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Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Forty Questions about Baptism and the Lord's Supper" (John S. Hammett)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord's Supper (40 Questions & Answers Series)
AUTHOR: John S. Hammett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (336 pages).

From time to time, even the most fundamental aspects of our liturgies may be questioned, especially the rituals that we practice regularly. While the Roman Catholic Church and many Eastern Orthodox churches maintain seven sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders), Martin Luther led the Protestants by keeping only three (Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance). Many evangelicals nowadays keep only two of them, namely the Baptism and the Eucharist, where the latter is often called the Lord's Supper. Why is there a need to talk about the basics of these two basic sacraments? That is because even when various denominations and groups profess to celebrate these two sacraments, what they represent and how they are conducted can be very different theologically and practically. There is no question about their importance and relevance to the Church. The key concern is about the different ways of interpretation and what they mean to to various Christian groups. Even the use of the terms are different. Some groups (like the Baptists) prefer to use "ordinances" while others (RCC, and many Reformed churches) stick to "sacraments." These differences are only the beginning. There are other more profound questions that surround the general views, the denominational views, the theological views, and the practical aspects.

How is this book unique? The authors point out four features. First, unlike many books, this book treats not just one but both sacraments: Baptism and Communion. This means that the two most important sacraments of evangelical churches are described in one book, making it a convenient two-in-one volume resource. Second, there is an expanded coverage of issues pertaining to both the Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Many books drill down on infant baptism and the nature of Christ's presence respectively. This book discusses a lot more. For Baptism, readers learn about the historical development, the difference between Spirit and water baptism, the reasons why Jesus was baptized, the relationship between John's baptism and Jesus' baptism, and of course, infant baptism. For the Eucharist, we learn about the different terms used, the denominational differences, the origins, the reasons for celebrating, and the meaning and practice of the Lord's Supper. Third, the book covers several important practical issues like:
  • When should a child be baptized?
  • Thinking about baptism and church divisions
  • Modes of baptism
  • Frequency of Lord's Supper
  • What should or should not be included in the Eucharist liturgy
  • How worship can be improved with the Eucharist?
  • and others...

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Boundless" (Bryan Bishop)

TITLE: Boundless: What Global Expressions of Faith Teach Us about Following Jesus
AUTHOR: Bryan Bishop
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (240 pages).

It is no secret that the Church in the West is losing her appeal. Statistics year on year show a general decline in Church attendance, especially among the young. Many long time Church members are disillusioned and divided by many factions, with one of the most polarizing being the gay marriage and ordination of gay bishops and ministers. Church people in America are not having a good time. If there is any one group needing a "faith-lift," it would be the Western Church at large. What if this bout of encouragement comes from fresh believers outside of the West? What if excitement about the faith comes not from within generations of Church goers but from people who were transformed from their non-Christian religions and backgrounds? What about God using amazing ways to touch people from all over the world in the most challenging situations? This book shows us that hope may very well be visible out there. While religions in the West are often perceived negatively, it is not that true in other parts of the world. Many believers in richer societies are preoccupied with first world problems. It takes an encounter with people struggling with real issues that bring a whole new perspective about faith and the cost of following Jesus. Using the C1-C6 (C-Scale Spectrum) first developed by John Travis, author Bryan Bishop hopes to shake up the complacency of Western believers by letting the testimonies of people from other cultures touch their hearts. In brief, the C-Spectrum are:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Introducing World Missions" (A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee)

TITLE: Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission)
AUTHOR: A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (336 pages).

Recently, the wife of a modern missionary, Jim Elliot, passed away. She was passionate about missions. She experienced it, spoke, about it, and died with missions very much in her heart. The world has lost another missionary but the work of missions continue. What are contemporary missions? How has it changed over the years? This textbook provides a comprehensive introduction to what world missions is about. Aimed not just at missionaries to be, the authors want to share not only the importance of missions but also to educate more about this important work of the Church. The first of a series of eight books on missions from an evangelical perspective, this book covers a broad overview of:
  • Missions Primer
  • Missions in Scriptures
  • Missions in History
  • Missionary Candidates
  • Being Sent Out and becoming a Sender
  • Missions in the Contemporary World
The eight volumes of the "Encountering Missions" series are:
  1. Introducing World Missions (2004, 2015)
  2. The Changing Face of Missions (2005)
  3. Encountering Missionary Life and Work (2008)
  4. Christianity Encountering World Religions (2009)
  5. Encountering Theology of Mission (2010)
  6. Developing a Strategy for Missions (2013)
  7. Effective Intercultural Communication (2014)
  8. To be confirmed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"I Will" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: I Will: Nine Habits of the Outwardly Focused Christian
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2015, (128 pages).

The author of "I Am a Church Member" has done it again. In that book, he talks about six implications of what it means to be a Church member. In this latest book, he has decided to move from inside the Church to what a Christian can (or will) do outside the Church. It contains what the author calls "nine traits of outwardly focused Christian." Thom Rainer then sets the tone early in the book to encourage readers to move from a "I Want" Church member to a "I Will" disciple. Beginning with a list of "Top Nine Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests," he helps readers to see that a "I Want" mentality represents an inward focused Christian while a "I Will" means an outwardly focused Christian. It is also an opportunity for Rainer to move from the previous focus on attitude in membership matters to a new purpose in right actions.

The first trait is a "I Will Move" which represents a resolve that right actions must follow from right attitudes. Right attitude means unifying, sacrificial serving, praying, and rejoicing Church member. Right actions mean putting all of these into tangible deeds.

Friday, June 26, 2015

"The New Adapters" (Jacob Armstrong with Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter)

TITLE: The New Adapters: Shaping Ideas to Fit Your Congregation
AUTHOR: Jacob Armstrong with Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (120 pages).

How much do we love the Church? Do we spend more time criticizing the things she does? Have we constructively built up the Church over the years? Do we really believe in the Church that we are prepared to adapt our ways according to changing times? In this book, after a conversation with United Methodist Church ministers, Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, Jacob Armstrong have come up with a model called "The New Adapters" model to bridge and help old established ideas with adapting to new reality in changing times. His vision of such new adaptation comprises eight broad proposals. Firstly, the vision must fit the mission field. This means that we cannot allow our own preconceptions to determine the ministry we want to be in. Rather, we need to know the community first through "learning, knowing, and loving the community" that we are in. This calls for an attitude of "Praying and Listening" so as to bridge our past "megaphone model" with the current "direct marketing" model to our community. Armstrong provides six questions to help do the listening. Secondly, the mission of the Church must include ministry to the poor. We must resist the temptation to stick to the wealthy, the influential, and the powerful. For such efforts tend to make us rely less on the providence of God. Preaching good news to the poor was Jesus' announcement prior to his ministry. Such "focus on the poor" can help bring any inward focus toward outreach. Churches that ignore the poor do so at their own peril. Thirdly, create new spaces for new people. Let these new spaces bring people from buildings to programs. Spaces are not just physical places but opportunities for people to work and live together.  This means not making visitors and strangers fit into our mold but to allow compassion and love to adjust according to the needs of these visitors and new people.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Divine Sex" (Jonathan Grant)

TITLE: Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age
AUTHOR: Jonathan Grant
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, (256 pages).

What images does the word "sex" brings to mind? Are they positive images of beauty or negative pictures of filth? Are they from respectable publications or is it from erotic tabloids? Do Christian publishing houses talk often enough about sex and sexuality matters, apart from abstentions, avoidances, or sexual addictions? Not often enough, which is why this book aims to bring back the beauty of sexuality and how the world at large needs a vision of God's creation, something Jonathan Grant calls, "Divine Sex." The world we live in unfortunately have inundated us with corrupted images of what was meant to be good into something that represent all things wrong. Grant calls it "hypersexualized age" where sex and love are confused with personal preferences and sexual objects for self-gratification. Even churches stayed silent on many matters on sex. Maybe it is due to ignorance, or probably it is due to fear of negative pushbacks by a society that is bent on insisting upon their own ways. Grant asserts that we as a Church need to "catch up," "to understand the needs of this generation as it deals with the brokenness and fragmentation of modern sexuality." Based on this recognition, Grant goes on to tackle these key questions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird" (Amy Lively)

TITLE: How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird
AUTHOR: Amy Lively
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015, (224 pages).

How many of us actually know who our neighbors are? It is well known that Jesus commanded his disciples to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet, it remains one of the most challenging aspects of modern Christian living. Sometimes, we try to rationalize away that our neighbors are mainly in our workplaces or social areas, and minimize the literal physical neighborhoods. That was something dealt with by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon in their book, "The Art of Neighboring" which is about building genuine relationships with our physical neighbors. They identify fear as one of the key barriers to actually loving our neighbors. For how can anyone love their neighbor without first loving them? Some don't know how while others simply feel weird about it all. For these struggles, many people simply give other excuses for not even trying to know their neighbors. In the same vein, Amy Lively, a popular speaker and author based in Lancaster, Ohio, reinforces this need to reach out to our neighbors with a whole book dedicated to three key aspects, or should I say, gives me three compelling thoughts.

First, it is about overcoming one's fears of reaching our neighbors. Having personally experienced the weirdness of just trying to reach out, she shares about her earlier years learning from some Christian neighbors who were not intrusive but were still very influential in their welcome and care. Often we get trapped by fears of negative reactions by people who prefer us to mind our own business. Yet, what if our very neighbors are in some crisis or trouble that we will never know until we ask? What if under the external facade of wealth and well-being is a soul struggling with loneliness and discouragement? What if we have unconsciously judged our neighbors by their covers? One way to overcome fear is to let curiosity leads the way. Notice what they have been doing through the day. Smile at them. Pray for them. Be aware of their presence. They are social people, not some puzzle for us to solve. Lively also shows us that it is easier to invite our neighbors to our homes rather than our churches. Who knows. It could very well bring them a step closer to the faith. Another way to overcome fear is to recognize how diverse our communities are. Weirdness comes about often because we are different. Once we recognize that differences are common aspects of a diverse community, we can learn to live with differences and acceptance. More importantly, the battle is often within ourselves, not outside. For we can have our heads full of ideas, only to be stopped by a heart full of resistance.

Second, the focus is not conversion but conversational moments. It is about making friends. One reason why Christians fail to make good neighborly connections is their self-imposed pressure to convert people. That is not necessary for conversion is God's responsibility. Ours is conversational moments. We do the greeting. We make friends. We strike up ordinary conversations about life. We begin with natural relationships. Let God lead the rest. Do kind deeds and be a good neighbor. We may not be eloquent with words but we can certainly show kindness in ways we are able to. We can pray. Lively puts it bluntly:

"The two most important things you can do to make your neighborhood safer are to get to know your neighbors' name and to get out of your houses." (117)
Indeed, if we do not even get out of our own houses, how are we to even know our neighbors, and our neighbors to know us? In an increasingly online and virtual society, it is tempting to stay indoors so much that we forget about the outdoors. Even our most obnoxious neighbor, God still loves him or her. If those of us who spend countless of hours working or serving in Churches can broaden our perspectives to see the world as our parish, why not our neighborhoods? The spiritual gifts that we have, surely they are not limited only to church stuff? How people respond is not our responsibility. How we respond to God's calling for us to love our neighbors is ours.

Third, stepping out is a step of faith. For we speak and reach out not on our own strengths but God's. We can become like walking Marthas constantly busy with our own work that we forget that we are not living in the desert with nobody. We forget that we live in neighborhoods with people that Jesus loves. We forget that ours are not the only messy houses around. Many others have their own mess too. It is a risk that can be rewarding. Even though the results are often unpredictable, the risk is worth is simply because Jesus thinks it is worth it. After all, He died for us.

So What?
Amy Lively gives us a book of ideas and encouragement to overcome our fears and to step into our neighborhood with courage. There are many ideas but most of it all is a call for us to simply set down our fears, settle down our anxieties with prayer, step out in faith, and serve our neighbors in whatever appropriate manner. For all we know, a bit of kindness can unleash open hearts and minds not only to keep our neighborhoods safe but also fun to be in. "How to Love Your Neighbor" may not be a book written by a bestseller or poise to bring in millions of dollars in royalty payments. It is written with a desire for believers to make a difference in their neighborhoods by simply getting to know them, to recognize their presence, and to love them as best as possible.  Above all, it can put to rest those uneasy butterflies in our stomachs, those weird thoughts that are crippling our outreach, and those fears that often defeat us before we even open our house doors.

Frankly, overcoming our fears is already a major step forward in learning to love our neighbors. Many of us simply do not know our neighbors. Some may not even know their names even after so many years. That can change. Fears can provide us unlimited excuses, but only love can motivate us to open our doors of our timid minds, to step out in faith with a willing heart, and reach out in love to needy souls. If we can get to know one neighbor, just one, it would have been a soul that has been touched by God's love. Read this book and be encouraged to step forth in faith! Confucius once said, "The journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step." I say, the journey of loving a thousand neighbors begins with a simple greeting of a neighbor we meet.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NIV Dad's Devotional Bible

TITLE: NIV Dad's Devotional Bible
AUTHOR: Notes by Robert Wolgemuth
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (1504 pages).

Dads are usually the busy guy. Expected to work hard and support the family, they are also expected to be the spiritual head of the household. One of the key spiritual disciplines is to read the Bible regularly. There is no substitute for regular reading. What if this regular reading can be supplemented by 260 daily devotions, 7 articles to help build up the children, and a easy reference for dealing with questions kids often ask? This is what this devotional Bible is aimed at. The main text of this Bible is of course, the Bible, more specifically the New International Version (2011). This devotional version was first published in 1997 after a chance encounter the author had with the publisher. Tasked to write devotional notes to accompany various selected portions of the Bible, Robert Wolgemuth, a well-connected name in publishing circles took six whole months to write out the accompanying material. Eighteen years later, Zondervan has released a second edition updated not only with the latest NIV edition but also a new foreword by Kirk Cameron.

The devotions are scattered all over the Bible, each with a Bible passage for the day followed by a verse for the day. Due to the nature of devotions, there will greater freedom of thought and application, and that invariably means the devotions may not necessarily exegete the passages as accurately as a Bible scholar. At the bottom of each devotional, there is a link to the next devotional reading, anticipating readers' needs. Unfortunately, some may think the devotionals distract the reader from actually reading the Bible itself. I think such anxiety is unnecessary. Once the devotionals are read, it will not be referred back as often. In comparison, the Bible texts are more likely to be read, re-read, and re-read, for a long time to come. Devotions in the book are temporary. The Word of God is forever. The devotional themes include:
  • Relationships like brotherhood, communications, and family
  • Behavioural traits like patience, giving, and diligence
  • Family activities like Church going, Christmas activities, 
  • Decision making for young kids, teenagers, and young adults
  • and many more.
I appreciate the section called "The Bible for Dads" which provides a short summary of every book of the Old and New Testament. The "Questions Kids Ask" section also anticipates common questions and provides a clear answer. The "Fruit of the Spirit" topical index brings together the important themes with appropriate biblical references.

Sometimes, I feel like it may be better to have the devotionals all in one section rather than to scatter them throughout. This would prevent flipping the pages back and forth to go from one devotional to another. In this way, readers can focus on devotional reading when they want to do devotional reading, and Bible reading when they want to read the Bible texts. An alternative method for this is to use an ordinary Bible with a devotional book side by side. That is not the intent of the publisher of this Bible which is to let the devotional supplement the Bible passages. Perhaps, this is a matter of personal preference. Thus, this devotional Bible format may work for some but not others.

One critique I have for this Bible is the color of the font. I would prefer the texts to be black rather than brown, for black would have provided a better contrast for the eye. The font size could have been a point larger for a hard cover edition. Dads do get old quite quickly.

Father's Day may have been over, but it is still not too late to get a devotional Bible. While theme-based bibles may not exactly reflect the real intent of the Bible itself, from the perspective of a Bible literacy promotion standpoint, anything that encourages one to read the Bible a little more regularly will tilt my recommendation to YES. Another positive feature in this Bible is the actual title. In the family home,anyone finding the Bible anywhere in the house, the kitchen table, the living room, the study, the bedroom, or in any other room, would straightaway know: "Hey, this is dad's Bible!"

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, June 19, 2015

"We Need To Talk" (Linda Mintle)

TITLE: We Need to Talk: How to Successfully Navigate Conflict
AUTHOR: Linda Mintle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (256 pages).

Conflict is inevitable. Sooner or later, even the most cordial of relationships will encounter rough patches. The fact is that conflicts in themselves are not necessarily bad, especially when we can learn to respond constructively when they occur. In Dr Linda Mintle's words, it is simply summarized in four words: "We Need to Talk," which is exactly the title and the central theme of the book. Called a "relationship doctor," Mintle is a popular speaker, a licensed marriage counselor and family therapist, and also chair of the Division of Behavioral Health at the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. She deals with the topic of conflict sensitively but with firmness. Her three basic assumptions are:

  1. Conflicts are part and parcel of any close relationships;
  2. Under the right conditions, conflicts can help grow relationships;
  3. In unhappy relationships, conflicts can escalate and one needs to learn how to deal with them.

Conflicts always involve a power struggle and the key is to manage power imbalances as best as possible to balance between emotional needs, personal integrity, people's well-being, and the stress of life. In order to resolve any conflict, trust must be cultivated. Keeping secrets, being unreliable, history of betrayal, are all examples of how trust can be eroded. In order to build trust, show grace with providing second chances on the one hand and to draw boundaries on the other. Learn of Jesus' humility. Cherish differences without having to pander to every wish and fancy. Beware of the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse: 1) Criticism; 2) Defensiveness; 3) Contempt; 4) Stonewalling. Anticipate a clash of styles and to learn strategies on how to deal with each. Be realistic with what is solvable and what is not. Like a family, one can disagree but still remember that we are all family. Families must learn to fight fair and to deal justly. There are also gender differences to be aware of. Distinguish the needs behind the desire for sex. One popular belief is that men and women have opposite views of sex and affection. Men puts sex before affection while women sees otherwise. Rather than focusing on these two, Mintle suggests both genders find ways to get validation and love in order to meet both of these needs. Mintle also gives 20 guidelines with regards to social media usage and sex.

Conflict styles also vary. Mintle pays special attention to difficult people that provokes high conflict levels. "High conflict" personalities tend to be too emotional about issues and often see things in black and white. Due to their rigid mental styles, they can become manipulative when they do not get things their way. They tend to yell and lose their tempers. They need help in controlling their anger and enabling lots of forgiveness. Use the serenity prayer as a guide.

With lots of practical tips, this book essentially helps us to clear the decks without dismissing the most difficult players. We learn to recognize the different kinds of styles and the various approaches to deal with conflicts. Sometimes it is good to minimize conflicts. Other times, it is best to deal with the situation at hand. With a positive outlook, confidence and humility need to be used simultaneously. The chapter on "Dealing with Difficult People" alone is worth the price of the book. Mintle has given us a powerful resource on how to live together with well-being of all in mind. Perhaps, for those of us who want to do something about everyday conflicts but don't know how, we need to pick up this book, learn from it, and to be equipped on how best to calm down and to promote a constructive dialogue. For Jesus' sake.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Christianity and Religious Diversity" (Harold A. Netland)

TITLE: Christianity and Religious Diversity: Clarifying Christian Commitments in a Globalizing Age
AUTHOR: Harold A. Netland
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (304 pages).

With globalization comes the interactions of cultures. With cultural pluralism comes the clash of different social cultures. With secularism comes the tension with religious and non-religious beliefs and practices. With the rising call for tolerance comes the delicate balancing act of religious convictions versus spiritual diversities. How can one live out the Christian commitment in a globalizing, pluralistic, diverse, and complex interactions of cultures? The one word is understanding. The key motivation for the writing of this book is this: "Responsible theology of religions requires more than simply sound biblical exegesis; it also demands proper understanding of the phenomena that go under the category of religion." In such a climate, it is no longer acceptable for any one religion to insist that it is the right way. While the fact is true that all religions basically teach a certain sense of rigid doctrine, how the doctrine is being lived out is a different thing altogether.
With remarkable insights into modern culture and changing values in society, Harold Netland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies at Illinois's Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has to go back to the fundamentals of cultural understanding before tackling the religious questions surrounding diversity and convictions. In a complex and culturally diverse environment, things can get quite confusing. That is one reason why the author spends time trying to "rethink" religion, what it means and how it is being understood. First, there is the "theological way" of understanding religion. This means understanding the religion from a particular school of faith. For Christians, this means having a worldview that is associated with specific values and teachings. This is why people like Karl Barth puts forth a huge amount of material comprising Church Dogmatics. It centers around beliefs. In contrast, the second method is the "phenomenological" approach looks at how the religion is being practiced. While the "theological" can refer to people having a particular religious expression, the "phenomenological" can refer to all persons practicing a particular worldview. This means that even those who proclaim to be atheistic or agnostic are "religious" in the phenomenological sense. Not only that, there is the issue of Western imperialistic concerns about whether religion is a modern construct brought about as a parallel to the way globalization is now being exported to the rest of the world. Historically, this has a precedence when we see how Europe in the fourth century was defined as "Christians and religious others." In India, there is a "Hindus vs the rest," or "Eastern Buddhism vs the rest," just like many cultures having a majority religion.  The point Netland insists upon is that common understanding of religion is more "phenomenological" than anything else. That is, it expresses the "social and communal component" of religious life. Having said that, while religions generally reflect a social construct and community aspect, there are key differences between culture and religion, like the area of truth claims which are inherently more applicable for the latter rather than the former.