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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"A Gospel of Hope" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: A Gospel of Hope
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (200 pages).

There is a sense of familiarity in many Christian books. They are essentially about the Christian faith and perspectives taken from Christ. Yet, there is also a sense of freshness that even when it is about the same old gospel there is a strange fresh new truth to be reminded or to be reaffirmed. Books of hope tend to come into such a category. For hope is always about something fresh, something new, something to look forward to. Such is the gospel of hope. In this compilation of wisdom and sayings from his past sermons and published materials, Richard Floyd does the heavy lifting by putting together Brueggemann's memorable words according to the theme of hope. Brueggemann acknowledges Floyd as one who has "entered" his mind enough to know what he wanted to say most, and his rhetoric enough to know when he is most likely to say it. The gospel of hope has many sub-themes such as abundance, generosity, alternative worlds, freedom, fidelity, faith, justice, Jesus, identity, love, public witness, responsibility, and so on. In our world of short quips and concise statements limited by a tweet, a text, or a FaceBook post, we sometimes use words devoid of contexts. A master with words, Brueggemann's ability to nuance meaning upon meaning with literal devices and rhetoric makes this book a delightful read. With many quotes and quips, readers have many new things to learn. Rather than a series of random thoughts, there is a central theme in all of these: Hope. It is interesting to see how Brueggemann's thoughts can form a picture for the gospel of hope. Beginning with "Abundance and Generosity," we are reminded that hope is about enduring generosity, that the same God who had given us much yesterday and today, is the same God who would provide for us for the future. It is about being overwhelmed with the abundant generosity of God instead of being bogged down by the worries of today. Hope helps us become mindful of "alternative worlds." He contrasts the way we try to secure our future through economic, military, and other forms of human endeavors. Being content with what God has given us and what He will give us should spur us toward an alternative faith that is different from the world. One of the reasons why hope is so often needed is because of the restlessness of the human soul which is masqueraded as anxiety and a desire to be free from what enslaves us. Whether it is anxiety due to fear or fatigue, we must be constantly mindful that the gospel of hope is in Jesus. How? By remembering that what Jesus stands for is completely different from what the world stood for. Hope is sustained by a recognition that God is faithful and God will promise to give us what we need, even when we do not deserve it. God is not limited by anything. His heart is big for anything that we may thrown at Him. Jesus embodies hope. He is hope.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age" (Stephen D. Lowe & Mary E. Lowe)

TITLE: Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth through Online Education
AUTHOR: Stephen D. Lowe & Mary E. Lowe
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018, (250 pages).

We are living in an increasingly digital world. In such a ubiquitous environment, almost everything seems to be going digital. From printed papers to ebooks; groceries to e-shopping; communications to GPS directions; anything that could be digitized would be digitized. With the Internet at a global scale, more people are interconnected than ever. What about faith? What about spiritual formation matters? What about online theological education? According to the authors, two of the biggest challenges to teaching spiritual education online "were community formation and spiritual growth." It could be due to the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants. It could be due to the lack of experience in the new digital world. It could also be due to the skepticism among many educators. Whatever the case, both Stephen and Mary Lowe believe that online education is not only here to stay, they are poised to become a major part of spiritual formation, both communally and personally. Rather than outright rejection or cynical avoidance, perhaps a model to teach and help people Perhaps, just like the speed of evolutionary progress, why not use the ecological model of spiritual formation? For using ecology as a metaphor gives at least three advantages. It is interconnected. It takes time. It requires mutual dependence. It brings together the importance of both communal and individual health. Moreover, this motif is biblical. From Genesis to Revelation, the gospel parables about ecological growth, ecological references in Paul's epistles, there is a strong motif about ecology and faith.


Friday, June 8, 2018

"All Together Different" (J. Brian Tucker and John Koessler)

TITLE: All Together Different: Upholding the Church's Unity While Honoring Our Individual Identities
AUTHOR: J. Brian Tucker and John Koessler
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (272 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about Church unity? For some it might mean doing a lot of common activities together. For others, it is about being able to live together cheerfully and happily ever after. Whether it is ethnicity, cultural uniformity, class homogeneity, or generational similarities, many churches believe that common look and common activities are keys to unity. Unfortunately, ethnic cultures have multiple subcultures. Class distinctions grow over time as individuals change jobs or are laid off. Generational gaps happen at all levels. Gender uniqueness do not necessarily guarantee togetherness. Common activities may involve bodies but not necessarily the hearts. In the early Church, unity is a key concern for the Apostle Paul. Jesus also prayed for unity. Unfortunately, Church people never seem to learn. Today, it is even more needed as the Christian public are more divided than before. Whether it is worship or strategy, Church boards or combined programs for all, the challenge is to understand what true unity is about and to learn to manage conflict in a constructive manner. In this book, authors Brian Tucker and John Koessler tackle this issue by focusing on identity. They argue that we are naturally diverse and different in so many ways. What we need is not more common activities or similarities. We need a right understanding of identity: The Church and our individual selves. Unity is not forced uniformity. It is not holding similar theological positions. Neither is it something that can be resolved by doing things together. We need to be allowed to be different and aided by a healthy acceptance of our uniqueness. The gist of this book is to find answers to the following questions about identity: "Who am I? What sets me apart from those around me? What unique value do I bring to the table that others do not?" They concluded that we are not "altogether different" but "all together different."


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Messiah in the Passover" (edited by Darrell L Block and Mitch Glaser)

TITLE: Messiah in the Passover
AUTHOR: edited by Darrell L Block and Mitch Glaser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (384 pages).

The Passover was a significant event in the history of Israel. It was a demonstration of God's final straw for Pharaoh who refused to let the enslaved people of Israel go. It represented the night when the angel of death passed over any home their front doors painted with the blood of the lamb. It was a time where the firstborn of every Israeli slaved lived while the firstborn of every Egyptian family died. After this Passover, Israel was free to begin their journey to the promised land. Since then, the importance of the Passover had been written in the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah where it remains one of the seven great festivals of the Jews. The Passover is about deliverance, freedom, community, hope, life, prophecy given, prophecy fulfilled, and much more. This book gives us more, especially about Christ the Messiah. The five parts of the book are as follows:
  1. Biblical and Theological Foundations of the Passover
  2. Passover and Church History
  3. Jewish Tradition and Passover
  4. Communicating the Gospel Through the Passover
  5. Celebrating Messiah in the Passover

Saturday, June 2, 2018

"Leading Major Change in Your Ministry" (Jeff Iorg)

TITLE: Leading Major Change in Your Ministry
AUTHOR: Jeff Iorg
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2018, (240 pages).

The only constant is change. Just like the popular phrase, "survival of the fittest," only those who change survive. For the fittest are the ones who are most adaptable to change. People who are able to lead change are leaders. They are the ones who must be on a constant lookout for dangers that threaten surviving and opportunities toward thriving. Just this week, the largest theological school in North America, Fuller Theological Seminary announced a major change in their history: Leaving Pasadena by 2021. After 70 years of ministry, this marks a dramatic shift in adapting to fast changing ministry and financial contexts. Even before Fuller announced their decision, other seminaries had already made plans of their own. Back in 2004, the author's school, Golden Gate Seminary also had to make a tough decision to sell all seminary-owned property and to move to a new location over 400 miles away. That is not all. They remodeled, retooled, and refreshed their strategies, even changing their name to Gateway Seminary. It was the success of such a major change that deepened the author's conviction that whether it is relocating, reorganizing, or rebranding, skills in leading are critically important. The good news is, they could be passed down to others and success could be replicated. Iorg frames this book in two parts. The first part sets out the foundations for leading major change. Iorg acknowledges the proliferation of books about leadership best practices and all kinds of great resources. He notices that many of these books do not deal with fundamentals sufficiently. Moreover, there is a lack of Christian perspective. Fundamentals such as the necessity to be influencers for Christ in the midst of leading change. He links back basic teachings about servant leadership. The three foundation stones are:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Small Church Essentials" (Karl Vaters)

TITLE: Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of under 250
AUTHOR: Karl Vaters
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (256 pages).

It is no secret that in North America, many churches are either closing down or shrinking. It is also said that the single largest growing pool of believers are the NONES, the non-affiliated, non-church-going, and non-aligned group of people who still consider themselves believers. Statistics are dire with regard to the state of the Church. At the same time, there is a glimmer of hope. Small churches do have their strengths. As far as Jesus is concerned, the minimum number of believers to form a community with His Presence is two or three gathering in His Name. Jesus must have foreseen our modern world long time ago! While many of us would like to see numerical growth, we need to learn how to take care of churches that are under 250 in size, which is the majority of North American churches today. What is more essential is to learn the tools and principles about how to lead these congregations toward healthy growth and life. Karl Vaters is proudly a pastor of small churches for over 30 years. He is the goto guy for the small church guy. Though his church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship is located not far from megachurches in the area, he is convinced that small is good. Over 90% of the churches in the world are under 250 in size. About 1 billion people are in small churches worldwide, making small churches the single largest people group in the world! If that is so, why not focus on doing whatever we can to support and rejuvenate the small Church with big thoughts? This is exactly what the author seeks to do. Small churches must not let their size minimize their ministry. They need to see the greatness of God regardless of size. They need guidance on how to run a small church effectively and enthusiastically. What if small churches are centers of friendliness; neighbourliness; mission; innovational generosity; and worship? With these objectives in mind, Vaters proceeds to share how we can do just that.


Monday, May 28, 2018

"The Bible in a Disenchanted Age" (R.W.L. Moberly)

TITLE: The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic)
AUTHOR: R. W. L. Moberly
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (240 pages).

This book is based on a series of Earle lectures on Biblical Literature at the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, held on November 16-17, 2015. It is a theological exploration by the scholars and researchers on current issues and Christian thought, shared to the larger Church for their edification. Society is becoming  more secularized. Bible is perceived as less relevant than before. Faith is increasingly under attack by atheists and non-believers. As a result, some Christians are backpedaling on their fundamentals just to appease the modern hostile climate. Unfortunately, for the ardent skeptic, no arguments are sufficient if they do not wish to believe in the first place. Author Moberly tries to defend the Bible not by way of historical evidence or persuasive rhetoric, but by walking with the company of trustworthy people both past and present. He argues that there it is not clear that historical evidence should lead to faith. Moreover, the words "history" and "historical reliability" could mean so many different things to different people.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Introducing the Apocrypha" (David A. deSilva)

TITLE: Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance
AUTHOR: David A. deSilva
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, (Second Edition) 2018, (528 pages).

Roman Catholics and Protestants have slightly different Bibles. The difference lies in the additional books that the former have. Depending on how you classify or call them, they are considered "apocryphal" (hidden) texts by some, deuterocanonical (second canon) or "pseudepigrapha" (authors using pseudonyms) by others. They lie between normal texts and sacred texts. They are too good to be excluded but don't fit under the canonization criteria. Arguments can be made for both. Why then do we need to study them? This book gives us several reasons.
  • They are a primer for understanding what the Apocrypha is.
  • Gives us a fuller picture of Judaism from 200-100 BCE, to close the gap between the OT and NT.
  • NT authors are familiar with these texts and consider them highly.
  • Formative in the early years of Christian Theology, central to Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians.
  • They help us appreciate the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls as a key document.
  • It underscores the ancient obsession with theodicy, fairness, and retributive justice.
  • It gives readers a deeper understanding of the Jewish culture during the times of Jesus.
  • Addressing basic questions about those unfamiliar with the historical development of the additional books.
  • Learning to see these books as a value in themselves and not what others tell us.
  • The word 'hidden' is not to be interpreted in a pejorative manner, but to be seen as a vital witness of the faith by early believers. 
  • Understanding why these books are not in the Biblical canon.
  • Address some of the fears among Protestants about studying (or not studying) them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"Believe Me" (John Fea)

TITLE: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
AUTHOR: John Fea
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (208 pages).

Famous words are often uttered by Presidents. For President John F Kennedy, people remember his powerful words "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." President Jimmy Carter is remembered as a man who fought for peace: "We cannot be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of the weapons of war." President Barack Obama rode into office under the banner of change said: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." For Donald Trump, it's the cliche "Believe Me," a phrase peppered throughout his rallies and speeches to his party faithful.  In this book, author John Fea takes a closer look at Trump's appeal to the evangelical public in America. More specifically, he tries to examine why despite Trump's denigration of women; his superficial Bible knowledge; and multiple moral questions; many evangelicals, particularly "die-hard white evangelical supporters" still think he is a Christian. This contrasts with James Davison Hunter's warning to believers not to politicize faith. The problem is less of Trump but more of the unwavering support for Trump's brand of politics in spite of moral failings. How do we make sense of it all? What does it say about the evangelicals in America? Why are these evangelicals supporting Trump's politics of fear, power, and nostalgia? These three factors are examined in greater detail as Fea looks at why the 81% of white evangelicals supported Trump for presidency. He attributes the frustrations among evangelicals due to the widening separation of Church and State; the secularization of public education; how government is creeping and controlling individual beliefs; and issues like abortion. The desire for change is strong. Underlying this mood is a climate of fear. This fear leads to a desire for power which in turn is linked to a nostalgia of a past where Christendom dominated culture.


Friday, May 18, 2018

"Along the Road" (John A. Beck)

TITLE: Along the Road: How Jesus Used Geography to Tell God's Story
AUTHOR: John A. Beck
PUBLISHER:Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2018, (192 pages).

How does one read the Bible? One can read it literally, word for word, from the lens of our contemporary backgrounds. Bibles like the NASB and the KJV would be great companions. While we honour the Word in its original syntax, we lack the cultural contexts to truly understand how the ancient audiences heard. One can read it chronologically, but it would take an experienced historian and theologian to guide us through the many centuries of events, periods, and political upheavals to appreciate the flow of the biblical story. Resources such as the chronological Bibles in which the books of the Bible are placed it according to time of occurrence. Then there are also those who try to understand the Bible archaeologically, which led to the publishing of the Archaeological Bible. There are also those who organize the Bible theologically, or topically. This enables readers to look for common themes through the Bible to have a better understanding of the biblical perspective of important matters of concern. What about understanding the Bible geographically? Though this book is not a Bible, it draws lots of biblical references to piece together what it means to walk with Jesus through the ancient lands of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. What is it like to walk where Jesus walked? A lot, says author and Adjunct Professor John A. Beck.

Monday, May 14, 2018

"Building the Body" (Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson)

TITLE: Building the Body: 12 Characteristics of a Fit Church
AUTHOR: Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (204 pages).

The Bible mentions several metaphors on the spiritual life. In the gospels, we have Jesus reminding us about the parable of the four types of soils. Without the right growth conditions, we cannot see fruit. In Jeremiah 2:15, we learn about perseverance that, "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" Timothy was exhorted to fight the good fight (1 Tim 6:12) while Paul himself confessed to completing the race and keeping the faith. These highlight one common principle: Fitness. Just like the human body needs to be fit in order to be fruitful in our works, the Church as a body of Christ needs to be fit. How does the Church go about it? How do we measure a fit Church? The fitter the Church, the further she could go. A healthy human body would have a healthy cardiovascular endurance; robust muscular strength; sturdy muscular endurance; able flexibility; and balanced body composition. All these components are to be present. A healthy heart pumps fresh oxygen to nourish the whole body. Robust muscles help overcome resistance. Firm endurance provides strength to push on ahead. Flexibility enables one to embrace new challenges when they appear. A balanced body composition brings all these together in appropriate ways. In this book about spiritual fitness, readers get to hear 12 characteristics, compositions that would make a fit Church. Written by two experienced church leaders, Gary McIntosh and Phil Stevenson, we learn of fitness described through the characteristics of:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"Saving Truth" (Abdu Murray)

TITLE: Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World
AUTHOR: Abdu Murray
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018, (256 pages).

The Renaissance gives rise to a new age of confidence in humanism. Modernism ups the bar to through science, technology, and all manner of human advancement. Postmodernism introduces an era of skepticism and relativism. As the age of Christendom diminishes, the age of atheism and secularism emerges with greater boldness and confidence. Some calls the present a Post-Christian world. Others deem it a Post-Postmodernism society. For author and North American director of RZIM, it is simply a "Post-Truth world," which he defines it as a "Culture of Confusion." In a culture of relativity, without an absolute to anchor oneself upon, we risk losing clarity. We lose a sense of purpose. We lose ourselves. Incidentally, those who declare that there are no absolutes are guilty of making their theory of relativity as an absolute in themselves. For if relativism is not an absolute, it is but a flaky philosophy. Truth is about fixed points of reference; about solid ground; about objectivity; and about the clarity of thought and life. From a big picture view, Murray moves to deal with the seductions of a "Post-Truth Mindset." Surprisingly, this mindset is not just non-Christians, but involves Christians as well. Things such as a wrong understanding of "judge not let ye be judged." Truth is, Jesus is not forbidding any forms of judging but reminding us about the purpose and motive of judgment. Other ways in which Christians are not helping clarity is when they overcorrect in their desire to defend the truth. Be calm, caring, and clear. Following the chapters on Post-Truth world and Post-Truth mindset, Murray goes into various specifics such as the proper understanding of freedom; about human dignity that does not elevate itself above God nor dumbs us down. Gospel clarity will help resolve true workmanship and worthiness.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

"Interrupting Silence" (Walter Bruggemann)

TITLE: Interrupting Silence: God's Command to Speak Out
AUTHOR: Walter Bruggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (108 pages).

We must speak out. We must not sit back and let chaos and injustice run amok. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak out. Alas, many are guilty of keeping quiet when there is a need to speak up; and speaking up when there is a need to be silent. This book about interrupting silence is a call to all to bear the arms of vocal activism in the midst of unholy forces seeking to silence our witness. As one who has consistently spoken out against the excesses of powers and the abuse of the weak. There are many quotables about many different things:
  • "The church at its most faithful is allied with artistic expression from the margin that voices alternatives to dominant imagination."
  • "Prayer—beyond conventional polite prayer—is an act of breaking the silence."
  • "In the institutional life of the church, moreover, the breaking of silence by the testimony of the gospel often means breaking the silence among those who have a determined stake in maintaining the status quo."
  • "Prayer is a refusal to settle for what is."
  • "The parable exhibits the relentlessness of refusing silence, the unwavering resolve to continue to speak and to ask."


Friday, May 4, 2018

"Selfies" (Craig Detweiler)

TITLE: Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age
AUTHOR: Craig Detweiler
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018, (240 pages).

The invention of the self-facing camera has also invented another word in our popular language: Selfie. On the surface, it seems like some harmless photograph for keepsake. Since everybody's doing it, it should be ok, right? Not so fast. There are more things happening below the surface consciously and sub-consciously. According to author and professor Craig Detweiler, it is something that reveals our conflicted thoughts about ourselves. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook Live, and all kinds of social media apps are able to help us capture precious selfie moments. What they fail to capture is the underlying philosophies or meanings attached to such selfie movements. Enter this book that reflects on the meanings, the conflicts, the pluses and minuses of this cultural phenomenon. With selfies, there is no longer private moments but public. There are no longer just self-image but shared images. Anything we put out there is subject to a multitude of interpretations and criticisms. With technology that are increasingly self-learning and automated, every selfie we take could be automatically uploaded the moment our devices establish an Internet connection. With our increasing array of digital devices, multiple copies could be backed up or shared across different platforms and distributed throughout our social and public spheres. Whether it is to bolster our self-image or simply to have our pictures on some famous landmark, Detweiler helps us ask questions to distill this phenomenon into some fundamental self identity and our endless search for meaning, and more importantly for God.


Monday, April 30, 2018

"In His Image" (Jen Wilkin)

TITLE: In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character
AUTHOR: Jen Wilkin
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (176 pages).

This book makes an audacious claim, that after reading this book, we will never have to ask what God's will is for us in the conventional way. Instead of "What should I do?" ask the better questions: "What should I be?" Knowing what we ought to become would guide all of our questions pertaining to our goals, our future, and our desire to honour God. This simple but highly effective paradigm shift puts us on a whole new path forward as far as seeking God's will is concerned. It is essentially following that narrow way, the kingdom road, the path of God's character. We turn our search for something outside of ourselves into an awareness of an inner need for change. We become less interested in spiritual information and look toward spiritual formation. We follow less in the ways of the world and more in the way of Christ.  Ways like being holy to be more like God. Being more loving to grow beyond human limited love toward spiritual freedom that loves beyond limit. We learn about God's goodness that we could aspire to emulate. That light is not just about doing good things. It's about reflecting Christ's goodness. We learn about just law, just discipline, just wrath, and just character. We learn mercy, graciousness, faithfulness, patience, truthfulness, and wisdom, all of these attributes are exactly what we need and all could be found in God. The goal is to become better people ourselves. The way is to reflect Christ's character. Turn away from the world. Turn toward Christ. Move forward to become more and more like Christ each day. The 10 ways that Wilkin has listed can help kickstart our journey to become more like God.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"Seven Practices for the Church on Mission" (David E. Fitch)

TITLE: Seven Practices for the Church on Mission
AUTHOR: David E. Fitch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2018, (144 pages).

Is there a relationship between Church and Mission? Many had said that the primary purpose of the Church is to exist for the sake of her non-members. Put it another way, she must be missional in all of her activities. The moment the Church becomes inward-looking, it is the beginning of the end. What does it mean to live for the sake of others? In one word: Mission. In fact, for author David Fitch, there are specifically seven ways to do just that. These seven practices are:

  1. Being shaped for mission through the practice of Holy Communion
  2. Being reconciled to one another is a key message of unity in a world of division and disunity
  3. Proclaiming the Gospel means we first know what the gospel is and let the gospel speak through us in word, thought, and deed.
  4. Being with the 'least of these' is about being Christ to the people in need.
  5. Being with children is about not paying lip-service to the importance of children in our lives but to involve them in our lives and decision making.
  6. Five-Fold Gifting of Apostles; Prophets; Evangelists; Pastors and Teachers; that put giftings above hierarchy. It is a powerful reminder of what it means to let the Bible (not the world) to show us the way to lead. 
  7. Kingdom Prayer as foundation for all other practices. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"A Woman God's Spirit Can Guide" (Alice Mathews)

TITLE: A Woman God's Spirit Can Guide: New Testament Women Help You Make Today’s Choices
AUTHOR: Alice Mathews
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

One big question that often pops up for anyone is this: "What is God's will for my life?" In evangelical circles, one might have heard people say things like: "I heard God spoke to me" or "God told me this" or "God told me that" and so on. We are not sure exactly how those conversations between the divine and the human transpire. We are not even given a lot of details when we read Scriptures talk about how God communicated with Moses, David, Samuel, Mary, and the Early Church. Yes, there are cases of angels and voices from heaven. How can we listen more intently; hear more clearly; and understand more succinctly? Even if we have heard God's tones through various circumstances, what does it take to sustain this level of spiritual sensitivity? How could we verify the authenticity of such voices? Is there a biblical pattern we can learn from? How does God guide the New Testament women? Writing particularly to women as the audience, experienced Bible teacher Alice Mathews fills in some guidelines as to how God could guide, in a world of noise, distractions, and deceitful attractions. She helpfully distills over 12 different examples of how God leads women in the Bible. Along the way, readers would learn about women in ministry leadership; through both their abilities and disabilities; strengths and weaknesses; and especially their obedience; one step at a time.


Friday, April 20, 2018

"Surprise the World!" (Michael Frost)

TITLE: Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People
AUTHOR: Michael Frost
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2018, (132 pages).

We have heard of the popular "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." That bestseller by Stephen Covey has spawned a host of other books about systematic ways of self-improvements. What about being missional? What about good habits to cultivate in spreading the good news about the kingdom of God? Author and leading missional advocate Michael Frost calls it the "Five Habits of Highly Missional People." Just to be clear, missional is not some updated version of conventional missions. Neither is it program to train missionaries. Being missional is about being Christ wherever we go. It is a refreshing new paradigm in understanding how to evangelize and to share the gospel.

Frost distinguishes the two different kinds of evangelism. The first is the gifted evangelists who are able to proclaim the gospel without fear or intimidation. It is a common misunderstanding of evangelism that every believer as an evangelist. While everyone are called to evangelize, not all are gifted with the gab of evangelism. After all, Paul does mention in his letter that evangelism is one of the gifts. At the same time, there are some who are gifted evangelists who could boldly proclaim clearly the gospel without fear or intimidation. The second kind is for the rest of us,where we are to be "evangelistic believers." By this distinction, believers who don't feel like they have the gift of evangelism need not be guilt-trip every time the word evangelism is mentioned. Instead, they could be encouraged to do whatever they can in the direct or indirect declaration of the gospel. This second group learns how to provide "gracious answers" to questions posed by unbelievers. Remarkably, this two-fold approach to evangelism helps us not to behave as if we must but to do whatever we can in the task of evangelism. Those who are gifted are urged to be faithful to exercise their gifts to the fullest potential. Those who are not given such gifts are encouraged to be faithful in other ways that helps spread the gospel creatively. This book is written more for this group. Frost introduces his BELLS model as the five habits of highly missional people.
  1. BLESS (Value Generosity): People who would live generously by blessing three people each week.
  2. EAT (Value of Hospitality): Those who practice hospitality by eating with others frequently
  3. LISTEN (Value of Spirit-Led): Those who learns to listen to the Holy Spirit
  4. LEARN (Value of Christlikeness): Those who learn to live more like Christ
  5. SENT (Value of Missional): Those who see themselves as missionaries in the making first to our neighbourhoods and then beyond.
Frost allocates one chapter to each of the five values. After describing each habit, he lists the reasons for it and draws up the limitations of each habit. With biblical support and illustrations along the way, he builds upon each habit with a call to go forth and practice. He concludes by reminding readers not to treat these habits as a short-term project but a longer term lifestyle. If the former is true, he would have subtitled the book as "Five Effective Steps of Highly Missional People." Instead, he uses the word "habit" which needs to be intentional; regularly practiced; and adopted as a way of life. Frost wants us to "inculcate these habits as a central rhythm" of our lives. He ends the book with practice pages for the individual and follow-up discussions for the group.

My Thoughts
1) I am pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of the model. The BELLS acronym is such a clever way to help readers recall the five habits. This showcases how effective the author is as a communicator and author. Simplicity is the key to revolution. We live in a "Too Long Didn't Read" (TLDR) world where many lack the patience to read beyond a certain number of paragraphs. Communications for the new generation must cut straight to the chase. This is even more important in a world inundated by busyness and constant distractions of being connected. Simplicity is the key to effect communication.

2) I like the way the habits unfurl the missional values of generosity; hospitality; Spirituality; Christlikeness; and Missional Living. The active verb used in BELLS are supported by biblical values which are timeless and applicable everywhere. The practice of even one value would be a large step in the long obedience in the missional direction. Readers are free to apply any of these habits in any way. There is no compulsion to follow them in the order it is presented in the book. While it is always good to read from cover to cover to get a sense of the big picture, when it comes to applications, one can begin anywhere, preferably from the habit that we feel strongest first. Depending on how God guides, we can optimize all of them in appropriate ways.

3) Finally, as the author suggest, the building of a habit takes time. Thus, we should not pick up this book and be too quick to put it back on the bookshelves. Practice it regularly. Memorize the BELLS model and remember the individual missional values for a time. Until we can remember it easily, it will be hard to practice it. That is why the instructions at the end of each chapter is an important exercise. Whether we do it in 40 days more or less, we need to do it actively. Then and only then can we move BELLS from print to the head; from the head to the heart; and from the heart to the hands.

Though this book is also available as an ebook across the Internet, I would recommend using a printed copy so that we can write our own notes in it, especially the accountability pages toward the end of the book.

Michael Frost is a leading voice for the missional movement. His books have been well-received by churches, seminaries, and schools. He is founding principal of Morling College and co-founder of Forge International Mission Training Network. He is author of the bestselling book, "The Shaping of Things to Come."

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade

This book has been provided courtesy of NavPress, Tyndale Publishing House, and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.