Thursday, December 8, 2016

Current Events Write-Up: The Trump Cabinet, Taiwan, Etc.

I was going to post my Current Events Write-Up tomorrow, but the links are piling up, so I’ll share them today!

The Trump Cabinet, or Potential Cabinet, or Trump Advisors, or Trump Allies

ABC This Week Transcript for December 4, 2016

I tape ABC This Week while I am at church, then I watch it when I come home. I liked something David Petraeus said:

“Well, I think [Trump]’s actually quite pragmatic. In our conversation what I enjoyed most frankly was the discussion of issues, or say campaign rhetoric, if you will, and then placing that in a strategic context.  As an example, he is not anti-trade, he is against — he’s anti-unfair trade.  The wall — well, the wall would be a — an element in a comprehensive effort to shore up our security on the southern border, which, by the way, as we discussed, would include more help to Mexico for the problems that it has in the broader rule of law area, and, indeed, perhaps with its southern border, which is so challenged, as well.”

I like the part about the U.S. helping Mexico with law enforcement and border protection.  But shouldn’t something also be done to alleviate the poverty in Mexico that encourages Mexican immigrants to come here?

Vice-President-elect Mike Pence said something about Medicaid that concerns me, from a compassion-for-the-poor perspective, but I am open-minded:

“With regard to Medicaid, though, I will tell you, there’s a real opportunity, there’s a real opportunity as we repeal and replace ObamaCare to do exactly what the president-elect also said on the campaign, and that is block granting Medicaid back to the states.  Allow states to do what Indiana was able to do, in part in the last couple of years, and that is innovate.  We actually — we actually have people on Medicaid the first time in the history of the program that actually have to make a monthly contribution to a health savings account to receive full benefits. We want to give states even greater flexibility in innovating and creating the kind of health care solutions that will work for their population.”

When I heard this, I wondered: Do the poor of Indiana need to contribute to a Health Saving Account from their own pocket, as if they have the money?  It seems so, but the amount is from $1 to $28.  Anyway, this article talks about how Indiana handles Medicaid, going into what people see as the positives and negatives of its approach.

The Federalist: Kellyanne Conway Would Be a Feminist Hero If She Were a Democrat, by Julie Kelly

I like this part: “After taking the helm of the listless Trump campaign in August, Conway helped shape a more disciplined candidate, with a message focused on a stronger economy and national defense. Conway is like the pretty brainiac who tamed the school jock, got him to shut up in class, and made him carry her books. Hell, she even got him to study once in a while.”

Forbes: Tom Price’s Health Plan Doesn’t Let Insurers Impose Pre-existing Condition Exclusions—-Sort Of, by Seth Chandler

Tom Price is President-elect Trump’s selection for Secretary of Health and Human Services.  In 2015, as a congressman, Price proposed the Empowering Patients First Act of 2015.  According to this article, the Act would have exempted patients from pre-existing conditions exclusions if they had their health insurance for eighteen months.  But, as the article says, there would still be challenges: what if you don’t have health insurance, for example, and you want to buy some?  Would you have to pay more if you have a pre-existing condition, or would you be denied coverage for that condition?  This legislation, like Obamacare, is trying to navigate between two extremes.  On the one hand, we don’t want the horrors depicted on Michael Moore’s Sicko, of people paying into policies and then their health insurance doesn’t cover something because it is a “pre-existing condition.”  On the other hand, we don’t want a situation in which people lack insurance, then they suddenly buy it once they get sick.  This article offers constructive criticism of Price’s legislation.

American Conservative: Mattis on Our Way of War, by Jon Basil Utley

James Mattis is Trump’s selection for Secretary of Defense.  In the quotes of Mattis in this article, and in the wikipedia article about him, Mattis comes across as someone who is judicious, cautious, learned, and concerned about not provoking anti-American sentiment abroad.  He also supports a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, which may set him apart from some of the other Trump appointees.

Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity: Trump’s Promised ‘New Foreign Policy’ Must Abandon Regime Change for Iran, by Ron Paul

On the other hand, there may be cause for concern!  Ron Paul contrasts Trump’s reservation about regime change during his campaign, with some of the belligerent statements by his appointees.

Breitbart: How Ben Carson Can Save the Liberal Millennials Who Disdain Him, by Greg Ferenstein

Ben Carson has been selected by Trump to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  Ferenstein talks about free-market approaches that Carson can pursue to increase housing and help alleviate economic inequality.

Yahoo Finance: Student Debtors, This Trump Ally Wants to Be Your Friend, by Shahien Nasiripour

“U.S. Representative Tom Reed this week formally endorsed a law originally proposed by House Democrats. Though a long shot, the bill would do more for America’s roughly 42 million student debtors than the one proposed two years ago by Warren, the liberal firebrand from Massachusetts.”

American Conservative: A Populist-Conservative Melting Pot, by Robert Verbruggen

I loved this article because it said what I have been thinking.  Trump’s cabinet looks like an interesting mix!  You have establishment Republicans, but also populists who diverge from the establishment.  Some of my favorite passages: “The treasury secretary will promote huge tax cuts while free-trade deals are being fed through a shredder, and everyone’s heads will explode at the Wall Street Journal.”  “A wild bit of speculation: the conservatives will have the upper hand while Republicans control Congress, but the populists will find more common ground with Democrats—who if history is any guide will gain seats in 2018.”

Other Domestic Policy and Issues 

Info Wars: Standing Rock Water Protectors vs. Globalist Agitators

Info Wars is Alex Jones’ site.  Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist and has spoken positively of Trump.  My heart is warmed that his site is speaking in favor of the protesters at Standing Rock.

ABC News: Donald Trump Meets with Climate Advocate Al Gore, by Jordyn Phelps

I am concerned about Trump’s selection of Scott Pruitt for EPA, but I am pleased that Trump met with Al Gore.

Forward: The ‘Anti-Semitism Awareness Act’ Is the Opposite of What Jews and Muslims Need Now, by Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts is a friend of mind.  We both attended Jewish Theological Seminary.  She expresses concerns about the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.  She is concerned that it may conflate anti-Semitism with criticisms of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Taiwan

I have come across a lot of articles that defend Trump’s phone conversation with the President of Taiwan, or at least that deny it’s the beginning of the apocalypse!  For a sample, see the articles about this issue in The Weekly Standard, The Ron Paul Liberty Report, The Daily Beast, The Daily Wire, and Reason.  (Just click on the links, and that will take you to the articles.)

Some of my favorite articles about the topic:

Foreign Policy: How Bad Was Trump’s Taiwan Phone Call, by Michael Green

This article argues that Reagan managed to improve relations with both Taiwan and China!  It also talks about the difference of opinion within his Administration on Taiwan, as even some of the Cold War hawks opposed outreach to Taiwan.

American Conservative: The Folly of Provoking China, by Daniel Larison

This article presents another perspective.  “Our hawks tend to overlook nationalist sentiment in other countries, and they dismiss how other states define their vital interests, and then they agitate for policies that meddle in the very issues that can trigger a nationalist reaction.”

Is Trump Calling Out Xi Jinping?, by Patrick J. Buchanan

My impression is that Buchanan wants to applaud Trump on the Taiwan phone conversation, but he has some reservations.  Buchanan also notes where China’s interests overlap with ours.

New York Times: Bob Dole Worked Behind the Scenes on Trump-Taiwan Call

So this conversation wasn’t some careless faux-pas on Trump’s part.  Bob Dole worked on it.

Off-Guardian: Red-Baiting, Putin-Scaremongering Democrats Are Now Suddenly Worried About Offending China, by Caitlin Johnstone

The title says it all!

Historical Interest

The Humanist: Ron Capshaw’s review of Richard Weikart’s Hitler’s Religion

Was Hitler a Christian?  This article argues that the public Hitler used Christian rhetoric, but the private Hitler disdained Christianity and held pantheistic beliefs.

Ron Paul Liberty Report: FDR’s Pearl Harbor Bait, by Jacob G. Hornberger

This article argues that FDR egged the Japanese on.  Some of the comments underneath the article disagree.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Write-Up: Saving the Saved, by Bryan Loritts

Bryan Loritts.  Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saved Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Bryan Loritts pastors the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California.

This book does talk about embracing and living in light of God’s performance-free love: that God loves you freely, and you do not have to perform well morally or spiritually to earn God’s love.

At the same time, the book does argue that, if you are not performing at a certain level morally or spiritually, then that is a sign that you have not truly embraced God’s performance-free love.  According to Loritts, if you are unforgiving, if you are ungenerous, if you lack sorrow for sin, etc., then that may indicate that you have failed to embrace God’s performance-free love.  What does that imply exactly?  That a person is actually unsaved and is going to hell?  Lorritts never says this explicitly, but he does refer to last judgment passages of Scripture in his discussions.

I have long had a problem with that kind of mentality.  It looks to me like legalism disguised as “performance-free love.”  Even if that is what the Bible teaches, I have a problem with it.  And making one’s spiritual maturity a matter of salvation only adds to the pressure, for, in that case, if a person falls below a certain standard, then he or she is going to hell.  My impression is that Loritts is trying to take away that kind of pressure, but what he says may add to it, instead.

Still, I somewhat agree that the criteria that Loritts discusses can provide a decent spiritual barometer, a way for people to take their own spiritual temperature.  Speaking about the Sermon on the Mount, Loritts states that, if we find ourselves worrying, then that may indicate an attachment to this world more than to God.  That can actually influence a person to stop and to take a personal inventory, and hopefully to pursue constructive change.

And yet, even here, can people truly control how they feel?  Loritts speaks against performance and relying on law, yet his unstated assumption often seems to be that, if he can provide people with a rationale to feel, think, and behave righteously, then they will feel, think, and behave righteously.  That is relying on law.  Loritts says a lot of good things about, say, why we should forgive, and he tells inspiring, tear-jerking stories about love and faith.  But he should recognize that the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak.

I have to give the book credit where credit is due, though.  Loritts is honest about his own spiritual and moral struggles.  There are instances in which Loritts looks for a grace-friendly message in frightening and troubling Bible passages.   Loritts actually tries to address the sort of objections that I am making, about whether what he is advocating is truly performance-free Christianity.

And Loritts is emphatic that people need new-covenant, transformed hearts to be righteous.  He should have gone into more detail, however, about how people can get or cultivate such hearts—-how they can abide in Jesus, since that is what Loritts believes is the solution.  Suppose that you think you are a Christian, and you do not see the spiritual fruit that Loritts says you are supposed to have.  What do you do next?  Try harder?  The title of the book says that’s a no-no!

I am still giving this book four stars, though, because it does have good stories, about Loritts and people he has known.

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Write-Up: Misfit Faith, by Jason J. Stellman

Jason J. Stellman.  Misfit Faith: Confessions of a Drunk Ex-Pastor.  New York: Convergent, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

This book was not exactly what I expected.  It was better.  Much better.

Jason Stellman was a Presbyterian pastor, but he became a Roman Catholic.  I expected Misfit Faith to be, therefore, a semi-autobiographical work of Catholic apologetics.  I had just read Kevin Vanhoozer’s defense of the classic Protestant Solas in Biblical Authority After Babel, and I figured that I might as well read a work by a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism for balance.  But I did not see any defense of Peter being the first pope in Misfit Faith, or any criticism of Sola Scriptura, or an explanation and defense of the Catholic understanding of justification.

What I found was an honest account of a person’s faith journey.  When Stellman was flirting with universalism, it began to dawn on me that this would not be a typical Catholic book!  Stellman is critical of the beliefs that he once held as a Calvinist Presbyterian, feeling that they do not present all that flattering of a picture of God (to say the least).  Stellman even expresses problems with certain stories in the Bible, such as the story in Judges 14 about a Spirit-empowered Samson striking people down so he could take their clothes and pay a debt to the Philistines.  While Stellman fails to offer a faith-enhancing interpretation of this story, he feels that Jesus would agree with his reservations.

In reading Stellman, a question that occurred to me more than once was, “Why, then, are you a Catholic?”  He is against seeing Jesus’ contribution to spirituality as Law 2.0, as something that bears down heavier on the rules of the Torah.  Why, then, did he become a Catholic, when Catholicism emphasizes rules?  Stellman recoils from his former dogmatism, and dogmatism in general.  Why, then, is he a Catholic, when Catholicism stresses dogmas and holds that one church has the proper understanding of Christianity?  And some of his criticisms of his former Calvinist views can be applied to Catholicism, too.

But then Stellman said that a friend made a similar point to him, and Stellman admitted that, yes, he is not a very good Catholic!

And yet, Catholicism does influence Stellman in this book.  Stellman is drawn to the Roman Catholic view that grace enhances the natural rather than replacing it.  Stellman states that the Catholic view that the church is a mother, with open doors, influences him to have a more charitable view towards those with contrary ideas, rather than defining himself by who and what he is against.  Stellman is also drawn to the ritualism of the Catholic church, and he appreciates Catholicism’s enchanting supernaturalism, which the Enlightenment repudiated.  There is a part of him that is drawn to stories and fairy tales, and that is a factor that underlies his attraction to Catholicism.

This book is thoughtful.  Although it is peppered with salty language and its prose is rather informal and conversational, Stellman still comes across as a person with important things to say.  Stellman not only criticizes certain views that are often encountered within Christianity, but he also attempts to provide a constructive outlook.  The book also makes pop culture references: the Star Wars references were especially good.  People who like to read Rachel Held Evans will probably like this book.  It may hit a cord with people who are disenchanted with evangelicalism, yet still see value in Christianity and wonder where to go from there.

Points in the book that I particularly liked:

—-When Stellman asked whether we would be happy or sad if God does decide to save everyone.  I think that is a good spiritual test, even though I would also say that there are valid spiritual reasons to oppose universalism (i.e., a desire for justice against evildoers).

—-When Stellman criticized the evangelical Christian view that we are looking for all of the wrong things for fulfillment, when only Jesus can fulfill us—-“as though we were correct in our search but just using the wrong vending machine” (page 92, Adobe Digital Reader).  I have read plenty of Christian books that effectively point out why looking to other things for fulfillment is a dead end, but not all of them present a positive case for God.

—-When Stellman likened rules to the rules that the Fairy Godmother set on Cinderella.  He states: “The command to love your neighbor by sharing with him from the bounty of your own wealth is not some external condition attached to having wealth—-it is the way wealth can be enjoyably had” (page 107).  Stellman also justifies Christian rules that restrict sexuality to marriage, believing that they preserve sexuality, rather than cheapening and emptying it.  Stellman’s approach to wealth was refreshing, since I am reading another Christian book that argues that, if one is not generous, that is an indication that one is not truly saved.  I much prefer Stellman’s positive approach!

I applauded this book after reading it, and I do not do that for too many books, even books that I like.  I may listen to some of Stellman’s podcasts, which he conducts with an agnostic ex-pastor!

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Write-Up: Biblical Theology, by John Goldingay

John Goldingay.  Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures.  Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

John Goldingay teaches Hebrew Bible at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Before that, he taught at St. John’s Theological College, which is in Nottingham, England.

Overall, I agree with what the description of the book on the inside flap says about it, with some reservations.  To quote from the description: “While taking the New Testament as a portal into the biblical canon, he seeks to preserve the distinct voices of Israel’s Scriptures, accepting even its irregular and sinewed pieces as features rather than problems.  Goldingay does not search out a thematic core or overarching unity, but allows Scripture’s diversity and tensions to remain as manifold witnesses to the ways of God.  While many interpreters interrogate Scripture under the harsh light of late-modern questions, Goldingay engages in a dialogue keen on letting Scripture speak to us in its own voice.  Throughout he asks, ‘What understanding of God and the world and life emerges from these two testaments?'”

Here are some comments on this description, based on my own reading of the book:

—-The early part of the book has more of a Hebrew Bible emphasis, while drawing occasionally on the New Testament.  This was particularly the case when it was discussing God’s attributes.  In talking about the atonement and justification, there was a balance of emphasis between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  The book came to have more of a New Testament focus, though, as it discussed such issues as the church and being in Christ.

—-In exploring biblical diversity, the book focuses more on themes than on sources and authorship.  If you want a book that, say, discusses the Deuteronomist and the Holiness Source, their distinct ideologies, and how they reacted to their historical contexts, then this book will disappoint you.  But this book does probe different perspectives and complexities in the Hebrew Bible and, on some level, in the New Testament.  For instance, its discussion on God seems open to the insights of open theism (which disputes that God can know the future), while noting biblical passages that coincide with a more traditional view of God.  Overall, in interacting with the Hebrew Bible, the book tends to note diverse concepts, without attributing those concepts to specific biblical authors.  Its interaction with the New Testament diverged from this tendency, though, as it discussed concepts and thoughts that appear in the synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, and Paul’s epistles.

—-Overall, the book recoils from artificial attempts to harmonize complexities and tensions.  In many cases, it allows tensions to stand.  On the one hand, that allowed Goldingay to be refreshingly honest about what the Bible says, as opposed to harmonizing it forcefully and seeking to conform it to orthodoxy.  On the other hand, there were times when coherence got sacrificed.  For example, Goldingay notes that the Greek word often translated as “justification” in the New Testament usually does not occur in a judicial context, so he pursues another interpretation of justification, one that focuses on God’s covenant commitment.  Yet, in other places, Goldingay’s discussion of justification tends to fall back on judicial language.  On the atonement, Goldingay appears to reject penal substitution, while also embracing it.  My impression is that Goldingay wants to create an alternative model, but he finds that the model is inadequate in accounting for all of the biblical data, so he falls back on conventional models.  At the same time, Goldingay does well to show that conventional models, themselves, have limits and are not the only way to interpret biblical passages.  His discussion of justification and the atonement may be inconsistent, but it was rich as it highlighted different dimensions of these topics.

—-Goldingay’s discussion of Paul and the law was remarkably coherent, as Goldingay integrated Paul’s pro-Torah and anti-Torah (if that is the right term) sentiments into a coherent package.

—-Although Goldingay explores the diversity of Scripture, the book does read as a narrative of God’s activity in the world.  And, in some cases, the book takes a rather harmonizing approach.  For instance, in addressing pro-Temple and anti-Temple voices, Goldingay states that God was initially hesitant to dwell in a Temple, then became gun-ho Temple once Solomon built it.  In terms of Christology, the book seems to privilege or emphasize the voices that believe in Jesus’ pre-existence, or divinity.  Goldingay argues that I Timothy 2:15’s statement that women shall be saved through childbearing is consistent with justification by grace through faith alone, as he argues that good works are an expression of faith.  My impression is that Goldingay was searching for coherence.  This may go back to what I said above about the dearth of source criticism in this book: Goldingay may recoil from seeing the Bible as a composite of different human voices, preferring instead to regard it as a divine revelation that is ultimately coherent, notwithstanding its tensions.

—-Whether Goldingay’s big picture is ultimately coherent is a good question.  On the one hand, Goldingay seems to portray God as one who has forsaken wrath, due to the work of Christ.  On the other hand, Goldingay’s God still appears to judge people’s behavior.  Perhaps Goldingay’s narrative can only be as consistent or coherent as the Bible allows!

Here are some other thoughts about the book, unrelated to the book’s description:

—-I liked how Goldingay phrased things.  Personally, I tend to recoil from Christian exclusivism, the idea that everyone needs to convert to Christianity to avoid going to hell.  Goldingay managed to phrase exclusivist or potentially exclusivist concepts in an appealing manner, however.  Rather than saying that non-Christian religions are wrong, Goldingay says that the Bible is clear that there are things that non-Christians need to know.  Regarding Jesus’ statement that he is the way, truth, and life (John 14:6), Goldingay states that “Dying is his way to the Father, and his dying is the only way they will get there” (page 547).  Goldingay seems to express agnosticism about the eternal destiny of adherents to other religions, but he effectively conveyed that Jesus’ death was necessary to provide people a way to the Father.

—-Goldingay’s discussions of communitarianism stood out to me.  Goldingay, with some empathy, noted the individualism of Western culture, while saying that people are still part of a community, whether they desire or recognize that.  Later, Goldingay contrasts the early Christian church with the voluntary societies of its ancient context: according to Goldingay, the church was intentionally organized to be like a family, not a voluntary society that people can join and leave as they wish; that discussion was unnerving, yet informative.  In a few places, Goldingay seems to say that relationships in church should take precedence over natural family relationships.  That last concept rubs me the wrong way.  Not only does it sound rather cultish, but it also strikes me as unrealistic in the Western world, where people are rather individualistic.  If I ran into financial trouble, for example, I would expect my family to be more helpful than any church!  Still, the sentiment that the church is a family, one that should take precedence over natural family connections, does appear consistent with certain passages of Scripture (Matthew 12:46-50).

—-The prose of the book is accessible, yet reading the book required focus and concentration.  I did not want to miss any gems, and there were many!  As a result, reading this book could be time consuming and even exhausting.  Still, it was worth the effort, on a spiritual and an intellectual level.

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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Current Events Write-Up: School Choice, Climate Change, Etc.

I have some news and opinion links for this week!  I post left-wing links and I post right-wing links, and some of my links fall into neither camp.  My favorite links, though, concern people who say or think differently from people’s expectations.

Domestic Policy/Issues

Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Program Expansion, Adjustment Worry ‘Mother of School Choice,’ by Eugene Kane

This article actually dates back to 2011.  With President-elect Trump’s selection of school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education, I was wondering what happened to Polly Williams.  Polly Williams was an African-American Democratic state representative who spearheaded school choice in Milwaukee.  She was featured in Insight Magazine, and she spoke at the conservative Hillsdale College, which was how I heard of her (I subscribed to Insight and Hillsdale’s publication, Imprimis).  A few years before her death, however, she became disillusioned with the school choice movement.  According to this article, a reason for her disillusionment was that school choice programs raised the income limit for qualification, and she was concerned that this would crowd out the poor people they were originally intended to help.

Washington Post: Buzzfeed’s Hit Piece on Chip and Joanna Gaines Is Dangerous, by Brandon Ambrosino

Ambrosino disagrees with opponents of same-sex marriage.  But he also opposes demonizing them.  I agree with him: Chip and Joanna Gaines should not lose their jobs or be shamed because of their religious objection to same-sex marriage.

The Hill: Ivanka Trump Wants to Speak Out on Climate Change, by Timothy Cama

President-elect Trump did appoint a climate-change denier (or so he has been called), but Trump’s daughter Ivanka wants to make climate change her cause.  I hope she has an influence on her father, as Nancy Reagan allegedly influenced President Reagan to deal with Gorbachev.

Townhall: Yes, Climate Change Is Real—-and Skepticism about Its Magnitude Is Good Science, by Calvin Beisner

I’ve wondered: Do climate change deniers (if you want to call them that) truly dispute the science behind climate change?  I mean, you release CO2 into the atmosphere, and that traps heat.  Sounds scientific!  Why is that so controversial?  Calvin Beisner, however, agrees with that science, but he doubts that climate change is a problem of great magnitude.  He also defends his organization against the charge that oil companies support it, while noting that there are vested interests who finance environmentalist opponents of climate change.

Politico: Sarah Palin: Trump’s Carrier Deal Is ‘Crony Capitalism,’ by Madeline Conway

I liked Sarah Palin in 2008, even though I grew disillusioned with her as the election went on.  Then, I didn’t like her so much.  After reading this article, though, I respect and admire her.  She is being considered to be part of President-elect Trump’s cabinet, and yet she sticks by conservative principles and criticizes Trump’s Carrier deal.

Politics and Voting

Forbes: Socialism Won’t Save the Democratic Party, by Adam Ozimek

This passage stood out to me: “It’s easy to scoff at liberals who misunderstood how unpopular identity politics would be among middle America. They spent too much time on college campuses, and in liberal echo chambers in their social and media lives. They’ve confused winning online with actually changing people’s minds. Just because John Oliver ‘destroys’ something doesn’t mean it’s destroyed.”

You may agree or disagree with the ideology behind that passage.  If you disagree, I ask that you at least learn from the passage!

Slate: Keep Hope Alive: Demoralized Democrats Have a Road Map for Success in Trump’s America. It was Written by Jesse Jackson, by Jamelle Bouie

Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Presidential campaign not only drew support and interest from African-Americans.  It also drew support and interest from white farmers.

Townhall: Even the Green Party Has Turned Against Jill Stein, by Leah Barkoukis

As the article notes, Stein’s call for a recount supports the Democrats, since she is not calling for a recount in states where Hillary barely won.  The Green Party states:

“As a candidate, Dr. Stein has the right to call for a recount. However, we urge the GPUS to distance itself from any appearance of support for either Democrats or Republicans. We are well aware of the undemocratic actions taken during the primaries by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Greens cannot be perceived to be allied with such a party.”

Foreign Policy/Issues

Moyers and Company: A Progressive Agenda for Renegotiating NAFTA, by Timothy A. Wise

I tend to shy away from posting links that bash Trump, since there is enough Trump-bashing out there.  This article criticizes Trump by saying that, while Trump is critical of NAFTA, Trump does not support fixing NAFTA so that it can benefit workers, American and Mexican.  I appreciate its suggestions.

Townhall: For Secretary of State: John Bolton, by Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas thinks that John Bolton would make a fine choice for Secretary of State.  After reading this, I drew a different conclusion!  I would rather take my chances with the Iran deal.

National Review: Beware the Law of Unintended Consequences, by Victor Davis Hanson

I found one argument that Hanson made intriguing.  Hanson argues that President Obama, by supporting the Iran deal, has inadvertently pressured Israel and moderate Muslims into a virtual alliance.

James Pate: China the Bully

I am posting this in light of President-elect Trump’s conversation with the President of Taiwan, which has angered Beijing.  I wrote this post in 2007.  I was a conservative then, and I was a bit of a hothead.  I don’t agree with everything I wrote in that post, or its tone.  Still, I think I raised valid points.  At that time, Beijing was criticizing President George W. Bush for planning to award the Dalai Lama.

Human Interest

Townhall: The Gay Rabbi and My Mother’s Funeral, by Michael Brown

Michael Brown is a Messianic Jew, a biblical scholar, and a critic of gay activism.  His Jewish mother recently passed away, and a gay rabbi presided at her funeral.  Both the rabbi and Michael Brown have developed a relationship of mutual respect.  I like stories about people from different backgrounds coming together.

Fulcrum: Jared and Ivanka Kushner Tout Benefits of Sabbath Observance

I used to observe the seventh-day Sabbath.  Sabbatarians are a minority, and it can be a challenge for them to get Saturday off from work.  It was cool, therefore, to read that Jared and Ivanka (Trump) Kushner are Sabbath-observers.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Write-Up: At Work Within, by Rick Osborne

Rick Osborne.  At Work Within: Be Transformed into All God Created You to Be.  Impartation Idea, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

In At Work Within: Be Transformed into All God Created You to Be, Rick Osborne talks about how Christians can be spiritually transformed.  According to Osborne, the Gospel is not just about accepting Christ and going to heaven.  Referring to New Testament passages, Osborne makes a case that the Gospel is also about Christians becoming conformed to God’s image, and people becoming righteous like God.

How do Christians become this, with all of their sinfulness, wayward thoughts, and uphill spiritual battles?  Osborne raises a variety of considerations, as he continually appeals to Scripture for support.  Osborne emphasizes God’s activity of working within Christians to will and to do God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  There is Christ’s presence with and within Christians, discipling, motivating, and empowering them.  Faith that God will accomplish this spiritual transformation and hope for the good that God has in store for believers also play a significant role in the Christian life, according to Osborne.  Christians are to recognize that they are new creations, which means that they are acting according to how they truly are when they are righteous, and against who they truly are when they sin.  They are consciously to put off fleshly attributes such as sexual immorality and anger, and put on attributes such as humility and love (Colossians 3).

Scripture reading, memorization, and prayer about Scripture are crucial aspects of sanctification, according to Osborne, for the Holy Spirit uses Jesus’ words in instructing believers (John 14:26), and focusing on Scripture enables believers to keep God’s agenda in the forefront of their minds.  In the picture of sanctification that Osborne presents, God plays a role in instructing and empowering Christians, and Christians remind themselves of godly attributes through reading and memorizing Scripture and demonstrate their continued reliance on God through prayer.  Osborne’s model is not rigid, for the Holy Spirit can be flexible in terms of what he wants to teach a believer at a given time.  Osborne also stresses that Christians should regard spiritual transformation as an act of divine grace, which God gives freely, not something that they deserve or earn.

In the Conclusion, Osborne has a more communal focus, as he talks about discipleship.  Osborne expresses problems with spiritual mentorship.  For Osborne, the goal of discipleship is not for mentors to create clones of themselves, but rather to point disciples to Christ, so that they can learn from Christ themselves.  Osborne believes that Christians should go deeper than listening to a sermon once a week and going to a small group, noting the intensive teaching and discipleship that occurred in the New Testament.  Still, in discussing practicalities, Osborne seems to fall back on the paradigm of church services and small groups.

Osborne shares his own experiences of spiritual success coupled with spiritual fruitlessness and emptiness (these co-existed, according to Osborne).  He talks about dreams that he has had that he believes are from God, and what he thinks that those dreams teach him and can teach others.  Each chapter also ends with short sayings, many drawn from the book itself, which readers can share on social media.

In terms of positives, Osborne conveys a compelling and passionate thirst for God, one that wants to go deeper in a relationship with God.  Osborne asks interesting questions and makes intriguing observations about biblical passages.  He notes, for example, that Paul in Romans 1:15 wanted to share the Gospel with Christians, whereas many evangelicals today often act as if the Gospel is primarily supposed to go to non-believers so that they can be converted.  In discussing Ephesians 3:17-21, Osborne observes that Paul is asking Christians to know what is beyond knowledge, which appears rather paradoxical.

Osborne portrays a relationship with God in which God is tangible and real, and I have difficulty identifying with that.  Therefore, I appreciated something that Osborne said on page 55: “…Jesus is walking with you and teaching you, whether it always feels like He is or not…”

Osborne does well to criticize authoritarian impulses in Christian circles.  In response to Christians who rely on their favorite teachers, Osborne points out that Paul in I Corinthians 10:15 encouraged the Corinthian Christians to judge for themselves what Paul says.  Osborne’s contrast of discipleship with mentorship was also effective.

Overall, Osborne painted a specific picture of the sort of spiritual activity that he was prescribing.  He gave examples of what believers can do in praying about Scriptures, and he described how that worked in his own life.  His story about how God transformed his attitude towards women (moving it from lust to humanizing and honoring them) conveyed where Osborne was, where God wanted him to be, and how God moved him in that direction, with Osborne’s participation and cooperation.

In terms of critiques, I think that Osborne’s method can be effective, in some areas, but I doubt that it can remove or heal every deep scar, weakness, or inability, at least not by itself.  Many people may need more, such as counseling, or medication.  Osborne mentions counseling in one brief passage, but the book would have been better had it presented a more holistic picture of healing and transformation.  Osborne also could have been more specific about how Christians can edify others, beyond advising them to share passages from the book on social media.  Since I am a bit of a loner, I somewhat gravitated towards Osborne’s individualistic picture of the divine-human relationship (not that he necessarily intended it to be individualistic).  Still, as he acknowledges, Christians are to take their transformation into interactions with others.  He should have been more specific about how that can occur, and what it looks like.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving, the Problem of Evil, and Eschatological Hope

I have three items about last Sunday’s church service.

A.  Someone was telling the congregation about his Thanksgiving.  He was talking about sitting on the couch, watching football on TV after having his Thanksgiving meal, dozing off.  In the midst of all this, he said, he had a sense of God telling him that everything will be okay.  He said that we can have this experience when we are with family on Thanksgiving, or if we are alone.

B.  The pastor was preaching about the importance of thanksgiving.  He was talking about an experience that he had when his daughter was sick.  All of the doctors were believers, and he said that he could feel the presence of God.  The pastor said that God may not always do that sort of thing, but there are occasions when God does.

The pastor also talked about how God may have delivered us from peril, and we were not even aware of it.  Someone may have been about to assault you, for example, but God diverted the would-be assaulter’s mind onto something else.

When a Christian says this, my mind cannot help but to ask “problem of evil” questions.  Why didn’t God stop that other assault, or misfortune?  Some think it makes more sense to say that God doesn’t intervene at all, rather than to say that God stops evil in some cases but not others.  With this mindset, can we truly thank God, as if God is the source of our good fortune?

I cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil.  I do not dismiss the possibility of God’s existence, though, for there are people who have what seem to be God-moments.  I also believe in having gratitude and expressing it towards people, rather than taking people and positive circumstances for granted.  That sort of attitude, as opposed to a sense of entitlement, can help a person have a better attitude towards life, and maybe to get along with others better.  As far as the problem of evil goes, people who have should think about people who need and, if they can, they should help provide for their needs.  That does not exactly solve the problem of why God seems inactive in the face of evil, but it does hopefully discourage an attitude of being satisfied with our good fortune and leaving things there.

C.  The pastor was saying that we should get used to thanking God here, because we will be doing that a lot in heaven.  He said that there will be no football and baseball in heaven!  No, we will be praising and spending time with God, and we will be spending a lot of time with God’s people!

That reminded me, somewhat, of a Mark Driscoll sermon that I heard last week.  Driscoll was saying that God is loving, even towards people in hell.  God loves the people in hell, Driscoll said, but God will not let them into heaven where they can hurt God’s people.

What troubles me about these sentiments is that they assume that how people are now is how they will be in the afterlife.  I fare positively and negatively, according to these criteria.  On the one hand, I do enjoy spending time with God in prayer and listening to and singing praise songs.  On that criterion, I will love heaven!  On the other hand, I do not particularly enjoy socializing with Christians, and there are times when my attitude towards God is negative.  On those criteria, I won’t like heaven that much!

I suppose that one can say that God will transform Christians and cleanse them of sinful imperfections before letting them into heaven.  I am hesitant, though, to say that heaven and this life are radically discontinuous from each other.  Why am I in this life, building character, if God will transform me and everyone else after we die, anyway?  Is it so I will better appreciate my transformed state, in which I will no longer struggle against sin because I will be sinless?

What exactly is my eschatological hope?  I grew up in Armstrongism, which said that believers would become godlike beings, ruling the earth and creating their own universes.  This may beat sitting on a cloud and playing a harp, but it does not particularly appeal to me.  Some Christians talk about learning, attending lectures, and listening to Mozart playing a live concert in heaven!  That appeals to me more!  Such a conception may allow there to be football and baseball in heaven, even though the pastor has a point when he notes that God will be a significant figure there, and so maybe in the here and now we should prepare ourselves for that by loving God.

The first time I really developed an eschatological hope was when I read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.”  Edwards said that heaven is a place where people love each other.  If you do not have companions, Edwards said, do not hate those who reject you, but look forward to heaven, a world of love!  Edwards himself could get frustrated with people in this life, and his daughter, Esther, hoped even more for the millennium as she was dealing with difficult people (see here)!  On some level, Edwards may have believed that the love that believers have and show here will be continuous with the love that they will have and show in heaven.  But he and his daughter also allowed their social frustrations in the here and now to be a foil for the happiness and harmony that will exist in heaven.

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