My Favourite​ Books 2018

Here are my favourite books this year. Again, there is no ranking in mind; indeed it is my belief that as readers — readers in Christ specifically —  to “reflect” seems much more helpful and practical than to “rank” or to “review” as we ought to listen to one another, teach one another, learn from another, and hold fast to what is good together in humility 🙂

(For last year’s list see my favourite books 2017)


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Chris Hutchinson’s Humility: Why the Way Up Is Down is absolutely a gift to the Church! I know I have literally just mentioned my reluctance to “rank” books, but this book can be regarded — if I have to pick — my favourite out of all “favourites”. Very few authors have written about the danger spiritual pride. As the author himself states, humility is the greatest neglect of the Church today. Many conferences and books nowadays talk about church models or spiritual gifts, yet rarely does one touch on the subject of humility. Since those who attempt to write about humility often risk being thought as not humble themselves, I am thankful that Hutchinson took up this difficult task.

I don’t think we as believers have, in general, grasped how heavy and painful the consequences of pride are. Pride causes us to be quick to spot sin in others but not in ourselves; pride hinders us from seeing even our own pride. When we do see pride manifesting in a person or a group, however, what we see should not be that we are any better than the “other”; instead, we see how we are equally, if not more, capable of such sin. There are many ways to describe the first sin of Adam and Eve, but the older I get, the more I find myself leaning on explaining it fundamentally as pride, a desire to be like God.

Humility can only be attained through Christ. Hutchinson writes that the humble person who continuously focuses on Christ does not think about himself, for “he is consumed with how best to love and serve His Lord.“ As Mike Sharett says, “The humble do not recognise their humility; the proud do not recognise their pride”. The author pinpoints the various manifestations of pride which include traditions, self-pity, or even “humility” itself in the form of pious activities like prayer or church attendance. When we think we have subdued pride in one area, it often pops out somewhere else (p.12).

Hutchinson also says how we treat others reveals what is on our hearts. Andrew Murray writes, “humility before God is nothing if not proved in humility towards men.” A.W. Tozer says, “the more abundant the experience of grace, the more intense the consciousness of being a sinner.” Do we always have Paul’s mindset of viewing ourselves as “the worst of all sinners”? Are we willing to serve others in menial tasks?

Interestingly, a real incident illustrated in the book, that is, “lay saints” amazed by their pastor sweeping the floor, was actually my own experience. I still remember the first time I saw my pastor sweeping the floor. I was joyful and grateful but also in shock, since after all, the hierarchal structure is so deeply ingrained in our mind. Rarely do we picture a “leader” cleaning the toilet or picking up the trash. I love the story of the author giving himself and the leaders in his church each a “staff black plunger” to remind them how the kingdom is upside-down.

Hutchinson also touches on the fact that we do not always honour the unnamed saints but tend to idolise celebrities. He gives many on-point observations on how the Church has adopted the world’s structure: churches publishing names of the largest givers as if they are the most honourable; leaders given special parking spots with titles printed; churches paying media to report their good work; Christians outdoing each other by eloquence and number of biblical citations in prayers.

The author’s take on the sensitive topic of social justice and cultural war is also full of wisdom: our act of helping the poor and oppressed result from our growth in grace, not a desire to seek a “perfect” social structure of this world or to force the world to imitate the Church (p.120). Over-emphasizing “culture wars” often tempts us to attribute false motives to our neighbours and neglect our own sin in the Church.

Even more challenging is Jesus’ own teaching that leaders are not to be called rabbi as we are all brothers (Matt 23:8). We live and lead by the Spirit, not by academic excellence. I am thankful as a PhD student myself for the reminder of not taking pride in our education, “PhDs add nothing to our ability to show Christ…We should not try to impress the world with credentials when the world will not listen to Moses or the prophets” (p.152). Hutchinson sums up beautifully that “the church is blessed with many doctorates but we are even more blessed with people from a walk of life and educational levels”. 

The book also asserts the need of a plurality of leaders and a “humble” structure, “A church that is serious about humility will have a leadership structure that by design hinders pride and celebrates meekness” (P.161). Finally, I love the author’s concept of planting “gardens in the world of factories”. These gardens are humble churches that promote no men, brand, or business model but Christ (p.142 and p.18). Only by taking the living water of Christ as the source can blossom as such gardens. 

The book makes me grieve and rejoice at the same time. Grab a copy if you can.

41Y8mi7xKmL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgScott Sauls’ From Weakness to Strength is another book that leaders and “lay-people” alike will benefit from. I have always respected Sauls for his embodiment of grace and his openness to share his struggles — both qualities are rare today among those who have been given a big platform. 

In the book, Saul talks about the danger of ungodly ambition, isolation, and envy, as well as how to grow from criticism and insecurity. Sauls writes, “In America, credentials qualify a person to lead; yet in Jesus, the chief qualification is character. Similarly, what matters to many people the most are the products we produce; yet in Jesus, what matters is the kind of people we are becoming.” To be frank, I find these phenomena just as prevalent in my Chinese culture. Sauls also observes that “what’s on the inside—whatever has always been there—will come out under pressure“ (chap 1).

Like Hutchinson, Sauls quotes Francis Schaeffer that “there are no little places and no little people.” At the same time, we should not always expect leaders to have everything right. Think of John Calvin who executed a man for doctrinal disagreement, Jonathan Edwards who owned slaves, or Martin Luther King Jr who had extramarital affairs. Their stories are not here for us to condemn each other, but to show us how we still have hope in spite of our foolishness. 

We also need to remain open to critiques in humility. A few great quotes regarding this from Sauls are “Father in heaven, always grant me character that is greater than my gifts and humility that is greater than my influence“ and “Christians have most influenced society not as some sort of moral majority but as a life-giving, love-driven minority.” The pastor-author also quotes from Madeleine L’Engle who writes, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want.

“The more conservative we are in our belief that every word of Scripture is true, the more liberal we will become in how we love every kind of person,” writes Sauls. Are we becoming the least offended and the most gracious in the world? I personally believe just because the gospel is offensive does not mean we are to be offensive people (indeed it should be quite the contrary). As Sauls suggests, we need less “I am right and you are wrong” and more compassionate listening today.

Sauls’ upcoming book Irresistible Faith is another gracious and truthful read that many will enjoy. Soon to be released in January 2019, the book includes several real-life stories about the faithful that have moved me deeply.

9789887840114Written in Chinese, Wang Yi’s Loud Contemplation (originally translated as Contemplation Loudly) contains a collection of short entries on various topics such as marriage, the Lord’s day, the Church, pride, and “patriotism”. Before I translate some of these into English, I would like to mention a few things first…

Wang is now probably most known for his letter My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience (an absolutely profound and moving letter) that has been circulated widely since his and his church members’ recent arrest. Although what this church has faced is one of the largest religious crackdowns recently, this kind of trials is nothing new (hence Wang wrote previously he had long expected being arrested). This past year, at least 316 house church members have died (“house church” in China no longer carries the same meaning as before; it simply means “unregistered church” regardless of whether it is denominational or not). In 2017, it was estimated more than 223,200 Christians have been persecuted with 347 sentenced and over 2000 abused.

Wang’s letter, while encouraging many, seems to have led some to perceive him as someone who overlooks what is called today as social justice; the truth is nonetheless the opposite. Wang is among the most outspoken — both in words and in actions — Chinese leaders who have laboured for years in caring for the marginalised. He was formally a human-rights lawyer who served the oppressed. In the Church, he is often asked why he talks about politics; in public life, he is often criticized for talking about the gospel. To Wang, “politics” and the gospel intertwine with each other; there is neither the division of the public and the private nor of the sacred and the secular. However, Wang is as the letter says not striving for a social reform; but he believes a gospel-based response towards the world’s suffering does not result in Christians raging as moralists standing on higher ground, or cynicism, or by “escaping” from the reality. Many believe his involvement with the society’s injustice is, in addition to his faith, another reason why he has been treated as an enemy of the state.

As a Reformed Christian, Wang stands strongly on certain doctrines; his conviction is displayed intensely throughout his writing, especially in the section on (double) predestination. Although I personally at the moment do not adhere to this system he holds to (my own conviction is the closest to the Schaeffers, Lewis, and Ben Witherington III…), it does not change at all on how much I respect him. I was left sickened the other day by Christians who mocked his suffering just because he is a Reformed leader.

His stance and argument on the death penalty in this book may also trouble many, perhaps especially those in the West. I myself also do not share his view. On the other hand, Wang speaks very harshly against abortion. These three things alone are enough to make me wonder how some believers in the West would receive Wang as it is my impression that some “progressive” (I hate to use this term) Christians in the West who often tweet angrily about the government and the lack of social justice (in which I believe Wang embodies) are often the same ones who bash on the reformed tradition, advocate the demolishing of death penalty, and sometimes remain neutral on the topic of abortion. My point here is not to argue who is right or wrong; I am simply curious about whether they will brush Wang off completely based on “doctrinal disagreement” (which we often do) despite he has helped so many of the oppressed in China. To be honest, I have also wondered for the past few years what the same Christian leaders would do if they were put under the same totalitarian regime — would they still speak so loudly against the brutality of the political system, and would they refuse to work with the “conservative” (as they would label it) Christians who are fighting against the system? 

Now to the wisdom of this book we turn. Wang writes that the faithful should be more aware of their own sin than others’, and that it is an act of loving others to take care of our own sins first before others’. Wang also writes that when a believer constantly whines about his disappointment about his family or church (or the Church), it is not because his church is not being a wonderful witness (although it may be so), but that he lacks faith in the lordship of Jesus who governs all things. This speaks to me so much.

Wang also reflects on his past failure to love his wife with grace. He writes once again that a loving husband ought to take care of his own sin first. He recalls the many times when he judged his wife with the old law.

Wang also addresses the problem of many giving up on gathering as a body on the Lord’s day. Since the Church is our home, and home means “being together”, how can we say we have turned to the Lord if we refuse to go home? I appreciate him drawing from the symbol of water flowing from the side of Jesus; just as Eve was formed out of Adam from his ribs, the Church as the “second Eve” was formed from the side of Jesus, the second Adam, when He was pierced. 

I also love how he describes the Lord’s day as a temporal concept that the Lord uses to train us to rest in Him. Yet many have turned this temporal concept into a spatial concept. They think of “going to church” merely as travelling to one place from another, and hence the always arrive late at meetings while leaving early. 

Wang also devotes a section on discussing the different facets of pride. Pride, according to Wang, can be manifested in a variety of “-ism”. Ultimately, it is a form of focusing on the self.

In the section on “patriotism”, Wang asserts that as those who love the Lord and neighbour, we ought to love our country and its citizens. Nevertheless, it is neither a love in the form of any “-ism” nor an act of forming a “Christian patriotic association”. How then is our love for our earthly country and neighbour embodied? Wang says the answer is located primarily in 1 Timothy 2:1, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” As those who give our ultimate loyalty to Christ, we are no longer part of the world’s system. Yet we can easily become part of the world’s system when we wrestle against the world for power and financial interest.

The church history of China has much to teach us. Please do continue to pray for the saints in China and the persecuted worldwide.

5169icoIW3L._SX324_BO1204203200_Centered on the topic of “a knowledge of faith”, Dallas Willard’s Personal Religion, Public Reality? has been the most thought-provoking among all that I have read this year. I think I had been carrying a rather low view of “knowledge” for awhile — it was not that I didn’t care for “spiritual knowledge”, but I was kind of sceptical of its importance given my experience of spiritual pride. After all, “knowledge puffs up and loves builds up.” 

Yet Willard’s view of knowledge is full of life. He starts off by asserting the relationship between faith and knowledge. Abraham, for example, left not knowing where he was going because of his knowledge of God and His provision. He did not practice a blind faith or a leap of faith as romanticised by many, for faith is based upon knowledge of God and God’s ways.

Willard also urges Christians to pursue humility. The preliminary to have an interactive relationship with Christ in His kingdom is humility, for “only the humble person will let God be God”. As always, Willard emphasises spiritual disciplines as ways not to earn favour but to increase our openness and sensitivity towards Christ. 

Another thing that I fully agree with Willard is that that we can indeed have fellowship with the dead — through their writings. How ignorant is it that we do not recognise God can speak to us through the writing of saints who have passed away? To me, God speaking to us through the timeless work of the saints who are with the Lord is a biblical view of the concept of the communion with saints (which include the dead). Of course, however, as Willard argues, spiritual reading can never replace real fellowship. 

I also appreciate one specific term that he uses: “Cosmic Christ”. What a splendid way to describe Christ! Willard asserts that through His death and resurrection, Jesus disrupts and ends all human systems. Being under Christ’s lordship does not mean adhering to an organisation or political party. Good traditions among churches shall be respected, but these distinctions are not the truth. Equating them as mere Christianity is false. We should also be careful of falling into the trap of sensualism.

Chapter 7 contains a fascinating discussion on “Christian pluralism”, although I think some may misread what Willard is arguing here. What Willard is essentially saying, I believe, is that we are judged according to the light given to us. He writes, “We are first and foremost saved through Jesus, not specific historical knowledge of Jesus.” We are also first and foremost known by our love for God and men. Nevertheless, Willard reassures us the need to teach the gospel faithfully; but again, it is not our place to judge who is “in” or who is “out”. God, after all, will not let anyone who doesn’t deserve to be saved to go unsaved (he acknowledges this is a beautiful paradox, for we all, having fallen short of His glory, do not deserve salvation.)

In terms of “leaders and pastors”, Willard emphasizes that their job is not to force others to join certain denomination or rituals but to help people to know Christ. Pastors must not claim to know what they do not know. Leaders who like to “get people who do things for the church” will often burn out and cause others to experience the same.

In the final chapter, Willard argues discipleship is in the end for the sake of the world. Sadly, discipleship today has been watered down into “religiously motivated activities and events”. True discipleship, however, is a divine service found in real life, ordinary life.

764744Leonard Sweet’s Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There invites us to practice love by being attentive. As we love God and people, we become more attentive to Him and others. Today, we do much talking but little listening and paying attention (consider how we pray in our everyday life and how we treat one another). Sweet also deals with our failure to recognise Jesus in creation and in others. Think of the disciples who, despite having spent much time with Jesus, still couldn’t recognise the resurrected Christ!

This book came into my life at such a timely moment. Have you ever had the experience where the Spirit — not your own intellect or whatsoever —  prompted (or nudged, heh) you to pick up a book? It definitely happened to me a few times, and this time it was no different. While I love Sweet’s take on a “Christian” semiotics (I am currently working on musical semiotics as a musicology student, but I had no clue during the time of purchase that the author talks about this topic), this book also confirms and sheds even more light on what the Lord has been teaching me this year, that is, to recognize the Christ who is at work in others, and to help others to see the Christ who is already at work in them.

Let’s be honest: we don’t always do that as Christians. We often like to storm into other people’s lives rudely and violently to interrupt God’s work. We love to read signs, but not signs of how God is working in the other person; we read and interpret signs of whether they are “in” or “out”. We also tend to give others dead “solutions” (which sometimes actually can come in the form of “scriptures”) instead of life-giving words without first listening and observing where people are at. We expect people to listen and to follow us while we ourselves have not learned to read, to listen, and to follow the Christ who is at work in others.

And that’s why Sweet’s book is an important one. Instead of taking the place of God to make “final judgment” and overwhelming others with formula-like speeches, he encourages us to see and helps others to see the Christ that is already there in lives. We labour with God to strip away the delusion that hinders others from seeing Christ as the true reality. A beautiful quote from the book says, “Love engenders a spirit of wonder, where fear spawns anger and distrust. Fear seeks to quash wonder and to impose. Love frees to wonder and invite.” (p. 21) Sweet speaks against the fear that permeates religion and the business-like regime of selling or marketing religion.

Sweet defines nudge as “God working in us and through us to bring to fruition what God is already doing” and us “helping people connect the dots of what God is doing in their lives to the degree that their lives can be so” (p.70). Nudge aims to “bring people less to a decision than to an impression: not just to an hour of decision but a lifetime impression of God’s presence and the nearness of God’s kingdom.”

Sweet also talks about his preferences on certain “terms”. What Willard calls spiritual disciplines, for example, are what Sweet calls “life practices”. I somehow also think Sweet and Willard are very similar in their thinking on humility. Everything that Sweet has talked require us to first and foremost adopt a position of humility. For example, “we are no longer the center of attention when we pay attention”. We let Christ increase when we are “God-witness”, not “I-witness”. We will never learn to decrease until we realise “it is not about self-improvement but self-replacement”. I especially appreciate the saying of “witness requires with-ness”. Too many of us  “witness” yet have not learned the ministry of presence. Jesus disciples by spending time with people, not giving out formulas or written assignment.

51rHGKPSPTL.jpgJohn Mark Comer’s God Has a Name shows us the downside of having a low view of God, of prayer, of mercy, of God’s righteous anger (and hence of love) — although I guess the author probably would not have put it that way. Concerning how we view God, Comer reminds us that we become like what we worship, and that what we think about God reveals our hearts. Comer talks about the irony of “not tolerating intolerance” and using Jesus as a “self-help” guru. God is neither an impersonal energy force nor a chapter in a systematic theology textbook but a living person, a relational being who wants to know and to be known (pp. 847-849).

Comer draws us into a deeper appreciation of the mystery of how God responds — a lot of us don’t pray as if we actually believe God will act accordingly to an extent that can “alter the course of history” (pp.969-973). Comer asserts, “Beware of anybody who claims to have it all figured out. There’s a lot of mystery here, and we need to respect that.” (the need of humility once again as stated in 1 Cor 8:2). 

Comer describes God’s anger as a parent-like love. A new perspective that I have never considered is that “passive wrath is when God does not act, and that is the judgment.” For example, when a guy gets caught in an affair, we often think of it as God’s wrath. But it actually is God’s mercy, for God’s wrath is when he gets away with it. Comer indeed believes most of God’s wrath is either present and passive, or future and active, “…one day God will act decisively to put an end to evil forever, but in the meantime, God’s way of dealing with sin is often to step back and let it run itself into the ground… sin is its own punishment, and obedience its own reward.” Sometimes, however, God does take sin seriously to the point of death (chapter 4).

Comer’s idea of generational sin is also eye-opening. According to Comer, generational sin comes with the first layer of the parents’ sin producing consequences for the children’s future, with the second layer being sin functioning sort of like DNA repeating itself in the next generation. Finally, I appreciate how he encourages us not to take a principle in the Bible and turn it into a promise.

4147y42biu1l-_sx326_bo1204203200_Ray Ortlund’s Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel discusses beautifully how our earthly marriage points to the divine romance between Christ and the Church. I first came across Ortlund a few years ago through his book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, and I was struck by how he wrote with such passion and compassion. An incredibly gracious and wise pastor-author, he always moves beyond dry theology to draw all to see Christ’s magnificence (you have to love his definition of God’s glory).

In this book, Ortlund draws a parallel between the heavens and the earth coming together in the first creation and Adam and Eve coming together in the first marriage. The shift from the “cosmic majesty in Genesis 1” to “a common everyday reality in Genesis 2, a young couple falling in love” calls us to a deep mystery. One of my favourite portions from the book are printed on pages 111-112,

“If the Bible is telling us the truth about reality, then the universe we live in was created primarily with marital romance in mind. The heavens and the earth were created for the marriage of Adam and Eve. The new heavens and the new earth will be created for the marriage of Christ and his bride. The whole of cosmic reality exists as the venue for the eternal honeymoon of the perfect husband with his perfect bride in marital bliss forever and ever. This is the breathtaking claim of the Bible. Human marriage has always been intended by God to serve as a prophetic whisper of the eternal marriage.”

It is not good for the man to be alone.” How Adam and Eve compliments one another points us to the nature of God as love, a fundamental mark of his Trinitarian being. The ultimate reality of the universe is relational. “For this man to be alone in a world created and ruled by the God who is love—the very fact that it is a perfect world makes his alone-ness unthinkable,” writes Ortlund. 

It is also through this book that I came to know these beautiful words spoken by N. T. Wright in a recent interview,

“If you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs, which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth and . . . the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity, so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

This book reminds me of Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here.

71oKFNeN7HL.jpgSpeaking of Viola, his Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom is also another wonderful new book that focuses on the topic of our allegiance to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Those who are tired of seeing Christ being imposed with labels such as “conservative”, “progressive”, “left”, and “right” will find themselves resonating heavily with what this book says. Viola’s definition of God’s kingdom is in a way similar to Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition from The Gospel and The Kingdom which statesGod’s people in God’s place under God’s rule”. With this book, he provides a practical outlook on how this kingdom of light should look like today.

“The Church ought to be a place bearing the DNA of divine life.” By submitting ourselves to Jesus Christ our king, we are no longer enslaved by the world’s system which is run by Satan. In the section titled “The Better Place”, Viola writes, Our life together as God’s people is the only evidence the Lord left in this world that He has inaugurated a new world through Jesus. God uses His kingdom community, the ekklesia, to model the new social order that Jesus brought in through His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. My question to you and every other Christian who is part of a church today is this: Is your life together embodying God’s kingdom to the world around you? If so, how?”

Another insight that I appreciate from Viola is that as those who commit ourselves to God’s kingdom and hence our brothers and sisters, we no longer claim “ownership” of our things — whether the spiritual or the material. Everything is given freely to us by God, and we, as stewards, are to not “own” these gifts (in a worldly sense) but to use and share them with the wisdom from above for God’s purposes.

Viola observes that a majority of today’s Christianity stresses on obeying and submitting to Jesus without first emphasising on how we need to be captured by the glory and beauty of Christ. What happens as a result of this neglect is an obedience out of guilt, fear, and even earthly ambition (such as wanting to be praised or recognised). Many of us burn out by “the god” of serving God (p.131). I personally think this is the trend in many “traditional” Chinese churches (I have talked about this in one of my earlier posts).

This another quote from Viola— probably my favourite part of the book — is worth remembering, ”Any demand that the Lord puts on us is motivated by love. And it also provides the power required to fulfil it. Therefore, all of the Lord’s commands aren’t really demands. They are promises.”

As many teachers have argued, God’s kingdom is the binding theme of the Bible. If you want to know more about the author’s take on this subject, there is a podcast by Viola (https://frankviola.me) consisting of twelve 3-minute episodes talking about God’s kingdom. I myself have learned so much over the years from the Viola’s podcast, blog, and books.

the-man-god-uses-oswald-smith

Oswald J. Smith’s The Man God Uses is a short yet encouraging Christian classic. I actually got it for one pound! The message and structure of this book are great as a devotional. The book provides many fundamental elements concerning our pursuit of God that many of us tend to forget, given that we are often tempted to forsake our first love as we age.

Smith encourages those who want to be used by the Lord to begin with love, to give the Lord our supreme love with an undivided heart. Smith quotes A.B Simpson, ”everything in Jesus and Jesus everything.” Stressing the centrality of Jesus Christ, Smith writes, “Thousands and thousands believed victory was in a doctrine, some believed it was in an experience, but when they came to realise that victory was in a Person, they stepped out of defeat into victory.”

What is the victorious life? Smiths answers, “It is the out-living of the indwelling Christ. As He indwells in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, He lives out His life from within. Jesus is living it in and through you. You cannot live it, but He can.” We indeed often forget that we have “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. We are, as Smith says, “God-inhabited” through the Spirit.

Smith also asserts that no matter how gifted or equipped we are, there will be little fruit if we do not pray. He also writes that it is better to have the heart right and head wrong rather than the opposite; and that it is better to have theory wrong but the practice right rather than the opposite. Smith asks himself, “Noah walked with God. Enoch walked with God. Could not I? Am not I more precious to God than my work, my possessions?” May we share the same mindset as Smith who concluded that, “God wants me, not merely my service.”

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Finally, Karen Marsh’s Vintage Saints and Sinners. This book is a delightful read consisting of the author’s narrative and appreciation of 25 Christians who have impacted her faith. These 25 include well-known men and women such as Augustine, A.W. Tozer, Brother Lawrence, Dorothy Day, and C.S. Lewis. Meanwhile, it also introduced me to those I had never heard of such as Amanda Berry Smith, Mary Paik Lee, and Howard Thurman. Marsh tells these stories to show us how human these saint-and-sinners are with their struggles and doubt, and that as Eugene Peterson once says, “we don’t become more spiritual by being less human”.

One of my favourite passage actually lies in the Foreward by Lauren Winner who writes,

“If you live in response to Jesus, the world will look different to you than it looks to your neighbours who, instead of attending to Jesus, pass their days in attention to the stock market, the New Yorker, or the devil. If you live in response to Jesus, you’ll look out your window and see a world created by God. You’ll see the powerless crucified by the powerful, and you’ll see the crucified One rising, and because you see those things—because you see the world with an eye attuned to Jesus—you’ll organize your life differently than your neighbour whose eye is attuned to the Dow Jones. Because they see differently and respond to what they see, saints often flout local convention and violate local norms. They often scandalize and unsettle. Sometimes they get arrested and killed.”


These books have nourished me so much. Many of these authors, despite their different background and writing styles, seem to share a few similar concerns which perhaps reflect also a common hunger within the Church today: Many of us hunger for a living Christ instead of a dead religion, and many of us have been let down by the disunity and lack of humility in the Church. To truly embody the living Christ and manifest His kingship, we need to learn once again how to decrease and let Him increase by “resurrecting” the pursuit of humility. Onwards to 2019.

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