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Monday, July 31, 2017

"Between Heaven and the Real World" (Steven Curtis Chapman)

TITLE: Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story
AUTHOR: Steven Curtis Chapman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017, (448 pages).

He is a musician who had won five grammy awards, 58 Dove awards, and multiple awards in the music industry. Some of them include hits like Cinderella, My Redeemer is Faithful and True, Glorious Unfolding, One True God, For the Sake of the Call, and many more. He writes songs of hope in the midst of pain; comfort in the midst of sorrow; and inspiration in an emotionally deficit world. Married to Mary Beth, author of a very moving testimony of faith in the midst of tragedy, he has experienced like many of us, the highs and lows of life. Like the gripping roller-coaster rides he experienced with his brother at a young age, this soon became a realistic portrayal of his own life.

He has many highlights like how he fell in love with his wife who stole his heart; how he gained success as a musician, having sold many bestselling albums and singles. He gives readers an insight into his own upbringing and spiritual revival when at a young age. His involvement in Church opens up opportunities for him to grow his musical skills and performance talents. Music quickly became his forte even though he did try his hand at baseball. He soon found his voice in songwriting, something that has been affirmed through his awards and accolades. Apart from his family story, a large part of the book is devoted to detailing his musical background and events. This is necessary because all (if not most) of his songs are related to what happens in his life. He seeks to encourage listeners in his first album "First Hand." His second album, "Real Life Conversations" flow out of his spiritual life. His song, "I Will Be Here" about tight-knitted love in marriage was tested quite quickly in his own marriage. Several albums were soon released with each having singles hitting the charts. One of the amusing parts was the time in which he tried to celebrate his anniversary by hiring a limo service. Little did he realize that the cheapest one also happened to be a pornmobile! He talks about his spiritual commitment to preserve his virginity until marriage. Both Mary Beth and Steven were committed to Scriptures and to the biblical faith. The story of five American missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador inspired in part, "For the Sake of the Call" and "My Redeemer is Faithful and True."

Friday, July 28, 2017

"Learning Change" (Jim Herrington & Trisha Taylor)

TITLE: Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal
AUTHOR: Jim Herrington & Trisha Taylor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2017, (272 pages).

The challenges of Church ministry are many. How do we find the right fit between personnel and ministry? How do we transform aging structures? What can we do to freshen up? What are the ways to inculcate positive changes? How do we deal with tried-and-tested methods that are increasingly out of touch with contemporary times? What is needed to create a culture of continuous learning and willingness to change? Not only that, there is the challenge of declining congregations and an inability for churches to adapt to changing environments. These questions and more are covered in this impressive collection of articles by a group of passionate ministry leaders, pastors, teachers, and consultants. Together with 17 pastors and their leadership teams, the authors participated in the Rider Church Renewal process that consists of a five multi-day retreats; guidance programs; and learning modules, and found much hope and purpose in congregational transformation. It begins with a realization of the problem and a recognition that change is possible. This book is a result of that series of events. Every chapter contains both biblical and theoretical information gained from the Ridder Retreats. There are stories of hope; exercises to practice; and opportunities to dig deeper.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology" (Mark J. Boda)

TITLE: The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology: Three Creedal Expressions (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Mark J. Boda
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (240 pages).

It has always been challenging to tackle the Old Testament. Not only is it of an ancient culture, the language can seem quite primitive when compared to contemporary times. Even if the language barrier can be overcome, there is the challenge of size and contexts. That is why the Old Testament are preached and taught relatively less than the New Testament counterpart. Various approaches have been used to study the 39 books of the first testament. A popular method is the genre approach, which subdivides the books into Law; History; Poetry; the Major and Minor Prophets. Some would use the Christ-centered interpretation, which sees every Old Testament book from the perspective of Christ. More recently, there are books about using the New Testament as a lens to view the Old Testament. There is also the seminary approaches of biblical and systematic theology, albeit used for different purposes. All of them have their merits and weaknesses. Enters the "Three Creedal Expressions" approach by Mark Boda. Before going into his heartbeat framework, he reviews four major approaches to the OT:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline" (Jeremy M. Kimble)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline (40 Questions & Answers Series)
AUTHOR: Jeremy M. Kimble
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (272 pages).

What is the purpose of Church membership? Is it enough to just attend Church? Why should anyone bother about some official papers just to be a member? Biblically, we are already members of the Church of God, so why even mention Church membership? What about Church discipline? This book covers these topics in a Q&A manner, giving a broad range of perspectives and implications. It is divided into three categories of questions: Theological; Ministry; and Practical. The author's conviction of Church membership is this: Church membership and discipline is critical to the life of a Christian. Membership is about community and responsibility. Discipline is about authority and accountability. Kimble provides three basic reasons for Church membership:
  1. The Perseverance of the Saints is about community development
  2. The Church is the invisible spiritual community made visible
  3. The Church is a people in covenant with God to one another.
He also gives three reasons for Church Discipline:
  1. It's instructed by Scripture
  2. It is biblical love
  3. It facilitates the perseverance of the saints.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"ABCs of the Christian Life" (G.K. Chesterton)

TITLE: ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox
AUTHOR: G.K. Chesterton (Foreword by Peter Kreeft)
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2017, (256 pages).

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, otherwise known as G.K. Chesterton is perhaps one of the wittiest and insightful authors I have ever known. Immensely quotable, he is a master with words. He uses ordinary words that can nuance the different meanings in a sentence. With theological insight and literary prowess, Chesterton's gift of writing is showcased in this book of selected 26 words that describe the Christian life. Using the number of English alphabets as a guide, each letter or phrase corresponds to a key Chesterton wit; a historical thought; a teaching moment; a recollection; or simply a random thought. Some of the language used have also been updated for modern readers. Gleaned from his books, articles, and many published materials, the words are very much Chesterton's, the selection the publisher's. The interests are wide-ranging. There are topics on spirituality such as Asceticism; Apologetics as in Orthodoxy; historical figures in St Thomas and St Joan; reflections on literature by Charles Dickens; comparative religions; and matters for daily living. Bethlehem is a reflection on Christmas. The chapter on "Suicidal Living" is an interesting one. Instead of some predictable essay about some problem-solving approach to the issue of suicide, Chesterton pokes deep into the human psyche, wasted virtues, loose vices gone mad, and surprisingly, humility. It is humility in the wrong place. Whether it is wrong ambition or misguided thinking that leads one toward suicide. There is that chapter on Queen Victoria, the model of "political unselfishness" who shows us that restraint is power in action. The letter X is represented strangely by the word "Sex." Chesterton reminds us that it must not be allowed to be a tyrant. On his own faith, "Catholicism," he insists that it is not a Church sect but a "ecclesia," a way of thinking. A nice thing about Chesterton's writings is that even as he dives deep into some philosophical thought, he would come up with a summary statement like a swimmer coming up for breath in a long distance swim.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"God Among Sages" (Kenneth Richard Samples)

TITLE: God among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader
AUTHOR: Kenneth Richard Samples
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (288 pages).

Who is Jesus? Is he simply another religious leader like those of the other major religions of the world? Who does he claim he is? Is he God? This book sets out the facts and compares the various philosophies, religions, worldviews in this world of pluralistic thinking and beliefs. Author Kenneth Richard Samples asserts that Jesus is matchless throughout history in terms of his self-understanding; his identity; his way of life and consistency in teaching. Part One essentially deals with what Jesus talks about himself. Part Two deals with the lives and accomplishments of four major religions and then each is compared with Jesus. The four major religious leaders are Krishna (Hinduism); Buddha (Buddhism); Confucius (Confucionism); and Muhammad (Islam). Part Three goes beyond these four religions to cover a bigger sphere of the world's perspective on Jesus. This includes the different types of pluralistic beliefs; tolerance/intolerance; inclusivism/exclusivism; and many more. Simply put, this book is about understanding who the Person if Jesus is both to Christians, other religions, and the world at large. Though not all perspectives are covered, the selected ones represent a large proportion of the world.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"The Bible from 30,000 Feet" (Skip Heitzig)

TITLE: The Bible from 30,000 Feet: Soaring Through the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation
AUTHOR: Skip Heitzig
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017, (640 pages).

The Bible is the world's bestselling book. It has been read and revered through the centuries. Instead of multiple books of disconnected stories, there is a general narrative from Genesis to Revelation. Trained Bible scholars will be able to do many connections from the Old Testament to the New Testament. For the rest of us, we have to rely on teachers to guide us. Author Skip Heitzig is one such teacher. Sharing his wealth of knowledge about the Bible, this book is a bird's eye view of the whole thrust of Scripture. It is free from difficult terminology or technical details. Heitzig makes the learning interesting by using the metaphor of a plane. He begins with a flight plan where the facts are first laid out. He gives short notes on who the author(s) was, when it was written, landmarks of the expedition, and an itinerary or outline of the chapter. Along with this initial flight plan is an overview of the gospel's relevance to that particular book and some historical background.

The "in-flight" segment is the main part of the book where it becomes a mini-commentary. Heitzig describes the key characters; main events; significant stories; major themes; concise messages; and practical examples for modern readers. The chapters appear like mini-sermons that double up as an overview of the Bible book. The strengths of this book include:

  • Ease of understanding with a creative metaphor
  • Modern use of language
  • Big Picture Overview to help readers keep to the main message
  • Stirs up imagination about how we can design our own flight plans
  • Convenient reference book