Book Review: A Pastoral Rule for Today

As a pastor, I sometimes ask myself, what am I ‘really’ called to do? I do all sorts of things but what is the essence of my ministry? What defines my ministry?

We pastors wear many different hats everyday. We are administrators, graphic designers, social media coordinators, printing machine troubleshooters, property managers, social workers, hospital/school chaplains, professional comforters, preachers and so on.

But if we are everything, then what are we really? Because of such diversity of tasks, our view of ministry can become blurry and muddy. We can lose the sight of the crux of our glorious call. We can ask ourselves ‘Well, what am I meant to be doing’?

If you are asking these or similar questions, this book is a gem! Like an excellent tour guide, this book takes us on a journey to the ancient history. It gently guides us through ancient ways to pastoral ministry and on the way, it helps us to uncover and glean wisdom from ancient pastoral rules. The hope is that as we look at these ancient pastoral rules, we will come to see their true value in our contemporary world.

This book builds on the lives and work of figures such as Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, and Bonhoeffer and using their insights, offers a contemporary rule for today that is momentously advantageous for pastors.

This books needs to be read and re-read!


I thank InterVarsity Press for providing me with an advance copy.

Book Review: Write Better

book cover

Reviewing a book entitled Write Better A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality admittedly feels like a strangely overwhelming and incongruent task. If a young and unpublished writer has any business dealing with a lifelong editor’s wisdom it should be in having their book review my writing rather than letting my writing review their book! And yet I write anyway — and in this seeming paradox lies the heart of Andrew T. Le Peau’s work: for all its hard, slow, long work, writing is worth it, so here’s how to do it better.

As a writer, teacher, speaker, theologian, and editor with over three decades of experience Le Peau brings a rich and nuanced collection of tools to the table. This slather of experience works itself into the books three sections: (1) the craft of writing, (2) the art of writing, and (3) the spirituality of writing. The first focuses primarily on the nuts and bolts of getting words on paper: fitting structure, persuasion, drama, and creative and concrete practices for breaking the bonds of writer’s block. All this and rewriting… and rewriting, and oh, some more rewriting.

The second delves into the slightly more messy art of writing, covering rules to know and (at times) to break, guidelines for metaphor and when less is more. This section moves the reader towards a sense that writing is more than imbibing rules. It needs a person behind it, a person grounded in Christ. And thus we arrive at the last section, where writing is set forth as both spiritual gift and spiritual discipline. Here the various threads that have permeated Le Peau’s work pull together. All throughout the reader senses that writing is not a mere neutral task; it necessarily involves spiritual and moral realities. Whether it’s the ethics of plagiarism, of representing your material with truthfulness and integrity, or the reality of being an authority and being under an authority in writing, writing is a moral and a spiritual practice. And thus, it is not one to be taken lightly. And yet, for all Le Peau’s sobriety one comes away from Write Better longing to do just that, to write better. The book’s tone remains consistent: for all the possible pitfalls, writing is worthwhile and necessary. It is good.

The appendixes on creating a platform, working with editors and publishers, self- publishing, and copyright are worth the whole book for their insight into what, at least for an outsider, is a terrifying and mysterious world. And yet the choice to place them as appendixes is particularly helpful, for it appears to say, “You can’t worry about these things, till you get the most important parts right.” As such this book is a supremely useful addition to the bookshelf of anyone desiring to get those ‘most important parts’ right: the craft, art, and spirituality of writing.


I thank InterVarsity Press for providing me with an advance copy.

Book Review: Surprised by Paradox

paradox

Human beings long for a system of thought that can give clear-cut answers to our painful existential problems. Sometimes, we make our worldviews to be like a tight mathematical syntax which given a particular input, provides a particular output such as 1+1=2.

But we know in our human experience that life is much more complex and beautiful than simplistic mathematical equations. And If this is the case with human life, how much more is this true of our faith in the Godhead who not only created us mysterious beings but also this beautiful world which is full of beauty.

In Surprised by Paradox, Jen Pollock Michel wants to help us see that our faith has some room for mystery. This might make some Christians uneasy. But its worth mentioning that Michel doesn’t say that we don’t have any certainties in Christian faith but rather that while there are certainties in our faith, at the heart of the Christian story is also paradox.

She labours to help the readers understand that Christ Jesus bids us to embrace ‘and’ rather than ‘either and or’ paradigm. For her, the Son of God encourages us to abandon the polarities that we often tightly hold on to. For instance, she underscores that the reality of the incarnation (the beautiful paradox of God and human), body and spirit, heaven and earth, grace and law, life and death, suffering and joy compell us to hold onto tensions rather than easily resolving them by embracing simplistic synthesis.

The hope is that by clinging to paradoxes, our worship will deepen and we will come to see God not as an object that needs to be dissected but as the one who is complex, beautiful, and inexpressibly indescribable and worthy of our worship

In essence, Michel wants to help us enlarge our categories to include some room for mystery.

I thank IVP for providing me with a complementary copy of this book.

Book Review: Priscilla

Priscilla

Any careful reader of the New Testament would have noticed that Priscilla is one of the important figures in the early church. Her name is scattered throughout the NT writings especially amongst Pauline corpus.

But who is she? Do we know anything else about her? Many of us know her as the spouse of Aquila, Paul’s fellow-worker, or the woman who with her husband explained the essential elements of the faith to Apollos. But does this do justice to her whole story? Is there more that we might know, if so, what?

Ben Witherington takes on this challenge head-on to fill the gaps in the story of Priscilla by marrying excellent scholarship with imaginative storytelling. Witherington is known for his insight into the NT world. Thus, he is uniquely qualified for this task.

This work, Priscilla, is a historical fiction. In it, Priscilla looks back over her life and calls to mind the times of infancy of church. Through her flashbacks, we see her journeying to Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. Moreover, she narrates to us her story of partnership with St Paul.

This storytelling genre makes the NT world come alive to modern readers. Reading this book is like watching a beautiful documentary that gently guides us and speaks to us on gut level. This book creatively and cleverly teaches history, cultural phenomenons, structures of society and the early church in an unconventional form of storytelling.

Readers will greatly benefit from vivid storytelling that is mixed with excellent scholarship

The God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World

god-comfort

Imagine a book that’s part analytic theology, part trauma theory, part deep pastoral engagement, part Trinitarian theology, part gothic novel, and you might begin to skim the surface of the essence of Scott Harrower’s excellent book, The God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World. In a world filled with horrors and the traumas that they engender, Harrower seeks to understand how the Trinitarian God is at work healing shattered image-bears through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the Church.  

However, before addressing head-on the aching reality of horrors, this book begins by seeking to understand them first against the background of Shalom – the wholesome state that God created and intended for his image bearers in the very beginning, centered on and in perfect, personal relationship with the Triune God. This Edenic state was broken when humanity committed ‘ontological transgression – transgressing into being like God’ (p. 20).

Such transgression opened the door for the harrowing of horrors – a reality that Harrower provides an incredibly clear taxonomy for understanding, centering on the concept of horror being a movement from life towards death. This reality of the transgression of death into the realm of life leads to the experience of trauma, breaking image-bears in their creative, relational, and moral functions. A state from which there may be no recovery. This leaves trauma-survivors with theological, existential, and anthropological problems – blocking their ability to truly live into their identity as image-bearers.

How does the Triune God speak into this reality? He does through his ‘consciousness as he relates to and interacts with individual and corporate human minds/souls for the sake of forming beliefs and concepts that are true and helpful to them’ (62).

God reveals himself in this way largely through narrative – as the narrative of Scripture meets and works its way into our own narratives of trauma and redemption, and as we experience ‘shared attention’ with God – looking through his perspective together with him: ‘For readers of the Bible who want to know God, shared attention involves the reader and God being strongly aware of one another as they cooperate in reading a text together’ (63).

This meets a focus of trauma recovery methods, namely, a focus upon narrative, and in particular the practice of undertaking ‘trauma readings’ of texts. Harrower employs this method to masterful extent in his gothic-horror reading of Matthew’s gospel, both as an exercise in empathy for those who have suffered trauma, but also in order to push a trauma reading to its final (hopeless) end, thus revealing its limitations for trauma recovery. What other choices, then, do we have that both take the horror of trauma seriously in all its aching reality and pursue hope? Enter the blessed reading.

The Triune God seeks mind-to-mind communion with his image bearers and is through this capable of restoring their perspective – taking it from trauma to blessed. Harrower demonstrates this through a ‘blessed’ reading of the Gospel of Matthew, particularly noting how Matthew’s gospel, from the blessed perspective given by the Triune God, provides paths that may enable a survivor to regain safety, story, and community.  This continual use of the modal may throughout the book in regard to recovery stands out as wise and helpful in its ability to both hold fast to the real grounds for hope that survivors have for recovery through the work of the Triune God, but also remain realistic about the gutting extent to which trauma maims God’s beloved image bearers, and thus not be too quick to rush to triumphal solutions.

This book is one of the most stretching books I’ve read in the last year – academically, emotionally, pastorally, and creatively. I found myself having to think till my head ached about issues related to the problem of evil. At times I laughed with geeky delight at the working in of literary gothic-horror themes, even while being impressed at just how ‘fitting’ they were for the discussion. At least once I needed to put the book down to cry and pray through horrors that have touched my life and lives of those I love. So I warn you, this book may not be an easy read, but (my goodness!) it’s a good one. Highly recommended for pastors, theologians, practitioners working with trauma survivors, and anyone seeking to understand and live into the story of the triune God’s work of restoring Shalom to his shattered image-bearers.


I thank Lexham press for sending me an advance copy of this book

Book Review: Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament

Knowing God

As I sit here glancing over my Christian Standard Bible, one sad thing is starkly clear: too many people ignore the first 866 pages of the Bible (Old Testament) and primarily take their residence in the later 254 pages of the Bible. It is sad and hermeneutically disastrous. I will be as bold as to say that the New Testament cannot be rightly understood unless we understand the Old Testament. Consequently, Jesus cannot be properly understood if we hesitate pitching our tent in the Old Testament.

Christopher J. H. Wright has written Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament to encourage us to pitch our tents in the Old Testament on our journey to the great city of the New Testament. He wants us to see Jesus not as a random mixture of Gospel stories but as the Messiah who is soaked and deeply rooted in the Old Testament. In essence, Wright advocates against the butchery and severing of Jesus’ story from its historical Jewish context. He wants us to see Jesus as He saw himself to be. Particularly, Wright wants us to see Jesus as the divine Son who is sent by God the Father and empowered by God the Spirit to fulfil the mission that God commissioned Israel to do. Additionally, Wright wants his readers to really comprehend the radical continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament and to steer away from the simplistic ‘proof-text’ approach to the Old Testament. It is much needed book for our context.

This second edition builds up on the previous edition. New material include a new chapter on the divinity of Jesus. Further, questions and exercises are added to help the curious minds.

Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is written for general audience but scholars can also take advantage of this meaty book. Language used is not jargony or complicated. Thus, a lay-person can easily understand and digest the material.

Highly recommeded!



I thank IVP Academic for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Embracing Contemplation

contemplation

Evangelicals are very suspicious of contemplation. Many view it as an infiltration of Buddhism or New Age fuzzy spirituality into the church. So, they have remained uncomfortable and awkward about ancient contemplative practices. On account of this dismissal, many evangelical circles have found themselves experiencing spiritual poverty and incompleteness.

Embracing Contemplation seeks to address this issue. This book convincingly argues that evangelicals need to recover the lost treasures of their own tradition. John Calvin, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley had much to contribute on contemplation. Not only did they write extensively about this topic but also their lives were full of contemplative practices.

For these evangelical fathers, one of the crucial applications of Galatians 5:25 was to lead a life that promotes contemplation and spiritual formation. This work encourages, challenges, and spurs evangelicals to mine the spiritual gold from the scriptures and glance through the pages of Christian history to explore what it means to live ‘by the Spirit’.

Grounded in the word of God and the Church Fathers, this book attempts to keep the conversation going in order to recover the long forgotten practice of contemplation.

The editors, John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel, gather 13 different essays from 13 different spiritual formation scholars. This is a great strength because the various voices bring diverse perspectives that give specificity and richness to the conversation. Each contribution is unique and invaluable.

The essays are written in everyday non-lofty and non-academic language. Philosophical and theological jargon is kept to minimum, which is a great strength. All sorts of people can make use of this book. You don’t have to be a theologian or a philosopher to understand this work. It is simply accessible, readable, and timely for the evangelical world.


I thank IVP publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Leadership in Christian Perspective

leadership

Much needed book!

This book marries and intermingles the best of leadership theory with the best of biblical exegesis. Often leadership books are written from exclusively pragmatic notions that lead some Christians to be suspicious of the leadership theory project as a whole. In contrast, this book clearly steers away from any pragmatic notions. Instead, two sound scholars, one leadership theorist and another biblical exegete have joined forces to guide us and help us understand the leadership theory in light of the Biblical imperatives.

Justin Irving and Mark Strauss bring these two disciplines in conversation to each other. In the light of the scriptures, they explore different models of leadership such as transformational leadership, authentic leadership and servant leadership and helpfully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each theory.

The book is simply divided in ‘nine empowering practices’ that is exceptionally helpful for all kinds of audiences. Both students and teachers can glean wisdom from this work.

Leadership in Christian Perspective is for anyone who is interested in understanding leadership and leadership theories from Christian perspective.


I thank Baker Academic for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Pastor in a Secular Age

Andrew Root

What does it mean to be a pastor? When ‘secular’ people ask me about my vocation, I often feel lost as to how can I explain and justify the existence of my pastoral work. In our secular age, it seems that we have lost vocabulary, importance and essence of the pastoral ministry.

The Pastor in a Secular Age is written to help us understand and navigate the perplexity murky waters of the pastoral ministry in our secular age. Andrew Root, using the paradigm of Charles Taylor, masterfully explores the question of what does it mean to be a pastor in our secular age? Root attempts to dig the roots of secularism and its impact on the pastoral ministry. He does this by showing us the portraits of pastors throughout the history such as Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, and Martin Luther King Jr. etc.

After outlining the problems that secularism presses on the pastoral identity, Root offers an alternative vision for ministry which is less pragmatic and more biblical. He explores the Old testament and draws out helpful principles that can be life-saving in wading in the strong currents of secularism.

This book is for anyone who would like to understand and appreciate the complexity of the pastoral ministry in our secular world. At times, this book can be dense but mostly it is written in such a way that all kinds of audiences can benefit from this work.


I thank Baker Academic for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Grace Defined and Defended

grace

Grace is gloriously confusing. There is no question in my mind that grace is one of the most misunderstood concept of our faith. Most misunderstood yet most meaty and profound concept.

Grace defined and defended shines piercing clarity on this often perplexing topic. In this book , Kevin Deyoung expounds on sin, salvation and the sovereignty of God. He does this by giving us a theological tour of an ancient yet profound document called Canons of Dort. Deyoung masterfully uses this historically significant document to articulate, access and apply the doctrine of grace to the modern church. It helps the readers to understand the background as well as underscores what really is on stake. Having read this book, you’ll be encouraged in your walk with God.

This book is written in easy to understand language. Theological/philosophical jargon is kept to a minimum. Consequently, one doesn’t have to be a qualified theologian to read this book. That is to say, this book is for anyone who wants to grow deep in their understanding of grace and glory of God.


I thank Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.