Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Creature from Jekyll Island, by G. Edward Griffin

G. Edward Griffin. The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve. 5th edition. American Media, 2010. See here to purchase the book.

G. Edward Griffin enrolled in the College of Financial Planning in Denver and received a Certified Public Planner (CFP) designation in 1989. He is affiliated with the conservative John Birch Society and has served as the Contributing Editor of its New American magazine. This book criticizes the Federal Reserve System.

Here are some items:

A. As Griffin notes, bankers make money from interest, and this occurs when they lend money out. Interest accumulates on the debt and is paid to the bankers. But there are problems with banks loaning out a lot of money. For one, the money that they are lending out is other people’s savings. If there is ever a run on the bank and depositors are demanding their money right then and there, the bank will not be able to give it to them. As George Bailey said in It’s a Wonderful Life, the money is not stored in a safe but has been loaned out to other people. Second, banks take a risk when they loan out money, namely, that it will not be paid back. According to Griffin, one motive behind the creation of the Federal Reserve was to enable banks to loan out money with more impunity, thereby allowing bankers to make more money from interest. More reckless banks can be bailed out by the Federal Reserve, which receives money from all of the member banks. The government can also bail the reckless banks out. Or, if the debtors fail to pay off their debts, the Federal Reserve can print out more money and lend that out to the debtors.

B. The problem that occurs when the Federal Reserve prints more money or releases more money into the system is inflation: the already existing dollars become debased. Griffin acknowledges that, as he writes, the United States is not experiencing hyperinflation. He believes that is due to foreigners taking American dollars out of the system when Americans buy their products, and foreigners buying up American debt. If this were to cease, hyperinflation would occur.

C. Historically, Griffin argues, bankers have profited from war because they get to loan out money to both sides in the conflict. Ultimately, Griffin contends, their desire is for a one-world government. Griffin refers to documents that appear to promote a one-world government. Griffin prominently features an enigmatic 1966 document entitled the “Report from Iron Mountain.” This document rhapsodizes about how war has historically consolidated nations, and the author is looking for a different way to control people. As Griffin acknowledges, nobody knows who wrote this or if the author was being serious. Griffin believes it comes from within the government establishment. Griffin also refers to environmentalist documents that lament the existence of humanity and promote a worldwide redistribution of wealth. Griffin doubts that the rich and powerful promoters of environmentalism seriously care about the environment. They invest in industries that pollute the environment; in the case of Gorbachev, he presided over the Soviet Union’s horrible environmental policy. For Griffin, they are merely using the environment as an excuse for moving towards a one-world government: if people fear environmental disaster, they will support a global government to redress the problem.

D. Griffin responds to standard historical scenarios. Against the charge that the Federal Reserve was created to add stability and to prevent the sorts of panics that preceded its creation, Griffin contends that many banks prior to the Federal Reserve were behaving irresponsibly by printing out money and further detaching its value from metals. They were moving in the opposite direction from the sound money system that Griffin supports, in short. Moreover, financial disasters have continued to exist even after the creation of the Federal Reserve. Against the charge that prominent Wall Streeters feared and opposed the creation of the Federal Reserve, Griffin contends that this was all for show, for prominent financiers helped to create the Federal Reserve. According to Griffin, Teddy Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan shared more common ground than people think! Griffin challenges conventional explanations for why financiers financed the Bolshevik Revolution—-e.g., to help one country over another in World War I—-showing that the financiers were inconsistent in that case. Griffin seems to think that financiers supported the Bolsheviks to create a formidable international enemy, which would result in wars and higher defense budgets; bankers would provide the money for that. (The Communists, meanwhile, accept capitalist money for the sake of their own survival, but they hope to hang the capitalists with the rope that the capitalists provide; Griffin provides quotes to that effect.) Against the charge that easy credit was necessary to finance the early economic development and expansion of the U.S., Griffin speculates that this could have occurred through economically responsible means, had they been tried. Griffin also offers some Civil War revisionism. Some of that resembled contemporary defenses of the Confederacy: that, through tariffs, the North was trying to reduce the South to economic servitude and dependence on the North, that the South invested a lot of capital in slavery, and that the South did not really want slavery, anyway, since people who are paid to work are more motivated. Griffin is far from being pro-Confederacy, however, for he states that bankers were also financing the Confederate cause: some of them supported the creation of a southern empire that would unite with Latin American nations. Napolean also gets a cameo as a rebel against the financial establishment, albeit for self-serving reasons.

E. Griffin also responds to what is considered to be conventional knowledge. For example, the conventional view is that the IMF and World Bank pressure countries to embrace free market capitalism and austerity in government spending. Griffin observes, however, that they have lent to communist countries, and he notes that these lenders give to governments; such a policy contributes to statism, not a free market.

F. Griffin is critical of various proposals to redress the problems that he discusses. One proposal is to eliminate the Federal Reserve and to have the federal government itself print the money. There are also the proposals of Milton Friedman and supply-side economists, which try to limit the money supply but still presume that the government should print out money. The Balanced Budget Amendment will not work because the Congress can circumvent it in case of an “emergency,” whatever it defines that to be. What Griffin seems to advocate is a privatized money system, as people trade in the money that they choose. He thinks people should trade in metals, however, as that provides more stability. Griffin also offers a solution as to how banks can store up money while also lending some out for business development. Griffin is not overly optimistic that his plans will be effected, for the establishment fiercely guards its power, but he thinks that reform can come, sometime down the road. People can throw out the big spenders from Congress, and they can store up metal coins in case of an emergency.

G. There were parts of this book that were difficult for me to understand, since I can improve my knowledge of economics. One point that Griffin reiterates is that debt backs up today’s money and, if that debt were repaid, the money supply would vanish; therefore, bankers do not really want the debt to be repaid. I did not entirely follow that.

H. There are some indications in Griffin’s book that things are more complex than his overall scenario indicates. He acknowledges that the Federal Reserve wants to limit inflation, since bankers do well when the economy does well. He states that a significant amount of the federal debt is owed, not to the Federal Reserve, but to Americans who have bought bonds; to default on that would hurt their savings. That differs, somewhat, from his scenario in which the Fed prints out a bunch of money for the government and would rather that money not be paid back.

I. I have been watching Robert Shiller’s Yale class on financial markets, the 2011 one. Shiller states that, prior to the FDIC, there really was no insurance of banks. Griffin argues, however, that people will naturally gravitate towards banks that are insured, without the government stepping in. Griffin is highly optimistic about the ability of laissez-faire capitalism to resolve problems.

J. This is the fifth edition. It has new sections on the 2008 financial crisis. Much of the book focuses on the 1980’s, however, plus there is one part of the book in which Saddam Hussein is presumed to be in power in Iraq, and Griffin doubts that will end anytime soon! Some may have a problem with this format, as it is chronologically disjointed. I had no problem with it, but I cite it as something to remember in reading this book.

In conclusion, this book is interesting and well-documented. Griffin does well to argue that there are people who act for their self-interest and influence policy to do so; he did not successfully explain, however, how a one-world government would serve these financial interests. The book has a lot of the typical John Bircher tropes but goes deeper and provides more nuance. Each chapter ends with a lucid summary, which is helpful.

I checked out this book from the library. My review is honest.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Church Write-Up: I Corinthians 15:1-11

At Bible study this week, the text was I Corinthians 15:1-11. Here are some items. This is what the pastor said, but I will make clear where I am adding my own thoughts.

A. Paul cites what appears to have been an early Christian creed, a declaration of what Christians believe that is affirmed in the churches. The creed states that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again on the third day, and that he then appeared to people. Paul cited this creed for at least three reasons. First, Paul was responding to the incorporation of Hellenistic ideas into Christianity. These ideas embraced the spiritual over the material, so Paul stressed that Christ was crucified and resurrected bodily, then appeared physically to people. Second, the Corinthian Christians were engaging in spiritual one-upsmanship, with some of them acting as if they were superior on account of their visions, ecstatic experiences, and deeper level of knowledge. Some may even have held that these spiritual experiences marked them off as saved. Paul, however, draws their attention to the Gospel: people are forgiven on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Third, Paul is defending his own apostleship. People questioned that Paul was a true apostle because he had not followed the earthly Jesus. Paul responds, however, that the same Jesus who appeared to the apostles also appeared to him.

B. This item reflects my meandering thoughts. On that first reason in (A.)—-Paul responding to Hellenistic ideas—-why, if Paul were refuting anti-materialism, did he stress that Jesus rose with a spiritual body? Even if the spiritual body is a physical body, why would Paul muddy the waters by calling Jesus’s resurrection body a spiritual body? What is more, why would Paul deny that flesh and blood shall enter the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 15:50)? And, in contrast with the Gospel accounts that scholars cite as a refutation of Docetism (i.e., the belief that Jesus lacked a material body), Paul in I Corinthians 15 does not emphasize Jesus’s physicality at all. Paul does not present Jesus eating fish (Luke 24:42), showing people his nail-scarred hands (John 20:27), or denying that he is a spirit while pointing to his flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). One could argue, of course, that even the Gospel accounts muddy the waters, a bit. Christian apologists have pointed out that, if the Gospel authors were inventing those resurrection stories to combat Docetism, they had an odd way of going about it. Why, if their goal was to present the risen Jesus as physical and human, would they depict him vanishing into thin air (Luke 24:31), or suddenly appearing in his disciples’ midst in a locked room (John 20:26). Regular humans do not do that! If the Gospel accounts and I Corinthians 15 have Docetism in mind, they are not going to the opposite extreme from Docetism by saying that the risen Jesus was physical in the ordinary sense. They are responding to Docetism, not by going to the opposite extreme, but by citing the truth, which transcends both extremes. Was the risen Jesus physical or spiritual? Paul’s answer, I think, is “yes!”

C. I asked the pastor why Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to Cephas, then the Twelve, etc., whereas the Gospels depict the risen Jesus appearing first to the women. The pastor replied that he does not think that Paul was being strictly historical but started with Peter on account of the authority and respect that Peter had in the early church. Paul was establishing his own apostolic credentials by linking them with Peter. Similarly, Paul in Galatians 1 stresses his association with Peter after his conversion, whereas Acts 9 depicts Ananias as the first Christian whom Paul encountered after Christ appeared to him.

D. Paul in I Corinthians 15:8 likens himself to one who was stillborn. Saul of Tarsus was going about his merry way, trying to earn a gold star by arresting those heretics (i.e., Christians), when Christ ripped him away from that and made him an apostle.

E. Paul in I Corinthians 15:2 states that the Corinthian Christians are being saved. Why the present tense? The pastor said that Lutherans believe in two levels of salvation. There is an objective level: the person becomes legally justified before God right at the initial moment of faith. Then there is the subjective level, or sanctification: “this salvation works itself out in faith and life practice, changing our relationships and our lifestyles” (pastor’s handout). Sanctification starts at the initial moment of faith, but this aspect of salvation is progressive: it continues past the initial moment of faith. Paul in his writings treats Christians as being already saved, forgiven, and justified, and as belonging to God as God’s children. There is a completed aspect to salvation. Yet Paul also regards salvation as something that is still going on: Christians are still in the process of being saved.

F. The pastor said that one indication of sanctification is when something stands out to us in a Bible passage that did not stand out to us before. He did not say that people who do not experience this are unsaved, but rather that noticing something new in a Bible passage may indicate that the Spirit is growing your believing. Also, Christians may find themselves getting to the point where they do not do the things that they used to do, because they find that those things are unhelpful to their faith.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Psalm 23; Hosea 10:8 and Luke 23:30

Here are items from last Sunday’s church activities:

A. It was Good Shepherd’s Sunday, and the pastor was preaching about Psalm 23. One point that he made was that the valley of the shadow of death was extremely deep darkness. In the midst of the deepest darkness, God is with the Psalmist and comforts him. Another point that the pastor made was that, when v. 6 says that goodness and mercy shall follow the Psalmist, the Hebrew word translated “follow” (rdph) actually means to chase, or to pursue. God’s love not only follows us but chases us, as is evident in Jesus’s death on the cross. Later that day, I came home and read from C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, and Lewis was arguing that many like pantheism over traditional theism because the impersonal pantheistic “God” leaves people alone rather than pursuing them.

B. The Sunday school class was about Hosea 10:8 and its interpretation in the New Testament. The pastor first interpreted Hosea 10:1-8. One observation that he made was that Hosea 10:1 affirms that the Northern Israelites prospered but bore fruit for themselves. Sin, as Luther said, is turning inward. The Northern Israelites were bearing fruit solely for themselves but not for God. The pastor also observed that Hosea 10:5 refers to the Northern Israelite sanctuary at Bethel, the site of one of Jeroboam’s calves, as “Beth-Aven,” which means “house of vanity” or “house of nothingness.” The point is that God is not present at that worship site: nobody is home, so worship there is futile. Holladay actually says that “aven” can mean “wickedness,” not just vanity, but I like the concept that idolatry is a flat-out waste of time. Third, the pastor commented on Hosea 10:7, which, in the KJV, likens the king of Samaria to the foam on the water. The pastor contrasted that to God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would be like the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17; 32:12). Sand is permanent, whereas foam vanishes away. Other translations actually render that verse to say that the king of Samaria will be like a stick that God throws on the water. They translate as “stick” what the KJV renders as “foam.” Holladay goes with “twig broken off,” but the only verse that he cites for this Hebrew word is Hosea 10:7.

C. A student astutely noted that there were over a hundred years between the Assyrian destruction of Northern Israel and the fall of Jerusalem. Would not one expect the Southern Judahites to learn from the example of the Northerners and to repent rather than continuing in their refusal to worship God alone? The pastor replied that, indeed, one might expect the ruins of Samaria to serve as a lesson to the Judahites. Perhaps, deep down, that did remind them that there is a God, and they are not him. But the pastor said that the Judahites probably dismissed the Northerners and had a sense of superiority over them, seeing the Northerners as the wayward younger brother who didn’t even have the right sanctuary.

D. Jesus quotes Hosea 10:8 in Luke 23:30. Women are weeping for Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, and Jesus tells them to weep, not for him, but for themselves and their children, for there will come a time when they will prefer to have the mountains fall upon them than to experience God’s wrath. That part about the mountains is from Hosea 10:8. The pastor said that Jesus was likening Israel of his day to the Northern Israelites, the wicked younger brother of the Old Testament. Indeed, as far as the Gospels are concerned, there are parallels between the Jewish religious establishment of the first century and what Hosea says about the Northern Israelites. The Northern Israelites bore fruit for themselves but not for God. Similarly, there were Pharisees who loved money (Luke 16:14), and Jesus affirmed that Israel of his day was not bearing fruit for God (Luke 16:3-9). The Northern Israelites worshiped at a sanctuary of vanity, where nobody was home. Similarly, Jesus told the Pharisees that they worshiped God in vain through their human-devised commandments (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7), and he lamented that Jerusalem failed to recognize him as the visitation of God (Luke 19:44). The pastor also said that the women weeping for Jesus, whom Jesus rebuked, were not Jesus’s followers but rather were professional mourners, of the sort that appear in the story of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:38.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Book Write-Up: A History of the Work of Redemption, by Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption. See here to download the book.

Jonathan Edwards was an eighteenth century Calvinist minister. He is known for his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” His book, “A History of the Work of Redemption,” is a series of sermons that he delivered about the work of God throughout history. He starts with creation and goes to the new heavens and the new earth, but he also comments on events that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, such as the intertestamental period, Constantine, and the Reformation.

Here are some items:

A. The book is rather plodding when it goes through the Old Testament, but it came alive to me when Edwards got to the New Testament. It just seemed that, when he went through the Old Testament, he dutifully summarized the stories and referred to the kings of Israel and Judah and whether or not they worshiped idols, but he commented more on religious and spiritual ideas once he got to the New Testament. He also got into prophetic scenarios. His summation on the significance of the Old Testament is insightful and edifying, however, as he discusses the significance of the Old Testament within God’s larger purposes.

B. A point that Edwards made in talking about Christ is that Christ’s moral perfection is greater than that of angels. That is an intriguing thought, since one might think that Christ, the angels, and pre-Fall Adam and Eve are all in the same boat, morally-speaking: they are perfect and sinless. What more can one say? But Edwards argues that Christ’s moral perfection is above that of angels. That reminds me of John Wesley’s view that even those who are spiritually perfect can find room for growth and improvement in their love for God and neighbor.

C. There are passages in the synoptic Gospels in which Christ seems to envision an imminent end of the world, and that troubles a lot of Christians because it could possibly suggest that Christ was wrong: two thousand years later, the world goes on, and we are still not experiencing the paradise that the second coming of Christ is supposed to bring. Edwards addresses this by positing four comings of Christ. Some of them have occurred throughout history, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Some of them will occur in the future. The passages in which Christ appears to envision an imminent eschatology trouble me, as a person of faith. Yet, Edwards’s point that the Bible has produced powerful effects throughout history in converting people and revolutionizing society is compelling.

D. Edwards’s approach to prophecy is an intriguing hodgepodge of approaches. As you can see in (C.), there is a preterist dimension to Edwards’s thought: a belief that Christ envisioned a cataclysmic “coming” in the first century. But there is also a historicist dimension, as Edwards treats the papacy as the Antichrist and refers to Catholic persecution of Protestants throughout the history of Christendom. He believes in a coming millennial reign, followed by the ascension of Christians to heaven. Edwards believes that God will convert the Jewish people, but he also applies Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s restoration, not to Israel, but to the church.

E. Edwards says what he thinks about non-Christian religions. He envisions Muslims uniting with the papacy against the truth of God. He also says that Native Americans worship the devil.

F. Edwards occasionally offers thoughts on who wrote the books of the Bible, particularly Joshua-II Chronicles. For Edwards, different biblical figures wrote those books. Edwards lived in the time of historical criticism, but the idea of a Deuteronomistic History does not appear to be on his radar. Martin Noth supposedly came up with the idea centuries later, but Noth engaged previous ideas, so I do not know what the views about the authorship of Joshua-II Kings was in Edwards’s time. The concept of a Deuteronomistic History makes sense to me, though, since there are common narrative threads that extend throughout Joshua-II Kings.

G. Daniel 11:32 states that people who know God will resist the king who sets up the abomination of desolation. Edwards, like many interpreters, holds that this passage is about the Maccabees, who revolted against Antiochus Epiphanes. That makes sense. At the same time, some scholars have held that the Book of Daniel advocates a different policy in response to Antiochus than what the Maccabees pursued: Daniel advocates waiting for God’s dramatic and supernatural intervention, as opposed to the pious Jews taking matters into their own hands. The author of Daniel may still have seen the Maccabees as well-intentioned, even if he disagreed with their strategy.

H. I read the mobi version of this book. Mobi does not always do a good job in transitioning the old print of the Puritans. There were parts of the book, therefore, that did not flow smoothly, in terms of grammar and spelling. But I could still make out what the passages were saying.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Reflections on Rachel Held Evans

Here are some random reflections about Rachel Held Evans.

A. She was the envy of a lot of bloggers and aspiring authors. Her blog got millions of views each year. She attributed her success to two factors: (1.) her blog was a source of information, and (2.) she shared her platform with others, by inviting others to do guest posts. That was the advice that she gave to other bloggers who wanted to succeed. Maybe that works, but it may not work for everyone. Her success, I think, was due to additional factors. First, she was an effective writer. Her writings had humor, pathos, and honesty. She could turn a phrase and make her point with a punch, while still coming across as down-to-earth. Second, she asked the religious questions that were troubling a lot of people. She said what she said, and she said it well.

B. Did she say anything earth-shakingly new? Others have had problems with, say, God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son. Their blogs do not necessarily attract millions of views, or generate discussions in their comments section that go on for hundreds of comments. As I said in (A.), Evans’s effectiveness as a communicator set her apart from many. But I think that, in a sense, what she was saying was earth-shakingly new to a lot of people. There were people in conservative churches who had the same questions that she did, and they actually wanted to follow Jesus rather than ditching their faith. They wondered if anyone else felt the same way, and if their only choice was between accepting a God who struck them as unfair and becoming an atheist and going to hell. Her social media presence provided a place and a forum for them, allowing them to wrestle with difficult questions and to arrive at alternatives.

C. There was a prolonged season in my life when I was recovering from right-wing evangelicalism. I thought that right-wing evangelicals were on a power trip and had little if any basis for their claim to authority. Reading Rachel Held Evans, for me, was like reading Ann Coulter during the conservative seasons of my life: “That will tell ’em! Hit ’em hard!” I would post RHE blog posts to show right-wing evangelicals what I thought about them and their pretensions to power! Nowadays, I do not have the energy to do that. I read both liberals and conservatives, and I like and dislike both liberals and conservatives. That is where I am, and I respect that others are in different places, since they are especially sensitive to the injustices that RHE challenged.

D. Critics see her as divisive, and does not the Bible criticize those who cause division (i.e., Romans 16:17)? I think such verses apply, primarily, to local church bodies. I attend a conservative LCMS church, and, when I am there, I do not go out of my way to challenge the church’s teachings on the ordination of women or homosexuality. Similarly, if I were to visit RHE’s church, I would not start arguments about social justice or identity politics. I would respect the rules of the place where I am. That may work for me, though, since I am an independent person who can come and go as he pleases. People whose families attend a church with beliefs contrary to their own, on the other hand, will have their own share of struggles.

E. The first post of hers that I read concerned what she was looking for in a church. I had gone three years without attending church, and I was starting to dabble my feet in the water again. Her post was helpful. She said that she wanted to attend a church, not out of guilt, but because she sincerely believes what it teaches and can commit to its cause. She also said that she would prefer a church that does not get into politics. I have been in various places in my church journey. I dabbled in liberal mainline Protestantism for a year and did not like it that much. Nowadays, I attend a church that is more conservative than where I am personally, but I feel fed there, both spiritually and intellectually. I also appreciate that it does not get into politics: it helps the poor, but it does not pompously declare that Jesus prefers one political platform over another.

F. RHE, among other people, sensitized me to the value of reading. In her very first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, she talked about the books that she read when she was struggling with the question of whether a slain Muslim girl in another country was burning in hell for being a non-Christian. These books presented different Christian views on hell. In her latest book, Inspired, she mentioned books that she read, across the religious spectrum (conservative and liberal), that wrestle with the biblical Conquest. She remarked that she is trying to read her way out of this faith struggle, but she is not always sure if she will succeed! Reading is good because you may find answers, alternatives, a sympathetic voice, or at least something to chew on.

G. As I said in (A.) and (B.), she was a success as a blogger and an author. People may covet that kind of fame: people hanging on one’s every word. RHE stayed down to earth throughout her fame, however. I recall one post of hers, and this was when she had become famous due to her Year of Biblical Womanhood book: she said “I am sick of me!” Fame can be like eating too many sweets: you get sick of it after a while. Moreover, with fame came intense criticism from those who disagreed with her. She was willing to endure that, though, because she saw value in what she was saying.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Glory of Heaven, by John MacArthur, Jr.

John F. MacArthur, Jr. The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life. Crossway, 1996. See here to purchase the book.

I am on a bit of a John MacArthur kick, so I decided to read The Glory of Heaven, which is on my Logos Bible Software.

Some thoughts:

A. I am intrigued by the thoughts of those MacArthur critiques. He extensively critiques a Mormon woman who claims to have gone to heaven, as well as a free grace teacher who holds that unfruitful believers are merely deprived of a reward, not cast into hell. I am interested in reading what they have to say! The woman who claims to have gone to heaven offers an attractive explanation for why God allows different religions to exist, an explanation that relates to personal spiritual growth and destination. At the same time, MacArthur’s critiques are largely effective, as he notes details in Scripture. For example, the Mormon lady said that all people were present at creation, but John MacArthur refutes this with God’s question to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” The implication is that Job was not present when God created the heavens and earth, and, by extension, neither were we.

B. The book is rather light, but, every now and then, MacArthur offers an exegetical or interpretive gem. Why is the heavenly Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation shaped like a cube? According to MacArthur, this echoes the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament being a cubed-shaped room. MacArthur engages I Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter, and MacArthur there does much more than cite prooftexts. He lays out an exegesis that seeks to explain what Paul is saying, why Paul is saying it, and how that fits into the broader texture of Paul’s argument.

C. MacArthur is skeptical that authentic supernatural occurrences are commonplace today. On some level, MacArthur’s points are valid. Paul was reticent about going to the third heaven, and his implication was that this sort of thing does not occur often. Why, then, should we accept all these claims about people today going to heaven and back? Against the current obsession with angels and visions, MacArthur refers to Paul’s warnings in Colossians about people basing their theology on angels and visions rather than Christ. These points are valid, but MacArthur does somewhat put God in a box by depicting experiences with angels as rare. They occur more than once in the Bible, plus angels are servants to the saints (Hebrews 1:14), so why wouldn’t experiences with angels be more than a rarity?

D. MacArthur inveighs against soul sleep, the idea that people are unconscious until the resurrection. But he also critiques the view that Jesus or anyone else went to Hades after their death. For MacArthur, souls after death either go to heaven or to hell. For MacArthur, the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 went to be with Jesus in paradise (heaven) that very day, implying that Jesus, too, went to heaven right after his death, even before he rose from the dead. What about Jesus’s claim after his resurrection that he had not yet ascended unto heaven (John 20:17)? MacArthur does not engage this, but my guess is that MacArthur would apply that statement to Jesus’s body, not his soul. MacArthur engages some texts-to-the-contrary and not others. He says that Lazarus was in heaven eating beside Abraham, not in a region of Hades. He does not, however, address I Peter 3:19’s statement that Jesus after his death preached to the spirits in prison, or Ephesians 4:8-9’s statement that Jesus descended into the earth before his ascension and led captivity captive. (Of course, MacArthur has a commentary and has probably addressed those passages there.) MacArthur’s arguments were all right, but the question asked by believers in soul sleep (i.e., Armstrongites, Adventists) recurred in my mind. If people’s souls go to heaven or hell immediately after their death, why have a last judgment at the resurrection, in which it is decided whether people go to heaven or hell? Is not the last judgment superfluous, in this scenario?

E. Is MacArthur’s picture of heaven compelling? Overall, it is rather nebulous, perhaps because he feels that the Bible is not overly specific about the matter. For MacArthur, heaven is a place that people will enjoy, even if we do not entirely understand how people will enjoy it. MacArthur does depict heaven as a place where God is worshiped and exalted and where sin no longer weighs people down, and that is compelling. His response to the question of how Christians will be happy in heaven when their unsaved loved ones are suffering in hell was a little lacking, in my opinion. MacArthur said that believers in heaven will feel an immense sense of belonging, but that seems rather selfish: my loved ones are suffering in hell, but at least I feel a sense of belonging! Some people, such as Armstrongites but even mainstream Christians (i.e., Erwin Lutzer), hold that heaven will be a place of creativity and innovation. MacArthur did not present such an idea, as far as I can recall. He seemed to depict heaven as a place of perfection, so why would there need to be creativity or innovation?

F. I appreciated the personal touches to this book. MacArthur talked about how he loved his wife, in addressing the question of whether people will still be married in heaven. He seemed to acknowledge his flaws. The Puritan sermons in the book’s appendix were that way, too: acknowledging how sin and negativity weighs us down in this life.

This book is a faithful attempt to look to the Bible for details about heaven and angels.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Church Write-Up: Hosea 1:10, Hosea 2, and Romans 9

The sermon at church this morning made many of the same points as the mid-week Bible study, so, in this particular Church Write-Up, I will focus on the Sunday School class, which is about Hosea.

A. Hosea 1:10 (2:1) states: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (KJV).

This verse is a prophetic prediction that God will restore Northern Israel and reaffirm her as his people, after a season in which the Northern Israelites are not God’s people, due to their disobedience.

Last week, the pastor was saying that the Northern Israelites became lost to history. The pastor expressed explicit disagreement with Garner Ted Armstrong’s position that the Northern Israelites became the Anglo-Saxon people, or any other Europeans.

When, however, was Hosea 1:10 fulfilled? The pastor’s answer to that is “in Matthew 16:16.” There, Peter, due to personal divine revelation, proclaims that Jesus is the son of the living God. This takes place in Caesarea Philippi. Hosea 1:10 predicts that the Northern Israelites will be called the sons of the living God; in Matthew 16:16, Jesus, as the embodiment of Israel, is called the son of the living God. Hosea 1:10 is directed to Northern Israel, which is probably the “place” where God will reaffirm that the Northern Israelites are his people. The Book of Hosea also mentions “Jezreel,” a verdant area in Northern Israel, in both a negative and a positive sense: “Jezreel” means that God will sow judgment on Israel, but also that God will graciously sow the Northern Israelites into their land. That coincides with God affirming Israel as his people after a period in which they are not his people. In Matthew 16:16, Peter calls Jesus the son of the living God in Caesarea Philippi, which is located in Northern Israel, specifically (according to the pastor) in Jezreel. Peter affirms that Jesus is the son of the living God in the place where God had said that Israel is not his people: in Jezreel. As occurs elsewhere (i.e., Matthew 2:15; cp. Hosea 11:1), Israel is narrowed down to one person, Jesus; God’s promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus’s salvific work.

The pastor noted that Romans 9 applies Hosea 1:10 to believers, who have been made God’s people through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel is narrowed down to one person, Jesus, but then it is expanded to include the church, the beneficiaries of Christ’s work.

At the same time, in an offhand comment, the pastor appeared to suggest a more literal fulfillment to Hosea’s prophecies about Northern Israel. In Hosea 2:14, God says that he will woo Israel in the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. The pastor related this to Israel becoming closer to God in exile, which was a sort of wilderness for her.

B. Paul in Romans 9:24-25 applies Hosea 1:10 to the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. According to the pastor, Paul interprets the “place” where not-God’s-people will become God’s people, not as the land of Israel, but rather as the word of God, specifically the Gospel. The Gospel is where people become the people of God, as they receive it. That may work. Romans 9:31-33 depicts God laying a stone of stumbling in Zion, which is Jesus. Those who receive Jesus are affirmed as God’s people; those who deny him, at least for the time being, are not God’s people. Jesus, one who was from Israel, is the “place” where one’s status as part of God’s people is enabled and determined.

C. The pastor referred to a scholarly view that the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31 is based on themes in Hosea 2. Hosea 2 depicts a new marriage between God and Israel. God makes with Israel a covenant. Israel has a new beginning. God is not only forgiving Israel but is making things new.

D. In Hosea 2:18, God promises to make a covenant for the Israelites with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and creeping things. The pastor said that God often calls nature as a witness because it is not fickle; human beings, by contrast, are fickle. Nature is an unchanging witness to the covenants. There may be something to that, since Jeremiah 31:35-36 compares God’s commitment to Israel with the ordinances of the sun and the moon, implying that these features of nature are stable and lasting.

E. The pastor commented on Romans 9. He said that Paul’s point there is that one is part of God’s people, not by race, circumcision, or keeping the law, but by rather God’s determination, God’s mercy, and faith. The pastor continued to say that Luther prioritized God’s mercy over God’s sovereignty, meaning we can thank God for showing us mercy, while also hoping God will show mercy to others. I think that is ultimately where Paul goes in Romans 11:30-32, where Paul envisions God showing mercy to the Israelites, who previously rejected Christ.

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