Friday, July 29, 2016

Ramblings on the 2016 Democratic National Convention

Here are some thoughts about the Democratic National Convention this week.  I rephrase and elaborate on notes I jotted down last night in preparation for this post.
  1. Sarah Silverman told "Bernie or Bust" people that they were being ridiculous.  That's not the way to win over Bernie supporters!  Plus, while I do not condone the trolling that many Bernie supporters have engaged in, they are not being ridiculous when they feel alienated from both parties, Republican and Democratic. 
  2. Bernie was mentioned by Jesse Jackson, Tim Kaine, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.  I wish more speakers had acknowledged Bernie, considering the movement that he started.  But that's how it is in most conventions: to the victor goes the spoils!  Still, I appreciate the speakers who did acknowledge Bernie.
  3. There were some protests.  It was raucous on the first night.  On Day 3, there were chants of protest when Admiral John Hutson and Leon Panetta spoke.  Chanters were saying "Let her in" and "Trump," and I do not know why.  Were they supporting Trump's call for Russia to hack Hillary's e-mail?  The chants against Panetta were anti-war and anti-drone.  The camera was not always on the crowd, and that somewhat obscured the presence of protesters for those watching the convention on TV, especially since many of the speakers just kept on speaking despite the protesters, and there were plenty of people in the audience who drowned the protesters out.  The camera was occasionally on the audience, and sometimes there were a lot of anti-TPP signs and anti-war signs, and sometimes not.  Plus, there were Bernie supporters who walked out, and that may account for times when the convention was calmer.  The convention was not as unruly as the 1968 one, and it was usually like a normal convention. 
  4. Hillary talked about how she was bullied when she was a kid and ran into the house, and her mom made her go back outside.  This reminded me of a 2002 movie that I saw recently, Tomorrow Man.  An abusive father made his son go outside to fight the bullies, even though they were bigger.  At the end of the movie, after the father has learned the error of his ways, he no longer makes his son go outside to confront the bullies.  Both Hillary's mom and that dad on that movie probably had the same rationale for their position: you can't let bullies walk all over you, otherwise people will bully you for the rest of your life.  Is that approach right or wrong?
  5. There were appeals to independents and Republicans.  Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who went from being a Republican to being an independent, appealed to the independents who were watching the Democratic convention from home, and he said where he disagreed with Republicans and Democrats.  Hillary Clinton praised not only Tim Kaine's son for serving in the military, but also Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Mike Pence's son for doing the same.  I respected Hillary for doing that.  Some have argued that the positive emphasis on God, country, and the military at the Democratic Convention this year was designed to appeal to Republican voters.  I am not so cynical.  I think that Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and Barack Obama are sincere in their faith convictions.  Plus, it is not surprising for African-American ministers to talk about God at the Democratic National Convention. 
  6. Bill Clinton asked an intriguing question: How do you square his positive portrayal of his wife with what the Republicans said about her at the GOP convention?  Bill's answer is that his portrayal is true, whereas the GOP's portrayal is made-up.  How does one square the positive things we hear about people with the negative things?  A while back, I read a biography of George W. Bush by Ronald Kessler.  It was entitled A Matter of Character, and it was a positive portrayal, which contended that Bush was a decent man.  Amazon reviewers were wondering how to square that with Bush's alleged corruption and shenanigans, which are in negative biographies about the man.  Many say that we all have light and dark aspects of ourselves, and I know that is true of myself.  But I think of James 3:11 in the Bible: "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" (KJV).  What is the fundamental core and organizing principle in a person's life: good, or evil?  It cannot be both, can it? 
  7. Corey Booker was talking about how the Declaration of Independence encourages love, not tolerance.  He observed that the last line of the Declaration said that "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."  Booker said that, when we merely tolerate people, we feel that we can do without them.  Love, however, is different.  That challenges me, since there are plenty of people I feel I can do without!  Yet, I would like for the country to run more on love: a positive concern for people's well-being. 
  8. Speakers at the Democratic convention presented Trump as a hypocrite.  Trump preaches against outsourcing while having some of his campaign material made in other countries.  Trump is against foreign workers coming to the United States and competing with Americans for work, yet, a speaker said, Trump himself has a history of hiring foreign workers.  A speaker also said that Trump fired workers who were taking time off to serve in the military overseas.  Trump said at his own convention that he knows the system, so he alone can fix it.  My question is: Can we be assured that he genuinely wants to fix it, when he has a history profiting off of it?  The same question can be asked about Hillary.  Robert Reich, in response to this article, posted this week about the trade-offs and rewards for big donors that have occurred at the Democratic convention this week.  Can we really trust Hillary to get money out of politics, in light of that?  Those are important questions, but perhaps a case can be made that Trump and Hillary will do the right thing, despite whatever shadiness exists in their pasts.  Accomplishing reforms would make them look good in the annals of history! 
  9. The GOP convention was rather one-sided in its discussion of the police issue: it defended the police, condemned criticism of the police, and said "blue lives matter," without much criticism of police misconduct, especially towards minorities.  The Democratic convention was more balanced on this.  It presented family members of people killed due to police misconduct, but also cops who were sensitive to this issue, and to the lives of cops. 
  10. I mostly watched the conventions on C-Span.  The Democratic convention appeared to have speakers on all day, whereas the Republican one did not.  That was probably because the Republican one this year was lucky to get whatever speakers it got!
  11. Whatever my political disagreements with him, I love Tim Kaine.  He's like a goofy TV dad, yet he is intelligent.  I loved his humble story, especially the part about how he and his family still live in the same house that he and his wife first moved into.  I also enjoyed his “Believe me” imitation of the Donald!
  12. There were stories about the goodness of America. I tend to recoil from the idea of American exceptionalism, and yet these stories tell me that the goodness of America is not just a cliché----there is bad in America, but also a lot of good.  I especially loved Hillary’s reference to Dallas police chief David Brown, who appealed to his community to join the police, and hundreds applied.   In my eyes, David Brown is a national hero.  He was just the right person to be in the limelight after the shootings in Dallas, with his background and the pain that he has personally experienced.  I think of Esther 4:14, which talks about how Esther was brought to prominence for such a time as this. 
  13. In watching the video that was about Joe Biden, I was reminded that Biden actually came out in support of gay marriage before President Obama did.  Biden did so on Meet the Press.   Biden is notorious for speaking his mind, even when it goes against what is deemed to be politically sensible.  That can lead to gaffes!  This time, though, many progressives were proud of Biden for speaking his mind and taking leadership.
  14. The Democratic convention struck me as more positive than the Republican one.  As was to be expected, there were criticisms of Donald Trump at the Democratic one, but they focused on his record.  The Republican convention, however, had jarring cries of "Lock her up!" in reference to Hillary Clinton. 
  15. More than one Democratic speaker criticized Trump's claim that he alone can fix the system.  Hillary and Obama said that it is up to all of us, not just one person, to make this country better.  And even many conservatives have criticized Trump for saying he alone can fix the system.  This is not surprising.  Conservatives have often said that we should look to the people, not the government, to solve the nation's problems.  They make an important point, but I wonder: Why can't both people and government address the country's problems?
  16. Actress Elizabeth Banks talked about her own humble background: she referred to the time in her life when she worked as a waitress and did not have health insurance and had to eat a bagel for brunch each day.  Hillary talked to someone who worked two full-time jobs and barely made ends meet.  That reminded me of what I like about the Democratic Party: it is sensitive to people with struggles.  I should mention, though, that conservative Laura Ingraham at the GOP convention also talked about her humble, working-class background: her mother worked as a waitress for decades.  Laura's mother criticized those who were burning the American flag, saying to Laura, "They have no respect, honey."  The Democratic convention was highlighting the vulnerability of the working class and saying that Democratic policies would help them.  Laura Ingraham was appealing to working class Americanism and was referring to her parents' working-class background, at least in part, to criticize illegal immigration: she said that Americans are willing to do the jobs that illegal immigrants do, in challenging arguments to the contrary. 
  17. Donna Brazile is the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.  Her speech at the convention was lackluster, but she is very effective in debates, on TV news shows, and at schmoozing.  People have their own talents! 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Write-Up: Why God Allows Us to Suffer

Kevin Tewes.  Answering Christianity’s Most Difficult Question—-Why God Allows Us to Suffer: The Definitive Solution to the Problem of Pain and the Problem of Evil.  Chapel Hill: Triune Publishing Group, 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

The “About the Author” section of this book states that Kevin Tewes is An “accomplished trial lawyer and former US Army officer,” who “deployed to Iraq in late 2006, just as a bloody sectarian conflict was enveloping the country.”  After Tewes observed numerous victims flooding into a military hospital, he felt challenged to address the problem of evil: the question of why an omnipotent, benevolent God allows suffering.

Tewes’ answer is that God chooses to allow us to impact and be impacted by others and thereby limits God’s intervention in the world.  Why does God want us to impact and to be impacted by others?  Tewes’ answer is that God wants us to give and receive love.  For Tewes, apparently, God wants us to impact and to be impacted by others positively, so God allows us to impact each other freely, even when that impact is negative.

This sounds somewhat like the Free Will Defense, the idea that God chooses not to prevent evil deeds because God respects human free will.  But Tewes strongly distances himself from the Free Will Defense.  For Tewes, apologists who appeal to free will act as if free will is of paramount importance, or a worthy end in itself.  Tewes, by contrast, emphasizes something else as more important: love.  Tewes seems to argue that, in this fallen world, an environment in which people freely impact and are impacted by others can be conducive to love.  Tewes appears to maintain that God, by intervening, would compromise that environment and God’s goal, and so God limits God’s intervention.

Tewes addresses the question of why God permits humans to do evil acts, but does Tewes address the problem of natural evil: hurricanes, or earthquakes?  Essentially, Tewes blames the Fall for natural evil.
One positive of the book is that, early on, it critiques popular and conventional solutions to the problem of evil, while interacting with such thinkers as atheists Bart Ehrman and John Loftus, liberal Christian philosopher John Hick, Simone Weil, and others.  Tewes rightly questions whether conventional solutions to the problem of evil are adequate in the face of how horrible evil can be.  Tewes questions the argument that God permits evil so that we can build our character or so disadvantaged people can be guinea pigs for other people’s moral development, as well as the Free Will Defense.  Tewes finds these solutions insufficient in light of the numerous people who were slaughtered in Iraq, or people who die soon after they are born.

Another positive to the book is that it presents God limiting Godself because God has higher ends in mind.  God is omnipotent, but God makes choices about when and how to use God’s power, in light of the reality that is in front of God, and God’s loving purposes.  Tewes may not go so far as to suggest that God wrestles with the options in front of God, but he does present something like that, and this makes God someone with whom one can identify.

The third positive is that Tewes continually reminds the reader of God’s love and grace.  For Tewes, we know that God loves us because God did not execute Adam and Eve right after their sin.  God still had a purpose for humanity.  A lot of Christians depict God as totally just: God has to punish each and every sin, otherwise there is moral anarchy, so God sent Jesus to be punished in our place, and those who believe are declared innocent.  Whether Tewes embraces that idea is unclear.  Tewes states that God’s punishment of sin after the Fall is an example of God’s justice, yet he states that God did not pour out God’s justice totally on Adam and Eve, since God allowed humanity to continue.  Does Tewes believe that God can be just, without being absolute in justice?  Does Jesus’ death on the cross mitigate God’s justice, on some level?  Tewes should have interacted with such questions.

On that note, a negative to the book is that so many questions are left unanswered.  Tewes argues that God chooses to limit God’s intervention, and yet the Bible often presents God intervening in the world.  How does Tewes account for that?  Is Tewes’ solution to the problem of evil how God generally works, and yet Tewes acknowledges that God can make exceptions to that?  How does God decide when to intervene?  Does God do anything other than letting nature take its course in God’s attempt to encourage people to love?  If so, what?  Tewes does not say.  The book would have been better had he said!

Tewes says that God may choose not to make God’s existence obvious to humanity because that can provide an opportunity for us to have faith.  But is that an adequate solution to this apparent problem?  God made Godself obvious to many people in the Bible, and that did not take away their opportunities to have faith.  They may have been surer than we are about God’s existence, but they still had to decide whether or not to trust God.  Tewes’ proposal here may have some merit, but it does not solve the problem entirely.

Tewes seems to argue that God made the world so God would have someone to love.  (This is my understanding of his argument, and I am open to correction.)  Many Christians would respond that God already had someone to love, even before creating humanity: the persons of the Trinity loved each other.  Tewes is aware of this argument, for, in a footnote, he tells the reader to forget for a moment the Trinity.  Forget the Trinity?  Tewes himself appears to believe in the Trinity, but he should have wrestled with how or whether the Trinity poses a possible challenge to his argument, rather than telling readers to forget that challenge.

There is finally the question of whether Tewes’ scenario is adequate in the face of how horrible evil is.  Tewes did well to critique other scenarios, but is his own scenario adequate?  Could God accomplish God’s goal without all of the horrible suffering in the world?  Is the suffering in this world overkill, in terms of God’s agenda?  Could God accomplish the same goals with less suffering—-not no suffering, but less suffering?  Even after reading this book, this question remains.

And could one make the case that the current state of the world actually discourages love, rather than enhancing it?  Life can bruise people and make them less willing to trust and to reach out to others.  Life probably encourages and discourages love, but Tewes’ book is rather one-sided, on this.

The book is well-written in terms of its prose.  In terms of its organization, it could be rather scattered, at times, and Tewes went on some unnecessary tangents (i.e., Descartes starts with a presupposition in his “I think therefore I am” argument).

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rebuke or Be Punished? Strengths and Weaknesses. Obedience.

At church last week, the preacher was preaching about I Samuel 3, in which God calls the child Samuel at night.

The preacher said that the high priest Eli failed to rebuke his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  According to I Samuel 2, Hophni and Phinehas kept the best part of the sacrifices for themselves, taking it by force if they deemed that necessary.  They also slept with women at the door of the Tabernacle.  Although Eli actually does rebuke his sons in that chapter, they do not listen to him, and God through a prophet accuses Eli of honoring his sons ahead of God and of making himself fat with sacrifices.

The preacher was saying that we ourselves may need to rebuke people who are closest to us, otherwise God will punish us along with them.  Or he said something like that: his point may have been that we may suffer the consequences of the sins of the people closest to us.

Yet, the preacher also commended Eli, for all of Eli’s flaws.  The preacher said that Eli did not take himself too seriously when God called Samuel.  Eli was not upset that God called Samuel instead of him.  Eli wanted Samuel to be receptive to God’s voice, and Eli wanted to know what God said.

The preacher also said that God does not just want to be heard, but obeyed.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  There may be cases in which rebuke is necessary.  But suppose that people close to us are not Christians, or adhere to other religious practices?  Should we continually rebuke them for that, in fear that God will punish or withhold favor from us if we fail to do so?

In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to kill close family members who recommended the worship of other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-11).  And a single sinner in the community could bring down others, even the innocent.  Consider the case of Achan in Joshua 7!  Achan’s sin caused Israel to lose a battle, and God was appeased when Achan and his household were stoned (or so many interpret vv 24-25).  At a church that I attended over a decade ago, that actually scared the pastor, for he thought that God still may operate that way!

That was how God operated in Old Testament times with Israel, which was a covenant community under the authority of God.  Does God still operate that way in New Testament times?  Two New Testament passages come to mind.

First, there is I Corinthians 7:14-15: “And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (KJV).

In some manner, the believing spouse sanctifies the unbelieving spouse and the children of the household.  Here, at least, the sinners are not contaminating everyone else, but the believer is sanctifying others through his or her presence.

Second, there is I Peter 3:1-2: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear” (KJV).

Leaving aside the question of what “subjection” to husbands means and whether that is a fair or positive organization of the household, the passage does offer insight about how believers can approach the unbelievers in their lives: by living a virtuous life.  I Peter does not tell believers to nag or to rebuke continuously the non-believers in their family.

The Old Testament was one nation under God, and everyone was part of the covenant and obligated to keep it.  In the New Testament, by contrast, a number of Christians found themselves married to non-believers, and they wanted to know how to behave in that situation.

All of that said, the prospect of believers having a patronizing attitude towards non-believers in their lives does repel me.  I should be an example to the non-believers in my life?  They are an example to me!  They are stronger and more virtuous than me, in many cases!

I also have problems rebuking people over their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.  Religious beliefs are personal, they cannot be forced, and they seem to me to be matters of taste and opinion (but evidential Christian apologists will probably disagree with me on that, thinking Christianity has an evidential basis).

B.  According to the preacher, Eli failed to rebuke his sons sufficiently, and yet Eli deserves credit for not taking himself too seriously.

Could those two personality traits actually go together?  Maybe Eli was a passive, laid-back man.  That would lead him to tolerate his sons’ sinful behavior, but it would also influence him not to take himself too seriously and to let someone else share the stage.  Our temperament can contribute to our strengths and weaknesses!

On the other hand, Eli’s attitude towards God was arguably contradictory.  Eli wanted to know what God had to say and had reverence for God.  Yet, Eli did not respect God enough to stop his sons’ behavior, and Eli even profited from it by becoming fat off the sacrifices.  Eli may have meant well, but he was rather weak, or he was unwilling to follow through on his commitment to God where it mattered.  I have difficulty condemning Eli for this, but many in society judge those who are weak or fearful.

C.  The preacher said that God not only wants to be heard, but also obeyed.  Obedience is a concept that troubles me, since I am imperfect when it comes to living God’s standards.  But the preacher makes sense: God’s word is brought into the realm of real life, and has its effect, when it is obeyed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Write-Up: Culture, by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer.  Culture: Living as Citizens of Heaven on Earth—-Collected Insights from A.W. Tozer.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

A.W. Tozer was a pastor and Christian author who lived from 1897 to 1963.   This book, Culture, is a collection of (mostly) short excerpts from Tozer’s writings.  If there is a common topic throughout the book, it is the church as it exists in and relates to the world.  The internal life of the church is also discussed.

There are themes in this book that overlap with themes in other books by Tozer that I have read.  Tozer advocates an authentic spirituality, which includes being filled with the Holy Spirit and having a genuine knowledge of God.  In this book, Tozer goes further and criticizes dispensationalists who maintain that the Sermon on the Mount is inapplicable to Christians today.  For Tozer, the Sermon on the Mount is practically a constitution for what Christians should be like, and adherence to its principles set Christians apart from the world.  Tozer laments that many professing Christians fail to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously, including its exhortations about forgiveness and reconciliation with others.

Tozer interacts with other themes as well.  He is critical of Christians who fit in too well with the world, noting that Jesus was maladjusted.  Tozer says that spirit-filled Christians will excel in love, yet he is critical of the culture’s emphasis on tolerance.  Tozer talks about how Jesus spoke simply.  Tozer also discusses public prayer and the income tax.

Unlike in other books by Tozer that I have read, Tozer is self-deprecating in this book and is candid about his flaws.  Tozer laments his lack of patience.  At the same time, while he is somewhat critical of his fearless, tells-it-like-it-is approach, he also justifies that approach, on some level.

The book is thoughtful, as Tozer’s writings usually are.  Tozer’s advocacy of a genuine adherence to Christianity is attractive.

In terms of criticisms, Tozer could have been more specific about what exactly Christians are standing for before the world, and what sets them apart in their outlook and behavior.  He could have spoken more about giving to the poor, or, if Tozer has written about that topic, the compilers of the book could have included more about it.  Charity is emphasized throughout the Bible, and it is certainly in contrast with the self-seeking that the world so often promotes.  Tozer himself comes across as rather politically conservative in this book, but that need not preclude one from advocating charity for the poor.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Cherished Quilt, by Amy Clipston

Amy Clipston.  The Cherished Quilt.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

The Cherished Quilt is the third book of Amy Clipson’s “Amish Heirloom” series.  Book 1, The Forgotten Recipe, focused on Veronica and her relationship with Jason.  Book 2, The Courtship Basket, focused on Veronica’s sister Rachel and her relationship with Mike.  Book 3, The Cherished Quilt, is about Emily, the third sister.

One can understand most of The Cherished Quilt without having read the previous books of the series.  Readers should keep in mind, however, that the character of John is a little kid.  Readers of The Cherished Quilt could probably detect that from what he says, but it is not explicitly stated in that book.  Those who have read the previous book of the series already know that he is a little kid, since he was a major character in The Courtship Basket.

In The Cherished Quilt, Emily meets Chris, who has recently moved to the area to work with his uncle.  Chris is self-doubting and aloof, and Emily wants to reach out to him.  Chris is dealing with a lot of guilt because his little brother Gabriel fell off a horse while Chris was around.  Chris is estranged from his father, who blames Chris for the accident.  While Chris is attracted to Emily, Chris is reluctant to be baptized and to join the church, which is a requirement for marriage.

The Cherished Quilt is probably the best novel by Amy Clipston that I have read thus far.  Many of her novels (that I have thus far read) are repetitive and cover the same territory over and over.  The Cherished Quilt, by contrast, covered the same territory the right amount of times (in my opinion), diversified its presentation of the territory, and covered a variety of topics.

The character of Chris was particularly well-developed.  Chris was insecure, even towards people who had been nothing but friendly towards him.  There was more to Chris’ relationship with his father than the accident involving Gabriel: Chris’ father showed favoritism towards Chris’ brother Paul because Paul was better at training horses.  Chris’ struggle with joining the church is also explained in some detail.

The scene in which Chris and his father talk things out is remarkable, as Chris’ father acknowledges his foibles, while also explaining his perspective.  Chris’ religious struggle was resolved too hastily, and yet Amy Clipston may genuinely feel that the answer to Chris’ perplexity had a simple answer.  The book also briefly discussed the question of whether Chris’ crafts are a graven image and violate the second commandment, but more detail and wrestling with this question should have been provided.

Emily often thinks of others besides herself, yet she struggles with her own loneliness.  The intersection between these characteristics perhaps could have been developed more, and yet Emily is still a lovable character.

Like the previous two books of the series, the third book ends on a mystery.  This mystery intersects with the mysteries in the previous two books.  The mysteries remain unresolved, and yet Emily’s mother at the end of the book is finally willing to explain what happened.  We may have to wait for the fourth book before we, the readers, can find out!

In terms of stars, this book is too good to get four stars, yet not quite five-star material.  I would give it a 4.5, while giving it five stars on Amazon.  The book is officially released in November, though, so I will have to wait before posting my Amazon review.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Final Ramblings on the Republican National Convention

The 2016 Republican National Convention is over!  This year, I adapted to watching it on the west coast, where the convention is on from 5-8 p.m. rather than 8-11 p.m.  I caught a lot of the speeches on YouTube.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Bernie Sanders was mentioned a handful of times, and never negatively.  Donald Trump, Jr. referred to Bernie Sanders’ criticism of immigration over two decades ago, as Bernie feared that immigrants could drive down wages and compete with Americans for jobs.  Mike Pence said that Hillary Clinton runs a powerful political machine, then said, “Just ask Bernie Sanders!”  And the nominee, Donald Trump himself, said that Bernie tried to challenge a system that was rigged, and that Bernie supporters have a home in the Trump campaign because Trump opposes unfair trade deals, which cost America jobs.

Trump is obviously trying to appeal to Bernie Sanders supporters.  There are a lot of them, and many of them will not vote for Hillary.  I hope, though, that the Republicans’ references to Bernie Sanders at the convention are also sincere, on some level: that those Republicans respect what Sanders tried to accomplish, even if they disagree with Sanders’ policy proposals.

B.  Trump’s kids were impressive.  That is not surprising to me, since they did give the Trump campaign whatever professional face it had.  Trump was crass and shot from the hip throughout his campaign, and there were indications that his campaign was in disarray.  But his kids were genteel, well-spoken, and articulate.  I think of when Ivanka was greeting various states, and she came to Hawaii: “Aloha, Hawaii, this is Ivanka Trump!”  I also respected Donald Trump, Jr. when he was being interviewed by David Muir, the day after the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal.  Donald, Jr. candidly admitted that he did not write all of his own speech, since he is not a professional in politics, but he did contribute to it.  Now, after he has delivered that speech, many want him to become a professional in politics!

Trump must have been a decent father, for his kids to be as supportive as they are.  A good businessman?  A good employer?  Well, I have read plenty of stories to the contrary on that!  But he may very well be a decent father, even if he is closer to some of his kids than others.

C.  As I heard speech after speech praising cops, I wondered if I would hear any acknowledgment of the existence of racism.  Occasionally, I did.  Lynne Patton, the Vice-President of the Eric Trump Foundation, is an African-American, and she lamented that black lives often have not mattered to people.  Mark Burns, an African-American pastor, discussed how many African-Americans lacked hope, and he talked about economic renewal of their poor communities.  I wish I had seen more of that.

D.  That said, the convention was trying, on some level, to be diverse, or to show that the Republican Party can be diverse.  There was a Muslim who spoke in favor of Trump.  A Sikh gave the opening prayer on one of the nights.  There were many African-Americans who spoke.  A Hispanic gentleman (apart from Marco Rubio) spoke.  A Korean spoke.  Eileen Collins, the first female to command a space shuttle, also spoke, though her speech was rather non-political.  Peter Thiel, a gay billionaire, said in his speech that he was proud to be gay, and the Republican crowd applauded.

Ivanka Trump portrayed her father as one who is sensitive to women in the workplace and wants to change the rules so there could be equality.  Donald Trump in his acceptance speech expressed concern about minority unemployment rates.  He stressed the need to protect the LGBT community from terrorism, and commended his audience for applauding him on that.  And yet, Trump also reached out to evangelicals, saying that he does not deserve their support, and yet that he would protect their civil liberties.

Part of this may be Trump’s outreach to Bernie Sanders supporters, or even mainstream Americans, who view Trump as a misogynist and a bigot.  Trump is also trying to balance different interests.  He wants to appear open to LGBT concerns, and he himself may have progressive leanings on that issue, as a New Yorker.  Still, the religious right is influential.

The presence of minority speakers for Trump itself is interesting, since they hold positions that many think people in their group would not hold.  Many may dismiss them as tokens or as traitors to their group, but they have their own story and reasons for arriving at their positions.

E.  I have a hard time hating anyone politically, since I see many of the politicians as characters in a drama, with their virtues and vices.  I admit that I sometimes have had a visceral and negative reaction to Hillary, maybe because she comes across as arrogant, and yet I respect her mind and her ability to come up with solutions to the nation’s problems.  In terms of last week’s convention, I respected Ted Cruz for refusing to endorse Donald Trump, for Ted is still upset about what Trump said about Ted’s wife Heidi and Ted’s father.  Ted does well to stand by his family!  That said, I also like how Trump knew that Cruz would not endorse him, yet let Cruz speak anyway.  That may not relate to integrity on Trump’s part, so much, as it does to Trump’s desire for drama: he knows how to get coverage in the news, and to keep the coverage going!

F.  I have difficulty with the Republican stance and tone on immigration.  That was the case even when I was a Republican.  I voted for Pat Buchanan in 1996 and 2000, and he made opposition to illegal immigration one of the centerpieces of his campaigns.  But I supported Pat on certain other issues.

My problem with what I heard at the Republican Convention is that it carried an implied message of “We have ours, so who cares about anyone else!”  We should build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, and who cares if they are impoverished in their own country!  That’s not our problem!  It’s theirs!  We should put America first!  That’s the sub-text that came across to me.  Even the speeches that were critical of American interventionism abroad did not express concern for people in other countries and the impact of our interventionism on them, but rather for Americans.

I hope, though, that we could create enough prosperity in this country to go around—-so that we do not have to choose between immigrants benefiting, and Americans benefiting.  How, and whether, we can arrive at that point is a good question.

Next week, the Democratic National Convention!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Write-Up: Eschatology

D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider, ed.  Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.
Eschatology is a collection of scholarly essays about eschatology, the last days, which include the second coming of Christ.  They are in honor of Craig Alan Blaising, a scholar who wrote about the topic.  Timothy George writes the Foreword, which speaks briefly about eschatology then provides the reader with information about Blaising's approach to it.  Steven L. James contributes a biography of Blaising, which includes a bibliography of Blaising's academic works.

In this review, I will comment on each essay.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Canonical Unity: Connecting the Future to the Past," by D. Jeffrey Bingham.

If you want to learn about the life and thought of Marcion of Sinope and the reception to him during the second century C.E., then this is a good essay to read.  Marcion posited that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were different gods, with the latter being more beneficent than the former.  Church fathers argued, by contrast, the the same God was God of the Old and New Testaments, but that the Old Testament had an earthy, material system that would foreshadow the spiritual system of the New Testament.  Bingham effectively laid this out for the readers.  Unfortunately, he failed really to address how Old Testament prophecies should be understood, from a Christian perspective.  Old Testament prophecies discuss the eschatological restoration of Israel to her land, and some even depict the restoration of the Levitical or Zadokite priesthood and a Temple reconstruction.  That sounds like a future restoration of the Old Testament earthy, material system, which many Christians believe has been supplanted.  Why would God go back to that, from a Christian perspective?  Bingham should have included something on that issue.

"The Doctrine of the Future and the Concept of Hope," by Stanley D. Toussaint.

This essay taught me something that I had not previously considered, yet which is pretty obvious.  In Matthew 23:31-32; Mark 12:26; and Luke 20:37, Jesus argues for the resurrection from the dead against the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection.  Jesus appeals to Exodus 3:6, in which God says to Moses that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jesus says that God is not God of the dead but of the living.  Many Christian interpreters make a big deal about Jesus in Matthew 22:32 quoting the passage to say "I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob," as if the "I am" part of the passage is what Jesus thinks establishes the resurrection.  But there are problems with that. First, the Hebrew in Exodus 3 lacks an explicit "I am" ("I am that I am" is actually "I will be what I will be"), and that may be troubling to people who think that Jesus never erred.  (Note: This is my observation, not Toussaint's.)    Second, "I am" would fit more with the patriarchs being alive now rather than in the future resurrection, whereas Jesus is arguing for their future resurrection.  Third, as Toussaint notes, the Markan and Lukan parallels lack "I am."  According to Toussaint, what establishes Jesus' argument for the resurrection is not the "I am" part of Exodus 3:6, but rather God being the God of the patriarchs.  Because God is God of the patriarchs, and God is not God of the dead but of the living, that must mean that the patriarchs will live in the future, at the resurrection.

A critique that can be made of this chapter is that it is a bit incongruent in one detail.  In discussing Jesus' parables and teachings, Toussaint seems to maintain that Jesus envisioned a long time passing before his second coming.  In discussing Acts, however, Toussaint states that the apostles thought Christ's coming was imminent.  Did they somehow misunderstand and fail to grasp Jesus' teaching, according to Toussaint?

"The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy," by Charles C. Ryrie.

Ryrie assumes that Old Testament prophecies predict events in the life of Christ, and he asks what the chances are of that.  That, for him, demonstrates that the prophecies are from God.  The problem is that there are alternative ways to interpret those prophecies.  Ryrie should have interacted with some of those.

"The Doctrine of the Future, the Doctrine of God, and Predictive Prophecy," by John D. Laing and Stefana Dan Laing.

An asset to this chapter is that it presents scholarly arguments for the Book of Daniel being written in the sixth century B.C.E., rather than the second century B.C.E., during and after the events that it "foretells."  The chapter was trying to defend the reality of predictive prophecy, against skeptics.  Unfortunately, it did not address the prophecies that Ezekiel made that, according to many scholars, failed to come to pass as predicted.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Moses: 'All Israel Shall Be Saved,'" by Daniel I. Block.

Block tries to argue that the Book of Deuteronomy has eschatological elements, although he wrestles with the possibility that some of those elements can be interpreted non-eschatologically.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Historical Books," by Gregory Smith.

Smith makes a fairly decent case that I-II Chronicles has an eschatology.  It is not overbearing in the books, but, according to Smith, one can discern from certain passages that the Chronicler expected a future restoration of the Davidic monarchy.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Psalms: Reflections on the Struggle of Waiting," by George L. Klein.

Klein focused largely on God's deliverance of individuals.  Unfortunately, he did not talk much about scholarly views that some of the Psalms are eschatological, or that the Book of Psalms is organized in its final form in reference to a coming Messiah.  These topics should not be ignored in a book about eschatology!

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Prophets," by Mark F. Rooker.

Rooker argues that the Old Testament prophets do not just discuss their own time but the far-off future.  Yet, in making eschatological predictions, the prophecies discuss what will happen to nations that existed in their own day.  How would Rooker account for that?  Do those nations symbolize nations in the far-off future?  Can resurrection account for it?  Rooker should have wrestled with this.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Synoptic Gospels," by Darrell L. Bock.

Unlike scholars who believe that Jesus envisioned an imminent end, Bock points to passages in the synoptics in which Jesus envisioned a time of waiting until the Son of Man comes.  To his credit, Bock does attempt to address passages in the synoptic Gospels that appear to suggest that Jesus would return in the first century C.E.  Bock does not want Jesus to be wrong, and that is understandable.  But, when one takes away the apologetic motivation and thinks of other ways to see the text, is a time of waiting really inconsistent with believing that Jesus would return soon after 70 C.E.?  Forty years is still a long time to wait for Jesus' return!  Plus, are those passages about waiting authentic to the historical Jesus?  One could argue that early Christians put those words in Jesus' mouth after they had waited for the second coming, and it had not yet materialized.  There are a lot of passages to consider, and one can inquire about the extent to which they pass the criteria of authenticity (which are somewhat marginalized these days, but they may still be useful).

"The Doctrine of the Future in John's Writings," by David L. Turner.

Many scholars argue that the Gospel of John has a realized eschatology rather than a futuristic one.  Turner, quite sensibly, argues that it has both.

W. Edward Glenny's "The Doctrine of the Future in Paul's Writings" and David L. Allen's "The Doctrine of the Future in Hebrews and the General Epistles" will be considered together, in this review.

In Psalm 110:1, the LORD tells "my lord" to sit at his right hand, until he makes his enemies his footstool.  This passage is applied to Jesus in many places in the New Testament.  Glenny interprets I Corinthians 15's interpretation of that passage in light of the millennium of Revelation 20: Jesus will come back and rule the earth, and during that millennial rule God will be in the process of subjecting all of Jesus' enemies to his feet.  This view is not surprising in this publication because many of its contributors expressed agreement with dispensationalism, which believes in a millennium.  Interestingly, though, David L. Allen expressed a different view on Psalm 110, in considering the interpretation of the passage in the Book of Hebrews.  Allen states that "God has 'not yet' subjected all things under his feet", for "That will occur in the end times with the second coming of Jesus" (page 249).  Does Allen believe that Jesus is sitting on God's right hand now, not just in the millennium, and that God is in the process of subjecting things to Jesus' feet (albeit not everything)?

That said, while there were many believers in classic dispensationalism in this book, there were also many contributors who believed that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet, which differs from the futurist focus that a number of classic dispensationalists have held.  There are also progressive dispensationalist contributors to this book.

"The Doctrine of the Future in the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons," by Stephen O. Presley.

A question that occurred to me in reading this book concerned the extent to which the church fathers believed in a heavenly hope for believers, and the extent to which they believed in an earthly hope.  Did they think believers after their resurrection would go to heaven and see God, or that they would inhabit a renewed earth?  Presley could have tackled this question more directly, especially since so many Christian thinkers today criticize the emphasis on going to heaven in Christendom and stress that God loves the physical.  Still, Presley does offer patristic quotations that are relevant to this issue.  According to Presley, Irenaeus presents resurrected believers dwelling in different places, based on their level of spiritual maturity (which, for Irenaeus, is not stagnant, even after the resurrection).

"The Doctrine of the Future in Origen and Athanasius," by Bryan M. Litfin.

This chapter is helpful for those interested in Origen's belief in universal salvation because it provides primary references that relate to whether Origen did or did not believe in the ultimate salvation of the devil.  Litfin also discusses the relevance of Plato to patristic eschatology, but he could have explained Platonic eschatology a lot better than he did.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Augustine," by Jonathan P. Yates.

Christians often talk about the torment of souls in hell.  According to Augustine, however, resurrected bodies, not just souls, will be in heaven and hell.  I am finding more Christians who talk about that, who say that God will give the damned bodies that will be able to survive eternally in hell, notwithstanding the torment.

"The Doctrine of the Future in John Calvin," by Nathan D. Holsteen.

This chapter depicts Calvin was rather amillennial.  Calvin did not emphasize eschatology but preferred to stress Christ's current spiritual reign and triumphs.  Holsteen maintains that Calvin was similar to the Catholic church in this regard, even though Calvin took that thought in his own direction.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Anabaptist Thought," by Paige Patterson.

This chapter is largely about how Anabaptists were against the radicals of their day who tried to establish the Kingdom by force or by violence.  Many Anabaptists taught that Christians should wait for Jesus to return to set things right.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Jonathan Edwards," by Glenn R. Kreider.

This chapter was an effective explanation of Edwards' views, but there were a few unclarities.  First, did Edwards believe that heresy would be destroyed on earth before or during the millennium?  Second, did Edwards believe that the earth would be destroyed and that believers would be in heaven, or did he posit a renewal of the earth in the eschaton?

"The Doctrine of the Future in Baptist Theology," by Kevin D. Kennedy.

Kennedy is fair in his explanation of amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism.  Kennedy also refers to prominent Baptists who adhered to these positions.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Dispensationalism," by Mark L. Bailey.

Bailey defends the pretribulational rapture and premillennialism.  On page 397, he states that Paul understands the wrath from which believers are delivered as the eschatological Day of the Lord, not the great white throne judgment.  For Bailey, that supports the pretribulational rapture: believers will be taken to heaven before God pours out God's wrath on the earth.  But how does Bailey know that Paul understands God's wrath as the Day of the Lord rather than the last judgment?

Bailey does offer an extensive defense of the millennium being a literal one-thousand year reign on earth after Christ's return.  He presents fifteen arguments!  They were all decent, but his third argument particularly stands out to me as good: "...since Isaiah 65:17-25 describes the blessings of the kingdom to come with the presence of sin and death, this argues for an earthly fulfillment prior to eternity in which according to both Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4, death will be no more."  For Bailey, these tensions in Scripture can be reconciled by positing a millennial reign, during which sin and death will still exist, followed by a new heavens and a new earth, which will lack sin and death.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Jurgen Moltmann," by Lanier Burns.

According to Burns, Moltmann was a panentheist, one who believed that God was closely connected with nature.

"The Doctrine of the Future in Contemporary European Theology," by Friedhelm Jung and Edward Friesen.
This chapter is informative about modern Catholic eschatology.  It also discusses Karl Barth's belief that God may save everyone, and yet is free not to do so, as well as Wilfried Harle's universalism.  For Harle, many Christians emphasize faith for salvation, rather than Christ.  I had not heard of Harle before reading this book, and now I am intrigued.  Friesen, not surprisingly, disagrees with Harle, but his presentation of Harle's thought is quite detailed, and probably fair.

"The Doctrine of the Future: Millennialism in Contemporary Evangelical Theology," by David S. Dockery.

This is another chapter that explains amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism.  Surprisingly, although that territory was covered more than once in this book, it never got old.  I loved reading about postmillennialism's optimistic views about God's activity on earth, even if the authors disagreed with that perspective!

"The Doctrine of the Future and Pastoral Care," by J. Denny Audrey.

Audrey refers to the argument that many Christians look to eschatology for personal comfort rather than "direction for the contemporary church" (page 460).  Audrey never seems to flesh out how Christians can do the latter.  He does provide an interesting history, however, of how Christians in the past have conceptualized pastoral care.

"The Doctrine of the Future and Contemporary Challenges," by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Augustine in The City of God was addressing the fall of the Roman empire.  Mohler says this was devastating to Christians, since the Roman empire protected them.

"The Doctrine of the Future and the Marketplace," by Stephen N. Blaising.

How this chapter relates to eschatology is unclear.  It is mostly about being a good steward, in the economic realm.

My critiques notwithstanding, I still give this book five stars, since it is thorough and informative.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

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