The Monitor's Guide to Religious Bestsellers

The Monitor's quarterly review of the bestselling 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. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE CHRISTIAN SOUL, Health Communications, $12.95

The kettle of nourishment of this good-news series continues to cook in the latest effort to feed the hungry soul of America. Serving up the tried-and-true recipe of past 'Chicken Soup' bestsellers, the co-authors (both motivational speakers) dish up 101 stories of tangible good for the purpose of healing the heart. Pared from 7,000 submissions, the list includes such notables as Corrie ten Boom, Norman Vincent Peale, and Dick Van Dyke. But the real kernel of appeal comes in the form of everyday people weaving selfless acts of Christian love and kindness into one another's lives, offering tangible proof of goodness in a battered world. By Jim Bencivenga

2. Chicken soup for the teenage soul, Health Communications, $12.95

101 stories and poems by and about teenagers bear witness to the power of love to transform lives. Some stories are joyous, some sad, but most emphasize that our choices and actions make a huge difference. Tales range from the story of a boy who communicates with dolphins to a girl who saves her friend from suicide. Most of the accounts are touching and motivational, not sentimental or preachy. A few stories get bogged down in sorrow, and some of the poems are trite, repeating often-heard sentiments, but overall, the book is uplifting and shows teens and their parents and friends progressing beyond limitations and flaws. By Juniper Remmerde

3. LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead, $20

The author, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, explores parallels he finds between Buddhism and Christianity. The main point of comparison is the Buddhist practice of "mindfulness" and the Christian experience of the "Holy Spirit." Although some conclusions might displease followers of either tradition, the book is an enlightening view of an effort to understand and appreciate Christianity. The concluding statement captures the spirit of his message: "True understanding comes from true practice. Understanding and love are values that transcend all dogma." The book also gives insight into a Buddhist monk's life. Glossary included. By Clare Turner

4. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE WOMAN'S SOUL, Health Communications, $12.50

Do women, more than men, 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"? 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

5. 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


Aging is the topic of Barbara Johnson's latest bestseller and is "for women only" - men can't read past Page 13, she says. This latest work by her offers anti-aging remedies for the "chronologically gifted." These include laughter and risk-taking. As with her other books, this one is a collection of short pieces in Johnson's characteristic homespun style, combined with sections of inspirational quotes from such literary luminaries as Isaiah, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dave Barry, and Erma Bombeck. Less fundamentalist in tone than previous works, "Living Somewhere Between Estrogen and Death" is also more lightweight. By Yvonne Zipp

7. TRIBULATION FORCE, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, $12.99

This second book (sequel to "Left Behind" see paperback review No. 5 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 antichrist. 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

8. HOW GOOD DO WE HAVE TO BE?, by H.S. Kushner, Little, Brown, $21.95

Kushner's basic premise is that God doesn't expect people to be perfect and loves them in spite of their imperfection. Instead of feeling guilty and blaming others for whatever is wrong in our lives, we should be more Godlike by forgiving our friends, our parents, and our children for their imperfections. Kushner focuses on child/parent relationships using many examples of the forgiveness theory of social interaction. He says things several times in several different ways, and while providing different examples, he is basically saying the same thing. Therefore, the answer to the question posed in the title of the book is: "Very." By Janet C. Moller

9. SMALL MIRACLES..., by Y. Hulberstam & J. Leventhal, Adams Media, $7.95

For those who have wondered how they are often provided with exactly what they need when they need it, this collection of such happenings may be of interest. But the authors, in their short commentaries after the stories, provide little insight into the possible underlying reasons for such events. They suggest that good deeds are rewarded, but the lack of substantive explanations gives the book a flavor of mysticism and superstition. Also, the stories lack real-life vitality as they seem to have been homogenized by the authors, who often don't even give the real names of the originators. By Laura Lipscomb

10. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE MOTHER'S SOUL, Health Communications, $12.95

Is a mother's love constant and unchanging? For many people it is and that's the message of the 101 stories in this book. For anyone who thinks mom's love was less than ideal, these stories offer insights into sacrifices by mothers that often go unseen. While the book is designed for mothers, it is nourishment (though sometimes overly sentimental and focused on medical tragedies) for anyone needing reminders of what selflessness and love can accomplish day-to-day. A mother's love, after all, isn't confined to mothers - not if we learn what she really has to teach. By Debra A. Jones


1. SOURCES OF STRENGTH, by Jimmy Carter, Times Books, $23

"The Laughing Jesus" is the title of one of the 52 meditations on biblical quotations by former President Jimmy Carter. A prolific author and storyteller, he can jest while advocating God's healing love and admonishing that there is no "cheap grace." Decades of teaching Sunday school have made it apparent to Carter that "The presence of God as a guardian and comforter in our lives is something we desperately hunger to believe...." This book seeks to feed that growing hunger.

By Mari Murray

2. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK I, by Neale D. 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

3. BUTTERFLY KISSES, by Bob Carlisle, J. Countryman/Word, $9.99

If you're not familiar with Christian musician Bob Carlisle, then this book probably won't mean that much to you. The book, inspired by his No. 1 song "Butterfly Kisses," features pictures of various fathers and daughters accompanied with short essays on growing up together. But it seems so personal and intimate that the reader is left wondering why he or she should care. It also would have been nice to include the actual CD single with this 64-page book. By Lisa Leigh Parney

4. JUST AS I AM, by Billy Graham, HarperCollins, $28.50

For almost 80 years Rev. Graham has been converting people and this book is certain to reap more. Graham is as objective as one can be in recording his own life. He admits to his own mistakes and failings with an obvious honesty. And he takes responsibility for his actions. Don't be daunted by the 730 page length. If a man can successfully preach for more than 50 years, he knows how to keep an audience. The book is an engaging account of his life. By Janet C. Moller

5. THE GREAT HOUSE OF GOD, by Max Lucado, Word, $19.99

Pack up your bags. Max Lucado is inviting you to move into God's home. In "The Great House of God" Lucado describes a place where "the roof never leaks" and "the foundation never trembles." He says you're always welcome in this home where God is Father and head of the household. The book is filled with simple analogies that liken God's qualities to the structure of a house, using the Lord's Prayer as the blueprint. By Amy Hoyle

6. THE BIBLE CODE, by Michael Drosnin, Simon & Schuster, $25

"The Bible Code" has international intrigue, quasi-supernatural mystery, even a touch of celebrity name-dropping. But none of this eases the strain on the reader's credulity. Michael Drosnin's premise, that scores of prophetic messages are encoded in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, is supported by flawed assumptions and unexplained methodologies. "The Bible Code" sadly ignores the inspiration of the Scriptures in favor of millenarian gobbledygook. By Judy Huenneke

7. NEARER, MY GOD, by William F. Buckley, Jr., Doubleday, $24.95

Matthew (19:24) tells us, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." In this spiritual autobiography, William F. Buckley is the exception to the rule. He makes it appear easy for a child of wealth to thread a path that leads to the kingdom of God. At an early age Buckley's parents taught him the lesson: to be poor in spirit is true wealth and no amount of money can purchase it. His early religious education by Jesuit priests in a private English boarding school solidified the spiritual faith and intellectual curiosity sown by his parents. By Jim Bencivenga

8. NICOLAE, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, $16.95

In this third book of the apocalyptic fiction series (beginning with Left Behind and Tribulation Force - see paperback reviews Nos. 5 and 7 this page) the antichrist figure of Nicolae Carpathia assumes his role as Potentate of the Global Community and continues his takeover of the world. To the Tribulation Force, this appears to fulfill the prophecy from the Book of Revelation. In covering the events around the globe the authors have written too many short scenes that get choppy. If you didn't read the first books you'll find this one filled with plenty of background. One reads this book more from curiousity than empathy. By Janet C. Moller

9. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK II, by Neale D. Walsch, Putnam $19.95

In 1993, Oregon pastor Neale Donald Walsch began the second of three "dialogues with God." In this sequel to his previous bestseller (see hardcover review No. 2 this page), he emphasizes the freedom found in overcoming fear and discusses the nature of mankind (perfect), time (eternal, not linear), and hell (doesn't exist). Some may find the statement that Hitler didn't do anything wrong, because there's no such thing as right and wrong, tough to take. By Yvonne Zipp

10. WORDS I WISH I WROTE, by Robert Fulghum, HarperCollins, $20

Former Unitarian minister Robert Fulghum, known for learning everything he needed to know in kindergarten, has collected a series of thoughts that have inspired his writings since his years in primary school. His sources range from Lao-Tzu, Emerson, Beatrix Potter, and Camus, to Jerry Garcia and are collected into subject headings such as "Begin," "Choose," "Simplify," "Play," and "'Believe." Fulghum shares words that have had a special resonance for him personally, but the reader will certainly find passages of value as well. All profits from the sale of this book benefit Human Rights Watch, a humanitarian organization. By Leigh Montgomery

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