About This Blog

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline" (Jeremy M. Kimble)

TITLE: 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline (40 Questions & Answers Series)
AUTHOR: Jeremy M. Kimble
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (272 pages).

What is the purpose of Church membership? Is it enough to just attend Church? Why should anyone bother about some official papers just to be a member? Biblically, we are already members of the Church of God, so why even mention Church membership? What about Church discipline? This book covers these topics in a Q&A manner, giving a broad range of perspectives and implications. It is divided into three categories of questions: Theological; Ministry; and Practical. The author's conviction of Church membership is this: Church membership and discipline is critical to the life of a Christian. Membership is about community and responsibility. Discipline is about authority and accountability. Kimble provides three basic reasons for Church membership:
  1. The Perseverance of the Saints is about community development
  2. The Church is the invisible spiritual community made visible
  3. The Church is a people in covenant with God to one another.
He also gives three reasons for Church Discipline:
  1. It's instructed by Scripture
  2. It is biblical love
  3. It facilitates the perseverance of the saints.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"ABCs of the Christian Life" (G.K. Chesterton)

TITLE: ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox
AUTHOR: G.K. Chesterton (Foreword by Peter Kreeft)
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2017, (256 pages).

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, otherwise known as G.K. Chesterton is perhaps one of the wittiest and insightful authors I have ever known. Immensely quotable, he is a master with words. He uses ordinary words that can nuance the different meanings in a sentence. With theological insight and literary prowess, Chesterton's gift of writing is showcased in this book of selected 26 words that describe the Christian life. Using the number of English alphabets as a guide, each letter or phrase corresponds to a key Chesterton wit; a historical thought; a teaching moment; a recollection; or simply a random thought. Some of the language used have also been updated for modern readers. Gleaned from his books, articles, and many published materials, the words are very much Chesterton's, the selection the publisher's. The interests are wide-ranging. There are topics on spirituality such as Asceticism; Apologetics as in Orthodoxy; historical figures in St Thomas and St Joan; reflections on literature by Charles Dickens; comparative religions; and matters for daily living. Bethlehem is a reflection on Christmas. The chapter on "Suicidal Living" is an interesting one. Instead of some predictable essay about some problem-solving approach to the issue of suicide, Chesterton pokes deep into the human psyche, wasted virtues, loose vices gone mad, and surprisingly, humility. It is humility in the wrong place. Whether it is wrong ambition or misguided thinking that leads one toward suicide. There is that chapter on Queen Victoria, the model of "political unselfishness" who shows us that restraint is power in action. The letter X is represented strangely by the word "Sex." Chesterton reminds us that it must not be allowed to be a tyrant. On his own faith, "Catholicism," he insists that it is not a Church sect but a "ecclesia," a way of thinking. A nice thing about Chesterton's writings is that even as he dives deep into some philosophical thought, he would come up with a summary statement like a swimmer coming up for breath in a long distance swim.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"God Among Sages" (Kenneth Richard Samples)

TITLE: God among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader
AUTHOR: Kenneth Richard Samples
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (288 pages).

Who is Jesus? Is he simply another religious leader like those of the other major religions of the world? Who does he claim he is? Is he God? This book sets out the facts and compares the various philosophies, religions, worldviews in this world of pluralistic thinking and beliefs. Author Kenneth Richard Samples asserts that Jesus is matchless throughout history in terms of his self-understanding; his identity; his way of life and consistency in teaching. Part One essentially deals with what Jesus talks about himself. Part Two deals with the lives and accomplishments of four major religions and then each is compared with Jesus. The four major religious leaders are Krishna (Hinduism); Buddha (Buddhism); Confucius (Confucionism); and Muhammad (Islam). Part Three goes beyond these four religions to cover a bigger sphere of the world's perspective on Jesus. This includes the different types of pluralistic beliefs; tolerance/intolerance; inclusivism/exclusivism; and many more. Simply put, this book is about understanding who the Person if Jesus is both to Christians, other religions, and the world at large. Though not all perspectives are covered, the selected ones represent a large proportion of the world.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"The Bible from 30,000 Feet" (Skip Heitzig)

TITLE: The Bible from 30,000 Feet: Soaring Through the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation
AUTHOR: Skip Heitzig
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017, (640 pages).

The Bible is the world's bestselling book. It has been read and revered through the centuries. Instead of multiple books of disconnected stories, there is a general narrative from Genesis to Revelation. Trained Bible scholars will be able to do many connections from the Old Testament to the New Testament. For the rest of us, we have to rely on teachers to guide us. Author Skip Heitzig is one such teacher. Sharing his wealth of knowledge about the Bible, this book is a bird's eye view of the whole thrust of Scripture. It is free from difficult terminology or technical details. Heitzig makes the learning interesting by using the metaphor of a plane. He begins with a flight plan where the facts are first laid out. He gives short notes on who the author(s) was, when it was written, landmarks of the expedition, and an itinerary or outline of the chapter. Along with this initial flight plan is an overview of the gospel's relevance to that particular book and some historical background.

The "in-flight" segment is the main part of the book where it becomes a mini-commentary. Heitzig describes the key characters; main events; significant stories; major themes; concise messages; and practical examples for modern readers. The chapters appear like mini-sermons that double up as an overview of the Bible book. The strengths of this book include:

  • Ease of understanding with a creative metaphor
  • Modern use of language
  • Big Picture Overview to help readers keep to the main message
  • Stirs up imagination about how we can design our own flight plans
  • Convenient reference book 

Friday, June 30, 2017

"One Dominion" (Paul Richardson & Bob Beasley)

TITLE: One Dominion, Celebrating Canada
AUTHOR: Paul Richardson & Bob Beasley
PUBLISHER: Grimsby, Ontario: Bible League Canada, 2017, (96 pages).

This year is a special year. It is the 150th year of the confederation of Canada, a nation that began with just four provinces, but now comprises ten provinces and three territories. It is also the second largest country in the world by land mass. Widely recognized by many to be one of the best places in the world to live in, the country boasts of many strengths. It is an economic power, a member of the G7 (now G8). It also has a strong banking system; is a reliable trading partner; one of the best education systems in the world; a leading advocate for human rights; resource rich, and proud multicultural nation. In 1867, the Dominion of Canada was formed with Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. By 1949, Newfoundland became the tenth province to become the Canada we have today. Canada only became a fully independent nation from Britain in 1982. To celebrate this momentous event, Bible League Canada and Graf-Martin Communications have come together to publish this special book.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"A Brief History of Sunday" (Justo L. González)

TITLE: A Brief History of Sunday: From the New Testament to the New Creation
AUTHOR: Justo L. González
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2017, (176 pages).

He has written about the history of the Church. He has also written about the way we interpret history, how history is essentially being re-written through re-interpretation. Now, the renowned historian has decided to focus on the topic of Sunday. He differentiates it from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) or the way the Seventh Day Adventists treat Sundays. There is no historical warrant to call Sunday as the Sabbath Day. Simply put, author and professor Justo L. González prefers to call it a "gift." Covering the periods from the first century to the modern practice of Sundays, the author painstakingly avoids describing the positions of either for or against Sabbatarianism, the practice of justifying Sundays as Sabbath days. For that, he points us to books by Samuele Bacchiocchi (for) and Willy Rordorf (against), which are formidable resources that argue for their respective positions. This book is about the history of this seventh day, also known as the Lord's Day in Christian circles. It is not about the Sabbath. Neither is it about the rituals of religious activities. Optimistically, González sees Sunday as pointing us to the "eighth day," the time in the future where we will rest, see, love, and praise.


Monday, June 26, 2017

"When Your Church Feels Stuck" (Chris Sonksen)

TITLE: When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer
AUTHOR: Chris Sonksen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (193 pages).

Who has never felt stuck from time to time? Ever felt like the Church has become somewhat stagnant? Even the most vibrant churches encounter periods of staleness. For churches that attempt to do everything, they enter into fatigue. After a period of trying to please everybody, one realizes that it is an exercise that is futile. Those who does anything and constantly keeping up with the church joneses will also experience dryness at some point. There is only so much that can imitate. Those who never tried to do anything will also feel stuck in indifference and lack of progress. Truth is, we all need to discover and re-discover our calling especially during such moments. From church planting to church revival programs, churches throughout history have grappled with the issue of growth and renewal. Perhaps, a good way to get unstuck is to begin by asking some hard and honest questions like what author and pastor Chris Sonksen had done. We need to reconsider what talents God has given us. We must stop making excuses and to embark on a journey of faith. Sonksen also maps out the six phases of church life. Phase One is about "Launch" where a new Church or ministry begins. It can be a Church plant; a new ministry initiative; or a new Church altogether. Money and resources are core requirements. Phase Two is "Utopia" where both money and resources are increasing, adding to the zest and vitality of doing church. Growth is rapid. Phase Three is "Whirlwind" where the numbers are increasing and the structures are gradually taking shape. More money, processes, and structures are formed. Phase Four is "Increase" where the mission and vision of the Church need greater clarity. Phase Five is "Merry-Go-Round" where activities are many but progress is few and far between. There is a certain sense of being stuck in mundane activities. Here, programs have overtaken processes. Phase Six is "Slow Death" in which the Church is in decline slowly but surely. Each stage comes with a checklist to evaluate oneself. Some of the more challenging stages would have more diagnostic statements. I think Sonksen is spot on in helping us see where we are first before we jump headlong into paths forward. Without a clear sense of our identity and phase of life, it would be foolhardy and hasty to strategize what we need to do. In fact, where and who we are will determine how we answer the seven questions below. The seven questions are:

  1. Mission: "What do we do?"
  2. Strategy: "How do we get it done?"
  3. Values: "What are the guiding principles we live by?"
  4. Metrics: "How do we measure a win?"
  5. Team Alignment: "Do we have the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction?"
  6. Culture: "How do we change the culture of our Church?"
  7. Services: "How do we match what we say is important and what we really do?"
These seven questions form the basis of this book that essentially tries to help us move out of our comfort zones or stuck places. This is where the fun begins, There are many practical exercises that Church leaders and members can do as a group. They could adopt the SWOT analysis to discover their sense of mission. The triangles of purpose-led; process-driven; and programs help us to plan our strategies. The values of what it means to do Church are helpful to paint a picture of what we stand for. Creating a new scorecard is something special for all churches to do. I would encourage that each Church do the same and not imitate others. The chapter on teamwork is valuable as it reminds us that Church needs to be as a team. I like the shaping culture which highlights how stories we tell; heroes we make; and things we celebrate; really define us. The last question about services pits tradition against transformation. I suppose the author means "traditionalism" which is different from "tradition" as described by Jaroslav Pelikan's famous words: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.

I'm sure Sonksen is merely using the popular disdain of the word "tradition." That said, this book has many fine practical points, especially on the checklists and guided steps to evaluate oneself and one's church. It would be profitable for leaders and concerned members of any Church to do a periodic review of one's Church, programs, and most importantly, their mission and vision. All churches need to sense what God is saying to them at any one point. This book is a great impetus to enable churches not only to become unstuck but to get back on track to God's Work and Word. I recommend this book for leaders and believers who want their Church not only to grow but to freshen up.

Chris Sonksen is pastor of South Hills Church, a multi-state, multi-site based in Southern California. He is also  and founder of Church Boom, a coaching platform to equip and enable leaders in ministry.

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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Becoming Curious" (Casey Tygrett)

TITLE: Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions
AUTHOR: Casey Tygrett
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

An elderly once said: "The older I get, I realize I don't have more answers. I have more questions." As our world increasingly gets more complex, questions have become the norm. Whether it is new technology or novel ways to doing the same thing, we need to keep learning, especially when more individuals are empowered to be creative and innovative. There are many different purposes of questions. The main use in this book is about cultivating and practicing the gift of curiosity. It is learning to comb the mass array of choices and information glut to pinpoint the necessary from the rest. Questions can sharpen our focus. It helps us ponder whether the status quo is worth preserving or not. These are "curious questions." Following that, author Casey Tygrett leads us through various ways in which we can put into practice such "curious questions"; what they are; how they look like; when to use them; and how it affects relationships; how it introduces tension especially when dealing with areas in our lives we are afraid to ask. Some tips for asking good questions include:
  • Being specific
  • Being clear about different uses of imperative and invitation statements
  • Being repetitive using different words and phrases
  • Being bold about uncertainly
  • Being humble
  • Practicing "quaestio divina" or divine questioning
  • ...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Worn Out by Obedience" (Ron Moore)

TITLE: Worn Out by Obedience: Recovering from Spiritual Fatigue
AUTHOR: Ron Moore
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (208 pages).

There is a difference between man and machine. One does repetitive work well but not the other. There is also one similarity: Both suffer from fatigue over time, albeit in different ways. In fact, while doing good works is noble and great, without rest and renewal, people do get jaded. It is only human. For Christians, it is a calling to do good and to live out the purposes of God as stated in Ephesians 2:10. Perhaps, the key is not in non-stop discharging of ourselves but a healthy rhythm of rest, work, and play. This rhythm is not some cyclical pattern that goes nowhere. It has to be guided toward growth in Christ. That's the key thesis in this book. In other words, the main reason why people are worn out is simply because they have gotten further from the Source of all strength and good deeds: God. For author Ron Moore, this book began as a series of sermons preached at his Church for over 25 years. He calls it "being in Ziglag," a phrase that captures the essence of being lonely and worn out in the wilderness of work. Moreover, a majority of Christians have stalled in their spiritual walk at some point in their lives. How do we deal with it? How can we prepare for it when it comes?


Monday, June 19, 2017

"The Courage to be Protestant" (David F. Wells)

TITLE: The Courage to Be Protestant: Reformation Faith in Today's World
AUTHOR: David F. Wells
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017, (240 pages).

The year 2017 is a milestone year for the Protestant movement. Since that momentous 95 theses nailed at the doors of Wittenburg, there has been unprecedented offshoots of Protestantism. Many modern denominations, independents, and non-denominational expressions had their roots in Luther's Reformation. Whether one is an Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, Evangelical-Free, Methodist, etc, it is important to remember the reasons for the 14th Century reformation movement. One of the main challenges to the Church is the impact of culture, something that the author David Wells constantly warns us about. He asserts that the agenda of the Church must always come from the Word of God. Unfortunately, the danger for the modern Church is that they had allowed culture to dictate the agenda. He calls it "sola cultura." He writes:
"In the rhythms of marketing, and the pandering to generational tastes, this agenda is often being lost. The agenda, in fact, is coming from the culture, from its consumers, from the world. In these churches it is sola cultura, not sola Scriptura. Unless evangelicals recover their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture and their willingness as a result to be different from their culture, their claim that Scripture alone is authoritative will remain empty, and their character will soon be lost."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"When Parenting Isn't Perfect" (Jim Daly with Paul Asay)

TITLE: When Parenting Isn't Perfect
AUTHOR: Jim Daly with Paul Asay
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017, (224 pages).

What is a "normal family?" Is it the one painted by TV shows like the Brady Bunch or My Three Sons? Can a family ever be perfect? We have often asked about why families are not as perfect as they seem, regardless of how hard we try. What if we abandon the search for "why" and focus on "how" to bring about a better family instead of a perfect one? This is where this book comes in. The promise in this book is about helping us deal with "truth and reality" in a manner that embraces our blessings and to empathize with other families struggling to do the same. Imperfection is a key recognition here. Those of us who fail to recognize this will tend to project expectations of perfection onto others. The question "How good is good enough?" is a good diagnostic. The author shares the story of Casey and Doug who despite the best Christian upbringing still ended up getting pregnant outside of marriage. Do we practice "resume virtues" (appreciating good throughout life) or "eulogy virtues" (appreciating good after death). If we emphasize character above achievement, we would most likely practice more of the former. We will never be good enough, so let us not put all our eggs of hope into the basket of earthly achievements. So what do we do when parenting isn't perfect?


Friday, June 9, 2017

"Asking the Right Questions" (Matthew S. Harmon)

TITLE: Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible
AUTHOR: Matthew S. Harmon
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017, (144 pages).

While most believers do not dispute the importance of the Bible, many however are uncomfortable about studying the Bible for themselves. Some may think they lack certain theological training. Others may claim to be mere believers who lack guidance. Still there are many who may have been Christians for a long time but for various reasons, are unable to have a personal Bible breakthrough. I have met individuals who had faithfully attended Church for years but still find themselves inadequate in leading a Bible study. Is it for lack of knowledge, lack of courage, or both? Still, there are people who tried to lead but the whole gesture seemed like a case of the blind leading the blind. The Bible is indeed a big book and can be quite intimidating, especially for younger believers. This is where this book comes in. Author and Professor Matt Harmon aims to do the following:
  • How do we figure out the big picture and the important ideas in the passages we read?
  • What is the context of the Bible?
  • What do we look for?
  • What is the Bible all about?
  • How do we ask questions of the Bible?
  • Specifically, what are the four simple questions to help us apply God's Word into our lives?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"The Old Testament is Dying" (Brent A. Strawn)

TITLE: The Old Testament Is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment (Theological Explorations for the Church Catholic)
AUTHOR: Brent A. Strawn
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (336 pages).

It all began at a Bible class the author was teaching. When asked about Old Testament references to Jesus' words, his class responded with a blank. People might have claimed to believe the Old Testament as canonical scriptures. Unfortunately, their lack of knowledge and interest are disconcerting. For some, they would even say that "Old Testament is dead." Author Brent Strawn lists four 'hard data' reasons why it is not dead but dying. First, many are increasingly religious, yet religiously illiterate. Using a Pew Research Center data, evangelicals and mainline Christians score poorly in their religious knowledge. They are not even familiar with the big stories or details of fundamental truths of the Bible or their historic faith. A majority (over 80%) do not even know about the Reformation! This is disconcerting because such basic things are not even recalled correctly. Not only that, in a secular age where it is becoming unpopular to talk about religion in public circles, even religious people hardly talk about their faith. The second concern is about sermons. Based on collections of best sermons, there is a trend that shows us most preaching focus on the New Testament (four out of five). Not only that, whatever Old Testament texts quoted are not dealt in much detail relative to the New Testament passages. Among Old Testament passages, most popular are the Psalms, Genesis, and Isaiah. There is a general preference for familiar passages too. It comes as no surprise that unfamiliar passages from the Old Testament are taken up by professors or scholars of Old Testament, so-called experts. Strawn has high praise for preachers like Walter Brueggemann who preaches often and brings to life OT passages. Third, the use of hymnody based on Psalms may look encouraging at first. On closer look, the way many hymns had been phrased is a misrepresentation of what the psalms mean in their original contexts. Some writers pick and choose the types of Psalms used and are not familiar with what the Psalms actually mean when taken as a whole. According to research from W. Sibley Towner, contemporary use of the Psalms in hymns tend to be selective and functional. It is more about what works rather than what the Psalms are saying to us today. Being selective of some also means being neglectful of others. Indeed, it is worrying when man tries to take God's Word and manipulates it to mean more of what man wants rather than what God means. Misrepresentation leads to misinterpretation, which in turn will lead to misapplication. Fourth, Strawn examines the Revised Common Lectionary, the supposedly last bastion of hope for a more even coverage of both the Old and New Testaments. He also finds several things wanting and imbalanced in what is supposed to be a balanced work. Some readings are easily omitted by users. Certain weeks are focused on New Testament readings and preachers often for various reasons choose New Testament passages from the lectionary.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You" (Tony Reinke)

TITLE: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
AUTHOR: Tony Reinke
PUBLISHER: Wheaton IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

If there is any one icon of our modern age, it would be the ubiquitous cell-phone. Not too long ago, we have credit card companies like American Express whose catchy advertisement says: "Don't leave home without it." Now, we cannot leave our homes without our phones with us. Some people would even drive all the way back from work when they realize they had left their phones at home. It has become our scheduler, daytimer, our work device, our home appliance, our online radio, our social media outlet, our camera, our notebook, our key way of communications, and many more. Yet, there are risks with regard to its use. This book demonstrates to us that there are at least 12 ways that we are being changed by this little device. Like a small rudder that turns a large ship, the little cell-phone can turn even the toughest human being. In the foreword to this book, John Piper declared that "smartphones are dangerous" simply because it can become an idol. The famous media critic, Marshall McLuhan asserts that technology, which includes smartphones are essentially extensions of oneself. Jacques Ellul warns us about the unpredictability of these new innovations while Oliver O'Donavan reminds us to be aware of the more important things BEFORE the proliferation of the smartphone. While some medical professionals may focus on the dangerous effects of radiation from the phone, Reinke looks from a lifestyle angle. Spurred by critical analyses from Oliver O'Donavan, Jacques Ellul, and Marshall McLuhan, the author approaches smartphones from a measured angle, not taking extreme views of either good or bad. Specifically, he asks: "What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?" He calls readers to re-examine the ways they are using the phone. He maintains that he is also writing for himself. That is true because the smartphones have affected most people on this planet. It is rare to ever find anyone without a cellphone these days.


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.

conrade

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