Monday, October 15, 2018

Church Write-Up: Finishing I John Class

For my Church Write-Up today, I will post items from the LCMS Sunday School class. The pastor was completing his series on I John.

A. I John 5:16 states: “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (KJV).

There is a sin not unto death, and a sin unto death. The pastor said that the sin unto death was rejecting the faith. The reason that this sin is unforgivable is that faith is the means to receive forgiveness from God, so, if a person refuses that, he or she is shutting himself or herself off from forgiveness. We cannot judge who has committed this sin, though, because only God knows the heart. Even someone who appears to have rejected the faith may have some flicker of faith that the Holy Spirit can fan.

I asked the pastor to explain the part about praying and not praying for people who sin. Christians are encouraged to pray for those who have committed non-mortal sins, but John denies saying that Christians should pray for those who have committed the sin unto death. The pastor offered two explanations. First, Christians can pray that God might forgive those who have committed non-mortal sins, but they are offering a futile prayer if they pray that God might forgive those who commit the sin unto death. Why? Because as long as those who commit the sin unto death shut themselves off from faith, they cut themselves off from the possibility of forgiveness.

Second, the pastor suggested that John may have had a pastoral concern here. The church had suffered a huge split, as numerous followers of the Docetists left the church and rejected the Gospel that Christ came in the flesh and died for people’s sins. The church was trying to move on from that. John was recommending that they focus their prayers on those who sin yet stay in the faith, for it is too painful for them to pray for those who left the faith.

B. The pastor shared some illustrations. First, as he did before, he illustrated the church split in John’s day with the split that occurred in the Lutheran church in which he grew up. A charismatic movement split the church, resulting in the loss of half of the deacons and half of the children’s Sunday school class. That does sound rather jarring. Second, the pastor talked about an LCMS pastor who left the pastorate and his family to live with a man and was assuming the role of a Messiah to the gay community. I don’t know what the full story is there, but, after that pastor left, an elder told the church that the church is not its pastor, for the gifts and the forgiveness that they have are from God. John is making a similar point after his own church had undergone a traumatic split.

C. The pastor talked about the Johannine Comma, which appears in I John 5:7: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (KJV). The KJV has this verse, but most other modern language versions lack it, and the pastor explained why. I was familiar with the Johannine Comma, since I grew up in a non-Trinitarian church, and it said that the passage was inauthentic and was lacking in the earliest manuscripts. But I had not studied the details about this. The pastor said that the Comma was in Greek and Latin manuscripts produced later than the fourth century CE, and that it was probably added in response to an anti-Trinitarian heresy known as Priscillianism. After the eighteenth century, however, scholars had access to even earlier manuscripts, dating to the late third-early fourth century. One was a Greek New Testament in the Sinai monastery, one was in Alexandria, and one was in a Russian library. They lack the Comma.

Carroll D. Osburn’s article on the “Johannine Comma” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary goes into where the Comma appears and where it is missing. It was controversial before the eighteenth century, for it was lacking in many Greek manuscripts and Greek fathers, those one would expect to appeal to it if it was authentic. Priscillian is mentioned in the article: “The earliest uncontested use of the Comma is the Liber Apologeticus (1.4) of Priscillian, a 4th century bishop in Spain.” I will not do a research project about this right now, but I do wonder why Priscillian quoted it. What point was he trying to make? This and this source both state that Priscillianism was accused of being non-Trinitarian.

D. I John 5:8 states: “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (KJV). How do these three things bear witness on earth? The pastor offered two interpretations. First, the passage may be about the death of Christ. Jesus gave up the spirit at death (John 19:30), and, on the cross, water and blood came from his side (John 19:34). John 19:35 affirms the testimony of the person who saw this. Jesus’ death was significant in I John because John was combating the Docetists, who denied that Jesus was a flesh and blood human being who literally died. Second, the pastor said that the Spirit, water, and blood are witnesses on earth in a saving sense: they relate to the believer’s burial and resurrection with Jesus, as well as the reception of the Holy Spirit, at baptism.

E. John concludes his letter by saying: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (I John 5:21). Why? The pastor said it was a summary of John’s overall message: if John’s church is to take away anything from the letter, make sure it is this. Worship the true Jesus, not the false, idol Jesus of the Docetists.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: Mental Health Facilities; Military Transgender Policies; Brazil Presidential Election

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

National Review: “To Help Fix American Mental-Health Care, Reform Certificate-of-Need Laws,” by Mark Flatten.

The simplest way to eliminate the nation’s dire shortage of inpatient mental-health beds is to remove the chief obstacle to new facilities’ construction.”  Another example of corporatism driving up the cost of health care.

The Federalist: “Stop Lying: The Trump Administration Has Not Banned Transgender Americans From Military Service,” by Chad Felix Greene.

“The administration has merely required that transgender individuals meet the same requirements as all other Americans who apply for military service.”  Detailed examination of the pre-Obama policy, the Obama policy, and the Trump policy, with the rationales and the challenges.

Opposing Viewpoints: “Future of Western Democracy Is Being Played Out in Brazil,” by Pepe Escobar (Consortium) vs. “Jair Bolsonaro’s Campaign to Save Brazil From Corruption And Crime,” by Brian Darling (Townhall).

Two opposite perspectives on the left vs. right political battle in Brazil’s Presidential election.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Write-Up: Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, by George Hawley

George Hawley.  Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism.  University Press of Kansas, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

George Hawley teaches political science at the University of Alabama.  This book, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, is about right-wing movements that are outside of mainstream American conservatism.  They include:

—localists, who believe that people should be rooted and grounded in a local community rather than having mobility; they are critical of big government and big business;

—conservatives who are atheists;

—libertarians, both mainstream and radical;

—paleoconservatives, who are non-interventionist on American foreign policy, are critical of immigration, and are culturally conservative;

—the “New Right” in Europe, which supports racial and ethnic homogeneity, yet some of its adherents are willing to form alliances with Islam to resist Western cultural influence; it is critical of capitalism and of American interventionism;

—the radical right, specifically white nationalists.

Hawley provides historical background about conservatism in general and American conservatism in particular.  He seeks to arrive at a definition of conservatism, finding many of the proposed definitions to be problematic.  The definition on which he settles distinguishes conservatism from liberalism by saying that liberalism prioritizes equality, whereas conservatism has other priorities.  These priorities differ, depending on the conservative.  Some stress the free market, and some prioritize culture, community, tradition, or ethnic homogeneity.

Throughout the book, Hawley profiles the ideas, figures, and success (or lack thereof) of these conservative movements.  The paleoconservatives, for example, have a lot of Ph.Ds, but they lack numbers and funding.  They have also lost historic battles with neoconservatives for influence within the conservative movement.  Pat Buchanan was a significant paleoconservative figure, and his candidacies had the potential to unite paleoconservatives with paleolibertarians; instead, he alienated the libertarians by emphasizing his support for trade protectionism.

The white nationalist movement is gaining more influence through the Internet, yet the KKK has very few members.

At the end of the book, Hawley offers a thoughtful discussion about the future of American conservatism.  On the one hand, he sees indications that its influence will dwindle.  America is becoming more racially diverse, and conservatism, overall, has not appealed to racial and ethnic minorities.  Marriage and religion are declining, and those who marry or who are religious tend to be conservatives.  Popular conservative books are more numerous than conservative intellectual books, so Hawley concludes that modern conservatism lacks intellectual heft.  At the same time, Hawley does not pronounce conservatism dead.  People have pronounced conservatism dead in the past, yet it keeps on existing.  The concentration of liberals in the cities and the presence of conservatives in the numerous rural areas will ensure that conservatives receive a sizeable representation in government.  There is also a possibility that conservatism will appeal to racial and ethnic minorities.  Hawley mentions conservatives who have embraced criminal justice reform, but another factor is that, as ethnic minorities become more prosperous, they may become more conservative.

Here are some items:
  1. The book sensitized me to how serious expulsion from the mainstream conservative movement could be prior to the advent of the Internet. William F. Buckley had the primary influential conservative publication, National Review. If conservatives could not write for that, their influence declined dramatically.  They may have had their own small publications, but it is costly to produce a publication and to circulate it.  Nowadays, the situation is different.  One reason is the Internet: marginal conservatives can create websites that look just as polished as mainstream sites.  Another consideration is that, with the death of Buckley, there is no uniting, overarching leader of the conservative movement.  As Hawley notes, Ann Coulter was banned from National Review, yet that has not hurt her writing and speaking career.
  2. A recurring question that I had in reading this book was “What about Trump?” This book was obviously written before Trump became an electoral phenomenon.  Hawley even raises the possibility that Rand Paul might win primaries in the 2016 Presidential election, and we know that didn’t happen!  Hawley mentions the possibility of writing an update to this book, and, if that happens, I am sure that it will talk about Trump.  What is ironic is that Trump won as he embraced paleoconservative positions (i.e., anti-immigration, anti-war, perhaps protectionism), even though paleoconservatism is the most marginal conservative movement, in Hawley’s telling.
  3. Hawley raises interesting points as he tells the stories of conservative thinkers. He says that many conservatives today look back at the 1950’s as the ideal time, but then he refers to a conservative thinker who saw medieval times as the ideal!  While there are libertarians who support open borders, there are also libertarians who advocate the opposite of open borders: if people have property, and there are not many publicly funded roads, that clamps down on the ability of immigrants to come here and settle!  Although Murray Rothbard eventually became more of a white nationalist, there was a time when he was reaching out to the anti-war and the Black Power movements, thinking he could find common conservative ground with them.  Hawley quotes someone who states that, on race, the way to determine someone’s virtue is by looking at his or her stances when they are unpopular.  Is a person for equality when racial equality is unpopular (i.e., the Jim Crow south)?  That person, not the person who gives expected PC answers, is the virtuous one.  Is a person a racist when racial equality is the mainstream position?  That person has moral problems.  Hawley refers to a thinker who thought that capitalism was inconsistent with cultural conservatism.  I thought of a biography of Jerry Falwell that I read (Michael Sean Winters’ God’s Right Hand Man: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right), which noted the irony that Falwell was a strong advocate of free market capitalism, even though the things that he criticized, such as pornography, are the products and beneficiaries of capitalism.
I checked this book out from the library.  My review is honest!

Book Write-Up: The Mystery of the Trinity Revealed, by T.R. Bosse

T.R. Bosse.  The Mystery of the Trinity Revealed.  Dove & Word, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

T.R. Bosse has studied the Bible for over forty years.  This book actually addresses a number of subjects.  On the subject that is in the title, the Trinity, Bosse is unclear.  More than once, he refers to the Trinity coming into being.  Coming into being?  Has not the Trinity always existed?  Or is Bosse implying that the economic Trinity (which concerns how the persons of the Trinity relate to the world) came into being?

In terms of prose, the book could have been better written.  The reason that this book deserves at least four stars, though, is its fresh and interesting look at biblical topics.

Some items:

A.  Bosse offers a picture of biblical anthropology and soteriology that tries to take into account the disparate biblical claims about the spirit of human beings, the soul of human beings, the Spirit of God, and the life-giving blood of humans, while merging biblical anatomy with modern scientific understandings of anatomy.  No small order!

B.  Bosse also shows from the Bible that God has a soul and a Spirit.  A number of Christians would not take those passages literally and may say that Bosse’s claim violates the idea of divine simplicity.  Bosse maintains a very literal approach to the Bible throughout this book.

C.  Another interesting discussion was when Bosse argued that Jesus was God’s Word from the heart (or bosom, John 1:18) of the Father.  Words, in Scripture, come from the heart, and Jesus comes from the Father’s heart.  For Bosse, this explains how Jesus could claim to be in heaven (John 3:13, at least in the Byzantine texts), even while he was on earth talking with Nicodemus.

D.  Bosse says that one reason the Trinity is not explicit in the Old Testament is that God did not want Satan to know about his plan of salvation.  I Corinthians 2:8 is one text that Bosse cites to support this, and he interprets the rulers who crucified Christ out of ignorance as demonic entities.  Did Satan in Old Testament times know about God’s plan of salvation through Jesus?  From both the Bible and the church fathers, one can make a case either way.  Some Christians argue that, in the Old Testament, Satan assaults the seed that would become Christ, explaining, for example, Athaliah’s slaughter of the Davidic line when Joash was a child (II Kings 11).  In the New Testament, Satan attempts to instigate Jesus’ death (Luke 22:3), even as he tries to discourage Jesus from the cross (Mark 8:33).  Justin Martyr thought that Satan was aware of the coming Christ, for he attributed the parallels to Christianity in pagan religions to Satan aping the true religion.  Yet, the ransom theory of the atonement seems to depict Satan as clueless about Christ’s identity when he puts Christ to death.  Bosse does not cover all of this territory, but the issue that he raises is profound.

E.  Proverbs 20:7 states: “The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (KJV).  Bosse interprets that to mean that God searches the human heart to see if there are any signs that it is receptive to salvation.  Bosse appears to lean towards the synergistic model of regeneration, though he also seems to imply that humans can come to God from their own volition.

F.  Where Bosse was slightly unconvincing was in his arguments about Jesus’ blood.  According to Bosse, blood is what passes down original sin.  Jesus got his pure blood, not from Mary, but from God.  The risen Jesus forbade Mary Magdalene to touch him because he needed to ascend to heaven to place the pure blood on the altar; otherwise, Mary Magdalene might defile him.  The risen Jesus lacked blood, since he referred only to his flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).  As far as I can recall, Bosse did not offer rigorous evidence from the Bible that original sin is passed through blood.  Still, the speculation that he based upon that premise was rather interesting.

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

Church Write-Up: Temptation, Pointing the Wounded to Christ, Love Manifest, God’s Joy and the Fat

Here are some items on last Sunday’s church services that I attended.  Bible study is not meeting this coming Wednesday, so there will be no write-up on that this week.

A.  The youth pastor at the LCMS church talked about temptation.  He played the devil, and a rope represented temptation.  He and a boy did a tug of war, and the devil won that.  When the boy got the pastor to help him, however, the devil lost.  The point is that Jesus helps us against temptation.

B.  The sermon at the LCMS church was about the Epistle to the Hebrews.  The pastor opened with an anecdote about a woman who had undergone a horrible church experience, and she was reluctant to join another church body.  She said that churches contain the walking wounded.  The pastor said that many of us are walking wounded and we pretend that everything is all right, refusing to let others in.  The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were experiencing persecution (albeit not to the point of death) on account of their Christianity.  They saw that the Romans left the Jews alone, so they were contemplating going back to Judaism.  The author of the epistle did not beat them over the head with law, telling them to get their act together, but rather the author pointed them to Jesus.

C.  The LCMS Sunday school class continued its way through I John.  The topic was love.  Points that were made: God manifestly demonstrated love through Jesus.  Love from God pours into Christians and manifestly goes out to others in the body of Christ.  What does love look like?  It can entail praying for someone we do not like, without telling that person we are praying for him or her, as that can be offensive.  It can mean introducing ourselves to others by name, sharing our stories, and hearing their stories.  It may involve service projects, especially when we do not feel like doing them or are too busy, or giving money to someone in need rather than spending it on ourselves.  We need not fear losing out, for God provides for us, now and in eternity.  Love is not quid pro-quo.  We give love, and it is up to the recipient of that love how he or she responds.  Love is difficult, as there are different personalities, so we are fortunate that love does not begin with us: it begins with God.  We can become exhausted in our attempts to love, but God continually renews us.  As we receive love from God, and that love flows out to others, our hearts do not condemn us: we are assured of salvation.

D.  The “Word of Faith” church introduced the sermon with a brief video.  This series has been playing these videos.  Someone from the church talks about his or her strengths and weaknesses, then we hear from others in the church positive things about that person.  I identified with the person speaking today.  He said that he may come across as rude because he often does not know what to say, so he is quiet.  Others in the church then said that he is eager to do service projects, and they appreciate that.

The pastor’s sermon was about the joy of the Lord.  He referred to passages about God rejoicing over God’s people, and he said that, when God sees us, he wants to give us a high five.  God’s holiness is too overwhelming to us, not because we are sinful worms and God is too pure and wrathful, but because God is so joyful that we could not contain such joy.

The pastor referred to Nehemiah 8:10, in which Nehemiah tells the Jews: “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (KJV).  The pastor observed that Nehemiah was telling the Jews to eat fat, which Leviticus forbids the Israelites to eat, since the fat belonged to God (Leviticus 3:16-17; 7:23-25).  Nehemiah was telling the Israelites to eat from God’s very portion.  That probably deserves more study.  Perusing my commentaries, not many deal with it.  The Word Biblical Commentary simply denies that the fat in Nehemiah 8:10 is the same as the fat that the Israelites are prohibited to eat.  Rashi says nothing about the fat in commenting on the passage, and certainly one would expect him to see the Book of Nehemiah as consistent with the Torah.

I’ll leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to weigh in on that part about the fat.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: Economy on Paper, Abortion and Ireland, Jerry Brown

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

Global Research: “Trump at the UN: Lies, Damn Lies, & Statistics,” by Dr. Jack Rasmus.

Essentially, the article argues that what President Trump said about the economy is not so.  What is on paper and what is on the ground are not the same thing.  The same thing can probably be said for many leaders who brag about their economic records, not just Trump.

The Federalist: “The Irish Mother Emma Thompson Wrote To Didn’t Die Because Abortion Was Illegal,” by Nicole Russell.

An nuanced look at that case, as well as an interesting look at abortion law and politics in Ireland.

Townhall: “Governor Moonbeam: Making California Great Again?”, by Arthur Schaper.

A conservative finds things to praise about Governor Jerry Brown of California.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Write-Up: An Introduction to the Old Testament, by John Goldingay

John Goldingay.  An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches and Issues.  IVP Academic, 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

John Goldingay is a biblical scholar who teaches Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.  As the title indicates, this book is an introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Here are some observations and thoughts about the book:

A.  The book asks readers to read biblical passages and answer questions about them.  One may enter into this book thinking it is a workbook, but such an impression would be misleading.  Although readers are asked to do some work, Goldingay still shares his own insights about the meaning, messages, and theological significance of biblical writings, along with issues surrounding those writings, such as the question of their historicity, and how they compare with ancient Near Eastern religion and writings.

B.  Goldingay frequently refers readers to online material, which is located at his web site.  The online material goes more deeply into issues that are raised in this book.

C.  I just read this book, without reading the tempting online material and the biblical passages.  Just reading the book by itself, I questioned how effective of an introduction to the Hebrew Bible this book would be for beginners.  Don’t get me wrong: the book presents a lot of scholarly information, in a lucid manner.  You will get the history of the Documentary Hypothesis, a summary of various positions on the historicity of key biblical stories (i.e., the Exodus, the Conquest), and a summary and interpretation of the highlights of each biblical book.  Not only was the book helpful in clarifying the biblical text, but it also presented models and insights that were new to me; its explanation of Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as its model for the development of the Book of Daniel, come to mind as excellent discussions.  Each chapter is two pages, though, and that can easily give the impression that the treatment of the material is rather cursory.  One needs to pay attention to what one is reading, or one may miss significant details: it is like a quick car ride, in areas.  If one reads and interacts with the biblical passages, consults the materials on Goldingay’s web site, and lingers over each chapter, however, that may enhance, round out, and deepen the educational process.

D.  The best aspect of this book, in my opinion, is its sensitivity to Christian students who may have issues with the historical-critical method of reading the Bible.  Goldingay embraces that method.  He embraces positions that are conservative, but also positions that conservatives would reject.  But he attempts to offer a way forward for people to accept the historical-critical method, while still having faith in the Bible as divine revelation.  For example, he rejects the idea that the biblical writings are a bunch of pious frauds.  When the Book of Daniel depicts events prior to and during its day within the genre of predictions about the future, as if Daniel was a figure from the past who foresaw those events, Goldingay does not regard that as a con job; he thinks that the Book of Daniel’s second century BCE audience was well aware that those prophecies were written in their own time rather than in the sixth century BCE, but they saw the point of the book as God’s sovereignty over history.  When people wrote in the name of Moses or Isaiah, Goldingay maintains that they were not seeking to be fraudulent, for people back then honored those who inspired them by writing in their name.  Goldingay does not really provide rigorous support for these claims.  One can challenge some of them: I think of Bart Ehrman’s argument that forgery in the New Testament period was looked down upon, even though it was practiced.  Still, Goldingay does well to offer these suggestions.  If one wants to give the biblical writers the benefit of a doubt, to posit a model in which they sincerely believed in their message yet did things that many today would see as fraudulent, then Goldingay’s suggestions may be the way to go.

E.  The book frequently revisited the question of whether Old Testament prophecies were actually fulfilled in history.  When Isaiah said something would happen to Assyria, for example, did it happen?  That is an important question, and Goldingay did well to address it, honestly yet with sensitivity to theological ramifications.

F.  I was ambivalent about his discussion of animal sacrifices.  Goldingay tried to distance sacrifices from being about atonement and the forgiveness of sin.  In one place, he states that the Epistle to the Hebrews is right: as far as the Old Testament is concerned, the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin!  According to Goldingay, when Psalm 51 talks about sacrifices being offered, that is after the broken divine-human relationship is restored; the sacrifices are not what lead to the restoration, but they are the worship of God that occurs after the restoration.  Goldingay may have a point.  Unlike some evangelicals, I doubt that every reference to sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible is about atonement.  They may concern seeking God’s favor by offering a gift, showing God honor, or fellowship with God by eating a meal with God.  At the same time, I doubt that sacrifices can be divorced from atonement.  There are sin and guilt offerings, and, in Leviticus-Numbers, they seem to relate to the forgiveness of unintentional sins, sometimes even transgressions.  In addition, if sacrifices were unrelated to atonement, why does Hebrews go out of its way to deny that the blood of animals can take away sin?  Why would the blood of animals and atonement be mentioned in the same sentence, if at least some did not posit a connection between the two?

My critiques notwithstanding, I give this book five stars.  It was informative and, in some cases, profound.

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

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