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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You" (Tony Reinke)

TITLE: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
AUTHOR: Tony Reinke
PUBLISHER: Wheaton IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

If there is any one icon of our modern age, it would be the ubiquitous cell-phone. Not too long ago, we have credit card companies like American Express whose catchy advertisement says: "Don't leave home without it." Now, we cannot leave our homes without our phones with us. Some people would even drive all the way back from work when they realize they had left their phones at home. It has become our scheduler, daytimer, our work device, our home appliance, our online radio, our social media outlet, our camera, our notebook, our key way of communications, and many more. Yet, there are risks with regard to its use. This book demonstrates to us that there are at least 12 ways that we are being changed by this little device. Like a small rudder that turns a large ship, the little cell-phone can turn even the toughest human being. In the foreword to this book, John Piper declared that "smartphones are dangerous" simply because it can become an idol. The famous media critic, Marshall McLuhan asserts that technology, which includes smartphones are essentially extensions of oneself. Jacques Ellul warns us about the unpredictability of these new innovations while Oliver O'Donavan reminds us to be aware of the more important things BEFORE the proliferation of the smartphone. While some medical professionals may focus on the dangerous effects of radiation from the phone, Reinke looks from a lifestyle angle. Spurred by critical analyses from Oliver O'Donavan, Jacques Ellul, and Marshall McLuhan, the author approaches smartphones from a measured angle, not taking extreme views of either good or bad. Specifically, he asks: "What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?" He calls readers to re-examine the ways they are using the phone. He maintains that he is also writing for himself. That is true because the smartphones have affected most people on this planet. It is rare to ever find anyone without a cellphone these days.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"Questioning Evangelism" (Randy Newman)

TITLE: Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did
AUTHOR: Randy Newman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (280 pages).

There was a time in which evangelism is about declaring the gospel outright, spouting out the promises of faith and the perils of non-belief. Then comes the popularity of apologetics where the skills of defending the gospel take on a more prominent role. The ministries such as RZIM and Lee Strobel's Reason for Faith help to fill in the increasing demand for training in defending the gospel. Building upon these two core skills of declaring and defending the gospel in evangelism, author Randy Newman zooms in on a third core skill appropriate for a postmodern climate: dialogue. It is about engaging people where they are. It asks the tough questions of life and goes beyond mere defending toward greater understanding. It prompts people to know that even Christians ask the same set of questions. Legitimate questions are never bounded by faith positions. In fact, learning to ask questions and to respond to them well is key to engaging people these days, just like Jesus did during His days. Use these questions as bridges to foster dialogue and sustain meaningful conversations.

Newman shares about the power of questions even as he deals with basic words such as "God," "love," "sin," etc. We tend to be easily frustrated when we struggle with finding out pin-point answers to complex questions. We can learn from the way of "Rabbinic Evangelism" where we respond to questions with questions. It is not simply to give a logical, rational answer, but to open up the conversation for open learning by all. We learn about Solomon's four lessons:
  1. Avoiding arguments
  2. Recognizing a fool
  3. Remembering people are people
  4. Remembering the power of the tongue.
Evangelism is not about winning arguments. It is about winning souls. Even though questions may not give us answers, they can pave the way for meaningful responses. Newman gives us five principles and five operative questions to help us along. They cover a wide variety of possibilities which would open up the conversation. Through the process, we can also uncover important questions asked by many in the secular and atheistic culture:
  • "Why are Christians so intolerant?"
  • Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?
  • Why does God allow 9/11 to happen?
  • Why should anyone believe in an ancient book?
  • "Why are Christians so homophobic?"
  • "What's so good about marriage?"
  • "If Jesus is so great, why are some of His followers such jerks?"
  • ...
Many of these questions are also difficult for Christians to deal with directly. Sometimes, the best answer when we don't know how to respond is to admit we don't know. The final part of the book touches a little bit about that when questions and answers alone are no longer enough. It is good to be able to dialogue in the open, but there are journeys in which every individual would have to take and decide for themselves. Such questions include matters of the will rather than reason or in matters of the heart instead of the head. There is also a time where the best thing to do is to be quiet. Notice how Jesus refused to answer some of the taunts and jests by the religious leaders of His day? Throughout the entire book, Newman gives us examples of how Jesus had dealt with opposition and issues during His day. Jesus uses a host of skills to deal with threats and traps. He uses Rabbinic style of replying to questions with questions. He often points people toward the more eternal things of life. He does not mince his words when proclaiming truth. The author believes that the way of "Questioning Evangelism" is essentially the way of Jesus. Jesus adopts all forms of declaration; defending; and dialogue.

There are many issues addressed in the book. One of the main areas is how to respond to skeptics and critics in an increasingly hostile climate. One can respond to the hypocrite charge with a simple question, "Do you seriously think that ALL Christians are hypocrites?" One can seek to understand the reasons behind the charge through questions that open up bridges of understanding. There is no need to jump to any defense because truth can defend itself. When dealing with questions that have no immediate answer, we could approach it with compassion. One of the most moving parts of the book is in how we differentiate anger from contempt. Newman quotes Dallas Willard's brilliant take on the Sermon on the Mount:

"In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don't care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say. You are not worth consideration one way or the other. We can be angry at someone without denying their worth. But contempt makes it easier for us to hurt them or see them further degraded."

There are many other examples on how to deal with our angry self and when we simply have no words to say. In our day and age, books like this will increasingly be relevant. No longer are people open to unilateral declarations of the gospel. They want their voices to be heard. They are not content to simply hear the gospel proclaimed but to deal with the bad news occurring all around us. They are more open to conversation with people who care to listen. This book paves the way for us to do just that.

Randy Newman is the senior teaching fellow for evangelism and apologetics at the CS Lewis Institute in Washington DC. After serving over thirty years at Campus Crusade for Christ, he started Connection Points to equip Christians on matters of evangelism. He specializes in helping people of diverse backgrounds on issues of faith.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications as part of their blog tour event without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"The Way of the Dragon OR The Way of the Lamb" (Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel)

TITLE: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It
AUTHOR: Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2017, (250 pages).

Is the culture influencing the Church or vice versa? Is the Church trying to take things into her own hands by trying the clothe herself with relevance, programs, activities, and worldly attractions in order to bring people into the Church? Are humans replacing God's way with their own plans? In this book, authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel examine the seductions happening in the Church at large. The title of the book was inspired by Eugene Peterson's perceptive observation about the temptations facing the Church. Are we adopting the way of Jesus or are we preferring the seductions of the dragon? What does it mean to employ the way of Jesus in a Church surrounded by cultural expectations and fleshly temptations? How do we discern and choose? What are the powers we need to recognize, keep in check, or adopt? For the authors, there are only two ways: God's way or the ways of the dragon. Key to the detection of which way lies in the way we receive and handle power.

What is the Way of the Dragon? It is simply about the exercise of power with greed, strength, and an attitude of world domination. It matches an eye for an eye and retaliates with an even stronger show of force. It despises weakness and attempts to hide any vulnerabilities. It takes the road most people traveled and refuses to accept failure at any level. Churches that practice these ways tend to avoid weakness and foolishness like a plague. They showcase their special leader. They boast in the size of their buildings and budgets. They grow at all costs even if it means minimizing the gospel. Between large and small, they always choose the former. In the process, they dine with the devil of prosperity and power.

Monday, May 22, 2017

"Recapturing the Wonder" (Mike Cosper)

TITLE: Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World
AUTHOR: Mike Cosper
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (224 pages)

The title of this book catches a nerve. In a technologically rich and overwhelmingly connected world, we tend to spend more time trying to talk and solve problems instead of appreciating and listening. Learning to appreciate life is about reconnecting back to what life is about. How do we deal with our doubts? What are we to make of the stresses and pressures of life? Perhaps, what is most disconcerting is when we are able to rationalize small details of our lives, but fail to connect them all together to make sense of the larger picture. This book seeks to examine the gaps and to help us tell our own stories. Author Mike Cosper draws on the expertise and experience of well-known authors, theologians, and spiritual writers to guide him along. These people form powerful testimonies that God is not some distant clockmaker but is up close and personal. With guides like Hannah Arendt, Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Helen MacDonald, David Foster Wallace, and others. He describes the seven pathways in which we can find connections in our increasingly fragmented world, and to find ourselves as we navigate the complexity and sophistication around us. In each chapter, Cosper describes the issues and problems we face in our existing culture before presenting a possible pathway to make sense of our role.

Friday, May 19, 2017

"Face to Face" (Jayme Hull with Laura Captari)

TITLE: Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life
AUTHOR: Jayme Hull with Laura Captari
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

When we have an important issue to discuss, if possible, we prefer to talk in person. Even in an Internet age, being physically present still makes a difference when it comes to interpersonal relationships. We can talk over the telephone but cannot see the facial expressions. We can talk via Messenger or SMS but we are limited only to the words sent or received. We can use social media but there is no guarantee of an immediate response. Good communications are beyond words or voices. Years ago, I learn that it is quite acceptable to use technology when giving praises and positive feedback. When it comes to criticisms or negative feedback, talk face to face. Taking something tense offline will not only defuse any explosive situation, it increases space for understanding. For author and ministry leader, Jayme Hull, this is extended to mentoring as well. In fact, it is a life changing experience for both mentor and mentee.

Mentoring is an increasingly popular topic, and something most people would agree as important. What is not so clear is how to find one, what it looks like, and how to go about the whole process. It might even seem like we need a mentor to teach us what mentoring is all about. This book fits that need. I will review this on the basis of the four Ps.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"The Joy of Letting Go" (Vicki Caruana)

TITLE: The Joy of Letting Go: Releasing Your Teen into Real Life in the Big World
AUTHOR: Vicki Caruana
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2017, (240 pages).

Letting go is hard. This is particularly so for parents who had spent so much time with their children. When they become teenagers, parents are trapped between continuing to provide for them and letting them exercise increasing levels of freedom. The world out there is tough. How can long parents truly shelter them? What if the teens act rashly as they venture beyond the comfort zones of home? Where is the balance if there is any? Knowing how difficult the whole process is, author and mother Vicki Caruana leads us through a year of disciplining ourselves in the process from anxiety to willingness and from hesitance to joy. The fifty-two devotions tackle a host of issues common to many parents. Parents go through emotional struggles like:

  • When is it time to let go?
  • What if the teens cannot handle the pressures of life?
  • How should our parenting methods evolve?
  • How can we prepare ourselves for the inevitable day?
  • What about financial matters?
  • How can parents inculcate financial responsibility and spiritual stewardship?
  • What do we do with those moments when we start "missing" our children?
  • ....

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"More Than Words" (Erin Wathen)

TITLE: More than Words: 10 Values for the Modern Family
AUTHOR: Erin Wathen
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (176 pages).

What are family values? Before you attempt to answer that, think again. Is it a traditional or postmodern interpretation? Does it depend on which generation you come from? What kind of family are we talking about? These questions must be answered before we start talking about 'family values.' Our world has changed. With faith matters increasingly becoming politicized, even this popular phrase has become a battleground of opinions and political positions. Some would say that the traditional Christian interpretation is increasingly tainted with homophobia, misogyny, bigotry, and so on. Others lament that family has become meaningless in a relativistic world, absentee parents, and broken relationships. In a way, everybody have their own sense of ranking which value is more important. Behind this ranking belies a person's presupposition. So I decide to find out where this author is coming from. Concerned with how public opinion are increasingly negative about the phrase 'family values,' Erin Wathen begins with an attitude of understanding and learning. She writes:
"In this book, we’ll explore the language of a better way; a more life-giving way; a way that leaves room for creativity, for questions, for imperfection, and for a much broader view of what it means to be 'family.'"

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Winsome Persuasion" (Tim Muehlhoff & Richard Langer)

TITLE: Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: Tim Muehlhoff & Richard Langer
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (219 pages).

Many of us who lived through the LA riots back in the 80s would remember the late Rodney King, the cab driver who was infamously beaten by some officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. In a plea for civil behaviour to all, he famously said: "Can we all get along?" This phrase has been paraphrased in other ways like "Can't we all just get along?" or "Can't we all just learn to live together?" The need for cool heads and warm hearts is still there today, even as we see people continue to be split in the middle across many areas. From racial discrimination to the gender inequality; from generational differences to cultural distinctivenesses; from language diversity to the rich-poor society divide; broken people continue to scatter broken pieces. The public arena is increasingly fragmented. In the political scene, people continue to be split across party lines. The election of President Trump has also become a major source of verbal spat across the country. Those who support Trump are aggressively pushed back by those screaming out #NotMyPresident. On the economic front, the rich and the poor are getting further and further apart. Quentin Schultz in the foreword says it very well: "We all are born into a broken world of sin. Nothing and no one is unblemished. We cannot simply look outside of ourselves for sin. We have to look inside as well." That is the crux of the matter. The source of divisions stems from the root of sin. If we can address this well, we would be better able to get along. Biblically, the way forward is to approach the matter of public dialogue or debate with Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." The authors then try to persuade us that Christians are called to protect the weak; to speak up for the voiceless; to represent the unrepresented; to stand up for the marginalized and alienated; and to be peacemakers through it all. They highlight the three types of voices commonly used in public squares. The first is the PROPHETIC voice which appeals to the Word of God as the final authority; which basically demands people change their direction to align with this; that this is essentially the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The second is the PASTORAL voice which extends care as the first response; offering healing to those in need; and ministers to people where they are. This voice is essentially an outpouring of the gift of comfort and care from the Holy Spirit. The third voice is the PERSUASIVE voice, which appeals to the common good; the gentle strength of effective dialogue; and the power of restraint from flipping to extreme views. While there are pros and cons in all of them, the authors believe that the PERSUASIVE voice is the most needful for our times. They coin the term 'counterpublic' as such a voice. A counterpublic has three characteristics: opposition; withdrawal; engagement. In opposition, it refers to those who perceive themselves being excluded or marginalized. In withdrawal, it refers to such people consolidating and forming an identity for themeslves in the midst of being ostracized. In engagement, this people attempt to engage the dominant view clearly and constructively. The Christian counterpublic does exactly the same but from a Christian viewpoint, on how to be "gracious communicators in an argument culture."

Monday, May 8, 2017

"Power in the Pulpit" (Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix)

TITLE: Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons
AUTHOR: Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (448 pages).

Preaching is hard. Good preaching is rare. Being able to sit through a well-prepared, well-delivered, and well-researched sermon is a tremendous blessing for any Christian community. Many preaching books nowadays try to address the great need for biblical preaching and an appropriate level of delivery that balances theological orthodoxy, biblical faithfulness, cultural awareness, and the cry for help and the hunger for hope. Not many can achieve this. This book hits close to this target. One clue about the effectiveness of this book is the need for a new edition to keep up with changing needs and changing times. First published in 1999, author Jerry Vines had been preaching for over 40 years. Half of that time was when he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. At that time, he had a passion for sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow preachers. Knowing the tough demands on the pastoral vocation, he senses a great need to equip fellow preachers with some basic pulpit skills. Basically, it needs to address two things: Faithfulness to the Word; and fruitfulness as the Word takes root in the hearers. During the past decade, many things have changed, most importantly, the cultural shifts that have been occurring in the world we live. Most of the material from the first edition have been preserved. This new edition not only updates the material, it strengthens the expository preaching preparation part and simplifies the delivery. It is also more conversational when compared with the original.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Lay Counseling, Revised and Updated) (Siang-Yang Tan and Eric Scalise)

TITLE: Lay Counseling, Revised and Updated: Equipping Christians for a Helping Ministry
AUTHOR: Siang-Yang Tan and Eric Scalise
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (320 pages).

Many like to help but few are adequately trained to help, especially in the area of lay counseling. Most people prefer to leave it to the experts, the professionals, or the trained. Unfortunately, there are many situations in which it is difficult or impossible to get any of the above. It could be due to personal inhibitions or logistical barriers to get the expert. It could also be financial inability or time factors. Some might be willing but lack the training. Others might be trained but lack the opportunity to practice. Many counseling matters do not necessarily require professional help. Just a basic understanding of counseling and initial diagnosis can help channel needy people to the appropriate authorities. In the context of a Christian community, this book sees these cases as a great opportunity to equip the laity. Already a classic since it was published back in 1991, this book is now revised and updated for a new generation.

Like a primer for lay counseling,  the authors begin at the call for all; that being called to be an encourager also implies some levels of counseling and caregiving. Counseling is a big part of pastoral care. However, just the words 'pastoral care' may put off people who are non-clergy. We mught want to simply say 'helping ministry' which is essentially where both Tan and Scalise come from. Experienced counselors and certified psychologists, the authors have a deep desire to move people from superficial levels of help to a deeper more meaningful level. This does not require individuals to have graduate degrees in mental health or some special clergy training. Instead, it gives an introductory appreciation about the basics of counseling and provides tools for the layperson to use. Some of the features in this book include:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Rebuilding the Foundations" (John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Rebuilding the Foundations: Social Relationships in Ancient Scripture and Contemporary Culture
AUTHOR: John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (202 pages).

What do we do when the society we live in seems to be crumbling? It does not take much effort to find out about the growing rich-poor divide; the racial discrimination; the ethnic tensions; the financial scandals; the cry for justice in the midst of injustice; and so on. Many governments are corrupt or incompetent. People insist on their free choice without being equipped with how to choose. How did we ever get to this point? In the midst of choices and multiple options, what are the primary matters we should be focused on? What does it take to address the moral decays happening all around us? As the social structures of the world appear to go from bad to worse, people are in need of a return to the foundations that once make societies great. Instead of looking at the external solutions, the authors probe their own assumptions and human complacencies. Specifically, they use Jonathan Haidt's moral foundation theory that uncovers six moral foundations:
  • Care vs Harm;
  • Fairness vs Cheating;
  • Liberty vs Oppression;
  • Loyalty vs Betrayal;
  • Authority vs Subversion;
  • Sanctity vs Degradation.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Letting Go" (David T. Harvey and Paul Byron Gilbert)

TITLE: Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls
AUTHOR: David T. Harvey and Paul Byron Gilbert
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (192 pages).

You've tried your best. You've gone over and beyond your call of duty. You've ran the second mile, gave till it hurt, and turned the other cheek. Yet the one you loved had turned away and left you. What then do you do? Answer: Learn to let go. The parable of the Prodigal Son is one classic story to bring us into what the loving father felt at the time when he needed to let go. For some of us, the biblical story remained a story until it hits home up close and personal. Questions would fly at us fast and furious. What do we do with a rebellious child? How can we solve a relational problem? What do we do when someone doesn't listen to advice despite our best intentions? According to authors Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert, we need to practice the wisdom of letting go without losing hope. The two basic truth we need to acknowledge from the Bible is:

  1. This world is broken, and this leads to lots of pain and hurt;
  2. We need God's grace in order to move from despair to hope.