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Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Gracious Students" (Kevin Foo)

TITLE: Gracious Students
AUTHOR: Kevin Foo
PUBLISHER: Singapore, Kevin Foo and Associates, 2014, (163 pages).

It was a chance encounter but a really pleasant one. We have known each other for many years but lost touch after I left to help plant another Church. My friend, Kevin Foo, is continuing his passion to facilitate more gracious living in Singapore. Armed with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Cardiff, UK, he has worked in various corporations in both the Asia Pacific as well as the UK. Currently, he is a writer with a company called "Kevin Foo and Associates." He has written two earlier books also based on the "Have we lost it?" series. This is his third book that offers some good ideas and practices of living graciously in a busy society.

Kevin believes that one can have fun and be gracious at the same time. Many schools are strong in the academic pursuits and students equally driven to study hard and do well in examinations. Education however goes beyond mere good results. It is the character of a person that is ultimately more important than the academic grades one get. That is why a holistic education continues to be emphasized. For Kevin, holistic education means starting young. It means inculcating "values in action." It means learning and practicing good manners. It also means planting the seeds of graciousness that can sprout, grow, and flourish in every segment of society.

In this book, we read of 80 concise tips on how to be gracious during travels to and from school; behaviour as students walk to the assembly hall; how to behave in classrooms; library etiquette; being good students in school areas like canteens, playgrounds, class times, and even toilet tips! He has a section on cyber-behaviour as well, considering more and more young people are engaging on social media and online activities. With cartoons and illustrations to accompany each page of advice, the book is not only informative but also fun to read. This is an interesting parallel to Kevin's belief that one can show grace and have fun at the same time! He ends the book with the famous golden rule: "Do to others what you want them to do to you." Great conclusion.

Thanks Kevin for contributing to the development of a gracious society.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the author. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Blindsided By God" (Peter Chin)

TITLE: Blindsided by God: Disappointment, Suffering, and the Untamable Goodness of God
AUTHOR: Peter Chin
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015, (240 pages).

How can one cope with disappointment and suffering despite the best being offered to God? Reflecting on the age-old question of why suffering occurs, Pastor and author Peter Chin grapples with this topic from a deeply personal angle. How does one find joy in worship in a Church painstakingly built up but only has ten people in attendance? What is God saying to him with his on-off dating relationships? How can he make sense of his wife Carol's cancer? Earlier on, Chin shares about how the words "Prepare to be Broken" were an unwelcome prophecy of what he was about to go through. From Church planting problems, diagnosis of his wife's cancer situation, miscarriage, and being a victim of burglary, Chin's life seems to be spiraling downward to depression and despair. Living in a crime neighbourhood also forced them to become physically isolated from people, but also emotional isolation which may be worse. Blindsided by God? Then there is the cancellation of insurance coverage when the insurers said Carol's cancer was a pre-existing condition. As he researched more, he realized how insurance companies often practised "rescission" which intimidates potential claimers into giving up their claims. If the madness is not enough, then there is the "Triple Negative" diagnosis of Carol's cancer that was infamous for being the "killer of young women." Not only that, the surgery was made more complicated when the doctor discovered Carol was also pregnant! Is it going to be Carol's life or the baby's survival? Will chemotherapy drugs harm the developing fetus?

By the middle of the book, readers will see the tide slowly turning. Simple acts of kindness began to pour down on this family. Mercifully, his mechanic friend was able to drive a long way from home to help bring Carol's driving license for hospital admission. Friends continued to encourage them with their advice and presence. They learned of how friends would do anything for them. Chin's greatest life lessons were learned in the seminary of suffering. They learned what it means to be freed of our own selves, our self-confidence, and our tendency to depend on our own abilities rather than on God. Chin's situation is a case of being totally stripped down of one's human wisdom and skills, and to learn what it means to depend on God totally, and not be paralyzed by the fears of people.

This fast-paced book would keep readers on the edge of their seats as Chin describes trial after trial, and with each situation often making a turn for the worse. It forces one to ask about the meaning of faith and why God would allow such hardship to befall his children. Life is exactly like that. Sometimes we have it good, other times bad. Sometimes, it would seem like it is impossible to overcome the adversities staring us in the face. Chin's book is a testimony of the possible. It is a witness of God working despite the many trials that came. Ultimately, it shows us that God is always good, even when circumstances seem to suggest otherwise. Only time and the future would tell. The details may be unknown, but the end is a glorious future in God.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Church At Work" (John Pellowe)

TITLE: The Church at Work
AUTHOR: John Pellowe
PUBLISHER: John Pellowe, 2012, (343 pages).

Is there still a place for para-church organizations today? How should a Church and a para-church relationship look like? Are agencies legitimate Christian ministries? Based on his doctoral dissertation, John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities has written this book to affirm that not only are these para church organizations vital for today, both Church and agency need to work together toward for the sake of fulfilling the Great Commission. In doing so, he is lumping them together as "the Church."The point is clear. If agencies are legitimate expressions of the Church, traditional churches need to extend a hand to work with them.

Pellowe takes us through a historical development of self-governing agencies, beginning with the P Protestant movement as one such agency offering alternatives to the then incumbent Roman Catholic Church. The number of parachurch organizations mushroomed between the 17th and 18th Century, and the growth today continues to grow unabated. Despite that, some pastors and ministry leaders in churches continue to maintain a skeptical perspective. Pellowe follows up with support from Christian leaders who championed both churches and agencies as legitimate expressions of Church. Like Ralph Winter, Orlando Costas, John Hammett, Howard Snyder, John Stott, and Jerry White, Pellowe believes that any model for cooperation must ultimately unite, streamline working relationships, and respecting the work of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the model can help renew the churches and organizations from within.

Four key points set the theological foundation of his model. Firstly, mission and structure inform the shape of the organization. The one focused on structure will lean more toward Church as primary. The one based on mission will let the agency take charge while the church follows. Secondly, the Christology-Trinitarian focus will mean differences in structure. Thirdly, the role of clergy needs to be asked whether they are custodians or equippers. Fourthly, understanding God's provision determines the level of focus in stewarding finite resources or exercising flexible use of resources in faith. Pellowe summarizes the issue very well. He writes: "People who focus on structure often have a Christological focus, see clergy as custodians of the faith, and act as if they believe God has provided a finite amount of resources to the Church." (p44)

Pellowe's proposal is for a "People of God" model which sees the Church as being helmed by people working toward the fulfilling of the Great Commission. The model contributes to overall unity. It enables people to work within their local church structures as well as across denominational boundaries. It is accountable to ecclesiastical bodies, and enables renewal of the local church. Rather significant is the care not to use the wrong terminology in church-agency relations. The clearer it is; the less divisive; the theologically correct; easy to use and understood; the better. The reason why Pellowe prefers to use "agency" to describe parachurch is because it conveys the point that ministry is done on behalf of someone or some other organizations.

I enjoy reading the part about Church-Agency relations which provides a step-by-step guide on how to cultivate good church-agency partnership. One interesting point was the argument by some people that without agencies, the churches would get more donations. The truth is, there is no guarantee that the disappearance of agencies would automatically lead to increased takings for churches. The part on mutual respect is particularly important as it means respecting the legitimate functions of each side, and more importantly, to recognize that God can use the people of God in any legitimate way.

This is the first book I have read that has covered church-agency matters in such detail. Backed by some quantitative research, Pellowe has the experience of leading an organization that connects with some 3200 churches, denominational offices, and Christian agencies. He has managed to condense the complexities of the relationship into one book. There is much material in the book that would merit a better set of table of contents, illustrations, and index. I would have liked an easy reference to the various models proposed in the book. That is exactly what a "manual" would need, rather than to have readers combing the book to look for any particular content. Of course, there are always those people who would respond with the "easily said than done" statement. To that, I would say, this book should give a starting push. The momentum will need to be worked out by all parties concerned. Most importantly, one must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. After all, God loves and leads the people of God.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Spurgeon's Sorrows" (Zack Eswine)

TITLE: Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression
AUTHOR: Zack Eswine
PUBLISHER: Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2014, (144 pages).

It takes one who has walked the journey to feel what it is, how it looks like, and what it takes to deal with it. Beginning with a tragic story of a hoax during an ordinary Sunday service that led to the death of seven people, readers learn how tough it was for the great prince of preachers to deal with. Where is the light in the midst of a long deep tunnel? Where is hope when there seems to be despair everywhere? How do we recognize spiritual depression and other forms of negative emotions? Sensing themes of depression from Spurgeon's sermons, Zack Eswine has compiled a list of Spurgeon's thoughts and experience on depression. The hope is that readers will be able to find some kind of hope as we travel with Eswine on searching out Spurgeon's thoughts on this subject matter.

Part One is dedicated to understand what depression is all about. It is a road to sorrow, of anguish and helplessness, and how strength is needed to overcome the arduous journey. Many things can spur depression; like desertion, bereavement, loss of jobs, disappointment and defeat; and guilt. Internally, there is that state of melancholy that traps people into constant fear. By recognizing depression as a condition that is not always curable, comfort is often more appropriate than cure. For Spurgeon, spiritual depression is the worst kind because it is a combination of circumstantial, biological, and spiritual factors. Even as Eswine highlights the spiritual vulnerability, he helps point us to the way of faith, and not to let depression go on a feeding frenzy but to submit to the lordship of Jesus.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Killing Christians" (Tom Doyle)

TITLE: Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It's Not Safe to Believe
AUTHOR: Tom Doyle
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2014, (240 pages).

Persecution of Christians is the new normal, so says Tom Doyle, missionary to the Middle East via the e3 Partners, a global church planting ministry. Also a tour guide for the state of Israel, he puts together real life stories of persecution from Africa to the Middle East. While names have been changed, the stories they represent are very true to life. With ISIS grabbing the headlines in Iraq and Syria, one can easily forget that back in the 8th Century BC, the Assyrians were doing the exact same thing on God's people. Doyle tells the stories in a way to remind us that Christians ought not be surprised at suffering and persecution due to their faith in Jesus. If it is any consolation, Doyle asserts that any persecution of Christians usually result in the spread of the gospel message. In contrast, the Church in the West which is hardly persecuted like the ones mentioned above, is hardly growing. For if suffering propels the gospel message, comfort and luxury keeps one spiritually apathetic. Doyle makes several dramatic statements:
  • "Persecuted believers are the face of genuine Christianity"
  • "Because Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation thrives in a climate where hostility, danger, and martyrdom are present."
  • "Persecution and the spread of the gospel are as inseparable as identical twins. " 
  • "Suffering propels the growth of Jesus movements around the world."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"30 Events That Shaped the Church" (Alton Gansky)

TITLE: 30 Events That Shaped the Church: Learning from Scandal, Intrigue, War, and Revival
AUTHOR: Alton Gansky
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (272 pages).

Alton Gansky has done it again! Having written "60 People Who Shaped the Church" he has done the same (almost the same) for the Church. Instead of 60, he has wisely chosen to concentrate on half. For a book this size, it is really difficult to pick out 30 out of so many important events. Storytelling is a necessary art for any historian. In these 30 events, Gansky writes with full understanding of our modern day challenges. He is also an author of 24 novels which makes him a formidable and experienced storyteller. In this book, Gansky tries to uncover lessons we can learn from the past beginning with Pentecost (AD 30), the conversion of Paul (AD 32), and the Early Church, to the rise of confrontational Christianity (1979) and the rise of the New Atheism (Present). In choosing the 30 events, Gansky is looking for events that shape our Christian behavior and thinking. Admittedly, this book is more like a sampling rather than a detailed list of events.

As usual, Gansky gives a helpful annotated summary right at the table of contents page of the significance of the events. He puts in brackets the estimated time period, and allocates about 9-12 pages per event. At Pentecost (AD 30), Gansky relays hope that just like the few number of disciples who braved the persecutions and difficulties of their day, modern believers in the minority can do the same with the similar spirit of perseverance. In the conversion of Paul (AD 32), we learn of how God uses the worst of persecutors to become the champion of the gospel. The showdown between Gentiles and Judaism in AD 50 occurred at both the head and the heart level, motivated by obedience to the Great Commission. As Rome burned in AD 64, we read about Nero the great persecutor of Christians who crushed the believers but not their spirits.  Along came Titus who helped crush the Jerusalem temple in AD 70 to bring an end to the Jewish rebellion, reminding us the futility of trying to use physical force in what is supposed to be a spiritual battle. With the introduction of the Edict of Milan (AD 313), Christianity becomes the official religion which brings along a different set of problems like divisions and theological disputes. The First Council of Niceaa (AD 325) helped seal the deal on defending the Trinity via the Nicene Creed. Jerome's completion of the Vulgate translation in AD 405 serves as a template for future translations. We learn of the East-West Schism (1045) caused by disagreement over theology, governance, and the use of icons that shaped the Western and Eastern Orthodox churches of today. In 1198, the papal power gets expanded during the reign of Innocent III, followed by a proclamation of papal supremacy in 1302. These enforced proclamations stir the uprising of those who insist that it is the Scriptures, not the Church, that should deserve our prime allegiance.  Following the first printed Bible at Gutenberg (1456), the Protestant Reformation quickly followed suit (1517), led by Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and others. This created a similar Roman Catholic Reformation within the establishment through the Council of Trent (1545) which was in essence a defense of Catholic doctrines. Other Revivals are mentioned in the book like the American Great Awakening (1740), the Fundamentals (1910), Neo-Evangelicals (1943), Vatican II (1962), and the Christian Right (1979). Several events selected are related to the Bible, like the publishing of the King James Bible (1611), the Scofield Reference Bible (1909), Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), the Vulgate (405). It is interesting to see Bishop Ussher's Chronology (1650) included in the list. Credited for his work on dating creation at 4004BC, Ussher combines his wealth of knowledge and research to arrive at this conclusion, which other well-known scientists like Kepler and Newton had similarly concluded.

This book will provide a mini-history lesson of events that had influenced and shaped the Church of today. Of course, historians can argue and highlight other more worthy events to be included. That would very well mean having 40, 50, 60, or hundreds more to be included. That said, due to the limits imposed in this book, the thirty events are fairly significant and Gansky ought to be congratulated for his diligence in sorting out just 30 out of so many. If I am not wrong, I suspect that if Gansky was to write this same book again, he may very well remove some and add others in. Let this book spur the interest in the study of history of Christianity. It is more valuable that way.

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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Not Safe for Church" (F. Douglas Powe Jr. and Jasmine Rose Smothers)

TITLE: Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations
AUTHOR: F. Douglas Powe Jr. and Jasmine Rose Smothers
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (144 pages).

For the early adopters, this book is a welcome challenge. For those used to keeping the status quo, this book is a wake up call to stand up and take action. For the rest of us who are neither of these groups, perhaps, the authors of this book can persuade us to join the brave and the bold to do battle with complacency and conceit within the Church. Written by F. Douglas Powe Jr. who is the James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism and Professor of Urban Ministry, Associate Director of Center for Missional Church at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C, and Jasmine Rose Smothers, Associate Director of Connectional Ministries within the United Methodist Church in Georgia, the book contains ten tips for churches to learn how to reach new generations now!

Beginning with a "minority report" that goes all the way back to the twelve spies asked to check out Canaan, the authors warn us not to become like the ten spies who filed a "majority report" out of fear and lack of faith. By refusing to go forth and enter the land, they failed to act in faith and in the process angered God. Although we do not live in Old Testament times, the principle remains the same. Are we going to remain in our comfort zones and delay obeying the Great Commission? Or are we going to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and the follow Christ in faith? The answer is clear. It is the latter and this book aims to push us even further with ten creative ventures to reach post civil-rights generations. The authors are primarily trying to motivate their congregations (mainly black) to think and act differently. The Ten Commandments in NSFC are:
  1. Thou Shall Chill: What’s at Stake (Let It Go)
  2. Thou Shall Not Front: Be Authentic
  3. Thou Shall Not Trip: Discuss Taboo Subjects
  4. Thou Shall Check Yourself before You Wreck Yourself: Provide Inclusive Worship and Bible Study
  5. Thou Shall Learn How We Roll: Create New Entry Points
  6. Thou Shall Watch the Throne: Rethink Leadership
  7. Thou Shall Get Game: Engage Mission and Activism in Meaningful Ways
  8. Thou Shall Not Deny My Swag: Hear New Insights
  9. Thou Shall Sample: Bring Together the Old and New
  10. Thou Shall Represent: The Future Is Now!

Just looking at the language used should remind readers that in order to appreciate the book, one needs to understand that it is written for people familiar with black culture. It can be rather educational for non-black people.  The "Ten Commandments" here have nothing to do with the biblical ten commandments. It is basically a list of ten things for leaders to take note of and to act now. What is helpful for me are the discussion questions at the end of each chapter that can be relevant to many churches. Complacency and a lack of connections at an intergenerational level are common concerns for all churches. Every generation will need to address their own challenges. This book helps kick start the process.

Rating: 3.5 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.

Friday, February 13, 2015

"From Tablet to Table" (Leonard Sweet)

TITLE: From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed
AUTHOR: Leonard Sweet
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2015, (192 pages).

What is the biggest problem facing families and churches today? Answer: the inability to reproduce our faith. Riding on this inability is a host of other concerns such as the loss of identity; the adoption of non-Christian worldviews as "cure-alls"; simplistic silver-bullet faith; and a lack of rootedness in Christ. Leonard Sweet believes that our self-concept and discovery of identity must go back to the fundamentals of life: Story like what Sweet terms: Narraphor.

A "Narraphor" is a combination of narrative and metaphor that makes up our table talk. He critiques modern Christianity as becoming some form of a "fast-paced, word-based, verse backed, principles driven template for truth" and a "handy tablet of rules and regulations." The Truths of Christianity cannot be reduced to such a tablet or template. It is a Person. Christianity cannot be lived by rules, regulations, or regurgitation of information passed from pulpit to people. It has to be lived with living stories over a simple table. Whether it is family eating, inter-generational gathering, or fellowship meals, a tabled faith makes for a stable faith. Like the benefits of home-cooked food over fast-food, a tabled faith has the following benefits based on the study of Cody C. Delistraty:
  • Frequent family dinners raise good kids
  • Frequent family dinners improve children's vocabulary
  • Frequent family dinners enable future academic success
  • Frequent family dinners prevent childhood obesity  
  • Frequent family dinners indirectly treat depression and suicidal thoughts

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"From Every Tribe and Nation" (Mark A. Noll)

TITLE: From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian's Discovery of the Global Christian Story (Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity)
AUTHOR: Mark A. Noll
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (224 pages).

This book is a memoir of Mark Noll, a highly regarded Church historian who works as a Professor in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame. Famous for books like “Turning Points,” and “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” Noll changes his usual tack to take this book along a different direction, to story his own journey in learning the history of Christianity. For the first time, Noll invites us along his memoir-like book to show us the various landmarks of Christianity from every tribe and nation. In this manner, Noll reminds us that history is not something cut prim and proper for modern analysis. It is not a three-pointer or some systematic structure to understand. History as much as possible needs to be understood according to their original contexts. The best that modern interpreters can do is to tell it honestly from their perspective of the origins, without being dogmatic about it. In doing so, Noll is attempting to bridge experience and facts, objectively and subjectivity, and most importantly, to tell his own story and at the same time share about his understanding of the historical contexts he had learned. His conviction in this book as as follows: “If the people of God come from every tribe and nation, so then should a history of the people of God try to take in every tribe and nation.

He goes all the way back to the Church he first grew up in, at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he had early exposure to missionaries and cross cultural missions. His interest in world Christianity was sparked by a “simple awareness,” the workings of cross-cultural communications, and the missionary fervor from his Church. He shares about the way the Reformation “rescued” him intellectually, theologically, and existentially. He is convinced that Christianity cannot be simplified into moral matters, proper beliefs, or conversion talk. Through the teachings of the Great Reformer, Martin Luther, he learns the message of faith and grace. Cross-cultural interactions enable him to realize that Christianity is done quite differently outside North America.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Evangelical's Guide to Spiritual Warfare (Charles H. Kraft)

TITLE: The Evangelical's Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Scriptural Insights and Practical Instruction on Facing the Enemy
AUTHOR: Charles H. Kraft
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2015, (288 pages).

Compared to the charismatics and Pentecostals, evangelicals have generally shunned "spiritual power issues" for fear of emotionalism and fear of going overboard with tongues, prophecy and other charismatic gifts. According to well known anthropologist and linguist, Charles Kraft, our Western worldview constitutes a major hindrance to an evangelical's understanding of spiritual warfare. He also laments how evangelicals stop short of venturing boldly into the spiritual domain. Like a puzzle of 300 pieces, evangelicals generally use 200 pieces with the first hundred about the physical world and the second hundred about human activities. The third hundred, which is about spiritual activities and warfare tends to be relatively ignored. This is quite reflective of a Christian's understanding of the Trinity as well. Much has been written and talked about with regards to God the Father and God the Son. Relatively little has been written about God the Holy Spirit. In the same way, evangelicals generally talk or teach little about spiritual battles and warfare. This book is meant to guide evangelicals on the importance of this matter, to highlight the myths as well as pointing out the biblical perspective that spiritual warfare is real.

Since the 80s, Kraft has been engaged in works of inner healing and more recently spiritual warfare. Sensing a greater openness from evangelicals about the reality of spiritual warfare, Kraft has written this book to describe his concern for the general apathy of Christians toward spiritual warfare. He lists eight reasons why one ought to take spiritual warfare seriously.
  1. The Bible speaks of demons which means our Enlightenment approach to Christian spirituality is grossly limited.
  2. There Contexts of conflict in the Bible
  3. Jesus models healing and deliverance
  4. Jesus would do the same today
  5. Our Church leaders must learn spiritual warfare
  6. Evangelicals must not over-react against the excesses of Pentecostal/Charismatic spirituality
  7. Our traditions and institutions need to outgrow fear
  8. Demons outside are secondary compared to the issues inside us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"The Christian Traveler's Guide to the Holy Land" (Charles H. Dyer and Gregory A. Hatteberg)

TITLE: The Christian Traveler's Guide to the Holy Land
AUTHOR: Charles H. Dyer and Gregory A. Hatteberg
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2014, (272 pages).

There are many reasons why books get re-published or revised. Whether it is demand related, or updating required, books that are constantly relevant will always be sought after. This is one such book. As interest in Israel and the Middle East increases, and as more people travel to the Holy Land, whether tourists or pilgrims, people go to sandy deserts, ancient monuments, and massive landscapes for a reason: to know the history and to have personally encountered how the people of old lived in that valuable estate often referred to in the Bible. For many, a visit there is a life changing experience. While some information can be shared by tour guides and experts on the way, it is always a valuable resource to have a book that gives us an A-to-Z synopsis of what to see and what to expect. For touring the Holy Land is not like touring manmade theme parks or massive nature parks. It requires preparation. It demands physical walks and exercises. It needs a planned itinerary. In some cases, groups of believers would depend on some seminary professor or an experienced Bible teacher to guide them through the terrains. This book supplements such trips, and in some cases, can be a self-help guide for the independent traveler.

Written with the traveler in mind, Dyer and Hatteberg, both seminarians at Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary respectively compile their knowledge and expertise into a handy guide. One of their key concerns is how many travelers mix up modern expectations when they traverse the land full of ancient history. Thus, they take time to explain the contexts, to give some safety tips as well as packing details, getting visas (mainly for US citizens), things to pack and not to pack, as well as reference links to various sites of interest. For the Christian, knowing that there is no better way to prepare than to read the Bible, the authors put together a convenient Bible reading plan over four weeks that take us from Genesis to Revelation. Two sets of schedules are made.

  1. For Preparing to Travel to Israel, Egypt and Jordan, Greece and Turkey
  2. For Spiritual Preparation as a Group 

The passages are carefully selected to help travelers appreciate the contexts behind the lands they are about to visit. With the tour guide, plus the biblical contexts, travelers would be well equipped to learn even more when they see the actual lands coming to life before them. There are many maps to help us along. The alphabetical listing helps us refer to the guide conveniently. Every page contains generous spaces to allow travelers to record down observations, thoughts, and reflections on what they have seen. The last section of the book demonstrates the authors' conviction that every traveler would be touched and changed by a trip to the Holy Land. With several blank pages called "tour notes" to preserve their trip, readers and travelers can record down their thoughts in the same book, making it personal and archived for future reference.

The pictures in the book bring to life the ordinary lives of people living there. In one book, one becomes more familiar with the history, the contexts, the people, how ancient cultures look like, and what we can do to appreciate them even more. As tours to the Holy Land continue to pick up, this book is set to be one valuable resource for travelers to have. In order to learn well, one needs to prepare well. Anyone wanting to make a trip to Israel and the biblical lands, this book is a must have.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, February 2, 2015

"A Commentary on Exodus" (Duane A. Garrett)

TITLE: Commentary on Exodus, A (Kregel Exegetical Library)
AUTHOR: Duane A. Garrett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (752 pages).

One of the marks of a good commentary is how effectively the gap between the ancient and the modern world is bridged. Some commentaries are so heavy on the biblical contexts that they lose the modern reader. Others can be so modernistic that they compromised by allocating less space to the historical cultures. This commentary is unique as the author seeks to do six things. First, he gives us an overview of Egyptian culture, history, language, and geography. Second, he affirms the reliability of the text without dismissing the "distorted pieces of evidence." Third, he uses a "clause-by-clause" basis of the Hebrew text where each clause is translated on a separate line. Fourth, he asserts that Exodus contains several poems. Fifth, he keeps commentary brief but provides links to resources for advanced research. Sixth, he intends this book to be useful for both theologians and ministers.

In a very impressive Introduction, Professor of Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a compelling summary of the major viewpoints surrounding sources, the debates over the dates of Exodus, textual critical issues with various ancient texts, and an amazing geographical and historical flow of events. Even though the chronology of ancient Egypt is not agreed by all scholars, it provides a working framework for interpreting the book of Exodus.

Garrett does not support the documentary hypothesis calling it a "dead end" discussion. A common observation of this commentary points to a convicted belief in the reliability of the texts and a cautious acceptance of the archaeological evidence, especially when there seems to be a gap in the connecting of the two.  Key to understanding Garrett is the assumption that the Biblical numbers are correct, not according to our modern day interpretations per se, but according to ancient standards. Rather than to try and fix a specific king's name to each period of study, readers are advised to simply treat the Egyptian leaders as "Pharaoh" consistently according to the text. He avoids weird theories that try to harmonize the archaeology with biblical narrative. Instead, he points out the differences. He explains the significance. He then summarizes the theological themes at the end of each section which is helpful for any reader trying to understand the big commentary.

The commentary is framed in seven major divisions.
  • Part 1 - Until Moses (1:1-2:10)
  • Part 2 - An Unlikely Savior (2:11–7:7)
  • Part 3 - The Twelve Miracles of the Exodus (7:8–15:21)
  • Part 4 - The Journey to God (15:22–19:25)
  • Part 5 - The Sinai Covenant (20:1–24:11)
  • Part 6 - The Worship of God (24:12–31:18)
  • Part 7 - Sin and Restoration (32:1–40:38)
Garrett segments the commentary into a very readable framework of reference. The clause-by-clause format makes the work very easy to reference. With the numerous and detailed footnotes, one can choose to stay with the biblical text for personal reflection before venturing into the scholarly material. No stone is left unturned. Even verses are divided into subsections with their own explanations. It is a treasury of scholarship material on Exodus and a very useful resource for preachers when preparing for sermons on Exodus. The exegesis on the Hebrew is based on the author's personal translation. This is important because of the tight link between exegesis and hermeneutics. The part that really helpful is the theological themes that are constantly being highlighted. This enables readers to connect Exodus with the rest of the Bible. It is very tempting for anyone trying to study a Bible book indepth to be so engrossed in that one book to the exclusion of others. By arranging and recognizing the themes in the book, we get to connect with the larger Bible narrative.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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