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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"The Magnificent Story" (James Bryan Smith)

TITLE: The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (Apprentice Resources)
AUTHOR: James Bryan Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

The Bible has sometimes been referred to the Story of stories. It tells of a Big Story that we are all part of. Stories have a way of revealing life as they are without the need to explain every little detail. Stories are less about facts but more about life as they are. They could be dissected and analyzed but stories go beyond the dimensions of exegesis and analysis. They are pregnant with meaning and spiritual significance. For author James Bryan Smith, these stories are also opportunities for spiritual formation. According to Smith, there are four ways to use these stories individually. We can prepare a notebook with empty pages to be ready to answer questions. We can read each chapter thoroughly to let the content seep into our hearts. We can do the weekly soul training exercises. We can journal our reflections on the notebook. He encourages us to use the content to interact, to encourage, and to connect with others to make the writing of our own stories as part of our communities. We cannot do this on our own. The best way forward is to be formed into the likeness of Christ, which is what the magnificent story is all about. This magnificence is described in three ways. It is beauty magnified; goodness magnified; and truth magnified. These are the "three transcendentals" to help us live out the divine story of our lives.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Anatomy of an Affair" (Dave Carder)

TITLE: Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop, and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them
AUTHOR: Dave Carder
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (192 pages).

From time to time, it has become common sight to see powerful ministry leaders being brought down by affairs and marital breakdowns. While it is theologically correct to attribute the whole thing to sin, practically, we can still do something to prevent the whole breakdown from happening. This calls for wise stewardship of our potential and limitations in ministry work; gentle nourishment of our own marriages; and genuine relationships with fellow co-workers, especially with members of the opposite sex. Guard our marriages. Guard our ministries. Guard our hearts. All these three are possible. Author and marriage counselor, Dave Carder has listened to many stories of unfaithfulness and adultery. Many of the signs are terribly similar. The key to preventing any such affairs is simply recognition of these signs and a commitment to flee from these temptations. When there is a fire, remember that we are like wood. This book is about the recognizing smoke signs before it ever becomes an impending fire. In brief, according to Carder, there are four phases of how adultery happens. It begins with a "growing attraction" which usually begins innocently but gradually becomes more intimately and emotionally connected. While these encounters are often not by choice, temptations tend to pile up one thing after another. After the infatuation comes the "entanglement" in which the wrong thing to do becomes entangled with self-justification and self-denial. The third phase is the destabilization of the relationship where confusion and complications reign. Finally, the couple would have entered the "termination and resolution" phase which could be played out in so many different scenarios. Sex without commitment is guaranteed to fail. Carder continues on by describing the five different types of extra-marital affairs. The "one-night stand" is an immediate gratification which does not last. The "entangled affair" begins gradually and lasts typically 1-2 years. The "sexual addiction" type may go into years but could involve multiple partners. The "add-on affair" is a continual relationship that tries to fill in the gaps of existing couples. Finally, the "reconnection" is for those old-flames or old infatuations that could be unpredictable. Filled with stories of people having entered these stages, Carder is able to highlight the risks at every level and to show us the signs and potholes ahead, so that we can avoid falling into them. Knowledge is power. Awareness is added security against self-deceptions. It is Carder's way to help us flee from such blatant temptations.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"The Dawn of Christianity" (Robert J. Hutchinson)

TITLE: The Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fishermen, Soldiers, and Prostitutes to Transform the World
AUTHOR: Robert J. Hutchinson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2017, (352 pages).

It has been said that history is a retelling of a story from a particular perspective. In that sense, there is no one way to learn history. This means whatever that happened in the past can always be summarized and retold in present day contexts. This makes the study of history a fascinating subject. In this book, author Robert Hutchinson retells the stories of the Early Church and the powerful movements of the Early Church. The greater the acts of the disciples, the more curious one becomes in asking: "What did Jesus do and say, in as little as one year and a maximum of three years, that could possibly have had such an impact?"

Hutchinson masterfully shows us the many different sources that point to the life of Jesus as well as the evidence that prove the events of the Early Church. He does not just retell stories, he defends the reliability of the New Testament with well-researched materials and the latest scholarship. He addresses skeptics like Bart Ehrmann who had left the faith and spent his time trying to debunk Christianity. He takes pains to show how the many sources overwhelmingly prove Jesus' presence and ministry; His crucifixion and resurrection; the rise of the Church; and the growth of Christianity throughout the world. This "kingdom movement" began with Jesus followed by Peter and the disciples. Through flashbacks to the gospel events, Hutchinson brings the gospel stories to life by showing us the relevance to modern culture. He takes us on a quest to examine the facts and to ponder on the questions surrounding specific events in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the world. Describing the facts leading up to the crucifixion and the eyewitness events to the resurrection, Hutchinson guides us to the momentous events in the Early Church, the persecutions, and the background behind the martyrdoms of the early centuries. The chapter on the Martyrdom of Stephen, the first martyr is captivating as the author shares about the cultural backgrounds, the pattern of violence, and the tensions surrounding the growing religious conflicts. Amazingly, in spite of powerful persecution and hardship, the faith continues to grow.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"One by One" (Gino Dalfonzo)

TITLE: One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church
AUTHOR: Gino Dalfonzo
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (240 pages).

Church, we have a singles problem. Not the singles, but the Church perception of singles. This is the single biggest theme in this very needed book about how we have tended to ignore singles in our preoccupation toward families, marriages, and children. In doing so, we are ostracizing the single folks unconsciously when we fail to welcome them as they are, regardless of age or gender. Often, it is not the fault of the individual for being single. Some honestly couldn't find a right soulmate. Others for various reasons are unable to commit to any relationship. In general, we must learn to accept people regardless of their marital status. This book goes deeper into the sociological and theological aspects of this issue of singlehood and acceptance. There are many types of singles. Some are divorced or widowed. Others are separated. Author Gina Dalfonzo, a life-long single, focuses on those who are singles all their lives. She shares and critiques various writers and teachers about the issue of singleness. She points out the unfortunate situation of singles being a stigma in themselves. Married people are relatively more well regarded. That is not the issue. The issue is how some teachers have unfairly blamed the problem of singleness on singles themselves. For instance, if someone is not married, they are too career-minded. They are too individualistic. They are way too uninterested in starting families, and so on. Singles can also be treated as pariahs when they are placed on a lower level of importance. They can also be seen as projects to be worked on or problems that needed a solution. All of these stem from an unhealthy perception of singleness. We need to learn to treat them as real people who are equally important as everyone else. Dalfonzo shares painful stories of many singles, even as she identifies deeply with their predicament. The many testimonies and words bring home a powerful angle and perspective that many of us who are married are unable to appreciate. In some cases, there is a sad case of women reserving themselves for sex after marriage and in the process missed the boat with men who demanded sex before marriage. Is that fair for the women who remained single out of their desire to honour the marriage institution? The problem lies in the infatuation of a happily-ever-after picture of a married couple with kids. That is not all. She also critiques a subculture made popular by Josh Harris' "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" for having hurt many people in their thinking and relationship building. It is an overly conservative approach that seems out of touch with reality that really hurts many people. In a culture where people are "courtship crazy," such a teaching makes it difficult for well-meaning Christians to find their potential soulmate. It makes me wonder whether there is such a thing as "biblical courtship." Other poignant observations include:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"An Asian Harvest" (Paul Hattaway)

TITLE: An Asian Harvest: An Autobiography
AUTHOR: Paul Hattaway
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2017, (320 pages).

Many of us have heard about the sensational book, the Heavenly Man. It powerfully describes the amazing miracles and testimonies of Brother Yun, a Chinese believer who suffered much persecution and hardship, and was able to testify God's work in his life. In spite of the horrific opposition to his preaching of the gospel, he persevered. The world have come to know his story, but the truth is, there are many other stories remain hidden, untold, and forgotten. We need more brave souls to uncover these stories to show the world that many believers have been unjustly and mercilessly persecuted by the local powers of the land. We need people to uncover these testimonies. One such person is Paul Hattaway, a native New Zealander who helped carry Bibles into restricted countries in the past and is now leading Asia Harvest, an outreach ministry to Asia. After telling the stories of Brother Yun (Heavenly Man) and experiencing the powerful testimonies of faith as he ventured into various countries, it is time to tell his own story as well. This book is an his autobiography.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"The Tech-Wise Family" (Andy Crouch)

TITLE: The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place
AUTHOR: Andy Crouch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (226 pages).

Whenever there is anything latest and greatest, not only will there be hype, there will also be concerns about how it will affect relationships both present and future. Some would harp back at the "good old days" and dismiss the vogue of the day. Others would do the reverse, committing the error of what CS Lewis has called as "chronological snobbery," where the newest trends are deemed better than the past. Both are poor responses to changing cultural forces. The way forward is neither abandonment or careless acceptance. It is wisdom. This wisdom includes the appropriate ways to work with rather than abandon technology. It means putting technology in its proper place instead of letting it set our pace. It is knowing about what the new movements are, what are the sources, and how best we can respond. In Culture Making, Andy Crouch critiques the two conventional approaches of culture. The first is unwitting acceptance while the second is unnecessary rejection. He then argues for the path of creative culture making. This book follows up on such a mindset. Instead of totally embracing or rejecting technology in our digital world, we need to learn to be wise in our use of technology. In a survey of parents with regard to the difficulties of modern parenting, technology tops the list of parenting concerns.

Crouch writes:

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Forgiveness and Justice" (Bryan Maier)

TITLE: Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach
AUTHOR: Bryan Maier
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2017, (160 pages).

Much have been written about forgiveness. Yet, the world is in deep need for more forgiveness. In fact, one might say that we don't need more theories about forgiveness, only more practice. In the eyes of author Bryan Maier, there is still a lack of  "clear, consistent, theologically informed" materials on forgiveness. In order to understand what forgiveness entails, one needs a biblical grounding of what forgiveness is. Putting it another way, we have a lot of materials on the therapeutic aspect as well as the theological. The key contribution in this book is to answer the question: "Can forgiveness, according to its contemporary brands, coexist with justice?" 

A key note would be Maier's assertion that for any corporate levels of forgiveness to be authentic, it must first occur at a personal level. He highlights the case of George and Ellen's extra marital affairs of getting back at each other to show us how difficult forgiveness can be in the midst of hurt, shame, and betrayal of trust. He lists the four common conclusions of forgiveness literature as well as the pros and cons of Enright's and Worthington's models. He helps us along by understanding that there are the therapeutic forgiveness (helping the victim); theological-forensic forgiveness (from the Bible); and relational forgiveness (for the sake of the relationship). How then do we choose? Here is where Maier's expertise shines. Instead of rushing for solutions, he guides readers toward a sharper understanding of the essence of forgiveness. He sets three boundaries on the meaning of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a response to a moral violation. It is not an alternative perspective. It is more than empathy. He then prepares to bring in the topic of justice by showing our innate desire for equity and fairness. Every act of forgiveness produces in a person some kind of "relational ambivalence." On the one hand, one forgives. On the other hand, one does not quite feel satisfied or fair. Yet, what is impossible with humans is possible with God. The Christian model of forgiveness is based on what Christ had done for us. If there is anyone who deserves to keep score, it would be God. If not, why do we hang on to grudges and resentment? Maier takes us through trusting God to deliver justice. He shows us how to use the imprecatory psalms to direct our attention. He reminds us once again that forgiveness is other-centered and must be actively initiated. Maier comes back to the story of George and Ellen to show us how he would help them approach reconciliation and forgiveness. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Strange Days" (Mark Sayers)

TITLE: Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval
AUTHOR: Mark Sayers
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (192 pages).

This world is changing faster than anyone could possibly imagine. What makes it more disconcerting is the weird events happening around us that make it challenging to understand. Anyone who hears people saying this world is becoming a better place ought to seek out a second opinion. There are security fears over terrorism. Economic turmoil seems to be the norm. The role of media has changed from factual reporting to public opinions. The more sensational it is, the better. With the improvements in transportation technology and communications advancements come the increased global movement and immigration. The previously despised Hitler regime is slowly rearing its ugly head through radical groups. How do we find our spiritual bearings during such tumultuous times? Mark Sayers, cultural observer and critic helps us with this helpful road map to understanding and engaging the complex culture we live in. In a three part manner, he leads us through the biblical, the historical, and the alternative paths on what we can do in this time of upheaval.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"The Holy Spirit" (Christopher R. J. Holmes)

TITLE: The Holy Spirit (New Studies in Dogmatics)
AUTHOR: Christopher R. J. Holmes
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (224 pages).

Who is the Holy Spirit? According to Augustine, it is essentially about the "Trinitarian first principles" according to John 2:23-3:21 that show us how they generate our understanding; of new birth; and how the Holy Spirit directs us to new and greater things. Saint Thomas Aquinas also talks about the Trinitarian but focuses on the interactions among the members instead. How the Holy Spirit relates to both the Father and the Son. Karl Barth instead of talking about the 'who' focuses on the freedom of God, where the Triune God is full and sufficient. He highlights the divinity of the Holy Spirit and how it impacts the Christian community. By engaging these three theologians, author Christopher Holmes anchors his thesis on three main themes: regeneration; the Church; and tradition. All of these are based on the Person of the Holy Spirit, His Identity; and His activity. The key point that author and theologian Chris Holmes makes is that God's activity is bound in the identity of the Holy Spirit. We receive not simply a gift that is distant and unknown, but the Presence of God Himself that is up close and personal. The Holy Spirit is fully sufficient, which is another way of saying He does not need a purpose in order to exist. The Holy Spirit is Being, a Person and not some impersonal force. The Holy Spirit is constantly extending the work of God to build up the community of faith. The Holy Spirit is not a lower ranking person of the Godhead. The key idea in this book is about the theology (processions) and economy (missions) of the Holy Spirit. He advocates the alternative approach to understanding the Holy Spirit, using Sarah Coakley's thesis (théologie totale) as a launchpad. Calling it a "Spirit-leading approach to the Trinity," this thesis is based on Romans 8:9-30 where she advocates the Spirit as awakening us to the works of Christ, in particular salvation. This avoids the "linear way" of understanding the Spirit so that we can focus on the ontological aspect. This has implications for prayer because it no longer becomes a spiritual request for things but a personal longing for relationship. It gives us a fresh impetus toward seeking God through the Holy Spirit experientially. At the same time, the work avoids false dichotomies between theology and spirituality; and moves toward integration and unity. Most of all, she draws us in with the promise that a rich understanding of the Holy Spirit would lead us to a more profound understanding of the Father and the Son.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"How to Become a Multicultural Church" (Douglas J. Brouwer)

TITLE: How to Become a Multicultural Church
AUTHOR: Douglas J. Brouwer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2017, (176 pages).

These couple of weeks have been filled with tensions over ethnic differences due to the rise of the alt-right and white supremacist movement including events leading to Charlottesville tragedy. From anti-immigration to anti-Islam, a growing proportion of radical whites are making their voices heard. Instead of diversity, they are claiming a preservation of their ethnicity. Instead of multiculturalism, they are insisting on white-only preferential treatment. What about the Church? Sadly, for various reasons, many American churches are more white than anything. If multiculturalism means no more than 80% for any one race, that a majority of churches will not make the grade.

Fact is, a majority of churches tend to be ethnic based. Whether it is a white-church, a black church, a hispanic or an asian church, there is a tendency for people of the same race to stick together. Even those in mixed marriages would have to make themselves as much a part of the majority race as possible. Failure to do so would mean exiting the group altogether. Based on current trends, whites will no longer command a majority come 2050. Is the solution then to try to keep the status quo at all costs? Or is it to learn to sense the movement of the Spirit toward becoming a more multicultural Church? The authors affirm the latter. It begins with a careful listening to the many voices in a multicultural church. This means recognizing the changing landscape of society while keeping an eye on what Scripture is saying. Listen to God teaching us the meaning of home. A Church is a home for all people, not just a certain group. The word "home" is a powerful word with strong connections with people all over the world. It is associated with a safe place, a place to belong, and more importantly a destination to become. This calls for an inclusive name, preferably an intentionally named multicultural one. Brouwer is careful not to jettison tradition or history by encouraging us toward thoughtful change that has considered the many factors behind the original name before suggesting anything new. The key thing is the willingness to change rather than the change per se. This means learning to adopt new thinking on leadership. Take on new roles. Learn to expand our theological mindsets such as learning to use different cultural illustrations. Learn not to major on the minors. Adopt Brian McLaren's "generous orthodoxy." Among the community, Brouwer gives additional tips such as: