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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.