The Monitor's Guide to Religion 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 religion and spirituality. Such books, numbering in the thousands, continue to be a publishing phenomenon. Unlike our bestselling fiction and nonfiction pages, this list does not include ratings of the books.


1. JUST AS I AM, by Billy Graham, HarperCollins/Zondervan, $7.99

For almost 80 years, the Rev. Billy Graham has been converting people to born-again Christianity, and this book is certain to reap more converts. 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 captivate congregations 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

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. 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

4. 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

5. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE WOMAN'S SOUL, by Health Comm. $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. 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

6. TRIBULATION FORCE, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, $13.99

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 Nicolae 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

7. 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 from the 101 stories, cartoons, and quotes 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 focused on medical tragedies and overly sentimental) for anyone needing reminders of what selflessness and love can accomplish day to day. A mother's love, after all, isn't confined to mother - not if we learned what she really had to teach. By Debra Jones

8. BUDDHISM WITHOUT BELIEFS, by Stephen Batchelor, Riverhead, $12

Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen and Tibetan Buddhist monk, issues a controversial challenge to traditional Buddhism that critics say dilutes it. He says Buddhism should drop two of its central tenets: reincarnation, or the recycling of beings into another form, and karma, one's individual destiny as determined by a universal law of moral cause and effect. This leaves, Batchelor says, what Buddha originally intended - an agnostic philosophy for individual self-improvement that's based on values such as integrity and selflessness. By Abraham T. McLaughlin

9. I KISSED DATING GOODBYE, by Joshua Harris, Multnomah, $9.99

If you are tired of the dating game, Joshua Harris has some advice to offer - just don't. Remaining God-centered instead of date-centered is the best answer to today's fast sizzling romances, he says. Harris sets high standards for dating that would make even the most pious squirm (the author plans to give his wife her first kiss at the altar). There is some wisdom in this book that challenges young Christians to examine their motives behind dating, but it reads like a long-winded sermon. By Judy Huenneke

10. FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES, by Gary Chapman, Northfield, $11.99

In his latest book, the bestselling marriage counselor teaches couples to speak the language of love (apparently, it's not French). Chapman's theory is that everyone hears "I love you" in a different way. Some people prefer roses, others a back rub or a clean house. Figure out which way works best in your marriage and go for it. One hopes most couples have figured this out by now, but the idea of cherishing one's spouse is certainly to be commended. Plus, the book is written in a warm, unpretentious style that's blessedly free of psychological jargon. By Yvonne Zipp

Hardcover Fiction

1. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK I, by Neale D. Walsch, Putnam, $19.95

Written in a simple, accessible style, this book 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. God is described as an all-good, omnipotent Being, who is constantly communicating with all people. Prayer is described as a process, not a petition. First of three books. By Abraham T. McLaughlin

2. AMAZING GRACE: A VOCABULARY..., by Kathleen Norris, Riverhead, $24.95

Norris's third work on her spiritual journey, "Amazing Grace," springs from the poet's intimate awareness of the power of language to shape lives. This is the deeply moving story of how she reclaimed the once-rejected religion of her childhood by making the sometimes off-putting words of faith her own. She explores their meaning (from "eschatology" and "antichrist" to "worship" and "grace") through stories of daily living and what it means to be an active member of a community of faith. Challenging those who scorn "organized religion," this book is a hymn to the power of the Word and the joy of shared Christian experience. By Jane Lampmann

3. BOUNDARIES, by Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan, $18.99

Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, people need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries in their lives. Having clear boundaries leads to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle, but many people have problems saying 'no' because they don't want to appear selfish; they fear guilt, criticism, and disappointment. Here, Christian psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend provide helpful, biblically based discussions that springboard off a multitude of case studies to which many readers will be able to relate. By Kirsten Conover

4. 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

5. 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

6. 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. 2 and 6 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

7. FINAL DAWN OVER JERUSALEM, by John Hagee, Nelson, $16.99

In the newest of John Hagee's "end-times" books, biblical prophecy is linked to such theological questions as who really killed Jesus. The author sees biblical foreshadowing in American-made Israeli F-16 jets taking out a nuclear reactor in Iraq. The author considers the secret meaning of Israel's seven feasts and how they pertain to us today. Written in an easy to read style, this is a book aimed at fundamentalist Christians and those who would like to know more about this particular view of prophecy and current events. By Michael Born

8. GOD: THE EVIDENCE, by Patrick Glynn, Prima, $22

Conservative political writer Patrick Glynn was raised Roman Catholic but drifted into atheism during college. Now he's back in a religious mode, if not a denominational one, with a feisty rebuttal to the secularizing influence of the natural sciences. There is enough unexplainable order in the universe to prove that "Someone" made it for man. He suggests our mortal minds and bodies are designed to be healthier when we pray to a God. Near-death experiences reveal an afterlife to which Hindus and Christians are welcomed by their own religious figures. By David K. Nartonis

9. THE WEIGH DOWN DIET, by Gwen Shamblin, Doubleday, $21

This diet book is much more about spiritual lifestyle than food choices. While it does espouse a primarily fundamentalist theological view of good and evil, its message of filling one's insides with spiritual strength rather than empty foodstuffs is valuable. It relates compulsive appetite for food to other acquisitive tendencies such as that for money or popularity. Shamblin suggests that greediness, in whatever form it takes, can be replaced with a focus on more substantive spiritual values. Herein lies true reward. By Terry Theiss

10. 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

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