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Thursday, February 23, 2017

"The Mission of the Church" (various contributors)

TITLE: The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation
AUTHOR: Stephen B. Bevans, Darrell L. Guder, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Edward Rommen, and Ed Stetzer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017

What is the mission of the Church? Surely it is more than just setting up a mission department within the Church organization. It is also more than mere sending of missionaries to some faraway land. Others would say that all ministries of the Church have a mission, albeit in unique ways. What do we then make of the terms often thrown about like 'missional,' 'missio Dei,' 'missiological,' and the work of the Church? Knowing the plurality of opinions and perspectives out there, this book brings together five persons representing the different faith persuasions.

  • Stephen B. Bevans shares from a Roman Catholic viewpoint, the "Prophetic Dialogue" approach.
  • Darrell L. Guder shares from a mainline Protestant point of view, the "multicultural translation" approach.
  • Ruth Padilla DeBorst shares from a Latina evangelical view, the "integral transformation" approach
  • Edward Rommen shares from an Orthodox view, the "sacramental vision" approach.
  • Ed Stetzer shares as a North American evangelical, the "kingdom community" approach.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature" (Richard A. Taylor)

TITLE: Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis)
AUTHOR: Richard A. Taylor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016, (208 pages).

Compared to the Old Testament, more people find it easier to interpret the New Testament. The same is true for apocalyptic literature. Seeing this need for training and equipping, Kregel publishers have prepared a series of handbooks to assist readers on understanding, exegesis, and interpretation of difficult Old Testament topics. There are a total of six volumes covering the six genres of narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic literature. They aim to help us understand the principles of understanding and the methods for communicating and teaching. All the handbooks follow the six chapter structure:

  1. The Nature of the Genres
  2. Major Themes
  3. Preparing for Interpretation
  4. Interpretation
  5. Proclamation
  6. Summarizing the Process from Text to Sermon

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"The Altars Where We Worship" (Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Mark G. Toulouse)

TITLE: The Altars Where We Worship: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture
AUTHOR: Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Mark G. Toulouse
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (225 pages).

It has been said of the Israelites who had left Egypt: "You can take Israel out of Egypt, but you cannot take Egypt out of Israel." This parallels the way Christians interact with the world. We can take Christians out of the world, but we cannot take the world out of a Christian. John Calvin once called the human heart as an "idol factory." The war against idolatry and the worship of idols continue to be fought through the centuries. In ancient times, we have the idols of Arianism, Dualism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, Dualism, and other deceptive philosophies. In modern times, we encounter more of the same in the form of individualism, consumerism, materialism, narcissism, and in the words of the authors of this book: "Altar-ization." While six different kinds of altars are mentioned, they all symbolized the reality of the world today: We are building altars faster and greater than ever before. This is troubling. More troubling is that we worship after what we built. Even the "religious vs secular" divide has an altarization bent. The key thesis in this book is that religions are not declining, but flourishing, albeit in different contexts. Authors Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, and Mark G. Toulouse propose six manifestations of such religious practices, sparking each issue with with a provocative question.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Making Marriage Beautiful" (Dorothy Littell Greco & Christopher Greco)

TITLE: Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You
AUTHOR: Dorothy Littell Greco & Christopher Greco
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2017, (256 pages).

Many people marry so that they could be happy. That is something that is furthest from the truth about marriage. While happiness is an important need, it should not be the key focus of a marriage. For author Dorothy and Christopher Greco, the higher reason is Christlikeness. The problem with many modern expectations about marriage is the presence of perfect expectations and the reality of imperfect people. In spite of these, there is hope. There is a chance to make difficult marriages not only bearable but beautiful. It begins by asking what kind of change we want. How are two persons who are so different going to live together? Are they willing to acknowledge their own weaknesses and brokenness? Do we need Christ only during times of crises?

We are urged to look back at our individual's family cultures to understand how our histories form our worldview and expectations of people. We need to avoid buying into cultural stereotypes surrounding male and female genders, and to shape our worldviews toward a Christlike one. See conflict as a struggle for growth. Reframe disappointment and anger as holy invitations to understand and to grow the relationship. By addressing anger appropriately, we can also avoid making five different responses to anger. Practice listening as a core skill in being a better spouse. Beware of unconscious addictions creeping into our lives. Learning to confess and to forgive are key relationship savers. Suffering despite all its negative connotations can have an upside. We can choose joy and we can move toward making marriage beautiful.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

"Love Never Fails" (Hilda St Clair)

TITLE: Love Never Fails: A Journal to be Inspired by the Power of Love
AUTHOR: Hilda St Clair
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2017, (128 pages).

There are books that gives out information and there are books that inspire. What about books that not only inspires but invites us to journal along, even as a co-author of this special book about the power of love. Each love thought comes with a quote from a famous spiritual writer or a Holy Scripture, followed by an invitation to reflect and to contribute our thoughts on the following page. It makes readers think, ponder, and wonder about love by interacting with the wisdom sayings. Some books append a discussion guide or series of questions at the end of the book or at the end of each chapter. This book does the same at every turning of the page! This is essentially a journal that features words and verses from the Bible, Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Augustine of Hippo, and with other love quotes from non-Christians as well. There are also meditations on words from CS Lewis, Elie Wiesel, Paulo Coelho, Helen Keller, and more. With full colour and illustrations, this journal certainly takes the best of the visual and literary words to inspire us to do the same.

Readers (and journal-writers), can interact with the love thoughts and add in their own responses. I call this a spiritual journal that uses love as a starting thought and urges the reader to spread the love beginning with self. The way to really benefit from this book is to take time to read the passage, to reflect on the meaning and our own contexts, and then follow through on the questions and exercises that follow. You can check out a sample here.

 Hilda St Clair is a member of the Community of Jesus. She has previously written a similar journal that is based on Julian of Norwich's famous words, "All Shall Be Well."

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

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This book has been provided courtesy of Paraclete Press without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Speaking of Homosexuality" (Joe Dallas)

TITLE: Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity
AUTHOR: Joe Dallas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, (256 pages).

Homosexuality has become one of the most controversial and divisive issue this century. As more societies legalize same-sex marriages and impose harsh punishment on any forms of discrimination against homosexuals, it is becoming very risky for anybody to say anything negative about homosexuality. Witty politicians would be quick to praise gay rights and to march alongside pride parades. A lot of news media would pounce on any objections to the flaunting of homosexuality. Homosexuality has become mainstream, even as traditional understanding of biblical Christianity gets marginalized to the sidelines. As experienced by the author who used to identify himself as a gay Christian arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality, his turnaround has a nasty pushback from the very gay friends he formerly identified with. The very pro-gay parties he used to support has turned hostile against him when he no longer believe that homosexuality was ok. The major line drawn was this: "Is homosexuality a sin?" Say no and he would be welcome with open arms. Say yes and he would be branded a bigot, a homophobic, or some nasty adjective. Standing up against gay activists is a path very few people dare to nowadays. The challenge laid out in this book is this: How do we navigate our relationship with gay people without compromising on what the Bible say?


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Old Paths New Power" (Daniel Henderson)

TITLE: Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word
AUTHOR: Daniel Henderson
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (272 pages).

It's another New Year and time to make new resolutions. It is also tempting to ask ourselves what is the newest, the latest, and the greatest to shore up our work or activities planned for the year. With regard to the Church and the Christian life, it is doubly tempting to incorporate fresh new ideas to renew or revitalize the community. Instead, this book stops us on such a track and forces us to examine old paths instead of seeking new ways. It makes us ponder at the tried-and-tested disciplines instead of relying on the latest and the most novel options available today. Two words sum up the old disciplines needed: Prayer and Bible. It is most timely and timeless. Timely because of the relevance to the needs of today; Timeless because it is applicable throughout the ages. By re-examining the tenacity of the faith and practice of the early Church. While many of us in the modern Church tend to pray in the context of ministry, the early believers minister in the context of prayer. The difference is stark because modern believers treat prayer as a means to an end and practice it only as a department of the overall ministry. This is all wrong. It should be prayer as the context of all ministries. The same applies for the ministry of the Word. This principle is taken from Acts 6:4 which is about how the apostles said: "will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."


Monday, February 6, 2017

"The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words" (Chris Bruno)

TITLE: The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words
AUTHOR: Chris Bruno
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (160 pages).

The Holy Bible has a total of 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. How can we possibly summarize the entire Bible in 16 words? Unless of course, these words tell a story, explain a theological concept, or act as bridges to link all these books together. This is exactly what Chris Bruno has done. In choosing 16 key words, he manages to squeeze in the entire Bible narrative and paraphrases it into a small paperback. No easy task indeed. Following his earlier book "The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses," he manages to push himself to re-tell the story of the Bible in 16 words. The main purpose is to teach the Bible in a new way so as to spur learners to think and to consider the meaning behind the narrative. Bruno wants us to go beyond mere forests and trees, and to zoom in on the ropes that tie the whole picture together. These 16 words are the ropes, categorized under three themes. The first section is the Foundation where the author uses the word "The End" and "God" to bracket the beginning and the end. The second section is the Frame where we look at the "creation," "covenant," and "kingdom." The third section is the largest which is the SuperStructure that ties in eleven other key words, "Temple," "Messiah," "Israel," "Land," "Idols," "Judgment," "Exodus," "Wisdom," "Law," "Spirit," and "Mission." This is essentially biblical theology made simple.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Is Justice Possible" (J. Paul Nyquist)

TITLE: Is Justice Possible?: The Elusive Pursuit of What is Right
AUTHOR: J. Paul Nyquist
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (176 pages).

What is legal is not necessarily right. What is right is not necessarily protected by the law. Put it another way, just because we have a legal system does not mean we have a justice system With startling stories of unfair imprisonment, abuse of power, lopsided punishment, and lack of fairness in meting out the punishment, we are reminded once again how elusive justice is even in societies that pride themselves about their premier justice systems. Petty crimes get crushing punishments. Suspicions are tied more to skin colour rather than the evidence of the crime. Wrongful convictions get overturned without much compensation. It is entirely human to crave justice for we are born with that inner desire to seek fairness. Distinguishing between social justice and legal justice, author Paul Nyquist focuses on the latter mainly because it tends to be more neglected. He also limits his description to the American scene and seeks to give a Christian response. With the big picture about possibilities surrounding the issue of legal justice, readers can use four key questions to probe the main issue:

  1. What is Justice?
  2. Why is Justice Elusive?
  3. How Should we do justice?
  4. Will we ever see Justice? 


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea" (Russell Rathbun)

TITLE: The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea: Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition
AUTHOR: Russell Rathbun
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017, (198 pages).

I know about the Great Wall of China. I have read about astronauts saying that the only visible man-made object from space is the Great Wall. What about the Salton Sea? What is the Salton Sea? What makes these two objects so fascinating for the author? He sums it up as follows:

"There are only two man-made objects you can see from outer space. One is the Great Wall of China, and the other is the Salton Sea. One is the result of the work of hundreds of thousands of laborers over two thousand years, and the other is the result of a gigantic mistake."

For over twenty years, these sentences have occupied the author's mind. The key thought revolves around God's creation and man's folly. God creates man and desires for him to have fellowship, but man bungled it big time. In the process, there is alienation. There is lostness. There is illusion. There are big messes throughout history, and messes that continue to occur. Both the Great Wall of China and the state of the Salton Sea were man-made. The Great Wall was built to prevent invaders from entering China. The Salton Sea was created by accident. The Salton Sea was a result of a failure of a project that tried to irrigate desert lands by re-directing water from the Colorado River. Both failed to achieve the original purposes. Looking from space, while both man-made structures and accidents are visible from the sky, they symbolize the mistakes and vulnerabilities of human intelligence. Moving forward, Rathbun poses a modern dilemma about our technological world: Have we allowed technology to reform us into an image we do not yet recognize? Does the Digital Revolution offer more hype than promise? Are we re-inventing the wheel of disaster?


Monday, January 30, 2017

"Bible Studies on Mark" (William Boekestein)

TITLE: Bible Studies on Mark
AUTHOR: William Boekestein
PUBLISHER: Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship Inc, 2016, (218 pages).

The gospel of Mark is the shortest gospel in the Bible and arguably the most popular. Written with brief and pulsating manner, it has also been labeled as the earliest gospel to be written. Just like the way the gospel of Mark was written, the author here keeps pace with 21 chapters that follows chronologically the movement of the sixteen chapters of Mark.  The key to this study is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Know that the narratives are pointers to Christ. The gospel is good news, prophetic, and is a witness for Christ. According to Boekstein, the uniqueness of this gospel includes:

  • A Focus more on works rather than words
  • Jesus is a doer
  • Mark emphasizes Jesus' Passion
  • The suffering nature of discipleship
  • Preaching of the Kingdom
  • Service and Sacrifice
  • ...


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Belonging and Becoming" (Mark and Lisa Scandrette)

TITLE: Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture
AUTHOR: Mark and Lisa Scandrette
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (240 pages).

Ask anybody what is the most important thing in their lives, and there is a good chance that it would be this: Family. Who doesn't want to have a closely knit loving family? Who would give anything for their families to thrive? Speaking of family is one thing. Achieving it is another. In fact, many people who wanted to have start a family begin well but spluttered along the way. Perhaps, we just need some help and mentoring to get our own families on track toward thriving instead of mere surviving.  For Mark and Lisa Scandrette, their journey started when they stopped to reflect about choices that they could make for the sake of the family. They took the time to intentionally explore new possibilities. They also resolve to take steps to make that into reality. In two words, they bring out the essence of what it means to thrive: Belonging and Becoming. Give children a sense of belonging and empower them toward becoming the best they could ever be. They define the thriving family as follows:

"A thriving family is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and is supported to develop who they are for the good of the world."


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Essential Worship" (Greg Scheer)

TITLE: Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders
AUTHOR: Greg Scheer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (304 pages).

Worship is essential for anyone who claims to believe in God. For if God is really God, He is to be worshiped not just with our best but with our all. All over the world, churches gather each week to worship together as a community of God. Regardless of instruments or not, music is a big part of it. What is the theology of worship? What are the do's and don'ts in the ministry of worship leading? What does the novice need to know? How do we lead from the Bible and let the Bible do the leading? Where does liturgy fits into all of these? This book contains many answers to the basic questions about all things worship. It has four emphases:

  1. It is first and foremost based on biblical principles
  2. It draws from the rich tradition of worship through history
  3. It is primarily for worship directors
  4. It is personal.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Preaching Old Testament Narratives" (Benjamin H. Walton)

TITLE: Preaching Old Testament Narratives (Preaching with Excellence)
AUTHOR: Benjamin H. Walton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2016, (256 pages).

What does it mean to preach with biblical authority? How do we preach in a manner that relates to modern life? What is biblical preaching and expository preaching? This comes from sound exegesis and hermeneutics, followed by an appropriate rhetoric. Beginning with the stories of three pastors trying to preach biblically and with relevance an Old Testament narrative, this book compares the differences between Old and New Testament narratives. We are advised against adopting a "monkey-see-monkey-do" method of interpretation. He teaches us terms like:

  • Complete Unit of Thought (CUT)
  • Original-Theological Message (OTM)
  • Take-Home Truth (THT)
He cautions us from ways of misapplying the Bible: like springboarding; universalizing plot lines; and ways in which we fail to consider properly a CUT; a OTM; and a THT. Walton shows us the way through the following steps:
  1. Selecting a CUT
  2. Identifying the Theological and Historical contexts
  3. Studying the Plot
  4. Discovering the OTM
  5. Crafting the THT


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy" (Paul M. Gould, Richard Brian Davis, Stanley N Gundry, et al - editors)

TITLE: Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Paul M. Gould, Richard Brian Davis, Stanley N Gundry, et al (editors)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

What is the relationship between Christianity and Philosophy? Though textbooks tell us that philosophy is about the love of wisdom, many believe it is much more as it deals with wonder, with topics beyond the reach of normal sciences and various other disciplines. It could be a way of thinking or a manner of interpreting the world. Theological textbooks are full of philosophical thoughts. Philosophy studies are rarely discussed without referring to Christian thought and historical theology. There are many ways in which we can enter the study of philosophy. We could venture in via famous names like the Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Epicurus, Plato, Socrates, etc); Romans (Augustine, Cicero, Plotinus, Ptolemy, Seneca, etc); Modern era, contemporary, and Eastern philosophers. We could compare between Eastern and Western thought; or philosophical thought through various eras. In this book, the approach is more focused in comparing directly the Christian faith and philosophy. Four views are discussed. When it comes to seeking greater truth, the Conflict model argues that philosophy is superior to Christian thought. The Covenant model argues the reverse. The Convergence view asserts that Philosophy and Christianity need each other as they complete the meaning of philosophy. The Conformation model views the need for philosophy to be shaped in the Christian thought. The usual format for this counterpoints series is for each contributor to first state the position followed by respondents from others. This way, the views can be enlarged, sharpened, and strengthened for the benefit of the readers in terms of learning and understanding.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

"The Happiest Kids in the World" (Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison)

TITLE: The Happiest Kids in the World: A Stress-Free Approach to Parenting_the Dutch Way
AUTHOR: Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: The Experiment, 2017, (272 pages).

Happy children makes for good children. This is the underlying philosophy of this book. Based on a 2013 UNICEF report that rated Dutch children as the 'happiest in the world,' authors Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison have come together with their personal testimonies of how true this is for them. They compare Dutch children in general with their American counterparts and found that Dutch babies are contented; easier to soothe; more restful; happier at play; and enjoy simple pleasures. They are quick to point out that 'happier' does not mean always jumping for joy but a kind of greater self-awareness; loyal; loving; and respectful of adults. They are less arrogant and more mature. While most of the world tend to see the Netherlands as a place of liberal living; free sex; and all kinds of drugs and alcohol over-consumption, they fail to see the heart of the society is a home-loving family. For them, success begins with an assumption of happiness not a hope for happiness. It begins with what we have rather than what we do not have. One reason is the amount of time spent in an enviable work-life balance: Parents work 29 hours a week and spend a day each for time with children and time for themselves. They let kids do things for themselves and both mum and dad are willing to switch roles without guilt. British and American parents still see their own specific roles and when the roles are changed, guilt and discomfort easily set in. When compared with their American counterparts, Dutch children:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"The Forgotten Ways" (Alan Hirsch)

TITLE: The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements
AUTHOR: Alan Hirsch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Why is the Church in general struggling with growth? Where is the passion for a movement for Christ? Have churches spent too much time defending traditions and their ecclesiastical rituals to the point of forgetting their biblical ways? Have they unwittingly based their ecclesiology on the medieval European model of Christendom instead of the first-century model of New Testament Christianity? Have we forgotten that the Church is the 'ekklesia' a 'called-out people of God?' According to author Alan Hirsch, the contemporary challenges of doing Church has an upside because "it forces us to think and act like our original founders and pioneers thought and acted." When we know that there is no "Plan B," we will pray desperately, spend frugally, live passionately, and reach out fervently. The key question for readers in this book is this: "Have we forgotten about the mission of the Church?" He affirms that our greatest truths are not invented or newly discovered. They are remembered. Key to this book remains the mDNA paradigm (gospel-fluency, discipleship, incarnational mission, innovation and risk, multiplication, APEST, etc.) which the author admits could be designed as several standalone books. He hopes to wake up sleeping people and sleepy churches with the revelation of God's ways which somehow had been forgotten.


Monday, January 9, 2017

"Rhythms of Rest" (Shelly Miller)

TITLE: Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World
AUTHOR: Shelly Miller
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (224 pages).

A lot have already been written about the Sabbath but the need far outstrips the supply. What is the Sabbath? What makes this book unique compared to the other books? For author Shelly Miller, the first thing with regard to taking a rest is her mantra: "I Don't Do Guilt." There is no need to be guilty about taking a day off per week, or to rest where needed. Sabbath rest is about receiving a gift and not an excuse for guilt. While the world teaches us to rely on ourselves and our own abilities, taking a rest is in effect an acknowledgement that things will take care of themselves even as we rest. It requires surrender and deep trust. The way forward is not simply an obligation to force a weekly sabbath but to joyfully discover rhythms in which we can rest well. Sabbath is a gift. It is a reflection of God's creativity. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to others that rest is not only possible, it is beneficial. Miller goes beyond simply taking a break. Sabbath is a time in which we commune with God in an intentional space. It is an invitation to intimate conversation, unhurried by the hustle and bustle of the world. It is a way in which we say to the world: "You shall have no hold on me."

While the benefits are many, there are also myths and deceptions that threaten to derail our pursuit of Sabbath rest. That is why Miller spends time dispelling myths like doing Church as a form of Sabbath. She writes: