Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Revelation Mandate, by Todd Lewis

Todd Lewis. The Revelation Mandate: The Foundations of the Priesthood of Every Believer. WestBow, 2012. See here to purchase the book.

This book mixes preterist and idealist approaches to the Book of Revelation. The book is preterist in that it holds that the Book of Revelation primarily concerns events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. It still seems to hold that God will judge the powers-that-be in the future. It is rather idealist in that it interprets several details in the Book of Revelation as general spiritual truths about the church, such as the idea that the church perseveres amidst a hostile world.

The book is not exactly a verse-by-verse commentary, but it does go through the Book of Revelation sequentially. The author is familiar with the Bible and brings in other biblical references.

The author also holds to a rather “Lordship” view of salvation: that mere intellectual assent to the Gospel is not enough, for one needs to obey God.

Some might see preterism as a bit of a stretch, thinking that it artificially forces the Book of Revelation into the events of 70 CE Jerusalem. That critique is valid. Some may not receive a lot of spiritual encouragement from a “Lordship” view of salvation, recognizing that they fall short.

This book is still a pleasure to read. The prose is elegant and also weighty. The paragraphs could get rather long, in places, and that was not always necessary. The author presents his views in a convincing manner: not so much in the sense that his arguments reflect the only legitimate way to interpret the Book of Revelation, but in the sense that readers could get inside his mind and see how he arrives at his conclusions.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers. My review is honest.

Church Write-Up: And the Evening and the Morning Were the Seventh Day

In his Easter Sunday sermon, the pastor shared a conclusion that he drew during his personal morning devotional time.

In Genesis 2:1-3, God rests on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth. The seventh day is the only day in this creation account that is not punctuated with “and the evening and the morning was the Xth day.”

We finally find the completion of the Sabbath in Luke 23:56. Speaking of the women who were following Jesus’s dead body to the tomb, the passage states: “And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment” (KJV). The very next verse, Luke 24:1, refers to the first day of the week, when the women encountered the empty tomb.

The point here, according to the pastor, is that Jesus’s resurrection marks the beginning of a new week, even a new creation.

The question that the pastor raised was how this can be true, when people’s dismal lives of death, dysfunction, disappointment, alienation, and even tragedy (such as that in Sri Lanka) continue. We will wake up the morning after Easter, and our lives will remain the same.

The difference is that Jesus is with us in those lives and offers us hope in the midst of them. The pastor engaged Luke 24:12, which states that Peter marveled after seeing the empty tomb. He was baffled and confused. But his later encounter with the risen Christ led to a joyful certainty.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Church Write-Up: Good Friday 2019

Here are items from today’s Good Friday service.

A. We sang the song, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” One of the stanzas said:
You who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed; see who bears the awful load;
It’s the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.
This reminded me of something I read last night. I was going through Jonathan Edwards’s History of the Work of Redemption, and Edwards was talking about how arrogant it is for people to try to be their own saviors: to think that their mere religious activities can earn them God’s favor. It took the very death of the Son of God to save us, so how can the thought even enter our minds that our own paltry “goodness” can save us? If our good works can save us, why did Christ even go to the effort of coming to earth, living a righteous life, and dying for our sins? That is a good point. At the same time, I find myself thinking: “I hope God notices my church attendance, or my praying, or my Bible reading.” It is not that I think those things by themselves are meritorious. I just hope that God recognizes and respects them as attempts to seek him.

B. In John 19:25-27, Jesus instructs the beloved disciple to take care of Jesus’s mother, Mary. The pastor read: “Lord Jesus, while You suffered the agony of the cross, You remembered, in love, Your sorrowing mother. With that same love and pity, bless all who love others, especially those whose hearts are torn by loss or burdened with worry. In Your mercy, gather all within the peace of Your cross, so that all may love each other as they love you.”

Jesus on the cross took care of his sorrowful mother. Good Friday should not just be about how we are sinful, but it is also about how Jesus is good. That passage also stood out to me because my own extended family is dealing with looming loss.

C. The liturgy said: “Lord God, may we learn by Christ’s example to love others as we love ourselves; forgiving the worst we find in others and in ourselves; rejoicing in the best we know of others and ourselves.”

Love the good in ourselves and others? But are we not all sinners? I suppose that it can be humbling to realize that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. How can I look down on somebody else, when I myself am flawed? But I think that part of appreciating people is acknowledging the good that they do, or at least try to do.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Church Write-Up: Maundy Thursday 2019

Here are items from today’s Maundy Thursday service.

A. The pastor said that Luke foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection, as if those were the reasons that Christ came. Luke 2:7 states that Jesus, as an infant, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in the manger because there was no room in the inn, or “kataluma” in Greek. Luke 23:53 uses “kataluma” for the place where Jesus and his disciples ate the last supper. There was no room at the inn when Jesus was born, but there is room at the Lord’s supper. Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes as an infant, and he was wrapped in linen as a corpse in Luke 23:53 (though the Greek word for “wrap” is different in those passages).

B. This is a fallen world. Our dysfunction attests to that, and we can become so preoccupied with our dying bodies that we do not rejoice in eternal life. Fallenness weighs us down.

C. The Lord’s supper was to be a supper of remembrance: Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Remember” in Hebrew is richer than mere recollection: it means to re-experience, or relive. Israelites relived the Exodus at the Passover. Christians at the Lord’s supper re-experience Christ’s last supper, but also get a taste of the banquet that Christ will eat with the saints in the eschaton. The pastor talked about how his grandmother used to make him meringues cooked in Mexican vanilla because he liked them, and, anytime he smells Mexican vanilla, he is transported into his grandmother’s kitchen.

D. The pastor talked about God meeting people amidst disaster. After the Columbine massacre, it was “Good Shepherd” Sunday at the Lutheran church that he pastored. After 9/11, there was a cross amidst the rubble, which many took as a sign. When Lutheran churches burned down in fires, the cross still stood. This is a testimony that God meets people amidst disaster, which is what the cross itself is about.

E. On “D.”, the pastor seemed to imply that God arranged for Good Shepherd Sunday to follow Columbine, even though he did not want to say that God caused Columbine. God was working providentially to meet people in the midst of disaster. The pastor does not believe that God causes disasters but meets people in the midst of them. Indeed, saying that God caused Columbine then comforted people is a troubling idea: it is like running a person over and then taking him to the emergency room. Some may argue, though, that God permitted Columbine to provide an opportunity for people to turn their attention to God, which is important in its own right. But I doubt that God decided to schedule Good Shepherd Sunday in response to when he foresaw that the Columbine massacre would occur. That is quite a bit of micromanaging. Yet, I can understand people looking at that and concluding that what happened is more than a coincidence.

F. A convicting item from the liturgy: “When others need mercy and kindness, we often fail to acknowledge or fulfill their earnest needs.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Book Write-Up: Thy Kingdom Come, by J. Dwight Pentecost

J. Dwight Pentecost. Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History. SB Publications, 1990. See here to buy a later edition of this book.

J. Dwight Pentecost was a professor of Bible at Dallas Theological Seminary. This book, Thy Kingdom Comes, traces the Kingdom of God from creation through the millennial reign of Christ.
For Pentecost, God ruled before creating Adam, and God has always been and always will be sovereign. But God created Adam to rule the earth on God’s behalf. Adam forfeited that mission through his disobedience, however, and God’s subsequent preservation of a committed people, the nation of Israel, and the Davidic dynasty are all continuations of God’s desire to rule the earth through human beings. This goal will find its culmination in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth. Christ offered to set up such an earthly kingdom at his first coming, but the nation of Israel rejected him. Consequently, the Kingdom of God is currently in a different phase. Presently, it is a spiritual kingdom in which God rules individual Christians and the church. After the rapture of the church, God will once more offer an earthly kingdom to Israel, and Christ will rule on earth after the Tribulation.

I wanted to read this book to understand classic dispensational rationales for God’s policies in the different dispensations. I had read dispensational attempts to identify the dispensations, but little effort to explain why God acted as God did in those dispensations. Pentecost’s book did not meet my hopes in this area. Pentecost indeed is a dispensationalist, in that Pentecost distinguishes between Israel and the church and between Christ’s reign as the Davidic king and his present reign at God’s right hand. But Pentecost does not appear to distinguish God’s modus operandi throughout the various dispensations, at least not radically. In each dispensation, people are right with God by faith, but that faith is worked out and made evident through obedience to God (i.e., law, good works). Citing Galatians 3:21, Pentecost contends that the law does not contradict the promises of God but coexists with them. As far as this particular book is concerned, I did not see a model in which people were saved by works in Old Testament times, then they were saved solely by God’s free grace in New Testament times, but then people will have to add obedience and perseverance to their faith to be saved after the rapture of the church. Pentecost does acknowledge, though, that the new covenant entails God giving the Spirit, which enables people to obey the law. That means that the new covenant brings something new.

This book was still worth my time and effort, even if it fell short of my expectations. Pentecost attempts to explain biblical passages as he goes through the history of God’s kingdom. Prominent in his scenario is his interpretation of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For Pentecost, the Israelite generation that rejected Christ reached a point where they could not be forgiven. Individuals could still save themselves from that sinful generation, but God’s judgment of that generation was set, no turning back. God will restore Israel in the future, but not that specific generation, since it has forfeited forgiveness. Incidentally, Pentecost thinks that generation sealed its fate prior to Matthew 13, which marks when Jesus’s parables began to highlight a spiritual kingdom; Pentecost disagrees with dispensationalists who argue that God re-offered the earthly Kingdom to Israel in the Book of Acts.

On a related note, Pentecost argues that God’s covenant with Israel is unconditional, yet Israel’s experience of God’s blessings within that covenant was conditional on her obedience to the Torah. God will never forsake God’s commitment to Israel, yet Israel’s enjoyment of covenant blessings—-life, abiding in the land, prosperity—-depends on her obedience to God. This is helpful and unhelpful at the same time, for where does the covenant end and the blessings of the covenant begin?

Some of Pentecost’s points are intriguing but could have used more development. He interprets the Parable of the Talents, for example, in terms of Jesus judging the latter-day remnant of Israel, not God’s judgment of Christians. This caught my attention because I remembered talking with a Dallas Theological Seminary student who said that her professors dismissed the idea that the Parable of the Talents contradicts once-saved-always-saved, since the Parable concerns Israel, not the church. I am putting Pentecost’s view on my mental shelf for future reference, even though he could have supported it more effectively.

Occasionally, Pentecost tossed in his social and political opinions, as when he spoke against feminism and labor unions. I think this is a one-sided approach to the Bible, but Pentecost’s anti-feminist stance played a significant role in his interpretation of Genesis 3:16, where God tells Eve that her husband will rule over her. For Pentecost, God there reaffirms hierarchy rather than instituting it for the first time, since Adam had violated the hierarchy by listening to his wife and eating the fruit rather than being the spiritual leader.

Pentecost was able to explain passages that non-dispensationalists could advance against his position. Was James in Acts 15 saying that that particular time was when Christ was reigning as Davidic king and including Gentiles? No, says Pentecost. Christ is not reigning as Davidic king now but will only do so after his second coming. James is saying that, because the Gentiles will worship God as Gentiles during the millennium, God accepts their worship in his time, as well, without requiring them to become Jews. Such a solution is genius, even if some may think it a stretch.

Pentecost also offered in-depth proposals in response to questions, such as the question of why God gave the law, and why Jesus was baptized even though he was without sin. His solutions were edifying and made a degree of sense.

I am open to reading other Pentecost books in the future.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Hosea 13:14

The LCMS Bible study this morning looked at Hosea 13:11-14. I will post Hosea 13:9-16 for reference, then I will mention items from the study. After that, I will say what I got out of the church service.

9 O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.
10 I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?
11 I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.
12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid.
13 The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children.
14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.
15 Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.
16 Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. (KJV)

A. Vv. 9-11 refer to Israel’s request for a king in I Samuel 8, but they also concern the rapid succession of kings in Northern Israel when Hosea prophesied. Hosea prophesied during a time of political instability. Hosea in vv. 9-11 seems to echo the concern of I Samuel 8 that Israel looks to her kings for security rather than trusting and revering God as her king. Israel’s trust of her kings is not panning out well, as is evidenced by the political instability.

B. The pastor said that, in a sense, Israel’s request for a king was idolatrous, yet God worked that out for good by giving Israel David, from whom came the Messiah. That brought to mind my reading of I Samuel 8 earlier this week. In I Samuel 8:7-8, God says to Samuel: “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee” (KJV). God does appear to liken Israel’s request for a king to idolatry. Was God equating the request to idolatry? Would that imply that God condoned idolatry (Israel having a king) for centuries and even brought good out of it? I had a similar thought when I was contemplating Matthew 5:31-32 last week. In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus says that divorce and remarriage, except in cases of fornication, is adultery. Does that mean that God permitted adultery during the centuries that God allowed divorce and remarriage?

C. Returning to Hosea 13, the pastor interpreted v. 12 to mean that God is storing up Northern Israel’s sin rather than forgetting about it: God will punish it eventually, even if Israel may not feel that she is suffering God’s punishment right now. The sin is stored up, waiting to be punished. Hosea here echoes Deuteronomy 32:34-35, which states that God stores up Israel’s sin and her feet will slip in due time. The pastor argued that Paul in Romans 3:25 takes this thought in a Jesus-direction. Romans 3:25-26 states that God “put forward [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (NRSV). According to the pastor, Paul acknowledged that God stored up humanity’s sin and saved the punishment for later, but God ultimately punishes, not humanity, but Jesus in its place. Christians may still suffer the consequences of their sins, but their suffering will not separate them from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

D. V. 14 has been translated in different ways, and I encountered even more interpretations after I came home and checked out commentaries. The pastor prefers what the KJV has: Israel is unwilling to be born (repent), so God will step in and do for Israel what she cannot do for herself. God affirms that God will ransom and redeem her from the grave. Repentance will be hidden from God’s eyes, meaning that God will not change God’s mind about redeeming Israel: God will do it, period. Other translations, however, treat v. 14 as a reaffirmation of God’s judgment. God asks if he will redeem Israel from death, implying that the answer is “no,” and God then states that compassion for Israel is hidden from his eyes. The commentaries that I read seemed to mix the two extremes: God wants to redeem Israel or has a record of redeeming Israel in the past, but God refuses now to have compassion on Israel because she will not repent.

E. Which interpretation of v. 14 makes most sense, in my mind? This is difficult to answer. V. 9 appears to affirm that God is Israel’s helper, which would coincide with the KJV and the pastor’s interpretation: that v. 14 depicts God as generously stepping forward to redeem Israel. The thing is, v. 9 can be translated in ways that do not depict God as Israel’s helper but rather the opposite: “I will destroy you, O Israel; who can help you?” (NRSV). Against the pastor’s interpretation of v. 14 is that the immediately following verses, vv. 15-16, reaffirm judgment; as the pastor said, Assyria is likened to the east wind, which comes from the desert and dries up all life. The pastor interprets the end of v. 14 to mean that God will not repent from his goal to redeem of Israel from the grave, whereas other translations hold that God will not have compassion towards Israel. My problem with the pastor’s interpretation is that n-ch-m often has pathos, connoting not just a change of mind but sadness or regret. Why would God need to say that God will not be saddened about redeeming Israel? Of course God would not be saddened about redeeming Israel: God is only punishing Israel reluctantly. Interpreting n-ch-m in v. 14 as a regretful or sad repentance makes little sense, in my opinion. The view that v. 14 reaffirms judgment also has problems, though. Why is God even bringing up the scenario of redeeming Israel from the grave? Simply to deny that God will do so? Why bring redemption up, only to knock it down? It looks unnecessary to the passage. The “mixture” interpretation sits best with me: God desires to redeem Israel, as he has been her historical helper, but God reluctantly decides not to do so because of her refusal to repent.

F. Hosea 13:14 does not make much sense in the Septuagint. NETS has: “I shall rescue them from the hand of Hades and shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where is your sentence? O Hades, where is your goad? Comfort is hidden from my eyes.” Here, God affirms that he shall redeem Israel from death, then he goes on to say that comfort is hidden from his eyes. Is God unhappy about redeeming Israel from death? Maybe commentators have offered explanations as to what the LXX means here.

G. Hosea 13:14 is quoted in I Corinthians 15:55, as Paul quotes it to taunt death that Jesus has defeated it. Death was believed to swallow everything up, but Christ through his resurrection has swallowed death up. A good question would be how Christians can view Paul’s treatment of Hosea 13:14, in light of the debate over whether Hosea 13:14 affirms redemption or judgment. The pastor’s interpretation, of course, holds that I Corinthians 15:55 is consistent with the original meaning of Hosea 13:14, while going beyond it: Hosea 13:14 is about God redeeming Israel from the grave, whereas I Corinthians 15:55 goes further than that and affirms that God in Christ has defeated death, period. On the other hand, if Hosea 13:14 reaffirms judgment, then it can be a foil for Christ’s redemption. A student in the class was suggesting this: Hosea 13 does not leave Israel with much hope, but Christ brings hope because Christ has defeated death.

H. The pastor said at the beginning that there was a time when critical scholars posited thirteen authors of the Book of Hosea. He says that has been discarded because there are intact manuscripts dating as early as the fourth century B.C.E. The pastor said that Hosea wrote the book that bears his name years after he orally spoke the prophecies. He did so as his prophecies came back to him in memory through divine inspiration. I could not find anything about the dates of the earliest surviving Hosea manuscripts. Even if they were complete, that would not disprove that the Book of Hosea was written by different people, for source criticism is not really based on text criticism: rather, source criticism is based on tensions within a book that may point to multiple authorship. The book could have come together centuries before its earliest surviving manuscript. Looking at different commentaries (i.e., Word, Anchor Bible) and other scholarly sources (i.e., Anchor Bible Dictionary), though, I notice that there are debates. Some scholars do posit stages of the Book of Hosea (i.e., a northern stage, a Judahite stage) or later additions, whereas others are more willing to believe that the “later additions” are not that at all but are original to Hosea himself. What is more, because Hosea appears rather unintelligible or elliptical, many scholars view that as a sign of its authenticity: it is unintelligible or elliptical because it comes from Northern Israel, whose Hebrew differs in areas from the Hebrew to which we are accustomed (i.e., Judahite). See here for a discussion.

I. In the church service, the pastor asked if we would have accepted Jesus as a suffering Messiah had we lived in the first century C.E. They did not have their smart-phones telling them what Scriptures were relevant as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Rather, they had in mind David and Solomon, and they hoped Jesus would inaugurate a glorious reign like theirs.

J. The pastor criticized Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. People want to be seen as nice and to see themselves as nice. This idol is shot down when disaster comes, and people wonder how it can happen to them, when they are so nice. Yet, God meets us when we have reached the end of our rope. This reminded me of how tragic life can be. The pastor told a story about a church he pastored decades ago. The church secretary of fifteen years fell asleep at the wheel of her car and was killed. The next Sunday, the Scripture text was Isaiah 25:8, which affirms that death shall be swallowed up. The church did not include that passage as a deliberate response to the secretary’s death. Rather, that was the passage that was scheduled to read on that Sunday. The pastor sees that as God’s comfort and provision in that shocking and difficult time.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Book Write-Up: Children of God, by Lars Petter Sveen

Lars Petter Sveen. Children of God. Trans. Guy Puzey. Graywolf, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Lars Petter Sveen is a Norwegian author, who has received literary awards. Children of God is set in first century C.E. Israel, the time of the historical Jesus. It consists of short stories, many of which overlap with each other in characters. Looming throughout the book is a blind old man, a sinister presence who still appeals to people’s desire for purpose and meaning.

I found this book to be rather dull, to be honest, but I may like it if I were to read it years in the future. Plus, you may find it interesting. The book is a translation from the original Norwegian, yet the prose is neat and clean. Perhaps the prose could have had more feeling in it, though.

People in the book struggle with profound issues. One person desires healing and receives it yet finds his faith tested when his illness returns. A revolutionary struggles with Roman oppression due to the pacifistic teachings of Jesus.

Jesus appears rather human in this book. He does not exude an enormous amount of warmth, but neither is he cold. He responds like one would expect a lot of people to respond: with guarded tentativeness. There are people who believe that they are healed by Jesus yet their diseases remain, and Sveen may have been trying to make some profound point here: they were healed within, even if they were not healed without. Still, Jesus seems to accomplish real outward healings. The book is somewhat nebulous about whether Jesus rose from the dead or was a failed idealist. One character remarks that many versions of Jesus emerged after the claims that Jesus rose from the dead.

This book is not exactly preachy, but people still wrestle with the teachings of Jesus.

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

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