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Monday, March 30, 2015

"Acts - EP Study Commentaries" (Guy Prentiss Waters)

TITLE: Acts (EP Study Commentaries)
AUTHOR: Guy Prentiss Waters
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: EP Books, 2015, (600 pages).

There are already many commentaries on the book of Acts. Is there room for another? According to Guy Prentiss Waters, Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Jackson, Mississippi who counted no fewer than four exegetical commentaries since 2009, the answer is a definite YES! In fact, Waters gives us three reasons why he wrote this commentary. First, he aims at "clarity and brevity." Second, each exegetical effort is done for the objective of exposition, for teaching, and for preaching. Third, the commentary is "Reformed" in which it follows the "hermeneutical footsteps of Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and Richard B. Gaffin." This means appreciating Acts in being both historically respectful as well as modern relevance and redemption. Based on his own sermons and lessons from 2009-11, this commentary covers a lot of ground.

He spends less than 5% of the book on the introductory matters like the authorship, the date, the title, the purpose, and the outline of the book. I appreciate his three outlines and note that the first is most often used by many.

  1. Acts 1:8 where the focus is on the Pentecost, the witness, and the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing salvation through the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles.
  2. Various summary outlines that highlight the Jewish and Gentile missions; the Church as the people of God; and the persecuted Church.
  3. Peter and Paul's ministry.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Blind Spots" (Collin Hansen)

TITLE: Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Cultural Renewal)
AUTHOR: Collin Hansen
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2015, (128 pages).

Whether one's Church is growing or declining, young or old, large or small, there will be blind spots from the leadership level down to the ordinary member. It is simply human nature to have blind spots. Noting the hostility that the Church is increasingly facing, Hansen has written this straight-forward book that categorizes three types of Christians as "Courageous" (Prophet), "Compassionate" (Priest), and "Commissioned" (King). Each group focuses on a specific gospel thrust but often at the expense of other equally important initiatives.

The "Courageous" group is passionate about truth and wants to stand up boldly in defending and proclaiming the truths of the faith. It is about courage to stand up for the truth even when the stand is unpopular. This is necessary for the endurance of the faith. Especially when the world is facing a crisis in Syria and Iraq with ISIS threat. Bold moves and decisions need to be made before more innocent lives are sacrificed. The blind spot for such Christians is the tendency to fear the future and bemoan our present situations. They tend to remember the past so much that they belittle the present and the future. What is necessary is for these Christians to be consistent in their practice of courageous standing, not only for issues of marriage and sexuality, but also for justice, for compassion, against racism, and against war. Hansen believes that courage is more about challenging culture rather than plainly saying no to them. By praying for our enemies, and seeking to reach out in love, we avoid falling into our blind spots. Courage flows from humility and care for humanity.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Seven Family Ministry Essentials (Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman)

TITLE: 7 Family Ministry Essentials: A Strategy for Culture Change in Children's and Student Ministries
AUTHOR: Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2015, (240 pages).

It is no longer news. The young are leaving churches. Church going Families are struggling. The elderly are aging. How is the people of the Church discipling the young? Churches all over the world find ministry to youths and children particularly challenging. This is made more difficult as each successive generation comes with very unique set of needs and attention. Whatever it is, youths are extremely sharp in terms of identifying the problems in many existing church structures and programs. Want to know what's wrong with any church? Just ask the young people. They have the capacity to tell it as it is. Churches need a movement rather than programs. People need to know the cost of of discipleship. We need to recognize that the key to ministry among children and students is the combined effort of church and families. Individually we will always lack but collectively we survive better. Family ministry is very much a part of the mission of the church. Authors Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman propose seven essentials for us to incorporate into any family ministries, in order to initiate a culture change.
  1. Empowering Family as Primary
  2. Spiritual Formation for Lifetime Faith
  3. Scripture Is Our Authority
  4. The Holy Spirit Teaches
  5. God’s Grand Redemptive Narrative 
  6. God Is Central
  7. A Community of Ministry Support

Monday, March 23, 2015

"God's Story in 66 Verses" (Stan Guthrie)

TITLE: God's Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book
AUTHOR: Stan Guthrie
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015, (256 pages).

This book is not about summarizing the Bible in one verse. Neither is it about understanding the Bible just by focusing on that special verse. It is about entering into the Big Idea of the Bible book using that verse as an initial handle. Like a regular book with a table of contents at the beginning, each of the 66 chapters in this book focuses on one verse, taken from each of the 66 books of the Bible.  Guthrie calls it "one verse at a time." They are like strategic windows to explore the various rooms of a sprawling mansion.  Following the entry, Guthrie gives a very brief commentary about the rest of the Bible which often leaves readers gasping for more.

In an increasingly Bible illiterate generation, books like these will become more popular as people want some quick summaries to anything thick and time consuming to study. This generation thrives on snippets that are short, sweet, and simple. Guthrie rides on this wave by providing snippets of each Bible book from both the Old and New Testaments in the hope that readers will dig into the Bible with earnestness and purpose. It is not a substitute or a quick-fix approach to understanding the Bible. It is an entry into the story. Stan Guthrie is Editor at large with Christianity Today and has written many books pertaining to the Christian life and culture. Well established in the publishing world, he is a literary agent who helps authors to design and present book proposals to various publishing houses. His skill is reflected in this book which is a brief overview about each Bible book. At the same time, he enlists the help of ESV Bible scholars, Mark Dever, and Walter Elwell to guide him in outlines that are "exegetical, theological, and technical" from a Reformed angle.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Created for Community, 3rd Edition" (Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith)

TITLE: By Stanley J. Grenz Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (3rd Third Edition) [Paperback]
AUTHOR: Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (308 pages).

The word 'Theology' sometimes does not get a fair hearing. In some circles, just mentioning the words "theology," "Bible school," or "theological studies" would lead to sarcasm and skeptical remarks about theology being too intellectual and impractical for daily living. I have heard of opponents who drop names of various famous people who never attended Bible school. Names like AW Tozer who had such great influence but never had formal theological training, sometimes pop up that downplays the need for theological education. Of course, the face of theological education has been represented (or misrepresented) by theological publications that seem so intellectually challenging or difficult to understand. Some professors who speak at churches fail to speak at the level of the congregation. Books have also come from the direction of an ivory tower to the common man in the street. No wonder people tend to have a mistaken idea of theology and theological education. In this book, the late systematic theologian Stanley Grenz seeks to buck the trend by talking about theology from a common man in the street perspective. He makes three assertions.
  1. Theology enables us to affirm orthodox doctrine. Believers can then distinguish right doctrine from wrong.
  2. Theology helps us to teach doctrine and Christian truths. Believers can be grounded in the faith.
  3. Theology helps us learn about God and God's purposes. Believers can understand what the Bible teaches about God and God's will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Counter Culture" (David Platt)

TITLE: Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography
AUTHOR: David Platt
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, (288 pages).

We are living in a culture where popular opinion speaks louder than truth. So says pastor and author of this new book about countering the cultural forces and principalities of today. Without guidance, many Christians are unwittingly letting their silence be a sign of weakness that they are indifferent to the major social issues of today. In fact, Platt takes to task those Christians who are lopsided in their lobbying, shouting on some issues but ignoring other equally if not more important matters. Sometimes, when Christians are being slammed by non-Christians for taking a biblical stand, the rest of the Christian community remain largely silent for fear of being slammed as well. In preferring to take a nonchalant posture, one asks where then is Christian conviction? Where is the courage to speak up? Where is the compassion to work through those victims of social injustice?

The nine issues highlighted are poverty, same-sex marriage, racism, sex slavery, immigration, persecution, abortion, orphans, and pornography. On Poverty, Platt was shocked to see the seriousness of cholera, and other debilitating diseases that the poor were unable to get treatment due to the lack of money. Contrast that with the wealthy part of the world that seems to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor. The gospel is clear. We are called to do our part to distribute and share the wealth we have with those in need, and not to hoard it for our own consumption. For God, through Jesus has been extravagant in his time and care for the poor and needy. Why are we not following Christ's example? We are then called to live simply, give sacrificially, help constructively, and invest eternally. On Abortion, we need to avoid seeing it as a political issue but a biblical one. For life is sacred. Platt calls abortion a modern holocaust where 42 million unborn babies are terminated each year. He claims that abortion is an "affront to God's sole and sovereign authority" as Creator. Who gives man the right to kill? How can we terminate the creation of God in such a manner? Who gives us the right to determine which baby to live and which to die? He tackles some popular objections like free choice, privacy, and selfish motives.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Heaven, How I Got Here" (Colin S. Smith)

TITLE: Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross
AUTHOR: Colin S. Smith
PUBLISHER: Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2015, (96 pages).

We have heard stories of people with a near death experience, leaving this earth, entering heaven, and then coming back to earth. There have also been testimonies of heavenly experiences by people from different cultures. In Christian circles, one particular story, "Heaven is for Real" was even turned into a movie. With the topic on heaven remaining mystifying and fascinating, what about stories of biblical characters entering heaven? In this very re-telling of the story of the thief who was saved on the cross next to Jesus, author Colin S. Smith imagines the story of the thief on the cross in order to shine a light on faith that comes completely by the grace of God, not personal works. With amazing insight, Smith, senior pastor of Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Chicago tells the story of the thief from a first person perspective.

Expounding on Luke 23:39-43, Smith is able to weave in a prologue of how the thief was initially captured and convicted. The culture then was one of rigid Pharisaic laws and harsh Roman authority. Ordinary people were often put in a situation where they had to fend for themselves and suffer from situations that are less than equitable. Smith is quite sympathetic to the thief in justifying the initial theft. Subsequently, as the thief becomes emboldened to steal more and more, the arrest and subsequent punishment became more understandable. Unfortunately, the way people were crucified then made modern readers question whether the punishment fits the crime. It could very well had been a double whammy of injustice. On the religious front, the thief could have been victims of hypocrisy. On the legal front, the thief could have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and having been caught red-handed, had to suffer the notorious Roman punishment. If the thief had been caught for doing wrong, what about Jesus who had been convicted when he clearly did not do any wrong?

As the story progresses, we see a gradual transformation of the thief from bitterness to gladness. Initial faith becomes filled with hope. Lasting hope is facilitated by the love of Christ at the cross. As a witness to the punishment, death, and torture of Jesus nailed next to him, he becomes not only a confessor of sin, but an eye witness to the cruelty of man, and a beneficiary of the Word of Jesus.  He hears every word of Jesus. He listens in to the prayers of Jesus to God. He marvels at how a suffering person could even put the interest of others before self. Written with sensitivity to the Jewish culture, Smith in his "postscript" tells us that he is less keen in conveying any message. He is more interested in people experiencing Christ for themselves.

This is the first time I am reading something from the perspective of the thief who was saved at the cross. Although many of the details are fictional and added in in order to form a narrative of forgiveness and grace, there are many allusions to the different parts of Scripture, especially on Jesus' last moments. Like most historical works, there will always be some kind of dramatization. Movies for example will most of the time say: "Based on a true story" to avoid being accused of wrongful portrayal of the factual history. For this book, it is based on a true event in history. Not only has Smith managed to tell us a gripping story from a first person perspective, he has shown us once again the beauty of grace and the power of Christ. Even at the cross, He is able to defeat all enemies and principalities of this world.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Prepare (J. Paul Nyquist)

TITLE: Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture
AUTHOR: J. Paul Nyquist
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (224 pages).

A couple of years ago at a national conference for Christian leaders, someone mentioned that the biggest challenge for churches in North America is the desire to remain in the comfort zone and the unwillingness to bear the cross of suffering. I concur with increasing alarm. Just like the Early Church in Acts 1:8 that was called to reach out in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outer parts of the region, it takes the Holy Spirit to scatter the people of God through persecution (Acts 8:1). People has said that Acts 8:1 happened because the disciples failed to obey Acts 1:8. It may take more research and study to prove that but the point is this: Persecution does enable witness. In modern day America and in many parts of the West, persecution and hostile forces are banging at the doors of churches, Christian communities, and anyone witnessing in the Name of Christ. How do everyday Christians respond to intimidation? How can believers live in an increasingly skeptical and hostile culture? What can we do to continue to be light in the darkness of worldly forces? Welcome to the new reality.

According to Paul Nyquist, President of Moody Bible Institute, persecution is not just physical. It includes anything that inflicts pain, mental pressure, or any measure of force to force Christians to retreat from their positions. The author defines it as: "persecution is the societal marginalization of believers with a view to eliminating their voice and influence." It attacks Christians in the five areas: private, family, community, national, and church. If their goal is to silence or to eliminate, what ought to be our response? Nyquist helps us along by studying persecution passages in the Bible, and how they can relate to our hostile environment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Rejoicing in Lament" (J. Todd Billings)

TITLE: Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ
AUTHOR: J. Todd Billings
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, (224 pages).

What happens to your faith when the doctor said you have cancer? Where can one turn to? How can one deal with this personally and within the community? Not easy we may say. The author of this shares with us his own journey through cancer, chemotherapy, and frequent bouts of lament in the Lord. Diagnosed with incurable cancer at the age of 39, scheduled for chemotherapy treatments, and forced to reckon with limited time, scholar and theologian, J. Todd Billings, Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan shares a personal reflection of theology applied to life and impending death. When he shared about his cancer, the most encouraging comments he received was by a girl who wrote him a card with the words: "God is bigger than cancer." That sets him in perspective and a journey to praying through the Psalms, reflecting through the lament passages of Scripture, and learning to read passages on suffering as a cancer patient.

In his first six months of chemotherapy, Billings describes his spiritual learning in the first six chapters. He begins with his initial fog experience, not knowing what to expect when he shared about his cancer. He shares about some questions about life do not really have answers, at least during our time on earth. Those who tried will tend to give wrong answers, like the friends in Job. As far as pain, suffering, and the problem of evil goes, there are more questions than answers, more mysteries than solutions, and a greater need for personal comfort rather than an impersonal argument.  He clings to the lament psalms and other passages even as he endures the painful effects of chemotherapy. He realizes the loss that churches suffered when they simply bypassed the lament psalms during regular worship time.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"40 Questions About Creation and Evolution" (Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (40 Questions and Answers Series)
AUTHOR: Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (432 pages).

Is there a conflict between science and faith? Is there a way to understand both? When is the beginning of the world? What is the origin of the human species. How did the world come into existence? These questions have challenged people through the centuries. From archaeology to philosophy; humanistic thought to theology, the questions about the beginning of the world and man continue to fascinate. In this book, forty questions are posed with regards to creation and evolution. All of the questions are categorized in 6 major parts.

Part 1 - Doctrine of Creation
Part 2 - Creation and Genesis 1-2
Part 3 - Days of Creation
Part 4 - Age of the Earth
Part 5 - Fall and the Flood
Part 6 - Evolution and Intelligent Design