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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Small Church Essentials" (Karl Vaters)

TITLE: Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of under 250
AUTHOR: Karl Vaters
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (256 pages).

It is no secret that in North America, many churches are either closing down or shrinking. It is also said that the single largest growing pool of believers are the NONES, the non-affiliated, non-church-going, and non-aligned group of people who still consider themselves believers. Statistics are dire with regard to the state of the Church. At the same time, there is a glimmer of hope. Small churches do have their strengths. As far as Jesus is concerned, the minimum number of believers to form a community with His Presence is two or three gathering in His Name. Jesus must have foreseen our modern world long time ago! While many of us would like to see numerical growth, we need to learn how to take care of churches that are under 250 in size, which is the majority of North American churches today. What is more essential is to learn the tools and principles about how to lead these congregations toward healthy growth and life. Karl Vaters is proudly a pastor of small churches for over 30 years. He is the goto guy for the small church guy. Though his church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship is located not far from megachurches in the area, he is convinced that small is good. Over 90% of the churches in the world are under 250 in size. About 1 billion people are in small churches worldwide, making small churches the single largest people group in the world! If that is so, why not focus on doing whatever we can to support and rejuvenate the small Church with big thoughts? This is exactly what the author seeks to do. Small churches must not let their size minimize their ministry. They need to see the greatness of God regardless of size. They need guidance on how to run a small church effectively and enthusiastically. What if small churches are centers of friendliness; neighbourliness; mission; innovational generosity; and worship? With these objectives in mind, Vaters proceeds to share how we can do just that.

Monday, May 28, 2018

"The Bible in a Disenchanted Age" (R.W.L. Moberly)

TITLE: The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic)
AUTHOR: R. W. L. Moberly
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (240 pages).

This book is based on a series of Earle lectures on Biblical Literature at the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, held on November 16-17, 2015. It is a theological exploration by the scholars and researchers on current issues and Christian thought, shared to the larger Church for their edification. Society is becoming  more secularized. Bible is perceived as less relevant than before. Faith is increasingly under attack by atheists and non-believers. As a result, some Christians are backpedaling on their fundamentals just to appease the modern hostile climate. Unfortunately, for the ardent skeptic, no arguments are sufficient if they do not wish to believe in the first place. Author Moberly tries to defend the Bible not by way of historical evidence or persuasive rhetoric, but by walking with the company of trustworthy people both past and present. He argues that there it is not clear that historical evidence should lead to faith. Moreover, the words "history" and "historical reliability" could mean so many different things to different people.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Introducing the Apocrypha" (David A. deSilva)

TITLE: Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance
AUTHOR: David A. deSilva
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, (Second Edition) 2018, (528 pages).

Roman Catholics and Protestants have slightly different Bibles. The difference lies in the additional books that the former have. Depending on how you classify or call them, they are considered "apocryphal" (hidden) texts by some, deuterocanonical (second canon) or "pseudepigrapha" (authors using pseudonyms) by others. They lie between normal texts and sacred texts. They are too good to be excluded but don't fit under the canonization criteria. Arguments can be made for both. Why then do we need to study them? This book gives us several reasons.
  • They are a primer for understanding what the Apocrypha is.
  • Gives us a fuller picture of Judaism from 200-100 BCE, to close the gap between the OT and NT.
  • NT authors are familiar with these texts and consider them highly.
  • Formative in the early years of Christian Theology, central to Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians.
  • They help us appreciate the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls as a key document.
  • It underscores the ancient obsession with theodicy, fairness, and retributive justice.
  • It gives readers a deeper understanding of the Jewish culture during the times of Jesus.
  • Addressing basic questions about those unfamiliar with the historical development of the additional books.
  • Learning to see these books as a value in themselves and not what others tell us.
  • The word 'hidden' is not to be interpreted in a pejorative manner, but to be seen as a vital witness of the faith by early believers. 
  • Understanding why these books are not in the Biblical canon.
  • Address some of the fears among Protestants about studying (or not studying) them.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"Believe Me" (John Fea)

TITLE: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
AUTHOR: John Fea
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (208 pages).

Famous words are often uttered by Presidents. For President John F Kennedy, people remember his powerful words "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." President Jimmy Carter is remembered as a man who fought for peace: "We cannot be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of the weapons of war." President Barack Obama rode into office under the banner of change said: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." For Donald Trump, it's the cliche "Believe Me," a phrase peppered throughout his rallies and speeches to his party faithful.  In this book, author John Fea takes a closer look at Trump's appeal to the evangelical public in America. More specifically, he tries to examine why despite Trump's denigration of women; his superficial Bible knowledge; and multiple moral questions; many evangelicals, particularly "die-hard white evangelical supporters" still think he is a Christian. This contrasts with James Davison Hunter's warning to believers not to politicize faith. The problem is less of Trump but more of the unwavering support for Trump's brand of politics in spite of moral failings. How do we make sense of it all? What does it say about the evangelicals in America? Why are these evangelicals supporting Trump's politics of fear, power, and nostalgia? These three factors are examined in greater detail as Fea looks at why the 81% of white evangelicals supported Trump for presidency. He attributes the frustrations among evangelicals due to the widening separation of Church and State; the secularization of public education; how government is creeping and controlling individual beliefs; and issues like abortion. The desire for change is strong. Underlying this mood is a climate of fear. This fear leads to a desire for power which in turn is linked to a nostalgia of a past where Christendom dominated culture.

Friday, May 18, 2018

"Along the Road" (John A. Beck)

TITLE: Along the Road: How Jesus Used Geography to Tell God's Story
AUTHOR: John A. Beck
PUBLISHER:Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2018, (192 pages).

How does one read the Bible? One can read it literally, word for word, from the lens of our contemporary backgrounds. Bibles like the NASB and the KJV would be great companions. While we honour the Word in its original syntax, we lack the cultural contexts to truly understand how the ancient audiences heard. One can read it chronologically, but it would take an experienced historian and theologian to guide us through the many centuries of events, periods, and political upheavals to appreciate the flow of the biblical story. Resources such as the chronological Bibles in which the books of the Bible are placed it according to time of occurrence. Then there are also those who try to understand the Bible archaeologically, which led to the publishing of the Archaeological Bible. There are also those who organize the Bible theologically, or topically. This enables readers to look for common themes through the Bible to have a better understanding of the biblical perspective of important matters of concern. What about understanding the Bible geographically? Though this book is not a Bible, it draws lots of biblical references to piece together what it means to walk with Jesus through the ancient lands of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. What is it like to walk where Jesus walked? A lot, says author and Adjunct Professor John A. Beck.

Monday, May 14, 2018

"Building the Body" (Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson)

TITLE: Building the Body: 12 Characteristics of a Fit Church
AUTHOR: Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (204 pages).

The Bible mentions several metaphors on the spiritual life. In the gospels, we have Jesus reminding us about the parable of the four types of soils. Without the right growth conditions, we cannot see fruit. In Jeremiah 2:15, we learn about perseverance that, "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" Timothy was exhorted to fight the good fight (1 Tim 6:12) while Paul himself confessed to completing the race and keeping the faith. These highlight one common principle: Fitness. Just like the human body needs to be fit in order to be fruitful in our works, the Church as a body of Christ needs to be fit. How does the Church go about it? How do we measure a fit Church? The fitter the Church, the further she could go. A healthy human body would have a healthy cardiovascular endurance; robust muscular strength; sturdy muscular endurance; able flexibility; and balanced body composition. All these components are to be present. A healthy heart pumps fresh oxygen to nourish the whole body. Robust muscles help overcome resistance. Firm endurance provides strength to push on ahead. Flexibility enables one to embrace new challenges when they appear. A balanced body composition brings all these together in appropriate ways. In this book about spiritual fitness, readers get to hear 12 characteristics, compositions that would make a fit Church. Written by two experienced church leaders, Gary McIntosh and Phil Stevenson, we learn of fitness described through the characteristics of:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"Saving Truth" (Abdu Murray)

TITLE: Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World
AUTHOR: Abdu Murray
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018, (256 pages).

The Renaissance gives rise to a new age of confidence in humanism. Modernism ups the bar to through science, technology, and all manner of human advancement. Postmodernism introduces an era of skepticism and relativism. As the age of Christendom diminishes, the age of atheism and secularism emerges with greater boldness and confidence. Some calls the present a Post-Christian world. Others deem it a Post-Postmodernism society. For author and North American director of RZIM, it is simply a "Post-Truth world," which he defines it as a "Culture of Confusion." In a culture of relativity, without an absolute to anchor oneself upon, we risk losing clarity. We lose a sense of purpose. We lose ourselves. Incidentally, those who declare that there are no absolutes are guilty of making their theory of relativity as an absolute in themselves. For if relativism is not an absolute, it is but a flaky philosophy. Truth is about fixed points of reference; about solid ground; about objectivity; and about the clarity of thought and life. From a big picture view, Murray moves to deal with the seductions of a "Post-Truth Mindset." Surprisingly, this mindset is not just non-Christians, but involves Christians as well. Things such as a wrong understanding of "judge not let ye be judged." Truth is, Jesus is not forbidding any forms of judging but reminding us about the purpose and motive of judgment. Other ways in which Christians are not helping clarity is when they overcorrect in their desire to defend the truth. Be calm, caring, and clear. Following the chapters on Post-Truth world and Post-Truth mindset, Murray goes into various specifics such as the proper understanding of freedom; about human dignity that does not elevate itself above God nor dumbs us down. Gospel clarity will help resolve true workmanship and worthiness.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

"Interrupting Silence" (Walter Bruggemann)

TITLE: Interrupting Silence: God's Command to Speak Out
AUTHOR: Walter Bruggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (108 pages).

We must speak out. We must not sit back and let chaos and injustice run amok. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak out. Alas, many are guilty of keeping quiet when there is a need to speak up; and speaking up when there is a need to be silent. This book about interrupting silence is a call to all to bear the arms of vocal activism in the midst of unholy forces seeking to silence our witness. As one who has consistently spoken out against the excesses of powers and the abuse of the weak. There are many quotables about many different things:
  • "The church at its most faithful is allied with artistic expression from the margin that voices alternatives to dominant imagination."
  • "Prayer—beyond conventional polite prayer—is an act of breaking the silence."
  • "In the institutional life of the church, moreover, the breaking of silence by the testimony of the gospel often means breaking the silence among those who have a determined stake in maintaining the status quo."
  • "Prayer is a refusal to settle for what is."
  • "The parable exhibits the relentlessness of refusing silence, the unwavering resolve to continue to speak and to ask."

Friday, May 4, 2018

"Selfies" (Craig Detweiler)

TITLE: Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age
AUTHOR: Craig Detweiler
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018, (240 pages).

The invention of the self-facing camera has also invented another word in our popular language: Selfie. On the surface, it seems like some harmless photograph for keepsake. Since everybody's doing it, it should be ok, right? Not so fast. There are more things happening below the surface consciously and sub-consciously. According to author and professor Craig Detweiler, it is something that reveals our conflicted thoughts about ourselves. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook Live, and all kinds of social media apps are able to help us capture precious selfie moments. What they fail to capture is the underlying philosophies or meanings attached to such selfie movements. Enter this book that reflects on the meanings, the conflicts, the pluses and minuses of this cultural phenomenon. With selfies, there is no longer private moments but public. There are no longer just self-image but shared images. Anything we put out there is subject to a multitude of interpretations and criticisms. With technology that are increasingly self-learning and automated, every selfie we take could be automatically uploaded the moment our devices establish an Internet connection. With our increasing array of digital devices, multiple copies could be backed up or shared across different platforms and distributed throughout our social and public spheres. Whether it is to bolster our self-image or simply to have our pictures on some famous landmark, Detweiler helps us ask questions to distill this phenomenon into some fundamental self identity and our endless search for meaning, and more importantly for God.