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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"Israel, the Church, and the Middle East" (Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds)

TITLE: Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A biblical response to the current conflict
EDITORS: Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (304 pages).

This year is the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel. In conjunction with this momentous event, a team of scholars and theologians have come together to reflect upon the identity of Israel, the role of the Church, and the conflicts in the Middle East. For Israel, it is the constant struggle against threats against her existence. For the Church, it is about the contrasting arguments between those who are Pro-Israel and those who are Pro-Palestinian. For the Middle East, it is that constant tensions arising from a melting pot of historical dimensions; political ambitions; religious contentions; ethnic dissensions; and social apprehensions. This book attempts to cast light on all of these with a specific coverage on the relationship between Israel and the Church. At the heart of it all is to challenge the super-sessionist standpoint among many Christians who are arguing that in God's overall plan, the modern Church has now replaced Israel. In Part One, four contributors highlight the biblical foundations. The underlying belief is that the Bible must inform all views on contemporary issues surrounding the way we view Israel. Dr Richard Averbeck discusses the theological covenants of Israel, Jews, and Gentiles with the hope that a biblical understanding will ease the conflicts between Jews and Gentiles. Dr Walter Kaiser writes about the relationships between Israel and her neighbours with Isa 19 as a guide, and hopes that the day will come where both Jews and Arabs are able to go to the house of God together. Mark Yarbrough looks at the big picture of the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation and draws out four significant genres before concluding with a "surprise narrative twist." Michael Rydelnik takes a step back to examine the "hermeneutics" of the conflict from the Old Testament arguing that both the Old and New Testaments tell of one integrated story. Using four propositions, he traces the covenant promises from Genesis to Revelation, and to say that even though the New Testament is relatively "quiet" about the land promise, it nevertheless affirms the Old Testament in many ways.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"A Gospel of Hope" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: A Gospel of Hope
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (200 pages).

There is a sense of familiarity in many Christian books. They are essentially about the Christian faith and perspectives taken from Christ. Yet, there is also a sense of freshness that even when it is about the same old gospel there is a strange fresh new truth to be reminded or to be reaffirmed. Books of hope tend to come into such a category. For hope is always about something fresh, something new, something to look forward to. Such is the gospel of hope. In this compilation of wisdom and sayings from his past sermons and published materials, Richard Floyd does the heavy lifting by putting together Brueggemann's memorable words according to the theme of hope. Brueggemann acknowledges Floyd as one who has "entered" his mind enough to know what he wanted to say most, and his rhetoric enough to know when he is most likely to say it. The gospel of hope has many sub-themes such as abundance, generosity, alternative worlds, freedom, fidelity, faith, justice, Jesus, identity, love, public witness, responsibility, and so on. In our world of short quips and concise statements limited by a tweet, a text, or a FaceBook post, we sometimes use words devoid of contexts. A master with words, Brueggemann's ability to nuance meaning upon meaning with literal devices and rhetoric makes this book a delightful read. With many quotes and quips, readers have many new things to learn. Rather than a series of random thoughts, there is a central theme in all of these: Hope. It is interesting to see how Brueggemann's thoughts can form a picture for the gospel of hope. Beginning with "Abundance and Generosity," we are reminded that hope is about enduring generosity, that the same God who had given us much yesterday and today, is the same God who would provide for us for the future. It is about being overwhelmed with the abundant generosity of God instead of being bogged down by the worries of today. Hope helps us become mindful of "alternative worlds." He contrasts the way we try to secure our future through economic, military, and other forms of human endeavors. Being content with what God has given us and what He will give us should spur us toward an alternative faith that is different from the world. One of the reasons why hope is so often needed is because of the restlessness of the human soul which is masqueraded as anxiety and a desire to be free from what enslaves us. Whether it is anxiety due to fear or fatigue, we must be constantly mindful that the gospel of hope is in Jesus. How? By remembering that what Jesus stands for is completely different from what the world stood for. Hope is sustained by a recognition that God is faithful and God will promise to give us what we need, even when we do not deserve it. God is not limited by anything. His heart is big for anything that we may thrown at Him. Jesus embodies hope. He is hope.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age" (Stephen D. Lowe & Mary E. Lowe)

TITLE: Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth through Online Education
AUTHOR: Stephen D. Lowe & Mary E. Lowe
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018, (250 pages).

We are living in an increasingly digital world. In such a ubiquitous environment, almost everything seems to be going digital. From printed papers to ebooks; groceries to e-shopping; communications to GPS directions; anything that could be digitized would be digitized. With the Internet at a global scale, more people are interconnected than ever. What about faith? What about spiritual formation matters? What about online theological education? According to the authors, two of the biggest challenges to teaching spiritual education online "were community formation and spiritual growth." It could be due to the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants. It could be due to the lack of experience in the new digital world. It could also be due to the skepticism among many educators. Whatever the case, both Stephen and Mary Lowe believe that online education is not only here to stay, they are poised to become a major part of spiritual formation, both communally and personally. Rather than outright rejection or cynical avoidance, perhaps a model to teach and help people Perhaps, just like the speed of evolutionary progress, why not use the ecological model of spiritual formation? For using ecology as a metaphor gives at least three advantages. It is interconnected. It takes time. It requires mutual dependence. It brings together the importance of both communal and individual health. Moreover, this motif is biblical. From Genesis to Revelation, the gospel parables about ecological growth, ecological references in Paul's epistles, there is a strong motif about ecology and faith.

Friday, June 8, 2018

"All Together Different" (J. Brian Tucker and John Koessler)

TITLE: All Together Different: Upholding the Church's Unity While Honoring Our Individual Identities
AUTHOR: J. Brian Tucker and John Koessler
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (272 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about Church unity? For some it might mean doing a lot of common activities together. For others, it is about being able to live together cheerfully and happily ever after. Whether it is ethnicity, cultural uniformity, class homogeneity, or generational similarities, many churches believe that common look and common activities are keys to unity. Unfortunately, ethnic cultures have multiple subcultures. Class distinctions grow over time as individuals change jobs or are laid off. Generational gaps happen at all levels. Gender uniqueness do not necessarily guarantee togetherness. Common activities may involve bodies but not necessarily the hearts. In the early Church, unity is a key concern for the Apostle Paul. Jesus also prayed for unity. Unfortunately, Church people never seem to learn. Today, it is even more needed as the Christian public are more divided than before. Whether it is worship or strategy, Church boards or combined programs for all, the challenge is to understand what true unity is about and to learn to manage conflict in a constructive manner. In this book, authors Brian Tucker and John Koessler tackle this issue by focusing on identity. They argue that we are naturally diverse and different in so many ways. What we need is not more common activities or similarities. We need a right understanding of identity: The Church and our individual selves. Unity is not forced uniformity. It is not holding similar theological positions. Neither is it something that can be resolved by doing things together. We need to be allowed to be different and aided by a healthy acceptance of our uniqueness. The gist of this book is to find answers to the following questions about identity: "Who am I? What sets me apart from those around me? What unique value do I bring to the table that others do not?" They concluded that we are not "altogether different" but "all together different."

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Messiah in the Passover" (edited by Darrell L Block and Mitch Glaser)

TITLE: Messiah in the Passover
AUTHOR: edited by Darrell L Block and Mitch Glaser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (384 pages).

The Passover was a significant event in the history of Israel. It was a demonstration of God's final straw for Pharaoh who refused to let the enslaved people of Israel go. It represented the night when the angel of death passed over any home their front doors painted with the blood of the lamb. It was a time where the firstborn of every Israeli slaved lived while the firstborn of every Egyptian family died. After this Passover, Israel was free to begin their journey to the promised land. Since then, the importance of the Passover had been written in the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah where it remains one of the seven great festivals of the Jews. The Passover is about deliverance, freedom, community, hope, life, prophecy given, prophecy fulfilled, and much more. This book gives us more, especially about Christ the Messiah. The five parts of the book are as follows:
  1. Biblical and Theological Foundations of the Passover
  2. Passover and Church History
  3. Jewish Tradition and Passover
  4. Communicating the Gospel Through the Passover
  5. Celebrating Messiah in the Passover

Saturday, June 2, 2018

"Leading Major Change in Your Ministry" (Jeff Iorg)

TITLE: Leading Major Change in Your Ministry
AUTHOR: Jeff Iorg
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2018, (240 pages).

The only constant is change. Just like the popular phrase, "survival of the fittest," only those who change survive. For the fittest are the ones who are most adaptable to change. People who are able to lead change are leaders. They are the ones who must be on a constant lookout for dangers that threaten surviving and opportunities toward thriving. Just this week, the largest theological school in North America, Fuller Theological Seminary announced a major change in their history: Leaving Pasadena by 2021. After 70 years of ministry, this marks a dramatic shift in adapting to fast changing ministry and financial contexts. Even before Fuller announced their decision, other seminaries had already made plans of their own. Back in 2004, the author's school, Golden Gate Seminary also had to make a tough decision to sell all seminary-owned property and to move to a new location over 400 miles away. That is not all. They remodeled, retooled, and refreshed their strategies, even changing their name to Gateway Seminary. It was the success of such a major change that deepened the author's conviction that whether it is relocating, reorganizing, or rebranding, skills in leading are critically important. The good news is, they could be passed down to others and success could be replicated. Iorg frames this book in two parts. The first part sets out the foundations for leading major change. Iorg acknowledges the proliferation of books about leadership best practices and all kinds of great resources. He notices that many of these books do not deal with fundamentals sufficiently. Moreover, there is a lack of Christian perspective. Fundamentals such as the necessity to be influencers for Christ in the midst of leading change. He links back basic teachings about servant leadership. The three foundation stones are: