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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"Becoming a Welcoming Church" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: Becoming a Welcoming Church
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing House, 2018, (128 pages).

"Are you willing to set aside your preconceived notions about your church? Are you willing to look at your church more honestly and more clearly? Are you willing to do what it takes to be a welcoming, gospel-centered church?" These attention-grabbing questions would make the most stubborn church leader to squeak out a yes. After all, who wouldn't want to be more honest, more caring, and more welcoming to strangers?
For Thom Rainer, this is his 27th book in his career as a publicist, author, and believer in the strengthening of the Church at large. This book is spurred by his desire to help churches wake up to one of the most important tasks at hand: To welcome the stranger just like Jesus had done. He wants us to take a hard look at ourselves to do better than before. Hospitality is a key attribute of a welcoming church.

In "Becoming a Welcoming Church," Rainer helps us take a hard look at ourselves, beginning with a humble confession that most of our welcoming strategies are not working as intended. Some of the observations in the book ought to make any Church leader sit up and reflect on their own congregations. Wake-up calls such as:

Monday, January 28, 2019

"Christian Higher Education" (editors: David S. Dockery & Christopher W. Morgan)

TITLE: Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition
AUTHOR: David S. Dockery & Christopher W. Morgan (editors)
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018, (576 pages).

A University education is becoming a given in many developed countries nowadays. In Asia, many parents push their children to excel in their academics in order to enter a reputed University. In the West, many are getting not just one but multiple degrees. One of the most sought after institutions are the Ivy Leagues, a group of eight elite private colleges located in the North Eastern region of the United States. Many, if not all of these schools were started by the early Puritans and evangelical founders. Their original mission statements were closely tied to the Christian faith. With the rise of secularism, these statements have been relegated to the history books as these schools replace them with statements and phrases that reflect the secular world. In doing so, they have lost a huge chunk of precious history and teaching philosophies envisioned by the founders. This shift from faith-based philosophy to secularist and atheistic forms of teaching is also threatening traditionally explicit Christian universities. The problem is the lack of appreciation or awareness of the importance of the evangelical influence on education in general. If we truly want to get to the root of a university education, we need to understand the background and the uniqueness of Christian Higher Education. This book offers such a guide to enable Christian educators, Church leaders, scholars, theologians, and anyone interested in the future of Christian Higher Education.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"365 Ways to Find Peace" (edited by Marcus Braybrooke)

TITLE: 365 Ways to Find Peace: Meditations & Inspirations
AUTHOR: Edited by Marcus Braybrooke
PUBLISHER: London, UK: Watkins, 2019, (208 pages).

Beauty contestants spout it. World leaders talk about it. Social activists display placards for it. Writers pen their hopes for it. World peace. This book opens with a promise to help readers find peace or some semblance of peace in this often troubled and tumultuous world. Its basic premise is that we all need reminders that "deep stillness and tranquility" is possible. So the author combs widely for snippets and ways to find such peace. With this search for tranquility the main purpose, editor Marcus Braybrooke draws inspiration from multiple religions, philosophers, sacred books, poems, parables, songs, hymns, selections from cultures that range from East and West. All in all, there are 365 writings. Some are as short as a single line while others are as long as a full page.

The 365 selections are subdivided into three categories:

  1. The Centre of Being;
  2. The Inner Circle of Love;
  3. The Outer Circle of Spirit.

Part One is based on the premise that self-love is a vital foundation for relationships. Admitting that it may seem to be self-centered at first, Braybrooke asserts that it brings about a stability that is needed for the building of love outward. The selections are based on elements of true self; self-esteem; inner strength; stillness; inner wisdom; giving; thankfulness; attentiveness; humility; simplicity; wonder; etc. These are the virtues for cultivating a being that is secure and tranquil. Part Two moves on to the Inner Circle of Love, which covers topics of empathy; selflessness; compassion; friendship; family; etc. There is a bigger element of community and loving others. Part Three  is about "Outer Circle of Spirit" which moves beyond the physical realm toward the transcendental.

My Thoughts
For an eclectic collection of works from such a diverse group of people and perspectives, it is hoped that some of these would touch the general reader searching for meaning and peace in their lives. Some readers might try to go through the book thinking that they would find peace. Not all the works could do that. Maybe a few snippets of inspiration might help settle our restless minds. Also, it depends on the readers' personal faith and background. It could be uncomfortable for those who hold a different religious perspective from some of the contributors in this book. For that, I would urge readers not to give up on the book entirely. There are good things to learn from, even though some may not meet our expectations. If something works, then its good. If not, simply move on and not feel too troubled about it.

What is helpful for me is to recognize the diversity of views with regard to the words peace and tranquility. I am aware of the many different definitions of what true peace is. For starters, just see this work as an effort to bridge the gaps between different perspectives, religious thought, and desire for world peace. There is no one size fits all and this book definitely didn't purport to play that role. The hope is that in the reading of these book, if one could find a way toward the peace that one seeks, it would have been a worthy read.

Rating: 3.5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, January 21, 2019

"Restless Faith" (Richard J. Mouw)

TITLE: Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels
AUTHOR: Richard J Mouw
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018, (192 pages).

People generally don't like to be labeled but the practice of labeling continues to be practiced in society. Scholars especially would often qualify their definitions of any particular label. On the word "Christian," one might ask what kind of Christian. On the label "Protestant," one might wonder which branch or denomination one is talking about. On the label "evangelical," some might shrug their shoulders or avoid talking about it due to its association with politics on America. Things are no longer taken at face value or treated simplistically. Maybe society has become more sophisticated. Maybe there are more awareness of the increasing diversity of views and opinions. For author and theologian Richard Mouw, the fear of labels should not be allowed to prevent us from using them legitimately. The word in question is "evangelical." Just because of a few bad eggs should not deter us from appropriate use of it. It is true that some from the political right have been giving the label a bad name, the same applies to many other labels open to stereotyping. He uses Alister McGrath's words as support, that "we evangelicals do often operate with an 'under-developed ecclesiology' - but we are willing to live with that defect because of what we have experienced at the hands of 'others who have over-developed ecclesiologies.'" That's a valid point. He also notes the famous historian, David Bebbington's definition of evangelical by saying that his four points were 'emphases' instead of absolute dogmas. A restless faith seeks to hold together two things: Top-notch scholarship (mindfulness) and down-to-earth connections (relational). It is honouring the Bible; walking in the presence of the Holy Spirit; and an awareness of the saints who had walked faithfully in the past.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"Ask Dr Tony-Answers Asperger's & Autism" (Craig R. Evans with Dr Tony Attwood)

TITLE: Ask Dr. Tony: Answers from the World's Leading Authority on Asperger's Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism
AUTHOR: Craig R. Evans with Dr Tony Attwood
PUBLISHER: Arlington, TX, Future Horizons, 2018, (200 pages).

It began with the website called "Autism Hangout" in 2006. The purpose was to provide immediate information on autism containing expert advice from practitioners, medical professionals, researchers, social workers, teachers, and experienced thought leaders. This idea progressed on to books and videos. One of the most popular segments was the interviews with Dr Tony Attwood, who was based in Brisbane, Australia. With close to 300 interviews, this initiative was very well received. Since then, the Dr Tony show has grown in popularity. This book is a transcript of the 2010 program called "Ask Dr Tony." Craig Evans is the interviewer with Dr Tony Attwood the expert authority on autism matters.

The book revolves around 17 top issues, ranked according to Evans's proprietary research in 2012-13. These issues are:

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"The Significance of Singleness" (Christina S. Hitchcock)

TITLE: The Significance of Singleness: A Theological Vision for the Future of the Church
AUTHOR: Christina S. Hitchcock
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (176 pages).

Singleness is a topic that is taboo among some young people. This is especially so for people living in cultures that elevate marriage above singlehood; setting up families; fear of loneliness; and producing babies for the next generation. In such societies, the default thinking is that if one is unmarried, then something seems amiss. In such an environment, there is pressure and desperation the older one stays single. Even churches are not immune. In fact, some churches frown on singles or tend to create programs catered more to families and married people. The truth is, singles are significant too. The author realizes this even as she was applying for Bible school, knowing that chances of getting married in such places are slim. It was a struggle for her to want to achieve her potential on the one hand but fully aware of her single status. She grapples honestly with her personal emotions while trying to make sense of cultural norms and biblical teachings. This book is a result of that exercise. Instead of letting culture define happiness in terms of marriage and family, she affirms the significance of singleness through the lens of the kingdom of God. Singles can play their part in community building, in gospel sharing, in becoming God's agents in the kingdom of God. She invites the whole Church at large to work together toward a theological vision and acceptance of singlehood for the gospel ministry.

Monday, January 14, 2019

"Having Nothing, Possessing Everything" (Michael Mather)

TITLE: Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places
AUTHOR: Michael Mather
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (160 pages).

How can we help the poor and the needy? How can we be of help to the less fortunate? How do we go about making a difference? These are some of the questions many of us ask, especially during the festive season and times of giving. While the intentions are good, the mentality behind the questions are not as good, especially when we fail to understand the contexts of the poor. What makes us think that we are their heroes? How can we have the audacity to think that we can help them according to our own terms? This is something that pastor and author Michael Mather had before he had a change of mind and heart. A major paradigm shift is to learn to see people as peers rather than people inferior to us and needful of our gifts. Having worked in two lower income parishes for 31 years, Mather learns that the best way to help is to encourage people to do what they could do for themselves. In 1986, he ventured into the ministry to the poor at the inner city streets. Using a "white mainstream Protestantism" approach to ministry to the poor, he would be serving in the soup kitchen, providing a food bank, organizing summer programs for kids, and other giveaway initiatives. Such projects may seem charitable at first but on hindsight, it does not empower people as much. In fact, it could be disempowering. What rocked the author was the violent deaths of 9 youths in the neighbourhood. With each death comes the singing of "Amazing Grace" during funerals. He soon discovers that the way to help the poor was to "shine a spotlight on the glories of the people" in the neighbourhood. In other words, give the people the dignity that rightfully belongs to them. Don't be condescending or presume we are the savior of their predicaments. Don't do things for people when they could very well do things for themselves. Spurred by the idea of an "Asset Based Community Development" (ABCD) which seeks to empower people to use their gifts, Mather writes this book about his personal journey from giving people food to eat toward helping them help themselves. The key reason why needy people remain needy is because of projects that create dependency. So he listened. He facilitated participation. He started paying attention to the uniqueness each individual brings with them. The very people who could help the poor are the poor themselves! Thus the mantra: Focus on what the people have instead of what they lacked. Thus, the title of the book summarizes the essence of this message. People outside think that they needy had nothing and needed everything. The truth is, they possessed everything in spite of public perception of their poverty.