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Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost: A Story of Church

Traci Rhoades. Church, $14.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-64065-279-8

Bible teacher Rhoades debuts with a consuming chronicle of her churchgoing life, spanning four different denominations and nine churches. Beginning with fond memories of attending Southern Baptist and Methodist churches during her childhood, Rhoades explains how those experiences have shaped her perspective and given her a greater passion for Jesus. Sharing stories and examples from Christian contributors, Rhoades examines different church traditions and various forms of worship and shines a light on issues that can result in divisions within a congregation. Rhoades also explores the dynamics of Baptist, Methodist, and Church of God congregations as she moves from place to place amid changing jobs and life circumstances, reminding readers that no church is perfect, and that one should attend “expecting to find a community and always, always, more of Jesus.” She emphasizes that by listening and approaching others with an open heart, one can find new opportunities for experiencing Christ. Christians looking for community will relish this memoir of embracing differences. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bewitching the Elements: A Guide to Empowering Yourself Through Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit

Gabriela Herstik. TarcherPerigee, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-08621-6

Herstik (Inner Witch), a witch and columnist for Chakrubs magazine, delivers a comprehensive guide to magic practices as a “reclamation of earth-based spirituality” from modern dissociation. Focusing on the five elements that appear in many spiritual traditions—earth, air, fire, water, and spirit/ether—Herstik breaks down the correlations of each to deities, crystals, astrological signs, and tarot cards. She also provides easy-to-follow rituals, such as grounding meditation work for earth, breath meditations for air, sex magic rituals for fire, and Moon rituals for water. Some practices call for casting circles and building altars, while others concentrate on everyday magic, such as recurring sections on glamour that explore using one’s own appearance and clothing to build relationships with each element. While supplies like salt, herbs, and candles are recommended, Herstik reminds readers that “belief that nature is multi-dimensional, magical and powerful” is all that is needed for the cultivation of mindfulness. Herstik’s knowledge and love for magic is exhibited in her instructive and welcoming tone. This thorough manual will be of interest to spiritual practitioners looking for rituals intended to increase one’s connection to nature. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism

Taylor G. Petrey. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-4696-5622-9

Petrey, a professor of religion at Kalamazoo College, combines meticulous research with illuminating insight in this landmark work on gender and sexuality in Mormon thought. Petrey shows how Latter-day Saint teachings about race, marriage, homosexuality, and gender roles have adapted to different social contexts between post-WWII America and today, and argues that opposition to same-sex marriage has replaced opposition to interracial marriage or egalitarian marriage as a lightning rod for LDS leaders. He also examines contradictions in LDS ideologies—such as church leaders explicitly teaching that gender roles are inherent, while also fretting about parents not properly teaching their children how to “perform” their gender role properly. Information-packed, with a forceful thesis and jargon-free prose, this is an important contribution to Mormon studies as well as a convincing consideration of the ways religions construct and maintain frameworks. Any academic studying the intersection of religious practice and progressive social change will want to pick this up. (Jun.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex

Michael Todd. WaterBrook, $23 (188p) ISBN 978-0-59319-257-3

Todd, lead pastor of Transformation Church in Tulsa, Okla., offers millennials strategies for building strong relationships in his fresh if meandering debut. Using personal anecdotes and readings of scripture, Todd encourages an in-depth exploration of the Bible to discover what it teaches about being single, dating, and being happily married, namely the virtues of remaining faithful and supporting each other. With a somewhat overwhelming number of stories, Todd tells readers to wait for the right time to cultivate healthy “soul ties,” and offers instruction on when and how to sever those ties if relationships become unhealthy or unproductive. Warning that “some of the things you’ll read in this book are not usually said in books by Christian Pastors,” Todd includes up-to-date biblical interpretations, such as how the tale of Abraham and Hagar functions as an example of a good breakup. For Todd, one must first get to know oneself and realize one’s purpose before beginning to date and cultivate healthy bonds. The author’s wife joins him in one chapter to counsel readers on keys to a successful marriage, stressing the importance of learning and responding to the needs of one’s partner. Todd stays admirably true to his intent to “keep it 100” with his readers in this instructive, relatable guide. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Renovated: God, Dallas Willard & the Church That Transforms

Jim Wilder. NavPress, $17.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-64158-167-7

Wilder (Rare Leadership), founder of Life Model Works, an organization that incorporates brain science research into the development of Bible-based religious practices, delivers an in-depth if convoluted study of a “soteriology of attachment” based on the blending of neuroscience and theology. Arguing that neuroscience proves people can be retrained into better habits (what Wilder calls “character”) through “attachment love” (“vision, attention, and means” that come from an “active force created by an attachment”), he proposes that attachment to God can bring about deep character change for Christians. He structures the book around talks given by the late philosopher Dallas Willard, alternating between Willard’s talks and his own commentary. Included are discussions of slow and fast track thinking, “hesed” attachments to God (bonds formed neurologically), and the breakdown of different spiritual disciplines. Wilder’s engagement with the work of Willard is rounded out by short exercises that encourage the application of some of his points, such as a “mindful presence” prayer at sunrise or sunset, and meals organized around spiritual reflection and communal storytelling. While the dense explanations of neuroscience research will prove too opaque for many readers, fans of Willard will rush to this evocative study. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity

Robert P. Jones. Simon & Schuster, $28 (294p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2286-7

Sociologist Jones (The End of White Christian America), founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, offers in this vociferous work a refreshing blend of historical accounting, soul-searching reflection, and analysis of white supremacy within the American Christian identity. “White Christian churches have not just been complacent; they have not only been complicit... as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy at the expense of black equality.” He challenges white Christians to see how white supremacy operates in their religious lives; learn its history, theology, and physical presence; to understand how racism has become “constitutive of white Christian identity”; and to take antiracist action. Woven throughout is the author’s personal story of growing up white in a Southern Baptist community in Jackson, Miss., his journey toward a fuller understanding of his family and faith history in relation to racism, and his efforts to chart a more just path forward. Only with honest assessment, followed by deliberate individual and collective reparative justice work, Jones argues, can white Christian Americans do the necessary work of addressing structural racism within their faith and nation. Jones’s introspective, measured study is a revelatory unpacking of influence and history of white Christian nationalism. (June)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You

Jen Hatmaker. Thomas Nelson, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7180-8814-9

Bestseller Hatmaker (Of Mess and Moxie) implores women to be unapologetically themselves in this delightfully syrupy work. With calls to action backed by both personal experiencee and analysis, Hatmaker welcomes all: “You deserve goodness. Full stop. Because you are a cherished human being created by a God who loves you.” Writing for women, Hatmaker combines her calls for self-love with humorous stories (including her whimsical toast in a bathing suit at a lake wedding) and frank anecdotes, including lessons learned from marriage counseling. She encourages women to delve into their faith fully, allowing God to inspire change: “I cannot adequately explain the liberation in addressing your questions and owning your own convictions. I am free. No more hiding, no more back-room conversations with only safe people, no more fear. I’m on the other side of the hard part, and it was all worth it.” Hatmaker places a strong emphasis on pursuing one’s dreams and repeatedly reminds readers that they are a gift and that there is enough space for everyone and their ideas in the world. Her fans will adore these uplifting affirmations. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Soul Liberty: The Evolution of Black Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia

Nicole Myers Turner. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (232p) ISBN 978-1-4696-5522-2

Turner, assistant professor of religious studies at Yale University, debuts with a masterful exploration of post-Emancipation black religious life in Virginia. She argues that, post-Emancipation, African-Americans were interested in their political and bodily liberty and also their “soul liberty”—the freedom to worship and govern their places of worship by their community standards. As explained by Turner, there is a rich nexus of interaction between these two spheres; freedom of worship corresponded directly to political and social liberties. Turner explores how religious organizing then allowed for black involvement in electoral politics, as well as black community-building in postbellum Virginia. After a broad survey of post-Emancipation “religious liberty,” Turner narrows her focus to independent black church conventions and congregations. In the final chapters she turns to broader questions of theological education, gender, and political engagement, including an illuminating analysis of the dynamics that led to the uniting of the Zion Union Apostolic Church with the Episcopal Church in 1878. Turner handles her immense amount of research masterfully, and many academic readers will want to take note of the two open-access digital versions of the text, which provide enhanced features such as data sets and maps. This is a must-read for those interested in the evolution of black religious life in America. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Good Work: How Blue Collar Business Can Change Lives, Communities, and the World

Dave Hataj. Moody, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8024-1957-6

Hataj, owner of Wisconsin gear manufacturer Edgerton Gear, argues in his impactful debut that finding one’s purpose in the kingdom of God can be wrapped up neatly into what one does for a living. The desire to do well in business and serve God need not be mutually exclusive, he contends, and businesses where owners and workers figure out how to combine the two can make for a God-serving community. He gleans insight from culture and biblical stories, and shares personal stories about deciding to take over his family gear shop. For Hataj, once profit isn’t seen as the end-all for motivation, a job becomes a tool for fulfilling personal purpose while serving customers and employees. Work relationships must survive through both boom and bust times, Hataj points out, and how one reacts to adversity can help spread Christianity within one’s workplace and communities. One memory about his father’s overcoming prejudice to treat customers well is particularly affecting. He also lauds the “three-legged stool” of business—quality, value, and service—and gives tips on leadership and customer service that can benefit all workers. Christians who struggle with wondering how to serve God will find Hataj’s impassioned testament quite persuasive. (May)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry

M. Craig Barnes. Brazos, $18.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-58743-444-0

Barnes (Searching for Home), president of Princeton Theological Seminary, shares his experiences of ministry work in this reflective and partially fictionalized diary. Barnes writes that his decision to mix fact and fiction was due to pastoral confidentiality and because he wanted “to rewrite some of my own stories that I might have lived differently if I had known then what I know now.” The entries address a wide array of topics, among them what to think about the desire to have a relaxing morning at home instead of attending, the experience of guiding kids and parents through the college application process, and how to approach the firing of a long-term employee. Throughout, he questions his effectiveness—as when he failed to fully empathize and relate to a sick child while keeping his own cancer a secret. This thoughtful though opaque work will propel readers to reflect on their own vocation. Agent: Kathryn Helmers, Creative Trust. (May)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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