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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"Post Christian" (Gene Edward Veith Jr.)

TITLE: Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture
AUTHOR: Gene Edward Veith Jr.
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2020, (320 pages).

There has been lots of talk about postmodernism, so much so that it has become a catchphrase to simply represent anything after modernism. While the theologian Thomas Oden sees modernism as post-Communism and "hyper modernism," and the rise of relativism thought, the author feels that it is more about the loss of moral clarity in an increasingly "spiritual but not religious" climate. In this context, author Gene Edward Veith Jr has chosen to discuss the shape of Christianity in the midst of this postmodern atmosphere. Using the term "Post-Christian," he is careful to explain that it is not the end of Christianity per se, but a "new Christian guide to contemporary thought and culture." With great care and astute observation, Veith highlights the nature of the "universal wolf" having the tripartite of "power, will, and appetite":
  • POWER: Many institutions and movements have become "masks" for power; The fight for power is shrouded as a form of resistance against any form of transgression; (eg. push-backs by LGBTQ against traditionalists, racial minorities against whites, pro-choice against opponents, etc)
  • WILL: The will is higher than "moral meaning." Choice is the ultimate over all other things, feeding on the legislation of human rights.
  • APPETITE: We all have a right to what we want, what we feel, and what we desire.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"Seeking Him" (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Tim Grissom)

TITLE: Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival
AUTHOR: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Tim Grissom
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (275 pages).

Do you want to restore your first love for Jesus? How can we deal with our conflicts and repair our relationships? What does it take to remove bitterness? What are the things needed to rekindle a desire for God? What about refreshing our spirit for a deeper experience of God? These and many more are some of the topics covered in this book under one goal: Seeking God earnestly. Before jumping into that, the authors give us a clearer definition of what kind of "revival" they are talking about. It is not a series of religious meetings that comprise all kinds of activities, including motivational seminar types we see in the corporate world. Neither is it outreach evangelistic campaigns nor seasons of fervour. Rather, it is a planned, intentional, and sustained process of seeking God from the inside out. It can also be used as a group study. Over a 12-week period, this book helps readers do just that. Each lesson comprises a common framework. The typical week comprises:

  • Day 1: Faith-Builder Story
  • Days 2-5: Truth Encounter / Making It Personal
  • Days 6-7: Seeking Him Together.

Monday, February 10, 2020

"Materiality as Resistance" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Materiality as Resistance: Five Elements for Moral Action in the Real World
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020, (120 pages).

Like many of Brueggemann's books, this book is a corrective against the excesses of the past. It is not about materialism which is bad. It is about materiality, which is the rightful understanding and constructive use of material things. There was a time where the Church has played a key role in "sanitizing" material things. In the sixth century, many people were overly preoccupied with all things spiritual to the detriment of material things. With dualism and gnostic beliefs, people were quick to segregate the material from the spiritual. Taken to the extreme, they consider all material things bad and all spiritual things good. "Materiality as Resistance" is about resisting such dualistic beliefs and to redeem the creative use of material things, without compromising on our spiritual beliefs. The five elements are: Money; Food; Body; Time; and Place.

On Money, Brueggemann begins with a push-back against John Wesley's popular maxim: "Earn all you can; give all you can; save all you can." While generally accepted by believers, especially Methodists and those from the Wesleyan tradition, this common saying about earning, saving, and giving has often been accepted without much critique. Yet, Brueggemann boldly pushes against this by asking three formidable questions:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

"Character Matters" (Aaron Menikoff)

TITLE: Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit
AUTHOR: Aaron Menikoff
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (208 pages).

A ministry not marked by the fruit of the Spirit is doomed to fail, if not sooner than later. Most people who read the Galatians 5 passage would readily apply it generally to the Christian life. For author Aaron Menikoff, he specifically applies it to ministry leaders such as pastors and church leaders. More specifically, this book is about pastoral sanctification. They should model such a process of fruit-bearing for the people they shepherd, and to be an example of abiding in Christ and becoming more Christlike. The way to do so is to work through the fruit of the Spirit one by one, which is exactly what this book is about. Character matters enough for any leader or believer to do something about it. For the sake of the kingdom. Menikoff says it well, that "abiding in Christ isn’t just about becoming a Christian; it’s about growing as a Christian. Spiritual fruit is the believer’s sanctification." When working through the nine virtues in Galatians 5:22-23, we are reminded that they are meant to lead us along a path, and are not meant to be an end in itself. The goal is holiness. Along the way we need to deal with our own blind spots. The first is the misplaced notion of self-importance that corrupts what God's love is all about. Good sermons do not replace the need to love people.

Monday, January 27, 2020

"Small Groups Made Easy" (Ryan Lokkesmoe)

TITLE: Small Groups Made Easy: Practical and Biblical Starting Points to Lead Your Gathering
AUTHOR: Ryan Lokkesmoe
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2019, (160 pages).

As the saying goes, "No man is an island." We all need community. Whether it is a family related community, or having a group with people of common interest, it is the very nature of human beings to connect and be connected to one another. Sometimes, when the desire is there but the know-how is not, it can be crippling. This book is written to address that very need. How do we start a small group? What are the logistics and practical challenges? How do we go about addressing the personal and spiritual aspects? Four chapters of this book summarize the principles behind the need for small groups. Here, author Lokkesmoe talks about the need for leadership to be like Jesus. It is less about competence or knowledge; more about serving and relying on God. This is indeed a good reminder for us as leading small groups is a spiritual calling. He has good pointers for logistical matters as well, helping us think through factors for attendance; appropriate communications; raising up co-leaders; timing and place; and other practical matters to help make small group meetings a fruitful one. He then guides us through some sticky matters such as managing conflicts; gossip; and the four types of people (needy; monopolizers; silent; and the disinterested) that present unique challenges to a successful small group.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"When Narcissism Comes to Church" (Chuck DeGroat)

TITLE: When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse
AUTHOR: Chuck DeGroat
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2020, (208 pages).

Self-love is not entirely a bad thing. After all, Jesus did tell us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So, what is the problem when it comes to self-love? The one word answer is: Narcissism. Self-love beomes bad when all the focus, or most of the focus is on ourselves. Someone has said that love is not love until it is given away. Narcissism fits that description of the kind of love that is not given away. How do we recognize it when it arrives? This is what this book is about. Chuck DeGroat has pointed out the major prognosis: It must start with the leadership, in particular, the pastor. The Church of today is swimming in the cultural waters of narcissism. Whether it is a #MeToo or #ChurchToo taglines, many are increasingly impatient about matters pertaining to their needs. More astutely, the author takes us to a deeper level of understanding the roots of narcissism. Taking a leaf from Christopher Lasch's definition of narcissism as "the longing to be free from longing," it is a critical look at narcissism as an unhealthy desire to be dehumanized superhumans. In other words, narcissism makes us "less human." Written over a period of twenty over years, DeGroat shares his experiences with people who had gone through brokenness, pain, and healing. We need to be careful not to carelessly apply labels on people. While we are all capable of narcissistic behaviour, it would be inappropriate to call anybody a narcissist. I think that makes sense. Keeping it as an adjective is more redeemable. Some of the observations about narcissism in the church do offer food for thought. These include:

Thursday, January 9, 2020

"The End of Youth Ministry?" (Andrew Root)

TITLE: The End of Youth Ministry?: Why Parents Don't Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should Do about It (Theology for the Life of the World)
AUTHOR: Andrew Root
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (240 pages).

What is youth ministry for? What is its purpose? Some say it is for helping young people not waste their lives, to learn to be good people. Others say it is for God. Still, others, especially parents would want them to learn something good for the soul, on top of other priority activities. Still there are those who think that youths need their own space. So they carve out a ministry for young people and call it youth ministry. Does it work? According to Andrew Root, he thinks that times have changed. The youth ministries we have known in the past are now dwindling fast. Not only is it difficult to sustain the model of the past, it is impossible to see it growing in the future. Rather than to immerse ourselves into some archaic dying model, we are challenged to rise above these things of old to embrace the central motivation for ministry: Joy. Author and professor of youth and young adult ministry, Andrew Root has seen many signs of the "somewhat directionless" youth ministry. The title of the book is essentially a challenge for all to re-examine the implications of such a shift in the ministry. The purpose of such a ministry is clear: To reach out to the young for Jesus. Yet, the methods and strategies need to be adapted in order to meet the needs of changing times. By understanding the reasons behind the cultural changes, it is hoped that not only will we refresh our outreach to this generation, we will also learn about what it means to live a good life. The central concern of this book is two-fold: First, it is to refresh our understanding of the purpose of youth ministry. Second, it is to tie together parents' vision of a good life and how such a vision influences and impacts their children. Root's central thesis is that any such ministry must be led by joy and to progress toward true joy. This whole book is thus an "ode to joy."

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

"Five to Thrive" (Dr Kathy Koch)

TITLE: Five to Thrive: How to Determine If Your Core Needs Are Being Met (and What to Do When They're Not)
AUTHOR: Kathy Koch
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (240 pages).

The popular cliche says: "Don't just try to survive, thrive!" It is a nice way to inspire one to grow beyond the status quo. Yet, there is also a sense that such motivational phrases might have become too common, or overused. Strangely, many people still pay lots of money to go to motivational seminars and lavish conferences to get a new kick at life. The trouble is, once the initial hype is over, everything goes back to square one. What happens next? Another motivational project? If only there is a proven way not only to get a motivational impetus, but to make it sustainable. This book acts on that principle, not just driven by our human determination, but linked intricately to divine dependence. At the same time, there is sufficient qualitative and quantitative data to support the way to thrive. Thanks to Kathy Koch, we have one helpful avenue to improve our lives. The way to do that is to determine our core skills in our journey to being whole persons, fully in tune with who we are and what we are created to be. We cannot be less than who we are. The moment we are able to be the best of ourselves, that is where thriving begins. Author Kathy Koch lists five things that can make us whole. She calls these the "five core needs."

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"3 Words That Will Change Your Life" (Mike Novotny)

TITLE: 3 Words That Will Change Your Life
AUTHOR: Mike Novotny
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2020, (192 pages).

Is God far away? How can we experience God more intimately? All you need are three words: "God is Here." Sounds too good to be true? Perhaps, but author and pastor Mike Novotny has creatively used this phrase as a powerful catchphrase to connect us with our relationship with God. It is simple and easy to follow. Before that, he shows us some "life killers" that could derail us from properly following God. Some of these warnings include treating God like some kind of a distant "vague higher power." Some people are mystified when they think about God. In fact, many young people don't even think about God when asked about their life goals. They don't even live with any thoughts of God as they make their life decisions. Apart from thinking God as some distant irrelevant being, the other danger is to see God as some future celestial coming, which is another way of pushing away God's relevance in our lives. For if God is only God of the future and not for the present, then is He really God? Another mistake is to see God as relevant for others but not for us. This is a sad misreading. With Novotny putting to death the three erroneous "life killers," we are set to see God as Someone who is here for us now, in the present, and also in the future. God is here always. The author shares about how Ps 73 saved him and guided him to a deeper and personal relationship with God. God is bigger than any of our problems. Our biggest problem is that we don't think much of God in the first place. This needs to be corrected because it is simply not true. The Lord's Prayer is a reminder to us that we pray to a Living God who is here. Otherwise, that prayer has no meaning.

Monday, January 6, 2020

"I've Seen the End of You" (W. Lee Warren)

TITLE: I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know
AUTHOR: W. Lee Warren
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2020, (272 pages).

What do you do with a tumour that has a 100% fatality rate? How do we cope with situations where there is no more hope for survival? Hope is one of the most cherished and necessary virtues for life. With hope, we can still grind through life. Without hope, it is a completely different story. He writes his experiences with patients, family, and loved ones with regard to life, faith, doubt, pain, gratitude, and hope. In a book that reads like a personal memoir, author and neurosurgeon, Dr Lee Warren shows us what he had learned from the experiences of people nearing death and losing hopes for survival. Many things he thought he knew, only to be humbled to realize that there are still many things he did not know. He shares these experiences in this personal revelation of faith, doubt, despair, and hope. The key question throughout the book is the very question the author wrote to Philip Yancey: "How can I pray for my patients when I already know how God is going to answer?" This is with regard to the type of brain cancer called "Glioblastoma Multiforme" (GBM), where from his medical experience has 100% fatality rate. For Warren, it is also a question of faith. "What happens when our messy lives mess with what we think we believe?"