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Monday, December 24, 2018

"A Lens of Love" (Jonathan L. Walton)

TITLE: A Lens of Love: Reading the Bible in Its World for Our World
AUTHOR: Jonathan L. Walton
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (208 pages).

Reading the Bible has always been a challenge. Some would open the texts with the question: "What does the Bible mean for me?" Others would rely on their traditions to understand the texts. Still others would use the Bible to resolve some pressing issues in life. With 66 books in the Old and New Testaments, the Bible can be intimidating, which leads some toward simplistic readings and selective applications. The problem with such approaches is that people would miss out the forest for the trees. Using a socio-historical interpretive approach, author Jonathan Walton seeks to address these problems with two key objectives. First, he aims to engage the four major sections of the Bible to give us a big story context. These sections are the "Dynastic Literature, the Pentateuch, the Gospels, and the Epistles." The Dynastic Literature gives us the backdrop to the Old Testament. The Pentateuch provides the narrative origins while the gospels shine on the life of Jesus. Finally, the epistles show us the early life of the Christian communities. The second objective is to build a bridge from the ancient to the modern world, to "promote ethical and responsible biblical interpretation among nonspecialists." This second task would be appealing to those who are concerned about the complex political, ethical, and social justice issues happening in contemporary times. Issues such as racism, rich-poor divide, gender discrimination, immigration, sexual discrimination, and so forth.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"Worship Essentials" (Mike Harland)

TITLE: Worship Essentials: Growing a Healthy Worship Ministry Without Starting a War!
AUTHOR: Mike Harland
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2018, (192 pages)

Since the beginning of time, worship has been a point of contention. Cain was unhappy when God looked upon his brother Abel's offering with greater favour. The prophet Nathan was upset when King Saul failed to wait for his return prior to the offering of the sacrifice. Israel angered God constantly over the issue of idolatry and false worship. In today's climate, whenever we talk about worship in Churches, there is that familiar tussle between contemporary and traditional music; new songs vs old hymns; sitting vs standing; instruments vs voices; young vs old forms; etc. Worship leaders are also torn between trying to cater to the needs of the congregation or tuning themselves more toward God. What we need is a roadmap of worship. We need to know the essentials from the frivolous ones. We need something biblical based and not something that is trendy, hip, or traditional. For worship leader Mike Harland, there are four core values for any worship community. Worship essentially is about:
  1. Telling the Story of God
  2. Making Disciples of Christ
  3. Engaging the Body of Christ
  4. Aspiring with Purpose.

Friday, November 23, 2018

"Adoptive Church" (Chap Clark)

TITLE: Adoptive Church (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Chap Clark
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (208 pages).

A lot of churches struggle with youth ministries. Even those who are relatively successful are concerned about how their work could be sustained. Many are constantly looking for youth ministers and children ministry workers. Once found, chances are the work is outsourced to the creativity and diligence of such workers. Unfortunately, the weakness of such a model is that it tends to be isolated from the rest of the church ministries. Once the youth worker's enthusiasm wanes and the interest of youths starts to shift, the entire youth program goes into a state of flux. In a youth-oriented group, for all the highs of being able to play and interact among their age group, they lack the benefits of being connected to the larger Church. We need a brand new rethink about youth ministry as a whole. We need to find ways to help them connect with the larger community. Author and professor Chap Clark proposes an adoptive strategy to knit the whole Church together as a family of Christ. The solution is not better programming. It is becoming a more inclusive Church. Doers tend to focus on activities and things to make youth ministries exciting. Disciplers look toward the Great Commission as the motivation for all their activities. Clark's model is a blend of both toward the ministry of adoption. Families that play together stay together. People who play together bond closer. This is done through the three keys of adoptive ministry: Nurturing, empowering, and including young people. Using the parable of the sower as an example, he notes that the soil condition is where our fostering efforts should aim at. Create an environment where people are encourage to want to know God. Nurture the soil so that one's faith could flourish.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"Didn't See It Coming" (Carey Nieuwhof)

TITLE: Didn't See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences
AUTHOR: Carey Nieuwhof
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2018, (224 pages).

We don't like being blindsided. We hate it especially when we miss the signs that appear so clearly, yet we miss it so dearly. Managers miss seeing disgruntled employees. Couples miss the signs of a troubled marriage. Young people miss out on the opportunities for change. Worse, some ignore the warning signs even when they are glaring right at them. When we didn't see it coming, we are left wondering why we miss the proverbial forest for the trees. The key questions in this book are: "Could they have seen it coming? Can you?" According to author and pastor Carey Nieuwhof, we have ample symptoms and warning signs. What we need is attentive listening and discernment. While writing from a Christian perspective, the author makes this book readable from non-Christian perspectives without being "preachy." Thus, all the "seven greatest challenges" are generic and could be appreciated from a human standpoint.  Each challenge has two chapters allotted. The initial chapter tells us why we need to take the challenge seriously. This is followed by a constructive response to show us how to do something about it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Since the Beginning" (edited by Kyle R. Greenwood)

TITLE: Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages
AUTHOR: Kyle R. Greenwood (editor)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (336 pages).

The word "Genesis" means origin or beginning. It addresses questions about the origin of all things and the way the world was made. It is where history all begun. With the texts clearly written in Genesis 1 and 2, one might think the matter is resolved. Not really. There are different interpretations that demand attention. Even the word "literal" could have different meanings. In this book, we learn about attentive listening to these different perspectives. The purpose is to broaden our space for conversation so that we can better understand the texts and the nuances that come with them. The different views are provided by ten different scholars, each of them experts in the field they teach. There are both Jewish and Christian scholars and theologians. There are historians and Early Church teachers. The authors are also drawn from different denominations and faith backgrounds to give the book an ecumenical look and feel. A key observation is that many modern readers interpret Gen 1 and 2 from a modernistic perspective, and pay scant attention to how the early readers and listeners' understanding. In other words, our modern interpretations are biased toward our understanding instead of the original meaning. In order to establish a common framework for discussion, the four "explicit issues" are:
  • How 'days' are treated
  • Cosmology
  • Creation and nature of humanity
  • Garden of Eden

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"Redeeming How We Talk" (Ken Wytsma and A.J. Swoboda)

TITLE: Redeeming How We Talk: Discover How Communication Fuels Our Growth, Shapes Our Relationships, and Changes Our Lives
AUTHOR: Ken Wytsma and A.J. Swoboda
PUBLISHER:Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (224 pages).

We have lots of ways to communicate and to build bridges with one another. With the advancement of science and technology, we are spoiled with regard to the means of communication. We can choose long distance video conferencing, social media interactions, mobile telephony, emails, and face to face meetings. Unfortunately, for all the scientific advancements, there is something else that has not kept up: Progression of human graciousness. Impatient replies could result in quick tempered reactions. Mass distribution of highly charged opinions could lead to social unrest. With many demanding to be understood rather than to understand, people hurl accusations based on a limited perspective. As a result, relationships break down. Walls are strengthened. Bridges are torn apart. There must be a better way. Instead of rejection and abandonment, we need to redeem how we communicate. We need to arrest the decline in good old conversations and work on constructive words and redeem how we talk. This is the key point in the entire book. Some of the highlights in the book include:
  • Learning the nature, purpose, and practicing godly speech;
  • Recognize what technology is doing to the way we communicate
  • Practice the art of silence, loving listening, and tough talk
  • Believing that we can redeem our talk.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Cultivating Teen Faith (Richard Osmer & Katherine M. Douglass, eds)

TITLE: Cultivating Teen Faith: Insights from the Confirmation Project
AUTHOR: Richard Osmer & Katherine M. Douglass, eds
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (240 pages).

One of the most important aspects of Christian leadership is about the preparation for the next generation of leaders. However, there are major obstacles that stand between the young and the Church. The pattern is similar. The young are simply not interested about the Christian faith. Youth ministries often have limited success.  Even if the children who grew up in Church are not keen to come. Such similar concerns spark the confirmation project, a three-year study of over 3000 congregations in America, spanning five different denominations. The twelve researchers gather both empirical data as well as apply their reflection on practical theology. Those who responded include parents, youths, workers, and leaders of church ministries. The name "confirmation" is traditionally used to symbolize the beginning of youth ministry. The researchers discover that youth ministries cannot be reduced to a one-time program or experience. Instead, they must be a process of intentional discipleship strategies. Using qualitative research methodology known as portraiture, they whittle down the selections to 12 success stories. It is also encouraging that youths who participated in the research find the following topics important for confirmation programs: God, Bible, The Lord's Prayer, Death & Resurrection, Experiencing God, Apostles' Creed, Meaning of Life, History, and Miracles. Interestingly, it was found that young people strongly mirror the faith of their parents. Those who participate in confirmation ministries are also more religious than their peers. At the same time, learning more about their faith does not mean they automatically grow. Significant factors include regular attendance at youth programs, VBS, Sunday worship, and camps. Youths who attend Sunday services regularly also feel a greater sense of belonging. The contributors take these five major findings and propose five ways to cultivate teen faith.

Monday, November 5, 2018

"The Portable Seminary, Second Edition" (David Horton)

TITLE: The Portable Seminary
AUTHOR: David Horton
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2018, (752 pages).

Seminary education methods are rapidly changing. Many traditional institutions are seeing a decline in student enrolment which also impacts the rate and quality of faculty recruitment. Some are adopting more distance-learning options while a few are fully online. For all the pros and cons of the different channels of seminary education, some things do not change: The need to be equipped to do the work of the gospel. This book aims to fill the gaps left out by conventional theological education. Instead of going to the professor, it brings the professors to you. Instead of signing up for different courses each semester, we get a whole list of syllabus all bounded in one book. Apart from cost savings and time flexibilities, this book gives the mobile individual an additional option to learn at one's own pace. Some of the topics include:

  • Biblical Languages
  • Systematic Theology
  • Old Testament Survey
  • New Testament Survey
  • Apologetics
  • World Religions
  • Church History
  • Missiology
  • Leadership
  • Ethics
  • Christian Education
  • etc.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"4 Chair Discipling" (Dann Spader)

TITLE: 4 Chair Discipling: What He Calls Us to Do (Like Jesus Series)
AUTHOR: Dann Spader
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (160 pages).

Discipleship. If you pick up this book, you would most probably have heard of this word. You might even have read other books about discipleship. Search the Internet and one would see tonnes of books and resources about discipleship. Curiously, even though discipleship has been taught often and mentioned widely, one still get a sense of not having understood what it actually means. Maybe it is the terminologies we get stuck with. Perhaps we are not able to get away from set thinking or past mentality. We need a way in which we could easily remember what discipleship is, why it is important, and how we can go about implementing discipleship in our communities of faith. In this book, we have a fascinating model that is easy to remember and articulate. Using a four chair visual, we can intuitively connecting the dots from the lost to the believer, to the worker and the disciple-maker. Rather than becoming seat warmers, we are urged to move from chair to chair and to encourage others to do the same. For ten years, the author focused on the methods of Jesus, studying His main priorities, ministry manner and lifestyle. After debating about the various viewpoints regarding the patterns of Jesus' discipleship, Spader insists that if we study Jesus' ministry chronologically, we will discover an invaluable pattern of discipleship. The key thing is the understand the full humanity of Jesus and everything flows from there. This means learning of Jesus as fully divine and fully human. Learn what did Jesus do before going toward what would Jesus do. For His teachings are always congruent with His lifestyle. The issuing of the Great Commission dovetails naturally into the obedience of the Great Commandment.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Missionary Mom" (Shontell Brewer)

TITLE: Missionary Mom: Embracing the Mission Field Right Under Your Roof
AUTHOR: Shontell Brewer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (168 pages)

Parenting is a mission in disguise. The mission field is the home. The missionary is the mom. In a book that packs mission with mothering and parenting with spirituality, we see how faith informs the freedom to let the gospel fill the whole house. Instead of seeing missionary as some individual venturing to foreign lands faraway, we have a missionary who is up close and personal, living under the same roof of the family. Mothering is living with a purpose. Missionary mom is a mother who senses the call of God to the home, to serve the family with purpose, and to leave a legacy of Christ in the hearts of children. The author shares openly and honestly her "mom guilt" as a mother often threatened by lies and unwittingly attempting to fulfill them. Left unchecked, it could lead to anxiety and frustrations who rub off the rest of the family. She compares with other mothers who are exhausted by the need to make everything perfect. She targets the need to produce fruit which leads to chapters on prayer; on exemplary living; on purposeful discipline; on taking time to feed the soul; and on cultivating a village and the children's village. She is also conscious of the fact that there are unmarried moms out there as well as endless to-do lists that could unravel any determination.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Soul in Paraphrase" (Leland Ryken)

TITLE: The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems
AUTHOR: Leland Ryken
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (272 pages).

This is a book about poems. Not just any poem but classics that allows the soul great latitude to express the human soul. In a powerful foreword, Leland Ryken highlights some of the main features of "classic devotional poems." They are:
  • They take the religious life and experience as the subject;
  • They inform and influence the reader;
  • They make us think and reflect on the spiritual life;
  • They also connect us with both the common experience as humans as well as the spiritual experience as Christians;
  • Both form and content engage us;
  • There is beauty in both expression and experience;
  • They are multi-layered in quality which challenges us to keep unwrapping the gifts of poetry;
Despite poems being often seen as "timeless and universal," these selected poems are arranged in chronological order for our convenience. Pieces written in Old English are updated for our ease of understanding. They are not inspirational but devotional pieces. The former tends to benefit the self while the latter helps the reader to be mindful about honouring God and to grow toward being more like Christ. The pieces contrast with literature of unbelief that tend to deny the existence of God. The works in this book not only affirms God's Presence, they help us develop a fuller understanding of faith, worship, prayer, belief, humanity in Christ. Apart from that, the anthology not only deals with the content but also the form in which the content is communicated. This presents the reader an opportunity to enjoy the pieces in more ways than one. There is also the skills behind the literary art which exudes beauty for us to appreciate. More importantly, the beauty that we see more of God helps us also to see the beauty FROM the eyes of God. The hymns, poems, prayers are categorized broadly as follows:
  • Note the title, the author, and the period of writing
  • The poem is listed and updated for our reading
  • Some notes are included for explanation of the texts
  • Commentary by Ryken
  • Last nine chapters are brief "pairs of poems" based on a common theme
My Thoughts
First, it is crucial to take time to read each chapter. I must admit it takes some effort to move from prose to poetry. If we attempt to read it like an essay, we may be able to finish the brief pages in quick time but miss the literary aesthetics. Poem is a genre that requires frequent pauses to take in the meaning and insights of each word. The focus should not be to finish the book as fast as possible but to savour each word and sentence like sipping an expensive glass of wine. We smell the form and see the words. We examine the words and ponder about the subject. The "Sunset on Calvary" comprises just four sentences, yet, Lyken is able to cast lots of light on the simple yet profound words. It reminds me that there is beauty in simplicity. Simplicity is not just the economy of words, but the central focus to see a big idea from as many angles as possible.

Second, for starters, it might be helpful to read the poem quickly at first and re-read them after going through the commentary. With the author guiding the reader with key observations, background information, overview of the movement of thoughts, and so on, hopefully the reader can learn to read poetry with a better informed mind. It is an educational journey for me as well to be able to catch the insights of Lyken, an English Professor and how he reads the poem. I find the background information particularly helpful because it helps me connect the poem with the poet. For instance, many of William Shakespeare's works are composed by a deeply contemplative person. Shakespeare ponders upon his own mortality expresses it through Sonnet 73. His understanding of true love leads to the marriage sonnet 116. "Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom" is a re-statement of the common marriage vow: "Till death do us part."

Finally, I think one of the key things I take away is that I must replace the notion of right/wrong and replace it with appreciating what the authors try to say. In other words, seeking to know the 'what' of expression is the most important first step in reading the anthology of poems. Just like the way we do inductive bible studies, the first step is Observation before Interpretation. This interplay of artistry and scientific analysis is what makes reading poetry both refreshing and intriguing. It is a way which we devote our attention to God through the words that help us link our humanity with God's divinity.

Leland Ryken has served as Professor of English at Wheaton College for nearly 50 years. He has authored over 50 books and served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version.

Rating: 4.5 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, October 8, 2018

"The Holy No" (Adam Hearlson)

TITLE: The Holy No: Worship as a Subversive Act
AUTHOR: Adam Hearlson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, 2018, (192 pages).

When it comes to worship, most people would have thought it to be something relatively passive and restricted to halls of religious singing, preaching, or praying. They might even say that it is an act solely between the divine and the person. Christians in general see worship as music and singing. Those more theologically astute would venture to include the essence of worship being in Christ and letting Christ demonstrate His presence wherever we go. Author Adam Hearlson takes it even farther by pushing forth the idea of subversion. This intriguing idea should make most readers sit up and ponder about the purposes of worship. As we read on, we will get a clearer idea of where the author is going and what he is trying to do. The first goal of worship is worship. The second is transformation, both ours and the world. In a book about worship, author Adam Hearlson has brought in the theme of change through subversion. He points out the three main ways in which social change can be made. The first is conservation, done usually by people in significant positions of power and influence. Such a strategy requires great resources and access to capital to support the strategy of "no change." The second is succession, which is partly conservation with some levels of access to power. The third is the one that Hearlson is concerned with: those without any power and "upward mobility." This latter group would likely use the strategy of subversion in order to instigate change. The poor, the marginalized, the minority, and those who are pushed to the edges of main society have no other choice but to adopt subversive acts. It is the strategy of the weak. Theologically, it has three characteristics: "relationality, movement, and provisionality." In "relationality," we are reminded that we are accountable to both God and our fellow human beings. In "movement," we learn that the identity of a Church is not about doctrinal statements or traditions but about where the church is. In "provisionality," we are reminded that the mission of Christ defines the Church, and not the other way around. While it is true that the Church exists to fulfill the mission of Christ, it is the mission of Christ that gives the Church her identity. With politics as a cultural backdrop, Hearlson gives us several examples in history with regard to subversion as a way of life. The early Christians in Rome created subversive images even when they were persecuted by the Romans. The Greensboro Woolworth sit-ins are acts against racial discrimination. Students in the 1968 Paris riots resemble the French Revolution.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"Last Call for Liberty" (Os Guinness)

TITLE: Last Call for Liberty: How America's Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat
AUTHOR: Os Guinness
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018, (336 pages).

What is the root cause of America's problems? What is true liberty? How free is America? In fact, according to respected theologian and cultural observer, Os Guinness, the problem is not the world nor the world against America. It is America herself becoming her "most bitter enemies." They are their own threat to freedom. Donald Trump is not the problem. He has simply turned over the carpet that had covered the problems of the past America had swept under. From political tussles to socio-economic divisions, it is becoming a society where everyone think they are right and others are wrong. Finding the root cause will help us address the greatest threat to America. This is essentially the search for freedom. What then is the key to freedom? Os Guinness shows the way with a series of questions with the single purpose of helping American minds to figure out the "character and condition of freedom." He raises questions like:
  • What do Americans mean by liberty?
  • Freedom means different things to different people, so what kind of Freedom does America aspire to become?
  • What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist?
  • How do we allow the conflicting views to exist without breaking up the nation? 
  • What is America fighting for?
  • What is the difference between the French Revolution and American fight for freedom?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Preaching Jesus Christ Today" (Annette Brownlee)

TITLE: Preaching Jesus Christ Today: Six Questions for Moving from Scripture to Sermon
AUTHOR: Annette Brownlee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (190 pages).

Preaching is unlike speaking. It is not about giving a talk. Neither is it a speech or good advice about what to do with our lives. Preaching is essentially about proclaiming Christ and declaring the Kingdom of God coming to earth. It is about letting the ancient truths of the Bible come alive in modern contexts. Yet, it is challenging for preachers who had to prepare, produce, and preach a sermon week in and week out. Depending on the texts, one may have too many things to pack into a limited time or simply has too little to say due to the difficulty of the passage. Preachers in general need help from time to time, though some more and others less. For author and preacher Annette Brownlee, it is about preaching Jesus Christ and to move from text to interpretation to application through six core questions. Questions like:
  1. What do I see? (Preacher as Witness)
  2. Whom do I see? (Preacher as Witness to Christ)
  3. What is Christ's Word to me? (Preacher as Confessor)
  4. What is Christ's Word to us? (Preacher as Theologian)
  5. What does it look like? (Preacher as Theologian of a Broken Body)
  6. What does it look like? (Preacher as Witness to Christ in a Disobedient World)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"A Bigger Table" (John Pavlovitz)

TITLE: A Bigger Table
AUTHOR: John Pavlovitz
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (188 pages).

Our table of understanding and tolerance is way to small. There is only space for people of similar thoughts, similar skin colour, similar political beliefs, and similar cultural distinctivenesses. Beginning with a lament about the state of the American political scene, and the way the Trump presidency had divided many communities, the big question is: "What does it take to expand that table?" How do we create a more inclusive, diverse, and accepting environment? According to author and pastor John Pavlovitz, this book is "about humanity, about the one flawed family that we belong to and the singular, odd, staggeringly beautiful story we all share." The first part of the book details his journey from being hired to getting fired. He shares his background as a young "insider" experiencing within a community that makes stark distinctions between people inside and people outside. Such "faulty biographies" were handed to him and he was expected to toe the line. Raised in a Catholic home, and seeing how his community has become such a "gentrified, sanitized, homogeneous" one, he aspires to become a pastor to all people, to learn to break bread with the broken, the marginalized, and the lesser ones around. He chronicles his journey through many different shakeups. From his brother coming out as gay to moving to a Protestant Church; from seeing the Church as a place of acceptance to a place of rejection; from outspoken faith to "conspiracy of silence" when it comes to navigating the tricky terrains of truth and love. When he tries to push back against the way Christians use "clobber verses" to push through their views, it marks the beginning of the end for his role as pastor. The price of honesty is steep. That sets him up with a conviction to start building a bigger table.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Christian Ethics" (Wayne Grudem)

TITLE: Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning
AUTHOR: Wayne Grudem
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (1296 pages).

What are the basis for moral reasoning? What are the differences between morality, immorality, and amorality? Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today? Absolutely! Indeed, as society becomes more secular and moral reasoning replaced by amoral philosophies, we become more confused and less convicted about what is the right thing to do. Things may be legally right but ethically wrong. How then do we do our part to retain basic human decency in the things we do or say? Without any guide, we are left to our own devices and we are prone to make serious misjudgments about what we ought to do in the light of societal pressures and what basic norms should be. This is especially so for Christians who are increasingly been challenged by the world to give a defense of the gospel and the basis for moral reasoning. We need help in order to structure our thoughts and to understand the Bible's principles for moral reasoning. Here we see the brilliance of Bible teacher and theologian, Wayne Grudem, who guides us through the basics of understanding what ethics was; what the Bible teaches; the purpose of ethics; the need for God's laws in society; and many fundamental elements on how we should anchor our ethical framework based on biblical principles. In a clear and concise manner, he leads us through each of the ten commandments and shows us the relevance of the ancient laws for modern times. Most crucially, he tells us why we follow ethical principles. That is because of the glory of God. He explains the different kinds of ethics that we have today: Deontological; teleological; relativism; virtue ethics; among the various normative ethics, and compares them with biblical ethics. He cautions us as we study Christian Ethics not to presume we could "improve upon" biblical ethics. The reason why we study is because we want to better know God's will for us. This is perhaps the key point to take home as we read this book. For reference, the ten commandments are:

Friday, September 7, 2018

"On Reading Well" (Karen Swallow Prior)

TITLE: On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books
AUTHOR: Karen Swallow Prior
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018, (272 pages).

For many people, reading can be a great pastime. Students read for learning, but more often than not, do so in order to pass their courses. Professors read in order to teach. Researchers read in order to build their reserviour of knowledge and bibliographical resources. Many teachers also encourage their students not just to read but to read widely. What about reading slowly and intently? What does it mean to read well? What if reading could change our lives? What if reading well means living well, or vice versa? These questions help us address the fundamental purposes of reading and living. According to author Karen Swallow Prior, "reading well is, in itself, an act of virtue, or excellence, and it is also a habit that cultivates more virtue in return." That is more than a mouthful. It is specifically reading with a virtuous purpose in mind and a holistic relevance to life. Prior shows us how through the categories of the cardinal, theological, and heavenly virtues. We learn many different insights about reading well:
  • Reading well is about learning how to think
  • Reading slowly leads to deep and meaningful reading
  • Speed reading leads to "superficial knowledge and overconfidence."
  • Read virtuously by being faithful to both text and context
  • Read and enjoy
  • Read and be formed in our thinking
  • Read toward human flourishing
  • Reading fosters virtues and vision
  • Reading offers greater perspectives
  • ... and so on

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"Four Gifts" (April Yamasaki)

TITLE: Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength
AUTHOR: April Yamasaki
PUBLISHER: Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2018, (208 pages).

Life is a gift. From the time we were born, we have been on the receiving end of blessings, giving, and many good gifts. Most of us would know that from our loving parents. Thus, it is no surprise when the Bible tells us to honour our parents in the middle of the Ten Commandments. It is recognizing that we exist not because of ourselves but because others had blessed us and given good things to us. Of course, there are exceptions to the norm in situations like abuse and parental neglect. Otherwise, it is fair to say that most of us would have received life more as a gift instead of something we earned or worked for. Stretching this further, we ponder at life before we were born. Our Creator, as in Ps 139:13 had formed us even before we were in our mother's womb. What do we then do with the gift of life? We learn to take care of it. Author and pastor April Yamasaki uses this to kick start a wonderful book about soul-care and Christian spirituality. Right from the start, Yamasaki confesses of being a perfectionist, a constant goal-getter, and one who are filled with activities and demands which in turn impacts her capacity and ability to rest.  Part of the reason is that many people equates self-care with selfishness. In this book, we are assured that taking care of oneself is not selfishness. In fact, not taking care of oneself is neglect. Self-care is essentially catering to our physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. It means learning to take vacations and not turn them into work days. It means learning to thrive in the midst of busyness. It means learning not to guilt-trip ourselves into constant work and worry but to enter into a period of trusting in God's care and taking care of one's needs appropriately.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Invitation to Retreat" (Ruth Haley Barton)

TITLE: Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God (Transforming Resources Set)
AUTHOR: Ruth Haley Barton
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018, (144 pages).

Many of us know the importance of going away on a retreat. Many don't know what to do with it. In fact, going away for a vacation may very well a busy and stressful time. Leisure time is not a retreat. Entertainment options are not necessarily the right ingredients for rest. Taking a summer break cannot be equated to a retreat. Until we learn to deal with the inner restlessness in each of us, we will continue to be addicted to the twin buddies of busyness and exhaustion. Everywhere we go, people are either busy doing something or take pride in being busy. At the end of the day, they get tired which affects everything else. In a culture infatuated with a 24/7 always available mindset, we become enslaved to external stimulants like the ping on our cell-phones or social media prompts. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to escape from the spinning world of problems and non-stop challenges. Even on leisure Sundays or vacation days, we don't really know what to do with our time, save for more activities that feed the restless soul in us. Dallas Willard says it well about setting a time intentionally to retreat from our usual stuff: "If you don't come apart for a while, you will come apart after a while." Retreat leader and popular speaker Ruth Haley Barton invites us to a time away from our everyday activities to go to a quiet place to discover ourselves and to experience God. This spiritual guide helps us not only to plan for a retreat, it offers us what to do and what not to do during a retreat. If we don't address the restlessness in each of us, any activity, including a retreat, may become another occasion for work and busyness. Quoting Emilie Griffin, a retreat is essentially a "generous commitment to our friendship with God." Beautifully put. Yes! A retreat is not something that we do for God or something we plan to do in the Name of Jesus. It is about that personal time with God and seeking to know more of the One we want to serve. A retreat is about doing something different from what we are used to do. It is about making that space with God and enjoying it. It means being generous with our time with God, and not just a pittance number of minutes we deem "devotional time." A retreat is very much counter-cultural. Barton highlights several Rs for us to get a fuller picture.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"The Lifegiving Parent" (Clay and Sally Clarkson)

TITLE: The Lifegiving Parent: Giving Your Child a Life Worth Living for Christ
AUTHOR: Clay and Sally Clarkson
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2018, (256 pages).

Children are God's gift to parents. Lifegiving is a two-way path. Whether it is the struggle through challenges, enigma of choices; joy of chuckles; or grappling with changes; parents will always be parents, albeit, evolving roles. What is Christian parenting? How can parents continue their role of giving life after each growth phase? Is Christian parenting more than simply giving faith? Having written books and given conferences to Christian mothers, author Sally Clarkson has teamed up with her husband Clay to provide answers to both sets of parents. This third book in the "Life giving" trilogy addresses parents and shows us what it means to be lifegiving parents. In a nutshell, lifegiving parenting is not just about giving children the faith in Christ but giving the life of Christ. Sharing their personal stories of parenting amid tumultuous career and personal upheavals, they tie in their faith victories with powerful parenting lessons of wisdom. These lessons are marinated with both successes and failures. The key theme of this book is that parenting is less about what we do and more about who we are. That is why the authors spend the bulk of the book talking about the eight "heartbeats of parental lifegiving." The logic is simple. We parent out of who we are.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Sacred Signposts" (Benjamin J. Dueholm)

TITLE: Sacred Signposts: Words, Water, and Other Acts of Resistance
AUTHOR: Benjamin J. Dueholm
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (176 pages).

Are the Church practices of old no longer relevant in our new era? Should we still observe them or should we abandon them in favour of new rituals? How should we adapt to a post-Christian world? Should we resist adapting and maintain the historical approaches to the rituals? Right from the start, author Benjamin Dueholm shows us the tensions between the old and the new; the traditional and the modern; the liberal and the post-liberal; etc. He tries to use inclusive languages pertaining to God, using "cultural idioms" we are familiar with. He marries the two by letting authors of old keep the gendered identities as they had used while he adopts a more inclusive or more neutral language. Put it simply, historically and theologically, he tries to keep to traditions. Practically, he is less strict, even though he claims to stick to his professed traditions. In doing so, Dueholm carefully meanders between the two sides of the ritual divide to show us how "holy possessions" the Church has received from the past can still be relevant for the present times. In other words, these six "sacred signposts" still matter. He claims that "historic preservationism can make people authoritarian, reactionary, and defensive," while "dumpster diving" makes us "diffuse and marginal, light in commitment and ready to claim any enthusiasm in the world for Christ." What we should do instead is to "renew our focus" on these six rituals of Words, Water, Meal, Confession and Forgiveness, Ministry, and Worship. If we can do this well, these holy possessions would:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Moral Leadership for a Divided Age" (David P. Gushee & Colin Holtz)

TITLE: Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: Fourteen People Who Dared to Change Our World
AUTHOR: David P. Gushee & Colin Holtz
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018, (384 pages).

What is moral leadership? Why is it so needed today? Some books tackle the above with a list of best leadership practices or some leadership attributes. Others deal with the leaders in terms of what they do and how they do it. For David Gushee and Colin Holtz, it is about examining the lives of notable leaders, specifically, 14 persons who displays leadership that unite followers toward a common goal. They invite people to join with them in pursuing a common cause. They have moral impact, moral character, and moral purpose in what they do. The test of moral leadership is when the leaders leave, they leave the world in a better shape than before. In fact, for the authors, moral leadership is a far better way to learn ethics than ethical studies per se. This is because it encompasses both theory and practice; concepts and applications; ideas and practicality. Moral leadership is more essential because the world:
  • is increasingly dominated by people moving toward radical extremes
  • is dominated by people trying to make their culture or cultural stance superior to others
  • the world is increasingly being torn apart, divided.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

"Honest Worship" (Manuel Luz)

TITLE: Honest Worship: From False Self to True Praise
AUTHOR: Manuel Luz
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018, (224 pages).

Why do we worship? What is the meaning of worshiping God i Spirit and in Truth?  How do we do away with any pretense in the house of God? How do we worship? In this impassioned plea for honesty and integration of heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are challenged to lay down our masks and artificial ways and take up the cross of sacrifice and service. We are challenged to let go of self and see God for Who He is, so that we can see ourselves for who we truly are, from God's perspective. Worship is not just about music and songs. It's about truth. It's not just about us. It's about God. It's not just about feelings. It's about honesty from us to God, and of God toward us. Beginning with an observation about smoke, techniques, and drama in a modern worship setting, author and worship pastor Manuel Luz reflects on his journey from "false self to true praise." With state of the art audio-visual systems, it is easy to let the externals wow our fleshly senses to the point of ignoring our spiritual needs. All this is because of the influence of the culture over us. As we let the externals dictate the way we worship, we become tempted with sensational techniques and expensive technological tools to feed the fleshly desires rather than authentic worship. As the late AW Tozer has said it so aptly that:

"Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us."

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Spiritual Gifts" (Thomas R. Schreiner)

TITLE: Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter
AUTHOR: Thomas R. Schreiner
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2018, (192 pages).

Spiritual gifts are important for us, individually as well as for the  Church. While there are different interpretations of what they are and how they are used, the general agreement is that they are from God and are used for the edification of the body of Christ. Unfortunately, many churches and believers have unwittingly allowed their differences and interpretations get in the way of seeing the bigger picture of what spiritual gifts are essentially about. What are the essential and non-essential aspects of spiritual gifts? How do we disagree without tearing our communities apart? In this book, author Thomas Schreiner deals with one of the most contentious gifts in the history of the Church: What about the gifts of apostle, prophets, and tongues? Have they ceased? Schreiner argues from a "nuanced cessationism" perspective. Healing and miracles still exist but are increasingly rare because all we need are in the revealed Scriptures already. More importantly, he wants us to focus more on the "nuancing" rather than the "ceasing." For once we understand the nuances, we will understand why he is arguing for the cessation perspective.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Spirit-Led Heart" (Suzanne Eller)

TITLE: The Spirit-Led Heart: Living a Life of Love and Faith without Borders
AUTHOR: Suzanne Eller
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2018, (208 pages).

What does it take to have a heart that is Spirit-led instead of self-led? In a world where Christianity is increasingly seen with disdain, and even Christians seem to feel God is far away from them, we need guidance from time to time regarding things of faith. Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit coming to us. Even when we feel God is far away from us, we cannot let feelings dictate reality. Just like the presence of the sun. Just because we are in a dark room does not mean the sun is not out there. We need guidance to sense the presence of God in more ways than one. This book is one resource to help us do just that. In addressing each emotion that arises out of fear, weakness, and a sense of insecurity, Eller helps put things in perspective to help us recognize that God is Sovereign and He is in control. We need to trust His leading. Spurred by the prayer of her friend, Jennifer Dukes Lee, she feels a sense of relief and is released to trust God more. From uncertainty and self-doubt, she seeks out faith in God via a promise from God. Instead of relying on our own power, we learn that the Spirit-led heart is empowered by God for the greater good and purpose. Our lives are not defined by opinions or mass appeal but by truth alone. She shows us the lies that we often fall prey into and replaces them with truth; with direction; and with boldness. I like the way she describes Spirit-led direction.