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Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition" (Marjorie J. Thompson)

TITLE: Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
AUTHOR: Marjorie J. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (200 pages).

This book is a potpourri of spiritual food that invites hungry guests to come and feast. If one is not hungry in the first place, it would certainly whet the appetite. Such is the beauty and inspirational of a classic published nearly 20 years ago and is still making a powerful impact. Now in its newly revised edition (third), while the contents remain very much the same, there is an additional foreword by renowned preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor who calls this book full of "effective sermons" and ranks Marjorie Thompson in the same category as the Catholic writer, Henri Nouwen. In the original foreword, Nouwen calls Thompson's work a "clear, concise way the essence of her ministry." Indeed, my appetite was more than whetted just on the basis of these two honoring forewords and captivating topics of spiritual disciplines. More importantly, it is not a book that teaches to invite ourselves into spiritual disciplines. It initiates us into the Christian spiritual practices that are historic yet relevant; grounded in Presbyterian traditions and yet ecumenical; old ideas and yet very fresh for the soul. Thompson notes that in the 90s, there was an acceleration of interest in spiritual formation matters which led many clergy toward Roman Catholic centers. Toward the end of the twentieth century, there was a surge of resources about Christian living, with particular focus on the spiritual life. The author also notes the rise of the "Nones" or the religiously unaffiliated group in this era, as well as a resurgence in the "spiritual but not religious" wave, first observed in the 60s. Amid the changes, Thompson reminds us once again that if we learn to "dwell in trust," we can be confident in God, who is the One who "creates, renews, and fulfills all things" and I believe that includes the use of spiritual practices that are evergreen and deeply satisfying, in God. Her encouraging tone throughout the book injects hope even in the midst of discouraging news about cultural resistances toward the gospel. This book is an attempt to bring back inspiration and fascination to a world inundated with spiritual information and fears of religious fanaticism. Also, the rise of technology also means people are able to search out other religions with much ease and depth. The downside is the rise of distractions and inattentiveness as well, something that the spiritual practices in the book aptly addresses. The brief notes below will demonstrate why this book is a spiritual feast.

Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Foundation of Communion with God" (Ryan M. McGraw)

TITLE: The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen
AUTHOR: Ryan M. McGraw
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, (136 pages).

Hailed as one of the most prominent and important theologians in the 17th Century, widely respected as a Puritan Zealot, and author of several highly regarded works on purity and religious thought, Owen is a giant when it comes to defending reformed views of the Trinity. He believes that in order to know God, one must know theology. In fact, there is no difference between knowledge and experience. They belong together. True theology must not only enrich the person's mind but with the help of the Holy Spirit, also grip the person's heart. That is why Owen wrote one of the classic books entitled, "Communion with God" which talks about our communion with the Triune God. McGraw guides us through some of Owen's theological thoughts.
  • Trinity: Believers fellowship with the Father in love, the Son in grace, and the Spirit in comfort, each representing a special way in which the distinct personality of God informs the relationship of the believer with God. 
  • Communion: With worship as the highest expression of fellowship, Owen believes that communion with God is linked closely with the religious ordinances in public worship.
  • Scripture: Worship must be biblical, especially the recognized ordinances used in the Church service.
  • Heaven: Cultivate true affections for God in worship, engaging the heart toward God.
  • Covenant and Church: Covenant of redemption is rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity and servants of God come to bring people into communion with all three members of the Triune Godhead.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Household Gods" (Ted and Kristin Kluck)

TITLE: Household Gods
AUTHOR: Ted and Kristin Kluck
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014, (176 pages).

It is culturally accepted. It is a familiar refrain. It is what most hardworking adults would say, "I love my family" or "I loved to spend time with my family." Yet, is it possible that we can love our family too much? Can we turn them into an idol? Are we keeping "household gods" in our cherished homes? For the authors, they assert that "family is a prominent household god." Whether we want to use Tim Keller's definition that idolatry is that something we deem more important than God; or the authors' friend Pat who sees idolatry as what we feel we have a "right to have," or things we cannot be happy without, the crux of the matter is that if we find shelter, security, safety, and all manner of significance only in our family, we have a "household god" in the making. Ted and Kristin notes:

"In the midst of a Christian subculture that idolizes the family, an evangelical history that overcelebrated it, and a secular culture that overprograms it, it is easy for well-meaning Christians to cross over the line into family idolatry."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"A Reflection of God" (Joanna Tulloch)

TITLE: A Reflection of God: Poems, Meditations, Prayer Resources
AUTHOR: Joanna Tulloch
PUBLISHER: Leicestershire, UK: Matador - Troubador Publishing, 2014, (160 pages).

There are many books that purport to be Christian and talks about how to do spirituality and theology about God. They tell us the steps to live well. They describe the points of certain Christian doctrines. They even show us the details behind the theology and the practices from which the theology can inform.What about having the theology and the practice working together more closely? What about letting the informing and the doing supplement each other through reflections? What about letting 101 poems, prayers, and reflections help us to see more of God, as we long to let God reflect us to Him? This is what the book tries to accomplish.

A Methodist lay preacher and a poet for many years, Joanna Tulloch puts together her years of personal devotions and meditations in this self-published book. Right from the start, she invites readers to journey with her in spiritual reflections of faith and hope. This reflection is like a dog that refuses to give up on the bone in the mouth. Part One is "Glimpses of Grace" that comprises thirty poems. The poems urge one to "go forward" without fear; to sing the songs of joy; to respect the beauty of silence; to enter the garden of spirituality to discover hope amid fear of darkness; to learn contentment; to question the purpose of coincidence; to reflect inward matters as well as to be open to God's speaking; and so on.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Beat God to the Punch" (Eric Mason)

TITLE: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life
AUTHOR: Eric Mason
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (114 pages).

What a strange title. How can anyone be faster or better than God? How can anyone simply beat God to the punch? In a provocative title, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania uniquely shows us what it means by God's grace, where mercy is quenches God's wrath; grace overwhelms works; and where God does not come to batter us into pieces but to better us into whole people. For grace will lead us to the very place that no other works of human efforts can ever reach. Only in Christ can God's perfect demands be met. Only in Christ can holiness be achieved. Only in Christ can we beat God to the punch.

According to Mason, God swings three punches at us in the form of "His wrath, justice, and judgment." On our own, we will be knocked out not by punching back but by quenching them "under the weight of the cross." The law helps us see God's righteousness and holiness. Grace helps us see mercy and love. The rest of the book articulates this bout of law vs grace and eventually lands on a grace saturated eternity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"From Whom No Secrets are Hid" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (224 pages).

I have learned that the Psalms do three things to us. They orientate us. They disorientate us. They then re-orientate us. All these are necessary in order to reveal our true selves to God, and for God to be revealed to us. For Brueggemann, the Psalms open us up. Those who really want to understand Psalms, cannot simply approach it via a liturgical ritual, a psychological insight, or an intellectual exercise. They need to be honest and to let Psalms tease the fearful selves within us out toward an awesome God. This idea is succinctly described in the title of the book, which was inspired from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer,
"ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"For the Glory of God" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (432 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about worship? I suppose many of us would be thinking of music styles, Church services, and of course the age-old distinction between traditional vs contemporary songs debate. Edith Humphrey criticizes the modern rendition of worship in five ways. They are 1) too much about feelings; 2) too human-centered; 3) too lacking in the focus on the Word of God; 4) too emotional and experiential oriented; 5) too market-driven. Author and Professor of Wheaton College agrees and this book not only expands on what Humphrey had written, but focuses on recovering the biblical understanding of worship. The writing of this book was inspired by the basic question: "What does God think of what we are doing?" Christians ought to do that too.

The Format
The book comprises 13 chapters, all arranged topically. Broadly speaking, the first three chapters set forth three fundamental questions:
  1. What is worship according to the Scriptures?
  2. Who is the object of true worship?
  3. Whose worship is acceptable to God?
Two chapters are dedicated to how worship can be practiced in daily work and family life. This is followed by four chapters that deal with ordinances, the use of the Word, prayer, and music in worship. The last three chapters work on the drama, the design, the theology, and the role of leaders to cultivate genuine worship. These 13 chapters provide at least 13 different ways in which biblical worship can be understood and practiced. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables" (Bob Welch)

TITLE: 52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables
AUTHOR: Bob Welch
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2014, (208pages).

The musical has been seen by more than 65 million people in over 42 countries. Written by Victor Hugo in 1862, it continues to fascinate and enthrall audiences the world over. In 2012, it even won a Golden Globe award for best picture. The question, is there something more than simply a show? Are there important lessons to learn from as far as lay people are concerned? Are the lessons in the 19th Century story still relevant for today? Welch gives an emphatic YES! Fifty Two of them.

For Les Miserables is not simply a brilliant play that entertains. It is also a story that is big on spiritual themes, life struggles, and according to author, speaker, and adjunct professor of journalism at Eugene's University of Oregon, it contains "52 little lessons" that we can all learn from. What makes the writing of this book interesting and challenging is to be able to select only 52 out of a very complex tale of betrayal, mystery, joy, forgiveness, despondency, suffering, political and social reforms, and many others. For us as readers, we can enjoy the fruits of the author's labour, with the many stories of the characters, the places, the plots, the history and many other interesting settings. Most of the lessons are spiritually inclined because the author feels that the novel is spiritual in nature.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Atlas Girl" (Emily T. Wierenga)

TITLE: Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look
AUTHOR: Emily T. Wierenga
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (288 pages).

This book is a three-in-one memoir. It is a travelogue that journals the author's travels across several continents. It is a personal memoir that describes the ups and downs; the hurting and healing; the break-up and reconciliation; the joys of pregnancy and sorrows of miscarriage; and the surprising twists of life. It is also a spiritual journal that gives intimate details about the author's faith and doubt; belief and unbelief; despair and hope; personal and impersonal relationships with God. In a nutshell, that is Emily Wierenga, a journalist, a wife, a mother, an artist, blogger, writer, and so much more. Calling herself an "atlas girl" which is also the title of this book, at first the book appears a little bit like Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" that became a bestseller across three continents as well. Although the countries visited are different, Wierenga's story stands unique from the rest.

Each of the forty chapters in the book is summarized with a theme and a country location. Although each chapter is dated, it is not arranged in chronological order. Part of the reason is because the book was started in 2007 when Wierenga started her blog when she returned to Canada to take care of her mum. What is really captivating about this book is the depth of honesty and authenticity the author fills throughout the book. She questions whether her dad actually cared for her. She rebels against her parents' rigid faith. She struggles to make sense of death, disease, and dying. Other setbacks include her eating disorder, miscarriage, and the death of her mum's nanny. At the same time, she shares about the joys of children, the beauty of family, the power of reconciliation, and the reality of hope. Parts of the book contain her mum, Yvonne's writings which made this book a shared work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah" (Dr David Friedman)

TITLE: James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah
AUTHOR: David Friedman
PUBLISHER: Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publisher, 2012, (152 pages).

There are many commentaries on the New Testament book of James but very few from a Messianic perspective. Come to think of it, it does take one to know one. If James is Jewish, the context of the book is Jewish, would it not be appropriate to have a Jewish commentary on the book of James (Ya'akov)? That is exactly what the author of this book aims to do. He does it historically, culturally, grammatically, and also contextually. The author is a Jewish Rabbi, scholar, and author. In this book, he argues that:
  • the book of James is consistent with a specific style of Rabbinic writings
  • it is collected by his disciples and distributed to believers beyond
  • it is about applying the Torah to everyday life.
  • Most English translations miss the Jewishness of the letter
  • James reflects upon the subjects covered in Leviticus 19-22
Friedman asks three chief questions. 
  1. Who was Ya'akov?
  2. Is this book a "rabbinic yalkut'?
  3. What are the main points?