February 2017 Featured Books
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Of the world’s major religions, only Christianity holds to a doctrine of original sin. Ideas are powerful, and they shape who we are and who we become. The fact that many Christians believe there is something in human nature that is, and will always be, contrary to God, is not just a problem but a tragedy.
So why do the doctrine’s assumptions of human nature so infiltrate our pulpits, sermons, and theological bookshelves? How is it so misconstrued in times of grief, pastoral care, and personal shame? How did we fall so far from God’s original blessing in the garden to this pervasive belief in humanity’s innate inability to do good?
Shroyer takes readers through an overview of the historical development of the doctrine, pointing out important missteps and over-calculations, and providing alternative ways to approach often-used Scriptures. Throughout, she brings the primary claims of original sin to their untenable (and unbiblical) conclusions. In Original Blessing, she shows not only how we got this doctrine wrong, but how we can put sin back in its rightful place: in a broader context of redemption and the blessing of humanity’s creation in the image of God.
What happens if we imagine the Jesus of Christian theology to be realized in the nonhuman natural world around us? Basic to Christian belief is the notion that God, the creator of all, inhabited the earth in order to call to us. God of Earth embraces this central premise of Christianity – Jesus as both fully divine and fully human – and then allows for the possibility that such a Jesus need not be limited to a human man. What if Jesus were “God of earth” – not only over earth but also in and through it? As Swenson tracks that question through the cycle of a church year, she invites readers to reconsider our relationship to the nonhuman natural world and so experience new dimensions of the sacred and new possibilities for hope and healing.
“Kristin Swenson invites us to gentle, perceptive meditation on the place where we live. She offers a `theology of creation’ informed by a rich appeal to religious mystery, voiced in poetic imagery and cadence. Readers are offered thick attentiveness to the world in front of us.” Walter Brueggemann
In an era of hardening religious attitudes and explosive religious violence, this book offers a welcome antidote. Richard Holloway retells the entire history of religion—from the dawn of religious belief to the twenty-first century—with deepest respect and a keen commitment to accuracy. Writing for those with faith and those without, and especially for young readers who might be making their minds up, he encourages curiosity and tolerance, accentuates nuance and mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith.
Ranging far beyond the major world religions of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism, the author also examines where religious belief comes from, the search for meaning throughout history, today’s fascinations with Scientology and creationism, religiously motivated violence, hostilities between religious people and secularists, and more. Holloway proves an empathetic yet discerning guide to the enduring significance of faith and its power from ancient times to our own.
For curious readers young and old, a rich and colorful history of religion from humanity’s earliest days to our own contentious times.
At nearly 99 years old, Sir Lloyd Geering is well qualified to look back over the last century, consider the massive social changes he has lived through, and evaluate human progress.
Born in 1918, Lloyd reflects on two world wars, the Great Depression, and changes he has experienced in education, family life, growth of personal freedom, leisure and entertainment, life in the churches, and more.
He concludes Portholes to the Past with cautious optimism:
“… it may not be too much to hope that from the fragments of dismantled Christendom we may rediscover and reinvigorate the moral values of justice, truth and environmental guardianship. Together with the spiritual forces of faith, hope and love, these qualities may yet enable us to create a viable human future.”
Perceiving nondual awareness through the Christian contemplative method called Centering Prayer–an in-depth introduction to theory and practice by the best-selling author The Wisdom Jesus and The Meaning of Mary Magdalene.
Cynthia Bourgeault claims that the salvation Jesus taught was in fact the perception of non-duality–and she’s becoming famous for how she backs up this claim quite reasonably, relying on the Bible, church fathers, and especially the Christian contemplative tradition. The notion of non-dual Christianity doesn’t originate with her, of course, but she’s prominent as one of the more articulate voices making people aware of it today. In this new book, she teaches the basics of Centering Prayer as a way to the perception of non-duality. It thus will go a bit deeper theoretically/theologically than the other numerous Centering Prayer books, while still serving as a basic introduction. And in the fascinating third part of the book, she analyses the Christian mystical classic Cloud of Unknowing, to find in it a model for living with non-dual consciousness.
The acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world—and in the process created modern environmentalism.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes, and mountains. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether he was climbing the highest volcanoes in the world or racing through anthrax-infected Siberia or translating his research into bestselling publications that changed science and thinking. Among Humboldt’s most revolutionary ideas was a radical vision of nature, that it is a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone.
Now Andrea Wulf brings the man and his achievements back into focus: his daring expeditions and investigation of wild environments around the world and his discoveries of similarities between climate and vegetation zones on different continents. She also discusses his prediction of human-induced climate change, his remarkable ability to fashion poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and his relationships with iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, and Goethe, and she makes the compelling case that it was Humboldt’s influence that led John Muir to his ideas of natural preservation and that shaped Thoreau’s Walden.
With this brilliantly researched and compellingly written book, Andrea Wulf shows the myriad fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.
This is a newly revised edition of one of the standard introductory preaching textbooks on the market today. Beginning with a solid theological basis, veteran preacher and best-selling author Thomas G. Long offers a practical, step-by-step guide to writing a sermon. Long centers his approach around the biblical concept of witness. To be a preacher, Long posits, is to be a witness to God’s work in the world—one who sees before speaking, one whose task is to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what is seen.”
This updated edition freshens up language and anecdotes, contains an extensive new analysis of the use of multimedia and its impact on preaching, and adds a completely new chapter on plagiarism in preaching. Included for the first time are four complete sermons, with Long’s commentary and analysis. The sermons were written and originally preached by Barbara Brown Taylor, Cleophus J. LaRue. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, and Edmund Steimle.
This third edition reaffirms itself as the essential resource for seminary students as well as new and experienced preachers.
Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy; a Journey into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew’s Gospel. John Shelby Spong. NOW IN PAPERBACK. 394pp. ISBN 9780062362315. Harperone (2017) $32.50. [Allow 3 weeks].
A global and pioneering leader of progressive Christianity and the bestselling author of Why Christianity Must Change or Die and Eternal Life explains why a literal reading of the Gospels is actually heretical, and how this mistaken notion only entered the church once Gentiles had pushed out all the Jewish followers of Jesus.
A man who has consciously and deliberately walked the path of Christ, John Shelby Spong has lived his entire life inside the Christian Church. In this profound and considered work, he offers a radical new way to look at the gospels today as he shows just how deeply Jewish the Christian Gospels are and how much they reflect the Jewish scriptures, history, and patterns of worship. Pulling back the layers of a long-standing Gentile ignorance, he reveals how the church’s literal reading of the Bible is so far removed from these original Jewish authors’ intent that it is an act of heresy.
Using the Gospel of Matthew as a guide, Spong explores the Bible’s literary and liturgical roots—its grounding in Jewish culture, symbols, icons, and storytelling tradition—to explain how the events of Jesus’ life, including the virgin birth, the miracles, the details of the passion story, and the resurrection and ascension, would have been understood by both the Jewish authors of the various gospels and by the Jewish audiences for which they were originally written. Spong makes clear that it was only after the church became fully Gentile that readers of the Gospels took these stories to be factual, distorting their original meaning.
Spong illuminates the gospels as never before and provides a better blueprint for the future than where the church’s leaden and heretical reading of the story of Jesus has led us—one that allows the faithful to live inside the Christian story in the modern world.
Justice, mercy, and the public good all find meaning in relationship—a relationship dependent upon fidelity, but endlessly open to the betrayals of infidelity. This paradox defines the story of God and Israel in the Old Testament. Yet the arc of this story reaches ever forward, and its trajectory confers meaning upon human relationships and communities in the present. The Old Testament still speaks.
Israel, in the Old Testament, bears witness to a God who initiates and then sustains covenantal relationships. God, in mercy, does so by making promises for a just well-being and prescribing stipulations for the covenant partner’s obedience. The nature of the relationship itself decisively depends upon the conduct, practice, and policy of the covenant partner, yet is radically rooted in the character and agency of God—the One who makes promises, initiates covenant, and sustains relationship.
This reflexive, asymmetrical relationship, kept alive in the texts and tradition, now fires contemporary imagination. Justice becomes shaped by the practice of neighbourliness, mercy reaches beyond a pervasive quid pro quo calculus, and law becomes a dynamic norming of the community. The well-being of the neighbourhood, inspired by the biblical texts, makes possible—and even insists upon—an alternative to the ideology of individualism that governs our society’s practice and policy. This kind of community life returns us to the arc of God’s gifts—mercy, justice, and law. The covenant of God in the witness of biblical faith speaks now and demands that its interpreting community resist individualism, overcome commoditisation, and thwart the rule of empire through a life of radical neighbour love.
From thought leader Dr. Brené Brown, a transformative new vision for the way we lead, love, work, parent, and educate that teaches us the power of vulnerability.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”Theodore Roosevelt
Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.
Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”
Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.