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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Know the Heretics" (Justin S. Holcomb)

TITLE: Know the Heretics (KNOW Series)
AUTHOR: Justin S. Holcomb
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (176 pages).

Why should anyone be learning about the heretics? Are the heretics really as bad as the word "heresy" painted them to be? Are there any benefits to learn about the history of the fourteen major events that shaped Christianity into what it is today? The answers to these questions are provided in this very illuminating look on the history of the Christian Church as they fought with theological challenges through the ages.

Author Justin Holcomb has wisely acknowledged that heretics themselves are not bad people. In fact, they have often asked the right and truthful questions. They are people who were honest with their doubts and tried to find ways to address them. Unfortunately, it was the answers and conclusions that betray them. The Orthodoxy we have today has gone through the baptism of fire and has engaged the top theological powers through the centuries. As battles are fought through debates, councils, and messages given to the masses, readers of today have lots to be thankful for. In this book, we learn that some errors are more serious than others. We learn about what Orthodoxy (right teaching) is. We recognize that every teacher will have their versions of what is Orthodoxy and what is not. This is especially so in a pluralistic society in which tolerance is urged throughout various beliefs. As far as Holcomb is concerned, there are two major reasons why we ought to study heresy and the history of its development. The first is that amid the ambiguity, there are important truths that are never wishy-washy. God is not some image created in our image, but God is God and we can only discover Him for who He reveals Himself to be. The second is that if we love God, we will seek to know God in all His Truth. Knowing the historical developments of old can help us to appreciate the ways past generations have done just that. Holcomb weaves through the nuances of Orthodoxy, heterodoxy, variants, nuances, and of course heresies. He emphasizes the importance to differentiate between heterodoxy and heresy. The former is a belief that differs from orthodoxy. The latter goes beyond acceptable limits which Holcomb calls "a certain point." What are these acceptable limits?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Hope Again" (Mark Sutton and Bruce Hennigan)

TITLE: Hope Again: A 30-Day Plan for Conquering Depression
AUTHOR: Mark Sutton and Bruce Hennigan
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (240 pages).

Far too many books about depression talk only about depression. Some "experts" may not necessarily have been depressed themselves. The authors of this book are none of the above. Both have battled depression themselves. Both know that depression is more than simply a clinical or psychological condition. Dealing with depression requires a mental aspect. It requires light to illuminate when darkness beckons. It exposes the "lie" by showing that there is more to life. More importantly, they point us to the Hope in God and recovery that comes with a 30-day plan. The authors believe firmly that there is a plan; it can be put into practice; and the plan will give hope to those who are depressed. Four questions frame the entire book.
  1. What's Wrong with me?
  2. How did I get here?
  3. Where do I Start?
  4. How Can I Conquer Depression Forever?

The first section, begins with a personal question or confession. The first seven days help us to self-diagnose our conditions by screening out "harmful thinking patterns leading to depression." It points out the symptoms of depression. It equips us by using "LifeFilters" and to remember that depression is a function of "mind, body and soul." Thus, any solutions must address all three components. Thirty LifeFilters, one per day, can be used as ways to conquer our depression, to be encouraged to stay close to God, to think correctly about depression, not to worry about things beyond our control, and to trust. The second section helps us understand the history, the context, and the unique conditions that led to instances of depression. It is about examining one's previous foundation, and to find a way to correct or to reconstruct a whole new foundation. Sutton and Hennigan combines scripture and their knowledge of neural sciences to give readers a better understanding of the physiological makeup of a person. Key to conquering depression is to break the habitual loop. Section Three builds on the hope to recovery by making a firm commitment to listen only to constructive voices and to refuse to listen to suicidal thoughts. The commitment is also as simple as intentional working out of the 30-Day plan, periodically asking whether one is still on the plan in a disciplined manner. There are tips about getting a primary care physician, using the "Weapon of Meditation," the need for patience, being aware of side effects of antidepressants, good counselors, spiritual help, using the "Weapon of Knowledge," learning the various depression vocabularies, the gender differences, etc. Readers will also learn about the four important strategies to break the cycle of bad habits. Strategies like learning to switch off the addictive thing; using the "Weapon of Selflessness," and so on. Section Four is a hopeful section that sustains the hope of recovery and that depression can be conquered permanently. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"A Beautiful Disaster" (Marlena Graves)

TITLE: Beautiful Disaster, A: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness
AUTHOR: Marlena Graves
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (224 pages).

How can any "disaster" ever be beautiful? This book with such a provocative title certainly got me hooked and interested to find out more. With great awareness of the trials of life and the challenges through various life stages, author and spiritual director, Marlena Graves plumbs the depths of the wisdom in ancient spirituality to shed some light on what it means to bring hope amid brokenness and despair. Reflecting on her own life, Graves gives us a glimpse on how she herself had been spiritually formed, her wilderness experiences, her physical struggles, and how much she sees the Bible reflecting truth and the ancient fathers teaching wisdom for her. In spiritual formation, how one begins is critical. Graves does it the best possible way, by asking the one pivotal question: "Who am I?" It strings together thoughts and memories of whose she was and is, her background, her identity, her flaws, and the constant reminder of the discipline to remember who she is. She shows us ways to answer that question. Such as learning from the cell, a metaphor for solitude and silence. In such a place, one learns the obvious and the not so obvious; the voluntary and the involuntary; and the possible amid the impossible. It is beautiful in the sense that the more we are disillusioned with things of this world, the more appreciative we are of Christ's resurrection and the hope He brings to us. In the wilderness, there are both ups and downs, Just as there are moments of self-discovery and revelation of God, there are also moments of trials and temptations that reveal the depths of sin in our lives. Such spiritual obstacles can either propel us forward toward God or distract us from the way. The clue is to learn to wait for God, to listen for God, to receive from God, and to see that even as our dreams of worldliness die, God's world will live more and more. In such a state, Graves shares with us the joys of anticipation in that even as we attempt to look for God, to see God in every place, we come to that profound paradox that it is more of God seeing us rather than us seeing God.

Monday, September 22, 2014

"Being Church Doing Life" (Michael Moynagh)

TITLE: Being Church, Doing Life
AUTHOR: Michael Moynagh
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2014, (352 pages).

It is impossible for one person to reach the whole world. What about people groups reaching people groups? What about communities of faith reaching out together to other communities? Indeed, there are no lone-ranger Christians. Being Church is not about personal devotions or individual heroics. It is about living as a Church by weaving together visible faith through "gospel communities."  This means that doing church is not about activities within a church building. It means flourishing Christian witnesses in all parts of the world. Unconvinced? Then learn from more than 120 examples that have been offered to trigger our imagination and creativity. From the get go, Moynagh offers readers glimpses of possibility in witnessing. He gives us seven reasons for ordinary persons to reach out together.
  1. That we can reach out more to those on the edges of society
  2. That we can connect Church with society
  3. That we can revitalize our own Church
  4. That we practice discipleship better
  5. That we serve others more effectively
  6. That we encourage ordinary people to witness
  7. That we obey God's Great Commission and see mission as of primary importance than simply an add-on to our Christian life

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Know the Creeds and Councils" (Justin S. Holcomb)

TITLE: Know the Creeds and Councils (KNOW Series)
AUTHOR: Justin S. Holcomb
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (192 pages).

An anonymous person once said, "History repeats itself because no one was listening to it the first time." It is a way to say that if we do not learn well the lessons of history, we are poised to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. This is one motivation for us to learn history, and for Christians, to learn the historical settings and background to the majestic statements of tradition and faith. Four of such majors are ably dealt with in this book: Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Church Councils. Episcopalian Priest, Professor, as well as author, Dr Justin Holcomb guides us through the historical background material, the theological challenges faced, the formation of councils, the interplay of powers in both Church and State, and most importantly, the reasons for the creeds and major theological statements made over the centuries. Some of the creeds mentioned are:
  • Apostles' Creed (ca 140)
  • Nicene Creed (325 AD)
  • Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)
  • Athanasian Creed (400-500 AD)
  • ...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor" (Glenn T. Stanton)

TITLE: Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth
AUTHOR: Glenn T. Stanton
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (208 pages).

Do not let the title of the book hem you in that the book is only about gay matters and relationships to the LGBT community. It is much more. It is about how to relate to people who are different than anyone of us.  It is about making and being friends. For Glenn Stanton, it is about asserting and affirming six fundamental truths laid out right from the start.
  1. "Everybody is a human person. No exceptions."
  2. "Every human person is of inestimable worth and value, none more than another. No exceptions."
  3. "Everyone is deeply and passionately loved by God. No exceptions."
  4. "Unfortunately everyone is burdened with a terminal illness: sin. No exceptions."
  5. "All, as children of Adam, are tragically separated from God, but this does not diminish God’s boundless love for us. But it does devastatingly hinder our relationship with Him. All of us, no exceptions."
  6. "Therefore, everyone is in desperate need of repentance, healing, and a new life which comes only in surrender and submission to Christ. No exceptions."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

John: Reformed Expository Commentary (Richard D. Phillips)

TITLE: John: Reformed Expository Commentary
AUTHOR: Richard D. Phillips
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2014.

[Disclaimer: This review is only based on excerpts of the first chapters of the 2 set volume]

Coming in two volumes, the first is based on a series of sermons given at First Presbyterian Church in Coral Springs/Margate Florida as well as at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. The series are based on four presuppositions:
  1. Biblical expositions with careful attention to the texts
  2. Doctrinal commitment to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Cathechisms
  3. Redemptive-Historical Orientation
  4. Practical
Contributors are both pastors as well as scholars, giving the work a respectable academic and research grounding and a pastoral care approach that is practical. Phillips is one such person. The title of the book tells us that the work is based on the Reformed tradition. After a short preface, the expositions read like a sermon given on a typical Sunday. There are plenty of citations throughout with brief illustrations inserted at various points. Unfortunately, I am not able to give a more detailed review of how well the work has accomplished all four objectives listed above. Interested readers will need to find out for themselves how the whole work is able to do that. The work shows some promise, but again with such brief excerpts of the work at hand, I am not able to comment much further.

Rating: unrated


This partial book was provided to me courtesy of P and R Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"A Heart for Freedom" (Chai Ling)

TITLE: A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters
AUTHOR: Chai Ling
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2011, (370 pages).

Mention Tiananmen Square and what comes to mind for most people? Yes. Despite the famous history and the memorable monuments there, Tiananmen Square will always be remembered infamously for the student protest movement in 1989. On June 4th of 1989, the world reeled in shock as they watched the mighty Chinese Red army tanks steamroll the entire student movement, crushing the bodies as well as hopes of many of protesters. In one day, the movement for greater democracy was dismantled. It is one thing for us to watch the pictures on TV and to listen to news reporters giving their observations. It is yet another to hear from someone who was at the heart of the movement, the heat of the crisis, and the head of the student organization leading the protests.  With high ideals and hopes for a better country, Ling and her associates are Chinese patriots who loved the people of China. They stood for Chinese ideals and share the vision of a greater and better China for all. This book gives us a bigger picture and a deeper understanding of the contexts leading to the uprising, the massacres, and the aftermaths of the whole movement. While it is a personal autobiography of Ling, it is also a lens in which outsiders can see the workings and complexities of a growing economic force.

Monday, September 15, 2014

NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible

TITLE: NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible: Experience New Growth and Transformation in Your Spiritual Walk
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (3212 pages).

This is a study-cum-spiritual-renewal Bible. Using the NIV Bible translation as the main text, it is supplemented by devotionals, character profiles, and spiritual discipline profiles. There are articles ranging from Bible study and meditation to worship and stewardship matters. Using various Bible passages to springboard to the articles that help "spiritual renewal," the key feature in this study Bible is in the seven keys for spiritual growth, that undergirds of all these supplementary material.

  1. Seek God and Surrender to Him
  2. See the Truth
  3. Speak the Truth
  4. Accept Responsibility
  5. Grieve, Forgive, and Let Go
  6. Transform Your Life
  7. Preserve Spiritual Gains

Like many typical study bibles, this study Bible begins with a "Big Picture" of each of the 66 books in the Bible. Following which, spiritual themes are drawn from each book. This is followed by some essential facts like date of writing, author, audience, setting, key verses, key events, people, and an outline of each book. The supplementary articles are placed in such a way as to minimize intrusion on the reading and concentration of each Bible reader. The edition I have makes it easy for me to get to the article simply by clicking on a provided link. Unfortunately, while it is easy to get out to the article, it is not so easy to get back in to where I left off. It took me a while before realizing that all I needed to do was to click at the article header to get back to the Bible text. This is valid only if one does not go too far deep into the article and starts clicking on other embedded links to additional articles. If that were to happen, it will be hard to go back to the original Bible text. If only there is some way for readers to know how to navigate efficiently. Maybe, if the click simply opens up a second window, that would make getting back to the text a non-issue. Users simply needed to close the second window and get back immediately to the first window, which is the Bible text. 

Here lies my biggest concern every time one uses a study Bible. The presence of articles, notes, and other miscellaneous sidebars can and will distract readers from the Bible itself. That is why I recommend that serious Bible study must be as note-absent and article-free as possible. Footnotes can also be an unwitting distraction. This is not necessarily the fault of the Bible translators or editors of study Bibles. This is about the weakness of our level of attentiveness. In a clicks-driven and browser-based culture, readers are getting increasingly less patient and more easily distracted.

As for the main feature of the book, "Spiritual Renewal," I ask myself in what way can readers be spiritually refreshed and renewed when they use this study Bible. The devotionals placed in this way work like a mini reflective commentary on the main text. While it may not be a direct exegesis of the text, it helps us reflect on the spiritual theme that can be drawn from the passage itself, much like a mini-sermon with a few pointers for learning. At the end of each book, there is a short commentary on selected passages of the Bible. Though it may not be a verse-by-verse description of what the verses mean, it provides readers with some context to help us interpret the passages. This study Bible is particularly helpful for readers to get some introductory guide to the less known books of the Bible such as the minor prophets, song of songs, and the general epistles.

In terms of layout, the Bible texts are well spaced out and readability is excellent. The red-letter marks helps too. Overall, if readers are thinking of buying this study Bible, I would recommend the printed edition rather than the e-edition.

Rating: 4 stars of 5. (not on the Bible but on the supplementary notes accompanying the Bible)


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers http://booklookbloggers.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Eight Twenty Eight" (Ian & Larissa Murphy)

TITLE: Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn't Give Up
AUTHOR: Ian and Larissa Murphy
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (176 pages).

They were young. They had lots of plans. They were dating. They were in love. Since they met at college in 2005, they were living a fairy-tale dream of a romance. Ten months later on September 30th, 2006, Ian's station wagon was hit by an SUV, with Ian squashed helplessly inside. Just to survive the impact was itself a miracle. While the accident was shocking, the effects of it are far ranging. For one, Ian lost his short term memory. He also lost many of his fabulous ideas for his filmmaking company called Vinegar Hill. Soon, he would require assistance to do the basic things daily, even wearing his own clothes. The accident put their marriage to the test.

This is a book of how they witness God holding them and their fragile lives together as a visible promise as in the famous verse in Romans 8:28 which says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

That is not all. The title of the book does not simply refer to the Bible verse in Romans. It has quite personal significance for the authors too. Ian's dad's birthday was August 28. Ian and Larissa got married on August 28. They felt that God had held them together through eight-twenty-eight.  This book tells their story of how they met. Larissa vividly describes the many details of their dating days, the events leading up to the accident, and a powerful testimony of how Romans 8:28 had worked in their lives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"50 women every Christian should know" (Michelle DeRusha)

TITLE: 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith
AUTHOR: Michelle DeRusha
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (384 pages).

Spanning more than 1000 years starting from the start of the 9th Century, hard choices are made with regards to which women to highlight in this book to be among the "50 women every Christian should know." What makes this book truly personal and meaningful is not what one should know, but who we most connected with. From Europe to India, from Africa to North America, women across various industries have their stories dramatically told as readers are invited to learn about their beginnings, their faith journeys, their struggles, and their accomplishments in society, and especially their testimonies for God through the work they do. Some of the women are well-known figures that most of us will know. People such as Mother Teresa whose work in India is often highlighted as the model for charity work. Or the English mystic, Julian of Norwich whose deep devotion to Christ gives the world a classic work of spirituality through "Revelations of Divine Love." Or Catherine Booth, whose husband (founder of Salvation Army) seems more famous than her, but plays a significant part in the establishment and faith of the world famous organization. There is Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The late Ruth Bell Graham is also selected as one of those women that every Christian ought to know.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Biblical Portraits of Creation" (Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Dorington G. Little)

TITLE: Biblical Portraits of Creation: Celebrating the Maker of Heaven and Earth
AUTHOR: Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Dorington G. Little
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (176 pages).

There are many threats to the biblical worldview of creation. It is not evolution per se. Neither is it the rise of a "theistic evolution" or forms of theories surrounding "intelligent design" that worry the authors. It is none other than biblical illiteracy and a failure to regularly preach and teach on what the Bible says about creation. This is the key reason for this book, to present once again for all believers what God had said about creation and all its related matters. Aptly titled, "Biblical Portraits," Kaiser, who contributes the majority of the material brings us through various depictions of creation through Genesis, Proverbs, Psalms, Job, and Isaiah. Little brings in the New Testament perspective through Matthew and 2 Corinthians, as well as more reflections on Psalms.

Kaiser argues that the wisdom in Proverbs is a personification of God's attributes. God is Creator before all things because only in wisdom is this world created. That means God has the first word before all things. He also describes the two versions of creation, with Genesis 1 providing an overview, and Genesis 2 giving the details that led to the creation of the Garden of Eden and the first couple. Man and woman form the "pinnacle" of God's creative brilliance. Kaiser notes how Psalm 104 reflect on the Genesis creation themes to give us a sense of wonder of how wonderful is God at creating, and our necessary response is none other than worship and praise. Other psalms do the same to create in us a sense of awe. God's works lead us back to God and acknowledging Him as Creator.  Kaiser also reminds us that there are no mortals around when creation was happening. Using Job 38-39 as evidence, the tough questions men have for God are never tougher than the questions God has for man.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Mainliner’s survival guide to the post-denominational world" (Derek Penwell)

TITLE: The Mainliner's Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World
AUTHOR: Derek Penwell
PUBLISHER: St Loius, MO: Chalice Press, 2014, (192 pages).

Many people have talked about dying Churches. Even friends I know have mentioned the decline in their Church ministries or overall numbers each Sunday. The truth is, the Church generally is on a decline. Quoting various statistics to support this claim, Derek Penwell has painted a grim picture of a decline across all mainline denominations. So much so that many churches are asking how much longer their congregation is going to last. While acknowledging the negativity about the future of the mainline Church, Penwell prefers to adopt a hopeful posture. If someone is suffering from Stage IV cancer, what would we do? Would we drown ourselves in discouraging that person, or would we stand up to fight to the very end? Using this metaphor for the declining Church, the purpose of this book is to read the situation appropriately and make the best out of whatever remaining years ahead. It is not about anticipating death. It is about surviving through the years when alive. Penwell, author, speaker, and senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) writes this book about hope in the midst of hopelessness. He says that the gospel is about "failure and death" and God embraced that. Making a reference to the post Revolutionary War period, Penwell points out that time also as a period that seeds the Second Great Awakening. During that time, the Church was also in decline, like our present. During that time, there was great apathy toward the Church, just like ours. During that time, there were skepticism and negativity toward the institutions, just like ours. During that time, people wanted to be free of ecclesiastical or political meddling, just like ours! In the same way, the success of the Great Awakening contributed a lot to the apathy toward the Church, just like our present crisis which came after the most recent revival. Like the generations that participated in the great revivals of old, these very people are also passionate about "equality, mission, and social justice."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Obadiah" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH (Hearing the Message of Scripture: A Commentary on the Old Testament)
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (128 pages).

This is a commentary on a biblical book short in terms of length but long in terms of hope. Work on the project begun in 2009 during a Hebrew exegesis course in one of the author's work at Wheaton. Deemed the shortest book of the Bible, Obadiah consists of only 291 words, but its placement within the canon is not as significant as its cultural, historical, and literary contexts. This is Block's response to the dispute between how the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text) and the Septuagint (LXX) had treated the positioning of Obadiah. The former places Obadiah between Amos and Jonah, while the latter inserts Obadiah between Joel and Jonah. Historically, there are at least six different dating theories as to when the book was written. The author prefers to treat the book as written during the exilic period (586BC-533BC) based on both textual evidence and archaeological data. Rhetorically, even though prophets do not wield political or worldly power, they can at least proclaim the truth of God to the world, and let them choose. Block shows readers the way to look at the overall rhetorical structure of the prophets.
  1. The Rhetor (Speaker): that God is the One who speaks and the prophet the servant to communicate the words. The name "Obadiah" means "servant of YHWH.
  2. The Audience: Although the book is written "about Edom," the audience can include Judeans in exile and foreign nations looking in.
  3. The Message: Divine justice and divine fidelity.
  4. The Strategy: "rhetorically emphatic," "transparently passionate," and appeals to higher authority.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"PROOF" (Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones)

TITLE: PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace
AUTHOR: Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (224 pages).

We live in a world where performance and results matter. Work hard and we get rewarded. Work not and we get nothing. The formula is: "We are What We Work For." Christians try to buck this attitude by taking the side of Amazing Grace. The general declaration is there but the understanding differs by miles. Some Christians see God as a "divine butler" who gives us what we summon Him for. Others see God as a "cosmic therapist" that we can invoke whenever we have a need. Grace for these two perspectives is some kind of a self-driven initiative. Go to God when we have a request or a need. It all depends on what we ask for, kind of what we "work" for. This is not grace because Grace is not initiated by man but by God alone. We don't need to be constantly seeking God's approval. He has already pre-approved us. That is grace. The purpose of this book is to help us wake up to this pre-approved initiative from God. We don't deserve it. Neither can we earn it. We can only receive it and respond to it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Hope Quotient" (Ray Johnston)

TITLE: The Hope Quotient: Measure It. Raise It. You'll Never Be the Same.
AUTHOR: Ray Johnston
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2014, (240 pages).

Many believers say that faith is the only thing we need. Others echo along with it that "All you need is love." What about the other aspect of 1 Corinthians 13:13, Hope? Why is faith and love relatively more talked about that hope when hope is the very thing the world needs more and more? Founder and President of Thriving Churches International, Ray Johnston aims to up our "hope quotient" (HQ) and inject this necessary attribute for the world at large, and for people from all walks of life. Johnston, an inspirational speaker and life coach had spent seven years researching the material for this book. It all began with a conversation with his daughter who told him that the greatest thing she can ever have is to be encouraged. Johnston in turn saw through it all, and learned that the greatest gift indeed is the gift of hope. This is because hope liberates one from the past; motivates one to bounce back from despair; initiates one's freedom to dream; and activates the making of the world into a better place. On the opposite end of the spectrum is discouragement which Johnston calls a "disease" that discourages, depresses, and destroys. The main thesis of the book is: "Raising these Seven Factors raises Your Hope Quotient which creates Fresh Vision which unleashes a Whole New Future."

Monday, September 1, 2014

"How Can I Be Sure?" (John Stevens)

TITLE: How can I be sure? (Questions Christians Ask)
AUTHOR: John Stevens
PUBLISHER: Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2014, (96 pages).

It is okay to doubt, but it is not so okay to leave it unaddressed. As a way to spur the search for truth, it is good. As a way to indulge in ignorance, it is bad. Based on his experience with seekers, searchers, and believers who doubt from time to time, author and former University of Birmingham Professor, John Stevens, seeks to assure us that questions about faith are not necessarily bad. Drawing from his personal encounters with various believers, he helps us look at questions such as:

1. What is doubt?
2. Why is doubt dangerous?
3. What do I have to believe to be a Christian?
4. How can I overcome doubt as a Christian?
5. How can I develop a confident faith?

He begins with a gentle assurance that doubts are hidden struggles among many Christians, and that it is alright to ask questions. In fact, we can let these questions lead us and not to be too worried about the questions dumbing down our faith. On the contrary, these doubts are authentic desires to search for truth. For example, one may know the truth but still unable to experience it. Stevens provides us various examples of why doubt exists. For even the biblical heroes of old experience moments of doubt. At the same time, he cautions us from crossing the line toward trusting in ourselves more than God, especially when we move from faith to unbelief. Learning to see it as a way to spiritual growth is quite different than seeing it as a way to dumb down faith. He uses the engagement metaphor to show us that like the commitment to marry our fiance/fiancee, we do not let doubts tempt us to work things out with a third party. We let doubts help us work out our questions directly with the one we are engaged with.

Stevens also has some words of assurance for those who doubt their own salvation by listing down some of the basis of our faith. That saving faith is our trust in Jesus who had already done everything for our sake. He reminds us that believing about Jesus is different from believing IN Jesus. He also tackles the age-old dichotomy of faith versus experience. Gradually, readers will be led toward practices in which we can grow in increasing faith in God.

Written in a very accessible manner, Stevens has assured us once again that not all doubts are bad. He helpfully defines the difference between doubt and unbelief, saving faith and experiencing faith, and other essentials that a Christian will need. For those of us who are in a position of questioning our own faith, or know of people in that state, it is helpful to let this little book crystallize our own questions and be guided toward an assurance in God alone. Questions are often more useful than answers. Open doubts are better than closed faith. The latter tempts us toward unbelief. The former leads us toward deeper and more authentic faith. May readers be guided toward greater faith and authentic experiences.

Rating:4 stars of 5.


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