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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"From the Maccabees to the Mishnah" 3rd edition (Shaye J. D. Cohen)

TITLE: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Third Edition
AUTHOR: Shaye J. D. Cohen
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (328 pages).

We know a lot about New Testament times. Aided by archeology and scholarship research, our knowledge about Old Testament continues to grow as well. What about the inter-testament period? Compared with the two testaments, this period from  164 BC to 200 CE are not usually studied in depth. While commentaries do offer some contextual evidence, not many books focus on the period that Shaye Cohen calls, "Maccabees to the Mishnah" period. There are several reasons why this period is important. First, the two remaining religious traditions that are significant are rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Both of them rose from this period that is considered central to our understanding of the religious roots. Secondly, it is sandwiched between oppressive regimes from the Ptolemians / Seluecids to the Roman rulers. With two seemingly hostile governments, it is amazing how the Jews managed to survive it all. Thirdly, this period may hold the key to a tighter integration between the Old and the New Testament periods. In fact, it is rich in historical events and understanding the chronology can help us appreciate the reasons behind the happenings in the later parts of the Old Testament and the early beginnings of the New Testament.

Shaye Cohen is an ordained Rabbi and Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University. He has written many books and this book is his most famous one. Now in its 3rd edition, he has added in a new chapter that focuses on why Jews and Christians separated in "parting of the ways." Beginning with a gripping chronology of the events surrounding preexilic Israel (587 BCE) to events after the end of Second Temple Judaism (70 CE - 200 CE), we find rich background behind the rise of Jewish sects such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Essenes, Qumran, Jesus Movement, Sicarii, Zealots, with plenty of background of the Maccabean revolts and political instability in the region. By the "Second Temple period," Cohen focuses on the latter part from the rise of the Maccabees to the destruction of the temple (160 BCE to 70 CE). They call it "Second Temple" to distinguish it from the first. This second temple was built upon the Israelites' return from exile in 516 BCE. There were two destructions too, the first in 446 BCE by the Babylonians and the second in 70 BCE by the Romans. The coverage is broad. On the Jews and Gentiles, Cohen notes that the social tensions arising from anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and also on inter-marriages. There are also tensions regarding Hellenization and assimilation into Jewish culture. Part of the problem is that certain quarters in Christianity has unwittingly contributed to anti-Semitic moods. Thankfully, Cohen recognizes that there are good relations too, such as philo-Judaism where there are those who admire and revere Judaism as well, that some performed Jewish rituals to enter Judaism community.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Mark - Teach the Text Commentary" (Grant R. Osborne)

TITLE: Mark (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: Grant R. Osborne
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (352 pages).

In this very impressive commentary that brings ancient texts dynamically to life for modern readers, readers get the chance to see a dynamic gospel like Mark taken to a whole new level of clarity and urgency. Progressing on two levels, author and Professor Grant Osborne asks two basic questions to guide readers on the reading of Mark.

1) What did Jesus do?
2) Who is Jesus?

Believing the Mark is the oldest of the four gospels, Osborne treats the existence of Q is more as tradition rather than an "actual document." As far as we are concerned, the key theme in Mark is discipleship.

This commentary follows the regular format of:
  1. Big Idea
  2. Key Themes
  3. Understanding the Text
  4. Teaching the Text
  5. Illustrating the Text
Knowing that Mark is one of the most popular books selected for Bible study by Christian groups all over the world, this commentary fills a very important need of educating the lay and equipping the ministry worker. I find this work very user-friendly and readable. With illustrations, photos, and diagrams to drive home the key themes and important places, readers will catch the momentum of Mark in a fresh way. Grant homes in on the two themes of Christology and Discipleship from beginning to end. He makes a point to show both similarities Mark has with the other gospels as well as the uniquenesses. The illustrations used are true to life and easy to share. Osborne pulls together passages and thoughts from other parts of the Bible to highlight how prominent the gospel is with regards to connecting to the big Bible story. What the commentary lacks in detailed exegesis is compensated by a pretty good list of recommended resources and respectable bibliography. If anyone thinks they have known Mark, reading this commentary will cause them to think again, for this work can stimulate additional insights.

I appreciate Grant paying some attention to the last part of Mark where scholars are divided on whether Mark 16:9-20 are part of the originals or not. He grounds his conclusions on a literary level rather than an archaeological level and provides his reasons for doing so based on a similar experience he had with Matthew 28:9-10.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Beloved Dust" (Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel)

TITLE: Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself
AUTHOR: Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2014, (240 pages).

Books on prayer fill the shelves of many churches and Christian libraries. Many of them often give out tips and techniques on how to pray. Some provide useful background of the prayer classics before indulging in various forms of practical steps on how to improve one's prayer life. Read a passage. Find a method. That's the solution often given. This book attempts to do it differently by focusing on the relationship that prayer brings about instead of the methodologies of prayer. It focuses on what life with God means. It evokes conversational moments with four connected questions:
  1. Who is God?
  2. Who are we?
  3. What does it mean to relate to Him?
  4. What does it mean to be with Him?
Some of us know that Prayer is a relationship.  Now what does that really mean? Beginning with Genesis, authors Goggin and Strobel remind us that we are made to be with God in the first place. Life is not found by running away or hiding from God. Life is understood by being found in God and with God. Life has no Plan B because life per se is Plan A over and over. For example, time is one big struggle many of us face. We are not getting younger. Life is short. Time is precious. We are so busy that we are hard pressed for time. On and on, we allow time to occupy our minds that we forget to ask why? Relationships are timeless moments in which we learn to appreciate the people we love. The same is with God. As finite beings trying to relate to an Infinite God, the more we pray, the more we become aware of our frailty and helplessness of man and the power and might of God.  We learn dependence. Prayer is about coming out of hiding from our own expectations and fleshly desires and to immerse ourselves into God's great presence. It is being caught up with the purposes of God that we learn what we are created for. Prayer facilitates that awareness to instill in ourselves the great truth that "prayer is being with God who is always with us."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Screens and Teens" (Kathy Koch)

TITLE: Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World
AUTHOR: Kathy Koch
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

Technology is everywhere. People are constantly connected whether they are traveling, in school, at work, in restaurants, or at home. Like it or not, it is a big part of our lives. From TV to the Internet, cellphones to tablets, wired computers to wireless mobile digital devices, people's lifestyles are increasingly defined and influenced by the technology at hand. How are we affected? What has technology got to do with our "core needs of security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence?" Or is technology increasingly usurping the role of "parenting" us?

The key concern in this book is about how technology is influencing the beliefs and behaviours of teens, and how parents can connect with the young people. The author believes that the young feels the impact more, knowingly or unknowingly. The startling observation will grab some attention. Technology's strengths are "fast, cheap, effective, and cool. The same four factors are also technology's weaknesses. That is because technology itself is a poor substitute for people's basic needs of "security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence." Biblical wisdom is our guide, that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Social Purpose Enterprises" (Jack Quarter, Sherida Ryan, and Andrea Chan)

TITLE: Social Purpose Enterprises: Case Studies for Social Change
AUTHOR: Jack Quarter, Sherida Ryan, and Andrea Chan
PUBLISHER: Toronto, ON: University of Toronto, 2014, (336 pages)

Is money the sole purpose for businesses? What about organizations that not only make money but serves a social purpose? Noticing that the latter are becoming more prominent in society, three Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto seek to find out more about them through three fundamental questions.
  1. How these businesses impact their employees to independent serve society? 
  2. How the businesses impact shareholders?
  3. What are the challenges these businesses have?
Together with many other contributors, the authors ponder many things. How to measure impact? Is efficiency the best criterion? What about effectiveness? Looking at their own research as well as other works from around the world, the authors are quite thorough in their probe. They look at many angles and contexts surrounding social enterprises.
  • Businesses that engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) [examples: Ben & Jerry's and Body Shop]
  • social businesses [example: Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus]
  • Social businesses earning income for a non-profit [examples: Habitat for Humanity; Salvation Army; University of Toronto Press]
  • Social business receiving support from non-profit [examples: United Way; Raging Spoon; Abel Enterprises; Crazy Cooks]

Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Evangelism Study Bible" (EvanTell)

TITLE: The Evangelism Study Bible
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Larry Moyers, the EvanTell Ministry, and translators of the NKJV
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (1564 pages).

Christians are bearers of the gospel. Called to bring the good news to the ends of the earth, they need to be equipped to make disciples of all nations. Through the Holy Spirit, the Early Church was able to proclaim the message of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles despite the persecutions and oppositions that beset them. The commission that is given to them is the same for us now. What do we share? How do we reach out? What does the Bible say about evangelism? How can one remain connected to the Vine and stretch out to the outermost parts of society? This Evangelism Study Bible seeks to stand in the gap, to equip believers with the necessary tools as well as to anchor them on the Word of God proper.

Based on the New King James version, Larry Moyers and his EvanTell ministry have put together more than 2600 study notes, tips, reflections,  devotional material, plus practical tools to help believers with the often challenging art of evangelism. There articles that accompany 62 books of the Bible. The four that were left out are Obadiah, Zephaniah, Philemon, and the third letter of John. Still, there are more than enough devotional materials to go around to provide a "starting torque" in conversational and practical evangelism. The scope of the study materials is wide-ranging. It covers broad spreads of theological thought. There are teachings about the doctrines of sin and man (harmatiology).  Other doctrines include Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, eschatology, ecclesiology, and many more. There are apologetics type of questions to deal with the common objections such as violence in Old Testament; why people see God as cruel; dealing with opposition; dealing with roadblocks like people trying to hinder the gospel; and many more. The material is prepared in such a way that there is a wide outreach not only to people in Church but those not attending any Church; Both Christians as well as non-Christians needed to be reached. The advice is crisp and concise. Instructions are laid out in point form. In fact, many of the study aids can become devotional material as well. Readers are reminded that evangelism is not simply an activity externally driven. It requires inner transformation too. After all, reached people will reach people. People trying to share Christ must first experience Christ for themselves.

Reading through the Bible, this Evangelism Study Bible looks like a well-thumbed copy of Moyers's personal study Bible. The notes are inspired from the Bible passages and the publisher has kindly placed them side by side, or close to the passage concerned. There are many attempts to bridge Old Testament contexts with modern understanding. The Book of Leviticus, with its many rituals and laws, is seen with the eyes of purity. The application: learning to set high standards of purity for us. There is an article about marriage to accompany the Song of Songs.We learn about leadership in Nehemiah, fear of God in Proverbs, learning from the prophets on how they witness to their people, and how the early disciples use the Old Testament prophecies to spread the good news. In the New Testament chapters, we notice the increasing involvement of the Church in evangelism. That is good theology.

I enjoyed the evangelistic stimulation not just mentally but also practically. Most of all, it gives a "can-do" perspective especially for those who feels inadequate or fearful of sharing the gospel. Even if the articles do not inspire people, just reading the Word of God alone would. This is one study bible that I am not only excited about, but ready to endorse it wholeheartedly. For the kingdom of God.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Revelation" Teach The Text Commentary (J. Scott Duvall)

TITLE: Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: J. Scott Duvall
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (352 pages).

Continuing a very promising series of commentaries aimed at helping preachers of the Word study, expound, and share the biblical texts more vibrantly, Baker Books have engaged some top scholars and theologians in this amazing last book of the Bible: Revelation. The "Teach the Text Commentary Series" are meant to enable teachers to have the best of both worlds: Comprehending ancient contexts/texts and communicating to modern audiences. The table of contents clearly lay out the format of the entire book, with chapters and verses carefully distinguished and a brief title to help prepare the reader to anticipate what is to come. Like a typical commentary, there are no chapter numbers, only a chapter and verses to distinguish one "chapter" from the next. Each chapter maintains a strict format.
  • A "Big Idea" to drive home the main purpose
  • "Key Themes" to show the main ideas in the passage concerned
  • A very readable "Understanding the Text" that makes the mainstay of the commentary, which comprises contextual description, an outline for teaching, historical and cultural uniquenesses, interpretive and theological insights, plus useful tips for preaching
  • "Teaching the Text" is a gem for teachers as they find the material ready for emphasis and creative communicating
  • "Illustrating the Text" gives preachers and teachers some material to further communicate the biblical principles using stories and illustrations.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Got Social Mediology" (Jay Izso)

TITLE: Got Social Mediology?: Using Psychology to Master Social Media for Your Business without Spending a Dime
AUTHOR: Jay Izso
PUBLISHER: Raleigh, NC, InterAction Press, 2014, (312 pages).

Master social media without spending a dime for your business? Sounds a little too far-fetched isn't it?  Perhaps it is, but chances are, many people would be piqued to find out more why Jay Izso, sometimes called "Internet Doctor" believes it is possible. With psychology and basic business sense, it is entirely possible through what Izso defines as "social mediology." It is not technology that is the main driving force in this new media for business. It is the psychology behind it.

Izso starts by listing down some social media "personalities" which essentially are the different behavioral traits. The "heartthrob" is one who lives, eats, walks, and sleeps all things social media. The "traveler" only does social media in short spurts through the day. The "fly on the wall" are mainly observers. The "benchwarmers" are waiting for things to happen before jumping in while the "rookie" knows how to create a profile but does not go any much deeper into social media. Others like the "curmudgeon" are totally against social media and avoids them like a plague. Izso aims to make converts of all these, to help the proponents push the envelope further and the naysayers to turn around and venture bravely into this brave new world. Three things sum up the authors intent. First, that social media is less about technological tools but more about human cultures. Second, social media is a unique form of communications which increase the interactive capacity. Third, understanding psychological principles will help one make the best use of social media.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Connected" (Erin Davis)

TITLE: Connected
AUTHOR: Erin Davis
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (135 pages).

We can be wonderfully connected but still feel utterly lonely. We can be among people but still feel very much alone. We can have our calendars full of activities but inside our hearts, we feel empty. These paradoxical feelings were deeply felt by author Erin Davis, wife of a full-time Church minister. The truth hit home the moment they shifted from a busy schedule to a new environment where she felt strangely lonely as she moved away from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the busy to the not-so-busy, and from a false bubble of connectedness to a true revelation of emptiness. For we are "hardwired" for genuine relationships. Davis learns from Google that loneliness is common, transcends social status and geography, and can spread like wildfire. The rise of social media does not mean one will be more linked to everyone else. It may simply be people feeling alone together.

In this book, Davis looks at loneliness from various angles. Medically, she discovers that doctors had largely underestimated the problem of loneliness. Culturally, she laments at how the world promotes individual achievements to the detriment of the true need of the individual to belong to a community. Among Christians, she observes how believers often displayed the "Patmos Syndrome" where one holds high the saints like John to willingly choose isolated individual achievements over community goals and togetherness. Biblically, she looks back at Adam being the loneliest man on earth and sees the loneliness syndrome as something that has continued from the beginning to the present time. Busyness, the presence of material things, or electronic connections will never fill the void within us. The same thing for marriage. One must not marry for the sake of resolving one's loneliness. One can be married but feel utterly lonely. Throughout the book, Davis contrasts the difference between true connections and false connectivity. Using the pop stars as examples, she points out that there is a difference between being known and being loved. She asserts that "being known is far more romantic than being loved." This is quite counter intuitive but shows readers that being known is a precursor to true and loving connections. In order to love, we need to know and be known. Pointing out many scripture references to the importance of knowing, the important thing for anyone feeling lonely is not about seeking more knowledge or more love. It is the simple awareness that one is already loved by God and known of God.

Davis points her guns at technology as a cause of both our loneliness as well as a false cure. As a self-confessed "technology hermit," Davis also notes how both technology addicts as well as those going through technology fasts will end up at the same destination: Loneliness. Having a technological stimulation like email bling or a Facebook prompt will release a neurotransmitter called dopamine in our brain that regulates our emotional responses. The trouble is, when one is hooked on technological stimulation, one settles for small doses of dopamine instead of one big flood that comes from genuine connections. Other causes of loneliness includes the way we isolate ourselves by trying to take charge or stay in control. This happens when we step out of community and try to meet our own needs by ourselves. As a result, we give ourselves a false sense of security and an invitation for sin to continue to deceive us. The TV sitcom, Friends is an example of what is unreal, for connections is not about a one-hour comedy of humour, fun, or wit. True relationships come when one stops hiding from the truth, when one makes peace with messiness, and to learn that commitment, not convenience is the fuel for true friendship.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Effective Intercultural Communications" (A. Scott Moreau, Evvy Hay Campbell, and Susan Greener)

TITLE: Effective Intercultural Communication: A Christian Perspective (Encountering Mission)
AUTHOR: A. Scott Moreau, Evvy Hay Campbell, and Susan Greener
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (416 pages).

What does it take to bring the message of Christ across different nations, ethnic groups, cultures, languages, and unfamiliar territories? How can one communicate the gospel in ways that another culture can comprehend? What can one learn from the past efforts in cross-cultural missions and communications? For Christians, there are three chief theological reasons why we need to maintain a spirit of learning and improving on intercultural communications. First, we are made in the image of God who communicates. In turn, we communicate the love of God in Christ because God first reached out to us. Our response to God's love is to share the good news with people, including those very different from us. Second, we serve God and will naturally want to share the good news. Third, it is a command. We are called to reach out in love. This is necessary so that we would not become complacent and forget that God's love is for the whole world, not just our own circle of friends.

Written in four parts, Moreau, Campbell, and Greener, all scholars and professors in the field of intercultural studies believe that intercultural communication is not only important for cross cultural missions, it is vital for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
  • Part 1 - Introducing Intercultural Communications
  • Part 2 - Foundations of Intercultural Communication Patterns
  • Part 3 - Patterns of Intercultural Communications
  • Part 4 - Developing Intercultural Expertise