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Thursday, October 22, 2020

"God and the Pandemic" (N. T. Wright)

TITLE: God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath
AUTHOR: N. T. Wright
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020, (96 pages).

The year 2020 will be best remembered as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the earliest books reflecting on a Christian response is John Piper's "Coronavirus and Christ." In that book, Piper offers six answers; that we should remember God is still at work; that he rules; that we ought to repent while we can; and that we should not lose hope. Our hope is not in odds or in healing but in Christ alone. However, as a reader, I sense that book seems to be written in a hurry to be published at the start of a worldwide lockdown earlier this year. 

Instead of asking why, author and theologian NT Wright helps us deal with the question of what we could do. Like how Christ put his own life on the line for us, we ought to find ways to help one another as much as we could. Wright puts it very well that we ought not to be stoics just to fit into the system. Neither should we be like Epicureans who just accept the random things in life and just enjoy whatever we have left. He also cautions us against taking the platonic lifestyle that seems to elevate the afterlife over and above our present world. Worse, some people would even jump to conclusions to play the blame game. The two superpowers are famously at each other's throats with regard to assigning blame regarding the virus origins. Some would even claim the pandemic as the Armageddon. This book is to offer a Christian alternative to such philosophies that many of us practice unwittingly. Like any good biblical scholar, Wright begins with the Word of God. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

"For the Body" (Timothy C. Tennent)

TITLE: For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body (Seedbed Resources)
AUTHOR: Timothy C. Tennent
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020, (272 pages).

The famous author, CS Lewis (GK Chesterton) was once asked by a newspaper publisher to write about: "What's wrong with the world?" Chesterton wrote back with a witty reply: "I am." In one short crisp message, he has managed to show us the real problem with the world: Sin. Fast forward to our modern age, if we were to answer the same question, what would that be? If posed to author and professor Timothy Tennent, it might be due to our failure to understand or to articulate a holistic view of the human body. In a sexualized culture, we need to recover the original purpose of what it means to be human. We cannot simply put out fires of cultural aberrations without dealing with the cause of the fires. We cannot simply try to bridge the divide between the conservatives and the progressives just by dealing with the morality and social justice matters respectively. From abortion rights to same-sex marriage; gender identities to political disputes; our world will continue to be torn apart as long as people fail to have a positive vision of the purpose of the human body. We need a proper theology of the body to help the Church lead the way in addressing a wide range of issues in our culture. Tennent shows us how to do just that in three ways. First, he describes the seven key building blocks of the theology of the body. Second, he exposes the cultural messages and environment we are in that continues to tarnish God's purpose. Finally, he offers a redemptive way forward to bring about a "discipled body." 

Monday, October 12, 2020

"The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks" (Dustin Crowe)

TITLE: The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of a Lost Spiritual Discipline
AUTHOR: Dustin Crowe
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (176 pages). 

Thanksgiving season is nearly here. For many, it is a time of busy activities surrounding shopping, gifts, family reunions, and lots of food! Such things no matter how good miss the point: Thanksgiving is gratitude from the heart. The underlying assumption of true gratitude is to know that we have all received much more than we actually gave. For instance, we owe it to our parents who brought us up. We were young and helpless as babies, and our parents fed us, nourished us, and nurtured us. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, parental love for their children is pretty universal. In spite of idiosyncrasies and other associated dysfunctional relationships, we are in fact recipients of much giving and loving. For Christians, nothing beats the love of God in Christ Jesus, who not only gave, He gave His life for us at the Cross. We all need to be reminded regularly that thanksgiving is at the heart of society, especially the Christian Life. As a former pessimist, Author Crowe had four key motivations in writing this book. 1) He needs it personally; 2) He notices a lack of books on "giving biblically"; 3) his desire to know God more fully; 4) To grow spiritually. We need an alternative to all the complaining, griping, and sarcasm in our society. So, Crowe's objective is simply to do his part to help the grumbler in us become grateful instead. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

"The Beautiful Community" (Irwyn L. Ince Jr)

TITLE: The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best
AUTHOR: Irwyn L. Ince Jr
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020, (176 pages).

Is beauty really in the eyes of the beholder? That is another way of saying that beauty is deep in the pool of subjectivity.  Before jumping to that conclusion, what about from God's point of view? What God had created good, just because it has been marred by sin, can we really claim it is no longer good? In a book that casts positive light on the potential of God's community, we have a book that describes the attributes of God being made manifest among the people of God. Author Irwyn Ince Jr writes with conviction: "The ministry of reconciliation demonstrated in the local church by the gathering of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities is the natural outworking of a rich covenantal theological commitment." The reason why we persevere in cultivating a beautiful community is simply because our Lord God is beautiful. He begins with God, the beautiful God. We learn of what it means to see and know our beautiful Lord. That means seeing God as He reveals Himself to us, primarily through loving fellowship with Him. This is essentially the "fellowship of knowing." Through His grace, we learn that God is community. God is perfection, proportion, and pleasure. All of these highlight the simplicity of God's love to us. This beauty in knowing God as Trinity helps us appreciate the beauty of God in us. Sadly, we are often divided among ourselves. This leads to a marring of God's beauty and dignity in us. We need to go back to God for healing and to be remade into the image of Christ, the One who came to redeem us. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"The Marriage Challenge" (Art Rainer)

TITLE: The Marriage Challenge: A Finance Guide for Married Couples
AUTHOR: Art Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2020, (192 pages).

All marriages have challenges. It could be due to different upbringing. It could be conflicts that arise out of differences in personalities. It could even be due to extended family relationships. Even some of the most mundane things in life could spark a big quarrel. Other big things include breakdown in communications; lack of attention to spousal needs; unmet expectations; insensitivity; and so on. Among the most common challenges is that of finance. During economic downturns, layoffs, and financial setbacks, marriages suffer. "A financially healthy couple doesn’t start with a checking account. It starts with unity. It starts with sacrificial, selfless love. It starts with both husband and wife moving away from “me” and toward “we.” Through this the gospel is displayed, and true financial health can be pursued." So begins author and pastor Art Rainer in this book dedicated to talking about financial relationships among couples. The three key things that Rainer advocates are:
  1. Deciding to begin with unity, where "we" takes priority over "me."
  2. Desiring after God's design via 8 Money Milestones;
  3. Destroying the Four Marriage Dividers.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

"40 Questions about Typology and Allegory" (Mitchell L. Chase)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory (40 Questions Series)
AUTHOR: Mitchell L. Chase
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2020, (320 pages).

The general agreement among Christians is that they believe the Bible is Truth, and that they would want to know the Bible more. Many study it and read books about it. They desire to know how to interpret and to apply God's Word into their lives. With the diversity of theological backgrounds, there is also a diversity of interpretations and hermeneutics. This ought to be seen more of a blessing because the greater the amount of tools and discoveries, the richer our collection of resources to help us grow closer to the Truth. For God's Word is infinitely rich, and our finite minds could only approach that wealth of knowledge over time and experience. Author and Professor Mitchell L Chase's key purpose in writing this book is to enable readers to "be more faithful readers of Scripture." He does this by presenting 40 questions for us to appreciate, ponder, and discover things that many of us normally would not have known how to ask. It is a kind of "seeing" via the lens of typology and allegory. In order to improve the way we see the Bible, we need to start with the big picture, which is exactly what the author has done: Re-read and re-read into a deeper experience. Before entering into the questions, Chase asks a question that all of us ought to ask: "What Story is the Bible Telling?" He then answers it in three ways: "Slowly but Surely"; "Leaning Forward and Looking Ahead"; "Promise and Fulfillment." The first is about seeing the Bible as being revealed over time. The second is the overarching themes from Genesis to Revelation, themes that reflect God's character and consistent messages throughout time, especially the Old Testament. The third is about the fulfilment of the promises made, and more specifically, Christ. With these, by linking historical and organic developments, and using Scripture to interpret Scripture, the author equips us by describing the different words used in the study; such as:

Friday, September 18, 2020

"9 Lies That Will Destroy Your Marriage" (Greg Smalley and Bob Paul)

TITLE: 9 Lies That Will Destroy Your Marriage: And the Truths That Will Save It and Set It Free
AUTHOR: Greg Smalley and Bob Paul
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2020, (288 pages).

Jesus says that one shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make one free. Many Christians believe that. Some even preach it wide. The main question is: Do we live it? With regard to marriage, how many couples actually practice that? Perhaps, the reality is that a lot of marriages are filled with half-truths. Why? Answer: Lack of trust in telling the truth. Using their work from seven thousand couples over the past 20 years, authors Paul and Smalley share nine of their best insights with a catchy title, that basically says that these lies are the marriage destroyers. Some of the falsehoods come from erroneous teachings, especially those that people want to believe. Things like "marriages are meant to have a happily ever after" or "your love is driving me crazy" ending. Worse, many couples would rather lie to protect their idealistic purposes instead of accepting the truth for what it is. When something is covered up, it usually means more covering up. Rather than building foundations on lies and half-truths, the authors show us Original Truth: Scripture. Recognize the original deceiver: the devil. Remember that the enemy is the devil that is always seeking to destroy relationships, especially marriages. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"The Mr Rogers Effect" (Dr. Anita Knight Kuhnley)

TITLE: The Mister Rogers Effect: 7 Secrets to Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and Others from America's Beloved Neighbor
AUTHOR: Dr. Anita Knight Kuhnley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2020, (208 pages).

He has been called "America's Hero." Others call him a brilliant educator. In this book, he is called "America's Beloved Neighbour." He is best known for his children's TV program called "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." His life has also inspired the making of a 2019 movie played by Tom Hanks, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." What spurred the author to write this book was Rogers's ability to connect with people. She marvels at how Rogers minister to an inner-city kid dealing with anger issues, and lamenting about how they need a Mr Rogers in their neighbourhood. She examines Rogers's careful words to reach out to a young boy on a wheelchair extending care beyond the boy to the doctors and nurses who cared for him. What was more amazing was that 18 years later, they still reconnected with much warmth and love. This and many more are highlights of Mr Rogers amazing life. There is much to learn from Rogers's life. Author Anita Kuhnley contributes to this by going on a quest to discover how to translate Mr Roger's positive influence into some helpful tools and strategies that we can use in our daily lives. Thanks to her training in psychology and qualitative research skills, she combs the resources about the legendary Fred McFeely Rogers, and how his influence had impacted lives both young and old. The key trademark is how Mr Rogers spoke to those of us feeling neglected and lonely. That is because he cares. Using television as a way to reach out to people, Rogers also learns from psychologists and relational experts to hone his skills in communicating care. Rogers credits Dr McFarland for that. Kuhnley gives us an overview of the four types of relational approaches: Secure; Preoccupied; Dismissive; and Unresolved. Apart from the secure child-parent relationship, the other three categories would produce different levels of insecurity in a child. Learning to connect with children and people in these categories is the purpose of Mr Rogers's ministry. Kuhnley does the hard work of digging through the materials and available resources about Mr Rogers and offers up seven "secrets" of Mr Rogers's unique ability to connect with people. The seven secrets mentioned are seven characteristics of what a good neighbour ought to be. These are:

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

"Dangerous Virtues" (John Koessler)

TITLE: Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good
AUTHOR: John Koessler
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (208 pages).

What is virtuous? How can virtues ever be dangerous? After all, the way we counter vices is to incorporate virtues into our lives. Not exactly. The saying, "A wolf in sheep's clothing" is a warning for us to beware of what's on the inside, and not to be deceived by what we see on the outside. This is what this book is about: Beware of the dangerous vices disguised as virtues. In short, be careful of dangerous virtues. Using the classic seven deadly virtues as a framework for the book, author John Koessler attempts to warn us not to be too comfortable with sin, especially those vices that masquerade as respectable sounding virtues. Going back to the desert fathers, one of the key purposes of these ancient saints is not about becoming more holy but to be more aware of their sinfulness. By understanding the characteristics and behaviours of these sins, they would be better equipped to deal with these impediments on the path to holiness. This means we do not just rest at calling something as sin. We need to recognize and remove their roots. One of these roots is the insidious way in which sins have become too comfortable in our daily lives. Fornication has been replaced by a generic "making love" where the superficial use of love covers the multitudes of sensuality. Greed has been replaced by ambition. All these subtle degradation of the flesh needs to be dealt with firmly and if needed, forcefully. This means diligent and deliberate perseverance toward sanctification. The author notes that while Christian living implies the "being" before the "doing," it does not mean we remain passive. Instead, we make a conscious choice to eradicate sin as a way to establish our virtues. Focusing on eradicating sin is a step forward to a virtuous life. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

"The Loss of a Grandparent to Covid-19" (Marion Donon)

TITLE: The loss of a grandparent to Covid-19, Gramps.: A short story to read to your children to help them through this difficult moment.
AUTHOR: Marion Donon
PUBLISHER: Give Me A Hug Collection, 2020, (21 pages).

This is a fictional story of a conversation between a mother and her son, who has just lost his grandfather. Written at the start of the pandemic, it was meant to support those going through emotional grief and physical strain, especially those affected directly by Covid-19. Due to time constraints, pictures and illustrations were pulled in order to facilitate a quick completion of the book. As the author says, the book is not about grief or bereavement. It is written like a story to reach out to children and parents on how best to talk about Covid-19 and the meaning of death and dying. 

It is never easy to talk to kids about "adult" topics such as death and dying. They are too young to understand what it means to leave this world. At the same time, death could impact anybody at any time. If we wait until it is too late, we would have missed out teaching moments or precious opportunities to show children early that life is not all play and fun. Life is hard and the earlier we prepare ourselves for it, the better. Covid-19 has impacted all parts of society. From the daily news updates about the pandemic to the continued wide media coverage about the coronavirus statistics, children in this generation would have heard of all these terms. Even if we try to avoid letting them know, they might be curious enough to ask and then to wonder about how it impacts them and their families. One of the best tried-and-tested methods is to use the power of stories. This way to communications help us be honest with our own feelings in an indirect manner. Stories give us words to share our thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening manner. They enable readers, and in this case, parents and their children to be on the same page as they openly discuss and talk about the meaning of loss. Some of the questions include:
  • Why couldn't I go and see him in the hospital, Mommy?
  • Why was the coffin already closed?
  • Do you miss him?
  • Mommy, why are you crying?
  • Was he afraid?
  • Where do you think he is now?
  • Am I going to die too, Mommy?
  • ....
The questions could have been more, but the way the author puts it makes it simple enough for parents to raise additional questions with their children and easy enough for children to follow along. Parents would think: "Hey, I could do that too!" Children would be free to ask their own set of questions as well. As I ponder on this book, I am glad that someone has written something to address children and how the prolonged coronavirus pandemic would impact them one way or another, sooner or later, directly or indirectly.

A former actress and director, with a masters in clinical psychology, Marion Donon now devotes her energy to children’s literature, while raising two small children of her own. She divides her time between France and the United States. 

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Marion Donon and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, August 28, 2020

"The Virus in the Age of Madness" (Bernard-Henri Lévy)

TITLE: The Virus in The Age of Madness
AUTHOR: Bernard-Henri Lévy
PUBLISHER: New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020, (128 pages).

If we look at the year 2020, most people around the world would agree that life has changed forever. Social distancing is everywhere. People wear masks when they venture outdoors. A lot of people work from home. Air travel has been curtailed. More people are buying take-out instead of dining in. Schools are operating at less than normal capacity. Universities shift classes to online platforms. Welcome to the new normal. For some, this is a crazy phenomeon where entire lifestyles need to change because of a microscopic virus. With keen observation, author Bernard-Henri Lévy notes that the madness is not the virus but the reactions caused. Busy cities emptied out into ghost towns. Popular restaurants shut down. Pollution decreased as the number of stay-home workers increased. Violent demonstrations in HK and terrorism in other parts of the world too seem to have disappeared overnight. Most interestingly, we see how the little virus brings out the behaviours rarely seen under normal circumstances. They also bring out our appreciation for "invisible" group of workers such as caregivers, delivery personnel, garbage collectors, freight shippers, online workers, and so on. In a world that is shivering with fear, how about taking time to deal with the "innermost metaphysics" within us? There are a lot of things to be concerned. What we take at face value is often something that is deeply troubling. The author offers this book as a way to question conventional wisdom and the uncritical acceptance of top-down advice, especially from the politicians and the newly elevated social status of medical or health experts. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

"Emerging Gender Identities" (Mark Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky)

TITLE: Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today's Youth
AUTHOR: Mark Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2020, (256 pages).

The issue of gender identities is one of the most controversial topics in our cultures today. With political lobbying, gender identity is increasingly becoming a political tool. Some even use science to prove their point of view. Others blame it on psychological profiles while still others point to genetic makeup, questioning links between chromosomes and emotional well-being. It is becoming a confusing array of opinions and arguments. What used to be clearly male and female is not so clear today. There are accusations of liberal gender-switching as well as confusion over what exactly is gender. Some take the scientific approach to try to make sense of gender confusion. This may pass the chromosomal tests raises doubts about their direct relevance to emotional attachments. The notion of gender being classified either binary or not is increasingly challenged even as society grows more tolerant with gender definitions that transcend conventional thinking. For authors Yarhouse and Sadusky, they call it nuancing gender identities. One of the key ideas is "gender dysphoria" which zooms out of gender identity discussions and zooms into the "distress experienced" by the persons. In other words, the authors propose addressing the emotional distress so that we could discuss "alternative gender" instead of "assigned gender." They cite studies about such emerging gender identities to highlight the need to go beyond mere binary assumptions. Research suggests distinguishing "biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality." Gender identity is sometimes not assigned per se but applied using political force to the point that transgenderism has become an umbrella term to cover all non-binary interpretations of gender. In order to clarify what gender identities are, one needs to be free from the political pressure to conform to certain expectations. This means we need to understand how political pressure leads to public identity; and factors such as the sexual revolution, feminist movements, deconstruction of sex, and others.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"Hebrews Through Revelation" (Andreas J. Köstenberger)

TITLE: Handbook on Hebrews through Revelation (Handbooks on the New Testament)
AUTHOR: Andreas J. Köstenberger
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (304 pages).

There are many commentaries that are either too brief or too dense with information. Finding something that is just right can be hard and this handbook aims to help us with that task. Why not have a handbook that gives us a good summary without becoming bogged down with details, and yet sufficient background for us to appreciate and understand key themes in the books to be studied? This is the purpose of these series of Baker Academic handbooks that are aimed at students, pastors, lay persons, professors, and so on. This particular handbook focuses on the non-Pauline epistles, the eight general epistles, right through to Revelation. One interesting observation is how the ancient manuscript traditions placed the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude immediately after Acts. That was probably because these disciples were much closer and more prominent to the witness of the Church chronologically and historically. Paul came relatively later. 

After the introductory statements, readers would be thrilled to see how the author gives concise summaries about the themes of each letter. Starting with Hebrews, Köstenberger makes a strong case why the anonymous nature of the letter should not trouble us in our understanding of the main messages. This is helpful for those of us who might be troubled by the lack of information on who wrote it. He answers each question he posed quickly and directly. He expands on major themes and breezes through other themes without sacrificing continuity. Like good handbooks, he includes a respectable list of commentaries and literature for advanced reading. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"A Commentary on James" (Aída Besançon Spencer)

TITLE: A Commentary on James
AUTHOR: Aída Besançon Spencer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2020, (352 pages).

Why is the authorship of the letter of James of such importance? Apart from the ancient context of the letter, what about the interpretations by the early church traditions? What about gender language then and now? Based on the literary structure and grammatical analysis, what can we learn about the themes of the letter? What are the alternate theories about authorship? With her academic background in literary and historical analysis, author and professor Aída Besançon Spencer applies a close exegetical-literary reading into the letter of James to reveal precious gems and crucial themes for us. In doing so, she takes us through a journey about how to endure trials; spiritual wisdom; perspective on wealth; doer of the Word; living faith; usage of the tongue; appropriate speech; precautions about temptations; perseverance; prayer; etc. Going through chapter by chapter, passage by passage, each chapter begins with a similar framework:
  • Translation and Grammatical Analysis
  • Outline of chapter
  • Literary Structure
  • Exposition
  • Theological and Homiletical Topics
  • Other miscellaneous observations

Monday, August 10, 2020

"See-Through Marriage" (Ryan and Selena Frederick)

TITLE: See-Through Marriage
AUTHOR: Ryan and Selena Frederick
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2020, (256 pages).

In any marriage, honesty is a given. Couples are expected to be truthful to each other in all things. Put it another way, good marriages have transparency as the key attribute. No secrets. No lies. No hidden agendas. According to marriage counselors Ryan and Selena Frederick, "unfettered transparency rescues relationships, glorifies God, and multiplies joy." Transparency means vulnerability. Vulnerability involves openness and humility. It invites trust. Why is this critical? One major reason is the widespread show-off culture driven by the popularity of social media. This tempts one to pretend one is well by putting forth photos and pictures of what people wanted to see. The authors believe that we live in a culture of what we see is what we expect to get. Marriages too can fall into such falsehood. The challenge is to take meaningful risk by being vulnerable and transparent. Avoid false vulnerability which essentially hides what is important and only displays what is less important. With the central thesis of cultivating a "see-through marriage," the authors lead us through different ways to accomplish that. Using Bible teachings as the key guide, they remind us that we do not need to hide in darkness but to boldly live in the light. Living in the light according to 1 John 1:6-8 contains two promises when we do that: Purification and fellowship. Transparency means not only we not hide from God, we learn not to hide from each other. There is no fear in love. A healthy marriage means we learn to be open with each other instead of hiding things from each other. That means we learn to know ourselves and the identity God has given us. If we are secured in knowing our identity in God, we will not easily compare ourselves with others. They expand on this topic of identity through the physiological self as well as the psychological self. Experiencing oneness is one of the deepest experiences transparency can provide. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

"Exodus Old and New" (Louis Michael Morales)

TITLE: Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology)
AUTHOR: Louis Michael Morales
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020, (224 pages).

There are many precious lessons and truths we can learn from the Bible. With the rich narratives, histories, poetry, prophecies, symbolism, images, and so on, there are many timeless biblical principles that we can apply to our daily lives. One of the key themes of the Christian life is the journey motif. Related to this is something relatively less talked about: The Exodus motif. Based on his dissertation work under Gordon J. Wenham on Genesis and Exodus, author Michael Morales takes the familiar Old Testament journey narrative and focuses on the exit from darkness to light in three situations. The first is the historical exodus of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This is often the default popular understanding of the exodus. When we refer to the "exodus" in the Bible, almost always we would think of the Bible book "Exodus." This is the "old exodus." Morales believes that the exodus motif has more significance rather than a historical retelling of the story of Israel escaping the clutches of Pharaoh. In fact, he discovers that the exodus motif can be found in several other Bible books like Matthew, Romans, and Revelation. He widens it to include the "second exodus," which is essentially the prophesied second exodus accomplished in Jesus as he leads people from hell to life, even as He emerges from death to life in his resurrection. This can also be understood as the exodus from death to life. Third, there is the "new exodus" where Jesus rises from earth to glory as described in the gospel of John. This three exodus movements parallel the threefold structure of Dante Alighieri's poem:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

"Forerunners of the Faith Manual" (Nathan Busenitz)

TITLE: Forerunners of the Faith: 13 Lessons to Understand and Appreciate the Basics of Church History
AUTHOR: Nathan Busenitz
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (112 pages).

The great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said: "Life is lived forward but understood backwards." In trying to make sense of history, we are in effect trying to understand the meaning and significance of how past events have impacted or are still influencing our modern world. As a kid, history is one of those subjects that tend to be old and boring. Who wants to study the past when the future is so much more exciting? Once we get older, we realize that many things that we are trying to solve in the present have happened before in the past. In fact, the more we know of the past, the better we are able to plan for the future. With regard to faith, it is no different. In this survey of Church History, Church Age, or some might prefer to call it the History of Christianity, author and professor Busenitz divides post-Resurrection age in four periods:
  1. The Apostolic Age (1st Century)
  2. The Patristic Age (2nd-5th Centuries)
  3. The Middle Age (6th-15th Centuries)
  4. The Reformation and Modern Period (16th-20th Centuries)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

"Part-Time is Plenty" (G. Jeffrey MacDonald)

TITLE: Part-Time is Plenty: Thriving without Full-Time Clergy
AUTHOR: G. Jeffrey MacDonald
PUBLISHER: Louisville, LY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020, (180 pages).

For many churches, pastors are hard to find. More specifically, finding the right fit between pastor and church is even more difficult, if not impossible. The need will always be there, but pastors will come and go. If one casually checks the websites of various churches, one would quickly realize how many churches need to hire clergy for their various ministries. The signs are not encouraging. With more seminaries shutting down or downsizing due to declining student enrollment, this impacts the pool of new qualified graduates available for churches. Financial challenges are plenty as well. Many churches with aging members experience sharp declines in revenue. With full-time clergy hard to find, financial resources being stretched, and the difficulty of fitting together different expectations, finding a pastor might very well be close to impossible. Churches' budgets are squeezed. Candidates' expectations continue to rise. Demands on sacrificial service are made on a decreasing pool of willing people. In a climate where the demands are so high and the supply so low, we need to do something about it. There needs to be a new model to ensure that churches are still able to function in an environment where full-time clergy are hard, if not impossible to find. What if we lower our search toward part-timers? What if we learn to see opportunities instead of problems? What if we modify the current ways of doing Church to fit the new reality? This would require a paradigm shift. For some, it might mean changing expectations of seismic proportions. Before that could happen, perhaps re-education is required. This book shows the way to prepare our hearts for a new reality. Realizing the potential of part-timers, author G. Jeffrey MacDonald was awarded a grant by BTS Center nonprofit to visit congregations with part-time clergy in ten states in the US. Fair to say, there are some churches where membership dropped when they switched to part-time clergy. Yet, there are also others whose membership stayed strong, even thrived.