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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.