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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: "The Gospel Commission"

TITLE: THE GOSPEL COMMISSION - Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples
AUTHOR: Michael Horton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (320 pages).

[This review is published together at YAPDATES blog]

Is there anything new in this book? No. Is there a more jazzy message in there? No. Is there something hip and clever in the book? No. Horton shows us that we do not need these things to dress up the gospel message and mission. The pure gospel and mission can stand on its own.

Do not let this book's simple innocent title fool you. True to its message, the author base his ideas on biblical foundation. True to the gospel message, he makes the reader more attentive to the gospel itself. True to the gospel mission, Horton exemplifies in this book the words of the great missionary to China who famously says:
"God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply." (James Hudson Taylor)
What the Book is About
Simply put, the book continues where the author's two previous books have left off. In Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life, Horton talks about the need to take the gospel seriously, calling on believers toward the gospel MESSAGE. In this book, Horton continues with a renewed focus on taking the MISSION of the gospel seriously. He has several concerns. Firstly, he urges Christians NOT to take the Great Commission for granted. Secondly, he is arguing for a shift away from the tendency in many churches toward 'mission creep.' Such 'mission creep' tends to puff up church mission and strategies instead of sharing God's mission and kingdom. The former is more man-centered while the latter is God-centered. Thirdly, and most importantly, Horton writes:

"There is no mission without the church and no church without the mission." (14)

He announces:

"The Great Commission begins not with an imperative, a plan, a strategy for our victory in the world, but with the announcement that Christ has conquered sin and death." (89)

This is followed by a reminder that the Church need not invent new mission or strategies. Tying together the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, Horton says that Jesus himself has given us the mission and the strategic approaches. Horton interacts widely with leaders of the Emerging Church Movement, like Brian McLaren, as well as the spiritual contemplative writers like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. He is not afraid to disagree with them when he feels they are out of sync with the Great Commission. Yet, he is respectful of the teachings from these esteemed authors. I appreciate the sensitivity and balanced manner, as well as the measured criticism from the author.

My Comments
One stark observation is that Horton does not lace this book with fancy titles or colourful glossy covers. Neither are there any big name endorsements on the inner and outer flaps that we have gotten so used to, especially for authors desperate to attract more readers to buy their books. If a book is good, the message alone suffices. If a book is no good, no amount of who's who on the covers helps. Horton does not need nice packaging. He lets the message be the message.

Kudos to the author, who is not interested in chasing after the latest fad in spiritual matters but stick to ancient truths that are theological sound, and biblically faithful. I find myself highlighting many powerful statements that hits home. I enjoy the way the author weaves together biblical theology and the mission emphasis of God's love. It is an important book that deserves a wider readership.

One critique I have is that such a book may not appeal as much to the general reader. Leaders and concerned church members who have some kind of theological training will benefit most. Apart from this, I think Horton is very passionate about the Gospel Commission, and sees all manner of Church and Christian Living from this perspective. I am glad to see Horton applying the mission focus on the fundamentals of Matthew 28:18-20. He exhorts the reader to put a renewed energy back into preaching, teaching, baptizing, and making disciples of all nations. Calling these as means of grace, the GC is not something that Christian 'have' to do, but is one that true disciples will love and long to do.

Did Michael Horton do a good job in 'recovering God's strategy for Making Disciples?' The answer is a resounding YES!

I strongly recommend this book.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Friday, April 29, 2011

Book: "2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake"

TITLE: 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake
AUTHOR: The Quakebook Community (various writers)
PUBLISHER: Quakebook.org, 2011.

This book is released as an electronic book for the purpose of spreading the message as wide as possible, through a medium as cheaply as possible. It contains short quips, observations and testimonies of the many Japanese victims affected by the reason tsunami. The infamous tsunami hit Japanese shores at 2:46pm on March 11, 2011. Caused by an undersea earthquake on the East of Japan, it devastated homes, buildings, properties, and swept away livestock and people. One thing led to another, and even the world at large are shocked at the widespread disaster, that wiped out basic infrastructures of one of the most earthquake prepared nations in the world.

The book began with a tweet that became a large fundraising initiative. It is helmed by a person that goes under the name "Our man in Abiko." The project is comprised of short messages of about 250 words to a page long story of witnesses, and observers who managed to live through it all. The primary beneficiary is the Japanese Red Cross.

You have various options to download and read the book:

1) Through Sony EPUB download here. (Free but you are encouraged to donate here)

2) Through Amazon kindle here. (Costs $9.99 but 100% goes directly to American Red Cross Japan Fund)

It is a worthy read, and a worthy cause. Note the words of Our Man in Akiko.

"Those of us who live in Japan are in a state of war. But not a war against a nation, or even nature. We are fighting defeat, worry and hopelessness. The question is: Are we strong enough to overcome?"

This book is full of stories. Some are hopeful. Others are shocking. The photographs themselves often tell of a story that words cannot describe.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

eBook Review: "The New Traditional Church"

TITLE: The New Traditional Church
AUTHOR: Tony Morgan
PUBLISHED: Ben Stroup, 2011.

This is a nice little book that summarizes 4 main aspects of Church that needs to be re-tweaked. Current modes are outmoded. It attempts to say that there is now a new normal. The modern culture has made it necessary for the Church to adapt. The four areas are:
  1. Discipleship
  2. Web Strategy
  3. Music
  4. Community.

On Discipleship, Morgan argues that the list of things that Church members are expected to do, are essentially things done to maintain and sustain a Church structure rather than focusing on God. He uses the pareto principle of only 20-30% of the people serving in the ministry.  Current church structures fail to empower more to do the same. His main gist is that people ought to spend more time 'being' the church rather than simply being present at the Church.

On Web strategy, Morgan says that most church websites are bulletin style, and fails to adequately engage an online generation of Facebook, Twitter, or social networking style. In the process, they are missing the wave that a whole new generation is riding on.

On music, Morgan brings in the popularity of hip-hop, equating it to the new kind of hymns for the new generation.

On community, Morgan feels that churches tend to try too hard in fixing up community for people. He observes that people naturally learn to create their unique communities.

My Comments

Tony Morgan cleverly writes a disclaimer at the beginning, saying he is not sure where he is heading toward.  That said, he is free to simply inject ideas, radical or not, to stir up the hornet's nest
 of tradition. At the same time, if strong objections arise out of his ideas, the author can retreat back into a position of non-commitment. Frankly, as I read the book, I think Morgan might have scratch some areas that some church leaders need to hear. At the same time, I tend to think that the issues Morgan has identified are not new. They have been around for a while.

Regarding discipleship and Morgan's use of the pareto principle, I will argue that it is not restricted only to traditional churches. All human institutions suffer from the 20-80 principle, (even 5-95), where 20% of the people does 80% of the job. Moreover, what makes us so sure that by changing the way Churches approach discipleship, that the pareto principle will not come back and haunt the 'new traditional church?'

Regarding web strategy, I believe Morgan hit the point really well. I think church websites need to be re-vitalized. There are too many stiff pages out there, and with an online generation becoming more web-savvy, this online strategy needs more serious look, and connecting with the online generation. Kudos to Morgan.

Regarding community building, I agree with Morgan. However, I still believe that Churches have a role to play to supply the resources, or to seed the birth of any new communities. They can actively start one, but the sustenance need to be handed by the community.

Regarding music, I think Morgan has gotten it all wrong. Worship is not about hymns, contemporary songs, or hip-hop. It is not even about music. Music is but an instrument in an orchestra of worship. At the same time, if we were to simply pander to the different music styles, I begin to wonder if we have substituted words for melody, rhythms of the music beat instead of the beat of the Holy Spirit.

I think while Morgan has bravely highlighted some possible ways to redo church, his thoughts need to be challenged. In true Christian fashion, let iron sharpen iron. If that is the intent to start a conversation, I think Morgan has done well.

This book is available as a free download here.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: "The Kid Who Changed the World"

TITLE: The Kid Who Changed the World
AUTHOR: Andy Andrews
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2010, (40 pages).

This is a wonderful little book that inspires. It is about how it takes a community to groom an individual who can ultimately change the world for the better. Called the 'butterfly effect,' it is about how a butterfly after flapping its wings, start to move pockets of air, which in turn move other pockets of air, and so on. Based on the story of George Washington Carver, the famous inventor of more than 266 uses of the humble peanut, and 88 uses of the small potato.

The author is a story-telling whiz. By placing and splicing together the individual lives of Norman Borlaug, Henry A. Wallace (former US President), and George Washington Carver (Professor and Inventor), he shows how each of them influences and encourages one another to change the world in their own special way. Whether directly or indirectly, all of them have a part to play in the invention of special seeds that multiply corn production; about teaching and passing down knowledge; about how those in authority can empower citizens to excel.

My Comments
This short story is a wonderful inspiration and can be shared with both children as well as adults. Do not let the cover of the book deceive you. The message is a universal one, that 'every little thing' that we can do, matters. Do not let any failures discourage anyone from pursuing his goals in life. While there are not many details regarding the individual characters, the reader can easily sense that the more important message is the linkages rather than the persons. It is more community-centric, than self-focused.

This is not a difficult book to read. I recommend it for people who often complain they do not have the time to read. Sometimes the simplest book can carry profound messages. This book is one such book: Inspiring and Educational.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: "The Way We're Working Isn't Working"

AUTHOR: Tony Schwartz
PUBLISHER: NY: Free Press, 2010, (335 pages)

In his previous book, the Power of Full Engagement, the author explains that 'energy' is the critical force that determines success. By taking care of one's energy levels, being conscious of one's energy cycles and the need to replenish oneself regularly, the author submits that such will then lead to a 'power of full engagement.'

This follow-up book does not detract a lot from his previous treatise about energy. He attempts to differentiate this book from his famous predecessor by addressing 'four forgotten needs' behind the energy and performance level. Beyond survival, these four needs are essentially similar to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs with a minor difference. Schwartz flips the triangle with the apex at the bottom but retains the level of needs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: "Chasing Elephants"

TITLE: CHASING ELEPHANTS - wrestling with the gray areas of life
AUTHOR: Brent Crowe
PUBLISHED: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010.

[This review was first published at my main blog YAPDATES here.]

I am so glad I read this book. This book may be light, but its contents are weighty. After turning the last page, my first word is "WOW!" Three things impress me about the book. Firstly, it clearly lays out the author's understanding of true freedom, grace in Christ, and the need to move beyond the 'why'  of belief to the 'how to believe.'   Secondly, it boldly tackles important contemporary issues that many Christians tend to shy away from, using 16 HOW-TO-BELIEVE templates. Thirdly, it pushes believers to be more Christ-focused, to see all things, boundaries, freedom, law, and cultural constraints as pointers to know Christ and to make Christ known.

At first, my temptation is to rush through the five contemporary issues of homosexuality, cyber world, social drinking, entertainment and humanitarian efforts. I am glad I restrained myself, to stuck to the author's game plan. The first five foundational chapters are core to understanding how contemporary issues need to be tackled. The book is wonderfully quotable, and is packed with wise quips on Christian living and social responsibility. Toward the end, after the last elephant has been tackled, I cannot help but feel that there is another elephant that the author is subtly trying to hint to Christian readers, and the Church at large. This may very well be the biggest elephant of all: PROCRASTINATION about Christ's mission to the world.

"For all of us, freedom in Christ is the door of opportunity to doing something significant for the kingdom." (160)

Indeed, many of us like to talk about grace. Yet, the essence of true grace demands more from us. One is only truly free, when one serves all joyfully out of pure gratitude to God s grace in Christ. I am so glad to have read this book, and strongly recommend this to any Christian desiring to grow in Christ.


5 stars of 5.

I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book: "L.O.V.E. Putting your love styles to work for you"

TITLE: L.O.V.E. Putting Your Love Styles to Work for You
AUTHORS: Les & Leslie Parrott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009, (224 pages).

This is another of the Parrott's books on relationships. The key point the authors makes is for one to learn to 'love it like you mean it.' There are three meanings behind the authors' intention.

Firstly, love is a style, or a way of life.

Secondly, love is in terms of an acronym, of 4 personality dimensions.
  • L - Leader: The take-charge spouse
  • O - Optimist: the Encouraging spouse
  • V - Validator: the devoted spouse
  • E - Evaluator: the careful spouse
Thirdly, love can be learned, and given away.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: "The Scent of Water"

TITLE: THE SCENT OF WATER - grace for every kind of broken
AUTHOR: Naomi Zacharias
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (224 pages).

[This review is simultaneously published with my main blog at YAPDATES]

With wisdom and wit, Naomi Zacharias shares her journey of learning how to cope with brokenness through her own ministry travels as well as her own personal life. She invites readers to follow her in this book, which in a way is her personal memoir and observations about a world in need of grace and healing. If you are like me, you will probably feel three particular emotions: Anger at injustice, anguish at helplessness, and appreciation for grace.

The first part of the book makes me angry. Angry at the injustice perpetrated so openly in the developing world. Angry at how broken the world has become. Angry at how women have been forced into prostitution, suffered domestic violence, while governments and institutions appear helpless against it. The second part of the book brings me anguish. Anguish about the helplessness of a broken world. Agony about how the weak and the vulnerable have been abused, and the limited help people can give.  It is the third and final part of the book that the author shares deeply and intimately about her own broken life. This final part is written in a way that the author is able to use her own sense of brokenness to connect with the broken world. Put all these together, we have a book that whether anger, anguish, or agony, there is the potential of grace that can flow into every crevice of injustice, every sign of weakness, every hint of vulnerability, and every kind of broken.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: "The Privilege of Persecution"

TITLE: The Privilege of Persecution: (And Other Things the Global Church Knows That We Don`t)
AUTHORS: Carl Moeller & David W. Hegg
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, (160 pages).

[This book is an advanced reader copy. The final copy released may be subject to change.]

Some books convey ideas. Other books try to convince readers to change. This book goes a step further to convict readers so much so that they will re-consider and re-align their lives back toward what it means to be salt and light of the world. This book does two things well:
  1. It reveals a faith of the persecuted (global) church that grows stronger with determination in the midst of persecution and restriction/control of religious practices;
  2. It admonishes the faith of a comfortable church that grows fatter with complacency in the midst of freedom.

In a hard-hitting rebuke at the modern Western Church, the authors compare and contrast the difference between the free church in the Western hemisphere, to the persecuted Church in the rest of the world. The key thesis of the book is that every church in the world is a persecuted church. The only difference lies in the TYPE of persecution.
"Like the church in the West, it (the global church) is composed of human believers who sin and struggle with their own personal and cultural baggage. It's just that our bags don't look alike." (17)
One then ought to see persecution as a privilege because it helps one affirm one's faith even more.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Review: "Christianity - The First Three Thousand Years"

TITLE: CHRISTIANITY - the First Three Thousand Years
AUTHOR: Diarmaid MacCulloch
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking, 2009, (1161pp).

[This review is first published at YAPDATES here.]

If this book can be made into a film, it will be an epic. Comprehensive, scholarly, and thoroughly captivating, I cannot put this book down.

The Book
This is a book of history, in particular, the story of Christianity as told from the knowledge of an Oxford professor of the History of the Church. The author describes himself as a 'candid friend' of Christianity rather than a dogmatic believer of the Christian faith. At the same time, he does not actively assert the existence of God, positioning himself more like a seeker rather than a know-it-all.

His scholarly prowess is demonstrated in 7 parts, multiple illustrations and maps, an extensive chapter by chapter bibliography, over 1161 pages of content.  The title of each part of the book gives a useful summary to inform the reader where the author is going with his story-telling.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book: "Dysciples" (Krish Kandiah)

TITLE: Dysciples - why I fall asleep when I pray and twelve other discipleship dysfunctions
AUTHOR: Krish Kandiah
PUBLISHER: Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2009.

This is a cleverly titled book that blends in 'disciples' with 'dysfunction.' You may think that the author will even try to imitate the numerical 12, as in the 12 disciples of Christ. Well, in the true sense of being dysfunctional, he uses 13. Brilliant. Krish Kandiah lectures at Regent-College's Summer school. This year, he'll be back in Vancouver to do the same.

The essential message is one of recognizing we need to change from 'dysciples' to 'disciples.' In a nutshell, the following gives us a clue what kinds of dysfunctional characteristics we need to be aware of.

  1. Dissatisfied: Why I feel I am going nowhere
  2. Despairing: Why I shout at God
  3. Disoriented: Why I won’t step out of my comfort zone
  4. Disgruntled: Why I struggle with Jesus’ teaching
  5. Dismissive: Why I’ve heard it all before
  6. Disconnected: Why I feel such a hypocrite
  7. Distant: Why God seems out of reach
  8. Disappointed: Why I can’t move mountains
  9. Dispensable: Why I want to be the best
  10. Disturbed: Why my mind wanders during communion
  11. Dispassionate: Why I fall asleep when I pray
  12. Disloyal: Why I can’t tell people about Jesus
  13. Disqualified: Why I could never be a missionary
The book aims to help readers move from what they are NOT supposed to be, to what they ought to grow into. For some of us, it is another attempt to inculcate guilt and shame. For others, it is a needed kick in the butt to move from nominalism to passionate discipleship. I prefer to assume the latter.

I recommend this book for Church leaders, teachers for general Christian Education, with one caveat: Show grace throughout.

p/s: If you are interested, you can download an excerpt of the book here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: "Amish Prayers" (Beverly Lewis)

TITLE: Amish Prayers
COMPILED BY: Beverly Lewis
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2011, (141pp).

There is a flurry of all things Amish these days, especially in the publishing world. In businesses, you have books like 'Success Made Simple.' In relationships, 'Amish Grace' places healing and forgiveness as key attributes to a world needing love. There are fiction stories based on the Amish as well, like "An Amish Love." There is also one for Christmas too, called "An Amish Christmas." Not to be left behind, there are also cookbooks on Amish cooking! Beverly Lewis has written one of them. In this book, Beverly Lewis introduces us to Amish spirituality via prayers collected, and translated from the original German Das Vaterunser.

The book is a collection of prayers based on 12 themes. It begins with a new day prayer, and ends with a set of evening prayers. In between are prayers for divine guidance, gratitude, repentance, comfort, praise, strength, purity of heart, unity, humility, and submission. Undergirding all of these prayers are constant affirmations of the Lord's Prayer. It is hoped that the book can be used both in private devotions, as well as public worship.

Book Saint Comments
Lewis is one of the most popular writers of Christian fiction books. Most of her stories have a flavour of Amish or Anabaptist background. This book of Amish Prayers is no different even though it is of a non-fiction genre. What makes the book special is that the prayers are collected out of her personal connection with the Amish community, and her personal friends. The simple pictures and illustrations throughout the book makes this book a very pleasant gift that can be given to friends.

Every page is anchored with a biblical verse for reflection and meditation. There are no long-winded explanations. Just prayers.  In contrast to some books on prayer that tries to explain and provides long introductions, this book allows the reader to just PRAY it. Every prayer begins with an acknowledgement of WHO one is praying to. Every prayer ends with a verse from the Bible for meditation.

While it is possible to simply pray according to the theme one needs, this book can also be used to teach prayer through praying. Like learning to ride a bicycle. One cannot simply talk about riding. One needs to ride, and learn through falling. Likewise, Christians learn to pray through praying, and falling on our knees. Sometimes, we may need to encounter failings ourselves, to appreciate the depth of prayers and humility. Don't just read this book. Pray it.


This book is supplied to me free by Bethany House Publishers for the purpose of review. There is no obligation on my part to give a positive review. All opinions expressed are freely mine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: "Why?" (Adam Hamilton)

TITLE: WHY? making sense of God's will
AUTHOR: Adam Hamilton
PUBLISHER, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2011.

This book talks about the four of the most mind-boggling questions many Christians face. Questions such as:
  1. Why do innocents suffer?
  2. Why do my prayers go unanswered?
  3. Why can't I see God's will for my life?
  4. Why God's love prevails?
Without much of an introduction, the author dives straight into the questions, probing common struggles with faith, suffering, pain, and God's will. He brings along insights to the age old questions. Insights like distinguishing Jesus' teachings between an exaggerated use of story (hyperbole) and a hyper-literal interpretation. He lists out some of the erroneous views of God's will and suffering held by many believers. For instance, he points out the assumptions which often lead people into all kinds of wrong expectations. Things like:
  • nothing bad will happen to good people as long as they do good;
  • All things happen because of God's will.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: "The Final Summit"

TITLE: THE FINAL SUMMIT - A quest to find the one principle that will save humanity
AUTHOR: Andy Andrews
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2010, (245pp)

[simultaneously published at YAPDATES]

Bravo! Andy Andrews has done it again. In this captivating sequel to the bestselling book, "The Traveler's Gift,' the master story-teller spins another inspiring tale with his rapidly famous, David Ponder character. With regular flashbacks to historical figures first introduced in the Traveler's Gift, the author brings in additional historical figures like Joan of Arc, King David, and others to whet our appetites for more.

While the previous book touches on the seven decisions to determine personal success, this book focuses on the one main principle to save all of humanity. With only 5 chances to give a correct answer, David Ponder, as leader of the gathering of people through the ages, Ponder is able to summon additional travelers to assist him. While many of the names are known figures, there is one new character who has impacted the world hugely, but remains largely unknown. This is Eric Erickson that the author laments as one 'whom almost no information exists in a single location.' (226)

With brilliant interactions among the various historical characters, Andrews lead readers through the decision making process, often filled with humour and the idiosyncrasies of each character. In the beginning, with the multitude of help and witnesses, readers can sense some confidence that it is only a matter of time before they all get it. After the first few failed attempts, readers can begin to feel a bit concerned for David Ponder and his group of travelers. Toward the end, one may even start pondering if they will solve the puzzle at all! The answer is simple yet profound.

Book Saint Comments
Sometimes, it feels like there is no correct answer in the first place. Each of the five attempts is like clues in a literary treasure hunt. I find myself riveted to the story, often wanting to flip to the last chapter to find out the end result. I am thankful to have resisted. Otherwise, the impact will be lost. There is an answer. Within the simple story, Andrews has a powerful message to deliver. Two words bring hope to the hopeless, inject courage to the discouraged, carry wisdom to the decision process, build character in people, direct self-discipline to the enthusiastic, maintain humility to the proud, and many more. While the two words may sound simple, the application of it carries multiple opportunities.

I like the many biblical allusions Andrews weaved into the book. Stories of courage, hope, humility, repentance. The story of Eric Erickson is the single biggest reason to buy the book. In fact, chapter 7 is worth the price of the book. What this largely unknown person has done for the world remains amazingly hidden. Only time can reveal how much we owe this man and his sacrifices.

With writers like Andy Andrews, we will have no problems in raising up a reading generation. Buy three books. Give away one. Constantly loan one out, and carefully keep one for a second read.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”