Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
CPJ's 2016 Christmas Books
If you are looking for some good books to buy for yourself or friends and family this Christmas, check out these recommendations from Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds, a bookstore run for over thirty years by long-time CPJ supporters Byron and Beth Borger. Capital Commentary readers can receive a 20% discount on the books by ordering through Hearts and Minds, PROMO CODE CPJ.
Richard Mouw (Brazos Press) $24.99
Richard Mouw, former political philosopher at Calvin College and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has been a friend of CPJ since its earliest days. Some of the first supporters of CPJ read his influential 1970s books on political witness and how the Biblical drama -- creation, fall, redemption, restoration -- is a helpful lens through which to understand God’s perspective on political life. His many accessible, rich books have been helpful for those of us struggling with questions of civility Uncommon Decency, a biblical theology of common grace He Shines in All That’s Fair, or the nature of uniquely Christians scholarship Called to the Life of the Mind.
Mouw’s brand new book is an intellectual memoir, a narrative of his own life as a public intellectual, philosopher, participant in ecumenical and interfaith conversations, and advocate for public justice. What an adventure it is to look over Mouw’s shoulder and learn about the books he grappled with, the authors he appreciated, and the common ground he found with scholars and activists unlike himself. He is a model of a decent and humble evangelical, clear about his own views yet eager to learn from others. Rave reviews for this book come from public figures as diverse as Krista Tippett, Michael Cromartie, and Russell Moore, who all commend it. A great memoir by a great thinker and a very fine Christian man.
James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press) $19.99
As people who care about public life and who are organizers or supporters of organizations like CPJ, we are in regular need of spiritual inspiration; our activist or advocacy or intellectual sides can grow brittle and despairing without regular reminders of the deep truths of our faith and without regular guides to point us towards spiritual renewal and refreshment. Smith has been that kind of writer for us, a deep thinker reminding us of the power of worship and of faith formation at the heart level.
In this extraordinary book, he reminds us, in Augustinian fashion, that we are not primarily what we think; we are what we love. The “center of gravity” of the human person is lower than the head/brain; it is in what the Bible calls the heart, or the gut. We are guided most profoundly not by our ideas but by our desires. The first portion of this book draws on Smith’s work in Desiring the Kingdom, showing how even talk of worldview is too rationalistic; to get at our deepest life orientation, we must be attentive to the cultural liturgies, stories, and rituals that the world has offered in decisive ways. We must be aware and say no to these secularized habits that have misshaped our heart’s desires.
The second portion of the book is a lovely retelling of his major work Imagining the Kingdom, and it is among the best few chapters about the formative role of Christian worship I have ever read. The third portion of You Are What You Love guides us in imagining how re-calibrated loves -- re-formed by our immersion in the story and rituals of Christian worship -- play out in home, work, and world. What a great book, what a fine and helpful inspiration, and what a resource to help us learn to love as God does and to serve the common good as transformed people with reordered loves and lives.
Edited by Amy Black (Zondervan) $19.99
We featured this book in the summer, but given the recent election season and its outcome, this book is particularly relevant as Christians try to better understand both their own views and those of Christian brothers and sisters who may have voted very differently. One in the “Counterpoints” series of books, this new one brings five different spokespersons together, each showing how their particular faith tradition guides their views of the call to civic life and how the church might relate to the state. On offer are a Lutheran view, a historic black church view, a Mennonite view, a Reformed view, and a Roman Catholic view. At the end of each chapter, each of the other four contributors gives a response and reply. Those who are interested in the Kuyperian/principled pluralism perspective of CPJ will be glad to know that James K.A. Smith is the lively reformational voice, and his own ecumenical awareness makes his responses to the other views as interesting and illuminating as any in the book. A very nice primer on the breadth of opinion on the basics of Christianity and politics and the strengths and weaknesses within each tradition.
Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press) $49.99
This handsome hardback, translated for the first time into English, is a clear and helpful volume that explores the political agenda of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in early twentieth century Holland, under whose banner Abraham Kuyper famously was elected Prime Minister. Much later called the Christian Democratic Appeal, this European Christian political party cannot be understood (one might also say CPJ can hardly be appreciated fully) without an awareness of Kuyper’s seminal, shaping document. Kudos to the Kuyper Translation Project and the Acton Institute for this large-scale project of releasing the previously untranslated work of this prolific Dutch public theologian. Also available in this series are Common Grace (Volume One), Pro Rege (Volume One) and the brand new volume On the Church.
Yuval Levin (Basic Books) $27.50
One of the most talked about socio-political books of recent years, Fractured Republic is a remarkable overview of the nature of our contentious fractures. It is a call for mediating institutions, for civil society, and for a deeper awareness of the history of the ideas and ideologies that have shaped and deformed our current society. Going further than his previous work The Great Debate, and drawing on a tradition of social criticism animated by Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone through Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart and back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Levin explores the shift in American character towards hyper-individualism and wonders how to renew our sense of being a unified Republic.
Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers
Daniel L. Dreisbach (Oxford University Press) $34.95
In what Mark Noll calls a “landmark investigative triumph and splendid contribution to early United States history,” Dreisbach’s brand-new book expands his much-discussed set of recent scholarly articles on how the Bible was influential during Revolutionary-era America. CPJ friend and Emory professor John Witte says, “This book can be read in an evening but mined for a lifetime. The elegant prose and the enticing topics of liberty, justice, virtue, authority, and faith in the American founding era make it hard to stop reading...a brilliant achievement.” Indeed, those interested in US history or wishing to know more about the role of the Bible and how it was used in the nation’s earliest years will find this inspiring and helpful.
Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama
Kenneth L. Woodward (Convergent) $30.00
This mesmerizing book makes a substantial and classy gift for those interested in contemporary US history, especially the interface of faith and politics. Woodward is the esteemed, long-standing religion editor of Newsweek, and here he shares more first-hand episodes and personal observations illuminating the questions at hand than nearly any book I can recall. Historian Grant Wacker of Duke Divinity School calls it “brilliant” and Woodward’s colleague, Jon Meacham, calls it both “thoughtful” and “memorable.” What author can tell us about meeting Reinhold Niebuhr and Abraham Heschel, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, Billy Graham and the Berrigan brothers? Of whom is it said that he is “simply incapable of writing a dull sentence”? A fascinating, artful, stimulating work by a scholar and journalist who helps us understand from the inside some of the great faith and politics stories of the last fifty years.
Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00
With important and foundational questions about our democracy increasingly being raised, this book from the summer list is worth another look, given its emphasis on helping Christians have a right understanding of human cultural authority that doesn't veer towards the worldly extremes of absolute power or absolute vulnerability.
In prose that is elegant and measured, this compact book contrasts a number of possible options such as having only raw power but no vulnerability, or, conversely, being laden with risk and vulnerability but with no capacity to embrace the meaningful exercise of power. Based on a clear and evocative four-quadrant chart, Crouch invites us into a Christ-like move “up and to the right” where we find simultaneously the serious exercise of our God-given capacities, offered in risk and service to others. Strong and Weak is nothing short of genius, simple but game-changing. Jena Lee Nardella, formerly of the Blood: Water mission and author of One Thousand Wells calls it “an empowering guide for anyone who seeks to live against a culture of safety and into a life of meaningful risk and flourishing.”
Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ
Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00
What list of recommended Christmas books would be complete without at least one suggestion for exploring the deeper meaning of this season? Indeed, this holiday is so complicated in our culture that many of us struggle to consider with any depth the real truth of the incarnation. Keller, who pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, has discerned that many are unaware of the deepest truths of the gospel: we cannot save ourselves, and the Christmas message is based upon the historical truth of the Triune God taking on flesh in the person of the vulnerable baby Jesus born in Bethlehem.
Christianity, Keller suggests, is something other than a cheery call to fix things by seeking goodness or a capitulation to a pessimistic and dystopian future. Christmas offers us, he says, “the most unsentimental, realistic way of looking at life... things really are this bad, and we can’t heal or save ourselves; things really are this dark -- nevertheless there is hope.” Light has dawned, and Keller’s rumination on the meaning of this too often hidden truth is gospel-based and has vast implications for all of life. A lovely, short, thoughtful read.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”