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    Entries in Books (54)


    An Interview with Jen Pollock Michel, Author of Keeping Place

    Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP Books, 2017). You can visit her blog here. I interviewed her about the book, which is excellent, and she was gracious in sharing her thoughts.

    BAS: Keeping Place is a biblical and theological reflection on the meaning of home. What led you to write the book?

    JPM: I’m one of those people who can’t answer the very simple question, “Where’s home for you?” I think that’s a big reason that the topic of home has been an important one for me. Currently, our family lives in Toronto, Canada. We moved here from Chicago six years ago, so in many ways, we’re outsiders here. But even before that, I’ve had a long history of moving. As a child, we moved often for my father’s education and job. I can’t really say where I’m from, where I’ll be buried, which inspires a weird sense of dislocation, to be honest. I think it’s that dislocation, that homesickness, that give rise to a deep longing to be rooted somewhere.

    I think it’s also fair to say that this book is a natural follow-up to my first book, Teach Us to Want. If I argued in that first book that desire isn’t always this terrible, corrupt part of ourselves, that sometimes our desires have very important things to say about God, our place in his world, and the purposes for which we are made, then I work out my own deep desire for home in Keeping Place. And what I found, in Scripture, is this incredibly hopeful idea that God is a homemaker, that he’s made a home for us, that we do in fact belong somewhere, that all our sense of impermanence in this world is finally going to come to a glorious end. The gospel story is a home story!

    BAS: In your second chapter you present a history of homemaking, noting the ways domestic roles have taken shape over time based on numerous factors. You write, "According to Scripture, home is shared human work." You explain that homemaking has not always been the exclusive domain of women. You then proceed to outline biblical instructions for men within the home. I found this to be a welcome reminder with regard to my role at home. Has your work been engaged by a male readership? What has been the response?

    JPM: I have to say that I’m so incredibly encouraged by the response from male readers! My publisher and I knew that this was going to be a tricky task, trying to market a book on home to both women and men. It’s not a topic that immediately seems resonant to men, which is why that chapter you’re mentioning had to be very early in the book. I needed to draw out that important pre-Industrial revolution history to make the case for saying that home should matter to everyone, and I have heard from men that they’re appreciative of that historical context. I’m blessed by the men who have put a lot of their own support behind this book; Scott Sauls wrote the foreword, several different men endorsed it, men like you who are featuring it on their blogs and podcasts. I’m grateful. I want also to say that it continues to be difficult for women in Christian publishing to have their work taken as seriously as male authors. I think it’s telling when I hear from women that their male pastors have not one single title, written by a woman, to recommend to their congregation. It saddens me to see booklists published by popular blogs and websites and not to see a single woman author on those lists. It’s just not true that women aren’t publishing good books these days, and I would love to see men reading more widely—to include women as well as other marginalized groups.

    BAS: In chapter four you write about our modern tendency toward mobility and the importance ofplace. I find that many people feel caught between the tension of wanting to be on a journey while simultaneously longing for home. The chapter closes with a reflection on the Benedictine vow of stability. How do you see stability and place as important for spiritual formation and Christian witness?

    JPM: I’ll tell a quick story. Just this morning, I was walking to the gym, which is right in my neighborhood. I’m there three times a week, so there’s a lot of familiarity with the people there, both at the gym and at the Tim Horton’s where I camp out for the half hour before my fitness class starts. I hadn’t been to the gym all summer, and as I walked there this morning, I recognized the same woman who frequently begs outside. My first thought today was, “She’s still here? What a bother.” But then the Holy Spirit ever so gently asked, “But isn’t this your neighborhood? And doesn’t that, it some way, make her a part of your sphere of responsibility?”

    That’s what stability does. That’s what rootedness does. It starts to imprint on your soul, on your conscience, who belongs in your sphere of responsibility, whom God is asking you to actively love. Our habits of mobility—of constantly moving from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, even church to church—can, in very tragic ways, disrupt the important, if also difficult task, of living with and loving broken people in broken places. When people and places disappoint us, we so easily sever our ties and move on, not recognizing that the restlessness of our souls, the pining for the greener grass somewhere else, is never going to be satisfied. The shine always wears off the new. I am as guilty of that illusion of anyone else.

    Stability, while hard, offers so many gifts: the gift of our sanctification (because we stay rather than leave when times get hard); the gift of being known and received by people who know our story, the gift of fruitful ministry (because ministry is always relational, and there’s no rushing that). I’m just starting to experience these gifts here in Toronto, and we hope to stay put!

    BAS: In your chapter on marriage you write, "The mystery of self-sacrifice in marriage is that it is not an obstacle to self-fulfillment but a means to it." You note that both marriage and family involve various forms of self-sacrifice, and say "The mystery of marriage isn't its limitless capacity for securing our personal happiness. the mystery is its witness to the eternal, self-sacrificing love of Jesus for his bride." How do Christian convictions about marriage offer a counter-narrative to modern understandings of self-fulfillment, and how can the uniqueness of Christian marriage offer a compelling witness to those who are not part of the community of faith?

    JPM: As I talk about in the book, marriage is a tremendously important practice of stability. It’s not commitment to a place for a lifetime—but commitment to a person. And as Paul talks about in Ephesians, it’s marriage that witnesses to God’s unfailing love for his people. I think that parallel—of Christian marriage to Christ and the Church—forces us to lament how easily we in the church discard our marriage vows for that proverbial greener grass. I’m right now in the middle of watching a very close friend choose divorce—and I say choose, because the situation, while complicated, doesn’t necessarily warrant it—and it is a tremendous grief. I think she thought divorce would be easier than a difficult marriage, but I think she’s realizing that it’s not that easy.

    What could it look like for us, as Christians, to keep choosing our marriage even when it’s not necessarily fulfilling our dreams and desires? Anyone who has been married for some time knows that we must choose our marriages every day: choose confession, choose repentance, choose service, choose self-sacrifice, choose honesty, choose love. You don’t choose those things and get immediate reward. But if these are your regular practices, I think you’re moving in the direction of a marriage that is resilient, God-honoring, and as you say, something your neighbors are going to notice. And when they do, you get to say something to the effect of, “We’re no heroes. But Jesus is in this marriage, too, and it’s his faithfulness that is holding us together.”

    BAS: In our household one of our great challenges is finding space for rest, or sabbath keeping. What wisdom would you offer to those who believe themselves to be "too busy" to keep sabbath and create space to reconnect and remember their Creator?

    I’d love to answer this as someone who has got it all figured out. But I absolutely don’t! I will say that one thing that has been incredibly helpful to our own family is to draw fairly strict boundaries around Sunday. Generally, our kids don’t participate in athletic events on Sunday, we don’t usually drive them to birthday parties. And let me be honest and say that this restriction limits what they can and can’t do, especially when it comes to sports. None of them has been able participate in any super competitive leagues because that requires Sunday involvement. But it’s allowed us to make worship a priority for Sunday, which isn’t a small thing.

    It’s interesting to me: my oldest daughter and I were recently visiting a college campus, and one of the campus ministers was giving us a tour. He was talking about the kinds of Christians who lose their faith at college, and he said one group of kids who don’t really grow in their faith are those whose parents, in high school, let them miss church for athletic events and for homework or school projects. Their parents told them, implicitly if not explicitly, “Your sports, your athletics: these matter for your future. They’re more important than church.” And I think that should feel haunting to us as parents! Sabbath isn’t, as you say, simply a practice of rest: it’s a reorientation of our hearts toward God. That makes church a really big part of Sabbath-keeping.

    In terms of making the time for rest, I’d love to quote from one of my favorite books, Essentialism. It’s not written by a Christian, but the principles in the book are incredibly wise, especially for people caught in the busyness trap. Let’s be honest with ourselves to say that we choose busyness more often than it chooses us. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown puts it this way: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” The fact is that God—GOD—has given us, not just the priority, but the privilege of rest. We have the time to keep Sabbath, to engage deliberate rest in our week—but maybe a better question is, “Do we have the courage?” Do we have the courage to get behind, to leave something undone, to trust that God is upholding the universe if we don’t open our email? Sabbath, for me, is exactly that kind of trust. And when I let myself surrender to the idea of my own smallness, even for one day, it recalibrates the rest of the week.

    BAS: I sincerely thank Jen for taking time to chat about her work. Keeping Place can be purchased at Amazon and other fine book sellers around the land.



    Book Review :: Dallas Willard's Hearing God

    Dallas Willard’s Hearing God, Updated and Expanded: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God is the most practical, straightforward, and helpful theological resource on communicating with God I have ever encountered. Communicating with God may very well be the most pressing and least understood aspect of the Christian spiritual life today, and too often, I have worked with people who do not expect to hear from God, or who believe hearing from God is a spiritual experience reserved only for select holy men and women. This is despite the fact they have been invited to enter a “personal relationship with God.”

    Moving methodically and with precision, Willard introduces the reader to the “paradox in the contemporary experience and understanding of hearing God.” On the one hand, “we have massive testimony to and widespread faith in God’s personal, guiding communication with us,” and on the other we “find a pervasive and often painful uncertainty about how hearing God’s voice actually works.” Willard then gives guidelines for hearing from God, assurance that God is with us, an examination of God’s speaking in the created order, and the nature of God’s voice as “still and small” amidst competing voices. Then, Willard examines God’s Word and God’s rule, the transformation that comes through hearing and believing the gospel about Jesus, the ongoing role of Scripture in furthering that transformation in the life of the disciple, wisdom in how we discern God’s voice, and, lastly, how we listen for God in the everyday, beyond matters of simple guidance, growing in friendship with him. This book is narrowly focused but incredibly deep, laser-like but possessing a unique breadth. It is a treasure.

    Willard writes with a pastoral tone, expressing concern for those who have, so often, shared with him their difficulties in hearing God. Very gently, Willard reminds those who believe their prayers do not pass the ceiling that “God is beneath the ceiling.” God is near. God hears you. God has spoken, and his Word still rings out. God wants you to listen, and to discern God’s voice. Countless examples from Scripture, and the testimony of many Christians known and obscure confirm that God is a God who has spoken, and who speaks. God is good, and will teach all who are willing to learn to communicate with him “as a friend.”

    Willard is also a Christian philosopher. In my view, this is a strength. The author has given this matter careful thought, and has surveyed a broad range of theological and autobiographical writings on the subject of hearing God. He moves the reader through the finer points of hearing the divine voice, discerning God’s will, and living life before God in “the kingdom of the heavens.” Patient and thoughtful readers will be rewarded in considering the book as a whole, not only in reading those portions considered “practical.” We don’t “get to the point” when learning to hear God, we get to the person. God is a person, not a machine that can be manipulated through our own power. When we meet the Person and are initiated in to the life of the kingdom Jesus announced and enacted, the adventure begins, the conversation broadens, the world takes on a new shape. We do not control God’s speaking by mastering a “hearing technique.” That’s good news.

    If God is personal, and we enter a relationship to God, wouldn’t it make sense to communicate with this person who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? As Willard notes, a brief biblical survey of ordinary people like Abraham, Moses, Miriam, David, or Mary reveals that God is certainly an awe-inspiring figure, but near enough to befriend his human creatures. In one of the more profound insights explored in this book, Willard argues God’s greatness is amplified by his lowliness. If God desires to establish friendship with those who seek communion in his presence, he most certainly can bring it to pass.

    Once the premise that God can, and does, communicate with us is accepted, all that is left is to establish the ways and means we might experience such communication. That is no small task. How, exactly, does one discern God’s speaking? What role does Scripture play? What pitfalls exist, and how might we avoid them? What about those who abuse others through the claim they have heard from God? To what degree does God communicate his will for our lives, and to what extent do we possess a freedom to choose that which we believe is best? Willard addresses these questions, and others.

    A unique feature of the Updated & Expanded edition is the incorporation of lectio divina, or “sacred reading.” A bugaboo for some due to association with Catholic spirituality or mysticism (unfounded, in my opinion), lectio can be helpful when regarded as a means by which to discern God’s voice, and not as a means to some esoteric experience of God. Six familiar passages of Scripture are highlighted, complementing material in six of the chapters. The reader is invited to read, reflect, respond, and rest in the text. The inclusion of this type of Bible reading trains us  with regard to how God has spoken in the past, and in hearing God’s voice today.

    For those reading this book with others, each chapter ends with a series of discussion questions that review content and broaden the conversation. As noted on the back cover, a companion DVD resource is also available as a separate purchase. Taking on this topic with others isn’t a bad idea; you will find that a community of others learning to communicate with God is an immense help in understanding and applying the truths contained in this book.

    Lastly, I have read many books on Christian spiritual formation, and specifically on learning to hear God’s voice. Hearing God is unparalleled. It is a complex, sophisticated book, but it is incredibly clear and direct, immensely edifying for the diligent. Don’t let other reviewers dissuade you by describing this book as one “for seminarians.” I have read this book twice, and missed many key aspects on my first reading.

    But great books are worth rereading. They continue to teach us, as we change, grow, and develop. This is just such a book.

    If you found this review helpful, head over to Amazon and tell others.


    Reading Goals for 2013

    read up!

    It's no secret that books stand atop my list of passions. I read them, I write about them, I discuss them, and with the wrong audience, I come across as a guy who simply wants to discuss the latest book I have read (a painful lesson I learned in 2012). For the past three years, I have logged every book I have read in a notebook, keeping track of the number and making small notations for titles I deeply enjoyed. I've read plenty of Christian living and theology titles, but I've also read stirring novels, thought provoking non-fiction, and a number of leadership/business books. In 2010, I read 118 books. In 2011, I read 139 titles. In 2012, I read 83.

    My goal next year is to read less.

    As I look back over the titles I have read, I haven't always read wisely. I'm the type of person that likes to finish what I begin, so whenever I start a book, I believe I owe the author a complete reading. Or because a book has appeared on a "best of" list or recommended by someone I respect, I think I should try to tackle that book to remain in the loop. I've read some trendy books that have ignited controversy in evangelicalism, for instance, that keep me informed about the state of the discourse. But those same books discourage me, at times, for I know that within a decade, or even less, the book that opened a fissure will not be remembered nor even discussed, and that weightier and more important books are ignored in favor of the new, to our collective detriment.

    Stepping back and evaluating my habits has led me to resolve to read much more selectively and more slowly, more deeply and contemplatively. Whether it be critical scholarly works or Christian classics, time tested fiction, or well researched social-science, 2013 won't be a year of volume, but of mass. That's why N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Wesley's Sermons are near the top of my priorities. I also plan to carefully select works of fiction, like Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities or Jane Eyre, and read them carefully and slowly. Chris Smith may be on to something.

    My first experiment in reading less, and reading slower, began in 2012 with the Psalms. That might be my most important assignment of all. I'll be reading and attempting to memorize these treasured writings, hoping they will find a way in to the texture of my life. My Bible reading plan for the coming year isn't to move through the entire book, but to focus in on one book that I think will profit me during this season of my life. Why do I think this book will profit me? Because I believe it will teach me how to pray.

    I'll post my initial list in the next few days. Everyone is invited, of course, to read what I read and explore what I'm exploring;  to discuss what is learned. Communal ventures are more fun than individualistic pursuits.  

    Better readings emerge that way.


    Books I've Read in 2012

    Another year, another load of books. In years past, I've released this list as a trickle, knowing that a deluge does not serve quite so well, especially on the web.

    But this is a list I wanted to share, and record for myself. My reading list is ever-growing, and I don't always get to read as much as I would like. But as this year drew to a close, I felt convicted, knowing that my selections could have been better, and that perhaps the volume of books I read would be better off reduced, with more time being spent on true gems, as well as on more books that have been with us for centuries rather than run in the last fifty years. I already have a list of books to read as I move in to 2013. Most are hefty academic works, or theological classics. Peppered among those tomes are classic works of fiction. I may read fewer books next year, but I anticipate the reward being far greater.

    As you peruse the titles below, you will find books denoted by an asterisk that I have reviewed at In bold are the books I greatly enjoyed, and would strongly recommend.

    Perhaps this list will inform your own reading; perhaps it is just a novelty, a peek in to the contents of my mind. If you have questions about any of the titles, just ask. If you enjoyed a particular book, please let me know, so we can discuss.

    Looking ahead to 2013, may your reading life be blessed.

    1. Jason King, Beyond the Phog: Untold Stories from Kansas Basketball's Most Dominant Decade
    2. Miroslav Volf, Public Faith, A: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good
    3. Peter Rollins, Insurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine
    4. Tullian Tchvidjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything*
    5. Andreas Kostenberger, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue*
    6. Yushi Nomura, Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers
    7. Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life: Discerning God's Presence in All Things
    8. Janet Reitman, Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion
    9. David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything
    10. James Davison Hunter, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil
    11. Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith*
    12. Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian
    13. Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife: A Novel
    14. Brent J. Bill and Beth Boorman, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God*
    15. Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose
    16. Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Vintage International)
    17. Brian Hardin, Passages: How Reading the Bible in a Year Will Change Everything for You*
    18. Michael Lewis, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
    19. Joan Didion, Blue Nights
    20. Madeline L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition
    21. Christian Smith, Bible Made Impossible, The: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture
    22. George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)
    23. Jason Locy and Tim Willard, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society
    24. John Dickson, Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership*
    25. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
    26. Gregory L. Jones and Celestin Musekura, Forgiving As We've Been Forgiven: Community Practices for Making Peace (Resources for Reconciliation)*
    27. Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace
    28. Gary Scott Smith, Heaven in the American Imagination
    29. John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ
    30. Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated)
    31. N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
    32. Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
    33. Steven W. Smith, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity*
    34. Pete Wilson, Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You're Believing*
    35. Stephen Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way*
    36. Dinesh D'Souza, Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is there a God who cares? Yes. Heres proof.
    37. Andrew Delbanco, The Abolitionist Imagination (The Alexis De Tocqueville Lectures on American Politics)
    38. Mark Driscoll and Grace Driscoll, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together
    39. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel
    40. Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
    41. Jenny Lawson, Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)
    42. Stephen King, 11/22/63: A Novel
    43. Lynda Barry, What It Is
    44. Chris Kyle, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History
    45. Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World*
    46. Vernona Gomez, Lefty: An American Odyssey*
    47. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
    48. Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West
    49. Nick Hornby, How to Be Good
    50. Jeff Goin, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life*
    51. Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works
    52. Veronica Roth, Insurgent: Collector's Edition (Divergent)
    53. Jose Canseco, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big
    54. J. Mark Bertrand, Back on Murder (A Roland March Mystery)
    55. Setphen Mansfield, The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture*
    56. Richard Peace, Noticing God*
    57. Andrew Gumbel, Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed--and Why It Still Matters
    58. Seth Grahme-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
    59. George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (HBO Tie-in Edition): A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two
    60. Joe Loconte, The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt
    61. Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: God's Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century
    62. John Grisham, Calico Joe
    63. John Irving, The Cider House Rules: A Novel (Modern Library)
    64. Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future
    65. Dick J. Reavis, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation
    66. Anonymous, Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything*
    67. Max Lucado, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine*
    68. Kevin Barry, City of Bohane: A Novel
    69. John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
    70. Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
    71. J. Mark Bertrand, Nothing to Hide (A Roland March Mystery)
    72. Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society
    73. Dara Horn, The World to Come: A Novel
    74. Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up
    75. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory*
    76. Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work*
    77. J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit
    78. Candia McWilliam, What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness
    79. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
    80. Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?
    81. Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
    82. Ben Witherington, The Rest of Life: Rest, Play, Eating, Studying, Sex from a Kingdom Perspective

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    Books :: 2011


    Tim Keller on MSNBC

    Two weeks ago I shared a few thoughts on work, using the work of Timothy J. Keller as a springboard. Keller was recently a guest on the MSNBC program Morning Joe. Below, you'll find Keller discussing his latest book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work.

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


    A tip of the cap to Eric Huffman, who drew my attention to this clip on Facebook.

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