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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.