Monday, March 26, 2012

"Spiritual Leadership" (J. Oswald Sanders)

TITLE: Spiritual Leadership (Commitment To Spiritual Growth)
AUTHOR: J. Oswald Sanders
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994, (192 pages).
ISBN: 0-8024-6799-7

This book is a classic work on spiritual leadership. First released in 1967, it has been republished several times and remains one of the key references for learning about spiritual leadership. Initially given as a series of lectures for the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) in Singapore in 1964 and 1966, this book has been updated and revised for the new generation.

One look at the way the book has been setup is a clue that this book was not meant to be published as a book in the first place. Sanders has prepared the work to be spoken rather than written. That is why there are no neat categorizations or broad structural flows in the texts. Moreover, some of the chapters appear to end abruptly, just like how some preachers cut short their sermon endings when they run out of time. Nevertheless, the value of the book lies in its constant assertion that Christian leadership is spiritual in nature. It is an honourable ambition. It is designed with Christ as our Model and our Leader. Sanders compares natural and spiritual leadership in terms of flesh vs spirit. He brings out biblical insights from Paul and Peter, as well as many examples from the Old Testament.

Some essential qualities of leadership include the fundamental aspects such as discipline, vision, wisdom, decision, courage, humility, integrity, and sincerity. He also deals with the challenges to leadership like how to deal with anger, leading with humour and friendship, tactful, inspirational, and one who communicates well. Most importantly, Spiritual Leadership is to be led by the Spirit.

Other aspects of leadership includes how the leader prays, the use of time, reading, and the courage to face suffering and persecutions. One of the most important aspects of leadership is the readiness to deal with the challenges to spiritual leadership.
  • Counting the costs in self-sacrifice, always mindful of Christ's greatest sacrifice.
  • Temptation of loneliness that weighs leaders down.
  • Threat of criticisms
  • How rejections can bring a leader down
  • About the pressures and perplexities of life
Sanders ends with an exhortation on the prophet Nehemiah, saying that the primary task of spiritual leadership is to 'build the faith of others.' Indeed, a leader can lead by example, and to live through his own life challenges. In order to strengthen the faith of others, the leader needs to strengthen his own faith. In order to encourage others, leaders need to find encouragement in God and how to deal with their own discouragement. In order to make disciples of Christ, leaders need to be disciples themselves. In order to be spiritual leaders, they need to be led by the Spirit.

Be warned. This book may be easy to read, but practicing it requires us to be led by the Spirit.  Interestingly, note the subtitle on the front page of the book, 'principles of excellence for every believer.'  This book is not just for leaders. It is for ALL believers.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


Monday, March 19, 2012

"Unfriend Yourself" (Kyle Tennant)

As social media becomes more ubiquitous, it is important to take a step back now and then, to think about why we are doing what we are doing. This review has been previously published here.

TITLE: Unfriend Yourself: Three Days to Detox, Discern, and Decide About Social Media
AUTHOR: Kyle Tennant
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011, (89 pages).

This little book takes a critical look at the ubiquitous social media icon: Facebook. In a world where many people simply hop onto the social media bandwagon without asking why, or simply because everyone else is doing it, Tennant helps us to understand why it is important to look before you leap. He constantly reminds us that he is not bashing Facebook per se. Instead, he is calling upon readers to think critically, and to recognize the limitations of social media.

He offers a three-fold challenge for readers over a three day Facebook fast weekend. Firstly, unplug and start the process of detoxification. Recognize what Facebook can do and not do. Facebook friends are very different from face-to-face friends. He then goes through some false promises that people have of Facebook.

  1. "Media are amoral."
  2. "It's ok to make it all about you."
  3. "Community can be found anywhere."
  4. "Nowhere is somewhere, and it can be anywhere."
These promises are not viable on the Facebook medium. The chief concerns surrounding uncritical use of Facebook is summarised as follows:

  • Facebook provides a tempting platform for one to present themselves as more important than others.
  • Facebook is the modern fig leaves that cover up our sinful selves
  • Facebook is a powerful tool for self-promotion.
Secondly, he urges readers to discern what is best for them, and to discern and discover the pros and cons of social media. He points out that bad old sin lurks in the social medium. Digital communications is a convenient and easy cloak to hide our real selves from others. In other words, how can we build real community if we only showcase the nice parts of ourselves?

Thirdly, Tennant challenges readers to decide what is best for themselves. This final section is worth the price of the book. Instead of simply blasting away the use of social media, Tennant provides some suggestions to redeem the way we use it. 

Closing Thoughts

Tennant openly admits that he is a 'technology pessimist.' He prefers to err on the side of caution. Personally, I feel that this book is an important contribution to check the tsunami of interest and uncritical use of social media. Many have argued against the use of Facebook using statistical data and expert advice.  What Albert Borgmann and Neil Postman have done at a scholarly level to argue warnings about technology using us, Tennant has done for the layperson. The observations in the book is a reminder to us again that technology, social media such as Facebook needs to be on a leash. Uncritical usage of social media is like a pit-bull terror let loose, devouring others, and finally us. 

One need not agree with all the pointers, but I urge readers to keep the warnings fresh as they use Facebook. If all self-control fail, when all self-discipline is gone, then do the best thing for ourselves: Unfriend ourselves from Facebook.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments offered are freely mine.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"When a Nation Forgets God" (Erwin Lutzer)

First published at Booksaint on 5 Feb 2012.

TITLE: When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany
AUTHOR: Erwin W. Lutzer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010, (160 pages).

Erwin Lutzer is like a modern prophet speaking out against the deceptions of the world. In this book compilation of what looks like a series of sermons, Lutzer warns the modern world of the alarming similarities of the values in America now with the values that led to Nazi Germany. He leads the reader through seven trends that ought to wake us up. His key contention is this:

"I don't expect that America will ever gas millions of people because they belong to the wrong race; but the same values that destroyed Germany are being taught in many of our centers of learning today." (10)

#1 - "When God is Separated from Government, Judgment Follows"

Hitler slyly separated the Church from the government under the guise of freedom, tolerance, and what is best for the country. Systematically, Hitler proceeded to marginalize the Church, and eventually used the Church as a tool for his means. His point is, that the Church should confine itself only to church matters, and let Hitler take care of the rest. The point is: Church should let Hitler do what Hitler wants, as long as Hitler promises to 'take care' of the German people.

In modern America, if God is removed from government, this leads to a 'raw use of power,' 'eroticism,' 'arbitrary judicial rulings,' and pragmatism being the new moralism. Lutzer argues that the curtailment of the freedom of religion in America will ultimately lead to judgment. The crux of the matter is, such separation changes giving to Caesar what is Caesar's into a give to Caesar even those things that belongs to God.

#2 - It's Always the Economy

Economic concerns were the mainstay of German society at that time. With greater economic benefits, other things such as human rights are given a lower priority. The danger of modern America is that it is moving toward putting economic concerns as the key objective. When this happens, Scriptural warnings about debt accumulation are ignored. Bribes are accepted in the name of a better economic future for all. Stealing becomes justifiable, even from the rich.

#3 - That which is Legal Might Also Be Evil

Adolf Hitler created new laws to justify his persecution of the Jews. Being in power, the law courts are powerless against him. When God is separated from society, it slowly weakens the law structures. Firstly, in America, this is happening through a 'survival of the fittest' theory of evolution, where the one with the greatest power survives. Secondly, liberal theology continues to weaken the Christian influence in the traditional law. Thirdly, there is a sociological evolution where right and wrong are increasingly blurred and attributed to genes and physiological reasons. The founding fathers, who made laws based on their religious convictions are gradually seeing their laws being modified to suit a new generation's humanism ideals. Man has become god in lawmaking.

#4 - Propaganda Can Change a Nation

Hitler manipulated the media to his advantage to advance the Nazi cause. Look at modern America. Propaganda can manipulate facts based on mere feelings. It can cast uncritical support to movements they choose to support, like gay rights, without fairly representing other views. They use propaganda to wear out the opposition. By constantly appealing to popular emotional appeal, right and wrong are blurred, and eventually, propaganda can turn anything wrong into everything right.

#5 - Parents Not the State are Responsible for a Child's Training

Hitler ruled that public schooling is compulsory, which enables him to influence young minds to the Nazi cause. It is state-sponsored indoctrination at the highest degree. Instead of training young minds to think for themselves, the state indoctrinates minds to think the Nazi cause. In America, such a pattern is growing. Children are taught to suspect absolutes and to think more in relative terms. Psychological manipulation of kids to the humanistic doctrines are absolute. Increasingly, gay sexuality are promoted as a normal thing. The point Lutzer makes is that the responsibility of the child's upbringing remains very much at home.

#6 - Ordinary Heroes can make a difference

Here, Lutzer makes a more encouraging turn. Using Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an example, he points out that ordinary folks who practice costly grace can make a difference. He shares about Zakaria Botros, a Coptic priest who risks his life to share the gospel with Muslims. He talks about Corrie Ten Boom, whose power to forgive remains one of the most memorable. He highlights Charles Colson, whose life has blessed many in the Prison Fellowship. He points out Donnita Travis, an unknown, whose simple desire to want to help illiterate children leads to the setting up of a Hand Club for kids.

#7 - We Must Exalt the Cross in the Gathering Darkness

Christians cannot be afraid to suffer. They need to learn to resist temptations of physical healing as proof of Christ. The health and wealth gospel is more deception than truth. The use of gospel for sole material gains are to be rejected.  Subtly, one of the dangers in churches is the deception of community being more important than the cross.

Closing Thoughts

This is not a popular book for modern Christians to read. In fact, the cover of the book can be quite off-putting. Few people are willing to associate Nazi Germany with modern America. People will be easily upset about the thought of any attempt to equate them. Yet, I urge the reader to consider carefully the values behind the consequences. We know how evil the consequences are with regards to the Nazi regime. Yet, the remarkable similarities of the values Hitler tried to impose on Germany need to make us sit up and take notice about our modern society.

  • What about lobbying groups who are economic 'mercenaries' for the highest bidder?
  • What about the rising debt of the country being seen as a normal thing?
  • What if wrong is being justified as right? Without absolute values, anything wrong can become absolutely right.
After reading this book, I am more troubled than annoyed. I really hope that Lutzer is wrong about the increasing similarities of the Nazi societal values and of modern America. The trouble is, Lutzer's observations should make us sit up, take notice, and take action. Dismiss this book's warning at your own risk.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


Monday, March 5, 2012

"Every Body Matters" (Gary Thomas)

TITLE: Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul
AUTHOR: Gary Thomas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (256 pages).

Keeping fit and bodily exercise is a legitimate and necessary spiritual discipline. This is the big idea that wraps the whole book together. In this important book, Thomas meticulously argues for the place of physical exercise disciplines in a world where people tend to eat more and exercise less. Having participated in the Boston marathon a few years ago, the author is writing from a deeply personal experience, which in a way communicates to those of us who gravitate toward couch potato lifestyles of a high-calorie and low exercise diet.

What makes this book special is the way Thomas infuses spiritual disciplines with a call daily exercises. He weaves theological underpinnings behind each exhortation to get physical. He underlines the dangers of sloth. He warns about the bad testimonies Christians unwittingly display. Strong faith is not exactly coherent with unhealthy physical bodies. In fact, a healthy body does good, and even more for one's spiritual health. In order to cultivate 'souls of silver' which is better than gold, physical fitness is a must.

Thomas argues against spiritual laziness that comes across as physical wimpiness. He argues for an active physical lifestyle that not only saves us money in the long run, it helps us live better as we age. He argues for making friends with 'Morty' in terms of learning to attack (mortify) sin rather than wait for sin to ambush us. A 300-Ib pastor, or believer will be an embarrassment rather than a testimony.

What I appreciate about this book is the holistic treatment Thomas has thoughtfully given. He never dichotomizes spirituality from the physical, unlike the gnostics. He shares from the rich reserviours of spirituality gleaned from the desert fathers, the church fathers, and contemporary theologians.  He puts himself as a prime example of what not to do, like his early years of indulging in sweet stuff to the point that he develops an embarrassing weight problem. Arguing for a 'muscular Christianity,' this book essentially challenges all believers to develop muscles that can lift heavy weights for God, not fat that drags down people's energy levels. The title is cleverly done, suggesting a double meaning that is both true: 1) Our physical bodies matter,; 2) Every individual matters.

This book is vital for the Church today. I believe that it is so good that it should not be placed under the religious or self-help sections of bookstores. Apart from spirituality, it needs to be in the sports section, the medical section, as well as the physical fitness sections.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan without any obligation for a positive review. The opinions offered above are given by me freely.