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Friday, October 9, 2015

"Where Jesus Prayed" (Danielle Shroyer)

TITLE: Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminating the Lord's Prayer in the Holy Land
AUTHOR: Danielle Shroyer
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (168 pages).

Many Christians know the Lord's Prayer. Many also recite it by heart each Sunday during Church services. What is so special about this prayer? Is there a context that can reveal the depths of the prayer? How did the early disciples anticipate the prayer? What about the environment where Jesus first taught the disciples how to pray? Believing that the environment itself presents profound opportunities to re-discover the truths and depths of the Lord's Prayer, author and pastor Danielle Shroyer took a 27 hour flight from Dallas to Jerusalem, spent two weeks in the Holy Land, by walking where Jesus walked, and prayed where Jesus prayed. Apart from a profound renewal of the spirit and the refreshment of the soul, there are plenty of revelations about the Lord's Prayer. So amazing was her experience that while she did not intend to write anything like this before the journey, after the journey, the whole experience was so overwhelming that she simply had to write this book, to showcase the amazing pilgrimage of faith, and her interactions with fellow pilgrims. Above all, it is a book that describes how she personally enjoyed God.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"NIV Zondervan Study Bible" (w Commentary by D.A. Carson, et al)

TITLE: NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover, Full Color, Free Digital: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message
AUTHOR: Bible Translated by NIV Translation Team with D.A. Carson as General Editor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (2912 pages).

This is the latest Zondervan study Bible based on the NIV translation. With Dr D.A Carson as the general editor, more than 60 contributors from the evangelical world have come together to create a study Bible packed with study tools, maps, notes, color diagrams, and commentaries centered on a biblical theology. The 28 articles are written by well known persons such as Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Douglas Moo, Andrew David Nasalli,  Moses Silva, etc. Commentaries are drawn from experts such as TD Alexander, Craig L. Blomberg,  Richard S. Hess, Tremper Longman III, Mark Strauss, Douglas K. Stuart, Robert W. Yarbrough, alongside Regent College professors, Rikk E. Watts, V. Philips Long, and Bruce K. Waltke. With nearly 3000 pages of commentaries, notes, maps, pictures, photos, introductory material, and extensive footnotes, every page is filled with information for the avid student to ponder and to learn. Just dealing with what is printed in front of us is enough to make us forget the things that are not there.

Monday, October 5, 2015

"A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament" (Philip Wesley Comfort)

TITLE: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament
AUTHOR: Philip Wesley Comfort
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (416 pages).

We have commentaries available for every book of the Old and New Testament. From the verse-by-verse commentaries to the exegetical commentaries, most of these resources focus on the meaning of the texts, and how these speak to the modern day person. They are helpful in showing us the background and the ancient contexts. This commentary takes a different approach. It describes the manuscripts and how we can make sense of the sources and the original writings. All of these (if not most) are based on an "eclectic method" where various manuscripts are selected based on compilation of a main text with contributions form other collections. This particular volume sticks with the "actual manuscripts" which were all second and third century manuscripts, which is as ancient as anyone could get. According to Philip Wesley Comfort, a lifelong student of the Ancient Near East with special interest in the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint, his commentary is based on "The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"The Relevance of Religion" (John Danforth)

TITLE: The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics
AUTHOR: John Danforth
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Random House, (288 pages).

Is absolute separation of Church and State truly possible? If yes, does that mean politics are only for secularists, atheists, and people who willingly suppress their religious beliefs before entering the political arena? If no, how can religion be relevant in the complicated arena of politics? Former United States Senator, John Danforth looks back on his years of political experience and believes that religion and politics can do better by "balancing power, not practicing sacrificial love." In order words, religion has an important role to play in this broken world of politics and power. The task for people of faith to work with government becomes more urgent as the nation becomes gridlock with infighting, policy shifts, national debt, immigration complexities, and so on. Many political leaders seem stuck with so much to do and lack the knowledge and will of what to do about it. According to Danforth, here is where people of faith can do their part in helping to fix what is broken. The author also notes that people of faith, particularly Christians need to recognize that God is sovereign over all, including politics; Love is to be central in our living; and working together and connecting with one another are universal traits of a good and democratic society. That is why he urges people of faith to be actively engaged in all spheres of life, even politics. Not politicizing religion, but living as responsible citizens who help to shape societal values through genuine care for the welfare of the nation. Let me summarize the book in six key points.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense" (C. Stephen Evans)

TITLE: Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: C. Stephen Evans
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (160 pages).

Is Christianity intellectually impoverished? Are the natural signs we see evidence of the existence of God or is "God" a convenient catch all description of the systems or mysteries of this world? What can we make of the age-old Problem of Evil question? Can we trust God even when we do not understand certain mysteries of life? How genuine is divine revelation?

Despite the proliferation of books and resources that address the criticisms, there are still plenty of accusations that Christianity is intellectually baseless. One of the most vocal groups recently who continue to attack Christians are the New Atheists. Responding to these New Atheism, Professor C. Stephen Evans delivered three lectures called the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College back in October 2012. Since then, he has expanded his content and has made available to the general public via this book, which is part of a series of books to help Christians respond to contemporary challenges with well-thought out and reasoned answers. Evans begins with a chapter on who the New Atheists were and what they say.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate" (John J. Thompson)

TITLE: Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World
AUTHOR: John J. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (272 pages).

Are we content to feed on pre-packaged food? What about instant religion or ready-made faith? Probably, if you are like me, you would be giving such things a pass. You would prefer something more natural, more organic, deeper authenticity, and more carefully crafted work or lovingly prepared food. A veteran in the music world, John Thompson is Creative Director at Capitol CMG Publishing who is a music critic, publisher, manager of gospel songwriters, band member at a pub, as well as a pastor of Warehouse Church in Aurora, Illinois. He blogs at www.ThinkChristian.net and lives in East Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and four children.

We are living in a "undernourished and overfed" culture. In the words of John Thompson, our proclamation of the gospel has lost its "twang." The pre-packaged religion do not cut it. Mass-produced spirituality don't satisfy. Neither is canned types of faith. Maybe, if we can start all over and to go back to the basics of life instead of gorging on copious amounts of manufactured religious stuff. Maybe, as we retreat to the pace of "hand-made faith" or taking things more naturally and slowly, we can re-discover the twang that we all need so desperately. Thus begins a journey of spiritual search for meaning and significance in this interestingly titled book. In this book, Thompson goes all the way back to his younger years, living with an abusive father. After an amazing conversion, the father even became a pastor of a small church. Unfortunately, the changes wear off quickly and soon the abuses came back and the family had to flee. As a Generation Xer, Thompson is all too familiar with all things consumerism, pop culture, and technology. Passionate with all things Jesus, by a tender age of 15, Thompson was ready to rock the world with music, and to create a "culturally relevant community." Not only that, he is ready to go back to the roots of it all, including roasting his own coffee beans. One of his driving themes is his belief about life and people.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"History of Western Philosophy and Theology" (John M. Frame)

TITLE: A History of Western Philosophy and Theology
AUTHOR: John M. Frame
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2015, (928 pages).

When studying philosophy, one will have to study theology. When studying theology, one will also need to wrestle with philosophy. It is not possible to study any of the two in isolation with the other. Without the two, any study of the history of philosophy and theology would be incomplete. Using a storytelling style, philosopher and theologian John M. Frame has compiled over 15 years of teaching material from his core course at Reformed Theological Seminary. Called the "History of Philosophy and Christian Thought," Frame writes from a Christian point of view, partly because he is teaching in a Christian school of theology. More importantly, the moment we want to tell a story, we must always have a particular frame of reference and if necessary, a position of conviction that is fair when describing other views. Honestly, there is no such thing as an absolutely neutral book especially when it comes to philosophy or theology. Whether atheist or theist, secularist or representing any one religion, all literature are oriented to a particular point of view. Given this nature, it is far better to acknowledge upfront one's position openly for readers to take note. Frame has been honest about it and readers should applaud the author's commitment to tell the story fairly and justly because the Christian faith demands it. At the same time, there would be evaluations of various thinkers and philosophers and readers will have to make their own personal assessment not only of the thinkers themselves but also on Frame's. That is a bonus for readers having a view and one interpretation of the view to learn from. This book is also unique for the following reasons:
  • It is openly Christian in perspective
  • It is partly apologetic in style but fairly critiques both Christian as well as non-Christian views
  • It stresses the interdependence of both disciplines of theology and philosophy
  • It contains an extensive coverage of modern thought, the most I have seen in any book of this nature. 
  • Most visibly, Frame analyzes modern thought with a strong foundation of classical Western philosophy, arguing from the strengths of the former.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"The Irresistible Community" (Bill Donahue)

TITLE: The Irresistible Community: An Invitation to Life Together
AUTHOR: Bill Donahue
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (256 pages).

This book can be simply summarized in three words: Table, Towel, and Truth. In other words, these three things are essential in the building of a community that is simply "irresistible." Four chapters are allocated for each part. Each chapter ends with the name of a disciple who had walked with Christ. The author has been teaching this "Irresistible Community" idea for more than 20 years at conferences, churches, and various communities of faith. As far as he is concerned, he is convicted that "anything can happen when Jesus is in the room." The subtitle of the book provides a scant reference to a classic on community living, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together." This book provides a more practical side to what it means to cultivate and develop a Christian community of faith. It is an invitation to watch how Jesus himself created and developed the community of faith with each disciple. The thought circling my mind is this: If a community in Jesus is already so irresistible, how much more irresistible it is to be with Christ!

In Part One, we read about the fellowship at the Table. With the Lord's Supper as the centrality of identity, we learn to find our place at the common table. The symbol of the table represents a common identity and a simple gathering in the Name of Christ. The table welcomes all, regardless of age, creeds, race, professions, or whatever we represent. This is even more poignant as we remember that Jesus was a carpenter himself, skilled in the design and the making of tables and chairs. At the table, we learn the common rules of engagement: How we communicate? How we interact? How we treat one another? What it means to live together? How we can share one another's stories? What God's story means for each of us? In doing so, we learn to become the very answers to someone else's prayers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Post-Traumatic Church syndrome" (Reba Riley)

TITLE: Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing
AUTHOR: Reba Riley
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Howard Books, 2015, (368 pages).

Disappointment with Church? Longing for an alternative to searching for "Godiverse"? According to author Reba Riley, she thinks that there is a God bigger than the one defined by her home Church, and that there is a bigger form of spirituality that does not leave her feeling "hollow inside" amid all the religious talk. The title, PTCS reflects her own need for spiritual recovery after getting disillusioned with "narrow religion." Her solution: Try 30 different religions or expressions of faith and spirituality before she turns 30. Feeling broken and exhausted, she takes on this spiritual project of hers and begins with Word Alive, a megachurch who has a new pastor change its name to "The Palms" which is known for its Pentecostalism fundamentalist practices. After experiencing the different physical expressions of verbal pronouncements and how people were "felled" by the Spirit, she feels more "Word Dead" than the former name of the Church. It even causes her to throw out her own list of "thirty by thirty." Her book club friend helps her to get back on track with a journal of repairing one's own spirituality: "Finding Your Own North Star." While it didn't exactly spring her back into a New Age spirituality, it did get her back on track to other spiritual expressions, including other forms of Christianity. She tries "Tenth Avenue Baptist," which really engages them in a warm and friendly fellowship.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"After You Hear It's Cancer" (John Leifer)

TITLE: After You Hear It's Cancer: A Guide to Navigating the Difficult Journey Ahead
AUTHOR: John Leifer (with Lori Lindstrom Leifer)
PUBLISHER: Lanham, MD: Bowman and Littlefield, 2015, (320 pages).

The C word strikes fear initially. Once it has sunk in, the emotions are often mixed with both confusion as well as moments of clarity about what life is really about. Calling it a "life changing experience," author John Leifer shares from the heart about his journey with his wife, who was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer. Like what his wife felt about encountering cancer for the first time, the feeling is one of being overwhelmed and shut down. Making decisions about what to do next becomes an even greater challenge with stress and anxiety swirling around. Quoting Karen Sepucha of Harvard Medical School, it is a common scenario that even those who had overcome past challenges will find it difficult to help themselves. That is why people with cancer need support. That is why families of cancer patients need help. That is why books like this is a valuable resource to help deal with the difficult path carved by the news of cancer.

In writing this book, senior health executive and author John Leifer hopes to empower readers toward better decision making when hearing news about cancer. He guides us through the experiences of ten individuals plus his wife Lori, to give us a first person account of the long and difficult journey. He leads us through the BEFORE-DURING-AFTER phases of cancer treatments.