Monday, September 26, 2011

Book: "Respectable Sins"

TITLE: RESPECTABLE SINS - confronting the sins we tolerate
AUTHOR: Jerry Bridges
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2007.

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
A sin is a sin. Unfortunately, the world tends to separate sins in terms of unacceptable and acceptable ones. The latter is what is called the 'subtle sins of behaviour.' Author Jerry Bridges first shot to fame with his bestselling book: "The Pursuit of Holiness." In this latest book, his concerns center around what is called 'respectable sins.' Here is his rationale:

"The motivation for this book stems from a growing conviction that those of us whom I call conservative evangelicals may have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own more 'refined' or subtle sins." (9)

Beginning with his chapter on 'ordinary saints,' Bridges defines sinful behaviour as the opposite of holiness. Anyone living in sin is not living a saintly life. Sin is the antithesis of holiness. Bridges main point is that what is 'respectable' to man, is 'reprehensible in the sight of God and deserving of judgment.' (22) We cannot downplay some sins from the perspective of man, and undermine the God's perspective.  Sin is like cancer. It is 'malignant.'

"Sin is a spiritual and moral malignancy. Left unchecked, it can spread through our entire inner being and contaminate every area of our lives. Even worse, it often will 'metastasize' from us into the lives of other believers around us." (23)

Proposing that the gospel is the remedy for sin, the author asserts that the gospel will motivate as well as energize one to deal with one's sins. One not only recognizes the sin, one will 'desire' to deal with it head on. Chapter Five talks about how the path to holiness is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. He proposes the seven directions in how to deal with sin. They are:

  1. Letting the gospel be applied in our lives;
  2. Letting us be dependent on the Holy Spirit;
  3. Recognizing our responsibility to obey;
  4. Identifying specific sins that are 'respectable'
  5. Letting Scripture into our hearts, and applying them;
  6. Cultivating prayer;
  7. Accountability to one another in Christ.
The Respectable Sins
Bridges gives a list of 14 'respectable sins.' They are:
  1. Ungodliness
  2. Anxiety and Frustration
  3. Discontentment
  4. Unthankfulness
  5. Pride
  6. Selfishness
  7. Lack of Self-Control
  8. Impatience and Irritability
  9. Anger
  10. The Weeds of Anger
  11. Judgmentalism
  12. Envy, Jealousy and related sins
  13. Sins of the Tongue
  14. Worldliness
The author begins his treatment by calling ungodliness as even more 'basic than pride.' In other words, 'ungodliness' is the root of all sins that are deemed 'respectable.' Anxiety is seen as the opposite of trust in God. The discontentment that Bridges is most concerned about is that pertaining  otheir 'relationship with God.' (71) It is reflected in how one responds to their lack. Unthankfulness is a condition of the heart that fails to recognize that everything is given and everything belongs to God. Pride's biggest problem is the ease of seeing other's fault but difficulty in seeing one's real fault.

When addressing selfishness, Bridges use 4 stages to measure: self-interests, how one uses time, how one uses money, and one's inconsiderateness. A lack of self-control makes one vulnerable to all kinds of temptations. Impatience and irritability are one's responses to 'unintended actions of others.' (116) One needs to use the biblical method of lovingly confronting the other person to correct in truth and in love. For anger, while it is an acceptable emotion, it can be sinful. Bridges, recognizing the complexity of anger, uses two chapters to talk about anger. Judgmentalism is one of the most 'subtle' of sins, and is a result of one trying 'equate our opinions with truth.' (141)

Envy, jealousy and other related sins come about because of one's tendency to compare themselves unfavourably with others. In sins of the tongue, the author uses Ephesians 4:29 as his key verse in tackling sins of the tongue. Finally, in worldliness, the author writes about money, immorality, and idolatry that is infecting the Church.

He sums up all the 'respectable sins' in his final chapter, and urges readers to adopt the following approach:

"Remember that our progressive sanctification - that is, our putting off sin and putting on Christlikeness - rests on two foundation stones: the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit." (181)

My Comments

I think Bridges has done a commendable job in writing this book. The sins that he has tackled reminds me of John Owen's classic work: "Overcoming sin and temptation." Though the book by Bridges is not of the same classic status as Owen's book, it gives modern readers a fresh start to tackle the real problem of sin. In fact, Bridges book is a good basic preparation to help the serious disciple of Christ to move toward a deeper encounter with God, toward the approach taught by John Owen.

Respectable Sins Discussion Guide: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
Discussion Guide
As a critique, I think Bridges has trouble trying to categorize each 'respectable' sin. The way he does it in the book, is quite different when one looks at the accompanying discussion guide here. In the book, Bridges devote 14 chapters to deal with each respectable sin. In the study, he condenses them into 6 study chapters. Even within the book's structure, there is some confusion with regards to how different some sins are from others.

Perhaps, sin in itself is related to the rest. While Bridges does a good job in explaining the individual sins, he has probably chewed off too large a chunk for himself to swallow, and for readers to follow. The main use of this book is to use it as a preliminary guide to stir one toward a more serious mortification of sin. It is important to use this book with an accountable group. That way, sin is not allowed to remain hidden from others.

"Respectable Sins" has a catchy title, and will appeal to the casual reader. It is only a start. One needs to move to advanced territory after reading this book. The path of holiness is long. It is treacherous. That is why one needs the help of God to become a saint of God.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Book: "The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage"

TITLE: THE TRUTH ABOUT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE - 6 things you need to know about what's really at stake
AUTHOR: Erwin W. Lutzer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2004.

The Truth About Same Sex Marriage: 6 Things You Need to Know About What's Really at Stake
There is a battle for the mindshare of the public going on right now. The issue of marriage appears to be the main thing. Yet, while divorces continue to be on the rise, and traditional marriages on the decline, many are clamouring for a wider acceptance of same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are accepting the same-sex union more as a 'right' rather than what is actually right. Erwin contributes this book to help Christians sort out the messy debates.

Beginning with a heart-felt plea for the Church to wake up, the author traces the origins of why the Church has largely adopted the stance of silence. Rather than being silenced by the public sentiment, they prefer to mute themselves. This is tragic. It allows the homosexual activists to parade their gay agenda openly.  The chief strategy of the gay agenda is essentially this:

"...make their lifestyle and behavior 'normal' in the eyes of mainstream America." (18)

The six crucial things that Lutzer wants to share are:
  1. The Church Must Speak
  2. We Must Consult the Bible
  3. We Must Remember the Generations Present and Future
  4. We Must Resist to Pressure Against Speaking Up
  5. We Must Act Now With Urgency
  6. We Must Seek God

My Comments
This book is an important voice to a much muted Christian community that fears an even greater division because of the homosexuality issue. What is previously sin is now called controversy. Soon, what is controversy will become a point of view. Then, what is a point of view will become a 'sacred right.' Eventually, if unopposed, the gay agenda will become mainstream. This is the reason why Lutzer writes the book. The Christian Church must speak up in truth, in love, and in earnestness.

I appreciate the way Lutzer highlights the dangers of a sleeping church. Lutzer has conveniently brought together a list of important points for the layperson to understand. By reading it, we counter the general flow of mainstream media which continues to turn people's opinions against the Church, or any Christian group that presents a different opinion from the gay agenda. This book is important, necessary, and may even save some.

If you only have time to read one book about the problems of same-sex marriage, read this book.


Monday, September 12, 2011

"After Shock" by Kent Annan

TITLE: AFTER SHOCK - Searching for Honest Faith When your World is Shaken
AUTHOR: Kent Annan
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011.

After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is ShakenThis is one of the most honest books that tackle the bull of suffering by the horns of honesty. Suffering is something not easily solved or answered. In a book that oscillates between mindful faith, and hurting doubts, Annan sensitively deals with issues of God, disasters, suffering, pain, faith and doubt.

In Part One, the author deals with the issue of 'confronting a crisis of faith.' It recognizes that disasters just happen. Being honest about it enables one to hold the reality of suffering on one hand, and maintain a semblance of hope on the other. The author verbalizes many of our concerns and wishes, by listing down a 'wish list for change.' Wishes like God being able to swipe away disasters before they happen; like God making life less painful than it is; like punishment for the wicked, and reward for the good, and so on. He ends this part by urging readers to learn to feel.

"I want to cry, because when I'm honest about sadness I'm able to be more open to joy. I want to cry, because maybe it will help me find God. Yes, that might be putting too much added pressure on the tear ducts. I want to cry if it helps me find extra strength for my small work toward justice. If we don't turn away, just like this may our tears flow as prayer and then as love." (73)

In Part Two, Annan demonstrates how disasters shake faith in a poignant manner. The Church he attends regularly is also in rubble. Not only is one's spiritual faith rocked, the physical building that represents religious faith is also among the rocks. Faith means to keep moving despite the shocks and after shocks. He notes that after the earthquake in Haiti, one visible trend is the increase in marriages. Under normal circumstances, people marry only when they have enough money. After an earthquake, when everyone is equally lost and poor, people marry without guilt of not accumulating enough riches. In Annan's view, such a rush to marry is one way of establishing 'stability and commitment in a shaky world.'

My Comments
This book looks more like a lament rather than a how-to-relief book on suffering. Each chapter has a verse from a lament psalm: Ps 13. It is a meditation on the author's experience of the earthquake in Haiti and how he weaves in faith and doubt amid the suffering he sees and feels. It takes a physical earthquake shock that reverberates with multiple spiritual aftershocks later on.

How can one enjoy a book like this? I think it is hard. Just like it is hard to 'enjoy' any topic that hurts, it is hard to read about anything on suffering. Suffering us a mystery. No one can fully answer the problem. It is not something to be solved, but to be lived through. We can try to prevent it. We can learn from it. We can even teach about it. Yet, the fact remains. Suffering exists, and the sooner we learn to accept it as a part of life, the better prepared we are to deal with it. Annan shows us the way to deal with it as follows. Lament. Talk about it with God. Frequently. Let our faith linger with God. Do not try to speed up a resolution to suffering for there is none. Do not try to slow down the recovery when there is one. Keep one's faith honest. There is a kind of doubt that leads to faith. Annan has shown us one way to do just that.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Book: "The Rule of Benedict"

TITLE: The Rule of Benedict - A Spirituality for the 21st Century
AUTHOR: Joan Chittister
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Crossway Books, 2010.

The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Spiritual Legacy Series)
This book is a modern refreshing look at an ancient spiritual guide used by Christian monks in the 5th and 6th centuries. The author, herself a distinguished student and teacher of Benedictine spirituality, weaves in an impressive understanding of Benedict's Rules with an insightful appreciation of modern living. For a book that is 1500 years old, it still speaks to us living in a modern culture that prides on 'progress.' She notices that the technological society that we are in have trained us to be a throwaway culture, where we constantly upgrade to new stuff and throw away the old, despite the latter being functional. She criticizes the consumer society that fails to search for the real God, choosing instead to look for gods among things. The main question Chittister poses is this:

"What meaning, if any, can this Rule possibly have for average people of our day who grapple daily with a culture awash in the transitory and the tenuous, in superficiality and confusion?" (Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict - A Spirituality for the 21st Century,  NY: Crossway, 2010, xi)

Calling the Rule a form of wisdom literature, it basically implies timeless applications from a great tradition. Chittister's reasons for using this ancient document for modern times are as follows:
  • Against 'transcience and distance,' the Rule stresses the 'need and nature of real community.' (xiii)
  • Against 'secularism,' the Rule emphasizes prayer and the rhythm of it; (xiii)
  • Against separating creation from human living, the Rule ushers in greater respect for life, to encourage better stewardship; (xiii)
  • Against 'random and state violence,' the rule brings 'quality and reverence' that leads toward peace; (xiii)
  • Against arrogance of the eveloped world, the rule teaches humility that all peoples have a right to the basics of life; (xiv)
  • Against working for money, the Rule teachers one to work for the sake of God's will for all of creation; (xiv)
  • Against aimless leisure, the Rule works toward sense of contemplative living to enable us to 'see the world as God sees' it. (xiv)
"The basic contentions of this book, then, are clearly two: first, that Benedictine spirituality deals with the issues facing us now - stewardship, relationships, authority, community, balance, work, simplicity, prayer, and spiritual and psychological development. Its strength, therefore, is that it is both fresh and ancient, current and tried at the same time. Second, its currency lies in the fact that Benedictine spirituality offers more a way of life and an attitude of mind than it does a set of religious prescriptions." (xiv)

In summary, the author views the Rule of Benedict as one that is not merely concerned with a particular place, time, church, or ministry, but one that is concerned for living throughout many generations, including ours. Chittister structures this book to be read three times through the year. In other words, from Jan-May, May-Aug, and Sep-Dec, this book can be read like a devotional, with Chittister's insightful commentary to guide one's spiritual thoughts.

My Comments
This book is like a commentary and devotional combined. In the former, Chittister gives insights of what the Rule says as well as it modern applications. In the latter, the author supplies rich meaning to direct us toward God. The Rule covers wide aspects of life, all of them centering on God as the purpose for living. It helps maintain clarity in our modern minds about the meaning of life.

I like the first posture of the Rule, which is to 'listen.' Far too often, we stumble over ourselves because of our haste and hurry to do things faster and faster, something without much measured consideration. All spirituality begins in the Holy Spirit, and we learn through listening. Being aware of God's presence reveals who we are. Being mindful of our responsibility helps us discharge our stewardship of creation better.

"... life is very short. To get the most out of it, we must begin to attend to its spiritual dimensions without which life is only half-lived. Holiness is in the now, but we go through life only half conscious of it, asleep or intent on being someplace other than where we are. We need to open our eyes and see things as they exist around us: What is valuable and what is not, what enriches and what does not, what is of God and what is not." (23)
There are three reasons why I like this book.

1) It Clarifies
In a world that assumes it knows what is best, often we stumble over our own follies when we mistake them for wisdom. We think we are smart alecks when we are not. The Rule brings us back to reality, that we need God as our starting base.

2) It Applies
This book is a very practical book. Daily, the reflections lead to contemplative prayer. Prayer leads to good works. Without making the Rule too unwieldy or difficult to comprehend, the author places snippets of the Rule, enough to jiggle the mind, and to prepare the heart. Sometimes, the Rule reads like the wisdom books of the Bible, like Proverbs.

3) It Promotes Community

This is perhaps the biggest benefit. The Rule is a classic work on how to build communities. In an Internet world, connecting millions of people around the world, the problem of loneliness and isolation remains. For all the technological advances, science is still not able to bring together people as well as God can.  We cannot depend on technologies to build community. Fact is, the best technologies cannot build perfect communities. Perfect communities can help build the best technologies. That is not the main point. The main point is that communities are necessary, and we need to be reminded and be disciplined about being intentional about community building. The Rule is a brilliant work on community building. This is the best reason to get this book.