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The Life and Ministry of John Sung
The Life and Ministry of John Sung
by Ka-Tong Lim
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.00
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars John Sung - the man and the legend, December 30, 2011
This is a timely and much needed book in English on the biography of evangelist John Sung who played such an important part in the revivals in China and South East Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, John Sung is not well known or even remembered among the contemporary churches in Asia except for the few who actually met Sung and whose lives were changed as a result of that meeting. Even now six decades later, these people can remember Sung clearly and with joy, their remembrance of their encounter with God as a result of this meeting.

The last significant biography of John Sung was by Leslie Lyall which was written 50 years ago! Lim Ka-Tong's biography is a distinctive improvement with more new information from Sung's diaries and letters. Lim, presently a pastor in Texas, is a graduate of Singapore Bible College, Dallas Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary. In this book which covers Sung's early formative years, the short 12 years of ministry and his dying years. Significantly it covers the five phases of his life; water (reimmersion, 1927-1930), door (opening, 1931-1933), dove (time to soar, 1934-1936), blood (wartime spiritual warfare, 1937-1939) and tomb (pastoral years, 1940-1944).

Lim's book explores the impact of Sung's ministry in the context of prewar and wartime China and South-East Asia, the Chinese worldviews and Sung's own personal spiritual development. He does this by answering five questions:
(1) What shaped John Sung? How did John Sung become John Sung?
(2) In what ways did contextual elements contribute to the prominence of John Sung's ministry and his lasting influence?
(3) How did John Sung's ministry contribute to the growth and indigenization of Chinese Christianity?
(4) How did John Sung make such a great impact in so brief a time?
(5) Why has John Sung been slighted by historical scholarship, despite his pivotal influence on Chinese Christianity?

In this book, Lim has succeeded in helping us to understand this complex and driven servant of God. He shows us the constant struggle Sung had in his spiritual life and his `unconditional' surrender of everything to God. It is a hard lived life of seeking God and seeking his will in making choices. These choices including a life of comfort in the United States or poverty in China, ministerial `success' or itinerary wanderings, theological conservatism (fundamentalist) or liberalism, being a `Chinese' Chinese or a Western educated Chinese, and living a kataphatic or apophatic Christian spirituality. It is a result of these struggles that Sung was able to have such an impact in his ministry.

This is a highly readable and interesting book and a must for all Christians especially for those who want to appreciate the Asian and Chinese Christian heritage.

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
by Scot McKnight
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.01
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Salvation or Gospel Culture, October 25, 2011
Prof Scot McKnight is a theologian, proliferate blogger and writer who has published several books such as The Jesus Creed (2004) and One.Life (2010) which are worth reading especially for those who are interested in spiritual formation. In this latest (2011) book, McKnight put forward the thesis that the contemporary North American Protestant churches are stuck in a 'salvation culture' mode when they should be in the 'gospel culture' mode. Being in the 'gospel culture' mode will ensure that these American Christians become disciples of Jesus Christ.

The key to his argument is the definition of the gospel. McKnight defines the gospel as the good news of God's plan for a people of God worshiping Him in 'cosmic temple ' in Gen 2 to the 'new Jerusalem in Revelation. This includes fulfilment and completion of Israel in Jesus' coming, death and resurrection. The emphasis will then be also on Jesus as Lord and King in the kingdom of God in the post-resurrection era. He compares this to some understanding of the gospel as the good news for personal salvation. He attributes this 'salvation gospel' and its resultant 'salvation culture' to be the result of Augustine and the Reformation influences.

I find his distinction between the gospel announcement and personal salvation a little disturbing. And also the lower role of justification by faith he assigns in the gospel message. In his excellent exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, 20-28, he tries to separate them but instead of either/or, I wonder if it should be and/plus. The gospel message aside from the telling of the Israel and of Jesus should also include personal salvation and justification by faith. It will be useful if McKnight examines other Scriptures that explain the gospel message and share his thoughts on them.

I agree with McKnight in most parts but at times, I am left wondering at how did he arrive at his conclusions in others. It is a thought provoking book about our basic understanding of the gospel and salvation. Again as in many 'theological' discussion, I am left with a 'so what.' How does a gospel culture helps us to become committed disciples? Here, McKnight refers us back to his book One.Life. One.Life, like his Jesus Creed describes what we should do as disciples rather than how do we motivate people to intentionally become disciples. I believe that is the foundational question facing the church today. The debate about the gospel and salvation is a symptom rather than the issue. Christians know all about discipleship and following Jesus. The issue is how to get them to intentionally become one.

A Silent Action: Engagements with Thomas Merton
A Silent Action: Engagements with Thomas Merton
by Rowan Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.95
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9 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Archbishop and the Monk, October 25, 2011
What has the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican tradition has in common with a Cistercian monk from America? There is much in common between these two men who has never met face to face. This 2011 book is a compilation of various engagements of the Anglican theologian and the writings of the religious catholic in a series of lectures and journal articles over a period of time which was written by the Archbishop. I believed that Thomas Merton will be bemused if he is aware of the interest the Archbishop has bestowed upon him.

There is much to reflect upon in this slim book which reveals the spiritualites of these two men and their journeys on the contemplative path. During their journeys, they involved and engaged many other theologians into their dialogue which includes Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky. Mostly they have interacted with each other. What stands out in the dialogue is their conviction of God as the ground of their being and their commitment to the contemplative path as the journey in the silence of the soul from the false self or what Thomas Merton refers to as the 'delusory self image' to the real self.

A good read for fans of Rowan Williams and Thomas Merton.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2012 10:55 AM PDT

The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion
The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion
by Tim Challies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.33
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the Next Story, June 30, 2011
Pastor, author and blogger Tim Challies asks three important questions about technology. He deals mainly with the impressive development of the technology of the CPU, Internet and digital communication. The three questions are (1) 'if technology was somehow taking over my life', (2) 'if it was remaking me in its image', and (3) 'if it was making me a tool of my tools'. His approach to answering these three questions is systematic as he deals with the theory, theology and experience of technology in the areas of (1) communication, (2) mediation/identity, (3) distraction, (4) information, (5) truth/authority and (6) visibility/privacy. Though there is scope for a wider work, the questions by its design imply his personal experiences and reflections.

Whether we are in a post-digital explosion era or still in the digital explosion era may still be argued. The social media is still expanding and the next 'killer' apps may be just below the horizon. The digital revolution, for all its hype is still limited to a few prosperous countries while the majority of humankind is not able to read or write, least of all to use a computer.

Are we in the 'next story' is also open to debate. Technology does not change human nature, only the means for human nature to achieve their purposes. One would not call the era after the invention of the printing press which is the technology similar to the present digital revolution the 'next' story. It is still the continuation of the human story.

Challies' experience with the digital is an interesting read but is hardly representative. He was right that his book was descriptive but it contain just too much history and facts about the digital revolution. Unfortunately there are too many of such 'descriptive' books in the market. However I have enjoyed his 'prescriptive' and learned much from his suggestions for Christians in the use of the digital media. One idea that stands out his is suggestion that we become accountable for our blog postings. I have never though of that though I have accountability groups for other aspects of my life. The book will may be better if it is more prescriptive.

Challies asked three important questions that need to be considered. Will the digital technology enslave us, keep us in bondage and force us to worship idols. With respect to Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan, I believe that human nature has not changed since the time of creation. At present, we just have more toys to play with. We have in our human nature the propensity to addiction. Digital technology offers yet another thing to be addicted to. Living in another time, those who are enslaved and addicted to digital technology will have found something else to be addicted to. What has changed is the way we live. We have always multi-tasked. Most of us can walk and talk at the same time so it is not something new. What is new is that we can walk and talk at the same time with someone on the other side of the world with our mobile phone.

Allah: A Christian Response
Allah: A Christian Response
by Miroslav Volf
Edition: Hardcover
49 used & new from $3.99

60 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Seeking a Common but Shaky Ground, March 17, 2011
Using "political theology", Volf's main thesis is that the God of Christians and Muslims is the same. His approach is from that of a Christian but he is able to balance that with a few quotations from the Koran and Hadith. He argues persuasively that since "normative" Christianity's description of God's attributes is similar to "normative" Islam's description of Allah's attributes, therefore both religious traditions worship the same God.

When it comes to the issue of the Trinity (Muslims believe that Christians worship three gods instead of one), Volf brings in the masterful argument set forth by theologian Nicholas of Cusa (1401 - 1464) and that of Reformer Martin Luther. Volf gave a good summary of the explanation of Nicholas of Cusa of the Trinity to the Muslim so that there is "no dispute between Christians and Muslim about God's unity" (51). One part of his explanation is that "[n]umbers are for creatures. God is not a creature. Therefore God is beyond number - beyond the number one as much as beyond the number three" (52). It must be noted that Nicholas of Cusa came up with this ingenious explanation of the Trinity after the fall and rape of Constantinople in 1453 by the Muslim armies of Sultan Mehmed II and the Christians were trying to sue for peace. The argument by Martin Luther as explained by Volf was a bit confusing except that "the main emphasis of Luther's theology: God's unconditional love" (73). However it must also be noted that Luther's thinking was in the context of Sulaimen the Magnificent capturing Hungary and laying siege to Vienna. If Vienna falls, then the whole of Europe will follow. The Christians were again trying to find common grounds.

Having set the groundwork by appealing to Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther, Volf set forth to argue in the second half of the book that the common attributes of the Christian God and Islam's Allah are the same thus concluding that both are the same. All other points of differences are then explained under "eternal and unconditional love". Though I appreciate Volf's attempt to set a common ground for dialogue, and suspect his affirmation that "If Muslims and Christians have a common God, are not Islam and Christianity just two versions of the same thing?" (191), I am not comfortable with his approach.

As Volf himself has pointed out, the Apostle Creed reveals two essential aspects of Christianity - who God is and what He has done. One cannot explain away so easily the Trinity- God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit in one Godhead (Christians believe in one God, not three Gods). Also the work of Jesus Christ on the cross cannot be explained away by just using the term "unconditional love" without going into atonement and Jesus' words "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In the index of this 314 page book, there is only three references to Jesus' death on the cross.

The second sentence Volf's introduction chapter almost broke my heart. He writes, "Christian responses to Allah - understood here as the God of the Quran - will either widen the chasm or help bridge it (1). In Malaysia, the Christians have been trying to appeal against the government who wants to restrict the use of the word Allah to Muslims only. In one sentence, Volf gave away all that the Malaysian Christians have been fighting for all these years. Volf is aware of this issue in Malaysia (80-81). Allah has been used as synonymous with God by the Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) speaking Christians in Malaysia long before Malaysia became a country. Allah is an Arabic word meaning God.

This book is an excellent scholarly monograph in bridge building between two religious traditions. If it is from the Christian perspective, then one must be careful not to give away the basic tenets of one's faith.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2012 12:03 PM PST

What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters
What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters
by Philip Yancey
Edition: Hardcover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What is God good for?, January 17, 2011
Philip Yancey, journalist turned best seller author, is not one who is afraid to ask hard questions about the question of evil, why God allows suffering and why the church is failing its members. It is noticable that Yancey has matured in his thinking and beliefs since the days when he first wrote about Dr Paul Brand and then begins to ask searching questions about suffering, and describe his recovery from the trauma of his early church experiences.

In this, his latest book, Yancey not only ask questions but begins to provide some answers. "What Good is God" may also be rephrased as what "God is good for" as he searched for this God in a series of ten different scenerios. Each scenerios is followed by a talk which he gave to the people involved in these respective scenerios. Essentially this is a book about redemption. Redemption in the way people seek to redeem themselves out of bad situations, and redemption as a work of God. This may be found in his interviews and observations about victims of random violence in Columbine, sex workers in Wisconsin, the underground church in China, and reconciliation in South Africa.

I cannot help but feel that there is a sense of calmness and self acceptance in Yancey that is not so obvious in his earlier books. Whether it is due to his accident and near death experience or other reasons, only the author will know and I hope one day he will descibe his own faith journey.

This is a good book to read for those of us who dare to ask difficult questions about God and His Church, dare to admit our doubts, and question our sufferings.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
by John Piper
Edition: Hardcover
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Think?, January 17, 2011
This book by pastor-theologian John Piper reminds me of books on similar theme such as Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Os Guinness' Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, J.P. Moreland's Love Your God with All Your Mind and Gene Veith's Loving God with All Your Mind. These scholars and thinkers have written these excellent books (all of which are worth reading) based on their exposure to different worldviews and their effort to create or instill biblical worldviews.

Piper's approach is different in that he draws solely from the Bible and in that he limits himself mainly to Proverbs 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 2:7. He writes that his approach is that of a Bible expositor and in that he has succeeded because the book read like a series of sermons. Thinking is a serious aspect of discipleship, Piper suggests and that such thinking "is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all thing."

This book seems to be seeking a balance between the "anti-intellectualism" of some churches and "over-intellectualism" of the academia, However unlike his other books, I find it difficult to decipher what Piper is really trying to say in this book. While I agree with his emphasis on reading and understanding the Bible (which he equate to thinking) and his asserting that thinking is loving God, I find it difficult to apply his conclusion to the rest of the world who are mostly illiterate, do not have access to the Bible, and to the category of people who are intellectually impaired. And also in most of Africa, Asia and South America, most pastors and Bible teachers are not theologically trained. I refuse to accept that because of these handicaps, the Christians in these regions are defective in their thinking and hence not able to love God with their minds. I believe the power of the Holy Spirit transcend the inability of believers to read and write and that these inabilities do not handicap their relationship with the Triune God.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 28, 2015 4:17 PM PDT

The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide
The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide
by Gerald R. McDermott
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.94
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Primer on Great Theologians, January 17, 2011
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Gerald McDermott is professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia and a teaching pastor at St. John Lutheran Church. In this brief survey he introduces eleven theologians which he considers to have contributed significantly to the development of theology. These theologians are Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Friedrich Schleiermacher, John Henry Newman, Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

His approach is very useful. He first introduces them by giving a short theological biography about them, then highlights several main features of their theological contributions and then focuses on their main contribution. I find this very useful as a primer for non theologians and for people who wants to know more about theology but are afraid to ask.

The Emperor's Tomb
The Emperor's Tomb
by Steve Berry
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Between Confucian and Legalism Ethics, January 11, 2011
This review is from: The Emperor's Tomb (Hardcover)
There are not many novelists who can skilfully blend facts and fiction and come out with a storyline that is like a story and not a lecture. For historical military fiction, Steven Pressfield will be my choice. For contemporary thrillers, Michael Crichton is my favourite and since he is no longer around, Steve Berry moves up the list.

This 2010 novel has the usual clock and daggers stuff with violence that so saturate our reading and watching (television, movies, news). However, Berry makes the attempt to link the archaeology of the First Emperor of China, the eunuchs and the aspirations of modern day China. While dealing with men with power and political agendas, Berry makes some side comments about the history of China and its present day problems. And he also presented certain theories about the present China economy highlighting the unique Chinese tension with Confucianism and Legalism.

Oil is the reason countries goes to war today. Actually it is the fear of the running out of oil that leads to war. Biotic oil or fossil oil is what comes from dead dinosaurs crushed under high pressure. It has always been assumed that is the only source of oil and hence it can only be found in areas where dinosaurs used to roam. What if there is another source of oil, an abiotic oil than does not come from fossils but from the earth itself? The supply of abiotic oil will then be limitless and all countries do not have to depend on OPEC for their supplies of biotic oil. If abiotic oil exists, how is one to prove it?

This is another adventure involving Cotton Malone, a former Justice department field agent who retired to be a bookseller in Copenhagen. Booksellers live interesting lives in Coperhagen if Malone is an example.

A very good four star read.

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
by Lou Aronica
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.33
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Right Mix, December 2, 2010
This is an excellent 2009 book by Sir Ken Robinson on creativity, multiple intelligences and finding your passion which he defines as "the element". The element or our human potential is "where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together (p.8). Based on numerous interviews conducted by Robinson and his co-author Lou Aronica, this book is both a collection of success stories of people who dropped out of the education system and made good, and a subtle critique of the inflexibility and ineffectiveness of the education system. However, the authors did not specific which education system as they drew examples from both side of the Pacific. They seem to be aiming at a generic education system. (see Sir Robinson's lecture in TEDS).

Similar in essence to Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) by Malcolm Gladwell, the authors however argue that a passion for success is a combination of being in the element; doing what you like to do in the area you are talented in. While this true in the people they have selected for interviews (usually those who were miserable in school and those who dropped out), there are however two other groups of people which was ignored in the book. The first other group is school dropouts who did not succeed as spectacularly as those mentioned. The implication is that they did not succeed because they did not find their elements. The second group is that those people who stuck through school, graduate, get a higher education and are now pillars of society (clerks, lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc). The implication is that these people have not found their elements and are now unhappy in their lives.

While I agree some of the principles of many of the things the authors espoused, I believed their arguments are too generalised and giving it a label (the Element) does not make it better. Like Gladwell did in Outliers, these specially chosen interview subjects are chosen specially to provide their theories. However, what was obvious from the people interviewed in both books are their determination and perseverance to achieve their dreams no matter the cost. The lesson I draw from them is the indomitable power of the human spirit.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 6, 2012 10:55 AM PDT

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