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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Kingdom Conspiracy" (Scot McKnight)

TITLE: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
AUTHOR: Scot McKnight
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (304 pages).

In this book, McKnight continues to offer up counter intuitive ideas about basic Christian beliefs and practices. Like what he had done for gospel and evangelism, he is doing the same for Kingdom and the mission. In his earlier book, "King Jesus Gospel," he critiques with vigour the faulty evangelistic models that reduce the gospel to a series of spiritual laws, salvation culture, or merely saying the sinners' prayer. Likewise, in this book, McKnight offers up a critique of some common usage of the word "kingdom." After studying the various approaches by "skinny jeans kingdom people," he summarizes their understanding of kingdom as, "Kingdom means good deeds done by good people (Christian or not) in the public sector for the common good." In other words, kingdom work means social justice, world peace, good works with a tinge of Biblical principle. That is not all. McKnight takes to task the "Pleated Folks" perspective that is incorporated into two statements:

  1. Kingdom as present and future
  2. Kingdom as rule and realm

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Adoptive Youth Ministry" (Chap Clark)

TITLE: Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Chap Clark
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (400 pages).

What is adoption? What does "Adoptive Youth Ministry" mean? How is it different from conventional youth ministries? According to the editor of this book, to be adopted means becoming a full member of a nonbiological family. When applied to youth ministry, it means one, more, or even all of of the following "four foundational premises."
  1. Recognizing that in every Church and organization, there are insiders as well as outsiders.
  2. Reminding that we are adopted into God's family as a child with other children.
  3. We are vulnerable but Jesus has his eyes on us.
  4. That we as well as outsiders are called to the gathering.
Chap Clark, editor of this book of articles compiled from 20 different contributors says:
"Adoptive ministry is vital because we are witnessing the fact that in Christ God has invited those who 'believed in his name' to 'become children of God' (John 1:12). This is the message of the good news. Therefore our message—in our lifestyle, service, and word—is adoption."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Sticky Faith Service Guide Student Journal" (Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin)

TITLE: Sticky Faith Service Guide, Student Journal: How Serving Others Changes You
AUTHOR: Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (144 pages).

There are many short-term mission trippers who had a great experience out there in the mission field. They prepared with enthusiasm, participated in the projects with fervour, only to return with an excitement that couldn't be sustained over the long haul. Memories may stay a while but the full experience is often forgotten over time. What if the experience can propel one not only to remember but to do better? It comes with proper reflections and journaling. This is where this book comes in. Meant to be used as a companion volume to "Sticky Faith Service Guide," the book contains many triggers for reflections and journaling.

The book gives readers a refresher of the basic concepts of Sticky Faith and the ideas introduced in the "Sticky Faith Service Guide." The Big Idea anchors the chapter to remind us about our trip and our thoughts. There are ample Bible references to help us along and it is a powerful way to see how the truth of the Word comes to life when we go on mission. The journaling actually draws our thoughts out clearly. This is perhaps the biggest benefit for all mission trippers. It is hoped that the reader will be able to summarize more concretely his/her experiences and learnings in one book. After all the resources and efforts spent on going for the mission trip, surely we should maximize our learning which should enable us to take our faith to the next level. More importantly, as we solidify our journaling skills, we are better able to share of our own experiences with others.

Kara Powell is Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary while Brad Griffin serves as the Associate Director for the Fuller Youth Institute.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Sticky Faith Service Guide" (Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin)

TITLE: Sticky Faith Service Guide: Moving Students from Mission Trips to Missional Living
AUTHOR: Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

You've been to a developing country. You've participated in some building project; outreach programs; and lived with people from another culture. You've also learned a lot about cross-cultural missions and how to share the gospel in a different context. You've ministered to the mrginalized or the poor. You've contributed both money and time to a worthy cause. After the mountain high experience, you return to your home country. What next? Will your mission end after the mission trip? According to a missiology research journal published in 2013, over one-third of US congregations had sponsored 1.6 million churchgoers overseas. With such huge outlay of expenses, yet there is a troubling lack of 'career missionaries.' Materialism concerns continue to remain high. Most worrying, many mission-trippers never really go beyond what they had done at their mission trips. In other words, the mission enthusiasm doesn't seem to stick.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"Hearing God in Conversation" (Samuel C. Williamson)

TITLE: Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere
AUTHOR: Samuel C. Williamson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (216 pages).

Is God still speaking to us today? What if we don't hear an audible voice? What if we try and try but keep hearing echoes of silence? Is it a problem with God not speaking or is it more a problem of us not hearing? According to author and founding director of "Beliefs of the Heart" ministry, Samuel Williamson, God is always speaking. We just need to learn how to listen, but learn to tune our spiritual ears to hear Him everywhere.  This book shows the way beyond mere rationalism or emotionalism. If God is always speaking, we need to learn as many ways as possible to connect with God. The key point in this book is that "conversation is the point." For if Christianity is indeed a relationship between God and us, we will know the key things that define a relationship. Vivid interaction is preferred to constant direction. Who wants to have a relationship with people always telling what to do? A relationship is a two-way street and not a one-directional highway. It allows us to be comfortably ourselves. It is more about each other rather than the things to be talked about. The amazing thing is that our God communicates with us in multiple ways. In conviction, we have God impressing on our hearts the things we did, whether it is good or not. In insight, we get sudden bursts of inspiration. In revelation, we hear clearly what God wanted to say to us. It can be from books or the Word of God. It can be from our daily devotions. It can also be from an impression that is unmistakably God's.

Friday, August 19, 2016

"For a New Generation" (Lee Kricher)

TITLE: For a New Generation: A Practical Guide for Revitalizing Your Church
AUTHOR: Lee Kricher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (176 pages).

If you are reading this book, there is a good chance that you come from or know of churches trying to address the aging problem. Churches all over the world are constantly being challenged toward leadership renewal, engaging the young, and replacing the old. People don’t live forever and there will be a time in which the baton needs to be handed to the next generation. Provided there is a next generation. Are you doing enough to reach the next generation? Are we doing both church planting as well as church revitalization? Can we put in place a strategy to enable a church toward ‘perpetual church revitalization?’

For senior pastor of Amplify Church, it means developing a new generation church that has “attendees whose average age is at least as young as the average age of the community in which the church exists.” For Amplify Church that was founded in the late 1970s, by 2003 they had such a sharp decline that the less than 200 people in the church could hardly afford its monthly mortgage payment. They even needed to make arrangement with a bank to service only its interest! Most alarming was the rising average age of the congregation. By refocusing their efforts on becoming a new generation church, the numbers not only reversed but the church grew to an average weekly attendance of 1400 people. More encouraging is the average age of the congregation hovers under 35. This book is about the journey of Amplify Church, and how it takes a declining situation and turns it around to be a vibrant new generation church. It comprises five strategies:
  1. Adopt a New Mindset
  2. Identify the Essentials
  3. Reduce the Distractions
  4. Elevate Your Standards
  5. Build a Mentoring Culture

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"God Dreams" (Will Mancini)

TITLE: God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church's Future
AUTHOR: Will Mancini
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2016, (288 pages).

Vision is an integral part of Church. Mission is an outflow of the vision. Both go together but how can we make the process more effective and clear? Without clarity, how can any organization know where to go and how to motivate their members to fulfill the objectives? What is the purpose of its existence? Many people know the importance but lack the necessary tools and processes to clarify their vision and mission. Based on more than 15 years of experience, more than 500 churches, and over 10000 hours of work with church team facilitation, author Will Mancini makes vision sharpening as a key priority in this book. He lists three benefits for reading this book.
  1. Leading meaningfully
  2. Inspiring the community
  3. Focusing on God's vision
By honing on clarifying our Church's vision and direction, Mancini believes that Church Identity; Church Direction; and Church Story can be connected as one. The six parts of the book are:
  1. Restart the Conversation: of vision and dreams
  2. Discover Visionary Planning: visualizing the future
  3. Find Your Future: Adopt templates toward fulfilling the goals
  4. Focus Your Long-Term Vision: 
  5. Execute Your Short-Term Vision
  6. Lead with Freedom: personalizing the vision
(From Will Mancini's "God Dreams" Overview)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"No God But One" (Nabeel Qureshi)

TITLE: No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity
AUTHOR: Nabeel Qureshi
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (320 pages).

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Is Allah the same as Jesus? This issue costs a tenured professor her job and puts her seminary at the center of a controversy. For the rest of us, it highlights the confusion behind the differences and the similarities between Christianity and Islam. On the one hand, there is a lot of similarities in the Old Testament with the Quran. On the other hand, there are distinct differences in the theology of the person of God. As a convert from Islam, author and speaker Nabeel Qureshi has a personal interest in this one issue, partly because of his acute background understanding of Islam, and also because of his new found faith in Jesus. Having struggled with the differences between Christianity and Islam in a very personal level, he knows why and how people are confused about the whole matter. This book is his attempt to tell the differences between the two great religions and to investigate who God is. For over a decade, he has struggled with the issue, together with thousands of people he have met caught between the theologies of the two faiths. It is hoped that the book will not only clarify the differences but will enable us to pray more knowledgeably for the people caught between the two faiths.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Human Being and Becoming" (David G. Benner)

TITLE: Human Being and Becoming: Living the Adventure of Life and Love
AUTHOR: David G. Benner
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (154 pages).

What does it mean to be human? How do we become the fullest expression of ourselves? What is the relationship between being, becoming, and doing? These questions are explored in this latest book by popular spiritual writer, David Benner. Making a distinction between "deeply human" and "more than human," the way is not to look for something beyond ourselves but to dig deeper into the essence of who we are. In a nutshell, the doing flows out of our becoming, and our becoming stems out of our sense of being. There is growth and development. He contrasts this authenticity with some wrong understanding of what human means. It is not about the faulty side of us when we say "we're only human." Neither is being human a chore to be struggled with. Instead, it is a gift to be received. Becoming human is essentially connecting the doing with the becoming, and the becoming with the essence of our beings. It is a human journey that comprises a "symphony of movement and rest, progress and regress, effort and consent, holding and releasing." Becoming human is an exciting venture. The three big themes of the book are:
  1. The Wholeness of Reality
  2. The Importance of the Human Heart
  3. Love as the Foundation of all Being and Becoming

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Men Who Love Fierce Women" (Leroy Wagner and Kimberly Wagner)

TITLE: Men Who Love Fierce Women: The Power of Servant Leadership in Your Marriage
AUTHOR: Leroy Wagner and Kimberly Wagner
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (240 pages).

Traditionally, it has always been men who were expected to be the leader, the authority, and the voice of the family. Ancient Israel was largely a patriarchy where the head of the family was expected to take responsibility for the sake of the whole family. For many centuries, men are the ones to bring in the dough while women are confined to domestic duties. Not anymore. In contemporary times, we are seeing more women taking initiative in leadership roles. Traditional roles are gradually been replaced by egalitarian perspectives where both male and female are seen to be equal. Even traditional sports and careers done by men are also extended to women. Everywhere we go, we see more women in traditionally male-dominated industries. This year, the USA looks set to have the first woman to be nominated for President of the country! This phenomena is also evident in marriages where women seem to be taking the initiative as 'fierce women.' There are husbands who will feel insecure when wives outmaneuver them in matters that are traditionally expected of men. This calls for a re-examination of what it means to be a real man. What is the essence of manhood? What can men do in a world where "women who eat men for breakfast?" When women assert superiority in manly tasks, what happens to the male psyche? Biblically, if God created men to lead, what about women who can lead?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"Who Moved My Pulpit?" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: Who Moved My Pulpit?: Leading Change in the Church
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2016, (150 pages).

It started with a plea for help via email. A reader of the author's popular blog asks for an A to Z plan for leading change. The result is this book which is about leading change in the Church. Written for the pastor and leaders of the Church, it begins with the story of Derek who literally removed the pulpit in order to instill change in his style and method of preaching. It created an uproar in the Church, which lobbed off years off what the Church could have achieved with other things. Reasons for the poor change process include the over-dependence on human strength; inadequate assessment of unintended consequences; lack of communications; underestimating people issues; and not modeling positive leadership. Why is it so difficult to change? Simple: People, especially with one or more of the following people.

  • The Deniers will dismiss any need for change.
  • The Entitled will see the Church as a means to their ends and will rebel against anything that threaten that.
  • The Blamers are all too ready to push the responsibility on the pastor.
  • The Critics drain the pastor and leaders with their callous comments and side-reporting.
  • The Confused are just not sure what is more important and prefer not to change unless absolutely necessary.

Monday, August 8, 2016

"The Power of Presence" (Neil T. Anderson)

TITLE: The Power of Presence: Becoming Fully Alive
AUTHOR: Neil T. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Oxford, England, Monarch Books, 2016, (144 pages).

When I think of Neil Anderson, I would be reminded of his passion and conviction about spiritual deliverance and freedom in Christ, the latter having a double meaning. Freedom in Christ is a ministry set up by Anderson back in 1989 when he was a professor of practical theology at Talbot School of Theology in California. From spiritual warfare to being freed in Christ, Anderson shows us that we can break free from the powers of evil because Christ has already freed us at the cross, being an atonement for the sins of the whole world. One would have thought that such themes of triumphalism would carry over to all parts of his life, including this book. I was wrong. After 45 years of pastoral ministry, Joanne, his wife of over 50 years, was diagnosed with agitated dementia, leaving Anderson the arduous task of caring and constantly sitting by her side. Instead of "coming down" to her level, Anderson sees the opportunity as "going up" to her level, a sign of how much he treasures his wife. As he gets more involved with caregiving of her deteriorating state, his priorities change. No longer is he doing things mainly for himself but for her. No more vacations, day trips, movies, and all those ordinary outdoor activities, but more home time. Through the experience grows the author's awareness of the power of presence. This book is borne out of that deep reflection of life through the golden and gray age.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Kingdom Ethics" (David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen) 2nd Edition

TITLE: Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context
AUTHOR: David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (550 pages).

What does it mean to follow Jesus in our contemporary world? Is the Old Testament law still relevant for today? Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount asserts that the Word of God is not only relevant for the world today, it is a way in which we live out God's kingdom as a people of God. The original purpose of the authors is to emphasize Christian living based on the Rock of the Christian faith, Jesus. When the book was published back in 2003, the authors were amazed at how little resources there were on recovering the way of discipleship according to Jesus. They believe that the way to understand Christian ethics is to ground ourselves on kingdom reign of God. Since the passing of Glen Stassen in April 2014, this book has been updated by a few previous students of Stassen, together with the other co-author. There is more gender-inclusive language and more global perspectives. Every chapter has a set of discussion questions. More background knowledge are supplied to help beginner readers. The glossary of key terms at the end of the book has been greatly expanded. The book remains focused on the ethic of Jesus; thoroughly biblical; fuller understanding of the Hebrew contexts; and more inclusive of wider range of readers. One key idea in the writing of this book is to set out how the kingdom perspective contrasts with the powers and seductions of the world. Instead of the former seven sections, this book is divided into two parts. The first part looks at the methodology that follows more closely the Sermon on the Mount. It anchors the starting point of ethics on kingdom coming in Jesus. In proclaiming the reign of the kingdom of God, the authors list the seven marks of God's reign: deliverance/salvation, justice, peace, healing, restoration/rebuilding of community, joy, and the experience of God’s presence. All of these need to be adhered to because these are the things that are important to Jesus. We learn about how the beatitudes echo Isaiah 61. We learn about the sources of moral authority, including a brief overview moral authority from a few renowned Christian traditions. There is also a philosophical take as well in the four levels of moral norms, from basic convictions to particular judgments. The authors also contrast the situation ethics and legalism, carefully highlighting the merits of each and where they fall short. I appreciate the visual diagrams that Aaron Hedges, former student of Stassen, includes in some chapters. Readers will be impressed with the depth of coverage of the various ethical methodologies.  Central to the thesis of "Kingdom Ethics" is the list of The "Key Method Elements (KMEs) for Christian Ethics." These KMEs are introduced in Part One will be applied widely in Part Two. They are as follows:
  1. Thinking in Concrete Kingdom Terms
  2. Reading Jesus from the Underside of History
  3. Character as a Lens for Ethics
  4. Sources of Authority for Christian Ethics
  5. Four Levels and Three Modes of Moral Norms
  6. Making the Sermon on the Mount Central
  7. Transforming Initiatives
  8. Love as a Cardinal Ethical Norm
  9. Justice as a Cardinal Ethical Norm
  10. Sacredness as a Cardinal Ethical Norm
  11. Four-Box Diagram of Dimensions of Moral Agency (Analytical)
  12. Four-Box Diagram (Prescriptive)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"How I Changed My Mind About Evolution" (Edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump)

TITLE: How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science (BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity )
AUTHOR: Edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (200 pages).

Is creation and the theory of evolution compatible? Is faith compatible with science? Can there be a middle ground that one can settle in? In examining the two, BioLogos and Inter-Varsity Press come together to publish a collection of articles from scholars, theologians, pastors, and evangelical thinkers who all had moved from a stubborn view against evolution toward a more moderate stance. Admittedly, the title gives me the impression that it is about people shifting their beliefs from an atheistic form of evolution to the theist view of creation. This is not so. In fact, this book presents a tricky shift to the middle ground that has cost at least two professors their jobs at conservative seminaries. At the heart of this book is the belief that Christianity and science are not incompatible. In fact, they can be reconciled at many levels. In other words, being a Christian does not necessitate one to be anti-evolution. In this book, we have twenty five stories and memoirs of people who have moved to a position of reconciliation, that evolution does not contradict creation. It is not some theological treatise or evidence against or for either evolution or creation. The mission of BioLogos is to "invite the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation."

Monday, August 1, 2016

"Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church" (Anna B. Olson)

TITLE: Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom Beyond Survival
AUTHOR: Anna B. Olson
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (134 pages).

The Church in the West is deteriorating. The mainline churches are dying. More and more churches are diminishing in size and influence. These are often supported by statistics that show a consistent decline through the years. In a rapidly graying population, young people are also leaving churches in droves. As buildings echo out and going to Church is no longer a regular weekend activity, what is the future of the Church? Are we nearing the end, or for some, at the end? Amid such bad news, how can the Church proclaim good news when it does not look like good news at all to the health and numbers of the Church? In what the author calls a "love letter to the dying Church," Anna Olson writes a compassionate and understanding book to encourage the weary and to comfort the discouraged. In such times, it is so easy to throw in the towel and close down the Church. She gently reminds us that God is not finished with the Church yet. There is still work to be done. She writes:

"Giving up does not have to mean locking the doors and going
home. If God is not finished, we are not either. There is more for us: more life, more hope. But we are freed from knowing the shape it will take. We are freed from the daunting task of birthing the new with only our own waning strength. We begin to face the future with freedom and faith rather than fear and the weight of failure. Giving up on success frees us. We are free to measure the fruits of our ministry not by the marks of longevity, affluence, and popularity but rather by the mark set by Jesus: love of God and neighbor."