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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"On the Block" (Doug Logan)

TITLE: On the Block: Developing a Biblical Picture for Missional Engagement
AUTHOR: Doug Logan
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (202 pages).

What good is a Church mission if missions are only delegated to a subcommittee or a few gifted individuals who say they are called? How sustainable is any mission endeavour without the support of a Church backing? How can a Church witness Christ in the neighbourhood if there is no outreach? In this book about missions in the urban context, author and pastor Doug Logan believes that both the church (ecclesiology) and missions (missiology) need to be simultaneously practiced with Christ as the foundation and purpose of it all. The Church does not exist for itself and Missions cannot be isolated from the Church. The Church has a mission and this mission needs the Church. Logan puts it this way: "Our Christology drives us to be missiological ecclesiologists and ecclesiological missiologists." In other words, when we are in Christ, we live out as Church in mission. He uses four persons as examples to set the stage for this biblical engagement. Since the time of Adam, when Adam sinned, God had already set in motion a redemption plan in Gen 3:15. The story of Nehemiah is not simply about a man but a whole people of God called to build the temple. In Jesus, we see what it means to put the Word into action and to live in the world as people of God. In Paul, we learn about the five ways of addressing the culture of the world.

  1. Unveiling the customs and superstitions of the world
  2. Unveiling the true character of God
  3. Exposing the emptiness of worldliness
  4. Revealing the emptiness of culture
  5. Revealing the truth of Christ's resurrection.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"God is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude" (Daniel P. Horan)

TITLE: God Is Not Fair, and Other Reasons for Gratitude
AUTHOR: Daniel P. Horan
PUBLISHER: Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2016, (144 pages).

This is a Christian book with a strange title. Using a counterintuitive title to draw curiosity, it is also about learning not to see things from the eyes of individualism but through God's eyes. As long as we wear personal subjectivity and egoistical lenses, we will accuse God of being unfair for the most part. The key thesis of this book is that we need both open minds and open hearts in order to grow in faith. Gratitude is that key to cope with the harsh realities of life; the complex cultures around us; and to unlock the mystery of faith. Through a series of reflections from cultural symbols to modern icons of the world, readers are invited to reflect on what it means to live in a world that seems so unfair. For Christians, it is about living in an intersection of theology, scripture, culture, and relationships. Part One focuses on the Christian faith in the modern world. What do we make of the movie depictions of zombies and World War Z? In a world flooded by negative media depiction of priests, can we still find dignity in the priesthood? What are we going to do about slavery? Can nonviolence and the abolishment of capital punishment bring about greater good in the world of violence and evil? What about failures? Who and what is a saint all about? These issues and more are looked at from the eyes of faith.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age" (Bob Cutillo, MD)

TITLE: Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age (Gospel Coalition (Faith and Work))
AUTHOR: Bob Cutillo, MD
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (208 pages)

What is health for? With more advanced medical technology and world-class healthcare, should we not be happier people? Not really. In fact, there are some disturbing trends that are happening in our era. There are many top quality tests but there is a lack of accuracy in diagnosis. There are many different branches of healthcare but they are more fragmented than ever. There are also that disturbing lopsided orientation toward cure rather than care. With the experience of hindsight and the genuine concern for holistic healthcare, author Bob Cutillo summarizes his concerns and gives insights on what good healthcare looks like as follows:
  • It must be scientifically competent and comes with well-informed choices
  • It needs a measurable and efficient system
  • It must include genuine care
  • There are lots of areas that health insurance often leaves out, which means we need to taper our expectations accordingly.
  • Politics play a big part in healthcare policies
  • Healthcare must involve not only the curative but also the preventative aspect
  • Healthcare also requires vulnerability and trust; and acceptance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"From the Editor's Desk" (John M. Buchanan)

TITLE: From the Editor's Desk
AUTHOR: John M. Buchanan
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (208 pages).

For evangelicals, the flagship magazine is "Christianity Today." Pentecostals would be familiar with "Charisma." For Roman Catholics, popular magazines include "Catholic Herald," "National Catholic Register," and "First Things." For many mainline Protestants, it is the "Christian Century." Originally formed as a "Disciples of Christ" journal, it was renamed "Christian Century" among various attempts to revitalize the floundering publication. Whatever public opinion may be, former publisher John Buchanan prefer to see this magazine as an advocate for "thinking critically and living faithfully." It aims to be open to the world and generous to the Church. The magazine was founded in 1884 as "The Christian Oracle" and has featured contributions from past well-known personalities like Gerald Ford, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Menninger as well as more modern writers such as Thomas Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, Eugene Peterson, Marcus Borg, and so on. A key mission of the periodical is to analyze and advocate for issues of the age according to the conscience of the church. For instance, it takes a pacifist position as international conflicts mount. It fights against human rights violations. It focuses on civil rights for all, being the first periodical to publish in full Dr Martin Luther King Jr's "A Letter from the Birmingham Jail." Looking at the title of the periodical can be embarrassing as one remembers how the century has been tainted by the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and 9/11. Reflecting as a grandfather, author John Buchanan sees a new wave of hot button issues on the horizon.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Create vs Copy" (Ken Wytsma)

TITLE: Create vs. Copy: Embrace Change. Ignite Creativity. Break Through with Imagination.
AUTHOR: Ken Wytsma
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

Be willing to change. Be excited about creativity. Exercise our imaginations. Let innovation and passion for new ideas lead the way. Leadership is essentially learning to lead in creative ways. This is the key message in this book, that to create is far better than to copy. Moreover, a creative new idea excites while an imitation tends to bore. Wytsma is not just passionate about intentional creativity, he longs to share this with many and this book is one way he is doing just that. He helps us go back to the basics.

In thinking about creativity, we are reminded that creating is very much a part of our relationship with creation. It is also a direct result of our relationship with God our creator. We learn more about God through our acts of creativity. This includes simple ideas in the head, various products on the shelves, memories of the past, recipes in the kitchen, sculptures in the art studio, sports and strategies, prayer meetings, campaigning, and many more. As long as we are kept creative, there is always something new to begin with. That is why as far as creativity is concerned, there is no end point. For God is constantly creating. It is also redemptive in the sense that creativity expands horizons and presents opportunities for growth. Moreover, the world we live in are constantly changing. If we fail to adapt and to change, we would be left behind. Wystma shares a powerful story of what it means to reach out to poorer countries like Africa. Some African countries have leapfrogged the communications technology moving directly from no-communications to wireless communications. Unlike many places in the US that are still dependent on fixed line infrastructures, such wireless advancements have accelerated the pace of progress in these African countries. No longer is it about white people sending white resources to Africa. Instead, it is about empowering African communities with new infrastructure that excites and motivates them to help themselves! Looking back to the culture state-side, Wytsma notes how modern sustained stress can negatively impact creativity. He then supplies four ways in which we can practice and facilitate creativity.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Joyful Witness in the Muslim World" (Evelyne A. Reisacher)

TITLE: Joyful Witness in the Muslim World: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters (Mission in Global Community)
AUTHOR: Evelyne A. Reisacher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (188 pages).

We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Since 9/11, Islamophobia has reared its ugly head. The recent US elections have on its campaign highlighted the problem of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism happening in the world. We are not living in a safer place at all. From shooting in schools to bombings in public places, there is a lot of reasons to be afraid. This has increased tensions between people of all walks of life and of various religions, in particular between Muslims and the rest of the world. Some secularists blame all religions. Many Non-Muslims tend to shun the Muslim community. Inter-religious harmony seem so rare. Some Christians even see Islam with lots of suspicion. How then can we get along? If the gospel is for all people, surely that includes Muslims too.

Evelyne Reisacher is Associate Professor of Islamic studies and cultural relations in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Having spent a decade working with a Paris-based Christian organization that facilitates relationships with North African immigrants, she is convinced that witnessing to Muslims is not only possible but can be a joyful endeavor. This is because gospel joy is anchored on the Triune Godhead. Joy emanates from God and resonates with transformed believers. Such joy is for sharing and it amplifies vibrant communities. If that is so, should it not also impact outreach to Muslims?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Faithful Presence" (David E. Fitch)

TITLE: Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission
AUTHOR: David E. Fitch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (256 pages).

How do we manifest Christ's love in a world of brokenness and pain? Is there something Christians can do to counter the social injustice and poverty disparities? Can the Church do more than mere handouts? If there is a genuine desire to be part of the solution, how then do believers go about doing it? According to author David E. Fitch, the answer is in the title of this new book entitled, "Faithful Presence." He defines it as follows:

"Faithful presence names the reality that God is present in the world and that he uses a people faithful to his presence to make himself concrete and real amid the world’s struggles and pain. When the church is this faithful presence, God’s kingdom becomes visible and the world is invited to join with God. Faithful presence is not only essential for our lives as Christians, it’s how God has chosen to change the world. In this book I aim to describe what this faithful presence looks like."

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Full" (Asheritah Ciuciu)

TITLE: Full: Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction
AUTHOR: Asheritah Ciuciu
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

We eat a lot. For some of us living in affluent countries, we eat several meals per day. Food can be plenty of satisfaction but it can also give us a false sense of security. We can feel full to the stomach but empty in the soul. We can pile up the calories and still feel hungry. We can spend all the money we have on food and still fail to get any sense of accomplishment. Food is an important aspect of life but it needs to be put in proper perspective. For fullness comes not from a bloated stomach but a devoted heart. For author, Asheritah Ciuciu, "Our problem is not really what we eat. It's why we seek fullness in something that will never satisfy." In other words, it is not the what we fill ourselves with but the why we do that. We are warned against "food addiction" that can turn into "food fixation." Our food problem is not the lack of food but the lack of satisfaction. This book is about deciphering our inner search for satisfaction, to arrest the ways of dissatisfaction that we can pay attention fully to the things that truly satisfy.

Ciuciu meticulously exposes the various ways in which we can possess an unhealthy fixation on food. We try to lose weight and spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to design the best diet for our bodies. We research on the best foods available to fit our menus. We comb supermarket brochures for the best deals. We even cut coupons in order to lower our food costs. From low-fat recipes to cholesterol worries, organic to natural foods, food networks and Youtube ways of cooking, we spend a lot of time thinking about food. We use food as a way to relieve our stress. Food therapy tends to be preferred than prayer and fasting. Perhaps, we need to put on the armour of God to deal with the food of idolatry! Ciuciu lists top ten lies we can tell ourselves about food, that we either deserve it or need it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

"Church Planting in the Secular West" (Stefan Paas)

TITLE: Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience (The Gospel and Our Culture Series (GOCS))
AUTHOR: Stefan Paas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (300 pages).

Most people would already know how secular North America has become. From Canada to the Southern Bible belt of the US, the reputation of the Church have not only taken a beating but the atheist and secular influences continue to dumb down all things religious. The Church has become more irrelevant as the days go by. The thought of planting churches tend to be a phenomena for churches in Asia, South America, and Africa. For North America, the Church is generally seen to be in a decline for the past few decades. This gloomy scene is nowhere near the state of the Church in Europe. If anyone thinks that Church planting in North America is tough, the idea of even planting a Church in Europe is quickly dispelled. In other words, as far as planting churches in Europe is concerned, tough is an understatement. Having said that, there are ways in which it is still possible to plant churches in the secular Europe. According to author Stefan Paas, "most if not all church planting in secular Europe is inspired by confessional motives, growth motives, and innovation motives." While defending church planting per se, he also has criticisms for all of the above approaches. In this book, Paas aims to look at all of these approaches from a missiological perspective with regard to the relevance of the Church with her neighbours. The second manner is to look at Europe in the present Western secular context after WWII. He also uses the definition of secular mainly as "non-religious" and boldly tackles what it means to reach out to people living in a highly secularized society where religion is increasingly irrelevant and obsolete.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"A Different Kind of Happiness" (Larry Crabb)

TITLE: A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy That Comes from Sacrificial Love
AUTHOR: Larry Crabb
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (256 pages).

Is there a difference between happiness and joy? How many kinds of happiness are there? How can happiness ever last? Is happiness something so temporal that Christians should not pursue it? Is it ok to seek happiness? How can we be happy when things do not turn out our way? Where does true happiness actually come from? These questions are dealt with in this very insightful book about the search for happiness via relationships. In a very personal book that probes deep into the human psyche and the spirituality of happiness, the key message in this book is about how to obtain a happiness that is true and can be sustained. He points out three kinds of path toward happiness. The first group are those struggling in perpetual unhappiness owing to difficult circumstances. They see the world as unjust, cruel, and unfair. They find it hard to even have a glimpse of happiness. The second group see happiness linked to blessings received. The problem is, when the blessings disappear, so do the happiness. For the third group, true happiness comes through a celebration of relationships and sustained through a thirst and hunger for God.

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Icons: The Essential Collection" (Sr. Faith Riccio, CJ)

TITLE: Icons: The Essential Collection
AUTHOR: Sr. Faith Riccio, CJ
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016, (120 pages).

In our familiar technological world, the word 'icon' has been usurped by computer designers who create graphical icons to represent object oriented programming images. Using what has become known as WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get), the computer icons have become clickable for users to activate various functions on the computer. They also open up a new window of applications for the user to work on. For all their creativity and innovation, they have simply borrowed the term from its original use: Spirituality.

Calling it an essential collection, author Sister Faith Riccio has put together twenty-eight icons to invite us to go beyond what we see. The word 'eikon' has appeared in Genesis 1:26 that refers to man made in the likeness of God. As far as the author is concerned, there are several reasons why these icons are useful for meditations and for gazing into the Person of God.

  • They can soothe and comfort us
  • Their symbolism stirs our imagination
  • They help gather our attention to help us focus on God
  • They guide our desires toward spiritual things
  • They aid our prayers
  • They remind us of the faithfulness of the saints of old
  • They express spiritual realities
  • They challenge our busyness and help us to unwind
  • They enable us to rest and to start the process of healing
  • ...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The Music Architect" (Constance M. Cherry)

TITLE: The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song
AUTHOR: Constance M. Cherry
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (288 pages).

In churches around the world, music and song are common ways in which we honour God in worship and praise. Many people serve in this ministry but not many are trained. Musicians come with deep talents but the understanding of worship may not be as deep. This is where this book comes in. The dual objectives are to:

  1. Learn about thoughtful and holistic worship
  2. Disciple worshipers in song.
This book is Volume 3 of the "The Worship Architect" series of book designed to help churches and worship leaders plan their worship flow and program. The first volume is about planning. The second volume looks at principles of preparing specific worship segments and special events. This volume covers more specifically the area of music. In all of the three books, the aim is to maintain a consistent philosophy of worship; to unite worship and practice; and to provide a resource that is helpful across denominations. On top of these, there is a pastoral element infused into the teaching. The key thesis is "who we are" is a greater impact than "what we do." This is why the author starts with defining the meaning of a "Pastoral Musician" who is essentially one who embraces the Christian faith, growing in spiritual maturity, using one's spiritual gifts, participating in community, and accountable to God and others. Worship must be relevant to God while connecting to people. There is a biblical element that guides the understanding of worship. The historical perspective is not static but dynamic, which means we ought to let worship practices throughout all generations be rendered in a manner that is meaningful. In terms of spirituality, worship forms worshipers. Thus, the title of "pastoral musician" simply tells us that worship involves lots of music but is much than music. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Getting to Know the Church Fathers" (Bryan M. Litfin)

TITLE: Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction
AUTHOR: Bryan M. Litfin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (288 pages).

One of the most interesting things about Church history is to study the characters who have shaped the Church and Christian thought through the centuries. There have been great accomplishments as well as terrible tragedies. Tracing the way Christianity has developed over the years will reveal many important lessons of gratitude as well as warnings. We show gratitude for our forefathers for their faithfulness and determination to uphold the truth. We learn that each generation has to fight their own theological battles and we should also do the same for our own generations. This book highlights twelve examples of courage and true allegiance to the faith. It teaches a love of history and the powerful encouragement to hold on to the tenets of our faith, many of which our ancestors have bled and died for.

As an introductory text, the author takes nothing for granted and spells out the meaning of the standard terminology. He defines the 'Church Father' like a regular father who guides his children and teaches the way in wisdom and spiritual thought. This terminology includes females like "Church mothers" as well. He highlights the misconceptions and tells us why they are wrong. He then lists the reasons why we should study the Church Fathers.