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Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Faith" (various contributors)

TITLE: Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics, and Atheists
AUTHOR: Various contributors (edited by Victoria Zackheim)
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Atria Books, 2014, (288 pages).

What is faith? Is it possible not to have faith? Is faith some kind of a mysterious force or a misplaced belief? What is the meaning of faith for both believers as well as non-believers of any religion? In a remarkable book that brings together believers, agnostics, and atheists, two questions were plainly asked of 24 contributors of different religious or non-religious inclinations:
  1. What do you feel?
  2. What do you believe?
Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American author writes about a "secular mystic" who believes that this world is more meaning than material, with individual parts all connecting up to one big whole. Growing up in a religious environment, he base his own living on doing good and reasoning well. Most of all, when we help one another, we do what it takes to be human. Anne Perry, a New York Times bestselling author based in Los Angeles tackles the question of faith from major influences on her life: her grandfather, father, and mother. It was the death of her mum that haunted her most. Believing in the power of faith, especially in the potential of goodness for humanity to love one another, she holds firmly that at the end of it all, one needs to be still and know that there is God. David Corbett in "Love and Insomnia" writes about his difficult childhood, his battle against insomnia, and his early exposure to Catholicism and belief in God. His views on faith are shaped more by his therapist training in two ways. The first is that perfection is the enemy of the good, which is a learning not to let the drive for perfection destroy one's faith in imperfect humanity. The second is unconditional love. Corbett was also deeply shaken when his wife who was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer die within four months. Instead of faith in God, he found faith in a Buddhist teaching of impermanence: the wisdom of letting go while not caring less. Accomplished author Beverly Donofrio finds her own sense of faith shaken down after being raped by a serial rapist in Mexico. With steely calm, she was still able to pray a "Hail Mary" which freaked out her assailant. She constantly reflects on the Virgin Mary, finding comfort in the words "Do not be afraid" during moments of light as well as darkness. For Amy Ferris in "Ah. Yes," her light-bulb moment comes when she realizes faith in the eyes of love, of being herself rather than doing all kinds of good outside. Love is not selfish but deep awakening of who she truly is. Sylvie Simmons wonders if there was a "viagra for faith" describing her need for a personal God in spite of feeling distant from Him. Pam Houston, an educator in creative writing hates holidays.  wonders about faith from both an agnostic and atheistic angles.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Church According to Paul" (James W. Thompson)

TITLE: The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ
AUTHOR: James W. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (304 pages).

There are many books about Church growth, and how to have a great Church ministry. Whether it is emergent Church, or the Progressive movements, missional or the latest trends in doing Church, it is easy to overplay the word 'relevance' into our Ecclesiology. What about being relevant first to the original intention of Church? What about asking the fundamental questions like:
  • What is Paul's perspective of Church?
  • What is his original intent?
  • What is the original vision of Church?
  • Can we re-discover the Church according to Paul?
James W Thompson believes so. In fact, he feels that the most basic questions about Church are often not asked. Beginning with a rather depressing observation about the state of the Church, with dwindling memberships in the West and vacant Church buildings in Europe, it is common for people to say that the Church today is in crisis. The fastest growing group are those who are not affiliated to any Church. On top of that, modern perceptions of Church are increasingly negative and the word "church" is often treated pejoratively. Thompson gives us some possible explanations like secularism, individualism, capitalism, and especially the politicization of the Church. Instead of the Church as a community like people of God, he laments how the Church has become more like social clubs, entertainment centers, corporations, theaters, associations, and so on. He even criticizes the emergent church model that becomes so open that it lacks a doctrinal foundation; and the missional church movement that are so focused on the doing that it risks losing its own identity and message of the Church. His big idea is that the Church according to Paul is two-fold. a) Absence of politicization and power; b) Church as a community where everyone participates. Thompson is convinced that Paul's model of Church in the first century can be implemented in our era. In other words, the first century Church may be different in form, it is however similar in essence of identity in Christ being formed in community. The main sources Thompson draw from are the Old and New Testament Scriptures. This is supplemented by the Apocryphal works, the Pseudepigrapha, some later Greek and Latin works from Aristotle to Josephus, from Plato to Philo. As usual, there are lots of inputs from modern scholars too. Throughout the book, there is a strong and consistent emphasis on the Church as a people of God; the community of believers; communion of saints; the work of the Holy Spirit; all of which point to Thompson's conviction that the Church identity is corporate, not individual.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Invitation to Philippians" (Donald R. Sunukjian)

TITLE: Invitation to Philippians: Building a Great Church through Humility (Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church)
AUTHOR: Donald R. Sunukjian
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (124 pages).

Based on a popular preaching textbook (Invitation to Biblical Preaching) used by many students of preaching, author Donald Sunukjian continues with this new volume of sermons on biblical preaching for the contemporary Church. In this edition, readers will find fourteen sermons that were originally preached before a congregation, and slightly edited to fit readers instead of hearers. Currently a homiletics professor at Talbot School of Theology, with doctorates in communications and theology, Sunukjian has both the academic credentials and the pastoral experiences to teach us the art of biblical preaching. The big idea in this book is how the Apostle Paul helps to build a "great Church through humility." The Church at Philippi was the only one that had supported Paul financially. They were dear people in his heart. He encouraged the Philippians for their faithfulness and their resilience in the midst of trials. By structuring the whole letter in a chiastic fashion, readers will find the central characters of humility and self-sacrifice in the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Sunukjian's Chiastic Structure of Philippians

With the above as the preaching framework, readers are set to learn from one of the best preachers in the evangelical world. Each sermon begins with a catchy story to highlight the problem at hand. It is quickly followed up with a contextual description behind the passage. Interweaving flashbacks to the past and relevance to the present, Sunukjian expounds the biblical texts with clarity and with purpose. He typically ends with a call to the good news as expressed in Paul's letter.

Readers may ask: How is humility demonstrated in this book? Frankly, that is the essence of Philippians in the first place. For the uninitiated, Sunukjian brings in elements of love, obedience to Scripture, posture of gratitude, letting God be first, perseverance in spite of trouble, salvation and deliverance, and many more.

How do we read this book? For those of us who are students of homiletics and preaching, this book needs to be used in conjunction with the main textbook, "Invitation to Biblical Preaching" by the same author. This book complements by putting the principles introduced in that book into practice. Second, learn the way Sunukjian bridges the ancient and the modern with stories, everyday language, and of course, the biblical picture. Finally, the casual reader will have a lot to benefit too, as the sermons not just teach us, but show us the way to learn humility in Christ.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Culture Shock" (Chip Ingram)

TITLE: Culture Shock: A Biblical Response to Today's Most Divisive Issues
AUTHOR: Chip Ingram
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (256 pages).

"The Church is losing its commitment and courage to believe and stand for what Jesus and our forefathers in the faith have given their lives for." So laments Senior Pastor of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, Chip Ingram. With a book aimed squarely at Christians, he criticizes the lack of meaningful engagement with society's most divisive issues. Many remain silent when there is a need to speak up. When they do speak up, they fail to interact well from a biblical standpoint and straddle along with individual opinions and personal choices. Worse, some have compromised or abandoned absolute truths. Enters this book where Ingram first points out the modern scene about the loss of conviction about absolute truth. Society is not getting any better, judging from the rising suicide rates, adultery, premarital sex, drugs, and other ills of the culture. Accompanying these moral declines are the relativitizing of truth matters. By definition, truth is absolute. What the world deem as relative truth is essentially about wanting to be left alone to do what they please.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"From God to Us" (Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix)

TITLE: From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible
AUTHOR: Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (416 pages).

Ever wonder how we got our Bibles? How did we end up with only 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 in the New? Are we being shaped by the modern stories about the Bible as mere myth? Are we more influenced by how the Da Vinci code book portrays the Bible as a conspiracy? Or are we aware of how the Bible we have today had gone through many years of inspiration by God, faithfulness of God's people, recognition and consistency of tradition and practice, and plain simple divine guidance? Imagine over 2000 years with multiple authors across many centuries, and yet, the Bible books point to that one God. The best human efforts cannot replicate such divine flow of beauty, consistency, and truth telling.  This primer on how we get the Bible has been called a "classic" because of the depth of coverage, the clarity of thought, the conviction of the inspiration of the Spirit, and the excitement of plain story telling of a old old story.

Patiently and with understanding of the curious mind, Geisler and Nix, both professors who had taught at various evangelical seminaries offer us a new expanded edition of the 1972 classic. There are four parts to this book. Part One covers the Inspiration of the Bible, what is inspiration; how the Bible is structure; comparing orthodox views with others;  theories of revelation and inspiration; objective evidence of inspiration; and others. Part Two describes the canonicity process and criteria, covering both the Old and the New Testaments in detail. Simply put, there are three steps in canonization: Inspiration, Recognition, and Preservation. The authors answer questions about:
  • What is canonicity and how it came into being?
  • What are the differences between canonizing and categorizing?
  • What are the differences between the development of the Old and the New Testaments?
  • What about the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha?
  • Which books are cited by the Early Church fathers?
  • What about other gospels and letters? Why are they not as inspired?

Monday, November 17, 2014

"A Passion for the Fatherless" (Daniel J. Bennett)

TITLE: A Passion for the Fatherless: Developing a God-Centered Ministry to Orphans
AUTHOR: Daniel J. Bennett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (240 pages).

Experts estimate the number of orphans globally stands at 163 million. In the United States alone, there are 425,000 of which 115,000 are waiting to be adopted. We may shudder at the numbers or be horrified at the huge quantity of fatherless. What about our compassion? Is it not God's will for us to care for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, widows and orphans? Bennett believes that it is not only what God wanted the Church to do, it is also a very powerful "apologetic" when believers stand together to support the fatherless. Whether it is fostering, adopting, mentoring, or simply supporting, the transformation can go much more. Not only will orphans be reached and cared for, the ones who reached out will also be transformed.

Daniel J. Bennett is Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in central Illinois whose passion for orphans accelerated after his stint as a Family Pastor in 2005. He has adopted a child too. He notes how people caring for foster children are able to open up conversations about God as well. He describes his convictions as follows.

"My compassion for orphans flow from the fact that I know God and know that he passionately cares for the fatherless. I love orphans because I love God. If I did not have this theological understanding, my passion for orphans would be commendable but ultimately worthless." (19)

Friday, November 14, 2014

"The Drama of Living" (David Ford)

TITLE: The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit
AUTHOR: David F. Ford
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (240 pages).

In his earlier work, the Shape of Living, Ford talks about the need to live wisely amid three guidelines to help us deal with the "overwhelming" forces in life. He calls it the NDA: Name-It; Describe-It; and Attend-to-it. This book continues the flow which I call as "Live-It." In this sequel, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, Dr David Ford continues with another trio of Bible, poetry, and life. The operative words in this book are "drama," "improvisation," and "wisdom."

On the Bible, Ford focuses on the gospel of John, calling it the "most dramatic book of the New Testament." The first chapter of the book tells us what the book is about. Using the same name as the title, Ford observes how Jesus' public life intersects with the lives of ordinary people, and how Jesus shaped them. He then ponders on the question of how our own lives are shaped by noting the need for patient listening to truth matters, and gentle entering into the brokenness of this world. Public drama influences us in more ways than one. In a world crowded with famous people, we can be influenced by what they say or do. We need to be selective on which character we allow to influence us. More importantly, we need a better grip of the ordinary, and not to be easily swayed by popular persons or fads that do not last. He praises the ordinary because it is a great environment to promote "promises, commitments, habits, disciplines, and routines." This calls for an "ongoing improvisation in the Spirit," something that is about embracing Jesus' love, following after Jesus, and manifesting his love in daily living.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Storm" (Jim Cymbala)

TITLE: Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In
AUTHOR: Jim Cymbala
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (208 pages).

The name of the book may suggest it. The picture that accompanies it may show a physical storm approaching. However, the book is more than twisters, tornadoes, or typhoons. Though it began with a story of how Superstorm Sandy affected the author's city of residence, it struck three warning signs for the Church at large. First, the Church is not as large as they thought. Second, not many Christians have been transformed in Christ. Third, there is an alarming decline of biblical literacy. Instead, people mimic the world more than Christ. They buy into fads and trends that are more worldly than biblical. They incorporate modern management techniques to drive Church attendance. Entertainment programs fill worship halls to drive numbers. The message focuses more on relevance rather than preaching the power of the Cross. As the Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Jim Cymbala puts it, there is mostly "icing but no cake." He counters the approaching storms with a call to storm heaven with prayer. Like the biblical Hannah who prayed amid her struggles with dark moments, the author shares about his desperate prayers at a time where his Church only numbers at most twenty people; low on funds; located in a broken inner city neighbourhood; and he and his wife needed second jobs to make ends meet. The big spiritual problem facing churches is actually not external but internal: like the lack of prayer. Other problems include the rising social problems in our vicinities. In the story of Avril, Cymbala tells of how God can turn the mess of life into a ministry for life. For God's call is not only for people overseas but also for the poor and vulnerable near our neighbourhoods.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Persuasive Preaching" (R. Larry Overstreet)

TITLE: Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion
AUTHOR: R. Larry Overstreet
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (312 pages).

Is there a place for persuasion on the pulpit? How is that not manipulation of minds? What about the risks of preachers using the pulpit to sway minds on politics or social matters favouring a particular party? Is not preaching primarily about teaching the Bible and its meaning? What about the ethics of preaching?

Since 1970, the author had been thinking about the issues surrounding persuasive preaching. He laments the modern state of preaching that lacks giving congregations a call to action. Persuasion involves doing everything we can to preach God's Word and to let God's Word be proclaimed in outward actions. Overstreet, an Adjunct Professor at Piedmont International University has been pastor of churches in Michigan and Indiana for 17 years. He knows the importance of the pulpit and the need for God's Word to go beyond mere Sunday listening pleasure. This book comprises four parts where Overstreet will:

1) Identify the Issues Facing Persuasive Preaching;
2) What is the Biblical Basis of Persuasive Preaching;
3) How to Structure Persuasive Messages;
4) How to Apply Persuasion?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NIV First-Century Study Bible

TITLE: NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context
AUTHOR: Zondervan Team, with notes by Kent Dobson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (1888 pages).

Any form of Bible study would require an understanding of contexts. If you have been attending Bible studies, you would be familiar with this phrase: "What's the context of the Bible passage?" For twenty-first century readers trying to make sense of ancient texts, it would be a big challenge if we try to use only the Bible to determine the backgrounds of every book in the Bible. This Bible contains notes that shed light on the contexts, the cultures, the chronological sequence of events, and the unique perspectives from the Jewish and Christian lens form the first century. Rather than trying to understand the ancient Scriptures from our Internet Age, or trying to reach too far to the ancient times, perhaps, we can look at how first century people understand the Bible. That would shave off about 2000 years to bring us closer to the original meaning of the contexts. For four years, the Teaching Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan wrote historical notes, word studies, articles, and together with the Zondervan publishing team, have put together a study Bible that tries to do just that. Questions that occupy their minds were:
  • What were the rabbis thinking?
  • How did the disciples understand the Old Testament?
  • What are the cultural nuances in both Jewish minds and the Early Church?
  • How do they make sense of the Bible?