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.

Friday, October 19, 2007


We've officially moved our blog to our own, new web site! As a result, and in an effort to keep all of our comments in one place, we're no longer accepting comments on this site. Please update your bookmarks, visit us soon at the new site and subscribe to receive e-mail notifications of updates here:


On the new blog, you can search all of our old posts and continue the conversation by posting your own thoughts and comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What's wrong with evangelical publishing? Two bad best sellers

I mentioned in a blog last week that I was irked about two new popular titles, and that I wanted to share my frustrations. Sorry I have posted lately--we’ve been on the road a bit---selling books with pastors of small churches at a Presbyterians for Renewal gig, for instance, and setting up a UCC retreat on the theme of hope in the writings of Desmond Tutu. We were at a glorious wedding in Western Pennsylvania and I am speaking at the chapel of Eastern University in, well, Eastern Pennsylvania. We’re preparing for an important conference on sexual trafficking and human rights at the John Newton Center in Carlisle, PA (October 27th) which will end with a free showing of Amazing Grace at the lovely downtown theatre. (The DVD of that important film, by the way, will be out soon, so do contact us to order it.) We are happy that our new van (with only 69 thousand miles) can journey the miles dispatching our books hither and yon.

And, these books are---we are happy to say—really diverse. We are told that we have a mix in our inventory that is really wide-ranging, and we hope you like the thought. Unlike some so-called “Christian bookstores”, we stock books on a really wide variety of topics, and from a really wide range of theological perspectives. We like the clarity of John Piper, the broad thinking of N.T. Wright, and the neo-Calvinist worldview of Abraham Kuyper. We appreciate the deeper spirituality of Richard Foster and Henri Nouwan, and have enjoyed selling books with Catholic sisters like Joyce Rupp, or contemplatives like good friends Russell Hart, Kent Groft or Graham Standish. You know that we’ve often named Os Guinness and Ron Sider as friends and mentors, and we often write about social concerns, cultural engagement, and the reformation of higher education. Cal Seerveld on the arts and Steve Garber on how to relate learning to a lifetime of moral seriousness are among our favorite books. We stock books for all kinds of church groups, and love telling people about novels and memoirs. Nurturing the Christian mind ought to be a high priority for a bookstore, and our work on worldviews and the integration of faith and learning can be easily seen by looking back to the “top ten” lists on these topics we did here and here, in August.

Why do we do all this? Well, because the Bible tells us to, I suppose. Christ is the King of all creation, and as renewed agents of His reconciliation, we are trying to advance a view of faith that relates discipleship to each and every zone of life, fostering conversations about social innovations and culturally relevant ministry. We hope this is why you sign up for the blog subscription, so we can tell you every time we announce new books or post new reviews.

What we tend to sell a lot of here in the Dallastown shop, though, and what has been common in Protestant bookselling over the last several decades, has been what only can be called faith lite. Simplistic and cheesy stuff is easy to spot, and the popularity of the repetitive and shallow Joel Osteen notwithstanding, it is our delight to get folks who have never read a religious book, or have only read the most crass and silly ones, to move a step towards thoughtful discipleship, and books that are beautifully written and practical in their application, even though they are clear and easy to follow and down-to-earth. I do not expect everyone to tackle Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat and their provocative postmodern reading of Colossians (Colossians Remixed)-- even though I raved about it here repeatedly. I am aware not everyone wants to read my friend Ned Bustard’s good anthology on beauty and the arts (It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God.) Heck, I know that some might even be flustered by the deeply warm and graceful prose of Ruth Haley Barton in her important call to solitude and silence. (Invitation to Silence and Solitude.) I was pleased that we've gotten a few orders from UnChristian which I reviewed last week---but more came from mail order than from folks here. These are all books that Hearts & Minds fans will know about, as I’ve noted them here often. But we don't sell many of these. But I am happy, most days, to sell Max Lucado and Chuck Swindoll, two of the most popular and balanced and clear and accessible inspirational writers of our time. Considering what other less reliable authors are sometimes popular, I am grateful and happy that folks want to read whatever they write.

And therein lies my beef. I could write more thoroughly about this, but I will just protest now, and send something off to Nelson, their publisher. As the two premier popular-level Bible teachers, esteemed by many as balanced and useful, they both have dropped the ball big time.

These two men are perhaps the two quintessential evangelical authors. (And they both have sold millions of books!) Two months ago they both released brand new titles. Chuck has tackled perhaps the quintessential Old Testament summary verse, one of the most popular texts in the entire Bible, Micah 6:8. And he gets it way, way wrong. Max has tackled what is undeniably the most popular New Testament verse, John 3:16, and, guess what? He botches it.

What in the world is going on here, when two level-headed and esteemed evangelical pastors write on two of the most popular passages in the most popular book in the world, and neither can exegete their way to even using the correct words? This, dear readers, is what is wrong with evangelicalism. Despite their history of being Bible believing, and their passion for making Bible truth come alive in vibrant ways for ordinary folks, the desire to make it accessible and real and middle class has caused them to scrub down the passages, truncating their meaning, missing the point and, too often, superimposing a personalistic and middle-class message of self-improvement (with God's help, of course) onto a misreading of the text.

Micah 6:8, as I trust you know, answers the rhetorical question of what God requires of us, and it is the subject of Swindoll's newest book, A Life Well Lived. And the first phrase in the tripart answer is to “do justice.” Believe it or not---for reasons that I cannot even speculate upon---Chuck Swindoll doesn’t use the word. His chapter tells of personal integrity and honesty. There is not an iota of a demand for social righteousness, public justice, concern for making things right, mercy for the poor, covanantal goodness, none of the good stuff that is conjured by the Hebrew word in the text, the word typically translated justice. Is Swindoll the only evangelical left who separates faith from politics, who fails the wholistic call to an integrated faith that is both personal and public, concerned about personal kindness and public justice? Some authors may overstate the trajectory in the text towards public justice and utterly politicize the text. But for an evangelical publisher to allow a leading celebrity author, mega-church pastor, radio preacher and former Seminary professor to stand so ineptly before the Word of God is a travesty.

Lucado is increasingly the main evangelical star, writing children’s books, stories and parables, inspiring gift lines, very cool greeting cards, even contemporary praise CDs. If Swindoll has been typically down to Earth and a moving, clever wordsmith, Max is a master; his books have wonderfully tapped in to the real hurts and anxieties of ordinary folks and have reminded us of God’s love in Christ, our acceptance through God’s merciful grace, told with a wonderful knack for the turn of a phrase. Given all the truly odd Christian writers, and all the poor wordsmiths, Max has been a huge blessing to the publishing world, bringing simple faith into common language, yet in a way that soars with sentiment and care. A bit purple, at times, perhaps, as he nearly overdoes the tender sentences, but we have been fans. His new book is called 3:16 The Numbers of Hope.

It does not surprise me, though, that Max misses, as most of evangelicalism misses, the cosmic scope of the theater (Calvin's word) of God’s redemption when the passage famously says that God loves the world: the cosmos (also sometimes spelled kosmos in some translations from the Greek.) John 3:16 is a key verse in my spiritual journey, as I realized that the text clearly does not say that God died for our souls, or our religious lives, or our churches. Christ died, the passage says, for the whole created order. Romans 8 reminds us, similarly, that the whole creation is groaning, awaiting for people to get right with God (a la the whosoever will of John 3:16b) so that it might be released from the bondage of brokenness, and be set free. The Biblical theme of (re)new(ed) creation is very, very important, and, along with the theme of the Kingdom of God, is perhaps the most important Biblical insight of our time. From the Orthodox (who have always be strong on this) to the Reformed worldview folks, from mainline writers like Pannenberg or Volf to recent Catholic writing, to the emergent conversation, everyone is writing about how God’s healing reign is a reintroduction of the ordered shalom of creation back to his fallen world. Creation-fall-redemption-consumation. For God so loved the world.

Does Mr. Lucado say any of this? Does he even tell what the word world means in its original Greek? He gets it flat wrong, ignoring the plain meaning of the word, and implying that God loves all the people of the nations. This is true enough, but not what the text says.

This truncated view of the gospel, this pietistic and sentimental virtue stuff about honesty and personalized salvation is such a half-truth to be hardly a truth at all. I want to hear the real truth: that God in Christ is buying back his whole fallen world, and that the Kingdom is coming (“on Earth”) and that Christ is Lord of every aspect of life, and that this demands stuff like standing for social justice and creation-care, like Micah 6:8 says and as John 3;16 affirms. In these two books, Chuck Swindoll and Max Lucado are a hindrance to faithful discipleship---but how do we tell nice customers who don’t know any better??

We sell Chuck and Max, and will continue to be glad that fine Christian leaders like them can handle words so well, and inspire us with books of basic Christian growth. But I have recommitted myself to be discerning of the wrong-headed and misguided stuff that the big evangelical publishers push. I want to glorify God by selling books that talk about His sovereign grace over all things. I want books that honor the complexity and nuance of this rowdy and demanding book called the Bible. And I want to hear about social justice and I want to hear about the ways in which God’s atoning death brings wholeness and restoration to all of creation.

Chuck Swindoll slaughters Micah 6:8 and I will be sending the books back, with a firm letter of protest to Nelson. (And if there is any justice, they will pay for the shipping costs.) How dare they mishandle the Word of God like this? What were they thinking? What’s next, Swindoll watering down Amos, with personal integrity flowing down like a mighty water? What, Isaiah 58, saying we should be nice, and then God will hear us? This justice for the poor, this demand for structural change, this call to redemptive economics and righteous policy, that is all so un-pious and un-American! And, apparantly, so easily ignored. Aaaaggh.

Max Lucado misses the full import of the meaning of the word world and thereby diminishes the glory of grace, God’s inclination to incarnation, the death and resurrection of Jesus. It robs us of the vast implications for those who have faith, the daily relevance of their believe, the proper scope of redemption, and the very nature of the everlasting life the text so gloriously proclaims. That the book has this market-driven feel to it---the cover has this nifty logo of the numerals 3-16, and it was released on 9-11—which I must admit leaves me with mixed feelings. (I’m a sucker for the genius behind such marketing campaigns and clever graphics. Yet, sometimes, it seems like somebody came up with an ad first, and then built a slight book around the big idea of the advertising. Did the book follow the tee-shirt, or the CD? Yes, indeed, this is what makes working in the business so darn complicated: shallow books that disregard the very Words of God, presented in a very, very cool package.

Two great contemporary authors on perhaps the two most beloved passages in the Bible. Soon, I will recommend some that get these passage right. And celebrate some of the very solid and useful books that are coming out from evangelical presses. Things are not all bleak. But the mainstream marketing power, making these hugely popular authors immediate bestsellers will misguide many. Let's redouble our efforts to talk about the best books, the most honest Bible study, the most relevant application. After all, as Swindoll has told us, it is important to be honest.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

UnChristian & The Tribal Church and brand new home to the BookNotes blog

I hope you saw the last post--nothing about any books, but very important. It was an announcement that we are happily moving the blog over to the newly redesigned Hearts & Minds bookstore website. We are still transferring the tons of lists, biblios, essays and book review articles that we've archived for years. It will be a while 'til that is all there, but the great news is that we will now be able to edit and add to the website easily. The regular blog posts will continue, but will be more integrated into the bigger website. It's pretty nifty even now, so browse on over.

As we said, though, you have to re-subscribe in the little address box if you want notifications whenever I do a new post. I've got the list of those who do---friends and neighbors, relatives and loved ones--so sign up soon, or you'll throw me into more self-doubt and endless anxiety. Being a small-mart indie bookseller up against the Goliaths of A-zon & Company is hard enough. Don't let a guy hangin'...

Which makes me think, perhaps circuitously, of the big splash made online by UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...And Why It Matters (Baker; $17.99.) This groundbreaking bit of research and commentary (and you will be hearing more of it this fall, I'd bet) was done under the prestigious auspices of the Barna Research Group. David Kinnaman is the very young new Prez of the pollster group, and has turned their research work on young adults and what they think about Christianity, church, and evangelical faith. The study is powerful, clear, and nearly devastating: classic Christianity has an image problem.

As my old protest buddy, Charlie, still at an urban church in Pittsburgh, would shout, with feigned alarm: Call the Doctor! No, nobody with half an eye open, will be really surprised by this sad news. If you hang around with anyone under 30, with or without body piercings, or you go to any kind of ordinary church, you know where this is heading.

Ahh, but, here are three reasons this book is so very, very important.

1. This provides the hard data, so we don't have to speculate what young adults think about the church. We have surmised and intuited this before, but here are the goods. UnChristian gives us the facts which we need to work on. Read it and weep.

2. The book is laden with sidebars, counter-stories, examples of testimonies of those who are, in fact, doing the sort of stuff (or, as the case may be, not doing the kind of stuff) that younger folks talk about in this book. That is, the truth of the matter is that there are cultural creatives, edgy folks with compassionate hearts, who are passionate about loving God and following Jesus, who bear little resemblance to the picture held by most non-churched folks. They simply don't match the assumptions that are carrying the day in the imaginations of the young adult population. These interviews and testimonial are in many cases folks we know, readers of BookNotes, even or people we admire, so we are thrilled to commend the book for this portion, too. The research piece of the book is supplemented and contrasted with stuff from Andy Crouch and Louie Giglio, Brian McLaren and Chuck Colson, Sarah Cunningham and Mark Rodgers, Jim Wallis and Margaret Feinberg, Jonalyn Fincher and Gary Haugen. If you don't know at least a couple of these names, you haven't been paying attention. And, sadly, that is exactly the problem: the brave and good witness of faithful, interesting Christian folks like this is evidently not changing the perception of the watching world.

3. This book is co-authored by Gabe Lyons, a friend of a friend who I can't wait to meet at Ivy Jungle later this fall. He is the genius behind the Fermi Project, who do the snazzy Q events. This is, if I can sound like the baby boomer I am, where it's at.

Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation by Carol Howard Merritt was just published by the Alban Institute ($17.) A bit pricey for a paperback, but the Alban I. folks are the best mainline denominational publisher for getting solid studies done with no-nonsense evaluations and clear-headed guidance. Much of what they do is based on a solid lay of the land, written by researchers and practitioners in the parishes sharing what they know. I haven't spent enough time with this new release to know how brilliant it may be, but I am very confident it is worth reading, if you are concerned about the lack of 20-somethings in your congregation.

Carol Howard Merritt is a very fine writer, and has been influenced by the popular books a few years ago that documented what some have called "urban tribes" of 20/30-somethings. Seen Friends? Here is a short piece drawn from the book, called "Ministering to the Missing Generation" which will tell you of her title, and draw you in to her journey of thinking about this.

I wish Merritt was more interested in the work of folks like the Fermi Project, and had the movement of transforming, evangelical cultural engagement in view. She is a Presbyterian pastor, so her book is informed by her day-to-day efforts in a fairly traditional church. This is, of course, her strength, and (not to sound too contradictory) that may be the vital contribution she makes. Q will attract some and connect their God-given yearnings for relevance and cultural engagement, purpose and vocation, with a vibrant and clear Christian faith. Wooly, emerging conversations will surely spark the hearts and minds of some, drawing skeptics and seekers, post-evangelicals and others. And, surely, Merritt's ordinary, multi-generational, mainline congregation that isn't chasing after hipster trends or zippy worship fashions, but is just doing what must be done, surely that is a very significant call. She helps us understand her own age demographic, and draws insights for congregational leaders. Her thoughtful (left of center) views and lovely meandering reflections can be found in her blog, here.

Of course, oodles of questions remain. I could offer concerns about either of these titles. It is my job, though, to commend them with great gusto, to hope and pray our announcements here get them purchased and discussed, and that---please, Lord!---churches of all sorts re-double their efforts to think about the unfortunate images we've presented to the young adult generation, the ways in which we've failed to present a compelling reason for young adults to be involved in the community of faith and serious discipleship, and to think hard about what to do. Either or both of these books could help. What do you say?

Thursday, October 04, 2007


We are very excited to announce to our friends (and newcomers) that the Hearts & Minds BookNotes blog spot will no longer be hosted here at this Blogger site. We are integrating the blogged book reviews I do into the newly revised H&M website. A good friend from the *cino circle of folks (who do catapult ezine) are helping us to recreate the old lists, essays, monthly columns and such, and the blog will now be found at the (newly designed) Hearts & Minds website.

Here's a benefit: both the blog and the website now have a key-word search engine, so you can easily find any mention I've made to a particular author, book or title. How cool is that?

Here's a (small) hassle: if you want to have a simple notification come to your inbox (just like before) you will have to re-subscribe. We are still using Blogarithem. Sorry about the extra typing, but do get busy and type your email address into the little box, found here, at www.heartsandmindsbooks.com. Anytime I add a new posting at the BookNotes blog, you will be alerted. As before, you can then open to my raves and reviews, or you can wait 'til later. At least you'll have the notification sitting there as a reminder. I wouldn't be without it.

At the very least, please bookmark us as one of your favorites. We are eager to move past our 25th year celebrating good books, inviting interested readers into conversations about helpful stuff, and offering glory to God by our own feeble efforts to be an outpost of Christ's Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of it all. Please don't give up on us. Help spread the word. Sign up today.

I'm pretty darn irked, by the way, about two new evangelical best-sellers, which represent much of what is wrong with CBA (Christian Bookseller Association) publishers. Stay tuned. I'm fired up. Let's get this new BookNote address known, so I can get back to the book noting.