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Thursday, October 20, 2016

"The Rewired Brain" (Dr Ski Chilton)

TITLE: The ReWired Brain: Free Yourself of Negative Behaviors and Release Your Best Self
AUTHOR: Dr Ski Chilton (with Dr Margaret Rukstalis and A.J. Gregory)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (288 pages).

Many of us have heard about the left brain and right brain distinction when it comes to understanding the brain. Others look to the use of neurological concepts and scientific tests to determine how the brain functions. Some would use the different ways namely: brain, mind, experience, learning, and memory. Still, others would segregate the brain into forebrain, midbrain, and the hindbrain. Then there is the outer brain and the inner brain, and so on. In this book, Dr Ski Chilton, a Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine has come together with an addiction psychiatrist, Dr Margaret Rukstalis, to propose two systems of thought within our brains: a "System 1" and a "System 2" brain.

  • System 1: Limbic and Reptilian systems that deal with human emotions, survival instincts, memory that deals with protection, and base functions like breathing, heartbeat, and main physiological functions of the body. This resides in the inner brain regions.
  • System 2: Neocortex: executive oversight, thinking, planning, visualizing, and decision making that matures around 25 years of age. This resides in the outer brain regions.

The key thesis in this book is that when both systems are balanced and optimal, we will be able to manage our negative behaviors and grow our best selves. The author believes that our brains can be rewired and we can become better people as long as we are conscious of our two systems. Using scientific data and research evidence, readers learn about the way the two systems work; how they interact; how they need each other; and how complex the brain is despite the simplified explanations. It is written in three parts, namely: Reflect; Reframe; and Rewire.

In "Reflect," we are asked to think about how we regularly let our emotions get the better of our decision making. We are reminded about over 25% of the American population having some form of mental illness. Before we can do any change, we need to be first convinced that something is wrong in the first place. We learn the importance of "differentiated parts of the brain" that enable us to maintain some self-control. We learn about the dangers of letting fear dictate our actions. Due to plasticity of brain functioning, both genetics and the environment can play crucial roles in rewiring the brain.

In "Reframe," we learn about what it means to be human; the biblical and the scientific perspectives of human behaviour; and how feelings can render us hopeless and helpless. Chilton also tackles the difficult topic of morality and the roots of what right and wrong means. He believes that morality breeds positive change. Tragedy can be very crippling to one's emotional development. Sharing about his own broken marriage and relationship struggles, he argues for the need to come to terms with our situations and ourselves. Acceptance may very well be the hardest but most necessary stage to arrive at. Apart from that, parenting may very well be the most difficult challenge one would encounter. He applies the System 1 and 2 paradigm to the parenting equation, arguing that parenting by guilt and over-parenting are essentially over-stimulations of System 1 brain functions. A well-differentiated person will be one who knows oneself; able to express appropriate emotions; and manages emotional dysfunctions at a timely and proper manner. He allocates a chapter on sex and intimacy to describe how our brain functions can impact our sexuality and our most intimate relationships. Practiced well, it is a gift. Abuse it and it becomes a liability.

In "Rewire," we have some self-discovery and self-exploratory exercises to stretch our understanding, our learning, and our self-awareness. The question of our own identity helps us to remember our most significant positive and negative moments of our lives. We are challenged to get others to share about their opinions of us. We learn that surrender is a healthy emotion and acknowledgement that we are not always in control. Gradually, we are encouraged to seek forgiveness for our weaknesses, and to find freedom in acceptance.

So What?
The single biggest takeaway for me is how Chilton describes the world of two minds. While admitting that the brain is a complex structure that cannot be hemmed down by any one theory or concept, he argues convincingly that we can still try to understand in broad strokes. These broad strokes cover only a small fraction of the potential of the brain and yet can bring about powerful and beneficial changes. If the brain is changeable, why not change it for the better? Why let ourselves be enslaved by reptilian behavior that can easily unravel our base emotions? Why not learn about positive ways to be a better person?

Each chapter ends with a set of questions for readers to reflect and to discover oneself more. At times, the book does appear to over-simplify aspects of the brain. This is a necessary step because not all of us are neurosurgeons or brain scientists. Neither are we trained to psychoanalyze ourselves. This System 1/2 manner of thinking helps us in ensuring we do not become imbalanced in the use of our brains. Only through practice can we improve and rewire our brains. As relational people, we need others to help us along this journey. Thus, the way forward with regard to practicing the principles of this book is to read it together with someone else. Whether it is one's spouse, friend, or colleague, it has to be done in an environment of trust. I can think of no better place than a community of faith where members are committed to help one another grow and flourish.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Sensitive Preaching to the Sexually Hurting" (Sam Serio)

TITLE: Sensitive Preaching to the Sexually Hurting
AUTHOR: Sam Serio
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016, (208 pages).

It has been said that preachers generally have two tasks in their preaching. They need to speak in a way that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. The Holy Spirit often uses powerful preaching to do wonders and convicts the complacent. With regard to gentle care, encouragement, and comfort, it calls for sensitive preaching. In this book, the focus is on recognizing the presence of hurt and pain in the congregation gathered each week and to work on three stages of preparation:
  1. The Heart of the Preacher
  2. The Message
  3. The Future
First and foremost, it is about the heart of the preacher. This means opening one'e eyes to the reality of hurting and to establish empathy with the people sitting at the pews. No empathy, no connection. No connection, no relevance in the preaching. One key area is sexuality. While it is good to talk about the ideals and the perfection God requires, truth is, many are sexually hurting in many different ways. There are those who felt guilt because of casual sex, abortion, or some past sexual assaults. There are those who had suffered rape, same-sex attraction, and unnatural sexual feelings. There are also victims of abuse and addicts to pornography and prostitution. Most worrying of all, these remain hidden from others, to the point that one often hurts or suffers alone. How can the minister speak into all of these? It begins with realization that this world is far more broken than we think. Author Sam Serio notes that preachers are often preach in a "negligent or negative" way. Instead, they are to open their eyes not only to the harvest but also to the personal "wreckage" for the person(s) sitting at the pews. It is a tough balancing act to convict at times and to comfort at other times. The key question Serio poses is:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Calling in Today's World" (Kathleen A. Cahalan & Douglas J. Schuurman)

TITLE: Calling in Today's World: Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives
EDITORS:  Kathleen A. Cahalan & Douglas J. Schuurman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (238 pages).

What do people in generally think about calling? Is it only something that Christians ask? Surely, the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the secularists in society would have their own perspectives too. In fact, according to the editors of this book, many students and colleagues have been asking the same question: "What do other people think about calling?" or "Is there an equivalent concept in your religion or belief?" So they went forth to ask various individuals whether they can contribute to the overall understanding of what calling means according their faith perspective. They found eight! According to Cahalan and Schuurman, their purpose for this book is to help "build a better, more humane world" by establishing bridges of understanding of one another's beliefs. Apart from that, Christians reading this book would be able to revisit their own understanding of what calling means in their own tradition. They can dispel any notion that calling is merely for the ministry or church related endeavors. They can avoid limiting calling to only supernatural matters, but to be inclusive of all matters. They can look at calling more in terms of freedom of choice rather than some strict "blueprint" we have to adhere to. In a conversational approach, each of the eight contributors are given an opportunity to talk about what calling means.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"Mentor For Life" (Natasha Sistrunk Robinson)

TITLE: Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship
AUTHOR: Natasha Sistrunk Robinson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (272 pages).

Every transformed Christian has had some form of mentoring relationship. They are beneficiaries of mentoring. In fact, one of the biggest weaknesses of the Church is due to the lack of mentoring. One reason is the lack of knowhow. This book is written to address that. All mentoring is intentional. It includes those invitations that we accept or not accept. Mentoring is a trusted relationship. Many biblical examples exist. Mentoring is also closely connected with discipleship which is why Robinson has defined mentoring as "intentional discipleship." The key thesis in this book is that once we embark on such intentional discipleship (aka mentoring), our purpose in life will be gradually made clear. This is even more critical as many live muddled lives. They dichotomize evangelism from discipleship in an already pluralistic culture. They allow worldly culture to influence them instead of the other way round. They let short term gains take priority over long term investments. They might even let the distractions of life de-sensitive them from the reality of two kingdoms: Of God and of others. Forgetting this makes one vulnerable to evil influences.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series" (Multiple contributors)

TITLE: A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C
AUTHOR: Multiple contributors
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (320 pages).

What should I be preaching next week? How do I plan out the sermon series for the year? Should I do a Bible book or should I go topical? These questions often plague preachers all over the world. Sometimes, there is an inspiration toward certain themes of the Bible, or a random toggling between an Old Testament book followed by a New Testament letter. Other times, people just base their choices on pet topics. Enters the use of the lectionary that combines the thematic structures as well as covering the entire Bible over three years. It guides the Church not only in observing the Church seasons of the year, it helps preachers to plan their worship themes. With the lectionary as a common guide, other preachers can easily follow along. That includes guest preachers. In the Foreword, Amy Butler lists reasons for using the lectionary:

  • Preaching is not about the preacher but about truth of God
  • There is no fear in going back to the same texts because the Word of God is infinitely insightful
  • It enables one to connect and communicate with other preachers
  • Using the lectionary helps one avoid preaching on the basis of what people want but on what the Word of God directs
  • There is a consistency in format and structure to bring out the best in seasonal and series-based preaching
  • .... and several more.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

"Return to Justice" (Soong-Chan Rah and Gary VanderPol)

TITLE: Return to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience
AUTHOR: Soong-Chan Rah and Gary VanderPol
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (228 pages).

Some Christians go way out to fight for social justice. Others simply swing to other direction to talk a lot but end up nothing pretty much nothing. Om 1947, the late Carl F. Henry's book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism pretty much sums up the situation, where the general mood is distancing from the world and preserving the Church's fundamental images. Henry's conviction was moot, that the Church must walk the talk. They must engage the world in the manner that lives as salt and light to the world. Against a backdrop of a Church that tends to be apathetic to social justice matters, Henry placed much hope on an up and coming generation called "the evangelicals." Since that call, the evangelicals of then require a new wake up call. This is where this book comes in to highlight not just one but six movements to update, to renew, and to revitalize the evangelical conscience toward social justice and biblical responsibility.

The first is the Power of Personal Story. Rah laments the divorce of social action and evangelism as white churches fled the city to the suburban neighbourhoods. There is a need to re-integrate personal evangelism and social justice. John Perkins is an example of one who had done just that. Perkins has the unique position of growing up as a minority African-American community and also connected to a larger white community. He straddles both sides of the divide and is able to see the needs and nuances of both groups. He grew up without privilege and was able to understand in a very unique way the people who are marginalized in various ways.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"Losing Susan" (Victor Lee Austin)

TITLE: Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away
AUTHOR: Victor Lee Austin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (160 pages).

Losing someone is painful. Watching a loved one deteriorate and suffer is beyond words. Yet, Episcopal Priest Victor Lee Austin had done not only that but to write this book journaling his experience while seeing his wife struggle with brain cancer and its after-effects. It is painful. It is truthful. It is also insightful.

Austin invites us to follow his journey from beginning to end. He shares about how he and his wife met at school, and how her Episcopalian background rubbed with his Presbyterian upbringing. They got to know each other through walking to and from Church. They soon got married, Austin at 22.5 years and Susan at 21 years of age. For fifteen years, they had that beautiful marriage until that fateful day when they discovered Susan's tumor. He shares about his family's levels of faith; that despite the regular issues with the faith of children of clergy, his children Michael and Emily did not lose their faith. Susan was a passionate writer. She also loves children. Austin has a way of describing her love for children.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Movie Preview: "Let Hope Rise" - A Hillsong Documentary

TITLE: Let Hope Rise
DIRECTOR: Michael John Warren
PRODUCER: Grace Hill Media, and others

Many of us have heard the songs on radio. A lot of people have also heard their songs belted out on popular reality shows like American Idol or the Voice. Over 50 million people all over the world sing their songs each Sunday. These staggering figures are testimony of how influential and popular the Australian group Hillsong United has become. This music group is an offshoot from Hillsong Church, which started off as a small gathering of less than 100 people. It has since grown to become a megachurch with 30000 people gathering for worship each Sunday. Their global influence continue to rise as the talented musicians write songs for the wider Christian community.

As the music group increases in fame and popularity, critics too. I have heard many criticisms about how closely the singing group resembled a rock band. They blamed the group for introducing the ways of the world into the Church. Some even said that the group is satanic or evil, and have embarked on a campaign to dumb down or fight against them. Whatever their motives, I believe we need to hear both sides of the story before making any appropriate interpretation or conclusion. For those of us who have never been to Australia, Hillsong Church, or any of their concerts, this movie is a good way for us to hear their story. Comprising interviews with individual worship leaders, musicians, writers, band members, and the pastors in charge, we get an insight look at how the whole group worked together, laughed, sang, and traveled together. Instead of the normal glitzy images we watch on TV or in concerts, the movie presents a very human and humble side of what it means to be a traveling band of Christians sharing their love and passion for music and worship.

There are many interviews and clips both on and offstage. Viewers get an inside look at the personal lives of individuals and the impact of the ministry on their own family life. They learn to support one another and see the ministry more as a calling rather than a rock band. While the rest of the world see the glittering images of standing onstage, few would know about the sacrifices and the struggles they all put into the ministry of songwriting, worship leading, and sharing their love for God through music. The pressures are immense. This movie gives an inside look into all of these to dispel armchair critics from judging them merely from an external point of view.

Let me offer some thoughts about the target audience of the movie. First, those who loved all things Hillsong will be enthused about the whole idea of their favourite Christian music group being made into a movie. There is a good chance that they would be buying up tickets and inviting their friends to go see the movie. This group does not need to be convinced to go watch this movie. In fact, they will probably be the ones who would urge others to go.

The second group are the critics. Success can sometimes be cruel. The more popular a group becomes, the more the critics. Indeed, some of the harshest words come from fellow Christians themselves targeting the Hillsong group for all kinds of things. Whenever the word "Hillsong" pops up, they would link it to some worldly rock stars and pop scenes. It will be hard to sway such people from changing their view. Perhaps, this film can give them an opportunity to see things from a different perspective. For this group, before you judge, watch this movie.

The third group would be the people who just wanted to know more about the stories behind the songs they sing so often. This movie has lots of clips on some of the most popular songs we sing. Some examples include "Oceans," "Relentless," "This I Believe," "Hosanna," "Break Free," Mighty to Save," "Broken Vessels," "No Other Name," "Aftermath," "Touch the Sky," "With Everything," "Empires," and others.

The most powerful part of the video for me was the singing of "Mighty to Save" which interlaces singing groups from all over the world singing a part of the song in each video frame. For me, one of the biggest reasons to see this film is to learn more about the background, the story, and the people behind the songs. In seeing how passionate they are for God, for people, and for the music they love, it is most gratifying. Repeatedly, the participants had stated that it was not about them but more about God. This is most powerful.

There are moments in which I feel the most appropriate response is worship. May this movie move people to worship both during and after the movie. I've watched it once and would watch it again.

This movie releases in Canada for 1-day on October 3rd across selected theatres across the country.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This film preview was provided to me courtesy of Pure Flix and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Seated With Christ" (Heather Holleman)

TITLE: Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison
AUTHOR: Heather Holleman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

Admit it. We are all guilty of comparing ourselves with others. The difference is in the degree of comparison. In our rush to get things done, sometimes we need a reminder to just pause, perhaps, take a seat, have a cup of coffee, and take stock of where we are. Perhaps, we have given in to the temptations to take charge, to maintain primary control, and to let human wisdom predominate over all. In doing so, we become enslaved to our own wishes. We work as if our salvation depends on what we do or not do. We struggle for the best academic result as if our life's qualifications depend on our efforts. We try harder, serve harder, publish harder, and strive harder in our various earthly pursuits. In focusing upon the verbs within our abilities, we unwittingly sidestepped what Christ had done for us. Expounding on the essence of Ephesians 2:6, the author provides a spiritual snapshot of what it means to be seated with Christ. With creative renditions of how these verbs personify the anxieties of the human heart, Holleman pulls out four strands of the essence of what it means to be seated in Christ.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"The Biblical Greek Companion for Bible Software Users" (Mark L. Strauss)

TITLE: The Biblical Greek Companion for Bible Software Users: Grammatical Terms Explained for Exegesis
AUTHOR: Mark L. Strauss
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (112 pages).

Studying the original biblical languages can be a very challenging discipline. Students often have to memorize as much vocabulary as possible, the alphabets, the numbers, the case endings, and the various grammar associated with genders, moods, aspect, voice, and to note the nuances of each word and phrase. Even the punctuation marks can be important expressions of biblical communications. With the invention of Bible software, many of these things are memories of the past. As the power of the software increases, the costs of owning Bible software decreases, making it more affordable to study the ancient languages without struggling through the tough work of memorization. Unfortunately, this often leads to a lack of foundation in grammatical basics. What are the differences between verbs and participles? What is the meaning of aorist? What about the dative and vocative cases? Is there a way to derive exegetical insights from the grammar? This book anticipates such questions and poses even more for those of us who had done some introductory Greek or knows a little bit of New Testament Greek. Arranging each grammatical term in alphabetical order, the book is an easy reference for readers to understand the definitions, the meaning, the case endings, and how to see the difference between the various nuances of the grammar. We learn about what the word and grammar looks like. We understand what it does and how it is used in the Bible. The exegetical insights in every chapter brings out the beauty and relevance of biblical exegesis.

As more students are moving away from traditional rote learning of the ancient languages, books like this are going to be more important with the use of Bible software. One can also see this book as the flash cards that students used to have. Meant as a companion to Bible software users, it provides a very quick and precise reference to clarify lingering questions about what the grammar means and how it is used. The Greek language is powerful because it is able to express important ideas merely from the language itself. Those of us in the English speaking world will often have to use more words and phrases just to express the same thought, and even then, the transmission relatively inferior. That is why the Greek remains the defacto standard for interpretation. With the use of Bible software, plus this companion book, while we may lose out in terms of diluting our natural memorization skills, we gain in terms of speed in getting to the meaning with the help of computers. Moreover, we would make lesser mistakes when we misread certain endings. At the end of it all, while the computers and software can provide the science of reading and analyzing, we will still need to do the hard work of interpretation and application. Hopefully, as the software helps take care of the grammatical meanings, we can spend more time connecting the grammar, the ancient contexts, and the opportunities for modern applications.

Mark Strauss is Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego California. He has authored many books on Bible study methods, interpretation, and all things New Testament. He holds a PhD from the University of Aberdeen and is a member of the Bible translation committee for the New International Version.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Money and Possessions" (Walter Brueggemann)

AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Money is a touchy subject for many people. That is why many preachers avoid talking about it because it has become so 'sensitive.' Yet, Jesus talks a lot about money and possessions. Preachers ought to get the hint, simply because the influence of money and the impact on possessions are profoundly pervasive in many societies. Wars have been fought on many fronts just to gain a foothold on the fountains of monetary gains. In this book, renowned author and theologian, Walter Brueggemann has gone beyond the gospels to take a look at what the entire Bible speaks about money and possessions. Put it another way, if the Bible is about God, it is also warning us about the dangers of idolatry.

Unlike commentaries that are inductive in nature, examining the Scriptures for what it is saying, this Interpretation series of resources are more topical in nature. They look at what the entire Bible has to say about certain important topics through the ages, from the biblical era to modern times. In this book, Walter Brueggemann expands, explains, and expounds on the application of money and possessions on a whole range of societal matters. Through both the Old and New Testaments, he identifies relevant areas of applications and points out the pervasiveness of this particular are of our life and contrasts that with what it means to live as a believer in a culture of individualism, materialism, and consumerism. If there is one word to describe Brueggemann's understanding of the Bible, it would be two words: "Counter Culture."

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Heart Made Whole" (Christa Black Gifford)

TITLE: Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain into Your Greatest Strength
AUTHOR: Christa Black Gifford
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (208 pages).

There is a popular saying that goes like this: "Hurt people hurt people; Healed people heal other people." What about those who have been hurt but not healed? What happens when one cannot let go of the past? What then does that do to one's future? This is where we need inner healing. For some, the end result is joyfully received. For many, the process of recovery is the way forward. This book is about this way forward, that en-route to inner healing lies the opportunity to identify our own broken hearts; to manage the trauma we encounter as much as possible; to find our true needs; and to be healed in heart, in mind, and in spirit. While theory and ideas are appealing, the area of hurt and healing requires a large dosage of real life experience. Author Christa Black Gifford knows what it means to be in the abyss of despair. She begins the book with a painful retelling of her losing her child. Shortly after Goldie was born, she was gone. Full of pain and grief, Gifford shares details about how she felt and the extent of what it meant to lose a child. Yet, in one of the darkest times of her life, she chose to cling on the the Light of Christ. She shares her own journey through a spiritual open-heart surgery; her difficult and different kinds of trauma; and how these traumas lock one in the past. She learns about coping, survival strategies, and comfort through self-examination of the heart.

Friday, September 16, 2016

"Reviewing Leadership" (Robert J. Banks & Bernice M. Ledbetter)

TITLE: Reviewing Leadership: A Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Robert J. Banks & Bernice M. Ledbetter
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (240 pages).

Leadership is one of the most challenging issues in any organization. Bookstores are stocked with lots of leadership material. Seminars and conferences on leadership remained popular. Reputed leaders are frequently called upon to give talks and speeches to teach leadership. With so many perspectives, sometimes we need to have a guidebook to give us a sense of what kinds of leadership are there. In this very helpful guide, we have one of the most comprehensive guides to current approaches to leadership, especially from a Christian point of view. It has been updated with new material. The first edition stems from the "Faith at Work Movement" initiative from Princeton University during a time where laity leadership was emerging in popularity and importance. The focus was on integrating theology with practice and letting faith/spirituality resonate as one. They explore the purpose; the social implication; the theory; the practice; and the organizational challenges of the day. In this second edition, the scope has been expanded with added material on themes such as ethics; ethical leadership; spiritual leadership; spiritual maturity; spiritual values; holistic approaches; resilience; and organizational analysis. The review comprises of eight large segments of leadership.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Reading For the Common Good" (C. Christopher Smith)

TITLE: Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish
AUTHOR: C. Christopher Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (179 pages).

What has reading got to do with community? A lot! So says the author and editor of The Englewood Review of Books, Christopher Smith. This co-author of Slow Church continues on the tread of learning to pace ourselves in our reading and our connecting. While his previous bestselling book was on things Church and community, this book is about the general practice of reading and books and how they can cultivate neighbourliness. Smith uses the Church as a "learning organization" as a way to enter the discussion. From reading about DIY manuals to instructions about things essential for daily living, reading can be opportunities to build bridges and to share knowledge of things that matter to our community. For reading is both learning and action. Both must be held together. Learning without action is mere knowledge that does not relate to everyday life. Action without learning will have their superficiality eventually found out. Smith lists the other reasons on how reading can be used for the common good:
  • It forms us into a compassionate and faithful people who build bridges;
  • It calls us to know God in His Word;
  • It guides us to understand the brokenness of the world and how we can be a positive force for good;
  •  It helps us discern and develop our gifts and talents.

Monday, September 12, 2016

"Sacramental Preaching" (Hans Boersma)

TITLE: Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ
AUTHOR: Hans Boersma
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (240 pages).

What is "sacramental preaching?" It is essentially "incarnational storytelling" or bringing the realities of heaven down to earth; and then pointing to Christ as the greatest reality of life. Preaching Christ is not about imposing or superimposing Christ on everything we read, but finding Christ's presence as much as we can. Sermons are to be preached with a historical awareness; with an interpretive sensitivity to culture; with exegetical diligence; and with an application that moves people toward Christlikeness. Using St Gregory of Nyssa's interpretation of the beatitudes as a springboard, Boersma resisted the temptation to replace the word 'happiness' with 'blessedness', simply because the ancient fathers see a deeper connection between happiness and spirituality, in contrast to modern disdain that tends to dichotomize happiness as worldly and blessedness as more spiritual. By retaining the use of 'happiness,' he is making a statement to reclaim the word back for Christians. Boersma teaches us how to read Scripture through what it means then and now. His rhetorical strategy shows us how to move from sacramental reading to understanding reality in Christ.

The series of sermons are laid out in four parts. Part One is "Sensed Happiness" where the author explores the various human senses of touch, smell, sight, and taste, and relating that to the enjoyment of life in eating, drinking, celebrating, and many other aspects of human life. He argues strongly for the Christological reading in all Old Testament interpretation. In other words, it is to begin with Christ in mind. He uses several passages from Ecclesiastes to highlight the aesthetic and ascetic use of the spiritual senses. In the Song of Solomon, he treads initially on the love relationship between the main characters before proceeding to making applications about union with Christ. Part Two is "Pilgrim Happiness" which looks at our spiritual quest for union with God. The journey motif is strong here, with the Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land; climbing up the hill; and our journey into the presence of God according to Hebrews 3-4. Part Three on "Heavenly Happiness" looks at what it means to arrive at the new heaven and new earth. What are the implications of the resurrection of Jesus? How is heavenly happiness related to Christ-centered living? Part Four on "Unveiled Happiness" reveals a fuller extent of life in Christ in the heavenly realm. He relates Jacob's ladder as a homiletical motif for preaching Christ. He opens up Ezekiel 1's vision of heaven and God's glory using the "wheel in a wheel" relationship between the Old and New Testament. He concludes with 2 Corinthians 3, showing us the continuity between law and grace in Christ.

Author and Professor Hans Boersma has often been asked whether Christians today can read the Bible just like the early church fathers. To what extent can we allegorize what we read? In a nutshell, it is not simply about doing what the early fathers had done. It is also about knowing our audience of today, just like the early fathers had understood about their audiences then. If there is another way to title this book, it would be "Sacramental Presence of Christ" as the author is passionate about beginning with Christ in mind in every sermon, in every passage, and in every application. There will be those who are uncomfortable with this approach because the ancient authors do not necessarily know of Jesus in the manner that we know today. After all, there was no New Testament at that time for them. They can only see through the glass "darkly" but we see face to face. Having said that, modern audiences who have the privilege of having both testaments will have to deal with the responsibility of interpreting it as best as we can, based on what God has revealed to us. It is because of this, I think it is plausible to interpret it like Boersma, to begin with Christ in mind. It is not wrong when it comes to preaching simply because all Christian preaching must have Christ in mind. What we should not do is to presume that the Old Testament authors know Jesus directly. They do not, and many of them only believe in the Messiah by faith.

I really like the "Preacher's Notes" section at the end of each sermon where Boersma spells out in greater detail what he had intended to do with the sermon. This provides powerful insights about the author's approach. This is definitely the part that is worth the price of the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"10000 Reasons" (Matt Redman with Craig Borlase)

TITLE: 10,000 Reasons: Stories of Faith, Hope, and Thankfulness Inspired by the Worship Anthem
AUTHOR: Matt Redman with Craig Borlase
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2016, (176 pages).

We have all heard of how the hymn Amazing Grace became a classic after it was written by a former slave-trader.  We have all been blessed by Charles Wesley's and Fanny Crosby's beautiful hymns. We love these old hymns so much that from time to time, I would hear people say that newer hymns do not resonate as much. I would disagree. Perhaps, they have not heard songs like Matt Redman's 10000 Reasons, which has inspired and encouraged many people. This book is a collection of stories from such people.

Songs have a way to touch lives in very unique ways. With words supported by melodies and strung together by a rhythm of praise, a song can be vocalized individually or celebrated communally. Beginning with the background behind the song, Matt Redman tells of how he had that 'moment' in which everything inside him seems to come together at that special moment. Since that night, communities of faith all over the world have sang, worshiped with, and translated the words into many different languages. This song was also selected as a song of worship during a funeral service, which points the the many varied ways the song has touched people. It is Redman's hope that the song would spur people toward deeper worship and to realize that it is more than a song. It is how we tell our own stories, with this song facilitating that story telling.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Meeting God in Scripture" (Jan Johnson)

TITLE: Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina
AUTHOR: Jan Johnson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (256 pages).

Do you want to get up close and personal with God? Why is it that some of us feel God is so distant and impersonal? If the Bible says that God is near us, why is it that sometimes we feel otherwise? Author and popular speaker Jan Johnson has provided us a way to practice the ancient art of lectio divina, via 40 guided meditations on the Bible. God has spoken but have we listened? God has written but have we read? God has revealed but have we discovered? Perhaps, we need to learn to put aside our distractions and to learn a way to hone our attentiveness to what the Bible says, instead of being anxious about our own needs when reading the Bible.

Having led many groups of people on Scripture meditation for many years, Johnson is well poised to share her experience and knowledge in writing. This book gives us an inside look about meditating on Scripture. In it, we learn about making space in our hearts and minds to prepare ourselves for reading Scripture. She divides the 40 meditations into eight sets of topics.

Monday, September 5, 2016

"Word by Word" (Marilyn McEntyre)

TITLE: Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (224 pages).

As the title suggests, this book is a patient meditation on the Word using ordinary words as entry points into the spiritual practice of meditation. Words are ways in which we describe our inner longings accurately and clearly. Readers are invited to do the same using single words used in "seven different ways and seven different phrases." This is following the ancient practice of 'lectio divina' which enables us to let the power of a single word usher us into the beauty of the Word of God. Used together with centering prayer, not only does it aids our meditations, it helps us in our prayers. The purpose of it all is to slow down our hectic pace in order to keep in step with our natural speed. In a world of multitasking and distractions, these verbs used are samples for us to be creative about our own set of words. Using her own morning Scripture readings, McEntyre shares with readers her method of spiritual reading. Using verbs to guide each chapter, she lists seven ways per verb (one per day) to practice letting the words train our minds. Readers get to listen in our how the author practices the daily routines. With reflections from the Bible, she meanders through a wide range of experiences and illustrations. We learn about prayerful listening. We receive with an eye to bless. We let God's work of creation lead us toward enjoyment. We let go of control so as to appreciate God's sense of timing and direction. We watch God's timing and accept God's way of grace. We resist the ways of the world's seductions and intentionally build in good spiritual habits. We learn to be still so as to develop a sense of clarity in us. We follow the nudging of God, something which is increasingly difficult in a world of distractions. As readers approach the end of the book, it is hoped that there is a pattern that readers can learn of, so as to develop their own set of verbs to be used likewise.