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Friday, July 31, 2015

"Your Sacred Yes" (Susie Larson)

TITLE: Your Sacred Yes: Trading Life-Draining Obligation for Freedom, Passion, and Joy
AUTHOR: Susie Larson
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015, (224 pages).

Constantly busy but also consistently unfulfilled? Tired and always running? Seeking peace but never truly finding it? Faithfully serving but never experience fruitful living? These questions may strike a chord in those of us who have been Christians for a while but finding it hard to make a meaningful sense out of Christian living. Is Christianity just about speaking Christianese or doing stuff in Church? Many of us know that there is much more to the Christian Life than just Church work. We just need someone to show us the way. In this book, we have an exciting challenge to stop any forms of sloppy Christianity, unravel the chains of a shackled faith, and to liberate one toward sanctified living for Jesus. In a nutshell, the author shows us the way to move from obligation to conviction; from ought to would; from constrained to liberated; from seeking happiness to joyful living. With keen understanding on believers who are struggling to live out a meaningful faith, Larson gingerly draws out the honesty behind our spiritual sloppiness; the emotions behind shackled living; and the promises of sacred surrender. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the radio talk show host with KTIS is also a national speaker and popular author. Christianity is life-giving, not energy draining. It is exciting not mundane. It is also sacred, not burdensome. It is more than just a ticket to heaven or a get-out-of-hell pass. In three parts, Larson shows readers how to move from sloppy and shackled lifestyle to sacred living.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Gifts of the Dark Wood" (Eric Elnes)

TITLE: Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers)
AUTHOR: Eric Elnes
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (240 pages).

"You have a place in this world"; so begins the book that is marinaded with assurance and acceptance. It addresses the fundamental aspects of life, what are we searching for, where is home, and in particular, where are we. It is an invitation to journey through the dark woods and discover for ourselves the gifts that we so often miss out in our busyness of life. It is a quest for life not on the basis of following the rules and false promises of human schemes but on the basis of God alone. We do not stand on the premises of the Church in hope, but on the promise of God who is the True Giver of Hope. The gifts to be revealed in this book show us how to deal with emptiness, uncertainty, lostness, temptations, being misfits, and so on. What appears like curses can be blessings in disguise. This is what trusting and following Christ entails: Not what we expect to happen, but what surprises God has in store for us. This calls us for rearranging our inner dinner table to let God sit and the head and us being ready to dine with Him. It is a book for "Dark Wood" travelers. Often shunned in favour of security and clarity, Elnes brings us back to revisit the dark night of the soul, experienced by the saints of old.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"The Practice of Pastoral Care" (Carrie Doehring)

TITLE: The Practice of Pastoral Care, Revised and Expanded Edition
AUTHOR: Carrie Doehring
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (232 pages).

Pastoral care is a critical part of any Church ministry. The word "pastor" is synonymous with "shepherd." Unlike some places that sees the pastor as the leader-CEO, the true biblical basis of a pastor is to shepherd the flock. How we practice pastoral care however have changed, partly because of changing needs. In this book, the way is to adopt a "postmodern approach" toward the practice of pastoral care. Calling it an "intercultural approach," pastoral care in this book means not just listening to the stories of the people but also to create meaning of them. It means learning to piece together the broken pieces of life. It means learning to help people tell their stories. It means cultivating trust. For Carrie Doehring, it is the heart of pastoral care where people are willing to open up their lives to caregivers. It is about creating opportunities for "care conversations" and relating real-life to theological truths and biblical principles. Doehring goes a step further to advocate for a care that brings back individuals from a de-centered sacred bearings due to suffering and painful circumstances. How can one show compassion and understanding toward those questioning their faith and religious values? This calls for a "theological, cultural, and psychological expertise" that can help care for parishioners and people in such need, what Doehring refers to as "the compassionate art of intercultural care." Carers essentially enter into the lives of others, sharing in their pain, walking with them in the valley of questions and celebrating with them in the answers of joy. It is about intermingling one's lives with another so as to build a bridge that aids integrative moments and shared stories. It is collaborative exploration of new and strange emotional territories. The author attempts to use a "trifocal lens" which comprises of a precritical, a modern, and a postmodern approach.  As a first-order language, a precritical lens looks at the world from a divine perspective. The modern lens is a second-order language that adopts "text critical methods" and social sciences to include empirical analysis and rational judgment of knowledge. The postmodern approach is the third-order language that nuances all of these in the light of present contexts. This approach involves the meaning making and the response of individuals to the earlier two orders of language. She summarizes the book's structure in six parts.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Despite the Best Intentions" (Amanda E. Lewis and John B. Diamond)

TITLE: Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools (Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities)
AUTHOR: Amanda E. Lewis and John B. Diamond
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, (272 pages).

All people are created equal. So with equal opportunity and equal rights for all, they should all do well academically right? This is the assumption that is behind Riverview High School. As a suburban school, it is highly resourced, well-funded, and thoughtfully designed to give the black community a leg up. In 2006-7, the school spent above $18000 per student, double that of the national average. More than 80% of the teachers hold a masters degree. There are spanking new facilities with children coming largely from middle class families. There is a thriving commercial community. It is located in a progressive and liberal city. Unfortunately, segregation and forced integration of the different races do not prevent the same kind of statistics, that blacks generally do poorly in the academic realm. Despite the help given, 90% of students in the AP classes are white. About 80% of all the Honours students are white. The majority of the blacks, two-thirds of them are still stuck in basic level classes. Consistently, the Whites and the Asians are at least a grade point higher than the average black student. Why? This is an interesting question posed to educators and especially the authors Amanda E. Lewis and John B. Diamond. Amanda Lewis is Professor of Sociology and African-American studies at the University of Illinois while John Diamond is Professor of Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education. Both are concerned with the area of addressing racial inequality in schools and achievements. In a five year quantitative and qualitative research, they look at public policy that tries to bring about greater parity among the races in education. They focus on Riverview High School as a test case for providing whatever resources necessary to help all races excel in their studies. In spite of the efforts, there still remains a troubling "racial achievement gap." The conclusion made by the authors is interesting. While they believe that race is "a social and political category," it cannot be the cause of differing SAT scores. Why then the disparity in achievements? In a startling conclusion, the authors assert that race matters. Race plays a key role in academic achievements. The problem lies in our assumptions when we try to social engineer the integrative process.

Friday, July 24, 2015

"The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work" (John M. Gottmann and Nancy Silver)

TITLE: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert
AUTHOR: John M. Gottmann and Nancy Silver
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Harmony Books, 2015, (320 pages).

When it was first published back in 1999, this book made a huge impact that shot authors and marriage counselors, John Gottmann and Nancy Silver to fame, becoming their most popular book. Using interviews, research, and scienfic data analysis, the authors begin with a startling claim: They can predict an impending divorce with a 91% accuracy just by looking at various signs. Moreover, they criticize most marital therapies as ineffective. They can recognize the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. They can also tell the health of a marriage by asking a few questions and observing the responses. Fortunately, they are able to come up with seven principles not just to make marriage work, but to sustain it over the long haul. In brief, the principles are:

  1. Learning to enhance one's love maps
  2. Nurturing fondness and admiration for each other
  3. Turning toward each other instead of away from
  4. Letting One's Partner Influence You
  5. Solve the Solvable problems
  6. Overcoming gridlock over unsolvable ones
  7. Creating shared meaning

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Every Child Welcome" (Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo)

TITLE: Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs
AUTHOR: Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (176 pages).

Jesus welcomes every child. He says it clearly in Matthew 19:14 to let the little children come to him. We are not to hinder them in any way. While it is easy for us to say that we all love children, it is far easier to love children who are lovable, adorable, and downright cute! What about those who are not? What about children with special needs such as "preexisting physical conditions, mental illness, or behavior issues?" Not so easy now. This is particularly so for parents of such children. Overcoming the initial challenge is not the only thing. It is trying to care for these kids every day, every moment, and every emergency. Authors Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo were former public school teachers, with special education backgrounds, and have been practitioners in the area of working with children with special needs. They are also parents of such children. Philo's son, Allen had a "life-threatening esophageal birth anomaly" at birth, followed by six surgeries, PTSD, and others. Wetherbee's daughter, Annie, suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak. Only after much care and therapies that she had managed to regain some strength and ability to speak. The authors met each other at a seminar for special needs children. Their common interest enabled their friendship to blossom and this book is a product of that shared interest and excitement to encourage "quality teaching."

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Pray Like a Gourmet" (David Brazzeal)

TITLE: Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul (Active Prayer)
AUTHOR: David Brazzeal
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (192 pages).

How we eat our physical meals can be quite an accurate reflection of how we feed our souls. Are we constantly rushing through meals in order to get back to our work? Do we go for the most familiar restaurant joints and select the usual cheaper options? Maybe we are used to drive-through convenience that opts for the standard fare? What if we can inject some creativity into our eating or ordering? In this very well-illustrated and creative book on how to pray, author David Brazzeal, together with Dutch illustrator Willemijn de Groot have put together "creative ways to feed your soul." Written in three parts, we catch a glimpse of what it takes to set up a kitchen for prayer; which is followed by basic recipes for prayer; and finally the praying.

Brazzel whets our appetite by enticing us to go beyond normal ordinary fare such as fast-food, cheap joints, and predictable meals. He show us how to acquire a taste by hungering and thirsting after the really good stuff, and parallels them to seeking after God. Preparing to pray includes praise, just like the way St Francis of Assisi's had prayed. From Richard Foster, he learns about imagination in prayer. From Evelyn Underhill, he learns that spirituality and creativity are both on the same side of the brain. From Peter Lord, he learns that our creativity is most beautiful when it is in sync with the Holy Spirit. He shows us how to creatively choose a meal, just like seeing the Bible as the first book, the middle, and the last. This parallels the regular meal set of appetizer, entree, and dessert. He is particularly critical of fast food that never gives us time to cultivate relationships; of junk food that offers little substance to our self-centered praying; and processed food that limits ourselves to devotions and prayers of other people. On forms of prayer, he reminds us of the popular ACTS acronym before challenging us toward Observation; Intercession; Meditation; Contemplation; Blessing; Lamenting; and Joining. Gradually, we involve the gourmet of choices to let our prayers involve body, heart, mind, and soul.

Part Two is the main dish where we learn about the 11 ways to pray. We praise by telling the greatness of God. We thank God for what He had done. We confess our sins as we deal with life's realities. We bless the world with goodness as we pray blessings from God upon the land we live. We observe the world, especially nature, and to simply see without analyzing or watch without the urge to solve something. We lament the reality of the world, especially the sad things happening around us. We also lament on things that are beyond our control. We learn to meditate and to contemplate, which may not be easily understood or differentiated. For meditation, it is about learning to reflect silently with the Spirit of God leading us. Brazzeal shares with us that "Meditation is stimulated by something external: a text, a quote, a sound, an image, a thought, or even a repetitive action, while Contemplation deals with the purely internal: silence, stillness, void, release, and the lack of emphasis on reasoning and rational thought."

He leaves the asking quite late in the process, which is a curious decision because prayers have often been associated with asking for things in the first place. He admits that the chapter on asking is the "hardest chapter" because as he grows in his journey and gourmet of prayer, he finds the asking less as less desirable, once he experiences the other element of prayer. He settles on a type of asking that is "less self-absorbed and more God-focussed." This is a good lesson for us too. This is quickly followed by interceding which is about advocating for the needs of others. At one look, it seems like the asking and the interceding are the same thing, the former being more other-centered and the latter being praying for others. What's the difference? The author does not offer any clear explanation but as I read the chapters, it appears to me that "asking" to be more God-centered and other-concerned is a conscious decision to put ourselves less important; while the "interceding" is to put God and others as more important. The difference is subtle. In joining, we pray with God's mission in mind, to be reminded that our concerns are merely a speck in the larger world of God.

Part Three of the book show us how to spread everywhere the joy of prayer. When showering, learn to see the steam as a chance to thank God for the presence of the Spirit; to experience the waters on our bodies as a way to reminisce the baptism of the Spirit; the scrubbing of the skin as cleansing; and to the wrapping of the body as being embraced by the Spirit; and so on. Even in swimming, we can learn to pray. Gradually, we come back to the dining atmosphere where we can bless all who gathered with thanksgiving; picnic moments; to the worship time in Church. Finally, there is the clearing of the table which we can also pray.

So What?

We eat at least two to three meals daily. We are exhorted to pray frequently too. One of the most regular times of prayer is the time just before we tuck in the next meal. Christians often pause for a moment; say a prayer of thanks; and then eat away. For some, these are the only times they pray. If there is a way to bring this regularity of eating and to inculcate a more prayerful life, why not?  In this book, we are exhorted not only to pray frequently but also to pray widely. Praying like a gourmet is essentially praying lavishly, unselfishly, and generously. Full of ideas that are simple and doable, after reading this book, it will not be surprising that readers would want to simply pause and put the prayers directly into practice. This is how powerful the book is.

Written with practice in mind, the book is concise in its theory and extensive in its applications. I love the colours used in the book which reflects a desire to bring colour into our praying. While the book is brief, it covers a lot of ground as far as learning how to pray is concerned. With many tips, pointers, and to the point challenges, readers will be happy to learn that there are more ways to pray. Hopefully, this book will help readers catch a glimpse at why the prayer warriors and spiritual leaders of the past are able to pray so constantly, so consistently, and so passionately. If there is a modern equivalent of Brother Lawrence's "Practice of the Presence of God," this book will be very up close and personal.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, July 17, 2015

"A Trip Around the Sun" (Mark Batterson and Richard Foth)

TITLE: A Trip around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime
AUTHOR: Mark Batterson and Richard Foth
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (208 pages).

In evangelism, one popular question that is used to trigger interest is: "If you were to die tomorrow, do you know where you'll be going?" In Christian Living, believers often ask themselves whether there is more to life than just doing the routine stuff day in and day out. In this book, authors Mark Batterson and Richard Foth ask the reflective question: "If you can re-live your life, how would you have lived?" In a book that spells adventure, risk-taking, and faith ventures, readers encounter page after page of living not just in anticipation of the eternal life promised by God in Jesus Christ, they learn to live out perspectives of eternity on earth to live freely as people as if there is an even more wonderful tomorrow. For Richard Foth (aka Dick), "loving in the hard times is the best kind of living." For pastor Mark Batterson, if he could relive his own life, he would "risk more, reflect more" and "die young at a ripe old age." While it is designed to excite readers to take the plunge of living in faith, it is also a personal revelation of the authors' reflections on life and their passions for life in Jesus.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament" (Stanley E. Porter)

TITLE: Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice
AUTHOR: Stanley E. Porter
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (448 pages).

[Note: This review is more technical and is intended for those who have some knowledge of Greek and linguistics]

There are many people who try to exegete the Greek text but lack the knowledge of the interpretive and linguistic issues behind the ancient language. While they cannot be faulted with the intent, many unfortunately err on the side of ignorance about basic linguistic issues. This is what the Professor of New Testament at McMaster University, a well-known proponent for the SFL (Systemic Functional Linguistic) approach toward linguistic analysis is concerned wit. Simply put, this SFL method affirms that the lexicon is part of the grammar and semantics are selected on the basis not only the morphological, the lexical, or the syntactical aspect, but also the discourse of the language and contexts concerned. In other words, many works focus on the technical aspect of the language but few look, or does not do enough onlooking at the overall bigger picture flow and contexts. Such a method is focused not only at the micro-details of the language but the macro picture of the linguistics used.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Unshaken" (Crawford W. Loritts Jr.)

TITLE: Unshaken: Real Faith in Our Faithful God
AUTHOR: Crawford W. Loritts Jr.
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2015, (144 pages).

The Bible tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. The author of this book asserts that without faith, there is no Christianity. In other words, it is impossible to live the Christian life. The reality among many Christians is not that they are without faith but they have allowed fear, discouragement, and frustrations to influence them and shake their foundations of faith. This is especially so when believers feel that their faith had let them down. Based on a series of sermons preached at Fellowship Bible Church, author and senior pastor Crawford Loritts Jr tells us that Bible describes faith more than it defines faith.  He uses two foundational perspectives to guide us along. First, faith is about letting God fulfill his will through us. Second, obedience is proportional to the level of faith.

This calls for "God confidence" which is from above. Such faith from above is sustained in God. It defies circumstances. It is anchored in Christ. It is strengthened by God alone.  Faith in God is dependent on God's unspeakable love, complete assurance, and security in Christ. Such assurance and security extends to the future. Based on the knowledge that God is steadfast and firm, we have everything to be hopeful and trusting of God. Fear and uncertainly may cast shadows of doubt but God's assurance shines a light to drive all shadows away. Loritts knows the barriers to embarking on such a journey of trust by showing us five questions we can ask ourselves.

Monday, July 13, 2015

"No Fear in Love" (Andy Braner)

TITLE: No Fear in Love: Loving Others the Way God Loves Us
AUTHOR: Andy Braner
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (192 pages).

The Bible says that there is no fear in love. What does that mean? In many societies, fear is a powerful and effective tool to make people follow the rules. It can also be used in relationships to keep people in check. Unfortunately, it has a lot more negative connotations and unhelpful consequences. Worse of all is the fear that grows inside us. In this book, author and founder of Ahava Ministries, a non-profit youth ministry that teaches a Christian worldview to young people, shows us that we can love fearlessly even in the midst of disagreements. Written in three sections, the first section deals with personal encounters with fear. The second section covers the author's encounter with specific worldviews. The third section works on the wider culture at large.

In Section One, we see a personal view of fear. When we are able to love people the way God loves them, we will no longer be afraid to touch on taboo topics like abortion, homosexuality, immigration, and many other controversial topics. All it takes is a change of perspective, something that Braner learns when he starts to deal with his inner fears. He realizes that his work is not the most important thing; trials are not the most terrible; natural events are not the most disastrous; but to know God inside and to hunger for God. From his forest fire encounter, he realizes how fear can often take over the person's life and corrupts everything. Just as one is fearful of failure, there is a corresponding fear in succeeding; For example, the fear of not able to sustain that success. Going back to the biblical model of holy fear, he shows us that when we put our human frailties and anxieties in its proper place, we are better able to live free and to live without fear. Through understanding, we bridge racial and religious gaps. Through places of common thought, we know that truth can be expressed in other ways, not just ours. Just because we cannot convince others does not make our beliefs wrong. In the same light, just because others can express their religions well does not make them right either. If we are in the search for truth, there is no fear in expecting truth to show up in whatever truth forms it takes. We can learn of Jesus on how fear can be dealt with as we share in the fellowship of suffering.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"A Wilderness of Mirrors" (Mark Meynell)

TITLE: A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World
AUTHOR: Mark Meynell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2015, (224 pages).

Why are there so many cynics in the world? Why are there so many depressing commentaries and reports shrouded in sarcasm?  While wanting to be real, have people gone overboard with their pessimism? Is reality so bad? This is what author and associate director of the European division of Langham Partnership, Mark Meynell seeks to find out. He does it by first listing down the many reasons why society is feeling so cynical about things happening in the world today. Calling it a legacy we inherited, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks being the "sickening turning point" from confidence to cynicism. We have been let down by leadership. Rulers keep committing the same errors of yesterday, focusing on grand strategies while the public perceive their own needs being ignored. The Afghan rebels that the CIA had previously armed have now become threats to American security. People feel manipulated when false evidence were used to justify the Iraq war. Leadership have also failed to keep pace with changing realities resulting in frustrations over failed promises and breaking infrastructures. We are also deluged with information, and more sinisterly, false information. There is rampant plagiarism, fabrication of news, and manipulation of public opinions. People become more suspicious instead of trusting. That is not all. Even the healthy industry are guilty of contributing to the declining level of trust. As medical care becomes more specialized, professionals and administrators find ways to push the responsibilities away, to structures, to legal phrases, to power positions. The challenge for medical, pastoral, and professional caregivers is set. What then shall we do?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Mormonism 101" (Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson)

TITLE: Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints
AUTHOR: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (336 pages).

Brigham Young University is owned by the LDS Church. The majority of the population in the state of Utah belongs to the LDS. It is the fourth largest "Christian denomination" in the United States. Popular persons who are also mormons include Donny and Marie Osmond, Stephanie Meyer, Katherine Heigl, John Beck, and many others. Not too long ago, Billy Graham was reported to have endorsed Mitt Romney's campaign to be President of the United States. Romney is a Mormon. Following the wide political coverage, there were subsequent confusion among Christians on whether Mormonism and Christianity have more similarities than differences. Is Billy Graham's endorsement of Romney a statement of similarity? Or is there more than meets the eye? When Mormons tell evangelicals that they share the same Christian faith, what do they actually mean? How can evangelicals respond to the truth claims of LDS adherents?

First published in 2000, this book has been revised and expanded based on the authors' combined total of 70 years experience studying the Mormon religion. Their method is to take the chief claims of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and to subject them to tests and scrutiny of the Bible. Only through that can one start to make a determination on whether Mormonism is more Christian, less, or not at all. After making some disclaimers that the book is not against Mormon people but against some of the claims of Mormonism, the authors affirm their love and respectfulness to people holding LDS beliefs. Each chapter can stand on its own. The authors' concerns are:
  • Testing: We need to be equipped to test everything we hear or see
  • Authority: Establish the basis of authority
  • Truth: Discern the truth from the rest
  • Contrast: Provide a fair comparison and contrast

Monday, July 6, 2015

"Marriage on the Mend" (Clint and Penny A. Bragg)

TITLE: Marriage on the Mend: Healing Your Relationship After Crisis, Separation, or Divorce
AUTHOR: Clint and Penny A. Bragg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (248 pages).

There is no perfect relationship on this earth. That applies especially to marriages, where divorces, separation, and marital breakdowns are increasingly on the rise. Generally, no one enters a marriage thinking that it will break down. What about those marriages that had already broken down? Is there hope after a painful divorce? Can a marriage in crisis ever be rescued? Are "irreconcilable differences" really that irreconcilable? These questions are answered with a powerful affirmative by marriage missionaries, Clint and Penny Bragg, who themselves were both divorced for eleven years. Their conviction is spelled out right at the beginning: "Every broken marriage has the hope of becoming a saved marriage." That is because God can reconcile marriages, no matter how painful and difficult it may be. Using their own divorce-marriage-recovery as a testimony, Clint and Penny have gone on to launch Inverse Ministries, based in Ormond Beach, Florida. It all began with one letter.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Forty Questions about Baptism and the Lord's Supper" (John S. Hammett)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord's Supper (40 Questions & Answers Series)
AUTHOR: John S. Hammett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (336 pages).

From time to time, even the most fundamental aspects of our liturgies may be questioned, especially the rituals that we practice regularly. While the Roman Catholic Church and many Eastern Orthodox churches maintain seven sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders), Martin Luther led the Protestants by keeping only three (Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance). Many evangelicals nowadays keep only two of them, namely the Baptism and the Eucharist, where the latter is often called the Lord's Supper. Why is there a need to talk about the basics of these two basic sacraments? That is because even when various denominations and groups profess to celebrate these two sacraments, what they represent and how they are conducted can be very different theologically and practically. There is no question about their importance and relevance to the Church. The key concern is about the different ways of interpretation and what they mean to to various Christian groups. Even the use of the terms are different. Some groups (like the Baptists) prefer to use "ordinances" while others (RCC, and many Reformed churches) stick to "sacraments." These differences are only the beginning. There are other more profound questions that surround the general views, the denominational views, the theological views, and the practical aspects.

How is this book unique? The authors point out four features. First, unlike many books, this book treats not just one but both sacraments: Baptism and Communion. This means that the two most important sacraments of evangelical churches are described in one book, making it a convenient two-in-one volume resource. Second, there is an expanded coverage of issues pertaining to both the Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Many books drill down on infant baptism and the nature of Christ's presence respectively. This book discusses a lot more. For Baptism, readers learn about the historical development, the difference between Spirit and water baptism, the reasons why Jesus was baptized, the relationship between John's baptism and Jesus' baptism, and of course, infant baptism. For the Eucharist, we learn about the different terms used, the denominational differences, the origins, the reasons for celebrating, and the meaning and practice of the Lord's Supper. Third, the book covers several important practical issues like:
  • When should a child be baptized?
  • Thinking about baptism and church divisions
  • Modes of baptism
  • Frequency of Lord's Supper
  • What should or should not be included in the Eucharist liturgy
  • How worship can be improved with the Eucharist?
  • and others...

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Boundless" (Bryan Bishop)

TITLE: Boundless: What Global Expressions of Faith Teach Us about Following Jesus
AUTHOR: Bryan Bishop
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (240 pages).

It is no secret that the Church in the West is losing her appeal. Statistics year on year show a general decline in Church attendance, especially among the young. Many long time Church members are disillusioned and divided by many factions, with one of the most polarizing being the gay marriage and ordination of gay bishops and ministers. Church people in America are not having a good time. If there is any one group needing a "faith-lift," it would be the Western Church at large. What if this bout of encouragement comes from fresh believers outside of the West? What if excitement about the faith comes not from within generations of Church goers but from people who were transformed from their non-Christian religions and backgrounds? What about God using amazing ways to touch people from all over the world in the most challenging situations? This book shows us that hope may very well be visible out there. While religions in the West are often perceived negatively, it is not that true in other parts of the world. Many believers in richer societies are preoccupied with first world problems. It takes an encounter with people struggling with real issues that bring a whole new perspective about faith and the cost of following Jesus. Using the C1-C6 (C-Scale Spectrum) first developed by John Travis, author Bryan Bishop hopes to shake up the complacency of Western believers by letting the testimonies of people from other cultures touch their hearts. In brief, the C-Spectrum are: