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Thursday, June 26, 2014

"An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture" (Andrew M. Davis)

TITLE: An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture
AUTHOR: Andrew M. Davis
PUBLISHER: Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2014, (31 pages).

"Memorize the Bible? You've got to be kidding!"

It is a tall order, a tough project, almost impossible perhaps. Yet, for those who are willing, the opportunities and techniques are there. All it takes is commitment, a strategy, and a discipline to follow through on a system of memorization. Underpinning this desire to memorize the Bible is the conviction that the Bible is worth committing to memory. Dr Andrew M. Davis aims not just to help us memorize verses, but chunks of verses. As author and pastor, Dr Davis has memorized at least 35 Bible books in his lifetime. He believes:

  • God has commanded it;
  • Memorizing books is better than mere verses
  • Commitment is necessary
  • Repetition and review are keys to keeping the Bible in our minds and our hearts.

With a system that is proven to work, Dr Davis shows us a simple way to memorize which includes beginning with shorter books; survey each book for the total number of verses; remember verse numbers; choosing one that stirs our passions; make a schedule; commit it to the Lord. The rest is plain and simple: Put it into practice over and over again. Besides teaching us to memorize new verses and books, Davis also shows us the techniques to review and the keep our old verses fresh in our minds. Learning to recite it out loud also helps Use visual aids if necessary, such as taking a visual photograph of the passages in our minds. Gradually, we learn to move from shorter to longer books of the Bible.

Bible memorization is an essential discipline of any believer in Christ. In fact, it should not simply be labeled a 'have-to' item in our Christian life, but a 'want-to' desire as Christians. Anyone claiming to be a Bible-believing Christian will not have problems appreciating the benefits of memorizing Scripture. The difference is in the priorities we put to it. In a Twitter generation where people's patience is only as long as a maximum of 140 characters, memorizing the Bible helps us grow deep, to plant the seed of the Word in our hearts. Regular review waters and helps our hearts be nourished by what we have remembered. Sow deep. If necessary, go slow. The methodology suggested in this book is not rocket science, but the commitment to follow through is the real deal. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Let me close with the words of the famous missionary to China, James Hudson Taylor who once said: "There are three stages in the work of God: impossible, difficult, done." I would put memorization of the Bible under this same work of God.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"The Moody Bible Commentary" - Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael G. Vanlaningham (editors)

TITLE: The Moody Bible Commentary
AUTHOR: Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael G. Vanlaningham (editors)
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (2176 pages).

Like unabridged dictionaries, there are commentaries that try to do too much that they become weighty, bulky, and come in multiple volumes that occupy space in our bookshelves. Then there are those like abridged dictionaries that are conveniently packaged in a smaller footprint but lack the depth and scope of coverage we need. What if we can have both in a single volume? Not many commentaries can do that. This new commentary by the faculty of Moody Bible Institute is a worthy addition to this category of good single volume commentaries. Called one of the "most ambitious projects ever undertaken" by the Moody Bible Institute, it aims to provide us with a concise, insightful, and informative enough for the general reader. With thirty contributors, all the 66 books of the Bible are covered with the hope that readers will adopt five basic criteria for understanding.
  1. Diligence in studying the Scriptures themselves
  2. Recognize that time is needed, so be patient
  3. Empowerment for understanding comes from the Holy Spirit
  4. Obedience is key to understanding
  5. Always room to learn
What's Unique about this Commentary? It is a work done by MBI which takes pride in their slogan: "The Name You Can Trust." Making it understandable is foremost in the minds of the authors. It spends time working with difficult verses, making use of the literal, conservative, and consistent approach. It believes that the Old Testament points to Jesus. While the contributors base their commentary on the original languages, they also use the NASB English translation as the main English translation.

I like the way the commentators weave in both Old and New Testament references to engage a whole Bible perspective. For example, in Genesis 3:1-6, the commentators do not simply deal with the sin of Adam and Eve. They describe the lead-up to the sin, and teaches us how often we can commit similar follies in our modern times. We get mini-sermons as well, seeing direct applications apart from the commentary on the ancient texts.  Going through verse by verse at times, the commentary explains the texts, highlights some of the original languages' nuances, and also connects the theme to other passages in the Bible. Where appropriate, there are extended commentaries on applications that modern readers will appreciate. Issues such as learning to apply timeless principles from Old Testament laws and regulations; contrasting the consequences of godlessness versus the promises of godliness; highlighting devotional material from the Psalms; wisdom from Proverbs with scholarship material from other commentaries apart from their own; a structural framework on understanding the Song of Solomon with an explanation of the different interpretative methods; and many more, making the commentary a very integrated one that aims to bring the central teachings across.

The New Testament is also marked with excellent scholarship, applying and informing readers about the different schools of interpretation such as source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and other ways of interpreting the gospels. Each book begins with some explanation on authorship, approximate dates, who the intended audiences are, the purpose of the book, and how the book contributes to the overall thrust of the Bible. The bibliography at the end of each book is a valuable resource to use. This part alone makes this commentary an excellent primer to begin any in-depth studies of each book.

So What?

This is one of the must-haves for any preacher or pastor, student or teacher of the Word. Sometimes, there are commentaries that are heavy on the technical details but light on the practical applications. Others are too focused on the contemporary and lacks the heavy-lifting needed to be able to see the original texts for what they are. Creating a balance is also not an easy task especially when multiple contributors are involved. On top of that, the books of the Bible are of different genre and commentary will have to be adapted according to the way and purposes the book are written. That is why it is very difficult to apply any one standard commentary for all the books. Perhaps, readers can learn to take a step back and not allow structures and frameworks to become overly distracting. Read the Bible for what it is saying. Take time to pray and seek God for illumination and discernment about the texts. Study the texts for ourselves. Then use this commentary to shed more light on the texts. We need to agree with what the contributors are saying, but we can accept that there is another way to look at the texts. After all, students of the Bible learn best not by becoming dogmatic over their own philosophy but to be humble to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit can use anyone to teach us, including using this excellent 1-volume commentary on the Bible.

One more thing. As with the use of commentaries, even though there is an increasing use of electronic references, I feel that having a printed commentary is valuable too. Just to have the look and feel of a book opened in front of us enables us to study the Bible without becoming too easily distracted by pop up windows, the Internet, social media prompts, and other electronic beeps.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Overrated" (Eugene Cho)

TITLE: Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?
AUTHOR: Eugene Cho
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2014, (240 pages).

Are we a society that talks louder than our actual walks? Are we more interesting in ideas about changing the world rather than actually changing the world? The crux of this book is this. Just do it. Do not overrate our ideas to the point of non-action. Those who are already out in the field, be encouraged. Those who are yet to step out of their own comfort zones, "faithfully, prayerfully, and tenaciously live out these ideas, dreams, and visions" that they may play their part in changing the world. Rather than to use fear and guilt as motivations, Cho uses stories and confessions about his own struggles. Founder of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington, Cho is also a visionary founder of One Day's Wages, an organization focused on alleviating world poverty.

He begins by sharing how one Wednesday evening, he breaks to his family the news about subletting his house for two months. Despite the protests from family members, he goes on to share about his plans to give up a year's salary, and actually practicing what many people often preach. He also notes how people tends to support things from a distance but never venture beyond mere likes on Facebook or give actual dollars in any charity campaigns. In terms of justice, Cho says it well that "justice is doing for others what we would want done for us." He shares about a common feedback to him to tone down on social justice matters and to be faithful in pastoral care within the church. His response is pointed and reminds us that the gospel does not merely saves, the gospel serves; the gospel seeks to restore justice; the gospel ushers in the Kingdom of God; the gospel is good news for ALL. How to do that?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

"Reading the Historical Books" (Patricia Dutcher-Walls)

TITLE: Reading the Historical Books: A Student's Guide to Engaging the Biblical Text
AUTHOR: Patricia Dutcher-Walls
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (186 pages).

This book is a great find and a helpful companion guide to students wanting to read the biblical text more carefully and accurately. Written by a Professor of Hebrew Studies at Vancouver School of Theology, British Columbia, Dr Dutcher-Walls has put together her years of teaching biblical material and class notes into a book to help students and readers to engage the Old Testament text. Her central purpose is to enable modern readers to build bridges of understanding for modern readers to view the ancient documents. She takes the biblical texts seriously and adopts an inductive approach to let the Bible speak for itself. With keen insights into the time, setting, and social contexts of the historical texts, she hand-holds readers with her understanding of modern culture and how modern readers tend to look at all forms of history texts. In five chapters, she makes the study of history come alive in the minds of readers.

Chapter One is about discovering the biblical context and to understand at least three lenses: a) the original event; b) the hearing or the reporting of the original event; c) the way modern readers see it.  We learn about the sociology, political ideology, the anthropology, the geography, economics, archaelogy, and other disciplines which shine light on culture and context. Dutcher-Walls keeps close to the biblical texts using references to support her observations of the cultural contexts and vice versa. I especially appreciate her effort to keep the chapter relevant like the electronic text messaging lingo used by teens in an iPhone age.

Chapter Two trains us to listen to the story of the text through understanding plot development, narrative flows, story arcs, sequences, direct descriptions, various characterizations, and so on. The author places extra emphases on characterization to understand the meaning of the text through the way the characters dialogue; through plain direct description; through the narrator's point of view; for readers and students to tease out the overall thrusts of the text. I appreciate the segments "Questions for the Careful Reader" which by themselves are worth the price of the book.

Chapter Three helps us to discern what the texts are primarily interested in saying to us. Phrases, words, grammar, authority of the characters, repetition, analogies, patterns, and direct evaluations by the narrator or characters provide useful clues in doing that. We appreciate what biblical storytelling is about.

Chapter Four examines historiography, something the author excels in. She compares and contrasts the ancient historians with contemporary ones, and reminds us not to mix the two up. Ancient biblical writers are writing to a people who are not as literate as we are. They tend to adopt a chronological flow. They use narratives to craft the historical events. They utilize past traditions and sources. Their writing material includes chisels, stones, pottery, clay, leather, wood, wax, papyrus, brush, and primitive tools that assist in handwriting. The use of direct speech is also common.

Chapter Five looks at the shaping of history through the text. It is impossible to record everything so the early writers are highly selective on what to report. Through patterns and causes, events are strung together so that they do not appear random or disconnected. There are also evaluations and interpretations that guide us to understand the text. This chapter is especially relevant as the author gently encourages us by saying that we too can be a part of the shaping of history. Just like the way the ancient biblical writers were writing to a people of their times, we too can report and write to the people in our era.

So What?

Dutcher-Walls make the study of history very interesting. Her guide is very readable and equips students to study and research more on their own. In fact, the book does not just saturate readers with content and context. It energizes. It encourages. It enthuses one to study the text more inductively and to read the Word more carefully. This is a mark of a good book. Though the book deals largely with the historical sections of the Old Testament, such as the Torah, Kings, Chronicles, Samuel, the Prophets, and others, the suggested techniques and skills can be applied to many others. For scattered throughout the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are varying historical segments. Some are large chunks while others only a few verses. Nevertheless, all the writers are reporting with a particular interest and writing from a particular context for a particular audience. The more accurate we can understand the original contexts, the more valuable will be our understanding and our applications.

This is a great book for any student, pastor, teacher, professor to have in their library.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Sailboat Church" (Joan S. Gray)

TITLE: Sailboat Church: Helping Your Church Rethink Its Mission and Practice
AUTHOR: Joan S. Gray
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (176 pages).

This book is about doing Church either the “rowboat” way or the “sailboat” way. Using the metaphor of rowing vs sailing, the author tries to emphasize the key point that God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. The Church is not meant to be one that is anchored on human wisdom. It is meant to be led by the Spirit, empowered by God’s wisdom, and enthusiastically lived out according to the wind of the Spirit, to sail where God wants to sail.

Gray, an elder of the Presbyterian Church first points out the follies of the “rowing” mentality. Despite the best efforts, money, human wisdom, non-stop energy and resources poured into doing Church, Churches that “row” will quickly lead to discouragement, distressed leadership, and declining churches. The root of the problem is human wisdom and human strength to do the ministry that needs God’s power.

Going back to the early Church in Acts, Gray points out the main difference in terms of “attitude” not numbers. Do church members serve out of their own strength and cleverness? Is Church merely a human religious organization? Are lives transformed? Do Churches believe in the supernatural, the spiritual reality of the kingdom of God? No. The rowing mentality is the tendency to fix things as if we are the masters of our own future. Such a mentality believes that the right person hired will lead to the right result planned. The right resources poured in will lead to the right fruits. Success becomes the key measurement yardstick rather than spiritual transformation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Rise of the Nones" (James Emery White)

TITLE: Rise of the Nones, The: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated
AUTHOR: James Emery White
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (224 pages).

Many books have been written about the Church, about how to grow and about how to reach out to people in the neighbourhood. Much attention has also been given to the young people and why they are not coming to church anymore. What about the "religiously unaffiliated?" What about the uncommitted? Who are the "Nones?" This book is an effort to double our efforts to understand this relatively ignored group of people in the hope that more people will notice them.

According to popular author, pastor, and professor, Dr James Emery White, this religiously unaffiliated group called the "Nones" is America's "fastest growing religious group."  In fact, their rise is a direct reflection of the cultural changes happening in society today. What the author hopes to accomplish is to share of who the "Nones" are, their rising influence, why and how the Church can reach out to them.

White begins with a startling observation of how America is becoming more and more "religiously unaffiliated." People are searching for meaning and they are definitely not exploring it within the Church. Currently, the nones are at 25% of the population and is expected to rise further. They are a little more likely to be male, young, white, non-religious, and Democrat. They tend to be liberal, support same-sex marriage, pro-choice, and likely a westerner. Preferring to be spiritual but not religious, the nones cannot be simply reached by seeker-sensitive strategies as they are no longer the kind of seekers who are looking for organized religion to belong to. They are people who reject labels and are products of a new "perfect storm" of negative perceptions of religion in general. They think that religious organizations are "too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics." We are now living in a "Post-Christian" era that is secularized, privatized, and pluralized. This is aggravated by an onslaught of Eastern religions that promote happiness, democracy, and a strong sense of relative belief. White then makes a curious observation how we have moved from an Acts 2 scene to an Acts 17 scenario. The modern cultural context prefers a Bono-style outreach rather than a Bonhoeffer-style.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Worshipping with Calvin" (Terry L. Johnson)

TITLE: Worshipping with Calvin
AUTHOR: Terry L. Johnson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Evangelical Press, 2014, (434 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about worship? Is it the continuing argument between contemporary vs traditional worship? Is it about music and song? Is it about the period just before the sermon during a Sunday service?

According to Terry L. Johnson, worship is more than all of the above, and in his own words, "worship is ministry." Choosing to avoid making the book about Calvinism which may dissuade non-Calvinists from the book, Johnson prefers a more open title, open enough to welcome other Christian quarters, and restricted enough to make the book about Reformed theology and worship. Lamenting on the current state of evangelicalism, which is too fragmented, and where many regarded as irrelevant to modern culture, Johnson is convicted that the way back is via "Word-filled Christian worship" which is Reformed worship. Reformed worship comes out of Reformed Practice among Reformed Churches. Reformed Churches is where Reformed ministry and Reformed people are cultivated which in turn develops Reformed piety. Of course, it is not always this linear but the point is that Reformation must be ongoing, and the way to do so is to learn from tradition via history; formation via liturgy; and biblically via exegesis of Scripture. Theologically, Johnson goes back to the Reformation calls for sola Scriptura to guide liturgical practice; sola Christus to reform the Eucharist; sola fide regarding the preaching and teaching of Scripture; sola gratia to reform prayer; soli Deo gloria toward "revival of confidence in the means of grace." These five emphases underpin the five thrusts of "Reformed worship and ministry."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Not Who I Imagined" (Margot Starbuck)

TITLE: Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God
AUTHOR: Margot Starbuck
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (256 pages).

How can a God so big ever love a small little me? How does God's face look like? Is he an Authoritarian God; a Benevolent God; a Critical God; or a Distant God? How does our past affect our vision of God? What are the limits of God's love? Most importantly, will God accept me as I am? These questions meander constantly throughout the book, written by a regular contributor to Today's Christian Women. The author is a graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Theological Seminary, passionate about communicating the love of God to people she meets with. Underlying her enthusiasm is the single conviction that God loves us, and takes us as we are. In turn, we are urged to take God as He is.

Written in six parts, Starbuck believes that God is more often than not, much bigger, much more gracious than most believers made Him out to be. She goes all the way back to help us explore our own personal narratives, and to learn to see beyond our obvious physical selves, toward an inner being. We are cautioned not to let our identity be defined by outsiders. Slowly but surely, Starbuck leads us to stare at the challenge right at the face, using Brene Brown's words: "The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute." At the same time, we need to beware of deceptive voices and learn to cultivate a listening ear to the voice of God. Before that can happen, we need to remove our masks. We need to wash away our make-up. If we want God to accept us just as we are, we must approach God just as we are. With stories and heartwarming illustrations, Starbuck's gently guides readers to look away from false faces that mask our authentic selves, and to look at the True Face of God. Her final chapter on "Lookin' for Love" is an excellent summary of how a life liberated for God will look like.

Starbuck's favourite authors appears to be Brennan Manning, Lewis Smedes, and Henri Nouwen. Her use of the "face" metaphor is a helpful way to help us visualize God. I appreciate the way she weaves in the four popular faces of God, according to the Barna studies, and then integrates them into the book's main theme: God is more than what people think. God is more than what we think. In fact, God is much more incomprehensible than anybody can ever think. Yet, the mystery of faith is that, when we submit to God, when we truly acknowledge we need God, and we need God's help to see Him, strangely, the clouds of doubt will dissipate. The winds of change will be stilled. When the dust settles and the commotion stops, when we see God face to face, I believe we will be more than surprised. We would be so wowed that our natural response is to bow down and worship.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Dispatches From the Front" (Tim Keesee)

TITLE: Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places
AUTHOR: Tim Keesee
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014, (240 pages).

We are easily anxious over mundane matters while they face real afflictions. We face hard times but they encounter perilous hardships. We suffer inconveniences while they endure calamities. We watch movies that contain acted out violence while they experience real beatings. We watch "Prison Break" while they are imprisoned without just cause. We read about riots and get insomnia over common worries while they face riots, labour unrest and sleepless nights. We go for hunger strike at our convenience while they face hunger times. If we as Christians trust God, why then are so many of us easily anxious about the most mundane things of life? This book puts the worries of our modern world into proper perspective. Tim Keesee is the director of an organization called, "Dispatches from the Front." After years of teaching, he decides to travel the world and make documentaries, and to keep a particular lookout for "stories of gospel" advancements in a difficult world. He condenses his more than 20 years experience in the field into 8 stories from 8 regions. The first region is the former Soviet Republics where he saw imprisoned believers refusing to be silenced as far as the gospel is concerned. After being persecuted for so long, the sudden release triggered an unprecedented freedom and joy never before experienced. He shared about his time at a maximum security prison as he preached the Word of God to convicts, and to see the gospel give them hope and faith. Correspondence courses were some of the most effective tools for reaching out to Muslim dominated countries. The second region is the Balkan region, in particular Albania. After five centuries of Ottoman rule, followed by Communist brutality, the gospel presents a light in the midst of darkness for the people. In such an environment, the challenge for many common folks was how to pick up the pieces of a broken society and system. Despite heavy NATO presence, violence and murders were still rampant. In a land where many men rape and beat their wives, Christians stand out by living against such terrible acts. The third region is China, a rising world economy. He studied the China Inland Mission, and its early attempts to reach out to the Chinese people. Keesee looked at how Hudson Taylor was increasingly frustrated by the spiritual apathy back in England and was determined to forge ahead to gather a team of like-minded believers and missionaries, to minister to the Chinese, to learn the language, their culture, their lifestyle, and whatever it takes to be Christ to them. Keesee felt the tensions of how the Christian leaders in China were being watched. He wrote about how a group of Muslims taunted them and boasted about Osama bin Laden as their hero. His physical travels included XinJiang province, the Westernmost part of China, Inner Mongolia, and other cities in China. Amid the rising Chinese economy, he sees bright sparks of Christ's kingdom of hope and love rising too. The fourth region is South-East Asia, where Keesee traveled to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, seeing gospel work being done in a land rampant with sex trade and poverty. He wrote about his time in Singapore how street evangelism was being done for the many foreign workers there, and with gut-wrenching stories of maids cheated by their employers. The fifth region is South Asia, where Keesee looks at Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. With Bangladesh 90% Muslims and almost 10% Hindus, it would seem like there is not much room for Christianity. It is a place where all who believed paid a heavy cost as one believer puts it: "All must walk through the fire." India, a land of gods presented a different kind of challenge. In this world's most populous democracy, the memories of William Carey remains vibrant. However, the widely held beliefs of the caste systems is entrenched, and "deep in the DNA of the Indian people." Despite the challenges, many stories prove that the Holy Spirit is working, of how believers carried out gospel outreaches to preach Jesus among the gods. The stronghold of Islam, Pakistan is also a hard place for Christians, with many news of believers being raped, robbed, and persecuted. The gospel gives the believers hope that a better day will come. The sixth region is the African regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, a world "steeped in demon worship, Islam" and having poor infrastructure. Despite the violence and the danger, faithful evangelists and workers for the gospel risk their lives to serve in many humanitarian projects. In a land where fear and fights often occur, where freedoms are limited, the gospel presents a freedom of hope that brings light to the oppressed. Keesee tells a heart-warming story of Johnny, who after receiving the gospel, sees his "useless legs" not as a curse but as a gift from God! The seventh region is the horn of Africa and Egypt, which are also strongholds of Islam. Those who converted from Islam experienced harsh persecution. Massacres are not unheard of. The eighth region is Afghanistan and Iraq. Keesee gives us insights into the travels he made with the NATO forces, facing the reality of death and violence each day as peacekeepers try to maintain peace with the local forces. He even get to hear a poem read, entitled: "If China."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"A Commentary on the Psalms: 42-89" (Allen P. Ross)

TITLE: A Commentary on the Psalms: 42-89 (Kregel Exegetical Library)
AUTHOR: Allen P. Ross
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013, (848 pages).

The Psalms remain one of the most beautiful writings in the world, widely revered by the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It covers from worship to songs; prayers to laments; and for individuals as well as for communities. As part of the Kregel Exegetical Library series, the book is written by scholars who are not only well versed in the original Hebrew language, they are also eminent professors having spent many years in studying the Holy Scriptures, the Ancient Near East, and the historical background of the Old Testament. With a culture so ancient, one of the best ways to study and understand the book of psalms is to employ the best exegetical tools and knowledge that we have now, put them together in their original contexts, and then build a bridge to the modern era so that readers will be able to learn and benefit from the gift of Scripture. Allen P. Ross is well qualified to do just that.

Due to the immense amount of material in Psalms and the exegetical space needed to do a comprehensive study, this book is just Book 2 in a series of three books. Book 1 describes Psalms 1 to 41. Book 2 covers Psalms 42 to 89, while Book 3 is a commentary on Psalms 90-150. Each chapter begins with an apt title and a brief introduction to set the tone. It is then followed by personal translation of the text, with footnotes to distill words pregnant with meaning. The "composition and context" section gives the contextual information needed to shed the light on the ancient psalm. This is no easy task. The "exegetical analysis" section is precisely what readers will be paying for. That is not all. The subsequent exposition builds upon this exegesis and we get a homiletical product at the end of it all. At the end, there is a "Message and Application" to help us along, to reinforce the underlying belief that the Psalms are highly relevant for today.

I have studied Hebrew using Dr Ross's excellent material and this commentary is a great testimony of how a great language teacher puts the raw work of exegesis through the intellectual rigour of scholarship, coupled with a keen understanding of Biblical Hebrew, in order to produce a convincing work that compels readers and hearers to want more. Preachers and teachers will find this commentary series extremely useful for teaching and preaching. A word of caution. As the book is an excellent resource, it must remain just a resource and not a replacement for our own exegetical work and preaching preparations. For even the best books on God's Word have limitations. They are not the Word of God. They are not the perfect teacher. There is only one Perfect Teacher, and that is the Holy Spirit.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Basil of Caesarea" (Marvin Jones)

TITLE: Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact (Biography)
AUTHOR: Marvin Jones
PUBLISHER: Ross-shire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2014, (434 pages).

During the late fourth century, one man dared to stand against the Emperor Valens. Refusing to work with Arian bishops over theological grounds, this man confronted the political establishment with courage and eloquent scholarship. The period was the early years of Christendom in Europe. The man was Basil of Caesaria (329-379 AD). In a land that has the Church and State increasingly integrated, the fight includes theological battles. One such fight was Orthodox Christianity vs the rising influence of Arianism. As one of the famous Cappadocian Fathers, (the other being Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, and Gregory of Nazianzus), Basil led the fight which led to the gathering of the Council of Nicea, and the formation of the Nicene Creed, which is a particular emphasis to re-affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Basil's Theological Impact
While many were unable to withstand the onslaught of Arianism and Alexendrianism, Orthodox Christianity had the Cappadocian Fathers to thank for. Of all the challenges, Arianism was perhaps the most formidable. Serious doubts were cast on the divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and ultimately on the Trinity. Basil of Caesarea, together with a few others were also tempted to just avoid the controversies of the day, and to spring toward an ascetic lifestyle, to get away from the world. After all, it is easy to run away, and troublesome to fight the Arians. Fortunately, Basil chose to fight the huge heresy, moving from a "homoiousian theologian" to the orthodox "homoousian" theologian. The former argues that Jesus is "similar to or like" the Father, while the latter insists that Jesus is of the "same substance" as God the Father.In doing so, Basil began a tough journey to unify the Eastern and Western Church. Other theological battles include the fight against Sabellianism (modalism that effectively denies the Orthodox Trinity position); Anomoeans (that the Son was a different substance than the Father); and his most well-known contribution: "On the Holy Spirit."

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Elders in the Life of the Church" (Phil A. Newton & Matt Schmucker)

TITLE: Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership
AUTHOR: Phil A. Newton & Matt Schmucker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, Kregel Ministry, 2014, (256 pages).

Why elders? Where can we find biblical support for the plurality of elder leadership? How can one transition to an elder-led Church community? These questions are dealt with in this book written by two seasoned pastor-elders. Authors Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker look at the idea of "elder plurality" from three angles: historically, biblically, and practically.

From a historical angle, ponders on the title of "elders" in a baptist church. Even though many modern Baptist churches in America have elders in their congregations, historically, there is no consistent use of the word "Elders" to denote a pastor or a Church leader. Some thought has also been put in on the distinction of "ruling elders" and "teaching elders." By 1820, such a differentiation had become less popular due to the fear of greater hierarchical structure. Baptist elders also differ from Presbyterian elders where the latter see more integration of the ruling and teaching aspects of eldership. The key concern the authors have is the demise of elder plurality and the intent of this book is to restore the model back to the contemporary church. They point out that it is one thing to have a Church full of elderly people. It is yet another to have a Church with elder responsibilty.The need for elders is vital otherwise churches will look like sheep without a shepherd. So, whether, presbyters, overseers, elders, or pastors, they can all form the pool of plural leadership of people who are wise, mature, and sound in doctrine. Four basic elder duties are: Doctrine (teaching); Discipline (Admonishing or Encouraging); Direction (Decision-making); and Distinction (Modeling).

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Sharing Christ With the Dying" (Melody Rossi)

TITLE: Sharing Christ With the Dying: Bringing Hope to Those Near the End of Life
AUTHOR: Melody Rossi
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014, (192 pages).

Sometimes it is called, "Deathbed evangelism." Some use the "Four Spiritual Laws" or other evangelistic tracts to do some last minute sharing before their unbelieving loved ones die. It may sound a little late, but for such people, it is a case of better late than never. Other times, it is a final message of hope to bring some comfort for the living and peace for the dying. For both the living and the dying, the message of hope is an essential sending off gift of love. This book is not about any kind of evangelism that is imposing or disrespectful. In fact, it is about sharing the gospel of hope as one approaches the end of life. It is a gospel that is shrouded in compassion and love. It is about "walking" together with the dying. Originally published under the title, "May I Walk You Home," this new title is a little awkward as I shall explain later. The book tackles questions like:

  • How do we minister to the dying?
  • What can we do with their physical and spiritual needs?
  • What if we are the only one around the dying at any one time?
  • How much preparation time is needed to speak with the dying?
  • What does it take to serve wholeheartedly?

This book is designed to help such readers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Growing Up God's Way"

TITLE 1: Growing Up God's Way for Boys (80 pages)
TITLE 2: Growing Up God's Way for Girls (80 pages)
AUTHORS: Dr Chris Richards and Dr Liz Jones
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Evangelical Press, 2013.

These two books are reviewed at the same time because most of the content are similar. Written by two practicing pediatricians, the books are aimed at an audience from puberty age to marriage awareness. It is essentially about growing up and looks at the physiological and biological changes going on in both boys and girls. Step by step, the chapters progress toward the physical growth in sexuality, often comparing the gender differences between boys and girls. At each step of the way, the authors are able to parallel the physical changes with biblical principles, reminding readers that as they change physically, they need to let biblical principles guide them in their thinking, their living, and their behaving.

Richards and Jones are both avid Church goers and passionate Christians desiring to help children grow up in a way that is honouring God. They designed the book in such a way as to make it as appealing and clear as possible. Even though one book appears to be for boys and the other for girls, the differences are minor.

Let me offer three comments as I read this book. First, the book is a useful book for kids. Looking at the way the diagrams and language is used, it is clear that the authors are aiming at child-friendly edition, so that children can read and learn the basics of what it means to grow up, in particular God's way. Though it may seem very elementary to adults, the information can be invaluable to growing children. The diagrams can be very graphic but also highly instructive.

Second, the book is suitable for parents. I know of many parents who find it awkward to share about things sexual and many choose the path of silence. With this book, parents can be guided stage by stage on how to educate their growing children. It can also be used to create opportunities for learning and bonding together as parent-children relationship.

Third, the book is for teachers and instructors, especially those who deal with children. Many books out there teach about sexuality and growth. Few approach it from a Christian angle, and few makes it simple enough to be understood.

Overall, the book is a gift for parents, teachers, and of course, the growing children concerned. May God use this book to guide the young toward becoming the children of God they were created to be.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"The Underestimated Gospel" (Jonathan Leeman)

TITLE: The Underestimated Gospel
AUTHOR: Jonathan Leeman (editor)
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: B&H Publishers, 2014, (224 pages).

There has been much division through the centuries. Churches have split up in many different ways. History has not been kind to the Church. This is especially so when the gospel has been undermined, under-emphasized, and underestimated.   For the gospel is one that is able to bring people together in the truth, to be like what Paul writes in Philippians 2:2 to "make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose."

Under the umbrella of T4G (Together for the Gospel), Leeman gives readers a flashback on the First Great Revival during the time of Whitefield in North America, and to affirm that though the time is different, the longing for revival remains the same. Originally presented as papers at a pastor's conference of the same title in 2012, the essays have been re-edited for the reader instead of hearers. It is the underlying conviction that the gospel is more than mere words. It is power that comes forth from the faithful preaching of the gospel. It is power that transform people. It is power that empowers the Church to do the work of God. It is the power of the gospel that encourages pastors and ministry leaders. It is the power of God that is made manifest through the gospel. Unfortunately, for many people in many parts of the world, this very gospel of power has been underestimated. This book seeks to bring back our awareness of the power that lies within the proclamation of the gospel.