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Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: "Dictionary of Christian Spirituality"

TITLE: Dictionary of Christian Spirituality
EDITED: Glen G. Scorgie, Simon Chan, Gordon T. Smith, James D. Smith III.
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (864 pages).

This is another addition to a bludgeoning potpourri of dictionaries on Christian spirituality. The general reader may wonder why. Safe to say, in an increasingly 'spiritual-but-not-religious' climate of anti-institutional, anti-high-church, anti-religious, and anti-establishment, people are gravitating toward embracing an alternative to this broken world. Even secularists will find it tough to dismiss the benefits of spirituality altogether, as long as it is not 'religious.' This volume distinguishes itself by being scholarly plus practical, informative plus illuminating, historical plus relevant to present day life, diverse yet united by a common cause.

"In summary, authentic Christian spirituality (or the Christian life, which is the same thing) is a Spirit-enabled relationship with the triune God that results in openness to others, healing progress toward Christlikeness, and willing participation in God's purposes in the world." (Glen Scogie)

The common themes are described in three movements: relational, transformational and vocational, and three dynamics: Christ with us, Christ in us, and Christ working through us.

The statistics are impressive. One volume, one general editor, three consulting editors, over four years, traversing several continents, and hundreds of contributors from all over the world. The articles give a very succinct summary on the nuances of the various aspects of Christian Spirituality. What makes it very readable is the conscious decision to avoid flooding the article with excessive footnotes, typical of a scholastic manual. Instead, using non-intrusive italics, brackets, and suitably placed references for additional research, one finds the book very readable. Each time you open up the dictionary, there is always something new to learn. The ecumenical approach will appeal to many different traditions. The historical approach gives readers a clear understanding of the past, and opens up creative ways to imagine its applications in the present. The interdisciplinary stance weaves in theology, philosophy, epistemology, missions, mysticism, monasticism, psychology, modern science, plus many Christian spiritual disciplines familiar to popular evangelical culture. In fact, the book dishes out much more than conventional Christian spirituality, engaging changing contexts and modern cultures in a way that is modern, relevant, yet grounded in history.

Part One comprises of 34 integrative essays on key thrusts of Christian spirituality. Part Two packs in nearly 700 short entries on terms related to Christian spirituality. While Gordon Wakefield's and Philip Sheldrake's dictionary versions is from a Protestant perspective, and Michael Downey's from a Catholic point of view, this volume seeks to be ecumenical, combining the best of scholarship, popular writing, practitioners, and many more. The purpose of the dictionary is to provide an update on the field of Christian spirituality, be 'biblically engaged,' practical and assessible, covering a wide range of traditions, putting focus on neglected forms of spirituality, global reach, interdisciplinary, and at an affordable price point.

"Christian spirituality is the domain of lived Christian experience. It is about living all of life - not just some esoteric portion of it - before God, through Christ, in the transforming and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. And precisely because this lived experience of the Christian is the existential heart of the faith, its careful examination and nurture are vitally important." (Glen Scorgie, 27)
For an 'inside scoop' on how the book is birthed, go to Glen Scorgie's website here.

My Comments

This volume is a joy to read, especially for students of Christian spirituality. Beginning with an affirmation of evangelical beliefs, it embraces other traditions that enriches the study of spirituality. The integrated perspectives cover the Old and New Testaments, on each member of the Triune Godhead, a history of more than 2000 years of Church history, Christian Education, Spiritual Formation, Eschatology, and many more. From the ancient teachings of Augustine and Plato, to the Medieval mystics; from the Protestant beginnings to popular culture, from the present to a glimpse of how the future looks like, this book is a delight to behold. The short articles are indeed brief, supported by an equally brief list of references for further research.

As a dictionary, I strongly recommend buying a hard copy instead of the ebook version. This review is based on a physical hard copy that I borrowed from the library. The initial ebook version that I received is way too difficult to read. Other than this minor hiccup, I have lots of fun just breezing through the works of the many professors I have come to known personally from my seminary days.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5. (for the hardcover version)


The ebook version of this book has been supplied to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments made above are freely mine.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: "Disciple"

TITLE: Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus (RE: Lit)
AUTHOR: Bill Clem
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011.

This is one of the best current books on discipleship in the Church. Written in a clear and captivating manner, Clem has managed to distill the essentials of discipleship by focusing on the person of Christ. Beginning with the original purpose of man, the author takes the time to establish the groundwork that man's calling is still to be the image of God, that man has been created to be. Clem shows us that God reveals Himself to us, through story, and enables us through listening. What is at risk is not God's story to man, but man's distortion of God's story. He writes:

"The God of the Bible does not seem as interested in us knowing about him as he desires for us to actually know him - to have experiential knowledge of him." (12)
He goes on to add that man's version of his own story is distorted and is a futile search for significance. I find it a great reminder not to make the gospel so man-friendly, that it fails to catch God's story. God's story is told through creation (evidence of God in the world), through the Bible (Inspired Word), through Jesus (Incarnation), through the Triune God (relationships). Other themes of the story include conflict and redemption, and the way back to the image of God is via worship, community, mission, and a keen awareness that man is part of something bigger. Much bigger.

The rest of the book hones on:

  • True Image vs Distorted Identity;
  • True Worship vs Distorted Worship;
  • True Community vs Distorted Community;
  • True Mission vs Distorted Mission.

Clem ends the book with a call to renew our focus on God in discipleship, demonstrated in planning, in multiplying, and in faithful living. Without the Cross of Christ, man moves toward shrinking hope. Through the Cross of Jesus, man progresses toward expanding hope and joy in God. The true hero of the story is in Jesus.

The image of God is mysterious, and for man to take wonder. Clem warns readers that there is a tendency to replace this image with 'blessings from God' like 'raises, promotions, positions, and possessions.' (69) There is a danger to replace interconnected living with individualistic lifestyles. There are three major distortions of one's sense of identity:

  1. "I am what I do." - where one's sense of identity is based on successes or failures in the world
  2. "I am What has been done to me." - where one's sense of identity is based on a reaction or retaliation of what has been done.
  3. "I am my relationships, my role, and responsibilities" - of one's sense of identity being wrapped up in temporal and undependable things.

True worship is one that is in love, in truth, in Spirit, in glory of God. Distortions of worship includes the three gateways of pride (Pleasure, Power, People).  In pride lies an idolatry of self that lives a life that is susceptible to anger, or fear.

True community learns to worship together, is devoted to truth, prayer, communion, belonging, and witnessing together. Unfortunately, community is often distorted in at least four ways:

  1. Distortion #1: community as therapy, seeing sin or a need to make an excuse to come together.
  2. Distortion #2: Some see community as a time to network and make friends or business partners.
  3. Distortion #3: Community as Program, where the community is loosely held through programming alone.
  4. Distortion #4: Community as 'exclusively Christian', that creates an unhealthy 'us-vs-them' mentality.
True mission is in two parts. The first is about unveiling the glory of God, manifested in God's people, redeemed creation. The second is about discovering and destroying the effects of sin. Again, mission is distorted through various kinds of 'onlys.'
  1. Only the message of evangelism, where mission is limited to proclaiming the gospel
  2. Only mercy is needed, where mission is limited to good works, social justice, etc
  3. Only freeing from sin, which limits the gospel to a mere unlocking of the door and nothing more
  4. Only apologetics, where one deals with trying to win arguments for the faith.
Instead, true mission has 4 components. One needs to declare the gospel of hope boldly in spite of opposition in the world. One needs to disclose the kingdom of God through Christlikeness. One needs to display Jesus and the Kingdom through tangible ways, to reconcile man to his original image of God. One needs to defend the gospel of hope, against doubts, sin, and all manner of evil. 

In Planning, Clem deals with three common reactions to mission. Firstly, to the statement "I can't do this," he uncovers the hurdles of habitual sins, debilitating mindsets, and a lack of priority management. He lists down ten friends, or 'specialists' that every disciple needs at various times of his journey to discipleship.

  • "A counselor to address your emotional sticking points."
  • "A coach to call you to accountability for the goals you set."
  • "A pastor to provide spiritual direction."
  • "An encourager to provide the inspiration to 'hang in there' and not give up."
  • "A peer to serve as an influencer."
  • "A consultant to provide information and input."
  • "An example to provide a template through their experience."
  • "A mentor who is a life stage or two ahead of you to provide wisdom."
  • "A friend with whom to walk through the journey."
  • "A partner who labors toward the same cause." (188-9)
He proposes a Shepherding compass to help leaders to grow, to feed, to lead, and to protect their flock. Finally, he urges the disciple to be fruitful and multiply through prayer, through the shaping of oneself in the Word, through forgiveness that reconcile relationships, through service with a servant heart, through a visionary mindset, and many more.

My Comments

I like the way that Clem builds his case about discipleship is all about becoming the image of God that God has called us to be, THROUGH Jesus. It is the imitation of Christ. It is to put away our distorted nature, and to let Christ redeem our fallen selves. Without God, the 'image of God' is essentially meaningless. Clem's book is very intentional about becoming like Christ, believing in Christ, belonging to Christ, and bearing the image of Christ to all, through community and hopeful living.

Clem's main idea is this:

"The point I am attempting to make is that if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons." (65)

Well said. This is a book that deserves to be read by Church leaders and especially disciples of Christ. If you are serious about discipleship, but do not know where to start, the common wisdom is to begin with prayer and the Bible. If you still need help, you can use this book to spearhead your journey into meaningful and exciting path of discipleship.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of Crossway Books and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. The opinions expressed are freely mine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: "Everyday Prayers"

TITLE: Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith
AUTHOR: Scotty Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

Wow! This book is a gift for the Church. It integrates prayer with Scripture. It weaves cultural understanding with a keen awareness of the times. It packs theology with daily practical applications. Most of all, it focuses attention on God without taking one's eyes off earthly needs.

For each day, Scotty Smith writes a 1-page prayer, beginning with a short Scripture passage. Whether the prayer is in the first, second, or third person, the focus is always directed to God. There are prayers of anticipation (Jan 1), of pain and suffering (Feb 2), for being more Jesus-centered (Mar 14), for clarity (Apr 10), on suicidal fears (May 1), on working hard (May 25), and many more. Smith journals his prayers honestly from his heart, intentionally toward God, and compassionately with the world he loves.

I like this particular phrase that Scotty makes:

"Indeed the central and operative questions in life is not 'What would Jesus do if he were here?' Rather, it is 'What is Jesus doing?' since he is right here, and everywhere else, right now." (14)

How true.

There are so many ways this book can be used. As a devotional, one starts the day with Jesus, trusting one's emotional and spiritual needs to God. As a meditation, one clings on to the Scripture passage which directs the day's prayer focus. As a prayer, one internalizes the needs of the world with the feelings inside the heart. Regardless of the ups and downs in daily living, this book enables readers to journey strongly in faith and in confidence that God is in charge. The book can also be used for public prayer, like the congregational prayer in churches.

Fresh. Intentional. Biblical. Brilliant. If you buy this book, do not let it sit on your bookshelves. Keep it by your bedside. Pray with it. Mark it. Meditate on Scripture with it. If you are looking to pay more attention to God, this book is like turning a key on our ignition engine to start our vehicle of prayer.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: "Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die"

TITLE: Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die
AUTHOR: Bobby Conway
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Multmomah Books, 2011.

This is another book fired against Rob Bell's controversial book, Love Wins. Conway is a pastor passionate about the gospel and biblical truth. He admits right from the start that he 'didn't have to write this book.'  Beginning with his reasoning for writing his rebuttal to Rob Bell's book, he assures readers that what he writes is not against Rob Bell as a person. Instead, the book is about addressing the errors pertaining to biblical truth. He is deeply concerned about Bell's theology that seems to suggest a kind of salvation that is 'so deep and so wide' that all in hell can have heaven (12).  He argues his main point:

"And hell matters. It matters to God because it's where His justifiable wrath is poured out on unrepentant sinners. And it should matter to us because people who don't know about Jesus or are confused or misled about Him are dying every day. The greatest way to love people is not to ignore hell but to become burdened extroverts in telling others the truth - that Jesus has provided a guaranteed way to avoid hell. Not harsh or condescending extroverts on hell, but loving, broken, humble extroverts that speak honestly about the horrible reality of hell. We need to speak up. " (19)

Conway then launches into explicitly stating what hell is according to the Bible. In contrast to Bell's indirectness and fluffy theologizing, Conway is direct, sharp, and clear. He points out 5 major errors behind Love Wins. Firstly, Bell reshapes God into man's image. Secondly, Bell makes the gospel more palatable to human eyes, making it as inoffensive as possible. Thirdly, Bell fails to reconcile God's glory with God's wrath. Fourthly, Bell makes the mistake of elevating love above all other attributes, making love into a 'god' in itself. Like Mark Galli,  Conway also declares that God Wins.

"So it's not that love wins, or justice wins, or holiness wins, but that God in all his perfect attributes, wins! Yes, God wins!" (54)

Finally, Conway accuses Bell of having a confused theology that misleads more than guide.

My Comments

This book is thankfully brief, simply because much have already been said about the contradictions of Love Wins. I like the clear manner in Conway's writings which makes the book easy to follow, point after point. I appreciate the understanding manifested in Conway's explanation, that amid the hard biblical facts, lie soft human questions. Frequently, Conway will offer an insight about the struggles of a reader wanting to see the best of God, and the best of man.

Released as an ebook makes this book more widely available to an audience that is increasingly Internet savvy, with little time on their hands to read thick compendium of arguments. This book gives a good summary in easy to understand format as to why Love Wins has moved away from traditional understanding of Scripture, especially heaven and hell.

If there is a critique, I think while this book is very clear on the doctrines of heaven and hell, in contrast to Love Wins, it may unwittingly be stepping into the domain of mystery, where there are no easy questions or answers. This is where I stand with Eastern Orthodox's preference toward Apophathic theology. I will prefer to entitle the book as: "Why I disagree with Love Wins" or something pertaining to disagreeing with Rob Bell's theology, leaving aside the details of heaven and hell to God alone.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free by Multnomah Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments offered above are freely mine.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: "The Gospel According to Twilight"

TITLE: The Gospel According to Twilight: Women, Sex, and God
AUTHOR: Elaine A. Heath
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

I have not read Heath's works before. Yet, I cannot help but finish this book in one sitting. No prizes for guessing how I feel about the book. The title is captivating. The introduction is engrossing. The book is both entertaining as well as illuminating. In many ways, Heath has marinated herself with the gripping style of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga. Using words familiar with Twilight enthusiasts and followers, as well as many gospel motifs, this book will be an immediate hit for both Christian as well as non-Christian public in two ways.

Firstly, the book ushers readers into a brief nostalgic journey through all four books in Twilight, Eclipse, New Moon, and Breaking Dawn. The author describes the book's characters insightfully. She details Edward's amazing capacity for self-control. She lambasts Bella's seemingly low self-esteem. She credits Carlisle's warm father figure. She points out the interesting role of the Cullen vampire Family that appears more human than the human race. At the same time, she contrasts the dehumanizing and dysfunctional image of the supposedly 'human' family of Bella's.

Secondly, Heath goes beyond simply providing point summaries. She draws out salient theological and gospel themes. Such like the themes of salvation, sin, and conversion. Reflections on the Garden of Eden, temptations, death, transformation. She is explicit in pointing out Stephanie Meyer's Mormon background, comparing it with the various points of theological interpretation. After contrasting Mormon teachings with Eastern Orthodox as well as Catholic/Protestant teachings, she highlights the unique perspective adopted by Meyer, and how Meyer's theology even differs from the traditional LDS Mormon teachings.

Heath's book brings a fresh perspective on the Twilight series. What is most helpful is learning the reasons why Twilight has become a hit among young girls. This is particularly important for parents of young teenagers, especially girls. As a self-professed feminist theologian, Heath is clearly passionate about the female cause. Her main peeve with the book is how it has placed the female sex (played by a weakly Bella) below a strong male figure (played by Edward Cullen). I appreciate Heath's penchant for details, and her ability to draw out the rich theological themes. As part of a course in Heath's teaching program in seminary, it would have been a pity if it is restricted only to seminary students there. Thankfully, with this book, the general public can catch a good glimpse without having to be in her seminary class.

The Gospel According to Twilight blends in contemporary culture interpretation with gospel awareness. The book is an excellent example on how to watch modern movies with gospel eyes. This in itself is worth spending time reading the book.


This book is provided to me free courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely mine.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: "Discipleship That Transforms"

TITLE: Discipleship That Transforms: An Introduction to Christian Education from a Wesleyan Holiness Perspective
EDITOR: John H. Aukerman
PUBLISHER: Anderson, Indiana: Warner Press, 2011.

This book is a teaching gem for Christian Education people. Touted as a book for Wesleyan students for a Wesleyan holiness perspective, it contains highly readable and educational information, techniques, practical helps for teaching discipleship. All the 14 contributors subscribe to 10 common faith affirmations. They are:

  1. High view of the authority of Scriptures.
  2. Faith in the Triune God, with specific reference to God the Holy Spirit as most active in our world today.
  3. Growing the people of God collectively
  4. Beyond cooperation toward unity of the Church.
  5. Belief in the Wesleyan quadrilateral: Reason, Experience, Tradition, and Scripture.
  6. Salvation and Sanctification as the gateway toward holiness in God.
  7. Prevenient Grace, where God stirs the hearts of people prior to them accepting God.
  8. Both human free will and cooperation with God
  9. Goal of CE and discipleship is CHRISTLIKENESS.
  10. Healthy balance of 'being' and 'doing' in spiritual walk.
The book is divided into three parts: Principles, Planning, and Practice. In Part One, ten chapters lay the foundation of what Christian Education means from a Wesleyan perspective. It touches on the historical, the theological, the Christological, the biblical, the cultural, the anthropological, the pedagogical, the missional approaches to Christian Education. 

In Part Two, the administrative, the curriculum, the Bible methods of study, the facilities, and many relevant topics pertaining to designing a holistic Education syllabus are described.

While the articles are generally written with practice in mind, Part Three expands on the practical side of CE. What is particularly useful is the forward looking perspective in the final two contributions by Jerry Hickson. In the first contribution, he calls for a recognition of the positive themes of the emerging movement, as well as the precautions needed. One particular phrase he makes about an emerging trend in education, strikes a chord:

"Dogma has given way to questioning." (363)
If this is true, perhaps the way forward is to embrace more questions rather than dishing out quick answers. 

In the second case, he makes a case for recognizing the changing trends and the need to adjust our curriculum appropriately.

My comments

This book is such a find for those interested in Christian Education, that it will be a shame if non-Wesleyan public miss out on this book. The large compendium of articles cover so many relevant parts of Scripture that I feel evangelicals in general will appreciate this book for its depth of insight and breadth of coverage of all topics pertaining to Christian Education. The many different contributors ensure that the book does not become too orientated to any one particular slant or opinion. Aukerman does a credible job of putting all together.

For an introductory text, this book is clear and explains itself well enough for the first year student of Christian Education. For more advanced readers, this book serves as a useful reference for teaching and for being reminded about Christianity and discipleship. For the general evangelical reader, there is no need to be worried about the 'Holiness movement' aspect of this book. It is fairly presented, and aims to present the basics of a Christian Education curriculum.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided free of charge courtesy of Warner Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments are freely mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: "What Good is God?"

TITLE: What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters
AUTHOR: Philip Yancey
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faith Words, 2010.

This is the latest book by Philip Yancey, with lots of references to his previous writings and recollections of his own faith journey. The author entitles this book in a thought-provoking way, showing readers that faith while not easy is possible. Amid a world of suffering, pain, terrorism, heartaches, it is still possible to discover and search for a faith that matters.

The book begins with Yancey's personal near-death experience that rocks him back to memories of his own faith journey. Through the lens of "What Good Is God?" he probes the matter of suffering at the massacre of Virginia Tech University in 2007. Instead on focusing on the pain and hurt, he focuses on the comfort and healing that many have provided.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: "Reality is Broken"

TITLE: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

AUTHOR: Jane McGonigal
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2011.

We have all heard of the common saying that computer games are generally not as good and as beneficial when compared to traditional sports. Parents worry over the countless number of hours their kids spend on the computer playing games. Psychologists warn of addiction. Yet, this book uniquely bucks the trend. According to Jane McGonigal, games are actually good for you. Not only that, it helps fix a world where reality is broken.

The basic premise of the book is that gamers in general find fulfilment in computer games simply because they recognize how broken the real world is. In games, they can achieve their highest potential. They can simulate models to solve the world's most pressing problems. They can collaborate with other gamers and build an online community that is real. Contrary to many accusations that games are escapist mechanisms, the author bravely turns the critiques of games on its head, by advocating that games have positive effect on fighting social problems. She describes her vision as follows:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: "Doing Virtuous Business"

This review was first published at Yapdates here.

TITLE: Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise

AUTHOR: Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2008.

Spiritual capital is not only profitable in the long run, it is vital for the survival of any organization. In this book, the author makes a strong case for a kind of business culture that is more than mere profit-making or stockholder-pleasing. At the core of the book's argument is that the goal of business is to bring about both material prosperity as well as a flourishing of the human quality of life. Strongly in favour of capitalism over socialism, what is needed is not to discard capitalistic ideas too quickly, but to cement it with a strong layer of social and spiritual capital. In fact, spiritual capital or enterprise is the way to bring out the best of capitalism.

About the Book
This book is filled with lots of stories from the business world, coupled with multiple descriptions of virtues, philosophy of life, and the meaning of spiritual capital. Spiritual capital is "the bold idea that the creation of wealth by virtuous means is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and others, for our society, and for the world at large." (5)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: "NIV Student Bible"

TITLE: NIV, Student Bible, Compact, Hardcover
NOTES BY: Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Two of the biggest questions in Bible translation work is readability and faithfulness. In the Old Testament, the original language is in Hebrew while for the New Testament, it is in Greek and Aramaic. Some translations try to be literally as close as possible to the original language. Examples include the KJV and the NASB. Others aim more at readability without changing the meaning of the texts. This is the paraphrase model, where the MSG and the Living Bible are two popular versions. The NIV has traditionally sat somewhere in between the two. Sometimes this method is called 'dynamic equivalence.'

In this latest release of the study Bible, Zondervan has updated not just the techniques in Bible reading, but also the NIV text itself. It is easy to see the intent of the publisher: Promote Bible literacy by making the reading process as conducive as possible. This I think is a commendable move. Here are the strengths of this latest study Bible. Firstly, the 3-track reading program is very manageable and should appeal to all readers of different spiritual levels of maturity. Beginners use Track 1, where selected themes are covered in two-week segments. In Track 2, major themes of the Bible are covered, but it requires the reader to a chapter a day, for six months. The more adventurous can use Track 3, which is to read the entire Bible in 3 years. Delightfully arranged, the Bible has lots of reading 'guiderails' to keep the reader from getting lost in the details of the Biblical story.

Every book of the Bible contains an introduction to the book. With stories and illustrations, the introduction is a pleasure to read. The use of vivid blue headings throughout gives the Bible a very fresh look. I appreciate the step by step guides and pointers throughout that keeps the reader aware of the contexts and the overall flow of the Bible. There are 'Life Questions' at various points to allow readers to reflect and to apply.

Unfortunately, while I appreciate the many helps and guides in the Bible, I think serious Bible readers will find them too distracting. Novices may be left wondering which part of the texts belongs to the Bible, and which are added by Zondervan. If the distinction is clearer through the use of colors, shades, or fonts, it will enhance the overall study Bible clarity. Experienced Bible readers and teachers will not find them a problem. New readers will not even notice the problem.

Overall, I think the intent of the publisher is good. The Bible is very readable. Unfortunately, this Bible cannot be used alone by itself. Readers need to supplement this Bible with a more literal edition.

Ratings: 3.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free of charge by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The opinion expressed are freely mine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: "After Shock"

TITLE: AFTER SHOCK - Searching for Honest Faith When your World is Shaken
AUTHOR: Kent Annan
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011.

This is one of the most honest books that tackle the bull of suffering by the horns of honesty. Suffering is something not easily solved or answered. In a book that oscillates between mindful faith, and hurting doubts, Annan sensitively deals with issues of God, disasters, suffering, pain, faith and doubt.

In Part One, the author deals with the issue of 'confronting a crisis of faith.' It recognizes that disasters just happen. Being honest about it enables one to hold the reality of suffering on one hand, and maintain a semblance of hope on the other. The author verbalizes many of our concerns and wishes, by listing down a 'wish list for change.' Wishes like God being able to swipe away disasters before they happen; like God making life less painful than it is; like punishment for the wicked, and reward for the good, and so on. He ends this part by urging readers to learn to feel.

"I want to cry, because when I'm honest about sadness I'm able to be more open to joy. I want to cry, because maybe it will help me find God. Yes, that might be putting too much added pressure on the tear ducts. I want to cry if it helps me find extra strength for my small work toward justice. If we don't turn away, just like this may our tears flow as prayer and then as love." (73)

In Part Two, Annan demonstrates how disasters shake faith in a poignant manner. The Church he attends regularly is also in rubble. Not only is one's spiritual faith rocked, the physical building that represents religious faith is also among the rocks. Faith means to keep moving despite the shocks and after shocks. He notes that after the earthquake in Haiti, one visible trend is the increase in marriages. Under normal circumstances, people marry only when they have enough money. After an earthquake, when everyone is equally lost and poor, people marry without guilt of not accumulating enough riches. In Annan's view, such a rush to marry is one way of establishing 'stability and commitment in a shaky world.'

My Comments
This book looks more like a lament rather than a how-to-relief book on suffering. Each chapter has a verse from a lament psalm: Ps 13. It is a meditation on the author's experience of the earthquake in Haiti and how he weaves in faith and doubt amid the suffering he sees and feels. It takes a physical earthquake shock that reverberates with multiple spiritual aftershocks later on.

How can one enjoy a book like this? I think it is hard. Just like it is hard to 'enjoy' any topic that hurts, it is hard to read about anything on suffering. Suffering us a mystery. No one can fully answer the problem. It is not something to be solved, but to be lived through. We can try to prevent it. We can learn from it. We can even teach about it. Yet, the fact remains. Suffering exists, and the sooner we learn to accept it as a part of life, the better prepared we are to deal with it. Annan shows us the way to deal with it as follows. Lament. Talk about it with God. Frequently. Let our faith linger with God. Do not try to speed up a resolution to suffering for there is none. Do not try to slow down the recovery when there is one. Keep one's faith honest. There is a kind of doubt that leads to faith. Annan has shown us one way to do just that.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: "The Ring Makes All the Difference" (Glenn Stanton)

TITLE: The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage
AUTHOR: Glenn T. Stanton
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, (160 pages).

Fewer people are getting married. More are preferring to cohabit. Fewer people want to be tied down to any long-term relationships, preferring instead to short-term ones. Unfortunately, the statistics show that cohabitation is worse for any relationships. In a book that is a clarion call against the temptation of cohabitation instead of marriage, Stanton conveniently brings together scientific research and social studies that consistently proves that cohabitation is a bad idea.

In chapter one, Stanton traces the origins of cohabitation, that while it is an old idea, the reasons are different. Long ago, people cohabit because of a lack of ministers to conduct the marriage. Nowadays, people cohabit because they have a low view of marriage. In chapter two, the author raises the question of what couples are looking for in a relationship, and proves that cohabitation does not meet their real needs. In chapter three, Stanton gives about 9 reasons why cohabitation is worse than marriage.

  1. Cohabitation has no glue to link the relationship;
  2. Cohabitation results in a lack of desire to invest in the relationship financially
  3. Cohabitation lacks the advantage of strong supporting friends of married couples
  4. Cohabiting couples are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than married couples
  5. Cohabiting couples are twice as likely to cheat on each other; men 4x more than husbands, and women 8x more than wives;
  6. Cohabitation does not lead to building up of wealth, unlike marital couples who combine their resources more readily
  7. Cohabitating couples, especially men, are less likely to do house chores
  8. Cohabitation carries higher risk. Just check out life and auto insurance premiums for non-marrieds.
  9. Cohabitation is mere togetherness, while marriage is commitment

Friday, September 2, 2011

"Understanding World Religions" (Irving Hexham)

TITLE: Understanding World Religions: An Interdisciplinary Approach
AUTHOR: Irving Hexham
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

As an avid student of Ninian Smart, Hexham approaches the study of world religions from the perspective of an active comparative study, even though some of the studies may be controversial in nature. Unlike most books that mainly describe religions, the author here chooses to go beyond that. He opts to look at world religions firstly according to what practitioners understand, and secondly, to give his take on religions from a Christian standpoint.

In trying to understand what 'religion' means, one needs to understand the contexts that give religions their shape and meaning. Things like rituals, institutions, traditions, myths, doctrines, and 'sacral sentiments' all make up the contexts of what any particular religion means.

In studying religion, Hexham highlights five practical approaches, namely the historical, the philosophical, the logical, the sociological, and social anthropological. The value of the book lies in how he manages to link all of them together in an inter-disciplinary manner. This makes the book very holistic and covers a wide area of perspectives. He makes an important point in acknowledging that there is always bias in any study. Thus one needs not be embarrassed about one's stand, including his own. In other words, it is better to recognize one's bias upfront, in order to give readers a helpful stance to study and critique any work.

Hexham chooses to categorize the world's religions under three big headings: 'African traditions,' 'Yogic traditions,' and the monotheistic Abrahamic tradition. The first touches on the tribal religions, witchcraft, zulu etc. The second covers Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and 'Yogic-types.'

I find the stance of the author helpful. In openly acknowledging his perspective from a Christian point of view, he needs not fear being accused of being biased in any way. More often than not, he is truthful. I find Hexham's treatment fair. Christians will benefit from having Hexham as a guide to show them greater understanding of the world religions. Non-Christians can benefit too.

Though the book can be academic and heavy going, it should be a part of any students' study of comparative religion.


This book has been provided to me free of charge by NetGalley and Zondervan without any obligation of a positive review. All opinions expressed are freely mine.