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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: "Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job"

TITLE: Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today's Scientific Questions
AUTHOR: Hugh Ross
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (240 pages).

This book uncovers a lot of stuff. It also covers a wide range of reasons surrounding the biblical perspective of the world. It deals with scientific discoveries. It works through the reasons to believe, and that faith is in fact very reasonable. Through Job, Ross leads the reader to engage the Bible in a whole new way on natural history, timeless questions of God's existence, the creation of the earth, suffering, angels, and many more. He makes an assertion that the book of Job is essentially a gathering of the best minds in the world, through the persons of Job, Bildad, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Elihu. He argues that the book of Job itself speaks against the 'basic tenets of naturalism and deism, evolutionalism and young-earth creationism' (54). He explains that the 'Big Bang Universe' itself needs to be held together by an Intelligent Being who makes sure that life is not 'too fast' or 'too slow' (56-57). He goes through the seven days of creation, and instead of letting Genesis defend itself, he says that Job itself complements Genesis by authenticating the first 12 chapters of Genesis. He argues for the unique place of humans in that they are the only creatures with the capacity to 'think, gain understanding and discern what's wise' (107). Man is much more than apes and animals. Much much more. Nearly six chapters are devoted to distinguishing man and animal, that while man rules over animals, the animals do provide wonderful lessons for humans. Animals can teach humans about God, about ourselves, and about relationships too! Of dinosaurs and Jurassic Park, Ross suggests that such creatures are created on the Fifth Day in Genesis, that animals are there not just for our 'survival,' but also for our 'pleasure, joy, and quality of life' (185).

Finally, and thankfully, Ross deals with the age old topic of suffering. He concludes that Job teaches us not about our suffering or our responses to suffering. It is about God's 'gracious intervention' (200). It is also about how Job's 9 steps in discerning God's redemptive plan, and Elihu's 7 steps in understanding how God redeems.

Closing Thoughts

It is nice to discover a piece of hidden treasure. It is nicer still to realize the treasure is largely undiscovered. As many scientists, philosophers, and theologians continue to dig away at Genesis, few has actually taken the time to dwell in the book of Job. Perhaps, there is a stigma of pain and suffering associated with Job. Perhaps, Job has been largely dismissed as a book of debates between God and the Devil in the heavens, and Job with his friends on earth. Perhaps, there is too much poetry in the book of Job that many living in a scientific and technological world tend to avoid. I am glad that Ross has provided a refreshing contribution to the understanding of creation and the world from the perspective of the Bible, besides Genesis. I find the subtitle of the book overly ambitious. It may lead one to think that Job has been written to answer scientific questions. Far from it. The last part of the book clarifies this by saying that the overall thrust of Job is not about suffering, or about answering scientific questions. Neither is it a text for apologetics. It is about human redemption, how God redeems the world, Job and his friends, and promises that God has consistently asserted throughout the Bible. God's grace and redemption from beginning to end. This message is the greatest treasure that Ross has dug up in this book.

Rating: 4.25 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, November 28, 2011

Review: "Engage" (Nelson Searcy & Jason Hatley)

TITLE: Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services
AUTHOR: Nelson Searcy and Jason Hatley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (224 pages).

This is a guide book on crystallizing a philosophy of worship, a plan in preaching, a guide to planning and conducting the weekly Sunday service, a range of evaluation methods, and above all, a practical help for engaging the whole church to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Extremely readable. Wonderfully practical. Clear and understandable. This book fills in the gap between theology of worship and the practice of it during the worship service. The core belief in the book is that the weekly Church service is never meant to be something that is mundane, boring, stressful, or simply an unthinking matter-of-fact way of life. Instead, it can be managed well. Once a system of planning, preparation, practice, and prayer has been established, the entire worship service can take on a life of its own. When this happens, the worry and stress will not fall upon any one person. It becomes the responsibility of the whole worship team, church leaders, and pastoral group to listen to God and to listen to others.

Part One talks about the PHILOSOPHY of worship. Here, the authors remind readers to take time to work out a unique philosophy for their church. WORSHIP is an acronymn to help describe 7 principles of 'life-transforming worship.'

  • W = 'Work as a Team'
  • O = 'Outline Your Preaching Calendar'
  • R = 'Repentance is the Goal of Worship'
  • S = 'Sunday Matters'
  • H = 'Honor God through Excellence'
  • I = 'Invite People to Take the Next Steps'
  • P = 'Planning Honors God'

Part Two is most relevant to those involved in the preaching ministry. The important point is the planning via a preaching calendar. Apart from the practical steps, several ideas are introduced. For instance,

"The key to planning your preaching for maximum impact is to layer your attraction, growth, and balance series strategically over the natural attendance patterns of your yearly calendar." (71)

The authors provide 13 tips and warn of 3 temptations on preaching.

Part Three brings all the planning together through execution and implementation. Here, planning takes a backseat. The authors keep the overarching purpose of worship again.

"If the goal of your preaching is to connect God's truth to real life in a way that leads to transformation, then it's safe to infer that your overarching goal will be to create a life-transforming worship service each Sunday." (96)

There is the awareness of timelines in the planning. One needs to note the message series as well as the specific Sunday timeline. There is also the suggestions of three different kinds of worship formats. The first is the 'simple worship order' which simply allows the singing to form the first part, and the preaching to comprise the next. Second, the 'split' service modifies the simple format by having a singing-preaching followed by a second set of singing-preaching format. Third, there is the 'salsa worship order' which essentially mixes the worship, the preaching, the announcements in creative ways. Chief to the overall worship service is the need to have clear communications among all worship participants.

Part Four deals with the evaluation and the improvement aspect. There is always something to learn and to improve.

Closing Thoughts

I can summarize the key to the weekly service as follows.

  • Before the service: Plan and pray
  • During the Service: Practice and pray
  • After the Service: Prepare again and pray
This book enables the busy pastor, church leader, or lay persons interested in improving and designing the weekly Sunday service to be life-transforming. There are plenty of ideas shared from the experiences of the authors. They are not rocket science, but are highly practical. I appreciate the way the authors provide examples throughout the book, and in the appendix.  I believe this book can reach out to many different quarters in any church.  For the new reader, it gives an idea that a worship service is a team effort. For the more laid-back, it reminds one not to take the worship team, the pastor, or those serving each week for granted. For the stressed out and tired ones, this book shows us that through planning, such anxiety and stress can be minimized. For the pastor, it is a reminder again that the church belongs to God, and prayer is a demonstration of that trust. For the easily worried, this book is an encouragement on why we need not worry.

Nevertheless, I am a little disappointed that the book does not have a chapter or two that specifically deals with how to choose songs for worship, grooming worship leaders, the use of hymnals, the instruments used, or the nitty-gritty of setting up the music. Perhaps, future editions can incorporate this important aspect.

In summary, one is reminded again, that behind the regular Church service, the seemingly smooth execution of worship and preaching, there is a ton of activities, planning, praying, and communicating going on during the other six days. When you are feeling stressed out or running out of ideas, pick up this book. Engage is worth the read. For the weary, it will lift your sagging spirits.

Rating: 4 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".

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Pastor's Handbook" (John Bisagno)

TITLE: Pastor's Handbook
AUTHOR: John Bisagno
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2011, (400 pages).

This book updates the classic, "How to Build an Evangelistic Church' published in 1971.  Filled with snippets of wisdom and practical tips about the pastoral ministry, the book is basically a general manual for ministry. Divided into 12 parts, 160 chapters, and a massive 400 pages of advice, this volume attempts to give pastors, ministry leaders, and church workers a reference for most conceivable areas of church or parachurch ministries. Part One sets the stage by tackling the fundamental make-up of the Church. It is God's ministry, ran by God's servants through a leadership structure, and governance. Parts Two affirms the place of the pastor's calling. Parts Three and Four deals with leadership matters. Part Five details the ministry of preaching. Part Six and Seven are about Church worship services and various ministries. Part Eight with staff relationships and part Nine with financial matters. Parts Ten to Eleven are other related matters that may seem mundane but essential for proper administration and wise management. Finally, Part Twelve contains 20 helpful advice about contemporary issues that are common in this modern era.

The way the book is arranged represents an intentionality that begins with God, continues in leadership, and exercised through the various avenues of ministries inside and outside of the church. It takes an experienced pastor to be able to pack so much information into one volume. This book is more than a quick reference for the busy pastor or minister. It is a guide for anyone fresh in the pastoral ministry. It is another one of those books that fit into the category of stuff that seminaries do not explicitly teach. It is brief but not lacking in comprehensiveness. It is simple but not simplistic. It is a large compendium but can be read and appreciated in a piecemeal manner. If you have just enough money to spend on a reference book for practical pastoral advice, this is the one to invest in.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free of charge by B&H Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered are mine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: "The Church Leader's Handbook"

TITLE: The Church Leader's Handbook - A Guide to Counseling Families and Individuals in Crisis
AUTHOR: William R. Cutrer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009, (171 pages).

Pastoral care is a huge area of ministry in any church. The needs are so wide-ranging that it is impossible for pastors to meet the needs of every member. One can practise pastoral care without the need to bear the title of 'pastor.' Anyone in leadership can exercise care for the congregation. Thus, the title of the book is more inclusive, lest anyone thinks that it is only for pastors. As a physician, a minister, as well as a seminarian, Cutrer brings a holistic perspective to equipping members in the church for crisis care. For the author, 'crisis care is simply love in action' (9).

Whether it is grief, tragedy, crisis pregnancy, sudden illness, sexual abuse, suicide, infertility, marriage, and so on, the author holds five main requirements for ministry in crisis.

  1. It recognizes that 'value' of a Spirit-filled person who enters into the pain of another person.
  2. It requires consistent prayer before, during, and after the visitation.
  3. It requires patient listening and measured words.
  4. It requires a humble dependence on the Lord.
  5. It requires community where the resources of the church body is part of the solution.

Ministry in love can come forth in at least four strategic ways.

  1. Be present and available
  2. Be aware of the history of the person as much as possible
  3. Be focused on the present situation
  4. Be willing to come alongside the person(s).

Cutrer goes into very specific details about how to show care for different situations. What I find helpful is way the author weaves his training and experience together. For example, his model for biblical counseling includes relational models (as minister to show care), psychodynamic and physiologic models (as physician to show understanding), and prognosis (as seminarian to bring hope). At the end of the book, there are ten case studies that cover the wide ranging crisis situations.

This is a very practical book for ministry. The tips are easy to understand but challenging to practice at an emotional level. I recommend this book highly for anyone doing pastoral care and any layperson wanting to demonstrate love in action, especially during a crisis. This book is helpful before, during, and after any crisis.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: "Christianity" (Jonathan Hill)

TITLE: Christianity: How a Despised Sect from a Minority Religion Came to Dominate the Roman Empire
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hill
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011, (256 pages).

This is a brief survey of the early Church and the beginnings of Christianity during the first 400 years. Part One summarizes concisely the life of Jesus and His disciples, and how the early Christians spread the gospel at the risk and payment of their own lives. Setting the first century in the context of the Jewish culture, it tells us that the early believers begin victorious in faith, and die bravely in martyrdom. Each persecution leads to a bigger charge of faith. From the first apostles in the rural areas, to Paul and the Galileans in big cities, the Christian faith means everything to these believers to the point that they are willing to give up their lives for the preservation and dissemination of the good news of Jesus. Through oral traditions, through the written word, and through their living testimonies, external threats fail to diminish the movement.

The next 2 centuries (Part Two and Three) deal with a bigger threat: Inner dissensions and false teachings. Here, the author gives readers an insight into the troubled relationships inside the churches, their conflicts between Christian and Jewishness, roles of men and women, the infiltration of worldliness in the church, and the writing of John's Revelation to encourage the Church to look forward to hope in the midst of a difficult time during the Roman era. The internal threats are many: Sexual immorality, theological errors, disunity within the church, and many other petty quarrels that lead to divisions. This period also sees the bright sides of the faith. From this era we have many brilliant theologians and philosophers who fight boldly for the truth, preach Christ passionately, and are unwavering in their convictions. Much of modern philosophy owes its beginnings to philosophers like Origen, Plato, Socrates, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, etc. The third century ends with perhaps the highest and most intense phase of persecutions ever known in the history of the Church.

This brings us to the final part. It begins with the fourth century, most notably with the Edict of Milan in AD323. Here, the threats have turned into inner complacency and corruption. With official sanctioning of Christianity as the official religion of Rome, troubles begin almost immediately. The sudden increase in size raises the question of how 'Christian' are believers. Hill describes the predicament as follows:

"Just how 'Christian' were these new congregations? It is easy to imagine that many might have joined the religion because they thought it politically or socially expedient, or simply because it was fashionable." (178)

Then comes the monastic era which essentially saves not just the Christian Church, but the entire civilization of Europe.

Closing Thoughts

The title of this book is a little misleading. The subtitle clarifies it a little more, but does not go far enough. I believe a more accurate title will do better justice to this very good survey of the first 400 years. That aside, this book is brilliant for its clarity and focus on what it means to be a Christian throughout the different eras. We can all learn something from each era. From the Early Church, we learn that the Christian faith has not come to us cheap. It costs our predecessors their lives. The Synoptic Gospels also reveal to us about the gospels written to believers who have an 'impoverished lifestyle' (40). (Contrast that to modern prosperity gospel thinking.)  The Roman Edict of Milan tells us that political recognition does not mean a better image for Christianity. It brings along more confusion about what true Christianity is all about. It also tells us that external threats are not the only dangers to the Church. The internal threats need to be constantly met by theological defenses, resilient morality, and spiritual unity. These threats are still present today.

I commend this book especially to anyone new to Church history. Who says history is boring? Definitely not when you read this book.

Rating: 4.5


Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: "The Love and Respect Experience"

TITLE: The Love & Respect Experience: A Husband-Friendly Devotional that Wives Truly Love
AUTHOR: Emerson Eggerichs
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (295 pages).

This is one of the best couples' devotional available in the market right now. In a market where couples' devotionals tend to appeal more to women, this devotional seeks to correct the tilt by presenting the material that meets BOTH sexes. It is based on the best selling "Love & Respect" book about a simple idea: husbands to learn to love their wives, and wives to respect their husbands. It practices the three cycles, and hones in on the Pink and Blue lenses of couples. The Crazy Cycle says:
"Without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love."
The Energizing Cycle asserts:
"His love motivates her respect. Her respect motivates his love."
The Rewarded Cycle promises the ultimate goal:
"His love blesses regardless of her respect. Her respect blesses regardless of his love."
One way to consistently put these cycles into practice is by adopting the COUPLE (for women) and the CHAIRS (for men) acronyms. With 52 devotionals, one per week, the author encourages couples to work at it freely without couples coercing the other to do it. There is no need to do the same devotional at the same time. In other words, couples can work on a different devotional each week with a simple promise to discuss it at some point in the journey. The key thing is to let the devotional help the husband to see from the 'pink' perspective by using the COUPLE method, and the wife to see from the 'blue' perspective by adopting the CHAIRS method. As a devotional, the chapter is intentionally brief so that the reader can consider the insight and the questions in a more reflective manner.

COUPLE = Closeness; Openness; Understanding; Peacemaking; Loyalty; Esteem.

CHAIRS = Conquest; Hierarchy; Authority; Insight; Relationship; Sexuality.

My Thoughts

It is very tempting to be dismissive of such books saying: "I've heard that before." or "There is nothing new in it." I beg to differ. While there is not much novelty or great revelations to the individual, it is not so when worked upon together by husbands and wives. Those with 'pink' lenses may say 'I see,' when she understands the male perspective. Those with 'blue' lenses may think, 'Oops!' when he discovers the female point of view.

The result is a surprisingly effective marriage relationship manual cum devotional. It reminds me again that the most effectual stuff are those that are simple and easy to apply. This book meets the grade. The look and feel of the book cover tells us that the book is meant to be used frequently, perhaps to be shared by many. That is why the quality of the cover pages are of a higher quality. Kudos to the publisher for their thoughtfulness. Complete with a suggested prayer and a probing question, the chapters are written to be understood easily and practically. After all, a devotional should be free of theological jargon or excessive details, so that couples can browse casually through the book at bedtime. More importantly, they should be spending more time talking to each other instead of focusing on the book. The appendices at the back of the book are extremely helpful as they summarize the main ideas of L&R, and provide additional discussion questions and resources. I highly recommend this book for all couples, both married and unmarried. The price of this book is far cheaper than marital counselling. Perhaps, it can even save a marriage!

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: "Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism"

TITLE: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
EDITORS: Collin Hansen & Andrew David Naselli
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (224 pages).

Many people call themselves 'evangelicals' by name, but disagree among themselves more often than not. Whether in the academy, in both denominational, independent or non-denominational churches in  evangelicalism, scholars, pastors, teachers and laypersons, it is hard to find a united front when it comes to what evangelicals actually believe. Part of the problem is basically the lack of understanding of another fellow brother or sister's version of belief. Another problem also stems from one's lack of understanding of what one believes. Throughout this book, there is a sense of openness with pockets of strongly worded beliefs. The very nature of the discussion encourages the frank sharing, hence the no-holds-barred tone of the book conditioned by moments of charitable words for one another. Collin Hansen describes the problem as follows:

"Evangelicals recognize that Scripture trumps every human authority, yet they do not agree on the extent and nature of biblical authority. They do not regard every theological issue as equally clear-cut or crucial, yet they do not agree on which doctrines should be of first importance." (16)
The editors invite all the four scholars to both commend their respective movements at their best and to critique them honestly at their worst. At the same time, three important questions are broached.
  1. How do they view 'Christian cooperation?'
  2. What do they think about open theism?
  3. What is their understanding of 'penal substitutional atonement?' (or what they mean about Christ taking on God's wrath against sinners) 
The first person, Kevin T. Bauder represents the 'Fundamentalism' perspective whose 'primary motive is the unity and fellowship of the church' (21).

The second contributor, Albert Mohler represents the 'Confessional Evangelicalism' position which is basically defined based on 'historical, phenomelogical, and normative' contexts (70). All these three contexts are to be held together in order to maintain such an identity of a confessional evangelical. He tries to be as inclusive as possible by pointing to a larger task of evangelical being 'centered' on the love of Christ and 'bounded' by set of beliefs that reflect that love.

The third participant is Regent-College's John Stackhouse Jr, who stands for the oddly named 'Generic Evangelicalism' position which comprises two definitions. The first is a hybrid of two scholars: David Bebbington's popular 4 criteria of evangelicalism and George Marsden's transdenominationalism of uniting for a common concern. The second refers to evangelicalism as a 'movement' that contains a 'cluster of convictions.' (123)

The result is a six-criteria summarized by 'crucicentric,' 'biblicist,' 'conversionist,' 'missional,' 'transdenominational,' followed by a trinity of ortho-terms: Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, and Orthopathy.

The fourth is Roger Olsen who represents the Postconservative Evangelicalism perspective.  He blows away any need to classify boundaries of evangelicalism, choosing instead to say that unlike an organization, evangelicalism is a movement that has 'no definable boundaries and cannot have them' (163).

My Thoughts

I can sense the struggle each contributor has about asserting what they believe, and at the same time, not condemning alternative points of view. This is also evident through their own awareness about differences of opinion from within their domestic movement. Hence, there are frequent qualifiers in each of their statements. They are scholars after all, and while they are able to quote other works, it is also important that they do not misquote another person. The latter is made a lot easier in honing, correcting, or clarifying the views through the immediate interactions of the other contributors with each of the four positions. I admit that the discussion will appeal more to the theological community rather than the general layperson. It is most likely suitable for any seminary courses on evangelicalism, and to a limited extent, Christian Education courses in churches. I like the graciousness and the thoughtful perspectives of the writers including the editors.

Here is my verdict. The intent of this book is to 'help correct' any misperceptions and to encourage a 'better understanding' of the different views of evangelicalism. Somehow, I feel that this book does a better job at 'correcting' rather than 'understanding' one another. More specifically, and understandably, the four main contributors do a better job at 'correcting' while the two editors do an excellent job at 'understanding.'

Four Views of Evangelicalism is more an initiative to encourage conversation rather than blatant conversion of each other. This in itself is a mark of scholarship. One does not need to agree with any one perspective in order to talk. Good talk begins with charitable hearts, something that Stackhouse shines in this book. I like the clarity of Mohler and Bauder, and the openness of Roger Olsen. One can let the different opinions open up new ground for understanding, and perhaps deeper cooperation between the different groups. In the end, the four contributors seem more passionate about defending their distinctive positions than to answer the three questions laid out. It takes the Andrew David Naselli's summary to bring together all the viewpoints in his closing summary. Given the mood of the discussion, I will not be surprised if some (even all) of the four scholars take issue with Naselli's observations. So, which view am I more inclined toward? At the risk of appearing biased, after considering the four views, I find that I have more points of agreement with my seminary professor.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. Opinions offered above are mine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: "Jesus Calling Devotional Bible"

TITLE: Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, NKJV: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (Signature)
EDITED BY: Sarah Young with the NKJV Translation
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (1836 pages).

Some publishers have even produced multiple flavours for teens, for mothers, for men, for various professions, etc. On the one hand, they push up sales of a basic Bible. On the other, they meet a particular need and niche. This book/bible is clearly the latter case.

The first thing readers will experience is the look and feel of the cover. It looks hardy. The cover combines the feel of leather and the sturdiness of a hardcover. It opens up pretty well and stays open even when I leave the book opened at Genesis 1 or Revelation 22. The ribbon bookmark is pretty and non-intrusive to my reading. With well-thought out paragraphing and bold subtitles, coupled with various call-outs, the Bible reading experience is pleasing. What sets this particular Bible/book apart is the devotional content, hence the subtitle. Interspersed throughout the Bible, there are pairs of prayers by various individuals and a devotional response by Sarah Young. I particularly appreciate the openness and honesty about the desire to seek God more in the prayers. I find the words from Sarah Young's devotional apt and comforting. It is like having a pastoral arm of comfort around me when I am struggling through the ups and downs of faith. I appreciate the themes of patience, love, trust, faithfulness, that are all linked to the daily struggles of people from all walks of life. Sometimes, I wish that I am as creative and as open about the prayers offered in the book.

If there is a critique, I must say that the supplementary material is still a little distracting at first.  At times, I find myself opening to pages that contain the devotionals more than the Bible per se. That is my bad. To be fair, over time, once the novelty of the devotional material wears off, readers will tend to read more of the Bible and refer to the devotionals once in a long while for an occasional reminder of our faith journey and a renewed call to trust God. The other critique is that the Bible is more than simply a devotional (Read 2 Tim 3:16). That said, when used in conjunction with conventional Bibles, the Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, will enrich the overall Bible study experience.

Closing Thoughts

This is a Bible that contains modern prayers and devotional material to enhance our Bible reading. The best way to use the Bible is first to be familiar with the intent and Sarah Yong's guidance in pages viii-ix.  The topical indexes are at the end of the book instead of the beginning, which is not as intuitive for me. Nevertheless, I recommend this book not just for Bible teachers but also for the general laypersons with a cavaet: Do not make this the only Bible you use for study. Use it with other conventional study Bibles.

I believe the benefits outweighs the critiques I have, simply because the prayers and devotionals are all leading readers closer toward God. That is certainly worth the price of this book-cum-Bible. If anyone asks me where I got this book, I'll be glad to tell them that this is one of the best (if not the best) Christmas gifts this year. Maybe, you can consider this as a gift to someone you love?


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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review: "A Good and Perfect Gift"

TITLE: Good and Perfect Gift, A: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny
AUTHOR: Amy Julia Becker
PUBLISHER: Bethany House, 2011, (237 pages).

This is a touching memoir of a family living with a girl named Penny. Based on journals and reflections from October 2005 to August 2008, the author shares her spectrum of thoughts and emotions about conceiving her first child, receiving a shocking diagnosis, and living out a rich relationship with Penny.

Penny has Down's syndrome. She has something that the world typically calls 'retarded' or 'mentally challenged.' Let me use the metaphor of a showering process. In the struggle toward acceptance, the author and her husband initially bathe themselves with questions God both theologically and emotionally. They allow many well-intended friends and relatives to lather in their opinions of how best to see and take care of Penny. At the same time, medical professionals continue to guide them, brushing them with various therapies and tests on Penny. Gradually, the couple learns to accept that Penny, warts and all, is truly a gift from God. As they let God bring them into God's fuller perspective of life, they slowly and surely experience the showers of blessings from God, that with or without Down's syndrome, Penny is still their gift from the LORD. It takes the love of God to wash away our preconceived ideas and misguided sense of what 'normal' is.

"Penny wasn't a perfect child. Neither was William. We weren't a perfect family, and we never would be, at least not by the standards I would have set out for us years earlier. But we were coming close to our telos, our true perfection, because we were learning what it means to be human, what it meant to be whole." (237)
The journey to acceptance is long and sometimes arduous. Beginning with the pregnancy and the prognosis, readers are invited to journey with the author through the ups and downs of the thought of a Down's syndrome child, how the world will react, and how parents will need to cope. The struggle is hard. The fears make it harder. Such a process is eased with the counseling groups and advice available. The journey to acceptance begins not with a medical breakthrough but a spiritual promise: "Whoever receives this child, receives me." The final stage of the book ends with simply 'Just Penny.' No more. No less.

This book is less about a girl with Down's syndrome but more about the external responses and the inner struggles the rest of us have surrounding the presence of a person deemed 'abnormal' by most of the world. Everyone of us are more imperfect that we believe. Through this book, it reminds me about how God teaches us how imperfect we are through a 'good and perfect gift.' In this light, I appreciate how the author hones in on the very human person in Penny, that whatever the Lord has given, let none of us tarnish the good gift through our selfish perspectives. The best part of the book is this. For many of us, it takes someone that the world easily brands 'imperfect,' 'retarded,' or 'disabled' to teach us what it means to be human. Perhaps, through such people, we may soon realize that those of us deemed 'normal' are actually the more abnormal people. Perhaps, they reflect less of how beautiful they are, but how ugly we all are. Most of all, they teach us that God loves us as we are. Period.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free of charge from Bethany House Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. The opinions above are mine, offered freely for the benefit of the wider reading audience.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: "Unconditional?" (Brian Zahnd)

TITLE: Unconditional?: The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness
AUTHOR: Brian Zahnd
PUBLISHER: Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2011, (256 pages).

This book is poised to be one of the most important books on forgiveness this decade. It argues that Christianity is essentially about forgiveness, in particular, radical forgiveness that is unconditional. This requires us to go back to our roots of the Christian faith. The basic assertion is this.

"If Christianity is about anything, it is about forgiveness. Not forgiveness as merely an end in itself or a legal means of escaping pubishment, but forgiveness as reconciliation and total restoration." (xix)

"Too often the message of Jesus has been misrepresented by the ugly faces of legalism, triumphalism, and religiously inspired hatred. My hope is that you will allow me to present to you the beautiful face of Christianity - the face of forgiveness." (xx-xxi)

Zahnd leads readers through the dark trenches of sin and evil. From the Holocaust memories, he shares about how an Austrian Jew called Simon Wiesenthal comes face to face with a Nazi officer who has brutally killed and tortured his fellow Jews. He raises the question of how can any Armenian ever forgive the Ottoman Turks, who have murdered, raped, massacred and enslaved millions of Armenians during the genocide of 1915-1917. He even talks about the 21 terrorists who turn September 11 into a tragic display of evil. As if these stories are not enough, the author brings up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn horrible 8 years of suffering in a Soviet prison under the hands of Joseph Stalin. He shares with us the story of Nikolai Velimirovic, a Serbian Orthodox bishop who was betrayed by one of his priests, and sent to a concentration camp. Enroute to persuading readers that it is possible to forgive in the light of impossible crimes, the author highlights classic examples of how Corrie Ten Boom forgave her SS officer who killed her family, and about how Pope John Paul II forgave Mehmet Ali Agca who tried to assassinate him.

While the usual options when it comes to justice is either to exact payment, or inflict punishment, Zahnd offers a third option, costly grace.

"Allowing forgiveness to purge the unforgiveness in our hearts is what enables us to move beyond injustice and not be chained to it for life." (64)

Through the example of Ingrid Betancourt who suffered 6 years of torture by Colombian security forces, learns that forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about breaking the' cycle of revenge' (65). It is about letting God take care of the revenge part, while we kill any desire to prolong the cycle of violence. Through the example of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Zahnd shows us that forgiveness can also save another person's soul.

Page after page, story after story, the author tugs at our hearts to move us from conditional forgiveness to unconditional forgiveness, and gradually toward radical forgiveness. Along the way, he deals with the barriers that prevent us from forgiving. Through the examples of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, he asserts that there is no future without forgiveness. Through the example of the tragic shooting of five schoolgirls in the Nickel Mines' Amish community, the author shows us that it is possible to let forgiveness transcends tragedy. He deals with the very important question of justice by saying that justice + mercy = reconciliation. Zahnd also criticizes some Christian quarters tendency to justify their revengeful ways. Here he uses John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath to say that the justice that some Christians attempt is actually 'self-righteous' and 'self-appointed morality police' (147). In Christ, the ugliness of sin when washed by the blood of forgiveness, will result in a beautiful scene of God's redeeming grace for the world.

This book is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those of us who have gone through deep hurts and suffering. It is not easy to forgive. It is harder to forget. What is most important is that while Zahnd raises the need to forgive, he provides the Source from which true forgiveness can flow. In Christ, we have an example of forgiveness. We have the power to forgive that is not of our own strength. If we claim to follow Christ, we need to be prepared to imitate what Christ has done. This book is certainly not for the faint-hearted or the tough-minded person. It is for those with open minds, willing hearts, and forgiven souls, and all persons who WANT to forgive but don't know how. The stories in the book alone are worth the price of the book.
"We are to be the light of the world and the sons of God - through a proclamation and practice of a gospel of peace based in forgiveness." (207)

"The hope for peace that I see is where the disciples of Jesus don't just watch in admiration as Jesus carried his cross, but practice an imitation of the same kind of cross-bearing forgiveness." (216)

"As followers of the Lamb, we must come to realize that it is only through the practice of radical forgiveness that we can achieve real peace. Peace with God comes by forgiving and being forgiven." (218)
Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: "The Digital Diet"

TITLE: The Digital Diet: The 4-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life
AUTHOR: Daniel Sieberg
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2011, (272 pages).

Digital addiction. The ubiquitous Internet has led to an insatiable thirst for WiFi, digital information, and an unending need to be connected online. Daniel Sieberg calls this 'tech addiction.' He writes:

"Technology has overwhelmed our daily lives to the point of constant distraction. Many of us can no longer focus on a single task or face-to-face conversation without wanting to reach out - or retreat - to the virtual world every few minutes." (Back cover)

Proposing a four-step strategy to break the digital addiction, Sieberg aims to help readers regain a semblance of human normalcy, to win sensibility back from an online virtual world to an offline reality.

Step 1 is Re:Think. Before one can change, one needs to acknowledge the current condition. Here Sieberg exposes the dangers of being addicted. When one is plugged-in, one essentially checks out of the real world. There is also an unhealthy 'binary binge' where one consumes digital units without regard for one's general physical, mental or emotional health. Using the language of body diets, Sieberg warns us about letting technology 'fog' out our minds, creating an unhealthy 'e-obesity' where we consume technology without observing limits, and other environment problems that result from always on technology devices.

Step 2 is Re:Boot which begins a series of detox steps. He suggests practical steps like putting our gadgets into a box periodically in favour of something old-fashioned. By listing down the different technologies, one starts to distinguish between devices that are for communications and those that are for preparing daily essentials like oven, refrigerators, etc. The key is to give ourselves a fresh start to welcome nature, be open to real people, and to basically detox ourselves from digital madness. Suggestions are also made for discovering our own 'virtual weight index.'

Step 3 is Re:Connect which lists more practical exercises to take. From simple things like gazing at a tree to physical exercises, Sieberg encourages readers to learn to 'subtract' non-essentials. Often, technology contains too many fancy gizmos that we do not really need. Part of this subtraction exercise is to help us differentiate the needs from the wants.

Step 4 is Re:Vitalize. At this point, one is ready to move from an inorganic addiction to a more wholesome and natural organic lifestyle. He ends with ten digital rules to note.

  1. Avoid tech turds: by NOT placing our technological gadgets at prominent places, (eg leave phone in your pocket when at a restaurant dinner table.)
  2. Live your life in the real world: avoid posting personal updates too readily until you are willing to interact non-digitally with the people in front of you. (eg talk to your companions in front of you more than the distant person on the phone)
  3. Ask yourself whether you really need that gadget: not everything digital is a must-have. 
  4. Seek tech support: if necessary, outsource the use of the digital device
  5. Detox regularly: tackling digital addiction is an ongoing exercise to be done on a regular basis.
  6. Sleep device-free: Have a safe haven from the reaches of technology.
  7. It's either the human or the device: make an intentional choice of people over gadgets.
  8. Remember the 'if/then' principle:  how we treat our digital addiction affects the way we treat the real world.
  9. Structure your e-day: plan our daily consumption of technology
  10. Trust your instincts: pursuing our ultimate goal in balance and awareness.
My Comments

Manage technology before technology manages us. The longer we stay in addiction, the harder it is to break from it. Learn from those who have experienced technological burn-out. It is important to ensure that we are able to function normally as human beings. For all its wonders, technology cannot fully replicate the way we live as human beings. We cannot hug a computer and feel any emotional warmth. Neither can we build relationships only through an Internet connection. More often, the way to sustaining a positive and fruitful human relationship is to relate at a human level. Recognize that technology can only help us so much. Remember that technology is a tool, not the ultimate. 

This book is practical, helpful, and necessary in an increasingly connected world. Although the book is planned as a 28-day detox program, it can be easily modified to fit our own schedules. The important thing is not the specific steps. The important thing is to recognize the NECESSITY to take a break from our digital world, and to reconnect with people in the real world. Yes, we can Facebook. We can twitter. We can even depend on traditional emails. Yet, the human being cannot be easily digitized. As engineers, scientists, and technologists increasingly try to make the computer behave like a human, if we are not careful, we are in danger of making humans become like a computer. This book is one such book that speaks against this trend. 

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: "The Roller Coaster of Unemployment"

TITLE: The Roller Coaster of Unemployment: Trusting God for the Ride
AUTHOR: Sarah Hupp
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2010, (160 pages)

This is a difficult time for many people. The economy is weak. Unemployment is rising. Trust in the government is failing. Hopes for the future are falling. People of faith are trying to hang on. This book is one such resource to encourage people to hang on to hope. Most crucially, it urges readers to hang on to God.

Using the metaphor of a rollercoaster, Hupp accompanies the reader through the proverbial ups and downs of life, the highs and lows, the joy of being employed, and the agony of being laid off. Like the start of a rollercoaster ride, the author begins with 'climbing the heights.' During times of being employed, one tends to become overconfident of job security. One spends time making money, and unwittingly pushes to the background the more important things in life. During such a time, one is vulnerable to sudden changes, especially unexpected ones. Part Two is where the roller coaster of unemployment really makes its presence known. In 'Whoosing down the hill, one faces the distressing emotions of losing a job. More crucially, one's faith gets tested. Failure and fear become dominant and try to usurp the hopes of the retrenched. In Part Three, the journey continues through 'Loop the Loop' where the winding experience plays through anger, discouragement, careless words, and puts one face to face with God. Instead of turning up, Part Four leads the reader through a dark tunnel. Here is where good and bad feelings are mixed together. On the one hand, one looks for God's guidance. On the other hand, there is the human tendency to worry. Yet, in the midst of the confusing signals, there is still an opportunity to do good, to be generous, to be hopeful. Part Five is where the recovery begins. In 'The Bunny Hills,' the author encourages the reader to hang on to hope, that God is looking for us. There are promises of blessings, of encouragement, of God intervening at the right moment. As the rollercoaster ride nears the end, Part Six is where one goes back to the station. The hands that gripped the handrails slowly relax. The thrill has ended. The tough periods are over. It is time to rest in God's providence. In other words, unemployment itself has a definite end. For God is in control.

My Closing Thoughts

This is a very creatively thought out book about encouraging the unemployed with faith and hope in God. With great compassion and understanding, the author literally accompanies the reader through the emotional ride over the entire journey. Beginning with a brief explanation of the phases of employment and unemployment, the Hupp recognizes the spectrum of emotions that arise through each particular phase of the rollercoaster ride. Packed with biblical references, stories of real people, and a helpful checklist for reflection at the end of each chapter, the book is a great companion for people who have been laid off, or looking for a job. More importantly, this book shows the way toward something better than a mere job: Hope.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The opinions above are mine.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: "Parallel Lives of Jesus" (Edward Adams)

TITLE: Parallel Lives of Jesus
AUTHOR: Edward Adams
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, (209 pages).

This book brings a wealth of scholarship materials on the four gospels to the general reader. The key idea is that we ought to read the four gospels not as separate works, but four 'distinct yet overlapping narrative renditions of a shared story.' This is best done by learning to read the gospels in parallel, hence the title of the book. The structure of the book is divided into three parts. Part One sets the stage by reasoning why the gospels are to be seen as one unit.  Part Two goes into the nitty-gritty of each gospel uniqueness, and how each of them complete the whole gospel story. Part Three demonstrates this by providing six examples of how the gospels can be read.

The author skillfully brings together a lot of credible scholarship material. He talks about the three 'synoptic' gospels as (syn=with; and opsis=view). He uses Kurt Aland's work on the synoptics, the Two-Source hypothesis (comprising the theory of the Markan priority, and Q), the Farrer theory, the Synoptic problem, and many more. He treats readers to a insightful overview of the beginnings of the gospel writing background. He describes the various forms of biblical criticism in a very clear manner: historical criticism, form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, narrative criticism. He also makes a case for the gospel writers as 'anonymous' rather than sticking with the traditional attribution to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Bringing together the sources, the writing, and the composition of the gospels tell us a lot about the contexts of the gospels at the time they were written.

The author vividly paints the perspectives of each gospel. John is the 'simplest and most profound' evangelistic and theological treatise. Luke is the most 'socially oriented.' Mark is 'action packed' and Matthew is the most 'Jewish.' What really makes me glad to read this book is the readability and flow of an otherwise very dry topic of scholarship and biblical interpretation/criticism.  (Note to readers: 'Criticism' is a technical term for scholarship studies, an interpretive way to describe an intentional level of deep study/analysis, and is not used here as a negative way). For example, 'form criticism' essentially refers to a way of trying to understand the gospels according to different forms, like is it a parable? A story? A statement of fact? A conversational rhetoric? etc

The way Adams compares and contrasts each of the gospel pericopes is illuminating. I like the way he uses the very familiar structure Burton Throckmorton's way of comparing them the synoptic gospels, as well as John in table form.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot to gain from reading this book. For seminarians and Bible school students, it is a fresh revision of what they have learnt in New Testament studies. For teachers, it is a convenient guidebook to help laypersons to understand the gospels and to share in a simple way the massive amount of gospel scholarship out there. For the layperson, it enriches the whole gospel reading experience as well as illuminate the passages. Most of all, the book gives all of us a fresh impetus to read the gospel and appreciate the life of Jesus. This is worth the price of the book.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The opinions offered are mine.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Review: "Equipping Counselors for Your Church"

TITLE: Equipping Counselors for Your Church: The 4e Ministry Training Strategy
AUTHOR: Robert W. Kellemen
PUBLISHER: Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2011, (445 pages).

This is a handbook on doing church as a team. Like what gurus used to teach at leadership seminars, that if we want to go fast, go alone. If we want to go far, travel as a team. This book begins with that premise. It is filled with ideas and plans for the equipper to equip others for a very important ministry. The author makes his powerful introduction with the story of a one-man operated TV show (Milton Berle) and a team based approach (Ed Sullivan). While the former is concentrated solely on what Milton can produce, the latter allows for different contributions from various individuals. The result is stark. Milton Berle's show ends prematurely. The Ed Sullivan show survives so long that even when the host retires, the concept remains. The 4E training ministry is essentially this:  "Passing the Baton of Ministry."

Briefly, the 4Es comprises four laps:

  1. Envisioning God's ministry - Core values
  2. Enlisting God's people for Ministry - Connected People
  3. Equipping Godly Ministers for Ministry - Coached People
  4. Employing/Empowering Godly Ministers for Ministry - Comprehensive Strategy
In Part One, the key idea is that the work of the Church is much more than mere counseling. It is in catching God's vision for the whole church, to examine the spiritual health and fitness, and then to develop the MVP-C (Mission, Vision, Passion, and Commission) statement. It leads to a practical exercise to craft together a specific identity statement for the Church in the light of God's will.

In Part Two, the key idea is to be united toward a team purpose. This is best done by cultivating a climate that encourages transformed lives, enable change processes through wise change management, and restoring relationships through conflict resolution that is biblical. With the setting of the cultural climate, members are urged to see one another as ministers for God, to call each other for service, and to help one another match gifts to tasks.

Part Three is about the Equipping using the 4Cs (177).
  • "Content/Conviction: head/knowing - how to change lives with Christ's changeless truth
  • Christlike Character: heart/being- how to reflect Christ
  • Counseling Competence: hands/doing - how to care like Christ
  • Christian Community: home/loving" - how to grow together in Christ

Part Four talks about implementation of all that has been taught. This stage is where many fail to complete. It is at this stage where the ethical and legal considerations have to be wisely understood and practiced. This requires good administration and organization on the one hand, and execution of principles and practices of ministry on the other.

The book ends with a list of useful appendices ranging from best practices churches, to models and frameworks familiar to many strategy exercises. There is even an appendix on Church discipline.

Closing Thoughts

This book is a huge collection of useful ideas, plans, frameworks, and is suitable for Church envisioning, equipping, and empowering. The best way to use this book is not to read it like a novel. Use the framework to cast out an overview for all the members of the church. Then be selective about what is most appropriate for your church setting. The ideas are many, but not all are suitable for any church at the same time. Discernment is key. This calls for an important step: Understanding ourselves and God's purpose for the Church first!

Kellemen's teaching passion and wisdom is evident. His experience is wide, and his knowledge deep. Obviously, the material is compiled from his many years of teaching and ministry. If I have a critique, it is the size of the book. For all its great advice, some readers may be put off due to the lack of time to read, let alone to even read it. Thankfully, the authors summarizes the book chapters well at the beginning, and helps the reader along with very creative use of mnemonics. The best way to use this book is with a coach or a trainer, lest readers and practitioners miss the forest for the trees.

I recommend this book for Church leaders, boards, and anyone in the congregation who is passionate about equipping the called.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by P&R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are my free contribution to the book review and reading community.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: "Counterfeit Gospels" (Trevin Wax)

TITLE: Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope
AUTHOR: Trevin Wax
PUBLISHER: Moody Press, 2011, (240 pages).

It is common knowledge that the gospel is under threat. What is not so common is the knowledge of how deep this threat is. Trevin Wax gives us a book that exposes what these threats are. Beginning with a story of how the Union in the North uses counterfeit money to defeat the Confederate South in the late 19th Century Civil War, Wax prepares the reader to wake up to the dangers that counterfeits can do to the Church. He lists three major threats to the true gospel.
  1. Lack of Gospel Confidence: that believers seek out newer packaging for the old story.
  2. Lack of Gospel Clarity: that believers themselves are not sure how to present the gospel
  3. Lack of Gospel Community: that believers fail to live out the true gospel
Wax goes on to present his thesis, that the gospel is likened to a three-legged stool. The first leg is the need to counter the lack of confidence with a bold declaration of the Gospel Story. The second leg counters the lack of clarity by the Gospel Announcement. The third leg is a call to get back to the Gospel Community.

Part One deals with the Gospel Story. It is important to understand the full story through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Counterfeits work on the basis of tarnishing one or more of these four aspects of the gospel story. The 'Therapeutic Gospel' basically distorts the Fall by replacing it with a need for personal happiness, that we are all created to be happy. Once this premise takes root, the counterfeit wreaks spiritual havoc by raising unholy expectations of a Happy-Meal, 'Fill-er-Up' and 'Paid Programming' gospel that makes God look like a Customer Satisfaction representative to mankind. The key to fighting this counterfeit is to get our bearings right with regards to man fallen from grace, needing forgiveness and mercy from God. The second counterfeit to the Gospel story is the  'Judgmentless Gospel' which distorts the final chapter of the gospel story. Without judgment, it assumes a kind of universalism where everybody goes to heaven. One problem is the way people finds judgment repulsive, and chooses instead to see judgment as overly negative. The good news is that with judgment lies God's mercy too.

Part Two is the Gospel Announcement that needs four affirmations. It affirms "the good news of Christ's life, Christ's death, Christ's resurrection, and Christ's exaltation as Lord" (90). We need then to respond in repentance and in faith. Unfortunately, two counterfeits prevent that. Firstly, the "Moralistic gospel" fails to see God, dishes out advice rather than good news, turning grace into a law, and making the keeping of standards more important than the people. The key to fighting this is to learn that God's grace is sufficient, and there is no need to justify ourselves through works. Secondly, the "Quietist Gospel" distorts the Gospel announcement by making the Christian life too individualistic, sharing Christ too limited on 'evangelistic' methods, and a refusal to engage the world. If one practices the quietist gospel, then how can anyone be the salt and light for the world?

Part Three is the Gospel Community that states true community in terms of the embodiment of the gospel story and announcement.  A true gospel community is a body of Christ, a community of faith, Kingdom people, and a sanctified church. Two counterfeits attempt to tarnish the true community. The 'Activist Gospel' instead tends to unite people not around the gospel but over 'social action or political causes.' It tempts believers to assume too highly of their role in society, that only through them the power of the gospel can be distributed, and that they are only united when they are actively involved in the world. The 'Churchless Gospel' does away with institutional church, emphasizes individual spirituality and personal ideals.

My Comments

The book is clearly written, well structured, and presents the gospel with conviction. I like the way Wax presents the gospel as a three-legged stool. It makes the gospel presentation easy to understand, and more holistic in approach. The reader can easily detect two reasons why Christians are not witnessing effectively enough. The first is the presence of the six counterfeits that Wax eloquently describes. The second is not doing anything about it. Both are deadly.

Readers will appreciate the way Wax summarizes each chapter through 'Spotting the Counterfeit' and reiterating the real gospel story, announcement, and community. The table at the end of chapter 9 puts all the key points concisely. That page alone is worth the price of the book.

I highly recommend this book for its clear gospel presentation, as well as a necessary wake-up call for churches that have unwittingly ingested the counterfeits.

Book Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Although this book is first made available to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley, without any obligation for a positive review, I find the ebook edition not as readable. This final book review is based on a printed copy that I borrowed from the public library. Comments above are freely mine.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Review: "The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann"

TITLE: The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, (392 pages).

Walter Brueggemann is one of the most imaginative preachers I know. This book is proof of that. As an Old Testament professor, he not only teaches well, he writes and preaches well too. He is also most famous for his work on "Introduction to the Old Testament" and "The Prophetic Imagination."

In this collection of sermons, Brueggemann pulls together selected sermons form as far back as the Vietnam War era in 1972. He adapts  the lectionary creatively especially on special occasions like Easter and Christmas. He speaks at chapels, conferences, and in churches of various theological persuasions. Typical of Brueggemann, he weaves in both Old Testament and New Testament texts, always careful of its genre. At the same time, he bridges the ancient contexts and contemporary culture with stories, images, illustrations, and his personal life. It is imagination at Brueggemann's best.

What I like is the way Brueggemann condenses his main idea into a very creatively titled sermon. For instance, in "The Strong God with Two Weak Verbs," Brueggemann combines his understanding of the nuances of Hebrew language, the relationship between God and Israel, and illuminates the Hebrew clearly for the English speaking public.  In that sermon, he provides short and succinct application for a busy and worrying world.

"We shall not be good servants of covenant until we ourselves are rescued exiles. I suggest that before you worry about how to speak these verbs, hear them." (32)

One of my favourites is his introduction of the 'Sabbath Voice' which he describes as:

"Humble and gentle of heart, making no demands." (294)

I believe this is an important book for preachers and teachers to learn from. The modern church tends to be one that is lopsided toward New Testament preaching. As a result, the Old Testament has been left untouched, especially the prophetical books. Thankfully, Brueggemann bucks the trend. He shows us the way forward, that the whole Bible is to be preached, not just the New Testament part. By presenting the entire Bible, both Old and New Testament as God's Word through teaching, preaching, and writing, listeners will be blessed.


Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been supplied to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The review above is mine.