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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

John: Reformed Expository Commentary (Richard D. Phillips)

TITLE: John: Reformed Expository Commentary
AUTHOR: Richard D. Phillips
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2014.

[Disclaimer: This review is only based on excerpts of the first chapters of the 2 set volume]

Coming in two volumes, the first is based on a series of sermons given at First Presbyterian Church in Coral Springs/Margate Florida as well as at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. The series are based on four presuppositions:
  1. Biblical expositions with careful attention to the texts
  2. Doctrinal commitment to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Cathechisms
  3. Redemptive-Historical Orientation
  4. Practical
Contributors are both pastors as well as scholars, giving the work a respectable academic and research grounding and a pastoral care approach that is practical. Phillips is one such person. The title of the book tells us that the work is based on the Reformed tradition. After a short preface, the expositions read like a sermon given on a typical Sunday. There are plenty of citations throughout with brief illustrations inserted at various points. Unfortunately, I am not able to give a more detailed review of how well the work has accomplished all four objectives listed above. Interested readers will need to find out for themselves how the whole work is able to do that. The work shows some promise, but again with such brief excerpts of the work at hand, I am not able to comment much further.

Rating: unrated


This partial book was provided to me courtesy of P and R Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"A Heart for Freedom" (Chai Ling)

TITLE: A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters
AUTHOR: Chai Ling
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2011, (370 pages).

Mention Tiananmen Square and what comes to mind for most people? Yes. Despite the famous history and the memorable monuments there, Tiananmen Square will always be remembered infamously for the student protest movement in 1989. On June 4th of 1989, the world reeled in shock as they watched the mighty Chinese Red army tanks steamroll the entire student movement, crushing the bodies as well as hopes of many of protesters. In one day, the movement for greater democracy was dismantled. It is one thing for us to watch the pictures on TV and to listen to news reporters giving their observations. It is yet another to hear from someone who was at the heart of the movement, the heat of the crisis, and the head of the student organization leading the protests.  With high ideals and hopes for a better country, Ling and her associates are Chinese patriots who loved the people of China. They stood for Chinese ideals and share the vision of a greater and better China for all. This book gives us a bigger picture and a deeper understanding of the contexts leading to the uprising, the massacres, and the aftermaths of the whole movement. While it is a personal autobiography of Ling, it is also a lens in which outsiders can see the workings and complexities of a growing economic force.

Monday, September 15, 2014

NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible

TITLE: NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible: Experience New Growth and Transformation in Your Spiritual Walk
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (3212 pages).

This is a study-cum-spiritual-renewal Bible. Using the NIV Bible translation as the main text, it is supplemented by devotionals, character profiles, and spiritual discipline profiles. There are articles ranging from Bible study and meditation to worship and stewardship matters. Using various Bible passages to springboard to the articles that help "spiritual renewal," the key feature in this study Bible is in the seven keys for spiritual growth, that undergirds of all these supplementary material.

  1. Seek God and Surrender to Him
  2. See the Truth
  3. Speak the Truth
  4. Accept Responsibility
  5. Grieve, Forgive, and Let Go
  6. Transform Your Life
  7. Preserve Spiritual Gains

Like many typical study bibles, this study Bible begins with a "Big Picture" of each of the 66 books in the Bible. Following which, spiritual themes are drawn from each book. This is followed by some essential facts like date of writing, author, audience, setting, key verses, key events, people, and an outline of each book. The supplementary articles are placed in such a way as to minimize intrusion on the reading and concentration of each Bible reader. The edition I have makes it easy for me to get to the article simply by clicking on a provided link. Unfortunately, while it is easy to get out to the article, it is not so easy to get back in to where I left off. It took me a while before realizing that all I needed to do was to click at the article header to get back to the Bible text. This is valid only if one does not go too far deep into the article and starts clicking on other embedded links to additional articles. If that were to happen, it will be hard to go back to the original Bible text. If only there is some way for readers to know how to navigate efficiently. Maybe, if the click simply opens up a second window, that would make getting back to the text a non-issue. Users simply needed to close the second window and get back immediately to the first window, which is the Bible text. 

Here lies my biggest concern every time one uses a study Bible. The presence of articles, notes, and other miscellaneous sidebars can and will distract readers from the Bible itself. That is why I recommend that serious Bible study must be as note-absent and article-free as possible. Footnotes can also be an unwitting distraction. This is not necessarily the fault of the Bible translators or editors of study Bibles. This is about the weakness of our level of attentiveness. In a clicks-driven and browser-based culture, readers are getting increasingly less patient and more easily distracted.

As for the main feature of the book, "Spiritual Renewal," I ask myself in what way can readers be spiritually refreshed and renewed when they use this study Bible. The devotionals placed in this way work like a mini reflective commentary on the main text. While it may not be a direct exegesis of the text, it helps us reflect on the spiritual theme that can be drawn from the passage itself, much like a mini-sermon with a few pointers for learning. At the end of each book, there is a short commentary on selected passages of the Bible. Though it may not be a verse-by-verse description of what the verses mean, it provides readers with some context to help us interpret the passages. This study Bible is particularly helpful for readers to get some introductory guide to the less known books of the Bible such as the minor prophets, song of songs, and the general epistles.

In terms of layout, the Bible texts are well spaced out and readability is excellent. The red-letter marks helps too. Overall, if readers are thinking of buying this study Bible, I would recommend the printed edition rather than the e-edition.

Rating: 4 stars of 5. (not on the Bible but on the supplementary notes accompanying the Bible)


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers http://booklookbloggers.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Eight Twenty Eight" (Ian & Larissa Murphy)

TITLE: Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn't Give Up
AUTHOR: Ian and Larissa Murphy
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (176 pages).

They were young. They had lots of plans. They were dating. They were in love. Since they met at college in 2005, they were living a fairy-tale dream of a romance. Ten months later on September 30th, 2006, Ian's station wagon was hit by an SUV, with Ian squashed helplessly inside. Just to survive the impact was itself a miracle. While the accident was shocking, the effects of it are far ranging. For one, Ian lost his short term memory. He also lost many of his fabulous ideas for his filmmaking company called Vinegar Hill. Soon, he would require assistance to do the basic things daily, even wearing his own clothes. The accident put their marriage to the test.

This is a book of how they witness God holding them and their fragile lives together as a visible promise as in the famous verse in Romans 8:28 which says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

That is not all. The title of the book does not simply refer to the Bible verse in Romans. It has quite personal significance for the authors too. Ian's dad's birthday was August 28. Ian and Larissa got married on August 28. They felt that God had held them together through eight-twenty-eight.  This book tells their story of how they met. Larissa vividly describes the many details of their dating days, the events leading up to the accident, and a powerful testimony of how Romans 8:28 had worked in their lives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"50 women every Christian should know" (Michelle DeRusha)

TITLE: 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith
AUTHOR: Michelle DeRusha
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (384 pages).

Spanning more than 1000 years starting from the start of the 9th Century, hard choices are made with regards to which women to highlight in this book to be among the "50 women every Christian should know." What makes this book truly personal and meaningful is not what one should know, but who we most connected with. From Europe to India, from Africa to North America, women across various industries have their stories dramatically told as readers are invited to learn about their beginnings, their faith journeys, their struggles, and their accomplishments in society, and especially their testimonies for God through the work they do. Some of the women are well-known figures that most of us will know. People such as Mother Teresa whose work in India is often highlighted as the model for charity work. Or the English mystic, Julian of Norwich whose deep devotion to Christ gives the world a classic work of spirituality through "Revelations of Divine Love." Or Catherine Booth, whose husband (founder of Salvation Army) seems more famous than her, but plays a significant part in the establishment and faith of the world famous organization. There is Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The late Ruth Bell Graham is also selected as one of those women that every Christian ought to know.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Biblical Portraits of Creation" (Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Dorington G. Little)

TITLE: Biblical Portraits of Creation: Celebrating the Maker of Heaven and Earth
AUTHOR: Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Dorington G. Little
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (176 pages).

There are many threats to the biblical worldview of creation. It is not evolution per se. Neither is it the rise of a "theistic evolution" or forms of theories surrounding "intelligent design" that worry the authors. It is none other than biblical illiteracy and a failure to regularly preach and teach on what the Bible says about creation. This is the key reason for this book, to present once again for all believers what God had said about creation and all its related matters. Aptly titled, "Biblical Portraits," Kaiser, who contributes the majority of the material brings us through various depictions of creation through Genesis, Proverbs, Psalms, Job, and Isaiah. Little brings in the New Testament perspective through Matthew and 2 Corinthians, as well as more reflections on Psalms.

Kaiser argues that the wisdom in Proverbs is a personification of God's attributes. God is Creator before all things because only in wisdom is this world created. That means God has the first word before all things. He also describes the two versions of creation, with Genesis 1 providing an overview, and Genesis 2 giving the details that led to the creation of the Garden of Eden and the first couple. Man and woman form the "pinnacle" of God's creative brilliance. Kaiser notes how Psalm 104 reflect on the Genesis creation themes to give us a sense of wonder of how wonderful is God at creating, and our necessary response is none other than worship and praise. Other psalms do the same to create in us a sense of awe. God's works lead us back to God and acknowledging Him as Creator.  Kaiser also reminds us that there are no mortals around when creation was happening. Using Job 38-39 as evidence, the tough questions men have for God are never tougher than the questions God has for man.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Mainliner’s survival guide to the post-denominational world" (Derek Penwell)

TITLE: The Mainliner's Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World
AUTHOR: Derek Penwell
PUBLISHER: St Loius, MO: Chalice Press, 2014, (192 pages).

Many people have talked about dying Churches. Even friends I know have mentioned the decline in their Church ministries or overall numbers each Sunday. The truth is, the Church generally is on a decline. Quoting various statistics to support this claim, Derek Penwell has painted a grim picture of a decline across all mainline denominations. So much so that many churches are asking how much longer their congregation is going to last. While acknowledging the negativity about the future of the mainline Church, Penwell prefers to adopt a hopeful posture. If someone is suffering from Stage IV cancer, what would we do? Would we drown ourselves in discouraging that person, or would we stand up to fight to the very end? Using this metaphor for the declining Church, the purpose of this book is to read the situation appropriately and make the best out of whatever remaining years ahead. It is not about anticipating death. It is about surviving through the years when alive. Penwell, author, speaker, and senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) writes this book about hope in the midst of hopelessness. He says that the gospel is about "failure and death" and God embraced that. Making a reference to the post Revolutionary War period, Penwell points out that time also as a period that seeds the Second Great Awakening. During that time, the Church was also in decline, like our present. During that time, there was great apathy toward the Church, just like ours. During that time, there were skepticism and negativity toward the institutions, just like ours. During that time, people wanted to be free of ecclesiastical or political meddling, just like ours! In the same way, the success of the Great Awakening contributed a lot to the apathy toward the Church, just like our present crisis which came after the most recent revival. Like the generations that participated in the great revivals of old, these very people are also passionate about "equality, mission, and social justice."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Obadiah" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH (Hearing the Message of Scripture: A Commentary on the Old Testament)
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (128 pages).

This is a commentary on a biblical book short in terms of length but long in terms of hope. Work on the project begun in 2009 during a Hebrew exegesis course in one of the author's work at Wheaton. Deemed the shortest book of the Bible, Obadiah consists of only 291 words, but its placement within the canon is not as significant as its cultural, historical, and literary contexts. This is Block's response to the dispute between how the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text) and the Septuagint (LXX) had treated the positioning of Obadiah. The former places Obadiah between Amos and Jonah, while the latter inserts Obadiah between Joel and Jonah. Historically, there are at least six different dating theories as to when the book was written. The author prefers to treat the book as written during the exilic period (586BC-533BC) based on both textual evidence and archaeological data. Rhetorically, even though prophets do not wield political or worldly power, they can at least proclaim the truth of God to the world, and let them choose. Block shows readers the way to look at the overall rhetorical structure of the prophets.
  1. The Rhetor (Speaker): that God is the One who speaks and the prophet the servant to communicate the words. The name "Obadiah" means "servant of YHWH.
  2. The Audience: Although the book is written "about Edom," the audience can include Judeans in exile and foreign nations looking in.
  3. The Message: Divine justice and divine fidelity.
  4. The Strategy: "rhetorically emphatic," "transparently passionate," and appeals to higher authority.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"PROOF" (Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones)

TITLE: PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace
AUTHOR: Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (224 pages).

We live in a world where performance and results matter. Work hard and we get rewarded. Work not and we get nothing. The formula is: "We are What We Work For." Christians try to buck this attitude by taking the side of Amazing Grace. The general declaration is there but the understanding differs by miles. Some Christians see God as a "divine butler" who gives us what we summon Him for. Others see God as a "cosmic therapist" that we can invoke whenever we have a need. Grace for these two perspectives is some kind of a self-driven initiative. Go to God when we have a request or a need. It all depends on what we ask for, kind of what we "work" for. This is not grace because Grace is not initiated by man but by God alone. We don't need to be constantly seeking God's approval. He has already pre-approved us. That is grace. The purpose of this book is to help us wake up to this pre-approved initiative from God. We don't deserve it. Neither can we earn it. We can only receive it and respond to it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Hope Quotient" (Ray Johnston)

TITLE: The Hope Quotient: Measure It. Raise It. You'll Never Be the Same.
AUTHOR: Ray Johnston
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2014, (240 pages).

Many believers say that faith is the only thing we need. Others echo along with it that "All you need is love." What about the other aspect of 1 Corinthians 13:13, Hope? Why is faith and love relatively more talked about that hope when hope is the very thing the world needs more and more? Founder and President of Thriving Churches International, Ray Johnston aims to up our "hope quotient" (HQ) and inject this necessary attribute for the world at large, and for people from all walks of life. Johnston, an inspirational speaker and life coach had spent seven years researching the material for this book. It all began with a conversation with his daughter who told him that the greatest thing she can ever have is to be encouraged. Johnston in turn saw through it all, and learned that the greatest gift indeed is the gift of hope. This is because hope liberates one from the past; motivates one to bounce back from despair; initiates one's freedom to dream; and activates the making of the world into a better place. On the opposite end of the spectrum is discouragement which Johnston calls a "disease" that discourages, depresses, and destroys. The main thesis of the book is: "Raising these Seven Factors raises Your Hope Quotient which creates Fresh Vision which unleashes a Whole New Future."