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Friday, March 28, 2014

"Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy"

TITLE: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR(s): R. Al Mohler, Peter Enns, Michael Bird, Kevin Vanhoozer, and John Franke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2013, (336 pages).

This book touches on a core aspect of evangelicalism: Biblical Inerrancy. It is one that has generated heated debates and controversies, culminating in the departure of several prominent theologians in the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) not too long ago. The Geisler-Gundry debate and subsequent departures is one such case in point. The central issue is inerrancy or the interpretive positions on it. Core to this is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CBSI) in which all members of the ETS are to subscribe to it. Literally. For many, this foundational stance defines who and what exactly is an evangelical. As the title of this collection of essays suggests, there are at least five broad opinions, ranging from the strictly literal understanding to a loosely defined perspective.

The Format

In setting the stage for the debates, editors Stephen Garrett and J Merrick bring together five prominent theologians from different theological schools to share their views on the following:
  • How do they define Biblical inerrancy?
  • What is their take on the CBSI statement with regards to 4 aspects?
    • (1) God and his relationship to his creatures
    • (2) the doctrine of inspiration
    • (3) the nature of Scripture,
    • (4) the nature of truth.
  • How do they apply their views to three passages of Scripture?
    • Joshua 6
    • Discrepancy between Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9
    • Comparing Deuteronomy 20 with Matthew 5.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Go Tell It" (Jim Killam and Lincoln Brunner)

TITLE: Go Tell It: How--and Why--to Report God's Stories in Words, Photos, and Videos
AUTHOR: Jim Killam and Lincoln Brunner
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (176 pages).

You have a great story to tell. You have spent years serving faithfully. You have also witnessed many beautiful moments of how God has worked mightily. Unfortunately, your story is untold. Your witness is hidden somewhere. Maybe, you want to tell it but you lack the know-how. What if there is a way to tell it, that more people can be blessed? What if there is a way to spread the good news so that God's Name and Work can be shared more broadly?

Enters this very helpful book about Christian journalism. Just like the gospel writer, Luke who aims to record down meticulously the works of Christ, we too can learn to exercise the Great Commission through faithful and accurate story telling and gospel reporting. We can learn to report what God has been doing, what he had done, and what is he up to. We learn about how details can be very important in the telling of any story. We learn to choose the most significant parts in order to strengthen our focus. We need to hone in on the central question, and to report the truth. Yet, this truth reporting has to be done sensitively especially in places where mission work can be risky, even dangerous. The authors provide some guidelines such as:

  • Understanding the contexts of the mission
  • Publish wisely, with guidance from the people from the field
  • Adopt the Three Strands Rule: Name, Location, Ministry

At the same time, we are reminded that our world is filled with journalism that is more selling rather than telling. Understand the ethical implications. Learn to observe without obstructing; reporting without falsifying; and crediting God for what God has done. Know that freedoms differ from place to place. The clue is that Christian reporting is less about telling people what to think or do, but more about showing people the way far enough so that they can find the truth and act on the truth themselves.

There are tips on how to report bad news or "monsters," conflicts, and then search for universal themes. The main elements of any story include the central character, the conflict, the resolution, the biblical themes, and the story of grace and redemption. Other kinds of reporting include interviewing where one seeks accuracy on the one hand, and maintaining a cordial relationship on the other. Stories also need scenes in which the story plots are fleshed out. Photography and audio-visual aids are discussed too. A nice camera is not sufficient. One also needs some technical skills of a photographer and an eye for the relevant details. Movies must tell a story.

Christian journalism is vital. Good journalistic skills by Christians are essential if the truth is to be shared and spread throughout the world. This book is a primer for any budding journalist who wants to capture stories of the world from a Christian perspective. I am not a fan of using "Christian" as a prefix to things or activities. Personally, I prefer to distinguish between good vs bad journalism rather than Christian vs non-Christian journalism. For some of the best news reporting are not necessarily Christian. Some of the worst reporting can be done by Christians. The aim is to enable everyone everywhere to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. While there are instances where stories need bridges and links to move from one point to another, we need to maintain a truthful stance, to use whatever we have truthfully to communicate the truth accurately and faithfully. For Christians, the motivation toward journalism is a noble one. It is precisely because the gospel comes to us through the Word, we need to learn to use words, and every possible reporting tools to witness the hand of God working in this world. It is a calling.

I was hoping to read more about reporting in social media, blogging, and the new media opportunities but was disappointed that the book stopped short on that. Hopefully, in future editions, the author will incorporate more of these new technologies and their implications on modern reporting and journalism. That said, this book has refreshed my own zeal on the importance of journalism. Good journalism that is.

Rating: 4.5 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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"On Preaching" (H.B. Charles Jr)

TITLE: On Preaching: Practical Advice for Effective Preaching
AUTHOR: H. B. Charles, Jr
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (160 pages).

What is biblical preaching? Is it necessary for a preacher or preacher to be to go to seminary? How can one get ready for preaching each week and every week? What about taking a sabbatical from preaching? What has prayer got to do with preaching? These questions and many more are dealt with in this very down to earth treatment of all things preaching. Broadly framed in three parts, the book's central conviction is that preaching is such a huge privilege that it cannot be taken for granted. In talking about the three kinds of preachers, the most important kind is the one we "must" listen to, not can or cannot. Thus, renowned preacher and pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida has given us a handbook of preaching best practices to help us, especially for those who periodically encounter a "preaching crisis." Such a crisis is not something that is bad. Rather, it is an impetus to seek improvement. It is a motivation to become a better herald of God's Word. It is a calling to be equipped to be a better preacher one sermon at a time.

Part One is about the Preparation for preaching. Charles emphasizes the centrality of Scripture as the main text to use. Due to the importance of proper biblical exegesis and understanding, while it is not absolutely essential, preachers are urged to obtain seminary training where possible. This is part of the due diligence process in the preparation for preaching. In order to ensure sufficient time to study, one needs to plan ahead, optimize time usage, and focus. Remember that sermon preparation is also spiritual warfare. Praying, reading, studying, developing, writing, and other steps go into the whole preparation process. Prayer is such an important exercise that the author dedicates two chapters to deal with that.

Part Two is on the Practice of Preaching. If at all possible, use mainly the Scriptures. Whether it is exposition, interpretation, or story telling, readers are urged to go heavy on the Word. He advocates the use of whole books so that one can remain faithful to the overall theme and thrust of the Bible. Such an approach prevents one from adopting choice texts or preferred topics.  He provides tips on how to be a better expository preacher, focusing on repetition, preparation, and dedication. Above all, he asserts that "Praying preachers are strong, healthy, and growing." As an advocate for a "traditional approach," Charles recommends the age old method of telling people what we are going to say, then we say it, and then we summarize what has been said. The bulk of the work needs to be explaining what the text means before trying to bring in applications. I like the part where Charles likens the sermon title to a book. It needs to stimulate interest, emphasize Scripture, adopt variety, and maintain interest. Other interesting chapters include introduction to the sermon, transitions, illustrations, conclusions, and a very helpful chapter on preaching without notes. As a preacher myself, I find his approach very gracious, that we are free to adopt a no-notes or full-notes method, as long as we learn to find our best voice and way to preach. There is no hard and fast rule.

Part Three comprises various Points of Wisdom for Preaching. This section is a kind of a personal journey the author has gone through. Being consistent is important. Being ourselves is equally important. The school of preaching is a lifelong process.  Delivering the sermon is also a delicate art in which we need to be careful not to embarrass individuals. Here, ten tips are given for any preacher to avoid "indecent exposure." On plagiarism, on the one hand, the author insists that all preachers borrow from the Word of God. On the other hand, God uses each individual uniquely.

So What?

This is a surprisingly deep book on preaching. While there are lots of practical tips and advice, I find the content very educational and heartwarming. It creates in me a love for the Word and a desire to share that love through preaching. As a preacher myself, many of the things that Charles have said resonated in me. Things such as prayer where we need to learn to pray throughout the sermon preparation, the delivery, as well as the post-sermon time. God's work done in God's way will certainly receive God's power. The book has many brief chapters, all soaked with wisdom. If you are a preacher, you will benefit a lot from the wisdom and advice. If you are not, you can get a better idea about how to pray for your pastor or preacher. If you are a student, you will get an idea of the overall preaching process and find out God's calling about the preaching ministry.

While not everyone of us are called to preach, we can still benefit from understanding the complex mechanisms that go into every sermon, technically, textually, and spiritually. Most importantly, it is the sensing of the Spirit of God that helps preachers of the Word be powerful deliverers of the Word. May God be glorified in our preaching.

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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Humility" (David J. Bobb)

TITLE: Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America's Greatest Virtue
AUTHOR: David J. Bobb
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2013, (230 pages).

True greatness comes not with power and might, but with humility and grace. As far as America's founding fathers are concerned, the exercise of humility is the key difference between ancient Rome and the America they want. In this book, Bobb looks at how important humility is with regards to the building of a nation. Throughout the book, Bobb emphasizes that "greatness and humility need not be opposed to each other." Rather, humility herself is powerful in ways that the powers at different eras, including those of this age still fail to comprehend. People such as Plato who believes that the "magnanimous man" is only answerable to self. There is Machiavelli who sees humility more as an instrument rather than a virtue, or Thomas Hobbes who sees humility more as a threat to any politics.  Bobb then pits them against Jesus, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas' view of how humility is not just a means to an end, but the very essence of true humanity.

As an executive director of citizen education for Hillsdale College, and lecturer in politics, Dr David Bobb helps us to see that humility is not just the founding virtue of true greatness, it is vital for virtuous governance in any country. In order to flesh out his thesis, Bobb sets forth five examples of great individual leaders whose hallmark for success is humility over all other traits. George Washington was not just the first American President, he was also one who not once, but twice, opted to leave power when he was at his peak. He could have held on to power. He could have worded the constitution for his own benefit. He could have created a dynasty. Yet, he chose to stay away from the limelight when he could. The second example is James Madison (1751-1836), also known as the "Father of the Constitution." Madison believed that one can never stop improving, and sought to create a constitution that will protect the weak, and loved to operate behind the scenes without the limelight. In fact, he was a proponent of limiting power rather than increasing power. The third example is Abigail Adams, wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams (1735-1826), also the President's closest confidante. She helped shaped the modesty and humility of her husband. Instead of climbing the social ladder of influence and power, Abigail's magnanimous spirit helped raise the character of John to be a better man. The fourth example is Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th President of the United States. Born with humble roots, Lincoln was able to recognize ambition and arrogance, and how the two can combine to flip one to the wrong side of morality. By being committed to hear from various people, even his opponents, he became one of the nation's most respected leader, showing us that the way to true greatness is humility and modesty. Finally, Frederick Douglas (1818-1895), a black man committed to the abolitionist movement, fought injustice not with arrogance but modesty. For him, "slavery was a self-perpetuating cycle of disordered pride and debased conduct." Even among his fellow blacks, he recognized forms of pride and arrogance. His case was a delicate balance between humiliation of being a slave and humility when fighting slavery. One can fight for truth, but how one fights is another matter altogether.

Bobb's book is a timely reminder that if we are not careful, we may enjoy the success of Rome and also suffer the downfall caused by Roman arrogance. America is not there yet, but it can dangerously copy the fateful path of Rome.  We all need to be reminded that arrogance and pride are closer than we think. Only the weapons of humility and modesty can move us farther away from these threats. This book is indeed an unlikely biography of America's truest and greatest success. It is not the power and might that defines a nation. It is the virtues and the values of humanity that will help a nation flourish and be an example for the rest of the world to follow. As I reflect on this, I am reminded once again that leaders are important, doing the right things are important, and fighting for what is right is also important. Let these not hide the fact that behind each righteous act or deed lies a person who needs the God of righteousness for help. Greatness and humility can co-exist.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Thomas-Nelson and BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Between Heaven and Earth" (Steve Berger)

TITLE: Between Heaven and Earth: Finding Hope, Courage, and Passion Through a Fresh Vision of Heaven
AUTHOR: Steve Berger
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, (192 pages).

Since the runaway success of the book by Todd Burpo, "Heaven is for Real," there has been a slew of books on the theme of heaven. While Burpo's son had a vision of heaven, and came back to earth, the author of this book does not enjoy the same privilege. His son passed from earth to heaven and stayed, leaving him and his wife on earth to find hope, to maintain courage, and to continue on through life on earth. Knowing that his son is in a heavenly place brings lots of comfort and joy. As a senior pastor to Grace Chapel, a community of more than 4000 people in Leipers Fork, Tennessee, Berger tackles the accusations of "heavenly minded but of no earthly good" with a passionate call for faith and hope in the midst of fear and despair. Drawing hope and inspiration from Paul's letter to the Philippians, Berger invites readers to eavesdrop into his thoughts and visions about heaven, drawing inspiration for grace, hoping, healing, and living in between heaven and earth.

While he can teach and preach about heaven, it takes the death of his beloved son through a horrific car accident to usher him deeper into the reality of heaven, and how much hope it offers. It is one thing to talk about heaven. It is yet another to live out heaven while on earth. Berger dives into the emotional journeys of the Apostle Paul as he confesses what it means to live is Christ and to die with gain. He learns from Watchman Nee's courage in the midst of persecution. He benefits from John MacArthur's wise assurance that eternal realities in Christ surpass the temporal troubles on earth. He digs into Abraham's ups and downs in his faith journey, and marvels at Abraham's ability to keep a future focus on the promise of God. Berger distinguishes real hope from human hope by stating facts about death, heaven, hell, and the love of God. He glimpses a heaven that is engaging, exciting, and eternally satisfying. The longing for heaven is increased through recognizing heaven is no boring place but a place of healing, harvesting the joys of God's work, hearing God, and ultimately receiving our rewards in God.

"Between heaven and earth" is a very personal journey of Steve Berger. Each page I turn, I am aware of a hurting person seeking a word of healing from Scripture, a sign of hope from heaven, and a respite from the earthly existence toward a heavenly manifestation. Far too many of us are guilty of being too earthly minded rather than heavenly focused. We are big into how-tos, steps to do things, ways to perform various spiritual disciplines, and inspiration through quips and clever stories. What is lacking is the vision of heaven and eternal communion with God, just like the prophets and saints of old. The promises according to Berger is of a heavenly home, hope, and happiness. Most importantly, it is the promise of God Himself. If Berger has taken time to describe and to story his own life more in the light of God's Person, this book would have been even better.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Friday, March 21, 2014

"The Making of a Prophet" (Jennifer Leclaire)

TITLE: Making of a Prophet, The: Practical Advice for Developing Your Prophetic Voice
AUTHOR: Jennifer LeClaire
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2014, (176 pages).

Many are called but few are chosen. Like many spiritual gifts, the same applies to the gift of prophecy. More particularly, Jennifer LeClaire speaks into what it takes to make a prophet in this helpful book about understanding things prophecy, prophetic voice, and the making of a prophet at various levels. What sparks the interest and research into prophecy and prophets is a book by Dr Bill Hamon, which resonated strongly with this author. Not only did "Prophets and Personal Prophecy" initiates a personal quest for more knowledge and confirmation, LeClaire has even written a book herself, inviting Hamon to write a foreword for the book. Instead of focusing on the actual label or a special class of people called "prophet,"  LeClaire, director of International House of Prayer, shows readers what it takes to cultivate that "prophetic voice" in each of us. Taken in this light, LeClaire is reaching out to a wider audience, hoping to invite even the skeptic to remain open to her message about developing one's prophetic voice. While not everyone who prophesies is a prophet, not everyone needs a title of "prophet" before being allowed to be a prophetic voice. Distinguish the noun from the adjective.

In asking the question about prophet as a calling, LeClaire recognizes it is one of the fivefold ministry named in Ephesians 4:11. She distinguishes the office from the desire in that while the office can be coveted for self-gratification, the desire can be cultivated for the work and ministry of God. The gift of prophecy begins with a calling that God initiates. The way it works is that God begins in small ways before any visible ministry. One clue about the call is that one learns to be patient rather than rushing headlong hurriedly into the ministry.
  • Is the person able to listen with humility?
  • Is the person willing to accept the high responsibility?
  • Is the person ready to accept small beginnings?
  • Does one recognize the call?
  • Is one willing to pay the price?
  • Is one merely copying or actively corresponding with the Spirit of God?
Leclaire describes the making of the prophet in 22 chapters. As I do not find any particular framework like the 10Ms that Bill Hamon had done in the foreword, maybe I can highly 10 Cs of how the prophetic voice can be developed. Leclaire's first point is that Calling is a "revelation gift." The author defines the purpose of prophecy as: "to speak out the heart, mind and will of God, bringing edification, exhortation and comfort to the Body of Christ." With this one purpose, she then describes the manifestations of the prophetic voice through various ways: "warriors, reformers, deliverers, watchmen, miracle workers, dreamers, visionaries, and intercessors - or any combination of these." She calls King David as a "warrior prophet" and Deborah as a "warrior prophetess." John the Baptist was a reformer. Secondly, the one called will have a great desire for Communion with God. Through the communion, one grows closer to God, more intimate with God, and maturing in love. Thirdly, one also grows in the Confidence in God. Whether one feels melting under the weather, being molded or folded, being used or filled, there is the sense of the presence of God guiding us. Fourth, one is bold to Confront the evil that opposes God. In the spirit of James 4:7, as one submits to God and resist the devil, the devil will flee.  Fifth, one recognizes the tendency toward pride and arrogance and will subject oneself to constant scrutiny via Confession. Just like the confrontation against evil, one learns to combat the temptations of the flesh. This self-awareness exercise needs to be consistently done through confession. Self-awareness and godliness are key characteristics of all spiritual gifts. Sixth, people of the prophetic voice will always Choose Jesus above all else, including the giftings of prophecy. Sometimes, when the prophetic voice becomes an idol in itself, we unwittingly gives it prime space in our spiritual life. Choosing Jesus means checking our own motives regularly, confronting our own pride and to choose love in Christ in all of our works. Seventh, there is Courage that overcomes all kinds of fear. The prophet in the making is fearless like Jesus, and does not allow fear to rule one's decision making. Instead, the motivation is a step of faith to please and to obey God. The eighth characteristic is spiritual Combat that goes beyond mere confrontation. Warfare is real and we are to go into the battlefield knowing that the Lord is our leader. Ninth, one attacks Comfort levels constantly, knowing that such desire to stay in the comfort zone is tempting and alluring, but also devastating to the prophetic call. It is more important to obey than to conveniently tune out the uncomfortable things before us. For to remain in the comfort zone often means one has to wear the hat of self-deception that says everything is all right when things are not. Finally, the calling of a prophet notes a Consistent motivation of ministry in love. One grows closer toward God. One ministers compassionately toward people. Both are done consistently and increasingly.

I think this book deserves a more structured framework. Bill Hamon's foreword provides one for the help of readers. I have tried to provide another too. That said, LeClaire does a good job in the first few chapters to describe the calling and the purpose of the prophetic ministry. There are biblical references throughout the book that give us a biblical feel of where the book is heading. I appreciate the way that Leclaire constantly brings attention back to God, which is what being a prophet is in the first place. Anyone who is curious about the role of the prophetic or whether one has a prophetic voice or not, can benefit from the tips and guidelines mentioned in the book. It is less of a person seeking after prophetic gifts but more of God seeking out the people He wants to speak to, to speak through, and to speak throughout.

Rating: 3.75 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Gospel Justice" (Bruce D. Strom)

TITLE: Gospel Justice: Joining Together to Provide Help and Hope for those Oppressed by Legal Injustice
AUTHOR: Bruce D. Strom
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (208 pages).

Ten biblical lessons. One single passion to care for the poor, the marginalized, the innocent victims who are unable to fend for themselves in a world in which justice systems tend to favour the rich and the powerful, leaving the rest pretty much on their own. Is this what justice is all about? This question is explored with the central belief that our current world systems of law and order are not as just as they claim to be. In fact, how do we offer hope and help to people caught by "legal injustice?" Growing up with a strong work ethic, educated in a very good law school, and benefitting from the nation's system of progress and prosperity, Judson University graduate Bruce Strom turned from profiting from law practice to fighting legal injustice from a gospel anchored perspective. From injustices such as poverty, unfair contracts, unfair loans, wages, fraud, abuse, and many other deceptive practices, Strom catches a vision that God's promises is not targeted at those who are famous but for those who are faithful. He learns to look outside himself. He begins to pray for others more than self. He fights for the underprivileged more and more. He does not believe that the injustice quagmire can be solved by any one ministry or organization. Only God can bring about gospel justice. With a network of ministries and supporting organizations, we can participate in this great working of God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Discipleship in Crisis" (Frank Viola)

AUTHOR: Frank Viola

[Free download here]

In this very provocative ebook about discipleship, Frank Viola takes a critical look at the current modes of doing discipleship in churches and gives a devastating analysis that it is in crisis. At the same time, he asserts that the discipleship models that many people are familiar with are fraught with problems. He lists a few. Firstly, it is highly guilt-driven, and while it may bring results initially, over the long run, it fails. Secondly, he observes that there is a "youthful enthusiasm" that also does not last beyond the middle age years. He even mentions Jesus beginning his ministry only at the age 30, far more than the youthful spiritual exuberance of those people in their 20s. Thirdly, and most critically, Viola attacks the seven descriptions of prayer, Bible reading, Church attending, Tithing, Witnessing, Good Works, and replication of the same methods, as inadequate, simply because they do not necessarily help one be more like Jesus. Fourthly, it is about will power which be self-reliant rather than God dependent. Fifth, quite related to the previous one, discipleship programs tend to feed from the "tree of good and evil" instead of the "tree of life." The former depends on the self to get things done while the latter is dependent on God. Sixth, Viola observes that many Christians have misunderstood following Jesus as copying his external works in the Bible rather than imitating his inner life with God. The seventh is individualism while the eighth is a lack of self-consciousness which follows the flesh rather than being led by the Spirit. The final one is about the lack of self-denial.

His solutions to the above are mentioned in free audios available referenced in the book. (You can reference them here.) Viola makes a lot of good points and this book causes me to ponder and reflect on the conventional methods and programs we have with regards to discipleship. Discipleship is lived out rather than studied. It is to be internalized and not simply externally driven. It needs to be shared with the humility of Christ, through self-denial. It needs to be learned through the taking up of our cross. It is not following any curriculum, agenda, or program list. It is about following the Person of Christ.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the author. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"58 to 0" (Jon Zens)

TITLE: 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers
AUTHOR: Jon Zens
PUBLISHER: Omaha, NE: Ekklesia Press, 2013, (202 pages).

Have we bought in lock-stock-and-barrel the prestige and accolades given to all things leadership? Are leadership conferences, seminars, and often expensive resources out there worth the investment? What about leadership in churches? Is the modern concept of leadership hierarchies biblical to begin with? The key point of this book is this:

"In the NT, the organic way for everything to develop is through the functioning of all the living stones together. The starting point of assembly-life is the priesthood of all believers as a living reality."

The title of the book comes from the authors' interpretation of the New Testament whereby Christ is the leader while everyone else are followers. Thus, there is no NT justification for decision-making or leadership stuff only to be left to the hierarchy of leaders that we have today. Instead, Jon Zens and Graham Woods argue that the responsibility lies with the "58 others" or the whole body of Christ.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Discipleship Handbook" (Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick)

TITLE: Discipleship Handbook
AUTHOR: Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick
PUBLISHER: Discipleship Resources, 2013.

[Free ebook available here.]

Written by two pastors from Harpeth Community Church near Tennessee, this handbook was initially for their own Church. Now they have published it for the benefit of others because they believe that all churches, not just theirs, ought to focus on making disciples and on cultivating a discipleship lifestyle. Anyone who says that "Jesus is Lord" must equally affirm three things:
  1. Jesus is God
  2. Jesus is King
  3. Jesus is Ruler over all our lives.
This is the foundation of all things discipleship. Once this is established, discipleship is all about helping one another form their lives around "Jesus is Lord." They then bring together six distinctive elements of a discipleship lifestyle.

First, DISCIPLE. Whoever claims themselves to be disciples of Christ must live as Jesus did. It means imitating Christ. It means not just going to Church but being a part of Church. It is not just believing but fully trusting; not just singing songs but surrendering; not simply clapping to God but participating in God's mission; not just observing from a distance but to be up close and personal with God; not just studying the Bible but following hard after Jesus; not just religious bur passionate about loving God through people.

Second, INTENTIONALITY means having a strategy to begin with, a direction to move with, and specific steps to live with. Studying Scripture must be pointed with an attentiveness to Jesus. It is not enough to get Bible knowledge. It is more important to develop a living relationship with God. Spiritual growth is preferred to numerical growth. It means learning to be community.

Third, RELATIONSHIPS is a mark of discipleship. If there is no relationship or discipleship, then any knowledge passed around is simply head knowledge. People can be impressed during lectures but only through relationships can people be impacted.

Fourth, BIBLE is the source of discipleship matters. It helps us develop faith in Jesus, to be sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, to learn obedience to God and the centrality of Christ in all of our lives.

Fifth, JOURNEY is a popular way to describe the Christian life. Five stages are mentioned.
  1. Spiritually dead
  2. Infant
  3. Child
  4. Young Adult
  5. Parent
When one becomes a Christian, one becomes an infant. As a child, one learns the do's and don'ts of the Christian life with a mentor as guide. A a young adult, one starts growing away from self-centeredness. As a parent, one mentors others.

Sixth, REPEAT means reproducing others to do the task of discipleship. Disciples make disciples.

Discipleship is too important a subject to be restricted to simply a definition or a concept. It needs to be practical and doable. It requires us to be teaching others even as we learn from the Bible of Jesus and of that living relationship with God. Harrington and Patrick have given us a useful too to launch into any discipleship venture. It is not just a program but a purposeful way of life. It is not just a list of concepts but a tangible movement of learning and growing. It is not simply something to feed the brain but to serve God through ministry to one another in Christ.

With the price of free, you are strongly urged to download, to read, to reflect, and to put into practice what is stated in this very useful resource. Share it widely beginning with yourself.


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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Evangelism or Discipleship" (Bobby Harrington and Bill Hull)

TITLE: Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together?
AUTHOR: Bobby Harrington and Bill Hull
PUBLISHER: Exponential Resources, 2014.

[Free ebook available here.]

Every Church ought to do evangelism. Every Church also needs to be doing discipleship. The question is: Are they two activities? According to pastors and authors Bobby Harrington and Bill Hull, they are one and the same thing. Evangelism is not simply about "being in the world" and divorced from Church work and activities. Neither is discipleship about inner programs. Both complement each other in the fulfilling of God's mission. In fact, people have tended to see the areas of evangelism and discipleship as two separate things done by two separate people of different callings. Harrington and Hull puts "evangelism" as front-end of discipleship while helping believers mature is the "back-end." One cannot do discipleship independent of evangelism, and vice versa.

For the authors, discipleship is defined: "as trusting God’s presence as we intentionally enter into the lives of others to guide them to trust and follow Jesus and obey all his teachings."It is not a program but a movement toward maturity. It is about connecting with believers to encourage reproduction of disciples toward Christlikeness. It is learning to be accountable to one another.

Simply put, the key message of this book is that: "Disciples have a mission, and the mission is to reach people. Evangelism necessitates disciples who have matured to the point of reproduction. Discipleship includes evangelism, and evangelism is a part of discipleship."

After describing the relationship between discipleship and evangelism, the authors describes a disciple-making church that is characterized by:
  1. Building relationships with people
  2. Teaching the Word
  3. Reproduction of disciples
All believers are to be equipped through discipleship. All disciples live out their calling through evangelism. If church is for discipleship, then discipleship is for the world. Sometimes I feel that Christians through the ages have become too fixated on seeing evangelism and discipleship as two different things. Evangelism is to reach non-Christians while Discipleship is to reach Christians; or Evangelism is to do with external activities while Discipleship is all about internal stuff. Many Churches even have separate ministries and staff to do the different thrusts. I know of some that even hired "Outreach Pastors" or "Discipleship Pastors." This book aims to do away with all the unhelpful dichotomy. On a practical scale, if we separate the two, we tend to leave all the evangelism and outreach stuff to the evangelism ministry, and discipleship to the discipleship ministry. By doing that, are we not betraying our own calling to "make disciples of all nations" not just our inner groups? All for discipleship and discipleship for all. Disciples for evangelism and evangelism for all disciples. This picture is fuller and more complete.


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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Learning for the Love of God" (Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby)

TITLE: Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness
AUTHOR: Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2nd edition, 2014, (144 pages).

In the Christian world, many people have been advocating for a deeper faith in the workplace or integrating faith in the marketplace. While at school, we learn how best to put our faith to the test. What about our schools and educational environments? Are they not marketplaces in themselves?

From the most boring lectures to the most interesting classroom lessons, this book shows us that every class matters. In the words of the authors, two words summed up the whole book: "Academic Faithfulness." The authors have a common heritage: Geneva College with Opitz a professor and Melleby an alumnus. They begin with two erroneous expectations of college students. The first is the "beer and circus" which on the outside looks like fun and partying, but on a deeper level, is a distraction from academic faithfulness. The second is the "grades and accolades" expectation that sees academic success and recognition as idols. What is needed is a way for students to be renewed in mind and transformed at heart.

Then there is the need to beware of "deceptive philosophies and traditions" in the college arena. One key warning is to avoid swallowing the pill of "education for upward mobility" at the expense of "education for responsible action." The subject of worldview is examined, and readers are encouraged not to buy into a "seeing is believing" mindset, but also to learn faith without seeing. Students ought to appreciate life as a story rather than some disconnected things or disjointed ideas. "Fish-eyed learning" needs to be put aside in favour of a Christian mind that is relationships aware, biblically based, and ideologically sound, instead of being sucked into ideological confusion. Opitz and Melleby string together  the four part Biblical narrative (Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation) with the four Is (Integration-Idolatry-Investment-Imagination) to help us connect the dots of learning. We are reminded that while learning is important, being changed from the inside out is equally (if not) more important. Some great advice are given, such as looking for a mentor; getting involved in care groups; volunteering in the community; engaging people of other faiths. Knowing includes a big part of listening.

So What?

Now in its second edition, this book is an important contribution to Christians, particularly those involved in educational circles in some way. It can be teachers or students, parents or educators, leaders or community decision makers, and so on. The idea of "academic faithfulness" needs to be expanded beyond the circles of the academy. Without a proper worldview, students will be caught up in a world of varying ideas that can easily sweep them away. In this manner, it is like building a house on the sand of disconnected and disjointed philosophies rather than the rock of divine reality. Human philosophies and fabricated ideas will not stand up against the rock of the Creator, the Great Storyteller, the Sovereign Ruler of all.

Though this book is aimed at a Christian audience, the general thrust of the book is to help us get a bigger picture of the purpose of education. I appreciate the way the authors describe the two erroneous expectations of most students: "beer and circus" and "grades and accolades." Education is not mere fun or fabulous grades. It needs faith. Lest we produce individuals who simply straddle through college to become aimless graduates, or a generation of people who can score perfect As but still flunk the school of life. Read this book. Buy it for your children or college students. For a student who is trained in "academic faithfulness" through college will stand a better chance of godliness and vocational integrity through the journey of life.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis" (Alister McGrath)

TITLE: If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life
AUTHOR: Alister McGrath
PUBLISHER:  Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014, (256 pages).

Many of us have been blessed and intrigued by the brilliant mind of one of this century's greatest Christian thinkers and philosophers, Clive Staples Lewis, also known more popularly as simply CS Lewis. His books have sold millions. His thinking has taught many apologists. His life has remained a shining testimony and witness to Christ to a world full of questions about life. While many schools have supplied courses and seminars on CS Lewis's thinking and philosophical viewpoints, a vast majority of them are aimed at the works of CS Lewis. Very few are about actually conversing with the person up front. What if we have an opportunity to have coffee or a simple meal with Lewis? What if we are able to re-enact a time in which we can ask Lewis in person about the pressing issues of life? This book fills in the gap.

Unlike Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Lewis as a "solemn, pompous, and rather tedious person" capable of boring people to death, McGrath prefers to see Lewis as a great lunchtime companion who can be quite fun to be with. Making use of a typical school term of eight weeks used at both Oxford and Cambridge, this book of imaginary lunches and conversations with Lewis covers a total of eight weeks. Week One begins with a favourite topic among philosophers: Meaning. Remembering Lewis was once an atheist, Lewis admits his brand of atheistic beliefs then, of rationalism are "glib and shallow." There must be something more. There are human emotions and intuitions that point to a world larger than ours. He reveals how he came to faith through the belief that the eyes of faith help one to see even more. Week Two is about friendship, and how his relationships with people helped him grow as a person and as a thinker. The book "The Four Loves" sums up Lewis's perspectives on love and relationships. McGrath shares of Lewis's various friendships, with older brother Warren, Oxford colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, and his circle of friends who are committed to one another in the search for truth rather than mere pleasantries. Week Three gives readers an insight into the contexts of Lewis's storytelling prowess and background. The story that we believe in will be the greatest impact on us. Thanks to friends like Tolkien, Lewis's single greatest achievement is the Narnia stories which help us understand this world in the terms of "competing narratives." Week Four conversation shifts to Narnia and the Christian Life. McGrath observes can the character of Aslan becomes the focal point of all the stories of Narnia. The Narnia series is essentially a search for a personal narrative in a Christ figure, using stories rather than reason to speak about life. In doing so, Lewis emphasizes the person more than mere ideas. Students of Apologetics will look forward to the conversation for Week Five. Lewis was an apologist, well read in works by Christian authors such as G.K. Chesterton. The three key tasks are to defend, to commend, and to translate faith. This requires us to understand our audience's contexts, recognize clues in this world, and how imagination plays a huge role in the life of Lewis, who moved initially from atheism to theism, before anchoring himself in Christ. Week Six is on Education where Lewis argues passionately that education is not merely instrumental, but instructional on reality, and objective morality. Lewis reads without forgetting, lectures without notes, and delivers without hesitation. He reads old books with the firm belief that it allows him to be able to look not just at the old era but to be able to see clearly what his own times look like from that angle. Every age believes they are more correct than others, which is precisely where it needs a corrective itself. Education is about learning to expand one's vision. Week Seven touches on the topics of pain and suffering, drawing lots of material from two of Lewis's most personal books, "A Grief Observed," and "The Problem of Pain." It was pain that pushes Lewis toward cynicism about religion. It was suffering that drew him back, especially when he recognizes the emptiness of atheism. For pain forces one to grapple with the meaning of good and evil and more importantly, the importance of the goodness of God. What made the two books significant is that while the "Problem of Pain" is "cooly logical and clinical," "A Grief Observed" is intensely emotional.   This shows us that Lewis not only has a brilliant mind, he has a big heart. The final week is on hope and heaven, where Lewis affirms the need to "aim at heaven" and we get earth thrown in together in the mix. Aim merely at earth and we lose both. There is the reality of hope everlasting. There is the reality of life temporal. Lewis provides three ways to look at heaven: 1) Actual existence of heaven as the ultimate reality; 2) Presence of God; 3) Living with our new bodies at the Resurrection.

So What?

Readers will find Oxford Professor Alister McGrath a reliable buddy to journey along this conversations with CS Lewis. Perhaps, some of us may wonder how realistic are the views of Lewis. Well, it is as realistic as the things that Lewis had put into writing. For McGrath has combed all the works of Lewis, pondered on them, and compiled them according to the themes in this book. This is no easy feat, considering Lewis is not simply a prolific writer but also a brilliant thinker. How can anyone summarize a person like CS Lewis? Thankfully, McGrath did not do that. Instead, McGrath makes use of some of life's most important questions to draw Lewis out, rather than to hem Lewis in any one particular box of ideas. This is the strongest point of the book. The downside of this book is not just the brevity but also the lack of actual conversations with an actual person, just like a novel or a play. Readers have to imagine themselves into the lunchtime talks. Moreover, those who have read Lewis's works will most appreciate the ideas and thoughts in this book. Those of us who enjoy reading Lewis will also benefit from the engagement processes.

At times the book looks like a mini-primer of the writings of CS Lewis. This is especially in the preface to each chapter prior to the imagined conversations. I gained additional insights into Lewis as a person, seen from the eyes of McGrath. One finds it hard to know more about Lewis by merely reading his books. This book of having lunch with Lewis gives us a more personal touch.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, March 10, 2014

"The answer to bad religion is not no religion" (Martin Thielen)

TITLE: The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics, and Believers
AUTHOR: Martin Thielen
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (160 pages).

What caused Charles Darwin to stop believing in God? Is it the theory of evolution? Is it some secular thinking? According to author and senior pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church in Tenessee, Martin Thielen, it is none other than "bad religion." What is "bad religion" you may ask? It comes with the words, "closed-minded, "negative," "arrogant," "intolerant," "judgmental," "narcissistic," "guilt," "legalistic," "exclusive," and others placed next to religion. Thielen concentrates on five chief characteristics of bad religion. First, bad religion is caused by self-righteous people judging others. Such judging of others often tend to be selective, destructive, hypocritical, and unChristlike. Second, bad religion is chronically negative, with lack of joy, grace, and manifests a laundry list of no's more than yes's. Third, bad religion is basically arrogant and is not capable of handling ambiguity. They are essentially intolerant of differences. Fourth, bad religion is largely associated with partisan politicking and excessive nationalism. Not only does this complicates and confuses Church and state relations, it blunts the role of the Church's prophetic vision and gospel mission. Fifth, bad religion promotes indirectly the fostering of nominal Christianity through a lack of commitment to God and to Church.

Sure, these five factors will deter and discourage anyone, especially non-believers to consider Christianity at all, That said, Thielen argues that to swing to the opposite is also an unhelpful and unwise extreme. Why react against bad religion by damning religion altogether? He takes the new atheist camp to task, like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, saying that the alternatives they provide are equally if not more impoverished. He points out the stature of prestigious universities of the world that have been anchored on faith prior to their success. He highlights the presence of huge charitable organizations that are faith-based. He tackles the three big issues of the bad religions, the literal belief, and the problem of suffering by saying that "no religion" is simply incapable of resolving any of them. For not everyone in any Church practise "bad religions." Not everyone agrees about a rigid way of interpretation. At the same time, suffering is a mystery that no one philosophy or a masses of religions or no religions can resolve at all.

Thankfully, Thielen is no doomsday prophet. He proposes ten ways in which religion can be good. Good Religion basically:
  1. Impacts the way we live
  2. Puts Love first and foremost
  3. Serves
  4. Provides a Prophetic Voice
  5. Builds Community
  6. Gives Hope
  7. Keeps and Open Mind
  8. Practices Forgiveness
  9. Promotes Gratitude
  10. Witnesses and Evangelizes.

So What?

Thielen has identified important reasons why people in general have taken a dislike to Christians, Churches, and Christianity at large. He describes many things which have led to an exodus of people both young and old out of the Church. Not only are non-Christians finding it meaningless to consider Christianity, nominal Christians themselves are only adding fuel to the fire of scepticism, sarcasm, and superficial faith. The first five chapters of the book are depressing indeed. What makes it worse is that the things Thielen says is quite a common sight, especially in particular regions in the West. Instead of being persecuted, certain church leaders have turned into persecutors, even prosecutors as they try to use politics to further their causes. Worse of all, such tactics have led to a growing dislike of all things Christianity. This is the first challenge of the Church. The second challenge to the Church is from the non-religious group which tries to front an atheistic or secular offering. They too are inadequate and impoverished. It is like saying the answer to bad food is to avoid food altogether. Such a response is foolish, short-sighted, and self-deceiving. While the title of the book does not suggest it directly, Thielen dedicates ten chapters to describe what hope and good religion is all about.

Let me make several comments about this book. First, I agree with Thielen's general thesis. I applaud him for highlighting the problems of negative perception and the reasons behind them. It is an honest admission of our tendency to major on the wrong things and minor on the right stuff. Readers will benefit from falling into the traps of bad religion by first recognizing the signs. Second, things may not be as clear cut as he had painted them to be. There are always at least two perspectives of everything. Thielen has largely described the more negative ones in the first five "bad religion" segments. He may be guilty of one-sided portrayal that does not do justice to any one such Church. I remember Thielen saying something like not everyone in any one church feels the same way as the leadership or influential leaders. There are always pockets of differences in any Church. Third, Thielen's main focus in the book is on encouraging "good religion" which makes me wonder why he does not let the title be more explicit about this. Only two chapters out of 17 are allotted to addressing his thesis in a title. Fourth, I like the title which really sums up the point that churches can adopt. It is another way of saying we should not be dumping the bathwater out with the baby. Finally, I wonder how many people are like the "Walkers" that Thielen had described. Are there significant numbers of them to highlight the validity of Thielen's observations? Maybe, it is a phenomenon that is local to certain places in certain geographical areas. Readers must learn to practise triple listening. 1) Listen to the contexts the book was written from; 2) Listen to their own larger cultural contexts; 3) Listen to the people local to their current contexts.

With proper listening, we will learn that good or bad religion is not the point. It is Christlikeness.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Friday, March 7, 2014

"The Big Story" (Justin Buzzard)

TITLE: The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense out of Life
AUTHOR: Justin Buzzard
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (192 pages).

Are we living our stories? Do we know that our lives are part of a bigger story? What if we are aware that there is a story of stories where we are invited to participate all along? Author and pastor Justin Buzzard poses this question to us in this book: "What sort of story are you in?"

He tells the story of Jesus, how the Son of God is not just a figure in the evangelistic tracts or four spiritual laws in our spiritual marketing of the faith, but the central person drawing both the past and the future together. He moves to the very beginning to recognize God as the Source of all existence, and the foundation of all stories. He tells of the creation act and process in which God had created a world of beauty and love, only for man to stumble and fall as man deliberately rebelled against God and God's original plan. Just as all hope seems lost, God takes the initiative in an amazing redemptive process and kick off the salvation of creation. This is followed by a journey home in which man has hope and begins to live in fellowship with God once again.  Each chapter begins with a story-telling style in which the Bible is brought alive through vivid plot and character description. Like a good story teller, Buzzard draws readers into the chapter, often bringing in contemporary contexts to aid understanding. For example, in Act 3, Buzzard touches the reality of pain and suffering in the terrible shootings in Connecticut, and reminds us that God himself too is able to understand pain and suffering simply because God was there suffering with the people. 

In our modern quick-fix and solutions-minded world, sometimes we lose sight of the reality that life is not just about solving and dealing with problems. Life is in effect living out our stories amid the many stories throughout the world. The Bible is the Story of stories, according to Buzzard. This Big Story comprises of 5 acts. In Act I, as we think of God, we are essentially asking: "Who is God?" The second act in creation is like us asking: "Who am I?" The third act in rebellion probes: "What's wrong with me and the world around me?" The fourth act is a Rescue plot that asks: "What's the solution to all the pain in the world?" The final act of hope looks at: "What do I hope for, and where am I going?"

What I like about this book is the way the framework encourages us to read the Bible and the stories as one Big Story rather than scattered theological concepts or individual stories without any link to one another. Buzzard does more than just Bible study. He weaves in the biblical books to show us the entire plan of God through five acts. At each act, readers are encouraged to find themselves in the stories, acknowledging that each of us are at different phases of our spiritual lives. We can identify ourselves in one or more acts. More importantly, it is more than just about letting the Bible makes sense out of life and our journeys. It is about our awareness of being participants of God's ultimate story of all. In Jesus, we have become important members of this story. 

By situating ourselves within the storyboard of the Bible, not only will we be able to appreciate more of the ancient times, we too find ourselves being drawn into being a play-maker within God's plan. That alone is an exciting proposition.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"God in the Whirlwind" (David F. Wells)

TITLE: God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World
AUTHOR: David F. Wells
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013, (272 pages).

The holy love of God frames a perspective of Christ and the culture at large, otherwise, we, even the Church, will remain lost in this world. We are already lost and aimless in this world in at least two ways. First, in the heady atmosphere of Church doctrines and theological perspectives, we find it hard to relate to the culture around us. Second, in the whirlwind of cultural phenomena and philosophical fads, the biggest challenge is to let Scripture shape us and not let the culture around us mold us. Put it simply, the dual challenge is to say "yes" to God and "no" to cultural norms, that damage our walk with God. While every age has their challenges, according to David Wells, Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, ours in this modern era is non other than the "affliction of distraction."  It affects how we think of God, which in turn distracts us from the true God. Is God a "hands-on" or "hands-off" God? Is God a therapist or a non-judgmental moralist? Does God really care about mankind? Wells targets the "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" that God while is a creator, he does not demand much of us and simply wants to make us feel good. As a result, people tend to see God more as "only loving," with man self-serving, living in a narcissistic and individualistic generation; turning God into a subjective "God is love" without the corresponding "God is holy."

Wells sees the gospel as attempts to be counter cultural, dishing up various paradoxes" serving Christ is not loss but gain; powerlessness is in fact a privilege in Christ; joy amid hostility; worldly gain and spiritual loss. As one dwells and embrace fully the gospel of Christ, one takes a new perspective of what it means to live holy love. One that is love (not selfish), willing to die (martyrdom), no self-calculation, pursues holiness, eager to do what is right. Rather than focusing on the attributes of God, Wells decides to hone in on the character of God. He prepares readers with two important challenges. Firstly, Scripture is the source of all we need to know of God. Secondly, readers need to see God without the distractions around us. Both needs us to remember that it is not God who conforms to us, but we conforming to God.

On how the Bible reveals God's character, Wells brings us on a tour of the Old and New Testaments, pointing out the God-centeredness and Christ-centeredness of the Bible. He argues that the whole Bible portrays the same God and the same message in at least three ways. First, the great cause of history has not changed: grace. Second, the instrument of accepting grace is via faith. Third, the ground of our acceptance is Christ. Wells uses three examples to prove that: Adam, the exodus, and David as "types" of Christ, where a "type" is essentially an event or person involved in redemptive history.

I appreciate how Wells distinguish the modern understanding of love with the biblical understanding of God's love. Modern society tends to be highly subjective, inward looking, and flows out of an empty self. Out of such a context comes a human definition of love that gets superimposed on the perception of God's love. The point is, God's love is tightly linked with God's holiness. Far too often, people begin with how they "feel" about God's love instead of what love actually means from the eyes of God, a love that comes down to us. That is why Wells coins it "holy love." He looks at holiness at two levels: "Majestic otherness" and "Moral otherness." The former describes how the calling of Isaiah and the prophets is rooted in the majestic vision of God.  God calls them. God also sustains them. Unfortunately, the world continues to dumb down the majesty of God by seeing God as a Distant Being. The latter talks about how we can connect to this truth via an active experience of God. Key to the understanding of holy love is in the responses. For example, biblical teaching about wrath reveals that God's wrath is motivated not out of vengeance or judgment, but of hope and restorative justice. Key to the reading of the narratives of the gospels is how the people sensed the presence of God. We need to do the same if we are to become people of God living in holy love. How do we know if we are on this trajectory? Answer: When we felt led to bow down and worship God. Out of worship, we are led to serve. Out of service we become more like Christ.

So What?

This book is a polemic against one of our modern culture's most ingrained philosophies: "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Such a philosophy is increasingly being trumpeted by society, even unsuspecting evangelicals. In letting the individualistic and materialistic culture inform one's perception of God, one tends to see God as a distant God. One sees the lack of moralistic judgment as they ponder about the massive amounts of injustice and societal gaps. One sees the presence of religion more as to meet one's needs for therapy. One treats God according to man's standards rather than for man to conform to God's standards. Wells makes many good observations about the decaying society that is increasingly empty. I agree. Worse, it is a society that is becoming more and more arrogant in trying to paint God into man's image. That is why a book like this is necessary to stem the tidal waves of false teachings affecting society as well as the Church. The title of the book is intriguing but for me, it presents an image of hope. That even as we continues to live under the whirlwind of chaos and uncertain future, the presence of God through it all is most assuring. This is where holiness and love comes together. In the presence of God, just like so many biblical characters of both old and new.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"The Turning" (Davis Bunn)

TITLE: The Turning
AUTHOR: Davis Bunn
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (304 pages).

It was an epic modern day battle between Goliath and David. On one side was the huge entertainment titan owned by Barry Mundrose. Splashing millions of dollars on glitzy advertising, top professionals in media, marketing, and publicity, the Mundrose group regularly called the shots in the entertainment industry. The buildings and offices were posh. The presenters were slick. The salespeople were persuasive. It was an unforgiving environment to people who failed to meet expectations. Enters Trent Cooper, a young up and coming executive, who seemed to be able to wow the top brass with bold propositions of the next big thing. Soon, the Goliath of the entertainment industry was attempting to conquer the world with their message: "Hope is Dead."

On the other side was a rag-tag group of individuals who heard a call.  Five different individuals who met in very strange circumstances soon found themselves against a common enemy. Led by John Jacobs, with the help of Ruth Barrett of Barrett Ministries, they took on the seemingly impossible task, facing the Goliath that appeared set to run them down and even kill them. Meekly but courageously, they offer a counter message: "Hope is Alive!"

The Turning is a thriller with several twists and turns. Written with spliced in scenes from different places, Bunn manages to keep the reader curious for the next turn of events with each ultimatum issued by the powers. Each page turn leads to higher stakes from both sides until the day where both clash face to face.

This is an exciting book that is full of suspense and mystery. Bunn does a great job in describing the lifestyles of the powerful and famous, and also contrast them with the ordinary folks just trying to make ends meet. Underneath all the stories, I sense the author's desire to remind us that spiritual warfare is real. There is an entertainment world out there that is trying to silence religion and Christianity. It reminds me of the apostle Paul's warning in Ephesians 6 to put on the armour of God, to point our guns not at flesh and blood, but powers and principalities of the world. I appreciate the author's conscious effort to refrain from adding spiced up sex, something so typical of suspense novels and thriller movies. There are many scenes in which it could have made for lustful reading but I am glad that Bunn did not take that route so often taken by Hollywood folks. If I have a critique, it will be too many characters that are left under-developed in the plot. Perhaps, lesser number of characters with a deeper focus on the key people will make the reading easier to link together.

That said, I am happy to recommend this book for good wholesome entertainment and reading.

Other Resources
  • Book website
  • Youtube trailer of the upcoming movie here
  • Bible study resources here

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Forgiveness" (Marjorie J. Thompson)

TITLE: Forgiveness: A Lenten Study
AUTHOR: Marjorie J. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (128 pages).

Desmond Tutu once said, "There is no future without forgiveness." In the same light, author Marjorie Thompson asserts that "There is no Christianity without forgiveness." Recognizing that life is "inextricably connected" to forgiveness, Lent is a time that we learn to empty ourselves of ourselves so that we can make room for God and others. Far too often, people have allowed their unconscious self-ego and conscious self-seeking to dominate others for the sake of self, instead of giving oneself up for the sake of others. For to be Christlike is about learning to give of oneself and to forgive others no matter how much wrong had been inflicted. Knowing how important and also the difficulty in the act and art of forgiving, Presbyterian pastor and author of "Soul Feast" attempts to show us the way of forgiveness through six chapters of thought-provoking meditations of Bible passages in order to accomplish three purposes.
  1. Learning to listen to voices outside and inside;
  2. Learning to discern the subject of forgiveness from a biblical and theological standpoint;
  3. Learning to cultivate a heart and mind for forgiveness.
Beginning with Luke 15:11-32, the famous passage of the parable of the loving father and the prodigal son, Thompson seeks to demonstrate that the story is not just about one person seeking forgiveness, namely the runaway son, but forgiveness is communal. It impacts not just the individual but whole communities. Although offenses are different, the response of forgiveness is the same. It is because God is Trinity, and desires to welcome us into fellowship, that we too need to welcome others into one another's fellowship. For it turns one's enemy into kinsman which leads us to the true shalom of God.

Understanding that forgiveness is a hard path to take, Thompson gently guides us toward self-examination, for the lack of it will make forgiveness hard, if not impossible. What makes it appropriate for Lent is that self-examination helps us to pay close attention to our hearts and our minds, in order to cultivate an honesty and humility before God. Then we will appreciate what unconditional love is about, and we will learn about the failures of being human. Using Psalm 51 and Psalm 139 as guides, one becomes more conscious of sin. One learns not to hide or run away. Self-examination demands honesty about one's desire to either fight or take flight from the situation. It is about recognizing the "little Hitler" in each of us that tends to shift our focus toward judgmentalism and egoism. The desire to go beyond fight and flight leads us to the third way: Repentance and Reconciliation. It begins with God. It begins with self-knowledge that without God, we are unable to be reconciled to people. For repentance is not about digging ourselves out of our hole, but admitting we are powerless in ourselves and we need God's hand to pull us out of our spiritual quicksand. It is repenting from pride to seek forgiveness from others. There are three components of a good apology: Acknowledging the wrong; Actualizing visible repentance; Vulnerability. Thompson makes a good point about our failure to forgive ourselves being an arrogant posture to be aware of.

Thompson goes through the forgiveness process with biblical principles in chapter five. Here, we are reminded of Jesus teaching Peter that forgiveness is unlimited. We learn that forgiveness is a command, not an option. When one does not "want to forgive," there is a presence of resentment and arrogance. That said, readers can bask in the many tough stories of how traumatized people eventually find a way out of the quagmire of resentment and arrogance. Chapter 5 alone is worth the price of the book. We read of stories of betrayal, murder, revenge, and how many people despite the odds are able to overcome. Key to the forgiveness process is to move away from a perpetrator-victim mindset toward a peer-to-peer trust and acceptance of each other. Forgiveness leads to reconciliation. Reconciliation leads to a renewal of relationships. Renewal of relationships leads to restoration of the community. Thompson then deals with the topics of retributive justice vs restorative justice, arguing for the latter.

So What?

The deeper the hurt, the more difficult the forgiveness process. The paradox is this. The more entrenched we are in refusing to forgive, the more hurt we become. For hurt people tends to hurt other people. Healed people participate in the process of healing for all. Forgiveness is so central to the Christian faith and in human relationships in general that I feel this book may be too short! Surely, many more stories can be told about how hurt people can find ways to be restored. That is why I appreciate the study guide at the end of the book which enables readers to put into practice what was written and taught. Forgiveness is more about the will to do something about it, regardless of whether we are right or have been wronged. Anyone can initiate the process, but every one needs to experience first hand what it means to be forgiven. Those of us who have been touched by God and have experienced the unconditional love and powerful grace of God can attest to the reality of forgiveness and restoration. Thompson weaves in the art of spirituality with the science of psychology, and maintains a down to earth awareness of the human soul. The study guide contains many good steps and instructions easy enough to follow.

Is forgiveness an appropriate theme for Lent? My short answer is: Why not? Lent is a 40 days journey and remembrance of Jesus preparing himself to go to the Cross. Many churches have Lenten observance through prayer, quiet reflections, fasting, abstaining from worldly pleasures, and many other spiritual disciplines. Forgiveness is a spiritual discipline that can be practised all year round. Yet, for Lent, it can be a powerful way to center ourselves in acknowledging we need God. We need one another. We need ourselves to be right with God and with people. Forgiveness is that swiss-army tool of spirituality that covers multiple fronts. Best of all, it breaks through human pride and arrogance, God's way.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Captivated" (Thabiti M. Anyabwile)

TITLE: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus Death and Resurrection
AUTHOR: Thabiti M. Anyabwile
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, (100 pages).

The Cross of Christ is the central symbol of Christianity. It can be seen in churches all over the world. Christians wear them. Bibles have them. Martyrs died for its cause. While the early Christians had been persecuted because of the Cross, modern people have treated the cross sometimes as a decoration around their neck rather than a declaration of faith. The Cross deserves a good hard look by anyone. We need to simply be captivated by it. Take a long look at Jesus. Come and see the work and deed of Jesus. Ask if there is more than one way to be save. If one says yes, one needs to ask why Jesus then has to die. If one says no, one will appreciate the death of Jesus even more. Think about it. If Jesus knows that there is more than one way to salvation, why in the first place does he bother to go to the cross? That will be most baffling. Unless of course, John 14:6 means exactly what it says. Anyabwile is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in the Grand Cayman Islands as well as a council member with the Gospel Coalition and has written a powerful little book to help readers be captivated by the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection He does this with five key questions

First, he asks if "Is there is no Other Way?" This question ponders about the motivation for Jesus to go to the Cross to suffer and die. As he does so, he finds a profound understanding with regards to God identifying with humankind; the deep compassion of Christ; Jesus as a Mediator; Jesus making atonement for mankind; Jesus proving the righteousness of God; Jesus revealing the glory of God. When the Heavenly Father denies Jesus the request to take away the cup of suffering, He has a bigger reason in mind. The very fact that many of us struggle with the whole meaning of it all deserves a long hard look indeed.

Second, he asks the same question as Jesus: "Why Have You Forsaken Me?" It is a terrible thing to be left behind. It is even more terrible to be left behind by the one who loves you. Called the world's biggest abandonment, Anyabwile uses the lament in Scriptures to help plumb the depths of pain and despair. Asking the question helps us recognize that Jesus can fully and perfectly understand all of the world's loneliness and suffering.

Third, the death followed by the Resurrection of Christ turns death upon its head: "Where, O Death is Your Victory?" Come to think of it, death too can die. While death means the end of life, the resurrection wipes everything away be brings everlasting life. The author describes two kinds of death. A physical death that includes every person. A spiritual death that essentially means being cut off from God. It is the spiritual death that ought to arrest our bigger attention.

Fourth, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" is a constant reminder that life does not end with death. It begins with the resurrection. The redirection must happen so that we do not become too fixated on the cross until we forget that Jesus has resurrected from the dead. The cross is a symbol but the Resurrection proves Jesus is alive! It also redirects us from emotions to Scripture; from current events to God's providence; from law to Gospel; from grief to joy.

Finally, "Do you not know these things?" is a question that raises three key facts. Jesus has come in the flesh. Jesus is God's only Son. Jesus is Lord. These things form the key Christian Education that every believer needs to know.

I like the simplicity of this book that helps us be captivated by Jesus, the Cross, and the Resurrection. Questions have a way of helping us contemplate and meditate on the truths of the Christian faith. Anyabwile has given us a very clear and understandable book on the theology of the Cross and the Resurrection without heavy theological vocabulary.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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