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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

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"The Politics of Ministry" (Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman & Donald C. Guthrie)

TITLE: The Politics of Ministry: Navigating Power Dynamics and Negotiating Interests
AUTHOR: Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman & Donald C. Guthrie
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018, (216 pages).

The word 'politics' has often been used pejoratively. From world leaders to local associations, people see politicians or the way of politics as a necessary evil. We may hate it but we cannot do without it. Even in non-profit organizations, there has been accusations of politics played by those jostling for power and position in the organization. Like a chess game, some individuals scheme their way into plum roles. Others play defensive to protect their place in the hierarchy. Churches are no exception. In some cases, the level of politicizing might even be most discouraging. This book helps us understand, navigate, and negotiate our way in ministry. The authors start off by saying that "politics is the art of getting things done with others." Thus, politics is not exactly a dirty word but a necessarily power dynamic to bring about positive change and progress for the organization. As politics is primarily about people, the authors anticipate four kinds of audiences:
  1. The Employee or Volunteer;
  2. The Hurt;
  3. Leaders;
  4. General Reader.