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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Sex in a Broken World" (Paul David Tripp)

TITLE: Sex in a Broken World: How Christ Redeems What Sin Distorts
AUTHOR: Paul David Tripp
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (192 pages).

It is no secret that our culture has been highly sexualized. Whether it is sexist language or sexualized commercials that depict male and female stereotypes; or scandals and news about the latest Hollywood breakups and couple hitches; there is a deep public interest and curiosity over what people do in private bedrooms. According to author and pastor Paul David Tripp, sexuality reveals the sinfulness in human beings more powerfully than any other thing. So much so that it has split communities; break apart churches; divided families; and corrupted relationships. Is there hope in the midst of such brokenness? Calling himself a "sad celebrant," he reveals the conflicted feelings and thoughts about sex in a broken world. On the one hand, he is sorry about the sad state of affairs pertaining to the way people use and abuse one another. On the other hand, he is hopeful about the promises of redemption of the world in Christ. What does it mean to live between the "already" and the "not yet?" With Christ having died for our sins at the cross, God has already won our salvation for us. Yet, we remain incomplete and imperfect. Even after the gospel has been preached, we continue to hurt one another in various ways. Sexual sins is a major part of this brokenness. What can we do about it? How do we think redemptively about sexual sins? Can marriages survive adultery? What could sexually charged individuals do with their strong sexual desires? After describing the emotional conflicts about sexuality, the author hones in on Romans 8 passage to point out the reality of the world in sin and the promises of hope in redemption. There will be temptations. There will be pitfalls. There will be hardships of different degrees. There will be suffering, one that includes sexuality as well. In this book, Tripp shows us that God's grace is often "uncomfortable grace"; "intervening grace"; "unstoppable grace"; "providing grace"; and "inseparable grace."

Monday, February 26, 2018

"Lies Women Believe" (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth)

TITLE: Lies Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free
AUTHOR: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (288 pages).

It has been said that truth hurts. So do lies. In fact, lies may seem harmless initially, but it sows seeds of discord, distrust, and disappointment. In fact, our culture is full of deceptions. From advertisements to dubious claims that sound too good to be true, the unfortunate thing is, some people still choose to believe them, despite suspicions about lies and deceptions. Going all the way back to the first sin of creation, we learn how Satan deceived Eve first, then Adam, and the whole world went spiraling downhill ever since. Deception is the #1 weapon utilized by the evil one. It worked at the beginning. It is still potent even now. Looking at the first sin at the Garden of Eden, Wolgemuth shows us a pattern of how sin takes a foothold in our hearts. It begins with us innocently listening to a lie. It tempts us like a clever salesman selling us things we do not need in the form of benefits that we want. Once planted in our minds, we dwell on the temptation, initially with a desire to honour God first and all others second, but gradually letting our other priorities take over. This leads to us believing the lie, assuming that there are more good than evil in it. Finally, when we act on the lie, the deception is complete. We are enslaved to the perils of participating in the lie, even propagating it to others. Thankfully, there is hope. We can undo the wrongs simply with acknowledgment and humble repentance. Recognizing our errors is an all important first step. Without this, we remain in denial.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"The Power of the 72" (John Teter)

TITLE: The Power of the 72: Ordinary Disciples in Extraordinary Evangelism
AUTHOR: John Teter
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (176 pages).

I have come across books about the 12 disciples, the 12 tribes of Israel, and songs about the 12 sons of Jacob. In the book of Revelation, there is the usage of 144,000 servants of God who were sealed. Symbolically, 12 is likened to a complete number, a total collection. In this book about the 72 evangelists sent out two by two, we also see it as a multiple of 12. Based on Luke 10:1-20, author John Teter expounds this text to showcase 72 unnamed disciples evangelizing everywhere they go. Calling himself "one of the 72," Teter sees himself in the text as a convicted evangelist. In fact, the gospel of Luke has defined his ministry setting. The mission statement comes from Luke 4; the one-verse vision from Luke 10:2; the evangelism model on Luke 10; and letting the gospel of Luke master him. He also makes an interesting interpretation that the 72 could also mean the known number of countries at that time, which he then extrapolates to mean evangelism for the whole world. I am not sure about that literal stretch, but that does not change the heart of Christ for the whole world. Indeed, the gospel is for all, and the hope is that all would come and believe in the gospel. Jesus called, trained, and sent the 72 out on this evangelistic outreach. What and where exactly is this power? It is that conviction by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, that the gospel is for all. In this book, Teter seeks to do four things:
  1. Provide a clear theological foundation for evangelism, preaching first to the poor
  2. Present theory of process conversion
  3. Proficiency in four ministry tasks
  4. Prepare for daily rejection with a focus on eternal joy

Monday, February 19, 2018

"The Gospel According to Star Wars" (John C. McDowell)

TITLE: The Gospel according to Star Wars, Second Edition
AUTHOR: John C. McDowell
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (224 pages).

The latest Star Wars installment is in theaters everywhere. It has solidified its reputation as a top-selling movie franchise. With its popularity, many are renewing their love for characters such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, as well as the newer characters like Rey and Kylo Ren, and many more. It is amazing how the 70s franchise had lasted till now, where each of the episodes had sold-out crowds on their opening days. Beyond the entertainment aspect, is there a hidden message in the Star Wars saga? Is it more than simply a movie written for kids? How did such a movie franchise grow to be so popular? If there is a secret message, how do we make sense of it without misrepresenting the original storyteller's intentions? For those who say no, they would probably not even bother to pick up this book. For those who say yes, they have to sieve through the many complex interpretations, symbolism, religious undertones, and cultural understanding. For those who are unsure, perhaps, this book would offer not just an alternative look at the SW stories but invites them to consider the religious and spiritual messages hidden within the movies.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Immeasurable" (Skye Jethani)

TITLE: Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.
AUTHOR: Skye Jethani
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

How do we measure how our organizations are doing? What are the best practices we can learn from others? How can leaders manage an increasingly diverse community in a world of complex needs? These are common questions which would be familiar to those of us in management and corporate circles. What about churches? Chances are, many church leaders would use some form of popular management paradigms and best practices to run their churches. However, are those appropriate for Church ministry? How Christlike are those strategies? Have we incorporated worldly values into our Church? Perhaps. This is something that should make every church leader sit up and ponder. In trying to make things more visible, more tangible, and more measurable, they have unwittingly missed out their focus on the invisible, the intangible, and the immeasurable things. One can truly become so materially rich but spiritually poor. Thankfully, we have this book to remind us of an alternative. We have many resources teaching us about the 'how' but relatively few on reflections on the 'why.' With the infatuation over success and worldly measurables like numbers, efficiency, visible presence, and other signs, we have fallen prey to letting the world define our ministry. Jethani reminds us of Richard Halverson's words:

"In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Make a List" (Marilyn McEntyre)

TITLE: Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (208 pages).

One of the important things we do to help us remember is to make a list. We have shopping list; book list; grocery list; stationery list; school list; homework list; blog list; name list; and so on. Once we have the necessary items on the list, we would be assured that even if we forget some items in our heads, we have a dependable list written down somewhere. Most of the time, these lists are simply to help us remember stuff. What if the lists could do more? What if the lists:
  • Mirror something about us;
  • Works as an educational device;
  • Help us listen to ourselves;
  • Enable us to love;
  • Teach us how to let go of anxieties;
  • Facilitate our practice of prayer;
  • and many other uses?
What's really interesting is how the author is able to turn such an ordinary list activity into a device to practice spirituality. Part One is about the purposes and pleasures of making lists. This is the part that we are most familiar with. McEntyre takes us through the process and teaches us to discover small little opportunities for personal growth. She brings together a list of ideas with regard to the use of list making. Besides the practical lists, there are also lists to help us express our emotions. Why are we upset? What are the things we need to let go of? Why am I afraid of? What makes forgiveness so hard? What gives me joy? What could I pay more attention to? What are the risks worth taking? What are the things to do when down? Lists could even work out as a better "punching bag."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Way to Brave" (Andy McQuitty)

TITLE: The Way to Brave: Shaping a David Faith for a Goliath World
AUTHOR: Andy McQuitty
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (224 pages).

It is no secret that Christians nowadays live in a hostile world. As society becomes more secular and religions being seen as nothing more than simply motivation for good works, it is harder for Christians to live in this pluralistic culture. If we are content to just get-along with anything and everything in our culture, we would be left alone. What if we decide to stand up for our historical faith, the biblical principles and truth of Jesus? It would be an uphill task, given the way atheism and secularism had taken hold of all parts of society. Public schools forbid any talk about religion. Businesses generally discourage any discussions about faith matters. Any hint of religion in the public square would trigger push-backs from skeptics and secularists everywhere. The example of Russ Vought being ridiculed before the US Senate Committee for his Christian position is a case in point. On the other hand, violent programming and the sexually charged entertainment options continue to go unabated. Will Christians have courage to stand up against the tide of hostility? What can believers do in the midst of many obstacles that seemed so insurmountable? What does it take to shape a "David faith for today's Goliath World?" That is the crux of the book, which begins with a paraphrase of the biblical story of David vs Goliath in 1 Sam 17. The author writes this book hoping to encourage Christians not only to be courageous in a big way, but to do it in the right way and for the right reason. Courage don't just happen. They are strengthened with challenges. They go through a period of preparation. They stem from the conviction that God is love and God's love overcomes all.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"They Were Single Too" (David M. Hoffeditz)

TITLE: They Were Single Too: Eight Biblical Role Models
AUTHOR: David M. Hoffeditz
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (160 pages).

Should I get married or remain single? Is it ok to be single? How do we live in a culture where being single seems to be some kind of a social stigman? What has the Bible got to say about singleness? Though there is no single chapter or specific reference that talks about the topic of singleness, (although 1 Corinthians 7 come close), the Bible does describe the lives of many single people. In this book, author David Hoffeditz highlights eight biblical role models of single people. Paul is the popular New Testament model of a single man, who taught about the gift of staying single, so that one can be focused on God's ministry. His key teaching is for us to be content with whatever state we are in, and also to learn how to value others who are single, without diminishing or belittling their roles in any way. Singleness also applies to widows like Anna, who had to deal with social inadequacies in the early century Jewish culture. Although not much was written about her in the Bible, the author manages to use her story as a way to teach us how a single person could still rest in God and serve God joyfully. Then there is Martha who has sometimes been vilified for the way she demanded Mary to help her. Using her example, we are warned about the dangers of distraction; a "God-needs-me atttitude," self-sufficiency, etc. More importantly, singles may try to escape from the stigma of singleness by immersing themselves into work and busy activities. Such things may work for a while but over time, reality bites. Instead, focus on resting in God. The prophet Jeremiah is a great example of one fully dependent on God for all his life, or for the most part. Instead of asking why, he prays "How Long, O Lord?" Instead of running after solutions from the world, he prays to God. In the midst of shattered dreams, Ruth is a classic example of trusting in God as her source of strength. In a world where women are treated as second class, she continued to be obedient to God in faith. Then there is Joseph who remained true to God in the midst of temptation and Nehemiah who truly felt alone when thrown into a multitude of fierce opposition. Finally, there is John the Baptist who was martyred. If there is anyone who would feel most alone, it would probably be John the Baptist.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Leaving Mormonism" (Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott)

TITLE: Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed their Minds
AUTHOR: Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (320 pages).

Mormonism has been in the news in the recent past. Some years ago, a presidential hopeful garnered the support of many evangelicals, even though he was a Mormon. Some say that his faith is just another denomination. Others prefer to call it a cult, or some other name to dissociate it from Christianity. With arguments flowing back and forth, it is easy to accuse people who are not Mormons to shut up until they know what they are talking about. While it is one thing to know the theologies,  it is yet another to experience it. In order to have some measure of credibility, a few criteria would need to be met.
  • They have deep knowledge of Mormon doctrines and practices at an academic level. (Knowledge)
  • They have experienced what it means to be a Mormon at a personal level. (Experience)
  • They have critically, passionately, and lovingly engaged the faith and are able to explain rationally why they left Mormonism. (Truth in love)
  • They have voices from both "left-brained" and "right-brained" perspectives. (Diversity)
  • A bonus would be all of them hold academic PhDs!

Friday, February 2, 2018

"Awaiting the King" (James K.A. Smith)

TITLE: Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Cultural Liturgies)
AUTHOR: James K. A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (256 pages).

What has theology got to do with politics? What has Church got to do with State? Is there a better way forward in public engagement without having to police the boundaries of such relations? For author James K A Smith, it is essentially about societal and human flourishing. Whether it is in the political or public sphere, we need to redeem them. Borrowing heavily from Oliver O'Donovan's works and Augustine's thoughts on "City of God," Smith seeks to present a Christian approach to active engagement in the public square, to see it as a calling and not simply something to be shunned or be afraid of.

The political arena today is strewn with bipartisan politics not just in Washington DC but also in various theological circles. What is the relationship today between Christ and Culture? The Church herself is a cultural center that could influence the world. With this in mind, in a nutshell, it is about cultivating a posture of theological engagement rather than policy formulation. Calling it "part diagnosis and part prescription," Smith believes that the Church plays that very vital role in adopting "Augustinian principles for public participation." At the same time, using O'Donovan's works on a "missionary order," which is putting the needs of society before government, we are able to develop a series of postures to help us think, re-think, and reform our public theology. Our main posture is patience and optimism in the coming kingdom. Let me try to summarize some of the postures advocated by the author.