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Friday, November 30, 2012

"Multiply" (Francis Chan and Mark Beuving)

TITLE: Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples
AUTHOR: Francis Chan and Mark Beuving
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2012, (336 pages).

Many of us will agree that discipleship is a core part of any Church life. In fact, followers of Jesus are all called to be disciples of Christ. Yet, all we need is to ask any Church going believer, "What is discipleship?" they may have jumbled thoughts. Let me paraphrase some of the concerns at the beginning of the book.

  • Too many Christians are stuck in one location rather than spreading to many other places
  • We have dichotomized ministry for ministers and laid-back living for the rest of us
  • We are more guilty of ignoring the Great Commission
  • We are afraid of evangelism
  • We have reduced discipleship to a mere "program" in church
Instead, we are all to enjoy the grace of God, spread the grace of God, and to live out the grace of God in many places. The way to do this is two: Be a disciple and make a disciple along the way. Only when we grow a shared passion for the Great Commission can we truly multiply the grace of God for God. The book is meant to be a resource to equip readers to multiple disciples. Two things define discipleship in this book. Firstly, disciples are to teach what they learn. We cannot approach this book as something we absorb for ourselves and tuck it away somewhere in our heads. We are to constantly revise it, pray it, think it, analyze it, and to practise it. Secondly, the book is to inspire us to "share life, not just information." Made to be highly relational, we cannot read this book alone. It requires us to interact with others. It requires a leader and a follower, a teacher and a student, and to walk the talk even as we talk the walk.

This book goes into the basics of what it means to be a disciple, to be a Church, to understand the Old and New Testaments, and to be equipped toward the Great Commission. Questions are interspersed into the texts. One may be forgiven for seeing this book as too simple for any learning. That is precisely the point. Discipleship is never meant to be a difficult thing. The reason why many of us have "jumbled thoughts" about discipleship is because we have failed to obey what we have read or heard. In a nutshell, discipleship is a relationship with Christ, not just a program. This relationship is a multiplier type. We imitate Christ. We show others and encourage others to do the same, and they influence their friends similarly. The heart of a disciple is not "religious activity" but the love of God. 

Living as a Church is also an antidote against widespread individualism. The authors understand Church as: "a group of redeemed people that live and serve together in such a way that their lives and communities are transformed." They bear one another's burdens. They go to the heart of the problem in people. They are transformed people in the gospel. It is like an organization where all engines are firing, where every member is a disciple by example. The Church is also both local and global. There are tips to study the Bible. Unlike other books that tend to offer all the content first, and the discussion questions later, this book mixes in the questions at the end of each teaching passage. This forces readers to grapple with practical details.

The parts on studying the Old and New Testaments is like a mini survey of how to study the Bible. It is clearly intended with the layperson in mind. Written in a simple way, the authors tell the story of God in the Bible, and asks us constantly, "What are we going to do about it?" 

My Thoughts

From time to time, every Christian needs to be reminded of the need to be disciples as well as to make disciples. This book is both theory and practice combined into one. It combines the knowledge to be learned and lists out relevant steps to put knowledge into practice. This is why this book has been designed to be used through weekly study guide sessions, to understand what the Bible says, a 5-minute video to watch, and to challenge ourselves to do something about it. There is no high-fives merely on understanding what the Bible says. Someone has said that one learns best not by knowledge but by obedience. Only when we start to obey, we will start to learn. The moment we refuse to put our learning to action, we have not really learned anything. The study guides can be downloaded at multiplymovement.com and I urge readers to use this resource frequently. In fact, the entire book is available free on that website. However, if you do intend to use the material in the form of a group study and practice, I will encourage you to buy the printed material. It is much better than to print multiple copies for your group in loose sheets. From experience, loose sheets easily get lost. Books are neat and more compact. At the same time, it is easier to carry around.

If your Church or small group is looking for a book to do your small group study, you will not go wrong when you choose this book. I highly recommend this book for three reasons. First, it is simple. Second, through the questions,  it is engaging. Third, it is good food for discussion and practice.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Adventuring Through the Bible" (Ray C. Stedman)

TITLE: Adventuring Through the Bible: A Comprehensive Guide to the Entire Bible
AUTHOR: Ray C. Stedman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2012, new enhanced edition, (941 pages).

I have always been a fan of this book. Since its publication of the first edition, this book has been one of my prized references whenever I do any Bible survey classes or teaching curriculum.This new edition presents more publisher initiatives like:
  • new Bible reading plans;
  • additional timelines of major Bible events;
  • Topical lists for study;
  • Discussion guides
  • Personal application questions
  • Maps, images, and many more.
It is essentially an updated look of the original edition without changing much of the late Stedman's content. Part One brings together the series of sermons Stedman had given in the years 1963-1964. It shows readers the goal of the Bible. The purpose is knowing God, our life's purpose, and faith through the good news. From Genesis to Revelation, Stedman leads readers through a panorama of the Old Testament and New Testament, with stories and examples from contemporary life to highlight the relevance to our world. The conviction is that God has spoken in the past as well as in the New Testament present. God is always speaking. The question is, are we listening?

Part Two encourages readers to take the five steps to maturity using the first five books of the Old Testament, or commonly known as the Pentateuch. Genesis represents the beginning of faith, after the fatal act of disobedience by Adam and Eve at the Garden of Eden. The essence of Genesis is that man can do nothing without God. Man need God more than the other way round. Exodus represents God's attempt to deliver Israel from slavery. The redemption theme is strong. Leviticus focuses on purity and wholeness, where the laws, the rituals, and the disciplines, are meant to help, not harm the people. Numbers points the reader to see the victory amid the disciplines and the setbacks faced. Deuteronomy wraps up the chronology of the entire redemption plan, with the law the strongest evidence yet of God's love.

Part Three covers the history of Israel and its neighbours through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, l and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, nehemiah, and Esther. One motivation to read and learn from the horrible events, the historical tragedies and sad events, is to make sure that readers do not repeat the mistakes made. It is also to give thanks to God for being the consistent rescuer despite the rebellion of the people.

Part Four introduces the wisdom books. Calling it a "music to live by," it goes through five poetical books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Relationships are not things that can be solved. Sometimes, they need to be expressed through lament, through music, through singing, through poetry. It is the "heart cry of humanity." Above all, the gist is that no matter what, humans can call out to God in purely ordinary human expressions.

Part Five is the part on the prophetical books. Called the "promises of God," it gives readers a fresh lens to see the major and minor prophets from the eyes of promise. The greatest promise of all, is of course the coming of the Messiah, of Jesus. What is remarkable is that despite the bleak events that Israel had suffered, the exiles, the persecutions, and the endless losing battles, there is a promise of hope in one Saviour.

Part Six begins the survey of the New Testament. It takes a look at the Apocrypha, the gospels and Acts, to show us the person of Jesus Christ. The conviction is that the focus person in both the Old and the New Testament is Jesus Christ. The reason why the Apocrypha has been excluded from the Protestant canon is because it does not fit into the overall theme of the Bible.

Part Seven details the letters of Paul, how the Church is encouraged to hang on to the faith amid the persecutions and the false teachers. The purpose of divine revelation is essentially the transformation of human lives. Stedman affirms Paul's epistles as letters that not only bring together the theological themes of the Bible, but it leads Christians to experience the grace of God in Jesus Christ personally, and with one another in the Christian community.

Part Eight is about "keeping the faith," through Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, the letters of John and Jude. Here is when the going gets tough, faith keeps the faithful going. It is a time to encourage the people to be living stones for God, to put faith into action, to live authentically, to stand up for the faith, and to be counted for God.

Part Nine is specially reserved for Revelation. It too brings together the beginning as well as the end, showing readers again that God has revealed Jesus, and will continue to reveal as the end times approach. 

My Thoughts

As with the title of the book, this is about "adventuring" through the ancient Bible, about the Living Word made even more alive in our modern contexts.  Clearly written, coupled with lots of diagrams, illustrations, summary boxes, it encourages readers to want to read the Bible more. One of the strong points in this book is the frequent summaries of different Bible contexts, movemenets, timelines, cultural nuances, and stories. It gives readers additional tools to use when it comes to analyze, to study, and to apply the Word of God. It is useful as a teaching tool to guide new believers and eager students to understand the overall focus of the Bible. Sometimes, it is hard to tell which part of the book is written by Ray Stedman, which by Elaine his wife, or by unnamed individual(s) in the publishing house. For example, since Ray died in 1992, there is no way he had written about the story of 9/11 in the book. Books of this nature can also suffer from reductionistic tendencies. This is the inherent weakness in any attempt to summarize anything.

That said, if this book can drive one to study the Bible more for themselves, it would have worth the price of the book. Stedman says it well. The Bible is an adventure of faith. That is why, adventuring through the Bible is an apt title that will stick. I thank the Lord for this servant, who has given the Christian world a valuable asset to use, in the study of the Bible. With this book in hand, there is no way Bible study can be boring.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"The Weight of Mercy" (Deb Richardson-Moore)

TITLE: The Weight of Mercy: A Novice Pastor on the City Streets
AUTHOR: Deb Richardson-Moore
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2012, (288 pages).

From a journalist to a Baptist pastor, from a world of male-dominated clergy environment to an inner city Church, the author gives readers an inner look into the struggles and the overcoming of these struggles in a tough rundown environment. With addiction as the number 1 enemy in the neighbourhood, Pastor Deb and her team minister together against all odds. Deb writes about her earnest efforts to try to minister to as many people of all kinds of problems in the streets. Her team runs the soup kitchen and collects items to be given away to the needy. She preaches sermons to reach a wide age group. From 88 year old, and middle class people, to young 10th graders, to a congregation that comprises of many homeless, and down and out individuals in society. She learns the hard way the consequences of not following the advice of her predecessors, "No money; no cigarettes; no rides." The authority and respect given her as a pastor, often evaporates when the tough circumstances arrive. Like how she deals with defiant staff members like T.C and Butch. She even had to make the painful decision of terminating the services of Butch who had gotten into drugs. She experience first hand that while the healthy finds inner city streets terrible, the sick and the injured will find them "nightmarish." Problems abound even for a church that tries to help these people. One of them is the way the recipients of gifts, take the very things and gladly exchange them for money to feed their addictions! The ministry is wide-ranging. The Church ministry does not only provide food and grocery items. They distribute fuel like kerosene for cooking, candles, clothes, children's crayons too! Thanksgiving proves to be one of the most demanding days of the calendar, with Deb not only needing to help feed the many homeless and hungry, the ministry needs to manage the many volunteers wanting to help. She lets her ministry informs her preaching, and her sermon informed by the Word of God. After her ordination, he grows in confidence.

Deb too has to struggle with the fact of her as a woman pastor. On several occasions, she has to swallow the bitter pill of discrimination from both the clerical front as well as some congregational expectations. This is where the "weight of mercy" lifts her above self-pity or regret, toward doing something about it for the sake of Christ's love. Through Truine Mercy Center in Greenville, SC, Deb switches back and forth between ministering the word and ministering mercy to the needy. She tries hard to meet both physical and emotional needs as well as spiritual needs. She has her idealism constantly challenged by the realities of life. Even her own staff proves to be challenging too. If helping people with their basic needs only extends their own selves to do more crack, is it a worthwhile endeavor? What if instead of helping them, they are harming them? Is it right to be spending $2 million on a building infrastructure instead of direct tangible help? These questions constantly demand answers.

Despite the tough environment and the frequent bouts of discouragement, there are many positive signs too. Such as when she sees how one crack addict by the name of Quinn administers band-aid to the hurting. Then there are loving friends who affirms her even as she ventures into the hard task of ministry to the alcoholics and the drug addicts. With delicate details of the many different encounters of addiction, the author has given readers an inner look into the reality of ministry among addicts.

My Thoughts

I am amazed at how the three big impediments to ministry are so powerfully overcome by one individual. Firstly, Deb Richardson-Moore has to overcome the stigma of serving as a woman pastor in an often male-dominated ministry. At various occasions, it can be disappointing, even disgusting, just to see how the hiring denomination crumbles the resume of prospective ministers on the basis of gender. Yet, Deb overcomes with grace. Secondly, qualification and ordination is not the same as real-time experience. Being a novice, Deb has to learn many things on the fly. Like how to manage her strange group of staff members, working with the authorities above, and to weave her experience in the ministry with the Word of God each time she preaches. Thirdly, the ministry itself is downright discouraging, with questions constantly being asked, as to whether the help is truly helping the hurt and the injured. With little positive results, the ministry is downright discouraging. Before long, she too suffers bouts of despair, dealing with transient people who comes and goes. She can only cling on to the hope that even if in the short term, the addicts are not going to quit their habits, in the long run, they will remember the love enough to turn over a new leaf and make a positive change for their own lives. She understands too that not everyone they help WANTS to be helped. Not every person they serve will eventually be saved. Not every good intention ends up in the right direction.

I am amazed at the strength and fortitude of the author, how she lets the love of God shines through her in words and in works. While this book has opened my eyes to see the dangers of addictions, and the uphill task of sharing Christ's love to people who are not easily likable, it has also opened by eyes to see how I myself am able to respond if placed in Deb's same shoes. Will I give up quickly? Will I start to question God? Will I start to dismiss away people who simply refuse to do something constructive for themselves? The more I think of it, the more I believe that ministry in such challenging areas is not for everyone. It is a calling. Deb has that calling, and in sharing her stories in this book, maybe, it will be a match to light up those of us, whose hearts are just beginning to warm up, whose candles are closer to catching the flame of love, the fire of dedication. May this book light the way and to reveal more people who has this calling, but is waiting for the timing.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Publications and Monarch Books without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Living God's Word" (J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays)

TITLE: Living God's Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture
AUTHOR:  J. Scott Duvall and  J. Daniel Hays
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (320 pages).

We learn best from stories because stories shape our thinking and our living. If we can find God in the story, and subsequently see our place in the story, we are in for an exciting time of learning and living. This is the premise of this book. For those of us who loves to "walk" through the Bible and see the big story, this book helps us to do just that. Through their teaching experience at Bible schools, the authors encounter two major problems. Firstly, students are not sure how the stories in the Bible fit in the overall Story. Secondly, students need help on how to read the Bible for themselves. Riding on the success of their first book, "Grasping God's Word," Duvall and Hays have come up with a complementary edition that focuses on the overall story of the Bible. The earlier book was written to enable readers to read, to interpret, and to apply the teachings of the Bible. This new book is intended for readers to survey the whole Bible, and to enable readers to discover the riches of the Bible for themselves. Using the letter C as an alliteration device, the authors comb the 66 books of the Bible to tell the story in 20 chapters. The first half tells the great story of God's creation leading all the way to the final and perfect Redemption of the world. Beginning with creation, there is the unfortunate fall of man. God enters the picture again with a redemption plan, to redeem Israel through the Abrahamic call. Israel fails terribly and soon, God enters the picture with a relationship with the people through the Mosaic covenant and the commandments. Israel fails miserably again despite their conquests and their requests for a king. As Israel crumbles and goes into captivity, despite the multiple warnings given by prophets and priests, kings and soothsayers, God's people continue their rebellion, and the Old Testament ends without much good news as far as the Israelite behaviour is concerned. This is followed by a chapter that describes the time of silence. I find this chapter very illuminating as it stands between the first and the second testaments, in a neither beginning or end state. Readers are left pondering "What happened?" as they reflect on the Old Testament events. They are also left to grapple with the next questions:

  • What does it all mean?
  • What is going to happen next?
  • Is there hope?

Enters God again in the New Testament. The New Testament is broadly described in three segments: Christ, Church, and Consummation. Like creation, God is the Initiator again. Man cannot save himself. God can. By sending Christ, to enter our world, to teach the world, and to be crucified and sacrificed for the sake of the world. After His resurrection, Christ commissions his disciples to continue the mission. He promises the Holy Spirit who will lead the Church to do great things for God, in distributing the salvation message. The Consummation represents a happy ending to a great story. Each chapter begins with a hook to get the reader interested. There are stories like toddler and the electrical outlets, spiders in a truck, a wedding vow, Superman's cape, and many more to grab the attention of the contemporary reader. The reader is then urged to read or listen to a few key passages of the Scriptures that describe the story more explicitly. The contexts, the characters, and the contents are introduced, followed by some basic themes.

My Thoughts

There is an intentional story-telling emphasis in the whole book. In order to tell the story of stories, one needs to be utterly familiar with the whole Bible. This is where the authors shine in their comprehension and their familiarity with modern learners. Like good teachers, they give readers a clear overview of the book. I love the way they put the chapter headings so concisely. Reflecting on the chapter title alone already gives us a good idea where the authors are heading. For me, it is a powerful learning key. The twenty learning keys are like handrails to guide readers through all 66 books of the Bible. They all lead toward a great climax of the story. They all build upon previously established steps or story endings. They all progress in a direction. While the authors do not give an individual book-by-book approach, they provide a thought-by-thought progression that makes great story-telling. In fact, preachers can also use the book as material for 20 sermons too. The frameworks are excellent ways to tell stories and to bring out the biblical themes clearly. I like the many summaries that we need reminding from time to time. For example, the summary of the Ten Commandments, the maps of Palestine and Israel to give readers an idea of the contexts of the land, the comparison of narratives in Kings as well as Chronicles, and many more. The blue-boxed out summaries are refreshing and make for great Powerpoint slides. The bibliography at the end of each chapter is intentionally short so as not to make research too intimidating.

That said, there are some weaknesses in the approach taken by Duvall and Hays. Let me mention three. First, there is some amount of straitjacketing going on. Everytime we use a alliteration device, we try to force our story to reflect the C-word we choose. It is one thing to let the Bible inform the story. It is yet another to let a certain interpretation inform how one reads the Bible. For this reason, I recommend the book for beginner to moderate level readers. Those who are trained theologically will know that there are many more nuances associated with each of the 66 books. While the story flow is true, we cannot presume that these are the only stories worth telling. Second, there is some reductionism going on? Why only 20 chapters? Perhaps, brevity is a concern. Maybe, the book is designed more for popular reading. That said, it is important to remember that this is the authors' way of communicating truth in a readable manner. In fact, there can be 30 chapters or even 40 chapters, depending on how we want to frame our story. It is a reminder that the book is a summary, and readers are to remember that summaries do result in some reductionism. If readers understand that, it is ok. Third, this book in itself is already an interpretation of the Bible story.  For readers who are keen to do inductive studies, this book is not for you. Supplement this book with others. However, if the book can encourage Bible literacy, to motivate readers to read the Bible with more enthusiasm, it is still a very good thing.

If I can use my own learning acronym for this book, it will be F.U.L.L.
  1. Finding the story (Discovery)
  2. Understanding the story (Delight)
  3. Learning the story (Deepen)
  4. Living the story. (Do)
This book helps us to do that very well. I recommend this book for the beginner student, as well as the layperson wanting to read the Bible from the eyes of story telling. If you have read "Grasping God's Word," you will love this book too.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"When Helping Hurts" (Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert)

TITLE: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
AUTHOR: Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (288 pages).

This book is poised to turn the conventional thinking about helping the poor on its head. In fact, how we define poverty will determine how we address and help alleviate the poverty. A misdiagnosis will not only fail to help the needy, it hurts them. Good intentions are not enough. We need good thinking too. Short-term help must remain short-term. Never help those who can help themselves. Desiring to help is good. Exercising wisdom in helping is better.

Corbett and Fikkert have given us a powerful resource in empowering the helper to help others without hurting them. You may be asking. How can charity ever harm people? The key is, when we fail to help them to help themselves, we are simply making them depend on us, and produce a cycle of codependency. If their poverty and neediness grow worse after our help, then we have not helped them. We have harmed them, especially when our help efforts becomes some kind of a narcotic for them.

Wisdom is needed to help the poor and the needy. Written in four parts, this book attempts to give readers the basics in learning to help in a constructive and beneficial way, for the poor. Beginning with the story of Mzungu, the witch doctor, the authors try to argue at the onset that we cannot help others on the basis of our contexts and culture. We may have the material goods, but others may need something more than material goods. Love.

We need to understand the other party's contexts and culture first. The two key convictions the writers have are, first, North Americans Christians are not doing enough to help. Second. many are helping it the wrong way.

Part One goes into the foundational concepts of help, linking Christian help with the gospel of the kingdom. It asks three basic questions.

  1. Why did Jesus come to Earth?
    Here, the authors attempt to expand our understanding of social help as part of kingdom witness. The task of the Church is to be available to help free people from the vicious cycles of poverty. Social responsibility must remain a core part of the Church, that has too often placed inner spiritual concerns and ignore external social concerns.
  2. What's the problem about poverty and our understanding of the vicious poverty cycle?
    The poor in various contexts understand poverty in different terms. For instance, when poor people mention a lack of material things, what they need is also a sense of dignity, a need for relationship, and other non-material concerns. "Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness." (51) 
  3. Do we have a correct sense of poverty alleviation?
    It is important to understand that poverty is rooted in broken relationships, and a key part of wanting to help is reconciliation to God, to fellow people, and to society at large. Such reconciliation can only happen when it is rooted in the power of hope in Christ's resurrection. 

Part Two works out some general principles for helping without hurting. It gives an insightful 1 to 3 markers, to help us match the need with the appropriate resource. If it is a need for crisis relief (Category 1), the resource must be immediate, seldom, and temporary. If it is a need for rehabilitation (Category 2), ensure adequate participation by all, assessment, target assistance, and appropriate resource workers. If it is a need for development (Category 3), the proper long term training and empowerment can be employed. The trouble with many is that they fail to correctly identify which category of help is present, and thus, erroneously assign help resources.

A good rule of thumb in cutting through all the confusions is to "avoid paternalism." Simply put, do not help others on things that they can help themselves. Other principles include the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) that affirms the dignity of the poor, and empower them to stand up for themselves. The four key elements are:
  1. Identifying strengths and gifts of the needy
  2. Look for resources within them
  3. Help them build links with local communities
  4. Only when necessary, bring foreign help.

When helping any group, it is important to contextualize rather than rely on a blueprint that others have used. What is success in one context may become failure in another. This is because every situation and people group is different.

Part Three showcases some practical strategies, to help communities both globally and locally. For foreign lands, the authors show how short-term missions can be helpfully done. It requires careful design by the organizers familiar with the field. Teams need to be trained and screened. Expectations must be managed. Learn to be more intentional in blessing others rather than pandering to our own perceptions. For local places, learn to pay attention to broken systems and broken individuals. Recognize the skills needed to find work and to remain employed. There are tips on wealth, housing, healthcare, education, and various ministries. Other strategies include microfinancing where the poor are given small loans with certain collateral. The North American Church can train, or subsidize training. They can assist by complementing agencies familiar with the culture. They can be an advocate.

Part Four provides practical steps to begin help. Five principles are proposed.
  1. Foster triggers for human change
  2. Mobilize supportive people
  3. Look for early, recognizable success
  4. Learn the context as you go
  5. Start with the people most receptive to change.
Finally, the most important step is our own sense of repentance, and humility. We help people from the position of humility and brokenness. Only when we repent of our stubborn and erroneous, even arrogant ways of thinking Only when we repent, we become helped people being equipped to help others.  This means we learn to be humble to learn and re-learn what it means to help. It takes a broken person who has found healing, to help another broken person to find healing.

My Thoughts

The Bible has said that we loved because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). In a similar spirit, we helped because God first helped us. We reach out because God first reached out to us. This is what true help is about. We look at the needy and the poor from the eyes of God, rather than based on our material plenty or rich position of power.

In many ways, this book is similar to "Toxic Charity," which is also a book of the same genre of helping others without hurting them. It is similar in its arguments against wrong kinds of help, especially the ones that turns help into codependency. Unlike Robert Lupton's book, "When Helping Hurts" is written specifically for the Church and the Christian community. There are many biblical references and data on Christian help groups and Christian concerns. It is a book written by Christians for Christians. More specifically, it is for North American churches who want to help, but are not exactly sure how to help without hurting. The "Initial Thoughts" page at the beginning of each chapter is there to help readers to first take a snapshot of their perception of help. At the end of the chapter, the reflection questions help us track our Before/After picture. There are practical tips and exercises to encourage the reader to go beyond simply reading the book. I like the way the authors have defined poverty alleviation.

"Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation....
........ Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work."

This is a book useful for preaching and teaching. Pastors will benefit by giving their churches some guidance with regards to charitable giving, especially with Christmas around the corner. Teachers can help their students to dig deeper into the Word, and to exercise practical living beyond the classroom. With the rising affluence of the North American Church, and the growing rich-poor divide between the haves and the have-nots, may we learn to play our part not only to help, but to help without harming the poor. It is our responsibility that they have their rights to basic dignity, goods and services.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Emergence Christianity" (Phyllis Tickle)

TITLE: Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
AUTHOR: Phyllis Tickle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (242 pages).

This book adds to the growing collection of Christian books on new forms of Church and Christianity that use the words, "Emerging," "Emergent," and "Emergence." These words are arguably associated with Eddie Gibbs, Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle respectively. Eddie Gibbs use the "Emerging churches" label in a book of the same name, a description of the new forms of churches that call themselves 'emerging.' Next, Brian McLaren is the defacto face of the "Emergent Church" which is essentially described in his book, "A Generous Orthodoxy" that appears to be all forms of Christianity to all Christian. It is more of a celebration of a new kind of Christian in a new kind of Church that is more embracing. Tickle describes such churches as welcoming people to belong first, behave next,  and believe finally. This is in contrast to many traditional congregations that work on a "believe/behave/belong" sequence of acceptance.

"Emergence Christianity" is not about the emerging church. It is about an emerging mindset. The author uses three questions to frame her book.
  1. What is Emergence Christianity?
  2. Where It is Going?
  3. Why It Matters?
A) What Is It?

Tickle gives readers a fascinating historical tour that is based on blocks of 500 years, just like her previous book, "The Great Emergence." She writes about the Great Reformation that is far beyond Martin Luther Protestantism, to include political, cultural, and social changes through the past 1500 years. She argues that it is the underlying culture that has shaped the face of religion.  For Tickle, it is the Great Reformation that rocks the former to change to what is now the era of the Great Transformation. It is also the history of the Great Reformation. Detecting some change, Tickle tries out at several different vocabularies before settling on the term "Great Emergence" to describe the the cultural mindset of this age. Like McLaren, Tickle also weaves in two extremes with a hyphen.  Her historical survey of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, the house churches of Iona, Taize, Catholic Workers, missionals, to Neo-Monasticism, the cyberchurch, and the modern megachurches sets the stage for her key thesis: The Great Reformation for our era is emerging into one that is comfortable with the tensions of many seemingly opposing views. In other words, Emergence Christianity has to do with a "centrality of mind-set." The characteristics are:
"of deinstitutionalization; nonhierarchal organization; a comfortable and informed interface with physical science; dialogical and contextual habits of thought; almost universal technological savvy; triple citizenship with its triple loyalties and obligations; a deeply embedded commitment to social justice with an accompanying, though largely unpremeditated, assumption of all forms of human diversity as the norm; and a vocation toward greenness..." (137)
B) Where Is It Going?

Emergence Christianity is something that is still evolving through communities of change, and rising out of a "spiritual but not religious" climate. It embraces the different forms of worship and is not hemmed into any one kind of structure. Tickle affirms the three initiatives of Emerging Christianity.
  1. Shift from church to Kingdom focus
  2. Shift from pastoral/teacher/evangelistic to apostolic/prophetic
  3. Shift from market-based behaviour to kingdom-shaped economy.
She calls both the Emerging and the Emergent Christianity as subsets of "Emergence Christianity." She tries to make a distinction between them. Things like Emerging being more patriachal, traditional, than Emergent ones. She also calls McLaren's Ten Questions as a "mother hen" of Emergent Christians. Hyphenateds are very divergent and represents a highly inclusive form of church.

Philosophically, Emergence Christianity marries science and the humanities. It is suspicious of "metanarratives" but welcomes "micronarratives." It insists in one central story rather than many. Grace is more important than morality, and right action begins with the gospels.

C) Why It Matters?

Emergence Christianity is coming faster than we think. That is why churches need to reconfigure according to their local contexts, adapt to needs, and to realign with kingdom goals for their purpose. It will be more progressive and accepting of opposing views. In fact, Emergence Christianity will increasingly clash with conservative evangelicalism more and more. The EC is important because it is increasingly being called upon to lend a credible voice to the culture at large. The finality of it all is love, that will drive conversations from human to human.

Tickle makes it clear that "Emergence Christianity" is not a new kind of church, but a movement mentality (North American context) that can shrink or grow, begin or end, far reaching and also potentially impactful. The basic assumption of church is one of people rather than institutional places. It is organized by consensus. It is "open source" that requires appropriate discernment and guidance of ordained clergy. Emergence Christianity is one that is inclusive and diverse in worship. Informal and social, it places a heavy emphasis on community life. They practice a form of liberated worship but are anchored in tradition and orthodoxy. It is not easily restricted by forms and structures, but aims to allow the exercise of spiritual gifts by all members. It readily combines orthodoxy, both Eastern and Western. Sacraments are open. So is their readiness to adopt technology.

My Thoughts

Tickle is more of a bird's eye chronicler of some major happenings throughout history. It is not a bull's eye treatise that tells of what is happening exactly. Things are more vague than clear. It is basically to demonstrate how change is still happening today.  The author is able to sense that something is going on, but her conclusion lets her down. Perhaps, it is the nature of a "Emergence Christianity" that is increasingly more like the Aquarian form of being more "spiritual" rather than "religious."

The first half of the book is an extremely brief overview about changes happening throughout in the first 1500 years. There are also lots of references to the modern church movements which inject modern relevance into the text.  The second half of the book gets more tedious as I sense Tickle trying to make sense of being all things to all people. She goes easy on her critiques, preferring to be as inclusive as possible with her observations of the differences between the Emerging and the Emergent Church. At best, she is able to draw in the wide variety of groups and perspectives. At worst, it can confuse. Etymologically, the words 'emerging,' 'emergent,' and 'emergence' can be too academic that the layperson will be challenged to make sense of how different they are. Tickle attempts a big bite. Unfortunately, I think she has bitten on something too big and too difficult to lock down into a 242-page book. Perhaps, the nature of Emergence Christianity is by itself vague. Perhaps, Tickle has been somewhat influenced by the Age of Aquarian mindsets, that parallels spiritual-but-not-religious with emerging-but-not-conventional. At best, it is a proposal of how things are going to look like. At worst, it may lead readers to visualize something that is not really concrete to start with. I try to like this book, but I think the book is unfortunately too vague. When one tries to be many things to many people, it loses its very own identity that instead of emerging, it may very well be submerging.

Ratin: 3.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Cravings" (Mary DeTurris Poust)

TITLE: Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God
AUTHOR: Mary DeTurris Poust
PUBLISHER: Nortre Dame, IN: Ava Maria Press, 2012, (160 pages).

What do our cravings for food tell about us? A lot. This book basically argues that our physical hunger is essentially a symptom of a deeper condition: A desire to be filled, and a longing to be whole. The trouble with many is that they are filling themselves with things that do not last, and longing for a world that is far too inadequate to meet our deepest needs. The way we stuff ourselves with food can sometimes be due to self-loathing or deceptive loving. What about times in which we gobble food down and fail to pay attention to the people on the table? Perhaps, our inability to control any binging or inattentive eating is a symptom of a deeper problem. A big question constantly asked is this: Every time we reach out for something, say a cookie or a snack, are we satisfying a legitimate hunger or are we eating based on another kind of impulse?

Each chapter begins with a Scripture statement or a quote that spells out the main idea of the chapter. An illustration is then made to highlight the challenges many people face with regards to some form of eating. After making a case for a link between physical and spiritual needs, readers are invited back to the spiritual fathers, and practitioners of old, that we in the modern age can be trained to think about food, eating, and our self-identity in a more reflective way.  Whether it is a "goal-directed" vs "habit-directed" behaviour; a dieting based on self-delusion vs doing something based on who we are; to accept our self-image instead of trying to build up a false sense of identity; this book builds a case for us to be mindful about the motivations behind every eating. Each chapter ends with some positive applications, followed by a helpful "Food for Thought" and a "Practice" section for readers to exercise either self-control or purposefulness in their cravings. The meditations is a nice summary of each chapter, giving readers a good opportunity to turn back to the true spiritual source of fulfillment and delight. There are helpful ideas on fast food eating, vegetarian meals, instant cooking or easy meals, obsessive eating or dieting, fasting, simplicity in eating, and others. Eating is also a sacramental act too, as we exercise self-control and balance in our physical as well as spiritual feeding. The highlight is learning to turn mere meals into meaningful meditations, for all kinds of occasions.

My Thoughts

This book begins with an exploration of the connections between physical and spiritual nourishment. It then progresses to the key point about these connections reflecting our relationship with God and our journey toward becoming the persons we are made to be. Obesity and prayer can be closely linked. Eating and community building is also critical to relationships. Even eating desserts can be an utterly spiritual experience. Filled with lots of practical advice, readers will be ushered into a whole new way of thinking about their food.

There is a popular saying that we are what we eat. Mary DeTurris Poust has helped us to appreciate the deeper meanings and the underlying motivations behind our eating. She has made a strong case that links our physical nourishment with our desire for spiritual refreshment. I appreciate the author's ten-step plan for compulsive or impulsive eating. The key idea is about planning our eating, before, during, and after.

Ratin: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Ave Maria Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Invitations from God" (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun)

TITLE: Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More
AUTHOR: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011, (208 pages)

This book is written by a fellow alumnus from my alma mater. With "invitation" as a key theme, Calhoun weaves in 11 areas in which we can find ourselves invited to do. "Invitation" is a great word to use with regards to spiritual formation. It is something unforced but encouraged. It is attractive yet gentle. It is an open invite that has our closest interests in mind.

"Invitations are powerful. Like tides, they ebb and flow, sharing the contours of our existence. . . . Invitations shape who we know, where we go, what we do and who we become. Invitations can challenge and remake us. They can erode and devastate. And they can also heal and restore us.... The things we say yes to and the things we say no to determine the terrain of our future." (9-10)

There are four types of invitations. The first are the "business and career invitations" that "invite us to more productivity, vision, initiative and profitability." The second are the "family invitations" that can affect how closely knitted the family can become. The third kind is "educational" which offers ways to improve or enrich oneself through learning.  The fourth is "entertainment and social" which is an invitation to party. What makes God's invitation different from all of these is that God wants to "mend, shape, anchor and grow us into the character of Jesus."  Our spiritual journey is about how we RESPOND to God's invitation to grow into Jesus. Throughout the twelve invitations, the format is similar. There is first an invite followed by a key passage of Scripture. The author then highlights a roadblock that threatens to derail us from an appropriate response to the invitation. It shows us the way to let the Holy Spirit help us, and then to practice in a way to enlarge our receptivity that God may work even more in our hearts.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"The Circle Maker" (Mark Batterson)

TITLE: The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears
AUTHOR: Mark Batterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (226 pages).

Beginning with the legendary story of Honi, the Jewish prayer warrior, readers are given an inspiring look at the place of prayer in the ordinary life of a Christian. The key idea in the book is that we need to pray without ceasing and without wavering our faith in God. Beginning with the story of Honi, Batterson describes how the prayer of one man persists beyond the drizzles and the raindrops. How the prayer persists beyond the downpour and the joys of the ecstatic onlookers. Until God from heaven unleashes the many blessings that will drench not only the physical land but the inner hearts of people. Batterson's conviction is this: "Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers." (13)

Batterson talks about how he draws prayer circles around his ministry, how he literally practices prayer walking around the location that eventually houses the coffeehouse initiative on Capitol Hill, and how in prayer, one can dream big and flee one's greatest fears. He sees the Jericho initiative that not only conquers the outside, but overcomes the fears inside. Whether it is on salvation, on reconciliation, on healing, or provision, there is nothing to stop anyone from taking anything to the Lord in prayer. Batterson begins by defining what success means to him.

  1. Being able to do his best with whatever resources he has.
  2. Being able to help people maximize their potential as given by God.
  3. That the people closest to him, respect him the most.

Batterson justifies his praying through with several biblical examples. From the way the Lord has provided rain, manna, and quail to the people in the wilderness; to the parable of the persistent widow, to many personal stories of God answering (and not answering) his prayers. There are three circles of prayer to surround this initiative. They can be described through the phrase: "Dream Big. Pray Hard. Think Long."

The first circle, "Dream Big," is about learning to let God's vision expand our narrow perspectives. It is overcoming our doubts of God toward faith in God. It is not us sizing up God, but to let God size ourselves to a proper understanding of who God is. God has no limits. God has no problems in providing answers to prayers. It is whether it is in God's will. Batterson also makes a distinction between the "qualified" vs the "called," saying that the key issue to any ministry is not whether we are qualified or not. The key thing is whether we are called. Surely God will equip the called, no matter how qualified or unqualified the world may think of them.

The second circle, "Pray Hard" begins with the biblical story of a widow whose persistence got the better of the typically stubborn judge. Prayer warriors require a high "Persistence Quotient" that puts our faith into work, that practices our belief in God, that lets our prayers open our eyes to God taking action. There is an interesting thought about "hyperlinking" our prayers based on biblical promises. It links the ancient promises with present reality. It circles the promises of God, and revolutionizes our understanding of the Bible and how we read it. Batterson shares about how his "crazy" idea of praying around a crack house, ends up with a mysterious donation that is more than enough to fund the buying of the property, the construction of Ebenezer Coffee House, and how the Church continues to grow branches of ministry to bless people. Once Batterson and his staff received a notice that their rented property cannot be used due to fire code violations. They did the best thing they know. Pray. True enough. When the doors of public schools are closed, God opens the door of something better. Of all places, it is Union Square, a train station! (Since then, they have moved to another location, but the testimony of God's providence continues). The point is, God provides for his people according to what is needed most at that time.

The third circle is "Think Long" where prayer is a form of planting. This takes the form of having eternity in mind. We pray and think not simply of our present generations, but of other generations that are to come, for our children, their children, and their children's children, and so on. Yes, prayer can be "long and boring," but it grows deep roots of faith. When the US stock market crashes in 1929, Conrad Hilton shared about his "Pray Consistently and Confidently" experience which demonstrates to us that Hilton corporation is not built on bricks and mortars, but on a bold prayer to God. Batterson encourages readers to find their own patterns and own methods of prayer. Each of us are different. Drawing prayer circles may often require fasting too. It requires determination. It needs to be fueled by faith. It needs to allow the Spirit of God to overcome the temptations of the flesh. There is an "escape velocity" that we all need to have in order to pray above ourselves toward the heavenly kingdom.

The book ends with ten steps to goal setting, a list of life goals, and how we need to keep circling our prayers with God as our center. All it needs is one person, to draw one circle, to pray to one God, and ultimately to be the person that God has made one to be.

My Thoughts

This book is indeed a fresh perspective to prayer. For people who hardly pray, may this book reinvigorate the desire to pray. For people who prays in a monotonous and boring manner, this book offers ways in which we can keep faith, to be open to new ways of circling our prayers around God. For those of us hungering for more of God, this book is an excellent companion to dream big, to pray hard, and to think long.

I understand that there are some readers who feel uncomfortable about formulas, and steps to do spiritual things. Let me assure you that this book is not some self-help manual. It is a book that will inspire us to pray more and to believe God more. Pray to the point that our focus is not on the answers, but of God, and what He is speaking to us. I like the last part about Rodney "Gypsy" Smith, whose powerful ministry of preaching the gospel is wrapped up in this simple advice Gypsy gives.

"Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle." (215)

Wow. That to me is worth the price of the book.

Keep at it. Don't give up. Keep praying. Keep hoping. Keep believing. This book may very well trigger a change in your prayer life, maybe even your whole life. What is most compelling for me is that while prayers can lead to dramatic answers to prayer from God above, there is something else that happens inside a person every time that person prays. Everytime something fails to happen our way, pray. Pray to hear what God is speaking. Pray to discover the many other factors that we may not have understood. Pray to see how God changes our inner hearts each time we pray. This book had me at the legendary story of Honi. It had me again at the end. "The Circle Maker" has not made the bestselling list by hype alone. It really is that good.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book review is based on a book provided by the local library.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Paul and Union with Christ" (Constantine R. Campbell)

TITLE: Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study
AUTHOR: Constantine R. Campbell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (480 pages).

This book is based on the premise that exegesis shapes theology and vice versa. That is why both exegesis and theology will be employed TOGETHER in reflecting Paul's writings about the believers relationship with Christ. Two questions are used to helm the study.
  1. With regards to union with Christ, what does it mean to be "in Christ?"
  2. What other themes are related to this union with Christ?
While the bulk of the book is on the exegesis of the nuances of the prepositions Paul uses in describing union with Christ, Campbell suggests the use of idioms as a way to frame the understanding of the nuances. What are the meanings and functions behind the prepositions and the idioms behind the words? The author does not limit the study to the use of a Greek-English lexicon compiled by Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, (commonly known as BDAG). He applies his own critical study of the individual prepositional uses in Paul's epistles. Part One of the book gives readers a broad survey of the historical perspectives and developments of Pauline studies. He surveys some of the teachings on union as "mysticism" through the studies of Adolph Deissmann, Wilhelm Bousset, and to some extent, Albert Schweitzer. Others like Rudolf Bultmann prefers to move away from mysticism toward a participation perspective, through the sacraments like baptism and communion. John Murray puts forth a theological perspective that sees "union with Christ" as the undergirding theme for understanding Christian theology. Alfred Wikenhauser prefers to see it as Christ's presence. Fritz Neugebauer prefers to take a more exegetical approach to understand meanings. Karl Barth proposes an objective as well as a subjective way to understand union with Christ. Like Bultmann, Robert Tannehill, and Wikenhauser's work on participation, renowed NT scholar E.P. Sanders brings in Jewish theology to strengthen the connection of both Jews and Gentiles being participatory members of Christ's salvation. Richard Gaffin, James D.G. Dunn speaks out for union with Christ as more experiential.  The author then moves to draw deeper insights into the extent of the relationship of mysticism and experience, and the connection between Pauline theology and Jewish contexts. Key to his discovery is that union does not replace or displace mysticism or experience, it is the "ground" to underline the many other theologies such as soteriology, Christology, ecclesiology, and so on.

Part Two is an exegetical feast where prepositions like (in, into, through, with, under, above, of, etc) are looked into greater detail. The idiom "ἐν Χριστῷ" (en christoi) occurs 73 times in Paul's letters may literally mean "in, into, among, with the help of, because of, etc..." it is important to let the context be the interpretive guide when understanding how Paul uses it. For example, contexts is critical to see how the preposition is used to explain either a present theme of redemption or a time-based salvation by grace. Romans 3:23 talks about the latter with regards to eternal life, while 1 Corinthians 1:4 points to a sanctifying aspect of being redeemed in Christ. It is also a critical distinction when talking about believers or unbelievers. "Into Christ" is described by the idiom "εἰς Χριστόν" (eis christon) which is closely related to "ἐν Χριστῷ" but has the special ability to hold "ideas of motion and rest" as well as some metaphorical usage. It is also considered a more "pregnant" term connecting the relationship between God and man, as well as human to human. The key distinction is that it moves toward a target or a reference.  "Together with Christ" is described by "σὺν Χριστῷ" (sun christoi) which highlights the participatory element, like co-experiencing or co-suffering, participating in life as well as in death. "Between, via, through Christ" is one explanation of the idiom "διὰ Χριστοῦ" (dia christou) which represents "instrumentality" in which something is done or achieved through the person. Romans is filled with such uses. Like Romans 3:23 of justification through faith in Christ, and Romans 5:11 through Christ we are reconciled. It is also used to describe the characteristics of believers who are able to be confident through Christ (2 Cor 3:4). Thus, "διὰ Χριστοῦ" are mostly used instrumentally and sometimes as mediatorial.  Campbell also looks at the metaphors which such prepositions and idioms point to. Like "Body of Christ," marriage, temple, building, and the clothing metaphors, which all goes to point out the relationship of God and His people. Such metaphors elucidate the spiritual realities and theological truths of "union with Christ."

Part Three is a synthesis of what has been done in order to draw out theological themes uncovered in the earlier chapters. The author weaves in the significance of "union with Christ" with the topics of interest for the Christian life. What does it means for the work of Christ? Essentially, all work in Christ springs from the truth of being in "union with Christ." Likewise, it helps us understand the relationship with the Triune Godhead, how the union with Christ and the mediation leads to a full reconciliation with the Trinity. It also confirms the believers' identity and status, with regards to Christian living and discipleship via identification with Christ. That is not all. After the description and the explanation of the importance and theological structure of the terms, Campbell leaves the readers gasping for more as he works on implications for future study. Key to it is the extension of the metaphors identified and the additional mysteries it uncovers. Moreover, there are still lots to be learned with regards to the thoughts of Paul, and the interconnected themes. 

My Thoughts

The three major conclusions of the study is this. First, "union with Christ" alone does not quite cut it. This needs at least, three other words, like "union, participation, identification, incorporation," in order to bring out the nuances of Paul's theology with regards to various theological themes like the Trinity, eschatology, spirituality, etc.   Second, Paul's theology is not a fresh new creation, but one that has been informed by Jewish theology and Jesus Himself. Third, the theology undergirding "union in Christ" is not the central theme, but is the theme that binds all other theologies together.

This book is an exegetical treasure for the interested student of Greek and New Testament biblical studies. It is a powerful work of combining diligent exegesis with faithful theological connections. For learning reasons, the book is placed systematically as exegesis first and theologizing later. This at first may look mechanical, and may appear to contradict Campbell's assertion that exegesis and application informs each other. The truth is, for all the interconnections and the methodical approaches, learning is a process. For the student, it is an important first step to be disciplined in doing a good exegesis before any initial work of applying the studied texts. The intermingling of theology and exegesis will benefit the same person who applies the process over and over again, where past learning informs the present as well as the future. This is what learning is all about. The present builds upon the past in order to create a future. For those who have learned Greek, this is a refreshing work to demonstrate the importance and the nuances of the Greek language. For those who do not understand much Greek, it is a good way to spur interest in getting into the original languages. That said, while a knowledge of Greek will definitely be helpful, the book supplies enough explanation to guide readers unfamiliar with the original language. That said, it will be helpful for the author or publisher to include some reading helps so that non-readers of Greek can at least know how to pronounce the words.

For preachers of the New Testament, this is a must-have volume to appreciate how theology and exegesis work together. For students of Greek, this exercise breathes life into a sometimes monotonous rote learning of the ancient language. For the layperson, consider this book a challenge to see the meanings often embedded within the Greek, to get a glimpse of the thoughts of Paul with regards to mysticism, the mystery, the sacraments, and the experience of living in and with Christ.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Living Countertestimony" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Living Countertestimony: Conversations With Walter Brueggemann
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann and Carolyn J. Sharp
PUBLISHER: Lousville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (176 pages).

People often read the works of authors but few authors are personally read by people. In a manner that imitates the title of the book, this work offers an intimate look at one of evangelical world's most popular preachers and teachers, especially in all things Old Testament. Call it counterculture, or against the flow, or simply being himself, Brueggemann offers readers an inner glimpse of how he thinks, and his struggles with fellow scholars, and how he defends the way he does things. While the provocative questions are made by Carolyn Sharp, the book is essentially Brueggemann's. He shares with readers his deep convictions about the Old Testament texts, and how he prays through each day, to be faithful in teaching the texts according to his gifts. Designed in a more conversational style, Brueggemann responds to Sharp's questions with frankness, and at times with a measured disappointment with those who disagree with them. Using 8 of Brueggemann's talks between 2008 and 2011, Sharp brings together a wide range of conversations covering from biblical interpretations, to his interactions with scholars who disagree with Brueggemann's approach.

In "Arguing with the Text," Sharp introduces the beginning of the project with a group of scholars and past students of Brueggemann, many of whom are admirers of Brueggemann's works. He admits to having Brevard Childs as his greatest influence in his biblical theology. He offers his view as a scholar as well as a pastor. He reveals why he sees a need to transition away from historical criticism, toward something that the current generation will "get it." He even answers questions about praying before each lesson, as well as how the celebrity status of Brueggemann has impacted his life and his relationships with students and faculty. Admitting that he cannot handle the book of Job, he even tells of how he flunk his German despite studying four years in it.

"Redescribing the World" traces the beginnings of Brueggemann's foray into biblical theology, and how struggles with certain subjects. It also reveals a lot of Brueggemann's entry into the academic world, his doctoral pursuits, setting the educational curriculums, and of course, a very interesting form of 8 statements of personal habits and preferences for him to fill in.  The most interesting part of the chapter is how Brueggemann deals with the criticisms by Dr Bruce Waltke.

"Disrupting the Cynicism of Despair" touches on one of Brueggemann's most famous piece of work on prophetic imagination. It uncovers more of the three ways in which cynicism and despair can be broken. The first is to use symbols to disrupt hopelessness. The second is to bring hope in public expression. The third is to relate a newness for the world to receive. 

"Practicing Gratitude" is more pastoral as it deals with practicing faith in the biblical studies environment. The challenge is to connect biblical studies with what is going on in the world. Pastoral formation is key. It is something that is not simply getting over some challenges, but dealing with it on a daily basis, without even an eventual resolution. Brueggemann shares his thoughts on postcritical hermeneutics, his theological disagreements with some theological institutions, as well as his series of speeches at Regent College. He lament about the state of the SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), where people tend to gravitate toward people of similar persuasion instead of honest engagement of differing views.

"Where is the Scribe?" touches on critical scholarship of the Bible. Brueggemann breaks down the disputes into three groups, the orthodox, the rationalists, and his own tradition, the pietists. The first is most dogmatic, the second being more open to "autonomous reason," and the third trying to strike a balance between the first two. Brueggemann argues for "patience and imagination," using the whole idea of the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) to invite painful reflection with critical analysis. He shows readers how and why he moves from precritical to critical, and from critical to postcritical hermeneutics. He goes into detail of how the contexts of the ancient scribes look like, and imagines the perspectives they see.

"Hungry for This Word" represents the heart of Bruggemann's passion in teaching and preaching. Here, Brueggemann talks with Roger S. Greene on preaching. It gives insights on how to approach the text both as a pastor as well as a scholar, how the academic part can be linked to the practical life of the Christian. It is not simply engaging the text, but how to help congregants engage it for themselves. 

"On the Road Again" is a published sermon of Brueggemann, that traces a Christian's spiritual journey on where they are going, how, and who they are traveling with. He refers to Abraham's journey and contrasts it with Paul's journey. He highlights themes of shalom, neighborliness, assurance, and faith for the journey.

"Biblical Theology in Dialog" is a reflection by Terence E. Fretheim, how he agrees and disagrees with the biblical theology of Brueggemann. He calls some of Brueggemann's work as "unsettling" and also appreciates the support given by the esteemed theologian. He also observes how Brueggemann is skeptical of the established traditions, listing eight observations of how he differs from Brueggemann's theology.  In turn, Brueggemann acknowledges Fretheim as his "closest and most important conversation partner" in Old Testament studies. He explains why he is critical of the 16th Century interpretive tradition, arguing for a "both/and" perspective, ending with a declaration that the texts in the Bible do not always speak with one voice. Brueggemann says that the texts offer a variety of voices, and for that reason, it is important to let the texts speak for themselves.

My Thoughts

This book is fascinating as it offers deep glimpses of how the popular preacher and scholar thinks and speaks. I admire his conviction and boldness to go beyond the boundaries set by various traditions. At the risk of being labeled a heretic by some conservative scholars, Brueggemann justifies his hermeneutics by proclaiming that God needs to be allowed to speak for Himself, and that the theological community needs to engage different perspectives more, instead of huddling like-minded people together. There is value in openness and friendly conversations. I appreciate the honesty and the many revelations of Brueggemann's personal life. It is comforting to know that despite the highly regarded position Brueggemann holds, he has a very humble beginning, that like many people, also struggles with getting the grades we all want. I read that Brueggemann tries to be gracious with the people that he disagrees with. Yet, sometimes I feel like he is more frustrated rather than gracious. Perhaps, the "acrimonious exchange" can be seen in a more positive light, to see the dissent as a way to keep Brueggemann's "prophetic imagination" in check. It is natural to be upset about people criticizing his works. It is also understandable that in an environment of theological diversity, the best of each perspective can only come about through challenges and rigorous engagement. It is one thing to justify and to explain one's views. It is yet another to seek to challenge and to push the other person to be better proponents of their hermeneutic. I remember years ago, my professors telling me the three biggest criteria for theological studies: Humility, humility, and humility. In the field of biblical studies, that is most true.

This book offers me a greater appreciation of Brueggemann's theological bent. It is also a book in which I learn to be more measured with regards to his way of reading Scripture, that whatever imaginative work I want to do with the biblical text, I need a strong foundation of conservative scholarship. In other words, the creativity of Brueggemann and the rigorous conservatism of Waltke makes for a solid biblical offering.

I can see that Brueggemann is visibly upset about some of the negative remarks said by people about his works. At one point he even asks for these people NOT to be invited for his talks. Whether it is said jokingly or not, is subject to interpretation. That said, I am still intrigued by the influence of this biblical theologian. For all the criticisms of him and his works, the way he is able to connect academic work with pastoral formation of the laity, makes his works required reading for anyone desiring to connect more from pulpit to parish.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"An Introduction to the New Testament" (M. Eugene Boring)

TITLE: An Introduction to the New Testament: History, Literature, Theology
AUTHOR: M. Eugene Boring
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (720 pages).

This is a heavyweight textbook. With 28 chapters, more than 50 figures, multiple textboxes of illustrations of key points, over 760 pages, this book covers the entire New Testament and more. Written with three different perspectives, of historical, of literature, and various theological angles, it stems from a conviction that the New Testament interprets the events of history as "revelatory acts of God" for the salvation of the world. Through the Church, the book is appreciated from the perspective of community. Through history, the New Testament is reflected through the life of Jesus and his disciples, and the early Church. Written with the beginner student in mind, this book leaves very few stones unturned. Boring weaves in many historical contexts, the literary styles, as well as the theological ideas framed inside the 27 books of the New Testament. Words like "testament," "narratives," "covenant," "gospel," "epistle," "textual criticism," and many other technical terms needed for a decent study of the New Testament are introduced and described in ways that first timers can appreciate. Abbreviations are stated. Bibliographies are included as a way to encourage further research by the eager student.

This book is particularly strong in the historical description and the sources. From the land of Palestine in the early centuries (0-30 CE), the Apostolic Era (30-70 CE), the sub-Apostolic Period (70-100 CE), and covering the Roman, the Greek / Hellenistic eras, and beyond, the author breathes life into the historical facts, archeaology, and the artifacts. In textual criticism, readers are introduced to the early manuscripts, how it came about, how it was used to preserve the ancient texts, explaining the critical apparatus, the more than 5000 Greek manuscripts, the LXX, the invention of printing to the modern digital age. Care is also taken to describe the early beginnings of English translations, from the KJV to modern editions like the NIV. Boring also provides descriptions on interpretations, how the Church interprets, how the Jews, and modern techniques like higher criticisms. I was delighted to find a mini-listing of the different biblical criticisms as well as the different kinds of theological studies described. The later parts of the book touches on the gospels, the epistles, and the interpretation of them all. The author meticulously highlight recent developments too. Like the Quest of the Historical Jesus, the different schools of interpretation, hermeneutical theories, and many more.

As expected, there is ample coverage of the individual gospels and the epistles. Like a typical NT introductory book, Boring touches on the authorship, sources, traditions, dates, its historical, social, and cultural contexts, its theological themes, as well as how modern readers can study and appreciate the texts for contemporary eras. With helpful structures and outlines, students will find the book a very convenient reference book. For students at an advanced level, this book works well as a good refresher course.

This book has nearly everything a beginner student of the New Testament needs. I give strong marks for The historical sketches help modern readers understand the historical period. The outlines give its historical sketches, a good framework for learning the key themes of each book, and of course, the very accessible way it has been written. The illustrations and textboxes give tired eyes a break from the texts. The bibliography is strong. The description of the various people groups (Sadduccees, Zealots, Hellenists, etc) gives readers a useful insight into life in Palestine during Jesus' time. For an introductory level book, this book is hard to beat, for it has set a high standard for clarity, for comprehensiveness, and for concise descriptions of all things New Testament.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate" (Benjamin Reaoch)

TITLE: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic
AUTHOR: Benjamin Reaoch
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012, (224 pages).

Does the Bible prove the total abolition of slavery? Is the hierarchy of male over female gender still applicable today? Does the Bible support egalitarianism? According to William Webb's Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic, hierarchy and slavery will be abolished eventually. Likewise, an ultimate ethic also points to a total egalitarian structure.

This book is a direct response to William Webb's book with the title reminiscent of Webb's innovative work on Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutics (RMH). Called a "complementarian response to the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic," it provides a robust rebuttal at Webb's theory of RMH.

Key to Reaoch's rejection of RMH is to delink the issue of slavery from the gender issues in the Bible. In other words, Webb has "overemphasized the similarities" of the two issues, which as a result casts doubts on the hermeneutical reach of RMH into other controversial topics in the Bible. Reaoch argues that the New Testament does not condemn slavery or command all masters to release their slaves. It is also wrong to insert an "ultimate ethic" into the Bible, and justify a total release of all slaves.  This, together with several other moves by RMH to "move beyond the biblical instructions" are deemed "unwarranted." Reaoch does this by using two criteria. For RMH to be viable, it must be both "hermeneutically persuasive" and "exegetically faithful." Before applying his examination, he lists some proponents of RMH. Krister Stendahl argues for a trajectory toward total freedom of slavery on the basis of Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:11-12. R. T. France argues that since there is a slow process toward total abolition of slavery, there is a similar egalitarian movement, that leads to an ultimate purpose in Christ. Along with Richard Longenecker, David Thompson, Kevin Giles, I. Howard Marshall and finally William Webb, these scholars turn specific instructions to a general principle of an ultimate ethic, connect slavery with gender matters, tie together racism and slavery to bring about their redemptive trajectory that leads to an ultimate ethic.

Reaoch then goes on an exegetical study to verify the findings of these scholars. First, he deals with all the scriptural references on slavery, working through five key New Testament passages; namely, Ephesians 6:5–8, Colossians 3:22–4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1, Titus 2:9–10, and 1 Peter 2:18–25. He asserts that the New Testament neither condemns nor commends slavery, just like how the Bible does not condemn nor commend patriarchy. On the issue of women, Reaoch also draws a parallel to his earlier work on slavery, and highlights five passages; namely, Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Tim. 2:9–15; 1 Cor. 11:2–16; 1 Cor. 14:33b-35. Key to Reaoch's method is a distinction between "ground clauses" and "purposes clauses" pertaining to each imperative. In terms of the latter, there are marked similarities of the link between biblical teachings on slavery and women. However, on the former, the similarities disappear. Simply put, "ground clauses" are what the texts say. "Purpose clauses" are what the texts point toward. RMH proponents  say the revelation of scripture moves forward toward an ultimate ethic. Reaoch argues against it, questioning why then Paul moves backward to the creation narrative when talking about the authority of man over the woman. Moreover, there are far too many differences in "ground clauses" between the slavery passages and the women passages, that the best interpretation is not to lump the two issues together. If that is true, RMH will be undermined.

At the hermeutical section, Reaoch takes issue with eight of Webb's 18 criteria. He questions Webb's "theological analogies" that the passages chosen (Ephesians 5 and 1 Cor 11) by Webb are not to be interpret as analogies for something else, but they reflect the very nature of God Himself. Pivotal to Reaoch's argument is the frequent backward references to the creation mandate by the apostle Paul. Another issue is whether redemption "trumps" creation, which is a vital point when arguing for an "ultimate ethic."  Reaoch ends with a passionate plea for readers to have a clear understanding of what biblical manhood and womanhood means. We cannot allow culture to dictate our interpretation of biblical literature, nor let postmodernism defines our faith. The author acknowledges that issues of gender and slavery remain formidable issues, but the resolution of them require both hermeneutical persuasiveness AND exegetical faithfulness.

My Thoughts

I must commend Reaoch for a job well done. The work is indeed faithful to the exegesis of the biblical texts and a careful hermeneutical application of the word. The author puts his heart and soul into the book by claiming that his heart is to teach, to preach, and to lead with conviction that is based on an accurate study of the biblical texts. He even reviews the four recent views (Walter Kaiser, Daniel Doriani, Kevin Vanhoozer, and William Webb) with regards to theological movement beyond the Bible, reserving his heaviest artillery for Webb. In conclusion, Reaoch commends the hermeneutical "intention" of Webb, but strongly disputes the exegetical part of Webb's work.

I see the merits of Reaoch's work, but questions the intensity of his disagreement with Webb. Sometimes, I feel that Reaoch may have overstretched himself in the critique of Webb's RMH. There are merits to RMH as it is one of the most innovative hermeneutical methods offered for the evangelical world so far. It has reinvigorated biblical hermeneutics and the need for creative interpretation. Reaoch, while he does a good job in taking apart Webb's RMH proposal, he offers more of a critique rather than a counter-proposal. It is one thing to tear down someone else's ideas. It is yet another to offer a constructive alternative, of a similar magnitude as RMH. That said, the field of hermeneutics is a dynamic field. Both Reaoch and Webb have enriched the biblical studies pertaining to the difficult issues of slavery, women, and the gender issue. Readers have more to gain by learning about RMH and its controversies. It enlarges our hermeneutical debates, and strengthens our exegetical skills. Maybe, if Webb can be offered a platform to respond to Reaoch, we will get the best of hermeneutical persuasion and the best of exegetical faithfulness. Even better, both Reaoch and Webb should write a book together.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by P & R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.