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Monday, January 30, 2023

"Counterfeit Kingdom" (Holly Pivec and R. Douglas Geivett)

TITLE: Counterfeit Kingdom: The Dangers of New Revelation, New Prophets, and New Age Practices in the Church
AUTHOR: Holly Pivec and R. Douglas Geivett
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2022, (272 pages).
What is the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement? What are their beliefs and practices? Why are they so popular? What spurred their rise? Who are the people involved? Why should we be concerned about its spread? The term NAR might appear foreign to us. However, if you are familiar with Bethel Church, Bethel Music, the music group "Jesus Culture," or some of their hit songs like "One Thing Remains," "Reckless Love," "Where You Go I Go," and "Your Love Never Fails," you would realize that their reach goes further than meets the eye. In February 2022, the popular website BibleGateway pulled the Passion Bible translation because of its NAR influences. What is wrong with such a movement? For authors Holly Pivec and R. Douglas Geivett, the problems become visible when they see individual lives disillusioned, fractured, and damaged because of NAR teachings. Using their research, their purpose in this book is not to demonize but to highlight the trends with regard to the NAR influence in the evangelical world now. More crucially, NAR teachings are twisting the way churches are doing ministry today. They point out several "dangers" pertaining to the rise of this movement. They tell stories of a theological slant toward healing and miraculous deeds. In the story of Olive  Heiligenthal, we read how some leaders of Bethel Church started a prayer appeal for the resurrection of a dead 2-year-old girl. Focusing on the 2 Kings 13:21 verse about healing powers from merely touching the bones of the prophet Elisha's body, they assume the same could happen in a modern context. Some practice "grave sucking" while others write songs to spearhead this theological practice that believes in modern-day apostles and prophets who could heal just like the early believers.

Friday, January 27, 2023

"Ordinary Discipleship" (Jessie Cruickshank)

TITLE: Ordinary Discipleship: How God Wires Us for the Adventure of Transformation
AUTHOR: Jessie Cruickshank
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Tyndale House Publishers, 2023, (224 pages).
The Bible has various metaphors to describe discipleship and spiritual growth. In particular, Jesus himself uses ordinary things to depict the Kingdom of God and spiritual growth. There is the parable of the talents to showcase the importance of stewardship. There is the parable of the tenants on the dangers of unfaithfulness. Chief of them all is the parable of the Sower which describes four different types of soil that seeds fell upon. Jesus also shares with us about the responsibilities of discipleship, to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. All of these point to one thing: Following Jesus means living up to our calling and faithful stewarding of our responsibilities. However, like many churches and church-goers, discipleship is often talked about but meagerly understood. In this book, author Jessie Cruickshank takes us back to the basics of what discipleship means. In a nutshell, discipleship is for ordinary people wanting to follow Jesus in spite of their ordinary circumstances. Using the journey metaphor, Cruickshank maps out eight stages of what she calls, "The Hero's Journey" from ordinary people practicing ordinary discipleship. Disciplemakers are agents of transformation. They do not transform but they are willing channels for God's Spirit to transform people. According to the author, Discipleship is like "about helping people choose to go somewhere they have never gone before or do something they have never done before. It is about helping someone be brave enough to choose to change." It helps us conquer our fears of leaving our comfort zones. It is trusting that as we do what we can and let God deal with the rest, we learn to grow. So, a disciple is one who is willing to change or be changed. A disciple-maker, with the help of the Holy Spirit, facilitates that process. This map is listed as follows:

Thursday, January 26, 2023

"Exit the Cave" (Blaine Hogan)

TITLE: Exit the Cave: Embracing a Life of Courage, Creativity, and Radical Imagination
AUTHOR: Blaine Hogan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2023, (256 pages).
Each of us has our own cave. It is a place where we could feel comfortable, relaxed, and honest with ourselves. For author Blaine Hogan, his cave is more than that. It is about him boldly taking a step out of the cave of addiction, depression, self-pity, and encountering health issues among his loved ones. He shares about past broken relationships, broken marriages, and emotional struggles.  As an actor, he toggles from the highs of success to the lows of addiction. He shares his ups and downs through personal stories told with brutal honesty. Some of his most painful episodes were about the hurts he had inflicted on others and the resultant turmoil that tormented him emotionally and spiritually. He thought singing can help him feel better but any positive vibes didn't last. He shares about his constant travels because of his gigs. His search for peace continues with his foray into theological education in Seattle. While disappointed with the city and the school for various reasons, he soon finds inspiration in the stories of Hagar and Sarah. He would be challenged by two simple questions:
  1. Where have you come from?
  2. Where are you going?
These two questions would gradually help sprout other questions that not only probe his inner self and relationships but also his purpose in life. The bulk of this book deals with the way he answers these two questions. On the question of where he came from, Hogan shares honestly about his past, celebrating the highs as well as admitting the lows. The second question about where he is going deals with his desire to move forward from his checkered past. His journey in search of healing does not come easy. He summarizes his life with "four straight lines" or more specifically, our imperfect efforts to draw four perfectly straight lines. In a throwback to life in general, he shows us that we ought not be chained by our imperfections. Spirituality is essentially about not giving up in spite of our imperfect drawings of life. This is such a liberating thing to learn. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

"Changing with Aging" (Don Kuhl)

TITLE: Changing with Aging: Little Stories, Big Lessons
AUTHOR: Don Kuhl
PUBLISHER: Boca Raton, FL: HCI Communications, 2022, (224 pages).

If there is one thing that is guaranteed to happen in life, that is aging. We are all adding years to our lives. Every birthday celebration, anniversary, or remembrance of a milestone. In an honest assessment of life as well as a determination to make the best out of the years we have, author Don Kuhl shares stories and insights as he deals with the topic of aging. He does that through stories and snippets of life as he knows it. At 73 years old now, he provides us with his own set of reflections about the ups and downs of life, and in this book, about aging. He shares about his family, generously providing photos from his personal collection. He looks back at his life as a son, a husband, a father, an entrepreneur, and a friend to many. With a strong desire to share lessons from his past misadventures, he set up a company in 1988 called "The Change Companies" to help others learn of and tell their stories. This book is his own story to help inspire the rest of us to do the same. The ten chapters of this book follow a somewhat chronological journey of the author's own life. With each recollection, Kuhl often relates his stories with wittiness and wisdom. He urges us to play back our memories often. Even when some of these memories are disappointments, these are the memories that make us who we are today. He tells us not to take life too seriously but to learn to play from time to time. From playing pranks to surprises, we not only learn to inject humour but also stay sane in a crazy world. On family and loved ones, he reminds us to cherish them and to give our best. The short stories and snippets make this book a delightful read and quietly encourages us to do the same with our own lives.

Friday, January 20, 2023

"Refresh Your Hope" (Lori Hatcher)

TITLE: Refresh Your Hope: 60 Devotions for Trusting God with All Your Heart
AUTHOR: Lori Hatcher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Our Daily Bread Publishing, 2023, (272 pages).
We all need hope. Like a train going through a long dark tunnel, we all want to see light sooner rather than later. Journeying through dark times can be scary and suffocating. Hope carries the confidence that the journey will not end in the dark but pull one through toward the light. Yet, in a world of ups and downs, hope is not always present. That is why we need to have hope refreshed and this book shows us 60 devotions to help keep up our hope and trust in God. These devotions are classified under three parts:
  1. God's Nature (20 devotions)
  2. God's Work (20 devotions)
  3. God's Word (20 devotions)
Each devotion begins with a passage for meditation on the theme of Hope. This is followed by a story, illustration, or observation about the verse. We learn about the many dimensions of Hope, especially biblical hope. This includes knowing that God never forgets us. God is ever-present and faithful. God's Presence is Peace. God who has created the world knows best about what the world truly needs. Author Lori Hatcher probes the theme of Hope through reflections on the world we live in, the work of God in this world, and the Word of God. Each chapter concludes with encouragement and prayer. As a devotion, the chapters of this book take us back to the Word of God, showing us the Source of all Hope. There are many different aspects of life that readers can relate to. In "He Remembers Our Sin No More," Hatcher relates her experience as a dental hygiene student, how in the midst of great discouragement, she was able to shirk off criticisms and press on. In "Every Gift Matters," we learn not to let our hopes diminish in the light of others' gifts. Instead, we let God shine a light on the gifts we already have. In "God Will Sustain Us in our Old Age," we see how the same God who showered grace on others can also do the same for us. These and many more forms the bedrock of devotions to direct us to the Giver of Hope. 

Readers wanting to inculcate a greater sense of Hope can use this book to guide their thoughts and hearts to trust the providence and faithfulness of God. It is not so much about us trying to believe but more about encountering God in our everyday lives. The short chapters are highly suitable for those of us with busy lifestyles who have very little time to read. Hopefully, consistent and disciplined reading will not only give us the discipline to develop a regular reading habit, but it can also build up in our hearts a greater knowledge and deeper love for God.

Lori Hatcher is an author, blogger, pastor's wife, and women's ministry speaker. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Our Daily Bread, Guideposts, Revive Our Hearts, and Crosswalk.com. A contest-winning Toastmasters International speaker, Lori uses high-impact stories to impart transformational truth. Find out more about Lori and her well-loved 5-minute devotions at LoriHatcher.com. 

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Our Daily Bread Publishing and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

"Tending the Fire That Burns at the Center of the World" (David F. White)

TITLE: Tending the Fire That Burns at the Center of the World: Beauty and the Art of Christian Formation
AUTHOR: David F. White
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2022, (192 pages).
There is a saying that claims in a subjective sense, that beauty is according to the eyes of the beholder. In other words, if one thinks it is beautiful, then it is. Otherwise, it is not. That is how many love relationships begin. What if beauty is not just something that is subjective? What if the revelation of Truth is beauty in itself? What if admiring beauty draws us closer to Truth and the Giver of all Truth: God? In a book that goes beyond criticizing subjective mindsets, author David White shows us the real issue of how modernity has reduced the search for Truth into pieces of facts and tangibles that have little bearing on the significance of faith, mystery, and transcendence. This book's premise is that beauty is "a way of attending to God’s speech that awakens, empowers, and forms us in Christ’s lovely way." The author laments how modernity has alienated mankind by suggesting a limited form of objectivity. Descartes and Kant popularized the Enlightenment as "I think  therefore I am." Pragmatists claim that "I do, therefore I am." Some modernists even teach us about the primacy of feelings, "I feel therefore I am." All these philosophies are reductionists at their very core. White asserts that the Christian faith pushes back against all of these frameworks by recognizing the importance of  the "hallowing of all incarnate matter." Using art and beauty as ways to inculcate Christian formation, the way forward is toward wholeness and holistic living. Christianity encourages aesthetic spirituality that leads not only to awareness but an encounter with the living God. Thankfully, White does not commit the same errors of reductionism by reducing spirituality to the domain of aestheticism and beauty. Beauty inspires, not replaces the need for spiritual exercises or abstract theology in tending the spiritual fire. White begins with a description of beauty as the start of any "social imaginary" or initial assumptions, against the widespread use of rational analysis. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

"Under the Wings of God" (Cornelius Plantinga)

TITLE: Under the Wings of God
AUTHOR: Cornelius Plantinga
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2023, (192 pages).

Ordinary believers honour the Bible. Church-goers read the Bible. Academics analyze the Bible. Devotees meditate on the Bible. Pastors preach the Bible. Authors write about the Bible. It would seem like the Bible is used in so many different ways. Those seeking a closer walk with God will not be content with any form of superficial reading. They will also meditate and contemplate the Word of God. As purposed in the cover of this book, renowned Professor Cornelius Plantinga shares 20 reflections to help us grow deeper in faith. In each chapter, he begins with the full Bible passage and a brief description. This is followed by a reflection which occupies the bulk of the chapter. Ending each chapter is a prayer. Plantinga starts with Ps 91 where a cursory reading would say it is about security in God. A deeper reading would be an exhortation not to worry. He takes the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37 and applies it powerfully to the intellectual pursuit of God, something that some ordinary believers tend to dismiss as a mere academic exercise. The key lies in the reason for the study: Loving God more with the mind. We read about Colossians 3's exhortation to patience and how the author connects it with other attributes like anger management. Some of the most powerful reflections happen to be the way conventional beliefs are turned on their heads. For example, in Exodus 32, the text describes how the Israelites turned away from God and worshiped the golden calf. Plantinga describes the episode in such a way that we can all see the dangers and pain of adultery. While most people would dismiss Israel then as the adulterous nation that is only bent on disappointing God, a closer reading reveals that was not the case. They may have worshiped other gods but they still have the desire to worship the True God. They simply are people who practice spiritual polygamy. While the Bible condemns adultery in its strongest terms,  there is also grace that overwhelms punishment for sin. Following this thread, in Genesis 4:1-16, there is the story of Cain and Abel where jealousy turned to murder. This led to the banishment of Cain who became cursed to be a restless wanderer. Further reflection points to a man though tarnished by sin still desires a close relationship with God. This is not something that we can pick up unless we observe the way the text was written. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

"A Place at the Table" (Miranda Harris and Jo Swinney)

TITLE: A Place at the Table: Faith, Hope and Hospitality
AUTHOR: Miranda Harris and Jo Swinney
PUBLISHER: London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, 2022, (224 pages).

What is hospitality? What has the practice of hospitality got to do with faith and hope? How does that help to cultivate friendship and community building? These basic blocks of community are covered in this fascinating book about the life and work of the founders of Arocha. Containing many stories of people in the Arocha community as well as from the Bible, one gets to see how ordinary objects like a house, a table, and a meal can help one build impactful relationships. It touches the core of what it means to be human: The need for DMC, or Deeply Meaningful Conversations. In fact, the core reason for acts of hospitality is to enable such connections to take place in an ordinary setting. The authors make a powerful case to learn to host meals out of our real ordinary selves instead of trying to present a perfect version of ourselves before we can learn to offer hospitality. Not only can we offer others a place at the table, we too can learn to be comfortable in our own skin when at the table. With the table as the centerpiece of conversations and connections, the six chapters in the book cover a range of activities from the preparation to go to the table to the activities after the table. Interspersed throughout the book are snippets from the late Miranda's journalism where she shares insightful observations about her challenges and rewards of ministry, reflections on the Bible, and spiritual lessons learned. There are also poems, prayers, and brief meditations on Scripture. The six chapters with my brief annotations are:

Thursday, December 22, 2022

"Tell Her Story" (Nijay K. Gupta)

TITLE: Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church
AUTHOR: Nijay K. Gupta
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023, (224 pages).

One of the negative comments I have heard from modern readers is about the patriarchal nature of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. They note how the heads of households in the past are restricted to men. There are also many instances where modern folks quickly accuse gender discrimination. Why should Eve be a "helpmeet" to Adam and not the other way around? Why are most of the judges male? What about the way women are been treated? Is God being fair to the oft-referred "weaker" sex? Even in the New Testament, why did Paul put restrictions on women when it comes to teaching in the Church? These questions not only colour the minds of people, but they can also sometimes affect their faith. It might even cast doubts about God being fair and just. Sometimes, this has spurred the rise and development of modern feminism. Aware of such trends, scholars and theologians have begun addressing the issue of women and gender inequality in the Bible. In this book, author Nijay Gupta looks at the women leaders in the New Testament to highlight how such "hidden figures" have impacted the development of the Early Church. Apart from people like Mary, the mother of Jesus, Priscilla, and a few others like Phoebe and Eunice, the number of women leaders is agonizingly few. By shedding light on the impact of women leaders in the Bible, the author hopes to inform readers about the significance of women in ministry yesterday, today, and into the future. At the same time, there is definitely more than meets the modern cultural eye about women in the Bible. Gupta aims to debunk some of the myths that people have, such as women being resigned to insignificant roles in society then; and the unfair status imposed on women, etc. More importantly, by understanding the stories of these women, we get a better understanding of contexts. "Her Story" includes:

Monday, December 19, 2022

"Kingdom and Country" (Angie Ward, ed.)

TITLE: Kingdom and Country: Following Jesus in the Land that You Love (Kingdom Conversations)
AUTHOR: Angie Ward
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Tyndale House Publishers, 2022, (208 pages).
Is there a difference between patriotism and nationalism? What about our allegiance to God and country? Are they the same? Thanks to social media, people are starting to be vocal about the state of politics, in the country. For Christians, it is about practicing their faith in an increasingly secular world. Some might even say that our world is increasingly becoming anti-Christian. Recognizing the deep splits and contentious divisions in the country, several authors, teachers, pastors, and theologians have come together to share about what it means to follow Jesus in the country. Kicking off the discussion is Rod Wilson who laments at how politics had affected a typical small group discussion. Just like how Donald Trump had become a contentious President, mere mention of his name in any group setting could spark a wave of arguments. Wilson challenges us to begin with the example of Jesus and then learn how to cultivate quality conversations with humble curiosity while managing our heart-felt convictions. Karen Wilk shows us a vision of the kingdom of God and how we ought not promote human agendas in its name but to join in God's will as He leads. That means when prompted inside, we need to manifest the kingdom of God outwardly, especially those outside of our comfort zones. Ryan Tafilowski takes us back to the early centuries and Old Testament times to remind us how our predecessors had fared under the threat of persecution and hardship. Christians need to live with integrity even when it means being bullied or tortured by the powers that be. Derek Vreeland shares how the people of God in the Old Testament lived under different authorities. From theocracy to living under autocratic governments, he cautions us against taking the law into our own hands and throwing away any trust in God. Instead, the main role for God's people is more subversive rather than combative. Sean Palmer looks at the meaning of allegiance and the difference between allegiance to God and to country. The best way forward is for Christians to hold the state accountable to God rather in the virtues of grace and love to one another. Michelle Ami Reyes looks at the narrative of what it means to be American and what it means to be Christian. She debunks the false narrative of seeing America as a "Christian nation" when it is clearly not. She then provides a new multilayered guide to understanding a new narrative. Tina Boesch reflects on the status of what it means to be a stranger in a foreign land. It takes first-hand experience of what it means to be treated like a foreigner before one appreciates the privileges of citizenship. Between dominion and disengagement from society, the overriding attitude to the land we are living is to practice discipleship within the local community we live in. Alejandro Mandes urges us to look beyond all kinds of multicultural differences to become citizen-disciples. Juliet Liu notes how many Christian leaders got carried away with politics, nationalism, and Trump, and urges pastors to preach the gospel instead. Mandy Smith implores believers to humble themselves and pray. She calls us all to pledge ourselves in a new creed that proclaims God above all human allegiances. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

"Forgiveness" (Matthew Ichihashi Potts)

TITLE: Forgiveness: An Alternative Account
AUTHOR: Matthew Ichihashi Potts
PUBLISHER: New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022, (288 pages).
Forgiveness is the necessary bridge over troubled waters. It is the glue for broken relationships. It is the essence of human relationships. Yet, when the pains inflicted defy the theories of forgiveness, that becomes a totally different thing. "Why forgive?" becomes "Why me?" For deep hurts, it might even lead to "Why Should I Forgive?" It has been said that it is hard for people to say that they are sorry. While that might be true for prideful people, it might even be more so for people who have been deeply hurt. There are many types of hurt. There are many different ways to respond to hurt. There are also many different reasons why people find it hard to forgive even when it is essential. Some think that forgiveness is just about forgetting all that has been done. Some take the theological angle that our forgiveness ought to reflect that of Christ. Unfortunately, that can be misguided in the sense that it forgets our humanness. Yes, we are called to be divine but we are also human, needing help from day to day. I suppose the end is clear we need to forgive just like Christ. It is the process that is the problem. This is where Potts's book is helpful. It presents a human side of how we can eventually forgive honestly and meaningfully. More importantly, we need Christ in order to fully forgive. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

"Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior" (Sarah R. Moore)

TITLE: Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior
AUTHOR: Sarah R. Moore
PUBLISHER: St Paul's, MN: Beaver's Pond Press, 2022, (292 pages).
Taking care of children is challenging. Disciplining them is even harder. For some, it is utterly impossible. Ask any parent and they will quickly tell you about their agonizing stories. For many parents, this will be unsurprisingly familiar, especially when children misbehave or refuse to follow simple instructions. While many in the East will not hesitate to use spanking or some form of physical punishment to instill proper discipline, many of their counterparts in the West prefer the use of verbal and firm instructions. Somehow, the latter might admit privately how they wish they could "hammer" their kids when they are at their wits' end. Author Sarah Moore confesses how her anger had taught her to be gentle, which provides the starting point for this very book: Using non-physical strategies to inculcate better behavior. She calls this process "Peaceful Discipline." Interestingly, her anger rose not from her own kids but from her pediatrician! Rather than to let anger wear her down, she decides to channel this into learning moments. That is her basis for "story teaching" that helps children do four things: Observe, Listen, Research, and Try. She shares about the common storytelling strategies adopted in many cultures around the world. The reason why such strategies work is simply because it is how human beings learn and behave. She takes an additional step to assert how story-teaching is different from story-telling. The former is preventative (preparing), in the moment (grounding), and restorative (redeeming). 

Monday, December 12, 2022

"Flood and Fury" (Matthew J. Lynch)

TITLE: Flood and Fury: Engaging Old Testament Violence
AUTHOR: Matthew J. Lynch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023, (240 pages).
How do we deal with the problematic texts in the Old Testament? Why does the God of the Old Testament condone violence? How do we make sense of the Stunned by a question about violence in the Old Testament, author-professor Matthew Lynch aims to address these challenging questions head-on. He writes especially to those who had "persistent concerns about violent texts" as well as those who cannot grow beyond these concerns. The key is not avoidance or denial. First, he states the problem. On the one hand, he acknowledges the presence of violence in the texts. Listing down the "problematic verses" in the Canaanite wars, violent prayers in the Psalms, gruesome stories in Judges, etc, he assures the reader that he is well aware of the struggles people might have with these acts of violence. On the other hand, he reminds us not to burn down the house (the Bible) for the sake of dealing with spots of grease (acts of violence). How then do we approach it? He rejects 8 ways of approaching this issue. Approaches such as avoidance, rejection, mythical treatment, cultural projections, and so on simply do not cut it. Instead, we need to learn to see the bigger picture of the whole Bible. Listen carefully to the contexts of these violent episodes. Do not read modern cultural contexts into the ancient texts. If one is able to appreciate the reasons why such violence takes place at all, perhaps, we learn a lot more about how not to behave. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

"Three in One" (William David Spencer)

TITLE: Three in One: Analogies of the Trinity
AUTHOR: William David Spencer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2022, (248 pages).
One of the most foundational dogmas in the Christian Church is the doctrine of the Trinity. This distinguishes the Christian faith from all other religions, especially unitarians who could not comprehend how God is one but yet three. Through the ages, this has been a challenge which our forefathers had faced and boldly addressed in many creeds to aid our understanding of what we believe. Creeds such as the Apostles Creed; Athanasian Creed; the Nicene Creed; and modern confessions like the Anglican's 39 Articles, Westminster Confession of Faith, or the Lausanne Covenant, all proclaimed God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Statements are one thing. Understanding what they mean is yet another. Who is God in Three Persons? How do we understand the Holy Trinity? How can we possibly believe in something that we cannot understand? These questions can often be a stumbling block in both the teaching as well as the defense of the faith. This book aims to tackle the challenges of trying to describe who the Trinity is. The author acknowledges the impossibility of the taste and hopes to use this book to help us discern the flaws of the human analogies as well as to push the limits of theological application. For author William  David Spencer, this book is essentially about pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of some of the most common illustrations used to describe the Trinity. He begins by anchoring the discussion on the "Eternal Trinity Position," which is the Trinity as One God in Three Persons, forever equal, united, and co-existing. Spencer gives a substantial introduction that looks at the theology and historical treatment of the Trinitarian doctrine. This is not to be skipped. He then moves on to discuss the various images and words used throughout history. Words like "perichoresis" and "aseity" describe God as equal dance partners and self-existing Persons. Analogies using images of music, nature, light, water, and other common objects are then put to the test. Generally, there is a pattern that the Eastern mindset prefers to treat the Trinity as a mystery to behold while the Western mindset tries to analyze and deconstruct the theology for clarity. Spencer's model is to adopt Jesus' use of imagery to describe the things of God. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

"Asking Better Questions of the Bible: A Guide for the Wounded, Wary, and Longing for More" (Marty Solomon)

TITLE: Asking Better Questions of the Bible: A Guide for the Wounded, Wary, and Longing for More
AUTHOR: Marty Solomon
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Tyndale House Publishers, 2023, (240 pages).

The Bible has been the bestselling book in the publishing industry for many years. It is the most read, researched, studied, and referred to book since the invention of the printing press. Even today, it continues to be the book of books of all time. Despite the best intentions, many people still find it difficult to read and understand the Bible, especially parts of the Old Testament. Desiring to understand the Bible better is a good thing. That is why this book has been written to help those who genuinely want to learn and obey its teachings. With his passion for teaching the Bible, author Marty Solomon writes this book to help readers ask better questions in order to learn and follow the teachings of the Bible. He begins with an affirmation of the divine inspiration of the Bible. This is a crucial presupposition because it differentiates the types of questions thrown at it. Some skeptics cast stones for the purpose of discrediting the Bible. Others manipulate questions and twist the Bible to fit their purposes. Academics can sometimes use textual criticism mechanisms that make the analysis cold and impersonal. Some laypersons comb the Bible for soundbites to pacify their fear and insecurities. However, people with a genuine desire to understand the Bible better will let the questions guide their learning and curiosity. This book is written for this group.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

"Religions on Trial" (William Mark Lanier)

TITLE: Religions on Trial: A Lawyer Examines Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and More
AUTHOR: William Mark Lanier
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023, (240 pages).
Most books on comparative religion and apologetics have been written by academics, famous authors, theologians, and passionate believers. Some have been written by detectives and investigators of crime scenes. Others are written by people from different professions. This book is written by someone from the legal profession. Using his legal training and experience, author William Mark Lanier helps us adopt a legal lens to probe evidence with questions and to analyze answers like a trial jury. He begins by giving us a legal primer to understand the duties of jurors, the examination of evidence, scrutinizing witnesses, and other sources for credibility and consistency. He examines evidence from both angles: "association" and "causation." Using the "Bradford Hill Criteria," readers learn about adopting the criteria to establish reasonable causation. Recognizing there are elements of truth within each religious persuasion, the goal becomes learning how to sieve the truth from flaws. He puts these "religions on trial" so as to uncover any layer(s) of truth. Unlike those who insist on having all the complete answers before believing, Lanier believes that it is not necessary to examine each and every aspect of all faiths before one can make a faith decision. Like how attorneys learn to cross-examine and identify major tenets of various witnesses' testimonies, all one needs to do is to identify the key facts. Inspired by the apostle Paul's example at Athens, who constantly met and debated with the philosophical groups that day, he hopes to use this book as a way to debate the philosophies and religions of today. He does this via six questions:

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

"Returning from the Abyss" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Returning from the Abyss: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Jeremiah
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2022, (170 pages).

What does it take to do a sustained study of Jeremiah? What is the "primary plotline" of this major prophet? What has the book of Jeremiah has to say to modern society, and in particular to the modern USA? How would Jeremiah speak into a culture constantly tarnished by incidents of racism and economic injustice? Reflecting on chosen passages from the book of Jeremiah, author Walter Brueggemann aims to highlight how the ancient prophet's message to Israel then is also applicable to us today. Beginning with how Jeremiah describes the time of the kings, the author looks at the reign of several kings of Judah and Israel and extrapolates God's message of intent into the 21st Century. He invites readers to enter the abyss of the Israelite exilic experience, to show us the inexplicable gift of being able to return from such dire circumstances. Instead of a verse-by-verse or a passage-by-passage commentary style, Brueggemann opts for selective verses that help us pause and read via the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. With each verse, Brueggemann provides us a context for the thought process. He then highlights some of the spiritual ills or challenges facing ancient people of God and challenges us to recognize any modern equivalents. Brueggemann challenges us to identify the threats of atheism and idolatry, warning us against the mistake of identifying the lesser enemy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

"Five Views on the NT Canon" (Stanley E. Porter and Benjamin P. Laird)

TITLE: Five Views on the New Testament Canon
AUTHOR: Stanley E. Porter and Benjamin P. Laird
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2022, (288 pages).

How was the Bible put together? What are the criteria to determine which books are legitimate? What prompted the canon process? What about authorship and apostolic authority? These are some of the critical questions dealt with in this book. The canonization of the Holy Bible has become one of the most controversial issues in modern times. With rising suspicion of the institutional church and the growing intellectual climate of mistrust, it has become increasingly necessary to re-examine old assumptions and historical evidence. In the pre-enlightenment age, societies in Christendom jurisdictions mostly accepted the authority of the Church in all things religious. Today, contemporary society does not share such trust. Instead, suspicion and skepticism tend to be the default paradigm. Who gives any human being the right to canonize anything? What about perceived and actual authority? These questions are some of the issues dealt with by five different scholars and theologians from different backgrounds. With five views, readers can get a better idea of the complex issues and why they are so controversial. The five views presented are:
  1. Conservative-Evangelical (Darian R Lockett)
  2. Progressive-Evangelical (David R Nienhuis)
  3. Liberal-Protestant (Jason David BeDuhn)
  4. Roman Catholic (Ian Boxall)
  5. Orthodox (George L Parsenios)