Monday, November 20, 2017

BookPastor >> "Rhythms of Rest" (Shelly Miller)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 9th, 2017.

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TITLE: Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World
AUTHOR: Shelly Miller
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (224 pages).

A lot have already been written about the Sabbath but the need far outstrips the supply. What is the Sabbath? What makes this book unique compared to the other books? For author Shelly Miller, the first thing with regard to taking a rest is her mantra: "I Don't Do Guilt." There is no need to be guilty about taking a day off per week, or to rest where needed. Sabbath rest is about receiving a gift and not an excuse for guilt. While the world teaches us to rely on ourselves and our own abilities, taking a rest is in effect an acknowledgement that things will take care of themselves even as we rest. It requires surrender and deep trust. The way forward is not simply an obligation to force a weekly sabbath but to joyfully discover rhythms in which we can rest well. Sabbath is a gift. It is a reflection of God's creativity. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to others that rest is not only possible, it is beneficial. Miller goes beyond simply taking a break. Sabbath is a time in which we commune with God in an intentional space. It is an invitation to intimate conversation, unhurried by the hustle and bustle of the world. It is a way in which we say to the world: "You shall have no hold on me."

While the benefits are many, there are also myths and deceptions that threaten to derail our pursuit of Sabbath rest. That is why Miller spends time dispelling myths like doing Church as a form of Sabbath. She writes:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 2" (Tim Keller)


TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Continuing the excerpts from Keller's very wise take on secularism and religion,

Question 2: "Isn't Religion Based on Faith and Secularism on Evidence?"
Keller puts his finger on this common misconception and argues that it is not an absolute truth that secularism is a search for truth and empirical evidence. In fact, secularism has a profound level of dependence on faith that is often not highlighted. He argues that Christianity is both faith and reason. It is highly arrogant of secularists to insist that only their way of thinking is rational.

"Twentieth century thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ludwig Wittgenstein have argued that all reasoning is based on prior faith commitments to which one did not reason. . . .

For example, American philosopher C. Stephen Evans writes, 'Science by its very nature is not fit to investigate whether there is more to reality than the natural world.' Because science's baseline methodology is to always assume a natural cause for every phenomenon, there is no experiment that could prove or disprove that there is something beyond this material world. For example, there would be no way to empirically prove that a miracle has occurred since a scientist would have to assume, no matter what, that no natural cause had been discovered yet. If there actually had truly been a supernatural miracle, modern science could not possibly discern it." (Keller, 34-35)

"The Christian believer is using reason and faith to get to her beliefs just as her secular neighbor is using reason and faith to get to hers. They are both looking at the same realities in nature and human life, and both are seeking a way to make the best sense of them through a process that is rational, personal, intuitive, and social. Reason does not and cannot operate alone. Contemporary secularity, then, is not the absence of faith, but is instead based on a whole set of beliefs, including a number of highly contestable assumptions about the nature of proof and rationality itself." (41)

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Monday, November 13, 2017

BookPastor >> "Liturgy of the Ordinary" (Tish Harrison Warren)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 3rd, 2017.

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TITLE: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
AUTHOR: Tish Harrison Warren
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (192 pages).

Spirituality is not just something for the clergy or the spiritualists. Neither is it reserved only for the retreat centers and extraordinary circumstances. It is in fact very practical and can be implemented in ordinary spheres of life. It does not have to be difficult in terms of complicated rituals or requiring great theological training. Covering a 24 hour cycle, author Tish Harrison Warren shows us the way to instilling spiritual sensitivity through our daily activities. She helps us turn work into opportunities for worship. In doing so, she helps us avoid dichotomizing the sacred from the secular. She gives us eleven ordinary activities that we do going through the 24-hour clock framework. We begin with waking up in the morning after a night's sleep. She compares this with the act of baptism, how we are birthed from old to new. Each morning begins with dew of freshness. We see the world from this perspective and to realize that God is constantly forming us as new people each day to see fresh perspectives amid the routine and mundane. We avoid the tendency to cut out life and focus only on the exciting and sensational. Warren is convinced that theology practiced in the ordinary is essentially what the Christian life is about. Our ritual of making the bed reminds us that the things we do so regularly are habit forming. Just like many people whose lives have been changed by technology. They wake up and the first thing they check is their social media updates; their emails; or their messages from various apps. While convenient and fast, such digital devices have subversively lowered our tolerance for boredom. Just today, I read about the talk of a new law in France that gives workers the right not to connect or be contacted by their bosses during their break time. I think there is increasingly a need for some of us who tend to hog the digital waves. In brushing teeth, we learn about maintaining cleanliness and the way Christianity teaches the importance of caring for our physical selves. As we prepare to leave our houses, many of us drive. In our rush, there is always a chance of losing something such as our keys. We retrace our steps. We blame our carelessness. We get frustrated when the search is prolonged. Then and only then do we embark on prayer. It is a powerful reminder of how we take God for granted, leaving God out until we most desperately needed Him. We have such a patient and magnanimous God!


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 1" (Tim Keller)

Starting this week, I will be sharing a few excerpts from Tim Keller's recent book, "Making Sense of God."

TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

In New York, almost everybody seem to be talking about Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church. One reason for his success with many people, both believers and non-believers is his ability to connect with people living in a secular and skeptical age, yet maintaining his commitment about faith, hope, and God. Recently retired, he continues his ministry largely through writing.

Question 1: "Isn't Religion Going Away?"
Absolutely not. In a striking counter-observation of the presumed rise of secularism, Keller notes two reasons why secularism itself is shrinking.

"Why? There are two basic reasons. One has to do with the trends of retention and conversion. Many point to the rising percentage of younger adult 'nones' in the United States as evidence for the inevitable shrinkage of religion. However, Kaufmann shows that almost all of the new religiously unaffiliated come not from conservative religious groups but from more liberal ones. Secularization, he writes, 'mainly erodes . . . the taken-for-granted, moderate faiths that trade on being mainstream and established.' Therefore, the very 'liberal, moderate' forms of religion that most secular people think are the most likely to survive will not. Conservative religious bodies, by contrast, have a very high retention rate of their children, and they convert more than they lose.

The second main reason that the world will become more religious is that religious people have significantly more children, whereas the more irreligious and secular a population, the less often marriage happens and the smaller the families. This is true across the world and holds within every national group, within every educational level, and within every economic class. So, for example, it is not the case that always 'the more children, the better.' Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs has argued well that overpopulation and exorbitant birthrates are major contributing factors to world poverty. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think there is no opposite problem. Cultures that do not have a replacement-level birthrate die out as they are displaced by other populations and cultures. As Kaufmann and others show, the most secular societies are maintained through the immigration of more religious peoples.
...

It turns out, then, that the individualism of modern culture does not necessarily lead to a decline in religion. Rather, it leads to a decline of inherited religion, the sort one is born into." (Keller, 24-27)

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Monday, November 06, 2017

BookPastor >> "On the Block" (Doug Logan)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 30th, 2016.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "The Five Solas"

It's Reformation Day! Here are the five classic solas that have became the hallmarks of the Reformation. I enclose some brief thoughts from Matthew Barrett's

1) Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
"Without 'Scripture Alone' the other solas are in danger of being lost."

2) Sola Christus (Christ Alone)
"Christ Alone means we not only need Christ's death but His life as well."

3) Solas Fide (Faith Alone)
"Faith alone is not an exemption from good works."

4) Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
"Grace alone has just as much to do with the past as the present."

5) Sola Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God Alone)
"God's Glory alone is more than a salutation."

Let these thoughts reverberate and help us appreciate more of the powerful work of God through the Reformation movement.

Monday, October 30, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Reformation" (Stephen J. Nichols)

TITLE: The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
AUTHOR: Stephen J. Nichols
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007, (160 pages).

Most people remember the last day of October as the night to celebrate Halloween. It is a popular event where people wear costumes and kids dress up in cute attire out of fun. Going around trick-or-treating has become an accepted way of soliciting free candies and chocolates from neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, this "All Hallows' Eve" event has overshadowed a more significant event in Church history: The Reformation.

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther alone challenged the Roman Church establishment by nailing 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg. He was essentially forcing the Roman Church leaders to a theological debate, something that Luther had spent years analyzing, studying, and being convicted about. That day is now referred to as Reformation Day.

This book gives a very good overview of the effects of that day. It gives:

  1. Reasons why the Reformation still matters today.
  2. How Luther Inspired the German and Lutheran Reformation
  3. How Ulrich Zwingli Led the Swiss Reformation
  4. How the Anabaptists Rise Up 
  5. The Influence of John Calvin
  6. The Anglican Movement and the British Reformation
  7. The Puritans
  8. Others...
It is a delightful read, with lots of historical background of Luther and others, plus a list of powerful words from the reformation leaders. Nichols has also conveniently placed a list of texts, confessions, catechisms, prayers of the Reformation toward the end of the book. I must say, the Reformation is more worth celebrating. Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier teaching fellow. 

More information can be obtained at www.monkandmallet.com

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