Dr. Catherine Hamlin, with John Little
Kregel Publications,
320 pp., $15.99

Stories of Changed Lives

In this moving memoir, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Catherine Hamlin (called "the Mother Teresa of our age" by The New York Times) details the astonishing work she and her husband, Reg, have accomplished in Ethiopia. They and their team have restored the health of more than 25,000 women who were social outcasts because of crippling injuries from obstructed labor (fistula).

"Imagine the suffering these women endure," Hamlin pleads—and, through her eyes, we can. The medical descriptions are not for the faint of heart. The book is a memoir, with details of Hamlin's family history and everyday life in Ethiopia. But the best moments in the book are the stories of how treatment changed the lives of otherwise despairing women.

The stories become all the more poignant when Hamlin makes us aware that most women with fistula can be helped at a cost of only about $300.

Rich in detail, full of jarring contrasts (wealth and poverty, for example), and profoundly inspiring, this is missionary memoir at its best. Be warned: You'll be moved to open your heart and your wallet.

THE LAST WORD AND THE WORD AFTER THAT: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity
Brian D. McLaren
224 pp., $21.95

Rethinking Hell

Brian McLaren, the premier teacher of the emergent movement, concludes his fictional trilogy with a work that grapples with difficult questions about hell and universalism.

In extensive introduction and endnotes, McLaren adds context to the story, saying he is "more interested in generating conversation than argument, believing that conversations have the potential to form us, inform us, and educate us."

The dialogue-heavy narrative is less good fiction than the theological wrestlings of pastor Dan Poole, who once again turns to his old friend and spiritual mentor Neil Oliver ("Neo") for advice and direction.

Oliver tells him, "The point is not whether there is a hell: the point is God's justice." McLaren's characters vigorously take on the Calvinist doctrine of predestination but discuss homosexual unions with compassion.

McLaren's story includes a brief historical overview of hell and half a dozen pages of Scripture verses with short commentary on the subject. The story ends with a vision of what the Christian community might become: catholic (ecumenical), missional (focused on the good of the world), and monastic (defined by practice) faith communities.

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McLaren's deliberations are sure to "generate conversations," and, despite his wishes, probably a few arguments.

JOY AT WORK: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job
Dennis W. Bakke
314 pp., $24.95

Revolutionary Workplace

A common mantra of the corporate world is that everyone has unique, valuable contributions to make. So why do our large organizations do so little to call them forth? Dennis Bakke, known for his highly unconventional workplace culture as the former CEO of AES Corporation, offers a model of what companies in the 21st century can aspire to.

"We have made the workplace a frustrating and joyless place where people do what they're told and have few ways to participate in decisions or fully use their talents," he writes. Bringing joy to work means giving people the freedom to use their talents and skills without being crushed or controlled by autocratic supervisors, he believes.

Bakke's Christian faith bids him to emphasize that the values guiding the company must be genuine—lived because they are right, not because they may make money. Mixing personal anecdote and business principles, he challenges organizations to stop dividing personnel into management and labor.

Bakke's occasional excess of corporate detail feels superfluous, but he shines when using concrete examples that are applicable.

LIVING TOGETHER: A Guide to Counseling Unmarried Couples
Jeff VanGoethem
Kregel Publications,
208 pp., $12.99

Living with Cohabitation

With 4 million couples in America cohabiting—and perhaps as many as 60 percent of married couples living together before marriage—it is not only pastors and counselors who come face to face with tough issues. Should couples living together expect those in their faith communities to overlook this situation, or expect a pastor to perform their wedding ceremony?

Jeff VanGoethem, a pastor and adjunct instructor at Lincoln College in Illinois, urges couples to rethink the lifestyle of cohabitation and offers specific advice for churches to respond to these couples.

VanGoethem looks at why couples cohabit. He then offers a defense of marriage and the importance of covenants, with a brief historical overview. "Cohabitation 133; is a form of bondage that, in the end, robs people of God's best," he writes.

Does living together before marriage contribute to a successful relationship? First-time cohabiting couples who marry each other, he says, are twice as likely to divorce in 10 years as noncohabitors.

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Pastors may find the sample counseling and church policy regarding cohabitation in the appendixes worth the price of the book.

Cindy Crosby is the author of By Willoway Brook: Exploring the Landscape of Prayer (Paraclete, 2003).

Related Elsewhere:

The Hospital by the River is available from and other book retailers.

The Oprah Winfrey Show did a segment on Catherine Hamlin and her work in Ethiopia.
More about the Hamlin Churchill Childbirth Injuries Fund is available from their website.

The Last Word and the Word After That is available from and other book retailers.

More about the New Kind of Christian trilogy is available from
McLaren is a columnist for our sister publication, Leadership Journal.
Reviews of McLaren's earlier books include:
The Virtue of Unoriginality | The old kind of Christian is the best hope for church renewal. (April 04, 2002)
The Postmodern Moment | Are Christians prepared for ministry after modernism's failure? (June 18, 2002)
A Story Darwin Might Love | Brian McLaren's evolutionary interpretation of the faith promises more than it delivers, but what it delivers is good enough. (April 14, 2003)
A Newer Kind of Christian | Brian McLaren's sequel to A New Kind of Christian touches other tenets of faith. (March 26, 2003)

Joy at Work is available from and other book retailers.

More about Dennis W. Bakke and his book is available from the Joy at Work website.

Living Together is available from and other book retailers.

More information is available from the publisher.

Books & Culture Corner reviews books each week. More reviews and interviews are available from our Book page, as well as our 2004 Book Awards page.

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