to “walks you through the transformational journey of becoming the world-changer God has intended you to be.” Cool, huh? It’s good. Everybody needs “a vocational credo” and this resource can help.

Here is what Brian McLaren writes of it: 

First I would like to make this book required reading for every young person between the ages of, say, fifteen and twenty-nine. Then I’d like it to be required for everyone at midlife. Then, I think it should be given again to everyone at retirement. You couldn’t ask for a better guide in asking that most personal and persistent of questions: What am I doing with my one and only life?”

more.jpgMore: Finding Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure Todd Wilson (Zondervan) $15.99  I tend to like books that are well-written, a bit on the abstract side, nothing too formulaic or workbooky or simplistic.  That’s me.  But every now and then a book comes along that is very nicely written, is rooted in broad, good thinking, and yet offers a framework from which to obtain really practical guidance.  This is one of those rare ones, informed by the likes of Os Guinness’s brilliant The Call and yet full of self-assessment questions and vocational guidance and down to Earth ideas of making decisions.  Here is what the promo copy says about it:  

Introducing a memorable vocabulary and an easy-to-use practical framework, More equips readers to embark on a journey of discovering their unique personal calling. It enables readers to answer three of the most important and profound questions we all naturally ask.

(1) Who am I created to be?

(2) What am I created to do?

(3) Where am I to be best positioned to do it?

The integrated answers to these key questions (the BE-DO-GO of a person’s life) represent the core dimensions of personal calling. Inspiring and challenging, More gives readers permission and encouragement to engage in the journey God has solely for them.

Know Your Why- Finding and Fulfilling Your Calling in Life .jpgKnow Your Why: Finding and Fulfilling Your Calling in Life Ken Costa (Nelson) $16.99  I was thrilled to see this new book being released — we have been glad to list and tell about his earlier book called God at Work and it was nice to know he had another one coming. Costa is an internationally renowned banker, having worked as chairman of UBS Investment Bank (and other financial marketing organizations in London.) Not every book  — hardly any books, in fact — carry endorsements from Louie Giglio (of the Passion Conference) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (who says “This book has all of Ken at his best…Written from his own experience, it speaks to the concerns of young professionals everywhere.”)  Brian Houston says “There are few people on the planet whom I find more fascinating than Ken Costa…” Inspiring, for sure!  I trust it to speak about vocation and the call into the work world because I know the author’s other book and his remarkable experience within the financial institutions of the global economy. 

EmotiConversations- Working Through Our Deepest Places.jpgEmotiConversations: Working Through Our Deepest Places John Elton Pletcher & Holly Hall-Pletcher (Resource Publications) $20.00  I hope you recall that we’ve given a shout out or two to a lovely little novel by Pletcher — a parable, really, which allows us to enter this faith/work conversation in story form — called Henry’s Glory.  We are always glad to promote really unique books that are solid and useful like this when it is written by a friend and customer we trust, and Henry’s Glory brought a fresh voice into this body of literature.  Well, Rev. Pletcher here goes a bit deeper and (get this) has partnered with his mother (Holly) to co-author this book about the complex and fascinating topic of emotions in the workplace. Wow.

This is both intriguing, insightful, and, I think, more useful then many of us may want to admit. I don’t know if the title — EmotiConversations — works adequately to express just how important and valuable this book is. I admire the courage of it’s subtitle “working through our deepest places” but, although it is mature, it isn’t intense or heavy. Blurbs on the back are from the popular Peter Greer who recommends it to leaders, especially, and another by a workplace chaplain and a rave by the director of a worldview ministry. Smart folks like these so appreciate the creative mix here — “intriguing stories, motivating themes from the Scriptures, and savvy life skill” stuff. You will to, whether you work in an office or shop floor, in retail or education, at church or at home, even.

Just yesterday at the grocery store I stood speechless as a customer so verbally assaulted a teenage check out girl that the cashier was reduced to tears.  I also saw a calm manager who was called in fully skip the emotional tension of this crying employee. A little social and emotional intelligence could go a long way for most of us, and it’s absence is sometimes heartbreaking. For Christians hoping to serve as salt and light in the workplace, this could really be a valuable resource. 



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