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Recommended religious/spiritual books

2009-July to December

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Previous months' recommendations

The current month's recommended book

Tentatively scheduled selections for future months


2009-December's selection:

"The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical
Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon" 
by Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan

Review / order it

Our thoughts:

If you approach the Bible as "God's Word" and believe that the Holy Spirit inspired its authors to write inerrant material, then this book will be totally confusing. You will probably consider it blasphemy.

Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan approach the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) as a historical document made up of books written by very human authors who were trying to promote their own belief systems, even at the expense of Jesus' message. They do not assume that Paul actually wrote all of the 13 books that Christianity has long associated with Paul. They follow the conclusions of liberal religious historians by identifying only seven of the 13 books as having been actually authored by Paul. The authors suggest that the other six books were written by a person or persons unknown and contain major distortions and corruptions of Jesus' and Paul's beliefs.

Amazon product description:

"Bestselling authors of The Last Week and The First Christmas, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join once again to present a new understanding of early Christianity -- this time to reveal a radical Paul who has been suppressed by the church."

Paul is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the birth of Christianity, and yet he continues to be controversial, even among Christians. How could the letters of Paul be used both to inspire radical grace and to endorse systems of oppression: condoning slavery, subordinating women, condemning homosexual behavior? Borg and Crossan use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to explain the reasons for Paul's mixed reputation and reveal to us what scholars have known for decades: that the later letters of Paul were created by the early church to dilute Paul's egalitarian message and transform him into something more 'acceptable.' They argue there are actually 'Three Pauls' in the New Testament:

  1. 'The Radical Paul' (of the seven genuine letters),
  2. 'The Conservative Paul' (of the three disputed epistles), and
  3. 'The Reactionary Paul' (of the three inauthentic letters).

By closely examining this progression of Paul's letters -- from the authentic to the inauthentic -- the authors show how the apostle was slowly but steadily 'deradicalized' to fit Roman social norms in regards to slavery, patriarchy, and patronage. In truth, Paul was an appealing apostle of Jesus whose vision of life 'in Christ' -- one of his favored phrases -- is remarkably faithful to the message of Jesus himself."

Editorial reviews:

 "A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization." (Booklist (starred review) )

"Paul is one of the most controversial figures in Christian history-and one of the most misunderstood. . . . Many will be thrilled with this fresh, erudite portrait of the man." (Publishers Weekly )

"In this scholarly and engaging account . . . Borg and Crossan successfully argue that we must separate the genuine writings of the apostle from the writings attributed to him . . . This well-researched and highly readable account is recommended for all students of Paul [and] interested lay readers."" (Library Journal )

Title: "The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon" 
Authors: Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan

Format: Hardcover.
Publisher: HarperOne
ISBN-10: 0061430722
ISBN-13: 978-0061430725
Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
Release date: 2009-MAR-03
Pages: 240
Cost: List: U.S. $24.99. Amazon.com sells it at 34% off for $16.49 in hardcover, $13.19 in Kindle format. Review / order it

2009-November's selection:

"Jesus was a liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All"
by Rev. Scotty McLennan

Review / order it

Amazon product Description:

"For the millions of people who identify as liberal Christians. In McLennan's bold call to reclaim ownership of Christianity, he advocates a sense of religion based not on doctrinal readings of scripture but on the humanity behind Christ's teachings. He addresses such topics as intelligent design, abortion, same sex marriage, war. torture and much, much more. As he says in the Preface, 'We liberal Christians know in our hearts that there is much more to life than seems to meet the rational eye of atheists; yet we find it hard to support supernatural claims about religion that fly in the face of scientific evidence'."

Publishers Weekly review:

"At a time when political and religious liberals are taking refuge in the word progressive, McLennan (Finding Your Religion) presents an unapologetic case for liberal Christianity. Reporting that about 20% of Americans are liberal Christians, he states, Too many of them choose silence, afraid to use the word 'liberal' to describe where they stand. He immediately tackles hot-button topics -- abortion, science and same-sex marriage -- then moves on to liberal perspectives on God, Jesus, the Trinity, the church and the Bible as well as feminist theology and living faithfully as a liberal Christian. Personal anecdotes from McLennan's own faith journey and advice for practitioners vary in effectiveness, but few liberal concerns about traditional Christianity go unaddressed. Dean for religious life at Stanford University, an inspiration for Doonesbury's Rev. Scott Sloan of comic strip fame and a Unitarian Universalist minister, McLennan and his theology may not always draw agreement from other Christians who consider themselves liberals, nor does the book engage postmodern emergent theology. But McLennan's presentation is remarkably thoughtful, respectful and balanced as he argues that liberal Christianity is a vital expression of faith."

Excerpt from the review in The Progressive Christian magazine...

by Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California, and author of "Birdlike and Barnless: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians:"

" 'Jesus was a liberal' is the best introduction to theologically and socially progressive Christianity that I've read in the past several years. McLennan offers a concise definition of 'liberal' Christianity, and applies it concretely to hot-button social issues and common confusions about biblical interpretation. He describes what is right about the long, venerable liberal religious tradition more than he argues against what is wrong with atheism or biblical literalism. He makes his cases unequivocally but without being shrill. He offers a defense of abortion rights grounded on the Christmas story in Matthew: 'Precisely because Mary's situation is utterly unique, it places in bold relief other girls and women who have not voluntarily chosen to become pregnant.' (p 16) He shares the bases of his public opposition to the war in Iraq in Christian 'just war theory'. His analysis of the impending conflict, and his predictions of the outcome of the war expressed in his sermons and a newspaper editorial, turned out to be uncannily accurate."


bullet"McLennan's writing is that of a thoughtful scholar. . .This book will reward any reader with an open mind and a curiosity about the breadth of the Christian faith." -- Library Journal
bullet"McLennan's presentation is remarkably thoughtful, respectful, and balanced as he argues that liberal Christianity is a vital expression of faith." -- Publishers Weekly
bullet"His book is a manifesto of sorts for those who are both unapologetically Christian and liberal. He takes readers through the major concerns of liberal Christianity, both theological and social, and draws conclusions that are sure to both enrage and amuse those who don't share them."--Chicago Sun-Times
bullet"Rev. Scotty McLennan is reasonable and humane. . . he makes religion sound like a valuable tool for humanity, the kind of social movement that could bring us peace, understanding, tolerance and love."--The National Post (Canada)
bullet"An immensely readable book that reclaims the honorable word 'liberal' for a vision of Christianity that is persuasive, compelling, and faithful." Marcus J. Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity and Jesus: The Life, Teaching and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary
bullet"A wonderfully readable and very timely book. It makes Jesus available again, as he has been at many times in history, to a much wider spectrum of people, and not just 'liberals.' Will be appreciated by those who want to 'conserve' what he stood for, taught and died for." Harvey Cox, author of When Jesus Came to Harvard and The Future of Faith
bullet"A clear-eyed, hopeful manifesto of belief, written with style and integrity. At last - the progressive case for faith, powerfully made."--James Carroll, author of Practicing Catholic

Title: "Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All"
Author: Rev. Scotty McLennan
Format: Hardcover.
ISBN-10: 0230614299
ISBN-13: 978-0230614291
Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
Release date: 2009-MAY-12
Pages: 272
Cost: List: U.S. $26.95. Amazon.com sells it at 34% off for $17.79 in hardcover, $14.23 in Kindle format. Review / order it

2009-October's selection:

"Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus"
by Robin Meyers

Review / order it

Amazon product description:

Countless thoughtful people are now so disgusted with the marriage of bad theology and hypocritical behavior by the church that a new Reformation is required in which the purpose of religion itself is reimagined.

Meyers takes the best of biblical scholarship and recasts these core Christian concepts to exhort the church to pursue an alternative vision of the Christian life:

bulletJesus as Teacher, not Savior
bulletChristianity as Compassion, not Condemnation
bulletProsperity as Dangerous, not Divine
bulletDiscipleship as Obedience, not Control
bulletReligion as Relationship, not Righteousness

This is not a call to the church to move to the far left or to try something brand new. Rather, it is the recovery of something very old. Saving Jesus from the Church shows us what it means to be a Christian and how to follow Jesus' teachings today.


bullet"Robin Meyers emerges in Saving Jesus from the Church as a national voice for a new Christianity. He is a well read scholar and a superb communicator. He writes with a refreshing honesty and a disarming authority. This book is a treat." (John Shelby Spong, author of Jesus for the Non-Religious.)
bullet"A perceptive book . . . Not many authors can present such progressive ideas and still come across as reasonable and loving. Meyers masters such a task." (Oklahoma City Oklahoman)
bullet"With crisply prophetic joy, Meyers calls seekers and believers alike to leave belief about God behind in favor of becoming imitators of Jesus. We can save Jesus from the church, and in doing so, recreate faith communities freed from hypocrisy and filled with hope." (Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity for the Rest of Us.)
bullet"Every once in a while, a book comes along that changes everything. This is the book. It is scholarly, pastoral, prophetic, and eloquent--all in equal measure. Robin Meyers has spoken truth to power, and the church he loves will never be the same." (Desmond Tutu )

"In a progressive rather than negatively critical mode, in strong contrast to much of Far Right Protestantism, pastor Meyers suggests with typical elegance that a recovery of true Christianity emphasizes compassion over condemnation, blessing over sin, and equity over individual prosperity. Highly recommended." (Library Journal)

Title: "Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus"
Author: Robin Meyers
Format: Hardcover.
Publisher: HarperOne
ISBN-10: 006156821X
ISBN-13: 978-0061568213
Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
Release date: 2009-FEB-24
Pages: 256
Cost: List: U.S. $24.99. Amazon.com sells it at 34% off for $16.49 in hardcover, $13.19 in Kindle format. Review / order it

2009-September's selection:

"How God changes your brain: Breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist"
by Andrew Newberg M.D. & Mark Robert Waldman

Review / order it

Review by Publishers Weekly:

"Over the past decade or so, numerous studies have suggested that prayer and meditation can enhance physical health and healing from illness. In this stimulating and provocative book, two academics at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Spirituality and the Mind contend that contemplating God actually reduces stress, which in turn prevents the deterioration of the brain's dendrites and increases neuroplasticity. The authors conclude that meditation and other spiritual practices permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that aid in lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive functioning. The book's middle section draws on the authors' research on how people experience God and where in the brain that experience might be located. Finally, the authors offer exercises for enhancing physical, mental and spiritual health. Their suggestions are commonsensical and common to other kinds of health regimens: smile, stay intellectually active, consciously relax, yawn, meditate, exercise aerobically, dialogue with others and trust in your beliefs. Although the book's title is a bit misleading, since it is not God but spiritual practice that changes the brain, this forceful study could stir controversy among scientists and philosophers."

Review by George Vaillant, M.D., author of Spiritual Evolution:

"Not since William James?s The Varieties of Religious Experience has there been a work that so exquisitely integrates science and spirituality. Newberg and Waldman have written a book that is wise, up-to-date, scholarly, mature, and imaginative. At the same time it is a down-to-earth work that will surely inspire repeated readings."

Review by the Library Journal:

"The authors present an elaborate, engaging meditation program to reduce anger and fear and increase serenity and love. They embrace faith (not necessarily religious), diversity, tolerance, and 'compassionate communication.' ... A substantial advance in the self-help/spirituality genre and an excellent choice for general collections."

About the authors:

Andrew Newberg, M.D., is the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He is one of the founders of the new interdisciplinary field called neurotheology. He is an associate professor in the department of radiology, with secondary appointments in the departments of psychiatry and religious studies, at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has been featured on Good Morning America, Nightline, Discovery Channel, BBC, NPR, and National Geographic Television. He is the co-author of Why God Won?t Go Away, Born to Believe, and The Mystical Mind.

Mark Robert Waldman is an associate fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a therapist, the author or co-author of ten books, including Born to Believe (with Andrew Newberg), and was the founding editor of Transpersonal Review. He lectures throughout the country on neuroscience, religion, and spirituality and conducts research with numerous religious and secular groups. His work has been featured in dozens of newspapers and magazines and on syndicated radio programs.

Book data:

Title: "How God changes your brain: Breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist"
Author: Andrew Newberg M.D. & Mark Robert Waldman
Format: Hardcover.
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN-10: 0345503414
ISBN-13: 978-0345503411
Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
Release date: 2009-MAR-24
Pages: 368
Cost: List: U.S. $27.00. Amazon.com sells it at 34% off for $17.82. Review / order it

2009-August's selection:

"Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible
(and why we don't know about them)" by Bart D. Ehrman

Review / order it

Amazon.com's review:

Picking up where Bible expert Bart Ehrman's New York Times bestseller Misquoting Jesus left off, Jesus, Interrupted addresses the larger issue of what the New Testament actually teaches -- and it's not what most people think. Here Ehrman reveals what scholars have unearthed:

bulletThe authors of the New Testament have diverging views about who Jesus was and how salvation works.
bulletThe New Testament contains books that were forged in the names of the apostles by Christian writers who lived decades later.
bulletJesus, Paul, Matthew, and John all represented fundamentally different religions.
bulletEstablished Christian doctrines -- such as the suffering messiah, the divinity of Jesus, and the trinity -- were the inventions of still later theologians.

These are not idiosyncratic perspectives of just one modern scholar. As Ehrman skillfully demonstrates, they have been the standard and widespread views of critical scholars across a full spectrum of denominations and traditions. Why is it most people have never heard such things? This is the book that pastors, educators, and anyone interested in the Bible have been waiting for -- a clear and compelling account of the central challenges we face when attempting to reconstruct the life and message of Jesus.

Other reviews:

bullet"Ehrman's ability to translate scholarship for a popular audience has made the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a superstar in the publishing world." (IndyWeek )
bullet"For both scholars and the masses who read about religion, Bart D. Ehrman needs no introduction . . . He adds the personal to the scholarly for some of his works, detailing how he went from a Moody Bible Institute-educated fundamentalist evangelical to an agnostic . (Durham Herald-Sun )
bullet"There's something delicious (for nonbelievers, anyway) about the implacable, dispassionate way that Ehrman reveals how the supposedly 'divine truth' of Christianity was historically constructed." (Salon.com )

Book data:

Title: "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)"
Author: Bart D. Ehrman
Format: Hardcover.
Publisher: HarperOne
ISBN-10: 0061173932
ISBN-13: 978-0061173936
Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.3 inches
Release date: 2009-MAR-03
Pages: 304
Cost: List: U.S. $25.00. Amazon.com sells it at 34% off for $17.15. They also often sell used copies at a very low price. Review / order it

2009-July's selection:

"Evolutionary Creation" by Denis O. Lamoureaux

Review / order it

Amazon.com's review:

"In this provocative book, evolutionist and evangelical Christian Denis O. Lamoureux proposes an approach to origins that moves beyond the evolution-versus-creation debate. Arguing for an intimate relationship between the Book of Gods Words and the Book of Gods Works, he presents evolutionary creation -- a position that asserts that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained and sustained evolutionary process. This view of origins affirms intelligent design and the belief that beauty, complexity and functionality in nature reflect the mind of God. Lamoureux also challenges the popular Christian assumption that the Holy Spirit revealed scientific and historical facts in the opening chapters of the Bible. He contends that 'Scripture features an ancient understanding of origins that functions as vessel to deliver inerrant and infallible messages of faith'."

"Lamoureux shares his personal story and his struggle in coming to terms with evolution and Christianity. Like many, he lost his boyhood faith at university in classes on evolutionary biology. After graduation, he experienced a born-again conversion and then embraced belief in a literal six-day creation. Graduate school training at the doctoral level in both theology and biology led him to the conclusion that God created the world through evolution. Lamoureux closes with the two most important issues in the origins controversy: the pastoral and pedagogical implications. How should churches approach this volatile topic -- And what should Christians teach their children about origins?"

About the author:

Denis O. Lamoureaux is Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St. Joseph's College, at the University of Alberta, in Canada. He holds doctorates in dentistry, theology and biology.

Book data:

Title: "Evolutionary Creation"
Author: Denis O. Lamoureaux
Format: Paperback.
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
ISBN-10: 0718891910
ISBN-13: 978-0718891916
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.3 inches
Release date: 2009-MAR-01
Pages: 493
Cost: List: U.S. $62.50. Amazon.com often sell used copies at a lower price. Review / order it

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Copyright 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-AUG-02
Latest update: 2009-AUG-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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