Saturday, June 23, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 6/23/2018

From November 2016 to April 2017, my blog had a weekly “Current Events Write-Up,” in which I would link to news and opinion pieces and comment on them.  I have decided to revive that today.

My method will be a little different from how it was last time.  Most of my links will be from the conservative site Townhall.  I have revived a practice that I have done off-and-on over the past several years: that practice is to read one Townhall column a day.  Yeah, some of their columns have the usual right-wing vitriol and claptrap.  But some of the articles are thoughtful discussions of policy.  Some present refreshingly unconventional perspectives on issues.

While most of the links will probably be from Townhall, I will feel free to link to other resources.  I started subscribing to the Federalist, and I have occasionally listened to its podcasts.  I also follow the blog of a libertarian economist, Daniel Mitchell.

At times, I will feature left-wing voices.  I like how Robert Reich breaks down issues, so he may appear in my Current Events Write-Ups.  I started subscribing to receive weekly updates from Media Matters, which attempts to “fact-check” conservative talking-points.  I doubt that you’ll see much from the Huffington Post here, but never say never.

In terms of where I am politically, that is a good question.  I am annoyed with the Left, yet I still find myself signing Democratic and Move-On petitions to protect the social safety net.  I do not care for the Right’s judgment of the poor, but I think that it has valid critiques of the system and brings important insights to the table.

I should add: I do not entirely and necessarily agree with everything to which I link.

Anyway, here we go!

Townhall: It’s Time for Conservatives to Address Environmental Issues, by Benji Backer

“More importantly, the lack of conservative ideas in environmental politics threatens the planet. It has been difficult to pass meaningful legislation without conservative voices in the mix. The majority of recent environmental laws have consisted of feel-good rhetoric and little substantive action, wasting energy and failing to take account of important sources of clean energy like nuclear power. They punish instead of incentivize, and they disincentivize crucial hands-on conservation practices.”

Townhall: Beware A Monopoly on Pentagon Computing, by Steve Sherman

I like when when conservatives promote competition, and also when they criticize inefficiencies in the military.

Townhall: Eliminate, Don’t Expand, Electric Vehicle Credit, by Veronique de Rugy

According to de Rugy, the Electric Vehicle Credit actually slows down the speed of electric vehicle production, since companies are reluctant to produce above a certain limit because that can result in the elimination of the credit.  It benefits only a few wealthy people who purchase electric vehicles.  And it hurts the environment: “…California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program gives an advantage to companies manufacturing both electric vehicles and traditional vehicles, because they can use the California Air Resources Board credits awarded for producing electric vehicles to offset their dirtier products…”  I am sure that there is another side to this issue, but this article stood out to me.

Townhall: The Supreme Court’s ‘Bartleby’ Decision, by Michael Barone

Barone offers details about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to challenge partisan gerrymandering, assuming that’s what it was.  Barone seems to defend the decision.  This article has some partisan whining, as it notes that Democrats have supported gerrymandering, too!  Otherwise, it is a thoughtful article.  This part is noteworthy: “The Democrats’ current problem is not just that Republicans controlled districting in more states than Democrats after the 2000 and 2010 Census; it’s also, as the court and the Wisconsin plaintiffs recognized, that Democratic voters are demographically clustered in central cities, sympathetic suburbs and university towns, while Republican voters are more evenly spread around.  A party whose voters are demographically clustered is at a disadvantage in any legislature with equal-population single-member districts. One solution for Democrats is to try to appeal beyond their current redoubts, as President Bill Clinton did in the 1990s.”

The Federalist Radio Hour: What’s Happening With The Border And Immigration Legislation On The Hill

I was not sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The Federalist, of course, is conservative, but the discussion on this episode went beyond the usual conservative talking-points.  A policy analyst, for instance, critiqued President Trump’s emphasis on building the wall.  He said that, unless problems in Central America are addressed, there will be hundreds of thousands of people trying to get into the U.S.  I think that it is important to acknowledge that illegal immigrants are coming to this country for a reason, and often that reason is to escape turmoil in their own countries.  In terms of solutions, the analyst seemed to be proposing that the U.S. help train Central American authorities to contain and suppress the drug cartels.  Whether that would work is a good question.  He sited Iraq as a parallel, but it took a long time for stability to come to that country.

The Federalist Radio Hour: How San Francisco’s Liberal Utopia Invites Homelessness, Drugs, And Crime Into The City

The podcast was actually more thoughtful and educational than the title may indicate.  John Daniel Davidson talks about the rift within the Democratic Party over how to deal with the rampant homelessness in San Francisco.  Davidson also interviews some of the homeless people themselves.  In terms of how government policies worsen the problem, a lot of the problem is bureaucracy hindering the construction of affordable housing.  Another person on the program, Erielle Davidson, wrote an article here.

Triablogue: “I don’t believe in God, but I fear Him greatly.”

Steve Hays links to an interview in which the late Charles Krauthammer describes his perspective on religion.

Richard Falk: The U.S. Withdrawal from the U.S. Human Rights Council

“Explicitly focusing on alleged anti-Israel bias the U.S. withdrew from further participation in the UN Human Rights Council. The only internationally credible basis for criticizing the HRC is its regrettable tendency to put some countries with the worst human rights records in leading roles, creating genuine issues of credibility and hypocrisy. Of course, such a criticism would never be made by the U.S. as it could only embarrass Washington to admit that many of its closest allies in the Middle East, and elsewhere have lamentable human rights records…”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Write-Up: Return to Bella Terra, by MaryAnn Diorio

MaryAnn Diorio.  Return to Bella Terra.  TopNotch Press, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Return to Bella Terra is the third book of MaryAnn Diorio’s “Italian Chronicles.”

I am wondering how to dive into this review, so what I will do first is offer a brief summary of most of the main characters.

Maria: Maria is the main character.  She lives in Brooklyn.  She immigrated to there from Italy.  Hearing that her mother in Italy is sick and that the family land, Bella Terra, may be sold, she returns to Italy.

Nico: Nico is Maria’s adult son.  He was conceived as a result of Maria being raped by a priest, Don Franco.  The result was scandal in Italy for Maria and Nico, who was deemed to be illegitimate.

Don Franco: Don Franco is a priest, but he worked for Maria’s family at Bella Terra.  Don Franco teaches school.  After the rape, he sincerely repented and was transformed by Christ.  He desires a relationship with his son, Nico.

Luca: Luca is Maria’s husband and Nico’s step-father.  Luca feels a call from God to be in Brooklyn, where he believes that he has a mission to preach the Gospel.

Valeria and Anna: They are the daughters of Maria and Luca.  They are happy and fun-loving kids.
Sofia: Sofia is Nico’s newfound love-interest in Italy.

Teresa: Teresa is Sofia’s mother.  Teresa and Maria have a difficult past because they competed for Luca.  Teresa reminds Maria about Maria’s scandal.

Eva: Eva appears to be an old woman, but she is much more than that!

There are other characters, too, but these were the ones who especially stood out to me.

The book had its share of positives.  Its prose is beautiful.  MaryAnn Diorio teaches people how to write, and this book convinces me that she is qualified to do so.  The book has a few theological-philosophical tangents, as Don Franco discusses with his students the question of whether people can transcend themselves and their own perspectives.  The book gets into the characters’ reflections.

I liked the first half of the book more than the second half.  The first half was setting up the story and highlighting the characters’ struggles.  The scene in which Nico goes to Italy and sees the dog he left behind as a child was heartwarming.  The second half of the book tended to dwell on the same issues in the same way over and over.  The struggle was prolonged, but the solution, when it did occur, happened really quickly and, perhaps, superficially.  There was some confusion on my part: Maria wanted to return to Bella Terra to save it and to live there, but her husband does not want to do so.  Meanwhile, Maria does not want Nico to move to Italy and marry Sofia because she fears that she will never see him again.  These problems somewhat overlapped, and they tended to undermine each other: if Maria moves to Italy, and Nico moves to Italy, then they can be with each other.  Of course, Maria was unsure if she would be able to move to Italy, but my point is that these two struggles occurring together was rather awkward.

The book ended beautifully, however, with a reflection on the Kingdom of God and the absence of rifts that will exist there.

I am open to reading the other books of the series.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Current Events: Opposing Views on the Detention Controversy

Here are two perspectives on the current detention controversy.  The first is from the Breitbart site, which defends Trump.  The second is from Media Matters, which criticizes Trump.  They’re well-organized and easy to read.

Breitbart: 13 Facts the Media ‘Pros’ Don’t Want You to Know About ‘Family Border Separation’

Media Matters for America: Myths and facts: Trump’s separation of families and detention of children at the U.S.-Mexico border

Church Write-Up: Humility, Good Heart, Fellowship, Chesed in the Book of Ruth

Here is my Church Write-Up for this week.  I could probably go into more detail, but it is late.

A.  We had a guest preacher at the LCMS church, since our pastor is in Greece.  The preacher’s message was that law does not change people, but knowledge of Christ’s acceptance of us can.  He told a story about when he was a kid, and he and his brother were rough-housing.  They flattened a trashcan, and their mother said, “Wait until your father gets home.”  The father came home, looked at the trashcan, and said, “I’ve done worse.”  The preacher was impressed by his father’s humility, and that stayed with him throughout his life.

A passage that stood out to me in the course of the sermon was Luke 8:15.  This occurs within the Parable of the Sower, and Jesus likens the good ground, where the seed produces fruit, to those who have an honest and good heart.  Honest and good heart?  But are we not all sinners?  The preacher said that meant a heart that is receptive to the Gospel.  I thought of Calvinism: the concept that God makes people’s hearts good, and that is what makes them receptive to the Gospel.

B.  The preacher taught the I John class.  He covered quite a bit of topics.  How the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel honor and exalt one another, and place one another ahead of themselves.  God did not create out of loneliness but out of an outflowing of God’s love.  How the Lutheran Scripture readings often do not match each other in theme, to the preacher’s frustration.  The presence of conservative Wahabi Muslims in chaplaincies.  How the Prodigal Son did not need to repent to be accepted by God.  M. Scott Peck’s analysis of evil in People of the Lie, and how he argued that evil people justify themselves, blame others, and claim God for their back-up.

The preacher also talked about fellowship, since I John 1:7 affirms that, if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another.  What is fellowship?  Cookies and coffee?  The preacher defined fellowship in terms of what believers have in common: a life of faith and the Holy Spirit.
I somewhat like a non-social definition of fellowship, as one who struggles to socialize.  I remember a conversation I had with a Catholic.  He said that people at his church may not know each others’ names, but they believe the same thing.  That is what they share.

Looking at the occurrences of koinonia in the New Testament, it seems that the term does sometimes refer to mutual participation, sharing, or having something in common.  But there are also times in which a relational implication appears to be present.  Fellowship with God, for example.  Can that be something other than a relationship with God?

C.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor started a series on Ruth.  Some points that he made:
—-God was faithful to Naomi, even though she was complaining that God dealt bitterly with her (Ruth 1:20).

—-Boaz most likely was not a strapping young man but already had a family of his own.  Still, he assumed the role and responsibility of kinsman redeemer and married Ruth to raise up offspring for his departed relative.

—-Boaz showed Ruth love, even though he lived in a city, Bethlehem, that was wicked.  The pastor referred to the events of Judges 19 to support that.  There, residents of Bethlehem behave like the people of Sodom in Genesis 19, trying to gang-rape guests.

—-David years later would praise God, perhaps because God enabled Ruth to marry Boaz, which enabled David to be born and to play a role in God’s plan.

—-The Book of Judges concludes by saying that there was no king in Israel, so the Israelites each did what was right in his own eyes.  The pastor said that this describes many in the West to a T.  But the Israelites needed a king, and we need a king: King Jesus.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Write-Up: Balthasar on the Spiritual Senses, by Mark McInroy

Mark McInroy.  Balthasar on the Spiritual Senses: Perceiving Splendour.  Oxford University Press, 2014.  See here to purchase the book.

Mark McInroy teaches Systematic Theology at the University of St. Thomas.  Hans Urs von Balthasar was a renowned twentieth century Catholic theologian.  This book, Balthasar on the Spiritual Senses, examines Balthasar’s conceptualization of the spiritual senses and engagement with Christian theological thought on the topic.  According to McInroy, the spiritual senses are significant in Balthasar’s thought, but their role in Balthasar’s thought has been underappreciated within scholarship.  The reason is that Balthasar himself supposedly stressed the object of theology rather than the subject’s perception of the divine.

McInroy demonstrates that Balthasar departs from the view that the spiritual senses are a mystical, internal perception of the transcendent God that believers can obtain through contemplation and spiritual discipline.  Balthasar also rejects Christian views that have radically differentiated between the spiritual senses and the corporeal senses.  Such views have either seen the spiritual senses as a repudiation of the corporeal senses (i.e., the sensual world), or they have attempted to explain the spiritual senses through a metaphorical treatment of the corporeal senses: for example, believers can metaphorically, but not literally, “taste” God.

Essentially, McInroy argues that Balthasar has a very this-worldly view of the spiritual senses.  The spiritual senses are not a mystical perception of the transcendent God, but rather they are a perception of God’s activity within this world, which God graciously imparts to all believers, not only the spiritual superstars.  They include seeing the spiritual significance, or form, of the elements of God’s creation, in their beauty.  The spiritual senses partake of the corporeal senses, as believers see things as they are, both physically and in terms of their spiritual significance.  The spiritual senses are also activated within the Christian love for neighbor, and the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and Christian liturgy are key elements of Balthasar’s conception of the spiritual senses.

McInroy situates Balthasar’s conception of the spiritual senses within Christian thought, while examining Balthasar’s engagement of other Christian views.  McInroy concludes that Balthasar reads his own views into Origen, even as Balthasar departs from Origen.  Balthasar overlaps with Christian thinkers, such as Barth, who stress the role of interpersonal relationships in making people truly human and who posit more of a unity between the soul and the body than a division between them.  (Incidentally, McInroy highlights cases in which Barth appears to depart somewhat, or at least to qualify, Barth’s classic aversion to natural theology.)  Balthasar also was critical of philosophical arguments for the existence of God, believing that they marginalize a life of trusting faith.  McInroy has a chapter on Balthasar’s engagement of patristic thought, including that of Origen, Evagrius of Pontus, Diadochus of Photice, Pseudo-Macarius, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa, and Pseudo-Dionysius.  His chapter on medieval and early modern thought includes Bonaventure and Ignatius of Loyola.  The chapter about Balthasar’s contemporary theological interlocutors examines Karl Barth, Romano Guardini, Gustav Siewerth, and Paul Claudel.

McInroy contends that Balthasar’s view of the spiritual senses may help to address a division within Catholic thought on the role of divine revelation within the Christian life.  One line of thought, exemplified by Vatican I and its aftermath, emphasizes authority: believers embrace the authority of divine revelation, whether that resonates with them or not.  According to such a view, the authority of divine revelation has been attested by miracles.  The weakness of this view, according to McInroy, is that it draws a wedge between divine revelation and human beings, when divine revelation meets human needs and plays a role in their healing.  Its stress on miracles as signs also tends to marginalize the spiritual richness of the revelation itself.

The other extreme, which McInroy calls “Modernist,” tends to locate divine revelation in the thoughts and feelings of the human subject: one sees God by looking within.  The weakness of this view, according to McInroy, is that it obviates the ability of divine revelation to challenge us, and it marginalizes divine revelation’s role and status as something that is above and beyond us.

For McInroy, Balthasar’s view of the spiritual senses can help to resolve this tension in that it balances the objective with the subjective.  The world is out there, and what is in the world has spiritual significance.  Yet, people need spiritual senses in order to perceive, to appreciate, and even to be transformed by that.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  McInroy’s description of Christian views of the spiritual senses is a necessary part of the book, as the book is an academic treatment of Balthasar’s interaction with Christian views.  The book really came alive for me, however, when McInroy described Balthasar’s own conception of the spiritual senses.

B.  While McInroy’s description of Balthasar’s own conception of the spiritual senses is compelling, it was not overly specific about what it practically looks like, how it plays out on a practical level.  What exactly do believers see when they perceive the divine significance of what is in the world?  How do believers spiritually see when they love their neighbors?  Of course, such a discussion would depend on how specific Balthasar himself was about this.

C.  McInroy’s discussion of the polarity in Catholic theology was interesting and resonated with me.  On the one hand, I struggle with the “authority” model, as I feel that it tries to pressure me to be something that I am not and to accept what seems to violate my intellectual or moral sensitivities.  I speak here about what some may conceptualize as commands of the Bible, or aspects of the Bible that violate many people’s intellectual or moral qualms.  The Bible can become a straitjacket as I attempt to apply it, or I can find myself concluding that its requirements and claims are unrealistic in terms of where and how I am, or where and how the world is.  On the other hand, as McInroy points out, the other extreme has its flaws.  I think of a line from Rich Mullins’ song “Creed”: “I didn’t make it, but it is making me.”  Tim Keller and others have asserted that a relationship with a real God means that this God will contradict us, as real beings, outside of our imagination, do.

Whether Balthasar presents a resolution to this dilemma is an open question.  Part of the issue is the question of whether Christianity meets our desires and needs as human beings.  There is also the factor of God’s transforming our wills and our desires by grace.  Christians and others have testified that God can do this.  Some may look at their own lives, however, and wonder if God is doing that for them, or ever will.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Write-Up: Falling for You, by Becky Wade

Becky Wade.  Falling for You: A Bradford Sisters Romance.  Bethany House, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Falling for You is the second book of the “Bradford Sisters Romance.”  There are three Bradford sisters.  The first is Nora, who was the subject of the first book of the series, True to You.  The second is Willow, who is the subject of Falling for You, the second book of the series.  Amazon says that these are the only two books of the series, but I wonder if a third book will be written about the half-sister, Britt, since aspects of her romantic life were left unresolved in Falling for You.

Willow was a famous model, but she is now living a quiet life in her hometown, tending the family bed-and-breakfast.  She is dealing with issues.  First, there was the break-up with her boyfriend, Corbin, who had been an NFL quarterback.  Second, her mother left her family when Willow was young.  Third, Willow is a Christian who tries to be perfect and feels guilt over a mistake that she made.

Corbin Stewart is a happy-go-lucky fellow, though he was devastated after breaking up with Willow.  He has become a Christian since then.  He takes care of his father, Joe, a crusty man with manic depression.  Corbin has a teenage niece, fun-loving Charlotte.  Charlotte is wondering something.  Decades before, Charlotte’s great aunt, Josephine, went missing.  Charlotte wonders where she went, since that has left a hole in the life of her grandmother, Josephine’s sister.  Charlotte admires Willow, who has publicly promoted a charity that helps kids, and she would like to ask Willow to help her find Josephine.  Willow takes a liking to Charlotte but is initially reluctant to help her because she does not want to get involved again with Corbin, due to their bad break-up.  At the urging of her two sisters, Willow agrees to help.

There are two mysteries that the author strings out.  The first mystery is why exactly Corbin and Willow broke up.  We learn the details of that in the first half of the book.  Another mystery is what happened to Josephine.  That gets answered much later.  The sense of mystery in the book made it a page-turner.

The characters are likeable.  Willow is famous, yet humble and level-headed.  Corbin is a good man; he can be corny, but he had some funny lines.  He sincerely loves Willow and seeks to protect her when she is in danger.  Willow’s grandmother is a cranky Christian, complaining about the world.  Corbin’s father Joe is crusty.  Corbin tries to persuade Joe to become a Christian, with little success through much of the book, until Joe finally becomes a Christian for his own crusty reasons.

There were notable scenes that I enjoyed.  Corbin’s reflections about how his Dad lovingly put him over his shoulder when he was a kid and called him a sack of potatoes was one.  The time when Willow’s sisters encouraged Willow to help find Josephine was another.  Corbin’s internal annoyance at Willow’s family at a party was rather humorous.  Widow thoughtfully reflects about the positives and negatives of modeling, wondering if God wants to embark her on a new path.

The book had quite a bit of reflection.  That added to the book, giving it some depth.  There is reflection about spiritual topics, psychological topics, and even characters; the kindly-appearing Senator with eyes of steel comes to mind in terms of the reflection on characters.  The book strikes a decent balance among the reflections on healing, the intense moments, the romance, and the mysteries.  It does not dwell on anything so much that it becomes boring, but it also does not present too many events going on, confusing the reader.

The author won a Christy Award for another book that she wrote.  That is not surprising.  She is able to craft a book that has charming characters, yet characters who have problems.  I am interested in reading more of Becky Wade’s books in the future.

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

Church Write-Up: Mistakes and New Beginnings, Intro to I John, Greed

Here is my Church Write-Up on last Sunday’s church activities.

A.  At the LCMS church, the children’s pastor told the kids that, even though they may get in trouble at home, their parents continue to feed them.  He said that God is the same way.  This fit the theme of the service, which was the Fall of Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve sinned, yet God still loved them and continued to provide for them.

The pastor’s sermon continued in that vein.  His academic and vocational experience was used as an illustration throughout the sermon.  The pastor shared that he has always loved learning, and, in the late 1970’s, he decided to get a master’s in history at the University of Michigan because he felt that he did not know much about history.  He wanted to go on and pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, but applicants were required to have a B+ in all of their classes to be accepted.  Unfortunately, he received a B in the seminar.  He said that he initially blamed everyone but himself for that.  He was upset with the professor and blamed his low grade on a feud that the professor had with a professor that he liked.  He was even upset with God, wondering why God would let him be accepted into the master’s program over a thousand applicants, only for him to be blocked from getting a Ph.D.  He reflected that what he should have done was set aside his pride and meet with professors, asking them what the requirements for seminars are.  Instead, he was proud.  He had graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he expected the professors at the University of Michigan to be enamored with his awesomeness.  Well, he graduated from the University of Michigan with his master’s in hand.  He was living with his grandfather at the time, and the two of them were a pair.  The pastor was wondering what to do with his life, and his grandfather was trying to move on after the death of his wife.  Eventually, the pastor accepted that he should go to seminary.

Similarly, Adam and Eve made a mistake.  They were proud and wanted to be like God, knowing what God knows, so they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They blamed everyone but themselves: Adam even blamed God for giving him the woman.  Adam and Eve would experience difficult times, including the reality of death, but God gave them reason for hope.  Their ending was to be a new beginning.

B.  The pastor started a Sunday school series on I John.  From the monthly newsletter, it looks like it will last for eight weeks.  He will be in Greece and Germany for the next two weeks, so another pastor will teach the class during that time, but then the pastor will return and resume the class.
I had attended the weekly Bible study, which meets on Wednesdays.  (It is taking a break until the end of August.)  The pastor spent a few sessions on I John, so I was afraid that the Sunday School class would cover the same ground as those sessions.  Well, it did, but there were also new things that I learned.

The pastor said that John may have been a teenager when he met Jesus, for rabbis gathered students who were that age.  The pastor also referred to a tradition relayed by Jerome that John died sixty-eight years after Jesus’ passion.

The pastor said that Paul gathered elders, who were pastors-in-training, at Ephesus.  Paul trained them to be pastors.  They would pastor in Asia Minor and train others to be pastors, so the church spread.  This was how Polycarp was believed to have been taught by John.  The church grew, and the older method of leadership was no longer feasible, so hierarchies in the church developed in the second century.

The pastor mentioned the view that different Johns wrote the Gospel of John, I-III John, and the Book of Revelation.  He, however, believes that the apostle John wrote all of them.  He referred to the view that John wrote on the island of Patmos, when he was in exile, for he was unable to be with the church at Ephesus and to communicate with it directly.  John was concerned about the heresies that were becoming popular there, and elsewhere among the churches in Asia Minor. The pastor also referred to the view that John’s Gospel was written in Jerusalem between 40 and 60 C.E., as it reflects the hostility between the Christians and the Jewish Temple community.

The pastor said that there are different ideas about the sequence in which John wrote, and he discussed the possible ramifications of each position.  If John wrote I-III John first, then the Gospel of John fleshes that out.  If John wrote the Gospel of John first, then I John presupposes what is in the Gospel, especially John 1.  If Revelation was written first, then the victory of the good guys is presupposed and what is in I John is icing on the cake.  If Revelation was written last, then it was John’s last will and testament.  The pastor also referred to the possibility that Revelation was written after the Domitian persecution, as a reflection on it.  That would be different from saying that it was written in the heat of the persecution to comfort the Christians that God would soon end their suffering.  Such a view might also fit the LCMS’s amillennialism, as it envisions Revelation as a panoramic perspective on the suffering of Christians and how that fits into God’s larger agenda.

John pastored at Ephesus.  There was a legend that Ephesus was founded by Epos, the Queen of the Amazon women.  The cult of Diana/Artemis was strong there.  The pastor referred to a dissertation by Arnie Voight that argues that Paul in Ephesians 5 encouraged wives to submit to their husbands on account of the Amazon legend: there was a belief in Ephesus that women were superior to men because they were lifegivers and lifebearers, and Paul sought to balance that out.  Incidentally, Arnie Voight has a website in which he addresses questions about the Bible and gender.

John was arguing against Docetism, the idea that Jesus only appeared human but actually was not so.  The pastor said that the implication of John’s insistence that Jesus became flesh is that Christians can have complete joy here and now (I John 1:4), for God meets them in the here and now, in real places, in flesh and blood.  They do not have to go to heaven before they can experience that joy.

The pastor likened the belief that Jesus’ human nature died while his divine nature did not to Docetism.

Anyway, I realize that there have been scholars who would question some of this.  They would question whether there were rabbis in Jesus’ day, or argue that the hostility between Christians and non-Christian Jews in the Gospel of John reflects a post-70 reality rather rather than a pre-70 one.

The Arnie Voight dissertation reminds me of Elizabeth McCabe’s argument that what I Timothy 2:11-14 says about women is a polemic against the Isis cult.  This is not to suggest that the two agree on everything when it comes to the Bible and gender, but they agree that paganism is part of the equation of what the New Testament says about women.

The pastor’s discussion about the sequence in which John wrote (assuming John wrote the Gospel, the epistles, and Revelation) reminded me of Lee Harmon’s books on Revelation and the Gospel of John.  Harmon presents John as the author of both, but he thinks that the Gospel of John shows John embracing a spiritual, realized eschatology, after the failure of the literalist eschatology that appears in the Book of Revelation.  The pastor, of course, would not embrace this, but the discussion about sequence reminded me of that.

C.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor concluded his series on giving.  The text of the sermon was Luke 12:13-21.  A man asks Jesus to order his brother to divide his inheritance with him.  Jesus declines to do so and warns against greed and covetousness.  Jesus then tells a parable about a rich fool.  A rich man has an abundant year and decides to kick back and relax.  God takes the man’s soul because the man was not rich towards God.  God asks to whom the man’s wealth will now belong.

The pastor made a variety of points.  He defined covetousness as wanting more than we need, and assuming that getting more things will make us happy.  That attitude does not make us happy.  Things do not satisfy, and greed can lead to strife: it led to the division between the man and his brother, and the rich man’s sons undoubtedly fought for their father’s wealth.  Greed is also an unrealistic perspective.  The ground produced the crops, yet the rich man took credit for it.  God responded by taking the man’s soul, which belonged to God and not the man.  Rather than looking to things to make us happy, which amplifies loneliness, why not give to what God is doing?  The pastor referred to three new church plants that did not exist before, thanks to the contributions of the church.  He disputed the idea that “you can’t take it with you,” for you can take it with you: when you give, that has eternal consequences.  The pastor was clear that how much we give is between us and God.

The pastor referred to celebrities who committed suicide in arguing that wealth does not satisfy.  Some readers may get the impression that the pastor was shamelessly exploiting their deaths to raise money.  I myself question whether all of those celebrities were materialistic.  Robin Williams was in AA and likely tried to be on a spiritual path, but he suffered from clinical depression.  The pastor’s picture of people coming together rather than fighting out of greed struck me as a bit unrealistic, perhaps because of my own struggles to like a lot of people, and my resistance to the idea of someone else gaining at my expense.  Still, the pastor made a good point: rather than looking to things to make one happy, why not invest the money in something that can do good?

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