April Staff Picks



The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton



Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI

As we head towards Easter, this is a fantastic series to read. The first volume (of the three volume set) covers the time period from the baptism in the Jordan to the transfiguration, volume two concentrates on Holy Week, while volume three focuses on the infancy narratives. The books scour the gospels to find the true identity of Jesus and paint a compelling portrait of him. You cannot read these books without coming away with a richer and fuller knowledge and picture of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Dr. Heather:


The Courage To Teach by Parker J. Palmer

The Courage to Teach is an insightful, and at times very funny, look at teaching. Palmer presents teaching as he experienced it, and in so doing, gives courage to his readers who have similar experiences.



Preaching from Memory to Hope by Thomas G. Long

In this book Long looks at the necessity of memory and remembering in the context of preaching. He reminds us of eschatological hope, so that we remember that God’s people, the Church, has a past, a present, and a future.



Enchiridion by Epictetus

The title is not the only strange characteristic of this work. Epictetus, influenced  heavily by Stoic thought, here gives us a prescription for living. It suggests (in broad strokes) ways of comprehending what we call “good’ and/or “bad” elements of our lives. It intrigued me, because it offered answers without supplying an easy way out. Yes, you could consult the work for advice in making many decisions; however, its advice will offer you a new way of conceptualizing the problem, rather than providing a solution. It is not an ancient equivalent of a modern self-help guide. The essential distinction Epictetus makes in the work is between that which is within the control of one’s will, and that which is not. We may rightly ask in some cases where that distinction lies. Epictetus would likely respond by saying it is for us to intuit. In that way, this small book only aims to offer pathways to answers. I wouldn’t follow all of the Enchriridion‘s suggestions to their logical conclusions, but as a thought experiment, the work is interesting because of its quirks.



The End of Apologetics by Myron Bradley Penner

Arguing that most examples of Christian apologetics on offer today have been shaped and oriented toward modernity’s obsession with reason as the final arbiter of truth, Penner calls for a new form of apologetics for a postmodern context—apologetics that is both loving in its delivery and faithful in its witness.



Ethics in the Presence of Christ by Christopher J. Holmes

Chris Holmes is a TST graduate currently teaching theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. This is his most recent book.

Rev. Heather:


Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams

Tokens of Trust is a little book that raises big questions. Whether you are looking for a solid introduction to the Christian Faith or working out how to explain your odd choice to spend Sunday mornings in church, this book is well worth the read. Written in Rowan Williams’s unmistakable voice it walks you through the Apostle and Nicene creeds addressing questions of Theodicy (explaining good in the face of evil), exploring the person and significance of Jesus Christ, and looking at where the church fits into not only scripture but the contemporary world. It really is a fabulous read.
March Monthly Staff Picks May (part 1)

Staff picks for March 2014

Here are the Crux Staff picks for March.

Ed: The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott


Cindy: Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter


If you enjoyed Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas then this is the Lenten and Easter devotional for you!  Done in the same format with contributions from a variety of authors (including C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Day, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Madeleine L’Engle, along with many others) the book contains selections grouped around themes such as temptation, crucifixion, resurrection, and new life. This is a beautiful collection that can be returned to throughout the year for spiritual insight and reflection.

Heather W. (The Doctor): Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris


Norris writes books on the spiritual life that challenge me to think outside the box I unintentionally put around spirituality. Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life is an excellent book to pick up for Lent. Norris examines acedia — soul-weariness — and uses this old term to discuss very modern cultural maladies.

Alain: God is on the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Sheila: The Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann

great lent

As usual, I had a hard time picking just one book for March. Allow me, please, to quote from my second choice to explain the first. The Unicorn, Jewel, in The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, upon realising that his company is in Aslan’s Land, cries: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come farther up, come farther in!”  Father Schmemann in his book, The Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, reminds his readers that God is inviting us even now to “come farther up, comer farther in!”  Lent is a time set aside to ponder anew what draws us away from God and to learn again the hope in the mystery of our risen Lord.  For those seasoned in Lent and for those approaching it for the first time, the essays in this book encourage readers to explore more deeply the liturgical tradition as part of our spiritual journey.  A longing to be with Christ is awakened most poignantly and we are called again to worship.

Connor: Lent with Benedict XVI


Carolyn: Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf

In this highly readable book, Volf offers challenging and thought-provoking reflections on forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, and giving. Painful personal stories offer a poignant credibility to his insights. This was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book in 2006.

Andrew: Undoing of Death by Fleming Rutledge


Heather L. (The Deacon): Beloved by Henri Nouwen


Henri Nouwen’s Beloved talks about the transformation of loneliness in his own life and his journey to a life that showed moment to moment what it means to be beloved by God AND it comes with an audio CD of Henri Nouwen himself! A perfect companion for your Lenten disciplines!
February Monthly Staff Picks April

An Interview with the unforgettable Dorothy Cummings McLean


photoPolitics, glamour, romance, terrorists, and a couple of Catholics trying to live their lives in a world that’s gone crazy? Dorothy Cummings McLean’s first novel, Ceremony of Innocence, has it all. This action packed novel takes place in Germany, 2008, and engages the politics of the day while hopping in and out of night clubs with the young and beautiful “Butterfly set.” It meets sweeping theological themes outside of the realm of abstract theology and grounds them in the all too real concerns of an ordinary woman living in extraordinary times – ours. The story is told in the voice of a foreign journalist: a conflicted Catholic with a handsome, younger, live-in (ex)boyfriend, and gorgeous hair. 

Ceremony of Innocence is not your average Christian Novel so it makes sense that when I got the chance to interview its author it wasn’t your average interview. I met Dorothy Cummings McLean – TST alumni and the author of Seraphic Singles – at the AGO where she was planning on spending the day. McLean was born in Toronto not far from the Art Gallery and her identity as a Canadian runs through her novel. We had breakfast at Karine’s (a place any downtown Torontonian should know) and chatted over massive plates of eggs and fruit like old friends. McLean is a captivating conversationalist which isn’t surprising given the dialogue in her book.

During the interview we covered everything from:

1) Influential authors: Graham Greene, Gordan Korman, and how we are taught to write by what we read.

2) Life overseas: culture shock and the unique perspective of a foreigner. Dorothy Cummings McLean is currently living in Scotland but also lived in Germany as a student. interestingly she relies heavily on this experience, even consulting her journals from her time in Germany, while setting the scene in Ceremony of Innocence.

3) The political shifts that have lead to wide spread cultural disenfranchisement the world over: “as if the certainties of their existence has been swept away.”

4) Her first book, Seraphic Singles, and how it has recently been translated into Polish. She will be leading workshops around singleness in Polish in the upcoming months.

5) Scottish Country dancing and the danger of flying into framed pictures of John Paul II if the reels get a little too enthusiastic.

to my favourite:

6) The fact that “even German’s cry when they have to read Rahner in German”

McLean’s action packed novel deals with some very controversial themes but her main hope – “Super old-fashioned and cranky” (her words not mine) as it may sound – is that her readers will come away with a deep sense of sin. For McLean, “remorse comes before the return of the soul to a state of grace,” and this reality permeates the pages of her novel. McLean unapologetically faces big issues head on which makes Ceremony of Innocence definitely worth reading.

Staff Picks for February: One of these things is not like the others!

Here are the Crux Staff picks for February. I’m sure you will love these books! Also, one of these picks is not like the others. See if you can spot the difference –it as a game to help the winter pass more quickly.

Ed: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman


Cindy: Love Alone is Credible by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

What is divine love?  The topic has been explored and written about by a variety of authors, but in his book, Von Balthasar delves into the topic in a deeply insightful and thoughtful manner.  Our understanding of divine love significantly impacts our personal relationship with God and with others.   Read this book carefully, slowly and thoughtfully—you may want to have a reading partner so that you have someone to discuss all the ideas and questions that arise as you read together.


Heather W. (The Doctor): The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

This reflection on the four greek words translated love is thoughtful and well-written. It prompts good thinking on language use as well as on relationships.


Alain: Love & War by John and Stasi Eldredge

(Alain forgot to pick a book for February. We selected this book for him. Aren’t we helpful?)


Sheila: The Communion of Love by Matthew the Poor

In preparation for Lent, I have been thinking about the habits and objects in my life over which I have acquired a certain Gollumesque frame of mind: “These are mine, my precious, and none shall touch them!” Some of these I have long battled with and some are more newly come by.  A friend recommended Matthew the Poor’s (a.k.a. Father Matta El-Meskeen) writings as a way to become open again to Christ’s re-forming me and for me to make God the centre of my life.   Here are some of the subtitles in the chapter on Repentance which drew me into the book: “Repentance can only end in union with God”; “Repentance is constant change”; “Repentance as an actualization of baptism”; “Repentance is a work of grace”.  There are some enticements – for you and for me.


Connor: God Is Love/Deus Caritas Est by Benedict XVI


Carolyn: Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard

Love is so central to the Christian faith that sometimes it may seem that we already know a lot about what love looks like. This book will challenge that assumption. Indeed, Kierkegaard’s examination of the various works of love may cause you to wonder if you will ever be able to come close to loving your neighbour. But it will also fill you with hope in the unfathomable mercy and love of God and the ways in which that love can be manifested in human relationships. The opening prayer sums it up well, “There are indeed only some works that human language specifically and narrowly calls works of love, but in heaven no work can be pleasing unless it is a work of love.” This is my desert island book.


Andrew: The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone


Heather L. (The Deacon): Revelation of Love by Julian of Norwich

Talk about love poetry! This 14th Century classic chronicles the soul’s quest for the divine and is well worth a prayerful read. If you take my advice it goes best with Rouge Provence Rooibos tea and a substantial helping of shortbread. Happy Valentine’s Day Cruxians!


January Monthly Staff Picks March

Possible Gifts for Theologians for Valentine’s Day

Here comes V-Day, where V is for St. Valentine. Hearts and flowers might be traditional, but there are some books that also might fit for Valentine giving. Here are some slightly tongue-in-cheek possibilities, selected by the staff at Crux. (Yes, this is what we talk about in the store.)


Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Reconciliation sounds good for relationships, plus there’s the pink cover. A winning gift for the Barth scholar.


C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. Ok, maybe it isn’t very romantic, but it might be just the thing for the Lewis fan who is single? Maybe?


Sarah Sentilles, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story. Nothing more need be said.


Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages has so many different editions that there is sure to be one for someone you know for V-day. Nothing says love like a gift? Isn’t that a love language?


Yvonne Sherwood, The Prostitute and the Prophet. Because nothing says V-Day quite like Hosea and Gomer?

And finally, the book for all couples on Valentine’s day:


Lewis recommendations

Crux staff picked all C.S. Lewis books to recommend in November. It was interesting that no one picked a Narnia book, or eve the series as a whole — all of us picked essays or other fiction to recommend. In part we were trying to aim to recommend books that people might not have read before. But part of the issue is Lewis wrote a lot of readable insightful prose. Fifty years after his death his essays and fiction are still in print and interesting. Is this only marketing? I’m not sure uninteresting ideas or unreadable prose could survive in such good shape even if well-marketed.

Here are the more theologically inclined works recommended by Crux staff.

Ed’s Pick: Mere Christianity


The print version of radio talks on the basics of the Christian faith. Lewis attempts to get to the bottom of faith and what it means. Remember that he is a literary scholar and philosopher more than a theologian.

Cindy’s pick: Reflections on the Psalms


I’ve not read this one, but Lewis is a published poet, so I’m interested to see what he’s got to say on Hebrew poetry.

Conner’s pick: The Problem of Pain

the-problem-of-pain-weeping-cs-lewisI’ve heard people compare this work unfavourably with Lewis’s later book on grieving, A Grief Observed. The earlier book wasn’t meant to be a reflection on feeling pain, but thoughts on the fact that pain exists in the world. A Grief Observed is not a book of thinking as much as a book of feeling.

Next: Staff recommendations that are stories or about stories.

Books We Probably Should Have Read By Now

The other day I was lurking on the internet and found a post called “12 books we’re all meant to have read but probably haven’t.” I enjoyed reading the list and noting the books on it that I HAVE read, but, sadly, I’ve read fewer than half of the listed books. I’ve heard of them all, and mean to read most of them. Someday. Inspired by this general list, I asked some friends who’ve done seminary studies for thoughts on 10 Books Seminary Students and Graduates are Meant to Have Read — But Probably Haven’t. Here’s our list. Feel free to add titles in the comments.


1. The Bible. Lots of dipping in to the Bible happens, but how many have actually read the whole thing?

Lewis Mere Christianity

2. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is one of the most famous apologetics books. We’ve all heard of it, and may even have it on our shelves, but have we read it?


3. The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo. Bits of this book are often assigned reading, and it is often referred to, but read it? All of it? True confessions time!


4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is the source of the phrase “cheap grace” but how many have put the phrase in context?


5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is the Big Russian Novel most often referenced in seminary. Read it? Or is it on your to be read pile still?

city of god

6. City of God by Augustine of Hippo. Everyone expects seminarians to know the main point of City of God, but how many people have actually read this huge book?


7. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Like Augustine’s City, the main thread of Bunyan’s classic allegory is often referenced, but seldom read. There are lots of children’s adaptations, so perhaps it is easier to fake not reading this book.


8. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. A devotional classic that lots of people talk about, but I don’t know very many people who’ve actually read it.


9. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This is a more recent book, but it has never gone to paperback as the hardcover book sells so well. This is a book often referenced in spirituality classes. The title sounds good, but do we really celebrate discipline?


10. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Often referenced in pastoral ministry classes, this book has an idea that people talk about a lot, but has that idea been read in context?

Unity and Disunity: Talking with Ephraim Radner

There is something intimidating about having to climb up on a step, steady oneself against a wall, and perform impressive feats of acrobatics to buzz into an office. It may be fitting when the buzzer marks the entrance to the offices of contemporary theological giants like Chris Seitz, Terry Donaldson, and Ephraim Radner but it is not particularly encouraging. Not that I am complaining – heaven forbid – I was given the incomparable opportunity of interviewing the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner for the Crux books blog about his most recent publication: A Brutal Unity. How lucky can a girl get?

eradner_thumbnailA Brutal Unity is a smart book that isn’t an overly difficult read. It connects theology with ground level practice making it worthwhile for anyone with any connection to any church, whether they have pretensions to Academia or not. The main thrust of A Brutal Unity is a reframing of the way we look at Christian Unity. It posits that Christian Unity should be viewed not as consensus but as something else:

… oneness of mind is received through having the “mind of Christ,” which is the one who gave up the form of God for that of a slave and emptied himself into death. Paul’s words do not constitute a denial of God, but point instead to a suffering of the contradiction between obedience in unity with the world that is filled with “tribulation” and seemingly mastered by one who is not God (cf. John 16:11,33). And it gives rise to the exalted life of God’s redemption. (P. 446)

His arguments are fleshed out by case studies that ground his assertions in the practical, historical life of the church as the body of Jesus Christ. For Radner unity is not about consensus but about the giving up of self. But, enough of my summaries! Let’s see what Professor Radner himself had to say:

I suspect that the best way to start is to outline a little bit about what the book says: would you mind briefly outlining your argument?

bunityThe book itself is about decision making and what it means to come to decisions in the church. Disagreement – disunity – have historically been literally murderous and resulted in incredible offenses. This book is about exploring why the concept of consensus as unity hasn’t worked out. Firstly, it is not what Christian Unity is in the scriptures and indeed consensus as a response is wholly inadequate to deal with the problems of the church. What therefore is adequate? The whole notion of self sacrifice as that upon which unity can be founded comes down to accepting some disagreement as part of unity. This forms the ground, bound up in failures of the Christian church, of a discussion on church unity. The liberal polity and its processes of decision making are necessary and important but utterly inadequate.

I read this book as hopeful, as a fresh way of looking at the church that has the potential to heal some of the violence and incongruities between what the church is called to be and how it plays out on earth, but I have heard some other opinions on the matter. Mainly, that it is a little negative – a little brutal – they say that the church cannot help but be a witness to Christ’s Gospel even in its fragmentation because that very brokenness displays God’s love for his broken people. How would you respond to this Hosea-esque argument?

You’re quite right that some people think [A Brutal Unity] is bleak and depressing and that it misses the mark of what the church is trying to do. One way I would respond to these arguments is that the proof is in the pudding. If it is such a witness to Christ’s love for his people then how come so much of the violence in the history of the church can be traced to disunity? That sort of thinking is problematic in terms of witness. Outside of the church, I have never heard someone articulate that disunity is something to be admired. No one has ever been converted by such a vision: it is always a “despite” rather than a “because of.” Disunity is deeply destructive. Some people think, “Hey – it is 2013 in Canada. We’re not killing anybody now. We are just a nice reflection of the liberal state with its multitude of members,” but that is just a political means of avoiding what the church is claiming. But that is wrong. Division has become benign. Many of the examples I use in A Brutal Unity are from the 21st Century like Burundi or Rwanda (which was virtually in the 21st Century). BUT CANADA we claim! Is our benign acceptance of division blinding us to what we are complicit in? I understand why people would find A Brutal Unity bleak – a lot of that may come down to tone – but I meant it as hopeful, like you said. I meant it as a realistic hope that is grounded in the gospel.

You are clearly engaged with this issue beyond an academic relationship – can you walk us through some of the cumulative experiences that went into, not only the content, but the decision to write this particular book?

I talk about some of them in the book. The African stuff is a clear example of not looking at a distance but being engaged. It was an eye opener for me when Rwanda was happening and Burundi came directly after. That was in 1994. I was in Connecticut. It was an interesting perspective to see these concerns vis a vis the church. I wrote to people: my own denominational leaders, the Vatican, etc. Everyone just kind of looked on. When the extent of the horrors of Rwanda dawned on people – not Burundi’s civil war, mind, but the Rwandan genocide – the world turned and all of a sudden it became the main issue on the world stage. Every one rushed in. It got all this political attention, which was good. Don’t get me wrong it was good it got attention. But, this was not a surprise. The world acted like it came out of nowhere but Burundi in ’72. Look at Rwanda in the ‘50s! it was obviously not to the same extent at that point but what happened in Rwanda was not a surprise. The churches – and this is my point – the churches have nothing to say about it. While it was happening, the Pope was meeting with African Bishops, it came up in passing in their meeting. They mentioned it and then just kind of moved on… So there’s that.
But you are asking me, personally? Within the Anglican Communion thing began to fall apart; the Episcopal church, the happenings in the late 90’s, Gene Robinson as Bishop, etc. all these things are happening and meanwhile they’re still fighting away in Burundi. All these things, all these divisions in the communion, were not separate things. They are not separate things. They are related… and not in a genetic way. The council meeting in 2007? It was a charade. All that happened there is consistent with other things that were happening. Anyway – it all fit.

In typical Radner fashion, he indicated that he had answered the question as fully as possible by throwing his hands up in a gesture of humble admission: “that is just the way it is.”

This book doesn’t stand on its own – there have been a lot of comparisons to your earlier book, The End of the Church – have your views changed between the two books?

My views have changed. Particularly around the theology of division and how we understand a good God, who is indeed good, in relation to Christ’s body, the church, as it is. It is about looking at reality and trying to understand what it means. You have to look at theology in history. Actually having to live a certain way through time. It is about what people do instead of why they do it. The first book was about the peculiar reality of the Reformation at least for the Western Church. I still think its key but the issues of unity are more deeply embedded than that. The current book – A Brutal Unity – deals with Jews, heresies, councils of the church, and things that are problematic to understanding unity and have always been so. They are temporally perduring [lasting through time – I had to ask what it meant] because unity is given not in a moment but in Christ’s self giving to the church in every moment witnessed to only in moments. Appearing to us in structured entities not because that is the way it has to be but because that is the way it is.

And finally, what comes next? Do you have a project you’re working on already?

I am working on some things. I’m working on a book about the character of scripture in terms of ontological character of its words. Another – a bigger thing – that I am working on is a book about what it means to be a creature created by God. The second one will engage the content of A Brutal Unity. There a lot of claims on what it means to be a created thing especially around learning – mainly implications from a Christian perspective and I want to explore that a little bit.

And I’m sure – if you are anything like me that you can’t wait to see where that exploration leads.