Craig Harline

Craig Harline

Craig Harline is the author of Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary. He teaches European history at Brigham Young University. Learn more about him at

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Why would a former Mormon-missionary want to publish his presumably very Mormon account of his presumably very Mormon mission with Eerdmans?

Or even more to the point, why would venerable old Eerdmans want to publish such a Mormony thing as that?

I can speak only for myself, of course, but I’m pretty sure that the answer to both questions is basically the same, and it’s this: the book is meant just as much for other-believers as it is for Mormons.

If it were more the triumphalist-faith-promoting sort of thing, meant to inspire Mormons and alienate just about everyone else, then I would indeed have sent it to a Mormon-oriented press, where triumphalist-faith-promoting sorts of things about missions have pretty much, well, triumphed.

And if it were more the real-inside-story-about-an-obviously-ridiculous-faith-tradition-by-someone-who-saw-the-light-and-thank-goodness-got-out-just-in-time sort of thing, meant to confirm the suspicions of outsiders and alienate just about all Mormons, then maybe I could have interested one of the really big publishing houses, where real-inside-story sorts of things are pretty much de rigueur.

But my story (and most mission-stories) didn’t feel like it fit either one of those long-prevailing sorts of things. Instead it felt like something that any type of believer (including Mormons), might relate to. And where better to try to reach a crowd like that than Eerdmans?

Ironically, it was being a missionary, and then later a historian of the Reformation, that got me a lot more interested in “relating” to other-believers than in converting them. And for me the best way to relate has always been through sharing warts-and-all faith experiences, rather than talking (arguing) about theology.

There’s nothing wrong (usually) with talking (arguing) about theology, of course. In fact it’s usually what people interested in improving relations between people of different faiths think of doing first, in the hope of finding things you can agree on. But it doesn’t always improve relations, or understanding — and not necessarily so much because the respective parties inevitably won’t agree on everything, but because they still don’t relate to each other as people, or in other words still haven’t really seen themselves in each other.

My friend David Dominguez, who as an evangelical law professor at BYU knows a little something about interfaith relating, says that even more important than talking with other-believers about theology is walking with them. Sure, walking usually includes talking, but the sort of walking and talking he has in mind is like the sort on the road to Emmaus, which “teaches us to approach each other gently, with the utmost of care for each other’s well-being, . . . matching each other stride for stride, doing all we can to catch up with the hope and despair we all experience in the practice of Christian faith. Only after we have traveled miles together and given each other time to tell the whole story can we open up the Word in the here and now, among real brothers and sisters, rather than engage in debates over abstract doctrine.”

I think I’d be totally onboard with a rule that says, “No talking (arguing) about theology (or politics or anything else) until you’ve shared enough of your warts-and-all story that you can see yourself in the other person — and not just to keep the noise level down or as some polite preliminary to the main show, but because seeing yourself in the other person actually changes the talking (arguing).”

Oh, seeing someone like that wouldn’t solve everything, and maybe wouldn’t bring world peace (actually maybe it would), and you’d still disagree on assorted things.

Way Below the Angels

Way Below the Angels

But you’d disagree now with empathy and informed understanding, instead of mistrust and suspicion.

And you’d try your darndest to characterize the views of the other person fairly, instead of carelessly or distortedly.

And you’d stop reducing that person to simply a member of a group.

And you’d be happy instead of alarmed about what you had in common.

And you’d be open to learning things from another person’s tradition that aren’t in your own.

And when you saw things in the other person’s tradition that seemed obviously silly and merely culturally bound, you’d be more willing to reflect on things in your own tradition that were very possibly of the selfsame ilk.

But again most of all you’d be inclined to see that other person as someone basically like you, rather than as someone basically not.

Of course some people don’t want to see themselves in the other, like congregants in the Reformation who complained when their preachers didn’t rail enough against enemies of the faith: they needed those enemies in order to define themselves! And, in fact, once you start seeing yourself in someone, it’s hard to go back, because it’s interesting, and comforting, and satisfying.

Eerdmans already has plenty of warts-and-all books that offer even former Mormon-missionaries the chance to see themselves in unexpected others — like Lamin Sanneh’s Summoned From the Margin, or Rembert Weakland’s A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, or Dorothy Dickens Meyerink’s Ministry among the Maya. Books like these even made me think that maybe others would see themselves in my story too — see the humanness in Mormon missionaries, instead of the usual angelicness, demonicness, roboticness, or (thanks to the musical) moronicness.

And I’m glad Eerdmans seemed to see that too.

Click to visit Craig Harline’s website or to order Way Below the Angels

Welcome once again to Eerdmans All Over, a Friday roundup of all the Eerdmans-related news, reviews, interviews, and other interesting online content we can gather in a given week.

Recent Releases


Study Guide for Inspired
Jack Levison and Ronald Herms


At the Limits of the Secular: Reflections on Faith and Public Life
Edited by William A. Barbieri, Jr.


News from Eerdmans . . .

  • We launched the trailer for Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips on our YouTube channel, starring Kylie Groot as Laura.
  • Congratulations to the winners of our poster giveaway! Each winner will receive one of the beautiful original posters from Melissa Sweet — but if you didn’t win this time, don’t fret! We give away more swag every month! And the winners are…
    • Brianna D.
    • Lee C.
    • Laura N.

. . . and elsewhere.

Have we missed any news, reviews, or other online miscellany dealing with Eerdmans or EBYR books or authors from the last week? Please let us know in the comments. You also can post items on our Facebook timeline, mention us on Twitter (@eerdmansbooks or @ebyrbooks), or write to us directly:

Daniel Migliore

Daniel Migliore

Daniel L. Migliore is Charles Hodge Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, and author of Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, the third edition of which will be released next month. 

* * *

While exploring selected churches in Switzerland with noteworthy early medieval frescoes this past June, our little group spent a morning in Sils-Maria, a charming little village where Friedrich Nietzsche spent his summers from 1883 to 1888. The town is near St. Moritz, a region of breathtaking beauty, and it is easy to understand why Nietzsche might have found there both solitude and inspiration for his writing. A philosopher of many talents, Nietzsche is of course best known for his story of the madman who proclaims the “death of God” to the amusement and bewilderment of his hearers. Nietzsche’s legacy is still very much alive, as the continuing production of many scholarly articles and books on his philosophy and the recent neo-atheist literature that is indebted to his work attest.

I had a particular interest in the Nietzsche house in Sils because I had just completed an imaginary dialogue between Nietzsche and Karl Barth that is now included in the soon-to-be published third edition of my introduction to Christian theology, Faith Seeking Understanding. Conjuring a conversation between these two chronologically distant and radically different thinkers was no doubt a preposterous undertaking. Nevertheless, it was fun to write, and I hope also both fun and instructive to read.

Faith Seeking Understanding

Faith Seeking Understanding

As readers of Barth will know, he engages with Nietzsche’s philosophy in a long excursus in Church Dogmatics III/2, but of course Nietzsche knew nothing of this and we can only speculate about his possible response. According to Nietzsche, belief in God, especially in its Christian form, is essentially antithetical to human freedom and human flourishing. Barth, on the other hand, presents faith in the God of the gospel as the basis of a new and fruitful human freedom rooted in the “humanity of God.”

In my dialogue I try to avoid giving all the good lines to one of the speakers and reducing the other to a mere foil. My reason for doing so is that Nietzsche’s critique, even if dated, is in some respects devastating, and if I understand Barth’s way of doing theology aright, his response to the atheist challenge is not to try to defeat it by a clever apologetic strategy but instead simply to present as clearly as he can the Christian understanding of God centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture.

It’s altogether possible that readers of the dialogue on my right will think the exercise a failure because Barth does not come away with an obvious victory over the granddaddy of modern atheism. And to my left I can imagine there will be unhappiness that Nietzsche does not triumph over the celebrated theologian who, as many of his critics complain, seems to offer more in the way of preaching than in reasoned rejoinder to unbelief. But if it should turn out that I am wedged between these two responses to the dialogue, perhaps this could be taken as a sign that my conjured conversation is not too far off base.

Click to order the third edition of Daniel Migliore’s Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology.

You probably know that Eerdmans publishes fantastic Bible commentaries. You’re likely aware of our respected theological monographs, our groundbreaking ethics texts, and our library of ministry resources. You may even have heard about our award-winning line of international children’s books in translation.

But did you know that we also publish regional interest titlesArt booksFilm discussion guidesPoetry? Books on Celtic prayer? . . . physics? . . . Fokker airplanes?

Throughout the month of July, we’re celebrating some of the eclectic titles at the fringes of the Eerdmans list as we highlight a different niche collection each Wednesday.

This week we turn our gaze to classical music and musicians. Read on to discover five great books . . .

Visions of Amen

Visions of Amen

Visions of Amen: The Early Life and Music of Olivier Messiaen
Stephen Schloesser

French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is probably best known for his Quartet for the End of Time, premiered in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. However, Messiaen was a remarkably complex, intelligent person with a sometimes tragic domestic life who composed a wide range of music. This book explores the enormous web of influences in the early part of Messiaen’s long life.

The first section of the book provides an intellectual biography of Messiaen’s early life in order to make his (difficult) music more accessible to the general listener. The second section offers an analysis of and thematic commentaries on Messiaen’s pivotal work for two pianos, Visions of Amen, composed in 1943. Schloesser’s analysis includes timing indications corresponding to a downloadable performance of the work by accomplished pianists Stéphane Lemelin and Hyesook Kim.

Playing Before the Lord

Playing Before the Lord

Playing Before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn
Calvin R. Stapert

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) has been called the father of the symphony and the string quartet. A friend of Mozart and a teacher of Beethoven, “Papa” Haydn composed an amazing variety of music — symphonies, string quartets, concerti, masses, operas, oratorios, keyboard works — and his prolific output celebrates both the heights and depths of life.

In this fascinating book Calvin Stapert combines his skills as a biographer and a musicologist to recount Haydn’s steady rise from humble origins to true musical greatness. Unlike other biographers, Stapert argues that Haydn’s work was a product of his devout Catholic faith, even though he worked mainly as a court musician and the bulk of his output was in popular genres. In addition to telling Haydn’s life story, Stapert includes accessible listening guides to The Creation and portions of other well-known works to help Haydn listeners more fully appreciate the brilliance behind his music.

Read a guest post by Calvin Stapert (“Why Haydn?“) here on EerdWord. 

I, Vivaldi

I, Vivaldi

I, Vivaldi
Written by Janice Shefelman
Illustrated by Tom Shefelman

In this dynamic picture-book biography, told as if by Vivaldi himself, the famous musician’s energetic personality and steadfast dedication to music come alive.

Despite his mother’s vow for him to become a priest, young Vivaldi is only interested in music. He soon grows from a feisty boy who wants to play the violin into a stubborn young man who puts his musical training ahead of his studies for priesthood.

Beautiful, ornate artwork portrays the spirit and splendor of Vivaldi’s hometown, Venice. A historical note, musical score, and glossary will help readers more fully appreciate Vivaldi’s life and musical genius.

Handel's Messiah

Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People
Calvin R. Stapert

If you want to enjoy and appreciate Handel’s beloved Messiah more deeply, this informed yet accessible guide is the book to read.

Here you will find fascinating historical background to Messiah, including its unlikely inception, and learn about its reception and impact from Handel’s day to our own. Calvin Stapert devotes most of his book to scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the entire score, demonstrating how the music of Messiah beautifully intertwines with and illuminates its biblical text. Through these pages Handel’s popular and much-loved masterpiece will be greatly enhanced for listeners old and new alike.

Read two guest posts by Calvin Stapert (“Messiah: An Oratorio for All Seasons” and “Early Messiah Reviews“) here on EerdWord.

My Only Comfort

My Only Comfort

My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of J. S. Bach
Calvin R. Stapert

In the history of Western music, J. S. Bach is unsurpassed in mastery of technique and profundity of thought. He was also a devout Lutheran with a broad knowledge of Scripture and theology. Given Bach’s combination of musical prowess, personal devotion, and theological depth, it is not surprising that his music stands unexcelled among artistic expressions of the Christian faith. With the passage of time, however, many of the essential keys to understanding Bach’s music have been lost. My Only Comfort uniquely reconnects modern listeners with Bach’s music, enabling them to listen to Bach with renewed understanding and appreciation.

After an introduction to Bach, his theological knowledge, his musical language, and the various genres of sacred music in his output, Calvin Stapert leads readers through specific works by Bach that express, interpret, and vivify some of the principal doctrines of the Christian faith. For each work discussed, Stapert provides relevant quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism (a novel and provocative approach to the study of Bach), a literal translation of the text set beside the German original, and textual and musical commentary meant to contribute to a more perceptive and devotional listening to the work.

Melissa Sweet poster_1

Click to enter for your chance to win!

As part of the the ALA Annual Conference last month, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers hosted a dinner with Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, the dynamic duo behind both the Caldecott Honor-winning A River of Words and — coming this September — The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.

The dinner went fabulously, not only because librarians are awesome people to hang out with, but also (perhaps especially) because Melissa helped make super cute swag bags for each of the guests. One of the goodies she included in those bags was a custom poster featuring some of her meticulously hand-printed word lists from the end sheets of The Right Word.

Those posters look fantastic. In fact, they look so fantastic that, when we found we had three extras left over after the party, we also found ourselves faced with a major dilemma about what to do with them (because, let’s be honest, the entire staff wants one, and things could get Battle Royale ugly pretty quickly over here). Thankfully, just as we were rolling up our sleeves to arm wrestle for them, someone helpfully suggested that we give them away!

Read on for full contest rules or to learn more about the book behind our prize, or enter now for your chance to be one of three lucky readers to win one of our gorgeous Melissa Sweet posters for yourself.

(Sorry, fellow Eerdfolks: you are not eligible to win, so don’t even think about trying to enter.)


The Right Word

The Right Word

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and used it to organize his ideas and find exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.This book is an inviting, visually engrossing portrayal of Peter Mark Roget and the creation of the thesaurus.

Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

“Sweet envisions Roget’s work as a shadow box crammed with the wonders of the natural world, adorned with exuberant hand-lettered typography. Together with Bryant’s sympathetic account, Sweet’s gentle riot of images and words humanizes the man behind this ubiquitous reference work and demystifies the thesaurus itself.”
— Publishers Weekly (STARRED Review)

“Bryant’s prose is bright and well-tuned for young readers. . . . Sweet tops herself — again! — visually reflecting Roget’s wide range as a thinker and product of the Enlightenment. Injecting her watercolor palette with shots of teal, scarlet and fuchsia, Sweet embeds vintage bits (ledger paper, type drawers, botanical illustrations and more), creating a teeming, contemplative, playfully celebratory opus. In a word: marvelous!”
— Kirkus Reviews (STARRED Review)

This could be you.

This could be you.

Contest Details

To enter, click through to our Rafflecopter giveaway page. You’ll have the option of logging in with Facebook or email; you can then choose from several possible methods of entry. You may use multiple entry methods to increase your odds of winning, and Twitter users may earn additional entries by tweeting about the giveaway each day between now and July 17. 

You must be 18 years or older and a legal resident of the United States to enter. 

The entry period for the giveaway begins at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, July 15, 2014, and ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, July 17. Three winners will be selected at random and notified by email by the end of business Friday, July 18.