Monday, February 27, 2012

"7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind" (Anthony Selvaggio)

This review was first published at my new books blog at BookSaint.


TITLE: 7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind
AUTHOR: Anthony Selvaggio
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2011.

Amazing. Once in a while, we get a book that speaks frank and direct about what is right and what is wrong. As our world becomes more interconnected, with pluralism and widespread acceptance of everybody regardless of lifestyles, Selvaggio brings clarity without mincing words. The key concern in his book is that toxic ideas will lead to idolatry. Slowly but surely.

A 'toxic idea' is anything that changes a worldview. The author writes:

"The consequences of ideas become even more powerful when these ideas morph into a comprehensive ideology, or worldview. When an idea becomes a worldview, it can alter the entire course of a civilization." (14)

The Seven Toxic Ideas

They are technopoly, neophilia, egalitarianism, individualism, materialism, consumerism, and relativism. The danger of technopoly is due to the uncritical acceptance of technology which leads to 'disengagement, distraction, and disembodiment.' The danger of Neophilia is the uncritical acceptance of all things new, that leads to a disregard for history, choosing progress over preservation, and choosing the new simply because they are 'new' and discarding the old simply because they are 'old.' The danger of egalitarianism is the total disregard for order and hierarchy, placing equal authority on everybody, leading to an inability to discern good from bad, fostering in kids the arrogance of equal rights regardless of how capable they are. The danger of individualism is the way it encourages narcissism, self-indulgence, which ultimately leads to self-destruction. The danger of materialism is that it leads one to subtly reject the fact of man being created by God, that we are of no spiritual significance, and that man can perfect himself. Worse, it can lead man to think that he is God. The danger of consumerism is the tendency to worship our 'stuff' that we live to consume more and more stuff. Pointing out the dangers of the prosperity gospel, and how Church has also been infected by consumerism, the author urges the reader to reject consumerism. The danger of relativism is that it assumes that everything is relative, even God. It projects two errors. Firstly, that it is not possible to know the truth, and secondly, it is possible to avoid truth.

In dealing with all of the toxic ideas, Selvaggio defines what it is. He points out the tricks of the adversary. He lists the dangers in the culture at large, and the insidious dangers when it infects the church. He then goes through some biblical principles before ending with a call to reject such worldliness including the pulpit and at all levels of the church.

My Comments

This is a tough book to read for people who are already steeped in the toxic ideas. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, the longer we are in the warming waters of the kettle, the less sensitive we are to changes. Selvaggio supports his ideas with frequent references to scholars and influential writers. For instance, the word 'technopoly' is borrowed from the fame cultural critic, Neil Postman. He affirms Marva Dawn and Albert Borgmann's ideas about the dangers of accepting technology uncritically. He quotes DA Carson rather frequently, with thoughts critical of the emerging church movement that tends to adopt too quickly the 'newness' in terms of 'relevance' and jazzy technosavvy programs.  I thought his chapter on egalitarianism is particularly poignant. In an age where many societies are preferring to fight for their rights rather than to discharge their responsibilities, many people base their opinions not because it is right or wrong, but simply because they have a right to say something. The sad thing is that egalitarians may refuse to accept correction arguing that any attack on his ideas constitute an infringement on his rights! Now, that is toxic!

Some may critique the book for being too 'fundamentalist' or too 'rightist.' I prefer to see otherwise. The book is basically a warning against the wholesale integration of these worldly ideas that masquerades themselves in becoming all things to all people. I believe this book is an important contribution to the frog in the kettle syndrome all over the world, even in the church. We need to wake up and stand up for the truth. We need to be bold to correct one another gently in love. We need to grow deep roots in God. We need wisdom to know, and discernment to choose. We cannot let toxic ideas continue for it becomes even more toxic over time.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free, courtesy of P&R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments given are freely mine.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Deep-Rooted in Christ" (Joshua Choonmin KANG)

TITLE: Deep-Rooted in Christ: The Way of Transformation
AUTHOR: Joshua Choonmin KANG
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007, (176 pages).

Like what Richard Foster says, this book speaks into the heart. Not only that, it speaks simply, clearly, as well as with conviction and with the Spirit's power. This book is the Korean counterpart to Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. Translated into English from the original Korean edition, this book's wisdom is made available to a wider audience, namely the English speaking world. Though Foster writes from the Western perspective, Kang reflects from an Eastern perspective. Both however are united in the Christlikeness perspective. The author is a Korean-American, ministering in a Church in America. He is well schooled in the spirituality of the West, and also very connected with Asian culture.

Using 52 brief meditations on the Christian life, and how to grow more spiritually aware of God and people, Kang is a gentle mentor for all readers in at least 8 ways.

Firstly, Kang urges us to begin with emptying our ourselves in order to be filled with Christ. Secondly, in order to be rooted in Christ, one needs to rid the bad roots, and to direct growth with Christ as the foundation of spirituality. Thirdly, growth is cultivated in the attitude and atmosphere of grace. It needs to be initiated by God, leading to an increase of knowledge and understanding, and a sharpening of the vision of spiritual outlook in grace. Fourthly, the growth needs to continue via discipline and training of solitude, listening to God, prayer, self-denial, serving, and be schooled in the 'wilderness of the Holy Spirit,' which is essential to help us be more thankful and more humble. Fifthly, growth can only be maintained through adequate soul care. In this aspect, one learns to cultivate balance, tend the inner garden, and enable oneself to let our actions, our thoughts, and our feelings be harmonized. Sixthly, Kang leads us through the development of fruits as evidence of spiritual growth. Seventhly, Kang introduces an even higher goal of spirituality: Purity of heart. The goal of purity is Jesus. Finally, one's true identity is attained when one is transformed in Christ to become more like Jesus.

Kang helpfully summarizes the whole Christian life in seven ways:

  1. Choose the narrow way. (Matt 7:13-14)
  2. Always abide in Jesus. (John 15:5)
  3. Live a Spirit-filled life (Ephesians 5:18)
  4. Deny ourselves daily. (Luke 9:23)
  5. Be watchful, and be on guard against the wiles of the devil.
  6. Loving God means serving others.
  7. Be filled with God's Word, and be full for God by sharing God's Word.

While some of Kang's spirituality borders on the Platonic philosophy, especially in his idea of 'balance' of spirituality and the Word. He calls this 'balance' as most important in mature spirituality. I am not sure I can agree with him, as the Christian life is not necessarily balance. For example, do we love God with all our heart, or do we love God only with a somewhat 'balanced,' manner? There are times when God calls us to sacrifice, or to give up a substantial part of our life in order to attain Christ. Apart from this, I highly recommend this book for your reading and edification.  Written in brief meditations, you can easily read this book one chapter a day, and you can be done within 2 months.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Monday, February 13, 2012

"How to Read the Bible in Changing Times" (Mark L. Strauss)

TITLE: How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God's Word Today
AUTHOR: Mark L. Strauss
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (278 pages).

This book is one of the clearest and helpful guides to laypersons wanting to learn how to interpret the Bible. Beginning with a humourous rendition of some extreme literal reading, Strauss plays a few roles in the writing of this book. As a Bible tour guide, he shows readers the various genre terrains in both the new and old testaments. He provides the highlights of Scripture as well as themes. As a gentle teacher, he shows readers how to read and how not to read Scripture. He shares his key Heart of God hermeneutic which is essentially entering the story of God and with neighbours, learning the ways of God and living out the biblical principles through fellowship and witness to the world. All of these are done through the empowering Holy Spirit.

As a scholar, Strauss weaves in many different perspectives of Bible reading. He details the various genres and themes in both the Old and New Testaments. He talks about the different levels of bible interpretation, the various criterion of understanding, and also the three hermeneutical frameworks. He crafts out four general questions that help us understand and apply God's word today.

  1. What is the passage saying in the light of the whole Bible?
  2. What is the author's contexts, purpose, and place in the light of the historical, literary, or genre?
  3. How does the passage inform our understanding of God and the world?
  4. How does the passage teach us to be (attitudes and character) and to do (actions and goals)?

What I like about this book is the clear manner in which difficult topics are dealt with. Apart from the point by point explanations, the author uses lots of Bible references and examples to demonstrate the use of the texts. Strauss generally adopts a 3-point framework. He first states a perspective. Secondly, he explains it in simple terms and examples. Thirdly, he provides an application. These things are hallmarks of a good teacher. The last chapter, "Where Cultures Collide" is certainly worth expanding on.  My critique is that this chapter is too short.

If you are a keen Bible reader, this book will enhance your Bible reading. If you are a student, this book is a must have in your personal book shelves. If you are a Bible teacher, you will love this book and use this book in any introductory level book on hermeneutics. If you are always wondering how to apply ancient texts to modern contexts, this book is an essential read.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


Monday, February 6, 2012

"Courageous Living" (Michael Catt)

TITLE: Courageous Living: Dare to Take a Stand
AUTHOR: Michael Catt
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2011, (164 pages).

What a powerful book! This is the author's fourth book in less than three years, and boy does it packs a punch. Many punches. Let me highlight the ten punches that can lead to an incredible spiritual awakening. Firstly, there is the punch to take the first step of faith. We are not called to sit still, relax and avoid risks. We are called to let our words and works demonstrate our commitment to our faith. We need a kick off. Secondly, we need the punch of learning the choose the right and to refuse the wrong. Thirdly, we need to take the punch to accept our responsibility to lead in every level possible. Let no fear deter us from even the most difficult situation. Fourthly, we need the punch to be humbled by God, and be humble before men. Fifthly, we need the punch to face uncertain future with faith against fear. Sixthly, we need to punch ourselves to practice discipleship with the younger generation, to search and to build up Timothys that we can find. Seventhly, there is a punch to be decisive, and at every juncture, to make the decision to be Christlike. Eighthly, we need the punch of learning to face criticism bravely, to let the four walls of courage form around us: Faith, Courage, Integrity, and Prayer. I like this quote:

"Have you ever seen a monument erected to a critic? When the critic throws stones, the visionary should take them and build a wall. Then if the critic wants to see what you've built, charge him admission to get through the gate." (106)

Ninthly,there is the punch of being stirred by inside us by the Holy Spirit. Finally, the punch of courage to face any kinds of persecution. While there are many people who can cite other works, I find the way Catt quotes from others is smooth flowing and adds powerfully to the argument.

Closing Thoughts

There is a difference between physical punches and the punches delivered in this book. While physical punches can bruise us physically, the punches of courage embolden us to stand up and be counted for God. What the film 'Courageous' does for the movie industry, this book does the same for the book industry. Page after page, the convictions flow. Passions oozes out freely from the chapters that demand a response from readers. I give this book a standing ovation at the end of the book. It is that good. Michael Catt is one revivalist who reminds me of writers like A W Tozer and Leonard Ravenhill. Reading this book is a great start to a brand new year.

I can dare you to read this book. I can even double-dare you to practice what this book teaches. After reading it, you may not even need my challenge. You will have been challenged already!

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.

"Book has been provided courtesy of David C Cook and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from B&H Publishing Group".