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Thursday, May 23, 2019

"Kingdom of the Cults" (Walter Martin)

TITLE: The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject
AUTHOR: Walter Martin
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2019, (800 pages).

We are living in an increasingly pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and dizzying array of beliefs, sub-beliefs, and many alternative philosophies. Author Martin calls this the "kingdom of the cults." Since 1965, while the original version is somewhat outdated, the challenge remains the same: Learning how to answer the many cults on the outside or the fringes of mainstream Christianity. It is important to note that the author uses the word "cult" not as a derogatory way but to spell out their differences from traditional Christianity. This is particularly so when many of them insist that they are the one true religion. In the Early Church, there were already heresies that attempt to call themselves Christian. The Church fought many theological battles, leading to the gathering of the bishops' council to meet at places in Chalcedon, Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and others. Backed by able theologians such as Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, the Church Fathers, the Cappadocian Fathers, and many more, the Church held fast. This book may not be in the same position as the creeds of old but it showcases the differences of the various cults from Christianity. Martin gives us many historical analyses for us to understand the background; theological evaluation and comparison; and the way we could respond through "apologetic contrast." The concern is that the Church at large is increasingly less able to discern the cults. Not only that, there are some who are openly embracing them, at the risk of compromising our beliefs. This is a concern.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew" (H. H. Hardy II)

TITLE: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation
AUTHOR: H. H. Hardy II
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (224 pages).

The inspiration for studying Hebrew could be summed up in the words of the author's professor of Hebrew: "One cannot have good theology without good morphology!" Some seminaries and Bible schools to their detriment are doing away with language studies. This book reminds us once again that the original languages are biblical treasures that we could constantly discover. Faith comes by the Word of God. Fruitful spiritual growth comes from an earnest study of the Bible. As one goes further into the book, one could easily feel the conviction of the author rising out of the pages. Using a basic second-year Hebrew syntax syllabus structure, we get a chapter by chapter treatment of nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, particles, and so on. The format is similar.
  1. Introduction
  2. Overview
  3. Interpretation
  4. Further Reading
At the beginning of each chapter, there is a Hebrew verse (without transliteration) taken from the Old Testament. As the author introduces the chapter, he shows us a couple of English translations to set the pace. Phrases are underlined to help us see the different renditions in the translations. It shows us how even the English translation is an interpretation in itself. The overview sections explains some basic exegetical tools to be used in the chapter. This is then followed by Interpretation which is probably the most technical part of each chapter. As I read the resources section, it is clear that the author wants readers to go further to use the example verse as a springboard to more exegesis work on our own. We learn about the "five-step method" of word studies. We are reminded of the differences in the way adjectives are understood between English and Hebrew. We have quick primers of verb conjugations, stems, prepositions, and many other grammatical structures.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019, (220 pages).

This is one of the classics of the late Eugene Peterson. The book title has become one of the most popular in Christian circles promoting unity and commonality. The phrase originated from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil." Peterson uses this to contrast the challenges of discipleship with the culture of instant gratification in our society. Twenty years later, when attempting to revise the book, he realizes that much of the content are still relevant. So changes were limited to things like the Bible translation used at the beginning of each chapter, and the addition of an epilogue to reinforce the essentials of prayer and Scripture in the field of spiritual direction. Readers will also learn that the use of Peterson's paraphrase of Ps 120-134 inspired the eventual translation of the MESSAGE translation. Convicted that people need to pray the psalms, he translates the Scriptures with the focus on vigorous engagement with the Word. His son, Leif summarizes Peterson's consistent message in his works: "good news always plays out best in relationships." This book is about centering our relationship with God and to relate better to people in Christ.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"Discipling in a Multicultural World" (Ajith Fernando)

TITLE: Discipling in a Multicultural World
AUTHOR: Ajith Fernando
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (288 pages).

Discipleship is more often talked about than walked. It is also seen more like a program rather than a lifestyle. It is more like a one-off activity instead of a continuing parenting relationship. These observations kick off a mind-blowing treatise on what it means to disciple people in an increasingly pluralistic and multicultural environment. At the heart of this book's message is spiritual parenting. Author Ajith Fernando asserts that discipleship is essentially helping "born again" believers to grow and mature into spiritual adulthood. The discipler looks after the disciple. This is a caring relationship rather than several one-off programs. Fernando recognizes early on from the experiences of some of the so-called discipleship programs in the past. One of them was the realization of a lack of knowledge over what happened to people who had finished the programs earlier. He was a beneficiary of Sam Sheppard's decision to nurture a group of leaders before embarking on any new Church programs. The driving force for change should be people rather than programs. I sense that one of the biggest threats to discipleship in the Church might very well be discipleship programs that substitute short-term curriculum for long-term cultivation of relationships. Care, conviction, and commitment are keys to ensuring that spiritual parenting is sustained over the long haul. The goal is not a certificate of attendance or a degree earned. The goal has to be Col 1:28 to present everyone mature in Christ. That is why discipling is a spiritual exercise. In fact, one of the main reasons why discipleship is not popular is not because it is not taught but because of the price of commitment. People give up after a while for different reasons.

There are many gems to keep in this book.
  • Major cause for burnout is due to insecurity in leaders. This is intimately related to the lack of relationship with God. (speaking out at using insecurity as a reason for doing discipleship)
  • "We must not ruin our health by having insufficient sleep" (speaking against restlessness)
  • "Discipling looks like an inefficient use of time" (speaking against the culture of efficiency and quick measurements of success)
  • "They openly share about themselves, but often in superficial relationships with people unwilling to pay the price of costly commitment to them." (speaking out against the fear of cultivating relationships)
  • "we evangelicals may have gone beyond that to view salvation as something individualistic." (speaking out against individualism that pushes against true discipleship)
  • "The comfort of friends is one of the great antidotes to bitterness." (speaking about support and not some self-service exercise)
  • "Christianity, then, is a religion of postponed honor." (speaking about the cost of discipleship)

Monday, May 6, 2019

"When Church Conflict Happens" (Michael Hare)

TITLE: When Church Conflict Happens: A Proven Process for Resolving Unhealthy Disagreements and Embracing Healthy Ones
AUTHOR: Michael Hare
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (256 pages).

People don't like conflict. Some would choose either to fight it or to take flight. As long as there are people, it is only a matter of time before differences of opinion would turn into conflicts. If we could not avoid it, the next best thing that we could do is to prepare for it. According to author Michael Hare, conflicts are opportunities in disguise. Learn to ask for help when needed. Learn how to navigate conflict and to use them as opportunities for learning about people and the Church. This book shows us how to:

  1. Understand the problem and avoid common mistakes
  2. Create a functional model to analyze and resolve conflicts
  3. Use various tools to evaluate and implement the conflict resolution model.

Note the title of this book. It is not "Why" or How to prevent conflicts, but to prepare oneself or one's Church on what to do when conflicts happen. Part One of the book covers the three common approaches many churches adopt whenever there is a conflict. The "Peace at any price" approach recognizes conflict as the worst possible condition, and they would do all they can to avoid it. The "firefighter" approach sees all conflicts as fires to be put out as quickly and as quietly as possible. The "spiritual problem" approach equates all conflicts as attacks by the devil. All of these three approaches regard all conflicts negatively and they all sought to extinguish all forms of conflict. Instead of such negative perspectives, Hare proposes a more positive model, that seeks to change the way we view conflict; to understand the various positions; and to find a constructive path forward. For even the most healthy of churches have conflicts from time to time. Instead of dismissing all conflicts, why not understand them so that we could work out the knots and kinks and prevent future occurrences. They could teach us wisdom and self-control; greater understanding and teamwork; and to develop relationships at deeper levels. We learn of relationships at five levels.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Suffering is Never For Nothing" (Elisabeth Elliot)

TITLE: Suffering Is Never for Nothing
AUTHOR: Elisabeth Elliot
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2019, (128 pages).

Her first husband was killed by Auca Indians in Ecuador. Her second husband, Addison Leitch died of cancer three and a half years after she remarried. Not only that, she has to endure the cruel jokes about her being a jinx when it comes to marriage. Life is hard. Through her life, she has heard stories of other missionaries who were martyred for their faith.  These stories include a five-year-old girl physically abused; those paralyzed after and accident; natural disasters; etc. Such pain illustrate the puzzle of suffering. How do we understand the meaning of suffering? With great empathy and wisdom, author Elisabeth Elliot gives six lectures that share her journey and learning about the complex issue of suffering. Is there every a meaning for suffering? Here is where Elliot treads sensitively and compassionately. Having been through the paths of anguish and grief, she knows exactly how not to belittle the pain of suffering. Saying there is a precise "meaning" would question the ethics and morals of a Divine God. Avoiding it would pooh-pooh the reality of suffering. So Elliot plumps for the learning perspective. What could we learn out of the lesson of suffering? Is suffering ever that meaningless? Even Job Himself learned something through his personal trials.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"The New Elder's Handbook" (Greg R Scharf and Arthur Kok)

TITLE: The New Elder's Handbook: A Biblical Guide to Developing Faithful Leaders
AUTHOR: Greg R Scharf and Arthur Kok
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (186 pages).

Leaders are hard to find. There is no such thing as a ready leader. Some would claim inadequacy. Others would shun leadership because it seems too daunting. Those who might be willing might not be ready as well for various reasons. The truth is, leaders are more easily farmed than found. It is more practical to prepare a leader and equip that person from the ground up instead of waiting for the perfect leader to appear from somewhere. I suspect that is one reason why we are exhorted to equip and prepare mature and godly leaders instead. One of the most prominent positions in any Church is the elder. This is not merely a title but a position of responsibility and maturity. They are the go-to persons for spiritual wisdom and guidance. While not every Church has an official office or name of "elder," the role is pretty clear: Elders are mature individuals who could be depended upon for Church leadership and spiritual guidance. This underlines the convictions of the authors in this book, that leaders can be raised up among us, and if called, we can be trained up to be an elder too. After all, Paul's exhortation to Timothy in 1 Tim 3:1 says "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." "Anyone" means any one of us. Whether we are trained or not, we all have the potential to become an elder. God could call anyone. At the same time, this book is written to enable readers to support and to encourage their own church's elders.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Untangling Emotions" (J. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith)

TITLE: Untangling Emotions: "God's Gift of Emotions"
AUTHOR: J. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019, (240 pages).

Why are we feeling what we are feeling? More often than not, we don't know the answer. Some like Jen or Angie are easily swayed by all kinds of emotional ups and downs. Others cannot make sense of what or why we do things. Still, there are those in the help industry wanting to speak wisdom and guidance into the lives of people in emotional turmoil. Over and above all of these situations, authors Groves and Smith believe that emotions are gifts to us and they desire to help us deal with emotions in the way God intended for us. They assert these fundamental truths.
  1. God has made us in His Image and emotions help bear that image;
  2. Jesus is our model to follow;
  3. It is about love.
In untangling emotions, the authors teach us first to understand emotions in general and to engage our emotions in particular. The final part is to learn to deal with emotions that are beyond the ordinary. I appreciate the way they say that they don't just want us to know the difference between handling emotions well or badly, but to "do things that make a difference" in both the lives of others and ours. Christians sometimes are prone to either being too suspicious of positive emotions or too weary of negative feelings. We need to learn to embrace both of these and to recognize that the Bible is full of characters who possess all of these emotions. Elijah was depressed. Jonah was afraid. Sarah was anxious. Peter was brash. Barnabas was encouraging. Judas Iscariot was disillusioned. Joshua was bold. Biblical characters have displayed a wide spectrum of emotions. We are no different. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

"Inspired" (Rachel Held Evans)

TITLE: Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
AUTHOR: Rachel Held Evans
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2018, (240 pages).

One of the most debated issues in the Christian world is about the infallibility of the Bible. How we we understand the way Christians are convicted about the Bible being inerrant and inspired? How do we know when to read things literally and when not to? For theologians and scholars, one word that has become quite notorious for many conservatives is the word "myth." How could anyone who call themselves Christians dare label the stories in the Bible as "myths?" After all, there are many who struggle to understand things like:

  • How could a serpent deceive Adam and Eve? (Gen 3:2)
  • How could so many animals fit into an ark? (Gen 7:1-3)
  • Is it possible for a donkey to speak? (Numbers 22:28)
  • Did Lot's wife literally turn into a pillar of salt? (Gen 19:26)
  • How could Jonah survive in a big fish for three days and three nights? (Jon 1:17)
  • How do we make of God saying that man could only live up to 120-years age? (Gen 6:3)
  • Is it really true that the sun stood still for a whole 24 hours? (Joshua 10:13)
  • How about contradictions in the Bible?
  • Can a Christian believe in evolution?
  • ...
The way forward: Nuances.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

"A Glad Obedience" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (230 pages).

One of the consequences of sin is rebellion. Constant rebellion. Whether it is squabbling or dissent; reaction or retaliation; in a world of different voices and mindsets, it is easy for relationships to break down quickly even after years of goodwill. How is it that human beings do not get along as well as they ought to? In Christian Theology, sin has essentially cut ourselves loose from desiring to worship God. This in turn has led to a breakdown in human relationships. It is all connected. How do we fix this? Turn our hearts from reluctance to acceptance; from sadness to gladness; from rebellion to obedience. Even believers too must guard against hidden resistance and unbelief. For example, one might not understand why we sing certain songs during Sunday worship. Without an appreciation of the meaning behind the songs or the message behind the hymn, we lose out on the rich history and theological significance of the songs. In this book, Walter Brueggemann helps us bridge the gap from ignorance to understanding. We learn about framing songs around joyful truth of the gospel. We examine Scripture using the music and songs from various angles. We cultivate creative imagination to let the Word of God speak to us from different angles. We learn also to pay attention to context and to let songs stretch our faith.

Inspired by the 2013 hymnal, "Glory to God: Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs," the author focuses on two key questions:
  1. Why We Sing?
  2. What We Sing?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

"Run With the Horses" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019, (232 pages).

This is one of Eugene Peterson's best books. Based on the life of the biblical prophet Jeremiah, Peterson gives us a counter-cultural view of what "life at its best" means. We live in a world that measures success by all the wrong variables. We think that becoming rich and famous would lead us to happiness. We devour non-stop programs and busy ourselves with all sorts of activism to try to get a sense of fulfillment but to no avail. We think of excellence based on the wrong standards of measurements. At the root of our restlessness is our unsettled soul. By refusing that ordinary and normal is good enough, we embark on all kinds of projects to intensify our search for self-accomplishment. Peterson turns it all around to say that "excellence comes from a life of faith, from being more interested in God than in self, and has almost nothing to do with comfort or esteem or achievement."

Not only that, as Peterson had alluded to how the world influence us, we are reminded about how our quest for excellence had become ambitions clouded with all manner of selfishness and worldliness. So he goes back to an Old Testament prophet who experienced emotional turmoil and discouragement at critical junctures on his time. It was in one of these moments that God challenged him:
"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?" (Jer 12:5)

Monday, March 25, 2019

"And Social Justice For All" (Lisa Van Engen)

TITLE: And Social Justice for All: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God's World
AUTHOR: Lisa Van Engen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019, (335 pages).

We may have heard about social justice. We know the importance of doing the right thing in a world that has gone terribly wrong. For some, social justice may simply be something we may talk about but lack the opportunity or knowledge to do something about it. Better still, start early. Start young. This is where this book comes in. By creating awareness at an early age, it is hoped that the next generation will their their part in ensuring social justice for all. Writing from hindsight, author Lisa Van Engen shares how she relates to the story of the "Princess and the Pea." Seeing life as a collection of personal stories, many of us will never truly know someone until we peel away the mattress layers. The impact of knowing social justice issues such as poverty, human trafficking, and even clean water could not be over-emphasized. The main idea in this book is essentially education about 14 global justice issues. These are:
  1. Clean Water and Sanitation
  2. Creation Care
  3. Disabilities
  4. Education
  5. Fair Trade
  6. Families
  7. Health Care
  8. Human Trafficking
  9. Hunger
  10. Immigration and Refugees
  11. Peace
  12. Poverty
  13. Race
  14. Changemakers

Friday, March 22, 2019

"The Church on Mission" (Craig Ott)

TITLE: The Church on Mission: A Biblical Vision for Transformation among All People
AUTHOR: Craig Ott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (160 pages).

What is the mission of the Church? There is a narrow view and a broad view. For the narrow view (or some would prefer to call 'focused view'), some like Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert would say that it is the Great Commission. When that is the case, as far as the Church's mission is concerned, the Great Commission is primary, and everything else is secondary. This perspective is important for any Church that is becoming confused about how their programs and activities work toward a single goal. In the broad view, one might even claim that everything they do will be based on their mission statement. That is usually more theoretical than practical. Many churches have already invested in many ministries that do not translate into such mission purpose. Just like what Stephen Neill once said: "If everything is mission, nothing is mission." That is to say that if we don't have a proper focus, then we are not aiming squarely at anything at all. In other words, if we are too broad, we could become all things to all people making the Church's mission overly diluted with different emphases. Author and professor Craig Ott has looked at a variety of mission definitions and focuses and proposes a new way of understanding the mission of the Church. He puts it as "to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people."  The rest of the book is to look at this central statement from six perspectives.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"The Art of Hard Conversations" (Lori Stanley Roeleveld)

TITLE: The Art of Hard Conversations: Biblical Tools for the Tough Talks That Matter
AUTHOR: Lori Stanley Roeleveld
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019, (240 pages).

It has been said that talk is easy. It's the walking that's hard. Truth is, there are times in which talk is hard. How do we open up a conversation in times of trouble? There are significant barriers that come up during such moments. Why then is it hard? Author Lori Stanley Roeleveld writes that: "Barriers arise around tough talks because our enemy knows they're a spiritual front line." By calling it the "art" rather than the science, we get a glimpse of where the author is coming from. We may have all the techniques and strategies on approaching talk conversation. That may work for computers and straight-talk with the direct. However, emotions change. People change. Circumstances change. That is why we need a variety of ways in which to approach different situations which carry various levels of difficulties. This art includes many different aspects. As a language art, we work with words, silence, timing, and body language. As a martial art, we learn that conversations are key ways to deal with conflict, growth, relationships, and people to people communications. As a sacred art, we see conversations as a way to channel our attention to God. Roeleveld gives us ARTwork:
  • Answering a thought question;
  • Reading relevant Scripture
  • Trying a new conversational tool.
The way to begin is to understand the place of perspectives and personalities. People have different perspectives that come up at different situations and emotional moments. Sometimes, it takes a shocking opening line like what the author did with her father. At all times, we need to discern what the thought question is and how to reframe an appropriate opening line. After an introduction to the conversational idea and concept, we get a chance to practise the art. Each unit of study contains three to five lesson plans to guide us through. Lessons such as the three different types of communication styles. The "Swooping Hawks" style reminds us to be "praying people" instead of "preying people." The "Retreating Turtles" style shows us that we could easily retreat from tough conversations, but when it comes to tough talk, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stick out necks out. The "Camouflaged Chameleons" modify their styles without compromising the message. Throughout the book, the author uses these three animals to describe the different characteristics and approaches to resolving hard conversations. They all possess different kinds of walls. Understanding their personalities would greatly aid in building communication bridges. Failure to do so would make any hard conversation even more difficult.

Each lesson begins with a biblical passage to set the stage for illumination and reconciliation. We learn that the key to a good start is to know who we are dealing with. More importantly, it is to know ourselves and our own heart's motives. One big reason why hard conversations never really take off is because of the lack of hope in seeing success. A huge tip the author provides is the list of six questions.

  1. What’s my point?
  2. What do I know about the other person?
  3. What emotions may be involved in this conversation?
  4. What biblical guidelines exist for this conversation? (Is it based in truth?)
  5. Is this conversation grounded and timed in love?
  6. What’s my plan for following up either success or rejection?  

She follows up with a detailed description of each question to help us understand ourselves prior to entering any difficult conversations. In the final part of the book, we get a lot of helpful examples on how to put these things to practice.

My Thoughts
We live in a world where most people would either choose to fight to win or take flight to avoid losing. The former puts one's agenda more important over others while the latter avoids any confrontations altogether. Fighting is good but one needs to know how to fight fair and to fight well. Taking flight may sometimes be necessary but not all the time. We need to find a way to navigate the in-betweens, and to know how to engage well and constructively. Fighting without loving could damage relationships. Fleeing without engaging could make us miss out on an opportunity to be salt of the earth. In this book, we find the way of art to engage people in the most challenging situations of life. We need such guidance all the time. Otherwise, we would forever be living superficially with superficial relationships in a superficial world.

Talk may be easy, but constructive conversations take a lot of hard work. This book shows the way in learning to build up one another. In a Church, this is an important exercise to keep practicing. In fact, the most powerful witness a Church could ever have is to cultivate a community of truth-telling. One that learns to tell the truth in love. One that is able to deal with disagreements in a mature manner. We need more testimonies of how we could all be so different, yet be able to live and accept one another as we are. Christians are called to be peacemakers and increasingly in a globally connected world, we have more opportunities to do just that. If there is any one reason to pick up this book and read, it would be from Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." May this book encourage us to do just that.

Lori Stanley Roeleveld is author, speaker, and calls herself a "part-time giant slayer." She received her education on Biblical Studies and Psychology from Barrington Christian College. Her website is here.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"On Bended Knee" (Crickett Keeth)

TITLE: On Bended Knee
AUTHOR: Crickett Keeth
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (192 pages).

Another book on prayer? What does this book offer that other books had not? Two things. It shows us how to pray and it gives us space to pray. Many people pray the Lord's Prayer by heart. That is a good thing. Author Crickett Keeth gives us many more examples of prophets, priests, kings, and pilgrims whose prayers we could profit much from. Designed to be used for the season of Lent, each chapter can be treated as a daily workbook of prayer. Like a working devotional, readers and participants could look forward to four sections each day.

  1. Looking to God's Word (meditation)
  2. Looking Upward (discussion)
  3. Looking Deeper (understanding)
  4. Looking Reflectively (application)

Through daily devotional use and consistent application, we grow our praying muscles. The key to learning is not about technique. It is about patterning ourselves personally to people who had prayed well in the past. From Jesus, we learn the basics of the Lord's Prayer to move from ritual to relationship. We learn about worship, surrender, supplication, confession and forgiveness, etc. From Paul, we learn the spirituality of intercession. We see how he prays for others to grow spiritually. He wants the believers to grow to love God more. Many of us want to grow spiritually. Have we also prayed for others to do the same? Perhaps, this is the single biggest lesson to learn from Paul's praying stance. From Job, we learn about another dimension of prayer: In times of despair. We need lots of trust in the midst of fog. We learn to trust in times where there are lack of answers in the sea of questions. It is a time of waiting and humbling. From Hannah, we learn about prayer as longing which gives us another dimension of waiting and trusting. Does God know how we feel? What if God had missed us out? How long must we wait? From David, we learn about the psalms of lament, which reflect David's heartfelt need for comfort, for protection, for strength, for thanksgiving, praise, and complaint. From Asa, we learn the importance of starting and finishing well. From Jehoshaphat, we learn the prayer of dependence and from Nehemiah, to pray boldly when the odds are stacked against us.

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Insurgence" (Frank Viola)

TITLE: Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom
AUTHOR: Frank Viola
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (448 pages).

The gospel of the kingdom is inherently radical. The early Church is radical in their love and faith. Unfortunately, the modern church have largely lost the necessary conviction and passion of old. What is needed is a renewal of conviction and a revelation of the Kingdom of God. How do we do that? Create an insurgence to reclaim the  gospel of the Kingdom of God. For the grand narrative of the whole Bible is about declaring the Kingdom of God having come and will be coming soon.  In order to do that, we need to clear the decks. We have to distinguish between worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. We need to proclaim the Kingdom of God over all else. We need a vision of the beauty of the Kingdom so that we can proclaim with passion our freedom in Christ and glory of God. Author Frank Viola writes in six parts to do just that. The six parts are titled as follows:

  1. Three Different Gospels
  2. Unveiling the King's Beauty
  3. The Gospel of the Kingdom
  4. Entering and Enjoying the Kingdom
  5. Our Glorious Liberty
  6. Advancing the Kingdom

Thursday, March 7, 2019

"Always On" (Angela Williams Gorrell)

TITLE: Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape (Theology for the Life of the World)
AUTHOR: Angela Williams Gorrell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (208 pages).

The new media is defining us in more ways than one. This is not just social media. It is a new age of media technology and people interactions that revolutionizes the way we work, play, and live. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we communicate with one another. People express themselves using online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Consumers buy and sell on sites such as eBay and Amazon while many play online Internet games with people they have never met face to face. This is the face of the new media. Like any phenomenon or change of social landscape, there are plus and minus aspects. It has the potential to communicate and to bring about a lot of good in brand new ways. Unfortunately, the downsides are also huge. In order to ensure we have a healthy kind of hybrid, that is, to maximize the positive and minimize the negative, it would be a great way forward. This could be done through "interested conversations" that enables meaningful dialogue that are both "theologically reflective" as well as "Spirit-guided." Author Angela Gorrell brings us through a fascinating journey through the new media terrain. It is an ambitious attempt to connect ancient faith with modern media. Like our modern multimedia folks, the early church communicate with one another through many senses such as "written, oral" and "reading and singing." The common theme is communicating. The difference is the specific ways we communicate the written, the spoken, and the various dialogue avenues. While that might be true, it is also true that social media has been mixed with fake news and "empty and shallow" talk. This is a legitimate concern but the potential for Christians to influence worldviews is too big to be ignored.

Monday, March 4, 2019

"Bible Workbook Vol 2 New Testament" (Catherine B. Walker)

TITLE: Bible Workbook, Volume 2 -- New Testament
AUTHOR: Catherine B. Walker
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (72 pages).

For those who have used the first volume on the Old Testament, this workbook brings a familiar look and feel. Like the predecessor, this workbook was written for high school Bible classes that meet every day for a semester. Thus, the workbook can be used as a common text to help students work through the New Testament and learn its major themes. Readers ought to pay attention to the first page "Note to the Teacher" so as to know how to optimize the use of this workbook. Walker gives us a good idea on what parts of the New Testament to begin with and when to go more in depth. The purpose is to urge students to read the Bible more regularly and frequently. Highlights include:

  • Author;
  • People;
  • Occasion;
  • Theme;
  • Outline;
  • Key Verse(s);
  • Things for you to do;
  • Reasons for Studying the Bible book;
  • Things to Watch For.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"Our Daily Bread Bible Sourcebook" (Dave Branon)

TITLE: Our Daily Bread Bible Sourcebook: The Who, What, Where, Wow Guide to the Bible
AUTHOR: Dave Branon
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2019, (280 pages).

Ever wanted a quick interesting snapshot not just of the whole Bible? What about having a concise introduction to every book in the Bible? That would be great isn't it? Many people know of interesting stories like the sacrifice of Isaac at Mount Moriah, the great exodus, the mighty king David, the wisdom of King Solomon, the parables of Jesus, and many more. Do we know exactly where they come from? Who were the authors? Why were the books written? When and where were they written? These questions are dealt with in this one volume called the "Bible source book." The word "source" should clue us in on what the book is trying to achieve. It is to help us go back to the origins of the Bible and to help us appreciate the ancient contexts better. By doing so, we will be more equipped with background information as we open up each book of the Bible for study or for discussion. For each Bible book, the author gives:
  • A short title to summarize the theme;
  • A Top Ten list of interesting facts;
  • WHO wrote the book;
  • WHAT the book is about;
  • WHEN the events took place;
  • WHY the book was written;
  • WOW to show us the impact of the book in culture and society both in the past and after;
  • Worth Remembering is about popular verses that inspire;
  • Wonders from the past show us the archaeological discoveries.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Were You There" (Luke A. Powery)

TITLE: Were You There?
AUTHOR: Luke A. Powery
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (144 pages).

The Christian season of Lent is approaching. On Ash Wednesday, the Christian world would be entering into a period of prayer, meditation, and reflections on the 40-days journey of Jesus right up to Holy Week. It is a significant time for believers to ponder about the way of Jesus who obeyed God the Father all the way to the Cross. God in His pleasure and power raised Him up on the third day and gave us hope that in the same way, all believers will also be resurrected together with Christ. Lent is a time of remembering the pain, the sorrow, and the suffering Christ. Author Luke Powery defines Lent as "a season of penitential reflection and repentance on the path toward the hope of Easter." It's a nice way to introduce the theme of this book, which is essentially to understand the nature and underlying contexts of many negro spirituals.

Right from Ash Wednesday, the first spiritual "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel?" gives us a clear path of where the author is going. In a powerful reflection about the need for deliverance, Powery deals honesty with the issues of pain and suffering. He points out the hope that one day, we will all be delivered. The spiritual "Many Thousand Gone" gives us a troubling insight into actual slavery situations. The spiritual "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep, Don't You Mourn" is a way for negro slaves to connect their plight with the story of Christ's suffering. "Kum Ba yah" is a hymn of personal need and plea for God to come. However, not all spirituals are sad and somber. The song "Do Lord, do Lord, Lord, remember me" is an upbeat prayer of asking God to remember us. This is especially poignant in a world full of short memories. Other songs include "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," "My Father, How Long," "Steal Away," "We Shall Overcome," and many others. Of course, the one that bears the same name as this book title is also included. Of particular interest are the songs selected for Holy Week. Powery carefully matches the day with a particular theme that expresses the mood and meaning of the road to Calvary. Maundy Thursday is a short meditation on Calvary. Good Friday challenges us to see Jesus at the Cross. After so many weeks asking God to help us, we are left pondering if we would do the same for Jesus. Silent Saturday looks at the atmosphere of silence surrounding the death of Christ. Just like the way the book of Malachi ends, followed by 400 years of silence, Saturday compresses the world's hopes into silent prayer and anticipation. We all know what happens on the third day, but that would need another book.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Bible Workbook Vol 1 Old Testament" (Catherine B. Walker)

TITLE: Bible Workbook Vol. 1 Old Testament
AUTHOR: Catherine B. Walker
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (72 pages).

It is no secret that the Old Testament is not that easy to understand. The texts are ancient. The contexts are drastically different than our world. The cultures are too hard to comprehend. Enter this classic workbook for anyone who wants to walk through the Old Testament. Written originally for High School Bible classes, this work has been revised several times. Due to its popularity, it has been republished once again for a new generation.

There are notes to the teacher to help instructors optimize the use of the book. Using a chronological approach, the purpose of the book is a broad overview of the general themes of the Old Testament. Walker begins with twelve convictions about the Bible. This helps us appreciate that even though the workbook summarizes the broad themes of the Bible, we must always be aware that there are much more than what this workbook can cover. These include:

  • What the Bible says about itself;
  • General outline of Hebrew History;
  • Types of Literature;
  • Manuscripts description;
  • Famous Bible translations;
  • Dates, Authorship, etc.

The book can also be used for adult Bible Classes using the four units of twelve lessons each. The lesson numbers are difficult to read but the flow is chronological. Perhaps, instead of studying the book in separate forms, readers will flow along from one section to another without the need for subdivisions. The blank lines would prompt readers and students to refer frequently to the Bible for answers.  There are Bible verses to memorize; questions to trigger our memories of what we know; memory keys; acronyms; interesting facts; even games about the Bible to maintain any student's level of interest. All in all, it is a fascinating overview of the Old Testament to help us get a better grasp of the big story of the Bible.

My Thoughts
It takes a little while to get used to the format of the book. I was initially expecting clearly marked Old Testament Bible books as chapter headings or genre headings as a guide for study. However, Walker uses her own demarcations; namely the sections: 1) Introduction; 2) Exodus; 3) United & Divided Kingdom; and 4) The Divided Kingdom. It does not cover all the 39 books of the Old Testament. The teacher should be bold to try different ways to use this book. One need not follow exactly the schema proposed. Use this book in conjunction with the Bible as the guide. Some of the parts would require updating, such as the section on translations. Since the year 2000, there has been many more translations. For a brief book, I still think this book has a lot of potential.

In summary, I enjoyed reading through and being challenged by the questions posed by the author. The way to truly learn is to work through the various questions and use the Bible frequently. If there is one key strength in this book, it is exactly the latter.

Catherine B Walker has taught at the Indonesian Baptist Theological Seminary for 26 years. She has authored several workbooks and theological textbooks in the Indonesian language.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Learning Theology Through the Church's Worship" (Dennis Okholm)

TITLE: Learning Theology through the Church’s Worship
AUTHOR: Dennis Okholm
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (256 pages).

It has often been pointed out that systematic theology textbooks are a little dry. That is probably due to the way academics write their books. It is also because of the nature of systematic theology that made the teaching of it rather challenging. Thus, it is a balancing act of teaching this form of theology in an interesting and practical way, to be sensitive to our current contexts without diluting the contents. What if we could begin not with the theology itself but with the visible expressions of systematic theology? Answer: Liturgy and worship. Professor J.I. Packer has often said that "Theology leads to Doxology." Essentially, that means all theology will naturally lead us to the worship of God. Author Dennis Okholm pounces on this opportunity to use liturgy as a window to learning systematic theology. After all, if we want to show fellow believers and church-goers the relevance of systematic theology to everyday life, there is no better way than to use the familiar symbols of a regular Church worship service as a springboard to such a great educational opportunity of the church.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"The Magnificent Journey" (James Bryan Smith)

TITLE: The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom (Apprentice Resources)
AUTHOR: James Bryan Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018, (176 pages).

Many classics have described the Christian life using the metaphor of a journey of faith. John Bunyan writes "Pilgrim's Progress" to show us the Christian experience from condemnation to redemption; and from redemption to unification with God. Richard Foster also uses the journey motif for his book, "Celebration of Discipline" on spiritual formation. St Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle" also describes the life of prayer using the journey from where we are toward union with God. There are many others from famous authors such as Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and St John of the Cross, the latter writing "The Dark Night of the Soul." This book begins with the author describing his struggle about being stuck at a particular phase of his spiritual life. He desires to seek more of God, to receive greater spiritual insights, and to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the Word of God. So he goes off to an Episcopalian monastery in the Northeast to do just that. After a period of frustration, his mentor asks him a few basic questions to help him to be relaxed before God, and to learn to receive instead of digging for spiritual gems. After all, the deep things of God are patiently received. We cannot control God. We need to let go and let God speak to us, and not allow our agendas to define how we learn spirituality. The author soon realizes that the way forward is to be like Mary who had said: "Let it be with me." This posture marks the start of a great journey called "The Magnificent Journey." This is the road less traveled. It begins by the way of surrender. It is the spiritual art of letting the Word of God speak to us instead of us mining it for spiritual information. It is experiencing the presence of Jesus through the gospels. It is about intentionally setting our minds on things above by focusing on the person of Jesus Christ. It is about listening to God and discover the art of spiritual discernment and prayer. Smith shows us the importance of cultivating the conditions of seeing God instead of using our own efforts to reach God. This requires intentional prayer and contemplation.

Monday, February 11, 2019

"How the Body of Christ Talks" (C. Christopher Smith)

TITLE: How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church
AUTHOR: C. Christopher Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019, (224 pages).

We are made for conversations. Even our body cells reflect our inclination toward community and communal living. Unfortunately, individualism and privatism have taken over much of society. People are increasingly isolated. Even church people are no longer able to converse as well as they ought to. Calling our bodies as conversations "among proteins," author Christopher Smith aims to bring back the lost art of conversations in the Church, beginning with ourselves. For the healthiest people are those in active conversations with one another. The strongest communities are those that frequently communicate and talk to one another. In this book, Smith has a passion to help churches cultivate this art of talking and to build relationships through conversations. He even calls it a "transformative power of conversation." Smith invites us along in the three phases as follows:

1) Setting Out the Journey
2) Spirituality for the Journey
3) Sustaining the Journey

Thursday, February 7, 2019

"Stages of the Soul" (Nancy J. Kane)

TITLE: Stages of the Soul: God's Invitation to Greater Love
AUTHOR: Nancy J. Kane
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (176 pages).

In our age of anger, arguments, disputes, violence, and war, the word 'love' appears to be some form of wishful thinking. We speak of love but instances of love are generally few and far between. While we are creatures made in the image of God, we are also sinners who constantly defy the work of the Spirit. Love in its essence does not appear out of nowhere. We don't simply invent love. It must first be received. That is why Christian Theology teaches us that love begins with God. Without God, we can do nothing. Just like God who created heaven, earth, and us, we need God to initiate love. This He had done and is continuing to do so daily. We cannot help ourselves. We need God. In a nutshell, if we want to grow in spiritual formation, we need to accept God's invitation to His Divine Love. If you desire a deeper and growing relationship with God, this is an excellent book to read, to reflect, and to ponder upon how to put love into action. The five stages of the soul are:
Stage One - Our First Love
Stage Two - Obedient Love
Stage Three - Persevering Love
Stage Four - Sacrificial Love
Stage Five - Intimate Love