About This Blog

Thursday, December 31, 2015

"I Am Strong" (John S. Dickerson)

TITLE: I Am Strong: Finding God's Peace and Strength in Life's Darkest Moments
AUTHOR: John S. Dickerson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (211 pages).

Those of us who have been Christians for a while will remember the verse in 2 Corinthians 10:12, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” What does that mean? More importantly, what happens when we encounter hardships and troubles? How will our faith look like in these circumstances? Whether expected or unexpected, this world is certainly not an easy place for many of us. While we hope that things would be always sunny, we all know that it is only a matter of time before we experience low moments. It is nice to talk about hope when the times are good. It is very hard when the bad times come. This is where author John S. Dickerson comes right in. Starting with a moving story of Joy Veron, whose self-sacrificial act saved her three young children, Dickerson points out that true strength appears during moments of crisis. A widely sought after speaker and author of several books, Dickerson helps us appreciate the deeper meaning of what it means to find strength in Christ. He probes questions from the school of hard knocks:
  • If God is good, why is there pain and disappointment?
  • If one truly believes, why is one not healed?
  • Is pain and suffering a type of punishment from God?
  • How can God bring about good in the midst of terrible evil? 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Disappearing Church" (Mark Sayers)

TITLE: Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience
AUTHOR: Mark Sayers
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

Why is the Church disappearing? In terms of young people, there are more of them leaving churches and not returning compared to young believers entering churches. In terms of culture, Western secularism has largely replaced the Judeo-Christian worldview in society. With decreasing numbers in attendance, and the passing of an old generation, some churches are even shutting down for good.  What is happening? Is this the end of Western Christianity as we once knew before? Author Mark Sayers believes that there is still hope for the Church in spite of the perceived decline. The way forward is not to tailor Church according to what the prevailing culture expects but according to what Jesus had intended for the Church all along, put by Sayers as a journey from "cultural relevance" toward "gospel resilience." The Church must resist the temptation to wear the costume expectations of the world. We ought to be welcoming of people but not necessarily accommodating of the cultural values, especially those that are godless or relentlessly trying to dilute the gospel. Many of these are the idols of the age. There are the self-enthronement where humanism reigns supreme. For example, personal freedoms have become so treasured that the Bible's teachings have been conveniently displaced. Along with that is the unfortunate strategy of "cultural relevance" in which gospel people are no longer any different from the people of the world. The irony is, in wanting to be "relevant," they lose their gospel relevance. Sayers skillfully helps us understand the history of cultural relevance, the reasons for our fascination, the philosophy, the symbols, and the various cultural types. With great insight and scholarly knowledge, readers have a real treat just going through each chapter.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Delighting in God" (A.W. Tozer)

TITLE: Delighting in God
AUTHOR: Aiden Wilson Tozer (compiled by James L. Snyder)
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015, (208 pages).

What does it mean to delight in God? For Tozer, it means being engaged in the pursuit of God. It means having the knowledge of the Holy. It means longing to be in the presence of God. Though he has never gone to seminary, he has published more than 40 books, which continue to impact many readers today. His voice is a consistent clarion call for Christians to take their faith seriously and to take their worship of God even more seriously. How can we worship someone if we have not known Him? Tozer's passion is to preach about God in everything he does. His passion for God is unmistakable. Ask him to speak or write about any topic and he would eventually come back to God. This book is meant to stir our hearts with deeper longing for God.

The eighteen chapters in this book deal with perceptions that would affect how we delight in God. A man of God will naturally gravitate to want to love God. The basis of all of our perceptions in grounded in the theology of God. It is the foundational truth that enables us to pursue rightly after God. The Church incubates the Christian education needed by believers. Tozer prefers the word "reformation" over "revival" because true growth in the evangelical church comes not from charged up energy but from a renewed sense of God. Our worship can only grow when our perceptions of God are accurate. He points out some of the mistakes that lead to our erroneous perceptions of God.
  1. Wrong Presumption: We assume what was in the Bible will automatically be in us. We need the Holy Spirit to convict us with the Word.
  2. Spiritual laziness: How do we get people to thirst for God when they are too lazy to think?
  3. Love for the World: We let the world standards define our levels of spirituality.
  4. Unwillingness to die to the flesh.

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Devotions on the Hebrew Bible" (Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields)

TITLE: Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct
AUTHOR: Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (192 pages).

After the "Devotions from the Greek New Testament" was published, there have been calls to publish a similar one from the Old Testament. One of these calls resulted in this book, excitedly put together by editors Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields, both biblical scholars and professors of Old Testament from William Paterson University and Mid-Atlantic Christian University respectively. Together with 36 other scholars and theologians from Universities from Canada, USA, Israel, South Africa, publishing houses, and mission agencies around the world, they have put together 53 reflections on the 39 books of the Old Testament. All of them pay special attention to exegesis of the Hebrew language. All of them want to encourage more students and pastors to continue learning Hebrew even after seminary studies. All of them urge the study of the Hebrew text and demonstrate in this book not only the beauty of Hebrew but the profound wisdom contained in the ancient texts. All the contributors hold a doctorate degree and are evangelical in their theological orientation. They begin each devotion from a recommended English translation and gradually try to do their own translation of the selected passages.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Generational IQ" (Haydn Shaw)

TITLE: Generational IQ: Christianity Isn't Dying, Millennials Aren't the Problem, and the Future is Bright
AUTHOR: Haydn Shaw
PUBLISHER: Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, (304 pages).

The predictions are gloomy. Will Christianity be dead three generations from now? Will our young become more secular? Will traditional marriage be a thing of the past? Why are the young avoiding coming to Church? How do we pass down our faith if there is no one to pass to? What exactly is wrong with regard to each generation? These questions are more continue to cause much concern among leaders, parents, and adults about the faith. Not only that, the mass media are contributing a lot of pessimism. There are many books, news articles, and doomsday predictions of the lost generation. Older generations reminisce on the good old days while others look forward to a better tomorrow. With regards to hope, there is a dire sense of pessimism about the future of Church. Older Church members are concerned about the decreasing level of interest in the Christian faith by their young. Still, many people complain about the rising cost of living, the growing unemployment, the lack of good jobs, and the general sense of helplessness with regard to the rising materialism, individualism, and secularism happening all over the world. Yet, when we ask the younger generations of today, we realize that the difference in perceptions are not only stark but grossly overstated. In this book, author Haydn Shaw, a consultant for FranklinCovey organization and an expert in inter-generational communications seek to help readers understand the contexts across generations.  At the heart of the problem is the lack of understanding between the different generations. Shaw calls this "Generational IQ," a term that is used to describe the intelligence necessary to connect the different generations. Without this IQ, there will be continued misunderstandings leading to tensions. Facts are not enough. We need the intelligence to understand and apply these findings. We need to understand how history impacts individual generations uniquely. The context in which one generation grows up in will colour the way that they interpret the world. The two tasks before us are: 1) Understand our own generations; 2) Try our best to understand others.

Friday, December 25, 2015

"Imagine Heaven" (John Burke)

TITLE: Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God's Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You
AUTHOR: John Burke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (352 pages).

Many books have been written about heaven and the Near-Death-Experiences (NDEs). What can we make of them? What are the legitimate ones? What is heaven really like? Are the testimonies too good to be true? Where is the biblical support for such incidences? In a book that has been incubated over 35 years of questioning, pondering, and experiencing, the author has heard over 1000 NDEs. Intrigued by the frequency of occurrences, Burke realizes the acute difference between "reported experiencing" and "interpretation" of the experience. Keen to understand all of these from a biblical perspective, author and pastor John Burke invites us on a journey to experience heaven. He believes that people who fail to imagine heaven will be unable to live for it. People must have at least that glimpse of the heavenly kingdom in order to have their faith revitalized and hope rekindled. "If you only knew what awaits you" starts the enticement toward heavenly matters.

George Ritchie was clinically dead for nine minutes. When we came back to life, his whole perspective to life was changed. He started a Peace Corps after experiencing a heavenly moment of glory and lament about things undone when he was alive. He came back with a powerful sense of purpose to ensure that the life he had would be well lived. Unlike medical skeptics and doubts among most people, the NDEs are not just about scientific explanations of subjective experiences. They are about a profound change of a person after their encounters. Studying the range of NDEs, Burke highlights some common things. Many of these NDEs are not profit driven and feedback from people do not necessarily gain them anything. Moreover, the experience is global. Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon came back from an NDE after a kayaking accident, with a renewed and even more purposeful sense of living. Jeff Olsen who had a low emotional point of life after experiencing heaven, returned with an amazing sense of joy. Pilot Dale Black started building orphanages, churches, and medical clinics after a plane crash in which he returned from an NDE with fervent desire to make a difference. Eben Alexander, a Harvard neurologist personally experienced and knew that the human experience lives far beyond the grave. These stories and many more occupy the bulk of these books, accompanied by professional opinions as well as interpretations, with the author as an interested participant as listener. Burke draws in biblical insights to show us that the Bible has already referred to lots of such experiences. We do not need to personally get an NDE just to believe. If we believe the Bible, surely, there are already lots of evidence and stories of Jesus that we can hold on to.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Kingdom First" (Jeffrey Allan Christopherson)

TITLE: Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Allan Christopherson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015, (280 pages).

What is the meaning of the kingdom of God? What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God? How do we live as kingdom people? For author and pastor Jeffrey Allan Christopherson, it begins with four paradigm shifts. First, the Church is to be the means to the kingdom, not the ends of the kingdom. In other words, the kingdom does not exist for the Church. The Church exists to usher in the Kingdom to come. Second, the principle is more important than the model used for Church planting. Once the principle is set, the model will follow suit. Third, Church plants must learn to fund themselves rather than to be dependent on being funded. This is what the author calls the need to launch more "intentionally bivocational church planting teams." Fourth, planting churches comes from evangelism and not for evangelism. The rationale is that only churches that were planted from evangelism will know what that means. With these four assumptions in place, the author launches with the descriptions of his eight steps to practicing "Kingdom First" method of Church planting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"#Struggles" (Craig Groeschel)

TITLE: #Struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World
AUTHOR: Craig Groeschel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. (256 pages).

Many of us are familiar with the images of technology. With modern smartphones, tablets, and mobile devices, most information are being distributed online instead of the traditional channels of print or even TV. Like most things in life, there is always a price to pay. With the convenience and speed of information dissemination comes the proliferation of other social problems like inattentiveness, distractions, addictions, and psychological problems never seen before. The irony is that even if we can be easily connected, that does not mean we are more relatable, or less lonely. With constant change happening to the technological world, what is happening inside our hearts and minds? How is technology helping and not helping us today? How is communication improved or deteriorating in a Twitter age? How is social media changing us? These issues are looked at by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of the second largest megachurch in the United States, Life.Church. As the lead pastor of the Church that popularize one of the most downloaded electronic Bibles (Youversion) on the Internet today, the author is uniquely qualified to write about the struggles of e-addiction in a technology world. He looks at eight fundamental struggles and how eight biblical principles can help restore some sanity into our crazy world. He begins each chapter with an honest look at what technology is doing to us, and how it can bring out the worst in us. He points out how some things dissatisfy us and gradually introduces the biblical paradigm.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Unstoppable Gospel" (Gregg Matte)

TITLE: Unstoppable Gospel: Living Out the World-Changing Vision of Jesus's First Followers
AUTHOR: Gregg Matte
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (224 pages).

What causes ordinary people to embark on extraordinary adventures? What do we do with the negative perceptions people have about the Church? Can one really follow the path of Jesus that is completely independent of the Church? In a book that oozes with passion for the gospel, compassion for the people, and impassioned defense of the Church, author and pastor Gregg Matte puts into words what he normally speaks in this 224 pages book for the benefit of readers. After a firm affirmation of the place of the Church, he also acknowledges that the Church is not without her weaknesses. People in churches are also sinners and thus will have weaknesses that are symptomatic of sin. That does not mean we apply the label "hypocrites" indiscriminately on every single person in the Church. Anchoring this book on the book of Acts, Matte sees the story of Acts as a "spiritual earthquake" and how the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to go to the ends of the earth with the gospel. The mission in Acts 1:8 that inspires the Early Church is the same mission that can empower the Church to do the same today. In order to experience this "unstoppable gospel," begin with prayer and fasting. Acknowledge that it is God who inspires us. Have a global mission. Remember that all roads lead to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Recall how God moves the Early Church with three words: "Prayer, care, and share." The amazing thing is this: When we do our best to be generous and show grace to others, God uses the recipients of our generosity and blesses us in many different ways. In other words, the gospel's blessings are bi-directional or even multidimensional!

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Hoping to Help" (Judith N. Lasker)

TITLE: Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering (Culture and Politics of Health Care Work)
AUTHOR: Judith N. Lasker
PUBLISHER: Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016, (256 pages).

One of the growing movements in the helping industry is medical missions. Whether one calls it "voluntourists" or holiday missions, the pattern is familiar. Some group from a rich first world country would organize trips to third-world countries to "contribute" and to do some good for the people there. This is especially so for medical related trips like "medical missions," "health brigades," "flying surgeons," or anything that has medical professionals flown in from the rich to the poor countries. In 2007, researchers have calculated about 1 million Americans have contributed 162 million hours at the cost of $3 billion into third world countries around the world. This figure is just for USA alone. This is not taking into consideration many other private and non-accounted for volunteering by smaller groups. Amid the big impressive figures, there is a growing disquiet among observers looking beyond the nice feeling generated by the huge numbers.
  • About 50% of the money spent are airfares.
  • How much of these money go directly to the third-world countries?
  • Are the third world countries really that poor and dire?
  • Are the people there as needy as the Western media paint them to be?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Searching for Happiness" (Martin Thielen)

TITLE: Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith, and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life
AUTHOR: Martin Thielen
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (192 pages).

The pursuit of happiness has been talked about, written about, and lived out in the lives of many people. In fact, it is enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence through the words, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Rather than focusing on the topic of happiness, it is important to note that author and pastor, Martin Thielen is more interested in the "searching" attitude more than the final product. he begins with a thought-provoking question by a Sarah he knew: "If money, success, and beauty don't make people happy, what does?" Thielen uses three primary sources for the material in this book:
  1. Theological and biblical principles from the Bible
  2. Scientific research from psychology
  3. Personal experience as a pastor and teacher
He relates happiness with contentment and comes up with nine attitudes and behaviours that are necessary in this search for contentment.

Friday, December 18, 2015

"Paul and Money" (Verlyn Verbrugge and Keith R. Krell)

TITLE: Paul and Money: A Biblical and Theological Analysis of the Apostle's Teachings and Practices
AUTHOR: Verlyn Verbrugge and Keith R. Krell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (320 pages).

What has Paul got to say about money? A lot. If we were to comb the New Testament epistles written by this famous apostle, we would see Paul's bi-vocational ministry; his reluctance to receive support from willing churches; his rebuke of churches that seem to take ministry workers for granted; fund raising matters; taxes, tithing, and various financial management issues. Though he did not have an MBA or a diploma in accounting or management accounting,  he has lots of biblical wisdom and theological insights into how money ought to be seen.

The authors are inspired by Ben Witherington III's book, "Jesus and Money," which spoke into the global recession climate of 2008-2010. In it, the section on Paul's view of money seems to be too limited, so the authors come together to expand on Paul's life, writings, and legacy. The sources used are the thirteen Pauline epistles in the New Testament, and how other issues are drawn into the perspectives surrounding financial matters. Divided into three main parts, Part One is about Paul encountering the issue of money pertaining to himself. He tackles basic living expenses and the support for his own ministry. He sets out a framework on which ministry workers ought to be getting from supporters. Growing up in a middle class neighbourhood (remember he was a top Pharisee?), he obviously know what it means to be in that upper echelon of society.  His need for financial help became more acute when he became a Christian. Out of this shift of spiritual priorities from Judaism to Christianity, he aims at self-support while making the argument that it is not wrong to ask for support in the first place. When he did ask for support, he would ensure that the money would go to basic needs like food, lodging, and reasonable expenses. The authors look at why Paul insists on self-support even when he knows he is entitled to Church support. Surely, as a Pharisee, he would have known that a man's work deserves his fair wages. Moreover, would he not be receiving some financial compensation as a Pharisee teaching the Torah in the first place? He could even have access to a common fund for all the disciples. Remember how the Early Church in Act shared with one another all who are in need?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Man Enough" (Nate Pyle)

TITLE: Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood
AUTHOR: Nate Pyle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (208 pages).

What is the true measure of a man? If we watch enough action movies, it would probably look like a brawn looking macho man like Indiana Jones or secret agent 007 who cannot be easily bullied. If we are into superhero movies, the ideal man could be Captain America, Superman, or the Flash. If we read the popular romance books, the ideal man appears to be those who are not only good looking on the outside but immensely passionate and gentle on the inside. That is the trouble of our age, that many of us have become educated on the whims and fancies of what masculinity means to the world. Does the Bible have anything to say about manhood? What about Jesus as the model of true manhood? What is biblical masculinity? These are questions that Nate Pyle, a pastor at Christ's Community Church based in Fishers, Indiana, has attempted to answer. Writing with sensitivity to the many wild expectations of what the man should be, Pyle shows us that the way forward is not toward the ballooning expectations placed by the world. In fact, it is the way backward to the original plan God has for all men.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"And It Was Beautiful" (Kara Tippetts)

TITLE: And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-Bye
AUTHOR: Kara Tippetts
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2016, (208 pages).

I was here. I saw beauty. I embraced it.

With these words, the late Kara Tippetts boldly faced an uncertain future with emotional certainty. In 2014, at the age of 38, the author entered hospice care to prepare for her looming death. She died on March 22nd, 2015, in Colorado Springs, leaving behind a pastor-husband Jason, and four young children. Less than three years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her death, the editors of David C. Cook decided to compile her writings from her blog (Mundane Faithfulness) about her journey through the valley of the shadow of dying. Published posthumously, their aim is to let the words of Tippetts encourage the living, especially those who may be going through a difficult period.

The book comprises Four Acts of her life. Act One is filled with stories about mundane moments of life, Tippetts was able to capture her emotional ups and downs in what is uniquely Tippetts-style. It was a style that believed she was not facing cancer alone. She believed that her family would be taken care of even after her death. She pondered about the perfect peace God had promised, amid the pain she was going through. She encountered what it means to be sufficient by God’s grace. She got frustrated with constant attention for her to get well. She appreciated her husband for constantly pointing her attention to God, and in the process less focused on her own self. With moments of fear come peace. With feelings of ugliness come the awareness of the beauty around her. With existing pain comes anticipated relief. She even felt a special connection with the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy. She was poetic when remembering the birthday of her husband.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"God's Unwelcome Recovery" (Sean Oliver-Dee)

TITLE: God's Unwelcome Recovery: Why the New Establishment Wants to Proclaim the Death of Faith
AUTHOR: Sean Oliver-Dee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2015, (192 pages).

We are living in a climate of suspicion, sarcasm, and skepticism of all things religion, especially in the West. Is it the death of faith or religion? Is it true that there are more Muslims immigrating to the West than Christians? What can we make out of the polls and statistics that suggest the Church is not only dying, but are becoming extinct? What about those Church-based surveys that paint a pathetic picture of the Church? Rather than accepting these findings and conclusions at face value, there is a small group of individuals who are bucking the depressing trend. They believe that such negative perceptions of the death of faith are hyped and lack the credibility of the real world. They believe that these negative perceptions need to be challenged so that the truth can be revealed. In other words, it is one thing to be indoctrinated by the news media and the influential public leaders about the state of the Church. It is yet another to learn to defend the truth and to ensure that people are not blinded by the clouds of doubt when they are in fact in the wide fields of hope.

Challenging the popular statistics, Sean Oliver-Dee breaks down the numbers to determine the true picture of decline. He shows us that not all decline are attributed to people leaving the Church. There are those who died or have joined other denominations. While mainstream churches are declining in numbers, other groups like the Pentecostals are registering big increases. Another problem in the statistics is that many of them are almost always reliant on "white" data, ignoring the other ethnic groups such as the Blacks and Asian churches. Another reason is that the data is not as updated as we thought. What troubles the author is that while many statistics capture the decline, they fail to zoom in on the scattered increases happening in other sectors of Christianity.

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Mornings with Tozer" (Compiled by Gerald B. Smith)

TITLE: Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings
AUTHOR: Gerald B. Smith
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008, (416 pages).

Aiden Wilson Tozer (aka A.W. Tozer) is one of my favourite authors. Born in 1897 in Newburg, Pennsylvania, Tozer was converted at an age of 18 years old when he heard a street preacher's challenge: "If you don't know how to be saved, just call on God." He did exactly that and in 1919, he pastored his first church and has been a powerful voice within the Alliance Church. He had no formal theological training but writes with a theological depth that continues to engage audiences all over the world. Even after his death in 1963, his books kept his passion for God alive.

This book is a collection of 365 readings from the pen and pulpit of Tozer, compiled by Gerald B. Smith. For one page each day, readers can enter into the short and concise theological teachings that are so uniquely Tozer. Written like a typical "Our Daily Bread" style, each devotional begins with a Scripture verse, followed by a short reading of Tozer's thought, and ending with a brief prayer. While the main reading is Tozer's, the title and the arrangements are Smith's.

Just like what morning coffee can do to wake us up for the day, the daily readings are meant to rev up our spiritual engines for action. Tozer challenges us to read the Bible not merely for devotion but with a keen eye for action (Response to the Word, March 17). Just like Peter's exhortation to believers to persevere when going through trials, Tozer urges believers to not just persevere but to rejoice and to go through life in praise of God (Rejoicing in Trials, April 23). He warns us against compromising with the world, that no hybrid is ever allowed (Compromise is Costly, June 11). Even decision making is a life changer. The most important decisions we can ever make is to obey the Lord (Critical Decisions, July 2). There is an eschatological posture at the end of each month's reading. It helps us know not only what we are saved from, but what we are saved for (What We Shall Be, Sep 29). I appreciate Tozer's no-holds-barred style of blasting those who keep doting on the past and in the process missing out the potential and future glory (Doting on the Past, October 20).

For readers who are interested, there is a companion volume entitled Evenings with Tozer, also compiled by Gerald Smith. Those who constantly complain that they have no time to read or to do devotions should seriously pick up this book.

Rating: 4.25 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.

Friday, December 11, 2015

"The Pastor as Public Theologian" (Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan)

TITLE: The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision
AUTHOR: Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (230 pages).

What is the primary role of a pastor? One job description I read recently includes the typical duties such as pastoral care, preaching, evangelism, missions, visitation, small groups, office administration, oversee the care of facilities, taking care of Sunday School, and so on. On top of that, it includes a requirement of playing the piano! I smiled at first but soon my smile turned to frowns. How can a pastor be all things to all people, and all things to all work in the Church? If a pastor is going to be a spiritual Swiss knife to do everything in the Church, then only superman is eligible to apply. The tragedy of the Church is how pastors are turned from theologians into administrators; from biblical proponents to management strategists; from biblical preachers to motivational speakers. This book aims to reverse the trend and to instill in churches and pastors the need for theological reflections to be taken more seriously. The Church need more pastors to be deep in the Word and to be the public theologian in the marketplace of ideas. The call is not for less but more theology in churches to be taught.

The authors are passionate about all things theology. Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan are both professors of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary respectively. Vanhoozer is the author of numerous books such as Everyday Theology, the Drama of Doctrine, and Is there a meaning in the text while Strachan is a Fellow with the Center for Pastor Theologians. Both of them believe that the vision for theology in the Church must be reclaimed and re-discovered. They show us the problem, the proposal, and the prospect of why they write this book.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Understanding the Times" (Jeff Myers and David A. Noebel)

TITLE: Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews
AUTHOR: Jeff Myers and David A. Noebel
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2015, (640 pages).

How do we understand the cultures of today? How can we speak the truth intelligibly to a pluralistic, materialistic, individualistic, and multi-cultural population? With all the different competing worldviews out there, how are Christians going to speak truth in a marketplace of ideas? According to authors Jeff Myers and David Noebel, in order to understand the times, one needs to know "how tennis champs return opponents' blazing fast serves and how chess masters memorize the position of every piece on the board." Learn the rules. Recognize the patterns. One would then be able to engage effectively and intelligently. A worldview is described as "pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world."

The Christian worldview is one that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ. The Islam worldview is based on the Quran, and the Prophet Mohammad. New Spirituality is so fluid that it is hard to define. It is defined as a "free-flowing combination of Eastern religions, paganism, and pseudo-science that pops up in odd places." Secularism has humanity at the center of reality. Marxism believes that life is a struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Postmodernism questions set paradigms and deconstructs conventional ideas. By questioning everything, it eventually has to question itself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"Sandcastle Kings" (Rich Wilkerson Jr)

TITLE: Sandcastle Kings: Meeting Jesus in a Spiritually Bankrupt World
AUTHOR: Rich Wilkerson Jr
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2015, (240 pages).

Spiritually bankrupt people will naturally build things that cannot last. They achieve the best that the world can give; attain the highest standards the world desires; and pursues the things of fame, power, happiness, riches, and material goods. Yet, all these things are but sandcastles, and in achieving them, we are likened to "sandcastle kings."

What are the "sandcastles" of life? According to Wilkerson, it is about any kind of foundation that is not centered on Christ. If a person's foundation is money, then all he does is work and making money. He spends so much time at the office that he neglects other more important things in life simply because money has usurped the title of the most important thing in life. If a person's foundation is relationships, then one's sense of purpose and identity is based on the ups and downs of the health of that particular relationship. If a person's foundation is health, he becomes paranoid about diet, about looks, about keeping fit so as to prevent disease, or maintain a good build. This book describes four biblical examples of how people build their houses on sand or sandcastles that will fall in a matter of time. Using Luke 7 as the key chapter, Wilkerson also reminds us about the "Chapter 7 bankruptcy" which eventually leads him toward writing about spiritual bankruptcy when we build sandcastles.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations" (Robert Schnase)

TITLE: Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
AUTHOR: Robert Schnase
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007, (144 pages).

Discipleship is one of the most used words in the Christian world, in churches, and in many Christian communities. What is it? How does it look like? What are the fruits of a Christian life? Where are the evidence of a Church that is exercising the ministry of discipleship? According to the Bishop of Missouri Conference (United Methodist Church), Robert Schnase, these are summed up in five practices; namely:
  1. Radical Hospitality
  2. Passionate Worship
  3. Intentional Faith Development
  4. Risk-Taking Mission and Service
  5. Extravagant Generosity
Schnase's purpose in writing this book is to give "permission, focus, and encouragement" for churches and Christian communities to be creative and to be able to grow in all aspects of ministry. He recognizes the hunger in people to want to grow. He believes that any congregation large or small; urban or rural; as long as they are intentional about discipleship and fruitfulness, they will serve well as transformed people. Meant to be used as a discussion guide for small groups as well as those in positions of influence, it is geared toward enabling the work of sharing the gospel with all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know" (Terry Glaspey)

TITLE: 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film
AUTHOR: Terry Glaspey
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (368 pages).

A masterpiece is a great artistic achievements created by ordinary people. Like how Rembrandt's Prodigal Son painting enveloped the depths of Henri Nouwen, the author has experienced deep fascination with not just art but music, literature, stained glass, paintings, film, and many creative works like woodcut, symphony, building architecture, poems, even children's stories. The author is a writer who enjoys the beauty of God's creation and the handiworks throughout history. Beginning with his visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he describes how he was captivated by the classic and modern masterpieces. Curious about the origins and how the work was made, he becomes very impressed with the stories behind the paintings. The more things he finds, the more fascinated he becomes. In wanting to share his experience, he goes through his library of resources and experiences to inspire more people to appreciate the masterpieces. Several factors are used to decide on which masterpiece to use.  First, it has to be "universally esteemed" by both Christians and non-Christians. Second, they had to stand up well through time, that people will keep coming back as new things can always be learned from them. Third, they are timeless and can speak to people regardless of cultural background and national boundaries. Like trailers to entice people to watch movies, Glaspey starts with the paintings in the Roman catacombs, how Christian art had to go underground during the Roman persecution. He shows us how the Gregorian chant first begun and why it has enchanted the imaginations of many. The Chartres Cathedral is chosen as one with many beautiful stained windows each telling a story in themselves. He calls it a "visual book." Dante's Divine Comedy is a spiritual autobiography. Although not much is known about Andrei Rublev, who created the famous Holy Trinity icon, Glaspey is able to describe the significance of icons and the history of the controversies over their use. Michelangelo's The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel shows the famous artist more as a sculptor rather than a painter. The three central pieces of work all reflect Michelangelo's commitment to faith. Several hymns are also selected in this volume. Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress is Our God proves to be Luther's strength as he prepares for a tense debate at the Diet of Worms in 1521. John Newton's Amazing Grace and Isaac Watts' When I Survey the Wondrous Cross are also mentioned. The great novels include Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Friday, December 4, 2015

"Reordering the Trinity" (Rodrick K. Durst)

TITLE: Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament
AUTHOR: Rodrick K. Durst
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (pages).

The Trinity is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented, and misinterpreted doctrines in Christianity. Some say that it is about three Gods. Others claim one God but errs on the side of reducing God into one mode at a time. That is why Durst begins this book with Dorothy Sayers's observation to describe the general confusion among many people:

"The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the whole thing is incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult." (Dorothy Sayers)

Spurred by one of his students' paper on the Trinity with an Asian perspective, Kurst begins an active interest in studying the Trinity in the New Testament's "triadic occurrences." He nuances the multi-dimensional order of Father-Son-Spirit and then expands with a variety of combinations of how the Trinity is presented in the New Testament. In doing so, he attempts to fill in the biblical sources and theological framework which he feels was lacking in his student's paper. He makes three observations about Scripture reading by people. Firstly, Christians typically "affirms the plain sense of the Scripture." Secondly, Christians tend to interpret according to what they "expect to see" rather than to see the Word for what it is saying. Thirdly, people tend to see the Trinity is one order: Father-Son-Holy Spirit, and in the process thinks of the Trinity mainly in this hierarchical order.

Durst asserts that according to the New Testament, we need to go beyond all of these conventional ways of thinking. The more than seventy New Testament references to the Trinity describes more than just one or two orders of the Triune Godhead. The theological method he uses is the one proposed by Millard Erickson to review the order of the Triune Godhead; to develop historical theology followed by applications toward pastoral theology and mission.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Ministry in the New Marriage Culture" (Editor: Jeff Iorg)

TITLE: Ministry in the New Marriage Culture
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2015, (272 pages).

The topic of marriage has become a lot more heated recently. Traditionally, the idea of marriage has been one between a man and a woman. It has since been expanded to extend marriage to same-sex couples. With the recent Supreme court decision that legalizes same sex marriage, every state in the United States will have to deal with the consequences of the decision. In general, every Church will have to deal with the diverse opinions in their congregations. In view of continued controversies surrounding the biblical and theological views of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, ministry has become a lot more complex, nuanced, and sensitive. The pastor or minister will have to tread carefully the path of being accepting and caring without compromising theological truths and biblical principles.  How can one be loving without being labeled legalistic or dogmatic? How do we relate with people whose views of marriage are totally different from ours? What happens when our convictions clash with the laws imposed on us? How do we relate to individuals having a sexual identity crisis? In this book, fifteen contributors from several theological seminaries have come together to help us navigate the increasingly complex ministry environment, in particular, dealing with the multi-dimensional marriage cultures.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Christ or Chaos" (Daniel A. DeWitt)

TITLE: Christ or Chaos
AUTHOR: Daniel A. DeWitt
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2016, (144 pages).

Is Christianity rational? Which worldview can best explain the origin of the world? Is life's best explanations in terms of cosmos or chaos? Beginning with the arguments between Thomas (Christianity) and Zach (chance and chaos), author and pastor Dan DeWitt explores the journey of faith by Thomas whose' Christian belief was challenged by the questions posed by Zach. Can Christianity stand on its own when challenged by the non-Christian worldviews? Believing that Christianity is true, DeWitt asserts CS Lewis words as follows:

"One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important."

As one who reads and teaches on CS Lewis a lot, DeWitt helps readers to work through the questions surrounding the objections to faith. He ponders on the accusations of skeptics and on the reasons why some Christians left the faith. He notices with concern on Taunton's summary reasons why young believers move away from faith toward skepticism.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament)
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2015, (304 pages).

One of the hottest issues being debated on the Internet is the plight and treatment of the refugees streaming out of wartorn Syria. Many of them have only their possessions on their backs. There are the elderly and the young; mothers and young children; adults and young adults; and they all had one common goal: Flee from the violence and war for a place that can offer refuge. Sometimes, I feel like this book is released at the right time, to remind us all that we are all in some way a "refugee." Whether literally or metaphorically, without the comforts of home and the predictabilities of life, we are nomads looking for an eternal home. Closer to home, many countries in the West are locked in debates over whether to welcome or to shut their doors to the growing refugee problem that Europe is facing. Billed as the biggest forced migration of this century, the problem is only going to get bigger. How can Christians approach this? While opinions are fairly split, with a slight tilt toward those who want to welcome all the refugees, there is also that security concerns, especially after the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13th, 2015.

This book's preface seems prophetic as the author offers it to "all the Boazes in history and in our time who accept their roles as 'the wings of God' and offer refuge to the poor and marginalized." This is what the book of Ruth is about. There is an important message that is contained in this ancient book about a foreign born woman marrying and living with a Jewish family. It is about how God in his great mercy chooses to use anyone (including a Moabite) to continue his line of blessings. It is about God who communicates his love and grace through the written Word. By studying the original texts, the translations, and analyze the Hebrew text, we can learn more about how the ancients treat refugees, how blessings are for all, and how great is God's love for the people he created. This book contains the hallmarks of the exegetical commentary:
  • There is an introduction to the passage to be studied
  • There are detailed commentaries on the "individual text units"
  • Complex units are broken down into smaller ones for deeper analyses
  • Main idea of the Passage are stated
  • Literary Contexts given
  • Translation and exegetical outline
  • Structure and Literary Forms described
  • Practical applications and significance
  • The Hebrew numbering format used instead of our conventional English ones
In Ruth, we read about redemption. We read about acceptance. We read about how the fears and uncertainties facing a foreigner in another land and culture. If it is not easy for our modern refugee to live in another country, how much more a Moabite in a Hebrew culture then. There were no Internet or Facebook appeals in the ancient world to capture the attention of the world. There were no human rights sensitivities then compared to what we have enshrined in the United Nations of now. Of course, the Israelites only have the Law and the Law itself is the best form of human rights protection. Thankfully, in Ruth, we see how the Hebrews have honoured the Law and the tradition of hospitality even to strangers and foreigners. 

In this latest addition to an excellent series of Exegetical Commentaries published by Zondervan, author and Professor Daniel Block puts together over twenty years of knowledge and experience since writing his first commentary for the New American Commentary on Judges and Ruth. This ZECOT edition continues the work with a modern look and exegetical freshness. There is a lot of material that have been packed into this volume. The analysis is detailed. The scholarship is rich. The treatment of the biblical book is respectful. One can sense the author's reverence for the holy text.

Students will find this text particularly useful as Block explains the narrative in detail but also with an eye for the modern mind. As again, a commentary of this nature is best with the printed version. My early reader's version is based on the Kindle and the formatting is bad. That affects general reading experience and the flow of the author's reasoning. I look forward to reading the actual print copy which I trust would contain the best of ZECOT.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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