About This Blog

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Intellectual Privacy" (Neil Richards)

TITLE: Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age
AUTHOR: Neil Richards
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, (240 pages).

How far should the law allow freedom of speech without allowing invasion of privacy? What are the guidelines to information sharing especially when they get up close and personal? What about matters of national security? Think about Edward Snowden where information ethics clash with security concerns. If it is problematic before the Internet, it gets much worse with an increasingly ubiquitous cyber-environment.

From webcams to digital surveillances; Google searches to social media usages; regular emails to website visits; intellectual property are increasingly being shared and distributed quickly and widely. In a world of free and fee-based access to information, one wonders about who owns the information. What does digital privacy means? What is intellectual privacy? Is it still relevant today? These questions are addressed in this book through two main thoughts.
  1. Where there is conflict, Freedom of speech trumps privacy matters
  2. Where there is no conflict, privacy can protect free speech.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"From the Maccabees to the Mishnah" 3rd edition (Shaye J. D. Cohen)

TITLE: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Third Edition
AUTHOR: Shaye J. D. Cohen
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (328 pages).

We know a lot about New Testament times. Aided by archeology and scholarship research, our knowledge about Old Testament continues to grow as well. What about the inter-testament period? Compared with the two testaments, this period from  164 BC to 200 CE are not usually studied in depth. While commentaries do offer some contextual evidence, not many books focus on the period that Shaye Cohen calls, "Maccabees to the Mishnah" period. There are several reasons why this period is important. First, the two remaining religious traditions that are significant are rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Both of them rose from this period that is considered central to our understanding of the religious roots. Secondly, it is sandwiched between oppressive regimes from the Ptolemians / Seluecids to the Roman rulers. With two seemingly hostile governments, it is amazing how the Jews managed to survive it all. Thirdly, this period may hold the key to a tighter integration between the Old and the New Testament periods. In fact, it is rich in historical events and understanding the chronology can help us appreciate the reasons behind the happenings in the later parts of the Old Testament and the early beginnings of the New Testament.

Shaye Cohen is an ordained Rabbi and Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University. He has written many books and this book is his most famous one. Now in its 3rd edition, he has added in a new chapter that focuses on why Jews and Christians separated in "parting of the ways." Beginning with a gripping chronology of the events surrounding preexilic Israel (587 BCE) to events after the end of Second Temple Judaism (70 CE - 200 CE), we find rich background behind the rise of Jewish sects such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Essenes, Qumran, Jesus Movement, Sicarii, Zealots, with plenty of background of the Maccabean revolts and political instability in the region. By the "Second Temple period," Cohen focuses on the latter part from the rise of the Maccabees to the destruction of the temple (160 BCE to 70 CE). They call it "Second Temple" to distinguish it from the first. This second temple was built upon the Israelites' return from exile in 516 BCE. There were two destructions too, the first in 446 BCE by the Babylonians and the second in 70 BCE by the Romans. The coverage is broad. On the Jews and Gentiles, Cohen notes that the social tensions arising from anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and also on inter-marriages. There are also tensions regarding Hellenization and assimilation into Jewish culture. Part of the problem is that certain quarters in Christianity has unwittingly contributed to anti-Semitic moods. Thankfully, Cohen recognizes that there are good relations too, such as philo-Judaism where there are those who admire and revere Judaism as well, that some performed Jewish rituals to enter Judaism community.

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Mark - Teach the Text Commentary" (Grant R. Osborne)

TITLE: Mark (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: Grant R. Osborne
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (352 pages).

In this very impressive commentary that brings ancient texts dynamically to life for modern readers, readers get the chance to see a dynamic gospel like Mark taken to a whole new level of clarity and urgency. Progressing on two levels, author and Professor Grant Osborne asks two basic questions to guide readers on the reading of Mark.

1) What did Jesus do?
2) Who is Jesus?

Believing the Mark is the oldest of the four gospels, Osborne treats the existence of Q is more as tradition rather than an "actual document." As far as we are concerned, the key theme in Mark is discipleship.

This commentary follows the regular format of:
  1. Big Idea
  2. Key Themes
  3. Understanding the Text
  4. Teaching the Text
  5. Illustrating the Text
Knowing that Mark is one of the most popular books selected for Bible study by Christian groups all over the world, this commentary fills a very important need of educating the lay and equipping the ministry worker. I find this work very user-friendly and readable. With illustrations, photos, and diagrams to drive home the key themes and important places, readers will catch the momentum of Mark in a fresh way. Grant homes in on the two themes of Christology and Discipleship from beginning to end. He makes a point to show both similarities Mark has with the other gospels as well as the uniquenesses. The illustrations used are true to life and easy to share. Osborne pulls together passages and thoughts from other parts of the Bible to highlight how prominent the gospel is with regards to connecting to the big Bible story. What the commentary lacks in detailed exegesis is compensated by a pretty good list of recommended resources and respectable bibliography. If anyone thinks they have known Mark, reading this commentary will cause them to think again, for this work can stimulate additional insights.

I appreciate Grant paying some attention to the last part of Mark where scholars are divided on whether Mark 16:9-20 are part of the originals or not. He grounds his conclusions on a literary level rather than an archaeological level and provides his reasons for doing so based on a similar experience he had with Matthew 28:9-10.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Beloved Dust" (Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel)

TITLE: Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself
AUTHOR: Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2014, (240 pages).

Books on prayer fill the shelves of many churches and Christian libraries. Many of them often give out tips and techniques on how to pray. Some provide useful background of the prayer classics before indulging in various forms of practical steps on how to improve one's prayer life. Read a passage. Find a method. That's the solution often given. This book attempts to do it differently by focusing on the relationship that prayer brings about instead of the methodologies of prayer. It focuses on what life with God means. It evokes conversational moments with four connected questions:
  1. Who is God?
  2. Who are we?
  3. What does it mean to relate to Him?
  4. What does it mean to be with Him?
Some of us know that Prayer is a relationship.  Now what does that really mean? Beginning with Genesis, authors Goggin and Strobel remind us that we are made to be with God in the first place. Life is not found by running away or hiding from God. Life is understood by being found in God and with God. Life has no Plan B because life per se is Plan A over and over. For example, time is one big struggle many of us face. We are not getting younger. Life is short. Time is precious. We are so busy that we are hard pressed for time. On and on, we allow time to occupy our minds that we forget to ask why? Relationships are timeless moments in which we learn to appreciate the people we love. The same is with God. As finite beings trying to relate to an Infinite God, the more we pray, the more we become aware of our frailty and helplessness of man and the power and might of God.  We learn dependence. Prayer is about coming out of hiding from our own expectations and fleshly desires and to immerse ourselves into God's great presence. It is being caught up with the purposes of God that we learn what we are created for. Prayer facilitates that awareness to instill in ourselves the great truth that "prayer is being with God who is always with us."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Screens and Teens" (Kathy Koch)

TITLE: Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World
AUTHOR: Kathy Koch
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

Technology is everywhere. People are constantly connected whether they are traveling, in school, at work, in restaurants, or at home. Like it or not, it is a big part of our lives. From TV to the Internet, cellphones to tablets, wired computers to wireless mobile digital devices, people's lifestyles are increasingly defined and influenced by the technology at hand. How are we affected? What has technology got to do with our "core needs of security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence?" Or is technology increasingly usurping the role of "parenting" us?

The key concern in this book is about how technology is influencing the beliefs and behaviours of teens, and how parents can connect with the young people. The author believes that the young feels the impact more, knowingly or unknowingly. The startling observation will grab some attention. Technology's strengths are "fast, cheap, effective, and cool. The same four factors are also technology's weaknesses. That is because technology itself is a poor substitute for people's basic needs of "security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence." Biblical wisdom is our guide, that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Social Purpose Enterprises" (Jack Quarter, Sherida Ryan, and Andrea Chan)

TITLE: Social Purpose Enterprises: Case Studies for Social Change
AUTHOR: Jack Quarter, Sherida Ryan, and Andrea Chan
PUBLISHER: Toronto, ON: University of Toronto, 2014, (336 pages)

Is money the sole purpose for businesses? What about organizations that not only make money but serves a social purpose? Noticing that the latter are becoming more prominent in society, three Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto seek to find out more about them through three fundamental questions.
  1. How these businesses impact their employees to independent serve society? 
  2. How the businesses impact shareholders?
  3. What are the challenges these businesses have?
Together with many other contributors, the authors ponder many things. How to measure impact? Is efficiency the best criterion? What about effectiveness? Looking at their own research as well as other works from around the world, the authors are quite thorough in their probe. They look at many angles and contexts surrounding social enterprises.
  • Businesses that engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) [examples: Ben & Jerry's and Body Shop]
  • social businesses [example: Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus]
  • Social businesses earning income for a non-profit [examples: Habitat for Humanity; Salvation Army; University of Toronto Press]
  • Social business receiving support from non-profit [examples: United Way; Raging Spoon; Abel Enterprises; Crazy Cooks]

Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Evangelism Study Bible" (EvanTell)

TITLE: The Evangelism Study Bible
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Larry Moyers, the EvanTell Ministry, and translators of the NKJV
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (1564 pages).

Christians are bearers of the gospel. Called to bring the good news to the ends of the earth, they need to be equipped to make disciples of all nations. Through the Holy Spirit, the Early Church was able to proclaim the message of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles despite the persecutions and oppositions that beset them. The commission that is given to them is the same for us now. What do we share? How do we reach out? What does the Bible say about evangelism? How can one remain connected to the Vine and stretch out to the outermost parts of society? This Evangelism Study Bible seeks to stand in the gap, to equip believers with the necessary tools as well as to anchor them on the Word of God proper.

Based on the New King James version, Larry Moyers and his EvanTell ministry have put together more than 2600 study notes, tips, reflections,  devotional material, plus practical tools to help believers with the often challenging art of evangelism. There articles that accompany 62 books of the Bible. The four that were left out are Obadiah, Zephaniah, Philemon, and the third letter of John. Still, there are more than enough devotional materials to go around to provide a "starting torque" in conversational and practical evangelism. The scope of the study materials is wide-ranging. It covers broad spreads of theological thought. There are teachings about the doctrines of sin and man (harmatiology).  Other doctrines include Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, eschatology, ecclesiology, and many more. There are apologetics type of questions to deal with the common objections such as violence in Old Testament; why people see God as cruel; dealing with opposition; dealing with roadblocks like people trying to hinder the gospel; and many more. The material is prepared in such a way that there is a wide outreach not only to people in Church but those not attending any Church; Both Christians as well as non-Christians needed to be reached. The advice is crisp and concise. Instructions are laid out in point form. In fact, many of the study aids can become devotional material as well. Readers are reminded that evangelism is not simply an activity externally driven. It requires inner transformation too. After all, reached people will reach people. People trying to share Christ must first experience Christ for themselves.

Reading through the Bible, this Evangelism Study Bible looks like a well-thumbed copy of Moyers's personal study Bible. The notes are inspired from the Bible passages and the publisher has kindly placed them side by side, or close to the passage concerned. There are many attempts to bridge Old Testament contexts with modern understanding. The Book of Leviticus, with its many rituals and laws, is seen with the eyes of purity. The application: learning to set high standards of purity for us. There is an article about marriage to accompany the Song of Songs.We learn about leadership in Nehemiah, fear of God in Proverbs, learning from the prophets on how they witness to their people, and how the early disciples use the Old Testament prophecies to spread the good news. In the New Testament chapters, we notice the increasing involvement of the Church in evangelism. That is good theology.

I enjoyed the evangelistic stimulation not just mentally but also practically. Most of all, it gives a "can-do" perspective especially for those who feels inadequate or fearful of sharing the gospel. Even if the articles do not inspire people, just reading the Word of God alone would. This is one study bible that I am not only excited about, but ready to endorse it wholeheartedly. For the kingdom of God.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Revelation" Teach The Text Commentary (J. Scott Duvall)

TITLE: Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: J. Scott Duvall
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (352 pages).

Continuing a very promising series of commentaries aimed at helping preachers of the Word study, expound, and share the biblical texts more vibrantly, Baker Books have engaged some top scholars and theologians in this amazing last book of the Bible: Revelation. The "Teach the Text Commentary Series" are meant to enable teachers to have the best of both worlds: Comprehending ancient contexts/texts and communicating to modern audiences. The table of contents clearly lay out the format of the entire book, with chapters and verses carefully distinguished and a brief title to help prepare the reader to anticipate what is to come. Like a typical commentary, there are no chapter numbers, only a chapter and verses to distinguish one "chapter" from the next. Each chapter maintains a strict format.
  • A "Big Idea" to drive home the main purpose
  • "Key Themes" to show the main ideas in the passage concerned
  • A very readable "Understanding the Text" that makes the mainstay of the commentary, which comprises contextual description, an outline for teaching, historical and cultural uniquenesses, interpretive and theological insights, plus useful tips for preaching
  • "Teaching the Text" is a gem for teachers as they find the material ready for emphasis and creative communicating
  • "Illustrating the Text" gives preachers and teachers some material to further communicate the biblical principles using stories and illustrations.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Got Social Mediology" (Jay Izso)

TITLE: Got Social Mediology?: Using Psychology to Master Social Media for Your Business without Spending a Dime
AUTHOR: Jay Izso
PUBLISHER: Raleigh, NC, InterAction Press, 2014, (312 pages).

Master social media without spending a dime for your business? Sounds a little too far-fetched isn't it?  Perhaps it is, but chances are, many people would be piqued to find out more why Jay Izso, sometimes called "Internet Doctor" believes it is possible. With psychology and basic business sense, it is entirely possible through what Izso defines as "social mediology." It is not technology that is the main driving force in this new media for business. It is the psychology behind it.

Izso starts by listing down some social media "personalities" which essentially are the different behavioral traits. The "heartthrob" is one who lives, eats, walks, and sleeps all things social media. The "traveler" only does social media in short spurts through the day. The "fly on the wall" are mainly observers. The "benchwarmers" are waiting for things to happen before jumping in while the "rookie" knows how to create a profile but does not go any much deeper into social media. Others like the "curmudgeon" are totally against social media and avoids them like a plague. Izso aims to make converts of all these, to help the proponents push the envelope further and the naysayers to turn around and venture bravely into this brave new world. Three things sum up the authors intent. First, that social media is less about technological tools but more about human cultures. Second, social media is a unique form of communications which increase the interactive capacity. Third, understanding psychological principles will help one make the best use of social media.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Connected" (Erin Davis)

TITLE: Connected
AUTHOR: Erin Davis
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (135 pages).

We can be wonderfully connected but still feel utterly lonely. We can be among people but still feel very much alone. We can have our calendars full of activities but inside our hearts, we feel empty. These paradoxical feelings were deeply felt by author Erin Davis, wife of a full-time Church minister. The truth hit home the moment they shifted from a busy schedule to a new environment where she felt strangely lonely as she moved away from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the busy to the not-so-busy, and from a false bubble of connectedness to a true revelation of emptiness. For we are "hardwired" for genuine relationships. Davis learns from Google that loneliness is common, transcends social status and geography, and can spread like wildfire. The rise of social media does not mean one will be more linked to everyone else. It may simply be people feeling alone together.

In this book, Davis looks at loneliness from various angles. Medically, she discovers that doctors had largely underestimated the problem of loneliness. Culturally, she laments at how the world promotes individual achievements to the detriment of the true need of the individual to belong to a community. Among Christians, she observes how believers often displayed the "Patmos Syndrome" where one holds high the saints like John to willingly choose isolated individual achievements over community goals and togetherness. Biblically, she looks back at Adam being the loneliest man on earth and sees the loneliness syndrome as something that has continued from the beginning to the present time. Busyness, the presence of material things, or electronic connections will never fill the void within us. The same thing for marriage. One must not marry for the sake of resolving one's loneliness. One can be married but feel utterly lonely. Throughout the book, Davis contrasts the difference between true connections and false connectivity. Using the pop stars as examples, she points out that there is a difference between being known and being loved. She asserts that "being known is far more romantic than being loved." This is quite counter intuitive but shows readers that being known is a precursor to true and loving connections. In order to love, we need to know and be known. Pointing out many scripture references to the importance of knowing, the important thing for anyone feeling lonely is not about seeking more knowledge or more love. It is the simple awareness that one is already loved by God and known of God.

Davis points her guns at technology as a cause of both our loneliness as well as a false cure. As a self-confessed "technology hermit," Davis also notes how both technology addicts as well as those going through technology fasts will end up at the same destination: Loneliness. Having a technological stimulation like email bling or a Facebook prompt will release a neurotransmitter called dopamine in our brain that regulates our emotional responses. The trouble is, when one is hooked on technological stimulation, one settles for small doses of dopamine instead of one big flood that comes from genuine connections. Other causes of loneliness includes the way we isolate ourselves by trying to take charge or stay in control. This happens when we step out of community and try to meet our own needs by ourselves. As a result, we give ourselves a false sense of security and an invitation for sin to continue to deceive us. The TV sitcom, Friends is an example of what is unreal, for connections is not about a one-hour comedy of humour, fun, or wit. True relationships come when one stops hiding from the truth, when one makes peace with messiness, and to learn that commitment, not convenience is the fuel for true friendship.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Effective Intercultural Communications" (A. Scott Moreau, Evvy Hay Campbell, and Susan Greener)

TITLE: Effective Intercultural Communication: A Christian Perspective (Encountering Mission)
AUTHOR: A. Scott Moreau, Evvy Hay Campbell, and Susan Greener
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (416 pages).

What does it take to bring the message of Christ across different nations, ethnic groups, cultures, languages, and unfamiliar territories? How can one communicate the gospel in ways that another culture can comprehend? What can one learn from the past efforts in cross-cultural missions and communications? For Christians, there are three chief theological reasons why we need to maintain a spirit of learning and improving on intercultural communications. First, we are made in the image of God who communicates. In turn, we communicate the love of God in Christ because God first reached out to us. Our response to God's love is to share the good news with people, including those very different from us. Second, we serve God and will naturally want to share the good news. Third, it is a command. We are called to reach out in love. This is necessary so that we would not become complacent and forget that God's love is for the whole world, not just our own circle of friends.

Written in four parts, Moreau, Campbell, and Greener, all scholars and professors in the field of intercultural studies believe that intercultural communication is not only important for cross cultural missions, it is vital for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
  • Part 1 - Introducing Intercultural Communications
  • Part 2 - Foundations of Intercultural Communication Patterns
  • Part 3 - Patterns of Intercultural Communications
  • Part 4 - Developing Intercultural Expertise

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Stolen" (Katariina Rosenblatt)

TITLE: Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor
AUTHOR: Katariina Rosenblatt
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2014, (240 pages).

Trust is good. Misplaced trust is not. The former keeps one safe and secure. The latter can trick one into sex trafficking. This is exactly what the author of this book had personally experienced. Having trusted a decent looking lady called Mary, who appeared to be a close confidante, a good friend, and a helpful samaritan, she was eventually manipulated, deceived, and her innocence stolen from her. With deep honesty about her own perceptions and urgency to let her story heighten the need to be careful with strangers, Rosenblatt traces her childhood story where she was unwittingly "groomed for the life of sex trafficking" at a tender age of 13. With Mary, Rosenblatt felt treated with respect, with love, and with dignity. Unfortunately, she failed to pick up signals along the way, falling into the trap of being chosen. Her need for a loving dad was falsely met by tricks and traps. Gradually, she entered into a spiral of drugs and deceit. Unlike some stories where girls are captured and forced into sex slavery against their wills, Rosenblatt's story highlights a different kind of deception that makes victims go back willingly to the perpetrators. Why? Answer: Drugs and misplaced trust. The cycle is horrendous. She needed money to feed her drug habits. She obtains money through sex and in turn needs more drugs to sustain this vicious cycle, willlingly! Her story is also a sad one. Born to immigrant parents who divorced when she was three, her biological dad sexually abused her, and often was violent toward her and the family. She had no permanent place to call home. She was even molested by her babysitter!

Friday, January 9, 2015

"A Fellowship of Differents" (Scot McKnight)

TITLE: A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God's Design for Life Together
AUTHOR: Scot McKnight
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (272 pages).

Difference is the biblical normal. Community is not about conformity toward sameness. It is according to popular author, Scot McKnight, a "fellowship of differents." Using the metaphor of a salad bowl, McKnight argues passionately that the Church ought to look like a "salad" of different tastes, different ingredients, and different mixes. In fact, the Church is "God's world changing social experiment" for bringing all sorts of different people together. Differences are not to be despised but welcomed. Alternatives should be celebrated. This refers to not only gender or ethnicities but also status changes like widows and widowers. In order to facilitate the fellowship of differences, McKnight proposes six ideas to keep different people together.

The first is "grace" via the gospel of yes. For if God says YES to us with such emphasis, why should any of us do any less? In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we have been promised God's yes over and over again. Through grace, we have been offered both a "place and a power." A "place" is in terms of an identity to be able to sit at the same table with God and fellow believers. A "power" is in terms of overcoming all kinds of odds and differences in order to be united as one people. Through grace, we turn from "God-fighters into God-defenders; Jesus-haters into Jesus-lovers; and Spirit-resisters into Spirit-listeners." After comparing with some definitions of grace by several prominent speakers, McKnight settles on Anne Lamott's "I do not understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us there." Beautiful.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Burning Questions - DVD Series

TITLE: Burning Questions DVD: Exploring Where the Evidence Leads (DVD-Video)
AUTHOR/NARRATOR: Dr Andy Bannister
PUBLISHER: Tricord Media with Talon Productions and RZIM Canada

Every generation needs to deal with their respective cultural challenges.  This includes questions about faith and religious ideas. In this DVD-video series containing interviews, dialogues, and concise summaries of various viewpoints, Dr Andy Barrister, Director of RZIM Canada ministries anchors the discussion of six major issues that concerns many people, especially Christians today.
  1. Is there a God?
  2. If so...why is there evil and suffering? 
  3. Has science eliminated religion? 
  4. There are thousands of different religions: which one is true? 
  5. Can we take the Bible seriously, or is it just a myth? 
  6. Who was Jesus of Nazareth and does it matter?
Unlike some works that concentrated merely on Christian scholars or authors, this DVD series brings together people of different faiths, alternative viewpoints, and even secularists and atheists. Letting these individuals speak for themselves, viewers can make their own interpretations and understand the matter from the various perspectives and to appreciate why the producers call them "burning question." There are Jewish rabbis, Hindu leaders, Unitarians, Muslim clerics, atheists, Buddhist monks, spiritual leaders, academic professors, as well as Christian apologists all offering their take on the six big questions above. In each episode, various individuals offer up their opinions, their doubts, their questions, followed by their own versions of what faith and religion mean. Many of the contributors are from the UK and Toronto Canada.

I appreciate Andy Barrister summarizing at various junctures the historical background of each issue, the reasons behind the major questions, the reasons for faith in Christianity, as well as a rationale approach to understanding the reasons behind why people choose to believe what they believe. Beginning with the question about God, each episode increases in intensity, from faith in God above to the issues of pain, evil and suffering below on earth. The final episode about Jesus raises an important question about Jesus, why despite the many objections, there are people willing to die for Jesus and their Christian faith.

This is not simply a DVD about disparate opinions about religions and faith matters. It is about life and the increasingly pluralistic society we live in. Whether one is a believer or not, the DVD offers food for thought for everyone. Each episode is about 30-40 minutes long and can be used in group discussions rather effectively as the questions offered within the videos are open ended and viewpoints so compelling that they are bound to evoke some responses.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

Study Guide can be downloaded here.


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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Breathing Room" (Leeana Tankersley)

TITLE: Breathing Room: Letting Go So You Can Fully Live
AUTHOR: Leeana Tankersley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2014, (224 pages).

Everyone has a critical line, even though they are all different. For we all need space and room to be ourselves. What we need is simply a breathing space or a safe room in which we can truly find where we are, sense what we feel, and to be self-aware. Entitled "breathing room," author Leeana Tankersley writes with breathing as a metaphor for such a space for self-discovery, self-awareness, and self-understanding. Having spent many years simply holding her breath amid the many obligations and family commitments, she discovers that God was always reaching down to her to ask her to make space and breathe. With her Navy Seal husband, she knows what it means to be under the pressure of risks and unexpected dangers. She finds solace in nature. She fights toxic thoughts by calling them "brain vultures" and to replace such "lies" with God's truth. She deals with her fears by reminding herself constantly that she is a child of God. She makes a distinction between fixing and healing. The former puts us in control while the latter lets God take charge. Having Googled about Emotions Anonymous (EA), she learns eventually that while Google is a "great place to start," so is beginning with the Word.

With 26 chapters that describe her search for breathing room, Tankersley shares about her constant struggle between letting God and letting go. She even tries to marry the two by "channeling" her concerns into her "inner Navy Seal" and to ask us to do the same. Each chapter can stand on its own as Tankersley often pulls in thoughts from different literature. She quotes several spiritual writers like Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Debbie Ford, Sue Monk Kidd as well as theologians like CS Lewis. She lists several female authors like Anne Lamott, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kathleen Norris as her teachers. She resonates with the struggles of Brennan Manning and Anne Lamott. The book is less about critique but more about what it takes to create breathing room. Whether it is from nature or from literature, from circumstances or from planned activities, Tankersley says that it is ok to struggle and be down. It is ok to hold back for a while. With a voice of understanding that says, "It's ok. I've been there too," readers will find this book a breath of fresh relief to know that one is not alone in the struggle. This work is more about one woman's search for breathing space and how one can learn to let God take charge. I admit that I find it ironical that the author on one hand speaks about letting God, but throughout the book, it is about her constant efforts to take charge instead. Perhaps, this echoes what a lot of people who call themselves Christians often do. It takes the honesty to recognize our sinful desires to take control. It also takes a humility to acknowledge the need for God to take over. Most of all, the book shows us that while it is a challenge to know when to let God and when to do something about it, it is ultimately about self-discovery that we can learn the optimum level.

Rating: 3.75 stars of 5.


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

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Permission to Doubt" (Ann C. Sullivan)

TITLE: Permission to Doubt: One Woman's Journey into a Thinking Faith
AUTHOR: Ann C. Sullivan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (176 pages).

What role has doubt to do with faith? Isn't doubt some kind of an anti-thesis to belief? Is it ok to question our own faith? Is doubt biblical? Popular speaker, Ann Sullivan feels that doubt is actually the beginning toward true faith. It may lead to many moments of dry spells or periods of difficulties and unbelief. For Sullivan, it is an honest journey toward a rediscovery of faith. Right from the start, Sullivan points out the importance of questions because they help us search for truth. Truth according to the author is defined as objective and that "it isn't threatened by our questions and doubts, nor is it determined by culture, opinion, the size of a church building, or evangelistic programs." Getting at truth is very much about asking the right questions. Truth will stand forever even as cultures, fads, trends, societies, traditions, and other human-installed devices fall away.

From the pursuit of truth, Sullivan very quickly deals with the subject of faith, calling it a mystery that requires our confidence in the God Who is in charge. She points out "three sides of doubt." The first side is spiritual doubt. She is aware that there are some kinds of doubt that are dangerous, like spiritual attack. The clue on a healthy form of spiritual doubt is intimacy. Spiritual intimacy with God breeds a healthy faith. Healthy faith means we learn to listen to God and to know God is listening to us. The second side is intellectual doubt which can be particularly challenging, even a stumbling block in itself. Readers are reminded of the Old Testament character, Job who tried to find answers to his suffering, only to be cut down to size about his own level of comprehension of the mysteries of God. If we are honest and humble about it, there would come a point where we need to acknowledge the limits of our own doubts. Here, Sullivan includes some apologetic about the existence of God, Jesus as God and the questions surrounding the authenticity of the Bible as God's Word. The third side of doubt is emotional doubt. Here Sullivan deals with the area of anxiety, depression, discouragement, disappointment, and when faith does not quite make sense. She offers some tips on how to deal with it, using biblical stories as well as modern illustrations. She writes from the heart, at times sharing from the deep experience she had recovering from her own panic disorders.

Through it all, the author has learned that doubt itself is not necessarily a barrier to faith. In fact, there is a place for honest doubts. There is a way in which we can grow more toward embracing the mystery of faith. We do not need to get all the answers before we can believe. We need permission to doubt in order to raise the right questions to help us strengthen our belief. In the Appendix, Sullivan provides us a list of ten things NOT to do as a Christian. I find that helpful as it can spawn creative ways on how we can be more faithful as a Christian. Along the way, as the author shares about her own journey of faith through doubts and challenges, she emerges a much stronger person of faith, and urges us along, encouraging us to persevere on, and to let the doubts not jeer us, but cheer us along toward truth.

This book reminds me once again that there is a kind of doubt that leads us to deeper faith, and there is also a kind of simplistic faith that leads us to unhealthy doubt. Sullivan's book points us to the former.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Salt, Light and Cities on Hills" (Melvin Tinker)

TITLE: Salt, Light and Cities on Hills
AUTHOR: Melvin Tinker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Evangelical Press, 2014, (150 pages).

Are Evangelism efforts and Social Action concerns related? Are Christians obligated to help the ungodly? How can believers live out the present while anticipating the future? In what concrete ways can the Church adopt to be the salt and light of the world? Beginning with Augustine's The City of God, author and vicar of St John's Newland Church puts forth an emphatic yes to all of them? Tinker argues the affirmative from many angles.

Historically, he reflects upon the intimate relationship between Evangelism and Social Concerns in the gospels, where even the controversial acts of Jesus are shrouded in plenty of compassion (social concerns) and conviction (evangelism). He mentions people like Charles Finney who was not only passionate about revival but also fervent in reforming the world through good works. He analyzes the two shifts in history that led to the dichotomizing of evangelism and social action. The first was between 1900-1910 when concerned Christians were fighting liberal theology which was often manifested in the form of the social gospel. The second was between 1910 to 1930 when the rise of premillenialist teaching causes many to become disengaged with social concerns. In both examples, it was clear that theology informs practical Christianity. Thanks to several initiatives since the 1960s on mission and gospel proclamation, the two have become more tightly integrated. One significant event was the Lausanne Movement which advocated "holistic mission." The other was Ronald Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in America and Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones and John Stott in the UK, where they all preached an "evangelical social conscience."

Sociologically, the author notes the interpretations of sociologist David Moberg who argued four reasons for "evangelical withdrawal."
  1. Disillusion after the Great War
  2. Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy
  3. Millenianism
  4. Complexity of modernism and industrialisation on faith matters