Book Review Fridays: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I once confined myself to Christian books. “What’s the value of reading books with a secular worldview,” I thought. But Tim Challies encourages people to “read widely.” In a blog, Challies gives few reasons why Christians should consider reading regularly in the mainstream. I was convinced.

So as part of my “reading widely” practice, I started with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It was endorsed by a speaker I once listened to, and was recommended by Challies as well.

Initial Thoughts

Outliers, subtitled The Story of Success, is a book that lets readers view success in a very different way. I once thought that success is a product of one’s inherent ability. I believe I’m not alone on this. But the book proves otherwise.

Gladwell points that success isn’t a product of one’s ability and motivation. Rather, it is a product of extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies. The book is rightly divided into these two factors. To prove his point, Gladwell explains among many others:

• Why Canadian hockey players born in the earlier months of the year will most likely get to play professionally than those born in the latter months.
• What do Bill Gates and the Beatles have in common.
• Why Korean pilots will most likely crash airplanes than their racial/ethnic counterparts.

What I like about this book is that every chapter builds on the previous one. So as I read further and further, Gladwell’s argument for success becomes stronger and stronger. From the first chapter until the last, he does this. That’s why by the end of the book, I was convinced that success is really a matter of extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies.

Also, I found that Gladwell is fond of gathering stories and statistics to illustrate his point. And these stories and statistics weren’t just informative, but also interesting.

Allow me to share my thoughts on a chapter that made the most impact on me.

Constant Practice Makes Perfect

Chapter 2, which is titled The 10,000-Hour Rule and is my favorite chapter in the book, argues that for one to master a craft, he must devote ten thousand hours of practice. In a study done in Academy of Music in Berlin, three groups of violinists were made: Those judged to be world-class performers, those seen just to be “good”, and those unlikely to play professionally or simply intended to be music teachers in public schools.

They all started practicing roughly around the age of five. But as they reached the age of eight, differences started to spring up. Those deemed to be “great” had an increasing hours of practice as they grew, while others didn’t. By the time the “greats” were twenty, the amount of hours they devote for practice totaled to ten thousand hours! And the same pattern emerged for professional pianists.

This shows that the one who gets to practice more is more likely to succeed than the one who doesn’t. This is true for the Beatles. Before they invaded the music scene, they were already playing eight hours a day, seven days a week, for strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany from 1960-1962. And this is also true for Bill Gates, who got to program for a lot of hours during his younger years.

Indeed, practice makes perfect. Or: Constant practice makes perfect!

Conclusion

Outliers is a very good read, obviously a work of a brilliant author. If you want to understand more about success, then grab a copy of this book. Let it change the way you view success. And make this a part of your “reading widely” habit. I recommend this book to you.


Recent book reviews in The Reading Disciple:

God is the Gospel by John Piper
Truth Endures by Phil Johnson and Mike Taylor (eds.)

What I Think of Livestreamed Services

I’ve been hearing a lot of my friends watching livestreamed services instead of physically going to church for corporate worship. So I’ll take this opportunity to express my opinion on that.

First of all, I want to thank the Lord for technology. Can you imagine life without transportation, cellphones, and the Internet? I really can’t. Technology makes our lives easy and convenient.

Nowadays, certain technologies are used to spread the Gospel and build up the church. There are many ministries that make use of Web technologies to accomplish this. Excellent Web sites include Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and The Resurgence. These sites store articles, blogs, videos, sermons (audio and video formats), online books, and many more resources.

Furthermore, Web technologies allow churches to reach more areas. These include places where Christianity is prohibited, or where there is no Bible-believing, Gospel-centered churches that can be found.

While it is true that technology, particularly in the Web, can be used for evil purposes (like pornography and piracy), it can also be used for God’s purposes. So as Christians, let us redeem technology and make it obedient to Christ.

So let’s go back to our issue. Do I have any issue on “attending” livestreamed services? My answer: That depends.

There are certain times that physically attending a worship service on a Sunday is difficult, if not impossible. I’m referring to times like when a natural disaster strikes, or when a person has to attend to personal and/or family needs, or when you are in a place where Christianity is prohibited or no church can be found. In this case, it is valid to opt for a livestreamed service. I have no issue with that.

But what if there is no natural hazard, or no personal and/or family need to attend to, or Christianity is freely practiced in your place? Could a person still opt for livestreamed services? And do this on a regular basis?

My answer: No, for this is unwise. Why? Let me point you to the Acts 2 church:

42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (vv.42-47)

Notice this. The believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And daily, they were “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” They were physically present when doing these.

I expect someone will say to me, “But (Web) technologies aren’t present in the time of the early church.” I agree. And if ever these technologies were present, I believe the early believers will seize them to spread the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

But I also believe it will be limited, because there are certain aspects of fellowship that can’t be done with the mediation of technology. And even if it can be done, it can’t be done perfectly.

Sure, the “teaching” can be done with the use of it (That’s why we have livestreamed sermons, obviously). But what about the “fellowship”? And the “breaking of bread”? And the “prayers”? Like I said a while ago, even if these can be done, it can’t be done perfectly.

To opt for livestreamed services without valid reason is therefore unwise, for you are depriving yourself of the blessings of physical fellowship.

Personally, I still prefer physically attending a worship service. I want to see my pastor preach in person. And if I have questions for him, I will just approach him. I also want to be greeted by the ushers, and want to greet the person seated beside me, even though I don’t know them. I also want to have a chat with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and see and feel the emotions and expressions involved in the conversations. And I also want to be prayed for in person, and to pray for others in person.

Let me encourage you with this: If there is no valid reason to opt for a livestreamed service, then by all means attend a worship service physically. And I hope you experience real fellowship.

Ending Up Frustrated After Quiet Times

Sometimes, my quiet times leave me frustrated. During those times, I end up either not gaining any new knowledge about the Bible or God, or learning something new but couldn’t even remember it at other times of the day (so obviously, it did not have an impact on me). Should I call these quiet times failures? I hope you can relate with me (Actually, I’m experiencing these kinds of times lately).

Tim Challies offers a different perspective. I remembered a blog of his which he posted last year. I am thankful for it.

Date Nights and Devotions

In his blog Date Nights & Devotions, Challies likens devotional times to a date. He makes a reflection on his dates with his wife Aileen:

I think we’re good at dating. We both know that the main point of spending this kind of time together is to return home with a lot of new knowledge about one another. We like to head to a favorite restaurant and split a sandwich and an order of 4-cheese spinach dip. We just sit and talk. And when we head home we know we’ve had a good date if we’ve learned things about the other that we didn’t know before. If we haven’t learned anything new we know that our date hasn’t been so good and we swear that we’ll do better next time. Because this is the point of dating—to accumulate knowledge about the person you love.

But he proceeds with this:

I’m lying. Well, only partially. That is exactly how we date these days. But it’s not at all how we gauge the success of our dates. We know we’ve had a good date when we’ve enjoyed spending time together. We don’t need to learn anything new. We don’t need to gain facts. We just need to be together, enjoying one another’s presence. We can go shopping and sit in a bookstore and consider it a great date. We return home refreshed, renewed and loving one another more than when we set out. And that’s a great date. (Emphasis added)

He’s right. The point of dating is to enjoy spending time with another person. What’s the point if one had a better knowledge (or actually remembered a new knowledge) about the other person after a date, but didn’t really enjoy the time spent together?

Sure, having a new knowledge of another person is important. But it is not the final measure of success of dates.

Then Challies writes (and this is convicting):

But isn’t it funny that when it comes to personal devotions, when it comes to our relationship to the Lord, we change the rules. We judge the success of our time with the Lord by what we get out of it, by what we remember, by what we’ve learned. We consider our devotions a success when we learn some new fact about God or about the Bible. We admire those who have great biblical knowledge or a great memory for the facts of what they’ve read. We get discouraged and want to give up when we feel like we have learned nothing through that day’s devotions. (Emphasis added)

This is definitely true of me. I believe many can relate to this as well.

Actually Spending Time with God, and Enjoying the Moment

Let me excerpt from Challies’ blog one more time:

But what if we are missing the point? What if the point of devotions is less about learning about God and more about spending time with God? What if it’s less about Bible study and more about building relational intimacy? What would change about our devotions if instead of trying to learn about God, we focused instead on spending time with God, time spent hearing from him through his Word and speaking to him through prayer? If this is the case it doesn’t much matter what we remember at the end of it because the joy has been in the moment, the value has been in the time spent together. The joy of dating isn’t in the aftermath but in the moment. And I think the same can be true with our devotions. (Emphasis added)

Now, I’m trying something else for a change. In recent times, I just read through a portion of the Bible. And if I can’t get any new fact from it, I just let it go. My personal Bible study will compensate for any knowledge I didn’t acquire during my quiet times.

So lately in my quiet times, I’ve been spending more time talking to God, lifting Him my desires and concerns, and listening to Him, rather than trying to squeeze out the Scripture (in a short time), which sucks all my energy and leaves me frustrated.

I can say that I’m actually spending time with God, and enjoying my moment with Him.

Rewind (February 13-19, 2012)

8 blogs:

1. Weekly Wraps (February 6-12, 2012) – Mark Driscoll on men and provision, Doug Wilson on apologetics, Brad Lomenick on leadership and getting things done, and etc.

2. Rewind (February 6-12, 2012) – 6 blogs.

3. Loving God: The Primary Agenda of Life – We must make loving God the primary agenda of our lives.

4. When My Bank Account Dictates My Love Life – Is financial stability a crucial factor to consider before entering a relationship with a woman?

5. What I Keep in Mind When I Blog – To set an example and pace for other bloggers, here’s what I keep in mind when I blog.

6. Five Crazy Things I Did in the Name of Love – It’s about time that I show the soft side of myself in this blog. And I included an encouragement to men at the end.

7. Should We Feel Guilty if We Are Not Evangelistic Enough? – Here’s my answer.

8. Book Review Fridays: God Is the Gospel by John Piper – ‎This book really made me understand the Gospel deeper. I recommend this book to you.

Weekly Wraps (February 13-19, 2012)

Mark Driscoll on marital conflict, Matt Smethurst on Jeremy Lin, Brad House on community, and et cetera.

1. 1 Sinner + 1 Sinner ≠ 0 Conflict (Mark Driscoll) – Driscoll on marital conflicts. At the opening, he writes: “If you are married, you will have conflict. You cannot avoid it because marriage is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. You are a sinner, and you are married to a sinner.”

2. Faith and Basketball: The Sudden Rise of Jeremy Lin (Matt Smethurst)

3. Hearing the Beat of Your Community (Brad House) – House on community. He wisely writes: “The best leaders become students of their mission field.” As a part of Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) Makati, which is a relatively new church in Makati City, I better apply this.

4. Sex In Marriage (Nathan Bingham) – Bingham excerpts from Joel Beeke’s Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism

5. Never Waste a Good Crisis (Tim Challies) – Challies on crisis. He also tackles The Manhattan Declaration.

6. When Pastors Give the Sex Talk (Jay Thomas) – Thomas counsels pastors on how to make sex talk fresh.

7. Evangelical Leaders Call for Civil Disobedience Against U.S. Government (Joe Carter)

8. Valentine’s Day (Mark Driscoll) – Driscoll on St. Valentine and the day attributed to him.

9. How Did Valentine’s Day Begin? (Justin Taylor) – Taylor quotes Maggi Dawn.

10. Made for Relationship (Anna Blankenship) – Blankenship on relationships. She writes: “Our Christian culture has bought into the lie that the only thing we need is God when we were created not only vertically (to be in relationship with God), but also horizontally (to be in relationship with others).”

Book Review Fridays: God Is the Gospel by John Piper

This is my only John Piper reading for the past year. Again, Piper blows my mind away. God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2011) allowed me to see the Gospel in a very different light. It made me realize what is the greatest good of the Gospel.

Initial Observations

Just like other of Piper’s books, God Is the Gospel is rich in profound, mind-engaging, paradigm-shattering thoughts. But one must be warned that the book isn’t easy to read. I myself had a hard time grasping Piper’s thoughts that I had to reread sentences and even paragraphs to understand what I’m reading. It must be said that diligence and perseverance is required in reading this book.

One of the things I like, or enjoy reading, in this book is Chapter 2, where Piper begins to define the Gospel and considers the biblical scope of its meaning. It seems that he took all the verses with the word “gospel” and explains how the Bible defines it. This gives the reader a clear, even comprehensive, picture of the Gospel.

Why God is the Gospel?

I believe the aim of the book is, obviously, to show that God is the Gospel. Piper keeps on pressing this point throughout the book. I like what he writes:

When I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. The saving love of God is God’s commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely himself. Since we are sinners and have no right and no desire to be enthralled with God, therefore God’s love enacted a plan of redemption to provide that right and that desire. The supreme demonstration of God’s love was the sending of his Son to die for our since and to rise again so that sinners might have the right to approach God and might have the pleasure of his presence. (13-14, emphasis added)

Piper is right! He’s simply repeating what 1 Peter 3:18 says:

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… (Emphasis added)

God’s plan of redemption is ultimately aimed to bring us to Himself, who alone can satisfy our souls and make us eternally happy. This is what makes the Gospel, the good news, good.

Furthermore, Piper proves that all the Gospel events and Gospel gifts are meaningless when it does not bring us to the ultimate good, which is God:

My point in this book is that all the saving events and all the saving blessings of the gospel are means of getting obstacles out of the way so that we might know and enjoy God most fully. Propitiation, redemption, forgiveness, imputation, sanctification, liberation, healing, heaven—none of these is good news except for one reason: they bring us to God for our everlasting enjoyment of him. If we believe all these things happened to us, but do not embrace them for the sake of getting to God, they have not happened to us. (47)

Burden for Gospel Preachers

Piper also shares his burden for preachers:

My burden in this book is to make as clear as I can that preachers can preach on these great aspects of the gospel and yet never take people to the goal of the gospel. Preachers can say dozens of true and wonderful things about the gospel and not lead people to where the gospel is leading. (41)

The last sentence is so true. I have heard of preachers who do this. Most of them preach as if entrance to heaven is the ultimate thing (I will discuss on this in a bit). I believe they are sincere and don’t intend any harm done. But unaware, they’re preaching an incomplete Gospel.

I love the burden of Piper for preachers! This warning and exhortation are very helpful to preachers, including myself. I better learn to preach the Gospel in such a way that it points to God as the ultimate good of it.

On Heaven

I always thought that the ultimate good of being forgiven of my sins through the work of Christ is that I possess eternal life and enter heaven. But Piper challenges that thinking:

Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the Gospel. (47)

So if we desire heaven without any reference to Christ, or we think of heaven as the ultimate good of the Gospel, we must think twice! Maybe we haven’t yet been converted by the Gospel after all, for it brings us to God.

Conclusion

God Is the Gospel really made me understand the Gospel deeper. It made me realized that the aim of all the Gospel events and gifts is to remove any obstacle that hinders us to fully enjoy God. Indeed, the Gospel brings us to Him, the ultimate good of the Gospel. This makes the good news of the Gospel good! I recommend this book to you.


Recent book reviews in The Reading Disciple:

Truth Endures by Phil Johnson and Mike Taylor (eds.)

Should We Feel Guilty if We Are Not Evangelistic Enough?

I have a friend who gets along with strangers easily. She initiates to approach them and quickly engages them in a conversation. Pretty soon, she’s sharing the Gospel with them. When I’m with her and these moments happen, I say to myself, “Why am I not like her?” She is just one of those many others who can do these evangelistic conversations with ease.

I love to share the Gospel whenever I have the opportunity, and I wish I also have my friend’s ability to easily engage into evangelistic conversations. I can just imagine how many people would hear of the Gospel if I can just easily share with virtually every stranger I meet.

Admittedly, I feel guilty whenever I hear or know of people who can easily share the Gospel to strangers. It makes me feel inferior to those who can. But I now ask myself, “Should I really feel guilty and inferior?” Allow me to share my reflection.

Some Clarifications First

The issue we are tackling is not whether we should share the Gospel or not. Clearly, we must share the Gospel, as it is part of the Great Commission (“make disciples”) which Christ commands (Matthew 28:19-20). Rather, we will address the question, “Should we feel guilty, even inferior, if we are not ‘evangelistic’ enough as others do?” When I say “not evangelistic enough,” I mean to say not being able to easily engage with strangers and share them the Gospel. Take note of the word easily.

Factors

I believe that this concern is a matter of giftedness, personality, and leading of the Holy Spirit. I will discuss each of these factors briefly.

Giftedness. Evangelism is a gift (Ephesians 4:11). There are people who can easily turn any conversation into an evangelistic one. We call them evangelists. My friend is obviously graced with this gift; I believe I am not.

Personality. People have different personalities. Some are extroverts or outgoing; others are introverts or reserved. Some are loud-types; others are the silent-types. Some have strong personalities; others have timid ones. I believe I have oversimplified this topic here, but reality tells us that this is much more complicated. But in His wisdom, God gifted us with different personalities. We can tell if we can easily start a conversation with others, even with strangers, depending on the personality we have. My friend has an outgoing personality, and I do as well.

Leading of the Holy Spirit. I’d also like to call this opportunity. Of course, we can and we will only engage on evangelistic opportunities upon the leading of God’s Spirit. My friend and I only get to share the Gospel to strangers as the Spirit allows.

Possibilities

Let’s consider some possibilities.

It’s possible that one is not given the gift of evangelism. Obviously, this makes it harder for a person to share the Gospel, practically speaking at least (We all know that we can do all things, including evangelism, through Christ who strengthens us [Philippians 4:13]). So no matter how outgoing he is, if he is not gifted, then he can’t engage into a witness easily.

It’s also possible that one is gifted with evangelism, but don’t possess an outgoing personality. These people usually shares the Gospel when there is an evangelistic event in their church, or an evangelistic opportunity after the Sunday service, or when he has already established a relationship with a person who was recently just a stranger to him.

Finally, it’s also possible that a person is gifted and outgoing, but is not led by the Spirit to share the Gospel. So no matter how gifted and outgoing a person is, without the leading of the Spirit, one can’t share the Gospel or is simply sharing in vain.

My friend, obviously, is gifted, outgoing, and is most of the times led by the Spirit. I’m not gifted, but I’m outgoing. And most of the times, I’m not led by the Spirit (though I’m making a reflection; perhaps I’m just not that sensitive to His leading).

So Should We Feel Guilty?

My answer to the question: No!

In His wisdom, God gifted some people with evangelism. And also in His wisdom, He blessed some people with personalities that make it easy for them to turn any conversation into an evangelistic one. And finally, in His perfect time, His Spirit leads people to share the Gospel.

But in His grace, He chose some people whom He has given the gift of evangelism and a personality that easily transforms conversations into an evangelistic one, and whom He most of the times, if not always, leads to share the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So if you believe you are among those people, then be thankful to God and continue what you are doing.

If you aren’t, then don’t feel guilty. Rather, seek other ways to advance the Gospel. (I volunteer for my youth ministry as a Gospel sharer, even though I’m not gifted with evangelism. Every after the youth service, volunteers get to share to first-timers, who are assigned to them. This opportunity clearly does not require that a volunteer must be gifted and outgoing. What matters is they are led by the Spirit to share the Gospel. So with this opportunity available, I’m left with no excuse not to share the Gospel. And I’m sure there are lots more available out there).

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