Monday, January 30, 2012

"Gospel-Powered Humility" (William P. Farley)

This review was first published on Dec 17th, 2011 here.

TITLE: Gospel-Powered Humility
AUTHOR: William P. Farley
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011, (224 pages).

This is a timely book. In a no-holds barred critique on modern culture's penchant for self-love, nice words, and puffed up self-esteem, Farley poses a remarkable insight about the great paradox: ". . the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud." (26)

The fact of the world is that there is a great tendency among people in general to have so high a view of themselves, that they are guilty of possessing a low view of God. The main concern of the author is this.

"My contention is that the church is most apt to fulfill its God-given purpose when we preach the gospel in such a way that it produces a faith that humbles sinner and saints alike." (12)

Thus begins a book that touches on the topic of humility in three parts. In Part One, Farley hits hard at the state of pride in man's heart. Two chapters essentially drive home the point that pride is very much alive and thriving in the world today, even within the church. The sick person needs to be convinced that he is sick.

"Pride is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. It is a delusional, inflated view of self. It is unreality on steroids. And the scary part is this: The thing to which we are most blind is our pride. A demonic Catch-22, pride causes us to chase our spiritual tails. We cannot see pride - even though it is our most grievous, disabling sin - because its very nature is blindness, and the first thing to which it is blind is its own existence." (26)

The four reasons why humility matters. It is necessary for conversion, for sanctification, for seeing clearly what God is doing, and for producing a humble faith. Thankfully, instead of just barking up the tree of condemnation and disgust, the author has gently ushered in the good news, that humility is essentially not a 'negative view of self' but an ability to see ourselves as God sees. Farley then brings out examples from social research to show us that the pride is everywhere in our society.

Part Two talks about the true gospel that humbles us in at least five ways. Firstly, we are humbled by the wrath of God simply because saving faith always humbles one initially. Secondly, we are humbled by the final judgment through two guarantees of God's justice together with God's love. Thirdly, we are humbled by the sinfulness of sin. Farley distinguishes the biblical usage of sin (singular) to denote the presence of sinful attitude, and sins (plural) to denote the presence of sinful acts. The former drives the latter, which is why it is critical to attack the root of vice: Pride. Fourthly, we are humbled by Faith Alone. Using the analogy of a bankrupt person, prideful people are unaware of their own spiritual bankruptcy, and cannot comprehend why they need to repent. Fifthly, we are humbled by the history of preaching. The preachers of old refuse to bow down to the fear of man, and is able to preach the full gospel due to their fear of God. In order for the good news to be preached and to take root in the hearts of people, the bad news have to be preached.

Part Three is most helpful as it brings together the gospel-powered humility that we all need to grow. Fighting pride is a major spiritual battle. This is highly important because this battle is not external but very much internal.

Closing Thoughts

Even though there are already other books written on humility, the continual presence of pride makes this book a necessary write and a compulsory read. There is too much pride that it is filling the church with puffed-up superiority that makes the church look hypocritical and downright ugly in the eyes of the public. This book is a humble and honest attempt to burst this bubble.

Every Christian ought to read this book. Every leader ought to practice this book. Every preacher ought to preach this message. Pride is that one gaping hole in our vessels that will drain out whatever goodness we fill into them. Humility more than patches up this hole. Humility in Christ heals and renders our hearts whole.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free of charge by P&R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments given above are freely mine.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Jesus Did It Anyway" (Kent M. Keith)

TITLE: Jesus Did It Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians
AUTHOR: Kent M. Keith
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: GP Putman's Sons-Penguin, 2005, (206 pages).

What is the key to personal meaning and deep happiness? What is God calling each of us to be doing? Are we searching for meaning and happiness in the wrong places? These questions are answered through ten paradoxical statements. Often attributed to Mother Teresa in the ANYWAY poem, Keith puts in writing that the 'paradoxical commands' are actually collected and pieced together by some people from his earlier writings. The author asserts:
"The point is not to be against the world. The point is that our faith isn't about secular, commercial success or social prestige. Our faith is about loving God and following Christ. . . . .........  When we are in the world but not of the world, we are free. We are free to be who God wants us to be, not who the world wants us to be. We are free to love God and others, and fulfil God's will for our lives, without worrying about what the secular commercial world thinks of us." (13)

Other gems include:

  • "When I choose a job, it should be the job that I believe I am called to do, not the job that offers the most power, wealth, fame, or social position. And I should not be afraid to take risks, or break social norms, when it is necessary to follow Jesus." (17)
  • "The paradox here is that when things in the secular, commercial world are going badly, our spiritual lives can still be meaningful and full of deep happiness." (17-18)
  • "But the story of Good Friday is not about how the world treated Jesus; the story is also about how Jesus responded to the way he was treated. And his response was astonishing. It was breathtaking. In the face of cruelty and pain and hate, Jesus loved people anyway. He forgave people anyway. And he saved people anyway. What a powerful message!" (25)


  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shut down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

It is tempting for us to jump straight into the details of the ten paradoxical commandments. I strongly advise against it. It is the CALL that we are not of the world, that sets the stage for the entire book. The author does a good job in giving personal illustrations, biblical examples, and many different ways to describe the meaning of the paradoxical commandments. While the book is easy to understand, the working out of the commandments can be more challenging. I suggest that the study questions at the end of the book be used as a guide for us to apply.Now, some readers may ask me. "What if I do not feel like doing the commandments today?" I suppose I can then speak on behalf of the author: "Do it anyway."

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


Monday, January 16, 2012

"What Christians Really Believe & Why" (Stanley J. Grenz)

TITLE: What Christians Really Believe & Why
AUTHOR: Stanley J. Grenz
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998, (160 pages).

Stanley Grenz is one of Carey Theological College's and Regent College's most beloved professors. He passed away in 2004, but his legacy lives on, especially through his writings. I remember walking past his office and feel a certain sense of awe and respect for this theologian, professor, and believer. If there is one thing that distinguishes him, it is his ability to distill deep theological truths simply without becoming too shallow. This book is geared toward the layperson wanting a form of guidance and affirmation for faith. The progression of the book is important.
  1. Why believe at all? (The need for faith)
  2. Who am I and why am I here? (Recognizing our humanness in sin, and the homelessness condition)
  3. Are we alone in the universe? (Of angels and the heavenly powers)
  4. Which God? (Affirming the Triune God in a pluralistic environment)
  5. Who is Jesus (and what did he do)? (Jesus is human as well as divine)
  6. What am I searching for and how do I find it? (Our quest to belong)
  7. Where is the universe. . . where am I  . . .going? (Life after death)
These are fundamental questions that not only Christians are seeking, but all persons. Grenz starts off the book with a clear call for faith. He does this by first debunking two erroneous ideas of faith.
  • Faith is not about accepting the incredible, or the nonsensical.
  • Faith is not leaping into the unknown.
Instead, Faith begins with KNOWLEDGE, of something that informs our thinking. This gives rise to ASSENT which is an affirmation of truth in this knowledge. Finally, it ends with TRUST. In clear terms, faith must comprise all of these three parts.

This book is unique because it offers an explanation of Christian doctrine and theology based on contemporary ways of asking about life. Grenz's purpose is to answer the seven questions above and to bring in the place of the church, that stands on the solid Word of God, the Bible. I like the many modern illustrations and examples that show how deeply in touch the author is with the contemporary culture.

I find this book extremely useful for the postmodern mind. The questions are relevant, and the answers given are not just convincing but thought provoking, especially for the seeker. Contemporary books on doctrine tends to focus on heavy theological terms such as ecclesiology, soteriology, pneumatology, Christology, and so on. Not this book. Here, Grenz does away with the heavy terminology and replaces it with everyday language. It is his way of paraphrasing the truth of Christian doctrines for the postmodern mind in a pluralistic culture. He relates without compromising. He argues without being intimidating.


Monday, January 9, 2012

"The Importance of Being Foolish" (Brennan Manning)

TITLE: The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus (Hardcover)
AUTHOR: Brennan Manning
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005.

This is a very unique book with a provocative title. Essentially, it is about radical discipleship. Learning from a small community of 230 disciples who call themselves, "Little Brothers of Jesus," the author catches a glimpse of Jesus's possible early years, working quietly, invisibly, in manual labour and prayer intentionally. Through the time there, he learns:

"... that many of the burning theological issues in the church today are neither burning nor theological and that in an age characterised (in some quarters) by confusion, third-rate theatrics, and infidelity, it is not more rhetoric that Jesus demands but personal renewal, fidelity to the gospel, and creative conduct." (x)

Thinking like Jesus requires us to be foolish in the eyes of the world. This is an important imperative.

Part One talks about the way we live through three frames: Truth, Transparency, and Diversions.  In Truth, Manning talks about how passionate Jesus is with regards to truth. Firstly, the world thinks that truth telling is merely avoiding 'petty lying,' not deceiving others,' etc. Instead, truth telling begins when we 'stop deceiving ourselves' (5). It requires us to be honest about reality. We need to place more importance on the 'world of God' instead of the 'world of our material existence' (13) We need to replace our 'cynicism and pessimism' with 'awe and wonder' about God's working in this world.

The second frame of 'transparency' requires us to live like Jesus in such a way, that our thoughts, our ideas, our dreams, our desires, and our interactions with people are transparent for anyone to see. He warns us about three cloaks that cover our transparency.

"Often our preoccupation with the three most basic human desires - security, pleasure, and power - is the cloak that covers transparency. The endless struggle for enough money, good feelings, and prestige yields a rich harvest of worry, frustration, suspicion, anger, jealousy, anxiety, fear, and resentment. These powerful, emotion-backed desires cause 99 percent of the self-inflicted and unnecessary suffering in our lives. They continually focus our attention on self and keep us from being transparent,  dimming and obscuring 'the glory of God in the face of Christ.' (2 Cor 4:6) " (38-9)

Transparency means honesty with ourselves, that we need to undergo 'continual conversion.' It is a call:

"Christianity, then, comprises more than involvement in human rights struggles, environmental causes, or peace programs. Fullness of life in the Spirit is more than finding Christ in others and serving him there. It is a summons to personal holiness, ongoing conversion, and new creation through union with Christ Jesus. " (53)

The third frame of Diversions highlights how easily one is to be swayed from the path of following Jesus. The pride, the distractions, and the pursuit of security, pleasure, and power thwarts our path toward holiness and God.

These three frames set the stage for another three frames in Part Two of the book, entitled, "The Mind of Christ." Having the mind of Christ requires the pursuit of God and to let the self be transcended by the love of God. Becoming more like Christ requires a heart of repentance. It entails identifying ourselves with the work of the kingdom.

Part Three reveals the power of the cross and the resurrection wisdom that the world cannot understand. They are foolishness to the world. Wisdom in God means that we will be laughed at, spat upon, and bullied by the world, just like Jesus. It is the point that the world will never know and will never understand.

My Comments

I find this book particularly touching because it is so counter-cultural. Unlike books that tell people about the merits of spirituality in terms of success, good feelings, and inspirational stuff, Manning adopts a no-holds-barred exposition on 1 Cor 1:24, to proclaim Christ crucified and the power of the cross and the resurrection. Spiritual wisdom is not worldly cleverness. Instead, spiritual wisdom may require followers to be ridiculed, laughed at, taunted, spat upon, disregarded, dismissed, and cast aside. Manning weaves in powerful stories and shares his convictions plainly without mincing his words. His concluding words are riveting and convicting.

"How long have you been a Christian? How long have you been living in the Spirit? Do you know what it is to love Jesus Christ? Do you know what it is to have your love unsatisfied, endured in loneliness, and ready to burst your restless, ravenous heart? Do you know what it is to have the pain taken away, the hole filled up, to reach out and embrace this sacred Man and say sincerely, 'I cannot let you go. In good times and bad, victory or defeat, my life has no meaning without you.' If this experience has not illuminated your life with its brilliance, then regardless of age, disposition, or state in life, you do not understand what it means to be a Christian. This and this alone is authentic Christianity." (173-4)

Ratings: 4.75 stars of 5.


Monday, January 2, 2012

"Unconditional?" (Brian Zahnd)

TITLE: Unconditional?: The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness
AUTHOR: Brian Zahnd
PUBLISHER: Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2011, (256 pages).

This book is poised to be one of the most important books on forgiveness this decade. It argues that Christianity is essentially about forgiveness, in particular, radical forgiveness that is unconditional. This requires us to go back to our roots of the Christian faith. The basic assertion is this.

"If Christianity is about anything, it is about forgiveness. Not forgiveness as merely an end in itself or a legal means of escaping pubishment, but forgiveness as reconciliation and total restoration." (xix)

"Too often the message of Jesus has been misrepresented by the ugly faces of legalism, triumphalism, and religiously inspired hatred. My hope is that you will allow me to present to you the beautiful face of Christianity - the face of forgiveness." (xx-xxi)

Zahnd leads readers through the dark trenches of sin and evil. From the Holocaust memories, he shares about how an Austrian Jew called Simon Wiesenthal comes face to face with a Nazi officer who has brutally killed and tortured his fellow Jews. He raises the question of how can any Armenian ever forgive the Ottoman Turks, who have murdered, raped, massacred and enslaved millions of Armenians during the genocide of 1915-1917. He even talks about the 21 terrorists who turn September 11 into a tragic display of evil. As if these stories are not enough, the author brings up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn horrible 8 years of suffering in a Soviet prison under the hands of Joseph Stalin. He shares with us the story of Nikolai Velimirovic, a Serbian Orthodox bishop who was betrayed by one of his priests, and sent to a concentration camp. Enroute to persuading readers that it is possible to forgive in the light of impossible crimes, the author highlights classic examples of how Corrie Ten Boom forgave her SS officer who killed her family, and about how Pope John Paul II forgave Mehmet Ali Agca who tried to assassinate him.

While the usual options when it comes to justice is either to exact payment, or inflict punishment, Zahnd offers a third option, costly grace.

"Allowing forgiveness to purge the unforgiveness in our hearts is what enables us to move beyond injustice and not be chained to it for life." (64)

Through the example of Ingrid Betancourt who suffered 6 years of torture by Colombian security forces, learns that forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about breaking the' cycle of revenge' (65). It is about letting God take care of the revenge part, while we kill any desire to prolong the cycle of violence. Through the example of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Zahnd shows us that forgiveness can also save another person's soul.

Page after page, story after story, the author tugs at our hearts to move us from conditional forgiveness to unconditional forgiveness, and gradually toward radical forgiveness. Along the way, he deals with the barriers that prevent us from forgiving. Through the examples of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, he asserts that there is no future without forgiveness. Through the example of the tragic shooting of five schoolgirls in the Nickel Mines' Amish community, the author shows us that it is possible to let forgiveness transcends tragedy. He deals with the very important question of justice by saying that justice + mercy = reconciliation. Zahnd also criticizes some Christian quarters tendency to justify their revengeful ways. Here he uses John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath to say that the justice that some Christians attempt is actually 'self-righteous' and 'self-appointed morality police' (147). In Christ, the ugliness of sin when washed by the blood of forgiveness, will result in a beautiful scene of God's redeeming grace for the world.

This book is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those of us who have gone through deep hurts and suffering. It is not easy to forgive. It is harder to forget. What is most important is that while Zahnd raises the need to forgive, he provides the Source from which true forgiveness can flow. In Christ, we have an example of forgiveness. We have the power to forgive that is not of our own strength. If we claim to follow Christ, we need to be prepared to imitate what Christ has done. This book is certainly not for the faint-hearted or the tough-minded person. It is for those with open minds, willing hearts, and forgiven souls, and all persons who WANT to forgive but don't know how. The stories in the book alone are worth the price of the book.
"We are to be the light of the world and the sons of God - through a proclamation and practice of a gospel of peace based in forgiveness." (207)

"The hope for peace that I see is where the disciples of Jesus don't just watch in admiration as Jesus carried his cross, but practice an imitation of the same kind of cross-bearing forgiveness." (216)

"As followers of the Lamb, we must come to realize that it is only through the practice of radical forgiveness that we can achieve real peace. Peace with God comes by forgiving and being forgiven." (218)
Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.