The Monitor's Guide to RELIGION Bestsellers

The Monitor's quarterly review of the best-selling books on religion offers readers a one-stop opportunity to sample popular works that reflect the resurgent interest in things religious and spiritual. Such books, numbering in the thousands, continue to be a publishing phenomenon. Unlike our best-selling fiction and nonfiction pages, this list does not include ratings of the books.

1. TRIBULATION FORCE, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Zondervan, $27.99

This second book (sequel to "Left Behind" see paperback review No. 2 this page) continues the lives of struggling individuals in the newly formed Tribulation Force, those recent converts who were "left behind" in the previous book. Again members of the Force are rallying against the New One-World Order headed by the smooth-talking Nicolai Carpathia, who is actually the Anti-Christ. This second book is well paced but could have been faster if some of the repetitious prophecy and theology had been edited out. By Janet C. Moller

2. LEFT BEHIND, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, $12.99

"Left Behind" provides an interesting alternative to science fiction. The theory put forth by the authors is that the rapture as told in the book of Revelation has occurred. Jesus Christ has come for those who have let him into their lives and taken each to his or her glory in heaven. Call it Bible-or Christian-fiction. The date is the not too distant future. Amazing events take place in Israel: peace and prosperity. The plot and characters are satisfying, and the tone is more fiction than preaching. As the book ends, the reader hopes struggling individuals will succeed in their new mission, to rejoin loved ones taken into heaven. By Janet C. Moller

3. THE CLOISTER WALK, by Kathleen Norris, Riverhead, $12.50

A Benedictine monastery makes a most unlikely residence for a married Protestant woman whose faith was nearly "nonexistent" for two decades. But for poet Kathleen Norris, two extended stays at a Minnesota abbey offer a profound opportunity to "walk" with monks, spending days in continual reading, praying, and singing. Shut off from the world of clocks, work, and sexuality, she gains a deeper understanding of their lives and her own. She discovers that discipline that appears restrictive can produce freedom and finds herself transformed by a willingness "to wait attentively in stillness." By Marilyn Gardner

4. THE OATH, by Frank Peretti, Word Publishing, $23.99

At first glance, this book appears to be a modern murder mystery. Read just a few of its 550 pages, however, and it's apparent the book is actually a simple but unconvincing allegory of good and evil. In Hyde Park, a mining town where a series of grotesque murders takes place, the townspeople fiercely protect their darkest secret: that deep in the woods lurks a man-eating dragon. Only Levi Cobb, the town mechanic who is "full of superstition," is willing to help an outsider investigate the cause of his brother's brutal death. Levi teaches the man that the dragon is sin, and without personal redemption, he says, it will devour everyone in its sight. By Suzanne L. MacLachlan

5. MERE CHRISTIANITY, by C.S. Lewis, Macmillan, $3.95

Originally "informal" radio broadcasts during WWII, "Mere Christianity," is a classic of Christian apolgetics by one of this century's most renowned Anglo-Catholic writers. While bearing no denominational weight, it is widely recognized for its eloquent, analytic, utterly sincere, yet lyrical defense of the evangelizing force of Christianity in individual lives. Lewis convinces that the "still small voice" of God comes as a Christian presence and that no matter how subjective one may think his or her individual consciousness or experience is, at the center of each individual's being is an all-loving divine other. A book to be read throughout a lifetime. By Jim Bencivenga

6. CARE OF THE SOUL, by Thomas Moore, HarperPerennial, $12

Thomas Moore is a psychotherapist with a background in musicology and philosophy who lived as a Roman Catholic monk for 12 years. This background provides insight when reading his unusual hybrid of Jungian theory, classical mythology, and Catholicism. The result is a book on religion where any notion of God is reduced to a footnote. A soul is "not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves," he writes. Moore embraces the idea of predestination; believes in acknowledging the power of violence and evil; and espouses the notion of "polytheistic morality" - a nonjudgmental way of looking at things, where nothing is good or bad. By Yvonne Zipp

7. GOOD GRIEF, by Granger E. Westberg, Fortress, $4.99

A minister who has led many through the process of grieving gently guides readers of this pamphlet-sized book through the "right" way to face life's tragedies - large and small. The book, first published in the 1960s, offers a blend of mainstream Christianity and psychology, walking over the well-tread 10 steps of grief with easy-to-digest metaphors and real-life examples. "Good Grief" speaks to the importance of a mature faith and expressing one's emotions. It's a comforting, afternoon read but not meant to push the theological envelope. By Christina Nifong

8. DAY OF DECEPTION, by John Hagee, Thomas Nelson, $12.99

Founder and pastor of an evangelical ministry in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Hagee seeks to "separate truth from falsehood in these final days." He employs societal commentary in a prophetic tone (see paperback review No. 10). He calls attention to what he feels are untruths in government as well as the American household and criticizes both the Clinton administration and public education. He refers to Biblical passages for making these agencies and institutions better. He views the American family as the strongest bulwark against the erosion of traditional values. He evaluates roles of husbands and wives, suggesting more-positive, concrete selfless actions for each. By Leigh Montgomery

9. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE WOMAN'S SOUL, Health Communications $12.95

Do women need the moving stories presented by J. Canfield, M.V. Hanse, J. Read Hawthorne, and M. Shimoff in this third rendition of the original bestseller "Chicken Soup for the Soul" more than do men? The authors think they do. "Chicken Soup" spreads 101 recipes/images out on the table for the soul to savor. This batch stirs the reader to recognize the hunger women feel to love and to be loved, to experience the higher human ways inspired by goodness. But like its counterparts, this book, perhaps, relies too heavily on positive thinking and not enough on spiritual insight. Spirituality is the more substantial meal women want served. By Mari Murray

10. THE BEGINNING OF THE END, by John Hagee, Thomas Nelson, $10.99

Part of a a growing wave of "end of the world" books, this one by television evangelist John Hagee links today's headlines with what he views as "God's accelerating prophetic timetable for the world, Israel, and you." Opening with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995, and using Bible history and prophecy, Dr. Hagee carefully constructs an outline for the future as he sees it. While well-written, at times the book becomes a bit uneven as it moves back and forth from the Bible to predicted outcomes for Jews, Israel, and the world. Its popularity is clearly connected to growing interest in Christian prophecy. By W. Michael Born

HARDCOVER

1. THE GIFT OF PEACE..., by Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, Looyola Press, $17.95

After being dianosed with terminal cancer, Cardinal Bernardin of the Chicago Archdiocese wrote this book subtitled, "Personal Reflections." He did so in the last two months of his life finishing it 13 days prior to his passing. It reads like a collection of letters to friends and shares the serene state of his thought. It reveals a profoundly spiritual man completely at peace with God and his own conscience, something he wanted to share with all mankind. By Jim Bencivenga

2. THE GOOD BOOK..., by Peter J. Gomes, Morrow, $25

With a scholar's scope, a black homosexual's perspective, and a minister's heart, Gomes presents an "apologia" on the Bible. Although Americans revere the Bible, he says, they really know very little about it. With a good heart, but at times a controversial message, he devotes chapters to the way racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination against women and homosexuals, and preservation of the status quo have been driven and perpetuated by misreadings and abuses of Scripture. But the pastor in Gomes also embraces anyone wanting to know the Bible better, especially "the marginalized and the excluded" who feel, or have been made to feel, that the Bible isn't theirs. By Linda Giedl

3. LIVING FAITH, by Jimmy Carter, Random House, $23

"'Faith without works is dead.' (James 2:26)" reiterates Jimmy Carter in this moving memoir. The door to opportunity very often opens, he has found, through the basement entrance. He avers that such qualities as compassion, forgiveness, brotherly love, and wisdom do dominate the intransigence of inflexible beliefs and their resulting bitterness, that they are key both to family and to nation problem-solving. His account of the negotiations during the Haiti crisis is captivating high drama. By Mari Murray

4. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, by Neale Donald Walsch, Putnam, $19.95

This book is written in a very simple, accessible style. It is based on what the author, the founder of an Oregon based organization called ReCreation, describes as a three-year conversation with God that he transcribed, It contains some substantial insights and flashes of humor. In it, God is described as an all-good, omnipotent Being who is constantly communicating with all people. Most people misunderstand or do not hear Him because they are not willing to listen. Prayer is described as a process of gratitude, not supplication. The book, the first of three, addresses many personal issues from relationships to pay checks. By Abraham T. McLaughlin

5. IN THE GRIP OF GRACE, by Max Lucado, Word, $19.99

The Rev. Max Lucado, minister at Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas, is the author of 17 books and a daily lecturer on a radio program, in addition to being a devoted husband and parent. His latest book is a series of his sermons on the solace and direction that emerges from an unconditional faith in an omnipresent God. Lucado presents comprehensive contemporary examples of the application of traditional morality and Biblical principles, focusing primarily on Paul's Letter to the Romans. The book is designed to be read in small doses, a chapter at a time, with time set aside for contemplative thought. By Leigh Montgomery

6. IF IT'S GOING TO BE, IT'S UP TO ME, by Robert H. Schuller, SF, $22

Dr. Schuller's latest book bursts with exclamation points. "Dare to dream!" he writes. "Unlock your possibility! Be bold!" He exhorts readers to pray by outlining their goals and committing to achieving them, despite any obstacles. The book, based on his "possibility thinking" philosophy, is bolstered by platitudes and anecdotes collected over 30 years of preaching during which he has built California's Crystal Cathedral, the successful "Hour of Power" TV show, and a congregation of some 150 million. By Abraham T. McLauglin

7. THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW, by Philip Yancey, Zondervan, $18.99

Putting aside traditional and popular images of Jesus, award-winning writer Yancey takes us along as he reads the Gospel account for himself. This is no casual journey for someone who believes "what I think about Jesus and how I respond will determine my destiny for all eternity." Since the author is editor at large for the leading Evangelical magazine in America, "Christianity Today," we can assume that the religious thinking of an important group of Christians is illuminated here. Topics covered include birth, teaching, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension. Evangelicals are fortunate to have such an informed and thoughtful spokesman. By David Nartonis

8. GIFT AND MYSTERY, by Pope John Paul II, Doubleday, $19.95

This slim volume written by Pope John Paul II commemorates the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The voice is conversational and intimate, unadorned. It consists of personal vignettes, moral reflections, and pastoral exhortations. He traces his own peak spiritual experiences and honors the spiritual mentors who influenced him on the formal religious path that led him to the pontificate. He examines the motives and values he feels necessary for the priesthood today. Raised by a devoutly religious father after his mother's death when he was 9, this pope early on learned to rely on his church for ultimate meaning, to sustain and be sustained by it. By Jim Bencivenga

9. MAKING LOVE LAST FOREVER, by Gary Smalley, Word, $21.99

This how-to guide resides on the religion bestseller list because strong faith in a loving God is a key part of its premise. Through a combination of psychological counseling and spiritual faith the book promotes a concept Smalley calls, "forever-love" - a deep love-of-life and of one's spouse. Part 1 explains how to fall in love with life and Part 2 focuses very specifically on principles for staying in love with one's spouse. The book is clearly more for those already in relationships than for those seeking them. The concepts - including forgiveness, breaking negative family cycles, and seeking the good in any crisis - are valuable for anyone. By Terry Theiss

10. CHILDREN'S LETTERS TO GOD..., eds. Hample, Marshall, Workman, $6.95

This pint-sized book offers a peek into the questions that fill children's heads about God, the world, and how the two go together. The collection of letters, in the children's own handwriting, is warm and downright funny; light, but also enlightening. They are filled with uncluttered wisdom and honesty, which are the gifts of children, such as "Dear God, Who draws the lines around the countries?" The book is lucid, universal, and nondenominational in its appeal. The colorful illustrations highlight the texts rather than overpower them. Interestingly, many of the questions and comments within may not be unique to children but shared by adults as well. By Joanna Angelides

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