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Friday, August 11, 2017

"Spiritual Discipleship" (J. Oswald Sanders)

TITLE: Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer (Sanders Spiritual Growth Series)
AUTHOR: J. Oswald Sanders
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

In the New Testament, the word "Christian" occurs three times; "believers" only twice; but the word "disciple" appears 269 times. Shouldn't that make us sit up about the importance of discipleship? The Greek word for disciple is also called "learner." It is both about the learner and how he is following after Jesus. For author J Oswald Sanders, famous for his book "Spiritual Leadership," he raises the bar to go beyond mechanics of discipleship toward the standards of discipleship. This is what makes this book shine as a needed bar to determine what is discipleship and what it looks like. Sanders uses the beatitudes to describe the ideal disciple. Calling it the "four passive personal qualities" and the "four active social qualities," the ideal disciple must manifest all eight of them. In a no-holds-barred exhortation on courage and conviction, he lissts the three main conditions of discipleship:

  1. Unrivaled love for God (the heart)
  2. Unceasing Cross-bearing for Christ (the conduct)
  3. Unreserved Surrender to God (the personal possession).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"Movies are Prayers" (Joshua P. Larsen)

TITLE: Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings
AUTHOR: Joshua P. Larsen
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (208 pages).

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, global box office revenue for films released in 2016 reached $38.6 billion and $11.4 billion in US/Canada markets. The numbers continue to grow especially with the rising popularity of online streaming mechanisms and more affordable data plans. Movies too are increasingly being used as a platform for self-expression and a general reflection of cultural nuances. Author Josh Larsen believes that movies are actually prayers in disguise. This may seem surprising for some people. After all, aren't prayers something religious that are covered only in Christian films or Church-based activities? How can movies in secular society be considered prayers? The key belief is that underneath the various movies expressions, if we look carefully enough, we can find the deep yearnings of the human heart expressed in various aspects of the movie. By combining film criticism and theological reflection, we get what Larsen calls: "Movies are Prayers."

Without ignoring the profit-making nature of movie making, the hype that surrounds huge stars, and the rotten tomato ratings, Larsen helps us probe inside, dig deep, float up, and reveals how movies contain many different forms of prayers. Taking a leaf from the psalms, prayers are essentially the different expressions of the human longing for a relationship with the divine. No matter how we may try to hide it, prayers are something so natural in us that they will come out of us sooner or later in life. In this book, we learn about how movies are increasingly popular platforms to bare the longings of the human soul. We learn of nine different such longings:

  1. Prayers as Praise
  2. Prayers of Yearning
  3. Prayers of Lament
  4. Prayers of Anger
  5. Prayers of Confession
  6. Prayers of Reconciliation
  7. Prayers of Obedience
  8. Prayers of Meditation and Contemplation
  9. Prayers as Journey


Monday, July 31, 2017

"Between Heaven and the Real World" (Steven Curtis Chapman)

TITLE: Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story
AUTHOR: Steven Curtis Chapman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017, (448 pages).

He is a musician who had won five grammy awards, 58 Dove awards, and multiple awards in the music industry. Some of them include hits like Cinderella, My Redeemer is Faithful and True, Glorious Unfolding, One True God, For the Sake of the Call, and many more. He writes songs of hope in the midst of pain; comfort in the midst of sorrow; and inspiration in an emotionally deficit world. Married to Mary Beth, author of a very moving testimony of faith in the midst of tragedy, he has experienced like many of us, the highs and lows of life. Like the gripping roller-coaster rides he experienced with his brother at a young age, this soon became a realistic portrayal of his own life.

He has many highlights like how he fell in love with his wife who stole his heart; how he gained success as a musician, having sold many bestselling albums and singles. He gives readers an insight into his own upbringing and spiritual revival when at a young age. His involvement in Church opens up opportunities for him to grow his musical skills and performance talents. Music quickly became his forte even though he did try his hand at baseball. He soon found his voice in songwriting, something that has been affirmed through his awards and accolades. Apart from his family story, a large part of the book is devoted to detailing his musical background and events. This is necessary because all (if not most) of his songs are related to what happens in his life. He seeks to encourage listeners in his first album "First Hand." His second album, "Real Life Conversations" flow out of his spiritual life. His song, "I Will Be Here" about tight-knitted love in marriage was tested quite quickly in his own marriage. Several albums were soon released with each having singles hitting the charts. One of the amusing parts was the time in which he tried to celebrate his anniversary by hiring a limo service. Little did he realize that the cheapest one also happened to be a pornmobile! He talks about his spiritual commitment to preserve his virginity until marriage. Both Mary Beth and Steven were committed to Scriptures and to the biblical faith. The story of five American missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador inspired in part, "For the Sake of the Call" and "My Redeemer is Faithful and True."


Friday, July 28, 2017

"Learning Change" (Jim Herrington & Trisha Taylor)

TITLE: Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal
AUTHOR: Jim Herrington & Trisha Taylor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2017, (272 pages).


The challenges of Church ministry are many. How do we find the right fit between personnel and ministry? How do we transform aging structures? What can we do to freshen up? What are the ways to inculcate positive changes? How do we deal with tried-and-tested methods that are increasingly out of touch with contemporary times? What is needed to create a culture of continuous learning and willingness to change? Not only that, there is the challenge of declining congregations and an inability for churches to adapt to changing environments. These questions and more are covered in this impressive collection of articles by a group of passionate ministry leaders, pastors, teachers, and consultants. Together with 17 pastors and their leadership teams, the authors participated in the Rider Church Renewal process that consists of a five multi-day retreats; guidance programs; and learning modules, and found much hope and purpose in congregational transformation. It begins with a realization of the problem and a recognition that change is possible. This book is a result of that series of events. Every chapter contains both biblical and theoretical information gained from the Ridder Retreats. There are stories of hope; exercises to practice; and opportunities to dig deeper.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

"The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology" (Mark J. Boda)

TITLE: The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology: Three Creedal Expressions (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Mark J. Boda
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (240 pages).

It has always been challenging to tackle the Old Testament. Not only is it of an ancient culture, the language can seem quite primitive when compared to contemporary times. Even if the language barrier can be overcome, there is the challenge of size and contexts. That is why the Old Testament are preached and taught relatively less than the New Testament counterpart. Various approaches have been used to study the 39 books of the first testament. A popular method is the genre approach, which subdivides the books into Law; History; Poetry; the Major and Minor Prophets. Some would use the Christ-centered interpretation, which sees every Old Testament book from the perspective of Christ. More recently, there are books about using the New Testament as a lens to view the Old Testament. There is also the seminary approaches of biblical and systematic theology, albeit used for different purposes. All of them have their merits and weaknesses. Enters the "Three Creedal Expressions" approach by Mark Boda. Before going into his heartbeat framework, he reviews four major approaches to the OT:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline" (Jeremy M. Kimble)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline (40 Questions & Answers Series)
AUTHOR: Jeremy M. Kimble
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (272 pages).

What is the purpose of Church membership? Is it enough to just attend Church? Why should anyone bother about some official papers just to be a member? Biblically, we are already members of the Church of God, so why even mention Church membership? What about Church discipline? This book covers these topics in a Q&A manner, giving a broad range of perspectives and implications. It is divided into three categories of questions: Theological; Ministry; and Practical. The author's conviction of Church membership is this: Church membership and discipline is critical to the life of a Christian. Membership is about community and responsibility. Discipline is about authority and accountability. Kimble provides three basic reasons for Church membership:
  1. The Perseverance of the Saints is about community development
  2. The Church is the invisible spiritual community made visible
  3. The Church is a people in covenant with God to one another.
He also gives three reasons for Church Discipline:
  1. It's instructed by Scripture
  2. It is biblical love
  3. It facilitates the perseverance of the saints.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"ABCs of the Christian Life" (G.K. Chesterton)

TITLE: ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox
AUTHOR: G.K. Chesterton (Foreword by Peter Kreeft)
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2017, (256 pages).

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, otherwise known as G.K. Chesterton is perhaps one of the wittiest and insightful authors I have ever known. Immensely quotable, he is a master with words. He uses ordinary words that can nuance the different meanings in a sentence. With theological insight and literary prowess, Chesterton's gift of writing is showcased in this book of selected 26 words that describe the Christian life. Using the number of English alphabets as a guide, each letter or phrase corresponds to a key Chesterton wit; a historical thought; a teaching moment; a recollection; or simply a random thought. Some of the language used have also been updated for modern readers. Gleaned from his books, articles, and many published materials, the words are very much Chesterton's, the selection the publisher's. The interests are wide-ranging. There are topics on spirituality such as Asceticism; Apologetics as in Orthodoxy; historical figures in St Thomas and St Joan; reflections on literature by Charles Dickens; comparative religions; and matters for daily living. Bethlehem is a reflection on Christmas. The chapter on "Suicidal Living" is an interesting one. Instead of some predictable essay about some problem-solving approach to the issue of suicide, Chesterton pokes deep into the human psyche, wasted virtues, loose vices gone mad, and surprisingly, humility. It is humility in the wrong place. Whether it is wrong ambition or misguided thinking that leads one toward suicide. There is that chapter on Queen Victoria, the model of "political unselfishness" who shows us that restraint is power in action. The letter X is represented strangely by the word "Sex." Chesterton reminds us that it must not be allowed to be a tyrant. On his own faith, "Catholicism," he insists that it is not a Church sect but a "ecclesia," a way of thinking. A nice thing about Chesterton's writings is that even as he dives deep into some philosophical thought, he would come up with a summary statement like a swimmer coming up for breath in a long distance swim.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"God Among Sages" (Kenneth Richard Samples)

TITLE: God among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader
AUTHOR: Kenneth Richard Samples
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (288 pages).

Who is Jesus? Is he simply another religious leader like those of the other major religions of the world? Who does he claim he is? Is he God? This book sets out the facts and compares the various philosophies, religions, worldviews in this world of pluralistic thinking and beliefs. Author Kenneth Richard Samples asserts that Jesus is matchless throughout history in terms of his self-understanding; his identity; his way of life and consistency in teaching. Part One essentially deals with what Jesus talks about himself. Part Two deals with the lives and accomplishments of four major religions and then each is compared with Jesus. The four major religious leaders are Krishna (Hinduism); Buddha (Buddhism); Confucius (Confucionism); and Muhammad (Islam). Part Three goes beyond these four religions to cover a bigger sphere of the world's perspective on Jesus. This includes the different types of pluralistic beliefs; tolerance/intolerance; inclusivism/exclusivism; and many more. Simply put, this book is about understanding who the Person if Jesus is both to Christians, other religions, and the world at large. Though not all perspectives are covered, the selected ones represent a large proportion of the world.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"The Bible from 30,000 Feet" (Skip Heitzig)

TITLE: The Bible from 30,000 Feet: Soaring Through the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation
AUTHOR: Skip Heitzig
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017, (640 pages).

The Bible is the world's bestselling book. It has been read and revered through the centuries. Instead of multiple books of disconnected stories, there is a general narrative from Genesis to Revelation. Trained Bible scholars will be able to do many connections from the Old Testament to the New Testament. For the rest of us, we have to rely on teachers to guide us. Author Skip Heitzig is one such teacher. Sharing his wealth of knowledge about the Bible, this book is a bird's eye view of the whole thrust of Scripture. It is free from difficult terminology or technical details. Heitzig makes the learning interesting by using the metaphor of a plane. He begins with a flight plan where the facts are first laid out. He gives short notes on who the author(s) was, when it was written, landmarks of the expedition, and an itinerary or outline of the chapter. Along with this initial flight plan is an overview of the gospel's relevance to that particular book and some historical background.

The "in-flight" segment is the main part of the book where it becomes a mini-commentary. Heitzig describes the key characters; main events; significant stories; major themes; concise messages; and practical examples for modern readers. The chapters appear like mini-sermons that double up as an overview of the Bible book. The strengths of this book include:

  • Ease of understanding with a creative metaphor
  • Modern use of language
  • Big Picture Overview to help readers keep to the main message
  • Stirs up imagination about how we can design our own flight plans
  • Convenient reference book 

Friday, June 30, 2017

"One Dominion" (Paul Richardson & Bob Beasley)

TITLE: One Dominion, Celebrating Canada
AUTHOR: Paul Richardson & Bob Beasley
PUBLISHER: Grimsby, Ontario: Bible League Canada, 2017, (96 pages).

This year is a special year. It is the 150th year of the confederation of Canada, a nation that began with just four provinces, but now comprises ten provinces and three territories. It is also the second largest country in the world by land mass. Widely recognized by many to be one of the best places in the world to live in, the country boasts of many strengths. It is an economic power, a member of the G7 (now G8). It also has a strong banking system; is a reliable trading partner; one of the best education systems in the world; a leading advocate for human rights; resource rich, and proud multicultural nation. In 1867, the Dominion of Canada was formed with Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. By 1949, Newfoundland became the tenth province to become the Canada we have today. Canada only became a fully independent nation from Britain in 1982. To celebrate this momentous event, Bible League Canada and Graf-Martin Communications have come together to publish this special book.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"A Brief History of Sunday" (Justo L. González)

TITLE: A Brief History of Sunday: From the New Testament to the New Creation
AUTHOR: Justo L. González
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2017, (176 pages).

He has written about the history of the Church. He has also written about the way we interpret history, how history is essentially being re-written through re-interpretation. Now, the renowned historian has decided to focus on the topic of Sunday. He differentiates it from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) or the way the Seventh Day Adventists treat Sundays. There is no historical warrant to call Sunday as the Sabbath Day. Simply put, author and professor Justo L. González prefers to call it a "gift." Covering the periods from the first century to the modern practice of Sundays, the author painstakingly avoids describing the positions of either for or against Sabbatarianism, the practice of justifying Sundays as Sabbath days. For that, he points us to books by Samuele Bacchiocchi (for) and Willy Rordorf (against), which are formidable resources that argue for their respective positions. This book is about the history of this seventh day, also known as the Lord's Day in Christian circles. It is not about the Sabbath. Neither is it about the rituals of religious activities. Optimistically, González sees Sunday as pointing us to the "eighth day," the time in the future where we will rest, see, love, and praise.


Monday, June 26, 2017

"When Your Church Feels Stuck" (Chris Sonksen)

TITLE: When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer
AUTHOR: Chris Sonksen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (193 pages).

Who has never felt stuck from time to time? Ever felt like the Church has become somewhat stagnant? Even the most vibrant churches encounter periods of staleness. For churches that attempt to do everything, they enter into fatigue. After a period of trying to please everybody, one realizes that it is an exercise that is futile. Those who does anything and constantly keeping up with the church joneses will also experience dryness at some point. There is only so much that can imitate. Those who never tried to do anything will also feel stuck in indifference and lack of progress. Truth is, we all need to discover and re-discover our calling especially during such moments. From church planting to church revival programs, churches throughout history have grappled with the issue of growth and renewal. Perhaps, a good way to get unstuck is to begin by asking some hard and honest questions like what author and pastor Chris Sonksen had done. We need to reconsider what talents God has given us. We must stop making excuses and to embark on a journey of faith. Sonksen also maps out the six phases of church life. Phase One is about "Launch" where a new Church or ministry begins. It can be a Church plant; a new ministry initiative; or a new Church altogether. Money and resources are core requirements. Phase Two is "Utopia" where both money and resources are increasing, adding to the zest and vitality of doing church. Growth is rapid. Phase Three is "Whirlwind" where the numbers are increasing and the structures are gradually taking shape. More money, processes, and structures are formed. Phase Four is "Increase" where the mission and vision of the Church need greater clarity. Phase Five is "Merry-Go-Round" where activities are many but progress is few and far between. There is a certain sense of being stuck in mundane activities. Here, programs have overtaken processes. Phase Six is "Slow Death" in which the Church is in decline slowly but surely. Each stage comes with a checklist to evaluate oneself. Some of the more challenging stages would have more diagnostic statements. I think Sonksen is spot on in helping us see where we are first before we jump headlong into paths forward. Without a clear sense of our identity and phase of life, it would be foolhardy and hasty to strategize what we need to do. In fact, where and who we are will determine how we answer the seven questions below. The seven questions are:

  1. Mission: "What do we do?"
  2. Strategy: "How do we get it done?"
  3. Values: "What are the guiding principles we live by?"
  4. Metrics: "How do we measure a win?"
  5. Team Alignment: "Do we have the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction?"
  6. Culture: "How do we change the culture of our Church?"
  7. Services: "How do we match what we say is important and what we really do?"
These seven questions form the basis of this book that essentially tries to help us move out of our comfort zones or stuck places. This is where the fun begins, There are many practical exercises that Church leaders and members can do as a group. They could adopt the SWOT analysis to discover their sense of mission. The triangles of purpose-led; process-driven; and programs help us to plan our strategies. The values of what it means to do Church are helpful to paint a picture of what we stand for. Creating a new scorecard is something special for all churches to do. I would encourage that each Church do the same and not imitate others. The chapter on teamwork is valuable as it reminds us that Church needs to be as a team. I like the shaping culture which highlights how stories we tell; heroes we make; and things we celebrate; really define us. The last question about services pits tradition against transformation. I suppose the author means "traditionalism" which is different from "tradition" as described by Jaroslav Pelikan's famous words: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.

I'm sure Sonksen is merely using the popular disdain of the word "tradition." That said, this book has many fine practical points, especially on the checklists and guided steps to evaluate oneself and one's church. It would be profitable for leaders and concerned members of any Church to do a periodic review of one's Church, programs, and most importantly, their mission and vision. All churches need to sense what God is saying to them at any one point. This book is a great impetus to enable churches not only to become unstuck but to get back on track to God's Work and Word. I recommend this book for leaders and believers who want their Church not only to grow but to freshen up.

Chris Sonksen is pastor of South Hills Church, a multi-state, multi-site based in Southern California. He is also  and founder of Church Boom, a coaching platform to equip and enable leaders in ministry.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Becoming Curious" (Casey Tygrett)

TITLE: Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions
AUTHOR: Casey Tygrett
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

An elderly once said: "The older I get, I realize I don't have more answers. I have more questions." As our world increasingly gets more complex, questions have become the norm. Whether it is new technology or novel ways to doing the same thing, we need to keep learning, especially when more individuals are empowered to be creative and innovative. There are many different purposes of questions. The main use in this book is about cultivating and practicing the gift of curiosity. It is learning to comb the mass array of choices and information glut to pinpoint the necessary from the rest. Questions can sharpen our focus. It helps us ponder whether the status quo is worth preserving or not. These are "curious questions." Following that, author Casey Tygrett leads us through various ways in which we can put into practice such "curious questions"; what they are; how they look like; when to use them; and how it affects relationships; how it introduces tension especially when dealing with areas in our lives we are afraid to ask. Some tips for asking good questions include:
  • Being specific
  • Being clear about different uses of imperative and invitation statements
  • Being repetitive using different words and phrases
  • Being bold about uncertainly
  • Being humble
  • Practicing "quaestio divina" or divine questioning
  • ...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Worn Out by Obedience" (Ron Moore)

TITLE: Worn Out by Obedience: Recovering from Spiritual Fatigue
AUTHOR: Ron Moore
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (208 pages).

There is a difference between man and machine. One does repetitive work well but not the other. There is also one similarity: Both suffer from fatigue over time, albeit in different ways. In fact, while doing good works is noble and great, without rest and renewal, people do get jaded. It is only human. For Christians, it is a calling to do good and to live out the purposes of God as stated in Ephesians 2:10. Perhaps, the key is not in non-stop discharging of ourselves but a healthy rhythm of rest, work, and play. This rhythm is not some cyclical pattern that goes nowhere. It has to be guided toward growth in Christ. That's the key thesis in this book. In other words, the main reason why people are worn out is simply because they have gotten further from the Source of all strength and good deeds: God. For author Ron Moore, this book began as a series of sermons preached at his Church for over 25 years. He calls it "being in Ziglag," a phrase that captures the essence of being lonely and worn out in the wilderness of work. Moreover, a majority of Christians have stalled in their spiritual walk at some point in their lives. How do we deal with it? How can we prepare for it when it comes?


Monday, June 19, 2017

"The Courage to be Protestant" (David F. Wells)

TITLE: The Courage to Be Protestant: Reformation Faith in Today's World
AUTHOR: David F. Wells
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017, (240 pages).

The year 2017 is a milestone year for the Protestant movement. Since that momentous 95 theses nailed at the doors of Wittenburg, there has been unprecedented offshoots of Protestantism. Many modern denominations, independents, and non-denominational expressions had their roots in Luther's Reformation. Whether one is an Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, Evangelical-Free, Methodist, etc, it is important to remember the reasons for the 14th Century reformation movement. One of the main challenges to the Church is the impact of culture, something that the author David Wells constantly warns us about. He asserts that the agenda of the Church must always come from the Word of God. Unfortunately, the danger for the modern Church is that they had allowed culture to dictate the agenda. He calls it "sola cultura." He writes:
"In the rhythms of marketing, and the pandering to generational tastes, this agenda is often being lost. The agenda, in fact, is coming from the culture, from its consumers, from the world. In these churches it is sola cultura, not sola Scriptura. Unless evangelicals recover their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture and their willingness as a result to be different from their culture, their claim that Scripture alone is authoritative will remain empty, and their character will soon be lost."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"When Parenting Isn't Perfect" (Jim Daly with Paul Asay)

TITLE: When Parenting Isn't Perfect
AUTHOR: Jim Daly with Paul Asay
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017, (224 pages).

What is a "normal family?" Is it the one painted by TV shows like the Brady Bunch or My Three Sons? Can a family ever be perfect? We have often asked about why families are not as perfect as they seem, regardless of how hard we try. What if we abandon the search for "why" and focus on "how" to bring about a better family instead of a perfect one? This is where this book comes in. The promise in this book is about helping us deal with "truth and reality" in a manner that embraces our blessings and to empathize with other families struggling to do the same. Imperfection is a key recognition here. Those of us who fail to recognize this will tend to project expectations of perfection onto others. The question "How good is good enough?" is a good diagnostic. The author shares the story of Casey and Doug who despite the best Christian upbringing still ended up getting pregnant outside of marriage. Do we practice "resume virtues" (appreciating good throughout life) or "eulogy virtues" (appreciating good after death). If we emphasize character above achievement, we would most likely practice more of the former. We will never be good enough, so let us not put all our eggs of hope into the basket of earthly achievements. So what do we do when parenting isn't perfect?


Friday, June 9, 2017

"Asking the Right Questions" (Matthew S. Harmon)

TITLE: Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible
AUTHOR: Matthew S. Harmon
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017, (144 pages).

While most believers do not dispute the importance of the Bible, many however are uncomfortable about studying the Bible for themselves. Some may think they lack certain theological training. Others may claim to be mere believers who lack guidance. Still there are many who may have been Christians for a long time but for various reasons, are unable to have a personal Bible breakthrough. I have met individuals who had faithfully attended Church for years but still find themselves inadequate in leading a Bible study. Is it for lack of knowledge, lack of courage, or both? Still, there are people who tried to lead but the whole gesture seemed like a case of the blind leading the blind. The Bible is indeed a big book and can be quite intimidating, especially for younger believers. This is where this book comes in. Author and Professor Matt Harmon aims to do the following:
  • How do we figure out the big picture and the important ideas in the passages we read?
  • What is the context of the Bible?
  • What do we look for?
  • What is the Bible all about?
  • How do we ask questions of the Bible?
  • Specifically, what are the four simple questions to help us apply God's Word into our lives?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"The Old Testament is Dying" (Brent A. Strawn)

TITLE: The Old Testament Is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic)
AUTHOR: Brent A. Strawn
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (336 pages).

It all began at a Bible class the author was teaching. When asked about Old Testament references to Jesus' words, his class responded with a blank. People might have claimed to believe the Old Testament as canonical scriptures. Unfortunately, their lack of knowledge and interest are disconcerting. For some, they would even say that "Old Testament is dead." Author Brent Strawn lists four 'hard data' reasons why it is not dead but dying. First, many are increasingly religious, yet religiously illiterate. Using a Pew Research Center data, evangelicals and mainline Christians score poorly in their religious knowledge. They are not even familiar with the big stories or details of fundamental truths of the Bible or their historic faith. A majority (over 80%) do not even know about the Reformation! This is disconcerting because such basic things are not even recalled correctly. Not only that, in a secular age where it is becoming unpopular to talk about religion in public circles, even religious people hardly talk about their faith. The second concern is about sermons. Based on collections of best sermons, there is a trend that shows us most preaching focus on the New Testament (four out of five). Not only that, whatever Old Testament texts quoted are not dealt in much detail relative to the New Testament passages. Among Old Testament passages, most popular are the Psalms, Genesis, and Isaiah. There is a general preference for familiar passages too. It comes as no surprise that unfamiliar passages from the Old Testament are taken up by professors or scholars of Old Testament, so-called experts. Strawn has high praise for preachers like Walter Brueggemann who preaches often and brings to life OT passages. Third, the use of hymnody based on Psalms may look encouraging at first. On closer look, the way many hymns had been phrased is a misrepresentation of what the psalms mean in their original contexts. Some writers pick and choose the types of Psalms used and are not familiar with what the Psalms actually mean when taken as a whole. According to research from W. Sibley Towner, contemporary use of the Psalms in hymns tend to be selective and functional. It is more about what works rather than what the Psalms are saying to us today. Being selective of some also means being neglectful of others. Indeed, it is worrying when man tries to take God's Word and manipulates it to mean more of what man wants rather than what God means. Misrepresentation leads to misinterpretation, which in turn will lead to misapplication. Fourth, Strawn examines the Revised Common Lectionary, the supposedly last bastion of hope for a more even coverage of both the Old and New Testaments. He also finds several things wanting and imbalanced in what is supposed to be a balanced work. Some readings are easily omitted by users. Certain weeks are focused on New Testament readings and preachers often for various reasons choose New Testament passages from the lectionary.