Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Jesus for President (2008)

March 26, 2008

“Let’s make Christ our president, let’s have Him for our king.” Woody Guthrie wrote these words in the early years of the 20th century, and the sentiment holds weight and fascination almost a century later as it’s echoed in the title of Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s new book, Jesus for President.

Rather than shoehorning Jesus into the American political system, however, the book is about pursuing a different approach to government entirely. The authors lay out a fresh vision of the way the church and state should interact, eschewing entirely the prevalent notion that we must, in some way, make our mark on the government, because, goshdarnit, this is a Christian nation and we were founded on biblical principles!

Claiborne and Haw base their model on the radical lifestyles of both the early church chronicled in Acts and the early life of Hebrew civilization depicted in the Torah. Fortunately the book is not just a dusty dissertation on political philosophy and hermeneutics. This is the work of passionate people talking about the principles they are actively incorporating into their lives.
Their enthusiasm is catchy as they lace together anecdotes with history (at least as they see it) with an excitingly post-modern book design, one that frequently veers to the left of traditional layouts.

Ultimately, the authors’ conclusions about the way Christians ought to live in the world and practice radical subordination are thought-provoking, if perhaps more radical than most are willing to go. Even if you disagree with the authors’ conclusions, their thoughts are worth reading, pondering and grappling with.

-Nate Campbell

Jesus for President


Auralia’s Colors – Jeffrey Overstreet (2007)

February 25, 2008

The people of House Abascar are in perpetual winter — not only are the citizens are under constant threat from marauding beastmen, but the kingdom was stripped of color years before by the since-vanished queen. Now, only the royalty can enjoy color while the rest of the people are draped in grays and murky brown. Morale is low. Fear and paranoia are a given. All await a spring — a grand return of color and joy — that may never come.

At the center of Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut novel is Auralia, a young girl living with the outcasts and criminals camped outside of Abascar’s walls. She spends her time exploring, often collecting materials for the richly-colored weavings she makes. Her joy and compassion are a blessing for the downtrodden outside the city gates, as are the magnificent — and illegal — gifts she makes for everyone.

But while Auralia is the heart of the book and the catalyst for much of what happens, she isn’t the focus; Overstreet populates the Expanse with a great cast. There’s King Cal-marcus, broken by his wife’s disappearance and the ghosts of the past; Prince Cal-raven haunts the woods outside of the kingdom’s walls, drawn more to the outcasts than the aristocrats; and a humble, un-named ale boy who is quickly swept into the adventure. There are also numerous minor characters that richly populate the story.

Overstreet sidesteps some of the standard fantasy tropes and delivers something different, something wonderful. None of the characters fit into the standard fantasy archetypes — Auralia isn’t a harmless waif or tough princess, but a complex, tattered young girl that has a deep love and faith in things she doesn’t entirely understand. And instead of a novel based around swords-and-sorcery action or medieval political intrigue, Auralia’s Colors gives the cast room to breathe and move about and take their own path.

Sometimes the prose is a little too lush, but Overstreet writes beautifully. He’s not writing the story of Abascar — he’s painting it. I also wish the book could’ve fleshed out a few things that seemed glossed over. But that almost seems like a minor afterthought; Overstreet gets everything else right.

The allegorical aspects and themes are also woven into the story well enough that they don’t fall out on to your lap. It’s all pretty powerful stuff, from the children’s whispers and trust in the Keeper that haunts their dreams, to the power of imagination and beauty, no matter how rugged or worn it may seem. The attention to detail and nuance that he’s gained as a film critic (for Christianity Today, among others) pays off. Auralia’s Colors is an accomplished and satisfying debut, minor blemishes and all.

-Jason Panella

Looking Closer Blog
Auralia’s Colors on Amazon

On the Move (2007)

February 4, 2008

In 2006, Bono humbly comes before a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, to address politicians and faith leaders. He passionately delivers a speech about the AIDS crisis in Africa. This speech was published in the short book On the Move, which is accompanied by compelling photos from Ethiopia. He draws upon Scripture, and the fact that it is no coincidence that poverty is mentioned over 2,100 times in the Bible. This evidence is a call to action to end this tragedy, and break our hearts.

Bono is pleading with all people, from all ways of life, to take action on behalf of justice, equality, love, and mercy. During his speech Bono requests an increase of support from the federal budget by ONE percent. This is known as the ONE campaign. ONE percent more means proper education, medicine and clean water for the poorest of poor countries.

“I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did — or did not do — to put the fire out in Africa. History, like God, is watching what we do.” — Bono, lead singer of U2.

-Kerri Landes

Check out online or the book on Amazon.

Not For Sale (2007)

February 4, 2008

“There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth. It is we who are on the stage, and we can change the winds of history with our actions. Future generations will look back and judge our choices and be inspired or disappointed”. -David Batstone

When we speak of slavery, many think of it as a problem of our past. But in reality it has only taken on a new face — many faces, in fact. According to David Batstone, human trafficking (modern-day slavery) “generates $31 billion a year and enslaves 27 million people around the globe, half of them under the age of eighteen.”

Does this shock you? My guess would be yes. The invisibility of both the victim and the trade is a key to the survival of this booming business. If you knew that “girls and boys, men and women of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa,” wouldn’t you want to do something about it?

Most people might say that knowing about such things isn’t enough — well, I am here to tell you that it is. If invisibility is our enemy, then we need to bring light into this dark world of corruption and abuse. Not for Sale is a tool for the average person to find out what is going on and what they can do about human trafficking. Start talking. Talk to you friend, your neighbor, your best-friend’s ex-boyfriend’s twice removed uncle … but just start talking. Let those around you know that this is happening in the world.

-Bonnie Rapp

Check out Not for Sale’s website or the book on Amazon.

William & Catherine Booth: The Life and Legacy of the Booths

February 4, 2008

“What are you living for? What is the deep secret purpose that controls and fashions your existence? What do you eat and drink for? What is your marriage — your money-making and toilings and plannings? Have you the assurance that the ruling passion of your life is the same as that which brought Christ to the manger, led Him to fight the foul fiend of Hell in the wilderness … nailed Him to the Cross of Calvary … If not, you may be religious … but I don’t see how you can be a Christian.”

These are the words of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. In a book that shattered my life, Trevor Yaxley outlines the lives of two people who did the unthinkable with Christ. William & Catherine: the Life and Legacy of the Booths is an account that will take you to the heart of our warrior God.

Yaxley’s book provides black and white examples of how to take action, especially significant during Justice Week. The converts of the Salvation Army took on staggering injustices including the infiltration and abolition of child prostitution, revolution of factories that had taken countless lives, the fall of brothels and revival in the most unthinkable place and lives of their time. You will see the mighty works of God in the past and be faced with the question of what against hell are you doing now?

This same Salvation Army is still fighting for the lives of the innocent in this very city of Beaver Falls. On Sunday afternoons from four to six, come with us to serve along-side these weary soldiers. Go to the Facebook group “God Lead” for details. Last Sunday I spoke with one of the officers as she prepared the evening meal. She shared past victories and her sadness that not many were brave enough anymore to proclaim Salvation in the streets. Then she looked at us.
“You must do it. You must go down amongst the perishing crowds. Your happiness now consists in sharing their misery, your ease in sharing their pain, your crown in bearing their cross and your Heaven in going to the very jaws of hell to rescue them. Will you answer His call? Will you go?” — William Booth.

-Amanda Griffith

UnChristian (2007)

November 19, 2007

In their aggressive and rather blunt book, Kinnaman and Lyons finally say what everyone else is thinking: Christianity has an image problem. Using state-of-the-art research tools and surveys from The Barna Group, the authors illuminate and evaluate “what a new generation really thinks about Christianity – and why it really matters,” as their subtitle indicates. In a worldview where our “insides” are far more often examined than our “outsides,” the authors tackle one of the most difficult and messy subjects of our generation and our “religion:” how we come across to others, and how it affects our witness and our relationships. And how we can fix that.

UnChristian begins with some hard-hitting pictures of the current generation and how it relates to opinions about Christianity. It then spends the majority of the chapters moving quickly from the who to the what – by focusing on what “outsiders” (or, unbelievers) see in Christians. Even though this portrayal is compelling to action on its own, steps for action are given later. Kinnaman and Lyons use integrity and forthrightness in giving clear examples from the life of Christ and from scripture, reinforcing their self-proclaimed goal of reteaching “Christian” faith.

Their observations are refreshing, disturbing, inspiring and credible. Perhaps one of the most stirring beauties of their solution is its refusal to simply “try harder” to overcome stereotypes. Their challenges are clear and right out of scripture: “you don’t love me as you did at first!” (Revelation 2:4). It’s not Jesus that’s outdated; it might really be our unacknowledged failure in our Christian practice that is the problem. Kinnaman and Lyons provide a vision for witness in the 21st century.

-Sarah Dompier

Want to read the book and discuss it with Sarah?
Sign up for the class: HMN 491 Spring Semester Wednesdays at 9:05am

The History of Love (2005)

November 14, 2007

In Isaiah 55, God states that His word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” This is a powerful statement about the efficacy of language as it relates to divine decree. The History of Love does not attempt to treat upon such lofty themes, but it is about the power of words, and explores their power long after they are forgotten by those who breathed life into them initially.

The book’s title refers to a fictional work within the story, a book written by the protagonist, Leo Gursky.  He wrote his magnum opus, The History of Love as a love letter to his childhood sweetheart after she emigrated to America before World War II. Gursky manages to survive the war and make it to America, but in the chaos believes his work to be lost. 

Krauss paints a poignant picture of the power of one man’s words, thought to be lost to the ravages of time and Nazism to draw together families and radically alter life. The book is beautifully composed, implementing the perspectives of multiple characters as first person narration. This novel provides an excellent entry point into extended meditation on love and the power of the written word.

-Nate Campbell

The History of Love at Google Books

Giving – Bill Clinton (2007)

October 29, 2007

In a world with extreme poverty, environmental degradation and wars of genocide and terror, it is easy to lose hope and question whether we can have any positive impact in the world. Former president Bill Clinton’s book Giving is encouraging, issuing a challenge to each of us to look for ways we can give. Regardless of our wealth, we are all blessed with the opportunity to share and give to those who are in need.

Through the retelling of numerous stories of generous givers, Clinton demonstrates that everyone has the opportunity to play a role in dealing with poverty, environmental degradation and wars of genocide and terror and encourages us to look for ways we can give. As Giving explains, there are numerous ways to do so with money, time, things, skills, and even gifts of reconciliation and new beginnings.

It is easy to question whether we have the means to give when we hear about Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet contributing such large amounts of time and money. But Clinton also shares the stories of Oseola McCarty, an eighty-seven year old woman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who gave seventy-five years worth of savings to establish a university scholarship for poor African-American girls and McKenzie Steiner, a six year-old girl who organized a drive to clean up a beach in her community. Giving demonstrates that everyone can give: children, parents, grandparents; students and teachers; employees, managers, and CEOs; neighborhood communities, local governments and national governments; churches, synagogues, and mosques; high-income, middle-income, and low-income people. It is the sum of every small gift that we can give that will impact the world, not just the large individual gifts.

Giving provides us with a jump-start in looking for ways to give to the poor and needy in our own neighborhood and around the world. As Clinton states, “In America, many of us are besieged by more requests for help than we can grant. All of us need to decide between competing claims on our time and money…. [But,] that is a choice only you can make.”

Clinton concludes by explaining that we can find happiness in giving. Knowing that our gift, no matter how small, is changing another person’s life can bring a lot of happiness. Giving is a challenge to answer to the needs of people around the world in a way that can bring true happiness.

– Nathaniel Veltman

Nathaniel Veltman ( is a Master of International Development student at the University of Pittsburgh. He has spent extensive time working and studying in Ghana and Malawi, Africa. His focus of study is on non-governmental organizations and civil society, with a special interest in partnerships and micro-lending in Africa.

VISIT for a list of places that we think are great places to give

The Irresistible Revolution (2006)

September 27, 2007

In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne combines personal accounts (from his anything-but-normal lifestyle) and scriptural texts of what it means to be a follower of Christ. In a world of megachurches, televangelism and a whole lot of fake Christianity, Shane Claiborne breathes life and hope into what the church was made to look like. He describes the present state of the church as being a fragmented body that has forgotten what it means to love.

Throughout the book, Shane challenges the reader to live an authentic Christian life even if that means giving up everything you have. Shane has served with Mother Theresa in Calcutta, people in Iraq and is now part of a community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way.

The book is a critical look at and questions the comfy lifestyle that most American’s live. Some points may make you uncomfortable, but if that uneasiness leads you to action than Shane will have seen it as accomplishing its goal.
It is a poignant challenge to the church to start living what it is preaching. As Shane describes it, “become an ordinary radical for Jesus Christ.”

– Brandon Baughman

The Simple Way

The Culturally Savvy Christian (2007)

September 27, 2007

Dick Staub chose to subtitle his book, the Culturally Savvy Christian, “a manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-lite.” These are heady claims, to put it mildly. While the idea of judging a book by its cover is universally reviled, it can be healthy to judge books worth by gauging whether the content accomplishes the claims made on the cover.

What Staub does accomplish is laying out what has become the typical critique leveled at contemporary American culture by thoughtful Christians. He accuses it of being shallow, artificial and soulless. His manifesto outlining our response to this shallowness is also less than earth-shattering. He pleads with Christians to create art that is truly art — not just “Christian” art — and advocates relating to culture on a deeper level than merely rejecting or acclaiming a cultural artifact based on external and moralistic criteria like its sexual content or the amount of obscenity it contains.

This framework is appealingly packaged in this volume, and laid out with a clarity and succinctness that makes it an excellent choice for readers unacquainted with the aforementioned ideas and wishing to gain a fuller understanding of how Christians can and should interact with culture.

-Nate Campbell