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Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Christians in an Age of Wealth" (Craig L. Blomberg)

TITLE: Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship (Biblical Theology for Life)
AUTHOR: Craig L. Blomberg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (272 pages).

[Zondervan Special $3.99 ebook download here. Offer ends Dec 8th, 2013.]

It was 4% in the 1920s. Now, it hovers around 2%. In general, giving has gone down substantially over the years. At the same time, American spending patterns have risen astronomically with huge discretionary income allocated for "non-essential stuff" such as "pleasure boats, jewelry, booze, gambling, and candy." Craig Blomberg then takes aim at the rich Christians sector, especially those who had invested "state of the art facilities and technology" to sustain their church ministries. That is not all. The criticisms roll on:
  • How is it justifiable for rich Christians to channel funds to already wealthy establishments, and not worry about the those living way below the poverty line?
  • Is the Church guilty of "passing the buck" where a need is someone else's problem?
  • For those who gave to the poor, how much of those giving have actually done more harm than good?
  • Why must Western missionaries be paid "Western salaries" in the country they serve in?
  • Why are there so many initiatives, charity, mission work, and other ministry causes duplicating one another's efforts, without even trying to coordinate their efforts? 

Friday, November 29, 2013

"How to Talk to a Skeptic" (Donald J. Johnson)

TITLE: How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics
AUTHOR: Donald J. Johnson
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis. MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (272 pages).

Have you ever been tongue tied when an aggressive non-Christian throws doubts at your faith? What about times in which you feel inadequate when dealing with atheists and secularists? What if you have previously gone for a class on Apologetics but have largely forgotten what the teacher had said? If you are any of the above, you are in good company. A lot of people have received training and possessed wonderful resources in addressing the tough questions regularly thrown at Christians. Whether it is the inability to recall the facts and information, or the inadequacy of responding on the fly, it is increasingly more challenging not just dealing about material but learning how to talk to skeptics. Written gently and with great understanding, Apologist Don Johnson, President of Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries has written a very practical how-to book on learning to converse intelligently with skeptics, non-Christians, and people who simply needs someone to engage them at a level they appreciate. Basically, when engaging in any discussion, the purpose is about worldviews and truth. Johnson gives 5 reasons why tackling the subject of worldviews is most important.

  1. Looking at worldviews is an excellent way to exercise rationality and to relate with the facts presented.
  2. Worldviews are bigger than any single objection.
  3. The honest skeptic deserves a fuller answer.
  4. It is easy for anyone dealing with one objection to be quickly dealt with the next, and the next, and the next.
  5. Apply burden on proof on all sides, and not just rely on the Christian to defend the faith. The skeptic will also need to defend his/her skepticism.
These form the foundation of the conversational approach advocated by Johnson. Putting it simply, the entire book is about empathizing with the skeptic; explaining the Christian faith; and finally engaging with the objections raised.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Chasing Hope" (Kathryn Cushman)

TITLE: Chasing Hope
AUTHOR: Kathyrn Cushman
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (320 pages).

Two unlikely friends. Two persons traveling on different paths of lives. Two different directions to choose. This novel weaves in the lives of Sabrina Rice and Brandy Philip, both talented runners but from different backgrounds.

Selected for her University's track team, about to win a scholarship, landing an internship with the biggest PR firms in the country, and deeply in love with the love of her life, Sabrina Rice's future looks bright and promising until a devastating illness rocked her perfect life and threatened to send everything she had ever hoped for into shreds. Her problem with rheumatoid arthritis not only forced her to quit running, but led to a hospitalization and many frustrating trials with different medications. Her fungal infection was potentially life threatening too. Add to this is her anxiety over decisions that she had to make with regards to her future and her calling.

On the other hand, Brandy Philip seemed to have come from another world. Her dad died when she was a baby. Her mum imprisoned for drug offenses. With only her grandma as her closest relation, Brandy had to convince the judge why she should not be sent to a juvenile home. In fact, the first time Rice saw her was Brandy running away from some security officers!

Brandy's saving grace was her running talent, more particularly, Rice's willingness to coach and to guide her so that she can meet the strict requirements to avoid been sent to juvenile home.   As two lives come together, the coach-trainee relationship slowly turns into a warm and touching friendship that spreads to bless the lives of other people.

I love sports stories and this book is no different. Cushman has that ability to string many different lives together in such a powerful and entertaining manner. The title "Chasing Hope" had me grasping for clues on exactly what kind of a hope Cushman is talking about. Is it about the hope of Sabrina Rice achieving all of her dreams? Or is it the hope of Brandy Philip making a life out of nothing? Or is it about God's call for both of them to do something significant? Actually, these questions only scrape the surface of this very thoughtful and perceptive novel. Thoughtful in the sense that the characters all fit in well to carry the emotional ups and downs of each character. Perceptive in the way that helps readers empathize with the many common hopes in life and how when placed in the hands of God, the hopes are fulfilled in the most surprising and inexplicable way. The thing I like about this book is that the hope Cushman is talking about is not just limited to the wonderful conclusion of the whole novel. Cushman peppers the 48 chapters to remind us once again that as God speaks into the most ordinary circumstances, all it takes is an extraordinary inspiration and we learn to see hope rising amid the ashes of any despair.

I enjoyed this book very much.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"The Search for Truth About Islam" (Ben Daniel)

TITLE: The Search for Truth about Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact from Fiction
AUTHOR: Ben Daniel
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (200 pages).

Fear. Jihad. Terrorism. These words can drive one crazy. They can also cause much misunderstanding and misguided perceptions. This can lead to unintended consequences on the rest of the Muslim public on the basis of a few radicals. Insecurities lead to suspicion. Suspicions lead to fear. Fear leads to policies driven more by phobia instead of reality. Good people are mistreated, misjudged, and misunderstood. At the same time, the phobia leads bad people to become more dangerous themselves. The speedy availability of news and information makes it easy to keep people informed or misinformed. It works both ways.This book is written to address all of these.

Beginning with a description of the McCarthy era in the 60s where the fear and dislike of Communism had brought along lots of misunderstanding and unfair treatment of anything or anyone expressing any sympathy, Presbyterian Pastor Ben Daniel notices a modern McCathy-like fear in the way Americans in general treat Islam and Muslim people. From accusations that Barack Obama is a Muslim to arrests of a bartender who had served the author coffee, Daniel grapples with public perceptions in order to help readers distinguish fact from fiction. His aim is to show there has been too much misunderstanding and injustice done to Muslims so far, even as he acknowledges the existence of certain radical Islamic groups. The way he does it is not to take a position of "balance" where he takes some pros and some cons and walk the middle path. Instead, his agenda is to seek out what is true and to expose what is false. Eventually, he wants to confront the biggest giant of all: Fear.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"God is Able" (Priscilla Shirer) [*Giveaway Offer]

TITLE: God is Able
AUTHOR: Priscilla Shirer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2013, (166 pages).

[* The publisher has kindly made available a free giveaway. Just make a comment on this blog with your email contact to enter the draw. Note that giveaways are limited to US and Canada residents only.]

A song commonly taught to children goes like this:

"He's Able. He's Able. I know He's Able.
I know my God is Able to carry me through.

He healed the broken-hearted
And set the captive free.
He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see."

As children learns this words through music, adults learn the meaning through life. Sharing about her broken heart, her marital struggles, her worry over bearing a child, her tussle with guilt and regret, salvaging a friendship, and doubts about her place in ministry, popular speaker Priscilla Shirer has written another inspiring feel-good book about living victoriously in God. It is about being able to be confident more in God who is able to carry us through anything. She puts together the testimonies of how the impossible became suddenly possible. Like the husband of a friend who repented before God, after leaving his wife; how God healed a nine-year-old boy of his brain tumour; and how a stranger from Singapore paid for all five family members to travel halfway round the world and back! The book is written using alliteration with the letter T.  In eight chapters, Shirer tries to convince readers that God is able in at least eight ways.

First, the Time to believe and to set things in motion is now. Ephesians 3:20-21 contains promises that believers can practice immediately. There is no better time than "now" to be connected to God. Whatever the challenges, whatever the doubts, whatever the constraints we face, with God, there is always hope.

Second, any journey of hope needs to begin with a Turning to God. Continuing her meditation on Ephesians 3:20, the words "unto Him" is about turning away from the things of the world toward God. This means that we need to turn away from ourselves as well, to trust that God knows best. Like the Old Testament spies of Israel who managed to read the signs correctly when they adopt the eyes of faith; or when Mary Magdalene wept at the empty tomb, only to find Jesus looking for her instead. When we turn to God, we turn to a God who is powerful and able.

Third, Truth keeps us firm footed on facts and faith. It is when we know God is true, we can place our trust amid the seemingly unending series of problems and disappointments. God's Omnipotence is truth.

Fourth, earthly things do not last, which is why we need to keep our eye on the Transcendence of God. Even as the issues of this world try to nail us down in despair, the hope in God can lift us way beyond what our earthly senses tell us. God is eternal. God's grace is exceedingly abundant. God's will is abundantly better than anything the world can give.

Fifth, Totality means all the way, not just half or part of the way. When God loves us, God loves us all the way. Everything we know, everything we have, and everything we do, we cannot outknow God, outpossess God, or outdo God.

Sixth, Turbo reminds us that God's power is exceeding great, that even death cannot hold Him. This power is within us, simply because God is with us. This power works within us and is meant for us to use it as the Holy Spirit leads us.

Seventh, Tribute is about giving thanks, honour, praise, and glory, to God and God alone. It is that perfect circle that what begins and belongs to God, goes back to God and God alone. The more we realize that all we have and do are all in the grace of God, the more we can become thankful that we praise God from whom all blessings flow. I like the analogy of the football stadium where many people clamour to get into the stadium in order to get a peek at the game. When the glory of God resides in one place, people from all over will clamour to get a glimpse of God's presence.

Finally, Telling It represents our response to all of the preceding seven things about "God is Able."

So What?

Priscilla Shirer has a communications style that is both captivating and concise. Going through all the eight points based on her exposition of Ephesians 3:20-21, readers are invited to sit and meditate on this precious verse, just to get a better sense of who God is and what God is able to do. In our modern world, we multitask a lot of things. We train ourselves to manage our schedules. We try to keep our own lives in order. Often, we stumble or fumble through our feeble attempts, and only at the most desperate moments, we come to God. We plead with God. We realize our human attempts are nothing compared to the overwhelming ability of God. Sometimes, we learn things the hard way, that we have to fall down and hurt ourselves first when we ignore the guiding hands of God. Shirer lets the Word of God be the hand that we can hang on to. Knowing God is able is not enough. We need to let that knowledge come forth in our daily lives. It takes our awareness of eternity in order to appreciate the timeliness of God's purpose and the timelessness of God's plan. We need to be humbled in order to turn back to God in submission and surrender. We need to be reminded all over again that God's Truth is the only Truth that matters. We need to be lifted above our measly human concerns to see the bigger picture of God's universe. We can take comfort that even when we know in part, God knows the whole. Thus, we can trust God more for He sees more things than we can see. Why then do we behave as if we know better than God?

All of these add up to give us many reasons why our response to God is to worship God and to make God known widely. God is able not because any book, any author, or any teacher says so. God is able because he IS so.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


p/s: note that this post comes with a giveaway. If you like to participate in this giveaway, just send me an email or make a comment on this post. I'll get back to you by December 15th, 2013 if your entry has been selected. Note that the giveaway is limited to residents in the continental United States and Canada. All decision made is final.

This book is provided to me courtesy of B and H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fighter (Christopher Greenwood)

TITLE: Fighter
AUTHOR: Christopher Greenwood and Shannon Constantine Logan
PUBLISHER: Manafest Productions Inc, 2013, (156 pages).

This book is a personal story of how musician Chris "Manafest" Greenwood fights back from the doldrums of despair, clings on to five keys of hope, and battles forward to achieve his dreams, and at the same time to encourage many others to not give up on their dreams. Greenwood bares out his growing up years with dramatic details . At the age of 5, his father had already attempted three suicides of which the final one was successful. He had to endure verbal assaults from his grandfather. As a fatherless teenager, he did not know what it means to have a father to guide him in his life decisions. At Grades 5 and 6, he found comfort in junk food amid verbal bullying in school. Even in Church, he was often reluctant to go as some people in church appeared to him as "plain weirdos." Thankfully, his mother and older sister proved to be a strong source of support. His turning point from flight to fight came when he invited Jesus into his life. His attitude began to change. His outlook started to brighten. His gifting proceeded to blossom. Having sold more than 200,000 records worldwide, nominated three times for the JUNO awards, and fast becoming a music sensation, Greenwood becomes more widely known as "Manafest." This unique name contain two meanings. The first is based on the word "manifest" which communicates a desire for Greenwood to inspire people by manifesting hope. The second meaning is the letter "a" is due to an initial mispelling on his cellphone, but Greenwood continued to use it because it is unique and he felt it defined him as someone special. The rest of the book deals with the "Anatomy of a fighter" in which he distills five core values that define his success and his own life.

Greenwood begins with the first core value that stands up against oppression and suppression: Courage. One must remain vigilant against desires to quit. Courage brings commitment, self-belief, and faith. He tells of how he lets courage help him to carve out his own path toward music and his career. The second core value is perseverance which always squeezes out a determination that says: "one more try." Recognizing that life is never devoid of problems, he also realizes that the awareness of problems is by itself a sign of life. His own music career would have never taken off if he had not persevered. Believing that there is no such thing as "failure" in music, he climbs above his teacher's negative feedback, and to press on toward the road less traveled. His first tour is an example of perseverance through a journey despite getting lost and even spending a night in the car on a secluded highway! The third core value is about developing a Fighter's Mindset. This is especially important for people doing creative arts and new ventures. This change of perspective can make or break any great ideas or anybody. It is easy to hear criticisms coming from all over. It is also easy to be bogged down by statistics that paint an unrosy side of what we are doing. Fight negative thoughts with God's Word. Be affirmed by people who trust us. Let our thoughts by guided by faith and belief. For Greenwood, the Bible forms the fundamental beliefs in his life. The fourth core value is Discipline which is more nurture than nature. One needs to beware of falling into complacency and laziness. With discipline, one seeks not just to maintain one's desire to excel, exercises and self-discipline enable one to be ready for the next level. The fifth core value is Willpower, which to Greenwood is that "internal force that pushes you to give it a little more." For him, it is that little difference between success and failure. Without willpower, one can easily be tempted to give up on a venture that is 99.9% complete. It is also about choosing not to give up.

So What?

This book is both a mini biography as well as an inspirational work. As a mini-biography, we read about how an ordinary boy grows up to become one of the most popular music sensations. We read about the tough beginnings and the challenges Manafest encounters through life. As an inspirational work, we learn of what it takes to engage life as a fighter, and to come forth victoriously. Filled with personal stories and anecdotes from well-known political leaders like Abraham Lincoln, preachers like Jonathan Swift and Norman Vincent Peale, bloggers like Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt, spiritualists like Marianne Williamson, philosophers like Plato and Lao Tzu, fellow entertainers like Johnny Cash and Sylvester Stallone, and many others, Manafest also contributes several wise quips of his own, such as:

  • "90 percent of the people in the crowd would never do it. They would love to do it but they're too scared. It's true. If you can do something that the majority of people cannot do - what are you waiting for? Get up and just do it." (28)
  • "I thought about my father, who had committed suicide; when things got tough, he didn't know how to handle it. I can't say I've never thought about it, because the truth is when I was younger the idea ran through my mind a lot. At one point, I even saw a psychiatrist to help me talk out some of my problems. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There will always be problems, no matter what stage of life you're at." (45)
  • "When I heard the comment, 'How do you beat a man that doesn't stop?' it rang true in my heart and did something to me. Whenever I think I can't go on anymore, God whispers in my ear, 'Keep going, boy. I'm with you.' And I get up and go again." (55)
  • "Another big definition change was when I came to realize that I'm a leader - but I'm not Superman. I can'e be everything to everyone, and no matter how much I want to, I can't please everybody. But when I started hiring band members, putting music out there, and stepping out in front of larger and larger crowds, I had to admit it: I'm a leader. Truthfully though, it still freaks me out sometimes. Leadership comes with a lot of responsibility." (74)
  • "Get control of your thoughts and you'll get control of your life." (75)
  • "There are three coaches I can think of in my life who have inspired me to keep fighting: my spiritual coach, my business coach, and the 'Head Coach,' aka God." (129)

Readers will find this book an inspirational read. For some of us who are down and discouraged, there are many reasons to pick up this book and fight like a man. Do not be waylaid by criticisms that threaten to derail one's journey to achieving one's dream. Be courageous against challenges both expected and unexpected. Persevere on even when people or circumstances seem to work against us. develop a mindset that never says "give up." Be disciplined. Be filled with willpower. Appreciate and listen well to our personal coaches, for they are there to help us succeed and to be the best we can be. As I was reading this, I cannot help but think of another Canadian superstar who currently struggles with negative publicity, which is not helped by his own erratic behaviours and wild partying. Justin Bieber may very well benefit from the reading of this book, especially the part on discipline.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Manafest Productions and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"The Rebirth of the Church" (Eddie Gibbs)

TITLE: Rebirth of the Church, The: Applying Paul's Vision for Ministry in Our Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: Eddie Gibbs
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (272 pages).

Many different churches, denominations, movements have tried to relate Church, mission, and culture, but few have reportedly succeeded in what they planned to do. In the past few decades, the idea of "church growth" was the popular paradigm for Church and mission. Programs and literature are produced to accompany the excitement. The next paradigm becomes "church health" in which churches tend to prefer to be healthy inside first before reaching out to others. More recently, the excitement hovers around the term "missional" which is an initiative to let any mission work reflect God both directly as well as indirectly. The belief is that the heart of missional work is not about initiatives, projects, or programs. The heart of missional is God. Missions in this instance is not simply a program, but a full-fledged demonstration of one's identity in a missional God. While in the past, the evangelicals tend to be more "defensive" of key doctrines and theological stands as they live counter-culturally; the liberals tend to be more concerned about "relevance" to the culture around them; the Anabaptists work toward purity and separation from the culture; the missional aims to be the Church within the culture. All of these movements struggle with acceptance by the wider Christian population. All because of the increasing separation of Ecclesiology and Missiology, so says Eddie Gibbs, Professor Emeritus of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Gibbs begins with a no-holds-barred criticisms of the post-modern Church, calling them fragmented, reductionistic, and largely reflective of the culture around them, instead of being an influencer or them. He looks at the collapse of civil societies through the ages, and laments the similar plight of the Church at large. The few shining spots of Christianity are increasingly being threatened by postmodern influences like pluralism, secularism, relativism, and of course, acts of terrorism that create a negative backlash against any religion. A response is needed. So Gibbs relooks at the Early Church, eager to learn on the one hand, but also cautious about the different contexts involved. This is something that the Apostle Paul did. Although there were population centers throughout the Roman Empire at that time, what we learn is that instead of strategizing on the different approaches to the different cities, Paul was primarily led by the Holy Spirit.  Gibbs then looks at the cultural backgrounds and the lifestyles of the people in the first century, noticing the rise of institutional power; increasing crowdedness and busyness; households the building blocks of society then. In terms of understanding and applying the idea of "oikos" (housing) then, Gibbs notes how the house meetings flourished then, and how many modern churches adopt that same idea into their home-based meetings like small groups. The difference is that first century "oikos" is more about bonding, obligatory protection, and subordination to authority; while our modern home meetings are more about independent lives coming and meeting together on the basis of convenience and independence, instead of community and co-dependence. In terms of the locations of Paul's ministry, Gibbs notes that while the population centers at Galatia, Ephesus, Philistia, Corinth, Rome, and many others are large, our modern cities are even larger. This is one reason why modern churches need to design their missional strategies from the ground up, instead of simply transplanting what Paul had done to our complex world. Three challenges need to be considered:

  1. The richness and treasure the gospel itself is and how to share this message;
  2. Our culture's historical and social baggage;
  3. Various economic and political powers that world-class cities exert on its citizens as well as outside.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"The Good Funeral" (Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch)

TITLE: The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care
AUTHOR: Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (280 pages).

Many people like to talk about life. Few are willing to talk about death. Truth is, everyone will die one day. They will leave behind loved ones. They will set in motion a series of mourning and bereavement that are flooded with tears, accompanied by sobs, or silenced by grief. How do we treat the dead with dignity? How do we comfort the bereaved with sensitivity? Two persons, one a well-known funeral director and the other a renowned pastor-theologian come together to talk about the topic of death, grief, dying, caring, and preparing for a good funeral. In fact, a good and dignified funeral is the best way to say a permanent goodbye to a life that has ended. This conviction is shared by the authors who also share the same firstnames. Even the forewords are written by two persons of similar backgrounds to the author: one, a brother of the funeral director, and the other, a Presbyterian minister. While Lynch's work orientates him toward an agnostic disposition, Long tries to nuance his understanding and appreciation of different faiths, and at the same time, not compromise on his beliefs. Both know what it means to grieve.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Biographical Bible" (Ruth A. Tucker)

TITLE: Biographical Bible, The: Exploring the Biblical Narrative from Adam and Eve to John of Patmos
AUTHOR: Ruth A. Tucker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (448 pages)

The Bible is not a theological treatise or a spiritual dissertation about God. It is also not a how-to manual to get rich, to be healthy, or to be used like a "Life Book for Dummies" edition. Many publishers, preachers, and well meaning people have unfortunately used the Bible as a "manual for propositions." That is not just being irreverent about the Word, it is also misusing the very nature of the Bible. For the Bible is more than mere logical series of formulas and methodologies for life to fit the twenty-first century minds, it is about how God reveals himself to people through people. That is why when one seeks to understand the Bible, one needs to understand the characters and the people in the Bible, not in scientific or management mindsets, but biographical. Rather than to read each passage of the Bible with critique in mind, or to analyze the pericopes with a solution-seeking mindset, read it with an openness on how God has touched lives in the past, and how God reveals creation to us, as intended by God.

Written in three parts, Tucker presents many biblical characters as closely as how the Bible presents them. Calling these stories as "biblical narrative from Adam and Eve to John of Patmos," the stories are presented from Genesis to Revelation as follows:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Doing the Right Thing" (Scott B. Rae)

TITLE: Doing the Right Thing: Making Moral Choices in a World Full of Options
AUTHOR: Scott B. Rae
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (192 pages).

This book reminds us that we live in a culture that practices values very contrary to biblical teachings. In fact, not only are they at odds with biblical principles, they are increasingly more aggressive at shutting down traditional values that have underpinned society's success for so many decades. In an age of compromise, we have failed to uphold our promises. In a frantic search for profits, we let ethics fly out the window. In an age of relativism, we lose sight of absolute truths that are so critical to maintaining a sense of doing the right thing. "Reason is indispensable" so says Scott Rae, in this companion book to the late Charles Colson's film series of the same name. For the purpose of this review, while credit goes to Scott Rae, it is good to know that many of the ideas originated from the late Chuck Colson, simply because the book is based on the film series.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Despite Doubt" (Michael E. Wittmer)

TITLE: Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith
AUTHOR: Michael E. Wittmer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2013, (192 pages).

This book is a bold attempt to repel the undercurrents of skepticism and sarcasm that surround an uncritical acceptance of science as well as a misunderstanding of doubt. Wittmer identifies two ways in which one can deal with doubts. The first is to boldly face them as "questions" to either clarify or to gain answers. Approach such doubts with courage and openness toward learning. The second is to remember that not all doubts are legitimate and thus not to be taken too seriously. Approach such doubts without fear of them trying to dislodge faith. For truth after all will not contradict itself.

Part One comprises of 12 chapters on the modern challenges to one's "belief in God." Wittmer looks at the state of skepticism in our society, that the modern man's default position is to doubt first, believe later, if not never. Such a skepticism did not happen overnight. In fact, one of the downsides of scientific advancement is the need to prove something, or to figure out something so that we can control. The trouble is, can we really prove God or figure God out on our own? From secularism breeds pluralism which seems to give equal authority to every religion. Taking a look at the phrase "leap of faith," readers learn that faith is not about believing without proof but trusting without reservation. Facts are established with a revealed knowledge. God exists not because man says so, but because God has said so. Looking at the Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens debate, the point is made that even the statement: "There is no God" presumes that the statement itself is a legitimate, logical, and absolute statement. In Jesus, we see who God is. In the Bible, we know that God has been reaching out to man all the time. Only through belief, one can breakout to the next level of knowledge from earthly to heavenly. Slowly toward the middle of the book, readers will detect a change of tide from doubt to faith.

Part Two turns toward asking what it means to follow God. There are at least ten reasons. We trust a God who is known. Wittmer makes a compelling statement that says: "Faith starts from assurance and proceeds to risk." A man of faith and faithfulness can achieve things beyond one's perceived limitations. Based on a promise given, there is more reason for optimism in life. Obeying God's command and following God's will are some of the desires that believers willingly do. Believers exercise faith when they answer the call of God. They produce fruit in good works. They are sustained with an assurance in God. Even the history books are filled with heroes of faith who have given us powerful testimonies of faith. For every case of doubt, there are many more cases of faith. That is why Christians need not fear doubt. They can "doubt away" knowing that if God is indeed true, there is no way any doubt can erase that truth. Doubts when approached constructively can enrich one's faith.

This book is deceptively simple. Between the pages of the brief chapters, there are lots of insights about apologetics, culture, postmodernity, spiritual disciplines, knowledge, faith, trust, hope, and many facets of the Christian life. For me,chapters 1 to 3 together are already worth the price of the book. Be free to "doubt away" but be even more free to embrace faith. Sometimes, small looking books contain the biggest gems. This is one such book.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Discovery House Publishers and Karen Campbell Media in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Life After Art" (Matt Appling)

TITLE: Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room
AUTHOR: Matt Appling
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (160 pages).

There was a time in which a typical child would be thrilled to have the chance to play, to draw, and to paint with pretty brushes. There was a time in which prim and proper expectations are relaxed so as to unleash the creativity and the chaos that only children can imagine. When the child grows up and leaves the art classroom, what happens to the art, and more particularly, what happens to the artist in the person? This question is cleverly dealt with in this unique book written by an arts teacher who is not just passionate about art, but also deeply convinced that life in itself is a way of art. A pre-kintergarten through six grade art teacher himself, Matt Appling spends his time writing, reflecting, teaching, and promoting the idea of life and art through his website. He believes that the artistry in each person is a gift from God.

In six succinct chapters, Appling begins with a proclamation that all children are artists. They are risk-takers. They are not so disturbed by what is good or not good in their work. They simply do it. Unfortunately, the moment the child leaves the classroom, the artistic capacity starts to leave the child as the child grows up in a competitive and a challenging adult world. The logic of fear of failure inhibits the faith in trying and testing. They gradually lose the three childhood traits: 1) that creating was important; 2) that generosity is part of creating; and 3) a lack of self-consciousness as one gets totally immersed in the creating.

Appling laments that one starts losing the creative charm when one begins to think creating is unimportant; that art is not creative; and that arts per se are self-limiting which leads one toward laziness. As a result, adults soon start to manufacture a world that is increasingly lacking in creativity and beauty. Survival concerns overwhelm creative activities.We prefer functional activities over fictional imagination. We forsake art and creativity in exchange for survival-based activities and busyness. What works becomes more important that what is worthwhile doing. Such a life may be practical but it lacks beauty. Slowly, Appling turns the story from children in general to the children in us.
  • What if our creation tells us a lot about ourselves?
  • What if we are filling our physical spaces with "junk" instead of clearing them out for a space to be creative?
  • Are we willing to continue exchanging a life of creativity with a toilsome routine of non-stop practicality?
  • Is sacrificing our creative bent worth it over the long run?

Appling declares no. There is hope. There is a way back to the creativity in the classroom. There is life after art. What we need to do is to learn how to re-create the environment that gives us fresh hope of life in the first place. Do not be content with mere "good enough" but be passionate to become the best person we are created to be. We learn that risk taking is a way of life and is a necessary step in any creative activity and ability. The freedom to fail is not about the risk of failure per se, but the liberation of oneself toward unleashing the best of us.

Finally, Appling reminds us again that our creativity is all possible because we are created in the image of God our Creator. It is because we are creators on earth that our natural selves cannot stop creating; cannot stop thinking about creating; and cannot help but create. Suppressing such creativeness is essentially suppressing what is human.

So What?

When the child leaves the art classroom, what happens to the art that the child has learned? If the world outside starts to dull our creativity and our sense of artistry, perhaps it is time to return to the art room, the one we all loved as children years ago. In order for creativity to flourish, one needs to learn to give and take directions not in terms of conformity that suppresses one's freedom but in terms of enhancing the creativity within the boundaries given. Some of the memorable quotes from the book are worth noting:

  • "In math class, you could not improve on a 'right' answer. Right answers were 'good enough.' You could not come up with a 'better' answer, or exceed the teacher's expectations. Life is not like math class. It is like art class." (50)
  • "Much like the case of the hunters, creativity appears to be something of an instinct that people follow, whatever circumstances they live in." (56)
  • "It is precisely that ultramodern thinking that causes most Christians to miss the truth of the Bible, many other Christians to become disaffected with the Bible, and non-Christians to scoff at the Bible. We are stripping all the beauty out of the Bible and demanding that it provides us with a formula instead of faith." (63)
  • "There is a great focus today on the amount of trash and waste that modern man produces, and we prioritize reducing waste. But think about the mental landfill that we've created with all of the junk that fills our minds. It dwarfs everything we throw in the trash can." (78)
  • "An amateur artist tries to erase a mistake. A master artist learns how to work with a mistake." (105)
  • "But consider this: perhaps the anxiety that you feel about your life, your purpose, and all of your hopes and ambitions is due to the fact that you have been looking at them all wrong." (132)
  • "A little bit of beauty can change everything." (139)
Let me offer five thoughts from the reading of this book.

First, this book reminds us that there is a childlikeness in all of us even if we grow old. I learn long time ago that there is an impending second childhood when one grows old. Now, I believe that there are more than two childhoods simply because this childhood never really goes away. One can suppress it. One can try to inhibit it but one can never eradicate it completely. For to do so would be deleting a part of us. Remember that Jesus calls us children? That must be for a reason.

Second, in a world of progress that is defined by scientific advancement and technological prowess, we need to learn to appreciate life and creation for what it is. Enjoy nature. Appreciate the simple things in life. Do not be fixated by machines and the kinds of manufactured brilliance to the point that we forget the most beautiful things in life are also the most simple. In fact, a lot of created things in life are due to proper observance of the natural world we live in.

Third, the stories of arts and creativity in the book give readers a renewed hope that art in itself is not necessarily a path toward poverty. See the creative giants like Jim Henson, whose puppetry ideas have charmed children all over the world in the Muppet Show. Remember Theodor Geisel who created the Mr Seuss cartoon character? What about Shigeru Miyamoto, where people easily remember his design and games at Nintendo?

Fourth, this book is not simply talking about creativity, it is also speaking to the creativity inside us. Wake up! Pick up your creative energies and create something! This is that sign that makes this book worth reading, buying, and gifting it to friends. When the reading of this book awakens the child in us, when the pondering of the ideas triggers the inner desire to want to create, to admire creation, and to be creative, this book would have been worth more than the sticker price. There is no price tag for creativity, for creativity in itself is priceless.

Finally, there is no need to dig too deeply for a reason just to enjoy art. Just admire or appreciate art for what it is. If we can do that, we will be better at appreciating life what what it is. That way, enjoying art becomes a metaphor for enjoying life.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Awakening Faith" (James Stuart Bell)

TITLE: Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church
AUTHOR: James Stuart Bell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (400 pages).

I have come across many devotionals by popular authors, selected snippets from reputed modern theologians, thematic kinds of daily devotionals, and so on. Many of the popular devotionals center around works that have been done around the recent few centuries. Not many reach out far back to the first 500 years of Christian history, and focus on writings of the Church Fathers, or Patristics. This book bucks the trend. Spanning the first eight centuries, 366 devotions are collected from a wide range of theologians, scholars, teachers, pastors, and respected leaders from both the Eastern and the Western hemisphere. The rationales for learning from the Church Fathers are as follows:
  • They are significant shapers of the paths to faith that we proclaim regularly in the creeds;
  • They are not only knowledgeable about the doctrines and theologies, they care deeply for the flock under their jurisdictions;
  • Their teachings provide much needed correctives against heresies and sluggish faith during their time, and can inform us on how to appropriately address the problems in our times;
  • They are committed to the Word and will not budge from trusting in the Scriptures;
  • They are committed to personal virtues and Christlikeness, preferring to take care of the inner being and not be distracted by what is happening outside. 
  • They emphasize a lot of what evangelicals of today need;
  • They provide a rich resource for spirituality and growth.
There are famous names like Athanasius, Origen, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyprian of Carthage, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Leo the Great, Tertullian, and others. There are also desert fathers like Antony the Great, John Cassian,  Benedict of Nursia, as well as some unknown writers from the second to the sixth centuries. Each day begins with a title, a Bible passage followed by a page of wisdom. Just putting this book together is challenging. While the writings belong to the Early Church fathers and teachers, the title and the selection of the Bible passages are the works of the author who collected them. This is no easy feat. Considering that the author himself is a compiler and editor of more than 140 books, that gives him a key to unlock the treasures stored within the writings of the Early Church.

At the top of each day is the theme of the devotion such as "Jesus," "service and stewardship," "holiness," "Church," "Prayer," "Salvation," "Our spiritual inheritance," "Father and Spirit," "Thorns and Thistles," and others. This gives readers a general idea of where the devotion is going. Next comes the Day number which is a day from 1 to 366. Then there is the title of the devotion and a Scripture text. At the bottom of each devotion is the name of the Early Church writer. Do not be misled by the brevity of the one-page devotion. There are lots of rich and eloquent thoughts within. For example, on the topic of giving, Leo the Great links it with love, saying: "If God is love, charity should know no limit, for God cannot be confined" (Day 227). In the age of prosperity and a constant thirst for wealth, we need Augustine's exhortation for pastors to be bold: "What sort of pastors are they who, for fear of offending their congregants, not only fail to prepare their sheep for temptations, but even promise them worldly happiness?" (Day 53). Polycarp utters the powerful words to leaders not to easily give in to anger and judgment: "They should refrain entirely from anger, partiality, and prejudice; greediness should be wholly alien to them" (Day 192). Basil the Great reminds us about the temporal nature of our bodies: "Today a man is vigorous in body, fattened by luxury, and in the prime of life, with a handsome face, strong and powerful and energetic; tomorrow he will be an object of pity, withered by age and exhausted by sickness" (Day 251).

The book itself is compelling as I can get a feel of vintage wisdom that has stood the test of time. Despite the ancient beginnings, the relevance is timeless and very appropriate for a technological culture that prefers the latest and the greatest. This book reminds us once again that there is much value in the earliest and the oldest. What we need are humble hearts and willing ears to listen. The benefits are all ours for the taking and for the sharing.

If you are thinking of a Christmas gift for anyone, this book certainly is a highly recommended one.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"The Art of Storytelling" (John Walsh)

TITLE: The Art of Storytelling: Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story
AUTHOR: John Walsh
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (160 pages).

"I can't speak. I'm not gifted. I'm too afraid to stand before a public audience." These protests are all too common. That is why public speaking is often considered one of the biggest fears people have. This book is not particularly about public speaking. It is about a particular skill that is vital to good public speaking. Telling stories. Written by a person who began as a stutterer, and who at one time felt that he was never cut out to speak in public in the first place, the author is keen about helping those who are inexperienced, who desire to improve, those who lack confidence, and especially those who not only love stories but desire to tell them well. This is the central purpose of this book, to teach storytelling. Written in two parts, the first part is about learning to craft the stories, and the second part is about telling them.

A) Crafting the Story

In crafting the stories, Walsh proposes 14 steps in order to craft a "captivating story." Steps 1 to 9 are basics while steps 10 to 14 are for more advanced and special cases.
  1. Select a story
  2. Push through the story
  3. Envision the scene with present-day feelings and concerns
  4. Tell the story from the view of someone at the scene
  5. Establish the story's central truth
  6. Find a memory hook
  7. Tell a story within a story
  8. Plan your first words
  9. Plan how the story ends
  10. Research the facts
  11. Eliminate needless details
  12. Add description to the story
  13. Include audience participation
  14. Arrange practice audiences.
The key idea in the book is to learn to tell stories in a way that audiences think. Walsh calls this "story thinkers." In fact, there are less "analytical" persons in churches compared to "story thinkers." Just making a three-point sermon and adding in a story to close it all seems too "linear" for anything captivating. Why not tell a story that weaves in all three points instead? Giving a message in a linear manner may make sense to the head but telling a gripping story will capture the heart. Not only that, it is much easier to connect through stories than to convince through points.

Walsh gives tips on how to find stories as well as choosing small stories to begin. This enables the speaker to be creative and to concisely build his story up to cater to the audience's ability to listen. Getting a story is one thing. Having it touch one's heart is another. He does not seem to favour memorizing stories simply because memorizing is more "story-centered" than "audience-centered." We also remember how story-telling as an art form is "best developed in front of people." The step about tailoring a story to modern needs and audiences is a precious learning jewel. Using sights, sounds, smells, and all kinds of sensations, good story-tellers will be able to invite audiences into the scene. One of the best ways is to use oneself as an example. The secret of making a story unforgettable is about having one central idea or truth. One can use memory hooks and memorable phrases for both adults as well as children.

There is also a section about when to "ramble" without having a prepared story to tell. In situations like these, it is critical to realize that audiences attention span will only be for a few minutes. If the rambling fails to catch their attention, the speaker will have lost the captivating opportunity. There are tips on how to craft great beginnings. Walsh urges speakers to be quick to "get to the mountain" in the story. Shorten the introduction and lengthen the key point. I especially appreciate the part when Walsh urges the linking of the end of the song with the beginning of the sermon message. Readers also learn that stories can be entered into in different ways, not just at the beginning. The creativity is very much up to the storyteller.  Other challenging parts of the book includes audience participation, researching the facts of the stories, and how activities can be designed to fit the stories.

B) Presenting the Story

Seven tools are provided. Use imagination to see the story in one's mind first. Use facial expressions to communicate emotions. Adopt bodily movements and gestures to let audiences see what we say. Use the voice carefully in terms of speedy, tone, volume, word choices, vocal variety, etc. Make use of pauses appropriately. Try to get the better of nervousness instead of letting nerves get the better of us. Speak with confidence.

There is a bonus section in the book that talks about "BibleTelling" to help preachers and teachers of the Bible be more effective in storying the Bible. One of the key things is to remember the "Bible Telling Triangle" which is to form the storytelling like a triangle of "listener," "storyteller," and "Bible story."

So What?

This book is not just a book about the techniques and methods of story telling. It is also a personal odyssey of the author's learning path toward great story-telling. He was inspired by people who spoke well. He was encouraged to pursue the path of public speaking by people who believed in him. He was willing to be trained, and to learn how to make stories come alive not just for himself but for the audience. The two pieces of advice Walsh provides in this book is worth remembering. Learn it well. Then teach it well. I am full of praise for this very powerful book of ideas that not only gives tips of how to craft and to present stories effectively, it inspires even the meekest persons or untrained individual to desire to give storytelling a shot!

I recommend this book highly for all speakers and speakers to be.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Luke (R.T. France)

TITLE: Luke (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: R. T. France
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (416 pages).

This book is the fourth (might be fifth?) book published under the "Teach the Text Commentary" series. It continues the very noble motive of wanting to use the best of biblical scholarship, and apply it to teaching and preaching that frequent preachers, pastors, or teachers can readily use. After a brief description of the nature of the commentary, the editors follow it up with a framework of how the commentary deals with each of the 64 pericopes that make up the gospel of Luke. Each pericope has a "Big Idea" that explains the primary theme. The "key themes" provide a bullet form list of meanings. The "Understanding the Text" is where the heavy lifting in terms of biblical theology comes in. It attempts to shed light on the contexts, the structure, the cultural backgrounds, followed by interpretive and theological insights. The "Teaching the Text" remains one of my favourites, which really makes the ancient texts come alive with modern applications. The "Illustrating the Text" is also a treasure chest of ideas for teachers and preachers who are constantly in search of stories, anecdotes, and illustrations to communicate the message.

France introduces the gospel writer of Luke by saying that at the writing of the gospel, Luke already has the book of Acts in mind. That is why Luke-Acts are often taken together as a package. The Luke is the medical doctor, the disciple who followed Jesus during Jesus' time on earth. At various parts of Acts, France notices the change of a "third person" to a "first person" in certain parts of Acts that shows readers that Luke was personally present during those times. Other times, scholars continue to debate whether Luke then was the only author at all. On Luke's relationship to the other gospels, France asserts that Luke is more than simply a re-iteration of Mark, as Luke has substantially more new material. He also argues that the gospel was probably written around AD 64/65, which makes it a "later" gospel compared to Mark, but also additional time to recall what had transpired since the death and resurrection of Christ.  There is a fascinating discussion on Luke as a "historian" just on the basis of Luke 1:1 where he talked about many others who have written other narratives. France calls Luke not just a historian or a chronicler of events, but a "man of the message," an "evangelist."

Once readers enter into the commentary proper, they will be greeted with an attractive "Big Idea" to invite readers to pay attention to the primary theme. I like the clear darkened background and the photos accompanying the passage. I appreciate the printing of the biblical text in italics first, before the commentaries. It allows readers to remember that when in doubt, the Bible passage remains supreme. When looking at the "interpretive insights," readers need to remember that they are just an opinion, not the defacto standard interpretation. Those who desire a wider variety of views and interpretations will need to consult other commentaries. That said, the insights given are fairly decent, and will probably not create too many controversies. After all, it is geared toward teaching laypersons, and laypersons will most likely not have the time to tackle the many difficult nuances and scholarship that often comes with increasing theological complexity.

Let me offer three reasons why pastors, teachers, preachers, professors, or anyone in the ministry of teaching and preaching should buy this book. Firstly, this book is a succinct summary of the key ideas in the gospel. One of the most important skills for any teacher is to be able to summarize, summarize, and summarize whatever they are teaching. It is like the standard 3-point method of public speaking. First, tell the audience what you are planning to say. Second, say it. Third, tell the audience again what you have said. Likewise, the summaries enable the speaker to let the big idea remain as the big idea.

Second, most Bible teachers walk a fine balance between reverence for the texts and relevance to the people. It is often not an easy thing to do. On one extreme, spending an incredible amount of time to dig into the details of the texts may seem like faithful scholarship, but what then is the point if hearers do not understand the technical jargon or complexities in theological arguments? On the other extreme, one can tell great stories but be totally off the mark when it comes to understanding what the Bible passage is saying. This book is a wonderful example of balancing the two.

Thirdly, the illustrations are conveniently placed and are ready resources to be used. I appreciate the variety of examples that range from personal stories to testimonies of famous persons; from biographies to movies; from books to movements; from stories in print to stories in life. Having said that, I feel that all preachers and teachers need to try their best to use their own stories and illustrations first. When only after all are exhausted, then use the ones in this book.

Excellent resource!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Sticking Points" (Haydn Shaw)

TITLE: Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart
AUTHOR: Haydn Shaw
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

Imagine yourself going to office and working with not just your peers, but your parents, your grand-uncles, and even your children. On paper it sounds very nice, warm, and cosy. In practice, there are generational differences that can make or break relationships. Beginning with the story of Cara, readers get to see how different generations perceive how work gets done. One generation may be faithful at the office from 9 to 5, but has a low efficiency. Another generation may only work three hours a day, be in the office only 3 times a week, and still get the same work done. During meetings, some generations can stay attentive throughout the meeting, while another seems to be multitasking between listening to the meetings, texting on their smartphones, and looking at their own papers.

Calling this era the first time where four generations come together and working side by side in the workplace, this book is an attempt to create "sticking points" so that all four of them can remain closely knitted and in touch with one another. Shaw, a generational expert and popular business speaker highlights five key pointers to understand the differences among the generations.
  1. Four generations may come together with their different cultural styles and preferences;
  2. When it comes to pulling all four generations together, only one in four approaches work today;
  3. It is important to unite by focusing on the 'why' because focusing on the 'what' tends to divide;
  4. Labeling the twelve sticking points will help preempt and anticipate problems before they come
  5. Implementing a 5-step inter-generational leadership style.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Silence - A Christian History" (Diarmaid Macculloch)

TITLE: Silence: A Christian History
AUTHOR: Diarmaid McCulloch
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2013, (272 pages).

Noise is only one side of the coin. Silence is the significant other. This conviction underlines the premise of this book, written by Oxford professor and historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. In a world of noise and fanfare, dominated by a non-stop 24x7 production and expectation of something audible, something visible, and something significant only with at least a decibel, society may have unwittingly missed out on the significance of quietness, of stillness, and of silence. He begins with an observation about the dog whose howl and silence can both communicate something important. Using that as a bridge to his own personal life, MacCulloch then shares his own struggles about how orthodoxy tends to suppress him into silencing his own sexual orientation in the midst of opposition and controversy. In other words, he is asserting that even in his silence, he is communicating a powerful message from quiet evasion to silent protest.  Rather than the absence of sound, it is the refusal to utter words that constitute the strength of the protest. It is a reaction. It is a response. It is a rebellion. It is a refusal to yield to the conventions especially when sounds try to invade and threaten one toward becoming something or someone he/she is not.

Friday, November 1, 2013

"Innovation's Dirty Little Secrets" (Larry Osborne)

TITLE: Innovation's Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail (Leadership Network Innovation Series)
AUTHOR: Larry Osborne
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (176 pages).

It is one thing to have a wonder hit. It is yet another to keep the hits coming. In a book that talks, breathes, and sings all things "innovation," readers are quickly brought down to earth with the "dirty little secret" that pronounces the death sentence: "Most innovations fail." What a way to begin a book. Observing that most leadership gurus and conference experts tend not to be upfront about this secret, Osborne believes that the ability to respond to failures is the ultimate secret of continued innovation. There is no such thing as a guarantee for success. Neither are failures debilitating. Perhaps, one reason why gurus and leadership trainers skirt the failure issue is because the general culture prefers an optimistic ideal rather than a harsh reality check. Osborne, a senior pastor of one of America's most innovative churches provides readers with many kinds of reality checks, six pitfalls of growth, three leadership felonies, and eight critical leadership questions to ask when embarking upon any idea or innovation. Let me summarize the book through seven reality checks.