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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 recent publishing phenomenon. Unlike our best-selling fiction and nonfiction pages, this list does not include ratings of the books.


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1. 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

2. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL, Health Communications, $12

Best swallowed in small doses, this collection of sometimes moving stories by Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen illustrates how human optimism, goodness, and love can make bad situations better, and occasionally even heal them. These anecdotal tales will give those hopeful about the human race a sense of vindication and may even make the hearts of a few skeptics melt. This book is well-meaning and well-executed. Most readers will be lifted by some of its content, and some by most of it. Others will consider that it attributes too much power to positive thinking and will look in vain for a theology behind these carefully crafted stories. By Tony Lobl

3. 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

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

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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

5. 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

6. JOSHUA, by Joseph Girzone, Scribner, $9

Are the churches ready for a lecture from the Saviour? This book gives one. The setting is Auburn, a modern-day Everyman-village, where a reclusive carpenter lives. He denigrates traditional religious hierarchies and encourages the individual to look heavenward on his own for God. In simple and sturdy prose, the author, a retired Roman Catholic priest, gives an account of the ideal life. The Saviour ought to get a better deal, a better hearing on earth today. The central theme is a variation on the golden rule, saying: "Treat that stranger the way you would be treated, or you might miss the adventure of a lifetime. Doing this is saying 'Hello!' to your true self." By Mari Murray

7. 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

8. 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. Based on the ending, there will likely be a sequel. By Janet C. Moller

9. WHERE ANGELS WALK, by Joan Wester Anderson, Ballantine, $12

This collection of narratives compiled by Joan Wester Anderson is about spiritual occurrences in the lives of more than 50 contributors. Motivated by an experience in her own family, Anderson has collected these accounts from individuals of many denominations who testify of mental and physical healings, however large or small, brought about by a divine messenger or angel. Each chapter is preceded by a Biblical passage or quote pertaining to the concept of angels by a well-known author or poet. This book is a pleasure to read and share, its well-selected typeface complementing these views of spirituality in everyday lives. By Leigh Montgomery

10. THE HIDING PLACE, by Corrie Ten Boom, Bantam, $5.50

Re-released after its first printing 25 years ago, the Hiding Place has two definitions: the place where Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews in German-occupied Holland during World War II and the place where God hides you when the atrocities of the world become overwhelming. Ten Boom takes the reader through all of her hardships - the death of almost every single family member and her experience in a concentration camp. It is her reliance on God and unwavering forgiveness of those who wronged her, she says, that pulled her through to her release. Her story is about the ultimate faith in victory from the depths of despair. By Debbie Hodges


1. 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

2. 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

3. 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

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

The Rev. 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

5. HIS HOLINESS, by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, Word, $27.50

This biography of Pope John Paul II outlines the role of the Polish pontiff working with the United States to bring about the fall of communism in Poland. Fifteen meetings with the late CIA director William J. Casey were held at the Vatican in the mid-eighties in efforts to demonstrate the United States' resolve in effecting this great political change. These meetings, Bernstein and Politi contend, forged a "holy alliance" that would provide the pope with information from the CIA relevant to Poland and matters pertaining to the Vatican. Bernstein and Politi effectively articulate the role of religion and the influence of John Paul II on significant changes on the world stage. By Leigh Montgomery

6. GOD'S INSPIRATIONAL PROMISE BOOK, by Max Lucado, Word, $12.99

So "You've turned your back on the noise and sought his voice," postulates Max Lucado in his book of informal Bible lessons (from New Century Edition). The book is handily parsed into 10 sections: Inspirational Promises to Give Insight, About God, About Christian Living, Of Guidance, About Personal Relationships, Of Wisdom, About Jesus, When You Have Special Needs, Of Assurance, About The Christian Life. Although the author equates God with mystery, and says that we can't make a science out of worship, the lessons within these gilt-edged pages nevertheless resound with the facts that God is, and that His is a practical presence. By Mari Murray

7. 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 though not repretitive, he is basically saying the same thing. Therefore the answer to the question posed in the title of this book is: Very forgiving. By Janet C. Moller

8. 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

9. GENESIS: A LIVING CONVERSATION, by Bill D. Moyers, Doubleday, $29.95

The book jacket lists Bill Moyers as the author. Actually, the book consists of transcriptions of the conversations that were used in the television series hosted on PBS by Moyers. Moyers skillfully draws out insights from his distinguished panel. The conversations are intriguing and engaging. Readers may find themselves arguing with the participants, or nodding in agreement. Though the discussions are certainly a glorious intellectual feast, it is possible to lose the essentially religious message of Genesis in a fascinating (or is it bewildering?) analysis of the Scripture's levels of meaning (some levels of which its authors surely never intended). By Judy Huenneke

10. IN MEMORY'S KITCHEN, by Car De Silva, ed., Jason Aronson, $25

During World War II, the starving women of Terezn concentration camp tried to augment their constant hunger with potato peelings and fantasies. Called "cooking with the mouth," the Jewish women would discuss in minute and loving detail the correct way to prepare dishes many of them would never eat again. This cookbook was smuggled out of Terezn and was a final gift from Mina Pchter, who died in Terezn in 1944, to her daughter, Anny, in the US. The recipes enclosed are less remarkable than the unthinkable circumstances under which they were compiled. By Yvonne Zipp

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