January Publication

Into a sea of inspirational titles comes Earth Angels: Stories of Heavenly Encouragement Through Earthly Vessels, which stands out for its heartwarming emphasis on ordinary people doing extraordinary things for others. In author Susan Duke's view, these individuals become answers to prayer, "earthly vessels" who help others to know of God's care for them. The stories are notable and refreshingly well-told. (Howard, $14.99 192p ISBN 1-58229-216-7; Jan. 15)

More Perspectives on 9/11

While most of the spirituality books about September 11 and its aftermath have catered to the evangelical market, with Charles Stanley, Max Lucado and other Christians weighing in, some of the most recognizable names in the New Age movement contribute to Lisa Hepner's collection, Peaceful Earth: Spiritual Perspectives on Hope and Healing Beyond Terrorism. Neale Donald Walsch, Marianne Williamson, Terry Cole-Whittaker and Dan Millman headline the anthology, with various pieces addressing global unity, peacemaking and the dangers of religious fanaticism. Many of the pieces are quite generic, despite their ostensible grounding in the most devastating terrorist attack in world history; Angelo Pizelo's essay, for example, speaks about personal transformation in such a broad sense that it could be reproduced verbatim in any other New Age treasury. This is a missed opportunity. (Hold the Vision [14845 SW Murray Scholls Dr., Suite 110, Beaverton, Ore. 97007], $12 paper 100p ISBN 0-9715845-9-1; Dec.) "In times of terror, the African American pulpit has spoken with its clearest voice," writes Martha Simmons, co-editor (with Frank A. Thomas) of 9.11.01: African American Leaders Respond to an American Tragedy. Say "amen," somebody. This collection is everything that most other books on September 11 have tried to be but failed: cogent, piercing, inspirational, gritty. It includes sermons and essays by Gardner Taylor, T.D. Jakes, Delores Carpenter, Jesse Jackson and Calvin Butts III, among others. One essay in particular deserves mention: Peter Gomes's "Outer Turmoil, Inner Strength," delivered at Harvard University on September 23, may go down in history as one of the most eloquent, sensitive Christian responses to the attacks. (Judson, $16 paper 178p ISBN 0-8170-1435-7; Dec.)

The 61st chapter of Isaiah speaks of comforting those who mourn "to give them beauty for ashes." John Farina's collection, Beauty for Ashes: Spiritual Reflections on the Attack on America, features a diverse hodgepodge of responses to September 11, from the Le Monde editorial "Nous Sommes Tous Americains" to ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain's account of religious leaders meeting with President Bush and Andrew Sullivan's essay "This is a Religious War." Some of the most compelling contributions are from individuals who describe their personal experiences, including a Julliard student who stayed at the Armory late into the night, playing every piece of music he knew from memory for the rescue workers. The collection is somewhat marred by less thoughtful pieces, such as Pat Robertson's simplistic and dangerous "God Almighty Is Lifting His Protection." The anthology is a mixed bag that will succeed more as a historical record of many different responses to the tragedy than as spiritual nourishment in a time of crisis. (Crossroad, $15.95 paper 304p ISBN 0-8245-1973-6; Dec.)

Watchdog of the Watchtower

"The public needs to be warned," says ex-Jehovah's Witness Diane Noble about the religion she once embraced. In Awakening of a Jehovah's Witness: Escape from the Watchtower Society, Noble recounts her quarter-century in the movement, making the usual case that the Society is a cult, that it exercises unhealthy control over the minds and behavior of its members and that it grooms followers to become victims. Certainly, her story is sad, particularly the part about being encouraged to shun her own daughter for several months, but it is hardly a balanced or even very perceptive book. (One of the most interesting elements of the narrative is that Noble seems to have transferred the near-divine authority that she once vested in her church to her therapist, whose words are sometimes reprinted here in boldface.) Sadly, few objective accounts exist about the Jehovah's Witnesses; little stands in the middle between polemic and apologetic. Readers are left with classic studies such as M. James Penton's Apocalypse Delayed, a rare book that seeks not just to discredit and refute the Watchtower, but to understand it. (Prometheus, $28 300p ISBN 1-57392-942-5; Jan.)

Minor Prophets, Major Lessons

What is the basic theme of the Book of Obadiah? What does Hosea's allegory about the faithless Gomer teach us about the relationship between God and the Church? In Unexpected Wisdom: Major Insights from the Minor Prophets, Dan Schmidt answers these questions and more, bringing the oft-neglected words of Amos, Habakkuk, Haggai, Joel and others to the foreground and providing contemporary applications. He leans toward the moral, rather than the philosophical, approach; Malachi's message, Schmidt says, is to "radiate integrity" and Micah's is to "use power well." It's a different position, and one that will work well for individual or group study. (Baker, $12.99 paper 192p ISBN 0-8010-6379-5; Jan.)