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Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Gifted Mind" (Jeff Kinley with Dr Raymond Damadian)

TITLE: Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI
AUTHOR: Jeff Kinley with Dr Raymond Damadian
PUBLISHER: Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015, (240 pages).

There have been great medical advancement through the centuries. Sometimes, many of us have taken the advancement for granted, oblivious to the many years of research, hard work, and brilliance behind each medical procedure we benefit from, each pill we swallow, and each medical equipment we use. One such equipment is the Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment. From TV shows to real life hospitals, many people have heard of or benefitted from the use of the MRI to detect cancer or obtain some form of assurance about the presence of normal cells in our body. What about the origins and history of the MRI? Who started the whole process going? What are the milestones of the invention of this great device? Are there any controversies? Dr Raymond Damadian, a doctor working at New York's Downstate Medical Center in 1971 discovered how certain chemical signals in cancerous body cells react differently from normal cells in that the former contains more water. All it takes then is to develop a machine to detect the additional hydrogen atoms that linger in cancer cells.

Friday, January 29, 2016

"Four Small Words" (Jarrett Stevens)

TITLE: Four Small Words: A Simple Way to Understand the Bible
AUTHOR: Jarrett Stevens
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (160 pages).

We can read the Bible. We can memorize it. We can even quote verses from it. However, when it comes to understanding it, it is a totally new challenge. What if there is a way to understand the Bible that grows from knowledge to relationship? What if there is a simple way to understand the Bible? Jarrett Stevens, co-pastor of Soul City Church in Chicago believes that with four small words, one can be on the way to understanding the Bible in a personal and even profound way. The first word is OF which is based on Genesis 1-2, which tells "of" the creation story and our origins, our true identity. We learn of God who is much bigger than we are. The two basic concepts from this word are:

1) Coming From
2) Belonging To

Understanding our role in life begins with understanding of our own history and our source of being. We are made for community, just like the three persons of the Triune Godhead. We learn to ask of who God is, and who we are. After a brief narrative about life in the perfect garden, we read about the regrettable end of this paradise when Adam and Eve chose evil. The bible story move from how man who is of God, chose otherwise, leading us to the next word. Our story begins of God.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

"The Power of the Cross" (Tony Evans)

TITLE: The Power of the Cross: Putting it to Work in Your Life
AUTHOR: Tony Evans
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (208 pages).

The centrality of the gospel is the cross. Without the cross and the death and resurrection of Jesus, our faith would be in vain. Sharing about his childhood days of playing football with his friends, there was once when no one remembered to bring a football. The players were there, the stadium was ready, the lights were on, but without a football, there was no game. Using this example as a springboard to show readers the importance of the cross, author and pastor Tony Evans tells us that the cross is the centerpiece of Christianity; the "greatest affirmation and demonstration of pure love." The basic reason why many Christians lack motivation in their faith is because they have forgotten the "purpose, the preeminence, and the power of the cross." At the cross, we see that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. It is an expression of undying love; a symbol of forgiveness of sins; and a promise of hope that is to come. We are called to carry the cross of Christ. We are told by the apostle Paul that without the cross, our faith would be in vain. With all these as background, Evans then launches into three major expositions of what the cross means. First, Evans explores the unique person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is unique because He exists even before the world began. He is fully divine and also fully human. Evans gives four proofs about Jesus' deity; and spends a lot of time on describing Jesus' humanity. Readers learn about Jesus as the focal point of faith; the two coming of Christ; the foretelling (first coming) and the forthtelling (second coming). He talks about the prophecy; the death; the resurrection and the Ascension of Christ to showcase the centrality of the cross, which puts all of these together in one person.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Ready to Return" (Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley)

TITLE: Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church's Lost Generation
AUTHOR: Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley
PUBLISHER:Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015, (210 pages)

Why is the Church losing more of her young? How can the Church retreat from the rising secularization of the Church and her members? Where will the Church be in the next era? How do we bring back the "lost generation?" Despair comes with the downward struggle with sin. Hope comes with the upward perspective to build the Church based on the truth in Christ. It is only God who can preserve His Church. Before any such reformation, author Ken Ham helps us to learn from history. Every culture will go through a period of spiritual lethargy. From Jeremiah to King Hezekiah; and from Israel to the modern reformation movement, three patterns are common:
  1. God's people no longer observe and obey the Word of God
  2. They pursued other gods
  3. The shepherds and leaders lead people astray
Calling for a new reformation, Ham believes that the way back begins with us. We should be prepared for opposition and resistance. We should beware of compromising. We must beware of pride. We need to stay vigilant and watchful. These are the mission statements and values that Ham and his colleagues at "Answers in Genesis" adhere to. Ham is President and Founder of the apologetics ministry that believes in the Young Earth creationist perspective. They believe that the book of Genesis provides answers to many questions of life. In this book, the key problem is about the decreasing number of people in churches and the young leaving churches in droves. Statistics by Barna and Americas Research Group all point to a liberal generation. Anyone disconnected from the Bible will eventually be disconnected with church. Ham probes other disturbing trends and liberalism that are eating away at the fundamental faith values. Ham then shows a few steps to enable one to return to God.


Monday, January 25, 2016

"The Most Excellent Way to Lead" (Perry Noble)

TITLE: The Most Excellent Way to Lead: Discover the Heart of Great Leadership
AUTHOR: Perry Noble
PUBLISHER: Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2016, (288 pages)

What defines good leadership? If you have attended one of the many leadership conferences, courses, or classes, you might have heard about traits such as vision, influence, confidence, courage, and other impressive characteristics that make the leader looking like some hero from the movies. While many of these leadership gurus are not necessarily wrong in highlighting these leadership features, the questions for us are: Are they the most excellent things for leaders to have? What is the heart of great leadership? Is there a more excellent way? What should be the biblical approach? What makes leadership Christlike?

Perry Noble is pastor of Newspring Church, one of America's fastest growing churches. Beginning with a group of 15 individuals with no budget, no employees, and no buildings, the Church has grown tremendously to 19 campus locations, with an average attendance of 35000 people, and a $50 million annual budget! Having experienced humble beginnings, he leads with conviction with the following principles:
  1. It is not titles but voices people want to listen to that matters
  2. The most excellent way is also the most difficult way
  3. Leaders do not make declarations but are servants through and through
  4. Leaders will do whatever it takes to turn a vision into reality.

Friday, January 22, 2016

"The Face of the Deep" (Paul J. Pastor)

TITLE: The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit
AUTHOR: Paul J. Pastor
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2016, (304 pages).

Why is the Holy Spirit so least understood? Why is it so difficult to grasp the significance of the place of the Holy Spirit? One reason is because the Holy Spirit has often been described in impersonal terms, like "it" instead of "he." That means it is hard to relate to a "thing." The other reason is because we tend to see the Holy Spirit more as a helper rather than a Full-Member of the Triune Godhead. This book sets out to put to rest the misconceptions.

Using fourteen essays to describe the Holy Spirit as a Person and Presence, author Paul Pastor makes use of the "seven stars" and "seven lampstands" in book of Revelation to help readers reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in both Old and New Testaments. The Holy Spirit is best experienced rather than explained. It is not about one dramatic encounter but a constant awareness and the knitting together of different experiences. This is the approach taken by Paul Pastor, author, grassroots pastor, and contributing editor to Leadership Journal. In this fascinating book that contemplates on the Person of the Holy Spirit, Pastor shares about his exploration of how he got to know the Holy Spirit more intimately. Using the image of the Seven Stars and Seven Lampstands mentioned in the Biblical book of Revelation, Pastor hopes to guide readers on visualizing the work of the Holy Spirit as a personal God.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"The Passion and the Cross" (Ronald Rolheiser)

TITLE: The Passion and the Cross
AUTHOR: Ronald Rolheiser
PUBLISHER: Cincinnati, OH, Franciscan Media, 2015, (128 pages).

We all like to be in control. We take pleasure in being in charge. We delight in making sure that things get done our way, according to our own preferences. What happens when things unravel and start to go out of our control? At that point, we become more aware of what it means to be helpless and totally dependent on circumstances beyond our control. Looking at the life of Jesus, if we can divide the life of Jesus in two parts, the first part would be how he ministers to others; teaches his disciples; rebukes the religious leaders; tells his parables; heals the sick; gives sight to the blind; prophesies about the future; proclaims about his impending death; glorifies God; and so on. Once at the Garden of Gethsemane, instead of him doing things to others, others do things to him. Soldiers arrest him; the Pharisees condemn him; Pilate charges him; people spit at him; the executioner kills him; and his disciples leave him. Rolheiser is a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. A well sought after speaker and established author, he is also president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. his writings in this book is full of spiritual insights that helps us marvel at the ordinary with renewed perspectives.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Short Trip to the Edge" (Scott Cairns)

TITLE: Short Trip to the Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven--A Pilgrimage
AUTHOR: Scott Cairns
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007, (272 pages).

We have heard about pilgrimages of lands and terrains; distances and heights. What about the practice of prayer? In this book, Scott Cairns does both. Calling Mount Athos (Agion Oros) in Northern Greece a "Holy Mountain," Cairns has been making trips to encounter the meaning of being "inhabited by a holy presence." It is also the readying of the heart to encounter God not only in the speedy race of life but also the slowing pace of reflectiveness. Given time, even the slowest would eventually make the turn. Even the highest mountain would be climbed.

Organizing the pilgrimage of prayer in three phases, the first is the FAR effect as one sets out to make the journey. Eight reflections on eight different prayers are written to reflect the state of his heart. Referring to the boat tied to the pier, he ponders about how a person will ever make the voyage if he remains parked in the safety of the harbour. Lack of risk taking is essentially unbelief. Recognizing the deep mountain significance of the spiritual, Cairns refers back to the pilgrims, the desert fathers, and the saints of old to remind himself that many had already made such trips. Praying is about learning. Every pilgrim had a spiritual father.

He reflects on the Jesus Prayer, not so much about invoking God's appearance but to tune one's heart to prepare for the presence of God. He ponders on the prayer of the heart and how the repetitive praying softens our hardened hearts. There is also the feelings the surround him and his fellow travelers when they got lost, and their maps were old ones. New terrains were not mapped. Who do they seek help? One's faith is not really tested until one practices the pilgrimage of faith. His praying habits were rudely interrupted by surrounding events. From the weather to the noisy clatter, the daunting conditions challenge his normal practice of prayer as he toggles between distractions and intentions. He learns a kind of fear that attracts rather than repels. One of the best parts of the book is his interactions with the orthodox monks and spiritual fathers. Learning from these faith practitioners bring a lot of profound insights. There is something very pastoral and caring from these orthodox monks that impresses. One Father Iákovos even asks about the visitors' family and cares for them in a very humbling manner. Father Cosmás has that immense capacity to offer hospitality. The central desire of these monks is how their very lives embody the elements of prayer, even the entire prayers themselves.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"The Christian Wallet" (Mike Slaughter with Karen Perry Smith)

TITLE: The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
AUTHOR: Mike Slaughter with Karen Perry Smith
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (200 pages).


It has been said that money makes the world go round. It is an expression that talks about the way how money has the power to make things happen. Even the Bible has lots to say about money and how we handle wealth. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve both God and Money. If we love God we will serve God. If we love Money, we would be serving Money. That underlines the importance of this book about how Christians are to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, in the way that we use money. In this very insightful book about how Christians can use their wealth; in the way they spend; the way they give; and the way they live. Mike Slaughter is Lead Pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio and author of several books including, “Dare to Dream,” “Change the World,” “Renegade Gospel,” “Upside Living in a Downside Economy,” and “Money Matters.” Now, in this new book, he expands on the area of wealth, money, and how Christians ought to steward this important resource. How we spend money reflects our financial priorities and values. How we live with money reflects our philosophy of life. In fact, money has a way of replacing our faith. Instead of prioritizing our activities with God in mind, many people consciously or unconsciously prioritize everything with money in mind. Slaughter asks some challenging questions about morality and money.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

"For the Least of These" (editors: Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley)

TITLE: For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty
AUTHOR: Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley (editors)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2015, (304 pages).

How do we help the poor? We know that Jesus ministers often among the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts. As disciples of Christ, we are called to be part of this movement to do likewise. The question is then, how? How much do we rely on governments to do the charity? How are Christians called to discharged their biblical responsibilities? Is a way to understand poverty? The editors of this book begin with a good summary of the problem. Bradley and Lindsey write:
"Christians understand that wealth is not an end in and of itself, but a necessary means of giving people choice, access to vital goods and services (like clean water and medical care), and an opportunity to serve and care for others. . . . . For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty was written to provide an alternative perspective for addressing the problem of poverty from both a biblical and economic point of view, presenting a framework that will allow us to become better stewards of the earth’s scarce resources and simultaneously to bring about a flourishing society." (12-13)

Poverty is a complex issue. It is more than simply having the rich handing over money to the poor. It is more than redistribution of wealth. More importantly, it is about empowering the poor to help themselves. Like the famous saying: "It is better to teach one how to fish and eat for a lifetime; instead of giving one a fish to eat for just a day."


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

"Journeying with Luke" (James Woodward, Paula Gooder and Mark Pryce)

TITLE: Journeying with Luke: Reflections on the Gospel
AUTHOR: James Woodward, Paula Gooder and Mark Pryce
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (128 pages).

The gospel of Luke is one of the most descriptive gospels about the life of Jesus. Meticulously written with facts and teachings recorded down by the faithful physician-disciple, Luke, it stirs the not just the minds of those studying it but also the hearts of those pondering on the truths they have. Written to accompany the Scripture readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, this book arises out of a series of conversations between the three authors. They want to determine how best to help others understand the gospels, to explain them and apply them for the busy individual. There is a mixture of information, interpretation, and reflection for personal application. They present the characteristics of each gospel theme, the shape of the gospel, the storytelling technique, and the underlying theological themes accompanying it. Paula Gooder, a writer and lecturer in New Testament studies gives us an analysis of the style of the gospel. Mark Pryce, Bishop's adviser for Continuing Ministerial Development in the Diocese of Birmingham offers poetry and prose to help us with spiritual imagination that is grounded in the gospel. James Woodward is canon of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and he offers pastoral and practical theological reflections. Togerther, they describe:

  • Who the author is?
  • The prologue of Luke and Acts
  • The role of Luke as a historian
  • The gospel as a two-volume work (ie, Luke and Acts)
  • Theological Themes (Soteriology, Eschatology, 
  • Jews and Gentiles
  • How the gospel of Luke can be read in conjunction with the liturgical year.
Beginning with Advent readings, readers will find it convenient to follow through the Calendar seasons of (Christmas and Epiphany); Lent; Passion Week; Easter narratives; Ordinary Time, and so on. Usually when we read the Revised Common Lectionary, it is usually the calendar that determines the reading of Luke. This book brings the gospel of Luke to the forefront, and gives us another angle to approach the liturgical year and the Scripture together. Four such books are written, each based on one of the four gospels. This book is the first of the series.

At the end of each chapter, there is a section for "action, conversations, questions, prayer" which makes this book an excellent resource for group study, teaching, discussion, even preaching. The book is brief which should appeal to those readers who do not have much time to read. The book is clear which can be profitably used in a group setting. I enjoy the reflections that end with a call to apply what we learn. Like Lent is essentially a renewal of vision. The Passion season brings together many themes of temptation, salvation, and the Fall, to help us appreciate Jesus even more. These and many more are put together in this guide that not only prepares the reader for devotion, it prepares the heart for action.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens (Jurgen Matthesius)

TITLE: PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens: Divine Principles for Praying with Confidence, Discerning God's Will, and Blessing Others
AUTHOR: Jurgen Matthesius
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2014, (256 pages).

Two things about this book grab my attention. The first is the acronym for PUSH which I think is brilliant. The second is that this is a book on prayer, in particular, persevering prayer. According to author Jurgen Matthesius, this book is essentially an exposition on biblical truths he had learned, surrounding persistent prayer. He intends this book also to push every button of ours so that we can be motivated to pray more. As founder of C3 San Diego, he is part of the leadership team for the global C3 Church network, with its origins from Australia, known for its impact on youths. He led the C3 Church and planted the San Diego plant in 2005. Today, they have three campuses in San Diego.

In this book, Matthesius uses a series of popular movie names to title his chapters. He uses "Inception" to point out the overall strategy of the movie. Instead of extracting information from people in their most vulnerable state, the movie centers on how the protagonist plants information into the minds of individuals. Matthesius then uses this example to show us that the Word of God planted in us will teach us rich truths of God to sustain and hold all things together. It motivates prayer. He teaches us that prayer is not about our own opinions about God but what the Word of God says about God.


Monday, January 11, 2016

"Philippians" Bible Study Guide (Sue Edwards)

TITLE: Philippians: Discovering Joy Through Relationship (Discover Together Bible Study Series)
AUTHOR: Sue Edwards
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (80 pages).

The New Testament letter to the Philippians has often been called the letter of joy.  What makes it more intriguing is that it was written by someone who was persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned. Modern readers will tend to wonder how that can all be possible in the first place. What consumes Paul? How can he continue to be so passionate even when persecuted? What drives him to do what he did? Many believers have studied Philippians either individually or together in groups. There is no lack of materials. So, readers may ask: What's with this newest Bible study resource? Here are some of the features:
  • It offers in-depth study at a "minimum time commitment"
  • There is a "digging deeper" section that challenges readers and students on where and what to probe.
  • It can be used together with web resources provided to supplement the study.
  • It is packed with contextual information on the sidebars
  • There are 8 lessons in all, not too long, not too short.

Each week, readers follow a familiar framework. First, there is a brief introduction to the study, something that groups with or without leaders can easily benefit. When group members read something together, they can best appreciate the contexts together. Second, there is the important task of reading the passage of study.This is followed by questions to guide the discussion. Here, I would suggest the group decide together as a group which questions to focus or study in depth, given the limited time. Well and clean, the Bible study booklet contains generous space for personal notes to be written directly into the book. The sidebars contain interesting notes, quotes, challenge prompts, and occasional commentary by Edwards herself.

The Discover Together series of Bible studies have been put together by Sue Edwards as an "Inductive Bible Study" resource to promote in-depth Bible study.  Edwards is Associate Professor of educational ministries and leadership at Dallas Theological Studies and has thirty years of experience in the classroom as a Bible teacher, curriculum writer, and overseer of several women's ministries. This resource is written primarily for women's studies but I think the study is useful enough to be used by both genders. The subtitle "Discovering Joy through Relationship" should entice groups to seriously consider studying Philippians.

This is a great resource and I warmly recommend it for all groups!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

conrade

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.

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Blue Note Preaching in a post-Soul World" (Otis Moss III)

TITLE: Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair
AUTHOR: Otis Moss III
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (136 pages).

There is much we can learn from the different kinds of preaching. My preaching professor once shared about the dynamism of Black Preaching, which according to Otis Moss III, is not about "preaching with a Black face" but a completely unique style that mixes preaching with storytelling; theology and technique; rhetoric with exposition; and vocal variety with bodily posturing. Moss adds that it is a "unique cultural narrative and theological enterprise where African motifs meet diverse western influences of North America. A beautiful, bold, homiletical voice, poetry, prophetic witness, southern storytelling, lament, blues, and celebration are born out of this tradition." What exactly is "blue note preaching?" For Moss, it means three things.

First, it means the traditional Black Preaching in a blues-filled environment. This requires the use of style and substance to speak the gospel of hope in an age of despair. With lots of bad news that stream through the news and social media nowadays, this need has grown more acute. Instead of preaching a form of private capitalism for the affluent, speak the gospel publicly to hungry souls. Move away from the "clamor of material blessings, success without work, prayer without public concern, and preaching without burdens." Re-embrace the literary beauty of the art of preaching. This mood is encapsulated in the history of the Blues art form, rooted in African cultural legacy that looks at life from the side of the marginalized in society. For Moss, this is well expressed by two theologians, August Wilson and Zora Neale Hurston. Wilson believes that "Blues Speech" has the "power to save" in the sense that the individual can be liberated from "spiritual isolation." It is prophetic preaching that is bold to speak about tragedy, yet hopeful enough not to fall into perpetual despair. Hurston takes the role of storytelling, whose novels give subdued emotions an eloquent avenue for honest expression. Blue-Note Preaching is like Isaiah's preaching that is filled with "poetic power and prophetic boldness" coupled with "Blues sensitivity." It opens the path for seekers to envision the Christ the Giver of all Hope. It creates a new world that is open to all, out of the shackles of the old world that is closed to many. Those who preach it know the pain of oppression, like Martin Luther King Jr. Those who understand it nods like Maya Angelou who refers to it as "sweet brutality." In such a preaching mood, Blue Note preaching not only makes Jesus central, it makes Jesus real.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

"A Commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles" (Eugene H. Merrill)

TITLE: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (Kregel Exegetical Library)
AUTHOR: Eugene H. Merrill
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (640 pages).

What can we make of the two books of Chronicles in the Bible? Are they merely re-telling the story of the historical exploits of Israel? Is the author simply copying the historical narrative of the writers of Kings and Samuel? These questions and more are tackled in this very comprehensive exegetical commentary on two Old Testament books. The underlying conviction in this volume is that the inspired writer is uniquely called to remember the history of Israel and how this plays into the unfolding biblical drama of God's greater plan for salvation.

Eugene H. Merrill is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and has previously written a commentary of Chronicles under the Lamplighter publishing label. This latest commentary not only updates the original, but includes greater theological content and exegetical insights. With meticulous care, Merrill begins by explaining what the names "chronicles" mean. In fact, the Greek LXX calls chronicles as "things left out" while the Latin Vulgate renders the title as "chronichon" from which we get our english titles for the two books. It is set from as early as 530 BC to as late as early 4th Century. It is a book about political re-establishment, social reforms, religious reforms, and also a powerful glimpse and reiteration of God's bigger plan for salvation. Apart from the discussion on the authorship of the book, there are useful insights pertaining to the canonical placement of the book; the literary forms; genre description; the sources and historiography; the compositional structure; textual criticism; an overview of major studies; the theology of the book; analytical outlines; and of course the main body which is the commentary itself.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Malestrom" (Carolyn Curtis James)

TITLE: Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World
AUTHOR: Carolyn Curtis James
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (224 pages).

The Bible, especially the Old Testament has often been accused of patriarchalism. For many contemporary ears, the language, the culture, and the social status of men in the ancient near east have become out of date with modern sensitivities. Not only that, most people nowadays will be up in arms with women over equal rights and equal treatment, anyone using the Bible to justify masculine superiority will be in for a big fight. Worse, when we let cultural norms both past and present to define how we read the Bible, we will fail to interpret what the Bible is actually saying to us. The single biggest point in this book is this: Reject distorted models of patriarchy. Beware of the hidden dangers of the "malestrom" which is a play of words of a wind whirlpool phenomena called "maelstrom."  Carolyn Curtis James writes out of her comfort zone to write about males issues, stating what "malestrom" is. She writes: "The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species — causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons. The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally."


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"Hollywood Jesus" (Matt Rawle)

TITLE: Hollywood Jesus: A Small Group Study Connecting Christ and Culture (The Pop in Culture Series)
AUTHOR: Matt Rawle
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (128 pages).

How is pop culture influencing the world? Are Christians able to counter this pervasive reach of Hollywood with the gospel? If all things were made through Christ, and Christians called to reach the world for Christ, why does it seem that more people know about Hollywood stars than the person of Jesus Christ? How do we reach a people who have been so thoroughly indoctrinated with Hollywood philosophy that oozes worldliness? According to author Matt Rawle, we are not called to reject the pop culture around us. Instead, we need to "re-narrate" them. Just like Jesus who did not reject the cross but endured the shame and transformed something very bad into something so powerful. The purpose of this four-session small group study is to learn to engage the culture around us by opening our eyes to the "spiritual truths" flowing through many different channels of communications today. Key to the whole book is the question: "How are we portraying Jesus to those in our circles of influence?"

One common theme throughout pop culture is the story it tells. Many Hollywood movies depend on good stories that moved from books to screens. In fact, Rawle asserts that the story of Jesus Christ has been portrayed from explicitly Christian titles like "Jesus of Nazareth," "The Gospel of John," "The Passion of the Christ," "Jesus Christ Superstar," to other less obvious titles like "Tommy," "The Matrix," "Ratatouille," "Man of Steel," and even "Star Wars." The sessions are entitled as follows:

Monday, January 4, 2016

"A Vision For Preaching" (Abraham Kuruvilla)

TITLE: A Vision for Preaching: Understanding the Heart of Pastoral Ministry
AUTHOR: Abraham Kuruvilla
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (214 pages).

Three words anchor this book: "Preach the Word." The purpose is to let the Word shine in this world biblically, pastorally, amid an "alchemical and distillatory tendencies of this generation." This means not submitting to humanistic desires for newness but to re-tell God's story faithfully regardless of old or new. This means not succumbing to tendencies to reduce to Word to what it is not, but let the Word speak clearly, insightfully, and powerfully. As far as the author is concerned, it involves eight questions based on eight preaching thrusts:
  1. Whose words were these words originally? (Biblical)
  2. Who said it? (Pastoral)
  3. In what context? (Ecclesial)
  4. What should these words convey? (Communicational)
  5. What is the general thrust of the text? (Theological)
  6. Who was the audience? (Applicational)
  7. Why was it said? (Conformational)
  8. To what ultimate end? (Doxological)
  9. By whose power? (Spiritual)
All of these are summarized in one vision statement: "Preaching is biblical (Biblical) - by a leader of the church (Pastoral) - in a gathering of Christians for worship (Ecclesial) - is the communication of the thrust of a pericope of Scripture (Communicational) - discerned by theological exegesis, (Theological) - and of its application to that specific body of believers, (Applicational) - that they may be conformed to the image of Christ, (Conformational) - for the glory of God (Doxological) - all in the power of the Holy Spirit (Spiritual)."


Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Happiness" (Randy Alcorn)

TITLE: Happiness
AUTHOR: Randy Alcorn
PUBLISHER: Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, (496 pages).

What defines the way we live? Most likely, it is the search for happiness. Put it in whatever way or whatever terms, there is an innate desire in many people to want to be happy. Parents want their children to be happy. Husbands and wives want a happy marriage. Communities that thrive are those that celebrate happy moments. Who doesn't want to be happy? In dealing with this oft-pursued attribute of life, people try all kinds of ways to search for happiness. In many societies, especially in the West, the three primary ways are the philosophies of individualism (All-I-want); materialism (things-I-want); and the insatiable pursuit of success (All-I-Desire).

Happiness is what everybody want. If only the world could be a happier place, happier than the "happiest place on earth." Randy Alcorn has written a breathtaking overview and treatise on what happiness means to a Christian. He knows what it means to be happy or sad. While there are cases in both extremes, the majority of us live in the tensions in between. Alcorn observes that "numerous Christians live in daily sadness, anger, anxiety, or loneliness, thinking these feelings are inevitable given their circumstances. They lose joy over traffic jams, a stolen credit card, or increased gas prices. They read Scripture with blinders on, missing the reasons for happiness expressed on nearly every page."


Friday, January 1, 2016

"Five Views on the Church and Politics" (various contributors)

TITLE: Five Views on the Church and Politics (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: J. Brian Benestad; Robert Benne; Bruce L. Fields; Thomas W. Heilke; James K.A. Smith; Amy E. Black; Stanley Gundry
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (240 pages).

Should Christians participate in politics? If it is no, is it a responsible way to live in this world? If yes, how should Christians relate to the political leaders of the land? What about the separation of Church and state? What does it mean? If a Church totally abandon all forms of involvement, what happens when the government makes decisions that negatively impact the Church? While most believers will tend to walk the middle way, to be involved only when absolutely necessary, Christians in general are split right down the middle generally, and at least five ways theologically. In this book, we learn of five such ways in the relationship between Church and state. In fact, when we read the gospels, we see how the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with the question of whether the Jews ought to pay tax to the Romans. Either way, Jesus would be trapped. If Jesus answered 'yes,' the Jews would be unhappy. If he said 'no,' the Romans would come after him.  Life nowadays are a lot more different than the first century. Moreover, Christians living in the modern world now have the benefit of hundreds of years of theological reflection. This book distills five different points of view surrounding relationship between Church and state. Editor Amy Black calls it the five historic traditions of Anabaptist, Lutheran, Black Church, Reformed, and Catholic. Five contributors have been invited to this discussion and after one proposition, there would be four other responses. This gives readers multiple dimensions of each proposition and alternative viewpoints. Each political thought begins with a historical background of the denomination and how they arrive at the current political thought. The names of key founders and significant leaders are mentioned, together with the unique circumstances they face. Then comes the theological distinctivenesses and how these shape their interactions with politics. Each contributor would then propose their model of political engagement and their specific concerns. They all deal with the common case of poverty. This would be followed by four respondents from the other schools of political thought.