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Monday, May 29, 2017

"Questioning Evangelism" (Randy Newman)

TITLE: Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did
AUTHOR: Randy Newman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (280 pages).

There was a time in which evangelism is about declaring the gospel outright, spouting out the promises of faith and the perils of non-belief. Then comes the popularity of apologetics where the skills of defending the gospel take on a more prominent role. The ministries such as RZIM and Lee Strobel's Reason for Faith help to fill in the increasing demand for training in defending the gospel. Building upon these two core skills of declaring and defending the gospel in evangelism, author Randy Newman zooms in on a third core skill appropriate for a postmodern climate: dialogue. It is about engaging people where they are. It asks the tough questions of life and goes beyond mere defending toward greater understanding. It prompts people to know that even Christians ask the same set of questions. Legitimate questions are never bounded by faith positions. In fact, learning to ask questions and to respond to them well is key to engaging people these days, just like Jesus did during His days. Use these questions as bridges to foster dialogue and sustain meaningful conversations.

Newman shares about the power of questions even as he deals with basic words such as "God," "love," "sin," etc. We tend to be easily frustrated when we struggle with finding out pin-point answers to complex questions. We can learn from the way of "Rabbinic Evangelism" where we respond to questions with questions. It is not simply to give a logical, rational answer, but to open up the conversation for open learning by all. We learn about Solomon's four lessons:
  1. Avoiding arguments
  2. Recognizing a fool
  3. Remembering people are people
  4. Remembering the power of the tongue.
Evangelism is not about winning arguments. It is about winning souls. Even though questions may not give us answers, they can pave the way for meaningful responses. Newman gives us five principles and five operative questions to help us along. They cover a wide variety of possibilities which would open up the conversation. Through the process, we can also uncover important questions asked by many in the secular and atheistic culture:
  • "Why are Christians so intolerant?"
  • Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?
  • Why does God allow 9/11 to happen?
  • Why should anyone believe in an ancient book?
  • "Why are Christians so homophobic?"
  • "What's so good about marriage?"
  • "If Jesus is so great, why are some of His followers such jerks?"
  • ...
Many of these questions are also difficult for Christians to deal with directly. Sometimes, the best answer when we don't know how to respond is to admit we don't know. The final part of the book touches a little bit about that when questions and answers alone are no longer enough. It is good to be able to dialogue in the open, but there are journeys in which every individual would have to take and decide for themselves. Such questions include matters of the will rather than reason or in matters of the heart instead of the head. There is also a time where the best thing to do is to be quiet. Notice how Jesus refused to answer some of the taunts and jests by the religious leaders of His day? Throughout the entire book, Newman gives us examples of how Jesus had dealt with opposition and issues during His day. Jesus uses a host of skills to deal with threats and traps. He uses Rabbinic style of replying to questions with questions. He often points people toward the more eternal things of life. He does not mince his words when proclaiming truth. The author believes that the way of "Questioning Evangelism" is essentially the way of Jesus. Jesus adopts all forms of declaration; defending; and dialogue.

There are many issues addressed in the book. One of the main areas is how to respond to skeptics and critics in an increasingly hostile climate. One can respond to the hypocrite charge with a simple question, "Do you seriously think that ALL Christians are hypocrites?" One can seek to understand the reasons behind the charge through questions that open up bridges of understanding. There is no need to jump to any defense because truth can defend itself. When dealing with questions that have no immediate answer, we could approach it with compassion. One of the most moving parts of the book is in how we differentiate anger from contempt. Newman quotes Dallas Willard's brilliant take on the Sermon on the Mount:

"In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don't care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say. You are not worth consideration one way or the other. We can be angry at someone without denying their worth. But contempt makes it easier for us to hurt them or see them further degraded."

There are many other examples on how to deal with our angry self and when we simply have no words to say. In our day and age, books like this will increasingly be relevant. No longer are people open to unilateral declarations of the gospel. They want their voices to be heard. They are not content to simply hear the gospel proclaimed but to deal with the bad news occurring all around us. They are more open to conversation with people who care to listen. This book paves the way for us to do just that.

Randy Newman is the senior teaching fellow for evangelism and apologetics at the CS Lewis Institute in Washington DC. After serving over thirty years at Campus Crusade for Christ, he started Connection Points to equip Christians on matters of evangelism. He specializes in helping people of diverse backgrounds on issues of faith.


Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

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This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications as part of their blog tour event without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"The Way of the Dragon OR The Way of the Lamb" (Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel)

TITLE: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It
AUTHOR: Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2017, (250 pages).

Is the culture influencing the Church or vice versa? Is the Church trying to take things into her own hands by trying the clothe herself with relevance, programs, activities, and worldly attractions in order to bring people into the Church? Are humans replacing God's way with their own plans? In this book, authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel examine the seductions happening in the Church at large. The title of the book was inspired by Eugene Peterson's perceptive observation about the temptations facing the Church. Are we adopting the way of Jesus or are we preferring the seductions of the dragon? What does it mean to employ the way of Jesus in a Church surrounded by cultural expectations and fleshly temptations? How do we discern and choose? What are the powers we need to recognize, keep in check, or adopt? For the authors, there are only two ways: God's way or the ways of the dragon. Key to the detection of which way lies in the way we receive and handle power.

What is the Way of the Dragon? It is simply about the exercise of power with greed, strength, and an attitude of world domination. It matches an eye for an eye and retaliates with an even stronger show of force. It despises weakness and attempts to hide any vulnerabilities. It takes the road most people traveled and refuses to accept failure at any level. Churches that practice these ways tend to avoid weakness and foolishness like a plague. They showcase their special leader. They boast in the size of their buildings and budgets. They grow at all costs even if it means minimizing the gospel. Between large and small, they always choose the former. In the process, they dine with the devil of prosperity and power.


Monday, May 22, 2017

"Recapturing the Wonder" (Mike Cosper)

TITLE: Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World
AUTHOR: Mike Cosper
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (224 pages)

The title of this book catches a nerve. In a technologically rich and overwhelmingly connected world, we tend to spend more time trying to talk and solve problems instead of appreciating and listening. Learning to appreciate life is about reconnecting back to what life is about. How do we deal with our doubts? What are we to make of the stresses and pressures of life? Perhaps, what is most disconcerting is when we are able to rationalize small details of our lives, but fail to connect them all together to make sense of the larger picture. This book seeks to examine the gaps and to help us tell our own stories. Author Mike Cosper draws on the expertise and experience of well-known authors, theologians, and spiritual writers to guide him along. These people form powerful testimonies that God is not some distant clockmaker but is up close and personal. With guides like Hannah Arendt, Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Helen MacDonald, David Foster Wallace, and others. He describes the seven pathways in which we can find connections in our increasingly fragmented world, and to find ourselves as we navigate the complexity and sophistication around us. In each chapter, Cosper describes the issues and problems we face in our existing culture before presenting a possible pathway to make sense of our role.


Friday, May 19, 2017

"Face to Face" (Jayme Hull with Laura Captari)

TITLE: Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life
AUTHOR: Jayme Hull with Laura Captari
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

When we have an important issue to discuss, if possible, we prefer to talk in person. Even in an Internet age, being physically present still makes a difference when it comes to interpersonal relationships. We can talk over the telephone but cannot see the facial expressions. We can talk via Messenger or SMS but we are limited only to the words sent or received. We can use social media but there is no guarantee of an immediate response. Good communications are beyond words or voices. Years ago, I learn that it is quite acceptable to use technology when giving praises and positive feedback. When it comes to criticisms or negative feedback, talk face to face. Taking something tense offline will not only defuse any explosive situation, it increases space for understanding. For author and ministry leader, Jayme Hull, this is extended to mentoring as well. In fact, it is a life changing experience for both mentor and mentee.

Mentoring is an increasingly popular topic, and something most people would agree as important. What is not so clear is how to find one, what it looks like, and how to go about the whole process. It might even seem like we need a mentor to teach us what mentoring is all about. This book fits that need. I will review this on the basis of the four Ps.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

"The Joy of Letting Go" (Vicki Caruana)

TITLE: The Joy of Letting Go: Releasing Your Teen into Real Life in the Big World
AUTHOR: Vicki Caruana
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2017, (240 pages).

Letting go is hard. This is particularly so for parents who had spent so much time with their children. When they become teenagers, parents are trapped between continuing to provide for them and letting them exercise increasing levels of freedom. The world out there is tough. How can long parents truly shelter them? What if the teens act rashly as they venture beyond the comfort zones of home? Where is the balance if there is any? Knowing how difficult the whole process is, author and mother Vicki Caruana leads us through a year of disciplining ourselves in the process from anxiety to willingness and from hesitance to joy. The fifty-two devotions tackle a host of issues common to many parents. Parents go through emotional struggles like:

  • When is it time to let go?
  • What if the teens cannot handle the pressures of life?
  • How should our parenting methods evolve?
  • How can we prepare ourselves for the inevitable day?
  • What about financial matters?
  • How can parents inculcate financial responsibility and spiritual stewardship?
  • What do we do with those moments when we start "missing" our children?
  • ....

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"More Than Words" (Erin Wathen)

TITLE: More than Words: 10 Values for the Modern Family
AUTHOR: Erin Wathen
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (176 pages).

What are family values? Before you attempt to answer that, think again. Is it a traditional or postmodern interpretation? Does it depend on which generation you come from? What kind of family are we talking about? These questions must be answered before we start talking about 'family values.' Our world has changed. With faith matters increasingly becoming politicized, even this popular phrase has become a battleground of opinions and political positions. Some would say that the traditional Christian interpretation is increasingly tainted with homophobia, misogyny, bigotry, and so on. Others lament that family has become meaningless in a relativistic world, absentee parents, and broken relationships. In a way, everybody have their own sense of ranking which value is more important. Behind this ranking belies a person's presupposition. So I decide to find out where this author is coming from. Concerned with how public opinion are increasingly negative about the phrase 'family values,' Erin Wathen begins with an attitude of understanding and learning. She writes:
"In this book, we’ll explore the language of a better way; a more life-giving way; a way that leaves room for creativity, for questions, for imperfection, and for a much broader view of what it means to be 'family.'"

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Winsome Persuasion" (Tim Muehlhoff & Richard Langer)

TITLE: Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: Tim Muehlhoff & Richard Langer
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (219 pages).

Many of us who lived through the LA riots back in the 80s would remember the late Rodney King, the cab driver who was infamously beaten by some officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. In a plea for civil behaviour to all, he famously said: "Can we all get along?" This phrase has been paraphrased in other ways like "Can't we all just get along?" or "Can't we all just learn to live together?" The need for cool heads and warm hearts is still there today, even as we see people continue to be split in the middle across many areas. From racial discrimination to the gender inequality; from generational differences to cultural distinctivenesses; from language diversity to the rich-poor society divide; broken people continue to scatter broken pieces. The public arena is increasingly fragmented. In the political scene, people continue to be split across party lines. The election of President Trump has also become a major source of verbal spat across the country. Those who support Trump are aggressively pushed back by those screaming out #NotMyPresident. On the economic front, the rich and the poor are getting further and further apart. Quentin Schultz in the foreword says it very well: "We all are born into a broken world of sin. Nothing and no one is unblemished. We cannot simply look outside of ourselves for sin. We have to look inside as well." That is the crux of the matter. The source of divisions stems from the root of sin. If we can address this well, we would be better able to get along. Biblically, the way forward is to approach the matter of public dialogue or debate with Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." The authors then try to persuade us that Christians are called to protect the weak; to speak up for the voiceless; to represent the unrepresented; to stand up for the marginalized and alienated; and to be peacemakers through it all. They highlight the three types of voices commonly used in public squares. The first is the PROPHETIC voice which appeals to the Word of God as the final authority; which basically demands people change their direction to align with this; that this is essentially the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The second is the PASTORAL voice which extends care as the first response; offering healing to those in need; and ministers to people where they are. This voice is essentially an outpouring of the gift of comfort and care from the Holy Spirit. The third voice is the PERSUASIVE voice, which appeals to the common good; the gentle strength of effective dialogue; and the power of restraint from flipping to extreme views. While there are pros and cons in all of them, the authors believe that the PERSUASIVE voice is the most needful for our times. They coin the term 'counterpublic' as such a voice. A counterpublic has three characteristics: opposition; withdrawal; engagement. In opposition, it refers to those who perceive themselves being excluded or marginalized. In withdrawal, it refers to such people consolidating and forming an identity for themeslves in the midst of being ostracized. In engagement, this people attempt to engage the dominant view clearly and constructively. The Christian counterpublic does exactly the same but from a Christian viewpoint, on how to be "gracious communicators in an argument culture."


Monday, May 8, 2017

"Power in the Pulpit" (Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix)

TITLE: Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons
AUTHOR: Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (448 pages).

Preaching is hard. Good preaching is rare. Being able to sit through a well-prepared, well-delivered, and well-researched sermon is a tremendous blessing for any Christian community. Many preaching books nowadays try to address the great need for biblical preaching and an appropriate level of delivery that balances theological orthodoxy, biblical faithfulness, cultural awareness, and the cry for help and the hunger for hope. Not many can achieve this. This book hits close to this target. One clue about the effectiveness of this book is the need for a new edition to keep up with changing needs and changing times. First published in 1999, author Jerry Vines had been preaching for over 40 years. Half of that time was when he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. At that time, he had a passion for sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow preachers. Knowing the tough demands on the pastoral vocation, he senses a great need to equip fellow preachers with some basic pulpit skills. Basically, it needs to address two things: Faithfulness to the Word; and fruitfulness as the Word takes root in the hearers. During the past decade, many things have changed, most importantly, the cultural shifts that have been occurring in the world we live. Most of the material from the first edition have been preserved. This new edition not only updates the material, it strengthens the expository preaching preparation part and simplifies the delivery. It is also more conversational when compared with the original.


Friday, May 5, 2017

"Lay Counseling, Revised and Updated) (Siang-Yang Tan and Eric Scalise)

TITLE: Lay Counseling, Revised and Updated: Equipping Christians for a Helping Ministry
AUTHOR: Siang-Yang Tan and Eric Scalise
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (320 pages).

Many like to help but few are adequately trained to help, especially in the area of lay counseling. Most people prefer to leave it to the experts, the professionals, or the trained. Unfortunately, there are many situations in which it is difficult or impossible to get any of the above. It could be due to personal inhibitions or logistical barriers to get the expert. It could also be financial inability or time factors. Some might be willing but lack the training. Others might be trained but lack the opportunity to practice. Many counseling matters do not necessarily require professional help. Just a basic understanding of counseling and initial diagnosis can help channel needy people to the appropriate authorities. In the context of a Christian community, this book sees these cases as a great opportunity to equip the laity. Already a classic since it was published back in 1991, this book is now revised and updated for a new generation.

Like a primer for lay counseling,  the authors begin at the call for all; that being called to be an encourager also implies some levels of counseling and caregiving. Counseling is a big part of pastoral care. However, just the words 'pastoral care' may put off people who are non-clergy. We mught want to simply say 'helping ministry' which is essentially where both Tan and Scalise come from. Experienced counselors and certified psychologists, the authors have a deep desire to move people from superficial levels of help to a deeper more meaningful level. This does not require individuals to have graduate degrees in mental health or some special clergy training. Instead, it gives an introductory appreciation about the basics of counseling and provides tools for the layperson to use. Some of the features in this book include:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Rebuilding the Foundations" (John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Rebuilding the Foundations: Social Relationships in Ancient Scripture and Contemporary Culture
AUTHOR: John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (202 pages).

What do we do when the society we live in seems to be crumbling? It does not take much effort to find out about the growing rich-poor divide; the racial discrimination; the ethnic tensions; the financial scandals; the cry for justice in the midst of injustice; and so on. Many governments are corrupt or incompetent. People insist on their free choice without being equipped with how to choose. How did we ever get to this point? In the midst of choices and multiple options, what are the primary matters we should be focused on? What does it take to address the moral decays happening all around us? As the social structures of the world appear to go from bad to worse, people are in need of a return to the foundations that once make societies great. Instead of looking at the external solutions, the authors probe their own assumptions and human complacencies. Specifically, they use Jonathan Haidt's moral foundation theory that uncovers six moral foundations:
  • Care vs Harm;
  • Fairness vs Cheating;
  • Liberty vs Oppression;
  • Loyalty vs Betrayal;
  • Authority vs Subversion;
  • Sanctity vs Degradation.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Letting Go" (David T. Harvey and Paul Byron Gilbert)

TITLE: Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls
AUTHOR: David T. Harvey and Paul Byron Gilbert
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (192 pages).

You've tried your best. You've gone over and beyond your call of duty. You've ran the second mile, gave till it hurt, and turned the other cheek. Yet the one you loved had turned away and left you. What then do you do? Answer: Learn to let go. The parable of the Prodigal Son is one classic story to bring us into what the loving father felt at the time when he needed to let go. For some of us, the biblical story remained a story until it hits home up close and personal. Questions would fly at us fast and furious. What do we do with a rebellious child? How can we solve a relational problem? What do we do when someone doesn't listen to advice despite our best intentions? According to authors Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert, we need to practice the wisdom of letting go without losing hope. The two basic truth we need to acknowledge from the Bible is:

  1. This world is broken, and this leads to lots of pain and hurt;
  2. We need God's grace in order to move from despair to hope.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"No More Perfect Marriages" (Mark and Jill Savage)

TITLE: No More Perfect Marriages: Experience the Freedom of Being Real Together
AUTHOR: Mark and Jill Savage
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (272 pages).

A real marriage is never perfect. It's simply two imperfect persons walking together toward being perfected. This is the key point of this book about marriage. Written by a couple who had faithfully practiced the popular list of marital advice, they still struggle through their marriages. They had spoken the various love languages. They had been intentional about communications. They have confessed their faith in Jesus and committed themselves to ministry in the Lord. They had worked hard on their relationships, with date nights and all the popular marriage formulas available in the market. Yet, for a period of time, their marriage fell into the pits. As people who have experienced what it means to be broken and humbled, they went through a personal re-education about what it means to be married. As they slowly climb out of their pits, they share with readers the seven fads of marital expectations. All of these have a common feature: They dilute the marriage slowly, by slowly fading hope, joy, and the beauty of marriage. These happen slowly but surely and early recognition could save marriages.
  1. Slow fade of Unrealistic Expectations
  2. Slow fade of Minimizing
  3. Slow fade of Not Accepting
  4. Slow fade of Disagreement
  5. Slow fade of Defensive Responses
  6. Slow fade of Naïveté
  7. Slow fade of of Avoiding Emotion

Friday, April 21, 2017

"This Changes Everything" (Jaquelle Crowe)

TITLE: This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years
AUTHOR: Jaquelle Crowe
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (160 pages).

Very often, people would think that only bearded individuals with white hair are the authors who could come up with wise words and reliable reading. We might presume that only adults are qualified to talk about adult matters. For things of theology and Christian living, we might even reserve the domain for scholars, theologians, great preachers, or popular pastors. This is one reason why this book defies such old paradigms. Written by a gifted 19 year old girl who simply has this pure love for Jesus, this personal journal of Jaquelle Crowe makes it a refreshing contribution to the way God can work through all individuals, including teenagers. Writing with herself and the teen in mind, she focuses on eight core themes with regard to how the gospel can transform the teen years. In Identity, she reflects on the Apostle Paul's life changing transformation in which he treasures Christ; devalues everything else; having faith in Christ alone; knowing Jesus; willing to suffer for Him; and becoming like Jesus. The gospel changes her life through this identity in Christ. Live for Jesus. On Story, Crowe begins with a description of her first movie, starring herself! Gradually, she confesses that it is only significant when she sees it being connected to the larger story.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The Arts and the Christian Imagination" (Clyde S. Kilby)

TITLE: The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics (Mount Tabor Books)
AUTHOR: Clyde S. Kilby
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016, (336 pages).

Throughout history, the integration of art, literature, philosophy, and theology is still a fascinating work in progress. As the saying goes, "A picture speaks a thousand words," what about imagination? What about letting a work of art express a thought that can be nuanced better with a picture, a diagram, or an image? A good piece of writing can heighten interest. A good piece of art can certainly move beyond words. Call it vision or imagination. It takes more than words or spoken language to capture the beauty of creation. As Helen Keller once wrote: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart." I believe art and imagination could orientate us in that direction. With Clyde's work and accomplishments as the focus, this book has been published by Marion E. Wade Center to introduce to us the thoughts and convictions behind the late Clyde Kilby. The writings are from Kilby, combed from both previously published and unpublished works. Each introduction has been made by those familiar with Clyde's thinking and writing. This book is the first of two that looks at art from a historical and cultural context. The second volume focuses more on Clyde's interactions with the works of CS Lewis and JRRR Tolkien, entitled: "A Well of Wonder: Essays on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings." All the introductions are written by William Dyrness. Keith Call does the heavy lifting of collecting and organizing the materials. These series of articles probes many issues. Here is a sample of some:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Welcome to College" (Jonathan Morrow)

TITLE: Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower's Guide for the Journey
AUTHOR: Jonathan Morrow
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2017, (416 pages).

Entering college for the first time is probably one of the most exciting time for young people. It could also be one of the most challenging and stressful periods. For Christians, there is another challenge: How to keep, let alone grow one's faith? The college environment is a place where many worldviews clash in a climate where there are more questions than answers. If untested, the unsuspecting believer might be unprepared for the onslaught of perspectives that threaten to derail their beliefs. What if there is a guide to help college bound kids prepare themselves? This is where this book comes in. There is no need to fear the challenges that are to come. Even in the midst of the many intellectual assaults, adequately trained believers would not just survive but thrive in the hostile filled secular environments. The author gives three initial pieces of wisdom to kickstart the discussion:
  1. We are not alone
  2. With freedom comes responsibility
  3. Don't take ourselves too seriously

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"This is Our Time" (Trevin Wax)

TITLE: This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel
AUTHOR: Trevin Wax
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2017, (240 pages).

One of the most common questions asked by Church-goers is about how they can live out their Christian witness in the world. How can they engage culture? How can they convey Christian hope to the world? What can they do about the modern challenges that culture presents? Answer: Now.

Now means seeing challenges as springboards of opportunities to let the gospel be the difference. It means knowing the difference between the gospel story and the world stories. It means recognizing our heart's deepest longing for truth. It means telling the difference between the lie and the light. Even as we do that, we need to be careful of two extremes. The first is the over-zealous 'lie-detector Christians' who focus all their energies on exposing lies and forgetting about the longing in the hearts of people. The second is the 'complimentary Christians' who simply play nice without appropriate confrontation against falsehood. Trevin Wax aims for the middle ground and shows us with eight examples on how to avoid being judgmental and too liberal.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Grace is Greater" (Kyle Idleman)

TITLE: Grace Is Greater: God's Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story
AUTHOR: Kyle Idleman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (193 pages).

Like the word 'love,' 'grace' has also become a much touted word in the Christian community. If familiarity breeds contempt, overuse breeds apathy, even sarcasm. As I pick up this book, I wonder what else is there to talk about grace? Are there things still left unsaid? Philip Yancey has famously described grace as follows: "Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less." Jonathan Edwards declares: "Grace is but Glory begun, and Glory is but Grace perfected." The famous hymn writer, John Newton puts it beautifully: "I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am." So what can author and pastor Kyle Idleman add to the overwhelming topic of grace? He begins by challenging us to see it as a new word. Using Hebrews 12:15 as the anchor verse, Idleman declares that the lack of grace is spiritually poisonous. Not practicing grace is toxicity in action. Yet when we adopt a life of grace, the rewards are immense. The three key focuses in this book is that grace is greater than our mistakes; our hurts; and our circumstances.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Meet Generation Z" (James Emery White)

TITLE: Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: James Emery White
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (224 pages).

We have heard of the various terms to describe the various generations. The Baby Boomers are those born between the years 1940s-1960s; the Generation X (born in the 70s-80s); and Millennials (born in the 80s-90s). Generation Z are the newest and youngest group, which is the focus of the latest book from prolific writer and pastor, James Emery White. He calls this generation the "First truly post-Christian Generation." They will make up to 25% of the entire US population and will play a major role in shaping the culture that is to come. This book focuses on what this generation is, its origins, its characteristics, and the need for the Church to re-think her approaches to engaging and interacting with this rising generation. This generation comprises a rising number of formerly churched people, aka, post-Christian. The key thesis of this book is that we need to understand the upcoming culture and its trend in order to reach them meaningfully. It is meant to complement White's two earlier books, Serious Times and The Rise of the Nones. The former is a wake-up call to the Church to rethink more seriously its approaches to an increasingly pluralistic, secular, privatized, relativistic, hedonistic, and narcissistic culture. The latter focuses more on the post-Christians group of people. This book continues the path of helping Church think more effectively about reaching this post-Christian culture and people. White describes some of the signs of this 'seventh age.'

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Your Next 24 Hours" (Hal Donaldson with Kirk Noonan)

TITLE: Your Next 24 Hours: One Day of Kindness Can Change Everything
AUTHOR: Hal Donaldson with Kirk Noonan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (176 pages).

Who would not like to change the world? Imagine for 24 hours, we would challenge ourselves with the following questions: "What if we were led by kindness and took our eyes off ourselves and focused on the needs of others? What difference could we really make?" This is exactly what the author had done way back in 1984. It was a life-changing experiment that begins with himself. It culminates in the setting up of a global humanitarian relief organization called "Convoy of Hope."  One good thought can lead to a good initiative. One act of kindness can spur another toward kindness to others. One decision to take our eyes off ourselves can launch a new movement of selflessness. Learning to help and to serve others can prove to be a very transformative and satisfying inside. For the author himself has been touched by someone who served his family willingly and sacrificially. The story of Hal Donaldson's family begins tragically with a knock on the door on that fateful August day of 1969. His parents had been in a car that was hit head-on by a drunk driver. His father died and his mum suffered serious injuries. They were then cared for selflessly by another family. Out of the tragedy of ashes rose a determination to be a force to change the world for the better. In one word, this book is about "kindness." It is about how it is not random but intentional; not haphazard but consistent; and definitely not selfishly but sacrificially. It is a humble act with a willing smile.

There is the story of Paul Walker of Fast and Furious fame, helping to buy a wedding ring for a returning soldier. We read of Kate Winslet of Titanic fame working to inspire girls in their self-esteem. Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame also takes time to visit sick children at a local hospital in between promotional appearances for films. Even the act of listening can be a manifestation of kindness. From Mother Teresa to Audrey Hepburn; Bill Gates to reality TV stars; Nelson Mandela to popular sports personality; Donaldson combs society with an eye for kindness, believing that if everyone takes just 24 hours to be conscious of people around them, and to be kind to them, the world will be a much better place than it is today, any day. Filled with stories from famous people about them doing kind deeds, this book not only gives readers a chance to look at their lives from their acts of kindness, but also encourages us to do the same in our own creative ways. Each of the chapters contain five tips for practicing kindness. The beauty of this book is that people do not need to be famous in order to be a star. We can all be stars to light up the world in the hearts of all people. Kindness is not a difficult thing as long as we are able to turn attention away from ourselves. The hurdle of selfdom is the single biggest barrier to us learning to live a more meaningful life. Here are some of the meaningful words from the book.


  • "Fulfillment doesn't come from exceeding others; it comes from elevating others.
  • Through your kindness, you can change your home, workplace, school, and community. 
  • There [is] nothing inherently wrong with wealth and stardom as long as you [don’t] use them to serve only yourself.
  • You become famous for kindness by investing your currency and being consistently selfless and caring.
  • Personal achievement brings temporary satisfaction; helping others achieve their dreams yields lasting fulfillment.
  • The more love you have for yourself, the more love you have to give away.
  • Make it a routine to look at your reflection and say, “I love the person God made me.”  
  • Kindness is simply helping others by doing what you can with what you have.  

Hal Donaldson is president and co-founder of Convoy of Hope.  He is a graduate of San Jose State University and Bethany University with degrees in Journalism and Biblical Studies. Kirk Noonan also works at Convoy of Hope as vice-president of creative communications.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"The New City Catechism Devotional" (Collin Hansen)

TITLE: The New City Catechism Devotional: God's Truth for Our Hearts and Minds (The Gospel Coalition)
AUTHOR: Collin Hansen
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

How can we grow spiritually? In most churches, they would list the four main methods of growth: Bible, Prayer, Fellowship, and Outreach. Others would put the need to go to Church regularly, and to serve in some capacity faithfully. Unfortunately, the results are not very encouraging. Some believers, having gone through all these conventional paths still find it frustrating when they feel they have not grown beyond their comfort zones. One way our ancestors have done is through catechism. Catechisms are short question and answer format that are meant for new believers, new members, and those needing a refresher course on the fundamentals of the faith. There are already many old catechisms published. Why then do we need another catechism?

According to author Collin Hansen, catechisms were written for three purposes. First, they outline a comprehensive exposition of the gospel. Second, they counter heresies and false teachings. Third, they show believers ways to be Christlike, both individually and as a community. These three purposes apply today. People today need to be reminded and refreshed about what the gospel is. They also need to be equipped against false teachings that continue to deceive and distract. They need to re-examine both old and new ways of becoming more Christlike. In this book, Hansen attempts to refresh the catechisms with 52 basic questions and answers. It can be used on a weekly basis over a year. It is based on the historical catechisms like Calvin's Geneva Catechism, Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and the Heidelberg Catechism. Hansen structures it as follows:

  • Part 1: God, creation and fall, law (twenty questions)
  • Part 2: Christ, redemption, grace (fifteen questions)
  • Part 3: Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (seventeen questions)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Watching TV Religiously" (Kutter Callaway)

TITLE: Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Kutter Callaway with Dean Batali
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (278 pages).

It has been said that watching TV is a great way to understand the cultural contexts of our day. Even in an age of online streaming and changing types of media consumption, the ubiquitous TV is still a major channel of audio-visual dissemination of information, news, entertainment, sports, and others. Current affairs inform minds. Science fiction and imagination influence futuristic thoughts. History educate minds. Through story-telling, TV as a medium can be used to communicate a tapestry of human thought and culture. For the Christian, it is wise not to consume these programs uncritically but to develop a thoughtful and theological mode of thinking, even as we watch such programs. How do we watch TV religiously? This question is explored using examples of TV programs both past and present. The three purposes in this book are:

  1. To outline a set of analytical tools for critical engagement with TV programs;
  2. To supply a process of theological reflection to articulate and perceive the movements of God
  3. To develop a theology of television for both celebration and critique.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Understanding the Culture" (Jeff Myers)

TITLE: Understanding the Culture: A Survey of Social Engagement
AUTHOR: Jeff Myers
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2017, (576 pages).

This book is the third of a trilogy of books about understanding the world we live in.  The first is "Understanding the Faith" which deals with a survey of Apologetics, about how we can share the faith with others. It helps us to understand the place of theology and apologetics.The second is "Understanding the Times" which deals with the various popular worldviews existing today. Not only does it help us understand the different religious and existing worldviews, it gives us a chance to appreciate the biblical Christian worldview more. This is the third book which deals with specific topics regarding culture. It deals with common needs that we encounter every day. Topics like:
  • Technology
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Value of Human Life
  • Sexuality
  • Marriage
  • Creation Care
  • Politics
  • Religious Freedom and Persecution
  • Poverty Care, Poverty Cure
  • Use of Force
  • Justice
  • Community Renewal

Friday, March 24, 2017

"The Good Book" (Deron Spoo)

TITLE: The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible's Biggest Ideas
AUTHOR: Deron Spoo
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2017, (400 pages).

In an increasingly impatient world, we often get challenged by the request: "Just get to the point!" This is a popular method to get us to come down to the very basic of basics. Unfortunately, it could be a challenge when it comes to the Bible. How can anyone get to the point about the sixty-six books of the Bible? Moreover, the Old Testament alone is already a huge amount to work through. Perhaps, the next best thing is to summarize big ideas of the Bible. This book attempts to summarize the beginning of the world; how the world fell into sin; making sense of God in the suffering; learning about what tough love means; the coming of Jesus; and what it means to live for Jesus, through Jesus, for the world.

This book makes the Bible a personal expedition for us to journey along and to find ourselves in the big story of God. It helps us move from Genesis to Revelation without being bogged down by the many chapters and verses. Many people do not read the Bible in its entirety partly because it seems impossible to read such a thick collection of books. Many of the passages are also difficult to read. Though the wisdom of old reminds us about the Power of the Word of God, we still fail to appreciate the Bible partly because we lack the rails to the whole story. Through forty selected chapters, it is hoped that this book will not only give us a gist of where the Bible narratives, teachings, and stories are heading, we are encouraged to read the Bible eventually. Like a mini-walk through the Bible project, this book contains an overview of some of the key ideas of the Bible. Key ideas such as:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Gospel Fluency" (Jeff Vanderstelt)

TITLE: Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life
AUTHOR: Jeff Vanderstelt
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017, (224 pages).

How can we speak the truth of Jesus into our everyday life? Being fluent is like the ability to communicate well in a particular language. The four basic language skills to measure competence are reading; writing; speaking; and hearing. As far as the gospel is concerned, this is what we all should strive to achieve, according to author Jeff Vanderstelt. He begins by declaring that all believers are in one way or another 'unbelievers.' It does not mean we do not believe. It simply means that there are pockets in various parts of our lives that we do not believe. That's the reason why we need Jesus. Using this fluency metaphor, Vanderstelt speaks gospel throughout the book. Whether it is flushing out unbelief or instilling greater belief, he passionately believes in the power of the gospel to heal and to reconcile people to God, and people to people. The gospel message begins right from Genesis and ends in Revelation. It deals with the creation of mankind and the fall due to sin. He describes the way God has spoken to us through the many people through history. The gospel saves and the salvation is through faith in Jesus.

From the gospel story, we learn about the Gospel in every one of us, that we all yearn for good news. In order to talk about the One we love, we need to be loved by the One who came to us. We need to watch our mind to know that it is the battlefield of many competing worldviews. Gradually, Vanderstelt shows us what faith in us can do to our lifestyles. By the fruits we will know the result of the gospel. Thankfully, we are not alone. So passionate is Vanderstelt about the gospel that he relates how he wishes he was a believer much earlier. Whether we are going through hard times at work or school; home or office; or any where else, we need to be reminded that Jesus is better that all of the solutions to them, combined. He talks about a gospel community who will do much better than to complain about their work or jobs. He challenges us to ask:

  1. How does the gospel speak good news into the situation?
  2. What about the gospel that we need to hear right now?
  3. What gospel have we forgotten?
  4. How is Jesus better than our wants?
By regular reminder about what Jesus means to us, we can learn gospel fluency. Like living waters, gospel fluency is about letting the gospel touch us in every way possible that we can live out the gospel in every way possible. Just like his previous book, Saturate, this book essentially continues the saturation process by creating a lasting vision in every one of us to be gospel-saturated in thought, word, and in deed. From beginning to end, this message is consistent. I read this book with an amazed WOW. Vanderstelt means what he says and lives what he writes. 


Jeff Vanderstelt is visionary leader of the Soma Family of Churches and Saturate. He is also the lead pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA. He has previously written books like Saturate. This latest book is his third. His website is at www.jeffvanderstelt.com

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Spirituality of Paul" (Leslie Hardin)

TITLE: The Spirituality of Paul: Partnering with the Spirit in Everyday Life
AUTHOR: Leslie Hardin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (192 pages).

We have all heard of the famous Apostle Paul, how he turned from persecutor to persecuted; from Judaism to Christianity; from Pharisaic behaviour to Christlike follower. He is a theologian, a disciple, and a powerful orator. He is a visionary who has "intense religious" experiences." Much have been written about Paul, his epistles, his history, and the many heroic descriptions of his life. The same however cannot be said about his inner life. What is Pauline spirituality? How is the Apostle's spiritual life? What can we learn from Paul with regard to Christian Spirituality or Spiritual Formation? Is there a way in which we can find out about how Paul lives in the Spirit? Are the epistles in the Bible sufficient for us to understand Paul's spirituality? Compounded by the fact that ancient writers seldom write about themselves, it makes the task of describing Paul's inner life more challenging. Moreover, the purpose of Paul's letters is more about God's will for the Church and for the people he had been called to minister to. In this book, author Leslie Hardin gleans most of his material from Paul's epistles and the book of Acts. The others comprise secondary sources, other scholarly works, and historical evidence. He looks at nine spiritual disciplines before outlining the six marks of Paul's spirituality. These nine disciplines are: