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Thursday, February 27, 2014

"True Reason" (Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer)

TITLE: True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism
AUTHOR: Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (320 pages).

We have become familiar with the criticisms and rising attacks on religion and Christianity by atheists, skeptics, and intellectuals. Sometimes it does come across as the non-religious being more rational than their religious opposite. This book seeks to debunk any such argument, in particular, that Christians cannot reason out faith. Thus the title for the book, which seeks to "theism in general and Christian theism in particular to be reasonable, and it exposes areas in which secularism is not at all reasonable." The authors are leaders in their respective fields of apologetics and organizations that train and uphold the place of reason and faith. Tom Gilson is the National Field Director for the Ratio Christi Student Apologetics Alliance, while Carson Weitnauer is the U.S. Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. They bring together 13 other contributors who were former atheists, Bible school professors, philosophers, authors, Church leaders and various ministry thinkers, to show emphatically that faith in Christ does not mean kissing our brains away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Warfare in the Old Testament" (Boyd Seevers)

TITLE: Warfare in the Old Testament: The Organization, Weapons, and Tactics of Ancient Near Eastern Armies
AUTHOR: Boyd Seevers
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (320 pages).

This book explores the different philosophies, structures, tactics, theologies, and warfare techniques of the armies in the ancient near east. According to the author, life would be impossible without the army. Wars and conquests are so common that without a strong military, there is no certainly of living. The questions then move toward the meaning and purposes of war, theologically and ethically. The path to greater understanding of the meaning behind the wars and the armies of the ancient near east is to appreciate the ancient contexts of war and conquest. Six nations are studied, namely, Israel, Egypt, Philista, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.

Israel fought in the Name of God as a testimony of how God will provide, protect, and propel Israel to be the father of all nations. Seevers compare how the army under Joshua worked together with inter-dependence, with the armies under Judges which seem to be independent units of war and destruction. The key to the difference is the spiritual condition of the people at each time. Tracing the development of the military sophistication of Israel, readers find fascinating developments of the armies under Saul, David, and Solomon. Each time there is a change of leadership, there is a subsequent tinkering of the military structure. An interesting discovery is the acquisition of horses and chariots which became more prominent during the reign of Solomon onwards, a direct disobedience of Deut 17:16. While there is relatively more information about the sizes and the types of military numbers and equipment, interpreters need to decipher whether the records are literal or symbolic. Given that Israel is often more hapless and untrained in military prowess, it is difficult to ascertain the actual capability of the God-led nation. For if we treat the numbers exactly as they are, then it would make Israel far more superior and less likely to depend on God for deliverance and salvation. The key motivation is salvation rather than starvation. Unfortunately, over the years, Israel's military structures resemble more like their enemies, which is why studying the other nations will illuminate how Israel's armies look like.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"The Daniel Plan" (Rick Warren)

TITLE: The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life
AUTHOR: Rick Warren
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (352 pages).

It all started when the famous pastor of Saddleback Church found himself huffing and puffing as he baptized 827 adult Church members. It then dawned upon him that he is more fat than fit. Despite his relatively healthy diet and upbringing, Rick Warren's lifestyle has led to a growing health problem. As he probes deeper into his own situation, he found out that he was not alone. America is struggling too. Thus, when he repented before his Church members, expecting only a few hundred to adopt his plan, he was surprised that more than 12000 signed up. That is nearly half of his entire Church congregation. Encouraged by the response, supported by three health professionals, he structured a "Daniel Plan" which is a 40 days journey toward a healthier life and lifestyle. Five components are adopted: Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus, and Friends.

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Mission Drift" (Peter Greer & Chris Horst)

TITLE: Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches
AUTHOR: Peter Greer & Chris Horst
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014, (224 pages).

Do you know that the original founding of great Ivy league institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, Cornell, Brown, Pennsylvania all had Puritan beginnings? Do you know that child sponsorship charity, ChildFund International had Christian roots? Yet, why do these organizations look so different over time? Why are so many of them unable to fulfill the original missions that they were founded upon? The reason: Every organization drifts over time.The scary thing is not about whether any well-intentioned organization will experience a drift in its mission. It is a matter of when.

From Churches to non-profits, the moment they stop emphasizing their mission, they are called to "drift." That is why authors Dr Peter Greer and Chris Horst, leaders of the non-profit, HOPE International, state upfront: "Without careful attention, faith-based organizations will invariably drift from their founding mission." The example of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton is a case in point. Founded in 1636, Harvard's original mission was to ground students on the foundation of the gospel for the work of Christ. As early as 1701, Christian clergymen sensed that Harvard had become overly secularized. Those concerned about such a drift founded Yale in 1718. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to Yale which led to the founding of Princeton in 1746. All the Ivy Leagues had Christian roots. Yet, the Ivy Leagues of today looked more secular than ever before. What happened? They drifted from their original mission. Why?

Comparing two organizations, the authors note how Compassion International stayed true to their mission roots while ChildFund International started to dumb down their own Christian emphasis. The former remains Mission True while the other becomes mission untrue. By interviewing dozens of prominent leaders and hundreds of hours listening to the many stories, Greer and Horst try to find out what it takes to stay Mission True and at the same time sound a warning to organizations that will eventually experience Mission Drift. Two key drifts are highlighted: Personal and Institutional. The former is the one that happens during our watch. The other is the drift that happens outside of our watch. Both require humility to recognize one's vulnerability and to make plans to address them. Two chapters are dedicated to describing what Mission Drift is and how pervasive it is to all organizations. Thirteen chapters, in fact the most part of the book, is dedicated to describing how to be Mission True organizations. Here are some of the characteristics of Mission True organizations:
  1. They are convicted that the Gospel is their single biggest asset
  2. They will do everything to protect and to propel their mission
  3. They will anticipate the dangers of drifting by building adequate safeguards
  4. They are very clear about their purpose
  5. They have top leaders who understand where their top priorities are
  6. They have leaders who set the tone for the whole organization
  7. They hire people based more on heart and character rather than knowledge and technical skills
  8. They partner with donors who believe in their core mission and values
  9. They regularly track metrics to know how their performance reflect their mission
  10. They understand that the Gospel demands excellence in their mission
  11. They are passionate about rituals and practices
  12. They regularly proclaim their core tenets so that they can remain Mission True and avoid drifting
  13. They recognize the importance of Church as the anchor of any thriving mission
Every chapter is filled with stories of real organizations. Each chapter maintains a set of tips and guidelines on how best to protect, to proclaim, and to propel organizations to be Mission True, and to be faithful to their original calling and purpose. This is a compelling book indeed, reminding us that there is no such thing as normal. Leaders and organizations must recognize that even when the waters are calm, that does not mean there is no danger underneath. A little wave, a tiny detour, or a small drift, can render any organization astray. Subsequently, they come up different and lead to a loss of identity. I appreciate the authors' three key points about Character, Competence, and Chemistry. The fact that Harvard's overwhelming emphasis on credentials over character that led to its mission drift is a stark contrast to Chick-Fil-A's strong cultural emphasis on these three Cs. 

Organizational leaders and board members ought to read this book. Those in key management positions too. Pastors and elders of churches will also benefit. Thanks to Greer and Horst, I am more sensitive to dangers that happen on the inside rather than the outside.  If an apple is damaged on the outside, we can easily see it and stop any decay as soon as possible. If the rot happens from the inside, because it is not easily seen, it will cause greater damage. Mission Drift is essentially about preventing any such rot from the inside. Put this book next to your library about leadership, visioning and mission statements.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, February 21, 2014

"The Story Lives" (Henriet Schapelhouman)

TITLE: The Story Lives: Leading a Missional Revolution
AUTHOR: Henriet Schapelhouman
PUBLISHER: Denver CO: Tendril Press, 2012, (224 pages).

What does it mean to make God's story ours? How do we let God's story live in us. What if our lives become a living story for God? Is it impossible? Not if we learn to live missionally and incarnationally, says Schapelhouman, founder and President of Semper Vita Institute, a network of volunteers and partners who experience life through serving the communities around them.

If I were to summarize this book in my own words, I would say the following. Know God's story and know God. Know our story and know ourselves. Know God's mission and we know our mission. Indeed, after emphasizing that our stories reveal our identities, we are soon reminded that our story is part of a more exciting Big Story. This bigger story is larger than our small inner boxes of self, Church, and comfortable circle of friends. We are called to "Live out Loud," a play on the popular social media term "LOL." As we live, we are writing our stories. As we interact, we are letting people "read" our stories through responding, through acting, loving, speaking, and many more.

The chapter on "Stories Lived in Boxes" in my opinion is a giant wake up call for the Church to learn from what the Early Church had done, to be God's missionary people. Lamenting that the modern Church has given in to much pagan influences, she asks whether we are "being the Church" or simply "going to Church." Are our stories about people or programs? Are we boxing ourselves in and forgetting that God's mission is bigger than the four walls of our church communities? Do we know God enough to sense what God is up to?

Three things frames what it means to be living our stories for Christ through "Love in Action" which comprises of: Missional, Relational, and Incarnational. Being "missional" is about participating in God's work in such a way that we are active players in the work of redemption, reconciliation, repentance, and restoration. It requires a transformation of our own mindsets, approaches, and lifestyles. It is a lot more outward focused than inward. That leads to the need to be relational in our approaches. Through networks, neighbourhoods, and our links to the communities we live in, we learn to be missional people as we interact and help people in need. For Jesus is relational. The Early Christians are relational. We too need to be relational for the Gospel is relational. Tell our stories about Jesus in our lives. While being "missional" is about actions, being "relational" is about bringing the face and person of Christ through our own lives, that others see Jesus in us. Incarnational is becoming more like Christ living and loving people in this world. Being incarnational is about living God's love through us.

So What?

The word "missional" is a popular catch-phrase for many Christian leaders nowadays. So widely used it is that I find more abuses and misunderstanding of it. For instance, some people think of missional as a new vocabulary to replace the old word "mission." That is not true. For mission is understood as an objective, missional is about the whole process. It is about living within and without communities. Alan Roxburgh describes it as follows: “A missional church is a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.” It is about creating the cultures and contexts so that God's story can flow through unimpeded, uninterrupted, and unlimited. For Schapelhouman, it is simply the living out of God's story in us, so that we can help others live out God's story in them. It is about being unleashed for God ourselves, and that our energies and excitement can be used by the Holy Spirit to unleash others for God. Once we are unleashed for God, and when God's will is being fulfilled in our lives, we will not just be living our own stories, we will be living God's stories through us in the Name of Christ.

For sheer practical applications and energy within, I give this book a big thumbs up!

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and the SpeakEasy Blog Review Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"St Peter's B-List" (Mary Ann B. Miller)

TITLE: St. Peter's B-list: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints
AUTHOR: Mary Ann B. Miller
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2014, (288 pages).

Poetry brings about an "incarnative view of art." So affirms Mary Ann Miller, professor of English at Caldwell College in New Jersey. She believes that there are many manifestations of the Divine God in the world we live in. As one well versed in Victorian poetry, Miller avoids choosing poems from a historical past by past saints, but includes poems from contemporary times by people in the present. She maintains a focus on daily activities being expressed through poems that help readers reflect back on their own lives. All 106 poets in this book try to see the "immanence of God in earthly things." The title of the book is actually from one of the poems used in the book, written by Jake Oresick, printed at the end of the book. The book is about ordinary lives, people who are on the "B-list" in the world, especially when compared to the saints who are on the "A-list." Oresick offers readers a glimpse of hat heaven looks like, through ordinary people. Thirty six poems fill the section on Family and Friends. Forty-Four poems are included for the section on Faith and Worship. Twenty-Five poems are used for the section on Sickness and Death.

The poems remind us that life is not about "right vs wrong," or "good vs bad." Neither is it about solving problems or finding a way to get things done. Life is about telling a story, making observations, and admiring the beauty among the ordinary. The many contributions from poets from all walks of life give us a picture of ordinariness among people, with a hint that it may be the way God looks at us as well. Pure, unadulterated, and unedited in any way. We see people, relationships, objects, and things as they are, not what we want them to be. Miller has brought together an impressive array of contributors, authors, poet laureate, all coming from different parts of the world.  This gives the book a wide perspective of life. I particularly appreciate James Martin's afterword, which is an extremely quotable part of the book. Here is one exceptional one.

"The most important truths about God are not reached with definitions and proofs but by poems and stories. And by people: the saints. That is why this book is a treasure. These poets take the lives of the saints as they are meant to be understood: as poems. From human works of art they draw out literary ones.You are called to be a saint, too. What will your poem be?" (James Martin)
This in itself is worth the price of the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Grace for the Contemplative Parent" (Lily Crowder)

TITLE: Grace for the Contemplative Parent : A Practical Guide for Mothers Practicing the Presence of God
AUTHOR: Lily Crowder
PUBLISHER: Portland, OR: Sons of Thunder Publications, 2013, (112 pages).

If there is any one group of people who can say is too busy to pray, mothers will rank among the top. Parenting is tough work. There are diapers to change and erratic sleeping and waking hours. There are cries and constant yearnings for milk. There is also a need to understand what each crying or murmuring means. Even getting babysitters for young kids can be very difficult. Who would want to deal with a crybaby? The chores are simply endless. Crowder, a mother herself as well as a co-founder of the Sons of Thunder ministries in Oregon has this one focus: To practice the presence of God in all that she does.

I have read Brother Lawrence's "Practicing the Presence of God" years ago and have been impressed by its simplicity, spirituality, and practicality. I have also come across Mike Mason's "Practicing the Presence of People," which tells us the deepest needs of a human being is to love well. What about applying both of them to a contemplative parent? That is, what if we apply the best of spirituality from Brother Lawrence's classic and merge that with the love of a parent for a child? The result is "Practicing the Presence" of God for parents. The key phrase and thesis of the book is from Brother Lawrence.

"The time of work does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper."

With a constant awareness of God's presence, together with the chores and challenges of parenting children, Lily Crowder examines the spirituality of feeling God's grace in everything a parent does for her child. Eleven thoughts are put together to whet the appetite of parents wanting to be contemplative even as they care for their children. Being loved is also about learning not to feel too guilty when parents feel inadequate or failed in any of their duties. It means being content to trust that parenting itself is not less important than ministry work. Learning to see the parenting work as part of ministry is a liberating thought. Awareness of God is not just theory in the head but learning to see God everywhere we go. The key is being able to see with our spiritual eyes. With children, play is often a big component. That is why learning to exercise daily wonder helps parents to let themselves into the children's sense of wonder in play and nature. Practicing the presence of God includes giving thanks regularly even when children fight or becomes a nuisance. Crowder makes an interesting claim that optimism is "imperative in the Christian life." That may present a problem for those who find that feelings of optimism may not be possible at all times. Perhaps, it may be better to simply say "most" of the time. I like the part about maintaining a vision of building a house of wisdom. Only when we learn to think thoughts of God that we can build such a house. It means trust. It means learning to rest where appropriate and not be guilt-ridden about it. When one is whole, one gets a better sense of identity.

Although written with mothers in mind, this book can also be used for fathers. For there are a lot more common for both parents in the various contemplative practices. As one think thoughts of God constantly during parenting, one can consciously or subconsciously inculcate a sense of faith and trust for the little ones we care for. I remember the Sunday School song that says: "Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. We are weak but He is strong!"

When we let God be strong in us, our children will grow and learn to be strong in the Lord. This is the promise of faith. Even parents need to be led and to be cared for. A well-led parent helps bringing up purposeful children. A well-cared for parent helps bring up loving children. This will be the best gift parents can give their children.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and SpeakEasy Blog Review Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Lent for Everyone - Matthew Year A" (N T Wright)

TITLE: Lent for Everyone: Matthew, Year A
AUTHOR: N T Wright
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (174 pages).

Lent is an important season of the Christian Church calendar. It comprises 40 days of preparation, waiting, remembrance of Christ's death at the cross and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. The Lent For Everyone series comprises of Year A (Matthew), Year B (Mark), and Year C (Luke). All written by the former bishop of Durham, renowned scholar and theologian NT Wright has given us a very readable, simple and theologically penetrating reflection on the gospels through the season of Lent.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the devotional does not end until the week after Easter. For Year A, Wright lets the gospel of Matthew guide our understanding and reflection on Christ's person, Christ's mission, Christ's work, and Christ's fulfilment of the promises of God. For each day, Wright begins with a selected portion of Scripture. While broadly the readings will cover big chunks of Scripture each day, readers get to focus on a smaller passage that enables deeper meditation on the Lenten theme. For example, at Ash Wednesday, while the readings suggest the first two chapters of Matthew, the focus is actually on the birth narrative, and especially the very difficult decision Joseph had to make. It suggests that Lent itself is not an easy period for Jesus. Right from the start, Wright sets the stage.

On Sundays, Wright selects several Psalms to give readers a pause from the gospel. Themes of forgiveness and repentance, hope and trust; Joy; and clinging onto the promises of God are adopted. For Holy Week, I sense an intentional inclusion of larger chunks of the biblical narrative to let the Word of God speak for itself. It is meant to be read slowly and with much care. The prayers at the end are also very brief. In fact, one way to use it is to let the Scriptures be read meditatively and prayerfully.

This is one of the best resources for laypersons to use this Lent. A devotional should not be too heavy going that people easily fall asleep. Neither should it be too light that one does not find it meaty enough. Wright has taken care to do a fine balance to render it just right for most of us, if not everyone.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Spiritual Warfare" (Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura)

TITLE: Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective
AUTHOR: Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura
PUBLISHER:  Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, (128 pages).

For anyone who is in a battlefield but unaware that there is a war, they will be dead in no time. This is the premise of the book on spiritual warfare. Written by two pastors who are passionate about waking up sleepy Christians oblivious to the reality of a spiritual battlefield, it is hope that this book will spur Christians to be more vigilant and to put on the armour of God. The authors begin with a clarion call to remind believers that the Christian life is not about mastering one aspect of truth or to learn a set of principles. It is about learning to let the Bible help us think and live biblically in all we do. They asked us to be vigilant about the three formidable foes: The world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is the systemic evil happening around us. The flesh is the sinful disposition. The devil is the fallen angel.

First, the authors take time to dismantle the two inadequate worldviews. One is naturalism which disregards the supernatural and offers to interpret everything naturally and rationally. The other is to see everything from the lens of spiritual warfare. Both are extremes which do not help us to attain a biblical and balanced perspective of spiritual warfare.  Instead, we ought to learn to discern which is natural and which is supernatural. Thirteen chapters are dedicated to Ephesians 6:10-20 which is the well-known Armour of God passage. Believers are urged to be strong in the Lord and rely on God's power in the face of formidable evil and the occult. Soldiers' key strength is confidence. Lose it and the best weapons will be quite ineffective against the enemy. Putting on the whole armour of God means not allowing any point of weakness that the enemy can exploit. Whether by force or by fraud, the enemy will not hesitate to use any to deceive God's people. Knowing one's enemy is important, and how the enemy's tactics and schemes tend to be, including a reminder that we do not war against flesh and blood but powers and principalities. Wearing the belt of truth provides central support. Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is a powerful defense against the darts of the enemy. Being prepared with the gospel of peace also comes into the picture.

Once the whole armour of God has been put on, prayer is an integral weapon in spiritual warfare. So important is this that two whole chapters are dedicated to this point. The authors make it a point to remind readers that warfare is no child's play. It is serious business. This calls for preparation. It requires discipline to equip oneself. It reminds us again that readiness for war is always necessary. For the moment any of us lets down our guard, the enemy enters in with all kinds of temptations, deceptions, and treacheries.

We all need to be reminded time and again that spiritual warfare is real. Far too many Christians are taking it too lightly and become easy prey during unsuspecting moments. May this book be a wake-up call for all to take the spiritual battleground seriously. For even if we do not want to fight, the enemy is getting ready to fight us. Be aware. Be equipped. Be armed.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Cross-Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Strange Fire" (John MacArthur)

TITLE: Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship
AUTHOR: John MacArthur
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2013, (352 pages)

What exactly is strange fire? What makes worship a counterfeit one? In what ways can the Holy Spirit be offended? According to author John MacArthur, he targets the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement as the culprit for a lot of things. He lumps all three waves: the classical Pentecost; the Charismatic Renewal; and the Third Wave all together. First, on classical Pentecostalism, he blames Charles Parham as the source of the four marks of Pentecostalism: salvation; baptism; healing; expecting Christ's second coming. He is adamant that Parham is the source of false teachings about the Holy Spirit, pointing out several deficiencies in Parham's character and track records, failed prophecies and the misleading of many believers into error. Second, he blames EW Kenyon for the rise of Charismatic Renewal which essentially puts experience above all, and using gibberish languages that are nothing near the tongues of the Bible. Third, he says that the Third Wave is even more "devastating" because it infiltrates churches at large. Pointing a finger at Peter Wagner, efforts to restore apostolic offices is actually a disguised way to grab power and authority over others.

MacArthur spends two-thirds of this book to confront the counterfeit revivals and to expose the counterfeit gifts. Using selected examples of abuses of apostolic authority, the trickery of the prosperity gospel, the many moral failures of some prominent Pentecostal ministers, and how people fake healings and gifts, MacArthur does not mince his words, reserving his heaviest artillery on people like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Parham, among others. He even makes a reference to a Wikipedia article that lists the "fifty well-known, publicly disgraced church leaders." I don't know about you but quoting from Wikipedia is not exactly wrong, but it is poor scholarship. He then leads readers through the different ways to identify the gifts and work of the Spirit. This is among the most commendable part of the book, and bears a powerful witness to MacArthur's biblical knowledge and theological grasp. Unfortunately, the way that he applies these knowledge to the Charismatic movement is at best over-generalizing and at worst condemning well-intentioned and genuine believers touched and moved by the Holy Spirit. The examples that he had explicitly named are also likely to be shunned by a lot of my charismatic friends. Benny Hinn for example is not as widely accepted as what MacArthur has rebuked him to be. In other words, many of my Charismatic and Pentecostal friends will also avoid people like Benny Hinn, the excesses of prosperity theology, and the fraud healers.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"iGods" (Craig Detweiler)

TITLE: iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives
AUTHOR: Craig Detweiler
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013, (256 pages).

"Technology is most effective when we fail to notice it, but our faith in technology is so pervasive it is often blind." This dramatic phrase kicks off a very perceptive study about how technology is shaping our spiritual and social lives. Dr Craig Detweiler is a well-known researcher and writer on media and the technological scene. Recognizing how pervasive and how so many people are consuming the technological offerings uncritically, he presents a warning for us to pause, to take a step back, and to ask how technology has been shaping us. Perhaps, we will recognize how much we have already been shaped. Detweiler says it well that we must be careful not to let our use of technology move from delight to devotion. Left on its own, we can very well be participants making "iGods" into our own image. Worse, without understanding the real threats of the misuse and abuse of technology, we can let something good turn into something very bad.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Love to Stay" (Adam Hamilton)

TITLE: Love to Stay: Sex, Grace, and Commitment
AUTHOR: Adam Hamilton
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013, (176 pages).

With Valentine's Day just a few more days away, it is rather appropriate to have a book about love, sex, and marriage. It is easy for anyone to locate statistics about how bad the divorce rates are and how many marriages are struggling. There are also negative connotations whenever couples go for marriage counseling sessions, for the assumption is always problematic couples going for counseling together. We all know that the institution of marriage is increasingly under threat. More people are choosing instead to live together without bothering to get married. "It's just a piece of paper." They say. Is it?

Pastor and author, Adam Hamilton says it is more than a piece of paper. Marriage is a calling. It is good. It is a union of two person's all for the benefit of the marriage relationship. Both are counterparts, partners, lovers, helpers, companions, and mutual blessors. It is a relationship that is eros transformed into agape. The mission and vision for marriage is to reach an agape of selfless service, beautiful, profound, and holy. The wedding vows present the reality and scope of such love.

In order to achieve that, five things are necessary. First, both husband and wife are to know their gender uniqueness. It is about selfless living to put the interests of one's spouse to be selfless loving. Marriages are worth investing and worth our time and resources to cultivate. It means building up a healthy "love bank." Second, sexual intimacy protects the marriage. Hamilton notes that the older the couple is, the lesser the number of times they made love.  Plumbing through the expert studies and research journals, he encourages couples to schedule times of lovemaking, see the sex act as part of the mission of marriage, and learn fun and play in the process with each other. Of interest is the link between sexual intimacy and regular conversations. The more couples communicate, the better their lovemaking. This one point is probably worth the price of the book! Third, cultivate good habits that heal rather than hurt. One particular habit is how we speak of our spouses to other people. Do we do so respectfully? Have we done it lovingly? What would we like our spouses to speak of us? Habits do make a relationship. Otherwise, we risk exposing our marriages to temptations. Hamilton suggests five steps to protect our marriage from temptations. Fourth, marriages must be filled with forbearance and forgiveness. In order to make love last, note the behaviours that will turn off our spouses and then refrain from doing them. Recognize the bad habits that irritate and stop doing them out of love. Remember that relationships do not rise or fall overnight due to any one major crisis. Most of the time, the small little issues that build up over time are more fatal. Do an annual marriage review. Make room for honest and healthy conflict. Fight not to break but fight for the marriage. Recognize the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling). Pray together. Finally, learn to return to the first love moment in our marriage, just like the biblical truth that urges us to return to our first love. This is another way of going back to first principles. It means returning to what the Bible teaches and then obey them. Learn to say "Thank you" to each other. Learn to pray together.

This book is a nice summary of many popular marriage manuals. Sometimes, I wonder whether we still need another book on marriage. After all, there are already so many books out there. In the light of the many challenges in marriage nowadays, I think the need is greater each day. Marriage is worth writing for. That is why I encourage readers to pick up this book and learn all over again. I like the way Hamilton puts it, especially the part about married couples going for couples only when their marriage is in trouble. The point is, why do we need to wait until a problem occurs before going for counseling? Like a car that needs regular maintenance in order to run reliably, so do marriages. Another point is about the sex component. I find that Hamilton may have spent relatively more time on the physical sex at the expense of stressing sexual intimacy. Yes, the act is important, but the intimacy is also equally important. Personally, I would note that sexual intimacy is more than sex. Itt is different from sex although sex is a component of it. Sexual intimacy means knowing one another, being vulnerable, being open, and naked before the other. It is a special union that is beautiful, profound, and holy. Hollywood and perverted sexual images have marred our understanding of sex and intimacy. Having sex does not mean intimacy for one can have sex without establishing intimacy. At the same time, being intimate does not necessarily mean one must perform the sexual act. I appreciate the way Hamilton suggests ideas and recommendations from the standpoint of those who are singles or still unmarried. It makes this book more inclusive.

This is a worthy addition to one's marriage resource library, but don't just buy it and shelve it. Read it and practice it. For love is here to stay.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Prophet on the Run" (Maruch Moaz)

TITLE: A Prophet on the Run
AUTHOR: Baruch Moaz
PUBLISHER: Wapwallopen, PN, Shepherd Press, 2014, (96 pages).

What message does Jonah has for us today? Is the biblical book of Jonah a literary fiction or a historical narrative? How do we read the prophet with a Hebrew mindset? These are some interesting questions for anyone attempting to study and learn from the biblical book of a prophet running away from God.

According to Bible teacher, Baruch Moaz, the book of Jonah is a historical narrative. That is why it is categorized under the Prophets rather than Poetry. Moreover, God surely can do miracles. That is why it is not logical to presume the book is fiction. If God be God, He can choose to operate within the laws of normalcy or to intervene under exceptional circumstances. Moaz touches on other modern queries such as:
  • What date is Jonah written?
  • What about Nineveh's destruction?
  • What about the language of the book?
  • Who is Jonah?
  • What is the central message of Jonah?
  • Is there a relevant message for us today?
Moaz goes on to outline the four chapters of the book with an original translation of the Hebrew into English. While the introduction gives us a framework of some of the interpretative perspectives of the Jonah contexts, the main body of the book focuses on lessons we can glean from the prophet's life and narrative. Lessons such as the seriousness of sin among the people of Nineveh; it is hard to run away from God's calling; the patience of God to cajole Jonah into eventual repentance; the absolute sovereignty of God over all nations, not just the Jewish people; and how God watches over the greatest and the least of all nations.

Written without the baggage of heavy theological jargon or scholastic complexity, Moaz has written a very readable and practical book for laypersons to learn with. The small book surveys the four chapters of Jonah with this main message that God is Lord of all nations. At the same time, it also prepares us for the New Testament revelation that unity in the Lord is the focus of bringing all people under one God. Each chapter ends with a point by point summary. It offers questions for group discussions. It prompts personal reflections. It reminds us succinctly that we read the Bible not for knowledge sake but for knowing God more. I appreciate the brevity and simplicity of the book. Sometimes, Bible teachers tend to give too much or too little of the prophetical contexts. Too much will leave the layperson lost and discouraged. Too little will mean not being able to learn more than plain reading of the text. Moaz does a good job in providing just enough to whet our appetite for more. Though the book can be read for personal and individual devotions, it is best used within a context of a group study. I recommend this book for any Church groups who would like to study the Book of Jonah together.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Shepherd Press and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, February 7, 2014

"Loveology" (John Mark Comer)

TITLE: Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. And the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female.
AUTHOR: John Mark Comer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (273 pages).

Psychology is about the science of mental behaviour. Theology is the study of God. What about "Loveology?" For John Mark Comer, pastor of teaching and vision at Bridgetown: A Jesus Church, loveology is a theology of love. With sensitivity to the different emotions and relationships, Comer mines the depth of Scripture to flesh out insights about all things love and relationships. Two truths are emphasized here. First, love is beautiful. Second, something has gone wrong. Teaching pastor Comer strings together the major faces of love in modern society and puts them under the scrutiny of these two basic truths.

Comer then applies these truths to five areas of love and relationships. He begins with God and the purpose of the Garden of Eden. Love is about washing one another's feet, a service emphasis. In the Hebrew word, ahava, we learn of a relationship beyond mere affections but friendship. This is powerfully demonstrated in the second area: Marriage. We read of how God has intended for beauty to flourish and the perfection of love in marriage between two persons. No one marries in the hope of breaking up later. "Marriage is humbling," so says Comer. It is not the elimination of problems and challenges in marriage. It is learning to live humbly in spite of each other's flaws. Just like the original love and marriage, sex too has its fair share of beauty and the lack of it. Letting Scripture guides once again, Comer resets our understanding of sex by saying God did not begin with "Don't" but "Be fruitful and increase in number." It is a liberating statement that we are created to be sexual creatures, and sex is not evil. Sex is beautiful and good. One way to celebrate this goodness is the literal reading of the Song of Solomon. The problem comes when sex becomes treated like a kind of god, which then leads to a host of other problems. Problems like pornography, sexual immorality, and promiscuity. When sex becomes a god, adultery becomes more accepted. The fourth area that Comer touches on is romance. Looking at the Song of Solomon, one draws themes of invitation, waiting, dancing, wooing, and playing. Comer addresses the modern concept of dating and says that the Bible has said nothing about dating. It does has something to say about guidance in love. Like the love stories of Moses and Zipporah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, and others. It is because marriage is so important, Comer decides to weigh in heavily in this phase, saying that "the right spouse is worth the wait." The Scriptures are full of instructions about waiting. If we have learned to wait for God, everything else is possible. The fifth part is about sexuality, gender, and sexual orientations. This is probably the most challenging of them all. Comer asserts that we are all created either male or female; equal but unique. We need to remember that gender roles have not been tarnished by the fall. The danger of believing that roles are tarnished is the ease in which husbands and wives blame the Fall for things that they are responsible for. He carefully touches on the gift of singleness.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Violence in Scripture - Interpretation" (Jerome F. D. Creach)

TITLE: Violence in Scripture: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church
AUTHOR: Jerome F. D. Creach
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (286 pages)

We have all heard about the common accusation. "There is so much violence in the Bible. How can a loving God permits such gross violence, vengeance, and the vices of murder and evil deeds?" What does the Bible then say about violence? Is there justification for its use? In what manner does God condone or condemn violence? How can modern readers understand the contexts then and the implications now especially in a post 9/11 era? These challenging questions and more are tackled by Dr Jerome Creach, Robert C. Mulholland Professor of Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. As terrorism and violence grows unabated in various parts of the world, more and more attention are being paid toward the biblical segments on violence, especially in the Old Testament. It raises questions like:

  • Why does the Old Testament depict a loving God as one who is also vengeful and violent?
  • Do servants of God then have a license to kill?
  • How do we make sense of God when Jesus preaches love while the Old Testament seems to veer in the opposite direction?
  • Who is God?
  • How do we read the Bible?

Even believers are often stuck with the predicament of violence in the Scriptures. On the one hand, they can try to justify God. On the other hand, plain reading does show that there is violence advocated explicitly by God. The key is to learn how to read and interpret Scriptures as a whole. This interpretation needs to be consistent with two guiding principles. First, there is no one way to read Scripture, except to read it each part of Scripture with a constant eye on the bigger picture. The author suggests Christ as the key window to interpretation. Second, God's use of violence is always against forces aligned to evil. The author suggests that violence is not an end in itself but always a motivation against some ills of the world.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Exploring Christian Theology"

TITLE: Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times
AUTHOR/EDITORS: Nathan D. Holsteen and Michael J. Svigel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014, (256 pages).

This book is a theological primer designed to teach believers the key doctrines of the faith. Recognizing that the words "theology" and "doctrines" may sound rather boring or too complex for the layperson, Dallas Theological Seminary professors Holsteen and Svigel try to make theology as accessible as possible.  Three volumes have been planned, comprising a total of six parts, with this volume being the first.  Dr Nathan D Holsteen writes Part One that covers Ecclesiology (Theology of Church) and Sanctification (Spiritual Growth). Dr Michael J Svigel writes Part Two touching on Eschatology (End Times).

The formats are similar. 
  1. High-Altitude Survey: With amazing brevity, each author gives a bird's eye view using stories, movies, or illustrations that modern readers can relate to. Key thoughts are placed to help the readers understand the big idea of the theology.
  2. Passages to Master: Key passages are introduced for the readers to "master" and to understand how the theology is biblically shaped.
  3. Historical Survey: Here, the authors fly through two thousand years of Church history to summarize the four periods of the Church and Christian Life - Patristic (AD 100-500); Medieval (AD 500-1500); Protestant (AD 1500-1700); Modern (AD 1700 to present).
  4. Facts to Remember: Seven facts are mentioned to keep readers anchored on the major essentials of the doctrine. It does not mean that there are only seven in absolute number. It simply means the seven major essentials as a beginning phase of learning.
  5. Dangers to Avoid: Likewise, seven dangers are provided to keep learners from majoring on minors, or to make a mountain out of moleholes.
  6. Principles for Application: The five principles for everyday living are described in a very inviting way to make theology alive and applicable.
  7. Voices from the Past and Present: The authors comb through the four major periods and let various theologians, scholars, Christian leaders and organizations both past and present to converse. That way, readers learn to appreciate the multiple perspectives and to have a rough idea how the theology has developed through the ages.
  8. Bibliography: A very commendable list of resources is provided for the advanced reader. I appreciate the breadth of ecumenical and denominational selections.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"The Daniel Cure" (Susan Gregory and Richard J. Bloomer)

TITLE: The Daniel Cure: The Daniel Fast Way to Vibrant Health
AUTHOR: Susan Gregory and Richard J. Bloomer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (224 pages).

Food is a big part of life in every culture. It is also a big contributor to our health as well as any illnesses. As one looks at the title, one may tend to ask, a "Daniel Cure?" What is the Daniel cure? What makes this book so different from other dieting books? Do we need a cure in the first place? If we look at the book closely, it is less about eating or dieting in particular. It is about learning the biblical way of eating, fasting, exercising, and general well-being. It was Susan Gregory whose blog on her journey through the Daniel Fast that created viral headlines back in 2007. Having received more than 9 million hits, her fans grew by leaps and bounds, one of whom is her co-author, Richard Bloomer who saw surprising results in her wife and child when they also went through the Daniel Fast. In 2009, Dr Richard Bloomer then did a clinical study and several experiments on the Daniel Fast and found rather astonishing positive outcomes in this simple dieting program based on the biblical book of Daniel.  It emphasizes four things:
  1. Fasting and Prayer;
  2. Self-assessment of overall health;
  3. Learning and Planning the Daniel Fast Program;
  4. Practical Implementation.
The premise of the book is simple: Take the Daniel Fast, and for a mere 21 days, you will get a life-changing experience.  After this, simple steps can sustain the ongoing health benefits. Learning from the prophet Daniel, one can begin a body cleansing regimen through the eating of plant-based diets. The fast here refers more to eating appropriate foods rather than abandoning from eating altogether (partial fast). Appropriate foods such as natural foods rather than processed foods; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, natural oils, herbs, spices, etc. It also means avoiding fast food, deep-fried stuff, sweeteners, stimulants, and drinking only water.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Listen: Praying in a Noisy World" (Reuben P. Job)

TITLE: Listen: Praying in a Noisy World
AUTHOR: Reuben P. Job
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (144 pages).

When God speaks, we need to listen. When God has spoken and we have no clue what it is, then we have not really listened. Reuben Job, invites us to a 40-days journey of praying and listening to God even when the world around us is noisy, distracting, and complicated. The desire to listen is indeed a reflection of our desire to love God and to love our neighbours. Instead of constantly being on a lookout for a solution out there, why not consider preparing our inner hearts to listen inside? Prayer, Scripture, questions, and guidelines are listed for each of the 40 days to help readers put into practice the art of listening. We are urged to use the "Prayer of Presence" to recognize God near us. We learn to adopt "Silence" as a counter-cultural practice, to turn our attention away from the worldly matters toward God. Key to listening is the use of "Scripture" which forms the core of all the reflections. Then there is the "Reading" of a story followed by a "Discovery and Dialogue" to reveal more insights. Finally, there is the "Response" to what we have listened.

It is quite typical for us to rush from place to place, even when our hearts are unprepared. Doing things is a way to prove we are useful. After going around our day simply doing stuff, at the end of the day, it may be frustrating when we start to ask what all of our doing actually mean. Was it worth it? Could there have been a better use of our time? What is God's will in all of these? I know there are many Christians who are passionate about Christ and are earnest about living out their faith. The struggle is about how they live out a quiet faith in a noisy world. According to retired United Methodist Bishop, Reuben Job, it all begins at home in our hearts. It starts with listening, praying, contemplating, and deliberating our actions. I know of people who tend to see the practice of faith daily as an either-or option. Some say that they need to begin the day well with their devotional or "quiet time" in order to make their day right. Others say that due to practical considerations, they can only do their devotionals at the end of the day. Yet, others may say that an appropriate combination of the two is more important. Maybe, I can propose an alternative. This is what I call a disposition approach. Train ourselves to be willing to listen at all times, especially in our waking hours. This is because God cannot be bounded only to our desk or during moments of our "Quiet Time." God can speak anytime, anywhere, and anyhow. God can even choose not to say anything at any given circumstance. Like the parable of the Ten Virgins, we need always to keep our lamps filled with oil. In the same light, we need to keep our attentiveness to God full. Through the practice of the 40-days exercises, we learn to train ourselves with better listening skills.

There are several gems in this book. Some of my favourites are:
  • "We must rely first on the ever-present spirit of God, not on particular methods or models of prayer and discernment, for guidance, direction, and companionship."
  • "Christians at their best are good listeners, and the Christian church, when most faithful, is a listening community."
  • "When everything else seemed frightening, the rhythm of my heartbeat gave him confi dence, comfort, and peaceful rest. Today, how do we intend to hear the heartbeat of God?"
  • "Prayer is not meant to be complicated, complex, and left to professionals. Prayer is for all of us. it is simply offering the fears, needs, hopes, longings, and questions of our minds and hearts to God as honestly, earnestly, and accurately as we can. Our prayers also express the essence of who we are and what our relationship is with God. Yet it is not our initiative that begins our prayer. Rather, it is God’s seeking love and invitation that awaken within us the desire, courage, and need to pray."
  • "Positioning is also critical to growth in our relationship with Jesus Christ. The gentle breath of the Holy spirit is always touching us, but it is our responsibility to position ourselves in ways that make it possible to receive the gifts that God waits to bestow upon us."
These plus many other beautiful reflective quotes culled from many prayer masters like Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, plus writings from Abraham J Heshchel, Ben Campbell Johnson, Dallas Willard, and others, provide a wide contemplative circle of friends readers can learn from.

While this book is appropriate for all seasons, it can be meaningfully done this coming season of Lent, which is also a 40 days period of reflecting on Christ's journey to the Cross.  Kudos to Reuben Job for giving us such a wonderful resource to cultivate contemplative prayer and spiritual listening.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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