Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Anthony Robinson on Common Graces

Anthony B. Robinson's brand new book, Common Grace, has been nearly a lifetime in the making. He's earned the right to say these things, since he's lived them, and has been compiling these brief essays, at least in his heart, for decades. Some are recently written, apparently for this lovely book, and others previously appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer were he lives. A few may have been in The Christian Century.

My recent posts have been about pop culture, the subculture of the Christian music scene, my role in the Purple Door festival. If one wanted a good description of the theological principle behind an appreciation of the popular arts, one would do well to read the excellent and wonderfully-titled He Shines In All That's Fair: Culture and Common Grace by Fuller provost, Richard Mouw (Eerdmans, $13.00.) (I said in a review a year ago of Mouw's book Calvinism at the Las Vegas Airport, that I would read anything he wrote, he's that good!) In He Shines... Mouw asks if God really cares about ordinary human flourishing, if there is, as it has come to be called, a common kind of grace. Not just a human-ness, or goodness or beauty, although these are a kind of grace, I'm sure, but a divine presence and concern amidst the stuff of ordinary life. Mouw gets it spelled out as well as anyone, I think----including owning up to and unraveling some thorny doctrinal questions that in my enthusiasm to affirm that, as that same hymn puts it, "He speaks to me everywhere", I might be likely to gloss over. Mouw's the man.

Tony Robinson's book uses that same phrase. My, my, my, I have not been so taken with a book in ages. Nearly every chapter just sings, builds (the way the artful essay can) and delivers. He is a fine writer; his previous books I've touted here, Transforming Congregational Culture (Eerdmans; $18) and What's Theology Got To Do With It (Alban; $18) and they are, for these kinds of instructional books, very nicely done, loaded with insights, and very useful. I was delightfully surprised----not shocked, since I know Tony just a bit, and knew he had a poet's heart---to see him in this different genre. I find it hard to sell collections of good essays, as folks either think of lengthy, academic and overly detailed articles or they think of saccharine sweet "soup for the soul" bromides.

The pieces in Common Grace: How to Be a Person and Other Spiritual Matters are neither. They are provocative but very pleasant, creatively done, yet somewhat instructional. He tells stories that can break your heart (anyone with aging parents will find his reflections on his dad to be very moving.) He tells stories that can remind us of stuff we've long known----that there are ethical consequences, even to mundane technologies like air conditioners and voting by computer, for instance, or that gender assumptions have blessed and bedeviled parenting tasks, especially since the late twentieth century.

Some essays are themselves very insightful and exceptionally helpful for our civic life (he ponders the difficulties of electing school boards or other local leaders in a setting which views the body politick as a battleground for interest groups rather than with a full and nuanced appreciation for pluralism.) He is caring and fair when he offers his UCC views on homosexuality, and he makes us think---a very good chapter on why racial reconciliation among friends, in the movies, leads us away from the hard work of structural change and renewal of just public policies to overcome this dread problem. I loved the piece about how to recognize a true prophet. And his stuff about being a pastor---well, I hope Sasquatch Press doesn't mind too much if I photocopy a chapter or two to pass out. They are that good; I want pastors I care about to read him. One or two were almost brilliant, like one on why pastors should be well-read and knowledgeable. Another is on why pastors bestow blessings. His overview of different sorts of Christians and Christian denominations should be required reading for anyone who cares about religion in America, at least. His last chapter---postmodernity and the "hinge of history" is a great overview of that vexing topic. Wonderful ideas, wise insights, marvelous writing.

I found myself scratching my head on just a piece or two, and wished for more in a couple of the shorter ones. None bored me, none angered me. This book is a blessing, and I commend it for a couple of good reasons. It is a great book, well written. It is handsome and well crafted as a hardcover and brings much pleasure to have it. It is--and this isn't a small thing---a subtle Christian book, well-rooted in good theology (he quotes Calvin more than once for crying out loud, and lines from Merton or Buechner show up occasionally) but published on an indie regional press that isn't a religiously-oriented house. His editor at first had hoped for something less, well, less Christian. But then he assured Tony that they wanted him to be an authentic writer, to use, as they say, his own voice. And as a dedicated churchman, a serious Christian, a postliberal theologian, a man who cares about his family and community and country because he knows he is beloved in Christ, well, this spiritual voice is who he is.

It is no accident that Rev. R's title uses that phrase, common grace. He doesn't study on it the way Mouw does. But it infuses his work, shows up---like grace---everywhere. Whether he is pondering his daughter's coming of age, his long years of work with the homeless, or his enjoyment of music, he sees God's hand showing up. From a wonderful reminder of the "social medicine" of forbearance and forgiveness to the shallow way in which we think upon retirement in terms of a materialistic "lifestyle", to his excellent ruminations on death and funerals (recalling the writings of the splendid Thomas Lynch of The Undertaking) there seems to be a clear sense that God is around; it is God's good world we live in and there is no need for partitioning off some areas---secular!----or hallowing only some duties (church, prayer, theology.) Robinson, of course, is a theologian, preacher, and until recently was a working parish pastor and he sees the very real importance of these sacred rituals that happen when the faithful gather for church. But equally, he sees the importance of the little graces and ordinary blesses that constitute a life well lived. Just ponder that sub-title a bit...
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

FREE BOOK OFFER on pop music

Yesterday in my post about the Purple Door Art & Music festival, I not only tried to give you a glimpse of the mayhem and dirt and crowds of these kinds of outdoor music events, but a bigger picture of the ministry opportunities, the celebration of a Kingdom vision of music and art, and how we play a role by offering thoughtful books that can serve as a foundation---a badly needed apologetic and strategic vision for this kind of counter-cultural music work, which should be rooted in solid theology and spiritual depth and aesthetic maturity. We celebrated the work of the sponsors, affirmed some of the undergound ministries that coalesce around these kinds of events, and gave a shout out to our space-mates and patron saints of the art gallery, Burnt Toast Vinyl, and explained how great it is that the founders of Purple Door include stuff like a lit magazine (The Hinge) and a juried art show. The kids have a great time who go there, we get to hang out and sell books, and, this year, I was asked to speak. I've done talks from one of the stages some years, but this time I did a full workshop on the arts, where I feverishly shared a whole bunch of theological and Biblical guidelines for thinking about cultural engagement, and ways to maintain a transforming "in the world but not of it" hope for impacting in normative ways the artistic subcultures we find ourselves in. Or don't find ourselves in as the case may be. Messiah College friend and art major Ali Wunder did a great job bringing her practical experience to bear in our workshop (and she quoted the marvelous and rich Walking on Water, the sweet book on faith and art written by Madeline L'Engle.) Thanks Ali!

As we pondered this together, including in long, loud conversations afterwards, shouting over the bands in the mid-day heat, a few of us at least agreed that God's people should be active and excellent in their artistic endeavors, that all sorts of art forms should be explored for God's sake (and in service to our neighbors, as Cal Seerveld reminds us, offering the good hope of a faithful God, like after Noah, where the bird came "bearing fresh olives leaves.") And, we mostly agreed, that way too often, the Christian community---especially those of the evangelical CCM music sub-culture---merely mimics the world around us. Such practices end up standing Jesus's holy mandate from John 17 on its head; we end up "of the world but not in it." Indeed, some of the most popular bands in the festival circuit tangibly breath the Spirit of the world, copy-catting whatever is popular (but just a bit safer than the real thing, with just a spiritual gloss.) Consequentially, we have sequestered ourselves in our own bubble, performing for our own, pretending to be hip. Very much of the spirit of the world, very much not engaged in it or significantly contributing. What a shame, what a sham.

My friend Ken Heffner, whose very cool job it is to book bands at Calvin College, in Michigan, tells of an evangelical CCM booking agent calling him saying some two-bit band of youngsters "sounds just like Hootie and the Blowfish." Ken surprised the guy by saying that, well, Calvin just had had Hootie (who is, anyway, a Christian man himself) and didn't need a cheap imitation. Then said agent said he had a nifty and Godly duo that sounded just like the Indigo Girls that Ken might hire. Well, Ken had the Indigo Girls booked, and good converstions planned around their socially active and artfully delievered songs. Again, the agent couldn't believe it. Ken may have gently scolded him, calling him to promote Christian acts who can be allusive, nuanced, creatively orginial, and deeply informed by faith, not just cheaply aping the best, and adding a bit of perfunctory faith-based icing on the cake.

Well, it comes as no surprise that this whole crazy business has finally been explored signifcantly, and Heffner's lectures about wise Christian engagement in the culture are part of the book. Yes, rock critic Andrew Beaujon's new Body Piercing Saved My Life: Exploring the Phenomenon of Christian Rock (De Capo Press; $16.95---see his great blogsite about the book, here) has a good chapter about Ken and his work at Calvin, informed as it is by Seerveld's aesthetic theory and a Reformational worldview's social thinking, nurtured by years of studying the best thinkers about U2, and other important cultural creatives. Mr. Beaujon seemed truly intrigued, as many are, that a conservative Christian college would be found most comfortable hosting everyone from Bruce Cockburn to Sufjian Stevens, from Rosie Thomas to Anathello, from T-Bone Burnett to LA Symphony, from Pierce Pettis to Pedro the Lion, from Jan Krist to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Denison Witmer to 16 Horsepower, Brooks Williams to Ballydose. It goes without saying that he notes The Much-Discussed Dylan Gig at Messiah last year (the tamberine man's first at a Christian college.) Etc.

Andrew B, interestingly--very interestingly---makes it clear that he is not a follower of Christ. He is not, therefore, a partisan of this whole social scene. Nor does he have an axe to grind, cynical and self-righteous. No, he just wanted to figure it out, fascinated as he was by the scene. He did a finely-written and widely-read article a year or so ago for Spin, a trendy secular alt rock magazine which propelled him further into the highly commercialized CCM world and its off-shoots. If you visit his blog (see above link) you'll see the attention he is now getting. Good stuff!

Mr. Beaujon has done his work. He's been to the cheesy shows, toured the right places, been to the big festivals, haunted the underground joints. He interviews everybody---from Tooth & Nail folks to some of the parallel universes of the emergent congregations, like Mars Hill Church in Seattle. And he makes fun of what needs mocking, scratches his head at nearly all the right places, and offers compelling stories where the interviews are, in fact, quite compelling. And there is that great Calvin College chapter. In one scene, after a conference organized by Heffner (The Calvin Festival of Faith & Music, a sister event to the famous Festival of Faith & Writing) the narrator tells of going out to a pub with guys like Steve Stockman, David Dark, Bill Mallonee, and a handful of others from the event. My teenage son was one of those, so, in this little way, he's in the book. Ahhhh, Hearts & Minds again in the thick of it. Ha, ha! Actually, that conversation, as reported, is a very good one. I wish I could have been there, and I bet you do too!

Purple Door is even discussed in Body Piercing Saved My Life. Much of the stuff we have shared about in these last posts are in one manner or another described and evaluated. I think more often than not, Beaujon gets it nearly right. (I'm pretty sure he doesn't fully understand the aformentioned Mr. Heffner and he seems confused by the ever-brillant and always jovial David Dark.) It is, without doubt, the most important book yet done on the CCM world, and the effort for a faithful and open evangelical engagement with popular entertainment. We've had fun carrying it these past months (hate to sound smug, you know, but why-o-why aren't other Christian retailers pushing it?) Anybody who frequents this world, anybody who cares about it, anybody that is half-way interested in music or culture, faith or the arts, should pick up this book. That it unfolds almost as a travel memoir, with good journalistic reportage, written by a non-Christian, on a mainstream publishing house, just makes it all that much more interesting. If you aren't into this whole scene (but still find yourself reading) why not get this for somebody you know----somebody under 30, perhaps.


I'll tell ya what: here comes a great, great deal. While supplies last (and I've got plenty) I will offer a free copy of the other great book on these themes, At the Crossroads: An Insider's Look at the Past, Present and Future of Contemporary Christian Music written just a few years back, by Charlie Peacock, perhaps the most thoughtful guy working now within the industy. (Charlie, I might add, was nominated for a Grammy last year for his hip, and very exciting instrumental jazz recording, Love Press Ex-Curio.)

We've got some hardback copies of At the Crossroads that we will give away FREE if you buy Body Piercing Saved My Life. Charlie was at Purple Door two years ago, and I would guess that anyone who cares about music, the sorts of issues we try to raise here, who heard my PD talk on the high calling of the contemporary arts, or anybody who likes to think a bit about the relationship of Christianity and contemporary culture will benefit from Mr. Peacock's wise insight. Read alongside the Body Piercing expose, and you've got quite a double-punch. Or as Dylan put it, a Shot O Love.
Just e-mail us at read@heartsandmindsbooks and tell us your address and how you want to pay. You know the drill from our website, we assume--you can pay with a cc (here or call it in) or we can just send along an invoice and you can pay later by check. Tell us that you heard of this special blog deal and get the free book.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Music,Mayhem and Bookselling

These shoes have seen some strange streets… Bruce Cockburn sang years ago, in an alliteration that always makes me smile. It’s how I feel half the time as we lug boxes of books here and there. Maybe a third of
our business comes from hauling books places and usually we are grateful to set up in classy digs like hotels or conference centers, which are more interesting than church basements or campus classrooms. We’ve set up outdoors and in little motel rooms; don’t even get me started of the strange streets we’ve seen. One of the more exotic locations for graying literary types like us is our annual foray into the annual Purple Door Arts & Music Festival.

Some of you may know of the largest Christian music fest, Creation, or the more edgy and thoughtful Cornerstone Festival (or the famous Greenbelt event in the UK.) Purple Door is the central Pennsylvania version of something between Creation and Cornerstone. There is hard, hard music, which attracts over 5000 serious fans---pierced punkers, neo-hippie nomads, hm head-bangers and angst-laden artistes. And, of course, tons of fairly normal kids, painted up for the day. There is what seems like miles of aisles of “merch” (band paraphernalia, rock souvenirs, indie albums and all manner of alternative Jesus junk) and a few significant ministry tents. Co-sponsors include Messiah College, Compassion International, Walden Media, WJTL…We get to meet other folks who are engaged in ministry within the subculture----reaching out to skateboarders, cutters, those with eating disorders, the homeless, runaways, radical pro-lifers…there are good folks doing good work at this fun place. And, of course, the rock artists, or at least many of them, are serious about their music and intent on advancing in artistic ways the Kingdom of Christ.

We take our usual array of books, setting up ‘til the wee hours, praying for strength to endure the mayhem of heat, dirt, crowds and hours of blaring music---35 bands on 4 stages! The pictures above don't even come close to communicating the energy of this gig; the bookstore shots seem pretty peaceful, but were taken before the crowds arrived. (And of course, most of the crowds were outdoors; dress it up optimistically as I might, this isn't our most productive event. Jubilee, it ain't.) It is, though, the wildest place in which we try to engage in ministry and commerce.

Can such a crazy time and space ever allow for meaningful conversations? Can a kid sweating lime green (hair dye, you know) over her Celtic cross tattoos, plugged into an iPod, seriously entertain the thought that she needs to study and learn, to buy books, especially demanding ones about theology, worldview, cultural engagement, justice, spirituality, gender?

It can and she does. Some festival goers are young, so we take some pretty basic Christian growth stuff, teen novels, books for youth about modesty and chastity, getting along with parents or school. It is great to see 14 year olds wanting to dig deeper into faith.

A few of the intellectual types tease us good naturedly (well, mostly) for having lite-weight devotionals and books on dating and self-esteem next to Hans Rookmaaker, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, Brian McLaren, Jamie Smith, James Sire, Miroslov Volf. And a few of those youth workers looking for simplistic reviews of pop culture---“isn’t there a book that tells us what’s safe and what isn’t?” ---were struck by our display of resources such as Romonowski’s Finding God in Popular Culture, the bunches of books we had on film studies, our Christian books on U2 or the exiting new Steve Turner, The Gospel According to the Beatles.

Mostly folks seem pleased to see our unique mix of titles. One guy from Portland who worked for Tooth & Nail Records ended the last late night by blessing us with conversations about great indie bookstores that he visits in his travels. A real reader! Who loves hard rock! And obviously a heart for the hurting, wanting to reach out thoughtfully and effectively. To be called “rad” by one such young leader was, uh, neat.

We hear---at professional Christian educators events, theological conferences, and, yes, at rad outdoor festivals---that not too many Christian booksellers promote Wendell Berry and Ron Sider, books on postmodernism and body image, racism and Reformed theology, or showoff the latest Sojourners (with their article on Anathello, who was playing outside our little room.) So thanks to all who visited us at PD, and thanks for those who noticed what we were trying to do, raising the bar a bit on the quality and depth of Christian reflection at events like this. Will you join us in praying for our work, for the books sold at this place and for seeds sown at Purple Door?

We thank the good folks who allowed us our bookish ministry (like Kurt W. of Sovereign Grace, who cheered us early on as we talked about the Puritan prayers in Valley of Vision and questions about N.T. Wright).

Tomorrow I will tell just a bit about setting up near the art gallery, hosted by our friends at Burnt Toast Vinyl, and the workshop I was asked to do about the arts. And a surprising, must-read book that brings it all together.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Like Fire in the Bones

Our last few posts have been about resources for renewed Biblical study, some for beginners, some for college classrooms, some that have a special flavor. I can't end this series of postings without an announcement of the brand new Walt Brueggemann book, Like Fire in the Bones: Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah (Fortress; $35.oo.) I know it is overly pricey---shame, shame on the publisher!--- and we will announce a blog discount special below. But hear me out on this: Brueggemann is one of the foremost Biblical scholars of our generation, and a man who has nurtured and befriended me, personally. Jeremiah--the longest book of the Bible--may be one of the most important prophets for our day. As Brueggemann himself suggests, the way Jeremiah both warned about and lived through the disaster of the destruction of Jerusulem in 587 BCE is suggestive for how to think about America in our post 9/11 situation. (His important and very readable commentary on Jeremiah, published now in one paperback volume by Eerdmans, is wonderfully sub-titled Exile and Homecoming.) Of course he doesn't explore this in a wooden or simplistic fashion; many of these collected pieces, in fact, were written in earlier decades. But the remarkable way in which the Bible scholar and the passionate preacher that is Dr. Brueggemann shifts back and forth from ancient text to contemporary contexts, makes him truly one of the more valuable leaders of the church today. That he is both respected in the most arcane circles of the guild of Hebrew studies and as a preacher in the mainline and emergent churches, should tell us something important. He cares for the most serious research into the text (and what nearly everyone who has written on it thinks) and he cares for Christian formation in the church.

Many readers of this blog and customers of Hearts & Minds will know of our evangelical commitments, and will be a bit suspicious (as we are) of any scholar who uses historical critical methods, who suggests that the Bible can be torn apart and even dismissed, all by evaulating the literary style or the speculations about orginal sources. Most of us know that the mainline churches have been virtually decimated over the last century by the extremes of this kind of overly-academic, modernist, critical reading.

Brueggemann may be one of the great examples of a scholar trained in the best (worst?) of this liberal tradition, who, especially in the more recent years of his career, has shifted to a style of interpretation that some may now call postmodern; for others of us, it sounds more evangelical. Technically, I suppose it is most indebted to Brevard Childs' canoncial approach, and has been deeply appreciative of those who have shown how ideological bias has colored traditional readings (say, third world scholars, feminist or black scholars.) Because of this, he is one to read, one of our best, as he brings such a profound familiarity with the best of the critics and yet is able to circumvent their unhelpful directions, when necessary. (Here is a fair on-line article about his perspective.) His lectures and sermons have been--without a doubt--some of the best Bible teaching I have ever heard, bringing together notable and erudite discussion of the literature, and powerful, edifying--- and challanging Scriptural preaching of the gospel.

These essays, collected over a lifetime of his important work in Jeremiah, show some of his most detailed study of the prophet and the text; it also includes some of his most passionate application of the prophetic imagination to the cultural context of our day.

The final chapter is an extended interview on the task of the prophet in the Bible, and the calling to be prophetic today. It is plainspoken and powerful. I know I say this too often, but I sincerely believe that this one chapter alone is well worth the price of the entire book, and investment something that we should ponder for a lifetime. But then so is chapter 14, "Prophets and Historymakers" and, for anybody that cares about the state of the art of Jeremiah studies, so are the first few chapters. We are gleeful that this book is now here, and cheered that such serious study of pain, lament, politics and hope, actually exists on printed pages. The beautiful cover compliments the other two in the series, indicating this is the third in a triad of hardcovers. We highly recommend it.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Unique Bible resources

Well, forgive my goofy-sized picture, above....it is too late at night to know what to do about it. It does give me a chance, though, to mention this remarkable book. Then I'll describe the even more remarkable one shown in the picture on the left.

First, The Bible In Pastoral Practice: Readings in the Place and Function of Scripture in the Church is edited by Paul Ballard and Stephen R. Holmes (published by Eerdmans; $27.) One is from Wales, the other from St. Andrew's, and together they've pulled together an extraordinary array of thoughtful Bible scholars and pastors to reflect on how the Bible is actually used in our churches. I would say that these are fairly rigorous, although readable--a few are truly thrilling, several I would call brillant. Important names are here (Craig Bartholomew, Walter Brueggemann, Derek Tidball, Carl Trueman, Herb Anderson; 20 in all.) The first section of this large paperback includes some pieces on church history, how the Bible has been used in different times and places, and how we can "listen to the tradition." The next major section are essays on how modern Bible scholarship and criticism has posed a particular problem for the church. Lastly, the large final part of the book includes a wild array of papers on various ways in which the Bible is used in our time. Here, there are things on spirituality, the Bible and ethics, pastoral care, preaching, the arts, etc. It is a weighty, good collection, the exact sort that Eerdmans has been doing in recent years. For those who want such a fine resource, it is highly recommended. Not a cheap collection, and some authors raise serious questions. It is rewarding reading, though, and I look forward to spending more time with in as time permits. I thought you should know of it. Sorry the pic is so small. Go here to read about the complex research project from which the book emerged.

How about that gentleman holding the large Africa Bible Commentary? I have reason to believe (although I'm not certain) that it is Tokunboh Adeyemo, a Nigerian who is the General Editor of this amazing, "years in the making" one-volume Bible commentary. Over 70 African scholars contributed (with world-wide funding) to do this major work of solid, evangelical scholarship, with a pan-African perpsective. John Stott, as those who know him will know, has been an encouragement here, and he has a glowing forward. Not a few reviewers have called it a landmark publishing event.

Besides the interesting (if often fairly standard) explication of each book of the Bible, there are many, many articles, sidebars, and extra features, drawing connections between the ancient Biblical text and contemporary African culture. The hope, of course, is not only that African believers will be enriched (and rightfully proud) but that it will gain a worldwide following. You heard it here! The Africa Bible Commentary (Zondervan) sells at a good price for over 1500 pages, only $39.99 Go here to learn more about it.

The Reverend Doctor Adeyemo, by the way, not only has theological degrees, and has served for over 20 years as General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, and is currently the Executive Director of the Centre for Biblical Transformation, he has done post-doc work in philosophy at the University of Aberdeen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New subscription service notifies you

This is how big my headache has been knowing that I've done some recent blog posts that you don't know about. Our subscription service that notifies you whenever I add a new post ("bloglet" for those of you who recall)wasn't working, and is no more. (So, please, go back and scroll down to see the last few; read the comments, too, if you'd like. Good conversations.)

Now, we've got a new, more reliable notification service, cleverly called "Blogarithm."

If you are a subscriber (thank you, thank you) you should have recieved an update that this is the case. You don't have to do anything else.

If you want to sign up, just enter your e-mail in the subscription thingie and you will get a small email in your inbox whenever BookNotes does a new post.

Next up: one more brief post on two more, new and amazing Bible commentaries, and, then, finally, I've been "tagged." Which means I have to list a bunch of books in various catagories. (Thaaaaaanks, Bob.) Can he do it? Check back soon. Or subscribe, and we'll let you know when it appears...


Thursday, August 10, 2006

More on the Bible & Intro to the New Testament

Well, after the last post, where I listed a few introductory books on reading the Bible, I was asked by a friend to recommend a few texts for use in a college introduction to the New Testament class. He seemed to like my picks for the Bible overview list, and wondered what we'd suggest for a resasonably sharp collegiate group, or a serious-minded adult Christian ed class.

Well, where does one begin? (And where do I stop?) I put together a list for his particular purposes, at his evangelical college, and wanted to show it here.

First, though, I offer a few more random titles for an introductory reading of the Bible. These aren't so much on how to read, or a book-by-book handbook, but an introduction to an aspect of Scripture, especially the Older Testament. Or, to be really honest, they are just books I want to tell you about. So here are a few I could have listed last time.

The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash Judith M. Kunst (Paraclete) $15.95. My, my, this is my kind of book---part memoir, telling of a journey of reading, a bit of Jewish-Christian relations stuff, and a whole lot of new insights into the Hebrew Bible. Judith is a good writer, teaches at a respected Christian school, and offers a wonderful bit of writing here. She has become familiar with our work here, too, and we are happy to mention this grand book again. What a rich, imaginative and fun read.

Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith Marvin Wilson (Eerdmans) $20.00 Wilson is a beloved prof at Gordon College and a leading scholar on Christian-Jewish relations; some reviewers have called this "magnificent" "ambitious" and "stunning." Jews & Christians alike have raved about this powerful and rich book.

Old Testament Turning Points: The Narratives That Shaped a Nation Victor H. Matthews (Baker Academic) $18.99 Eight key "turning points" in the overall plot of the Old Testament. Paying close attention to the text, but yet showing these high points of the story, the author gives a real boost to our understanding.

God and the World in the New Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation Terence E. Fretheim (Abingdon) $15.95 Brueggemann has suggested that this is Fretheim's master work, and extraordinary effort that "balances close exegesis and large theological interpretation." One of our customers says it is the most important book she has read in years!
Certainly these questions---the Creator God, the created world, and our role in creation---loom large over the Bible, and large over our contemporary world.

The Word That Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $35.00 This may be my favorite Brueggemann collection in quite some time; I've mentioned it here before. Previously written academic pieces, lectures, sermons, articles, all arranged around the way the Bible "redescribes the world", "redescribes the possible" and "shapes a community of discipleship." Thanks be to God for such work by one of the most distinguished and generative thinkers of our time.

And so, here is my list for the college teacher at an evangelical school who wondered what New Testament introductions we might suggest.

Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology Paul Achtemeier, Joel Green, Marianne Meye Thompson (Eerdmans) $35 A hefty volume, it is pretty mainstream, thoughtful, creative at times. Endorsements on the back are from N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, Leander Keck....so it is moderate in theological tone. Some have raved about it; it seems designed for introductory college level courses, but is pretty serious. I love the look and tone of this and hope to spend more time with it myself.

An Introduction to the New Testament D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo (Zondervan) $39.99 The second edition is considerably expanded (for instance, a bit on the "new perspective" on Paul, a new chapter on Bible study methods through history) making it very useful, and includes some very student-friendly touches. As you may guess, it offers a standard, conservative approach.

Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey Walter Elwell & Robert Yarbrough (Baker) $44.99 Some have raved about this recent series (ECB) and suggested it is a whole new standard for useful college texts. (It includes a CD rom, too, a common practice in some textbooks these days.) Excellent, evangelical content, splendid production, very engaging.

A Survey of the New Testament Robert Gundry (Zondervan) $44.99 Now in its fourth edition, it is a gem for beginners, with outlines, full color maps, chapter introductions and all kinds of useful charts and sidebar aids. Gundry is currently at Westmont; this really is a guide book that encourages actually reading the N.T. (imagine that!) Very nicely done, if a bit slight on academic depth.

New Testament Introduction Donald Guthrie (IVP) $45 This classic chestnut of a reference book has been recently revised and is a standard introductory book. Maybe a bit dry, and, with nearly 1000 pages is it is pretty hefty.

An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation David DeSilva (IVP) $40 Pushing towards 1000 pages, this almost oversized book is really puts the reader into the context of the first century setting. Rave reviews from Peter Davids, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, Ralph Martin, Mark Allan Power...exceedingly highly recommended by all these stellar scholars. Looks very, very thorough, a bit interdisciplinary and with a trajectory towards ministry application. Very impressive.

The New Testament Story Ben Witherington (Eerdmans) $18 This good paperback is a synthesize of much of his earlier work, making a great contribution to how the NT was put together, the narrative flow of the grand story, the ways a high Christology informed all of it....not exactly a standard intro, but this is a great background read.

Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day Anthony B. Robinson & Robert W. Wall (Eerdmans) $20.00 Regular readers of our blog may know that we have already noted Robinson's book on why theology is important to ordinary congregations (What's Theology Have to Do With It?) which illustrates how this UCC pastor wants to nurture mainline congregations with theological depth. Here, he shows how it is done by using the Bible. As more scholarly opinion has it these days, The Acts of the Apostles occupies a central location in the New Testament and survey courses ought not miss it. Neither should ordinary pastors and church folk. This is a great study of this book, as they wrestle with Acts for the churches of today.

Reading Romans Through the Centuries: From the Early Church to Karl Barth Edited by Jeffrey P. Greenman & Timothy Larsen (Brazos) $29.99 I didn't actually include this on my "survey" list, but I wanted to list it here as an example of the fascinating books that are coming out (and, especially, it seems, from Brazos Press in Grand Rapids.) Here, you have over a dozen contemporary theologians or Biblical scholars writing about the views of those who, through church history, have made it their work to comment on Paul's letter to the Romans. Here is Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Hodge, and more.

Paul N.T. Wright (Fortress) $25.00 There has been such a wonderful amount of Pauline scholarship in this decade and we have our favorites, and those that we know are vital. I suppose that should be a BookNotes topic. For now, I must again suggest this accissible book by one of the most important New Testament guys writing today. Those who disapprove of Wright's views most likely will still not be convinced, but this is an essential contribution to the discusion and a must-read for those who care about the New Testament and its message.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Introductions to the Bible-- for Beginners

Sometimes I post a reply to a specific customer's request, or a slightly edited version for BookNotes readers. Daily, we get inquires---sometimes just for prices or shipping costs---and sometimes they present an opportunity to develop a handful of recommendations. This nice Lord's Day I thought I'd share a portion of a recent correspondance with a good friend, who is trying to help a friend of hers come to know the Bible better. That gal asked for things that describe each book of the Bible. Hope you enjoy seeing my quick list to her. Thanks for being a part of this work, and for caring about the mission here at the bookstore.

Dear xxxxx,

Thanks again for your great inquiry. You know how important this good question is. I'm so glad to present a few suggestions. You may know the first ones, at least; if they aren't useful for your situation, though, please be honest, and we can recommend others. Eager to stay in touch...

I'll suggest two different kinds of books----the overview, I'll call it, and the handbook.

My favorite book for an overview of the Bible is The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Drama by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen (Baker; $17.99). It has that neo-Calvinist worldview vision and talks about God's intentions for the planet, the significance of covanents, the Christ-centric focus of the entire Bible, the coming of the Kingdom and our whole-life responsibilities to be stewards and history makers, etc. etc. But, given that narrative approach with worldview formation as the goal, it still is a story-by-story unfolding plot of the drama of the Bible. It walks you through everything in the Book as well as anything I know. Not tooooo hard, yet not simplistic, with engaging text and true insights. The best.

How To Read the Bible Book By Book Gordon Fee & Doug Stewart (Zondervan; $18.99) You probably have How to the Read the Bible for All It's Worth, which is the best book to start with for what the fancypants call hermeneutics; this second one is pretty much a standard Bible handbook, and our pick for one of the very best. That is, it gives you a book-by-book summary, showing the way to read, interpret, study and best understand each book of the Bible. An indispensable handbook, a guide to each book. Very useful.

There are others that do what each of these two do; some others that accentuate the unfolding drama of the story like the first one. A really good one, we'd say, is Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams (P&R; $17.99) which has a similar vision, but is a bit more, uh, eccentric. Very passionate and has some good, wild insights. I love it, but I think it might be a bit more feisty and a bit less straight-line chronological than Drama of...) Walk Through the Bible (recently reissued by Wipf & Stock; $9.95) by the great missiologist Leslie Newbigin has a great overview approach, with an exceptionally clear tone, showing the basic plot line, but it is really brief. Some CCO staff use it a lot with younger students; they were originally given as radio talks in England.

There are a few more like the second one (a handbook) I described but that have drawings and sidebars and such, something similar to the "for dummies" series, if she'd like something like that, with factoids and cartoons and charts. One I like is the No Brainer's Guide to Reading the Bible (Tyndale) by James Bell which is cleverly written with great wit, and the less clever but very clear Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding the Bible; (Holman; $14.97.)

And there are expensive ones, with beautiful full-color photos and excellent info. My favorite is a lovely and well-written one now published by Fortress called The Bible Guide (used to be the Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible but Fortress picked it up, re-issued it with a considerable amount of re-writing, editing and all new illustrations making a fabulous resource volume.) That sells for $29.95, which, for the size and quality, is a very good value.

I've been enjoying dipping into (only briefly) a new book called Reluctant Prophets and Clueless Disciples by Robert Darden, editor of The Door (Abingdon; $25). The sub-title is "Introducing the Bible By Telling It's Story" and it is a slightly irreverent Bible overview, a parallel guide to the main characters and their sometimes wacky behaviors. It looks funny---cartoons through-out---but it isn't for kids and it isn't silly. It just walks you through all of the primary stories, re-telling them, sussing them out, exploring and reflecting and occasionally adding helping, blunt, comment ("...he was still a mean old coot...") I think you'd like it.

And, a truly cool one: Story: Recapture the Mystery by Steven James ($14.95) is a fabulously creative memoir, full of poetry, essays, auto-biography and a bit of Bible expositions. Think crossing Blue Like Jazz-man Miller with Rob Nooma Bell with a creative Bible handbook. These chapters all retell the Bible story in one way or another and is a very postmodern, twenty-something overview of the Bible. Fascinating and good, although probably not exactly what your friend needs...

I suppose I should ask: does she have a good Bible, perhaps a study edition in a modern language? Squinting through tiny print KJV that somebody's great aunt gave them 15 years ago may not be the best. I love the Life Application Study Bible because of the very clear notes, the practical applications, and the excellent overviews of each book of the Bible. Those may be the most interesting overviews, with a devotional quality, amidst sidebars, timelines and themes and mega-themes (and why they matter today always spelled out!) It comes in the NIV and the New Living Translation and the older KJV as well. Speaking of new Bibles, the NIV Study Bible has long been considered by those in the know to be the best study Bible on the market---conservative but fair, more notes than any other edition, good balance and solid scholarship. Those notes have just been adapted and put into the TNIV translation. So now, we have the TNIV Study Bible which is stunning in it's breath and insight. There is a brand new version of The Message (paraphrase) that is a daily devotional, with an Old Testament and a matching/relevant New Testament reading for each day. It is actually called The Message Remix: Pause and is being called "a daily reading Bible." (NavPress; $24.95) Remix: Pause is supposed to be put together in a very coherent pattern, meaningfully connecting two different texts (a brilliant idea) that, if done each day, will get you through the Bible in a year. Looks really great!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

contemporary fiction: Listening for God

Contemporary Literature and the Life of Faith is the subtitle of a set of four paperbacks which are designed for small group studies, Adult Sunday School classes or other such reading groups. Of course you could use them alone, too---but why not call a group together? The titles of each of the four volumes are Listening for God: Contemporary Literature and the Life of Faith (volumes 1-4) and they are co-authored by Paul J. Carlson & Peter S. Hawkins (Augsburg-Fortress) $13.99 each.

These are arranged nicely with a very brief study of each author which include a few predictable choices (O'Connor, Buechner, Updike, Berry, Dillard) and a few that you may not think to use in a Christian ed setting---Raymond Carver, Sue Miller, Gail Godwin, Oscar Hijuelos, Reynolds Price, James Baldwin, Doris Betts...

As you can see, these are the best of the best of contemporary authors who address faith issues, that have something to say that is important about various aspects of the spiritual life or a life lived with integrity.

After the overview and reflection, there is a brief chapter (several pages, at least, not just a quick sidebar) which is an excerpt from a novel or short story of the author under consideration. Then there are discussion questions for reflection and group conversation.

This is a great way to be introduced to authors, ways to organize a study around theme of modern ficiton, and a fun break, perhaps, from whatever curriculum or study matierals you may currently be using. You can even order DVD's that cover some of this matieral (which, although we stock them, I'm too cheap to open 'em up. I really ought to get to watching this supplemental video, but I'm still reading through these great excerpts.)

A few customers have used them in their own small group, and after a while, they call up and order the next one, so they must be working well. Kudos to Augsburg for putting these out, and for reminding us that even in our fiction reading, we can be listening for God.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Novels we've loved this year

Novels. We love to talk about what we are enjoying and all our staff have their recent favorites. At the monthly column at the Hearts & Minds website, we have a nice essay describing a few of the recent stories we've read. There are some truly wonderful novels, fiction that deserves to be known. See our reviews there, and add a few comments here at the blog. What would be your pick for best novel so far this year? Have you heard of the ones we've reviewed here? Join the conversation and let us know. Thanks.