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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Beginning with the Word" (Roger Lundin)

TITLE: Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief (Cultural Exegesis)
AUTHOR: Roger Lundin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (272 pages).

What shapes our thinking? What kind of philosophy drives us on a daily basis? Why are there so many accusations of people who think one way and behaves another? What does it mean to think Christian hope in the light of living in a contemporary world? With all kinds of theories flying around, how do Christians engage literature, language, belief, culture, and of course imagination? Perhaps, there is a lot of opportunity to educate and engage people toward believing what they practise and to practise what they believe. It is the "guiding conviction" of the author in this book that it is God who "seeks, embraces, and gives himself over to the conversational voice" of culture. This essentially means that we begin with the Word in any forms of engagement with the world or culture at large. Making it more explicit, Roger Lundin, Professor of English at Wheaton College adopts the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur's posture of choosing "hermeneutics of testimony" over "philosophy of absolute knowledge." For to do so would encourage one to put into practice, to act upon, and to experience what one knows or believes. Words, stories, literature are literary tools and devices to help us reconnect the world we live in and the divine future we can anticipate.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Listening to Scent" (Jennifer Peace Rhind)

TITLE: Listening to Scent: An Olfactory Journey With Aromatic Plants and Their Extracts
AUTHOR: Jennifer Peace Rhind
PUBLISHER: Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014, (164 pages).

Of all the five human senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, touch, and smelling, the least developed is arguably the last one. I remember having a conversation among friends about how technology had been able to replicate human sensory patterns upon computers. Visually we use high resolution images. Audibly, we can produce high fidelity sound devices, headsets, and great sound effects. Touch-wise, we have the mouse, the keyboard, and of course the modern touch screens available with tablets and modern computers. The senses of taste and smell are the least developed. This book is about cultivating a sense of smell through listening, learning, and cultivating our olfactory faculties. According to the author, a biologist with a PhD in mycotoxicology, there are other benefits such as improved cognitive abilities, general well-being, even healthy aging! Written in three parts, the book covers smell and scent matters through educating, profiling, and experiencing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Starting at the Finish Line" (John B. Wallace)

TITLE: Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons
AUTHOR: John B. Wallace
PUBLISHER: Long Beach, CA: Pomona Publishing, 2014, (229 pages).

He grew up with a fervent grandmother who led many family members to the Mormon faith. He was well-read in the three LDS standard books, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Articles of Faith, and The Miracle of Forgiveness, and many more. For more than 20 years, John Wallace lived and learned many things Mormonism, despite having some encounters with Methodist, Baptist, and other evangelical circles. He makes a disclaimer as he writes this book, that he is not anti-Mormon, not disproving the book of Mormon or trying to attack his former faith. What he wants is to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus suffering and dying for our sins, the Bible, and the message of grace in Jesus Christ.

Writing passionately from the position of love, Wallace dedicates a whole section on defending the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Claiming that the Mormon Church had altered and misguided followers on the nature of the Bible, Wallace tells of the importance of seeing the Bible as the plain and precious Truth. He describes the various authorities, archeology, and evidence that prove the reliability of the New Testament. For the Old Testament, he points out the completed prophecies, Jesus' attestations, reliable transmissions, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and others, to show that the Bible we have today are translated very accurately.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"The Power of One-on-One" (Jim Stump)

TITLE: The Power of One-on-One: Discovering the Joy and Satisfaction of Mentoring Others
AUTHOR: Jim Stump
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (192 pages).

How do you reach the world? Answer: One conversation at a time. One person at a time. One at a time. In our age of many to many communications, where social media postings can reach hundreds and thousands of people at a single click, we are reminded that while electronic gadgets and computing devices can do the technological connections, people flourish in smaller networks. According to author Jim Stump, there is power in any one-on-one relationships. Whether we call it discipleship, mentoring, or plain individual conversations, Stump is convinced that meaningful relationships are best build one-on-one. For the transformation of the world begins with the transformation of individuals like you and I.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Who's Afraid of Relativism?" (James K.A. Smith)

TITLE: Who's Afraid of Relativism?: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood (The Church and Postmodern Culture)
AUTHOR: James K. A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (192 pages).

A lot of authors and defenders of the faith have taken up the mantle of maintaining the absolute truth of the gospel and the Word of God. One common argument is that if everything is relative, then everything becomes more and more meaningless without reference to something absolute. For example, if the concept of relativity itself is relative, one asks "relative to what?" If the "what" itself is also relative, then what is it then relative to, and the questioning becomes an endless trip down rabbit's hole. This approach is more combative and may even be perceived as forceful and aggressive. Is this the only way? According to author and Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Calvin College, relativism is nothing to be afraid of. It can even become a tool that helps "loot the Egyptians." or to use the argument for relativism in an positive way. Based on his background and expertise in French philosophical thought, Smith's thesis is based on the work of three prominent persons with regards to culture and thought surrounding relativity. In a counter-intuitive manner, he argues that Christians ought to be "relativists" in the first place, but with a disclaimer. It ought to be read with the three works:
It can also be used as a "portal" to begin a study of the above three books. Four films are particularly relevant to this book:
  • "Wendy and Lucy"
  • "Lars and the Real Girl"
  • "Crazy Heart"
  • "I've Loved You So Long"

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Growing Up Social" (Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane)

TITLE: Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World
AUTHOR: Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (240 pages).

These days, screens are everywhere. With the popularity of digital tablets and the ubiquitous smartphones, all it takes is to notice people looking down on the phones in their palms, and we can recognize a social phenomenon these days. How do we cultivate relationships in a screen-driven world? The best hope is to begin when they are young. That is why Gary Chapman, author of the famous Five Love Languages and Arlene Pellicane, author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife have come together to help us ensure that technology does not overwhelm our relationships. According to the authors, "Screens are not the problem; the problem lies in the way we constantly use them." This is the central message of the book. As it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep technology away from growing kids, it is more practical to cultivate guidelines on technology usage.

For all the benefits, the authors remind us again about the problems of technology.

  • Lack of real-world teaching moments and family bonding
  • Inattentiveness
  • Too much technology
  • Too early exposure

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Blessed are the Balanced" (Paul Pettit and R. Todd Mangum)

TITLE: Blessed Are the Balanced: A Seminarian's Guide to Following Jesus in the Academy
AUTHOR: Paul Pettit and R. Todd Mangum
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (112 pages).

What happens to one's personal faith in God when he goes to seminary? Are there cases where students enter with a hunger for knowledge leave with a battered devotional life? How real is spiritual burnout in seminaries? Very real, says authors Paul Pettit and Todd Mangum, who warn us that knowledge puffs up and students can "make the Scriptures as clear as ice, but just as cold!" They claim that abstract knowledge wears one spiritually down. Four signs point to an unbalanced spiritual life.

  1. Confusing one's identity (teaching more about Christ rather than becoming more like Christ)
  2. Privatization and Isolation in studies (entering more inward rather than outward)
  3. Lacking zeal and service
  4. Lacking prayer and reflection.

The key question is: How can one maintain balance in the academy? Such as balancing the head with the heart; knowledge and experience;  theory and practice; learning about God and living for God; and so on. There are six major thrusts in this book toward that end. First, it is about growing into maturity through higher education.  Maturity means acknowledging the inherent imperfections in all theological systems, Christian formation systems, and the perseverance to try to locate an appropriate balance between the head and the heart. Second, it is about walking the tightrope of learning about God and living for God. Beware of knowledge that puffs one up and hypocrisy that dumbs people down.  Beware of pride, vanity, and insecurity. Recognize that seminary environments are imperfect and the best place to know God is a "relational commitment, a submissive spirit, and a predisposition to trust even when understanding is lacking."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage" (Mark Achtemeier)

TITLE: The Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical's Change of Heart
AUTHOR: Mark Achtemeier
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (144 pages).

The title of the book already points out what the book is all about. According to Mark Achtemeier, a former lobbyist against ordination of gay and lesbian people, who played a key role in the decision of the PCUSA to ban gay ordination, the book is about how he had a change of heart. Thus, since 1996, he has been trying to reverse the ban. He makes several disclaimers before diving into the details. He is not gay; not struggling with any same-sex attraction; does not have a family member struggling with homosexuality inclinations; conservative and biblically faithful; and writes this book without any external pressures. Writing this book as a story of his own change of heart, he points out that the main reason for his change is due to a re-interpretation of the Bible's teachings.

First, he takes issue with the traditional condemnation of gay relationships. Using examples of real lives of people honestly struggling with sexual orientation but felt repressed by traditionalists, Achtemeier is troubled with people attacking them as not being biblically faithful. He argues that these people can be very biblically sound despite their sexual orientation. Such people have deep convictions of faith that even resemble that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He laments at how such believers have been forced to leave the Church they loved. He compares these cases with the celibacy requirements imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.What kind of a God would subject these people to such torment? Second, he questions the traditionalists' teachings and interpretations of the Bible, even suggesting the pattern as similar to neo-Nazi supremacist movement; the pro-slavery causes; and lays the blame smack on interpretation that is out of context. More aggressively, he accuses the traditionalists of doing "erroneous readings of biblical law."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Be Real" (Rick Bezet)

TITLE: Be Real: Because Fake Is Exhausting
AUTHOR: Rick Bezet
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (208 pages).

Let's stop playing hide and seek with one another and quit being fake. That is because being fake is exhausting and being real is liberating. This is the central thesis by founder and lead pastor of New Life Church in Arkansas, one of America's fastest growing churches. Don't know who is Rick Bezet? He is also founder director of the Association of Related Churches (ARC). Still don't register anything? Well, he pastors the very church that the winner of the eighth season of American Idol attends: Kris Allen. So what's the real deal? It is not Kris Allen but the need to put off falsehood and fake personalities and to be real to one another. Likewise, Bezet's reference to Allen stops here as being real does not mean he rides on the famous singer's name forever.

So what does it take to be real? Bezet offers us lots of tips in ten chapters of passionate pleas that soak with honesty, humour, and hope. He uncovers the hidden background of why people tend to hide themselves. Why do they find it difficult to tell the whole truth? He acknowledges that being real can be hard work just like Jacob who wrestles with God openly and gets a new name. He shows us the power of community to create a life of openness and trust. He goes on to assure us that the tendency for people to put on fake fronts is also common in ancient biblical times. Just as God has shown His faithfulness to many people in the past, He can also do the same for us now.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"The Stories We Tell" (Mike Cosper)

TITLE: The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Cultural Renewal)
AUTHOR: Mike Cosper
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2014, (240 pages).

In an age of multimedia entertainment, TV and movies have become mainstream in the shaping of culture. Many are watching more TV than before, with more watching online via the Internet. Watching a movie is one way for people to relax after a long day's work. With video streaming, access to movies has risen sharply. Not only are TV and movies attractive, people are also increasingly addicted to them. What can we learn from movies? How do we go about discerning the narrative it projects? What kind of stories are they telling? How are they shaping the culture we live in? Are they just telling a story or is there a deeper implication behind the story? These questions and many more are probed through the lens of Mike Cosper to help us understand popular culture. Cosper is Pastor of Worship and Arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisvilled, Kentucky. He vividly remembers how his family first had a 48-inch rear projection TV and a satellite dish. Raised on Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, progressing to Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, Cosper knows what it means to be a TV junkie and how such programming can get inside one's head. So much so that the stories we watch can influence and change us in a way that we least expect. He gives some insights that are worth noticing.
  • TV can shape us in a way that we can be unaware of
  • Storytelling don't aim at our heads or hearts. They aim at our imaginations
  • Stories do not just report the facts. They reside in our heads long after the movie is over.
  • Rationality is weak against the power of images and stories.
  • Even shallow movies can connect with our emotional core even when we brush it aside as slapstick
  • ...