Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Redefining Lostness" (Tim Keller)

Which brother do we see ourselves in the parable of the Lost Son? Keller redefines what it means to be lost.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"The elder brothers of the world desperately need to see themselves in the mirror. Jesus aimed this parable primarily at the Pharisees, to show them who they were and to urge them to change. As we said, the younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not. That's why elder-brother lostness is so dangerous. Elder brothers don't go to God and beg for healing from their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don't know you're sick you won't - you'll just die.

The younger brothers of this world also desperately need to see this. When we see the attitude of the elder brother in the story we begin to realize one of the reasons the younger brother wanted to leave in the first place. There are many people today who have abandoned any kind of religious faith because they see clearly that the major religions are simply full of elder brothers. They have come to the conclusion that religion is one of the greatest sources of misery and strife in the world. And guess what? Jesus says through this parable - they are right. The anger and superiority of elder brothers, all growing out of insecurity, fear and inner emptiness, can create a huge body of guilt-ridden, fear-ridden, spiritually blind people, which is one of the great sources of social injustice, war, and violence.

It is typical for people who have turned their backs on religion to believe that Christianity is no different. They have been in churches brimming with elder-brother types. They say, 'Christianity is just another religion.' But Jesus says, no, that is not true. Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness.

Our big cities are filled with younger brothers who fled form churches in the heartland that were dominated by elder brothers.  When I moved to New York City in the late 1980s to begin a new church, I thought I would meet many secular people who had no familiarity with Christianity at all. I did, but to my surprise I met just as many people who had been raised in churches and in devout families and had come to New York City to get as far away from them as possible. " (66-8)

Monday, April 24, 2017

BookPastor >> "Relational Children's Ministry (Dan Lovaglia)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 12th, 2016.

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TITLE: Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers Into Lifelong Disciple Makers
AUTHOR: Dan Lovaglia
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (272 pages).

As far as children are concerned, the Bible has been very consistent. The Bible has said in Psalm 127:3 that "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him." We are blessed to have children in our midst. I remember how children light up the mood in any room. At the same time, we need to look at what it means to practice Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Even in the New Testament, children are specifically told to obey their parents. That is one main reason for children's ministry. We want to reach children for Christ, to groom them to be God-fearing individuals, and to help them live a life honouring to God and to people. In the words of Dan Lovaglia, author and Director of Leadership Development at Awana International, children's ministry must be relational. He wants to equip leaders to move from "kid-influencers into lifelong disciple makers" and in doing so to help children do the same when they grow up. Such leaders include not only ministry workers, volunteers, and pastoral staff. Most importantly, it is about reaching and equipping parents by coming alongside them, supporting, encouraging, and guiding them. All of these are best done through relationships. With skill and care, Lovaglia helps us through three main stages.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Two Ways to Find Happiness" (Tim Keller)

Comparing the two sons in the Parable of Luke 15, author Tim Keller draws a parallel to the two ways of seeking happiness. One the rigid, diligent, and need for reward. The other shrouded in a posture of forgiveness and need for grace.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each acts as a lens coloring how you see all of life, or as a paradigm shaping your understanding of everything. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of the world, and of determining right from wrong.

The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day believed that, while they were a people chosen by God, they could only maintain their place in his blessing and receive salvation through strict obedience to the Bible. There are innumerable varieties of this paradigm, but they all believe in putting the will of God and the standards of the community ahead of individual fulfillment. In this view, we only attain happiness and a world made right by achieving moral rectitude. We may fall at times, of course, but then we will be judged by how abject and intense our regret is. In this view, even in our failures we must always measure up.

The younger brother in the parable illustrates the way of self-discovery. In ancient patriarchal cultures some took this route, but there are far more who do so today. This paradigm holds that individuals must be free to pursue their own goals and self-actualization regardless of custom and convention. In this view, the world would be a far better place if tradition, prejudice, hierarchical authority, and other barriers to personal freedom were weakened or removed.

These two ways of life (and their inevitable clash) are vividly depicted in the classic movie Witness. In that story, the young Amish widow Rachel falls in love with the decidedly non-Amish policeman, John Book. Her father-in-law, Eli, warns her that it is forbidden to do so and that the elders could have her punished. He adds that she is acting like a child. 'I will be a judge of that,' she retorts. 'No, they will be the judge of that. And so will I . . . if you shame me,' he says, fierce as a prophet. 'You shame yourself,' Rachel replies, shaken but proud, and turns away from him." (29-30)

Monday, April 17, 2017

BookPastor >> "Leading Kids Ministry" (Pat Cimo and Matt Markins)

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

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TITLE: Leading KidMin: How to Drive Real Change in Children's Ministry
AUTHOR: Pat Cimo and Matt Markins
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (176 pages).

How do we drive real change? What does it take to be a change agent in children's ministry? Is it about following the latest trends about children's work? Is it about trying to maintain relevance in a sea of changing expectations? Is it about attractive programs? No. It starts with being a change agent for God. In order to be change agents, we must first be changed. In order to be part of God's ministry to drive change, we must be transformed by God and be renewed in our hearts and minds. In order to lead kids ministry, we must be led. In order to be part of real change in ministry, we must be changed from the inside out. This is the key thesis in this book that aims to encourage and empower leaders and leaders to be in kids ministry.

We first need to get ministry right by recognizing that change is a process. It is not an isolated one-time event. We need to be clear about what we want to happen and what we need to do. It is about gaining perspective and to communicate it clearly to our co-workers. It is about gaining self-awareness. This can be facilitated with various tools to help us find our strengths and weaknesses. Leaders in Kids Ministry need to be empowered by senior leaders, something that this book also describes later. The chapter on "Running Toward Your Problem" is a crucial test of our willingness to face up to our challenges. Are we running away or toward? Are we humble enough to ask for help and feedback? Are we able to partner with other volunteers, senior leadership, parents, and others? Truth is, far too many kids ministry leaders do it alone. In order to reverse this trend, the authors propose nine steps toward healthy partnership.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Dramatic Celebrations" (Tim Keller)

Today, we reflect on the homecoming of the lost son, who repented and was utterly stumped by the generosity and graciousness of his own father.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"We come to the dramatic third and final scene of Act 1. The younger son comes within sight of the house. His father sees him and runs--runs to him! As a general rule, distinguished Middle Eastern patriarchs do not run. Children might run; women might run; young men might run. But not the paterfamilias, the dignified pillar of the community, the owner of the great estate. He would not pick up his robes and bare his legs like some boy. But this father does. He runs to his son and, showing his emotions openly, falls upon him and kisses him.

This almost surely would have taken the younger brother by surprise. Flummoxed, he tries to roll out his business plan for the restitution. The father interrupts him, not only ignoring his rehearsed speech but directly contradicting it. 'Quick!' he says to his servants. 'Bring the best robe and put it on him!' What is he saying?

The best robe in the house would have been the father's own robe, the unmistakable sign of restored standing in the family. The father is saying, 'I'm not going to wait until you've paid off your debts; I'm not going to wait until you've duly groveled. you are not going to earn your way back into the family. I am going to simply take you back. I will cover your nakedness, poverty, and rags with the robes of my office and honor." (22-3)

Monday, April 10, 2017

BookPastor >> "NIV Zondervan Study Bible" (Edited by DA Carson)

TITLE: NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover, Full Color, Free Digital: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message
AUTHOR: Bible Translated by NIV Translation Team with D.A. Carson as General Editor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (2912 pages).

This is an excellent Zondervan study Bible based on the NIV translation. With Dr D.A Carson as the general editor, more than 60 contributors from the evangelical world have come together to create a study Bible packed with study tools, maps, notes, color diagrams, and commentaries centered on a biblical theology. The 28 articles are written by well known persons such as Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Douglas Moo, Andrew David Nasalli,  Moses Silva, etc. Commentaries are drawn from experts such as TD Alexander, Craig L. Blomberg,  Richard S. Hess, Tremper Longman III, Mark Strauss, Douglas K. Stuart, Robert W. Yarbrough, alongside Regent College professors, Rikk E. Watts, V. Philips Long, and Bruce K. Waltke. With nearly 3000 pages of commentaries, notes, maps, pictures, photos, introductory material, and extensive footnotes, every page is filled with information for the avid student to ponder and to learn.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "The Prodigal God" (Tim Keller)

For the month of April, I will be sharing snippets from Tim Keller's excellent book, "The Prodigal God." Today, I am amazed at how Keller links the normal understanding of this parable about the two sons to the two audiences.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"Most readings of this parable have concentrated on the flight and return of the younger brother - the 'Prodigal Son.' That misses the real message of the story, however, because there are two brothers, each of whom represents a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.

It is crucial to notice the historical setting that the author provides for Jesus' teaching. In the first two verses of the chapter, Luke recounts that there were two groups of people who had come to listen to Jesus. First there were the 'tax collectors and sinners.' These men and women correspond to the younger brother. They observed neither the moral laws of the Bible nor the rules for ceremonial purity followed by religious Jews. They engaged in 'wild living.' Like the younger brother, they 'left home' by leaving the traditional morality of their families and of respectable society. The second group of listeners was the 'Pharisees and the teachers of the law,' who were represented by the elder brother. They held to the traditional morality of their upbringing. They studied and obeyed the Scriptures. They worshiped faithfully and prayed constantly." (7-8)

Monday, April 03, 2017

BookPastor >> "Conscience" (Andrew David Naselli and J.D. Crowley)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 18th, 2016.

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TITLE: Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ
AUTHOR: Andrew David Naselli and J.D. Crowley
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (160 pages).

It is not often that the Church talks about conscience, let alone sermons. What is the meaning of a "clear conscience?" How relevant is conscience for Christian living? What is the role of conscience with regard to Church unity? What does bringing our conscience under the lordship of Christ really mean? These questions are covered in this unique book about the inner workings of a person with regard to critical issues of life, relationships, and faith. In this book, authors Andrew Naselli and JD Crowley aim to bring back the topic of conscience to the Church, believing that such awareness will bring about greater church unity, empowers evangelism and missions, improves relationships, and minimizes misunderstandings among servants. It is also hoped that this book on conscience can even strengthen our spiritual maturity.

In chapters 1 and 2, the authors show us what conscience is and is not. In it, we learn that conscience is more than shoulder angels/demons. Animals do not have a conscience. Our consciences reflect the image of God and for us is very personal. Two simple principles apply. First, God is lord of conscience and second, we need to obey our conscience. The word conscience in the New Testament is "syneidesis" which occur 39 times in the Greek New Testament. It is used positively in two ways and negatively in six ways. Positively, it means being blameless and clean. Negatively, it means being weak, wounded, defiled, emboldened to sin, guilt, and seared. Conscience can lead us to witness, to judge, and to act upon. With such powerful links between conscience and behaviour, Naselli and Crowley highlights four challenges to be covered in the later chapters.

  • What do we do when our conscience condemns us?
  • What does it take to calibrate our consciences with God's will?
  • How do we relate to people whose conscience clash with ours? 
  • What about clashes between consciences and cultural differences? 


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Midweek Meditation: On Hope (J.I. Packer)

"Living between the two comings of Christ, Christians are to look backward and forward; back to the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb, whereby salvation was won for them; forward to their meeting with Christ beyond this world, their personal resurrection, and the joy of being with their Savior in glory forever. New Testament devotion is consistently oriented to this hope: Christ is 'our hope' (1 Tim 1:1) and we serve the 'God of hope' (Rom 15:13). Faith itself is defined as 'being sure of what we hope for' (Heb 11:1), and Christian commitment is defined as having 'fled to take hold of . . . this hope as an anchor for the soul' (Heb 6:18-19)." (James Innell Packer, Concise Theology, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993, 183)

"An ethic of hope pervades the New Testament. It is an ethic of pilgrimage: one should see oneself in this world as a stranger traveling home (1 Pet 2:11, Heb 11:13). It is an ethic of purity: everyone who really hopes to be like Jesus when he appears 'purifies himself, just as he is pure' (1 John 3:3). It is an ethic of preparedness: we should be ready to leave this world for a closer relationship with Christ our Lord at any time when the summons come (2 Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:21-24; cf Luke 12:15-21). It is an ethic of patience: 'if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently' (Rom 8:25; cf. 5:1-5, where the Greek word for 'patience' is translated 'perseverance' to bring out the nuance of stubborn persistence in face of pressures). And it is an ethic of power: the hope gives strength and confidence, energizing effort for running the race, fighting the good fight, and enduring the 'light and momentary troubles' (2 Cor 4:17) that still remain before we go home (Rom 8:18;15:13; 2 Tim 4:7-8)." (183-4)

Monday, March 27, 2017

BookPastor >> "You are What You Love" (James K.A. Smith)

This review was first published on July 4th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
AUTHOR: James K.A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (224 pages).

We worship what we love. Out of what we love, we worship. This relationship is tight and indispensable. It has implications for what it means to be human, and reflects what exactly we do want. Author and professor James K.A. Smith observes in the gospels how Jesus is more interested in what the disciples want rather than what they believe or know. Smith believes that many people have become stuck in Descartes-style of "I Think Therefore I Am" to the detriment of the lack of holistic living. Interestingly, he does not argue for less but more knowledge and learning that pulls together holistic living and learning. We need to cultivate a lifestyle of living and loving, of learning and labouring toward a model of centering our behaviour according to the heart of loving. Out of this identity arises our true motivation for thinking; for spirituality; for calling; for discipleship; worship; and spiritual formation. Describing the heart as our center of spiritual gravity, Smith also tells us that this goes way beyond the head. The virtues of love in the heart form our "erotic compass."  He believes that it is possible to acquire such virtues through imitation and practice. This book is about the latter that uses habit as the way to cultivate and to calibrate this compass.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Humility" (Richard Rohr)

"The only people who grow in truth are those who are humble and honest. This is traditional Christian doctrine and is, in effect, the maxim of Alcoholics Anonymous. Without those two qualities—humility and honesty—we just don’t grow. If we try to use religion to aggrandize the self, we will end up just the opposite: proud and dishonest. Humility and honesty are really the same thing. A humble person is simply someone who is naturally honest about their own truth. You and I came along a few years ago; we’re going to be gone in a few more years. The only honest response to such a mystery is humility.

Growth in the spiritual life takes place not by acquisition of something new. It isn’t like the acquisition of new information, which some call “spiritual capitalism.” In reality our growth is “a treasure hidden in a field” (Matthew 13:44). It is only discovered by the release of our current defense postures, by letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Then the inner gift lies present and accounted for! Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself. God could not risk giving truth to proud and power hungry people; they will always abuse it. Truth shows itself when we are free from ideology, fear, and anger." (Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, Crossroad, 2003, 120-121)

Monday, March 20, 2017

BookPastor >> "Slow Kingdom Coming" (Kent Annan)

This review was first published on June 22nd, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World
AUTHOR: Kent Annan
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (149 pages).

Just like the action movies, our busy lifestyles and activities that we do make us look like people constantly on the move. If we are not putting anything in motion, we may even be accused of idling. For believers who want to let their faith make a difference in their lives, the pressure is on to do something quick, lest we be accused of hypocrisy. If we open our ears and eyes to see what is before us and what is beyond us through the news and media, we will know that the injustice in the world far outstrips the amount of justice we see. Maybe, the bad news receive greater publicity than the good. There is so much to do that we do not know where or how to start. There are racial discrimination all over the world with the rich and poor often separated by privileges both explicit and implicit for certain people groups. There is human trafficking that despicably enslaves women, children, and vulnerable people. There is violence; violation of human rights; lack of basic resources; and immoral practices throughout the world. Besides that, there are needs closer to home, like the lonely people in our neighbourhood, people experiencing unjust treatment; and the ever growing rich and poor divide. How can we see God's kingdom come when the world seems to be heading toward greater brokenness? Where is the healing and the shalom of God? When we pray "Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done," where are the results? The key thesis of this book is that the most effective way to ensure the long-term development of developing societies is when we spend time and resources defending, promoting, and cultivating their freedom and their rights.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Lectio Divina" (Maria Lichtmann)

"For these early monks, reading became a technology of the spirit, part of the toolkit for contemplation. Reading was rhythmic; the monk would read a verse of Scripture, then 'sit' with it, pausing to reflect or pray spontaneously. He would resume reading until another word, phrase, or line would kindle the heart and imagination. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke gives a description of a person practicing the rhythm of lectio divina in a more secular context: 'He does not always remain bent over his pages; he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood.'  Lectio divina is the kind of reading that frustrates the urge to get through, to get anything, but instead places the reader in slow time, where all the moves are God's. A person doing sacred reading has to resolve to waste time, a terribly countercultural, counterproductive move in this media- and Web-saturated culture." (Maria Lichtmann, The Teacher's Way: Teaching and the Contemplative Life, Paulist Press, 2005, p22)

Monday, March 13, 2017

BookPastor >> "Student Ministry Essentials"

This review was first published on July 2nd, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: Student Ministry Essentials: Reaching. Leading. Nurturing.
AUTHOR: Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

Student ministry is crucial not only for the future of the Church but also for the relevant disciple needs of young people. All if not most of us will be a student. For the Church, whether it is a parachurch or a Church-based student ministry, the goal is the same: Equipping and Discipling the young to grow in Christ and to be effective stewards of God's gifts to them. Yet, the years in school are supposedly limited and brief. Apart from the busy academic work expected, there is also the challenge of balancing one's time and resources against the many competing needs and conflicting distractions. In a book that aims to reach, to equip, to lead, and to nurture student leaders, authors Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown have come together to share their knowledges and wisdom about practical discipleship development; leadership skills; partnership strategies; visions and dreams. The three big thrusts in this book are:

  1. To reach out to students and leaders by knowing their needs
  2. Toward inspired leadership with a knowledge of the culture, the environment, and the fit
  3. To nurture one another with a better knowledge of what student ministry is, means, and needs.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Midweek Meditation: Words by Ken Medema

Ken Medema (Musician)
Teach me to stop and listen,
Teach me to center down.
Teach me the use of silence,
Teach me where peace is found.

Teach me to hear Your calling,
Teach me to search Your Word.
Teach me to hear in silence,
Things I have never heard.

Teach me to be collected,
Teach me to be in tune,
Teach me to be directed,
Silence will end so soon.

Then when it's time for moving,
Grant it that I might bring,
To every day and moment,
Peace from a silent spring.

(Ken Medema)

Monday, March 06, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Wired Soul" (Tricia McCary Rhodes)

This review was first published on July 20th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age
AUTHOR: Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD
PUBLISHER: Colorado Spings, CO: NavPress, 2016, (216 pages).

Technology is now everywhere around us, with us, and following us. For many people, it is quickly rewiring our brains and changing the way we talk, think, travel, and traipse. While positively, we get more and better information in ways quicker and more efficient than ever before, there are negative consequences as well. People tend to remember less, choosing to let their phones and digital devices record or save all their personal details. They are more forgetful and less willing to learn the old school way. Many choose to simply Google their information, as if the first try is the answer to their questions. While finding content is easy, discerning is not so easy. Where are our reference points? On what basis do we decide which is right, which is wrong, and which is appropriate? We live in a technologically connected world. According to author and professor Tricia Rhodes, we are living in a "hyperconnected age." Contrasting her own carefree escapades in the past, she compares what it was to live then and now. Her children are digital natives but she is not. She calls herself a 'digital immigrant' and is poised to see how the digital world is changing not only the way we live but the people we are. Her key thesis is that our digital habits have direct link to our formation into Christlikeness. On lifestyle, we are asked what the first thing we do when we get up. On habits, we are asked about our reaction when we hear our phone beeps. On reading, how has our attentiveness be sustained in a world of WiFi and Internet connectivity? On prayer, how is our level of patience and waiting been changed? On presence, how have our ability to connect with people been affected? On information overload, we wonder why we are so tired in the first place. These and many more are the negative consequences of technology manhandling us and we allowing it free reign on our lives. This has let to our brains been re-wired by technology. A key discovery in brain plasticity research is that "cells that fire together, wire together." Such brain cells are fired up together when one uses technology. If that is the case, technology is directly influencing the way our brains function. Thankfully, we do not need to be sucked in by the technological whirlpool. Rhodes propose a way not only to counter the negative effects of technology but to intentionally work toward Christlikeness. She updates the spiritual discipline of lectio divina and applies them in this book for a technological age. Briefly, the four disciplines are:

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "What to do when Praying?" (Sister Wendy)

A Quote from Sister Wendy on Prayer


It is one of the most frequently asked questions: What should I do during prayer? How eagerly people long to be told the answer! For that would make me safe, well protected: I would know what to do! But the answer is of the usual appalling simplicity: stand before God unprotected, and you will know yourself what to do. I mean this in utter earnest. Methods are of value, naturally, but only as something to do "if I want to," which in this context of response to God means "if He wants me to." I may feel drawn to meditate, to sing to Him, or to stay before Him in, say, an attitude of contrition or praise.

But we cannot say prayers at all unless we know also the prayer of silence. In silent prayer, there are no words and hence no thoughts. We are still. This silence is nothing to be afraid of. Five or ten minutes, whatever can be spared. You are just there to stand in His presence and let Him take possession of you.

Whether you are aware of that presence does not matter. God is there, whatever your feelings, just as Jesus knew God was there even when He felt abandoned on the cross. What pure praise of the Father's love; to feel abandoned and yet stay content before Him, saying, "Father, into your hands . . . " We cannot sufficiently emphasize to ourselves that prayer is God's concern, and His one desire is "to come and make His abode with us." Do we believe Him or not? Of course, I can cheat. If I choose not to be there for Him (and since I am not yet transformed into Jesus, to some extent I always do protect myself against the impact of His love), then that is cause for grief. But it is creative grief. It drives us helpless to Jesus to be healed. We say to Him: "If you want, you can make me clean." But He answers, "I do want to --- but do you?" That wanting is ever the crux of the matter.

(Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer, NY: Harmony Books, 2006, p43-45)

Monday, February 27, 2017

BookPastor >> "No God But One" (Nabeel Qureshi)

This review was first published on Aug 17th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity
AUTHOR: Nabeel Qureshi
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (320 pages).

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Is Allah the same as Jesus? This issue costs a tenured professor her job and puts her seminary at the center of a controversy. For the rest of us, it highlights the confusion behind the differences and the similarities between Christianity and Islam. On the one hand, there is a lot of similarities in the Old Testament with the Quran. On the other hand, there are distinct differences in the theology of the person of God. As a convert from Islam, author and speaker Nabeel Qureshi has a personal interest in this one issue, partly because of his acute background understanding of Islam, and also because of his new found faith in Jesus. Having struggled with the differences between Christianity and Islam in a very personal level, he knows why and how people are confused about the whole matter. This book is his attempt to tell the differences between the two great religions and to investigate who God is. For over a decade, he has struggled with the issue, together with thousands of people he have met caught between the theologies of the two faiths. It is hoped that the book will not only clarify the differences but will enable us to pray more knowledgeably for the people caught between the two faiths.


Friday, February 24, 2017

"Lord of the Nations" - Regent College

I remember this song that was first introduced to me back in 2004 when I was attending Regent-College. Somehow, the song sticks and brings back fond memories of the beautiful journey through that little building under the green roof. Maybe, one of these days, I'll do a recording. Until then, the words alone are worth reflecting upon.

LORD OF THE NATIONS


O Lord of all the nations
You’ve brought us to this place
You’ve granted us each other
As symbols of Your grace
Like those who walked in darkness
We’ve seen the rising sun
A pilgrim path pursuing a holy quest begun

You purify our passions
You loose the ties that bind
You soften stony spirits
You lighten troubled minds
You enter our emotions
Untangle webs of pain
You touch us with Your finger and we are whole again

Lord be our friend and mentor
Whatever lies ahead
Your love is our refreshment
Your will our daily bread
Until we taste Your glory
Until we are made new
Within each one engender an appetite for You

O all-consuming fire
Come melt these hearts of stone
Lord wrestle with our spirits
Until You reign alone
Disperse us through the nations
Transforming grace to tell
And let this brief sojourning become our Peniel


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Hunger for God" (Sister Wendy)

Duccio's Painting on Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
A Quote from Sister Wendy on Hungering for God

Duccio shows us an image of prayer, of the need and the hunger for God. The apostles have gone into the city to satisfy their hunger. They emerge in a compact bunch, supporting one another, protected from the clear light of His presence by the fortress of the world, their own self-sufficiency.

Their hands are full, they clasp themselves, satisfied hands with the food of this world in their grasp. But the woman stands alone and exposed before Jesus. Her emptiness is seen not only in her hands, but in the most noticeable detail about her, which is the large empty pot on her head. 

She does not hide her poor human emptiness: she exposes it, but the exposing is to Jesus. She is a living symbol of our need for Him. She stands still, an image of the stillness we choose at prayer. But Jesus does not reach out His hand to fill hers. He does not come to her. Jesus sits by the well and asks her to give to Him: her need is met with demand - again, a moving symbol of prayer. God gives Himself, not obviously, not in terms tangible or visible, but in holy contradiction. It is in giving that we receive: we, us. Our prayer may seem all nothingness, all giving, giving of time, of energy, of struggle to be present. 

Jesus may seem to have only asked, not given. But that is how He does give. The woman went away, wholly changed, fed and renewed to her innermost depths. Yet she was given no water, no food. Jesus told her to draw her own water, and He revealed to her the shameful inner truth she carried. Yet this apparently merciless treatment was living water, was life, was communication of God at such intensity that there were no human terms in which the woman could see or judge what had happened to her. But she believed, and the whole city of her personality, her whole self, all she was and could become, believed with her.

(Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer, NY: Harmony Books, 2006, p39-41)

Monday, February 20, 2017

BookPastor >> "God Dreams" (Will Mancini)

This review was first published on Aug 18th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church's Future
AUTHOR: Will Mancini
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2016, (288 pages).

Vision is an integral part of Church. Mission is an outflow of the vision. Both go together but how can we make the process more effective and clear? Without clarity, how can any organization know where to go and how to motivate their members to fulfill the objectives? What is the purpose of its existence? Many people know the importance but lack the necessary tools and processes to clarify their vision and mission. Based on more than 15 years of experience, more than 500 churches, and over 10000 hours of work with church team facilitation, author Will Mancini makes vision sharpening as a key priority in this book. He lists three benefits for reading this book.
  1. Leading meaningfully
  2. Inspiring the community
  3. Focusing on God's vision
By honing on clarifying our Church's vision and direction, Mancini believes that Church Identity; Church Direction; and Church Story can be connected as one. The six parts of the book are:
  1. Restart the Conversation: of vision and dreams
  2. Discover Visionary Planning: visualizing the future
  3. Find Your Future: Adopt templates toward fulfilling the goals
  4. Focus Your Long-Term Vision: 
  5. Execute Your Short-Term Vision
  6. Lead with Freedom: personalizing the vision
(From Will Mancini's "God Dreams" Overview)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Why Do We Pray?" (Sister Wendy on Prayer)

A Quote from Sister Wendy on Prayer

I hope the famous Jesuit (St Patrick) did know, because the simplicity of prayer, its sheer, terrifying uncomplicatedness, seems to be the last thing most of us either know, or want to know. It is not difficult to intellectualize on prayer. Like love, beauty, and motherhood, it quickly sets our eloquence aflow. It is not difficult, but it is perfectly futile. In fact, those glowing pages on prayer are worse than futile; they can be positively harmful. Writing about prayer, reading about prayer, talking about prayer, thinking about prayer, longing for prayer and wrapping myself more and more in these great cloudy sublimities can make me feel so aware of the spiritual—anything rather than actually praying. What am I doing but erecting a screen behind which I can safely maintain my self-esteem and hide away from God?

Ask yourself: what do I really want when I pray? Do you want to be possessed by God? Or to put the same question more honestly, do you want to want it? Then you have it. The one point Jesus stressed and repeated and brought up again is, “Whatever you ask the Father, He will grant it to you.” His insistence on faith and perseverance are surely other ways of saying the same thing: you must really want it, it must engross you. Wants that are passing, faint emotional desires that you do not press with burning conviction, these are things that you do not ask “in Jesus’ name;” how could you? But what you really want, “with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” that Jesus pledges himself to see that you are granted. He is not talking only, probably not even primarily, of prayer of petition, but of prayer. When you set yourself down to pray, what do you want? If you want God to take possession of you, than you are praying. That is all prayer is.

(Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer, NY: Harmony Books, 2006, p33-4)

Monday, February 13, 2017

BookPastor >> "Dr Karyn's Guide to the Teen Years" (Karyn Gordon)

TITLE: Dr Karyns Guide To The Teen Years
AUTHOR: Karyn Gordon
PUBLISHER: Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2008, (320 pages).

This is a parenting guide for all interested in connecting with teenagers. Based on her experience with talking to over 200 thousand high school students across Canada, Dr Karyn Gordon has summarized her "inside-out" parenting approach to help us along. She lists the six keys to parenting teens as:

  1. Keeping the Big Picture in mind at all times
  2. Acknowledging and adjusting our parenting attitudes
  3. Understanding and communicating emotions
  4. Building our child's self-esteem
  5. Communicating effectively
  6. Establishing boundaries and providing structure.
First off is the big picture understanding. Key to all of these is the awareness of "inside-out" versus "outside-in" parenting. The latter basically focuses on what is developing inside the teens rather than what they teens are doing outside. This includes observing the reasons why they are doing what they are doing; the motivation; the sensitivity to their feelings; and the readiness to talk. Character development is more important than mere achievements. This means learning to identify positive traits and helping their self-esteem. Communications are important but right communications are even more important. Between authority and influence, teens respect the latter. Learn about the importance of their peers and friends. Choose to connect more than to control. Check to see which of the three kinds of learning they do best. Are they visual or are they more kinesthetic (learning by doing)? Or are they more auditory? Learn to focus more on learning styles and understanding their relationships.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Midweek Meditation: Sister Wendy on Prayer

A Quote from Sister Wendy on Prayer

Prayer does not depend on your natural capacity. What does depend upon your natural capacity is the kind of prayer, because it will be your prayer. But prayer itself is as simple as conversation between friends. No one would dare write a book on how husband and wife are to talk to each other - what topics are appropriate, what tone should be used - because obviously every marriage is different and goes through different phases. One of the responsibilities of any close relationship is that each person has to take seriously his or her need to talk, share, discuss ad love. And this need will continually be changing. In prayer the relationship is between God and ourselves. God is always the same, but each of us is completely different.

The essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God. What will God do? He will take possession of is. That He should do this is the whole purpose of life. We know we belong to God; we know too, if we are honest, that almost despite ourselves, we keep a deathly hold on our own autonomy. We are willing, in fact very ready, to pay God lip service (just as we are ready to talk prayer rather than to pray), because waving God as banner keeps our conscience quiet. But really to belong to God is another matter. It means having nothing left for ourselves, always bound to the will of Another, no sense of interior success to comfort us, living in the painful acknowledgement of being 'unprofitable servants.'

(Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer, NY: Harmony Books, 2006, p37-8)

Monday, February 06, 2017

BookPastor >> "For a New Generation" (Lee Kricher)

This review was first published on Aug 22nd, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

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TITLE: For a New Generation: A Practical Guide for Revitalizing Your Church
AUTHOR: Lee Kricher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (176 pages).

If you are reading this book, there is a good chance that you come from or know of churches trying to address the aging problem. Churches all over the world are constantly being challenged toward leadership renewal, engaging the young, and replacing the old. People don’t live forever and there will be a time in which the baton needs to be handed to the next generation. Provided there is a next generation. Are you doing enough to reach the next generation? Are we doing both church planting as well as church revitalization? Can we put in place a strategy to enable a church toward ‘perpetual church revitalization?’

For senior pastor of Amplify Church, it means developing a new generation church that has “attendees whose average age is at least as young as the average age of the community in which the church exists.” For Amplify Church that was founded in the late 1970s, by 2003 they had such a sharp decline that the less than 200 people in the church could hardly afford its monthly mortgage payment. They even needed to make arrangement with a bank to service only its interest! Most alarming was the rising average age of the congregation. By refocusing their efforts on becoming a new generation church, the numbers not only reversed but the church grew to an average weekly attendance of 1400 people. More encouraging is the average age of the congregation hovers under 35. This book is about the journey of Amplify Church, and how it takes a declining situation and turns it around to be a vibrant new generation church. It comprises five strategies:
  1. Adopt a New Mindset
  2. Identify the Essentials
  3. Reduce the Distractions
  4. Elevate Your Standards
  5. Build a Mentoring Culture

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Midweek Meditation: Sister Wendy on Silence in Prayer

A Quote from Sister Wendy on Silence in Prayer


There is a tendency today for people to say, with greater or less distress, that they have no time for prayer. What they mean is, that they do not have a peaceful hour, or two peaceful half hours, or even three peaceful twenty minutes. If that is the day God has given them, then He awaits their praying hearts under precisely these conditions. They are testing conditions, surely, but never impossible. Most of us can manage a ten-minute silence. It may have to be in the lavatory, or the bath, or the car, or standing at the station, or when the baby's just gone to sleep. But for most people it is possible. If you can spend it sitting quietly, I rejoice for you. But this concentrated time when you try to put aside all else and simply be there for God is the proof, as it were, of your desire to pray.

Take these times, poor crumbs of minutes, though they be, and give yourself to God in them. You will not be able to feel prayerful in them, but that is beside the point. You pray for God's sake, you are there for Him to look on you, to love you, to take His holy pleasure in you. What can it matter whether you feel any of this or get any comfort from it? We should be misers in prayer, scraping up these flinders of time and holding them out trustfully to the Father. But we should also watch out for the longer stretches we may be missing because we do not want to see them. Many things that are pleasant and profitable - television programs, books, conversations - may have to be sacrificed at times. But you will make this and any other sacrifice if you hunger and thirst for God to possess you, and this is my whole point. There is time enough for what matters supremely to us, and there always will be.

(Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer, NY: Harmony Books, 2006, p45-6)

Monday, January 30, 2017

BookPastor >> "An A-Z Guide to Biblical Prophecy and the End Times" (J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, & C. Marvin Pate)

This review was first published on March 27th, 2012 at Panorama of a Book Saint.

conrade


TITLE: An A-to-Z Guide to Biblical Prophecy and the End Times
AUTHOR: J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, & C. Marvin Pate.
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (512 pages).

This book  is one of the clearest and most concise dictionary and guide for anyone interested in knowing all things associated with biblical prophecy and the end times. It is literally packed with detailed descriptions of two very important but least understood topics for Bible readers today. It is more than a dictionary that merely explains each subject. It is simple without being bogged down with difficult technical words. Even the big theological words are carefully explained to guide the layperson along. The illustrations and the diagrams are included to enable the reader to appreciate the concept better. For instance, the 'Already-Not Yet' biblical idea of the kingdom of God has been clearly diagrammed with Christ's two comings. On top of that, the precious implications are also marked to hone in the meaning of the two ideas. Every prophetic book are explained. The most popular positions surrounding prophecy are carefully dealt with fairly, without the authors pushing through their own views. This is truly a work of scholarship that is fair and gives room for readers to interpret and to make their own judgment.

There are articles on people, places, prophets, positions, and many more. The work is also comprehensive in dealing with the end times. The various positions are explained and within each explanation, the authors carefully compare and contrast how they are different from the other positions. For example, in explaining the Covenant theology and the dispensationalist views of the end times, the primary emphasis is to ensure that the readers understand the terms fairly on its own merit. The views of Amillenials, Premillenials, Postmillenials, and so on, are openly given with the purpose of reminding the reader that there are more than one view to the same topic. Such a pattern is repeated throughout this book. Three eminent scholars wanting to share what they know about bible prophecy and the end times, have done it in a way that is clear, concise, and comprehensive. This is what a good dictionary and guide looks like. Hays, Duvall, and Pate has not only given us a powerful reference for all students of the Bible, they have demonstrated what good educators should do. I am amazed at by the breadth of information but also by the depth of research to each article. I highly recommend this work for Bible teachers, students, pastors, seminarians and laypersons.


Rating: 5 stars of 5.

conrade


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. All opinions given above are mine unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Midweek Meditation: On Interpretation (J.I. Packer)

"All Christians have a right and duty not only to learn from the church's heritage of faith but also to interpret Scripture for themselves. The church of Rome doubts this, alleging that individuals easily misinterpret the Scriptures. This is true; but the following rules, faithfully observed will help prevent that from happening." (James Innell Packer, Concise Theology, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993, 6)


  • "Every book of Scripture is a human composition, and though it should always be revered as the Word of God, interpretation of it must start from its human character." (6)
  • "Every book was written not in a code but in a way that could be understood by the readership to which it was addressed.This is true even of the books that primarily use symbolism: Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. The main thrust is always clear, even if details are clouded." (6)
  • "Each book had its place in the progress of God's revelation of grace, which began in Eden and reached its climax in Jesus Christ, Pentecost, and the apostolic New Testament." (7)
  • "Each book proceeded from the same divine mind, so the teaching of the Bible's sixty-six books will be complementary and self-consistent. If we cannot yet see this, the fault is in us, not in Scripture." (7)
  • "Each book exhibits unchanging truth about God, humanity, godliness, and ungodliness, applied to and illustrated by particular situations in which individuals and groups found themselves. The final stage in biblical interpretation is to reapply these truths to our own life-situations; this is the way to discern what God in Scripture is saying to us at this moment." (6-8)
  • "No meaning may be read into or imposed on Scripture that cannot with certainty be read out of Scripture - shown, that is, to be unambiguously expressed by one or more of the human writers." (8)

Monday, January 23, 2017

BookPastor >> "Organic Outreach for Churches" (Kevin G. Harney)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Feb 15th, 2012.

conrade


TITLE: Organic Outreach for Churches: Infusing Evangelistic Passion into Your Congregation
AUTHOR: Kevin G. Harney
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (196 pages).

In a clever play on the word 'organic,' Harney is able to compare and contrast what true evangelistic passions means. It is not simply a job delegated to groups that label themselves evangelistic committees or mission teams. Neither is it just sending money or promising prayers to a distant community of need. Those are essentially add-ons, or artificial supplements, or inorganically modified methods of outreach. In a nutshell, organic outreach is about infusing evangelistic passion in all ministries beginning with the leadership in any Christian organization. The need to obey the Great Commission needs to occur at every level, every domain, and in every heart of anyone who calls himself or herself a disciple of Christ. Harney writes passionately:

"The only way outreach will become a natural part of a congregation's life is when every leader and each ministry are gripped by a commitment to fulfill the Great Commission." (13)

Written in four parts, Harney aims to infuse such evangelistic fervour beginning with the HEART of the congregation. He then progresses to the MIND of the congregation by adopting 7 'simple mind shifts' and 6 'levels of influence' to mobilize the whole church.  Part Three is about the doing aspect through the HANDS of the congregation where one can utilize present inherent strengths as well as innovative approaches. Part Four provides tips and ideas about MOUTH that speaks for Christ through vibrant testimonies. To avoid being accused of mere theory only, Harney conscientiously field-tests his ideas with his local church, and 11 other ministry settings, with personal accountability groups. Moreover, this book was not written first. It comes 5 years later after numerous conference discussions and encouragement from friends and acquaintances.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Midweek Meditation: On Revelation (J.I. Packer)

"Christianity is the true worship and service of the true God, humankind's Creator and Redeemer. It is a religion that rests on revelation: nobody would know the truth about God, or be able to relate to Him in a personal way, had not God first acted to make Himself known. But God has so acted, and the sixty-six books of the Bible, thirty-nine written before Christ came and twenty-seven after, are together the record, interpretation, expression, and embodiment of His self-disclosure. God and godliness are the Bible's unity themes." (James Innell Packer, Concise Theology, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993, 3)

"What Scripture says, God says; for in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the Incarnation, the Bible is fully human and fully divine. So in all its manifold contents - histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else - should be received as from God, and all that Bible writers teach should be revered as God's authoritative instruction. Christians should be grateful to God for the gift of his written Word, and conscientious in basing their faith and life entirely and exclusively upon it. Otherwise, we cannot ever honor or please Him as He calls us to do." (5)

Monday, January 16, 2017

BookPastor >> "Christianity and Chinese Culture" (Miika Ruokanen and Paulos Huang)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Feb 17th, 2012.

conrade


TITLE: Christianity and Chinese Culture
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Miika Ruokanen and Paulos Huang
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010, (384 pages).
ISBN: 978-08028-6556-4

This publication is a collection of conference materials presented during the 2003 Sino-Nordic conference with the same name as the title of this book. Prepared by scholars, theologians, Confucianists and Christian contributors, this volume attempts to bring the best of 'human-oriented Confucianism' and 'religious vitalism of Christianity.' It believes that Confucianism and Christianity needs each other. The former cannot deal with the deeper religious needs of the Chinese people. The latter needs a proper understanding and appreciation of Confucianism in order to be relevant and be appreciated in the Chinese culture. More importantly, it shows how the Chinese authorities are opening up to the benefits of religion, and that religion is 'not harmful to society.' Instead, there is much good that Christianity can bring about in the social wellbeing of China. This represents a great opportunity for Christians to work with the Chinese people to bring about mutual benefits.

It attempts to cover three broad areas. Part One looks back at the traditional frameworks of Confucianism and Christianity in China. Eight Chinese scholars present largely conciliatory papers that emphasize commonness, similarities, and compatibilities between the Chinese and the Western cultures. There are similarities like motivation for moral good works, recognition of some kind of evil and original sin, similar attributions to a Higher Being, and inter-religious dialogues. Frequently, the Chinese scholars point to the positive missionary example of Matteo Ricci, who himself embraced Confucian values and ethics. Interestingly, according to one scholar, Christianity seems to be more favourably accepted than other religions. One paper talks about the religious conversions of Lin Yutang. When Lin finds a conflict between Chinese culture, Taoism and Christianity, he chooses humanism and leaves Christianity. Thirty years later, after recognizing the flaws and limits of humanism, he returns to Christianity. One particularly interesting paper is how folk religions, pragmatism, secularism, rationalism, influences the attitudes of Chinese people toward Christianity. Chinese culture has been both an influence as well as a limit to the spread of orthodox Christianity.

Part Two comes back to the present state of how the Chinese people (or scholars) perceive Christianity. There is a strong sense of seeing Christianity from the eyes of Chinese culture, rather than vice versa. In other words, the scholars continue to find common ground through 'comprehensive theology' by locating a 'mean.' The premise is that the mean of Chinese culture, and the mean of Christianity will intersect. It is still very much a 'balanced' approach that resembles the Taoist yin-yang philosophy. One paper offers much food for thought. In The Contextualization of Chinese Christian Theology, Yang Huilin argues that Christianity can be contextualized through language immersion, through humanities studies, through research into the present faith communities, and an understanding of what atheism means. For the West, atheism is antagonistic. For the Chinese, atheism is more of an 'indifference.' In response, Western theologians like Thor Strandenaes point out the 'counter-culture' nature of Christian theology.Wang Xiaochao gives 5 misunderstandings of Christianity made by the academic circles in China; namely, 1) misunderstanding the origins of Christianity, 2) Misunderstanding the relationship between Christianity and Roman Empire; 3) Misunderstanding the link between Christianity and Western philosophy; 4) Misunderstanding Christianity and the events in the Middle Ages; 5) misunderstanding Christianity and modernism.  Dr Choong Chee Pang, former principal of Trinity Theological College in Singapore gives a dual response. On the one hand, he commends Xiaochao for his concise identification of the 5 misunderstandings. On the other hand, Choong says that any misunderstandings less than a biblical foundation, will remain very much a misunderstanding. This is particularly illuminating. One very down-to-earth paper deals with the practical difficulties of people living in China. With the rise of pluralism in churches, the rising rich-poor divide in society, the materialistic, pragmatic, secular society, the challenge for urban Chinese is to find a sense of spirituality. Gao Shining admits that Christians who have 'strong faith' can overcome these challenges. Those who are interested in political and social place of Christianity in China will appreciate Li Quiling's paper which touches upon how the Chinese view religion in society.

Part Three looks to the future challenges. Deng Fucun's paper explains why 'conservative theological thinking' may not work as well as the three-self patriotic church theology. The key point is that Chinese culture prefers a middle ground, and any theologies that push to any extremes will be rejected in Chinese society. Of all the three parts, this final part is perhaps the most challenging because it pushes fundamental Christianity to the borderline (even over the line) of compromising the faith, in favour of cultural relevance and acceptance. While the West grapples between Christ and Culture, as far as Christianity in China is concerned, there is another layer: Christ and China.

My Thoughts

I have three reactions when I read this volume. Firstly, it is one of disappointment because diplomacy seems to come first, critical scholarship that we are used to seeing in academic circles appears secondary. The bulk of the essays tends to prefer diplomatic tact over critical engagement with biblical principles. Intellectual vigour is perhaps subservient to the higher purpose of searching for common grounds. A majority of the scholars seem to prefer the positive messages, even claiming that Christianity is not as contradictory as many people have thought. At least the responses by the European and American scholars are a little more engaging with alternative, even opposing views. It seems like the Chinese scholars themselves tend to toe the middle ground normally, and if forced to choose, they will tend to interpret Christianity from the eyes of Chinese culture rather than from biblical grounds. It takes the Nordic responses to bring out the non-Chinese perspectives.

Secondly, the representations are lopsided toward European and Chinese scholarship. Out of the 33 contributors, only 2 are from North America. Considering North America as a major world player, it is unusual for a work like this to be limited to Chinese and Scandinavian circles. Thirdly, this book presents many windows to help Westerners understand Chinese culture a little more. This point is perhaps worth the price of the book.

All in all, in view of the lack of literature and materials on Chinese culture and Christianity in the English language, this book is a welcome addition. In order to garner a wider acceptance, such sino-Christian studies need to be more global in outlook, and the interactions need to have a greater degree of biblical foundations. What about the Chinese diaspora? What about the re-integration of Chinese scholars trained in the West? What about Western expatriates or missionaries working in China?

My main critique of this book is basically this. The contents do not exactly reflect 'Christianity and the Chinese Culture.' I feel that a more accurate title is, "Christianity seen through the eyes of Chinese Culture." There is a place for diplomacy and tact. However, for any work to be academically rigourous, deeper critical scholarship and more alternative views are needed. Perhaps, the reserved manner of scholarship from the Chinese contingent is in itself a picture of how the Chinese approach life.

Ratings: 3.75 stars of 5.

conrade


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