About This Blog

Thursday, March 31, 2016

"The Future of Our Faith" (Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe)

TITLE: The Future of Our Faith: An Intergenerational Conversation on Critical Issues Facing the Church
AUTHOR: Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (240 pages).

We have all heard of the generation gap. Between the old and the young, there are differences in opinion, perspectives, and ideas. Put them altogether under one roof and we are in for some inter-generational challenges on many different issues. Whether it is about old, hanging on to traditional and proven ideas, or about the young, eager to try new methods and innovative projects, in order to help all get along, there need to be a wider sphere of understanding of each other. Every generation will have their own set of challenges. Each generation will have lessons to be shared with the others. Two of the best things that two generations can do for each other are to educate each other graciously and to engage each other constructively. In this book, we see nine different scenarios of of engagement and honest sharing of opinions from a Baby-Boomer generation and a Millennial. Billed as an inter-generational dialogue on eight critical issues, authors Ronald Sider and Ben Lowe share the same common faith and passion for the Church. The issues may be important but it is the learning of how each generation approach the same issue that is even more important. With greater understanding comes lesser tensions. With greater willingness to learn from each other means sharing resources so as to lay the groundwork for blessing the generations of the future.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Idols of the Heart" (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

TITLE: Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone, Revised and Updated
AUTHOR: Elyse Fitzpatrick
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, PA: P & R Publishing, 2016, (240 pages).

We all have idols, whether we are aware of it or not. Scripture has made it very clear about the dangers of idolatry. The Old Testament warns Israel and the people of God through the Ten Commandments and the many prophetic warnings. The New Testament reiterates the need for believers to keep ourselves from idols. Reformers such as John Calvin had said that the human heart is essentially an "idol making factory." The issue has also led many modern authors to repeat the warning for our generation. Tim Keller did it through "Counterfeit Gods." Kyle Idleman uses "Gods at War" to warn us about those gods that battle against us. Popular pastor Pete Wilson reminds us that idols mainly offer "Empty Promises." Ted and Kristin Kluck exposes the "Household Gods" in our families.  In this book, author and conference speaker, Elyse Fitzpatrick chimes in with an updated edition to repeat the same warnings, so that we can learn to long for God alone. At the heart of her book is this: What does it take to long for God and God alone?

Her Answer: Identify the idols of our heart and to make sure they do not usurp God.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Living Forward" (Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy)

TITLE: Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want
AUTHOR: Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (208 pages).

The 19th Century Danish philosopher once said: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." This book is about life planning which is essentially about the why and how of living forward. Written by two experienced lifers who had gone through what it means to work like a dog, to drift along in the busyness of life, and to realize the greater importance of re-aligning oneself according to the compass of life, this book summarizes for us a ten-step process to live a meaningful and intentional life. After several pages of endorsements by many industrial leaders and top professionals, the authors begin the book with J.P. Morgan's wise quip: "The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you're not going to stay where you are." Wise words indeed. This book follows through by moving forward to develop an actual plan for ourselves. Michael Hyatt is former chairman and CEO of Thomas-Nelson publishers. A well-established blogger with a popular website, Hyatt is passionate about personal development, leadership, productivity, platform, and all things publishing. He is also author of Platform and Get Published. His friend Daniel Harkavy is a personal coaching professional who founded Building Champions, where is is CEO and executive coach.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Serving a Movement" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Serving a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Center Church)
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (288 pages).

[This book is extracted from Part Three of Center Church and expanded with contributions by Tim Chester, Daniel Montgomery, Mike Cosper, and Alan Hirsch]

In 2012, popular preacher and prolific author, Tim Keller published a book about growing Christ-centered churches in cities, entitled, "Center Church." It is written to help church leaders in urban cities to develop a theological vision to enable their churches to be gospel-centered. Since then, Center Church has been updated and re-published into three smaller books. They are:

1) Shaped by the Gospel
2) Loving the City
3) Serving a Movement

"Serving a Movement" is the third abridged edition from that book with some additional material from various respondents. It focuses on "movement" which is about missional communities; how to integrate and connect people to the city; and a gospel ecosystem for the Church to effectively serve. Containing parts six, seven, and eight of Center Church, it is supplemented by several respondents, namely, Tim Chester, Daniel Montgomery, Mike Cosper, and Alan Hirsch. As I have previously reviewed Center Church, for this book, I will look at the additional material such as the reflections and responses.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Four Views on Hell" (Preston Sprinkle, Denny Burk, John G. Stackhouse Jr., Robin Perry, and Jerry Walls)

TITLE: Four Views on Hell: Second Edition (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Preston Sprinkle, Denny Burk, John G. Stackhouse Jr., Robin Perry, and Jerry Walls
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (224 pages).

The topic of hell and eternal damnation has been a controversial topic recently. Since Rob Bell's Love Wins, which is essentially a book that not only rejects the existence of eternal hell but advocates the position of universalism, many Christians are caught in a bind about what exactly does the Bible teach about hell. A number of outspoke critics railed against Bell. A popular Christian pastor, Francis Chan was so upset about Bell's universalist approach that he responded with Erasing Hell. The chief editor of ChristianityToday publication wrote God Wins to counter Bell's ideas. While these books appeal at a popular readers' level, there are some people who would like a more in-depth treatment of the topic of hell, damnation, and eternal suffering. Enters this book which is part of Zondervan's Counterpoints series. Four different perspectives are provided not simply for readers to pick-and-choose but to be understood and to learn from. If not everybody have the whole truth, surely, together, we can all draw a bigger picture that we can learn from. Each view comes with three responses. The main purpose of this book is to lay out the different views of hell for the purpose of instruction and illumination, so that there will be bridges of understanding of all sides. This book is not new. The first edition was published in 1996 with the literal view (John F. Walvoord), the metaphorical view (William Crockett), the conditional view (Clark H. Pinnock), and the purgatorial view (Zachary J. Hayes). This second edition has been updated with four new contributors.

Friday, March 25, 2016

"God For Us" (Greg Pennoyer and others)

TITLE: God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter (Reader's Edition)
AUTHOR: Greg Pennoyer and others
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2014, (192 pages).

If Christmas is about "God with us," Lent is about "God for us," so begins this reflective journey and companion volume to Advent. Two reasons are given as to why Lent is harder to grasp. Firstly, Lent is not as joyful as the Christmas season of singing and celebration. Secondly, Lent is mixed with self-denial, sadness, and suddenly that Easter joy. Challenged by these, Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe bring together a host of writings from spiritual writers such as Ronald Rolheiser, Beth Bevis, Richard Rohr, Lauren Winner, Scott Cairns, James Schaap, Luci Shaw, and Kathleen Norris.

Ron Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and President of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, sees Lent as a paradox expressed via a tension between anticipation and fulfillment. He sees the seasons of play as being sweeter when there are seasons of work. In the same way, Lent is both fasting and feasting. Following this, Beth Davis, program coordinator of Seattle Pacific University, looks at the feast and fasts of Lent, showing us that Lent is a way in which Christians can mindfully and spiritually prepare themselves for the glory and fulfillment of Easter. Each week, she responds to the contributions of each writer by describing the history of the feasts, Shrove Tuesdays, Ash Wednesdays, Lent Sundays, the Holy Week, and Easter. These provide us the background as each of these Lenten remembrance events.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Microaggressions in Ministry" (Cody J. Sanders and Angela Yarber)

TITLE: Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church
AUTHOR: Cody J. Sanders and Angela Yarber
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (172 pages).

Have you ever been to a place where people seemed to welcome you on the outside but leave you feeling left out on the inside? Whether you are ethnically different from the community, the only girl in a male-dominated office, or come from a religiously or sexually different background, there are small hints that one is not as welcomed as one hoped to be. Feeling welcome and yet feeling left out is a sign of some forms of microaggression at play. The authors call them "microaggressions" or violence in a hidden way. Cody Sanders is a Pastor-Theologian who serves as a pastor at Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Harvard Square. Calling himself a "queer," Sanders has previously written books such as "Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow" and "Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth." The reason for writing this book stems from his self-awareness of being a man, white, cisgender, able-bodied, and fully conscious of being privileged in some way through these. He desires to empathize from the other side. Angela Yarber is a scholar, dancer, artist, and is currently serving as a consultant with local churches and denominational bodies. Active in the arts and LGBTQ inclusiveness events, she has teamed up with Sanders to write this book both from them convictions as well as their personal experiences to challenge the threats of microaggressions. Calling herself a "queer woman," she protests against discriminations and bigotry by aligning herself with churches that are "progressive," "open-minded," and those that boldly "affirm women." Her desire to write this book was inspired by a chapter of Derald Wing Sue's "Microaggressions in Everyday Life."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty" (Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino)

TITLE: Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics
AUTHOR: Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, (188 pages).

Over twenty years ago, a group of Evangelicals and Catholics have come together to dialogue on the common matters of faith. Founded by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus in 1994, the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) produced nine statements of faith. The key aim is to affirm that while they do have serious differences in belief, they too have lots of common ground. Together, they believe that:
  • They have more in common than differences
  • They desire a deepening understanding of each other
  • They want to demonstrate what it means to tolerate differences
  • They want to re-examine at why certain issues are so difficult to resolve
  • They want to champion religious freedom through mature dialogue
  • They can encourage deeper theological discussions so that both parties can learn from one another.
  • They can engage the culture, society, political, and social strata.
In this book, three themes form the basis of dialogue:
  1. The content of the Christian faith
  2. The place of Scripture and Tradition
  3. Ecclesial Reform

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"After the Boxes are Unpacked" (Susan Miller)

TITLE: After the Boxes Are Unpacked
AUTHOR: Susan Miller
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2016, (272 pages).

Moving is very much a part of our lives. Whether we are children of missionaries or working adults, there are many different reasons why we move. People move when they have a new job, a new house, or a new baby. People also move when they need to be closer to their aging parents, or other concerns. Apart from the stress of having to finalize details of our new postings, jobs, or changes in a family situation, there are the logistics to contend with. There is the budget to be careful of. There is the many decisions to be made about what to pack, what to give away, and what to discard. According to the US Census Bureau, over 35.9 million people move each year, among which are 18.3 million women. The author is an experienced "mover," having relocated at least 14 times in her life, and being uprooted from her comfort zones frequently. She was married for 45 years to her husband before his passing in 2009.  Called "America's Moving Coach," Susan Miller has founded an organization called "Just Moved Ministry" to help uprooted women deal with the stresses of moving. First published in 1995, this book is into its 21st printing which speaks of the relevance and help that the book has offered to many people. In this updated edition, Miller includes many of her personal reflections about how life had been after Bill. She has a lot more future-oriented language which sums up her longing to be together with her loved ones for eternity. The three emotional phases for readers on the move are:

  1. Let Go
  2. Start Over
  3. Move Forward 

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Loving the City" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Loving the City: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Center Church)
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (288 pages).

[This book is extracted from Part Two of Center Church and expanded with contributions by Daniel Strange, Gabriel Salguero, and Andy Crouch]

In 2012, popular preacher and prolific author, Tim Keller published a book about growing Christ-centered churches in cities, entitled, "Center Church." It is written to help church leaders in urban cities to develop a theological vision to enable their churches to be gospel-centered. Since then, Center Church has been updated and re-published into three smaller books. They are:

1) Shaped by the Gospel
2) Loving the City
3) Serving a Movement

"Loving the City" is the second abridged edition from that book with some additional material from various respondents. It comes out of Center Church's chapters on gospel contextualization; city vision; and cultural engagement. On Gospel Contextualization, Daniel Strange reflects by first contextualizing Tim Keller himself, that Keller is 1) made in God's image; 2) writing to a particular context; and 3) expanding and deepening the Christian mission; 4) delightfully "imbalanced" in the way that is intriguing and interesting. He shares lots of similar theological foundations. He asserts that contextualization is not simply about communication. It has a lot to do with "living, worshiping, culture building, and theologizing." He makes a good point in stressing the problem of overusing "contextualization" and replace it with something else. It is a push toward making the idea of "contextualization" more meaningful for more people.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"Move Toward the Mess" (John Hambrick)

TITLE: Move Toward the Mess: The Ultimate Fix for a Boring Christian Life
AUTHOR: John Hambrick
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2016, (208 pages).

What makes life boring? What is the opposite of boredom? Perhaps it has got to do with what is inside rather than outside. If we are convicted about life, about the significance of living with a purpose, we would do what the author of this book call, "Move toward the mess." More often than not, we are not sure what to do with ourselves. Describing Jesus as a person who is engaging, enduring, and definitely not boring. Citing figures that show 31% of young people between the ages 18-20 who left their churches because of boredom, Hambrick decides to look for a fix believing that while "boring" activities are not necessarily bad, though some new perspectives can definitely be put into. Like seeing Jesus through the lens of the disciples and the Pharisees. The former would not have followed Jesus and the latter would not have killed Him. Jesus was definitely not boring. In fact, the "ultimate fix" that the author talks about is a way of living that is engaging, memorable, and that makes a difference in the lives of people. Christians should not have a locker room mentality where they only hear all the pep talks and speaks about the endless possibilities of the game. Christians are called to go out into the field, the court, or the rink to fight the good fight and the play the good game well. After a brief introduction, Hambrick plunges us into one story after another of how transformed individuals learn to live out the calling of their lives. Like Josh Matthews after experiencing a trip down a chaotic and messy neighbourhood, learns about caring for everybody, just like Jesus cared for the sick, the down, and the depressed. Go to where the needs are. The author learns first-hand what it meant to move toward the mess as he encounters Terry, a young Irishman a drug addict, learning that boredom quickly dissipates as he ministers to the needy. It means learning to expect the unexpected when not very "church people" show up in front of our doorsteps. It means ministering in the crossroads where there are opportunities to meet people like Rita, whose mum was a prostitute, and to reach out to them with free food and hot dogs. Leroy and Janelle despite not having any training or experience learn to reach out to Rita with love, offering her shelter and hospitality without expecting anything in return. This slowly led the the formation of a social enterprise ministry called Serenity's Steps.  There is Patrick O'Connelly who helped to work for reconciliation in Northern Ireland through the ministry of Habitat for Humanity. Then there is faith in Pakistan where readers learn about how some American believers are in solidarity with the local believers. The change in perspectives is all that is needed to trigger a change in lifestyle. When we follow Jesus, we must be prepared to go where the Spirit leads us, not wait for some comfortable pet projects to fall on our laps. Hambrick also shares the moving story of Young Life, a ministry that has blessed over 1.7 million kids. By organizing summer camps with the tagline, "This will be the best week of your life," they prove that kids are not people waiting to be fed or have things done for them. They can be empowered to do great things for God. All that is needed are people interested in their lives and are willing to connect, to build friendships, and to care for them. Key to the understanding of moving toward the mess is the motivation. It has to be powered by love and not guilt-driven trips.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"Thumbprint in the Clay" (Luci Shaw)

TITLE: Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace
AUTHOR: Luci Shaw
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (205 pages).

Luci Shaw is a gift to the literary world. Not only is she a master with words, she has a keen eye to observe ordinary things and to let them bounce off reflections of life. She reflects on the coffee mug and how it is used as a symbol of family and hospitality. From within the small world of the coffee cup, she zooms out to the big wide world, anchoring her thoughts from 36000 feet in the airplane and looking at the world God had created. Meandering through "God's graphics," she leaves through photographs, observations, histories, past civilizations, and lands back to earth, having caught a glimpse from God's perspective. From the Pacific Northwest, she is reminded of God's creation and natural wonder, appreciating people, acknowledging beauty, and admiring rocks! Her silent retreat at the monastery is probably one of her secrets in training her powers of observation. More importantly, it speaks of her innermost desire to be closer to God. Here, Shaw's theological engine kicks in. She integrates philosophy with spirituality. She activates the words of her literary friends like Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Eugene Peterson. She includes one of her favourite art journals, Image, and reflects on them equally well, showing us that one does not need to be physically present at any particular place to learn to appreciate natural beauty. For it is not the actual place alone that can trigger one's sense of wonder. It is the admiring heart that paints the world with colour. From theology, we come back to Shaw's TV set. She connects the TV programs with one's sense of identity. From DNA to thumbprints, forensic analysis to police investigations, we are reminded of a world larger than mere crime triggered investigations. Shaw links the physics of the world with the creation of life. Moving in and out from the world of words to the real world, and back again, it can be a challenge to try to capture and to predict where Shaw is going next. My advice: Don't bother. Just enjoy. If you can pace with her, by all means do so. Better to pace it at your own speed. This is not about getting the most out of this book. It is about allowing the best of us to appreciate the best of God's world, seen through the eyes of Shaw.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry" (Edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson)

TITLE: Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide (The Gospel Coalition)
AUTHOR: Edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (176 pages).

Youth ministry is certainly one of the most crucial ministries in any church. Having it is not just a step of faith. It is investment for the future. The purpose of such a ministry is to help cultivate a sense of discipleship with young people about to enter the adult world. This is especially challenging with the rise of the MTD movement, which teaches people to live a life according to a set of do's and don'ts (moralistic); feel-good self-enrichment activities (Therapeutic); and living as if God is far away (Deism). The core message of this book is about centering youth ministry on the gospel. Through the gospel, every other activity, initiative, and discipleship endeavors are done. Seven major foundations are included here:
  1. The centrality of the gospel: Where theology drives methodology
  2. Discipleship: Where discipleship is the key motif in all youth work.
  3. Expository teaching: The importance of biblical teaching and the ministry of God's Word
  4. Relationships: Connecting with young people.
  5. Community: Helping youths build community in Christ. 
  6. Partnering with Parents: Helping parents be a part of the youth ministry
  7. Generational Integration: Be inclusive when doing church.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Spirituality of Wine" (Gisela H. Kreglinger)

TITLE: The Spirituality of Wine
AUTHOR: Gisela H. Kreglinger
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016, (272 pages).

What is so spiritual about wine? What has wine got to do with the Bible? How do we understand the love-hate relationship with wine in the history of the Church? What is the significance of wine in the Communion and general feasting? What did the Bible say about wine? These and many more are eloquently described in this perceptive book about wine and spirituality. The main purpose of this book is to recover the vision of the Christian life that is able to see God at work in all things, and in this case, in the producing, the processing, the consuming, and the enjoying of wine. It is about paying attention to the beauty of creation instead of thoughtless economic use. It is about connecting the work with the enjoyment; the material with the spiritual; the life-giving conversations over the table. It is tending to the ordinary and to appreciate how the world has been blessed by God.

In Kreglinger's words, Part One is the "sustenance" and Part Two is "sustainability." The five chapters in "Sustenance" go back to the biblical significance of wine; the history of the perceptions of wine in the Church; the use of wine in the Lord's Supper; how wine is used in feasting; and the way wine can help us pay attention to life in general. There are lots of references to wine in the Bible. According to scholars, there are 810 occurrences of "wine" in the Old Testament, and 169 occurrences in the New Testament. In the Ancient Near East, wine is considered one of the three most important food groups; the other being bread and olive oil. From the Bible, we see wine being received as a gift. From the history of the Church, wine has been a source of controversy. With the second century suspicions over the connection between wine and vice, many had to defend the use of wine provided it does not lead to drunkenness. In fact, in the twelfth century, the biggest producers of wine were the monasteries! During and after the Reformation, many monasteries were closed and wine production curtailed. People like Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli all had to come out to affirm wine as a gift rather than a source of vice. In terms of the use of wine in the Communion ritual, the controversial became more theological as different parties debated on the status of wine and Christ. Yet, understanding it properly will push Gnosticism out the door. Wine can bring communities together through pleasure and enjoyment. It can also help cultivate our attentiveness in engaging our various senses.

In Part Two, Kreglinger brings us back from a nostalgic past into the contemporary reality. She presents us with a challenge to make a choice on the subject of wine, insisting that there is no "neutral ground." She interviews individual vintners who are also practicing theologians to learn how their faith had shaped their wine making endeavors, such as enjoyment and community engagement. She learns about how caring for the soils and the land is essential for good grapes. The scope of experience from the interviewees is breath-taking. There are reflections from both the Old and New World Wine countries. The interesting point is not the difference between them but the similarity they have in wanting their wine to represent the best of the land and their identities. At some point, readers will realize that appreciating wine is not about achieving some tangible objectives but more about lingering in wonder and gratitude. For wine making is a craft that can be mysterious in many ways. Learning to enjoy wine need not be any different. Wine making is also not a stagnant exercise. There is tremendous opportunity to be creative not only in production but also in creativity. The chapter on "Technology, Spirituality, and Wine" is a must read for those of us interested in the intersection of work, faith, and technology. Kreglinger cautions on some of the damaging aspects of globalization such as "homogenization of taste" which can unwittingly eliminate the uniqueness of each type of wine. Toward the end, readers find themselves back to the garden metaphor where God is the gardener and the Church is the vineyard. Gradually, we are reminded that in our world of consumption, we are equally called to be producers. Sustainability is not about non-stop consumption but a respectful rhythm of producing, consuming, recycling, and redeeming.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Lead Vertically" (Craig Johnson)

TITLE: Lead Vertically: Inspire People to Volunteer and Build Great Teams that Last
AUTHOR: Craig Johnson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010, (224 pages).

Dream big. Walk tall. Lead vertical. In an inspiring book on how to lead teams, author Craig Johnson brings together his wealth of knowledge and experience about what it means to lead with inspiration. Just like the verse in Ps 61:2, where David prayed to the LORD to lead him to the rock that is higher, Johnson believes that vertical leading is about letting God help us take the ministry to a higher level in God's perspective. Leading vertically is looking up to God to lead from God's perspective, and leading people toward God in the hope that they too can do the same.

Vertical leadership begins with God. It is not just about recognizing the best people but also the best in people. It is cultivating the childlikeness in each person and to impact that person positively even as that person seems to be deep in their trenches. There is a strong belief that God is doing something amazing in the person's life. This means not just planting but knowing how to plant. One inspires others by being a model of hope, building on dreams, and learning constructive criticism that builds up instead of tearing down. It is remembering that the goal for all its importance must always be secondary. The person(s) concerned must be primary.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World" (Brian C. Stiller)

TITLE: An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World: · country-by-country prayer guide · inspiring faith stories · on-the-ground insights · up-to-date-maps
AUTHOR: Brian C. Stiller
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (288 pages).

One of the best and most informative books about praying for the world is Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk's "Operation World." It is packed with information about each country, its general statistics, and specific items for prayer. It is now in its 7th edition. At first look, this book seems to be doing the same. The key difference is that rather than going for the breadth of countries covered, the author, Brian Stiller decides to shortlist a few countries based on a small list of criteria such as higher level of religious persecution; innovative work; dangerous missions; etc, so that he can go in-depth. For general statistics, he relies on Operation World. For more specific information that he knows about, he brings in his knowledge and first-hand experience by virtue of him being the Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance, an organization that serves over 600 million Christians.  Some features of this book are:
  • Map of the country concerned and its location
  • Its population and religious statistics
  • A brief dispatch that came from real reports about each country
  • The promises and challenges the local church faces
  • A selected Bible passage
  • Items for prayer and a sample prayer.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"How Odd of God" (William H. Willimon)

TITLE: How Odd of God: Chosen for the Curious Vocation of Preaching
AUTHOR: William H. Willimon
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (160 pages).

Preaching is a calling. It is also about God choosing His people. It is God's way of calling the preacher to Him, to preach the gospel in a manner that people be drawn closer to God. It is God's initiative to choose His people in the way He wants. In this series of lectures by the Dr William Willimon, who calls himself "The Peculiar Prophet," asserts that not only is God calling preacher to proclaim the good news, the ministry of preaching sits tightly within the general calling to God Himself. Willimon is currently Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina. The conviction of the author is that preaching is that "odd vocation" that God uses to bring back to God what belongs to God.

Like many introductions to a sermon, the title alone does not give away much. No one would have guessed that this book parallels the vocation of preaching with the drama of election, more specifically, Karl Barth's chapter of "The Election of God" in his magisterial work, Church Dogmatics. Like God calling people to Him, preaching is about God calling certain people to the pulpit ministry. It is a book to encourage preachers with fresh conviction that the pulpit ministry is the will of God and the way that God will continue to draw people close to Him. Election is God's love. Preaching amplifies that calling. He is retired, after serving for 8 years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was named as one of America's 12 most effective preachers in 1996. This book contains his reflections on election and the place of preaching.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock" (Daniel Strange)

TITLE: Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions
AUTHOR: Daniel Strange
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (384 pages).

This is a theology of religions. More specifically, it is a theological perspective of all religions from the perspective of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the title of the book suggests, we need to be confident that the Word of God is solid footing from which to view the world. Even the title itself is unashamedly borrowed from Deuteronomy 32:31.

The author is basically arguing the following:

"From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ." 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"From Nature to Creation" (Norman Wirzba)

TITLE: From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
AUTHOR: Norman Wirzba
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (176 pages).

Should Christians live more for the future and less for the present? Is God's gift of salvation mainly a ticket to some heavenly future without earthly responsibility? Absolutely not. If our Christian living is merely preparing ourselves for the heavenly realm, our Christianity is a "theological disaster." So begins author and professor Norman Wirzba in this book that aims to bring back the integrity and value of the world we live in. Our salvation is important. How we live is also important. The world we live in is a gift for us to cherish and to care for. If God had created the world and called it good, how can we say otherwise? Wirzba is Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Agrarian Studies at Duke Divinity School. A keen scholar of the doctrine of creation, he has written this book with chapters based on his 2013 Jellema lectures at various locations as well as a 2012 biannual meeting of the Society of Continental Philosophy and Theology. This book is a call for Christians to take the environment and the ecological concerns seriously. Develop an imagination of a world loved and sustained by God. Treasure the earth resources as a gift. This book is an attempt to help us cast and sustain a vision of care for nature and creation.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Shaped by the Gospel" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Shaped by the Gospel: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Center Church)
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (192 pages).

[This book is extracted from Part One of Center Church and expanded with contributions by Michael Horton and Dane Ortlund]

In 2012, popular preacher and prolific author, Tim Keller published a book about growing Christ-centered churches in cities, entitled, "Center Church." It is written to help church leaders in urban cities to develop a theological vision to enable their churches to be gospel-centered. Since then, Center Church has been updated and re-published into three smaller books. They are:

1) Shaped by the Gospel
2) Loving the City
3) Serving a Movement

"Shaped by the Gospel" is the first abridged edition from that book with some additional material from various respondents. It focuses on what the gospel is. I have previously reviewed "Center Church" and so this review will be focused on the reflections by Michael Horton and Dane Ortlund, and Keller's responses. Horton addresses Keller's experience of being confused by some preachers on what the gospel is and what the gospel does. He agrees with a number of Keller's assertions such as the centrality of the gospel; the lordship of Christ; and that the gospel is both life-changing as well as the story of God. That said, Horton takes issue with how Keller distinguishes between the "narrative" and "propositional" approach into a "personal" and "global" implications respectively. He prefers an integrative approach that sees them as one big entity rather than separate parts. That is why he is happy when Keller mentions intercanonical themes that unite the Bible. Horton also disagrees on the way Keller describes contextualizing the gospel. Keller humbly admits his shortcomings and maintains he is a "working preacher, not a teacher of theology." The reflections and the responses show a form of healthy respect and appreciation for each other's ministry, something that readers can be encouraged about.

Monday, March 7, 2016

"Still Restless" (Jan David Hettinga)

TITLE: Still Restless: Conversations That Open the Door to Peace
AUTHOR: Jan David Hettinga
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (200 pages).

Ever since the Fall, man has been restless. It has resulted in a frantic search for identity, for meaning, for significance, and for some ultimate rest. Even for people of faith, or all their bold profession of beliefs, there is no guarantee that they are any less restless. This book helps us recognize our sources of restlessness and points out that true rest comes only in Jesus Christ. How does it all pan out? According to Jan David Hettinga, the short answer is to imitate Christ. The long answer is this 200-page long book. Hettinga is pastor of leadership development at Cascade Community Church in Monroe, Washington. He is also chair of MissionsFest Seattle and has authored several other books on leadership. In this book, he shows us that we need to confront head-on these sources of restlessness. In trying to build kingdoms based on cultural idols, or trying to control our destiny by playing God, we end up depending on ourselves rather than on God. Whether it is educational pursuits, career building, sporting excellence, or even religious zeal, we can easily become like the rich young man who walked away from Jesus when asked to sell all he had to give to the poor before following Jesus. In our desire for these things, not only will we be locked in an endless cycle of restlessness, we become spiritually negative when we fail to get what we want. We blame, accuse, and turn our anger at God. If we are able to honestly identify our idols and our sources of restlessness, we will be on the first step on the path toward true rest. This is only if we are able to re-orientate ourselves away from the world and self toward God. Hettinga shows us the way.

Refresh our curiosity of God. Tell the truth. Thirst and hunger after God. Question God honestly but reverently. Ask God to reveal himself to us. Be ready to meet God. If need to, give up things that impede our embrace of God. Through a series of conversations and spiritual narratives, readers are urged to move through a process of unbelief to belief; from submission to repentance; and from following Jesus to leading for Jesus. This transformation is necessary if we are to find true restfulness in God. The choice is very much up to us. If we are grouchy and unwilling to let go, we choose to be restless. If we are not sure of what to do, and to retain the status quo, sooner or later, we will come back to the spiritual quagmire of restlessness and frantic activities that do not bring any peace. If we make a decision to submit, and to obey God's prompting, we might not get rid of all restlessness altogether. We may even suffer some disappointments and various tribulations along the way. At least, we know that we are on the path to true rest. The most important part in this book is to recognize our sources of restlessness. There is no point talking about peace and serenity when there is trouble brewing inside. True peace is not about emptying ourselves from stress and hectic programs. True peace comes not from the absence of trouble but in the presence of God. This is what this book is essentially about. The title of this book sums up what the typical human condition is. The inside of the book tells us that it need not remain that way.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

"Becoming a Disciple-Making Church" (Neil T. Anderson)

TITLE: Becoming a Disciple-Making Church: A Proven Method for Growing Spiritually Mature Christians
AUTHOR: Neil T. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (240 pages).

Another book on discipleship? Not really. Instead of focusing on beginners, this book pays attention to those who have been in Church for a long time, a group that the author calls "spiritually mature Christians." Unlike most books, this book is mostly adapted from various chapters of Anderson's other books published since 1990. Most of the chapters deal with overcoming barriers to discipleship. Barriers such as spiritual forces of darkness, emotional challenges, anger, anxiety disorders, depression, sexual strongholds, difficult marriages, conflict resolution, and so on. The key to effective ministry is to begin with the victory of Jesus at the cross. The moment that happens, we are thrust into a conflict between two kingdoms: of God's and of the world. Believers need to be serious about genuine repentance and to share the whole gospel. This starting point of victory in Christ comes about with a firm footing on the promises of Scripture. He provides biblical references to show us the meaning of being firm and secure in Christ. Anderson then brings out the need for spiritual, mental, emotional, volitional, and relational health through the three levels:

Friday, March 4, 2016

"When Anything Goes" (Leslie Williams)

TITLE: When Anything Goes: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: Leslie Williams
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2016, (208 pages).

We are living in a post-Christian era. It is an era of 70% Americans calling themselves Christians but the culture is nowhere near being Christian. It is a neo-scientific, new age, new heresies, new global polarizations, pluralism, secular and humanist philosophies. Universities are secularized, even those with Christian beginnings. People nowadays have largely forgotten what Christianity really means despite their ancestors link with Christianity. From the point of view of Leslie Williams, an English professor, she observes that the generation of young people now have lost sense of biblical references in literature, biblical origins of law and cultural symbols, and a general loss of influence of Christianity. Instead of a book of apologetics that react or respond against anti-Christian cultural claims, this book is more about the author's personal narrative of what it means to be a Christian in a post-Christian world. The underlying conviction is that God is not only alive and well, God is still redeeming us from the follies and bad decisions we make.

Leslie Williams is an English Professor at Midland College for over 20 years. She lives in Kerrville, Texas with her husband. Writing with a personal voice about "real life," Williams warns at the outset that this book will not have any "scholar's voice," "theories," or theological jargon. Not exactly "anything goes" technically speaking. She is probably trying to appeal to that segment of readers who prefer a down to earth language and response to a world that is increasingly anti-Christian. Believing that Christianity is for everyone, Williams uses rhetoric, literature, and her own personal journey as a way to show us that God is anything but "dead." Culture is a strange thing. We are immersed and influenced by it. Unless we live with intention, we will be swept along by the waves. Williams uses a type of reasoning that is more understandable in this day and age. She avoids difficult concepts like "soul," and ideas like people believing in Jesus simply because the Bible tells them so. In a culture where anything goes, it is important to recognize that existing culture is incapable of substituting the present for what Christianity had done for the people in the past. It is unfortunate that some people have thrown out the baby with the bathwater when reacting against the excesses of radicalism in various religions. This book of narrative is Williams's approach to defending the Christian faith. She uses nine broad strokes to explain why Christianity matters.