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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor" (Mark Yarbrough)

TITLE: How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor: A Practical and Entertaining Exploration of the World's Most Famous Book
AUTHOR:  Mark Yarbrough
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faithwords, 2015, (368 pages).

Have you ever been in Bible studies where people seem to lack a sense of proper interpretation, choosing instead to depend on individual feelings and experiences? What about cases where members seem to talk over the Scripture with personal opinions instead of proper Bible study? At the same time, there are those sessions that appear too difficult for the laymen to grasp, ending up with confusion and frustrations at knowing the text but failing to see the God of the text? Associate Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr Mark Yarbrough, offers this volume to assist Bible studies for folks like you and me. The title of the book appears rather intimidating as readers may harbour negative views of theologians and seminarians as people who talk above the normal head. While people do not want to skip important theological themes, they too do not want to let Bible studies become exercises of subjective opinions and individual fancies.

Yarbrough writes with tremendous empathy of the struggles of the layperson. He uses his coursework to help readers anchor themselves in a "Know It, Work It, and Live It" model. In KNOWING IT, readers will learn the general structure, story, and the substance of the text.

The basic plan for the book is based on the sequence of numbers:

  • Old Testament (5-12-5-5-12)
  • New Testament (4-1-21-1)


Monday, May 4, 2015

"Shifting Stats" (Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller)

TITLE: Shifting Stats Shaking The Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond
AUTHOR: Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller
PUBLISHER: Mississauga, ON, World Vision Canada, 2015, (241 pages).

Resource Link
The world is changing, and changing fast. As the people of God continues to live in the world, remembering that they are not of the world, it is still important to remember the unique witness churches have for God. In spite of shifting sands and changing environments, the Church must learn to stay the course in proclaiming Jesus everywhere she goes. Amid the struggles, there are successes. Amid the good happenings, there are challenging moments. Whatever the circumstances, churches will do well to know the contexts of the ministries they are in. Beginning with a startling foreword that paints the unique times of Canadian culture and religious climate, faith journalists Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller were commissioned by World Vision Canada to help tell the stories of Churches in Canada that are making a difference in their neighbourhoods, how they are contributing to society, and the unique roles they play. The forty churches in this study range from churches as small as 15 to as large as 3500+. Based on stories shared at "World Vision's 2014 Shifting Stats Church Leaders Forum," the forty stories span every Canadian province and territory, multi-ethnic and multi-denominational settings, both rural and urban centers, covering churches of different sizes. The stories focus on creative adaptations and ministry initiatives that are sensitive to immigration patterns, changes in family, youth, volunteer work, and other important aspects of Canadian society. From Victoria BC, we read of how Emmanuel Baptist Church open their doors and hearts to students at the University of Victoria, with welcoming hospitality, warm meals, and friendship. Providing dinners, space, as well as free Wi-Fi, the initiative has become so popular that students even say that the thing they miss about leaving school eventually is the time with EBC. From Fredericton, New Brunswick, we read of Smythe Street Cathedral reaches kids through a leadership camp called "Camp Lead" that goes beyond mere Vacation Bible School, and empower kids toward real-life interactions and contributions to community. By training young children and youths about the potential of changing the world, readers are given a fresh does of how to engage the young. From Mississauga, Ontario, Gateway Church welcomes new immigrants through a 25000 square foot community center that not only meets for weekly worship but also provides various forms of programs to help integrate new immigrants to Canadian society. It has also received government funding as it helps contribute positively to Canada. Emmanuel Mennonite Mission Church (EMCC) based in Altona, Southern Manitoba adopts a "tapping shoulders" approach in reaching out the newcomers such as new immigrants. Through their ESL programs and a welcoming community, they begin with building friendships. They also use the shoulder tapping strategy to enlist volunteers for the outreach programs. What is needed it genuine interest both ways.

Friday, May 1, 2015

"Praying the Bible" (Donald S. Whitney)

TITLE: Praying the Bible
AUTHOR: Donald S. Whitney
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Crossway, 2015, (115 pages).

Prayer is important but it can from time to time become boring, shallow, or even meaningless. What then do we do about it? Is there a problem we need to take note of? Have we become too individualistic in our prayer concerns? It can happen, sometimes way too often. From safety in school to studies, parents pray the same things for their kids. From time management to work performances, employees pray for their work. Families pray for finances, jobs, or various family concerns. Church groups pray for their Church programmes or members who are hurting. Young people pray for their direction and future. Believers pray for their Christian concerns. After a while, even if one does not know the specific requirements, somehow, the requests of each person do not actually vary. The end result is a series of repeated, monotonous, and similar prayers. Even the most pious and persistent prayer warriors will be uttering the same kinds of prayers. According to author and professor, Donald S. Whitney, the problem lies in the method. His premise is simple. Pray through Scripture.

Use the Psalms as a way to weave in our everyday concerns with God's pattern of communication. Use the day of the month to pray through five different kinds of psalms. Let the needs of our present moment be interwoven with the pattern of Scripture. For instance, in Psalm 23:1, when we pray "The Lord is my Shepherd," pray all manner of needs around God as Shepherd. Bring forth our present, our past, and our future before the Shepherd who knows exactly who we are, how we are doing, and what we are feeling. When ready, feel free to move on to the next verse. Whitney assures readers that it is ok not to be too Bible-study-centric. In fact, he advises us to avoid turning the Bible into some kind of a study. Instead, use it devotionally without being distracted by the theologies and the technical details of each word or phrase. While the author proposes the Psalms as the mainstay of prayer, he does not stop there. He shares how we can use the New Testament as well as other parts of Scripture. The most important thing of all is to put the method into practice, which is exactly what he did more than half-way through the book.

My Thoughts

Honestly, I am stoked about this method as it is simple and Bible-based. It is encouraging to most of us who lack seminary training. All that is needed is the ability to read the Bible, and to let the Bible lead us. There is no need for us to have training in Greek/Hebrew (though it can be very helpful). there is no need for us to be stuck at some verses or to feel guilty about skipping parts of the Scripture. After all, we are aiming at communing with God and to let the Word lead and to guide us. We are not coming up with some revolutionary doctrine or theological dogma. We are simply increasing our desire to pray creatively in the Word, and to be empowered to pray more in depth and in scope.

The biggest benefit to reading this book is actually the prayer experience itself. I find it a very simple and creative method to adopt. Like many methods, it is important to put what we learn or read straightaway into practice. Only then, we can benefit most. My friends, this book is a very useful resource to help us get back to active and creative praying. For the faithful, use it to supplement your existing methods of prayer. There is no need to discard your old ways. For the busy, do not be pressured into using large chunks of the Bible each time. If you felt led to focus on just one verse, that may very well be most appropriate for you at that time. God understands. In fact, by memorizing the Word, we can even pray throughout the day. Know what, this method can also be used in groups. It can even enable groups to pray together in unison and with multiple perspectives of the same verse!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade

This book is provided to me courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Truly Free" (Robert Morris)

TITLE: Truly Free: Breaking the Snares That So Easily Entangle
AUTHOR: Robert Morris
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2015, (240 pages).

Freedom is much touted and cherished in the West. From the Declaration of Independence to the enshrinement of freedom in anthems, oaths, and pledges, we may have from time to time be guilty in taking our common freedoms for granted. In fact, we may enslaved more than we are aware of. When Christ came to set us free, we will be free. Unless we become deceived, distracted, discouraged, or depressed. According to lead pastor and author, Robert Morris, for one to be truly free, discipleship and deliverance must go hand in hand. He laments the fact that Christians who are supposed to be living in freedom are unfortunately living in enslavement and snares to several temptations. In a series of what looked like three-point sermons that make up the chapters of this book, Morris begins by systematically using the biblical principles and teachings of Scripture to remind us that freedom in Christ means following Christ and being delivered from the trickery of the evil one and the temptations of the world, and the vulnerabilities of the flesh Dispelling two popular myths, he draws from the wisdom of CS Lewis who wrote in the popular book, The Screwtape Letters:

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them."

Friday, April 24, 2015

"The Better Life" (Claire Diaz-Ortiz)

TITLE: The Better Life: Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are
AUTHOR: Claire Diaz-Ortiz
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (160 pages).

Good things come in small packages. Learn to start where you are rather than to wait for the improbable perfect situation. This is what the popular author and speaker, Claire Diaz-Ortiz says in thirty over vignettes that inspire one toward a better life. Diaz-Ortiz is also known as a "top-level Twitter employee" as well as her humanitarian work, especially through her organization, "Hope Runs" which is a non-profit organization supporting AIDS orphanages in Kenya. This book is an example of why her influence is infectious. With her winsome approach, she puts together a book that truly inspires one to do more with the present resources rather than to wait in vain for more resources that may never appear. Tips like learning to set our intention using the power of one word; to become morning people who usually get more things done; to do the seven most important things each day using the PRESENT acronym; the need to say no and rest; and the need to say no and work; and many more.

The author weaves in her own life stories in the book about how the smallest decisions in life can affect her journey in life. Like the time when she said yes to an invitation to work for Twitter, and 99 ways in which one need to say no to things that really do not matter, and also in order to protect that one focus for the year. Many things she shared appear to be common sense, like learning to accept the hurts and disappointments that come our way; as well as perseverance to accomplish something and the openness to learn. It is really easy reading and the short snippets make this book an easy pick-up and perk-me-up reading material when traveling to work or home on the bus or train. While there could be other ways to nuance her observations and sharing, the moment we over-analyze her memoir, the less beneficial the book is for us. If we were to simply read and watch her reveal her learning in life, it will be a lot more meaningful for us as eavesdroppers instead of judges of what is happening in her life.

Better life or not, we can choose to think and live positively through the ups and downs of life. Not all of the author's chapters may appeal, but if there is just one that does help, it would have worth the price of the book. So, pick up this book and read away.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Faith Speaking Understanding" (Kevin J. Vanhoozer)

TITLE: Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine
AUTHOR: Kevin J. Vanhoozer
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (298 pages).

Mention doctrine and there is a good chance that people would yawn. The central theme is that the world changes most when the Church stays the same, doctrinal, theologically, and faithfully. Even as the world spins itself dizzy in various directions, the Church can choose to be faithful and steadfast to the good old gospel story of the Old Rugged Cross of Jesus Christ. Using the metaphor of theatrical performance, Kevin Vanhoozer affirms the importance of doctrine as a necessary teaching in Churches and as a key part of discipleship. He takes a “high view” of Scripture that underlines the basis of all doctrinal discussions. Nine interrelated themes underline how the Church can become a living Bible.
  1. About Being Biblical
  2. About Theology
  3. About Church Doctrine
  4. About the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  5. About Life
  6. About the Reign of God
  7. About the Church
  8. About Public Theology
  9. About Reality

Monday, April 20, 2015

"What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?" (Kevin DeYoung)

TITLE: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
AUTHOR: Kevin DeYoung
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2015, (160 pages).

Many people claim that the Bible speaks specifically about homosexuality by simply quoting the few popular verses. Not many offer to begin by asking the fundamental question, "What does the Bible really teach about everything?" This is what author and pastor, Kevin DeYoung did. He goes back to the beginning of creation, the Fall, the land, the temple, the coming Messiah, and the expectant future of a new heaven and new earth. He points out that the Bible is not about God giving us a lecture about homosexuality. Rather, it is learning to see what the Bible really focus on before we even talk about homosexuality. Having said that, he makes this statement about the book, that it is a "Christian book, with a narrow focus, defending a traditional view of marriage." In other words, DeYoung is writing from a Christian point of view. He is exploring the way the Bible verses talk about homosexuality. It is about defending the traditional view of marriage as between a man and a woman. Aware of the contentious subject, he addresses three groups of potential readers. The first group is the already convinced where he aims to remind them to argue respectfully and appropriately. This means learning to recognize one's sinfulness and imperfections too. The second group are the skeptics or contentious, where he hopes will argue strictly on biblical grounds rather than on charged up emotions. The third group are the confused or those who just do not know how to respond.


Friday, April 17, 2015

"Saturate" (Jeff Vanderstelt)

TITLE: Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life
AUTHOR: Jeff Vanderstelt
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

This book is about ordinary Christianity being put into practice in everyday life. It is for imperfect people trying to do something good in this world. It is about believers wanting to obey the Word of God. It is about discipleship in simple terms. It is also about putting theory into practice, where theology's rubber hits the road of discipleship. Jeff Vanderstelt, lead pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA in confessing that he dislikes writing, has decided to publish the book because of a vision in Habbakuk 2:14, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." He believes that it is possible for every believer to practice discipleship in a way that saturates the world they live in with Christ's love and influence. Presenting his idea in four frames of thought, he begins by mentioning the idea of church not as an event or program but a lifestyle of hospitality. People want to be participants and not mere spectators. Opportunities need to be given to such people to contribute. It is better to be a fisherman instead of watching people fish. He goes back to Jesus' willingness to meet people where they are, at weddings, parties, houses, and ordinary places. It is not the religious events that matter but all the ordinary activities through the day. His vision of church is essentially the people of God living together on a mission in everyday living. Church does not end in a Church service on Sunday. It begins on Sunday and Church happens in everyday living through the rest of the week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Finding Truth" (Nancy Pearcey)

TITLE: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes
AUTHOR: Nancy Pearcey
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2015, (384 pages).

Christianity is facing growing opposition on many different fronts, some of which are also hostile and defiant. Even among believers, there are many who are leaving the faith, discouraged or disillusioned. One example is a congressional chief of staff, Bill Wichterman who said he "lost his faith at an evangelical college." At the heart of the problem is the perception that Christianity had no intellectual foundation to meet the challenges of atheism, secularism, and other principalities that dominate the world today. No way! said the author of the bestselling book TOTAL TRUTH, and Director of the Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture at Houston Baptist University. Using the inspiration of Bill Wichterman, who eventually "studied his way" back to faith, Pearcey puts together five principles to engage critics, skeptics, and disillusioned individuals to affirm the integrity and rationality of the Christian faith. Based on Romans 1:1-2:16, Pearcey's five principles are:

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Spiritual Friendship" (Wesley Hill)

TITLE: Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian
AUTHOR: Wesley Hill
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, (160 pages).

Must all relationships be sexual in one way or another? Is there a place for celibacy in the modern debate over homosexuality? Can there be genuine friendships without any sexual connotations?More importantly, is there a place for friendship in spite of one's sexual orientation? According to Wesley Hill who is celibate and also gay, the answer is yes. In this book about spiritual friendship, Hill attempts to show us that friendship is "the freest, the least constrained, the least fixed and determined, of all human loves" and "entirely voluntary, uncoerced, and unencumbered by any sense of duty or debt."  He believes that friendship must stand alone and above all kinds of opinions or prejudices. He sees Simon bearing Jesus' cross as "an icon of friendship." He separates the idea of sexual attraction from the development of true spiritual friendship. Having done that, he moves toward distilling the essence of spiritual friendship based on acceptance, grace, and love. Hill believes that the gospel says "No" to same-sex relationships but "Yes" to spiritual friendship that is not necessarily sexual in any way. This sets him on a path to finding out love as a celibate and spiritual friendship without sexual implications.