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Thursday, March 30, 2017

"The New City Catechism Devotional" (Collin Hansen)

TITLE: The New City Catechism Devotional: God's Truth for Our Hearts and Minds (The Gospel Coalition)
AUTHOR: Collin Hansen
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

How can we grow spiritually? In most churches, they would list the four main methods of growth: Bible, Prayer, Fellowship, and Outreach. Others would put the need to go to Church regularly, and to serve in some capacity faithfully. Unfortunately, the results are not very encouraging. Some believers, having gone through all these conventional paths still find it frustrating when they feel they have not grown beyond their comfort zones. One way our ancestors have done is through catechism. Catechisms are short question and answer format that are meant for new believers, new members, and those needing a refresher course on the fundamentals of the faith. There are already many old catechisms published. Why then do we need another catechism?

According to author Collin Hansen, catechisms were written for three purposes. First, they outline a comprehensive exposition of the gospel. Second, they counter heresies and false teachings. Third, they show believers ways to be Christlike, both individually and as a community. These three purposes apply today. People today need to be reminded and refreshed about what the gospel is. They also need to be equipped against false teachings that continue to deceive and distract. They need to re-examine both old and new ways of becoming more Christlike. In this book, Hansen attempts to refresh the catechisms with 52 basic questions and answers. It can be used on a weekly basis over a year. It is based on the historical catechisms like Calvin's Geneva Catechism, Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and the Heidelberg Catechism. Hansen structures it as follows:

  • Part 1: God, creation and fall, law (twenty questions)
  • Part 2: Christ, redemption, grace (fifteen questions)
  • Part 3: Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (seventeen questions)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Watching TV Religiously" (Kutter Callaway)

TITLE: Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Kutter Callaway with Dean Batali
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (278 pages).

It has been said that watching TV is a great way to understand the cultural contexts of our day. Even in an age of online streaming and changing types of media consumption, the ubiquitous TV is still a major channel of audio-visual dissemination of information, news, entertainment, sports, and others. Current affairs inform minds. Science fiction and imagination influence futuristic thoughts. History educate minds. Through story-telling, TV as a medium can be used to communicate a tapestry of human thought and culture. For the Christian, it is wise not to consume these programs uncritically but to develop a thoughtful and theological mode of thinking, even as we watch such programs. How do we watch TV religiously? This question is explored using examples of TV programs both past and present. The three purposes in this book are:

  1. To outline a set of analytical tools for critical engagement with TV programs;
  2. To supply a process of theological reflection to articulate and perceive the movements of God
  3. To develop a theology of television for both celebration and critique.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Understanding the Culture" (Jeff Myers)

TITLE: Understanding the Culture: A Survey of Social Engagement
AUTHOR: Jeff Myers
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2017, (576 pages).

This book is the third of a trilogy of books about understanding the world we live in.  The first is "Understanding the Faith" which deals with a survey of Apologetics, about how we can share the faith with others. It helps us to understand the place of theology and apologetics.The second is "Understanding the Times" which deals with the various popular worldviews existing today. Not only does it help us understand the different religious and existing worldviews, it gives us a chance to appreciate the biblical Christian worldview more. This is the third book which deals with specific topics regarding culture. It deals with common needs that we encounter every day. Topics like:
  • Technology
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Value of Human Life
  • Sexuality
  • Marriage
  • Creation Care
  • Politics
  • Religious Freedom and Persecution
  • Poverty Care, Poverty Cure
  • Use of Force
  • Justice
  • Community Renewal

Friday, March 24, 2017

"The Good Book" (Deron Spoo)

TITLE: The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible's Biggest Ideas
AUTHOR: Deron Spoo
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2017, (400 pages).

In an increasingly impatient world, we often get challenged by the request: "Just get to the point!" This is a popular method to get us to come down to the very basic of basics. Unfortunately, it could be a challenge when it comes to the Bible. How can anyone get to the point about the sixty-six books of the Bible? Moreover, the Old Testament alone is already a huge amount to work through. Perhaps, the next best thing is to summarize big ideas of the Bible. This book attempts to summarize the beginning of the world; how the world fell into sin; making sense of God in the suffering; learning about what tough love means; the coming of Jesus; and what it means to live for Jesus, through Jesus, for the world.

This book makes the Bible a personal expedition for us to journey along and to find ourselves in the big story of God. It helps us move from Genesis to Revelation without being bogged down by the many chapters and verses. Many people do not read the Bible in its entirety partly because it seems impossible to read such a thick collection of books. Many of the passages are also difficult to read. Though the wisdom of old reminds us about the Power of the Word of God, we still fail to appreciate the Bible partly because we lack the rails to the whole story. Through forty selected chapters, it is hoped that this book will not only give us a gist of where the Bible narratives, teachings, and stories are heading, we are encouraged to read the Bible eventually. Like a mini-walk through the Bible project, this book contains an overview of some of the key ideas of the Bible. Key ideas such as:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Gospel Fluency" (Jeff Vanderstelt)

TITLE: Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life
AUTHOR: Jeff Vanderstelt
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017, (224 pages).

How can we speak the truth of Jesus into our everyday life? Being fluent is like the ability to communicate well in a particular language. The four basic language skills to measure competence are reading; writing; speaking; and hearing. As far as the gospel is concerned, this is what we all should strive to achieve, according to author Jeff Vanderstelt. He begins by declaring that all believers are in one way or another 'unbelievers.' It does not mean we do not believe. It simply means that there are pockets in various parts of our lives that we do not believe. That's the reason why we need Jesus. Using this fluency metaphor, Vanderstelt speaks gospel throughout the book. Whether it is flushing out unbelief or instilling greater belief, he passionately believes in the power of the gospel to heal and to reconcile people to God, and people to people. The gospel message begins right from Genesis and ends in Revelation. It deals with the creation of mankind and the fall due to sin. He describes the way God has spoken to us through the many people through history. The gospel saves and the salvation is through faith in Jesus.

From the gospel story, we learn about the Gospel in every one of us, that we all yearn for good news. In order to talk about the One we love, we need to be loved by the One who came to us. We need to watch our mind to know that it is the battlefield of many competing worldviews. Gradually, Vanderstelt shows us what faith in us can do to our lifestyles. By the fruits we will know the result of the gospel. Thankfully, we are not alone. So passionate is Vanderstelt about the gospel that he relates how he wishes he was a believer much earlier. Whether we are going through hard times at work or school; home or office; or any where else, we need to be reminded that Jesus is better that all of the solutions to them, combined. He talks about a gospel community who will do much better than to complain about their work or jobs. He challenges us to ask:

  1. How does the gospel speak good news into the situation?
  2. What about the gospel that we need to hear right now?
  3. What gospel have we forgotten?
  4. How is Jesus better than our wants?
By regular reminder about what Jesus means to us, we can learn gospel fluency. Like living waters, gospel fluency is about letting the gospel touch us in every way possible that we can live out the gospel in every way possible. Just like his previous book, Saturate, this book essentially continues the saturation process by creating a lasting vision in every one of us to be gospel-saturated in thought, word, and in deed. From beginning to end, this message is consistent. I read this book with an amazed WOW. Vanderstelt means what he says and lives what he writes. 

Jeff Vanderstelt is visionary leader of the Soma Family of Churches and Saturate. He is also the lead pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA. He has previously written books like Saturate. This latest book is his third. His website is at www.jeffvanderstelt.com

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Spirituality of Paul" (Leslie Hardin)

TITLE: The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life
AUTHOR: Leslie Hardin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (192 pages).

We have all heard of the famous Apostle Paul, how he turned from persecutor to persecuted; from Judaism to Christianity; from Pharisaic behaviour to Christlike follower. He is a theologian, a disciple, and a powerful orator. He is a visionary who has "intense religious" experiences." Much have been written about Paul, his epistles, his history, and the many heroic descriptions of his life. The same however cannot be said about his inner life. What is Pauline spirituality? How is the Apostle's spiritual life? What can we learn from Paul with regard to Christian Spirituality or Spiritual Formation? Is there a way in which we can find out about how Paul lives in the Spirit? Are the epistles in the Bible sufficient for us to understand Paul's spirituality? Compounded by the fact that ancient writers seldom write about themselves, it makes the task of describing Paul's inner life more challenging. Moreover, the purpose of Paul's letters is more about God's will for the Church and for the people he had been called to minister to. In this book, author Leslie Hardin gleans most of his material from Paul's epistles and the book of Acts. The others comprise secondary sources, other scholarly works, and historical evidence. He looks at nine spiritual disciplines before outlining the six marks of Paul's spirituality. These nine disciplines are:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Ministry Mantras" (J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt)

TITLE: Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture
AUTHOR: J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (269 pages).

A mantra is a short word, phrase, or a chant. It can be a proverb or a wise saying. Inspired by Guy Kawasaki's words "Don't write a mission statement, write a mantra," authors Briggs and Hyatt have taken up the challenge to do just that for the Church ministry and Christian ministries in general. Writing a mantra forces one to choose only the most appropriate and significant words to project a thought or a meaning. It brings clarity to the hearers by first bringing clarity to the writers. According to the authors, mantras need four elements.

  1. It is wise and truthful
  2. The message is clear
  3. It is compelling
  4. It is memorable

A ministry mantra is basically describing the organizational mission or vision in a brief statement. It is important because its simplicity promotes clarity; clarity encourages creativity; and creativity inspires ease of communications. Briggs and Hyatt call it "the proverbial seeds of kingdom values planted in local communities of faith." They structure this book in 80 short chapters, with each chapter titled with a mantra. They supply mantras in two parts: for leaders and for the community. For leaders, there are sections pertaining to leadership; vision; motivation; ministry; pastoral care; leadership development; opportunities; success; and Self-Development. For the community, they write on matters to promote community; formation; tips on responding to conflicts; learning to do outreach and stewardship. Many of the mantras have given rise to creative thinking and opportunities to think out of the box. Some of my favourites are:

  • "Leadership is Purposefully Choosing Whom You will disappoint"
  • "Structure must always submit to Spirit"
  • "Don't Try to make Church relevant to the crowds; Make the Gospel Relatable to the Context"
  • "If they know you love them, you can say anything to them"
  • "Ministry is Meeting People where they are and Journeying with them to where God wants them to Be "
  • "Ministry happens in the interruptions"
  • "The essence of discipleship i snot knowledge, but imitation"
  • "Quit looking for leaders and start building them"
  • "It's kingdom, not competition"
  • "We will let you down: If we're close enough to help, we're close enough to hurt"
  • "Community is made, not found"
  • "Rotate your crops"
  • "Church is free, but it ain't cheap"
Mantras are languages spoken or written in a clear and brief manner. It cuts away the spaghetti of mass information to yield an important point. While we can always say that context is important, being able to communicate something is better than people disengaging completely. In an attention-deficit world, many are jumping on the bandwagon of short quips and easy quotes. They prefer abbreviations and straight to the point messages. They have no time to bother with long essays. Reading has also taken a beating, with more people choosing electronic media over print. This is why I believe books like this will reach a segment of readers in a way that traditional books could not. It is a great resource for leaders to learn how to do ministry without letting unrealistic expectations overwhelm them. The mantras does three things.

First, it challenges our set thinking. Just because things have been done a certain way in the past does not mean it must be so for the present and future. Indeed, churches that are struggling tend to look back at the good-old-days, forgetting that the past can never be repeated in new contexts. By shaking up the status quo, leaders are forced to be creative and innovative in their ministry approaches. This does not mean throwing the past away. It means being open to change. This openness enables us to humbly seek God for what is best for the Church or ministry. Second. it helps us think out of the box. The ideas like "disagreeing without disengaging" forces us to learn how to disagree without running away from the disagreement altogether. For every conflict, there is a chance to learn more about the other parties and ourselves. Learning to work together is a core need in the Church. If churches fail to work together, what kind of a testimony will that present to outsiders? Third, the book may comprise of brief chapters but what it lacks in depth it more than compensates in the breadth of coverage of issues in ministry. 

JR Briggs is founder of Kairos Partnership and calls himself the Pastor/Cultural Cultivator of Renew Community. He has previously written a book entitled "Fail." Bob Hyatt is author, coach, and spiritual director. He is pastor and elder at the Everygreen Community as well as a staff member with Ecclesia Network.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Inter-Varsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Jesus Among Secular Gods" (Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale)

TITLE: Jesus Among Secular Gods: The Countercultural Claims of Christ
AUTHOR: Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faithwords, 2017, (256 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about idols? In the Old Testament, it was about graven images or some physical artifact. In the New Testament, we read about false teachings and deceptive ideologies. One common theme among these idols and false teachings is the way it tries to unravel God's intended purposes, to suggest other ways instead of God's way. This trend continues today under the guise of secular gods. Modern society in the West has become more secular than ever.  The altars are everywhere and comprise both religious as well as non-religious idols. The claims of Christ are not only opposed by the traditional mainstream religions and cults, they are also aggressively pushed back by the secular forces of today. Famous apologist Ravi Zacharias knows it full well, having received a hostile reception on the basis of his stand for Jesus. He shares: "I was a nominal Christian but never gave that much thought, either. Most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, with a few others of different faiths. I never recall feeling any anger or hostility toward those who believed differently than me, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may have seemed to me. Nor do I remember ever being on the receiving end of such anger and hostility because I did not have the same belief."

Friday, March 10, 2017

"The Simplest Way to Change the World" (Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements)

AUTHOR: Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (176 pages).

Change the world? Is that really possible? Would that require a lot of money or human resources? For many people, changing their own neighborhood might be a miracle already. Rather than launching gigantic projects or to pour huge sums of money into some huge infrastructural plan, it is actually quite simple. It takes one to start. It takes one to invite another. It simply takes one individual to share love and goodness with another, one at a time. For authors Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements, it is possible one neighbour at a time. More importantly, it begins with one's heart of hospitality. After all, hospitality is a biblical exhortation. Indeed, the world is changed by the Living Word and how the Word lives in the people who claim to believe it.

They first describe the potential of biblical hospitality. Opportunities lurk at workplaces; hobby locations; social environments; homes; etc. It could be as small as inviting someone over for a cup of coffee or being welcoming in how we greet people. It is about engaging people intentionally. Unfortunately, we have become misinformed or misguided about what hospitality means. For some it means coming up against some of our comfort activities like isolation with our own digital devices. We give excuses that hospitality runs against our need for personal relaxation and entertainment. Busyness could also hinder our cause. These four cultural currents need to be overcome. It begins with God to know that God has created a home for all people. This home is to be shared. This home is to be occupied by a hospitable people who see opportunities rather than obstacles in the establishment of a culture of hospitality. Opportunities such as:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Why People Matter" (various contributors)

TITLE: Why People Matter: A Christian Engagement with Rival Views of Human Significance
AUTHOR: Russell DiSilvestro, David P. Gushee, Amy Laura Hall, John F. Kilner, Gilbert C. Meilaender, Scott B. Rae, and Patrick T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (240 pages).

It is often taken for granted that human lives are sacred. Although the practice of human rights and protections differ from country to country, it is generally accepted that people matter. What is not so clear is the reason behind the laws and policies. With the continuing debate over euthanasia, abortion, planned parenting, the death penalty, genetic engineering, hunger strikes, war, and so on, this is not a simple matter. Opinions differ. Many agree on the importance of people but disagree on how they are implemented. There are differences with regard to understanding 'human dignity,' 'human rights,' 'fair treatment,' and so on. Bringing together five different outlooks, the authors try to see these differences in the hope of helping Christians engage appropriately. It is better to be aware so as not to talk from a position of ignorance. At the same time, we can learn humility in recognizing the diversity of human interactions. If we learn to take the convictions of other people seriously, they are more likely to reciprocate.

The first is utilitarianism where the 'ends justify the means.' Gilbert C. Meilaender examines its proponent Henry Sidgwick, who teaches the purpose of life as to produce the maximum amount of happiness for people. In trying to gain the most good for the masses, he loses the unique distinctiveness of the individual. After all, if happiness for many is more important, what about the individual? Meilaender pushes back on Sidgwick by saying that utilitarianism undermines human individual dignity and we risk usurping the place of God. Gradually, he gives reasons as to why the Christian perspective of community and how it preserves the sanctity of the individual.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts Devotional" (Les and Leslie Parrott)

TITLE: Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts Devotional: 52 Meditations for Spiritual Intimacy
AUTHOR: Les and Leslie Parrott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017, (272 pages).

This is a devotional book with a particular focus: Marriage Spirituality. It underscores the fundamental belief that marriage is tightly bound in our devotion to God. It is not just about being married but about the common ground of faith in God. Souls that are alive to God will naturally be alive to one another. All the 52 devotionals are aimed at anchoring couples in the Word of God and applying the Word into their marriages. The basic format is as follows:
  • Opening Thought
  • Passage from the Bible
  • Reading and Discussion
  • Spiritual Intimacy Exercises
  • Prayer
  • A Story or Testimony Illustration
There are many themes covered that affect marriages. Financial matters do threaten to bring anxiety into the relationship. With the Bible as a clear guide, couples are encouraged to look at their marriages from the eyes of God. On service, couples can look toward a "higher dignity and power" that when they serve one another, they are doing so in the service of God Almighty. We learn about the golden glue of all relationships: Forgiveness. Marriage is about togetherness not just in words but also in deeds. If married individuals learn to look and serve the other more than themselves, they not only fulfill the law of loving one another, they help bond the marriage with the glue of service. Other topics include:

Friday, March 3, 2017

"The Shack" Movie Review

AUTHOR: William P Young
CAST: The film stars Sam Worthington (Avatar, Wrath of the Titans, Clash of the Titans), Academy Award®-winner Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress, 2012 –The Help; The Divergent Series film franchise), Grammy Award® Winner Tim McGraw (The Blind Side), Radha Mitchell (Olympus Has Fallen), Alice Braga (Queen of the South, Elysium), Aviv Alush (The Gordin Cell) and Graham Greene (Longmire). The screenplay by John Fusco is based on the best-selling faith-based book, “The Shack,” by William Paul Young in collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. Stuart Hazeldine (Exam) directs the film, which is produced by the Oscar-nominated Gil Netter (Life of Pi, The Blind Side, Marley & Me) and Brad Cummings.

This movie is based on the bestselling book of the same name, written by author William Paul Young. You can read the brief synopsis from the official resource page here. That would help readers who have not read the book to get a gist of the story.

I watched the preview on Wednesday evening, thanks to the gracious invitation of Graf-Martin Communications. Right from the start, we were asked to be prepared to shed tears. A Kleenex box was also provided for those who needed it. We were shown a brief video from one of the show's advocates, followed by a 2 hours and 12 minutes of heart-gripping story telling about God, the struggle of man with the issue of pain and suffering. and many theological matters that the Christian would be familiar with. Some of the themes include:
  • Justice and Love
  • Pain and Suffering
  • The Trinity
  • The Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
  • Freedom and grace
  • Forgiveness
  • Family
  • Tragedy and Grace
  • New creation
  • Visions of heaven
  • Wisdom 
  • Human limitations
  • ... and many more

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"The Good of Giving Up" (Aaron Damiani)

TITLE: The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent
AUTHOR: Aaron Damiani
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (192 pages).

What is Lent? Why are many Christians so passionate about this season? Why should believers observe the occasion? What is the purpose of fasting and praying during this time? Aren't we all supposed to fast and pray not just for the Lenten season? Aaron Damiani, lead pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Chicago helps us with these questions and more. He begins with a confession of how he began years ago as a novice, and grows not just to like the whole ritual itself, but to share the season as a "springtime for the soul." In this book, he writes in a three part format to show us the good of giving up, and more.

In Part One, he covers his own personal journey from the wilderness of perplexity to the sacred path of intentionality. We are urged to enter the wilderness because the gospel is true; because it prepares our hearts for Easter; and because of how it increases our desire for the Promised Land. After tracing the history of Lent all the way back to the Fourth Century, Damiani affirms the season of Lent as a "school that trains people to live as Christians." It is a great opportunity to train us in Christlikeness. He shares some biblical principles and insights about the need for fasting and becoming satisfied in Christ alone. It is a time of confession. It is a time of hope and anticipation. He addresses some common objections like: