Archives for June 2014

Ebook Special for Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary

Now through July 2, the ebook for Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary is only $1.99 (88% off) from the following participating retailers:


Barnes & Noble



“Addressed to shepherds and their flocks, Good News for Anxious Christians features the admonishing, teaching, and comforting voice of a Christ-haunted philosophy professor at Eastern University. Its timely message is timeless: Servants of Christ grow through repetition of the gospel (which turns the heart outward), not through experimentation with techniques (which turns the heart inward). . . . His quiver contains ten arrows, one for each of the practical things that we don’t have to do because they’re not in the Bible. . . . Cary submits that the Lutheran doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) offers a powerful corrective to the strangely Catholicized and psychologized evangelicalism that oppresses us. . . . The gospel, Cary argues, gives us permission to ignore anxiety-producing techniques because Christ is enough, period.”
Christianity Today 5-Star Review

Like a succession of failed diet regimens, the much-touted techniques that are supposed to bring us closer to God “in our hearts” can instead make us feel anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed. How can we meet and know God with ongoing joy rather than experiencing the Christian life as a series of guilt-inducing disappointments?

Drawing on his work with college students, Phillip Cary shows Christians that discipleship is a gradual, long-term process that comes through the Bible experienced in Christian community, not a to-do list designed to help them live the Christian life “right.” This lucidly written book covers ten things Christians don’t have to do to be close to God, such as hear God’s voice in their hearts, find God’s will for their lives, and believe their intuitions are the Holy Spirit. Presenting a time-honored approach to the gospel that is beautiful and liberating, Cary skillfully unpacks the riches of traditional Christian spirituality to bring the real good news to Christians of all ages.

Phillip Cary (PhD, Yale University) is professor of philosophy at Eastern University in Pennsylvania as well as scholar-in-residence at the Templeton Honors College. He is the author of Jonah in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and of three critically acclaimed books on the life and thought of Augustine.

The Weekly Hit List: June 27, 2014

In case you missed it, Marlena Graves, author of A Beautiful Disaster, was interviewed on Her.meneutics.

“As a female minority born into poverty, Graves did not have the option of postponing lessons of dependence on God. She admits, ‘Growing up, I begged God to take the cup of suffering from me, but mostly he didn’t.’

“By stubbornly, perhaps naively, clinging to him, she discovered ‘the desert land is fertile ground for spiritual activity, transformation, and renewal.’ . . .

Quite miraculously, during her many desert sojourns, Graves has made wise choices that have allowed both her faith in God and her identity as a child of God to prosper.

“I asked her to share how she has navigated the desert’s many temptations in the hope that her experiences would encourage and guide others.”

Read the rest of “A Field Guide for Suffering Well” here.


Quick Hits:

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was recommended by The Englewood Review of Books.

Esther & Daniel (BTCB) by Samuel Wells and George Sumner was reviewed on

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg was reviewed by Cliff Richardson.

Wesley Hill, author of a forthcoming Brazos Press book, was interviewed by Katelyn Beaty on The Living Church.

The Liberating Image by J. Richard Middleton was discussed by Scot McKnight on Jesus Creed.

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 22:1-14:

God’s provision follows an economy that we can see developing in Genesis and throughout scripture. It begins after Cain’s murder of Abel. Adam enters into his wife. She bears a son, Seth, and Eve explains his name: “‘For God,’ said she, ‘hath appointed me another seed in stead of Abel, whom Cain slew’” (4:25 AV). The son is not restored, but instead replaced.

When Abraham lifts his eyes and sees the ram caught in the nearby thicket, he offers the animal “instead of his son” (22:13). Although we can see in the background a general commandment to offer the firstborn son to God (Exod. 22:29), in the immediate context, the specific commandment to sacrifice Isaac has no explicit purpose other than to try Abraham.

The import of the sacrifice of substituted ram remains obscure. Isaac’s life is at stake, but the countercommand, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him” (Gen. 22:12), comes before and not after the sacrifice of the substitute. No clear link is established between sacrifice, substitution, and the covenant promise of life. The son is simply restored by an act of God, and then the substitute appears, and the sacrifice is offered.

Although the use of goat’s blood by Joseph’s brothers to deceive Jacob foreshadows a unity of sacrifice and substitution in the divine gift of new life, it is only in the Passover lamb that this unity becomes the crucial instrument for forward movement into the future promised to Abraham. The punitive death of the firstborn passes over the households that sacrifice the substituted lamb. The Israelite sons live because the lamb dies, and this differs from the scene on Mount Moriah. Isaac is saved by divine decree, and then a substitute is offered; the Israelite sons are saved from death by the substitute.

What is important about the subsequent history of Israel and the New Testament is the way in which the beloved son and the ram/lamb merge together. In Isaiah’s vision, the descendants of Abraham become sacrificial victims. Personified in the Suffering Servant depicted in Isaiah, Israel “was despised and rejected by men” (Isa. 53:3). She “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4) as she went forward into exile “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (53:7). But Israel does not suffer in vain. She shall be raised from her political death to become a light to all the nations; in new life Israel shall be the redemptive center for the divine plan for all humanity (60:3).

In the New Testament, Jesus stands in the place of Israel. He is both the substituted lamb of sacrifice and the beloved son of the promise. His death provides “the new and living way” into the inner sanctuary of the house of God (Heb. 10:20). The son dies as the substitute so that all might be saved from death.


©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

“God Uses the Desert of the Soul” – an Excerpt from A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves

The following is an excerpt from “The Way of the Desert and Beautiful Souls,” chapter 1 from A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves.


God uses the desert of the soul—our suffering and difficulties, our pain, our dark nights (call them what you will)—to form us, to make us beautiful souls. He redeems what we might deem our living hells, if we allow him. The hard truth, then, is this: everyone who follows Jesus is eventually called into the desert.

Jesus suffered hunger and temptation in the desert. His calling and his trust in his Father were put to the test. He was probably full of angst and despair. He was physically weak and emotionally and spiritually vulnerable. Why on earth would the Holy Spirit drive him into the desert wilderness and allow him to suffer?

Scripture is full of examples of how God used the desert to reveal himself and to spiritually form his people. Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, Miriam, Moses, the Israelites, David, Elijah, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Paul all spent time in the wilderness. They weren’t alone either—the desert fathers and mothers made their homes in the wilderness too.

All these giants of the faith spent time in the physical desert but were also intimately acquainted with the interior desert. Eventually, God sends all who truly seek to know him into a spiritual wilderness. That’s why St. John of the Cross calls this dark night, this desert of ours, a “happy night.” The night is happy because, though it brings “darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; . . . although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and to raise it up.”

N. T. Wright notes, “Wilderness has been used in Christian writing as an image for the dark side of the spiritual journey. Conversion, baptism, faith—a rich sense of the presence and love of God, of vocation and sonship; and then, the wilderness.” The spiritual desert wilderness is harsh, wild, and uncontrollable. Barely inhabitable and yet breathtakingly beautiful. Inarguably dangerous and possibly deadly but also transformational and even miraculous. Solitary and unfamiliar but full of grace and spiritual activity.

The desert is a blessing disguised as a curse—a study in contrasts. While theophanies and divine epiphanies regularly occur there, so do unimaginable times of depression and despair. We hear many voices and sometimes have difficulty distinguishing among God’s, our own, the world’s, and that of devils toying with us, meaning to eat us alive. The desert heightens our senses; paradoxically, we’re acutely aware of both God’s presence and his seeming absence. Truths once obscure, or mentally assented to yet not experienced, suddenly stand out in sharp relief, while the superfluous recedes into the background. In the desert wilderness, miracles happen, temptations lure, and judgment occurs.

The wilderness has a way of curing our illusions about ourselves and teaching us to depend more and more on God. When we first enter, we’re convinced we’ve entered the bowels of hell. But on our pilgrimage, we discover that the desert drips with the divine. We discover that desert land is fertile ground for spiritual activity, transformation, and renewal.


©2014 by Marlena Graves. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: June 20, 2014

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was reviewed by Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books.

“Allow me to say clearly how helpful this is for those wanting a spirituality of the ordinary, of finding God’s presence amidst the turmoil of daily life and the injustices we ourselves face. (Not only did Graves grow up with some hardships, she’s observed some harsh injustices, even within Christian organizations, and she names some of these travesties, telling us how she reacted.)

“She is brave, but yet down to Earth; she writes as a young woman, mother, youth leader at a church, and now active writer and blogger — fairly ordinary, actually. She knows what you are going through. She guides readers towards the virtues of steadfastness and joy, bringing living water to the deserts of our lives.”

Read the rest of the review here.


The (Un)Common Good Media:

Jim Wallis appeared on Morning Joe.

Jim Wallis appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry.

Jim Wallis wrote “A Letter to Graduates: Whatever Happened to the Common Good?” for TIME.


A Beautiful Disaster media:

Her.meneutics featured an interview with Marlena.

Addie Zierman shared a guest post from Marlena Graves.

Preston Yancey reviewed Marlena’s book.

Dorothy Greco reviewed Marlena’s book.

Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books reviewed Marlena’s book.


Quick Hits:

Of Games and God by Kevin Schut won in the Culture category of the 2014 Word Awards.

Craig Detweiler, author of iGods, appeared live on Connecting Faith with Neil Stavem.

iGods by Craig Detweiler and Sidewalks in the Kingdom by Eric O. Jacobsen were recommended in the June 28 issue of WORLD Magazine.

Peter Enns, author of The Evolution of Adam, was interviewed on the Newsworthy with Norsworthy podcast.

A Life Observed by Devin Brown was reviewed by Jennifer Neyhart.

The Liberating Image by J. Richard Middleton was discussed by Scot McKnight on Jesus Creed.

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 10:24-39:

The kingdom brought by Jesus, the kingdom that the disciples are charged to preach, has come near; it is the kingdom that is the alternative to all the kingdoms created by death. Jesus tells his disciples that, just as Mic. 7:6–7 predicted, brother will kill brother, fathers will betray children, and children will seek to destroy their parents; and all those so captured by the kingdom of death will hate the disciples who witness to the name of Jesus.

These are quite extraordinary results for preaching the kingdom of God, but Jesus instructs the disciples to expect such a response. The kingdoms of death, the kingdoms that rule through violence legitimated by the fear of death, are challenged by this one who has come to put an end to the rule of death.

Jesus even says that he has come not to bring peace to the earth but a sword. Moreover, it seems that the family is the first place that the divisions occasioned by Jesus will be apparent. Not only will governors and kings hate and persecute the apostles, but the family will be fractured by loyalty to him. The separation that Jesus has come to enact is as real as the mission on which the disciples are sent. The sword he has brought, the sword that is an alternative to the peace of the world, is the sword of the cross. . . .

That Christians carry no sword other than the cross does not mean, however, that we are sent into the world defenseless. In the book of Hebrews we are told that the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing the soul and laying bare all before the eyes of God (Heb. 4:12–13). Scripture is the weapon of truth that enables those who follow Jesus to disarm the powers by exposing their lies and deceit. Christians are not without defense, having been given God’s word to shield us from our delusions that are the source of our violence.

Jesus, however, is clear. Attempts to secure our lives through the means offered by the world are doomed to failure. If we are to find our lives, it seems, we must be prepared to lose our lives. But this is not a general recommendation meaning that we should learn unselfishness—even unselfishness that may cost our lives—for the life we must be willing to lose is the life lost “for my sake,” that is, for Jesus. Self-sacrifice, often justified in the name of family or country, can too easily be tyrannical. The language of sacrifice is often used by those in power for perverse ends. Jesus does not commend the loss of self as a good in and of itself. He demands that we follow him because he alone has the right to ask for our lives.

Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order. “The family that prays together stays together”—but such sentiments cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37) is a hard saying, but one that makes clear why Jesus must prepare the disciples for persecution. Our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, are now found among the disciples and not among the so-called blood relations. Let that be preached from the pulpits of America and see if those preachers will live free of persecution. Not a little is at stake. The violence of nations is often justified in the name of protecting our loves—our way of life. Yet it is exactly those loyalties that Jesus calls into question as he instructs his disciples.


©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

This Just In: A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves

A Beautiful Disaster:
Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness

by Marlena Graves

Interweaving biblical insights and personal narratives, this eloquently written book shows how God often uses suffering and desert experiences to form us into Christ’s image. Marlena Graves shares her experiences of growing up poor in a house plagued by mental illness as a means to explore the forces God uses to shape us into beautiful people in the midst of brokenness.

This book offers a window into suffering through the motif of desert spirituality, revealing how God can use our painful experiences to show himself faithful. While no one welcomes suffering, God often uses desert experiences–those we initially despise and wouldn’t wish on anyone–to transform us into beautiful souls who better resemble Jesus. Graves shows how God can bring life out of circumstances reeking of death and destruction, whether those circumstances are crises or daily doses of quiet desperation.

Readers who have experienced suffering and question God’s purpose for it will benefit from this book, as will counselors, pastors, professors, and mentors. It includes a foreword by John Ortberg and Laura Ortberg Turner.

Marlena Graves (MDiv, Northeastern Seminary) is an op-ed writer for Christianity Today‘s popular Her.meneutics blog. She is a member of Ink: A Creative Collective, the Redbud Writers Guild, and the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Institute and has written forChristianity TodayRelevant, and theConversations blog. She has also worked in college residential life and speaks frequently to students and congregations about spiritual formation.

Praise for A Beautiful Disaster:

A Beautiful Disaster is an extraordinary debut from one of today’s most promising new authors. In the tradition of the prophets, Marlena Graves sings a wilderness song, seamlessly connecting her own story to both the biblical narrative and the questions, struggles, and joys of all who travel the wilderness road. With a voice that is gentle and strong, passionate and mature, Graves invites the reader to pay attention, to be still and know God. Let those who have ears, hear.”
Rachel Held Evans, author of Faith Unraveled and A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“In A Beautiful Disaster Marlena Graves explores the spiritual wilderness with a host of fellow travelers from biblical persona to the ancient church to present company. She mines their wisdom about getting through life’s deserts and eloquently shares lessons she has learned through her own brokenness. There is something here for everyone who has at one time or another wandered in the wilderness and asked ‘Why?’ or ‘How long?'”
Dennis Okholm, professor of theology, Azusa Pacific University; author of Monk Habits for Everyday Peopleand Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins

“To move through brokenness, we need to be both gently reflective and boldly courageous. Marlena Graves combines this unusual blend of necessary pursuits so that we don’t simply ‘get through it,’ but move into a transformed life of flourishing daily in the Kingdom of God.”
Jan Johnson, speaker and author of Invitation to the Jesus Life

“Marlena Graves’s gentle wisdom, pastoral tenderness, and graceful conviction strengthen my soul. Meditating on Scripture and the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers, she offers a balm to the hurting, and hope that our dry and weary times will, with God’s help, bloom into something beautiful.”
Rachel Marie Stone, author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food

A Beautiful Disaster offers up a rich blend of theology, devotional, and memoir–and at times breaks into sheer poetry. Marlena Graves is one of the most gifted thinkers and writers of her generation.”
Karen Swallow Prior, author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

“Marlena Graves writes with freshness and a clear, cool sense of authority as she guides us through Christ’s wilderness, one metaphor at a time. She speaks as one who knows the consoling, challenging presence of God firsthand. Let her gentle willingness to meet you where you are lead you through dark places until you find comfort in the Jesus who teaches and strengthens us on the way.”
Emilie Griffin, author of Wilderness Time and Souls in Full Sail

“Marlena Graves has walked through many wilderness experiences and periods in her life. And in this wonderful book she helps the rest of us understand both the blessings and perils of the spiritual desert. Marlena has experienced God’s promise of making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert to comfort and train those he loves. There is hope, help, and encouragement for each of us in these pages.”
Joe Moore, national co-director for spiritual formation and prayer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

The Weekly Hit List: June 13, 2014

Jim Wallis, author of The (Un)Common Good, was interviewed by The Christian Post.

“The Sojourners president believes that liberals and conservatives both have a part to play in improving the common good.

“‘The best conservative idea is the idea of personality responsibility. I’ve never seen a problem solved or poverty overcome or the things I care about without personal responsibly as a part of the solution,’ said Wallis. ‘The best liberal idea is social responsibility: taking care of not just ourselves but taking care of each other.'”

Read the rest of “These 3 Things, Not Government, Will Eliminate Poverty, Social Justice Advocate Jim Wallis Says” here.


Other The (Un)Common Good Media:

Jim Wallis appeared this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Don’t miss Jim Wallis tomorrow (Saturday) morning on MSNBC’S Melissa Harris-Perry.

Jim Wallis wrote “How the Bible Understands Justice” for OnFaith.

Jim Wallis wrote “Happy Birthday, Prostate Cancer, and the Common Good” for God’s Politics.


A Beautiful Disaster Blog Tour:

Halee Gray Scott shared an excerpt.

Rachel Marie Stone reviewed the book.

Amy Simpson shared an excerpt.

Alexandra Kuykendall shared some excerpts.

Laura Turner reviewed the book.

Katherine Willis Pershey shared some excerpts.

Giveaway winners were announced!


Quick Hits:

Craig Blomberg, author of Can We Still Believe the Bible?, was interviewed on Books at a Glance.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? was reviewed on in Christ Jesus.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was reviewed by Bronwyn Lea.

Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter was reviewed on Fulcrum.

Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter was reviewed on Sacred Tension.

The Liberating Image by J. Richard Middleton was discussed by Scot McKnight on Jesus Creed.


Upcoming Radio Interviews:

Craig Detweiler, author of iGods, will appear live on Connecting Faith with Neil Stavem on Tuesday, June 17, at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, author of Generous Spaciousness, will appear live on The Bob Dutko Show on Wednesday, June 18 at 1:08 p.m. ET.

Lectionary Reflection for Trinity Sunday

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 28:16-20:

The eleven disciples go to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them, and when they see Jesus they worship him. They had previously worshiped him after he had walked on water (Matt. 14:33), but now they worship him as the one who has returned to life.

But some doubt. Again we see Matthew’s absolute candor. There is nothing to hide. Even after the resurrection some of Jesus’s disciples doubted. Matthew does not tell us what form their doubt took, but one doubts that they doubted that he had been raised. Rather, their doubt regarded their ability to obey and follow Jesus. They have not forgotten that they deserted him. Jesus, however, reminds them who he is. He tells them that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” . . .

The devil has lost. The devil had offered Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would worship him (Matt. 4:8–11), but Jesus’s whole life was a refusal of that offer. It was a refusal that required Jesus to endure rejection and crucifixion, but through that endurance he has triumphed. He alone now has the authority to send the disciples to the world to make disciples of all the nations. He first sent the disciples only to Israel (10:5–6), but now he sends the disciples to all the world to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What has been hidden from the foundation of the world, what has been hidden from the wise, is now revealed by the Son. The God of Israel is the God of all nations. The disciples are now equipped to be sent to the nations, baptizing them into the death and resurrection of Jesus to make them citizens of his death-defying kingdom. Israel is not to be left behind, but rather its mission is now continued in a new reality called church. Through the church all nations will learn to call Israel blessed.

The church, moreover, is but the name of a people who have been formed to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To worship that God is to live a life described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Therefore, Jesus commands his disciples to teach those whom they baptize to obey all that he has commanded. Jesus’s death and resurrection cannot be separated from the way he has taught us to live. The Sermon on the Mount, how we are to serve one another as brothers and sisters, the forgiveness required by our willingness to expose the sin of the church, is salvation. The teaching and the teacher are one. The salvation that Jesus entrusts to his disciples is the gospel of Matthew.

The disciples are to remember that the mission on which Jesus sends them is not one on which they must go alone. He is the resurrected Lord who will always be with those entrusted to witness to him and his work. He was in the beginning, which means that he can promise to be at the end of the age. But the age that he will be present at the end of is the age inaugurated by his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection.

On that basis and that basis alone Christians are sent to the world with the message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is present.”


©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Ebook Special for We Were the Least of These by Elaine Heath

Now through June 12, the ebook of We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Elaine A. Heath is only $1.99 (90% off) from the following participating retailers:


Barnes & Noble


“The journey toward healing can be a lonely one for survivors of sexual abuse who feel–and often are treated–like ‘the least of these’ children of God. Imagine the surprise ending: Jesus himself was the least of these! For Elaine Heath, this ending is just the beginning. This book fills a gap in the literature and I affirm its value as a professor, pastoral counselor, and minister.”
—Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, professor of pastoral care, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University; fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors

Much of what is written about abuse and the Bible focuses on the ways Scripture is used to hurt rather than heal. This accessibly written book provides a much-needed perspective, illuminating the good news of healing and liberation that the Bible offers survivors of sexual abuse. As a theologian and survivor of abuse herself, Elaine Heath handles this sensitive topic with compassion and grace. She offers a close reading of several biblical passages that have proven to be profoundly healing for her and for other survivors. The book is illustrated with stories and insights from sexual abuse survivors who have experienced healing through the Bible in order to bring hope and encouragement to victims. It will be welcome reading for those who have suffered from abuse as well as for pastors, counselors, therapists, and others who minister to them. Each chapter ends with two sets of reflection questions and recommended activities–one set for survivors and another for those who journey with them.

Elaine A. Heath (PhD, Duquesne University) is McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism and director of the Center for Missional Wisdom at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas. An ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, she is a frequent retreat speaker and has experience as a pastor and spiritual director. She is also the author of The Mystic Way of Evangelism.