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Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Christian Formation in Online Education" (Joanne J. Jung)

TITLE: Character Formation in Online Education: A Guide for Instructors, Administrators, and Accrediting Agencies
AUTHOR: Joanne J. Jung
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2015, (144 pages).

Is it really possible to have Christian Formation happening in online education? If it is, how do we go about doing that? With firm conviction, author Joanne Jung believes it is entirely possible and doable. Jung teaches at Biola University as an Associate Professor in the Biblical and Theological Studies department. With a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary, she is particularly interested into spiritual formation and Puritan piety. Through this book, she extends this interest into the online arena. Other than the usual "face to face is better" argument, Jung puts forth other compelling arguments for an online involvement.
  • It allows students who needed time to process to come back to the teacher with questions. Students need not be restricted during the limited class time.
  • It increases participation level above the typical 15%
  • It gives teachers an additional resource for teaching, to use online resources to teach and to maximize face to face opportunities for teacher-student interactions
  • It enables students to get to know their teachers beyond the classroom setting.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Introducing World Religions" (Charles E. Farhadian)

TITLE: Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement
AUTHOR: Charles E. Farhadian
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (624 pages).

What is religion? What is the purpose of religion? Can we truly understand religion or study religion without being a religious adherents of the various faiths? While we may not fully comprehend the spectrum of understanding and experience of each religion, we do have a way to learn to appreciate the various religions for who they are by establishing some standards of learning and understanding. This introductory text gives us the tools to do exactly that without having to commit ourselves to any one faith. At the same time, we must be aware of where we stand, otherwise we can be easily swayed by all kinds of influences to the point that we lose our own bearings. That is why the author of this text has declared his own position and faith. At the same time, he honours the faith traditions of the various religions being studied by faithfully using the legitimate tools of learning from previous teachers, philosophers, academics, theologians, practitioners, and others. We live in a religious world and  religions form a core context in society, regardless of individual beliefs. In other words, whether we are secular, atheist, religious, or agnostic, religions are here to stay. The difference lies in the extent of influence in whatever society we are in.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Tough Questions About God and His Actions in the Old Testament" (Walter C. Kaiser Jr.)

TITLE: Tough Questions About God and His Actions in the Old Testament
AUTHOR: Walter C. Kaiser Jr
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (176 pages).

Not many people like the Old Testament especially when compared with the New Testament. They talk about the violence in the book of Joshua. They mention the wars that God had instigated. How do we explain the amount of killing and bloodshed sanctioned by God? They are stumped by acts of deception and polygamy happening. They wonder whether the God of the Old Testament is the same as the New Testament. They even accuse the Bible of being not only patriarchal but devalues the role of women. What kind of freedom does the Bible espouses? These tough questions are put to one of the most recognized and renown professors of Old Testament, and former President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Dr Walter C. Kaiser Jr. In ten chapters, Kaiser covers major "tough questions" that seem to impress on people that the New Testament is to be preferred over the Old Testament. Based on their uneasiness over Old Testament teachings that appear to them as so out-of-date, so harsh, and so "negative," they have often chosen a few approaches. The Early Church had people like Marcion who puts the New Testament over and above the Old. Despite Paul's exhortation in 2 Tim 3:16, Eusebius of Caesarea created a separation of testaments into the "Old and New" that we have today. The 19th Century theologian, G.L. Bauer aimed to distinguish the Old and New Testament on the basis of "two different inspirations." When modern sensitivities are rudely irritated, some contemporary interpreters have simply divided the two testaments into the heretical OT as representing the law while the NT representing grace. In this book, what Kaiser is saying is that there is no need to separate the two, as long as we honestly address the concerns of the modern mind and the reality of God's character in both testaments. He warns us:

"To go first to the New Testament interpretation as the source for the original and final meaning of an Old Testament text, reading that alleged New Testament meaning back into the Old Testament, is methodologically flawed and wrong-headed."

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Words That Heal" (Michael Ross and Brian Doyle)

TITLE: Words That Heal
AUTHOR: Michael Ross and Brian Doyle
PUBLISHER: Ulrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2015, (192 pages).

The tongue is one of the most powerful organs in a human being. Words can hurt, words can also heal. Words can be cruel. Words can also be loving. Realizing the way that words can affect our Christian witness, the Bible contains lots of reminders and wisdom about how we can use our tongues. Inspired by James 3:1-12, this book contains 40 stories covering four major segments of society: Church, Workplace, Family, and Community. Each story brings out the best of what we can do with our words. Through stories, readers enter into the journey of healing. Through steps, readers learn of practical ways to apply the biblical teachings. Through words for growth, readers cultivate new creative ways by journaling and personalizing the content for practical living.

Part One deals with "Healing words for the Church." This may be surprising to some of us who may presume that Church people are mostly loving and nice. Yet, it is precisely in the Church where biblical ideals often fall flat when human realities appear. Church has been accused of hypocrisy, worldliness, fake, false theologies, legalism, uncaring or unkindness, and so on. For some, Jesus has indeed left the Church building. Readers learn about storing up healing words; how to be Church; how to affirm people; how to build the body of Christ; to be honest; to create a safe harbour; to be Christlike in our words; to respond appropriately to harsh and unkind words.

Part Two takes us to the workplace reminding us that we are God's ministers even when we work outside of the Church. With a right attitude, we can be a "cubicle missionary."  We learn about loving the unlovely. Speaking words of love is not the only way. Holding the tongue applies as well. Learn when to speak up and when to shut up. It also includes listening and engaging in meaningful conversations. The authors shares ten basic tips for workplace evangelism using words creatively, carefully, and constructively.

Part Three comes to the family. For parents, there are tips on slowing down, relaxation, being patient with kids, learning how to resolve conflicts, and letting words flow forth from a heart of integrity. Words are powerful enough to make or break family ties. Kids can be powerfully moved and encouraged with the right words. Marriages can also flourish with lots of encouragement.

Part Four covers the "Healing Words for the Community." Ordinary words can make extraordinary impact. Words play a big part in love in action. Loving words can erase the hate in relationships. It can be used in serving one another in the community.

While initially excited about the prospects of reading 40 powerful stories of how words can heal, I was left disappointed that the book is more about steps and methods rather than actual stories themselves. The actual stories are not fully developed and appear more as short anecdotes rather than full "chicken soup" style stories. For that reason, I was left feeling a little misled by the subtitle of the book. Having said that, this book tries to provide a little bit of everything for the Church, workplace, family, and the community. It is essentially saying that words occupy a huge chunk of our lives and the four arenas described are only the starting points for application. Everywhere we go, if we can apply the principles to the four main areas listed, we should be able to do the same for the rest of our lives.

Michael Ross is former editor of BREAKAWAY, a national magazine for teen guys while Brian Doyle is a Dutch translator who lives in Belgium.

Readers will need to expect to do some work and thinking on their own too as they fill up the blanks and spaces allocated for personal journaling. In this way, the book is 80% reading, and about 20% personal writing. This book is average and if you are tight on finances, I would not recommend buying this.

Rating: 3.25 stars of 5.


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

Friday, October 23, 2015

"The Original Jesus" (Daniel Darling)

TITLE: The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is
AUTHOR: Daniel Darling
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (160 pages).

The Christianity today is no longer the same as the Christianity in the early years. In fact, if the apostle Peter were to arrive on earth right now, he would be appalled by how Christianity had been modified by pop culture. Jesus has become a program in many churches; a poster boy in banners; a "Guru Jesus, Braveheart Jesus, Dr Phil Jesus, Free-Range Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, " and used as a swear word in many Hollywood films. The troubling fact of modern Christianity is this: The world exerts a far bigger influence on Christians today than never before. Author Daniel Darling believes that we need to peel away the myths of our postmodern world to reveal the "original Jesus." He tackles ten such myths with wit and humour without sacrificing the seriousness of the message. This he proves by beginning with D.A. Carson's quote: "The Bible doesn't begin with epistemology, but with theology." It is a loaded statement that says that in the beginning is God, purely, simply, and absolutely divine. The reason why we are not seeing God for who He actually is can be traced back to the many erroneous representations humans have placed upon Jesus.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"The Year Without Purchase" (Scott Dannemiller)

TITLE: The Year without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting
AUTHOR: Scott Dannemiller
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (200 pages).

Can anyone survive without having to buy stuff? The symbols of capitalism are everywhere. Every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and every end of the year, we have the mad rush to stock up on goods and gifts. The parking lots would be packed. Shoppers would be frazzled trying to get the best deals with the limited funds. Many go on credit that could haunt them for the most part of next year. As people shop until they drop, as they let their fingers do more online shopping, inevitably, something else had to give. One of such is the decreasing level of quality relationships. By allowing themselves to become prey to an endless quest for stuff and more stuff, they fail to connect more with their loved ones and friends. We all know the common cliche, that a house is not necessarily a home, especially if our loved ones seem like strangers. Writer, blogger, and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church USA, Scott Dannemiller and his family tried for one year to live counter-culturally and resist the temptations of purchasing. He diagnoses the problem of modern America as one that has become "preoccupied with money." Through the book, he hopes to share with the rest of his countrymen and readers beyond that money and purchases do not necessarily make the world go round. Simply put, the world is becoming more transactional and less conversational. Must one become a cross-cultural missionary outside one's home country in order to connect more with people? After a self-deprecating introduction, the author plunges into his family's quest to stop the mad shopping craze so that they can start to connect with one another, and with people they meet each day.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Gaining by Losing" (J.D. Greear)

TITLE: Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send
AUTHOR: J.D. Greear
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (256 pages).

How is it possible to gain when we are losing? Can one really be profitable to give everything away? It just does not make normal sense. Yet, for author and pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, this is exactly what the Church needs. In the foreword, Larry Osborne agrees as he goes back to the game of checkers called "Giveaway Checkers" where the winner will be the one who had given away all of his checkers. Osborne also points out three key weaknesses in existing churches.
  1. Many churches have a "truncated gospel" that tends to be more head knowledge than heart.
  2. There is a long history of "clergy-centered ministry" that raises such a high bar for missionaries to be that many feel they do not make the cut.
  3. There is "spiritual myopia" among churches that see growth in terms of how many people they pack into their churches instead of how many people they send out.
With this intriguing foreword, Greear begins with his counter-cultural approach to what it means to be Church. It is like the kernel of wheat in John 12:24 that falls on the ground and dies so that many seeds can be produced. He reminds me of one quip I have heard from Mike Stachura: "The mark of a great Church is not its seating capacity but its sending capacity." This applies what Jesus has taught all along in Mark 8:36 that questions us about what good will it be for a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul. Why not give of oneself to the world and save many souls? Giving of oneself is the mark of a healthy Church. For God is a sending God who had sent prophets, priests, kings, servants, and Jesus to bring us good news. If we want to be Christlike, we must take mission very seriously and not delegate it only to a small group of people called the "Missions Committee." The biblical missions committee is the whole Church.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Losing Our Religion" (Christel Manning)

TITLE: Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children (Secular Studies)
AUTHOR: Christel Manning
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: New York University Press, 2015, (256 pages).

What is Christmas all about? Is there anything religious about Santa Claus? Why does Santa want to make people happy?  These questions may be easily answered by a church-goer but when it comes to an unaffiliated parent who is more secular than religious, how can one answer such questions intelligibly to a young child? According to recent polls on church attendance by religious people in North America, the single fastest growing group are those who formerly express belief but no longer practice their religion. Many parents who had the benefit of a religious training no longer attends churches, and as a result, their children do not experience the same religious background as them. How then are modern children being raised? What does it mean to the next generation growing up in a secular, non-religious, and atheistic culture? Do parents do any spiritual education at all? What will they say when their children ask them about God, and spiritual matters? These questions and more are dealt with in this fascinating study about people who have "lost" their religion and are trying to make sense of how they can raise their children in a whole new secular way.

With a study grant from Sacred Heart University, Christel Manning spends extended periods of time interviewing and researching the lifestyles of American "Nones" parents from 23-55 (ie, No religions in particular), who comprise one-third of those under 30 years of age. She discovers that the environment has no clear cut separation of religious and the secular, but worldviews frequently are combinations of the two.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Youth Ministry in the 21st Century" (Editor Chap Clark)

TITLE: Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five Views (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Fernando Arzola, Chap Clark, Brain Cosby, Ron Hunter, Greg Stier
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (204 pages).

Five contributors, five views, five counter-responses per view, but only one shared concern: How to reach out to the youths of the 21st Century better and more effectively? Inspired by a 2001 book published under the title "Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church," the intent is to update the views as the world becomes more complex. Instead of going forth to present more practical models, there is a shift toward a firmer footing on theological considerations. Instead of simply the "what" and the "how" of doing youth ministry, the view is about the "why" and "where" of application. Instead of having young people coming into our churches, we have an era where young people are leaving churches in droves. We have the rise of the Nones. There are new challenges that demand a good responses. Thankfully, we have five in one book. The five academics, practitioners, and authors agree about the need for "theological, psychosocial, and ecological grounding" for the work of youth ministry. Greg Stier (Gospel Advancing View) is founder and president of Dare 2 Share ministry which focuses on equipping youths to do evangelism, out of which discipleship would flow. Fernando Arzola (Ecclesial View) as Associate Professor of religion at Nyack College sees formal teaching as the key strategy for nurture and discipleship of youths. Ron Hunter (Family Focused View) is director of Randall house as well as the Director of the D6 Conference. Brain Cosby (Reformed Youth View) is Lead Pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church and visiting professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. General editor, Chap Clark (Adoption Model) is Professor and Chair of the youth, family, and culture department at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Monday, October 12, 2015

"The Pastor Theologian" (Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson)

TITLE: The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision
AUTHOR: Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (192 pages).

One of the biggest challenges between the academy and churches lies with expectations. The former thrives in an intellectually challenging environment while the latter tends to be focused on most things practical, managerial, logistical, and of course, pastoral. This gives rise to a whole set of difficulty when churches try to recruit pastors and when theological school graduates try to find a place to serve in churches. What about something in-between? What about an expectation that elevates the best of both worlds and minimizes the worst of both? It would be an ideal combination. According to authors Hiestand and Wilson, pastor-theologians fit the bill. In fact, arguing from historical trends, they claim that the pastors of yesterday are very much theologically astute and unashamedly scholarly. The need is urgent as our modern era seems to have a "theologically anemic" church and an "ecclesially anemic" theology. Pastors must not only be equipped but encouraged to pursue the theological vocation vigorously. The key problem is a culture that splits the theologian from the pastoral making it incomprehensible for both to exist in any one person. Even the renowned British theologian, NT Wright had to quit his job as "senior pastor" so that he can pursue his gifts in theological education and as a scholar. Wright confesses after serving 6 years as a pastor: "But my continuing vocation to be a writer, teacher and broadcaster, for the benefit (I hope) of the wider world and church, has been increasingly difficult to combine with the complex demands and duties of a diocesan bishop. I am very sad about this, but the choice has become increasingly clear." It tells of how hard it is even for one of the best theologians in the world to be a pastor of a regular Church. If it is hard for Wright, what about the rest of us?

Friday, October 9, 2015

"Where Jesus Prayed" (Danielle Shroyer)

TITLE: Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminating the Lord's Prayer in the Holy Land
AUTHOR: Danielle Shroyer
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (168 pages).

Many Christians know the Lord's Prayer. Many also recite it by heart each Sunday during Church services. What is so special about this prayer? Is there a context that can reveal the depths of the prayer? How did the early disciples anticipate the prayer? What about the environment where Jesus first taught the disciples how to pray? Believing that the environment itself presents profound opportunities to re-discover the truths and depths of the Lord's Prayer, author and pastor Danielle Shroyer took a 27 hour flight from Dallas to Jerusalem, spent two weeks in the Holy Land, by walking where Jesus walked, and prayed where Jesus prayed. Apart from a profound renewal of the spirit and the refreshment of the soul, there are plenty of revelations about the Lord's Prayer. So amazing was her experience that while she did not intend to write anything like this before the journey, after the journey, the whole experience was so overwhelming that she simply had to write this book, to showcase the amazing pilgrimage of faith, and her interactions with fellow pilgrims. Above all, it is a book that describes how she personally enjoyed God.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"NIV Zondervan Study Bible" (w Commentary by D.A. Carson, et al)

TITLE: NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover, Full Color, Free Digital: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message
AUTHOR: Bible Translated by NIV Translation Team with D.A. Carson as General Editor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (2912 pages).

This is the latest Zondervan study Bible based on the NIV translation. With Dr D.A Carson as the general editor, more than 60 contributors from the evangelical world have come together to create a study Bible packed with study tools, maps, notes, color diagrams, and commentaries centered on a biblical theology. The 28 articles are written by well known persons such as Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Douglas Moo, Andrew David Nasalli,  Moses Silva, etc. Commentaries are drawn from experts such as TD Alexander, Craig L. Blomberg,  Richard S. Hess, Tremper Longman III, Mark Strauss, Douglas K. Stuart, Robert W. Yarbrough, alongside Regent College professors, Rikk E. Watts, V. Philips Long, and Bruce K. Waltke. With nearly 3000 pages of commentaries, notes, maps, pictures, photos, introductory material, and extensive footnotes, every page is filled with information for the avid student to ponder and to learn. Just dealing with what is printed in front of us is enough to make us forget the things that are not there.

Monday, October 5, 2015

"A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament" (Philip Wesley Comfort)

TITLE: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament
AUTHOR: Philip Wesley Comfort
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (416 pages).

We have commentaries available for every book of the Old and New Testament. From the verse-by-verse commentaries to the exegetical commentaries, most of these resources focus on the meaning of the texts, and how these speak to the modern day person. They are helpful in showing us the background and the ancient contexts. This commentary takes a different approach. It describes the manuscripts and how we can make sense of the sources and the original writings. All of these (if not most) are based on an "eclectic method" where various manuscripts are selected based on compilation of a main text with contributions form other collections. This particular volume sticks with the "actual manuscripts" which were all second and third century manuscripts, which is as ancient as anyone could get. According to Philip Wesley Comfort, a lifelong student of the Ancient Near East with special interest in the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint, his commentary is based on "The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"The Relevance of Religion" (John Danforth)

TITLE: The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics
AUTHOR: John Danforth
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Random House, (288 pages).

Is absolute separation of Church and State truly possible? If yes, does that mean politics are only for secularists, atheists, and people who willingly suppress their religious beliefs before entering the political arena? If no, how can religion be relevant in the complicated arena of politics? Former United States Senator, John Danforth looks back on his years of political experience and believes that religion and politics can do better by "balancing power, not practicing sacrificial love." In order words, religion has an important role to play in this broken world of politics and power. The task for people of faith to work with government becomes more urgent as the nation becomes gridlock with infighting, policy shifts, national debt, immigration complexities, and so on. Many political leaders seem stuck with so much to do and lack the knowledge and will of what to do about it. According to Danforth, here is where people of faith can do their part in helping to fix what is broken. The author also notes that people of faith, particularly Christians need to recognize that God is sovereign over all, including politics; Love is to be central in our living; and working together and connecting with one another are universal traits of a good and democratic society. That is why he urges people of faith to be actively engaged in all spheres of life, even politics. Not politicizing religion, but living as responsible citizens who help to shape societal values through genuine care for the welfare of the nation. Let me summarize the book in six key points.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense" (C. Stephen Evans)

TITLE: Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: C. Stephen Evans
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (160 pages).

Is Christianity intellectually impoverished? Are the natural signs we see evidence of the existence of God or is "God" a convenient catch all description of the systems or mysteries of this world? What can we make of the age-old Problem of Evil question? Can we trust God even when we do not understand certain mysteries of life? How genuine is divine revelation?

Despite the proliferation of books and resources that address the criticisms, there are still plenty of accusations that Christianity is intellectually baseless. One of the most vocal groups recently who continue to attack Christians are the New Atheists. Responding to these New Atheism, Professor C. Stephen Evans delivered three lectures called the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College back in October 2012. Since then, he has expanded his content and has made available to the general public via this book, which is part of a series of books to help Christians respond to contemporary challenges with well-thought out and reasoned answers. Evans begins with a chapter on who the New Atheists were and what they say.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate" (John J. Thompson)

TITLE: Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World
AUTHOR: John J. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (272 pages).

Are we content to feed on pre-packaged food? What about instant religion or ready-made faith? Probably, if you are like me, you would be giving such things a pass. You would prefer something more natural, more organic, deeper authenticity, and more carefully crafted work or lovingly prepared food. A veteran in the music world, John Thompson is Creative Director at Capitol CMG Publishing who is a music critic, publisher, manager of gospel songwriters, band member at a pub, as well as a pastor of Warehouse Church in Aurora, Illinois. He blogs at www.ThinkChristian.net and lives in East Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and four children.

We are living in a "undernourished and overfed" culture. In the words of John Thompson, our proclamation of the gospel has lost its "twang." The pre-packaged religion do not cut it. Mass-produced spirituality don't satisfy. Neither is canned types of faith. Maybe, if we can start all over and to go back to the basics of life instead of gorging on copious amounts of manufactured religious stuff. Maybe, as we retreat to the pace of "hand-made faith" or taking things more naturally and slowly, we can re-discover the twang that we all need so desperately. Thus begins a journey of spiritual search for meaning and significance in this interestingly titled book. In this book, Thompson goes all the way back to his younger years, living with an abusive father. After an amazing conversion, the father even became a pastor of a small church. Unfortunately, the changes wear off quickly and soon the abuses came back and the family had to flee. As a Generation Xer, Thompson is all too familiar with all things consumerism, pop culture, and technology. Passionate with all things Jesus, by a tender age of 15, Thompson was ready to rock the world with music, and to create a "culturally relevant community." Not only that, he is ready to go back to the roots of it all, including roasting his own coffee beans. One of his driving themes is his belief about life and people.