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Friday, August 28, 2015

"The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption" (Brandon D. Crowe)

TITLE: The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption: Wisdom from James, Peter, John, and Jude
AUTHOR: Brandon D. Crowe
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2015, (240 pages).

Many people study the New Testament more than the Old Testament. They regularly go through the gospels. They like the theological depth in the Pauline epistles. They appreciate the story of the Early Church in Acts. They even talk a lot about the end times in Revelation. Relatively speaking, the general epistles are not studied as much. Sometimes called the "catholic epistles," these letters are noted for being addressed to a general audience rather than a specific one like Paul to the Romans, Corinthians, or Ephesians. Four apostles wrote the seven general epistles. Each of them carry common themes with unique emphases. According to Brandon Crowe, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), the General Epistles are more relevant to us today than most of us would have thought. It calls us toward holiness. It urges us to hold fast to the importance of doctrine. It affirms the moral behaviour so essential in a world that seems to throw the baby of morality out with the bathwater of undesirable religion. The General Epistles confront challenges head on without lengthy treatises. Crowe claims that there are difficult parts of the letters that make it particularly difficult to study. James's teachings on works and faith created lots of disagreements among theologians on whether the letter ought to be in the canon or not. 1 Peter 3:19-20 contains a mysterious revelation of Christ preaching to the spirits in prison. John points out the strange argument that if we are in Christ, we cannot sin. How is it that we will not sin? Another common theme is salvation and redemption in Christ.  If the gospel is distorted, redemption is also distorted. That is why many of these letters attack the heresies and false prophets. Using an "indicative-imperative" structure to explain the relevance of these letters, Crowe states simply that the "indicative" deals with the saving work of Christ while the "imperative" details what we need to do as a result of being redeemed. More importantly, the indicative must come first, followed by the imperative. Moreover, both the indicative and the imperative must be held together, just like theory and practice must work together. The way the author deals with each of the General Epistles is interesting. Crowe uses the alliterative terms: Scallywags, Scoffers, and Schisms to organize the book.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Encountering God in the Tyrannical Texts" (Frances Taylor Gench)

TITLE: Encountering God in Tyrannical Texts: Reflections on Paul, Women, and the Authority of Scripture
AUTHOR: Frances Taylor Gerich
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (212 pages).

The Bible is Truth. The Truth shall set us free. If that is so, why are there still passages in the Bible that appear to "oppress" or create controversies? Why is it that while there are passages on love, and the equal treatment of one another, there are also passages that seem to prefer one gender over the other, especially on the subject of women? Called "tyrannical texts," there are passages that stump and confuse rather than liberate and clarify, asserts author Frances Taylor Gench. As a Herbert Worth and Annie H. Jackson Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Gench is particularly interested in the gospels, women in the biblical world, and interpretation of the ancient texts with an awareness of the contexts of today. The following key questions sum up her purpose for writing this book.
  1. How can one honour the authority of Scripture without rejecting the teachings in the "tyrannical texts?"
  2. What kind of alternative interpretations can one make?
  3. How can the ancient Scriptures bring us closer toward an encounter with God?

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Prayers for New Brides" (Jennifer O. White)

TITLE: Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God's Armor After the Wedding Dress
AUTHOR: Jennifer O. White
PUBLISHER: Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 2014, (240 pages).

The fairy tales say it all. Many of them conclude with the handsome prince marrying the beautiful princess, and that famous phrase: "And they live happily ever after." Fact or fiction? Fiction of course, one may say. Why? Just look at the divorce statistics and a deteriorating respect for the marriage institution. There are threats not only to the institution of marriage but also to those already married, or contemplating getting married. How do we deal with the fears of marital conflicts? What are the pitfalls to be aware of? What about the prevention of divorces? What if couples can begin strong and their marriages remain intact throughout? Instead of waiting for the threats to come, this book arms readers, in particular brides, with the weapons of prayer, to fight all kinds of obstacles to a healthy marriage. Right from the start, author and speaker, Jennifer White launches with a call to battle. Marriage is not for sissies. It is for warriors in prayer. It is love on bended knees to God. It is also a book written with painful experiences. The author's first marriage collapsed. In wanting to protect her second marriage, she arms herself to the teeth with prayer, convinced that marriage is a battle worth fighting for. Learning from her failed first marriage, she enters her second with a determination not to let down her guard. The naiveness of Adam and Eve could have been avoided if they had not underestimated the power of temptation.

The book is written in two parts. The first part is before the wedding and the second part is after the wedding. In Part One, we read of the nine steps to prepare for battle and to be ready to defend the marriage. First, recognize the significance of marriage as not something "ever after" but earnestly sought after. It is that determination to honour God whatever it takes to elevate God's Name and Glory. Second, we are loved for who we are, not what we touch ourselves up to be. Third, every marriage has an enemy: the tempter, the deceiver, the destroyer. See the bigger picture so as not to fall prey to the devil. Fourth, begin with victory and continue with that spiritual stance in Christ. Let God be the Provider and the Protector. Fifth, fight for the prize of truth. Use the spiritual weapons provided by God. Sixth, expose the enemy with the help of the Word of God. Seventh, remember that God fights for us. Eighth, plan for the victory celebration when entering the wedding day. Be determined to let the faith in Christ lead the way. Ninth, show up as a soldier for Christ ready to defend the marriage and to attack the evil one. Then, like preparing the dress, White leads us through the Armour of God passage to dress ourselves in preparing for battle. Together with the posture of courage and faith, supplemented by prayer, we will be ready.

Part Two prepares for victory via basic training, partnering with God, and guarding the marriage. White shows readers the basics of what it means to be a "forever bride."  She provides many tips on how to be trained to honour the marriage and spouse; to see the marriage relationship from the eyes of God. It means learning to respect the husband. She shows us how to partner with God to defend with love for the husband and becoming the best spouse possible. Other aspects of protecting the marriage include being constantly nourished in the Word of God; being peaceable at home; learning emotional truths of each other; learning to pray; and many more. Toward the end, there is a chapter on abuse in marriage, where White gives some advice on what to do about it.

Written by a wife for women, this collection of prayers help brides arm their marriages with prayer. Honestly, there is a strong overture of warfare and aggressive battle language that emanates throughout the book. It makes one wonder if it has been overdone. Marriage is precious and delicate. I suspect the intensity of the language of warfare is tied to the author's determination to learn from the missteps of her first marriage and apply the lessons to her second. While the descriptions in each chapter may be too overwhelming in terms of fighting and battling, I find the "prayer prompts" particularly helpful. That explains the title of the book. The prayers are the highlights, not the battle cries. For in prayer, we let God do the fighting for us, while we ready ourselves to respond to the promptings of God. The book cover is captivating as it summarizes in one picture what the book is about: Defending our marriages, in particularly, for the wife to declare her determination to protect the marriage with the tools as shown in Scripture.

The danger for many of us is that we are not urgent enough about protecting our marriages. We may not believe in fairy-tale endings, but our lack of attention to the vulnerability of marriages be become our Achilles's heel. With this book, we are reminded once again that marriage is not to be taken for granted. If this book can stir a desire to protect and to be ready to defend our marriages against the temptations of evil, it would have worth every cent.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

This book is provided to me courtesy of New Leaf Press and Cross-Focused-Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Understanding Prophecy" (Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle)

TITLE: Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach
AUTHOR: Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (272 pages).

What is prophecy? Is it only something limited to the biblical prophets? Do prophets still exist today? What do we make of the unconditional, conditional, and unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible? How do we understand prophecy in the first place? In this book, two authors, one holding a Premillennial disposition and another an Amillennial perspective come together to describe the common themes in interpreting biblical prophecy. At the same time, their diverse background allows them to interact constructively without necessarily compromise their respective theological stands. Alan Bandy is Professor of New Testament at Oklahoman Baptist University while Benjamin Merkle is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Arranged in three parts, the book covers the basics and keys of understanding biblical prophecy (Part 1); followed by an application on Old Testament prophecies (Part 2); and the same for the New Testament (Part 3).  Closely related to prophecy is the word "eschatology" which is often perceived as foretelling the future. Readers will learn how the word can be nuanced in at least seven ways: Individual; Historical; Consistent; Realized; Existential; Comprehensive; and Teleological. For the authors, they use "eschatology" as an all-encompassing term to denote the "cosmic, spiritual, and historical realities" fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. Prophecy needs to be understood within the confines of the Bible and the redemptive narrative. It is to be understood in terms of Gospel-Centric and Christo-Centric.  Most important is the need to read prophecy with "contextual sensitivity to the history, literature, and theology of an individual writer, book, and passage." This is then interpreted in line with the larger biblical narrative. Prophecy is also understood as "progressive revelation" where certain things were partially revealed to the people in the old Testament, and fully realized in the future. One use is to see the New Testament as fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Readers are cautioned not to use the Bible as proof texts of some precise prediction, just like the Left Behind series of books and film. Others avoid prophecy totally and lose sight of the role of prophecy altogether. With a biblical, theological, and christological approach, we will be able to approach biblical prophecies with expectancy and much encouragement of God's purpose for us.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Radical Prayer" (Manny Mill)

TITLE: Radical Prayer: The Power of Being Bold and Persistent
AUTHOR: Manny Mill
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (192 pages).

From Prayer Readers to Prayer Radicals. This is what this book is about. It is not just prayer per se that makes it powerful. It is about God. Prayer is everything about God. Such a focus beyond ourselves, a longing for the Divine, and unreserved desiring after God is the heart of radical prayer. Author Manny Mills goes a step further by saying that radical praying fulfills "the Great Commandment and, in doing so, equips and unleashes individual believers like you and me to slavishly know and serve God as His loving witnesses to this lost world." The author is Manny Mill, CEO of Koinonia House, who graduated from Wheaton College and works behind prison walls both inside and outside the US.

Mill starts at the beginning that we need to experience a crisis of ministry before we can build a conviction in prayer. A prayerless preacher is essentially a self-dependent person. Without prayer, one will be spiritually disqualified from preaching. Prayer is not about asking for things whenever we have a need. It is a relationship that we cherish and long after God more and more. Once we are convicted about prayer, we are ready for radical change. Helped by the prayer writings of E.M. Bounds, Mill gets a renewed personal application of sola scripture as the basis of all prayer. Prayer must become our mother tongue, our default language, and our natural behaviour. He begins to work on removing the distractions to prayer. His attempts at prayer walking trigger some concern about his health. He learns about three roadblocks to prayer:
  1. Fear of Sins exposed
  2. Fear of Pain
  3. Fear of Losing Control

Monday, August 17, 2015

"2 Corinthians" (George H. Guthrie)

TITLE: 2 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
AUTHOR: George H. Guthrie
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (736 pages).

Exegetical commentaries are one of the best kinds of Bible commentaries ever published. While commentaries in general will have lots of contextual descriptions and insightful observations of the text, being exegetical means learning to journey through the Scriptures with the commentator as a wise and learned guide. Designed and written with the pastor and preacher in mind, such commentaries help to nuance the different meanings of the words used by the ancient writers. As the meaning of the individual words are being teased out, such commentaries help readers to remember the sense of the big picture. Without compromising on traditional viewpoints, this new commentary series supplies additional insights from the latest research and scholarship available. George H. Guthrie, Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson Tennessee mentions three reasons for writing this commentary. The first is a personal one in which he studies Second Corinthians for his own "growth, understanding, and edification." In doing so, he invites readers to learn with him. True to his calling as a teacher, attempting to teach must be matched by learning. Attempting to nuance the knowledge must be matched by grappling with the text. Attempting to exegete well must be matched by personal work as well as wide scholarly references. The second reason is a conviction that the way to learn the text is continually, adopting a "comma" disposition instead of a "full-stop." The Bible is a living Word and that means the Bible had not only spoken to many in the past, it speaks to us in the present, and will also speak to others in the future. The past four decades had seen a flurry of research and scholarship on the second letter to the Corinthians. Despite the rich number of resources, it is believed that the Biblical text will never be fully exhausted. Our contexts change. Our interpretation paradigms change. Our cultural situations change. Even our understanding of various commentaries and works done can change. Third, Guthrie believes that 2 Corinthians is critical for the Church today because the issues discussed have so much relevance for the Church. Those of us concerned about Church ministry will benefit greatly through the study of 2 Corinthians. This commentary aids the process. The book is pastoral in nature, relevant to ministry, and deeply personal in our walk with God. With discouragement and sometimes despair dragging down workers in churches, this Pauline epistle has lots of encouragement and renders immense hope for all. Guthrie observes:
"At times and places in the twenty-first century, we the church are wanderers, false teachers, faithful or faithless sufferers, fellow-workers with Paul, disillusioned ministers or congregations, opponents of the true gospel, polished and competitive and powerful public speakers, or powerless leaders who long for status and popularity and social significance like a dehydrated, dying person longs for water. Especially in the American church, we too easily drift into ruts of power, posturing, position, and presentation as the pragmatic backbone of ministerial effectiveness, and 2 Corinthians offers a sobering, loud, cautionary voice against such an approach to ministry."

Friday, August 14, 2015

"The Emotionally Healthy Leader" (Peter Scazzero)

TITLE: The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World
AUTHOR: Peter Scazzero
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (336 pages).

The author of the popular "Emotionally Healthy Church" has come up with another book on the same themes of healthy emotions that lead to healthy Christian lives. This time, instead of dealing with Church-related matters, he targets the leader's inner and outer lives. Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church, based in Queens, New York. A popular speaker, he has influenced many with his "Emotionally Healthy" series of books. This book is no different. He begins with a personal retelling of his own journey to unhealthy leadership. Arranged in four dramatic conversions, he talks about how he first became a zealous Christian after being touched by God in his teens. He went for theological training and learned Spanish. He started his own Church called New Life Fellowship Church and was soon busy with the daily grind of Church work, developing leaders and planting churches. For all the external successes, he was ignoring his internal recesses of the heart. His second conversion is about his awareness of the need to address his emotional health more seriously. He wondered about the shape of things, whether it is ok for others to be cared for spiritually while his own spirituality was suffering. The crisis came to a hilt when his own wife, Geri quit the Church. Thankfully, he recovered only to be faced with a third conversion: "From busy activity to Slowed-Down Spirituality." Influenced by the teachings and writings of the Monastic movement, he began to work more with contemplative spirituality, to let God work him from the inside out. One significant result of that conversion was his publishing of the bestselling book, "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality." Learning about spirituality and teaching about it is one thing. Connecting them all with one's life is totally another. As a result, he skimmed through many essential duties instead of paying adequate attention to them. He needed a fourth conversion: "From Skimming to Integrity in Leadership."  This book is a result of this fourth conversion. The key motive in this book is to change the world with the gospel, not through the many activities and strategies to be employed, but with a transformation of the inner self. Something must happen first inside in order to be fruitful and faithful outside. The first part of the book deals with the Inner Life while Part Two deals with the Outer Life.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Anything" (Jennie Allen)

TITLE: Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul
AUTHOR: Jennie Allen
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2015, (240 pages).

We are all familiar with prayers and prayer requests. Church leaders often ask members what they can pray for. Members in various stations of need will share about their particular situations of how God can help them. As a Christian community, it is common to minister to one another regularly in care and in prayer for their particular needs in mind. We pray earnestly, faithfully, and in Jesus' Name. We pray and ask that God's will be done. What if we pray about something that is not specifically about what we or our loved ones want, but about "anything" that God wants? Scary isn't it? This is the key premise of this book, to learn to pray God's will be done above all of our needs. Putting it another way, we ask for God's will be done regardless of our specific needs. It is a holy surrender. This is the kind of prayer that the author seeks to teach.

Jennie Allen is author, speaker, retreat leader, and an inspirational teacher passionate about sharing God with believers especially women. She is convinced that the way to freedom in God is total surrender. She holds a Masters in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and lives with her husband and four children in Texas.


Monday, August 10, 2015

"Twenty Things We'd Tell Our Twentysomething Selves" (Kelli and Peter Worrall)

TITLE: 20 Things We'd Tell Our Twentysomething Selves
AUTHOR: Kelli and Peter Worrall
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

It used to be children following after their parents' footsteps. Not anymore. With wide options and plenty of choices, teenagers have a lot more opportunities to pursue other interests, careers, and lifestyle choices in our modern world. This "quarterlife crisis" can also cause the twentysomethings to feel various kinds of pressure and stress arising from career options and nagging questions of what to do with one's life. The central question in this book written by two Moody Bible school professors is: How do we make wise choices? Not making a choice is already a choice. Reflecting on their own growing up years, the authors realized from hindsight that in many of their life choices, they had left God out of the picture. When asked about what is the most important lesson they had learned, instead of coming up with one, they provided us with 20! Before that, the authors opened up their lives for readers. After a fascinating romance and marriage, their lives suffered many setbacks. Three years into their marriage, Peter's dad was diagnosed with cancer at 56 years old. Kelli's parents suffered from cerebral palsy which required lots of care. Kelli herself also suffered from two miscarriages. Their adoption process also did not go well. Wait time grew from two years to six. They lost $3000 to someone who ran away with the money. The blows kept coming. Both Kelli and Peter endured long periods of the dark valley which taught them many precious lessons. In twenty brief chapters, they list down the key lesson followed by an explanation why.

Friday, August 7, 2015

"Joy and Tears" (Gerald W. Peterman)

TITLE: Joy and Tears: The Emotional Life of the Christian
AUTHOR: Gerald W. Peterman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (208 pages).

Emotions play a huge role in our daily lives. While feelings are natural part of being human, how much should we allow them to affect us? Is it wrong to let our feelings determine what we do? Should we feel guilty about having such emotions in the first place? Are emotions something to be suppressed like a liability or to be received as a gift? The reality is, our culture tends to give greater weight to objective thinking instead of subjective feelings. More importantly, the Bible asserts the importance of both head and heart. Gerald Peterman, Professor of New Testament studies at Moody Bible Institute is a self-confessed recovering stoic, who grew up thinking that the intellect is more important than the emotion. Such an attitude led to suspicions of emotions. This book journeys his shift toward a more balanced and affirmative use of both mental and emotional faculties.

Peterman points out some of the way our culture had downplayed the role of emotions. In matters of faith, it is generally accepted that faith is more about thinking and thoughts. In the hymns we sing, there seems to be a general tendency toward escapism such as Joseph Scriven's "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" where weak emotions are to be rejected. The words "we should never be discouraged" seem to put discouragement as a bad emotion to be avoided. Likewise, Horatio Spafford's "It is Well With My Soul" tries to numb emotions like "whatever my lot" to force a wellness in the heart. In our thinking about love, we tend to see love more in terms of what we do rather than what we feel. This goes against the teaching of Scripture that does not deny emotions but embrace them. Just check out the Psalms.