Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Write-Up: Love, Henri, by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Henri J.M. Nouwen.  Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life.  Ed., Gabrielle Earnshaw.  New York: Convergent, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, an author, a professor, and one who worked with the developmentally-delayed.  I first heard of him when I read his book, The Wounded Healer, over ten years ago.  Nouwen talked in that book about ministering to others from a place of brokenness.  A compelling story in that book concerned Henri’s attempts to minister to a lonely, depressed farmer who was in the hospital.  Even though nobody else was there for that farmer, Henri assured that farmer that he cared and was there for him.

Henri Nouwen’s sensitivity, compassion, insight, brokenness, vulnerability, and love for Jesus shine in Love, Henri, which is a collection of Henri Nouwen’s letters to people.  Henri writes to people who come to him with their problems, such as estrangement, loneliness, marital breakdown, disaffection with the church, loss, and feelings of rejection.  Henri encourages them to take refuge in God’s love, and he sometimes offers practical ways for them to do that.  Nouwen also shares in his letters what went on in his own life: his feelings of alienation within academia, what he learned from his prolonged experience among the poor in Latin America, how celibacy and loneliness bring him closer to God, and his attempts to recover from a serious accident.  Moreover, Nouwen offers theological thoughts, about such topics as the importance of the church, the virgin Mary, how many people hunger to hear about Jesus, whether the Eucharist should be exclusive or inclusive, and the question of whether those who do not know of Jesus explicitly can be in relationship with Jesus.

There were thoughts in the book that I particularly appreciated.  Nouwen talked about how we become more aware of our flaws and the complexity of our motivations as we grow older.  He made the intriguing observation that when he was in academia he wrote a lot about poverty, but when he was working with the poor he wrote a lot about God.  A statement that he makes more than once in this book is that Jesus said “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20), not “Blessed are those who help the poor.”  For Nouwen, God is found among the poor.  Nouwen wrote to a man who was writing a book about a surly theologian whose books touched many, encouraging the man not to beat himself up if the theologian did not like him.  To a man who was struggling to forgive his son, Henri exhorted him to ground himself in God’s love, so that he can be welcoming if his son were to make contact.  Nouwen offered another person advice about reconciliation and how to navigate the social interactions involved in that.  Nouwen also corrected a common misunderstanding of The Wounded Healer, which I myself shared: Nouwen disavowed the idea that he was saying that people should try to minister to others when their personal wounds are fresh, for that could be counter-productive.

There are famous names that come up in this book.  Nouwen wrote to Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood) when Mr. Rogers was depressed after a negative review.  When Senator Mark Hatfield was subjected to an ethics investigation, Nouwen encouraged him to read the Russian mystics for strength.

The subject of Nouwen’s same-sex attraction came up to this book.  In some letters, Nouwen says that he struggles against it, mainly because he wants to remain celibate and to find his satisfaction in Jesus.  Later in the book, when it came to other people’s same-sex attraction, Nouwen seemed open and accepting.
Love, Henri is a refreshing book to read, on account of its compassionate tone and its insights.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books.  My review is honest!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Current Events Write-Up: Premiums and Cancer Patients, Prophet Johnson on Trump, the UN, MLK on Planned Parenthood, and the Other Gettysburg Address

Time for another Current Events Write-Up, in which I link to news and opinion pieces and comment on them.

Health Care

I’d like to use as my starting-point Jason Easley’s article for PoliticusUSA, entitled “Paul Ryan’s Obamacare Replacement Is a Death Sentence for Cancer Patients.”

Paul Ryan had a town-hall meeting, and a cancer patient told him that Obamacare saved his life.  Ryan responded that he, too, believes that people with pre-existing conditions should be able to receive affordable care.  The problem with Obamacare, Ryan says, is that it drives up deductibles and premiums for people.  Is there a way to give coverage to people with costly pre-existing conditions, without driving up deductibles and premiums?  Ryan’s solution is to set up high-risk pools.  Jason Easley argues that, under this proposal, “cancer patients will be given less healthcare and lower odds of survival.”

Easley criticizes Ryan for implying that cancer patients are ruining health care for others, by driving up their deductibles and premiums.  On online discussions, commenters have expressed similar sentiments.  On the one side, there are cancer patients who fear losing their coverage under the Affordable Care Act: that would impose insurmountable financial costs on them, and perhaps even cost them their lives.  On the other side, you have people who are complaining about the Affordable Care Act on account of the high deductibles and premiums.  They wonder why they should spend hundreds of dollars each month on premiums, for insurance that they may not even use.  Many in the former group are accusing people in the latter group of being selfish: of wanting to save bucks and have a more comfortable life at the expense of the cancer patients’ very existence.  Even if people in the latter group never use their health insurance, the money that they pay into the health insurance system will cover the treatment of someone else who does need the health insurance.

I thought back to a conversation that former Governor Ed Rendell had on Charlie Rose’s show back in 2012.  Rendell was referring to Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry’s proposal for health care during his 2004 election campaign.  Rendell said that Kerry’s plan would insure that cancer patients are covered, while bringing down premiums for others.  I was curious about the details of this plan, and I found a 2004 New York Times article that summarized it.  Here is the relevant section:

“For the vast majority of Americans and most businesses as well, the chief worry is soaring premiums.  Here Mr. Kerry has proposed an innovative solution. He would have a federally funded ‘reinsurance’ program reimburse employers for 75 percent of all medical bills exceeding some catastrophic limit — say, for example, $30,000 a year. That would mean companies and group health plans would no longer have to shoulder the most costly cases that account for a huge chunk of all health expenditures. In return, the companies would have to pass the savings on in reduced premiums, cover all workers and set up disease management programs. The Kerry camp estimates this might reduce premiums by 10 percent, mostly by shifting the cost to the taxpayers.”

There are probably strengths and weaknesses to this proposal.  Still, something should be done to ensure that cancer patients receive care, while also taking into consideration the concerns of people who are burdened by monthly premiums, and may not fall into that economic niche that would get them sufficient Obamacare subsidies.

Political Figures

I’ll start with this Vox article defending Jill Stein.  Is Jill Stein against wi-fi?  Does she believe that vaccines caused autism?  This article defends her against these charges, while mildly critiquing her for failing to stick to her guns on certain issues (i.e., Brexit).

Benjamin Corey criticizes a statement by Prophet Jeremiah Johnson, which appeared in Charisma Magazine.  Johnson said the following:

“I was in a time of prayer several weeks ago when God began to speak to me concerning the destiny of Donald Trump in America. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘Trump shall become My trumpet to the American people, for he possesses qualities that are even hard to find in My people these days. Trump does not fear man nor will he allow deception and lies to go unnoticed. I am going to use him to expose darkness and perversion in America like never before, but you must understand that he is like a bull in a china closet. Many will want to throw him away because he will disturb their sense of peace and tranquility, but you must listen through the bantering to discover the truth that I will speak through him. I will use the wealth that I have given him to expose and launch investigations searching for the truth. Just as I raised up Cyrus to fulfill My purposes and plans, so have I raised up Trump to fulfill my purposes and plans prior to the 2016 election. You must listen to the trumpet very closely for he will sound the alarm and many will be blessed because of his compassion and mercy. Though many see the outward pride and arrogance, I have given him the tender heart of a father that wants to lend a helping hand to the poor and the needy, to the foreigner and the stranger.'”

Corey makes legitimate criticisms of Johnson’s prophecy, especially when Corey wonders how Johnson’s vision of Trump helping the foreigner and stranger meshes with Trump’s stance on illegal immigration.

Still, the prophecy resonates with me.  I am not saying that I believe Johnson is expressing the opinions of Almighty God on Trump.  I am just saying that the statement resonates with me, in areas.  Trump does go against the grain.  He comes across as fearless.  People attack him, and he keeps on moving forward.  And I would like to think that there is more to him than bluster, pride, and arrogance.

In 2008, I read “prophecies” about Barack Obama, one negative and the other positive.  I talk about that in my post here.  The positive prophecy said that Barack Obama is a person who hungers for righteousness, and that resonated with my understanding of Barack Obama at the time: I saw him as a decent human being who sincerely wanted to find common ground with the other side and help find solutions to the nation’s problems.  Eight years later, my response to Obama is rather “meh.”  I don’t think he was a horrible President, or even that he is a bad human being.  But he had to contend with a lot of gridlock, to the point that he came across as a lame-duck.

There is a part of me that hopes that President Trump will be able to cut through a lot of crap and accomplish positive reforms.  Whether my optimism is misplaced or not, I cannot yet say.

The UN

Mother Jones had an article entitled, “Obama Just Took One Final Step to Fight Global Warming: And There’s Nothing Donald Trump Can Do About It.”  Here is what President Obama did: “On Tuesday, Obama transferred $500 million to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, a key program set up to finance climate change adaptation and renewable energy projects in developing countries.”

Over at Townhall, Terry Paulson has a column, “Is It Time to Defund the UN?”  He leans in the “yes” direction, saying that the UN condemns Israel while privileging Israel’s radical Islamic enemies, and that the UN ignores Nigeria’s brutal oppression of secessionists.  Interestingly, Paulson provides a quote that indicates that at least some of those secessionists are placing their hope in Donald Trump.

I do not know much about this issue, but it would not surprise me if the UN is inconsistent in applying its principles, as many institutions are.  The same is true of the US.

Will Trump care about Nigeria?  I am not too optimistic.  Unfortunately and sadly, I tend to agree with economist Bruce Bartlett when he said: “Serious question. If it wasn’t for oil and the Jewish vote, would anyone care what happens in the Middle East? It would be like Africa, where thousands of people die all the time and no one gives a rat’s ass. If it don’t affect us, materially or politically, Americans just don’t care, at all. That’s an undeniable fact.”  Maybe that compassionate father’s heart that prophet Johnson talked about will influence Trump to care, but that remains to be seen.

Historical Interest

Media Matters has an article entitled, “Reminder to Conservatives: Martin Luther King Jr. Praised Planned Parenthood.”  That does not surprise me.  MLK believed a lot of things that would not resonate with conservatives.  Rather than saying that MLK would agree with them if alive today, perhaps conservatives would do better to argue that their views, in areas, are closer to the principles that MLK defended, even if MLK himself did not apply his principles in that manner.

I was reading a book that told the usual story of the Gettysburg Address: how the person who spoke before Lincoln went on for two hours, and then Lincoln delivered his short Gettysburg Address.  I was curious about the person who spoke before Lincoln.  His name was Edward Everett, and the goal of his speech was to discuss the significance of the American Civil War in light of American history and also the history of Greece.  So says Ted Widmer in this NYT blog post.  And here is Everett’s speech, if you want to read it!  It looks rather flowery to me, but I may read it at a later time.  It is cool what the Internet provides!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Church Write-Up: Church Is About Jesus

Due to inclement weather, the church that I normally attend cancelled services last Sunday.  As I did the previous Sunday, when it cancelled services, I watched the live-stream of John MacArthur, Jr.’s Grace Community Church.

MacArthur is doing a series on the church.  MacArthur said that church is not about us making contacts to enrich ourselves, us recovering from substance abuse, or even us feeling better about ourselves so that we can get through the week.  On that last point, MacArthur likened church to a carousel: we get on, enjoy the music, and then get off at the same place where we got on!

For MacArthur, church is about exalting Jesus.  A component of that is serious, respectful worship.  MacArthur was calling the musical part of the service a taste of heaven, and, I must admit, it was powerful and majestic!  For MacArthur, when we exalt Jesus, things in our life fall into their proper place.

MacArthur was also placing the church within a larger context.  God the Father has given Christ the people of the church, according to John 6:37.  We belong to Christ, and we glorify Christ by imaging Christ.  At the eschaton, Christ will give the church to the Father, so that God may be all in all, a la I Corinthians 15:28.  According to MacArthur, the world is decaying, but the church will last forever.

At the end of the sermon, MacArthur reluctantly said that there were three men who were unfaithful to their….And that’s when the live-stream ended!  The service was about to start communion, but we were not shown that.

Oddly, the sermon made me feel better.  I realize that MacArthur’s whole point was that church isn’t about me but is about Jesus, but it still made me feel better.  Recent events made me evaluate the question of why I go to church.  I cannot deny that one reason is to make contacts: I have difficulty making friends, and church is a community where I can meet people, maybe people who would give me a job reference!  But that may not happen.  Would I say that church is a waste?  I should not say that.  It is a place for me to exalt Jesus and to learn about Jesus’ grace and character.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Write-Up: Amish Weddings, by Leslie Gould

Leslie Gould.  Amish Weddings.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Amish Weddings in the third book of Leslie Gould’s Neighbors of Lancaster County series.  The reason that the series is called the “Neighbors of Lancaster County” is that two families of neighbors feature prominently in the books: the Lehmans, who are Amish, and the Becks, who are not.

Book 3 essentially takes up where Book 2 left off.  Zane Beck has become Amish to marry Lila Lehman, but they are not yet married.  Reuben, the steady and reliable Amish young man who was courting Lila before she decided to marry Zane, is now in a romantic relationship with Lila’s half-sister Rose.  Lila’s step-father Tim is still romantically involved with Beth, the schoolteacher, but he cannot marry her because her ex-husband is still alive, and such a marriage would contradict Amish rules.  Casey, Zane’s female friend from the service, has a cameo in this book.

At least three things are going on in Book 3.  For one, Lila is in an accident that leaves her injured.  The driver of the automobile is blaming her for the accident, so there is a chance that his insurance company will not have to help pay her expensive hospital bills.  Zane wants to bring lawyers into the situation, but that contradicts the Amish way, which looks down on going to court.

Second, as Lila’s step-father, Tim, fails to show Lila the support that she needs during her recovery, Lila has a desire to learn more about her biological father.

Third, Zane’s friend from the service, Trevor, is visiting Zane, and Rose is attracted to him. Although people remark that her relationship with Reuben is making her a better person, she is finding Reuben rather dull and is attracted to Zane.

I said in my review of Book 2 that it had a lot of characters.  I found Book 3 to be easier to follow.  Part of the reason was that I had read Book 2 and was thus familiar with the characters when I read Book 3.  It also helped that, when Lila met her biological father’s family, Lila provided a succinct summary of who was who in her family.  But I also think that Book 3 had a more manageable number of plot-lines and foci.  I still believe, though, that more writers of Amish fiction, Leslie Gould included, should do what Amy Clipston does and include a family tree at the beginning of the book.  That way, if a reader asks “Who is that person again?”, the reader can check the family tree and refresh his or her memory.

This book was particularly good because it described what the characters were thinking.  There was a lot of reflection in this book about the way that people are and why, and that gave the book more meat.  There is steady Reuben, who wishes that his bishop father would do something about those Lehmans, who seem to be led astray by their non-Amish neighbors!  The discussion between Reuben and Tim on that topic was especially endearing.  We also get to learn more about Reuben’s perspective on the relationship between Lila and Zane, which was the topic of Book 2.  Lila enjoyed learning about the world and discussing issues, whereas Reuben preferred to focus on what affected him in his own world.  Then there is Rose, whom people think is rather shallow and self-centered, in contrast to her late mother.  But people who knew Rose’s mother when she was Rose’s age know that the mother was not too different from Rose!  She matured, as Rose does in this book.

The book also does an artful job tying the plot-line about Lila searching for her biological father, with the plot-line about the romance between Trevor and Rose.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Current Events Write-Up: Pharmaceuticals, Barack Obama's Departure, a Three-State Solution, Patricia Heaton, Anne Frank, Etc.

Time for another week of links to news and opinion pieces!

Pharmaceuticals

“Cory Booker and 12 Other Dems Just Stopped Bernie Sanders’ Amendment to Lower Prescription Drug Costs,” by Walter Bragman.

Bad news!  Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment that would allow importation of cheap prescription drugs into the United States, and Cory Booker and twelve Democrats helped kill it.  Of course, most of the Republicans voted against it, too.  And yet, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voted for the amendment!  Good for them!  And is that not a conservative approach: allow competition to bring down prices?  UPDATE: See here for Cory Booker's side of the story.

Meanwhile, at the Halls of Justice!  Peter Welch is a Democratic Congressman from Vermont, and he praises Donald Trump for finding common ground with him on pharmaceuticals:

“Today, President-elect Donald J. Trump strongly endorsed an issue I have been pushing hard for in Congress – requiring the federal government to use its significant bulk purchasing power to cut the price of prescription drugs for seniors and taxpayers. Here is what he said at this morning’s press conference:  ‘We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world. And yet we don’t bid properly. We’re going to start bidding. We’re going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.’  Music to my ears. It’s crazy that Medicare buys drugs at wholesale but pays retail prices. I’ve introduced a bill that would require price negotiations with Big Pharma. It will cut drug prices, save taxpayer dollars, and shore up the Medicare trust fund. I’m ready to get to work with President-elect Trump to pass this commonsense legislation.”

Over at the conservative web site Townhall, Devon Herrick writes on how “Congress Should Take Steps to Make Drugs More Affordable.”  He criticizes, among other things, how the FDA takes a long time to approve new drugs.  At the conservative web site, The Federalist, Margot Cleveland actually praises President Barack Obama for moving in the direction of correcting that!  Yet, as far as Herrick is concerned, there is more work to be done: “The FDA’s bias toward approving newer, first-in-class therapies has increased approvals for expensive drugs to treat rare diseases, which are at a historic high. Approvals of me-too drugs are down, however, which limits competition within drug classes, leading to higher prices, and limits patient choices.”

Jill Stein and the Russian Hacking

Jill Stein posted a link to an article by David Swanson, questioning the U.S. Government’s Russian-hacking report and defending Wikileaks against the U.S. Intelligence community.  That’s the Jill Stein I voted for, not the one who has been challenging the election results!

The Donald: A Different Kind of Republican

I enjoyed Reihan Salam’s article on Slate, entitled “Will Donald Trump Be FDR or Jimmy Carter?”  Salam is not too optimistic about the coming Donald Trump Presidency, as far as I can see.  Yet, I appreciated an observation that Salam made, and I have made the same observation myself.  In the past, many Republicans ran their campaigns by distinguishing between the makers and the takers, shaming the poor who receive assistance from the government.  Remember Mitt Romney’s 47% comment!  Trump’s campaign did not do that, as far as I can recall.  Rather, Trump’s campaign held that people are struggling economically on account of a systemic problem.  Trump blamed illegal immigrants, and many may not care for that kind of scapegoating, but Trump also criticized big corporations for sending jobs overseas.

President Barack Obama

George Stephanopoulos at ABC This Week interviewed President Barack Obama.  I especially appreciated this moment of candid self-criticism on the part of the President: “And so [Democrats ha]ve got to do a better job of showing up. And I was able to do that when I was the candidate. But I have not– I’ve not seen or– or presided over that kind of systematic outreach that I think needs to happen.”

As I read my friends’ expressions of sadness over the coming departure of Barack Obama from the Presidency, I have wondered why I have not shared their sadness.  It may be because I rarely see Barack Obama speaking to the public: it’s like he’s in hiding, so he has not made much of an impression on me.  And, when he does come out, it’s often to lecture, which comes across as rather self-righteous.  But don’t get me wrong: there have been times when I have appreciated what Barack Obama has had to say.  When he expressed openness to conservative ideas on bringing down the cost of higher education and health care, I applauded him.  That was the Barack Obama I loved in 2008: the transformative candidate!

At Townhall, Jeff Jacoby has a column, “Barack Obama’s Legacy of Failure.”  There’s not much that is new there, but the section on foreign policy got me thinking, or at least reminded me of some things that I have been thinking lately.  I have been gravitating towards the conservatism that supports isolationism, which is not to say that I embrace the domestic policy of the right, but rather than I enjoy reading conservatives who support a non-interventionist foreign policy, as opposed to the neo-cons.  That is one reason that I like Donald Trump, at least for the time being.  But Jacoby’s column criticizes President Obama for being non-interventionist on foreign policy.  And isn’t that accurate, on a certain level?  Permitting the Arab Spring.  Being reluctant to bomb Syria.  Aren’t those examples of President Obama’s non-interventionism?  Of course, one can point out the opposite, too: President Obama’s support of regime change in Libya, and his use of drones.  Still, I wonder if his non-interventionism has worked.  Yet, as a counterweight, I do not want the U.S. to go back to the disastrous interventionism of the Iraq War.

James David Audlin had a status comparing the vilification of President-elect Trump with the 2008-2009 vilification of President-elect Obama.   Of course, people are responding by saying that is a “false equivalence,” a term I have heard often over the last several months.  Okay, maybe there are differences between the criticisms of the respective Presidents-elect.  Still, I find that I am turned off by the criticisms of Trump today, as I was by the criticisms of Barack Obama in 2008: the caricatures, the mockery, the attitude that he cannot do anything right, the tendency to read a sinister motive into everything he says and does.  The criticisms of Obama in 2008 were among the factors that moved me to the left.  Today, the criticisms of Trump are not moving me to the right, so much, but they have encouraged me to read more from the right.  Actually, the reason that I liked Obama in 2008, and a reason that I like Trump now, is that both expressed openness to ideas of the other side of the spectrum.  I am not so much against constructive criticism: it may actually move Trump in a positive direction, as Trump looks for queues about what to do.  The vilification is what turns me off.

Israel

Over at Townhall, Bruce Bialosky has an interesting article entitled “The Three State Solution.”  We hear a lot about the two-state solution.  But, as Bialosky notes, there are actually two regions that have Palestinian authorities: Gaza, led by Hamas, and the West Bank, led by Fatah.  And, according to Bialosky, the West Bank under Fatah is more prosperous than Gaza under Hamas.  I appreciate that Bialosky does not lump the Palestinians together.

Entertainment

Christianity Today had an interview with actress Patricia Heaton.  Heaton has had two successful sitcoms: “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle.”  I love both shows!  Heaton talks about the insecurities that exist in the acting career, the contrasts between acting in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and acting in “The Middle,” and her own Christian faith and charity work in the Third World.

Historical Interest

“The Holocaust Survivor Who Hated Anne Frank,” by Philip Graubart. 

Basically, she thought that Anne Frank was mean and spoiled!  Graubart astutely says:
“She didn’t like Anne Frank. At first I couldn’t absorb the sentiment, couldn’t really believe my ears. It was like hearing a Catholic say she wasn’t fond of the Virgin Mary, that she was sick of all her tiresome bragging. Virgin birth – big deal. But then I realized that Trudy’s distaste for Anne Frank the person – whatever girlhood tiff set it off – returned the Holocaust to where it belongs, in prosaic human history. It’s not a myth, or a sacred narrative, with demigods and martyrs and supernatural heroines. It’s not a biblical story, a tragic moment pointing to redemption. It’s a story of girls and boys, Annes and Trudys, and their brothers and sisters and parents, murdered and tortured the way humans have murdered and tortured since time immemorial.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Church Write-Up: MacArthur Starts a Series on the Church

Last Sunday, the church that I usually attend cancelled its services, since there was an ice-storm.  I live on the West Coast, so I was trying to find an online service that matched my time-zone.  I decided to watch Grace Community Church’s service.  Grace Community Church is located in California, and its pastor is John MacArthur, Jr.

The service was impressive.  There was a choir, and there were nicely-dressed people in front of the choir playing violins and cellos.  The words of the songs were placed on the bottom of the screen so that viewers could sing along.  It was a formal, Reformed kind of service.

MacArthur preached the message, and he was starting a series on the church.  MacArthur was baffled that there are people who claim to have a personal relationship with Christ, yet have no relationship with the church.  For MacArthur, their relationship with Christ must not be that good, for Christ himself loves the church, and aren’t people in a relationship with Christ supposed to love what Christ loves?  MacArthur was saying that church is where believers live, move, and have their being.  It is where they serve, and where their spiritual desires are met.  The church is their kingdom, their people.  MacArthur related his own experience of the church: he grew up in it, made his friends there, and met his wife there.

MacArthur was critical of those who do church by themselves, by listening to their favorite teachers and the music that they select.  MacArthur was even critical of those who live-stream their church service from the Internet!  Why does his church allow people to watch its services on live-streaming, then?  Maybe it’s to give us a sampler, in hope that we will desire to visit the church in person.

MacArthur does not like people listening to their church on a podcast or watching their church on the Internet.  What exactly does he consider to be good enough, in terms of doing church?  Is coming to church sufficient, for MacArthur?  I don’t think so.  MacArthur was calling loud, concert-like churches fake churches.  Okay, then, is coming to MacArthur’s church sufficient?  Well, not exactly.  MacArthur was encouraging people to make a commitment to the church by becoming members, rather than keeping church at a distance.

MacArthur said that people may not want to commit to the church because they want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it.  For MacArthur, this is an obedience-to-God issue.  MacArthur asked people who keep their distance from the church if they are so wrapped up in themselves, that they cannot connect with the church.

The sermon was a little short on practicalities, but, to be fair, it is the first sermon of a series.  As far as I can recall, MacArthur did not encourage people to join small groups.  He did say that the church had active ministries, so perhaps he was encouraging people to participate in those.  He did say that people should come to church to serve and encourage others, but my guess is that this is the sort of church where that would be difficult: you know, a big sort of church where lots of people do not know the other people there.  I don’t even recall the service having a passing-of-the-peace!  Maybe that occurred before the service began, I don’t know.

The sermon kind of made me mad, but I knew before I even watched the service that there was a possibility that MacArthur would say something that would make me mad.  His Gospel According to Jesus put me in a spiritual tailspin for years, making me wonder if I was truly saved!  Still, for some reason, I have found MacArthur to be enjoyable to read and to listen to.

In expressing his bafflement at people who profess to have a personal relationship with Christ, yet keep their distance from the church, MacArthur was likening that to being connected to the head, but not the body.  He seemed to have difficulty imagining that as a possibility.  On some level, I don’t find that too far-fetched to envision: I would like to think that Christ loves me and has a relationship with me, whether or not I fit in with other believers.  If I cannot trust at least that, then how can I have hope?  At the same time, if I find any common ground at all with this sermon, it is here: I should not just think about myself but should think about others, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Unseen Realm: Q&A Companion, by Douglas Van Dorn

Douglas Van Dorn.  The Unseen Realm: Q&A Companion.  Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Douglas Van Dorn pastors the Reformed Baptist Church in Colorado.  The Unseen Realm: Q&A Companion is based on biblical scholar Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm.

Van Dorn states the purpose of his book on page vii, in the “Preface”:

“The target audience for Dr. Michael Heiser’s recent book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible was primarily the academic reader—-pastors and professionals in other fields accustomed to digesting closely researched material.  While The Unseen Realm is nevertheless quite readable, this primer meets the need for a more accessible abridgement of The Unseen Realm‘s core content.”

Although this book is a concise rendition of Heiser’s arguments, Van Dorn sometimes expresses disagreement with Heiser and explains his reasons for disagreement.

Van Dorn’s book is organized in a question-and-answer format.  There is a question, the question is followed by a concise answer, and the answer is followed by supporting Scriptural references.  There are little letters within the answer (a, b, c), marking thoughts, and those letters are matched with Scriptural references that support those thoughts.  This book is like a catechism.  There are also footnotes that contain references to secondary literature as well as more extensive discussion.

The book covers a lot of the same subject-material as Heiser’s The Unseen Realm.  Such topics include the existence of a divine council with gods; the identity of the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve; the union of divine beings with daughters of men, producing Nephilim; the rule of gods over nations, and the activity of Christ in overturning that; and Jesus’ presence in the Old Testament as the visible, second YHWH.

The book has assets.  First, the book lays out many of the Scriptural references that are directly relevant to Heiser’s thesis.  There are passages that get quoted repeatedly, such as the relevant excerpts from Psalm 82, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, etc.  This could get tiresome, yet it was probably unavoidable, since these are key passages in Heiser’s arguments.  Overall, the Scriptural layout was quite effective, in terms of supporting a point in the answer.  On pages 64-65, for example, Heiser states that nachash (the Hebrew word translated as “serpent” in Genesis 3) relates to divination or shining, and he refers to Scriptural references to support this, providing Hebrew transliteration in parentheses.

Second, Van Dorn sought to delineate clearly among the different spirit-beings.  Heiser did not do this as clearly in The Unseen Realm, in my opinion.  On page 97, Van Dorn presents a question that I had in reading Heiser’s book: “Does the Hebrew word translated ‘demon’ in the Old Testament describe the same evil spirits the New Testament describes as ‘demons’?”  Van Dorn answers that question in the negative.
Third, Van Dorn effectively explained how the spirit beings in Genesis 6 cohabited with the daughters of men, when Jesus seems to imply in Matthew 22:30 that angels cannot have sex.  Van Dorn’s answer is that the angels assumed human form, which happens in the Hebrew Bible.

Fourth, Van Dorn occasionally referred to an interesting scholarly insight.  On page 71, Van Dorn quotes Romans 5:12 to say that “death spread to all men with the result that all have sinned.”  This clause has been significant in Christian debates.  Some have interpreted the passage to mean that all humanity sinned in Adam, deserving the guilt of original sin.  Some maintain that it means that people earn their own death because of their own sins.  Van Dorn interprets the passage to mean, however, that death resulted in people’s sin.  Van Dorn cites an article about this translation: C.E.B. Cranfield, “On Some of the Problems in the Interpretation of Rom 5:12-21,” Scottish Journal of Theology 22 (1969) 323-341.

While this book has its advantages, people who read this book instead of Heiser’s work would be missing out.  Although Van Dorn briefly mentions Bashan, Van Dorn’s brief reference does not do justice to Heiser’s compelling discussion.  There is no discussion in Van Dorn’s book about how Bashan’s possible status as a place of supernatural evil relates to Matthew 16:18 or the cows of Bashan in Amos 4:1.  Van Dorn’s book is helpful because it clarifies many of Heiser’s main arguments, but Heiser is the book to read if you want to eat the buffet rather than samplers.

A critique that can be made about Van Dorn’s book is that it is not too clear about the current implications of Jesus’ defeat of supernatural evil.  On page 109, Van Dorn affirms that Jesus has defeated supernatural evil and rules over it, but what are the implications of that?  What specifically and concretely is different now, in comparison to the time before Jesus came?

Finally, there is a question that somewhat nags me, after reading Heiser and Van Dorn.  Hebrews 1:5 states (in the KJV): “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?”  The author of Hebrews is probably encouraging the audience to elevate Christ above the angels, and one of his arguments is that Jesus is God’s Son.  But if the angels, too, were sons of God, does that not undermine Hebrews 1:5’s argument that Jesus is superior to the angels because Jesus is God’s Son?

Heiser and Van Dorn both argue that the sonship of Jesus was different from the sonship of the sons of God in the divine council, and a key distinction is that Jesus was begotten by God.  Hebrews 1:5 does mention Jesus being begotten, but one can inquire if the begettal there is the same as the Father’s eternal begettal of God the Son within the Trinity, or Jesus being begotten in the sense of being unique.  Hebrews 1:5 may refer to Jesus being begotten at the incarnation, or at his baptism.  Even if the sonship of Jesus is different from the sonship of the divine sons, Hebrews 1:5 seems to be arguing that Jesus is God’s son, whereas the angels are not.

Perhaps one can differentiate between angels and the sons of God within the divine council, which would indicate that the angels are not sons of God, and thus Hebrews 1:5 is consistent with the Hebrew Bible.  As Heiser and Van Dorn know, however, the sons of God came to interpreted as angels, as the Greek term for angels became a more generalized term for spirit beings, rather than simply a term for a divine messenger.  The LXX of Deuteronomy 32:8 and Job 1:6 translates the sons of God as angels.  Jude 6 interprets the sons of God in Genesis 6 as angels.  Is Hebrews 1:5 an heir to a tradition that said that angels, not sons of God, did the deeds of Genesis 6, Deuteronomy 32:8, and Job 1:6?  Heiser and Van Dorn strike me as people who believe that the Bible is a univocal revelation from God (though Heiser seems to acknowledge different stages of revelation), so I wonder how they would reconcile Hebrews 1:5 with the Hebrew Bible’s claim that there are sons of God.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

Search This Blog

Loading...