The Monitor's Guide to Religious Bestsellers

The Monitor's quarterly review of bestselling religion books offers a one- stop opportunity to survey the resurgent interest in religion and spirituality.

THE PRAYER OF JABEZ, by Bruce Wilkinson, Multnomah, $10.99

Bruce Wilkinson, founder of the Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, is convinced that the prayer of a man named Jabez could change your life - if you're a Christian, that is. Found in I Chronicles, the prayer of Jabez is brief. Wilkinson believes that when this prayer is used daily, it opens the doors to God's blessings. Although it glimmers with moments of inspiration and even aspiration for human life, by packaging those ideas as a strictly Christian ministry, Wilkinson will leave many seekers of faith on the sidewalks of the road he claims to have found. (144 pp.) By Christy Ellington

Audio available

SECRETS OF THE VINE, by Bruce Wilkinson, Multnomah, $9.99

Wilkinson, author of "The Prayer of Jabez," is back, sharing more of his confident Christian faith. By focusing on John 15, in which Jesus speaks of the grapes of the vine, he attempts to show how we can lead more fruitful and abundant lives. He explains that Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches. Wilkinson concludes: If your life isn't bearing fruit, you're sinning, and if you're sinning, you'll be punished. When you commit your life to Christ, the punishing stops, and your life becomes abundant. (126 pp.) By Christy Ellington

Audio available

I HOPE YOU DANCE, by Mark Sanders & Tia Sillers, Rutledge Hill, $13.99

If you've turned your radio on in the last 10 minutes, chances are you've heard "I Hope You Dance," the hit song by Lee Ann Womack. Now, the writers of the song have put the CD single in a gift book, which breaks the song apart, lyric by lyric, adding photos and text. Although the treatment risks overexposure, it is an inspiring song, sung from the point of view of someone who loves you and wants you to overcome every obstacle in your way. A little sappy, but it could still make a good grab-bag gift. (62 pp.) By Christy Ellington

A COMMON LIFE: THE WEDDING STORY, by Jan Karon, Viking, $24.95

Aren't we tired yet of tales of true love? Nope. And neither are the small-town inhabitants of Mitford. Father Tim's congregation joyfully busies itself in preparation for an unexpected wedding feast, when the beloved priest finally gives in to his overwhelming love for a neighbor. The story unfolds in a muddled, happy confusion. The sixth installment in a popular series, the unconventional love story is its saving grace. Sweet, breezy, and unchallenging. (186 pp.)

By Kendra Nordin

Audio available

WALKING THE BIBLE, by Bruce Feiler, Morrow, $26

Considering the bigness of the subject - traveling the entire Fertile Crescent in relation to the first five books of the Bible - you have to hand it to Feiler for getting his arms (and feet) around it at all. His book blends elements of a personal journal, an undergraduate lecture series, a conversation, and a long letter home. It's a multi-layered epic played out in the lives of biblical ancestors, but also in the minds and hearts of a wide assortment of residents, pilgrims, academics, and desert dwellers of the modern Middle East. (304 pp.) (full review May 24) By Linda Giedl

Audio available

THE ART OF HAPPINESS, by The Dalai Lama, Riverhead, $23.95

The purpose of life, says the Dalai Lama, is to seek happiness. This seemingly elementary statement requires strict adherence and mental discipline toward a benevolent, rather than self-centered, happiness. There is great value in reading the basic spiritual values of this unique world figure and Tibetan spiritual leader: human qualities of goodness, compassion, and caring. This book is based on a series of conversations with Howard Cutler, a Phoenix-based psychiatrist. (315 pp.)

By Leigh Montgomery

Audio available

THE MARK, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House, $22.99

Another in the long line of the Apocalypse series by LaHaye and Jenkins. This time, believers and unbelievers in Christ are made to choose "the mark" so they can continue to trade goods in the New World economy. Our friends from the underground rebellion, Tribulation Force, lose members but gain others, one of whom is a computer wizard who can continue to be their mole in enemy headquarters. This book, like previous ones, continues to interpret biblical prophecy for a modern era and pitches the acceptance of Jesus as Savior at every chance. (400 pp.) By Jan Moller

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, by Hans Kung, Modern Library, $19.95

Although it covers 2,000 years of history in just 207 pages, Kung's controversial book will cause a stir. His presentation of the early Church will surprise Catholics unaware that much dogma and many traditions are relatively recent. Kung is a Catholic priest and theologian who played a key role in many of the reforms of Vatican II. He cites authors who compare the Catholic church to a gigantic old tree that may have many dead branches but is still growing. His concision lets the reader grasp his vision of the tree as a whole, while making a strong case for pruning. (207 pp.) By Ben Arnoldy

BUDDHA, by Karen Armstrong, Viking/Lipper, $19.95

"Buddha" is an elegant work that seems destined to become the classic source for anyone delving for the first time into the life and teachings of this religious icon. In a blend of history, philosophy, mythology, and biography, Armstrong not only portrays the tumultuous cultural landscape that helped spawn one of the world's most influential faiths, but she also plumbs the motivations of the man - Siddhatta Gotama - and vividly depicts his quest for transformative enlightenment. (205 pp.) (full review Feb. 22) By Jane Lampman

WIDE AS THE WATERS, by Benson Bobrick, Simon & Schuster, $26

This highly detailed account of the struggle to translate the Bible into English, beginning with Wyclif's work in the late 14th century through the King James version of 1611, and the impact of each version on the political and religious life of England and America, makes a fascinating book. It is the story of the struggle between those in authority and those who would be free to follow an authority they felt to be divine. Readers are rewarded by the story of lives undeterred by difficulty, danger, and depravation in devotion to a cause. (full review at left) (384 pp.) By Paul O. Williams

RELIGIOUS BESTSELLER RANKING FROM PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, JUNE 2001

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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