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Monday, February 27, 2017

"The Joy Model" (Jeff Spadafora)

TITLE: The Joy Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Peace, Purpose, and Balance
AUTHOR: Jeff Spadafora
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2016, (190 pages).

Is the pursuit of happiness a futile one? Is it really possible to have joy in an imperfect world? What about having a model to inculcate more joy? Is it possible to manufacture joy? Sounds a little artificial at first, but the author affirms it. From 2001 to 2006, he wrestled with discontent about the status quo and the need for something beyond mere busyness and spiritual activities. He shares about his personal journey, a wake-up call, an inspiring quote, and the background behind the start of the joy model. This 2x2 matrix is essentially a model between 'being' and 'doing.' Who we are determines what we ought to be doing. The 'being' represents the identity while the 'doing' represents the activity.

  • A Frustrated Believer is one who is low on understanding his 'being' and low in knowing what to do.
  • A Weary Worker is one who is also low in knowing his 'being', but perennially busy doing stuff.
  • A Heartless Hypocrite knows a lot about God and claims to have experienced God powerfully, but has no external evidence through good works
  • A Joyful follower is one who not only knows himself and has experienced God, he is also putting into action his talents and gifts for good works.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"The Mission of the Church" (various contributors)

TITLE: The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation
AUTHOR: Stephen B. Bevans, Darrell L. Guder, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Edward Rommen, and Ed Stetzer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017

What is the mission of the Church? Surely it is more than just setting up a mission department within the Church organization. It is also more than mere sending of missionaries to some faraway land. Others would say that all ministries of the Church have a mission, albeit in unique ways. What do we then make of the terms often thrown about like 'missional,' 'missio Dei,' 'missiological,' and the work of the Church? Knowing the plurality of opinions and perspectives out there, this book brings together five persons representing the different faith persuasions.

  • Stephen B. Bevans shares from a Roman Catholic viewpoint, the "Prophetic Dialogue" approach.
  • Darrell L. Guder shares from a mainline Protestant point of view, the "multicultural translation" approach.
  • Ruth Padilla DeBorst shares from a Latina evangelical view, the "integral transformation" approach
  • Edward Rommen shares from an Orthodox view, the "sacramental vision" approach.
  • Ed Stetzer shares as a North American evangelical, the "kingdom community" approach.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature" (Richard A. Taylor)

TITLE: Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis)
AUTHOR: Richard A. Taylor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016, (208 pages).

Compared to the Old Testament, more people find it easier to interpret the New Testament. The same is true for apocalyptic literature. Seeing this need for training and equipping, Kregel publishers have prepared a series of handbooks to assist readers on understanding, exegesis, and interpretation of difficult Old Testament topics. There are a total of six volumes covering the six genres of narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic literature. They aim to help us understand the principles of understanding and the methods for communicating and teaching. All the handbooks follow the six chapter structure:

  1. The Nature of the Genres
  2. Major Themes
  3. Preparing for Interpretation
  4. Interpretation
  5. Proclamation
  6. Summarizing the Process from Text to Sermon

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"The Altars Where We Worship" (Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Mark G. Toulouse)

TITLE: The Altars Where We Worship: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture
AUTHOR: Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, Mark G. Toulouse
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (225 pages).

It has been said of the Israelites who had left Egypt: "You can take Israel out of Egypt, but you cannot take Egypt out of Israel." This parallels the way Christians interact with the world. We can take Christians out of the world, but we cannot take the world out of a Christian. John Calvin once called the human heart as an "idol factory." The war against idolatry and the worship of idols continue to be fought through the centuries. In ancient times, we have the idols of Arianism, Dualism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, Dualism, and other deceptive philosophies. In modern times, we encounter more of the same in the form of individualism, consumerism, materialism, narcissism, and in the words of the authors of this book: "Altar-ization." While six different kinds of altars are mentioned, they all symbolized the reality of the world today: We are building altars faster and greater than ever before. This is troubling. More troubling is that we worship after what we built. Even the "religious vs secular" divide has an altarization bent. The key thesis in this book is that religions are not declining, but flourishing, albeit in different contexts. Authors Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, and Mark G. Toulouse propose six manifestations of such religious practices, sparking each issue with with a provocative question.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Making Marriage Beautiful" (Dorothy Littell Greco & Christopher Greco)

TITLE: Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You
AUTHOR: Dorothy Littell Greco & Christopher Greco
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2017, (256 pages).

Many people marry so that they could be happy. That is something that is furthest from the truth about marriage. While happiness is an important need, it should not be the key focus of a marriage. For author Dorothy and Christopher Greco, the higher reason is Christlikeness. The problem with many modern expectations about marriage is the presence of perfect expectations and the reality of imperfect people. In spite of these, there is hope. There is a chance to make difficult marriages not only bearable but beautiful. It begins by asking what kind of change we want. How are two persons who are so different going to live together? Are they willing to acknowledge their own weaknesses and brokenness? Do we need Christ only during times of crises?

We are urged to look back at our individual's family cultures to understand how our histories form our worldview and expectations of people. We need to avoid buying into cultural stereotypes surrounding male and female genders, and to shape our worldviews toward a Christlike one. See conflict as a struggle for growth. Reframe disappointment and anger as holy invitations to understand and to grow the relationship. By addressing anger appropriately, we can also avoid making five different responses to anger. Practice listening as a core skill in being a better spouse. Beware of unconscious addictions creeping into our lives. Learning to confess and to forgive are key relationship savers. Suffering despite all its negative connotations can have an upside. We can choose joy and we can move toward making marriage beautiful.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"Love Never Fails" (Hilda St Clair)

TITLE: Love Never Fails: A Journal to be Inspired by the Power of Love
AUTHOR: Hilda St Clair
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2017, (128 pages).

There are books that gives out information and there are books that inspire. What about books that not only inspires but invites us to journal along, even as a co-author of this special book about the power of love. Each love thought comes with a quote from a famous spiritual writer or a Holy Scripture, followed by an invitation to reflect and to contribute our thoughts on the following page. It makes readers think, ponder, and wonder about love by interacting with the wisdom sayings. Some books append a discussion guide or series of questions at the end of the book or at the end of each chapter. This book does the same at every turning of the page! This is essentially a journal that features words and verses from the Bible, Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Augustine of Hippo, and with other love quotes from non-Christians as well. There are also meditations on words from CS Lewis, Elie Wiesel, Paulo Coelho, Helen Keller, and more. With full colour and illustrations, this journal certainly takes the best of the visual and literary words to inspire us to do the same.

Readers (and journal-writers), can interact with the love thoughts and add in their own responses. I call this a spiritual journal that uses love as a starting thought and urges the reader to spread the love beginning with self. The way to really benefit from this book is to take time to read the passage, to reflect on the meaning and our own contexts, and then follow through on the questions and exercises that follow. You can check out a sample here.

 Hilda St Clair is a member of the Community of Jesus. She has previously written a similar journal that is based on Julian of Norwich's famous words, "All Shall Be Well."

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Speaking of Homosexuality" (Joe Dallas)

TITLE: Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity
AUTHOR: Joe Dallas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, (256 pages).

Homosexuality has become one of the most controversial and divisive issue this century. As more societies legalize same-sex marriages and impose harsh punishment on any forms of discrimination against homosexuals, it is becoming very risky for anybody to say anything negative about homosexuality. Witty politicians would be quick to praise gay rights and to march alongside pride parades. A lot of news media would pounce on any objections to the flaunting of homosexuality. Homosexuality has become mainstream, even as traditional understanding of biblical Christianity gets marginalized to the sidelines. As experienced by the author who used to identify himself as a gay Christian arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality, his turnaround has a nasty pushback from the very gay friends he formerly identified with. The very pro-gay parties he used to support has turned hostile against him when he no longer believe that homosexuality was ok. The major line drawn was this: "Is homosexuality a sin?" Say no and he would be welcome with open arms. Say yes and he would be branded a bigot, a homophobic, or some nasty adjective. Standing up against gay activists is a path very few people dare to nowadays. The challenge laid out in this book is this: How do we navigate our relationship with gay people without compromising on what the Bible say?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Old Paths New Power" (Daniel Henderson)

TITLE: Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word
AUTHOR: Daniel Henderson
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (272 pages).

It's another New Year and time to make new resolutions. It is also tempting to ask ourselves what is the newest, the latest, and the greatest to shore up our work or activities planned for the year. With regard to the Church and the Christian life, it is doubly tempting to incorporate fresh new ideas to renew or revitalize the community. Instead, this book stops us on such a track and forces us to examine old paths instead of seeking new ways. It makes us ponder at the tried-and-tested disciplines instead of relying on the latest and the most novel options available today. Two words sum up the old disciplines needed: Prayer and Bible. It is most timely and timeless. Timely because of the relevance to the needs of today; Timeless because it is applicable throughout the ages. By re-examining the tenacity of the faith and practice of the early Church. While many of us in the modern Church tend to pray in the context of ministry, the early believers minister in the context of prayer. The difference is stark because modern believers treat prayer as a means to an end and practice it only as a department of the overall ministry. This is all wrong. It should be prayer as the context of all ministries. The same applies for the ministry of the Word. This principle is taken from Acts 6:4 which is about how the apostles said: "will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

Monday, February 6, 2017

"The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words" (Chris Bruno)

TITLE: The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words
AUTHOR: Chris Bruno
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (160 pages).

The Holy Bible has a total of 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. How can we possibly summarize the entire Bible in 16 words? Unless of course, these words tell a story, explain a theological concept, or act as bridges to link all these books together. This is exactly what Chris Bruno has done. In choosing 16 key words, he manages to squeeze in the entire Bible narrative and paraphrases it into a small paperback. No easy task indeed. Following his earlier book "The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses," he manages to push himself to re-tell the story of the Bible in 16 words. The main purpose is to teach the Bible in a new way so as to spur learners to think and to consider the meaning behind the narrative. Bruno wants us to go beyond mere forests and trees, and to zoom in on the ropes that tie the whole picture together. These 16 words are the ropes, categorized under three themes. The first section is the Foundation where the author uses the word "The End" and "God" to bracket the beginning and the end. The second section is the Frame where we look at the "creation," "covenant," and "kingdom." The third section is the largest which is the SuperStructure that ties in eleven other key words, "Temple," "Messiah," "Israel," "Land," "Idols," "Judgment," "Exodus," "Wisdom," "Law," "Spirit," and "Mission." This is essentially biblical theology made simple.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Is Justice Possible" (J. Paul Nyquist)

TITLE: Is Justice Possible?: The Elusive Pursuit of What is Right
AUTHOR: J. Paul Nyquist
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (176 pages).

What is legal is not necessarily right. What is right is not necessarily protected by the law. Put it another way, just because we have a legal system does not mean we have a justice system With startling stories of unfair imprisonment, abuse of power, lopsided punishment, and lack of fairness in meting out the punishment, we are reminded once again how elusive justice is even in societies that pride themselves about their premier justice systems. Petty crimes get crushing punishments. Suspicions are tied more to skin colour rather than the evidence of the crime. Wrongful convictions get overturned without much compensation. It is entirely human to crave justice for we are born with that inner desire to seek fairness. Distinguishing between social justice and legal justice, author Paul Nyquist focuses on the latter mainly because it tends to be more neglected. He also limits his description to the American scene and seeks to give a Christian response. With the big picture about possibilities surrounding the issue of legal justice, readers can use four key questions to probe the main issue:

  1. What is Justice?
  2. Why is Justice Elusive?
  3. How Should we do justice?
  4. Will we ever see Justice?