About This Blog

Thursday, October 31, 2019

"Don't Give Up" (Kyle Idleman)

TITLE: Don't Give Up: Faith That Gives You the Confidence to Keep Believing and the Courage to Keep Going
AUTHOR: Kyle Idleman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019, (240 pages).

How do we encourage someone? Do we use the soft gentle approach like Mr Rogers? That might tempt one toward self-pity or worse, a sense of depression. Or do we use the William Wallace approach to usher in courage? That might move us beyond our comfort zones. In this book by bestselling author and senior pastor of one of the largest mega churches in America, we are told not only to never give up but to press on with the exhortation from the Bible book of Hebrews 12:1-3. After showing us the powerful examples of faith in the long list of people in Hebrews 11, we receive a “battle cry” to press ahead to finish the race of faith. There is a time for sympathy and a time to spring into action. Idleman’s key thesis has to deal with the latter. His three-part strategy is based on the Hebrews 12:1-3 text, especially verse 1.
  1. Listen to the Crowd
  2. Throw off the Weight
  3. Run Your Race

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Letters to my Students Vol 1" (Jason K. Allen)

TITLE: Letters to My Students: Volume 1: On Preaching
AUTHOR: Jason K. Allen
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2019, (192 pages).

There have been many great preachers who have graced the pulpits of the world. One of the most well-known preachers is Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the eloquent Baptist pastor also known as the "Prince of Preachers." The author first experiences Spurgeon's ministry through a book given by a friend. That book was "Lectures to My Students" by Spurgeon. He was transformed and for much of his preaching life, Jason Allen learned from the thoughts and teachings of Spurgeon. In gratitude to Spurgeon and with desire to share his knowledge with others, Allen writes this volume of letters to students with regard to the topic of preaching. The three key aspects of preaching described in the letters are:
  1. Preparing to be a Preacher
  2. Preparing the Sermon 
  3. Preparing to Preach.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

"A Guide to Bible Basics" (Tyler D. Mayfield)

TITLE: A Guide to Bible Basics
AUTHOR: Tyler D. Mayfield
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018, (288 pages).

One of the biggest challenges among many Christian communities is the Bible literacy rate. People are not only unable to read their Bible well, many are not even reading it on a regular basis! The reasons for such unwillingness to read the Bible could also be due to the sheer volume of books. Reading through the Bible is a daunting task, given that many of the books come from an ancient era totally foreign to many of us. This is where Bible handbooks come in useful. With brief overviews, introductions to each Bible book, what its themes are, maps, charts, and various illustrations to illuminate the background for reading, it is hoped that not only will this make the Bible clearer for the modern mind, it also makes it more enticing for more readers to plunge into the Word for themselves.

Author Tyler D Mayfield takes pains to categorize the Bible books according to popular literary genre, to give us a birds-eye view of how the Bible is arranged. While they are not necessarily in chronological order, the Bible books are arranged in a mix of chronological and genre perspective. Some of the other highlights include:

Friday, October 18, 2019

"John's Letters: An Exegetical Guide for Preaching and Teaching" (Herbert W. Bateman IV and Aaron C. Peer)

TITLE: John's Letters: An exegetical guide for preaching and teaching (Big Greek Idea)
AUTHOR: Herbert W. Bateman IV and Aaron C. Peer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2018, (448 pages).

Every English Bible translation is in itself an interpretation. Unless one is trained to read the Scriptures in their original language and context, it would be difficult to fully comprehend the Bible merely by using English. The next best thing would be to get closer to the original by learning or gaining more insights from a Greek perspective. This book is one such channel of insight. The "Big Greek Idea Series" is a collection of guides specifically for pastors, professors, and seminary students trying to bridge the gap between the ancient Greek and the modern English culture. This volume focuses on the letters of John; namely the Johannine letters (aka 1, 2, 3 John). The authors suggest this book be used in three ways.: 1) as a grammatical commentary; 2) as an interlinear; and 3) as inspiration for exegetical nuggets.

There are many features in this book. It combines exegesis with thought-for-thought analysis. There is careful unpacking of "transitional and structural markers" to help us keep track of any big ideas within it. There are detailed grammatical explanations that could be too technical for some of us. Getting a grammatical refresher before reading this book would be ideal to ensure seamless reading. Those who are in a rush would benefit from the underlined clauses and words accompanied by explanations. The authors help us pay attention to the syntax. By detailing the grammatical, syntactical, and semantic functions, readers get to do both exegesis as well as hermeneutics and to link them together. The Introduction provides a summary of some of the grammatical terms to be used. It is essential to read this before plunging into the rest of the book. This is the grammatical heavy-lifting that would bring dividends when approaching the rest of the book.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

"What Does Your Soul Love?" (Gem Fadling and Alan Fadling)

TITLE: What Does Your Soul Love?: Eight Questions That Reveal God's Work in You
AUTHOR: Gem Fadling and Alan Fadling
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019, (220 pages).

In order to grow, one needs to change. In order to change for the better, one needs to be willing to be formed. In order to be formed, one needs to be transformed from the inside out. If we want to grow, we need to be changed from the inside out. Often, we need to be challenged into making a decision to be changed. It does not come easy, as Gem shared her struggle with the question whether she would be willing to give up her husband. The the question represents the dark room, the answer provides the light waiting to illuminate the room. Using Thomas Kelly's reflection as a guide, this book essentially helps us connect our mental levels with a more profound inner level through "fruitful interplay." The eight questions proposed by the authors form the framework to enable such interactions. Authors Gem and Alan Fadling lists a few other questions to expand on this. These eight probing questions are:
  1. What do you really want? (Your Desire)
  2. What is getting in your way? (Your Resistance)
  3. Where are you hiding? (Your Vulnerability)
  4. What is most real to you? (Your Truth)
  5. How are you suffering? (Your Pain)
  6. What are you afraid of? (Your Fear)
  7. What are you clinging to? (Your Control)
  8. What does your soul love? (Your Joy)

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.