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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"Resilient Faith" (Gerald L. Sittser)

TITLE: Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian "Third Way" Changed the World
AUTHOR: Gerald L. Sittser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019, (240 pages).

Finding a middle path, a way that meanders between any extremes, or some "third way" has been the pattern among many movements in the path. Evolution sees it as "survival of the fittest." The secular world views it as natural selection. The business world thinks of new potential as a new wave. Whatever it is, the possibility of a new way in the midst of conflicting old ways is always a path of hope. In the Early Church, this "third way" is the Jesus Way. Jesus spoke about this as He moves among two huge forces of resistance: Roman and Jewish. Followers of Jesus were also known as followers of "The Way." This way has resisted the Roman persecutions, the Hellenistic cultural forces and Jewish legalistic regimen. In doing so, this way of Jesus impacted the early centuries and is continuing to do so today. By studying the why and how of this Third Way, author Gerald Sittser helps us understand and learn from the resilient gospel of Jesus, and to see its relevance today in our increasingly challenging world. The recurring question that Sittser asks throughout the book is this: How did the Christianity flourish in the light of persecutions and inhospitable conditions? On top of these, they had to resist worldliness. They had to battle heresies. They had to endure being ostracised for their beliefs and lifestyles. Interestingly this "third way" disappeared overnight upon the official recognition of Christianity after Constantine's influence in AD313. It also took on negative perceptions due to the crusades, the Thirty Year War, and many other politicizing of Christianity. In our modern era, we are challenged with a post-Christian hostility, a Millennial scepticism, and the rise of new age spiritualities. In writing about faith and the resilience of the Christian beliefs, Sittser aims to help us see the future with hope even as the days appear dark and daunting. He does this by comparing and contrasting the old and new eras constantly. It flourished in the early centuries because it was deemed new and novel. It was also seen as a major threat to the pre-existing establishment then. During the persecution era, Christians pledged allegiance to Christ incurring the wrath of the Roman emperors.  He begins this with a focused look at how the ecclesiastical tradition helped shaped faith through the ages. However, he soon discovers that it was not the Church per se, but the belief in Jesus that is more significant. The Third Way is the Jesus way. For in Christ, we see a bridge between the old and the new; the old world and the new world; the renewal movements and the desire for spiritual refreshment; etc. This pattern of renewed focus on Jesus and revival in the Spirit is what makes the Christian faith resilient.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

"The Courage to See" (Greg Garrett and Sabrina Fountain)

TITLE: The Courage to See: Daily Inspiration from Great Literature
AUTHOR: Greg Garrett and Sabrina Fountain
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (376 pages).

Devotionals are meant to be brief, simple, but deeply insightful. They are there to reach out to a wide group of people, especially people of faith, believers on a pilgrimage, or those struggling to make sense between what they believe, what they experience, and how to live. We all need insights for living. We also need courage to live and to go forth especially to places where we have never gone before. The title of this book helps us do exactly that. As we develop inner courage to see, it is hoped that we will enter into the world without feeling being left alone, but to know that God is with us at all times.

Containing a year's supply of devotionals, this book helps us with a daily page filled with literary quotes, Scripture passage, and a prayer. The authors are acutely aware that good books will challenge us with a story to charm us, a thought to grip us, or a phrase to challenge us. It is a great way to escape into a book that captures our imaginations. Books shape us and our thinking. With this conviction, authors Garrett and Fountain shares a literary gem each day, followed by a Scripture text to accompany the quote. The page ends with a prayer to maintain our reflection heavenward. There are many inspiring works from Christian writers such as Wendell Berry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Brennan Manning, Kathleen Norris, Marilynne Robinson, Dorothy Sayers, etc. Other writers include works from Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, David Henry Thoreau, and even JK Rowling!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Emblems of the Infinite King" (J. Ryan Lister)

TITLE: Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God
AUTHOR: J. Ryan Lister (with Anthony M. Benedetto)
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (192 pages).

What is the key to unlock the fountain of truth and ideas? Is there an accessible way to reveal the truths of God's Word? How can we explain difficult theological truths in simple terms, so that kids could understand? Surely, theology should not be restricted just for adults. With pictures, illustrations, and creative use of familiar symbols, author Ryan Lister gives us the metaphor of locks and keys. Making the use of keys to unlock eight fundamental theologies, Lister shows us fascinating ways to learn about the doctrines of God; humanity; sin; Christ; Holy Spirit; Salvation; Church; and the last days.

Keys are given to us. We ought to pick up these keys to open the lock and to enter into the truths God wants to reveal to all of us. For God is the "Key-keeper." Each key opens us to a particular room. The "Throne Room key" opens the door to theology, the Doctrine of God. We learn about worship in celebration and song. We move from ourselves to God, to see that the most important thing in the world is not us, but God. God wants to bless us, but we must let Him do so. Subtly, we are reminded that the king is not us, that God alone is king. The "Dust Key" reminds us that we are nothing until God came along. We are made from dust into the image of God, but we are still creatures needing God. Yet, God has made us his highest prize and desires to bless us. The "Serpent Key" is about sin and how mankind has fallen into brokenness and despair. It reminds us of Adam and Eve who fell into the deception of the serpent.  Lister spends time to describe various images of pride (Tower of Babel); and the stain of sin from Genesis to depict the fallenness. Instead of worshiping God, man ends up worship other gods, even himself.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

"Adorning the Dark" (Andrew Peterson)

TITLE: Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making
AUTHOR: Andrew Peterson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2019, (224 pages).

Seeking God in our lives is a daily practice of intentionality. Seeing God clearly comes about with an awareness that His presence is always with us.
If we take our time and pay attention to the way others have done it, we would learn a great deal. The great song composer Bach is acutely aware of the presence of God as he writes the initials "S.D.G" (To God be the Glory) at the bottom of his manuscripts written for church. Eric Liddell runs for God and feels His pleasure.  Instead of getting stuck with mere admiration for these spiritual giants, author Andrew Peterson boldly writes essays, music, and various thoughts to express his devotion to God. The title of this book is exactly about that. While initially, he may seem to be in the dark about what to write and how to go about adoring God, faith is essentially about taking the first steps to be creative. Don't let the ways of the world hem us into its mold. Instead, grow our relationship with the divine through a recognition of our identity in Him; our calling from Him; and our living for Him. Peterson shares details about how he writes music. Overcoming the writer's block is essentially about a battle of fear and a leap of faith. Writing a song is essentially telling a story. Putting songs together into an album strings together stories according to a certain theme or focus. Peterson recalls his first college album which he calls "Bible album." Incredibly, this album became a tour and more importantly providing him with a platform to connect community, family, and his devotion to God.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Pilgrim's Compass" (Paul H. Lang)

TITLE: The Pilgrim's Compass: Finding and Following the God We Seek
AUTHOR: Paul H. Lang
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (128 pages).

Pilgrimage is one of the most popular words to describe a Christians's journey or spiritual growth. Whether one is talking about calling or searching for God's will for our lives, it all begins with the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbours. Spurred by rising yearnings to have a more intimate and personal relationship with God, people are directions. They need a spiritual compass to lead them in their expedition. This book fills in this need as well as to help one "hear the call of God and respond in faith, journeying together with friends on the path to a Spirit-led and joyful life." Unfortunately, Christianity has a checkered history with regard to the pursuit of God in this pilgrimage. After Constantine legalized Christianity, the faith became more institutionalized, making the way of spirituality more formal and rigid. Faith formation is tied to religious affiliation. So much so that spirituality has been defined more on man's terms rather than God's terms. People tend to be more willing to adapt to culture instead of paying the cost of discipleship. Looking at the emerging church, author Paul Lang notices the way culture and the history of Christendom had mangled the way of God. We need a pilgrim's compass and we need it badly. Despite the excesses of the past and the mistakes by the institutionalized churches, there are many who have bucked the cultural trends. The desert fathers and the reformers are some examples of such courageous people of faith. Lang offers us some tools to help us begin our pilgrimage by embarking with the end in mind: definition of a pilgrimage and the recognition of ourselves as pilgrims on the journey. This journey is not necessarily limited to a physical movement. It is a metaphor to guide us through each and every possible opportunity, which includes both physical and non-physical aspects. Tools of the journey include maps, the Bible, spiritual practices like the Lectio Divina, Daily Examen, Prayer, and helpful acronyms to guide us. One example is the ESWN directions of a compass:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

"The Lord's Supper" (Keith A. Mathison)

TITLE: The Lord's Supper: Answers to Common Questions
AUTHOR: Keith A. Mathison
PUBLISHER: Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019, (99 pages).

Some call it the Eucharist. Others prefer to use "Holy Communion." Patterned after the gospel's record of Jesus' last supper with his disciples, it is also popularly known as "The Lord's Supper." What is it? Why do Christians celebrate it? Why is it so significant in the Church? How should Christians approach this sacrament? These questions are some of the common ones described in this book. The author shares about some of his curiosity about this topic in his early years attending Church services. When young, he simply accepted the elements and rituals as they were. Gradually, he starts asking questions about meaning and purpose of these sacraments. He recalls in Church that while there are many lessons about Christianity and the faith in the Church, the doctrine of the Lord's Supper is seldom covered or talked about. This is made more complex in the light of multiple ways of interpretation and understanding of the Holy Communion. It is hoped that this book can fill in this void. The purpose in this book according to Mathison is to "help Christians better understand the doctrine and practice of the Lord's Supper in the Reformed Tradition." In view of the many different interpretations on the significance and meaning of this sacrament, the author uses eleven big questions to guide us through this topic. The eleven big questions are:

  1. What is the Lord's Supper?
  2. What are the Different Views of the Lord's Supper?
  3. Why did Jesus institute the Lord's Supper on the Passover?
  4. What did Jesus mean when He said: "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood of the Covenant?"
  5. What does Paul teach concerning the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 10-11?
  6. Is Jesus present at the Lord's Supper?
  7. Is the Lord's Supper a sacrifice?
  8. What are the elements of the Lord's Supper?
  9. How frequently should the Lord's Supper be observed?
  10. How should believers prepare for and partake of the Lord's Supper?
  11. Should children partake of the Lord's Supper?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"Irresistible Faith" (Scott Sauls)

TITLE: Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can't Resist
AUTHOR: Scott Sauls
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2019, (224 pages).

The Christian Church is in the midst of challenging times. In fact, the way that the world view the Church has not changed a lot. The Church and Christians remain quite a rejected bunch of people in many societies. One of the reasons is what author Scott Sauls say: "the people of Jesus often have not represented him well." Many of us know that Christianity is about Christ. Yet, there are many who are disappointed with the behaviour of Christians, which in turn leads them to reject Christianity altogether. This is a pity but also a common reality. Mahatma Gandhi once commented about Christians: "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." He is not the only one who says things like that. Many non-believers are aghast at the way some Christians are politicizing religion; having hypocritical behaviour; and doing things that are perceived as "holier-than-thou" attitudes. Such cultural climates, rightly or wrongly, are what believers have to go through these days. Safe to say, if believers were to practice according to the teachings of Jesus, they might be seen in a better light. Having said that, historically, believers no matter how pious or charitable they had been, criticisms have never subsided. Even Jesus Himself had been persecuted. This is unavoidable. What author Scott Sauls has proposed is a good posture of resilience and optimistic response.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

"Into His Presence" (Tim L. Anderson)

TITLE: Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God
AUTHOR: Tim L. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2019, (280 pages).

How do I grow closer to God? What does intimacy with God means? What do I do if I don't feel close to God? These are some common questions and confessions from Christians yearning for a deeper relationship with God. As society becomes more feeling-oriented, many are asking questions about how to cultivate divine intimacy. Recognizing this need, author Timothy L Anderson helps us on this journey with a focus on the theology of intimacy. He qualifies his effort by saying that it is not a book meant for devotional reading. Neither is it a book to make one feel closer to God directly. Instead, the book serves two purposes: to affirm the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives; and to intercede for a deeper relationship. Before one embarks on the journey to intimacy, it is helpful to know the different windows to pursue God. "Catholic Mystical" writers such as Thomas Merton, St John of the Cross, and Augustine seek God in a two-way relationship, with the sole objective being union with God. The "Pentecostal Experiential" finds intimacy in signs, visions, and wonders. The "Evangelical Devotional" focuses on the pedagogy of discipleship and spiritual practices. Anderson cautions us from adopting either extreme absolutism or extreme liberalism on any of them. The way toward intimacy needs to begin with a theological framework. Anderson paints this framework using a hub and spokes metaphor. He defines intimacy with God as "the movement of God and Christians toward a place of true knowledge and close contact." With this hub as the object, Anderson goes on to describe the various spokes of intimacy. Before that, he describes the four biblical elements of intimacy:
  1. Movement toward intimacy
  2. Intimate knowledge
  3. Intimate place/location
  4. Intimate contact/touch

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Biblical Spirituality" (Christopher W. Morgan)

TITLE: Biblical Spirituality (Theology in Community)
AUTHOR: Christopher W. Morgan
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (304 pages)

We live in a time in which people are more positive about things that are spiritual. This is an unfortunate reaction (or over-reaction) against the negativity surrounding religions and religiosity. However, true spirituality does not invalidate religious thought at all. For Christians, all spirituality must be anchored on the Bible, the infallible Word of God. Thus, with a revival of interest in all things spiritual, it is a good opportunity to help fellow Christians to be anchored in the way the Bible defines spirituality. This book is designed to speak into this need. Toward this end, ten scholars and theologians have contributed research articles to help us understand and appreciate the way the Bible have described true spirituality. The ten chapters cover a wide range of spiritual thought ranging from the Old Testament to the New Testament; historic tradition to evangelical spirituality; spiritual formation to workplace applications; etc.  Christopher W Morgan and Justin L McLendon begins with an overview of spirituality through the ages. They share DA Carson's viewpoint that all spirituality ought to stem from the gospel of Jesus Christ. They sketch the trajectory from the creation spirituality in Genesis to the glory of God in Revelation. We understand the five large milestones being: Creation; Fall; Incarnation; Resurrection; and Glorification.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"Preaching God's Grand Drama" (Ahmi Lee)

TITLE: Preaching God's Grand Drama: A Biblical-Theological Approach
AUTHOR: Ahmi Lee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (192 pages).

Not all kinds of preaching are the same. There is also no one way to preach the Bible. It depends on the genre. It depends on the audience. With such a wide range of contexts and circumstances, preaching remains one of the most challenging vocations. How do we make sense of the nature of preaching? How can preachers preach in a way that is faithful to the text and yet relevant to the listeners? This is the constant challenge for all. The purpose of this book is twofold: First, to describe the “text-based” and “reader-based” forms of Bible interpretation in today’s world. Second, to find a third way based on the strengths of the two homiletical approaches.

Chapter One summarizes the traditional homiletic by using four metaphors. The "herald metaphor" pronounces the message of God that the Word originates with God; the preacher called by God to spread the Word; and a congregation ready to receive the Word as proclaimed. The "banking metaphor" is about expanding preaching into teaching and storing the knowledge of the Word in the minds and hearts of listeners. The "golden key metaphor" is about preaching sermons to unlock a central message. The "still-life picture" focuses on the big idea from which we derives applications for life. There are many merits to this approach. The main one being the absolute trust in the power of the Word to speak. However, Lee cautions us about two "dysfunctions" of such mining approaches. First, there is a tendency to be so text-focused that we neglect "attentiveness to God." Second, we treat application as an "accessory" instead of as an important "hermeneutical lens." In other words, application should not be the end or the means to the truth. It should be a byproduct of a bigger spiritual reality and encounter with God. The strengths and weaknesses listed sets the stage to compare with the other perspective: Reader-Perspective. Chapter Two looks at this New Homiletic movement that is based on the conversational style. Lee highlights three different conversational styles through the homiletics of Lucy Rose, John McClure, and O Wesley Allen Jr. The New Homiletics includes diverse preaching models that adapts rhetoric; authority alongside rather than above the community; anticipatory models; shared stories; congregational exegesis; and others. For Lucy Rose, the new homiletic is dialectical. John McClure prefers the collaborative styles while O Wesley Allen Jr takes on the subject of "meaning-making" that focuses less on absolute truth but on relevant truth. All of them acknowledges the cultural shifts happening in the congregations. As appealing as the New Homiletics may sound, Lee has several critiques packed in Chapter Three. Key weakness is in the subjectivity of the New Homiletics. In trying to take the best of both worlds, Lee proposes her model in the next three chapters. She argues her theology in Chapter Four by calling it a “dramatic view of theology" based on the findings of several theologians, especially Kevin Vanhoozer. In this drama, there are "three agents of communication: God, messenger, and congregation." She describes the three approaches to theology by describing the epic (objectivity); the lyric (New Homiletic subjectivity) and the dramatic (middle way). She hopes to bring sermons alive through the appropriate bridging of the epic and lyric ways through theodrama. She notes that "Preaching is a performance of the theodrama based on the biblical script in interaction with the present context."

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"A Life of Listening" (Leighton Ford)

TITLE: A Life of Listening: Discerning God's Voice and Discovering Our Own
AUTHOR:Leighton Ford
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019, (208 pages).

Listening is a critical part when it comes to spiritual direction. Our past explains the present. Our present appreciation of our history helps us make decisions pertaining to our future. More importantly, it is about our identity. In this honest and self-revealing book by one of the most gifted evangelists in this modern era, Ford gives us a glimpse of his life of listening to God. In doing so, he hopes to give us, and especially the younger readers among us the encouragement to listen to God in our own lives. Ford reminisces on Lake Rosseau, remembering his many Bible conferences attended when young. At the age of five, he was ready for a lifetime of devotion to the Lord. Using inspiration from the Welsh poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, he aims to let his life listen to the voices of God through "Christ plays in ten thousand places." It started through his mother's guidance. As an adopted child, he gets a keen sense of appreciation about what it means to be adopted in Christ. His adopted parents frequent quarrels led him to discern on the meaning of his conflicted experiences. He learns the importance of personal listening. He learns the importance of prayers. Reflecting on the listening posture of the Bible character, Samuel, Ford connects the absence and presence of the voice with an inner voice of desire. When listening and desiring God comes together, it becomes a choice for a transforming friendship to develop. His call to be an evangelist comes from two sources: His mother and Billy Graham. He applied to enter Wheaton College at the recommendation of Billy Graham. Incredibly, he was rejected. After a determined pursuit, he was finally allowed in. Wheaton stretched his mind. He met and married Jeanie, the sister of Billy Graham. The voices for his three years at Wheaton include a young evangelist in Los Angeles, the pastor of the college chapel, his wife Jeanie, and the voice of the Spirit. He often compares his calling with the biblical stories, such as the ones where Paul mentored Timothy. Like how Billy mentored him to eventually take over the evangelistic ministry. One comforting thought is that even in the deepest fears and uncertainty, God still works through our weaknesses. Ford even hears from the Lord in the aftermath of an earthquake. During the dark nights of his soul, he often questioned the reality of his ministry. Sometimes, he would make the mistake of seeing the work of the Holy Spirit only in moments of high. It takes a while to learn that the reward for ministry success is none other than God Himself.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

"Economics" (Greg Forster)

TITLE: Economics: A Student's Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition)
AUTHOR: Greg Forster
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (126 pages).

Christians are called to be good stewards of the world and her resources. Though believers are not of the world, they are still in the world. They have to live with the world systems that are in place. They need to work to make ends meet. They are expected to contribute to the well-being of the earth and the natural resources. Right theology is crucial because it leads to right care of the earth. The secular world often try to separate Christian beliefs from the world. Truth is, this is never possible simply because the world was never created to be secular in the first place. Christians believe that God created heaven and earth; and God had ordained mankind to take care of the earth. Unfortunately, sin had corrupted mankind and this has led to many troubles. In a world of plenty, we still have many swaths of poverty. When we are expected to share, we tend to hoard up resources for self. When we are called to care, we turn the other direction. What we need is a constructive and beneficial understanding of what economics are; what they are supposed to do; and how we are to go about cultivating a flourishing world economy that is anchored on the gospel and the goodness of God.

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek" (Benjamin L. Merkle)

TITLE: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation
AUTHOR: Benjamin L. Merkle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (192 pages).

Studying Biblical Greek is a challenge for many of us trained in English. Not only must we grasp the challenges of grammar and a strange new pronunciation, we need to interpret the nuances that are revealed through different contexts. For those who are not gifted with language studies, the technical aspects of the language can be arduously dry. Author Benjamin Merkle designs this refresher of 35 examples to help three types of readers: Current Seminary students studying Greek; Former Greek students; and teachers of Biblical Greek. Current students would find the examples helpful to shed light and relevance in their studies. Former Greek students would be able to revisit what they had learned and forgotten. Greek teachers could use the examples to make their classes not only more interesting but more powerful.

Using a regular second year Greek syllabus format, Merkle titles each chapter according to the Greek syntax and exegesis course. While the book could be used like a reference book, for those who prefer to start from cover to cover, each chapter builds on the earlier ones. Readers get to learn or refresh themselves on the nature of koine Greek; interpretation from contexts and not just the texts; and the basic grammar and syntax to remember. As it is assumed that readers already have a knowledge of the Greek alphabet and the pronunciation, the Greek words in the book have not been transliterated. However, the meaning is often accompanied by an English translation in brackets. Like an able teacher, Merkle guides readers along with three clear sections: Introduction; Overview; and Interpretation. In Introduction, we get a gist of what the chapter is about. This is followed by an Overview with the key points reiterated with examples of how they are used in the other parts of the New Testament. The Interpretation portion is not only the longest, but comprises the main application of the concepts mentioned. Where appropriate, the author brings in exegesis and references from other sources to highlight the different ways to understand the grammar or how the grammar is used.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Fearfully and Wonderfully" (Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey)

TITLE: Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God's Image
AUTHOR: Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019, (264 pages).

The human body is most fascinating. It is a wonder how the body functions as one whole. Even medical science, for all its advances could not explain everything. Today, we are still uncovering countless secrets and learning about how the body works under various circumstances. At the same time, some people use the human body to learn about life. This is what authors Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey have done. Using the underlying presupposition that human beings are made in the image of God, they reveal some of the most profound meanings about life and spirituality through the lens of how the body works. From cells to tissues, body parts to physiological systems, we are constantly reminded that the way our body functions is a powerful metaphor to teach us and our communities how we ought to live. Researchers even call the human body as "generator of diversity" (GOD). So powerful is the human body immune system that doctors would readily agree that no science nor medical knowhow could beat the natural immune system. The problem of AIDS is a classic example. When the human immune system breaks down, it speeds up fatality. From the health of a single cell, we learn how that impacts the way the immunity functions. From the diversity of the various body systems, we learn about groups, communities, villages, and nations. The authors make a case for the starting point of any community: Diversity. This is simply because we need one another's uniqueness and gifts. This should propel us toward a greater sense of belonging. The more we appreciate and cherish one another's diversity, the greater is our unity. Brand talks not just from his own experience and knowledge, he shares with readers insights from many other medical professionals. For example, while talking about homeostasis, he relates to us the discovery of Japanese Yas Kuno whose research on sweat shows us the wonders of the human body to adapt body temperature; Dr Walter Cannon's work on the wonders of the body to correct imbalances. Learning to accept diversity cultivates an atmosphere of acceptance. Our five basic human senses also have a lot to teach us.

Monday, August 5, 2019

"Walking With Jesus on Campus" (Stephen Kellough)

TITLE: Walking with Jesus on Campus: How to Care for Your Soul during College
AUTHOR: Stephen Kellough
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (192 pages).

Institutes of higher learning are places of diversity. Ideas are shared. Perspectives are debated. Knowledge is shared. Friendships are cultivated. Yet, college years are also times in which one could experience stress, loneliness, emotional highs and lows. For believers in Christ, there is an added pressure of keeping the faith in a world of conflicting ideas. As college chaplain, author and pastor Stephen Kellough has seen a lot of things happening on campus. He has walked with different people from all walks of life. He not only understands the challenges of students going through their academic pressures, he knows how it impacts their faith. How do we care for our soul in our college years? It all starts with this one big question: "What is the most significant spiritual challenge on campus these days?" Is it a lack of Bible knowledge? Is it the anti-Christian climate? Is it secularism? Idol worship? The answer might surprise readers. It is something so fundamental and basic. The author finds out that it is essentially "to know that they are loved by God." Taking this as a central focus, author Stephen Kellough, a campus chaplain at Wheaton College for over 25 years shares from both knowledge and experience with students through the years. He looks at love from the viewpoints of the Bible to help us recognize that God embraces us with his love. He also draws from the experience of spiritual writers like James Bryan Smith, AW Tozer, John Stott, and others, to probe and ponder about the movements of love. This most significant challenge is just the first out of ten other challenges that Kellough mentions in this book that is soaked in his experience as a campus chaplain. Other challenges include:

Thursday, August 1, 2019

"Holy Disunity" (Layton E. Williams)

TITLE: Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save Us
AUTHOR: Layton E. Williams
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (215 pages).

Many books have been written about unity, about community, and the need to stay together in spite of mounting challenges. One of the key reasons for separation is the lack of openness toward dissenting viewpoints. This is also known as "the idol of unity" where different views are belittled for the sake of a particular view. As a result, some voted with their feet by walking away. Others suppress their own anger which might appear somewhere else. Still others would lament the growing disunity within the community of faith. This book takes the bull by the horns by addressing diversity with boldness and openness. According to author Layton Williams,  it is entirely possible to turn disagreements and doubts into understanding and belief. Instead of retreating back to our cocoons of self-assurance, we are encouraged to debate our differences in the hope that we grow in understanding not just of alternative views, but to learn to see the bigger picture of any issue. Rather than promoting either unity or disunity, the key point is to learn about co-existence even in the lack of agreement. The way toward "holy disunity" is via the 12 unconventional gifts. Some of the positive outlooks toward seemingly "negative" emotional behaviours are highlighted as follows:

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Baptism" (Guy M. Richard)

TITLE: Baptism: Answers to Common Questions
AUTHOR: Guy M. Richard
PUBLISHER: Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019, (121 pages).

One of the challenges in understanding the rituals and practices of the Christian faith lie in finding biblical support. What exactly is baptism? Does it mean only immersion? What about requirements on who should be baptize? What about the different ways of baptism? How do we relate to our fellow believers who believe in other different points of view about baptism? Moreover, there are certain groups like the Baptists who are adamant about immersion as the way to be baptized. How do we respond? These questions and more are not easily referenced by mere Bible verses alone. He writes this book as a way to synthesize Bible texts and to relate them as much as possible to present day contexts. He cautions us against using specific texts to build whole doctrines about baptism. What is important is that we think through, with Scripture as guide, about the meaning and the importance of baptism. At the same time, it is hoped that the understanding would be expanded to other brothers and sisters. Instead of letting differences divide the Christian world, it is hoped that with greater understanding, we would be more united on the importance and significance of baptism. Key points of agreement are:
  • Christian baptism is important;
  • Water is needed for baptism;
  • Baptism is to be done in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;
  • Baptism is a core essential and practice of faith.
On baptism, Richard takes us through the Old Testament and New Testament instances of baptism. The crux of the matter remains the same: Cleansing and rite of washing. We get to understand the different ways of baptism: Immersion, sprinkling, pouring, and even affusion (pouring out of the Spirit). We learn that we should not miss out the meaning of baptism by wrongful emphasizing any one mode. We understand the four meanings of baptism; the reasons we baptize; the ways to do it; the differences between Baptist practices and the rest; how to respond to baptist arguments that we don't agree with; and Jeremiah 31 that is often used to promote "believers-only baptism."

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

"What's Next?" (Daniel Ryan Day)

TITLE: What's Next: Your Dream Job, God's Call, and a Life That Sets You Free
AUTHOR: Daniel Ryan Day
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2019, (131 pages).

Transitions are a way of life. For people at particular junctures, the question of "What's Next" is particularly exciting or distressing. For Christians, another way of asking the same question is "What is God's will for me at this time of my life?" Many people have grappled with this question from different angles. This question is also related to the topics of calling and purpose in life. Author Daniel Ryan Day begins with his own story of how circumstances and choices impacted the decisions he made. He had wanted to be a professional pilot but never sent in any application to the Air Force Academy. He don't know what his future looks like and constantly seeks answers to his search for the next thing. He poses several scenarios of this predicament. If one belongs to "Team Senior," one has to decide what to do after the senior year of their academic program. If one is in "Team College," the challenge is to decide on which program of study. If one belongs to "Team Rut," then the question is how they could find a right fit between their aspirations and jobs. Those belonging to "Team Deck-of-Cards" will have to depend on what comes their way, especially unforeseen circumstances, before they decide. The rare breed of people in "Team Hero" would take care of the interests of others before their own. Using two guidelines to determine the next step, DRD looks at purpose and fulfillment as criteria for determining our calling. He calls this team as "Team Called." In order to get our spiritual bearings right, he begins with the Bible. Such calling is neither about some special "high calling" related to Church work. Neither is it about a special job. It is something way beyond our popular definitions of dream jobs and higher callings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Upside-Down Spirituality" (Chad Bird)

TITLE: Upside-Down Spirituality
AUTHOR: Chad Bird
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019, (208 pages).

The early disciples turned the Roman civilization upside down. In spite of ostracization from the Jews and persecution by the Romans, the early Christians maintained their faith and religious practices. They were considered outcasts and failures by society. Yet, the faith they hold on to are very much alive and kicking. The use of false witnesses, smear campaigns, vicious persecutions, and other obstacles could not stop the gospel from spreading. All these happens exactly according to what Jesus had said. We save our lives by losing it; we who are the least would become the greatest; and the way to be first is to come from being last. The counter-cultural spirituality is something that author Chad Bird tries to highlight in this book of "9 essential failures" of the Christian life. Nobody likes to hear about failures. Yet, the very nature of success is that it is the fruit of multiple failings. Failures in things we accumulate about ourselves will save us from ourselves. After all, a good life according to the world is to have everything going right for our selfish selves. A life with Christ however would entail the same manner in which Christ was treated, we too would be treated. This reminds me of the last beatitude of Jesus in Matthew 5:11 that disciples of Christ will be persecuted for his sake. Briefly, the kind of "good" failures Bird talks about are:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Seasoned Speech" (James E. Beitler III)

TITLE: Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church
AUTHOR: James E. Beitler III
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019, (256 pages).

What has rhetoric got to do with Christianity? Is learning rhetoric a strategy of unholy manipulation? What can we learn from history with regard to Christian witness using rhetoric? According to author, James E Beitler III, we need more, not less "rhetorical reflection." In arguing for more of the training and theological reflection on rhetoric, he first debunks some myths surrounding the topic. For those who use the Bible to avoid the use of rhetoric, we learn that there is a place for right speech that uses the skills of  persuasion. He states: "Rhetoric and truth are not opposites;
rather, presentations of the truth are always rhetorical." Going through the list of rhetorical experts is in itself a treat: Plato's and Socrates' works on rhetoric; Cicero's five canons of rhetoric; Peter Ramus's modification of Cicero's; Aristotle's three rhetorical appeals; and several contemporary authors such as Kevin Vanhoozer, David Cunningham, and André Resner Jr. Then there are several theologians who offer theological backing for the study and use of rhetoric as "some of the most persuasive forms of Christian witness."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"The Practices of Christian Preaching" (Jared E. Alcántara)

TITLE: The Practices of Christian Preaching: Essentials for Effective Proclamation
AUTHOR: Jared E. Alcántara
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (256 pages).

What has a jazz musician got to do with a Christian preacher? Is there any connection between playing music and the preaching of the Bible? Yes there is, says author and professor Jared Alcántara. That one key word in common: Practice. Anticipating objections with regard to human-centered efforts in the ministry of the Word, the author makes a case for spiritual growth via spiritual practices and bearing fruit. He boldly claims that: "preachers who cultivate life-giving preaching habits through deliberate practice will enhance their proficiency, grow in their commitment, and flourish in their homiletical ministry." The reason for advocating constant practice is three-fold. First, without deliberate practice, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable one is, deterioration would happen over time. Second, talking about practice is different from actually doing it. Thus, the book is arranged in a practice-oriented approach. Third, there is a consistent focus on both the what and the how of preaching. Using the 5Cs to alliterate the practices of Christian preaching, Alcántara proceeds with using a chapter each to elucidate the practices.
  1. Preach Convictionally: to let our words reflect the truth of the Bible;
  2. Preach Contextually: to be faithful to the meaning behind the texts;
  3. Preach Clearly: to ensure our message can be easily understood;
  4. Preach Concretely: to remain connected with our listeners;
  5. Preach Creatively: to learn how to break through any barriers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"Faith is For Weak People" (Ray Comfort)

TITLE: Faith Is for Weak People: Responding to the Top 20 Objections to the Gospel
AUTHOR: Ray Comfort
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019, (224 pages).

Not many Christians actively share the gospel. Some hide behind good works while others succumb to a climate of fear and intimidation. The Bible urges believers to be strong and courageous for if God is for us, who can be against us? Plus, there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out all fear. Why then are people afraid to speak up for God's Word and the salvation of the world? Perhaps, it is due to the hostility surrounding Christianity in society. It might also be linked to people feeling ill equipped to deal with objections, especially those questions that even Christians find it hard to answer. Bible teacher and apologist, Ray Comfort knows it from experience. He makes his point very clear. Some Christians roar like lions on social issues such as corruption, violence, poverty, drug abuse, and so on, but when it comes to the gospel, they squeak like mice. The way of salvation is not through good works but through the gospel of Jesus Christ. More importantly, love overcomes all manner of fear. After making a passionate plea for all believers to advance the gospel, Comfort challenges all to have a ready answer for 20 top objections. I have paraphrased most of them.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Labor With Hope" (Gloria Furman)

TITLE: Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
AUTHOR: Gloria Furman
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (160 pages).

Brother Lawrence taught us about the spirituality of practicing the presence of God. Paul Stevens and others promote the spirituality of work and the marketplace. Mike Mason shows us spirituality of practicing the presence of people. Seminarians remind us about the spirituality of study and research. What about the spirituality of childbirth? Gloria Furman advocates the following: "Jesus has everything to do with everything, including our spiritual nourishment in pregnancy and childbirth." In this book, she not only describes the spiritual connection in the present, she also shows us how these "point us to eternal realities." These two aspects are expressed in every chapter. From the creative narrative in Genesis, Furman shows us how the human procreation act is derived from God's creative initiative. Men and women are image bearers of God, and children born are image bearers of their parents as well. All of us are called to be fruitful and multiply for this is the very character of God. Fertility reminds us of fruitfulness and how our endeavours point us to God's glory that is to come. On childbirth pains, we learn from Scripture that it is because of the curse of sin. When God said "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing," we learn that it is not restricted to simply the birth moment. It is a part of the whole area of judgment because of sin. More importantly, it tells us our need for a savior. This is where the title of the book describes this paradox: Labouring in pain without losing hope. While recognizing the reality of pain, Furman also shows us the significance of hope. Like babies, we cannot deliver ourselves. In parenting, we learn how tough it is to bring up children. Even as we grapple with the seriousness of sin and evil, we also see the power of the gospel to deliver us from sin and death. Forgiveness through the gospel stretches far and wide, even to those who had undergone abortion.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Soaring Through the Bible" (Skip Heitzig)

TITLE: Soaring Through the Bible: A Travel Guide from Genesis to Revelation for Kids
AUTHOR: Skip Heitzig
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2019, (224 pages).

The Bible is one big book to read through. Adults often have trouble even trying to understand what the Bible is saying. Many have spent years studying it and still find it mysterious. It is not easy to read the Bible cover to cover, partly because of its length and many genres. The ancient contexts are not easily understood. Thus, there are many commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and biblical helps for people wanting to know more about the Bible backgrounds. Many of these resources however are not easily translated into a manner suitable for kids. This book helps teachers, parents, and youth leaders in giving a Bible overview to kids. Using the metaphor of flying in an airplane and looking down on earth, author and Bible teacher Skip Heitzig gives us a bird's eye view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The main idea is this: "the higher up you go into the air and look down, the more you can see of the earth than you can from the ground." Heitzig takes us through a three part framework for every book of the Bible.

  1. Check Your Location (Context)
  2. Plot Your Course (Content)
  3. Enjoy Your Trip (Practice)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

"An Uncommon Guide to Retirement" (Jeff Haanen)

TITLE: An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God's Purpose for the Next Season of Life
AUTHOR: Jeff Haanen
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (204 pages).

What do we do when we retire? For some, it is an extended vacation but the problem is affordability. Some go to other extreme by claiming they don't have enough money, and prefer to save up for the proverbial rainy day. Some Christians believe that the idea of an endless vacation is not biblical. Still others think that they need a bigger vision and purpose for retirement. Each of these options have their pros and cons. In this book, author Jeff Haanen challenges the typical views about what to do after retirement and argues that believers ought to resist fear, doubt, and uncertainty with a better sense of relationship and trust in God. He calls his counter-cultural views as "uncommon views." Many common topics are discussed. He looks at culture first, looking at the reasons why retirement is increasingly being talked about. He asks new questions of his own about work, finances, rest, family, calling, and purpose. He observes our shifting cultural climate that will have a greater proportion of aging Baby Boomers; increasing financial struggle; limited and uncertain pension plans; rising health care costs; and continued fear of the future. Haanen deals with each of these relevant matters thoughtfully with a gentle touch of realism.