20 GREAT BOOKS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST — and a free book offer! Limited Time Only

To kick off the new Adult Ed program at our church I’m helping with a class I put together on the life, times, person and work, of Jesus. We swiped a title from the wonderful John Ortberg book, Who Is That Man? and we’ve got both of our PC(USA) pastors and another local ordained PCA guy briefly exploring this majestic topic. I’ve been pursuing some old favorites and new titles and have been reminded not only how great it is to read and re-read the gospels (something I don’t do as much as I should) but also how many great books there are about the Christ.

We have often suggested that small groups and Sunday school classes and fellowship retreats take up a study of Jesus. I bet we have over 300 different books about Jesus to choose from.

I have to admit, though, that I’m a little surprised how few books in the field of Biblical studies, generally, and about Jesus, particularly, we sell. Maybe you and yours might be inspired by this list to remedy this. I would suspect that you want your faith to grow, your discipleship to deepen, your spiritual formation to be, truly, in the way of Jesus. I bet you’ve got issues in your life that a re-boot, towards Jesus, would help. Maybe we all should pick up a book or two to help us more faithfully understand the gospels and consider the implications of being a modern day apprentice to Jesus.



** Here is how this works. We have a lot of overstocked books about Jesus. Order any of these that I describe below (at our BookNotes discounted price) and we’ll surprise you with another from our backlog catalog.  For free. Here’s all that you have to do – when you order, just tell us if you want one that is fairly academic or on a more popular level. And, tell us if you prefer one that is more evangelically-minded or perhaps a bit less so. We’ve got scholarly books and less demanding ones from varying perspectives. Or just say “surprise me.” We’ll send something interesting, at no charge. The discount is enduring but the free book offer expires soon.  Order today.

The Jesus Journey: Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero and Discovering the Humanity of God: A 40-Day Encounter Trent Sheppard (Nelson) $16.99 This is actually the book I’ve recommended for our class participants to accompany them as they take up the gospel readings this season. It is wonderfully written, clever, curious, interesting, up-beat, honest, a great read on many level. The author is a theologian that draws on the likes of the big scholarly books of N.T. Wright and a boots-on-the-ground pastor who cares about how people learn to live. He starts off telling about how jolly old Saint Nicholas punched a guy during the Council of Chalcedon (talk about “the Santa I never knew” he quips, alluding to the Phil Yancey book.) He is utterly orthodox and believes we should care – if not throw punches – about the divinity and humanity of Christ. This book is reflection on the life and times of Jesus with a view to his humanity. There are many good books on this these days – don’t miss The Jesus We Missed for instance — but this is arranged in 40 short readings. From “Jesus Had an Aunt” to “But Was He Funny?” through to the exquisite telling of Jesus’ last days and a reminder of the dance of the Trinity in the final piece called “In the Beginning” Sheppard will draw you it, give you insight, and create space for real transformation.

At the end of each reading Sheppard invites us into a three-layered process of “Ponder, Pray, Practice.” These are not just mundane or simple summaries, but wise and poignant and useful for your journey. It will help you learn more about the Jesus story and it will help you care. I am sure your relationship with God will be enhanced by this very interesting book.

Sheppard helps to pastor an urban house church called Ekklesia and oversees Alpha’s work with college students in New England. He has read very widely, draws on the best stuff, and is a great storyteller. Most important, he offers these eye-opening reflections by helping us – as the back cover puts it — “”encounter Jesus as if for the first time by experiencing his breathing, heart-beating, body-and-blood, crying-and-laughing humanity.”

Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus John Ortberg (Zondervan) $16.99 In class this week I showed a brief clip from the lively Ortberg DVD curriculum by this same name (that we also carry and it is very cook, very engaging.) I’m not kidding, the first chapter is worth the price of the book where Ortberg highlights the ways in which the person of Jesus – with virtually no followers at his death – became, arguably, the most important person in the history of the world. Not only did he launch a movement of followers that within a generation or two numbered in the hundreds of thousands, they changed the world. From the way in which European culture treated children to innovations in medicine, from literacy and higher education to the very rise of democracy a line – often a straight line – can be drawn from the teachings of Jesus to these revolutionary cultural improvements. Who was this man who as a first century Jew from a rural region of Palestine didn’t try to name any towns after himself, didn’t start a political party, didn’t seem t to organize much of a movement (and in any event, left his followers in disarray after his execution.) Yep, as some say about the resurrection and all the rest: “Well, you didn’t see that coming, did you?”

John Ortberg is a great preacher, storyteller, communicator and clear and interesting writer. I am positive you will learn something new by reading this well-researched book and I’m sure you will have a greater appreciation for the implications of a Christ-centered faith – whether you even believe it or not. In a way, this is a great book to give to someone who sneers at conventional views of Jesus or those who think that the legacy of the Christian religion has been more bad than good. Of course, Ortberg not only looks at this wonderful and fascinating two-thousand year impact of the man from Galilee, but he asks, powerfully and urgently, even, how it was that these early followers staked their lives on the teachings of this man? Of course, the resurrection is at the very heart of that, so the book ends with a dramatic exploration of the Easter accounts and their believability. What a great read. Highly recommended.

The Jesus I Never Knew Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $14.99 It is hard to pick a favorite Philip Yancey book. He is an author we always recommend unreservedly to anyone that is educated as he is eloquent without being exceedingly literary, he is very well read and draws on just the right mix of fascinating sources, and he tells stories of his own evangelical background and his journey through rejecting fundamentalism, legalism, discovering grace, coping with pain and suffering, and not a small bit of doubt. Yet he shines through with humanity and care and always with solidly orthodox Christian faith intact. Don’t you love his book What’s So Amazing About Grace or his several books about suffering (such as Disappointment with God or The Question That Won’t Go Away.) Well, this is one of the great books of the last fifty years – and I’m not alone in saying this. The eloquent and gospel-drenched ethicists Lewis Smedes said, before he died, that this was probably the best book about Jesus written in the whole century!

I like how early on in this very engaging book Yancey talks about varying view of Jesus from different cultures and how various filmmakers have given us different visions of the persona and work and meaning of Jesus. Like him, I was deeply moved in the early 70s when our youth group went to see The Gospel According to Matthew by the Marxist filmmaker Pasolini. There is a reason this book has sold over a million copies; it is remarkable, fascinating, maybe even a bit disturbing. What a book!

The Incomparable Christ John Stott (IVP) $20.00 I have sometimes said that this is my favorite serious book on the person and work of Christ. It is so well researched, so compelling, and so comprehensive. Allow me to simply explain what Stott is doing here – these were the important Langham Lectures that were turned into the book – and you will see its value. I have drawn from it often, and think anyone who teaches or preaches could use it profitably for personal inspiration, of course, but for accumulating stories and illustrations and historical stuff. What a wonderful, mature, thoughtful, educated, and inspiring books this is!

There are four major sections of The Comparable Christ.

The first set of chapters looks at what he calls “The Original Jesus” which is how the New Testament witnesses to Jesus in the Gospels, Acts, and Letters. For anyone that cares about the Bible, this is remarkably inspiring and very wise.

The second section is called “The Ecclesiastical Jesus” which shows how the church has presented Jesus historically – that is, it offers the insights and teachings about Jesus from church leaders, explaining different theologies of Christ, different views of the role of the Cross, different ways to understand his work. Although this is more theological in nature, it draws on representative figures, exploring their historical context and why their particular insights were either helpful or less so in their time and ours. He looks at views of Christ represented by Justin Martyr to Saint Benedict, Anselm to Bernard of Clairvoux, from the early Councils to Luther and more. There are some curious thinkers selected, too, such as Thomas Jefferson, and modern thought leaders such as Gustavo Gutierrez, N.T. Wright, and some in the church workers that represent historic modern missions movements.

The third section is fascinating as it explores what Stott calls “The Influential Jesus.” Here he shows how people from St. Francis to Tolstoy, from Gandhi to Roland Allen, from Father Damien to William Wilberforce have taken inspiration from him. Talk about a lot of sermon illustrations or teaching examples. This is different than the broader sweet and more systematic exploration of Who Is This Man by Ortberg because it focuses on these individuals who, as Christians or in some cases not, were decisively shaped by the person of Jesus.

The fourth part of this great book is what Stott explores under the title “The Eternal Jesus.” Here he invites us to consider how we ourselves are continually challenged by him today through ten visions of Christ from the Book of Revelation. To be honest, I thought I might find this section less interesting but I assure you that in Stott’s balanced, impeccable hands, this material comes alive and is a big ending to an already very strong work.

As the publisher said The Incomparable Christ offers “an enriching vision of Jesus that defies measurement.”  “Uncle John” Stott died in 2011 and some of my favorite people in the world knew him well and still point to him as the most influential Christian leader in their lives. You should read his

What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History Rabbi Evan Moffic (Abingdon) $16.99 How Jewish clergy have viewed Jesus has been a fascinating topic of study for millennia, and I suppose interest in the question heightened with the awareness of anti-Semitism in the years following the Holocaust. Mainline denominational folks (and, eventually, Roman Catholics) started renewed dialogue and with new vigor in the middle of the 20th century. Some evangelicals have also joined this sort of conversation and it has been renewed in recent years – for reasons of justice, for reasons of mission, and for reasons theological in nature. Be that as it may, one of the specific questions is how we should at the very least understand our Lord and Savior as the Jewish rabbi that he was. What does it mean to explore Jesus’ life and ministry through the lens of his Jewishness? Why has it been so often overlooked?

It is good to have a contemporary Rabbi teach us this stuff, and this recent book was a delight to read. Rabbi Moffic is a popular speaker and an advocate for uncovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible for people of all faiths so he ends up in conversations with church folks a lot. (He is the Senior Rabbi of Congregational Solel in suburban Chicago and the author of What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover.)

Scot McKnight (quite a good Jesus scholar himself and a prolific author) opens his comments about Rabbi Moffic and his book reminding us of the need to listen well to one another, especially in conversations between Jews and Christians. And he says, “Christians will not agree with everything Moffic says, but they will say he has listened well. For that alone, I am immensely grateful for this book.

“Immensely grateful.” How’s that for an endorsement? Why not put it in your church library or donate one to your own public library?

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.99 This medium sized, solid hardback is a very nice introduction to what Wright says about Jesus and I highly recommend it.

You probably know that Wright has done what may be the most talked about Biblical and theological project of our lifetime, the large four volume series called “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” The first three volumes are each hundreds of pages (at least they aren’t, like volume four on Paul, itself two volumes, 800-some pages each) and they are all on Jesus. These fat volumes are The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God and of course we have them. There are books about these books, now, including a brand new one, on a sub-theme of Wright’s, his important view of how first century Jews and Jesus understood the exile era, and whether it was still ongoing for them and what role it played in Jesus’ own mission. This is a major new work – a sure to be discussed collection by New Testament scholars, early Judaism scholars, and theologians, and with Wright replying. It is called Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright edited by James J. Scott (IVP Academic; $40.00.) It is brilliant!

The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is N.T. Wright ( IVP Academic) $16.00. For a good accessible summary of the first three volumes of that hefty “Christian Origins” series referred to above, by the way, see this excellent paperback The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. It was published as the third big one was was coming out in the late1990s — given as lecture’s explaining about his big project. A new introduction was written by Wright for the paperback edition a few years ago. It’s a great resource.

Yep, as you most likely know, Rev. Dr. Wright has written much on the Christ. But here, in Simply Jesus he attempts to summarize his main thesis for beginners or seekers, naming the “perfect storm” of ancient Israel under the boot heel of Roman imperialism and Jesus showing up with his own unique identity and calling. It argues for Jesus’ own identity as the One to liberate God’s people from exile, restore the Kingdom (in an unusual, subversive way that they didn’t quite understand) and put the world to rights, as he puts it, through his sacrificial death and resurrection. It isn’t as simple as I’d wish and it is still hardcover, so I read it again this last week to see if I really should list it here. And, yes, I was utterly taken with it. I’ll admit that I’ve thought his easier collection of sermons called Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship and the one more directly about Christ’s Kingdom-vision (How God Became King) were better, more succinct and compelling, especially for those unfamiliar with historical scholarship about Jesus. I am so glad to have become re-acquainted with this one as I am now convinced that it is a must-read for Wright fans and a fascinating, substantive introduction to Jesus for those who want a basic but solid resource like this.

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $14.99 This is the red one, that goes with that blue one… they both came out about the same time but it is this one that first captured my attention – I’ve always wanted a really solid book explaining the Kingdom of God and its centrality in the life and teaching and work of Jesus. And it is the one he preached on in our backyard when he came here several years ago. (Yeah, you read that right. Go Dallastown!)   For what it is worth, this may be one of my favorite Biblical-studies books ever and is my favorite Tom Wright book. You should get it. Simple as that.


The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $16.99 I could get worked up about any number of books that are so useful to help us understand the way Jesus himself explained his gospel and how it is best described by using the rubric of the Kingdom. I think Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel is one of the must-reads, as well. There are two stellar introductions to this little book – one by N.T. Wright and one by Dallas Willard. That’s really something, indicating the importance of this volume. Don’t miss it.



Jesus: A Pilgrimage James Martin, SJ (HarperOne) $17.99 When Mary Karr, the exquisite, captivating memoirist and author of The Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit, said of this book that it is “One of the best books I’ve read in years – on any subject,” I took notice. Reviewers have talked about this memoir and travelogue in glowing terms (as they do about most of Father Martin’s many captivating books.) When Archbishop Tutu calls it “refreshingly innovative” and Scott Hahn says, “This book isn’t about pilgrimage. It is a pilgrimage. I didn’t want the pilgrimage to end,” when it gets raves endorsements from conservatives like Archbishop Charles Chaput and liberationists like Orbis editor Robert Ellsberg, from Protestant liberal theologian Harvey Cox and the literary contemplative Presbyterian Kathleen Norris, you know you have something very, very interesting. This really is a travelogue, a journey throughout the Holy Land to discover more about the person of Jesus. The Tablet says it is “Infectious. Travelogue, spirituality, and theological reflection combine with wit and wisdom and human insight.” You will learn a lot about Jesus, about the Holy Land (then and now) and perhaps discover yourself wanting to be more seriously committed to “the first-century Jewish radical that Martin has devoted his life to following.” It may not mean much to many BookNotes fans, but Jesus: A Pilgrimage is dedicated to a very important Catholic New Testament scholar, Daniel Harrington, SJ, of whom Martin says, he “taught Jesus in his classes, his books, and his life.”

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels Kenneth E. Bailey (IVP Academic) $32.00 I can hardly think of a Biblical scholar who is as widely respected, even admired, as this fine, good man was, this quiet teacher who lived most of his life in the Middle East, from Cairo to Syria, Lebanon to Jerusalem. His decades of service as a Presbyterian Bible scholar is well documented – his widow told us this summer in a lovely conversation that his papers and correspondence and academic articles are now being curated in the world-renowned missions library at Harvard Divinity School. Ken’s legendary service to the unchurched world, especially the Arab world, is only rivaled by his tireless service to the church, helping us understand our Bibles better. He has published widely and is respected ecumenically. Here we suggest this great-looking fat paperback which is a recent collection of a bunch of his excellent work, articles and classes and essays that hold together well, starting with the birth of Jesus and exploring various aspects of his life and ministry.  Throughout Bailey shows how knowing a bit about first century Middle Eastern culture illumines what Jesus did and taught and how He would have been understood by his listeners and followers; he helps us discard our typical Western worldview and see what is really going on in the gospel accounts. What a book!

His other must-read titles include Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story (IVP Academic; $22.00) and The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament (IVP; $24.00.) We always promote his “two books in one” early volume called Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Eerdmans; $34.00.) They aren’t simple but repay careful study – guaranteed. (For what it is worth, one of the last books Ken did before his death a year ago was a thick, major work called Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes which has a lovely cover that sits as an obvious companion to Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. It offers his insightful cultural and literary study of 1 Corinthians.)

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of The Son of God Timothy Keller (Riverhead Books) $17.00  Tim Keller is known as a thoughtful, theologically conservative, Reformed theologian but more, perhaps, as a winsome apologist, writing intellectually mature and very interesting books for skeptics and seekers. (See, for instance, his Reason for God or the heavier Making Sense of God.) At the heart of his church work and his justice preaching and his culturally-engaged dialogues with seekers, is his classic, solid, insightful preaching of the Bible. He has a book on Judges and a small two-volume set on Romans, one on Galatians, a lovely year-long devotional using the Psalms (and a similarly formatted one coming in November on Proverbs which you can pre-order, btw.) Even his topical books – on suffering, or prayer, on justice, are very rooted in Scripture. This book, Jesus the King, was previously released in hardcover as Kings Cross — he admits it a line early one that it is a nod to Harry Potter – but when the paperback was released they changed the title. Curiously, Keller does see that the energetic book of Mark is arranged in essentially two parts: the first half of the gospel makes the claim that Jesus is the King and the second half is all about the Cross of the King.

As the back cover explains it:

…the man the New York Times called “a C. S. Lewis for the twenty first century,” unlocks new insights into the life of Jesus Christ as he explores how Jesus came as a king, but as a king who had to bear the greatest burden anyone ever has… Keller shows how the story of Jesus is at once cosmic, historical, and personal, calling each of us to look anew at our relationship with God. It is an unforgettable look at Jesus Christ, and on that will leave an indelible imprint on every reader.

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions Timothy Keller (Penguin Books) $16.00 We have referred to this often at BookNotes – it is a compact sized paperback (like his book on idolatry, on the one on justice, or the one on preaching) and it packs a wallop more than you might think. It is a lovely, winsome, but powerful study of the encounters Jesus had with people in the gospel of John. Keller tells us that the first half of the book were talks he did at a public gathering in England – not necessarily among the religiously minded, by the way, public meetings at Oxford University The second half are talks he gave, Bible lessons among a business group at the secular-minded Harvard Club in mid-town Manhattan. So in both cases, these explorations of these remarkable encounters people had with Jesus are explained in ways that are interesting, intellectually sharp, not presuming any previous knowledge of the text, with the result of these Bible re-tellings being almost evangelistic in nature. This is a very, very nice book.

Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee Mark Strauss (IVP) $16.00 A few weeks ago the Revised Common Lectionary gave us the text of Jesus calling a woman a dog, and she pushed back – wow. Every time I hear or read that story I wonder, “what was Jesus thinking?” I trust you do too. Well, as it ends up, for honest readers, there are other pretty difficult sayings of Jesus, things that were judgmental and provocative, things that seemed chauvinistic and some might say unkind. He was angry, cursed an innocent fig tree, seemed on occasion to be sexist.   Geesh, I thought everybody like Jesus. Well, this upbeat and interesting book takes a hard look at the hard stuff found in the teachings or sayings of Jesus. It reckons well with the real Jesus, not a straw man or caricature, and that is both good and harder than it sounds. I agree with Walter Wink who said if we were making up a person like Jesus, we wouldn’t in a thousand years come up with this one. The real Jesus is unpredictable and sometimes a bit odd. Strauss is a fine evangelical scholar (and served as an associate editor of the huge and balanced NIV Study Bible.) This book is worth having on hand – you never know when the Lectionary is going to give us one of those hard-to-understand texts again.

Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder Richard A. Horsley (Fortress) $17.00 There are numerous books that open up the relationship of the violent empire of ancient Rome and the subversive practices of the early Jesus community – you may have read of John Dominic Crossan who gets some of this pretty right, or Marcus Borg who was attentive to the political themes we often miss in our readings of the life of Jesus. (See, for instance, his early book Jesus: A New Vision.) My favorite exploration of this, by far, is Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat (IVP Academic; $24.00) which, admittedly, is about Paul and the early church’s experiences, less directly about Jesus, but it is still essential reading.) For a mind-blowing study along these lines that is directly about Jesus, see the hefty and unforgettable Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus by Ched Meyers (Orbis; $28.00)

I list this older Horsley one, though, as an important and representative title, if a bit academic. It is worth working through. A critique of some of the possible excesses of this approach can be found in a book edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica called Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (IVP Academic; $22.00) and I suspect they are on to something in bringing a bit of balance to this important new genre of early Christ You really should be acquainted with this socially-potent approach that is significant in the cutting edge research these days—some might say to miss it would be a to miss a key to Jesus and He really was and how we really are to respond to his counter-cultural reign.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion Gary Burge (IVP Academic) $17.00 I just had to list this as it is a fun, fun, creative way to get into the background culture of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus. Gary Burge is an astute Bible scholar, a leader of remarkable holy land tours, and a bit of a peace and justice activist for those in the middle of intractable difficulties in Palestine. He’s a Wheaton College prof and we think he is very, very reliable as a scholar and teacher within the broader church. So this is nice, an easy way in to some important cultural background.

By the way, this follows on the heals of a similar novel written by the extraordinary New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III called A Week in the Life of Corinth, obviously about the early church, and the brand new, imaginative and I think very helpful one, also by Ben Witherington, called A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem which explores how that seismic event scattered the members of the persecuted local church in Jerusalem in 70 AD. As the plot unfolds and Jews and Christians escape the terror, we travel with some of them “through an imagined week of flight and faith.” A scribe heads for Galilee in search of records of Jesus’ life and teachings. And a company of women makes its way to a new life in the village of Pella. But, of course, the …Roman Centurion one is most germane for those studying the life and times of Jesus in occupied Galilee, who shows up in the fictionalized account as an itinerant Jewish teacher.

The Upside Down Kingdom Donald Kraybill (Herald Press) $16.99 . There are many, many good books on the Sermon on the Mount or that otherwise invite us into the harder teachings of Jesus, what some call “radical discipleship.” I didn’t want to get too far afield in offering books on contemporary discipleship but this classic walks an excellent path between serious Biblical scholarship and practical lifestyle questions for today’s living. Kraybill is a Mennonite  (and, as a sociologists a leading expert on the Amish) and so naturally takes seriously the call to live counter-culturally. Not only does he show the contemporary relevance of Christ’s teachings, he shows what these teachings meant in the socio-political setting of the first century. He explains who the Pharisees and Zealots where, for instance, and explains much about the Temple piety and the like.  I know a number of people who have said this is one of the most important books they have ever read in their lives; it endures because it is so interesting, informative, and yet pushes us towards resisting the domination systems of today with Christ-like goodness and grace.  A must-read.

Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked And The 3 He Answered Martin B. Copenhaver (Abingdon) $15.99  Do you read Copenhaver ever in The Christian Century, maybe? Or know of his several devotionals or his fascinating co-authored book about the lives of mainline clergy?  He’s a thoughtful UCC pastor, now a seminary President, and this fine bit of popular level Bible research is so intriguing and interesting and has proven so helpful to Bible study groups and classes I had to at least mention it here. It is, as you can tell, a study of each of the many questions Jesus asked.  I suppose others have done books like this, but this is the stand-out.  Nothing like it.  Includes a lovely foreword by Lauren Winner.

Man Myth Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question Rice Brooks (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 We have in our store dozens of books about apologetics, defending the core doctrines of the faith, and many are quite compelling. Most are fairly broad as they respond to the sorts of questions that skeptics have these days. We have several books that are specifically about this one constellation of questions: is Jesus who he says he was? How did the gospels get written? Are those New Testament documents reliable? What non-canonical evidence do we have –minimal historically agreed upon facts as some might call it – that Jesus existed and that his followers believed he rose from the dead? Write to us if you have deeper questions (or are counseling those who have these tough questions) or want more or less scholarly treatments of these questions — there’s good stuff from a variety of scholarly quarters these days. You will notice that this book is written by the writer of the God’s Not Dead movie, which I have seen some less than stellar reviews of that but I thought this book was really interesting and well informed — a great gift to give to one that might be curious or cynical.

The Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fisherman, Soldiers, and Prostitute to Transform the World Robert J. Hutchinson (Nelson) $24.99 This book could sell for considerably more as it is a great, thick hardback with pictures and illustrations, not exactly lavish, but certainly handsome, chock-full of historical stuff, things I hadn’t heard before, good information about how Christianity came to be. It tells the story of how the first followers of Jesus survive the terror of those first years (Jesus’ death, the persecutions and more.) Hutchinson is a great popularizer of the recent research on the first century culture and has given us a book that is both useful for those interested in Christian origins and for anyone needing to learn more so they can offer good responses to critics or skeptics. This really does offer a compelling argument for the plausibility of faith and how the first followers of Christ were drawn to deeper life by the eyewitness accounts not only of his life but of his resurrection.

Granted, The Dawn of Christianity covers how the faith unfolded and thrived in places like Antioch, Damascus, Rome and Athens so is actually more than an introduction to the life of Jesus. But it sure does depend on the reality of a risen Lord and is a perfect follow up to any of the books mentioned above.


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ON SALE NOW “The Magnificent Story” by James Bryan Smith, “Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith” by Karen Wright Marsh, and “Love Heals” by Becca Stephens

In the last BookNotes post I reviewed Practices of Love by Kyle David Bennet. It is a book about practicing the spiritual disciplines for the sake of the world. I also noted two other books that remind us of this connection between our inner and outer lives, so to speak, between spirituality and social concerns. John Armstrong has just given us a profound study of the nature of love in his long-awaited Costly Love and a wonderful, Anglican pastor, Chris Webb, wrote what has become one of my favorite recent books on formation called God Soaked Life. These are good guides, walking with us into a richer and more faithful religious life.

Bennett summarizes helpfully much of his Practices of Love book in the last chapter called “Who’s Afraid of Love?” which I wanted to share, here:

In this little book, I have tried to show that there is a horizontal dimension to spiritual disciplines, which we tend to overlook, ignore, or avoid. I have suggested that looking at spiritual disciplines from the side us how these practices capitalize on the everyday activities that we already do and remedy and renew the malformed ways we perform these daily deeds. When we step back and look at the big picture, we see that spiritual disciplines impact more than simply our individual habits and practices. We are whole persons who are interconnected with so many other people and things, so as these disciplines correct the habits and practices of our minds and bodies, they inevitably impact the livelihoods of others.

Along with impacting individual people and their lifestyles, our changed behavior influences the dynamics of the community of which both of us are a part. Changing routines and daily deeds cultivates a certain kind of social mind-set and an awareness of shared spaces with others. A change in our habits and practices as lovers, friends, parents, neighbors, citizens, and colleagues leads to a change in shared spaces where we take up these roles, such as our home, workspace, restaurants, parks, and schools. When we step back and look at the disciplines from this perspective, we see them as a way of living. When we do this we can fully register the impact they have in and on our world.

There are so many theologically-rich lines in this last chapter. He reminds us of the theme of the book beautifully and carefully.

For instance:

Spiritual disciplines play a central part in our sanctification as believers and in God’s renewal of all things. When seen from the side, spiritual disciplines are concrete and essential ways that God renews and revitalizes our lives and our life in society with others. God changes you and me here and now through what we do here and now. And the most basic and forceful way this happens is through the little things we do every day – our daily deeds.

Of course we can never fully register the impact a transformed way of being in the world will impact it but I suspect he meant that as we ponder this, we can more fully register the impact. We can, by thinking sideways as this book teaches us to do, at least begin to imagine the ways the practices of love will ripple out across the culture. In fact the good professor looks at a few of the ripples: he says that spiritual disciplines will reform malformed habits, they will help reconcile broken relationships, intentional practice of spiritual disciplines will help us renew distorted cultural practices in society and they might even help restore corrupt intuitions.

That’s some big ticket items right there; a lot to promise from classic Christian piety, lived out in little ways as explained afresh in a small book. But that is what is at stake and why I commend this book to you – it matters!  For the sake of the world, it matters!

You might ask how all this will happen, how being shaped by prayer and Sabbath-keeping and fasting will bear fruit for the healing of lives, the renewal of workplaces, and the mending of fractured institutions. Care for the common good — a substantive, rich, and what he calls “wieldy” view of the public in a pluralistic society — develops best, he explains, by those who love. We dare not underestimate “ being people who live lives of love.”

You can see why we love this book so (and why authors like James K.A. Smith and Richard Mouw have commended it so heartily.)  And I hope you can see why we offered that “buy all three for 30% off” deal, because Armstrong on love will help us understand this essential Christian notion and Webb on everyday spirituality will help us find God everywhere and – as he says in his final few chapters – push us towards “a politics of love.”

Still this is a lot to grasp, meaty, good stuff, and I wanted to offer a few more resources that might capture your attention or tickle your fancy, as you ponder resources that might inspire you further. If you just don’t want the Bennett – I can’t imagine, but I’ll try not to judge – maybe these books will scratch where it itches for you. We are trying to help form the virtues and habits and practices and witness of our readers, deepening us all through these assists from authors in the ways of God as seen in Christ. Love really does win, after all, so we would do well to study this stuff, to get on board that gospel train. Here’s some more ideas to dig deeper into God’s call and live more graciously this fall.

We have them all on sale, too.  Like the last time, we’ll do extra discounts increasing as you select one, two, or all three.  Mix and match this deal even with the three from last time. We hope this makes it good for you, selecting just what you need.


BUY ANY TWO —   get 20% OFF

BUY ANY ONE —   get 10% OFF

The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness & Truth James Bryan Smith (IVP/formatio) 22.00 I do hope you know the first three of the “Apprenticeship” series by this prolific author. Those are wonderful hardbacks with great experiences included to help us process the sanctifying material and we very highly recommend them. They were called The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. Spiritual-formation resources are sometimes so mystical and allusive that ordinary folks can hardly imagine what they mean; sometimes they are so formulaic and rigid that only a few warm up to them. These, however, just sing – they are clear and beautiful, nicely written and loaded with transforming content. I know they have been used fruitfully in mainline denominational churches like Lutherans and United Methodists and Presbyterians congregations and I know they are beloved by para-church campus ministries and independent community churches and house fellowships. We love resources that we can so confidently recommend to almost anyone.

Well, in this first volume of a new trilogy that will unfold over the next few years, James Bryan Smith (who teaches at the Friends University in Wichita, Kansas) offers a vision of life that is storied, that is shaped by a vision of the good, the beautiful, and the true. I know, and he knows, that these traits themselves have a storied past, and to write an evangelical book about them is itself a major project. And to make the call to live this better story winsome and useful for ordinary folks is going to take considerable effort; that is, I am sure he is trying hard to balanced profound substance with approachable writing – not too heavy, not to simple. This first volume, The Magnificent Story, succeeds marvelously and, as expected, I will be promoting it as vigorously as we did his Apprenticeship series.

I mention this book not only because it is surely one of the lead titles of this new season of great books but because I think it is, in many ways, a prefect follow-up to Bennett’s call to practice spiritual disciplines so that God can use us in the redemptive project of the renewal of all things. This big, cosmic, creation-regained vision that Bennett presumes is explore in The Magnificent Story from a somewhat different theological tradition (although James Bryan Smith seems to appreciate his Kierkegaard, too.) And Smith – like Bennett and his mentor the other James Smith, James K.A. Smith – seriously appreciates the narrative nature of Biblical religion. God is working out God’s purposes in Christ and that comes to us in a long story in the Bible, from creation, through Israel and exile, in the incarnation and resurrection, in the letters and stories of the early church and onward throughout the ups and downs of church history. That is, we stand amidst a story, and we take up our place being decisively shaped by it.

We have hardly seen a book this year that has so many rave reviews on it, one that so many authors (from across the theological spectrum) have recommended. From contemplative teacher Jan Johnson to pacifist activist preacher Brian Zahnd, from neuro-science therapist Curt Thompson to N.T. scholar Scot McKnight, from home-making mother and memoirist Jen Pollock Michel to Anglican Bishop Todd Hunter, it seems so many folks are saying how much this book means to them.

Listen to Gordon T. Smith, now president of Ambrose University in Calgary, Alberta:

If Dostoevsky is right in making the observation that ‘beauty will save the world,’ then James Bryan Smith has provided us with an exquisite exposition of what this means and how beauty is revealed in the God story. And he does so without in any way downplaying the deep fragmentation of our world; to the contrary, Smith demonstrates that it is precisely against the backdrop of this deep pain that we see and know the beauty of God and thus the salvation of God.

Here is what it says on the back cover, which I found a compelling introduction to the book:

What story have you been told about the gospel? About Jesus? About the Christian life? About yourself? Your answers to these questions will form a story that will determine how your life will go. The answers reveal your ability to trust, to love, to hope – and even your capacity for joy. Uncover the true story of beauty, goodness, and truth that will satisfy the ultimate longings of your heart.

The life story we live is often too cramped and anxious. The alternative counter-narrative we get in the Bible and church is sometimes less than what it might be – so ends up not really capturing our imagination, not really providing a counter-narrative to the American dream or whatever story we’re living for.  We all know, and this books helps us see, vividly, that the gospel is a bigger, better, story, and it is true and good and beautiful. We know in our hearts (and from our appreciation of great art, good novels, engaging TV and movies) that we long for something bigger, an epic adventure, even. This very handsome hardback is thoughtful and inviting and helps us want to live into that good adventure, the beautiful fight. The Magnificent Story: Recovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness & Truth by James Bryan Smith  is very highly recommended.

Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith Karen Wright Marsh (IVP) $20.00 There is so much to love about this book I hardly know where to begin. It is handsomely designed, from the cover to the matching inside flyleaves. It is well written – so far, we are all very impressed as we’ve each dipped into it. It teaches about saints we’ve heard of and some we haven’t. (In fact, one that none of knew caught our eye in the Table of Contents and as front line staffer Amy examined that chapter she quickly realized that Amanda Berry Smith, a freed slave and underground railroad activist, lived in York Pennsylvania! Wow, it isn’t every day that a local Yorker (albeit from the mid-19th century) ends up in a collection of 25 great Christian leaders you should know.

Another thing to love — there is a stellar, wonderfully-written foreword by Lauren Winner. I’ve read the whole introduction twice and just have to share this paragraph, that heads off at the pass a concern some of us may have about a book of hagiography:

In part because saints live in weird relation to the world, inviting saints into your life can be tricky. Indeed, reading about a saint can occasionally induce despair. I read about the heroism of Sophie Scholl, and the demons who accompany me on my daily rounds perk up and say, “If the standard is staring down Hitler and being guillotined on treason charges, why not admit that you’re not really trying to live like Jesus at all? You can even consistently remember to bring canned goods to church on the first Sunday of the month.” And then the demons are off to the races, explaining that I’m a pathetic excuse for a Christian and suggesting that instead of praying Evening Prayer, I rewatch the second season of House of Cards.

And then Winner says, in a move that surprised and helped me:

Here’s the thing to say to those demons (I manage to say it about one-third of the time.): I don’t read the saints in order to imitate them. I read about the saints because they show me something about myself.

Winner advises that we read Marsh’s Vintage Saints and Sinners while noticing what saints hold your attention. Some will intrigue you, some might repel you. Winner suggests that the Holy Spirit is involved in adjudicating this process. She says, “I suspect that over our lives, each of us is given two or three or four saints with whom to live in particular intimacy. Your three or four will be different from mine because you’re gifted in ways I’m not, and because you’re damaged in ways I’m not. Which saints is God offering you, to help illumine and burnish your particular gifts, and to help illumine and heal your particular damages?”

Well, Karen Wright Marsh is a perfect guide for helping you learn about and find some saints to accompany you. She is an excellent writer and a fine historian and has been working on this book, it seems, for a long time, learning and growing into these varying visions of a life well lived for God. Marsh herself has a philosophy degree from Wheaton College and a in linguistics from the University of Virginia. She is the cofounder and director of Theological Horizons, a university ministry that has promoted theological scholarship at the intersection of faith, thought, and life since 1991. Her husband is Charles Marsh, himself a Bonhoeffer scholar and a vibrant historian of the civil rights movement. They are both involved in the UVA “lived theology” projects.

One of the things I love about this book is that it isn’t just a collection of short biographies, as good as that would be. More, this is a story of Karen Marsh’s own journey. In fact, the publisher describes it as “Narrating her own winding pilgrimage through faith.” Nice, eh?
Further, IVP writes: “Karen Marsh reveals surprising lessons in everyday spirituality from these “saints”–folks who lived and breathed, and failed and followed God. Told with humor and vulnerability, Vintage Saints and Sinners introduces us afresh to twenty-five brothers and sisters who challenge and inspire us with their honest faith. Join Karen on her journey with the likes of Augustine, Brother Lawrence, and Saint Francis, as well as Amanda Berry Smith, Soren Kierkegaard, Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman, Flannery O’Conner, and many more. Let their lives and their wisdom be an invitation to authentic life in Christ.”

Again, like the other books we’ve recommended of late, Vintage Saints and Sinners has endorsements by great writers, public intellectuals and spiritual leaders well worth listening to. I’m smiling as I note that on the back cover we see very compelling endorsements by James K.A. Smith, Diana Butler Bass, David Dark, Soong-Chan Rah and Steven Garber. I like that Christopher L. Heuertz (who has served the poor the world over and now directs Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism) calls Marsh’s writing “winsome brilliants” which highlights men and women who teach us about “vocational fidelity.”

Listen carefully to Curt Thompson, who wonderfully writes:

There are few things in this world that more ably transform us than our encounters with real stories. Stories that tell of joy and shame. Of hope and anguish. Of the very hard work that leads to a world of goodness, beauty, and redemption – but not without the honest rendition of all the stumbling in the dark that necessarily accompanies such godly liberation. These are the stories that we so desperately need to hear, and they are the very stories that Karen Marsh has so thoughtfully give us… and also the story that is her own, the one that ties all the others – the reader’s not the least – into the grand narrative into which God is writing all who are willing to be included. If you want your hope to be strengthened, if you want your mind to be renewed, if you want your story to be changed, look no further: this collection of stories is for you.

Love Heals Becca Stevens (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 This book just arrived and we are thrilled to offer it here, now. Becca Stevens has written a lot lately, and we are glad – she has a remarkable story, a respected, good ministry (Thistle Farm which is run by sexual and abuse survivors) and an real gift of creating artful, moving writing.

We were moved by her own gripping memoir Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-telling published by Jericho Books (and carrying a lovely endorsement by her friend the late Phyllis Tickle.) She has grappled with her own abuse and complex life journey and her call into the Episcopalian priesthood and allows us into her story. Stevens has become a respected social entrepreneur and earned two honorary doctorates and has been named “Humanitarian of the Year” more than once. She was designated a “Champion of Change” by the White House for her work against domestic violence. Stevens has several small books of meditations and Scriptural reflection which we carry and which many folks enjoy. Her Funeral for a Stranger is very moving, well written ruminations, short essays and stories. The subtitle “Thoughts on Life and Love” doesn’t do it justice. We certainly appreciated her book about Thistle Farms (and the search for sustainably-grown and fairly-traded tea) called The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from Its Violent History.

You can learn more about Thistle Farms HERE.

Love Heals is a beautiful book, and for the price, may be the best book bargain of the year – there are full color pages on heavy stock paper, making it almost a smaller sized coffee table book. The artwork and design is beautiful in a conventional sort of way — that is, it has the lovely look more of Simple than, say, Shane Claiborne’s colorfully edgy Jesus for President.

The warm, colorful photographs work well to supplement the warm text, the stories of love, of grace, of beauty, of goodness. Stevens opens the book with a power-house story of the day she was in the hospital having a miscarriage while her mother was in ICU with an undiagnosed terminal brain disease. “I felt lost and broken,” she writes, understandably. Through a twist of fate of God’s gracious providence, a nurse who was caring for her mother realized that Becca’s mom was, in fact, the widow of a man who as a pastor who was killed in a car wreck driving home from a pastoral visit with her, years ago.   Becca’s father “had only served in that community for only one years. I didn’t think anyone in Nashville remembered him. Except, apparently, this woman.”

The story unfolds that when she was a girl, that pastoral visit by Becca’s father, killed right after visiting their home, had saved her mom and dad’s marriage. The nurse said to Becca, “I am honored to take care of your mom.”
A peace that passes understanding washed over me. I am not lost; I am found. The love my father had offered decades before was surrounding my mother and me now. I knew that even in the midst of death and brokenness, love heals.

Love heals has been the tag line of Thistle Farms for nearly twenty years. “That simple phrase holds the essence of hope and the deepest truth,” she writes.

This is essential a collection of beautifully written devotionals, showing how love heals as we attend to God’s goodness and beauty and care in various aspects of life. For instance, she invites us to realize that “Love Heals Through Creation – Recognizing God’s Love in nature” and “Love Heals with Daily Rituals – Practicing Healing Throughout Our Day.” Another chapter is “Love Heals Besides Still Waters – Learning to Find Peace.”

There are fourteen such chapters in this almost 200-page hardback, and while some are sweet and tender “Love Heals with Compassion – Nourishing Connections Between Us”, others move us into harder spaces. She calls us to global solidarity in “Love Heals Across the World: Branching into New Territory” and through hard issues in our own lives in “Love Heals on the Edges of Our Hearts—Growing Through Painful Spaces.” There are chapters about finding God’s love in grief, and during the act of forgiving. Sometimes healing happens “over the bridge of time” and sometimes love can “Heal Past Our Fears” as we walk through anxiety. She helps us let go of what weighs us down and helps us accepting God’s greatest gift of grace—God’s mercy — in gratitude.

This is a beautiful book, visually (certainly) and in terms of the writing and in the good, good, news it offers. It isn’t as culturally engaged as the thoughtful Kyle Bennett or as academically rigorous as John Armstrong’s Costly Love and it doesn’t tell the sorts of stories Karen Wright Marsh offers in Vintage Saints and Sinners. It captures the “gospel of beauty, goodness and truth” as explained by James Bryan Smith in The Magnificent Story but, unlike any of those, it is very plainly, very sweetly done, and hits the heart immediately.

Her friend and admirer Amy Grant writes nicely about Becca,

In her, I see a truly old soul in this incredibly modern package, and any conversation with Becca feels like an invitation to experience history, poetry, nature, God…When I’m reading her words, I feel like I’m tapping into this rich, ancient wisdom delivered by someone who I could just as easily spend hours chatting and laughing together with over coffee –or tea, in her case!

Grant continues: “Even things that are scary have their place in the exquisite order of the world that Becca celebrates. Love Heals is true. And in this book I’ve found a beautiful place of encouragement and hope – a meeting point for us all to experience community, healing, and love.”



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Reintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission by Bob Robinson AND four other key resources on faith, work, and economic life.

I don’t know how your work week is going but mine – despite some fabulous customers and fabulous co-workers (not to mention the joy of working with my wife each day) – is, well, you know. I won’t report the stuff that has gone wrong, the stuff that has broken my heart, the failures of our supply chain and my own bad attitude. When the Bible says that work is both good and cursed, I get it. Don’t you?

Of course one of the reasons we started our store almost 35 year ago was to help ordinary Christian people learn about and live into a wholistic vision of faith that naturally integrates faith and life, spirituality and society, worship and work.

Happily there has been a renaissance in the last few years of Christian folks – more within the serious evangelical world than within mainline denominations, it seems – wanting to read about a Christian view of vocation and call, to form study groups around career areas (law, medicine, business, tech, the arts, and the like.) And there are numerous conferences about faith and work. In fact, I’m excited to be a keynote speaker at the Colorado Christian Business Alliance annual gathering in Denver (see here) on September 22, 2017.  I’ll be doing something different there, but here’s a little clip of a presentation I did in St. Barthlomew’s Cathedral in New York City when Redeemer Presbyterian’s Center for Faith and Work had me share briefly about my work as a small town bookstore retailer. I spoke right after Richard Mouw so referenced some of his books and I made some dumb quip about Tim Keller’s (good) books while he was in the audience. You might enjoy hearing me talk about our work, blessed and sin-struck as it is, as we all are.

Which all again makes we wonder what prayers will be prayed this up-coming Sunday, or, perhaps at least on Labor Day weekend, honoring those of us who spend most of our days in the work-world. (Or those who are unemployed or underemployed and struggle with this question of making a living, let alone discerning a call to any particular vocation.) The Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer has some prayers for such occasions as do other books of prayers and worship resources that we stock.  I wonder how many churches will make any connections to the historic national holiday and our own theology of work?

I know that some congregations make a habit of praying, throughout the year, for their members in their various callings. They pray for teachers, for health care providers, for public servants, blue-collar workers, state employees, artists and students and more.

Of course we pray for our church leaders, for missionaries we know by name, and, as the Bible commands, our elected officials and our enemies.  But when we pray for business folk, for farmers or engineers or journalists or factory workers or nurses it sends a big message, truly invoking God’s blessing suggested that ordinary workers need God’s help and power and wisdom because what they do matters to God’s Kingdom as does the work of the minister or missionary. Friends, that’s huge.

If this is somewhat new to you, I’d invite you to read a few of the other essays and book review columns I’ve done on this topic at BookNotes.

See for instance, HERE (a massive list of books about vocation, calling and work), HERE (a recent review of John Van Sloten’s Every Job a Parable which names other books and lists), HERE (where I write about Timothy Keller’s important Every Good Endeavor book and offer a James Taylor song), or HERE (where I share a review of two wonderful books, The Invisibles: Celebrating Unsung Heroes of the Workplace and the beautiful Finding Livilihood by Nancy Nordenson.) You might like my review of the captivating and inspiring Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – And Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy which I reviewed HERE. Maybe you’d be kind enough to share some of them with folks in your circles who might appreciate my lists and suggestions.  I don’t know, frankly, any other bookstore who does this kind of work, and we’re hoping you find it helpful.

We would like to congratulate our good friend Bob Robinson for his new edition of a book we have had available for a while and have talked about for several months now, but which has been given a new official release this week, Reintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission (Good Place Publishing) $12.00. It is truly one of the best little books of its kind, an easy read, a provocative read, a good study with bunches of questions and learning exercises (and a good leaders guide in the back.) As you can see from the above links, there are plenty of books of varying sizes and sophistication about the Christian call to think faithfully about the work-world. But there is nothing like this, a substantive but relatively brief study. There are seven chapters and each has Bible verses to consider, good quotes and excerpts from other writers (set aside nicely in helpful sidebar boxes) and wonderful, practical application type questions.

Just so you are aware, this book is good even for those that don’t have traditional jobs – retired folks or students or the self-employed, or those called to be the primary homemakers and caretakers of children.   I know it has been used in job-site lunchtime studies and it does have a few questions inviting folks to talk about things going on at work, but I am confident that almost anyone would enjoy it. And almost anyone will be surprised to see how we really do need to be more intentional about re-integrating our lives so they all aspects of our lives are more inter-related, more coherent, less fragments and more seamless.

In fact, on the opening pages, Bob writes:

This Bible study has been created to give God’s people the biblical foundation for reintegrating their faith back into every facet of life, especially in that aspect of life in which we invest a huge amount of time and energy: our work. Work is central to our purpose as we participate with the mission of God. As Steven Garber says, “Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei – the mission of God in the world.”

After explaining just a bit about God’s original harmony – shalom is the Hebrew word, a word he comes back to in greater, very helpful detail – he notes that “we need to move our lives back into that original integration that God wants for us.”

But, this unique set of studies presumes the vision of an integrated, coherent life. These studies “do not try to help us ‘bring our faith into the workplace’ or ‘created balance in our lives.’ Instead, we will learn how vocation is intrinsic to being human and essential for our participating in God’s mission. We need to reintegrate our lives.”

Besides the shout out to his friend and mentor Steve Garber (and his fabulous book Visions of Vocation) Bob quotes Tom Nelson (and his must-read Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship and Monday Work) who writes,

The doctrine of vocation properly understood weaves together in a seamless life of true discipleship in all facets of life. Vocation is the path of daily life where we are called to be a faithful presence in the world.

I am so very glad for Bob’s keen insight as a facilitator of good conversations, his ability to weave together these kinds of provocative quotes and good questions and Biblical material. He has an MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he studied with top-notch Biblical scholars such as D.A. Carson and Scot McKnight. He’s a good father and dad and church leader and he’s a fine campus minister for the CCO at a small branch campus of Kent State University. He has learned to translate for pretty ordinary folks exceptionally nuanced theological research and sociological insight about the nature of the faith and salvation, discipleship and service, calling and work, formation and holiness, life and times, in a way that few have.

Sure the aforementioned Tim Keller has one of the pivotal texts in this movement (Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Mission, co-authored with our fiend Katherine Leary Alsdorf) and authors like Amy Sherman have challenged us very deeply to think about work and jobs in Kingdom ways (see her extraordinary Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.) So much of this movement presumes a knowledge of the eloquent truth in Os Guinness’s brilliant The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life or the flood of books inspired by it.

The faith and work movement has, in many ways, been inspired by Abraham Kuyper’s worldview-rocking Lectures on Calvinism and Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and the hefty Oxford University Press study To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, all which grapple with the large, large question of the relationship of Christ and culture, what it means to be “in but not of the world” and how we take up our roles in institutions and marketplaces and the like. Of course, the answer to this that we find most compelling is an “all of life redeemed” transforming worldview spelled out in books like Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton’s The Transforming Vision and Al Wolter’s Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview and Michael Witmer’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything We Do Matters to God all the way through to recent books on public theology by James K.A. Smith and the life-changing orientation of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and his other books on a missional/Kingdom eschatology.  Our bookstore has specialized in these sorts of energizing books for the formation of a uniquely Christian world-and-life view and social imagination that allows us to live faithfully in every zone of life. Over the years we have hosted Brian Walsh and N.T. Wright and Jamie Smith and Lisa Sharon Harper (who gets at this Kingdom vision by way of the Biblical teaching about cosmic “reconciliation”) to help folks see non-dualistic, creation-being-restored, this-worldly sort of whole-life discipleship and we have written often about attending conferences and organizing workshops and curating book lists about the renewal of our culture-shaping tasks.

But, you know and I know that many ordinary folks in our churches or campus ministries or neighborhood Bible study groups or Sunday school classes aren’t going to wade through most N.T. Wright books or stunning books like Kingdom Callings or even the eloquent and thoughtful books by Mr. Garber.

So — voila —Robinson’s Reintegrate does the heavy lifting for you, bringing just the right amount of explanatory teaching, the right amount of “discovery” through conversation/reflection, and the right sort of side-bar quotes and citations from significant authors to make this a perfect introductory guidebook. It brings the content, but with a clear, light touch, with lots for anyone to find interesting.  It will give you much to ponder if you read it yourself and much to talk about if you use it (as designed) in a small group.

It is arranged so helpfully by showing how our vocational and work lives can be shaped by the key aspects of the Biblical story, the realities we sometimes call in shorthand creation/fall/redemption/restoration. Each chapter explores how this part of the Biblical drama offers key insights, how each “chapter” of the story can frame our understanding of what is going on in our lives and world and work, and how they each anticipate the next chapter of the full gospel story, the promise of meaning and hope and final restoration. My, my, this is edge-of-your-seat stuff for those that are new to this framework and a wonderful refresher for those who think they get it.

Want to know what “thy Kingdom Come on Earth…” really means and what implications it has for your daily living, even at work?  Reintegrate will help. I promise.

I like that the sidebar quotes that Bob comments upon or invites us to ponder are all rooted in this all-of-life-redeemed worldview. There’s much to consider from the beautiful writing of Cornelius Plantinga and Steve Garber to the ‘creation-restored’ vision of redemption found in the books of Al Wolters and Hugh Whelchel and Michael Witmer and Paul Marshall – do you know his handbook for thoughtful Kingdom living called Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God’s Creation? (that Bob cites it just warms my heart! I love that book!)

For those who need a short a punchy introduction to a culturally-engaged, integrated Kingdom way of seeing our redemptive calling in the world, with a guide to process and apply this wholisitic, missional shift in perspective, for those who know that learning happens best when it is done in community, well, there is simply nothing like this book in print today.

Allow me to say that again: there is nothing like Reintegrate Your Vocation with God’s Mission in print today.

I am not alone is saying this, by the way. Please read these few blurbs –there are more inside the book, indicating that many folks are hoping this books is bought and used. Kudos, Bob!

This is one of the finest study guides I know for people who are eager to align their personal vocation with God’s mission in the world. Dr. Mark Roberts, Executive Director of the Max DePree Center for Leadership

Utilizing a robust theology of vocation, a coherent biblical framework and a transforming pedagogy of interactive dialogue, Reintegrate has the potential to truly change your life. I highly recommend it. Dr. Tom Nelson, author Work Matters and President of Made to Flourish

Reintegrate is an evergreen explanation of truth told in four chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. This overarching four-chapter story lays a foundation for providing the meaning and fulfillment we all seek in life. Highly recommended! Hugh Whelchel, author of How Then Should We Work? and Director of Institute on Faith, Work & Economics

This Bible study is creative and intriguing and will help Christians wee how all of life matters to God, especially in all of the hours we spend away from environments typically labeled “spiritual”.” Bob Robinson has done a great service to the church, helping us reintegrate our lives that are all too often insufficiently integrated with our faith. Dr. Vincent Bacote, Director of The Center for Applied Christian Ethics, Wheaton College

How do we make an utterly essential paradigm shift in not only our minds, but also in our hearts? How do we re-view what may be familiar passages of scripture with new eyes? In this thoughtful and practical study, Bob Robinson has provided us with fresh ways to engage Scripture, provocative case studies and helpful application to gain new perspective on whole-life discipleship. If workplaces are primary places of spiritual formation, then this guide must be part of your journey. Lisa Pratt Slayton, CEO Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation

We’d love for you to order a few of these small books from us and consider doing the study. We are very glad to stock it, praise God for Bob’s friendship and good work, and – okay, I can say it, now –it makes our own work-day brighter just telling you about these rare kinds of resources. Three cheers!


Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God John Van Sloton (NavPress) $14.99 I reviewed this extensively in a previous BookNotes, so won’t say much more now except to remind you that it really is an fabulously upbeat and enjoyable read and brings something unique to this conversation about faith and work. Yes, our workplaces can be parables, revealing stuff about God and God’s world. As we attend to Christ’s presence in our jobs, and the good our jobs can offer to us and to the world, we just might be given very new eyes to see things anew. Wow, what a book!

Do come back and read the rest of my reviews here, but do visit our previous BookNotes newsletter where I featured this innovative book and where I said much about the value of it and the amazing sermons (about different jobs) that inspired it. There’s a link to a great trailer by John Van Sloton, too.  His website is fantastic and you should be sure to tell folks about it.  Great stuff!

Work and Our Labor in the Lord James M. Hamilton Jr. (Crossway) $14.99 Above I’ve mentioned some bigger or seminal titles, hefty and vital. And there are shorts ones, brief and easy. This one is curious as it is mature and thoughtful and brief. It is part of a fabulous series called “Short Studies in Biblical Theology.” Well, let’s hope theology is Biblical, you might quip, but, you know, this phrase (“Biblical theology”) has a particular meaning – it is somewhat in contrast to “systematic theology” that arranges theological notions in categories created by theologians – the nature of sin, the role of the cross, what we think of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus or the end times and such. Sure they use the Bible, but it systematizes these abstract topics. Biblical theology on the other hand, attempts to see how topics can be understood as guided by the narrative nature of the Bible itself. It attempts to honor the integrated teachings of law and prophets and gospels and epistles as they hold together in a plotline that finds their culmination in Christ.

Anyway, as ponderous as some Biblical Theology is, this recent series is accessible and helpful in quickly surveying the Bible’s coherent framework as it shapes our views of varying topics.   For instances, the first one was called The Son of God and the New Creation by Graeme Goldsworthy; the second was called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund and the most recent is Covenant and God’s Purposes for the World by Tom Schreiner.

In any event, this new one, Work and Our Labor in the Lord is thoughtful and mature and Biblical and important.

Here are the four intense chapters, in just over 100 small-sized pages:

  1. Creation: Work in the Very Good Garden
  2. Work After the Fall: Fallen, Futile, Flourishing
  3. Redemption: Work Now That Christ Has Risen
  4. Restoration: Work in the New Heavens and the New Earth

DVD ReFrame: Connecting Faith and Life Regent College Marketplace Institute  $99.00 Participants Guide, $12.00; Leaders Guide, $12.00

I hope you know of Regent, the innovative Christian graduate school in Vancouver, British Columbia. It has long been a blessing – just to know it exists makes me glad; it is not a seminary, as such, nor a Bible College. It draws on the deepest traditions within the broad Body of Christ (although it is historically evangelical, founded in the late 1960s to serve thoughtful laity by James Houston, a scholar and faithful Christian leader informed by the medieval spiritual classics and serious theology.) Authors we admire who have been on staff there over the years include J. I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Marva Dawn, Luci Shaw, and the evangelical Earth-keeping scholar and eco-activist Loren Wilkinson.

One of the great pioneers of marketplace ministry is Dr. Paul Stevens who has proclaimed a wide-as-life, transforming vision for decades, and he has regularly taught work-world and business-related courses there. He has written numerous, excellent books on the faith/work movement and we stock them all. (See, just for instance, Doing God’s Business or Taking Your Soul to Work or Work Matters: Lessons from Scripture or The Other Six Days.) Stevens has retired, I’ve heard, and in his absence Regent has hired our good friend and wonderful author and speaker and educator Steve Garber. That Steve has been friends with Houston and Packer and Stevens and others in the Regent circles is no surprise; he counts as one of his dearest mentors and friends the late John Stott, who also had some Regent-esque qualities.  His theories and practices explained in Garber’s book about life-long learning, The Fabric of Faithfulness, is surely in keeping with Regent’s hopes and visions for on-going education of Christian laypeople. Steve’s contributions to this already vibrant, international learning community will be marvelous and we wish him and his wife, Meg, all God’s blessings there.

Garber was involved a bit in dreaming up and being a midwife for the production of this exceptional video curriculum, so he is not new to Regent; indeed Reframe is published cooperatively in association with Garber’s Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture. We’ve mentioned it at BookNotes before but we’ve been wanting to describe it in great detail. Allow me to say that it is very, very well done, aesthetically and spiritually and theologically. The content is incredibly solid and mature, the presentation crisp and vivid and interesting. It could hardly be recommended more highly.

I will tell you a bit about it, but you really should visit the Reframe website to get a better glimpse. Visit them at https://www.reframecourse.com/

Yes, there is a lot of content. Even the website has plenty to look at. The DVD that we sell has 10 forty-minute sessions and the study guides offer plenty of assistance to help you discuss it all. It is a truly remarkable resource, years in the making.

Although it is aesthetically rich and very interesting at it’s core there are organizing lectures by solid professors in each of the 10 classes in this course.

You will be hosted by Mark Mayhew (one of the primary co-creators and former director of the Regent College Marketplace Institute) and Erin Antosh, who has worked with Garber at the Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation and Culture. You will get to sit under and listen to great teachers such as Paul Williams (who, before coming to Regent, served as Chief Economist and Head of International Research for an international real estate consulting and investment banking group based in London) and Sarah Williams (a professor of church history at Regent who previously taught at the University of Oxford.) Iain Provan is a beloved Biblical study prof at Regent (who is also ordained in the Church of Scotland.) Other respected profs from Regent share the teaching load for ReFrame – you will learn from Phil Long, the amazingly energetic Rikk Watts, Bruce Hindmarsh and Polly Long.

Further, there are thoughtful contributions by what they call “practitioners” — business people and teachers and artists and civic activist and scientists, men and women from around the world, each telling about their own role in bringing God’s restoration and shalom to bear in their respective arenas.

Interwoven throughout these 10 sessions are over 25 interviews with men and women (again, from all over the world) who are quite articulate about what they do and why, how they are able to think and live faithfully in their callings, inspired by this integral vision. There is a healthy diversity among these salt and light leaders and they bring a real lively tone to it all – take a look at the website and see the folks involved.  You’ll be very impressed, I’m sure.

The Reframe: Connecting Faith and Life DVD course is a good investment for your group or church; if you are interested in this topic you really should own it. It is the crème de la crème of this marketplace movement.

I hope the many organizations and think-tanks and church-based ministries and Fellows programs helping people relate faith and work – I’m talking to you, Denver, Nashville, South Hamilton, Washington, Tempe, Baltimore, Wheaton, Charlotte, Charlottesville, Longview, St. Louis, Lancaster, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Ithaca, Orlando, New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Philly – consider ordering this from us.

Maybe it could be a hefty follow-up in your church or campus after a study of Bob Robinson’s book. Or after you’ve used For the Life of the World, that enthralling DVD which we continue to sell well.

This curriculum is wonderfully aided by the great Leader’s Guide which is carefully produced in full color printing. There is much substance just in the almost 100 page workbook and it is a must-have tool to lead groups through the DVD course.

For what it is worth, although this really is about faith and life, living well in the world (but not of it) and with special attention to our jobs and careers and callings, it is, largely, a Biblical studies course. Like the other books I’ve named above, they relate the grand meta-narrative of the Bible to our own times, showing how that story of creation and fall, of Israel and Jesus, of Church and Mission, of New Heavens and New Earth can become our story.   In fact, the first two sessions of Reframe are under the heading of “The Story We Find Ourselves In” where cultural stories are shared to help viewers think about how we tend to frame our lives in our own various places these days. And how the gospel allows us to “reframe” the meaning and director of our lives.

The large middle part – sessions 3 to 7 – do the Biblical story, and they do it with depth and vision. There is always this sense that we now stand within this big unfolding work of God, as found in the story of creation and Israel, Jesus and Church. But it is basically a very robust bit of Bible teaching.

The third part – called “The Ongoing Story” has three classes for how we now live out this story of Scripture. The sessions are called “Strangers and Exiles” and “Ambassadors” and “Joyful Living.”

There is in the Leader’s Guide a lovely bit of extra help for “Continuing the Journey” and even a set of prayers from throughout the ages that can be used in your Reframe group.


The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity Tom Nelson (IVP) $16.00 I mentioned above that one of Bob Robinson’s good influences was Tom Nelson, whose wonderful book, Work Matters, documents how his church shifted from mostly churchy stuff to equipping the flock for real-world mission, speaking about vocation and calling and work. The attention Tom’s church and the workers in various careers in his church have gotten now has been a great encouragement to many of us who care about this perspective and movement, so it is good to know that Tom has created a network of pastors called Made To Flourish that helps churches focus on cultural engagement that creates human flourishing and benefits the common good.   Out of his work with his own Christ Community Church in Leawood Kansas, and his MTF contacts, he has written what might be considered a sequel to Work Matters – and oh-my-goodness, is it great!

Please notice the subtitle… work really is for “the common good” and we should, as we can, think about ways to help our neighborhoods grow, our towns and cities flourish, the needy among us find meaningful work, and hope and work for healthy economies and community development. I wish space permitted a more full review, but for now allow me to name it here and assure you I’m eager to study it. (I wonder if he will talk about supporting local business, why publisher and parachurch organizations ought not link to amazon and why we should be thoughtful about supporting businesses that are principled and not merely the ones with biggest footprint. Hmm.) The Economics of Neighborly Love deserves a many-page review itself for its good insight and exceptionally practical proposals, but for now, just know we are very eager to sell some of these. It is going to make a difference for those who consider it and is surely one of the important, strategic books of the year.

In the opening pages, Tom tells us about growing up very poor. He talks about his call into ministry and what lead him to admit to what he called “clergy malpractice” in not honoring the jobs and work people do outside the walls of the church. It’s a great few pages and I love his humble and kind and pastoral tone about his own journey to care about work and a vision for God’s ordinary people in the world.

And then, he writes:

I am delighted that so many have recently written on the deep and significant connections between faith and work, making the case that our individual work truly matters to God and to our neighbors. Yet, while our personal vocations do, of course, matter a great deal, they are by no means the entire story. Our work always takes place within larger economic realities; we are part of a much bigger story. All of our collaborative, value-adding work takes place within a system of cooperative global exchange. This is what modern, everyday economics is all about. From my pastoral perspective, far too little has been written or taught to the rising generation of leaders about how theology and economics seamlessly intersect. The glaring irony is that Holy Scripture speaks a good deal about economic flourishing. Yet in our personal lives, in our congregations and in our work, we all too often woefully neglect to connect the gospel of the kingdom with economics. This harms our witness, our cities, and our future. The church needs to address and begin the hard work of overcoming the perilous Sunday-to-Monday gap.

I love his heart, his hope for his book, his clarity about The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity:

From this crucible of my own pastoral malpractice, and in the gracious providence of God, I am hopeful that some of the insights I have assembled in the pages that follow will stretch your mind, inspire your heart, and spark your imagination in new ways. My prayer is that you might become more like Jesus, better loving your neighbor, and growing in fruitfulness to your vocational calling within the larger web of economic order that the God of history has marvelously invited us to inhabit.

So, there’s five great resources to consider as we move towards Labor Day and a new season of church and para-church programing. I hope your own congregation or faith community or campus ministry organization helps people think about the big story of which we are apart, and that you use something like Bob Robinson’s fabulous little resource Reintegrate Your Life With God’s Mission. It will be an asset to your hopes of nurturing a deeper and more relevant and lively sort of discipleship. And then dig deeper, thinking about work and “framing” our vocations and even our economic life.  These books are too good to ignore.  Buy ’em, use ’em, and — as Garber puts it in the sub-title of his lovely, thoughtful Visions of Vocation — keeping seeking “common grace for the common good.”  We stand ready to serve you further.  Happy Labor Day.


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The best new book on race, a must read, ON SALE: White Awake by Daniel Hill

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White Daniel Hill (IVP) $16.00

Saturday night Beth and I both sensed that we were more exhausted than usual; we keep weird hours and often are drained, it seems, but this was something else. And it was obvious to us what was behind it.

The night before we watched hours of live footage of the “Unite the Right” march, complete with Nazi slogans, Hitler salutes, and all kinds of white supremacist and anti-immigration meanness.  As the  shouting men with torches surrounded the Charlottesville church where Christians and others worshiped – including some friends of ours! – I was in an unpleasant Facebook debate with a person who insisted that this faith-based counter-witness of worship was not really faith-based. His spreading disinformation about my pious friends upset me almost as much as the trauma of seeing the vile chanting and creepy flags of the far, far right as they advanced on Mr. Jefferson’s university.

The next day we gathered at our own local church for a memorial service for a dear friend, a black woman who was an inner city school teacher most of her adult life, and whose family have offered good leadership to our Presbyterian congregation. Miss Jenny co-taught third grade Sunday school for decades, including to all three of our children, not to mention our current Associate Pastor when she was child coming up our congregation.  Pastor Allison’s sermon/eulogy shared not only important insights about Jenny’s passion for ethnic diversity and racial justice, but recalled her own years “in pig tails and patent leather shoes” when Jenny so influenced her, sowing seeds that have come to fruition in Allison’s own call to pastoral ministry. Knowing that overt evil was marching in Charlottesville even as we laughed and cried and prayed and received communion in our multi-ethnic service celebrating the quiet life of a faithful black Presbyterian was, well, exhausting.

“Funerals are hard work,” Beth reminded me, even as we knew this one was joyous in some regards. A truly Christian funeral of one who dies well in the Lord can be a celebration, but this one was layered with the awful news of this awful reality about racism in America, this concurrent outrage unfolding just a few states away. The testimonies about Jenny’s pioneering work in racial reconciliation between an all-black and an all-white church during race riots in York in the mid-1960s and her on-going passion for teaching about diversity to our children would have been powerful in any season. To hear it on Saturday was remarkably poignant.  And it was exhausting.

I realized that it was okay to admit to being drained.

But I also realize that as a white person celebrating the life a beloved friend at a wholesome church service, merely checking in on my phone about the alt-right rally, wasn’t threatening to me. I realize that it illustrates a bit of what we sometimes call white privilege; I was sad about so much, but the white nationalists weren’t after me, and I could go home safe and satisfied that I knew a civil rights leader in our town. I learned years ago from a good black friend that even as he honored my own growing awareness and dislocation about matters of racism that he experienced, those of us who are white allies in the journey to justice can walk away, take a break, blend in. It is what it is, as they say, but learning to be aware of such privilege, learning to recognize, manage and steward it, even, is a long, life-long journey.

By the way, in a brand new book edited by Adam Copeland, with a foreword by Dorothy C. Bass, called Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship (WJK; $20.00) a group of mostly Lutheran and Presbyterian theologians and Bible scholars offer chapters on a variety of aspects of stewarding well our givens — our bodies, our time, our work, our minds. Margaret P. Aymer, a New Testament professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary has a chapter called “Stewardship Of Privilege” in which she deconstructs the notion, in favor of a “stewardship of incarnation.”

There are a lot of voices from a lot of perspectives trying to help us think and live faithfully in these times.

My friend Drew Hart, who used to work for the CCO, has a story in his must-read Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (Herald Press; $16.99) where he is in a meeting for those who were pretty invested in and further along the journey to dismantle white supremacy, a small group heart-to-heart about deep stuff regarding our racial identity and moving towards a more just and equitable future.  In this story, Hart is taken aback when a woman from the meeting is agitated and asks to speak with him after the meeting. She trusted him and wondered what he thought of the consensus in the group that one can’t be a real Christian if one is white.


That wasn’t at all what was said in the meeting and yet Hart wasn’t fully surprised. It is almost predictable that some white folks think that a critique of the system of white privilege in our culture – the structures and social architecture, the principalities and powers, the institutional racism – is an attack on them individually, as people.

But this time, Hart decided not to just simply reassure her that she misunderstood, that nobody in the meeting had said such a hurtful thing. (He did say that, of course, but she insisted otherwise.) So he invited her to sit with her discomfort a bit. He asked probing questions, inviting her to ask why it was that she so misheard, so misinterpreted.  What was it about her own deep, deep loyalty to her identity as a white person that set her off?  Could it be that as Christians, we ought to have identities less shaped by our race?  It is quite a story in a very impressive book that is increasingly known as a key book for our time. Dr. Hart lives in the Harrisburg area and now teaches theology at Messiah College near us. Daniel Hill uses that story from Hart’s book to open us up to often misunderstood conversations about our identity and how race and class or national loyalties sometimes effects our self-understanding.

It seems to me Drew was right in pushing this woman a bit. And it was a powerful illustration for Hill in his new book. Both men are experience facilitators of these kinds of conversations and want to remind us: we are “new creatures” in Christ, after all, defined by our baptism, shaped by our union with Him, informed by our membership in the church, fundamentally claimed by our allegiance to God’s Kingdom coming. Of course we are made by God as creatures which certainly involves God-given race and gender and abilities and gifts and such, and we are naturally shaped by families and cultures, citizens of a country, situated in a place — all there for better or worse because this is the sort of world God made: real, material, social, cultural, situated. Yes, we are created in God’s image with these material facts and they should be celebrated. But what happens when we overly identity with our race or tribe or homeland? What happens, more, when that race or tribe or homeland is a majority culture that is known for marginalizing and hurting others? What does it mean to be white in a racially-charged culture? Even those of us who would never shout “Blood and Soil” as the alt-right marchers did in Charlottesville, might it be that we unconsciously carry a few too many eggs in the basket of our whiteness?

Not to be too clever, but how should our race color our faith?

This, my friends, is one of the primary tasks set before contemporary Christians the world over, and it is certainly one of the chief tasks set before North American Christians of Anglo descent. White folks are still a majority race and white supremacy is still the common currency of the culture. (Wes Granberg-Michaelson’s thrilling From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church reminds us that this is changing as the global church is no longer mostly white and is no longer found only in the global South.)

And, aside from the influence of non-Western, global Christians, we in the US have to grapple with our own diversity issues, obviously around black/white relations in this era of the new Jim Crow, but also with the rise of the Latino church, the Asian-American church, and the on-going relationship with our Native Peoples. For anyone that travels to church conferences or has worshiped outside of their own local church, you know this isn’t abstract or arcane — happily the Body of Christ is remarkably multi-cultural.  Some mainline churches have been addressing this for decades, although evangelicals seem to be most energetic these days at the grass roots level. Pentecostals know it for sure.  All of us who are white simply have to consider how being white has influenced our identities and how our implicit privileges (even for those of us whose lives are hard) have tilted societies blessings in our favor.

By the way, the best Christian book about this “white privilege” phrase (a phrase outlawed in at least one Christian college chapel program!) and what it all means and implies and what to think about it is Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege (InterVarsity Press; $18.00.) I reviewed that exceptionally important book recently at BookNotes and hope you picked it up from us.  It is very well written and more timely than ever given the events of recent days.  Lisa Sharon Harper says that “This book is a journal of discoveries shared with humility, grace, and unrelenting commitment to truth.”

And Wystma himself recommends this new book, quite heartily, in fact.

Daniel Hill is an evangelical Christian leader who has worked on multi-ethnic ministry, racial reconciliation, and cultural diversity for most of his adult life.  As he describes in his riveting new paperback book, White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White (IVP; $16.00) this question – how do we handle the fact of white supremacy and deal with the givens of white privilege? – is urgent but painful.  offers strategies to learn, and strategies to move forward.

But for Hill, there is something equally important to explore besides the ubiquitous and fraught questions about privilege.  And that is the question of identity.

And on this, White Awake is the best thing I’ve ever read.

Hill’s new book is helpfully arranged, nicely crafted and well-written, upbeat at times and searing at others. It’s almost a perfect non-fiction book with just the write balance and flow of good humor and inspiring passion and wise Bible study and clarifying theology and stories galore.  And what stories he tells – some fairly common place, about his own failures in building cross-cultural friendships and some nearly stunning in how they shine a light upon gross injustices in a racialist culture.

Hill seemed to drift from faith a bit in his college years – his father was a strict and conservative Baptist preacher – but as he explains in the book, his renewed faith in his early twenties lead him to a leadership role in the young adult ministry at Willow Creek. A story he tells about the membership meeting he had with them is funny and poignant as they remind him that salvation is by grace alone and he didn’t really have to prove his worth to them.  Maybe some self-righteousness was going on there, even? What a vulnerable thing to share!

Willow eventually freed him up to start an urban young adult fellowship which Hill deeply hoped would be multi-cultural and embody God’s desire for racial unity. The urban version of their legendary Axiom group grew and grew but remained mostly white. He felt like a failure. I was captivated by this episode in his life and there is much to learn for any of us. In those years he wisely surrounded himself with people of color (including some honest black, Asian, and Latino pastors) who were brutally honest with him and caringly coached him towards greater clarity about the cost of his idealistic visions.

And that cost is in a way what White Awake is all about.

I believe it is the best and most useful book about race I have read in years. (And, if you follow our reviews here at BookNotes, you know I have read and reviewed a lot.) It is serious but approachable, challenging without being devastating, and offers information that is essential for all of us (of any race or background) to understand well.

Perhaps you have never read anything that makes the Biblical case that God abhors injustice, that racial bias continues to haunt North America, and that Christ’s church is called to be multi-ethnic, bearing witness to the reconciliation God is bringing among us.  I suppose if you’ve never read anything about a Christian view of diversity or the Biblical teaching about a multi-cultural church, this book might not be the one to start with.

See our suggestions about more basic and general books on race in the second half of this BookNotes list here or some of the ones here (which includes basic and advanced ones) or this recent list here which lists several favorites of various levels and styles.

But if like many BookNotes readers – pastors in mainline churches, activists in evangelical congregations, campus ministers in the CCO and IVCF and Cru and RUF and the like – you’ve already made some commitments to addressing the sins of racism and pressing on towards racial reconciliation, then this is the book you need to read next.

I’ll say it again: if you’ve read a bit in the topic of race relations, White Awake: An Honest Look At What It Means to Be White is what you should read next.

As I’ve said, you will enjoy (and learn much from) Mr. Hill’s honest storytelling and his vulnerability as a learner – and, man, is he vulnerable, candidly sharing some zingers of missteps and some epic fails in his well-intended efforts to be more racially aware and become a multi-cultural leader.  His conversational tone, his walking us through the stages and phases and ups and downs (and, again, did I mention there were some downs?) as he chronicles his journey in living color is all very, very helpful. That he has had a lot of important influences (itself a privilege) from people of color is pretty rare and he tells of the hard truths his friends have helped him see.  There were moments when I thought, wow, they could make a movie out of this guy’s life!

And he tells the exciting stories of deepening commitments to fighting racism of others, too, from hip- hop star Lacrae to social scientist (and now Duke Divinity School professor) Christena Cleveland, from social psychologist Brene Brown to civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, from  NYC pastor Tim Keller, from urban activist Shane Claiborne.  Such shout outs make this a really interesting book.

Dr. Hill draws on key scholars writing on this topic these days, too.  For instance, his overview of the work of Beverly Tatum (Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) and his drawing upon the notions of “white fragility” by Robin DiAngelo are very, very useful.

Besides enjoying (and cringing) through the lessons Hill learned too often the hard way, and rooting him on as he shows tenacity, perseverance and resilience, you will learn good, good stuff about what it means to be a “woke” white person these days. You will be motivated to do some self-assessment, you will be chided and encouraged and some dots will surely be connected as lights come on in your own soul.  You will learn a lot and I think you will really, really appreciate it.

And in all this, Hill is impeccably clear, offering succinct outlines, fine bullet points, helpful reviews. The book makes a lot of sense. There is excellent teaching from sociology and psychology and a couple of pages are a little dense for those not use to the recent research, but it is well explained and there are good footnotes. He also draws often on the traditions and insights of spiritual formation.  He gets how it is that people come to deeper maturity, how worldview transformation happens, how we align our identity with Christ, and how we can grow and change and clarify our deepest biases and default settings when it comes to how we walk through this world.  He’s a good thinker and a very good teacher.

After some great introductory chapters (“The Day I Discovered My World Was White”) and a must-read study of how unhelpful of language of colorblindness is (in a chapter called “What is Cultural Identity?”) Daniel Hill offers seven stages white folks can go through in deepening their growth into being a Christ-shaped ally for racial justice.

Hill describes these phrases under the chapter titles of:

  • Encounter
  • Denial
  • Disorientation
  • Shame
  • Self-Righteousness
  • Awakening
  • Active Participation

Further, within each stage he explains possible obstacles, roadblock to overcome or insights need to be gathered.  I loved his page or two on a wholistic Kingdom vision. His remarks about the difference between shame and guilt are right on. His comments about the nature and usefulness of lament are worth the price of the book. And – trust me on this – his point about how dismantling white supremacy is more important than diversity is essential and should be discussed widely among us. His own River City Community Church has learned over time a great deal about all this, and it is a great gift that Hill has put it all together in this fine book.

Hill tells stories of his own journey and warns us not to jump to quickly from one stage or phase to another. One of the distinctive characteristics of white middle-class American culture – which is not all bad, of course – is to promptly try to solve problems, often quickly, barging to pragmatics without adequately understanding things. In even the most profound of deep conversations between races about hurt and injustice and implicit bias and more, white folks almost always say “what should I do?” Which, as Hill explains, is well-intended, but not really the best  first response.  He explains why and it is a good thing to learn from him. (In one of the humorous stories near the end of the book Daniel is telling about a workshop he was doing, helping some folks struggle with all of this, and one of the earnest participants said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask this, but…” and then asked the “What Should I Do” question, just using other words. They all got a laugh about how ingrained this move is, wanting to jump to action, sometimes before sitting with the questions, being humble enough to learn, processing our own identity issues before trying to solve the problems of race by offering white leadership.)  Anyway, through good teaching and helpful stories, we learn how to process these stages well, deeply, with integrity,

Daniel Hill guides us through these steps, by the way, with lots of Bible teachings which are naturally integrated into the text.  Even the typography of the book makes it easy to follow the flow of his points and sub-points.  Good job, IVP!

There are discussion questions at the end of White Awake and they are exceptionally profound.  White Awake is so useful that it has gleaned great blurbs of endorsement from the leadership likes of Shauna Niequist, Ken Wytsma, Efrem Smith, Mark DeYmaz, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, and John Perkins (“I would encourage every Christian to read it.”)

I agree with what Michael Wear says when he writes:

A profoundly pastoral book with serious implications for the ecclesial, social, and political life of our nations… Readers can trust Daniel Hill to tell them the truth about racism and white supremacy. Hill does not use these fraught issues to manipulate, but rather to help his readers see more clearly. If Christians read and consider this book carefully, it will help them. It helped me.


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In-store author reading and mini-concert Saturday, July 27th: God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith by Phil Madeira (Jericho Books) 20% off, too

Last week was thrilling for us — we were with authors we esteem, selling books that are extraordinarily important.  I’ve told you about the ESA 40th anniversary conference and announced the excellent Following Jesus: Journeys of Radical Discipleship (Regnum; sale price $25.00), the book done in honor of our friend Ron Sider, a scholar, theologian, activist and popularizer of a wholistic gospel who has galvanized tens of thousands towards living lives of generous justice, mercy, creation-care, and peace-making. Ron is an impeccable evangelical, a fine and humble Christian, and you should read my review if you haven’t.  You really should have a few of books!

A few days later we lugged a truck-load of books to hot, hot Pittsburgh, doing an all-day set-up as part of the staff training sessions of the CCO campus ministry.  There, we hosted our friend Dr. William Edgar (and his lovely wife Barbara) of Westminster Theological Seminary, for the second annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture.  Edgar spoke of his conversion to Christ while in conversation with Francis Schaeffer, then bringing Schaeffer to Harvard, and on-going decades of involvement with the L’Abri movement.  I hope you saw my review of Edgar’s fantastic book Schaeffer on the Spiritual Life: A Counter-cultural Spirituality (Crossway; sale price $14.40).  We highly recommend it. 

And, by the way, recent friends may not have seen the review I did several years ago of Edgar’s live jazz album, Heaven in a Nightclub, produced by the Chesterton House in Ithaca NY. Man, that cat can play — and he has some amazing players sitting in.  He talks a bit between the songs; it is just wonderful for such a studious, Reformed theologian to have such passion not only for the arts, but for the history of African American culture, black gospel music, blues and jazz. You can order that double CD from us, too.

 SATURDAY – JULY 27, 2013
@ 7:00 PM

god on the rocks.jpgWe want to invite you to come by our store this Saturday night, July 27th at 7:00 pm or so, as we are hosting another sort of event: a book reading, conversation and mini-concert by a new author and long-time, highly-respected, stellar musician, Mr. Phil Madeira. If the aforementioned Ron Sider and Bill Edgar are stalwarts for evangelical faith and robustly strategic Christian cultural engagement, and prolific authors, our new friend Phil Madeira is… well, maybe not so much.  As his new book God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith (Jericho; $24.00) describes, he was raised fundamentalist, and has dabbled in all manner of Christian experiences and churches. (He was even a PCA elder for a while, so he knows his stuff.)  He’s a liberal Episcopalian, now, I guess, and a man admittedly still on a journey.  Maybe it’s a meandering one – he’s given up being driven and dutiful and seems pretty comfortable with ambiguity – as would befit a Southern storyteller and late-night blues man. (How many religious books do you know that have a play list in the back which includes stuff like Muddy Waters and Sister Rosetta Tharp, Taj Mahal and Blind Willie Johnson?)  God on the Rocks is a fantastic book with fabulous stories, tons of clever lines, upbeat tellings of his roundabout life, and some honest telling of some downbeat stuff.  As Ian Morgan Cron notes, “Madeira’s voice is gritty and tender, broody and vulnerable, unwaveringly honest, yet compassionate.”
Phil Madeira is nearly a legend in the music scene of Nashville. Inpm blue shirt.jpg recent years he has been in Emmylou Harris’ band. (Emmylou is truly a legendary folk/country singer who traveled with The Band – that’s Dylan’s early band, you know, and knew Graham Parsons and CSNY and the like, making her one of the pioneers of alt-country/roots Americana – and is an icon in country and alt/country.) Madeira has played with everybody from Elvis Costello to the Civil Wars, from Bill Mallonee to Sixpence None the Richer, from Mavis Staples to Julie and Buddy Miller. He’s written songs with Garth Brooks and Amy Grant, and nearly everybody in the singer-songwriter/new-folk, acoustic music biz knows him. Did I say he was in Emmylou Harris’ band?  He’s in Emmyloupm with emmylou.jpg Harris’ band!  I will mention below the album he produced last year called Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us, which includes artists like The Civil Wars and Matt Kearney and Buddy Miller and Shawn Mullins and the North Mississippi Allstars and Emmylou, which has gotten very good reviews.

God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith brings together at least three main plot-lines, it seems, reoccurring themes that surround the episodes that are well told and delightfully specific, as any memoir must be. Yet, these are (as good novels and memoirs are) somehow universal, enabling readers to resonate with this story, even if their own experiences are dissimilar.  My life is not at all like his, but I somehow related well to it. The mark of a good book, no?

In a set of enjoyable, almost stand-alone chapters, Madeira offers snapshots of his life, while the themes of family, faith, and music are intertwined, over and over again.
First, God on the Rocks is a coming of age tale (and he comes of age a few times, it seems, as this memoir chronicles his various stages and phases of a fascinating life journey that is restless and evolving.) Firstly, though, it is of a boy raised in a conservative fundamentalist family.  Not unlike the crazy memoir Crazy for God by Franky Schaeffer (who endorses this book, by the way) Madeira tells how he loves his family, and respects them in many ways, colorful as they may be, and disagreeing with them as he does. His mother and father were different in notable ways, and, naturally, his relationship with both were distinct. His disagreements with both, but especially his mother, were at times weighty; his love for them enduring.  As he came to question some of what they believed, and the way they believed and lived it, conflict arises which causes tension, anxiety, and irresolution.  Can you relate?

But yet, it was a mostly happy, if quirky, childhood. Get a glimpse of his boyhood from the chapter “Happy Feet.”

As teenage boys, my brother David and I had a Yuletide strategy. Our shoulders shrugged with the knowledge that many our presents would be mundane – socks, a tie, a tie clip, a devotional book from Mom, and Old Spice from Dad: the usual stuff.  Thus, every Advent, we whispered what we each wanted from his brother. It would always be a rock ‘n’ roll recording, the one thing our parents were not going to spend money on.

Come Christmas, tearing into the wrapped vinyl record, I would feign surprise, exclaiming, “This is j
ust what I wanted,” as if he didn’t know.

Our tradition was to open our gifts on Christmas Eve, as my mother’s Swedish family did. Santa never squeezed his jolly behind and beer gut down our chimney; Mom guarded our Christmas fiercely from commercialism by keeping our fireplace stoked and burning, lest Santa believe he was welcome at 22 Salisbury Road.

Occasionally, Dad would sign a gift “from Santa” but that was all the fantasy we were allowed on this holy night. He didn’t seem to have a problem with the fantasy and the reality coming to terms with each other, but our mother’s scruples ruled the holiday. I didn’t care if Santa was real, but it would have been fun to pretend that someone beyond ourselves knew our secret wishes, and I never understood the harm of writing a letter addressed to the North Pole, which would have wound up in a drawer in the east bedroom instead. She may have been guarding her children from the World, but I’m more inclined to believe she was protecting the Infant Jesus.

Later in that touching chapter, he ruminates on a Buddy Miles record he received from his brother as a Christmas present.  Buddy Miles, you probably know, is a renowned jazz drummer.
Phil writes,

For all I know, Emmanuel, “God with us”, was indeed tapping along to Buddy Miles’ music that Christmas morning in our living room. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The divine intersection with our profane, fallen, lives, Jesus coming down from Heaven and dipping his bare foot in the muddy water of the deluge, swimming with us, pulling us by the scruff of the necks over the crest of a wave, his strong body ferrying weary souls to an eternal shore?

I wish there had been a bit more about his boyhood, the “childhood shenanigans” to which he alludes. (“Those who love me have sometimes felt the need to explain or excuse me.”)  When he writes about his youthful years, it is endearing and interesting. 

For instance, in a chapter called “Southern by the Grace of God” he starts off like this:

My mother always noted that I was born in New Hampshire, and that for the first two years of my life, my home was in a hamlet dreadfully named Gonic, where my father was the sparsely rewarded minister of the Baptist church. It always annoyed me to know that I was born in their worst years, as if I had tumbled out of the womb with an IOU slip pinned to my big toe. A boy likes to know that he brought bounty with him, good luck or prosperity, but I just brought rhythm. Born drumming, she still says.

Those were the meager years of their lives, even worse than when Dad was a circuit rider in Maine, dividing his sermons between three churches in the rocky farmland far from any semblance of coastal romance. Before God Almighty moved our family to Rhode Island, Dad preached to callous-handed farmers and laborers who tithed with bushels of corn or apples or with their skills, perhaps fixing the parsonage’s eternally running toilet, or unloading a cord of firewood.

My mother relishes those days of depending on God’s provision, likening their time in the Granite State to the prophet Elijah’s stint in the wilderness, as if we were eating raven flesh and locusts instead of Cream of Wheat.

Much of the book moves beyond his childhood, telling of his years at the midwesternly Christian Taylorpm hat.jpg University (and drinking Boones Farm), leaving to work with the young Phil Keaggy, just after his Glass Harp years, getting known in the broader music world, the demise of his first marriage, the relationship he has with his beloved daughters.  He tells stories like playing on Prairie Home Companion, or attending the funerals of fellow musicians and old friends. He’s past mid-life, now, and he’s simply not the man he once was.  Besides his music work, he has become a painter, and while there isn’t much about that, it comes up a bit. He is in a relationship with one whom he calls his Southern Born Woman, who has herself a book of dramatic readings of women in the Bible (Jezebel’s Got the Blues…and other Works of the Imagination) for which Madeira has composed and performs a live blues score. (We carry that, too, by the way.) Many of the chapters mutate from biography to essay as Madeira offers his ruminations; wasn’t it Buechner who said all theology was biography, anyway.

I like memoir, and love these sorts of glimpses into how people understand their life and times, and like that he offers these short essay-like reflections as well.
Secondly, God on the Rocks is, as the title implies, is not just a story of his mischievous boyhood, his coming of age, drifting from his family, his dysfunctional grandmother,  the break-up of a marriage, his relational ups and downs, but it is, more importantly, a narrative of his journey away from his vibrant evangelical faith, a descriptor he no longer uses about himself. Madeira was a contemporary Christian music star for decades, traveling with the PhiPhil-Keaggy-Emerging-front.jpgl Keaggy Band, severely discipled in the ’70s at Love Inn by those involved in C.J. Mahaney’s weird shepherding movement and doing rock music ministry with hundreds of thousands of fans, at large venues like the Creation Festival, college campuses. as well as church basements.  As a studio musician within contemporary gospel music, he has played on hundreds of albums and penned songs for dozens of artists. This is raw reporting, although I wished for just a bit more. Was his leaving the world of conservative evangelicalism problematic for a guy who made his living in that world?  What was it like harboring doubts and concerns even as one is doing ministry, traveling to festivals and churches?crowd stage.jpg He gives us glimpses and it makes for a fabulous read, especially for those of us who lived through the “Jesus Movement” of the early 70s and knew well these kinds of artists, but it leaves us with episodes and impressions, not quite a linear biography of the developments of his interior life.

It is interesting to me that many of the best artists of the early CCM industry – Keaggy himself, Amy Grant, obviously Mark Heard (RIP), Sam Phillips, Pam Mark Hall, Cindy Morgan, Jennifer Knapp, all the guys who make up The Lost Dogs, John Michael Talbot, Glen Kaiser, even – have mellowed and matured out of a zealous evangelicalism to a more sobered, quieter faith.

Of course, a few have walked away altogether.
Some, coming out of an American pietism that keenly — and unfaithfully — separates the so-called sacred and secular, simply never had a robust view of creation and work and culture, so while they intuited that their art was important and valuable, they did not have a theology to frame it; their super-spiritual worldview was sadly on a collision course with their art and cultural mission. Pop musicians are often not very well-read in theology of culture, too, I’ve found, and they may have even resisted studying the very work that might have resourced them to do sustainable, evangelical art and cultural engagement. (That is, by the way, one of the great tasks of Charlie Peacock’s important Art House ministry: to offer space and resources for considering deeply the relationship of faith and art and culture-making.) Some of thos
e unable or unwilling to grapple with those sorts of conversations, it seems, just drifted from their childhood faith and about all they can say is that they are no longer fundamentalists; they drink and smoke and aren’t legalists.

Madeira’s approach is better than that, and his book shows that he has certainly considered this stuff (he even includes the famous G.K. Chesterton quote about saying grace before everything we do and at least once explains that God does not intend for us to think of life as a dualism between sacred and secular, since all of life matters to God.)  His story here is familiar to me, though, as I’ve heard it a dozen times before, especially from friends in the Christian music and publishing world. They say they are no longer fundamentalists, but in a way, they still are: it defines them supremely as about all they can do is to say what they aren’t and the new texture of their faith develops mostly as a reaction to their earlier rigidity.) 

I also also suspect (and Madeira hints at it a time or two) that another reason for a shift away from evangelicalism among these sorts of performing artists is that they have seen the worst of showy religious glitz and the underbelly of the interface of faith and commerce; that side of the CCM world is in some places worse than most people know and could be enough to drive any sensitive soul away from earnest faith if one encounters it from the inside.
Or, perhaps an artistic temperament just leads one to naturally question cliches and seek a nuanced faith rather than rigid sorts of dogma.  There is little doubt that poets, song-writers and cultural creatives are often on the margins of conservative churches, and their own sense of mystery and wonder and pain puts them at odds with the simple truths and easy answers in which some churches traffic.

So it is no wonder Mr. Madiera drifted from his earnestly held conservative faith.  It never provided him with an adequate foundation for being an artist, and couldn’t provide sustaining insight for the complex, broken lives he and his comrades were experiencing.  In saying this, I’m reading into the book more than I should, perhaps.  It will be good to talk with him about it all, since he is not the first to leave standard evangelicalism behind.
The subtitle of God on the Rocks — “Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith” makes it clear that the book includes a rumination on the role of truth and dogma and church and spirituality and God. It is on Jericho Books, a new progressive publishing house which excels in this genreJerichoFall2013Winter2014 1.jpg and this perspective. Other Jericho authors include Brian McLaren, Jay Bakker, Shane Hipps, Justin Lee, Becca Stevens, Lillian Daniel (whose books we love and have commended before), Heather Kopp — her recent memoir Sober Mercies is one of the best I read all year!  We carry all their books. Memoirist and novelist (and Episcopal priest) Ian Morgan Cron is correct to call God on the Rocks a “heartfelt travelogue of faith.”  Cron continues, “If you’re a cage-pacing, God-haunted pilgrim like me, then this deftly penned collection of stories will deeply move you.”  (Anybody that includes a Bruce Cockburn phrase and a Flannery O’Connor nod in one endorsement proves that he knows what he’s talking about.)

“Spiritual but not religious” is a phrase I do not like. Gladly, as an Episcopalian, Mr. Madeira doesn’t exactly describe himself that way.  But he almost does; he admits to not being terribly involved in congregational life. “Over the years,” he says, “the search for God’s presence led me in and out of a variety of traditions, from incense burners to barn burners, liturgies to improvisers. In contrast to conventional church wisdom, the more active I became in one group or another, the less connected to Christ I felt.”  

So, the book will resonate with many who have been, or feel they have been, disenfranchised from traditional church life.  Whether he is wise and right about all this is nearly beside the point – it is a memoir where he shares how he makes sense of his own story, and he invites us to listen in.  He’s a bluesman, not a theologian; a painter and poet, not a preacher. It may not be the only book to give to a seeker, skeptic or broken backslider, but it is certainly a good one.  I think many H&M friends will enjoy it.  Why not get one to pass on to somebody who might not appreciate a more directly religious title?

I chuckled when he reports, “Trying to be a good parent to the end, my nonagenarian mother still sends me books by prominent evangelical authors. I’m in good company, mind you; she sends devotional books to the president of the United States! Once, after reading something Barack Obama had said about his spiritual life Mom told me that she was quite certain he had read the book she’d sent him. If that’s the case, he’s one up on me.”

Brian McLaren says nicely of God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith that it is a “gritty, gutsy, funny, moving, insightful spiritual memoir.”  He is quite right to say that “it exemplifies a growing phenomenon on the American religious landscape, an emerging spiritual ethos that defies standard labels and has the feel of our best roots music.” For this reason alone —  besides the fact that it is just a really fun book to read and enjoy — it is worth having and considering its illumination of the larger religious landscape.  (Church leaders, evangelists? Listen up!)

wild goose.jpgWild Goose Festival is an example of one place where this eclectic sort of faith expression is celebrated.  It would be a digression to talk about it much here, but McLaren is correct that PMs book seems part of a growing disenchantment with typical religious labels.  God on the Rocks has a chapter on that, in fact.  And, he is playing at Wild Goose this year.

Madeira, by the way, isn’t a heavy-weight intellectual reading cutting-edge theology or post-modern philosophers.  Maybe he is, and does, but this book doesn’t suggest that.  Rather, it is more home-spun, making it funny and interesting and enjoyable, provocative, but in a light-hearted way. 

And he’s no strident ideologue, either.  He has a chapter on God being feminine (“God Almighty, the Chick Upstairs”) but continues,

In truth, I call Her “Him” because my picture of God is decidedly paternal. Growing up with a reasonable and loving dad never made the masculine image of God anything but good to my eyes.”  He continues, pondering a motherly she-God, “Oh, Lord, She’d be bugging me about washing my hands, and reading my Bible, and changing my underwear just in case I wind up in the emergency room.  I wouldn’t be able to question Her without being accused of blasphemy.

I imagine God the Father quietly nodding as I ramble on, giving me a grin like my old man would have when I played some boogie-woogie version of a hymn, and kissing me on the lips when I showed unannounced at his back door.

And then he observes, surely with a bit of a pluck,

Nonetheless, I’m not sure what’s so riling when some Christians encounter inclusive language regarding the Person of God. I still cross myself and the brows of
my woman and my children, intoning the words, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and am quite comfortable doing so. At Christ Church Cathedral, the traditional language of the Trinity is sometimes altered to “Creator, Savior” and Sanctifier.” I recently read a proposal in the Presbyterian Church to use this alteration: “Mother, Child, Womb.” What can I say? Point well taken, but… womb? I’ll take the comfort, but not the claustrophobia.

And there ya go.  In one short paragraph he offends traditionalists, feminists, liberal Presbyterians and probably the conservative ones, too, just for bringing the whole matter up.  Yowza — I love it!

pm electric.jpgThirdly, God on the Rocks is about being a musician, about Nashville, and a bit about his years in the CCM world and beyond. Man, this guy gets around. He plays a lot of instruments, works with all kinds of folks, knows everybody, and drinks with a lot of them.  He’s got a number of drinking stories, a few performance stories, and nice words for a lot of his comrades. His description of the flood that ravaged Nashville and destroyed so many recording studios and concert halls (and the community and rebuilding that followed) was riveting. I wished he would have told a bit more about his song-writing efforts, but when he does, it is very special.

I suspect that many readers will be attracted to this book because they know Phil Madeira as a player in the CCM world, and due to his collaboration and long-time friendship with guitar maestro and Christian rock star Phil Keaggy. Madeira has long-lasting friends in that sub-culture: Steve Hindalong of The Choir raves about the book in a lovely blurb; the late Tom Howard was a best friend; he still hangs out with Dave Perkins, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Jimmy Abegg (with whom he paints regularly.) I loved reading the acknowledgements and was thrilled to see a few people I know, and cool cats like Colin Linden, Bruce Cockburn’s  producer, whose own solo album Through the Storm, Through the Night, is one of my all time favs.  These chapters will be enjoyable for anybody who likes entertainment news and wonders about the behind-the- scenes of the music business.  I might have wished for more dishing, but plenty of names are dropped. It’s pretty darn fun.

pm with accordian.jpgAnd there is no doubt that Madeira is an amazingly talented musician. The first line of the book is “I am the baby who tumbled from the womb drumming.” 

Later, though, he writes of his mother, “My mother’s love of Mahalia Jackson’s music is probably the raison d’etre for my obsession with American roots music. I can still see mom dancing with her young children in our living room as Mahalia belted out “Didn’t It Rain?” while the needle of our old RCA Victor scraped and skipped across the ribbed furrows of an oft-used record.”
It seems like Madeira has spent a lot of his life on the road; he writes about this in his songs and in the book, a bit. His is the life of a performing musician.  But, his mother had not approved; she couldn’t believe he’d write a song for “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band” (just for instance) and wanted him to just do gospel material.  In a passage that moved me to tears, he tells of his 90 year-old mother watching him from the wings as he played with Emmylou Harris at the famous Newport Folk Festival.  She appreciated his work on the guitar, accordion, keyboards and more as well as Emmylou’s graceful, feisty folk rock, which she complimented.
His mother had routinely chastised him for singing “secular” music and not using his talents to evangelize the lost.  She had been stern about her wayward son (“counting my losses even as I try to move onward from them.”) For her to enjoy meeting Emmylou and hear Elvis Costello and watch her son play on the huge stage with his Wayfarer shades, was more than a breakthrough, it was a blessing for Phil. She seemed to get the beauty and worth of what he did for a living.  He later described this afternoon of fellowship with his mother as “basking in glory.”
“The next day,” he tells us,

I received an email the contents of which seemed to have forgotten the light that had shined on the two of us momentarily in Newport.  She seemed back to worrying about the course of my life, but I didn’t care… My lungs had salt air billowing in them, as I savored the delight on my mother’s face after we’d sung our final encore. It was a morsel, but it was delicious, that taste of approval that I seem to have been yearning for these many years.

Sometimes Madeira is almost disappointingly prosaic and less than elegant (didn’t his editor teach him that a “proposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with”?) A few of the sentences are real clunkers.  But he often crafts stunning lines of beauty and elegance — nearly poetry. For instance, following the glorious episode with his mother and the rebuking email, he writes, “For a moment she beheld something holistic and beautiful, something artistic that encapsulates all of life; Mississippi mud and higher ground, the life blood of history and the holy spirit that ties it all together into a God Almighty love song.”

As you can see, the three themes of his relationship with his aging parents, the shifting shape of his Christian faith and his vocation as an artist are deeply inter-twined.  The portions that are most about his spiritual journey are also set in the context of his art – painter, poet, songwriter, sideman, producer.

For instance,

I don’t often remember my dreams, although when accompanied by a few glasses of red wine, they seem more insistent on being recognized.  Shamans, prophets, seers, and soothsayers all place stock in the nocturnal playground of the subconscious.  With all the noise that accompanies consciousness, perhaps there’s something to the idea of the Spirit finding a wider berth in the vessel of our dreams.

Dehydrated, I woke at 3:00 am.  My thirst had interrupted a dream that was fresh and vivid. My mind had taken me on a boat ride with the ghost of Johnny Cash sitting in the stern and dispensing homespun wisdom to me as I rowed across a choppy sea.

Knowing there was something in the phrase “the ghost of Johnny Cash” I immediately rose, found my laptop, and began writing a lyric. Eventually the verses I wrote would become a song, but in the wee hours they mirrored the image of my small craft getting obscured by the giant waves of my difficult choices.

I was a man who was cut in half, broken but believing, and somehow newly set free, although being set adrift was the true feeling of what looked to some like freedom.  In my marriage I felt no embrace clinging to me in love, and now I felt none either, but I hoped that the arms of God Almighty were wrapping around me as I descended into the abyss.

I needed Johnny on that old January night.

I haven’t heard it yet, but Madeira has a new album out any day and he says the strongest song (perhaps it is a lament) was co-written with Amy Grant, who I have always thought to be smarter and a better songwriter than her CCM super-star status allowed.

Here is Ms Grant writing about God on the Rocks

god on the rocks.jpg

Thank God for a storyteller like Phil Madeira, who delivers a feast for the ears, and for the mind, as he ponders the traditions of his family and the mysteries of the faith that have shaped his life. Like every good thing in life, it was over too soon.

She means, of course, the book.  Madeira ain’t dead yet.  You can see for yourself here at the shop at 7:00 PM on the 27th at our in-store gig here in Dallastown, which I bet will be lively. If you aren’t somewhat local, why not buy his book from us now?  Want an autographed one?  Let us know before Saturday — just tell us to whom you want it inscribed.

The evening here will be great time. Madeira is a seasoned entertainer, an amazingly multi-talented musician. And he will be fun to listen to. He is witty and sharp-tongued, but never mean; the book includes some witty ruminations, which he deftly uses as a segue for larger points (he’s learned from his years of listening to preachers, eh?)         

 For instance, I chuckled reading this:

Sometimes I wonder if the people who come up with names for neighborhoods, apartment complexes, streets and parks should be required to take a course in literary aesthetics. I think zoning boards should prohibit stupid names.

For example, my old neighborhood is called Raintree Forest, which sounds to me like a feminine hygiene product. To my knowledge, there’s no such thing as a “raintree.” I’m sure of it because the spell-check on my computer keeps highlighting the word in red.

Here in Tennessee, and perhaps in America in general, there is a fixation on naming suburban developments after English towns and villages.  Having traveled the U.K. many times, I know something about the real places that suburban planners steal names from, and often they are not as quaint in reality as one might think.  Have you ever been to Sheffield, England? If you had, you might not name your neighborhood after it. That being said, I had the best Indian meal of my life in the city of Sheffield.


mercyland.jpgA final thing you should know.  About a year ago, Madeira released a project he coordinated and produced, a recording called Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us.  We reviewed it briefly when it first came out. It is a great album, songs that were put together by people of faith who perhaps are not comfortable with the “Jesus is My Boyfriend” kind of love songs to God, the happy-clappy praise songs, the highly-stylized, mass-marketed arena rock that now passes for passionate worship, at least among white, middle-class young adults.  What would it look like, he wondered – what would it sound like? – to get Americana artists who offer doubts and laments and stories and songs that might serve as hymns for those who can’t quite abide the over-confidence of most modern religious music? That focus not on rah-rah “we’re in on this” and you aren’t, but that are sensitive to the human condition and project a sense of inclusion and, well, mercy.  The Mercyland CD brings together under Phil’s moody, groovy production vibe, the Caroline Chocolate Drops, The Civil Wars, Matt Kearney, Shawn Mullins, Cindy Morgan, Emmylou Harris and many others.

Read a short review from Christianity Today, here, and a longer, more descriptive, important one here, and a little shout out from Paste, here.  He will be playing some of these songs in the store, when he does the reading and book signing event.
mercyland picture at_americana_music_fest_09_13_12-770x0.jpg
Madeira has won numerous awards, for songwriting, for his Hammond organ playing, for his philanthropy. I adore his out of print CD 3 Horseshoes, a set of songs about an inn at which he was staying in Ireland.  His new indie recording PM will be out soon. We are thrilled he is willing to visit our humble little shop, we’re looking forward to hearing him play some unplugged stuff, share from his new book and tell us about the Mercyland project.  I hear there is a video in the making, and they are performing the album live at the upcoming Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina.

 Join us, won’t you here on July 27th, this Saturday, at 7:00?  We’ll have some fun, some light refreshments — we’re working on an excellent iced coffee bar — and somehow, we’ll all come away thinking about God on the Rocks, which just might help us “distill religion and savor faith.”


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Great discounts on books by Walter Brueggemann, Carolyn J. Sharp and Peter Enns.

I could wax eloquent about the three day Bible conference held at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Whitemarsh that hosted us this past weekend.  Speakers were Walter Brueggemann (dramatic, poetic, evocative about the big-picture and passionate as ever), Carolyn Sharp (a gentle and Christ-shaped Yale Divinity School teacher of the Hebrew Bible, who happens to teach a class on the prophetic imagination of Dr. B) and Reformed Biblical scholar Peter Enns. (Enns is known by many as former editor of the Westminster Theology Journal, one of the most rigorous, conservative, academic theological journals around, and is known by some for his unfortunate departure from Westminster Theological Seminary.)

These three lively teachers were a great combo, offering what might be called canonical,walt talking.jpg critical, pastoral, imaginative messages on what the texts of the Bible tells us about the ways of the God of the Bible.  They invited us to stake our very lives on these often odd texts and dared to read them honestly, if creatively, sometimes one text over and against another.  Traditional scholars of the right and left might have considerable bones to pick with their neo-orthodox methodologies, but the gathered faithful were delighted as God’s Word was taken seriously, in its revelatory, unsettling, transformative, prophetic power, for us, there.  Kudos to Father Merek Zabriskie, the Rector of St. Thomas’ Whitemarsh for his nationally-known passion for getting folks to read the Bible through in a year. (Learn about The Bible Challenge here.)  And thanks to all who encouraged us as we promoted books, for those who were kind to us in our literary ministry.

For a quick overview that ruminates on some of the themes, read Peter Enn’s blog post from patheos about it.

boxes of book.jpgAs is often the case, we brought back some unsold books and rather than return them at great cost to ourselves, we pass some savings on to you.  These are not the only great books we had on display last weekend, but they are some that we think you’d like, that we have some room to discount deeply, and that we’d love to offer to our internet friends. Please use the link to the order form shown below.  We securely take most credit cards or can just send along a bill so you can pay by check later.  

See our special sale price listed after the regular retail price. 

Out of B.jpgOut of Babylon Walter Brueggemann (Abingdon) $15.00 SALE PRICE $10.00  You may know that Brueggemann nearly single-handedly helped Bible readers of our age appreciate the harsh significance of 587 BC and how the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of Jews into Babylonian captivity remains a central, generative moment at the heart of the Old Testament.  Indeed, as Professor Brueggemann puts it, much of the Hebrew Bible was anticipating that dreadful judgement, and other portions reflect back upon it.  He scribbled on the flip chart a big descending arrow heading towards 587 and another flowing up out of it.  When he proclaimed that this is the very shape of Christian faith—with Christ’s death the analogue of Jewish captivity and exile, and resurrection hope the analogue to return after exile—we got chills.  Could this deeply Biblical metaphor (rooted in history, but more than mere historical reportage, freighted as it is with such deep layers of covenantal truth) be applied to today?  Is 9-11 our “zero hour”?  Are we now in Babylon, captive to pagan ideologies?  How does the recent awareness of the role of Empire—then and now—help us more accurately understand these Biblical texts?  How do we plumb the depths of these rich 8th century poets and preachers and live them within our own social location?  Out of Babylon includes top-notch essays (or are they sermons?) making this a fabulously useful book on one of Brueggemann’s most enduring insights and most generative tropes.

The more we learn to hear these passages and embrace them as formative for us, using the rhetoric and passion of Brueggemann’s own prophetic imagination, the more faithful we may be in our own navigations of the powers of this world.  You need to get this book!  

word that redescribes.jpgThe Word That Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $35.00 SALE PRICE $17.00  I just love the heft and shape of this beautiful hardback, and cherish it, even as I don’t necessarily agree with all of it.  These are essays and sermons that try to get at how the Jewish and Christian Scriptures not only redescribe the world, but redefine the possible (as we reconstrue our worldview) and how this shape us into a community of missional discipleship.  Along the way, he shows how we must confront the attitudes and practices of consumption and aggression that so constrict our imaginations.  The “startling vision of human life opened up by the Scriptures” shows us how the church can be a counterculture.  There are over a dozen essays here, and I am convinced that  having the chance to ponder even a few of them are well worth the price of this volume.  Rich, loquacious, poetic and deeply insightful about the role of the Bible in shaping our imaginations and discipleship, this is a great example of Brueggemann’s Bible scholarship in service to the people of God.  This hardcover is going out of print, so get it while you can!

Message-of-the-Psalms-Brueggemann-Walter-9780806621203.jpgThe Message of the Psalms  Walter Brueggemann (Augsburg) $19.00 SALE PRICE $10.00  This is doubtlessly one of the most important and respected books written on the Psalms in our lifetime.  It is serious, without being scholarly.  In a nutshell that doesn’t do his deep rhetoric justice, he notes that there are three sorts of Psalms, which he famously calls psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation.  Some of us hear in that overtures of the themes of good creation, radical fall, and redemptive new creation.  Very useful, informative, highly recommended.

Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit  Walter Brueggemann (Wipf & Stock) $14.00 SALE PRICE $11.00  This is a 2nd edition of a great little book on how to pray using the Psalter.  Very handsome little paperback, rich and evocative.  It is not a daily devotional, although it has been called a classic of spirituality, allowing the Psalms to serve as an “antidote to
chronic forgetfulness.”

awed to h.jpgAwed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $17.00 SALE PRICE $11.00  A fabulously nice collection of poem-prayers, beloved by thousands, in a very nice shaped paperback with French fold flaps.  Walt is renowned for these gloriously literate, honest, raw, poetic prayers, and it is cool that there are small notes indicating when and where each was offered.  Some are linked to very specific Bible texts, making them suitable for your own devotions and for use in worship settings. Wow.

great prayers of the ot.jpgGreat Prayers of the Old Testament  Westminster/John Knox) $15.00 SALE PRICE $8.00  Here is Walter doing his classic close readings of the text–observing what it says and doesn’t say–and often framing this by the broader theological and socio-political facts on the ground as the Bible story unfolds.  Some are royal, some are by prophets, some are rejoicing in exuberant gladness and some are gut-wrenching laments.  Here are prayers you’ve heard of and cherish, and a few you may not have considered before.  This is not only fascinating Bible study, but helps us learn a Biblically-informed way of praying, which is itself quite a formidable task, given all the common assumptions so many of us have about prayer and how it works.  This would be great for small groups or serious adult learners, too.  Look out!

practice of prophetic imagination.jpgThe Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word  Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $25.00  SALE PRICE $15.00  I’m not going to lie–there weren’t as many clergy at this event as we had anticipated, so we way over ordered on this.  Yet, it is spectacular, and I believe fruitful for anyone who wants to speak about, live out of, or dig deeper into what he famously calls “the prophetic imagination.”  How many years have we been waiting for a sequel to that classic, all-important book?  Want to read about “loss imagined” and “relinquishment” as he described so subversively so many years ago?  Want to learn how better to imagine the world, and explain it, “as if YHWH—the creator of the world, the deliverer of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we Christians come to name as Father, Son, and Spirit—were a real character and an effective agent in the world”? This is the best deal your going to get on this heavy book, and I think it will be well worth the investment.

tesetimony to otherwise.jpgTestimony to Otherwise: The Witness of Elijah and Elisha Walter Brueggemann (Chalice) $19.99  SALE PRICE $15.00 What intriguing stories these are, and how creatively rendered in the dramatic hands of Dr. B.  I can just hear him, draaaawing out his syllables, retelling these stories, getting all frantic, skipping over inconsequential parts, making clever asides, and moving us to imagine the world otherwise.  You know one of these prophets is named in the last verse of the last book of the Old Testament, and early in the gospels, folks mistake John the Baptist for him.  That is, this is important stuff that I think we ought not forget.  I’m glad Walt brings this stuff to life.  As he notes, “These narratives do not speak loudly, do not argue, and do not overwhelm.  They are simply there in their durable simplicity, subtly waiting to be heard yet again, making available genuine choice and genuine possibility.”  Can the church today “recover its voice in a way that is unfettered and unencumbered by old habits?  This radical call to fidelity may be a way to help us to it.  Recommended.

disruptive g.jpgDisruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture, and the Church  Walter Brueggemann, edited by Carolyn J. Sharp (Fortress) $35.00  SALE PRICE $22.00  I named this as one of the books of the year last year and for very good reason. Now that we’ve met Carolyn, we are all the more convinced that her guiding hand walking us through the Brueggemann corpus is very helpful. She is not so much of a fan that she is star-struck, and at the Bible conference at Whitemarsh she begged to differ more than once.  (Ahh, but ever so kindly.  What a grace this was, to see such vital, but gracious, scholarly discourse.)  Here, she gives excellent, serious summaries of what to look for in key Brueggemann writings, and then offers some of his “best of” pieces to illustrate his major contributions to the study of torah, prophets, and writings as well as a fourth section called “Canon and the Theological Imagination: Exodus and Resurrection.”  This is a great introduction for serious folk wanting to dig in deep, and a must-have for any fans.

old testament prophets for.jpgOld Testament Prophets for Today  Carolyn J. Sharp (Westminster/John Knox) $13.00 SALE PRICE $7.00  I love this entire handsome little set of books, with uniform type covers, on Biblical topics from the Psalms to the Parables.  This one is ideal for small groups, adult ed classes, or anyone who can’t quite afford a major library dedicated to commentaries on the major and minor prophets.  Carolyn nicely examines the texts with her own broad awareness of the  critical literature and interpretive schemes (she is very aware of various interpretive schools, the use of irony in the Hebrew Scriptures, how Near Eastern ideologies influence the forming of these Biblical books, and is clearly working out of a moderate, mainline perspective with a great desire to serve the church. ) It is written for lay folks, though, clearly written, with discussion questions at the end of each of 9 short chapters.  It is good and simple, a bit provocative, and nicely useful.  

i and i.jpgInspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament Peter Enns (BakerAcademic) $19.99 SALE PRICE $13.00  We have to be honest. There are things we know about the Bible that make us scratch our heads.  I’ve touted books here before documenting the great reliability of the Old Testament texts, but there are manuscript difficulties with which we must grapple.   Enns does not sweep some of the complex and complicated troubles with the Bible and within the Bible, under the proverbial rug.  More liberal, ecumenical, mainline scholars haven’t minded using critical m
ethods of deconstructing the texts, discussing the contradictions and such; many of us believe this was mostly unhelpful as the reliability of God’s written Word was seriously and needlessly eroded.  Yet, as Enns dramatically shows, it has not served evangelicals to insist on a 19th century view of inerrancy or to pretend that critical methods aren’t useful in some ways.  He discusses all this admirably here. This is, I suppose, the book that cost him his job.  For that reason alone–he has paid a price to get this stuff said—you may want to buy it, and see for yourself.  Scholars from reputable places like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and of serious reputation such as Bruce Waltke, have given it very great reviews.  Enns has done fine work on Exodus (NIV Application Commentary published by Zondervan is highly recommended) and Ecclesiastes (Two Horizons Commentary series was published to great acclaim by Eerdmans) but this is his important book on how the Bible was written, how to read it, and how the worldview of Ancient Near East writers must be understood before we live into this story in our own time.

evolution of adam.jpgThe Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins  Peter Enns (Brazos) $17.99 SALE PRICE $10.00  Wow, what an important book, especially for those of us who want to take the Genesis creation stories with utmost seriousness and orthodoxy.  There are bold endorsements here from Scot McKnight, Tremper Longman, Amos Young and other Bible scholars of the evangelical tradition.  And, his colleague at BioLogos, Karl Giberson, a science writer, celebrates Enns as “one of America’s most important Old Testament scholars” and insists this is “masterful.”  This is extraordinary for its candor and clarity, offering huge insights about Biblical interpretation and about the very urgent questions about faith and evolutionary science.  Highly recommended.


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Fresh Expressions: Books for a Missional Church Renaissance

In my review last week of
Diana Butler Bass’ important new book, Christianity Afterc after r.gif Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne; $24.95) I noted that some readers and reviewers
have already been pretty critical, both of her ecumenical/liberal
theological bias and her conviction that a spiritual awakening is a-brewing, one that
may take new forms of renewal and reformation that are not necessarily grounded
in the traditional, institutional churches as we know them.  She gets push-back when she speaks—I
have been little part of that push-back myself, asking questions of her during a lecture
a few months back, wanting to clarify if she is too hard on those whose commitment to orthodoxy may make them less than fully eager to embrace new formulations of doctrine, or who may seem less than fully inclusive in their outreach.  I know
there are huge anxieties these days whenever we criticize traditional theology
or comfortable forms of congregational life and her pleasant demeanor and good stories are helpful, even though some church folks are always edgy when talking about change.  We here have lost customers because we have admitted to being
eager to read and discuss and ponder and pray about (just for instance) the
emergent conversation, and because I’m not wanting to throw emergent friends (or conservative friends, or liberal friends) under the proverbial bus. I know this is complex and scary business and it sometimes brings out our worst. 

(For what
it is worth, I wrote a long piece in 2008 sharing why I was interested
in that evolving “emergent” movement.  I
should update it, I suppose, but I am frankly a bit less interested in their
splintered light then I used to be.) 
I believe it is no small thing to drift away from historic orthodoxy,
and I hope those who study Diana’s book are not cavalier about throwing
out the old and embracing the new, as if anything old is necessarily outdated and everything new is naturally good and helpful.  Diana doesn’t believe that sort of silliness and I don’t think any serious author would want
such a knee-jerk, superficial response; we ought not misread the careful, studious,
valuable work presented in Christianity After Religion.  Some who have read it, or heard her lecture about it, have found it immensely helpful in
drawing a portrait of the religious landscape as we move into the second decade
of the new century.  Still, some are rather grumpy about it.


I start with this unhappy
reminder of the sometimes unpleasant responses to provocative books and
authors, especially given our current context of culture wars, ideological use of religion and prevalent mistrust
of those outside of our customary faith traditions in order to be able to say
: Beth and I had a fabulously upbeat time this past weekend hanging around in one of the
more diverse theological gatherings we’ve had the joy of being a part of.  The conference was called Fresh Expressions and was convened to explore new forms of missional outreach and congregational
efforts—the question Butler Bass is asking, really—and nobody seemed to be uptight about anything.  We had Southern Baptists and
charismatic Anglicans, mainline (ECLA) Lutherans and Church of the Nazarene, old-school Episcopalians and some pretty conservative Evangelical Free folk, singing Indian-influenced praise songs together in urdu (yes, you read that right!) A Presbyterian Church (USA) prof lectured
on contemporary theology (and Karl Barth!) while Christian Missionary and Alliance leaders listened appreciatively.  Non-denominational
church planters—old school and hipsters alike–listened to Graham Cray, a
commissioned Bishop of the Church of England, as he walked us through a Church of England document from a working group he chaired.  We had a Calvinist ask if we had Armenian resources and a
United Methodist guy was surprised to see a batch of new Abingdon Press
titles.  A Baptist who had never heard of Henri Nouwen or Parker Palmer picked up some of those authors. A male pastor of an historic black church and a (white) female oil painter did a workshop together describing their arts ministry with inner city kids.  One of the speakers wrote a book on British versions of what we call the “new monastics” movement, so there was interest in that a bit, too.  Yep, this was truly a
diverse gathering—left, right, and center within Protestantism, at least (oh,
if there only there were some Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox folk there.) We were so blessed not to
have folks snooping around the book display sniffing for something they
disagreed with, but searching for new insights, fresh ideas, faithful
ruminations to help equip and inspire them to get on with our high callings of imaging God in effective
ways in our needy world.  It did
our souls good to be with these folks—-three cheers for the Virginia
—and thanks to all who bought a bunch of books.


Fresh Expressions (U.K.), we
came to realize, is a huge deal in the Church of England, a movement of
encouragement to manifest fresh expressions of the church among unreached
populations, from secularized youth in coffee shops to blue collar iron workers
in the mill towns, from the eager-to-be-welcomed new immigrant communities to
those languishing in retirement homes or prisons.  Wherever our traditional parishes are failing to reach folks, fresh
expressions of church can be authorized and new (Holy Spirited) energies
unleashed.  Because this is a
British thing, it didn’t surprise us to see Episcopalians and new Anglicans
there.  The U.S. version of Fresh Expressions is
largely funded by Baptists, who have a good history of outreach, evangelism and
new church planting.  To see
Presbyterians and Pentecostals (and, thanks be to God, a few Pentecostal
Presbyterians, even) at this Fresh Expressions event was a delight.

M-Shaped Church.gifFor those interested of the working group on fresh expressions, a group chaired by our plenary speaker Bishop Graham Cray, you should know that he edited a book all about this (a book we sold out of at the conference) called Mission Shaped Church (Seabury; $20.00)  It is part of a series, actually, but this first is the one that describes the Fresh Expressions movement within the Church of England and it is recommended especially for more mainline denominations.  Cray is a wonderful man and, incidentally, ran the famous GreenBelt Festival for many years.  We chatted about mutual friends like Calvin Seerveld and Bill Romanowski and Jim Wallis and Brian Walsh, not to mention some sweet stories about Bono and the band and the times Bruce Cockburn played at GreenBelt. But I digress…

fresh e and the k of g.gifWe are taking pre-orders, by the way, for a forthcoming book by Bishop Cray, enticingly called Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God: Ancient Faith Future Mission  It will be published near the end of June by Canterbury Press ($24.95)


Parenthetically, not all the
books we took were about missional outreach and new forms of congregational
life construed to touch the lives of the “nones” (as Butler Bass tells us they
are being called, as in those that say “none” on religious surveys.)  In fact, there is a sense that besides emerging new expressions of church, for some people, historic, older styles of church and worship will remain important and viable.  Duh. 

For fabulous examples of how serious thinkers
these days are considering and reconsidering their denominational loyalties, often deepening their explorations of older liturgical traditions,
see the brand new book (expertly edited by a Southern Baptist, at that) called Journeys of  Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy,
Catholicism, and Anglicanism
edited by Robert Plummer. (Zondervan; $18.99.)  Chapters are byjourneys of faith new.jpg Francis Beckwith, Chris
Castaldo, Lyle Dorsett and Wilbur Ellsworth where each tell their story of how
they have found a spiritual home within these historic traditions, traditions in which they did not originally belong.  After each chapter there are
responses from the others, so you can read, for instance, a Catholic response
to evangelicalism or an evangelical reply to Anglicanism, or an
Orthodox reply to the others.  The
whole journey begins with a nice foreword by Scot McKnight.  As Moody Bible prof Bryan Litfin notes,
“If you have ever wondered, ‘Why in the world would someone become that type of
Christian?’ this book provides the answer.”

Fresh Expressions wasn’t convened to debate theology as this
book does, and yet, as we consider
new forms and expressions of parish ministry, creative outreaches and provisional church plants, we must continue to think through
these large doctrinal questions about our largest divisions and the nature of the apostolic faith handed down.  Kudos to Zondervan for releasing it.


The FreshX event had a very well-curated art display (thanks to the Washington Arts Group) and was a bit
multi-ethnic, too and we all appreciated those intentional efforts.  There were women in leadership, too—what a joy to finally
meet Jo Saxton, for instance, who has worked with our friends at Catalyst and Q
in recent years, and whose new book More Than Enchanting:more than enchanting.gif Breaking Through
Barriers to Influence Your World
(IVP; $15.00) is a wonderful example of missional
vision and Kingdom perspective for purpose-driven women.  (Jo is the director of 3DM which “helps
train leaders for discipleship and mission in an increasingly post-Christian
culture.”)  What an exciting
presenter, bringing stories of her native UK and her current setting in
California.  I meant it when I told
the audience that this book, while it is written to inspire women in missional
leadership, it is good for anyone.  In fact, I think it is important for leaders who are male to read this book, learning what obstacles are sometimes before our sisters in Christ.

  Here is a talk Jo Saxton gave at the Q Ideas conference a few years ago.  Check it out and order the book from us, asap!  She is a dynamo!


mcneal.jpgWhat a delight it was to
hear Reggie McNeal. We have sold McNeal’s books over the years, and we
stock all the books from the Leadership Network Publication line that he helps
oversee.  I think the first of his
I read was his book on the spirituality of leadership, A Work of Heart:
Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders
(Jossey Bass; $24.95) which is a study of the life of
David that has been recently reissued in a revised second edition.  You should know that he has taken much of his learnings from being a coach and mentor to pastors and other leaders and published Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (Jossey Bass; $24.95.) We even have his 4 DVD set The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Jossey Bass; $149.00.)  I knew he was important, but had no idea he was so funny.  And passionate about the church getting involved in ways that help solve problems of poverty.  Thank goodness.

So, you’ve got to read some Reggie McNeal.  His Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass;
$24.95) is widely considered his most important and we highly recommend it. 

Missional Renaissance has been promoted in ourmiss renaissance.gif own
Presbytery, even, illustrating that it is vital for mainline
congregations as well as the energetic new church developers.  It invites us to
measure and celebrate other things (he was powerfully clear about this—we go
after than which our metrics measure, so if more members, better numbers,
bigger offerings is what we report on, we’ll see that as some “end all.”  What would it look like, he teaches us
to wonder, to find ways, rubrics and rhetoric and habits of
conversations—re-languaging, he called it—that promoted God’s work in the
world, the fidelity of folk in the marketplace and neighborhood, the
social flourishing breaking out through the Spirit’s work, here and there?  If disciples are called to be salt and light and leaven, how to we honor and celebrate that?  Can that be on our “missional scorecard?”

Of Missional Renaissance,
Victor Pentz of Peachtree Presbyterian writes, “If you are a pastor or church
leader ready to get down to the raw specifics of turning a Christendom club
into a missional community, you will love this book.  The concepts are easily understood as they are radical and
breathtaking. There are a number of brilliant missional theorists, but no one
can speak the language of our American context and put the rubber on the street
like Reggie McNeal.”

kingdom calling.gifIn my book announcement time I was
trying to illustrate this idea of attending to God’s work in the world (not just within the walls of the church) by pushing the must-read Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway; $15.99) and the visionary, multi-layered missional work Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy
Sherman (IVP; $16.99.)  Ha —  I forgot that Reggie McNeal, in fact, wrote the very positive preface to Kingdom
. (My friend Steve Garber, by the way, wrote the afterword.)  Not enough churches talk
about–let alone measure and testify about and celebrate successes of marketplace
ministry—so I was happy to bring that contribution to the FreshEx
gathering.  And glad that Reggie
affirmed it as he took in my energetic book recommendations.


missional communities.gifMcNeal’s latest book,
Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church, (Jossey-Bass; $24.95) is an
evangelical and practical work that would be excellent to read on the heels of
the new Diana Butler Bass.  Rather than fret much
about the post-Christian culture or await some ill-defined awakening, he
invites us to get involved now in what these Brits and Baptists are calling fresh
expressions of church.  He calls it
“post-congregational” and is picking up on the work of guys like Neil Cole, who wrote Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (Jossey Bass; $24.95) and like the insightful The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now by Hugh Halter (Jossey Bass; $23.95.)  These are all practical resources helping congregations ponder and apply missional principles, reconsidering their very nature, the way they do ministry, and how to form communities on the move, reaching out and making disciples.


People sometimes ask me
where to begin, or what to read next, in this on-going missional movement.  The one’s listed above are excellent to start with.

For what it is worth, though, the seminal 1998 book
which was the first to use the phrase in print, is Missional Church: A Vision of the Sending Church in North America edited by
Princeton Seminary prof Darell Guder (Eerdmans; $29.00) who was at Fresh Expressions, too.  It seems to me that this idea of being
missional—being a church that realizes we are not to be civil religious
chaplains to the status quo, but view post-Christian North American as a mission
field to which we must contextualize our own discipleship and outreach–came
from this important conversation, drawing largely on the missionary insights of
Lesslie Newbigin. His The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans; $24.00) is a true classic, a bit slow-going, but
important and worthy of repeated, careful readings. His earlier and briefer Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans; $16.00) is a bit more
readable and I think more important.  The Gospel and Our Culture
, by the way, was a co-sponsored of the FreshEx conference.  They are, as they say, spot on.  Anyway, Guder channeling Newbigin, is one of the
grand-daddies of the movement, and we’ve stocked their books since they first came out.


Here are a few more
recent must-reads if you want to get up to speed with these missional
conversations.  There are so many,
and many are good.  This is the
essential short list.


shaping of things.gifThe Shaping of Things to
Come: Innovation and Missions for the 21st Century Church
Frost & Alan Hirsch (Hendrickson) $19.99  As early
articulation of cultural exegesis, looking at secularization, the rejection of
Christendom, the need for a wholistic Kingdom vision and all the rest.  This is
one of the most often-cited works in this field, perhaps the most important
missional book to read. I can’t say enough about it.  This is the book that put these guys on the map, and set the stage for a whole new generation of very astute cultural critics and whole-life discipleship visions, contextualized for our brave new world.


exiles.gifExiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture  Michael Frost (Hendrickson) $19.99  I’m very fond of this, maybe because of its
radical social critique.  Again, this reminds us of the dysfunction of a “churchy” view of faith, and affirms the spirituality of the ordinary, the importance of the Kingdom themes, the way we are called to resist ideologies in the culture.  Shades of
Brueggeman and Willimon, drawing on the themes of the Hebrew prophets during
the time of the Babylonian captivity. 
Wow.  This will get your motors running!


forgotten ways-by-alan-hirsch2-196x300.jpgThe Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church  Alan Hirsch (Brazos Press) $19.99 Okay, this is
it.  A must read.  Period.  You can’t be fluent in this conversation without knowing about Hirsch, and this is the first one to read of his.


The Forgotten Ways
Handbook: A Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches
Alan Hirsch (Brazos Press) $13.99  I
sometimes am a bit cynical when a publisher does a companion book or workbook like this. Is this really necessary or just milking the thing a bit more?  Well, thanks to Brazos for offering this—it is a guidebook for congregational use that is very helpful and highly
recommended.  Get your church pals
reading this, sooner than later.


M Joining God.gifMissional: Joining God in the
Alan Roxburgh (Baker) $16.99 
Not sure why, but this is very popular, I think because it is so very
clear about local outreach, about caring enough to be creative in reaching out.   It is one I often tell people to start with. All the reviewers insist this is Roxburgh’s best, and any of his are great.  This explains the shift to an
“outwardly focused” church as well as anything in a reasonably sized paperback. David Fitch, says, “It is sure to be a tour de force for the missional conversation. I am not being excessive when I say this book is brilliant.”


mmm.gifMissional Map-Making: Skills
for Leading in Times of Transition
Alan Roxburgh (Jossey Bass) $24.95 
Others have used the map metaphor before, how the maps we have and use
themselves shape our journeys. 
What if the cityscape has changed? 
What if we are using outdated and consequently inadequate maps?  This is one of the most interesting, creative
and generative resources for big thinking leaders that I know of. 
Craig Van Gelder (professor of congregational mission at Luther
Seminary) notes “Roxburgh continues to move the missional conversation
forward!  His Missional Map-Making
creatively builds on his previous publications offering critical perspective on
how to navigate the overwhelming complexity of today’s world. This important book
provides insightful historical perspective toward clarifying the contours of
our present landscape, while also being deeply instructive for helping
reflective and courageous Christians develop skills for creating new maps
toward participating more faithfully in God’s mission.”  That’s a mouthful.  Read it again, and tell me that this
doesn’t sound exciting and fruitful? 


church in present t.gifChurch in the Present
Tense: A Candid Look at What’s Emerging
  book + DVD Scot McKnight, Peter Rollins, Kevin Corcoran, Jason Clark  (Brazos Press) $21.99  This book is less about the missional
movement as discussed by McNeal, Roxburgh, Hirsch, Frost, Guder, et al.  It really is a roundtable discussion
about the state of the emergent conversation.  There are rave reviews by John Franke (theologian in
residence at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, PA), David Fitch (North
Park Seminary) and Tony Jones of Solomon’s Porch—one of the clearest  (that is, most funky) examples of the
emergent way of being church these days, and they all recommend it as exceptional.  Phyllis Tickle
(author of The Great Emergence) writes “This is the most complete, detailed, critically
sympathetic, and totally remarkable overview I have yet seen of where Emergence
Christianity presently is and appears to be going. McKnight’s two essays alone
are worth the price of admission.”  The DVD is fun and comes with the book making this a fabulous bargain for those who want to listen in to this provocative convo. A bit heady at times, as you might imagine…Corcoran, who mostly put it together, is a philosphy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.


remixing the Church.jpgRemixing the Church:
Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology
Doug Gay (SCM) $30.00  Yeah,
it is pricey, even for an import, but this is a huge (too often missing) piece of the emergent, missional, (and now, Fresh Expressions)
conversations.  Graham Cray, the
Church of England leader of the Fresh Expressions team (and missioner appointed
by the Archbishop) spoke about this at the conference and as an Anglican he has
certain important sensibilities about sacraments and ordination and
ecclesiology, or at least I assumed he did.  He was surprisingly less
anxious about this than I was, and I was glad for a helpful, if brief conversation with
him.  At what point does an organic outreach, forming a discipleship community, become a church?  What is an expression of The Church?  What is a missional, Kingdom eccesiology?  I still lovec of the k.gif Howard Synder’s Community of the King (revised and expanded) (IVP; $18.00) and often say it is my favorite book on the nature of the church.  Also a favorite is a more recent book by Tim Chester—I sometimes called it “gospel centered church”—titled Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community (Crossway; $15.99. ) I do think it is important to revisit this regularly and this new one by Gay is good. 


I’ve helped start and
have spoken at dozens and dozens of para-church fellowship groups over the
years, but have routinely reminded them that their coffee-shop Bible study or
Bread for the World citizens lobby group or college ministry fellowship are not
real churches; I am very grateful that unlike some para-church campus ministries, the CCO has written into their goals a hope for partnerships with local congregations, insisting that college kids should not view their campus fellowship group as a substitute for an established parish church.  I still have a fairly traditional set of assumptions—the maps
that inform my worldview—about real church and para-church, I guess.  The esteemed Bishop Cray
invited us to lighten up a bit, since any and all congregations, no matter how
formal, sound, large or well-established, are only but “expressions” of the
full Body of Christ, after all.  “Wherever two
or three are gathered” he reminded us…and called for risky experiments of outreach, hopes for new nests, new start-up projects, fresh expressions, disciple-making, worshiping bodies.


And so, it shouldn’t have
surprised me to see Bishop Cray’s rave commendation on Remixing the Church, and his affirmation of this study.  He writes, “We owe Douglas Gay a debt
of thanks.  Through this book he
has made it possible to continue a conversation about the emerging state of the
church…with courtesy and humility. 
This is a gift from Scotland about the catholicity of the church.”


Jonny Baker (whose latest book published by Seabury offers a new way to think about worship and worship leading
is interestingly called Curating Worship [$20.00]) writes of Douglas Gay’s Remixing… “I was very moved by this book.  It’s a creative, mature piece of
practical theology that maps contours of the emerging church movement over the
last few decades and offers reflections on ecclesial practice into the future.
Doug’s passion for a generous and humble ecumenism is inspired and much
needed.  I am so thankful he has
written it and so identify with the sensibilities and themes.”  I’ve followed Baker’s work since his
days as a student at Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies, and am glad for
his input on this.  

I liked the phrase “ecclesial practice.”  It reminded me a bit of Desiring the Kingdom:d the k.gif Worship, Worldview, and Christian Formation by James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic; $21.99), a book I wish I would have sold at Fresh Expressions since it is about how we need thick and rich liturgies and other “ecclesial practices” to counter the shaping influences of the secular litanies that so inform the habits of our hearts.  If we are going to offer fresh expressions by doing edgy little church plants and forming house churches or communities of discipleship, what is it about those communities that will truly transform us?  A great love for Jesus and desire to serve Him well a radically transformative body does not make, I’m afraid.  Hmm.

Well, such a
phrase takes us back to Diana Butler Bass’ new book and Reggie McNeal’s latest one.  Listen carefully to the titles and subtitles.  Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening and Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church.  What might congregations look like in a
time of “Christianity after religion?” Will we be “post-congregational?” It is no wonder those of us loyal to denominational churches and their sturdy status quo are a bit shaken by these questions… 


Well, here is one more.  It is truly a gift from God, a wonderful little book that I am very eager to chat about.  I hope you consider it, and read the various short pieces reflectively, talking about them as you listen to the pain and hope they represent.

130551479.JPGLetters to a Future
Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals
edited by Chris Lewis (IVP) $15.00  This is creatively written, exceptionally passionate, and
diverse in orientation.  I promoted
it at the Fresh Expressions event and wish I had more time to explain it
better.  Lewis is the cofounder of
the Epiphaneia Network, yet another movement to equip and inspire Jesus
followers in Kingdom ministry, this one focused mostly on Canadian
Christians.  This intriguing book
came out of one of their projects, the “Eighth Letter Conference” which, as you
might guess, invited leaders old and young to offer pastoral letters to the
church.  Exiled on the island of
Patmos, the apostle John was commanded to write about
what he saw and heard and to record and send messages to seven churches. (Get it — these are the “eighth letters.”)  What might the Spirit say to our North
American churches today?  There is
a fabulous opening piece by Andy Crouch the bears several good readings,  and then there are short letters by Canadian evangelical leader Aileen
Van Ginkle, Soong-Chan Rah, Peter Rollins, Makoto Fujimura, Ron Sider and
more.  Imaginative notes are
offered by Walter Brueggemann, Shane Claiborne, Tim Challies, Rachel Held
Evans, David Fitch, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Janell Anema, Kathy Escobar.


There are four main
sections, grouping the epistles around mission, truth, art, and hope.  There are some playful letters from a girl’s diary offered as interludes, and plenty to ponder as these folks draft their manifesto-like letters, appealing to the church, sometimes with whimsy, sometimes through tears…

The final appendix  “Letters to a Future Church from the
End of a Millennium” include short pieces by older leaders, aimed at certain sorts of churches.  We hear briefly from John Ortberg,
William Willimon, Gardner Taylor and Eugene Peterson.  (Is this the first time IVP has published the legendary
black preacher, Gardner Taylor? 
Wow!)  These are rich and thoughtful, little works of writerly art.  They read well out loud and I think you could use them in many settings.


Reading Letters to a Future Church is a good way into this conversation, listening well to these creative pleas which
describe our contemporary setting so well, inviting us to reconsider what, really,
the mission of God is, and how we can best embody and create signposts pointing
the way of restoration promised by the resurrected Lord.  Hearing these folks offer their letters, their hearts, their pleas, will touch your own heart, and perhaps compel you to further seek how to be an agent of conversation in your own congregation, raising the urgent questions of change, outreach, mission, and the nature of “Christianity after religion.”   More than ever, now, I want to use my little book-selling slogan: Read for the Kingdom!  These books will help us think through some of the most basic things of the Christian life, the very nature of our churches and their work.

ADDENDUM:  Just saw this cover story in The Christian Century that discusses church planting.  It mentions Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Scott Sundquist, a quote well worth reading. And Darrell Guder, and other good folks.  

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My latest Comment magazine reviews

After driving all day, and, again, late into the night, returning from a fabulous opportunity to sell books at the national Christian Legal Society Conference in Chicago, we are bleary-eyed and disheveled, to say the least.  We’ve begun the daunting task of unpacking the rented truck. There are literally hundreds of boxes of books and all manner of random supplies–lamps and shelves, duct tape and invoices, left-over junk food and CLS paperwork–scattered everywhere.
While we were gone my monthly column at Comment went live so I thought I’d just copy and paste it here for you.  I’ve mentioned these titles before, but these were freshly written so you might enjoy seeing them. You really should read Comment, published by the stunningly insightful Canadian think-tank, Cardus.  They truly are from the deep-end of the gene pool and I’m so delighted to get the chance to suggest books to their reformational readership.
They call my column “Life-Long Learners” which is a nice touch, I think.  Enjoy.  I’m going to bed.

Life-Long Learners 10.0

October 21, 2011 – Byron Borger

Life-Long Learners 9.0 Life-Long Learners 11.0 (~Nov. 25)

Comment remains one of my favourite journals, publishing
thoughtful pieces on a wide variety of subjects, often asking how best
to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections
about God’s redemptive work in the world. Readers care about a lot of
stuff, and want to learn how to live in these times fruitfully and

Of course, as a bookseller, it is a joy to talk about books that
might be of interest to this exact sort of engaged, open-minded, and
discerning reader. Here are a few choice titles that Comment readers might enjoy.

work matters.jpgWork Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway, 2011)

At our bookstore we have dozens of books about the relationship of
faith and work. It has long been a passion of mine to read about this
topic since I was introduced to it in the 1970s by the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
Happily, in the decades since, many Christians of various stripes have
seen the marketplace as a mission field, have learned to think
faithfully about the meaning of work, and have written well about
“loving God on Monday” or nurturing “your soul at work” because “your
work matters to God.”

There are many good books offering a Christian perspective on this
topic, but none as good as the brand new, visionary, and very
well-written paperback by this Kansas pastor. Some who know Reverend
Nelson know that he has emphasized the callings and careers of his flock
for years (indeed, in a long and beautiful blurb in the book, Comment
writer Steve Garber suggests that too few pastors have attempted to do
this and done so well as Nelson.) When the footnotes include fascinating
citations from Paul Marshall and Gideon Strauss and Dorothy Sayers, you
know it will be an interesting read. Nelson balances broad,
perspectival views with quite practical suggestions; he is a solid
theological thinker and obviously a pastor who cares to serve his people
well as they relate Sunday to Monday, worship to work. There are
several very interesting two-page sidebars that allow professionals from
his church (such as Comment writer and architect David Greusel, for instance) to share their stories, giving this, again, a practical and real-world feel.

Work Matters is not lofty or abstract and is ideal for workers
of all sorts. And for pastors and theologians, too, who need to
incorporate this approach to Christian living into their own work. Thank
God for Nelson’s church and their message of “common grace for the
common good,” even in the work-a-day world.

Kinnaman.jpgYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . And Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker, 2011)

Kinnaman was catapulted to fame when he produced for the Barna Group the research that became the bestselling book UnChristian
which explores what unchurched North American young adults thought
about Christianity and church life. Kinnaman continued his research,
this time documenting the views and attitudes and stories of younger
adults who were, in fact, raised within Christian churches, but who have
chosen to leave. Why is this? Kinnaman uses the punchy phrase (used by
more than one of his millennial interviewees) “you lost me” to indicate
that these folks were once open to faith, perhaps deeply involved in
Christian practices and life, and at some point determined that they
were no longer on the same page as their adult congregational leaders.
Kinnaman is passionate that we must understand the demographics of this
cohort and we must “start a conversation” about this crisis of
generational loss and, more importantly, with this cohort themselves.
Why are younger Christians disengaging from church? Why are they
rethinking the way theology and spirituality is construed? One nice
appendix to this important book is a listing of 50 suggestions for
“passing on a flourishing, deep-rooted faith,” from 50 different authors
and leaders, many of whom are writers for Comment (including
Steve Garber, Gabe Lyons, Charlie Peacock, Kara Powell, Donna Freitas,
Derek Melleby, David Greusel, Kenda Creasy Dean).

(Editor’s note: Comment will run a feature-length review of the above two books, together, in late December.)

socrates in the city cover.jpgSocrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” by Eric Metaxas, editor (Dutton, 2011)

For years now, Veggie-Tale smart-aleck and truly smart evangelical author Eric Metaxas (Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer)
has been inviting some of the world’s leading Christian thinkers to a
lecture series and friendly conversation program in the heart of
mid-town Manhattan. Inviting others to seek the wisdom of Socrates in
the city of man, Metaxas has held forth with remarkable guests, creating
space for good dialogues and consequently doing important ministry of
intellectual depth and wise apologetics.

A book loaded with some of these lectures was just released and it is
a stunning collection. There are essays that were first given at his
Socrates series by Sir John Polkinghorne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Alister
McGrath, N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, Os Guinness, Peter Kreeft, and
more. From the call for pluralism and civility by Os Guinness, to a
great piece on Bonhoeffer by Metaxas himself, to Elshtain on the meaning
of the human (drawing on C. S. Lewis), to several good speeches on the
relationship of faith and science, this book is a treasure-chest. I can
hardly think of any other single-volume anthology with such weighty,
clear-headed pieces. Charles Colson shines in a piece about “the good
life,” McGrath respectfully critiques the new atheists, while the late
Fr. Richard Neuhaus asks if “atheists can be good citizens.” New York
psychiatrist Paul Vitz movingly writes of the importance of fathers.
Catholic philosopher and creative writing star Peter Kreeft reminds us
of the joyous value of asking good questions, a perfect piece inspired
by the Socratic tradition which summarizes much of what Metaxas surely
intended for this project.

“Small topics?” These are anything but, and the editor’s impish good
humor is evident not only in the grand introductory chapter but in that
small phrase in the sub-title. Get this book and find some inquisitive
friends. Such “small topics” demand good conversations.

Silenced.jpgSilenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea (Oxford University Press, 2011)

In a longer review at our BookNotes column,
I wondered out loud if Marshall and Shea might themselves be in danger
in writing a serious book exposing those who would issue deadly fatwas
against writers, repress those with the wrong religion, or imprison
people who don’t tow a certain Islamic party line. This book is
shocking, even with the tone of a scholarly tome, as it painstakingly
documents, region by region, country by country, the efforts to pass
blasphemy laws, forbid religious conversion away from Islam, or enforce
Sharia law. There are chilling stories of beheadings and murders–some
official and others committed by vigilantes. (Think of the
still-endangered Salmon Rushdie, for instance, or the brutal ritual
murder of Theo Van Gogh, or the horrors promoted by jihadi forces now
commonplace in many Central African nations.)

Ever hopeful, however, the authors offer positive examples of both
international legal efforts to ensure religious freedom and of
pro-democratic moderate Muslims who dare to oppose their radical
co-religionists. Dr. Marshall, as you may know, has a vision of
religious affairs and human rights rooted in a profoundly Reformed
worldview (he replaced the legendary Bernard Zylstra at Toronto’s ICS
and helped mentor the brilliant Jonathan Chaplin who took his chair when
Marshall took up a position doing international human rights research.)
His realization of the profound role of religion as a foundation for
views of human rights and freedoms put him early on a path to expose
religious persecution and to attend to ways in which Islamic faith does
or doesn’t comport with notions of public justice. As a Western,
Christian pioneer in this work, he has Muslim friends literally all over
the world–there can be no accusation that he is Islamophobic.

Included in Silenced are three quite significant new essays by
internationally known Muslim scholars insisting that there is nothing
within Islam that demands Sharia or blasphemy legislation. An extended
forward to the book was written by the late President of Indonesia (the
world’s largest Muslim nation) who was a friend and advocate for
Marshall’s work on human rights. A large book, it is a serious and
monumental contribution to our knowledge of one of the great threats of
our era. Pray that it is read, discussed, considered, and heeded–and
that those who dare discuss it are kept safe from those who see violence
as a divinely approved method of silencing opposition.

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ONE MORE DAY for the N.T. Wright sale

We’ve extended the N.T. Wright sale for one more day.  We’re calling a halt to this mad sale atsale-sign.jpg midnight, Saturday night. 

Ya snooze, ya lose.

(And thanks to those who have responded so far.  It is gratifying to know that folks really are reading the blog.  Sometimes one wonders, and to know we’ve got a tribe of friends who care about books–who “read for the Kingdom”—is a joy and encouragement.)

NTWright-thumb-275x329-4737.jpgWant to know if your interested?  Heard some funky stuff about Tom’s views?  Read him for yourself, and we are confident you will be blessed. Agree fully or not, this is truly “must read” Christian literature. Our offers are the best prices around, on several of his paperbacks, and the three latest hardcovers. Call us up or send an email order.  Eager to serve you, happy to help.

Here is a link to a recent chapel talk at Wheaton College.  Very, very nice.  He tells the students to memorize Ephesians and preaches from a few key verses, showing their place in the book.  Would that all our Episcopalians would preach like that.  Would that all our preachers of any sort would break open the Word in this way.

Here are videos of all the Wheaton talks, friends offering critique (and his replies.)  You know I’m partial to Walsh & Keesmaat, and it will knock your capitalist socks off, if you’ve got any left.   You’ll have to open your Bible, though, as the exegesis is serious. 

Here is the N.T. Wright page, where you can see articles, sermons, hear lectures and come to a fuller understanding of his large body of work.

Here is a review of the latest book, After You Believe, which explains it all quite nicely. It’s from a blog called “Kingdom People” written by a thoughtful Reformed Baptist fellow.  Note the other archived pieces, including an interview with Wright, a discussion of John Piper’s critique (on justification) and some other stuff especially important to evangelicals who have reason to fret that Wright is perhaps proposing views that are less than fully orthodox.

Here is another review by a theologically conservative author.  I link to it because it shows a generous reading from a guy who may have some concerns about other aspects of Wright’s work.  Would that all critics would be so fair and appreciative.
You can see our prices in the previous BookNotes post.  Spread the word, ASAP. Thanks.

This takes you to the secure order form page at our website, where you can pay with a credit card or ask us to send you a bill.  We will confirm promptly, except on Sunday when we are closed.

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717.246.333