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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: "What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary"

TITLE: What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary
AUTHOR: James Emery White
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary: 25 Lessons for Successful Ministry in Your ChurchThis book is an extremely practical book on Christian ministry, for pastors, leaders, and anybody concerned about effective ministry in churches and Christian organizations. Full of real life examples, and wise tips for ministry, the author has given the Church a gift. Distilling his experience as a pastor, a professor, and a parishioner, White shares pertinent observations of 25 aspects of Christian ministry, ranging from inner emotional survival of the leader, to the outer face of doing Church ministry. There is a little bit of everything in this book. Do not let the simplicity of the layman language deceive you. The book is for leaders and those concerned about christian leadership in the Church.

My Comments
When something that is so obvious but are so clearly communicated with style and with wise substance, it strikes a raw nerve pleasantly. White has given us 25 wise counsels that will help us not only survive but thrive in doing Christian ministry. I appreciate the way the author strings together his personal experience, his professional ministry, his professorial insights, as well as down to earth observations of Christian people, and ministry work.

Unlike some Christian manuals on leadership, this book is highly readable. Academic references are kept to a minimum. The aperture of real life experience are opened to the maximum. The wit and humour helps one to laugh at the silliness of some of our expectations in ministry work.

There are many points in the books that evoke involuntary affirmations of "Yes! Yes! Yes!" within me. Do not let the simplicity of the book fool you. It is a profound work of academic thought and practical help, welded through the many years of ups and downs of Christian ministry. It can be used as material for pastoral reflection, curriculum for training Christian leaders, as well as a way to give laypeople in insight into the unique challenges surrounding Christian ministries.

Buy your leaders a copy of this book. Get your pastor to read it. This book should be required reading for all seminarians, especially MDiv students/graduates. For anyone discouraged about ministry, this book packs a punch that not only jolts one back to realistic expectations, but smothered with lots of encouragement.

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".

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: "God Wins"

TITLE: God Wins - Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News is better than Love Wins
AUTHOR: Mark Galli
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011.

In the light of the hype surrounding the phenomenal controversy over Rob Bell's "Love Wins," this book simply has to be written. In a point by point, blow by blow rebuttal, Galli musters up his deep theological concerns about the book, and gives a vigorous response to the problems surrounding "Love Wins." In a nutshell, "Love Wins" underestimates hell and misunderstands the love of God. He observes:

"What is assumed in this entire discussion in Love Wins is that the human will is free, autonomous, and able to choose between alternatives. The discussion assumes that the will is not fallen, that it needs no salvation, that it doesn't even need help. It assumes that human beings are unbiased moral agents who stand above the fray and make independent decisions about the most important matters." (71)

Galli is meticulous in dismantling the entire book. Careful not to judge Rob Bell, he focuses on the book itself. This sets the stage for the book, that it is not one to judge a person, but to judge the ideas in the book. Having done that, Galli unleashes everything that he disagrees with in the book in an unapologetic fashion. In other words, he does not mince his words.

In chapter one, Galli questions the kind of questions that Love Wins poses. According to Galli, the questions in "Love Wins" are centered around 'self-justification' rather than God justifying human beings (4). Chapter Two builds upon this, saying that the God behind "Love Wins" is lopsided toward a 'thin and sentimental' kind of God (18). In chapter three, Galli helpfully lists 7 deadly realities of the problem of sin (38).  In chapter four, one of the problems behind "Love Wins" is that it tries to solve 'faith.' Galli writes:

"This is the place where Love Wins speculates about whether everyone will eventually be saved. This is a significant question, and there will be more on it in chapter 7 of this book. But toward the end of that chapter in Love Wins, the question is set aside because, admittedly, it can't really be answered." (67)

In chapter five, Galli criticizes Love Wins for its deficient description of heaven. In chapter six Galli continues his dismantling by questioning the theological credibility of Love Wins's attitude toward hell and judgment. For instance, Love Wins illustrations of hell tends to refer to victims who suffer 'hellish consequences' instead of something more eternal (103). In other words, hell tends to be more existential than eternal. This is another example of a deficient understanding of hell.

Chapter 7 talks about the bad news of Love Wins: Universalism. Calling it an 'argument from desire' Galli contrasts Love Wins presupposition as man getting what man wants rather than God wanting what God wants (115). Love Wins is wrong to have attempted to do 'divine maths' where it assumes it is unthinkable for God to let so many 'billions' of people die. In chapter 8, Galli concludes by declaring God wins based on God's terms, rather than Love wins based on man's terms.

"We trust not simply that love wins or that justice also wins. In fact, we trust not in a that but in a who. And that is the perfectly merciful and just God who wins." (152)

My Comments
I feel that this book hits the mark on many points. Galli is eloquent in his rebuttals, using illustrations to highlight his points of disagreements. In fact, reading this book helps readers to understand the nuances of the theological differences more. I will say that both books, Love Wins and God Wins ought to be read together in a package, as they complement each other more, rather than negate each other. While I have theological disagreements with Rob Bell's book, I feel that Mark Galli has overplayed his disagreements. In other words, Love wins is not as bad as Galli makes it out to be. Bell is earnest and bold enough to deal with the difficult question of eternal hell. Galli may have been a little too harsh on Love Wins.

This brings me to one negative. As I read the book, I get the feeling that Galli is simply looking for problems in the book to criticize, just like a hammer looking for nails to hammer.

In conclusion, do not read "Love Wins" without reading "God Wins." In other words, do not just read one of them. Read both.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been made available to me free of charge by NetGalley and Tyndale publishers without any obligation for a positive review. The comments and opinions expressed are freely mind.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: "Rumors of God"

TITLE: Rumors of God - Experience the kind of Faith you've only heard about
AUTHOR: Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011.

[This book is also published on my main blog: Yapdates]

This wonderful book by two very good friends, tells of God's strange but delightful work in people, of an observant spiritual eye noticing the working of the Holy Spirit. It is a story of good news, repeated through the mantra of ‘rumors’ that every Christian ought to hear. Essentially, God is nearer than we think. God is closer than we feel. God is present where we are. The central message of this message is that God is more real than we experience, more present than we feel, and more active than we think. The authors quote CS Lewis’ words in their book as their main theme:

The world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.” (Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson, Rumors of God, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, 5)

Coming to life it is! Using seven chapters to convince the mind and to convict the individual heart, one chapter to inspire the spirit of community, and another two toward global justice, environmental concerns and eschatological hope, the book calls us to live out our faith openly and passionately. Before one can do that, one needs to re-focus and re-direct their attention. One reason why many Christians fail to experience God is because they are barking up the wrong tree.

“Society seems to be drifting further and further into secular humanism and we, as Christians, feel powerless to do anything about it. Ironically, the culture grows increasingly more spiritual while the church grows increasingly more practical. No wonder most Americans say they’re not interested in Christianity.” (6)

The book is a clarion call for readers to live out the faith they profess, and to let God turn one from statue into a bold living out of one’s status of being children of light.

My Comments

This book is immensely practical and very inspirational. It is a reminder to us that the gospel is not hearsay. It tells us that it is real and can be even more real, if we let God lead us.

I like the way the authors distinguish mercy and grace through the example of a motorist pulled over by the police. Mercy is about being forgiven the driving offense. Grace goes far beyond forgiveness. Grace is forgiveness and continual giving all rolled into one. (72) Calling forgiveness the central theme in the biblical narrative (81), readers are urged to learn to live humbly through the giving up of their perceived rights, as well as debunking the six myths of forgiveness (90).

The structure of the book reveals the authors' intention. Before one can begin living passionately for God outside, much work needs to start from the inside. I suspect this is the reason why the authors use seven initial chapters to stir up reader’s soul to start noticing God by noticing the rumblings within ourselves. Recognize that we are motionless statues without God. Let Christ give us life, and the Holy Spirit give us vitality to live out that love of God in Christ. The pattern is evident throughout the book.

A lot of space is allocated to describing the Western culture, and readers in the Western world will appreciate the many familiar symbols, consumerism, materialism, and spiritualism.Readers will appreciate the many illustrations and easy to follow cultural references, and how Christians can live biblically amid the worldliness around them. One of my favourite chapters is about living out the gospel in order (chapter 5). In a world where many try to do too many things in too little time, it is easy to misplace our spiritual discernment, and to misinterpret gospel priorities.

There are rumblings of spiritual work in the background. There are ruminations of revival. There are rumors of God. Those of us who are discouraged in our spiritual walk, or who desire spiritual revival, begin with this book, and see how the stories, illustrations, and the good news inspire you to turn rumors into reality.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book: "The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity"

TITLE: The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity
EDITOR: Daniel Patte
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

This 1343 pages compendium of dictionary articles have been meticulously collected from 828 contributors from all over the world. It attempts to be ecumenical, covering all branches of Christianity, and their major interactions with the different cultures, other religions, and traditions. It touches on almost anything one can think of. There are articles on theology, history, culture, tradition, spirituality, and things related to both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. There are also entries that describe concisely how Christianity has been received in the various countries.

My first impression of this book is one of surprise. For example, what has 'Shamanism' got to do with Christianity, and why certain countries are entered in as an article? After a while, I realize the intent of the book is to give an appreciation of how Christianity has grown, influenced, and continued to be an important part of this world. I like the way the contributors painstakingly try to be objective about the way the articles are written. Though it is written as a dictionary for Christianity, it works well both as a academic reference book, as well as a practical resource to learn about various contexts and backgrounds that host the Christian religion. Patte has done a great job. The extended bibliography is worth taking a look.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: "The Unexpected Adventure"

TITLE: The Unexpected Adventure - Taking everyday risks to talk with people about Jesus
AUTHORS: Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

This is a book about personal evangelism. In particular, it empowers believers to take a step of faith forward to share Christ without being bogged down by results. The author's purpose is described as follows:

"Our unabashed goal is to paint a real-life picture of personal evangelism that's so compelling, so desirable, so irresistible, and so darn do-able that you will be anxious to take the next step yourself -whatever that is - in engaging in your own adventures." (18)

The rest of the book is essentially about 42 days of 'adventure' in which believers in their ordinary circumstances, and neighbouring communities, see life as an exciting, purposeful, and meaningful journey. Each chapter begins with a short story and description of the day's topic. It then points out certain action principles, ending with a biblical inspiration at the end of each day. What makes the book very readable are the personal stories shared by the authors, as well as the practical steps readers can take to putting the ideas into practice. The authors write with a profound understanding of the common layperson, unsure and fearful of evangelism. There are ideas on: