God in Dispute
"Conversations" among Great Christian Thinkers
Roger E. Olson (Baker Academic)

Few scholars possess the creativity, historical breadth, and theological acumen to pull off a volume like this. If Roger Olson's fictionalized discussions occasionally reveal as much about his own views as those of other Christian thinkers, then the excellence of his unusual survey of church history can be his excuse. Quotes like this one, from Luther to a roomful of Reformation-era leaders, keep the reading fun: "Stop quarreling, people. All that is really needful or helpful is for all of you to agree with me!"

The Karma of Jesus
Do We Really Reap What We Sow?
Mark Herringshaw (Bethany House)

As our country's religious topography diversifies, we might expect to see more pastors borrowing concepts from popular alternative spiritualities. Mark Herringshaw's extended gospel presentation gets bogged down at times. But his subversion of karma is intriguing and his theological rewording faithful. He offers a new kind of apologetic, one based less on rationalistic arguments than on re-inhabiting sacred territory.

Pure Pleasure
Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?
Gary Thomas (Zondervan)

It's a sin not to have fun. A daily latte is money well spent. God delights in our enjoyment. If such statements spark a twinge of guilt, Gary Thomas wants to set the record straight. Written in his warm, personal style, Pure Pleasure reminds readers that pleasures can point to God rather than compete with him, and that God himself can become our highest joy. Others have written in this direction, but Thomas takes us further into a lifestyle of purposeful, holy enjoyment.

—Books reviewed by Madison Trammel

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Audio Books

The Screwtape Letters
Focus on the Family/Tyndale Entertainment

This sumptuous audio recording draws out the grand drama of C. S. Lewis's beloved 1942 work by incorporating a full cast, original score, and new dramatic scenes. We observe the daily life of "the patient" as he's harassed by junior demon Wormwood and his uncle, Screwtape (voiced to diabolical perfection by Andy Serkis, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings). Listeners will identify their own struggles and become more aware of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:11-12) as this classic text comes to new life.

—Laura Leonard

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Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving
Authentic Media/Big Idea | Unrated

Though it's not the first Veggie-Tales Christmas special to address the topic of giving, Saint Nicholas offers a fresh approach that's every bit as rewarding as 1996's delightful The Toy That Saved Christmas. When it looks like Laura Carrot's dad may lose his job on Christmas Eve, Bob and Larry tell the story of Saint Nich-olas, whose selfless giving inspired the Santa Claus mythology, and in turn inspires the gang to share with those who need it most. Big Idea is partnering with Operation Christmas Child on this project, benefiting needy children around the world.

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—Laura Leonard

Julie & Julia
Columbia/Tri-Star | rated PG-13 | December 8

A required addition to the list of great foodies—films focused on culinary delights—this scrumptious offering features two of today's finest actresses: Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell. Director Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) brilliantly interweaves stories more than half a century apart. And yes, the food will make you drool. But the nicest thing about this film is that it depicts not just one but two strong marriages, in which the characters clearly honor their spouses and their vows, determined to love through thick and thin.

—Mark Moring

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Sara Groves
Fireflies and Songs

When Sara Groves calls her latest batch of songs "the songwriter's album," she sets the bar high. Known for her emotive discography, Groves's telling pen writes in the vein of plaintive greats like Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin, only with more pointed hope for our present sorrows. Each acoustic-leaning track beautifully exposes the singer's unguarded vocals and equally vulnerable lyrics. With stark confessions like recurring anxiety ("From This One Place") and the tug of war of marriage ("It's Me"), the songstress's melancholic refrains tackle man's worst demons with angelic poise rather than giving in to some woe-is-me campaign.

—Andrew Greer

Paris Keeling
End of Ride Revisited

Paris Keeling's End of Ride flew under the radar when it released in 2006. Now the melodic rock album has been reissued with bonus tracks and remixes. The title track includes a variation on Isaiah 53, "And by his stripes, you are healed," while the rest of the album is a study in contrasts—from the rock star riffs of "Tears of Heaven" and "Head Straight" to introspective acoustic cuts such as "Life" and "She Was." It's precisely when the band dials down the decibels that faithful professions like the gently orchestrated "Free" and the reverential "Morning Song" shine.

—Theodore Thimou

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Various Artists
Music of Grace: Amazing Grace
(Valley Entertainment)

Humpback whales are amazingly graceful, but I never associated them with "Amazing Grace"—until now. Featuring 14 renditions—seven instrumental, seven vocal—of the famous John Newton hymn, this album is a must for anyone who loves the song. Norway's Cecilia brings her lovely soprano to one of the tracks, her vocals interspersed with songs of the humpback—and strangely it works. The album features languages from Gaelic to Cherokee to English, instruments from bagpipe to harp, vocals from soloists to choirs, and moods from mournful to joyful.

—Mark Moring

Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk

Monsters of Folk is kind of like indie rock's Traveling Wilburys—only instead of a roster of classic rockers, they have M. Ward, Jim James, and two members of Bright Eyes (Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst). And instead of old-school rock and pop, they play, well, folk, as well as country, R & B, even a stray Beach Boys homage. What brings their project together is an undercurrent of spiritual questioning: The opener, "Dear God," finds the singers alternating between prayers of faith and confessions of doubt, setting the tone for an album of honesty and candor.

—Josh Hurst

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