Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Write-Up: Loving God with Your Mind

Paul M. Gould and Richard Brian Davis, ed.  Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

J.P. Moreland is a Christian scholar, apologist, and philosopher.  Loving God with Your Mind is a collection of essays by scholars reflecting on his life, work, and thoughts.

Some of the essays are more difficult than others.  The three chapters about Platonism were especially challenging to me, on account of their detail, their technicality, and their usage of terms that were unfamiliar to me.  I think that I still understood the main point that they were trying to make: that there is a world beyond our natural world, as Plato said, a transcendent world of concepts that the natural world reflects.  This is more consistent with theism than with naturalism (although, as one essay in the book acknowledges, there are significant differences between Christian theism and Platonism).  A glossary in the back of the book may have been helpful to those of us who are not as advanced in the field of philosophy.

Other essays in the book covered whether human beings have a soul, the challenge of postmodernism to Christianity, how to be a virtuous learner in the information age, a defense of a classical apologetics based on reason, the abortion issue, and the meaning of true happiness.  J.P. Moreland wrote the final essay in the book.  There were arguments in the book that I found to be good, and there were times when I did not think that the authors were effectively refuting the other side (i.e., the naturalists, the postmodernists).  They did, however, refer the reader to other resources, in case the reader wanted to learn more: there is a list of Moreland’s publications in the back of the book, and Moreland referred to neuroscientists who believe that humans have a soul.  Overall, while the book does interact with contrary points-of-view, its intended audience seems to be conservative Christians, as it exhorts them on the importance of classical apologetics and the need to hold fast to certain Christian ideas (i.e., the existence of a soul, the historicity of Adam and Eve, appealing to nature to argue for God’s existence, etc.).

It interested me that the book did not focus much on arguments for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  There was an acknowledgment in one essay that such arguments are important, since arguments for the existence of God (except, possibly, for the ontological argument) did not necessarily demonstrate that the God is the Christian God.  But there was little attempt in the book to demonstrate that the Christian revelation, specifically, is true.  J.P. Moreland in other works, however, has discussed arguments for Christ’s resurrection.

My favorite parts of the book were its more personal aspects: the anecdotes about what Moreland’s life and work meant to some of the authors, and J.P. Moreland’s struggle with anxiety and depression and his willingness to be vulnerable about this in his apologetics.  I also appreciated the book’s discussion about true happiness: how it is not us having pleasure at getting what we want, but rather is the serenity that comes from a life that is in accord with virtue.  Moreland’s discussion about spiritual disciplines was also worthwhile to read.

Concluding Black History Month 2014

A person who knew my story would probably say that I was naive about race when I was younger.  At the undergraduate institution that I attended, I was taking a Winter Term class.  I was arguing against affirmative action, saying that people should be hired based on their qualifications, not their race.  My professor asked me, “Do you seriously think that an African-American woman has the same shot as you do in life?”  I sincerely answered “yes.”

Years later, at a graduate school that I attended, I was talking about race with an African-American friend.  The year 2000 was approaching, and Democrat Bill Bradley was running against Al Gore for the Democratic nomination for President.  My friend was continually saying that he was supporting Bradley because Bradley was sensitive to the issue of race and racism.  I then asked him, “Is racism still a problem?”  My friend was surprised that I even asked that question, and he launched into a lecture about racism, the problems of the inner-city, hate crimes, and the list goes on.

I’ve thought to myself more than once: What exactly did I believe back then?  I know that I wasn’t completely unaware of the problems of the inner-city.  That wasn’t my world, but I knew about those problems, on some level.  As a conservative, I supported school choice as a way to get poor African-American children out of inner-city schools, showing that I believed that inner-city schools were not particularly good.  I supported enterprise zones, showing that I was aware that poor areas needed investment if people there were to rise economically.  To believe that way, I had to be aware that it wasn’t easy for everyone, everywhere to pull himself or herself up by his or her own bootstraps, that there were places that lacked opportunities.  Still, for some reason, when I watched a news special about African-Americans protesting outside of a Korean-owned store in their neighborhood, I wondered how they could persecute that nice, hardworking Korean man.  I was unaware of their perspective: they wanted African-American-owned businesses in their neighborhood, not businesses owned by people of other races or ethnic groups.

Quite frankly, I cannot account for my worldview back then.  Maybe I felt that there were African-Americans in the inner-city, but that the fact that many were not demonstrated that racism was no longer a problem.  On whether or not I believed that an African-American woman had the same shot that I did, perhaps I thought that an African-American woman could be like Claire Huxtable, if she worked hard enough.  After reading for Black History Month this year, it did interest me that African-American women on average do economically better than African-American men.

I also think that there was a part of me that saw racism as individual prejudice, not as something that is systemic.  When my African-American friend was talking about the murder of James Byrd, I was definitely compassionate about what happened to James Byrd, but I did not know what that had to do with me.  Of course it’s wrong to kill someone on account of his race!  Most white people would agree that this is wrong!  But what I did not realize was that individual prejudice could lead to systemic racism: people’s individual attitudes influence whom they hire, for example.

I’m kind of struggling to write this post, so I will call it quits here.  I do not know what it is like to be black in America, but hopefully I learned more by reading the books that I did this month.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Write-Up: Long Trail Home, by Vickie McDonough

Vickie McDonough.  Long Trail Home.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

This book is part of the Morgan Family Series, which is also called Texas Trails.  I have read the sixth book of this series, End of the Trail, which is about Brooks Morgan, who left his family and was reunited with his parents and siblings near the book’s end.  Long Trail Home is about Brooks’ parents, Riley and Annie: how they met and fell in love, and how they found faith.  Both books were written by Vickie McDonough.

Except for the background narrative, Long Trail Home is set in Texas soon after the Civil War.  Riley is returning from the war, only to find that the family that he left has been slaughtered by renegade Comanche, and that his fiancee has married another man.  Riley is saddened that he cannot reconcile with his parents, whom he left years earlier after his little brother had been bitten by a rattlesnake and died.  After his return, Riley finds work at a local blind school, and there he meets Annie, a young woman who is pretending to be blind.  Years before, Annie sought refuge at the blind school after her father abandoned her, yet the donor to the school required that the school only admit children who are blind.  As a result, Annie pretended to be blind in order to stay at the school, and she kept up the act after reaching adulthood.  The only other person who knows the truth is the school’s headmistress, Laura.

Annie is initially upset that Riley will be working at the school, for she will have to be more diligent in feigning her blindness, lest her secret become known.  Riley loves her and is protective of her, but he is reluctant to be in another relationship after his finance married another man.  Meanwhile, there is the relationship between Laura and the local blacksmith, Sean Murphy.  Laura and Sean were engaged to be married, but Sean wanted Laura to take care of him rather than working at the blind school.  They broke off the engagement, and yet Sean has not married anyone else.  Meanwhile, the donor to the school has died, and the donor’s sinister nephew has designs on taking the property and closing down the school.  Moreover, people in Texas are recovering from the war and adjusting to the changes accompanying its aftermath.

I enjoyed this book, for a variety of reasons.  First, the romantic element was sweet, and I especially liked Riley’s bumbling (i.e., comparing Annie’s eyes to cow’s eyes and intending that as a compliment).  Second, I loved many of the characters, such as Sean Murphy, who stood up for African-Americans, and the compassionate revival preacher with the name of “King James,” who reminded Annie that we all sin and that this is why we need to ask God for forgiveness.  Annie was a pick-pocket when she was a child, and she felt guilty at deceiving people about being blind.  And third, I appreciate the book’s theological points.  Riley was repulsed by Christianity because he wondered why God allowed so many bad things to happen, yet he realized that “he was as tired of fighting God as he was the war” (page 179).

I give the book five stars, with two minor criticisms.  First of all, should Annie have felt guilty, when she was only doing what she felt she needed to do to survive?  I think the book should have explored what her other options were.  What else could Annie have done?  Could she have pursued a righteous path?  Should she have trusted God to take care of her?  Second, the book did have political discussions: Riley wondering if the war was worth fighting (on both sides), many Texans opposing slavery, Annie being suspicious of Riley because he had fought for the Confederacy and she was anti-slavery, African-Americans anticipating a fresh start with their own land, and Texans wondering if they could continue to produce cotton without slaves (and some suggesting a shift to ranching).  This was good, but I was hungry for more of that sort of discussion in the book.

Is Bill Cosby Right? 9

I finished Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), by Michael Eric Dyson.  In this post, I’ll talk about Dyson’s discussion of the economic situation of African-Americans.

Dyson acknowledges the economic improvements in the lives of many African-Americans, as more African-Americans become professionals, business-owners, and managers, and as the median household income for African-Americans rose between 1967 and 2003.  Yet, problems persist, and in some cases have become worse.  There was a 6 percent decline in median income for African-American households between 2000 and 2003.  The African-American unemployment rate when Dyson was writing was 10.1 percent.  The poverty rate for African-American households was over 24 percent.  As the number of African-Americans with manufacturing jobs went down by 18 percent between 1992 and 2002, more African-Americans entered the service sector—-”including professions like data processing, advertising, and housekeeping—-which employs 43 percent of the black workforce” (page 63).  These jobs, according to Dyson, “have shown weak growth and provide fewer benefits”, and thus only 52 percent of African-Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance, and less than 40 percent “have private pension plans” (page 63).  Over half of African-American families “live in major metropolitan areas”, and over 12 percent of the African-American population depends on public transportation, the cost of which is rising.  While there is an African-American middle class, Dyson argues, it “had a far less sure grasp of economic security” (page 62), and African-Americans on average lag behind whites in income and in how many receive employer-sponsored health insurance, while being ahead of whites in terms of poverty and employment in the service sector.  Dyson says that disparities in wealth lead to disparities in the quality of education that children receive, in terms of resources, the skills of teachers, and the quality of curricula.

I find Dyson’s statistics to be realistic.  Granted, most African-Americans are not poor, but it is far from rosy even for many who are not.

I should also say something about the second part of Dyson’s title, Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?  Dyson is rather critical of elements of the African-American middle class.  On page 218, he states: “And many black folk who have climbed upward are morally and intellectually irresponsible when they benefit from affirmative action—-not because they lack talent, but because they possess it and have been historically denied the opportunity to exercise it—-and then blast the black poor who have not received the slightest benefit from this measure of compensatory justice.”  More than once in this book, Dyson says that Cosby’s controversial “Pound Cake Speech” before the NAACP reflects the embarrassment of the middle and upper-economic class African-Americans at African-Americans among the lower economic classes, something that has existed for years.

A question that one can ask is: Does Dyson believe that African-Americans should conform more to white standards in order to advance?  He acknowledges that the purpose of curricula that consider ebonics is to help African-American children to learn white American English, and he does not seem to me to deem that to be a bad thing.  Dyson also praises Jesse Jackson for criticizing lyrics that demean women.  At the same time, Dyson does appear to admire elements of African-American culture that turn off whites, and many middle-class and upper-economic-class African-Americans as well: rap, baggy pants, the hip-hop culture, unusual names, etc.  Perhaps his hope is that these things can be preserved, even as poor African-Americans are given more opportunities for economic advancement.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why Rydelnik's Book Was So Refreshing

A few days ago on my blog, I reviewed Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?  See here to read my review.  Rydelnik argues in that book that the Hebrew Bible points directly to the Messiah, and that Jesus Christ was that Messiah.

What I liked most about reading Rydelnik’s book was that Rydelnik was aware of contrary arguments and points-of-view, and he interacted with them in a reasonable manner.  Believe me, you do not always see that within evangelical Christendom!  Within evangelical Christendom, what you may find is bullying or group-think when it comes to the question of whether Jesus fulfilled prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, or simply unawareness that those who hold a contrary point-of-view have actual arguments backing their position up.  Or there are evangelicals who are aware of the problem that Old Testament “prophecy” and New Testament “fulfillment” do not seem to match that well, if at all, yet they believe that their favorite evangelical scholar or argument has closed the book on the subject.  It is refreshing, therefore, to read someone who knows the ins-and-outs of the issue and actually offers arguments.

Is Bill Cosby Right? 8

On page 250 of Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson quotes something that Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said about the program Amos ‘n’ Andy.  Gates stated in a November 12, 1989 New York Times piece:

“One of my favorite pastimes is screening episodes of ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ for black friends who think that the series was both socially offensive and politically detrimental.  After a few minutes, even hardliners have difficulty restraining their laughter.  ‘It’s still racist,’ is one typical comment, ‘but it was funny.’  The performance of those great black actors—-Tim Moore, Spencer Williams and Ernestine Wade—-transformed racist stereotypes into authentic black humor.  The dilemma of ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ however, was that these were the only images of blacks that Americans could see on TV.  The political consequences for the early civil rights movement were thought to be threatening.  The N.A.A.C.P. helped to have the series killed.”

Dyson’s quotation of Gates is in an endnote that goes with a paragraph on page 31.  There, Dyson talks about stereotypes of African-Americans in entertainment media: as “dumb, lazy, criminal, sex-crazed, and so on”, or as “coons, maids, cooks, butlers and the like” in early depictions.  Dyson states that “Cosby has attempted to resist stereotypes from the start of his career.”

There have been possible exceptions, though.  For example, Dyson notes that, although the show I Spy sought to ignore race and to depict the Bill Cosby-character as the Robert Culp’s character’s social equal, there was a time when the Cosby-character was posing as the Culp-character’s valet and tennis-trainer when they were undercover.  Cosby also played a doctor with Richard Pryor in California Suite, and the two of them were bumbling, leading critics to allege that they were depicting African-Americans as dumb.  Cosby lashed back in an ad in Variety: “Are we to be denied a right to romp through hotels, bite noses, and, in general, beat up one another in the way Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Martin & Lewis, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin did—-and more recently as those actors did in the movie Animal House?  I heard no cries of racism in those reviews.  If my work is not funny—-it’s not funny.  But this industry does not need projected racism from critics.”

In my opinion, comedy entails depicting people as bumbling or as short-sighted.  This was the case with I Love Lucy, and all sorts of shows.  The problem, as Gates noted, occurred when African-Americans throughout the entertainment media were primarily portrayed as bumbling or as short-sighted.  That could perpetuate stereotypes.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is Bill Cosby Right? 7

In my latest reading of Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson praises Jesse Jackson for acknowledging the importance of personal responsibility within the African-American community, while also working to address the structural problems that keep poor African-Americans down.  Jackson has been politically active because he realizes that laws and government policies affect the lives of poor African-Americans, yet he has also promoted literacy and has organized churches to mentor first-time offenders lacking a family.  Jackson also has a Wall Street Project, whose aim is to help bring capital to the ghetto, which can increase the local tax base and thus bring more money into the area’s public school system.  I hope that his efforts are bearing fruit.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Messianic Hope, by Michael Rydelnik

Michael Rydelnik.  The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?  Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

I would like to thank B&H Academic for my review copy of this book.  See here for B&H’s page about it.
The question of whether or not the Hebrew Bible predicted the coming of Jesus Christ has long occupied my mind.  I suppose that, somewhere in my mind when I was reading the Bible as a teenager, I was wondering whether the New Testament’s application of Old Testament passages to Jesus was actually faithful to what those Old Testament passages meant in their original contexts.  That question was pushed to the forefront of my mind, however, after I listened to a tape in which an Orthodox Jew attempted to systematically dismantle Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.  Listening to that tape inspired so many aspects of my academic journey: my decision to focus on interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, as well as two of my theses, one on ancient biblical exegesis, and another on the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.

To be honest, several evangelical attempts to explain the New Testament’s use of the Hebrew Bible have not satisfied me.  I have appreciated evangelical scholars’ acknowledgment that how the New Testament interprets the Hebrew Bible is often inconsistent with the sense of the Hebrew Bible’s passages in their original, immediate contexts.  But it is how they then go on to defend Christianity that really baffles me.  Some evangelical scholars argue that a passage in the Hebrew Bible may have meant something non-Christian in its original context, and yet it could also have a deeper meaning that relates to Jesus Christ.  Other evangelical scholars point out that ancient exegesis did not limit itself to the original, literal, historical, immediate contexts of biblical passages, and thus the New Testament is participating in acceptable interpretational practices of its time.  These scholars would shy away from saying that Christians today can employ creative exegesis (or eisegesis) that disregards a biblical passage’s immediate context, however, arguing that the New Testament authors were divinely-inspired, whereas Christians today are not.

Why have I not been satisfied with such evangelical arguments?  It is not because I deny that New Testament authors may have used a form of midrash or pesher in approaching the Hebrew Bible.  Rather, it is because the evangelical arguments present a rather disjointed picture of the Bible.  I would have an easier time being an evangelical were I to believe that the Old Testament directly predicted Jesus Christ, and that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, for that is neat and linear.  I would have a harder time being an evangelical were I to believe that the Hebrew Bible only predicted Jesus Christ in a secondary sense, or that New Testament authors were simply echoing the eisegetical methods of their own time.

Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope is an argument for the Hebrew Bible being Messianic, as well as a direct prediction of Jesus Christ.  Rydelnik is disturbed by how many evangelical scholars have approached this issue, believing that it robs evangelicals of a significant piece of evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, namely, that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Messianic prophecy.  I have wanted to read this book for a long time, but I became more exposed to Rydelnik’s thought when my church went through a Bible study curriculum that he hosted: The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David With Michael Rydelnik.  While I did not agree with a lot that Rydelnik argued in that curriculum, what he had to say did intrigue me and make me think.  The same was true of The Messianic Hope.  (Actually, reading The Messianic Hope cleared up some of the confusion that I had after watching The Unbreakable Promise.)  In this book review, I will summarize key points in each chapter, then I will give my overall assessment and critique.

In Chapter 1, “Why Messianic Prophecy Is Important,”  Rydelnik highlights the predictive value of Messianic prophecy for Christianity.  Chapter 2, “The Nature of Prophecy and Fulfillment: How Old Testament Scholarship Views Messianic Prophecy,” is a survey of how biblical scholars, including evangelical scholars, have approached the Hebrew Bible’s passages that the New Testament applies to Jesus, as well as the apparent problem of how the New Testament interprets those passages for Christianity.

In Chapter 3, “Text-Critical Perspectives on Messianic Prophecy,” Rydelnik argues that the Masoretic Text de-eschatologizes or historicizes biblical passages that were originally eschatological and Messianic.  For example, the Septuagint for Numbers 24:7 is about a coming king of Israel who will contend with Gog, the eschatological enemy of Israel in Ezekiel 38-39.  The MT, however, says that the King of Israel will be above Agag, who was the Amalekite king of I Samuel 15.  According to Rydelnik, the MT is making the Hebrew Bible less Messianic and more historical, possibly in an attempt to counter Christian claims that the Hebrew Bible was Messianic and predicted Jesus Christ.  Rydelnik defends the LXX and other readings as the original ones, by considering what makes more sense within the passage’s immediate literary context.  Rydelnik holds that certain passages within the Hebrew Bible not only predicted a Messiah, but also presented the Messiah as divine (i.e., long-living).

In Chapter 4, “Innerbiblical Perspectives on Messianic Prophecies,” Rydelnik argues that certain passages in the Hebrew Bible that Christians considered to be Messianic were interpreted as such elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.  This is an argument that appears throughout Rydelnik’s book.  Rydelnik seems to believe that seeing how a passage was interpreted elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible can not only clue us in on how the passage was interpreted at early stages, but can also give us insight as to what the passage originally meant.  In Chapter 5, “Canonical Perspectives on Messianic Prophecies,” Rydelnik contends that the order of books in the Hebrew Bible, their internal organization (in the case of Psalms), and even their inclusion in the Jewish canon related to the Jewish hope for the Messiah.  For example, the Book of Judges laments the time when Israel lacked a king and people did what was right in their own eyes, and many scholars maintain that this reflects a defense of ancient Israelite monarchy, such as that of King David.  Rydelnik notes, however, that Judges 18:30 mentions the exile, and so Rydelnik concludes that the Book of Judges is expressing a longing for God to restore the Davidic monarchy after Israel’s exile: to raise up the Messiah, in short.

In Chapter 6, “New Testament Perspectives on Messianic Prophecy,” Rydelnik argues that New Testament authors believed that the Old Testament literally and directly predicted Jesus Christ.  There was no belief within the New Testament that a biblical passage had another meaning in its original context, yet applied to Christ in a secondary sense.  Rather, according to Acts 2:29-30, David was knowingly speaking of Christ when he was discussing resurrection, not himself.  According to Mark 12:36-37, David was speaking about his Lord, seated at the right hand of God.  According to I Peter 1:10-11, the Old Testament prophets were aware that they were predicting the coming of the Messiah, even if they may not have known all of the details.  In Chapter 7, “Decoding the Hebrew Bible: How the New Testament Reads the Old,” however, Rydelnik does not believe that every passage from the Hebrew Bible that the New Testament relates to Jesus Christ originally pertained to Christ, or Christ’s time.  Rachel weeping for her children in Jeremiah 31:15, for example, concerned the exile, even though Matthew 2:18 relates it to Herod’s slaughter of the children in Bethlehem.  For Rydelnik, Matthew was recognizing that Rachel has wept for her children since the time of Babylonian exile, since God’s people Israel has continued to suffer.  Rydelnik also in this chapter offers an interesting explanation for Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, as Matthew applies to Jesus a passage that originally concerned Israel coming out of Egypt.  Rydelnik believes that Numbers 24:8, in which God appears to lead the king of Israel out of Egypt, is relevant to how Matthew approaches Hosea 11:1.

In Chapter 8, Rydelnik discusses the contribution of the eleventh century Jewish interpreter Rashi to biblical exegesis, specifically exegesis that interpreted passages in the Hebrew Bible as related to historical events, rather than to the coming of the Messiah.  According to Rydelnik, Rashi still employed a Messianic interpretation of certain passages, but not for many of the passages that Christians were interpreting in reference to Jesus Christ.  In those cases, Rashi tended to interpret the passages as relating to their original historical contexts, not the coming Messiah.  In doing so, Rydelnik points out, Rashi was departing from a lot of traditional Jewish interpretation.

In Chapter 9, “An Example of the Law: Interpreting Genesis 3:15 as a Messianic Prophecy,” Rydelnik argues that Genesis 3:15 is about Messiah’s defeat of Satan, not the hostility between humans and snakes (who were a common threat to people in that day), as some Jewish commentators, and even a number of evangelical scholars, have maintained.  In Chapter 10, “An Example from the Prophets: Interpreting Isaiah 7:14 as a Messianic Prophecy,” Rydelnik argues that Isaiah 7:14 was Messianic and was predicting that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.  Because the prophecy is directed to the house of David in general, Rydelnik does not believe that its significance is limited to the time of King Ahaz: it could have addressed Ahaz’s situation, while foretelling an event far in the future.  In addition, Rydelnik looks at the use of the Hebrew word almah in the Hebrew Bible and sees good reason to believe that it means a virgin, not just a young woman.  Rydelnik also brings ancient Near Eastern languages into the discussion.  In Chapter 11, “An Example from the Writings: Interpreting Psalm 110 as a Messianic Prophecy,” Rydelnik contends that Psalm 110 is Messianic.  He not only looks at Psalm 110 itself, but also at what he believes are interpretations of Psalm 110 elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.

After chapters of heavy (and yet very lucid) biblical exegesis, Chapter 12 was quite refreshing to read.  There, Rydelnik tells the story of when he was a high school student and was challenging an educated Jewish speaker on the interpretation of biblical passages.  Rydelnik was quoting to the speaker passages that he (Rydelnik) believed predicted Jesus, and the speaker offered alternative explanations for all of them.  Rydelnik would go on to get degrees related to the Bible, and the speaker would later become a national radio talk show host (and I have my guess about who that is), who did not want to debate Rydelnik because the host was afraid of alienating his Christian listeners.  Rydelnik narrates that he long felt like a failure because he could not defend Jesus being the Messiah back when he was a high school student, but a later event would convince him that God could use even his ineptitude for God’s glory.  One of Rydelnik’s high school teachers, a Jew, decided to investigate the Bible and later became a Messianic Jew as a result of that high school encounter between Rydelnik and the speaker.  The passages that Rydelnik was quoting sounded Messianic to the high school teacher, whatever the educated speaker was saying, and so the teacher decided to study the issue.

Now, for my critique.  Here are some items:

—-Rydelnik states that the Masoretic Text contains rabbinic traditions.  Why, however, would rabbinic traditions want to de-eschatologize and historicize passages in the Hebrew Bible, as Rydelnik says the MT does, when even Rydelnik acknowledges that the rabbis strongly believed in the coming Messiah and even interpreted as Messianic some of the passages that Christians deemed to be Christological?  And yet, while I believe that there is a possibility that certain passages were originally historical and later became interpreted as eschatological, I do not thoroughly dismiss Rydelnik’s argument regarding the Masoretic Text.  There are scholars who have argued that there is strong Karaite influence behind the MT, and I wonder if that could have contributed to the MT embracing a more historical reading of certain passages.

—-Rydelnik regards Micah 5:2 as a direct prophecy of Jesus Christ, specifically Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.  My problem with that interpretation is that Micah 5 mentions aspects of Micah’s historical context: the threat of Assyria, for example.  Micah 5 could reflect Micah’s hopes of what God would soon do about the Assyrian threat, namely, raise up a Davidic king, rather than being a prophecy about a Messiah who would enter the picture about five hundred years in the future.  Rydelnik should have addressed this issue.  Come to think of it, Rydelnik, overall, should have addressed historical context more often than he did: Even if passages are Messianic, how were they relevant to their original historical contexts?

—-Rydelnik argues that Genesis 3:15 is interpreted in reference to the Messiah and Satan elsewhere within the Hebrew Bible.  Why, then, is there such a dearth of depictions in the Hebrew Bible of Satan as the grand enemy of God, as opposed to being merely a prosecuting attorney?  Moreover, while we are talking about inner-biblical interpretation, why is Isaiah 11:8 irrelevant to Genesis 3:15?  In Isaiah 11:8, the young child plays on the hole of the snake.  That seems to me to interpret Genesis 3:15 in reference to the struggle between humans and snakes, the interpretation of Genesis 3:15 that Rydelnik disputes, for the point of Isaiah 11:8 appears to be that humans will no longer need to be afraid of snakes.

—-Rydelnik argues that the serpent in Genesis 3:15 is Satan rather than a simple snake, and that the second part of Genesis 3:15 concerns the Messiah (the seed of the woman) smiting Satan.  While Rydelnik is open to the possibility that the first part of Genesis 3:15 is about the descendants of the woman being in conflict with the followers (the seed of) Satan, the serpent, he maintains that the second part concerns a conflict between two specific individuals: the Messiah and Satan.  Rydelnik notes that the conflict is between the woman’s seed and one specific snake, the one from the Garden of Eden.  This would not fit the interpretation that Genesis 3:15 is about the conflict between humans and snakes, Rydelnik contends, for the snake who will be defeated will be the one from the Garden of Eden.  According to Rydelnik, that shows that the snake from Eden must be more than a simple snake, for this snake will be around for a very long time, living far longer than other snakes do!  I am not entirely convinced by Rydelnik’s argument here, and the reason is that, within the Hebrew Bible, it seems to me that an individual can be equated, on some level, with his offspring.  When the prophets talk about David ruling over Israel in the future, are they referring to David specifically, or is David being equated with his dynasty, or his descendants, or one of his descendants?  The latter makes more sense to me.  I think that recognizing that a person can live on in his descendants, not only allows for the serpent in Genesis 3:15 to be equated with his offspring, but also explains passages that Rydelnik believes indicate that the Messiah will be divine.  When Psalm 72:5 says that the king will last as long as the sun and moon, is that saying that a specific individual will live that long, or rather that the king’s dynasty will last that long?  (I should also note that, in the Book of Daniel, people express the hope that the kings of Babylon and Persia will live forever.  How literal is that?)

—-Rydelnik makes a fairly decent case that the Hebrew word almah (used in Isaiah 7:14) means a virgin, rather than merely a young woman.  For example, Rydelnik refers to Song of Songs 6:8, where the alamot seem to be distinguished from wives and concubines.  If the alamot had sex, Rydelnik argues, then they would have been in the concubine category, and thus the alamot probably refer to ladies who are virgins, yet will eventually become either wives or concubines.  I am not entirely convinced, however, that almah has to mean a virgin, or primarily concerns virginity.  Almah is arguably the feminine form of elem, which appears in I Samuel 17:56 and 20:22.  Elem most likely means a young man: When Saul in I Samuel 17:56 wants someone to inquire who exactly the elem David is after David has killed Goliath, I don’t think that he is focusing on David being a virgin, but rather is saying that David is a young man.  Moreover, while Rydelnik says that the Greek word parthenos, which the LXX uses in Isaiah 7:14 to translate almah, means virgin, many scholars have noted that parthenon in Genesis 34:3 refers to Dinah after she was raped, as Shechem is said to love her and to attempt to comfort her.  I do not rule out that Song of Songs 6:8 sees the alamot as virgins, for young women probably were virgins in that day; I am doubtful, however, that the word almah itself has the innate meaning of virgin.

—-In The Unbreakable Promise, Rydelnik said that there is a sudden shift to the singular in Genesis 22:17 as Abraham’s seed is discussed.  According to Rydelnik, the seed in the second part of Genesis 22:17 refers to a single individual (whom Rydelnik interprets as the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ), not the collective nation of Israel.  This puzzled me, since it did not look to me as if there were any shift in Genesis 22:17.  Rather, it seemed to me that zera in both of its uses there was a singular noun, most likely applied to Abraham’s seed in a collective sense.  In The Messianic Hope, however, Rydelnik explains his stance more fully.  He noted that the second part of Genesis 22:17 affirms that Abraham’s seed will inherit the gate of his (singular) enemies.  In addition, on page 140, Rydelnik refers to a scholarly article by Jack Collins, which (in Rydelnik’s words) “demonstrated that when a biblical author has a collective sense for ‘seed’ in mind, he uses plural pronouns and verbal forms to describe it[, whereas] when he has an individual in mind, he uses singular verb forms and pronouns to describe the ‘seed.’”  I did a quick search on zera.  I believe that zera can be used with a singular verb form and still have a collective sense.  At the same time, I do notice that there are times when plural pronouns are used with zera when zera is obviously collective.  Can a singular pronoun be used when zera is collective?  I do not yet know.  Perhaps I should look at more of the passages at some point!  This article by a Jewish counter-missionary looks at examples in the Hebrew Bible in which a singular pronoun can have a collective sense, and that might be relevant.

—-Even if Rydelnik is right that the Hebrew Bible is Messianic—-and he may be on to something there, as far as the organization and inner-biblical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is concerned—-does that mean that the Messiah has to be Jesus?  Even rabbinic Judaism believed that the Hebrew Bible was Messianic, but it did not think that Jesus was that Messiah!  I suppose that it depends.  Rydelnik makes a fairly decent case that Psalm 22:16 means that someone’s hands and feet are being pierced.  Rydelnik believes that this predicts Jesus’ crucifixion, but is there reason to believe that piercing hands and feet could have been a way that people were tortured in the Psalmist’s time?  How plausible is that?  Moreover, Isaiah 53 could be significant in that it may be about someone who dies for the sins of others; unfortunately, Rydelnik does not engage that passage or its many interpretations that much, at least not in this book.  (He does host a Bible study curriculum about it, though!)

Good book!

Is Bill Cosby Right? 6

In my latest reading of Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson discusses different views regarding the causes of poverty.  Some blame the poor individual, as if he or she is at fault for not working hard enough.  Some blame society for the lack of opportunities.  Still others appeal to luck as an important factor.  According to Dyson, there are many who may carry around in their minds more than one of these views.  Someone from the African-American middle-class, for example, may pat himself on the back for the hard work that he believes brought him to where he is, and yet he also recognizes that there is structural racism that was a barrier for him, and that is a barrier for other African-Americans.

On page 196, Dyson has a paragraph about the role of religion in influencing the self-perception of some poor people.  Some poor people feel bad because the prosperity Gospel says that those whom God blesses and favors will be materially prosperous, and they look at themselves, see their lack of material prosperity, and wonder if God loves them, or if they are doing something wrong.  Others consider their poverty a blessing or as God’s good will.  Still others believe that God wants to help them to fight for an improvement in their social or economic condition, “if not for themselves, then for their children’s sake.”

I thought about the Book of Proverbs as I read this.  I have been reading Proverbs for my Daily Quiet Time, and what I notice is that it manifests a variety of attitudes about the poor.  It conveys the message that those who do not work hard will likely end up poor, yet it acknowledges that oppression and injustice often hold people down economically.  It is optimistic, however, that God will intervene and punish the oppressors.  Does God intervene by helping the poor in their political or organizational push to improve their conditions, according to Proverbs?  I haven’t seen that in Proverbs so far.  The idea in Proverbs seems to be that God unilaterally steps in and punishes oppressors.  It does not favor people sitting back and letting God do all the work, however, for it promotes charity and generosity for the poor as something that pleases God, and that God will likely reward.

There are times when the Book of Proverbs appears to romanticize poverty, as if it is part of a simple, humbler lifestyle, which contrasts with the pride and the strife among the rich and powerful.  But there are other parts of Proverbs that are quite honest about the misery of poverty, especially in terms of the lack of social support that poor people have because people scorn them for their poverty.  This may be to promote compassion towards them, to encourage people to work hard so they don’t end up poor (and what about the working poor?), or both.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Dear Lord and Father of Mankind"

We sang a hymn at church this morning that I really liked.  I was restless, irritable, and discontent before we sang this hymn.  I felt, well, offbeat: we would sing hymns, and I did not know where exactly we were, or what verse we were supposed to be singing.  I also did not know the songs or where exactly they were going, in terms of their music.  Add to that my discontent this week about my apparent lack of social skills, of feeling that I never quite say the right thing in social settings.  I was dealing with my bad memories of that.  After singing one particular hymn at church this morning, however, my mood changed for the better.  It was like how Temple Grandin was in the Temple Grandin movie after she used her squeeze machine: she was much more relaxed, at peace, and sociable, calmly asking a classmate if a particular seat were taken.

The hymn that I liked was entitled “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.”  The last two verses really stood out to me:

“Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
“Till all our strivings cease;
“Take from our souls the strain and stress,
“And let our ordered lives confess
“The beauty of Thy peace.”

“Breathe through the heats of our desire
“Thy coolness and Thy balm;
“Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
“Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
“O still, small voice of calm!”

Those were the things that I wanted: quietness, peace, order, rest, coolness, calm.  I was a perfectionist, one who was irritable when things were not a certain way, or when people did not interact with me in a particular way.  I wanted for God to breathe through the heats of my desire God’s coolness and balm.

I read more about the hymn on wikipedia, and what the article about it said was interesting.  The hymn that we sang was part of a larger poem, “The Brewing of Soma,” which was written by John Greenleaf Whittier in the nineteenth century.  Whittier was a Quaker, a poet, and an abolitionist.  Whittier College, where Richard Nixon went to college, was named after him.  According to wikipedia, “The Brewing of Soma” essentially contrasts ancient Hindu and a number of Christian attempts to experience the divine with the Quaker way, which Whittier prefers:

The Brewing of Soma is the Whittier poem (1872) from which the hymn is taken. Soma was a sacred ritual drink in Vedic religion, going back to Proto-Indo-Iranian times (ca. 2000 BC), possibly with hallucinogenic properties.  The storyline is of Vedic priests brewing and drinking Soma in an attempt to experience divinity. It describes the whole population getting drunk on Soma. It compares this to some Christians’ use of ‘music, incense, vigils drear, And trance, to bring the skies more near, Or lift men up to heaven!’ But all in vain—it is mere intoxication.  Whittier ends by describing the true method for contact with the divine, as practised by Quakers: Sober lives dedicated to doing God’s will, seeking silence and selflessness in order to hear the “still, small voice” described in I Kings 19:11-13 as the authentic voice of God, rather than earthquake, wind or fire.”

The wikipedia article about Whittier himself said that Nathaniel Hawthorne was quite critical of Whittier’s poetry.  Well, I love The Scarlet Letter, but I happen to really like “The Brewing of Soma”!  I am not a poetry person myself, but the poem speaks to me in terms of what I long for in life.

According to the wikipedia article about the hymn, the hymn is often set to a different tune in Great Britain than in the United States.  Here is the hymn sung to the tune of “Repton,” which is what is usually sung in Great Britain.  And here is what I sang this morning: the hymn played to the tune of “Rest.”  To be honest, I prefer the Repton version: I find it more relaxing.

Is Bill Cosby Right? 5

In my latest reading of Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson talks about Bill Cosby’s family problems.  Dyson does this, not to air Cosby’s dirty laundry or to accuse Cosby of hypocrisy in attacking poor people’s family problems, but rather to argue that many families have problems, whether they be in the upper or lower economic classes.  Thus, according to Dyson, Cosby should show compassion towards poor African-American families facing problems, rather than judging them as he did in his 2004 speech before the NAACP.

Dyson also quotes remarks that Cosby made in the early days of his career about poverty.  This, according to Dyson, was “when [Cosby] wasn’t yet so far from poverty’s orbit that he could fly off into a rage against its victims” (page 179).  In that statement, Cosby acknowledged the cycle of poverty: poverty making people less attractive to others, the lack of jobs taking a toll on people and their family lives, etc.  Dyson states on page 180 that “That’s the Cosby we need to revive: a critical, clear, compassionate analyst, perhaps even an informal ethnographer, of the lives of the poor.”

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Psalm 148

In Psalm 148, the Psalmist exhorts the angels and various sorts of creatures and phenomena of nature to praise the LORD.  Leslie Allen states that nature is summoned to praise the LORD because “God’s people need helpers, as it were, in their own praise” as they attempt to match God’s work, status, and majesty.  Perhaps Israel is so glad about who God is and what God has done for her, that she sees a need to marshal the assistance of creation to mount a praise of God that does God justice, or that adequately expresses her worship.  Imagine feeling that way about God!

Allen mentions another view, that of D.R. Hillers, that Psalm 148 is echoing a tradition about the deified state of parts of the creation: that gods are praising the LORD, as gods praise a particular god in Egyptian and Mesopotamian hymns.  That brings me to another point, that of W.O.E. Oesterley.  Oesterley notes v 7, which exhorts the dragons and the deeps to praise the LORD.  These often embodied evil in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East.  Is evil being called upon to praise the LORD?  Oesterley mentions the elimination of evil, but does this elimination occur because evil becomes transformed into good as it praises God? 

Is this praise joyful and willing, or begrudging and unwilling?  The hymn in Philippians 2 talks about every knee bowing down and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.  There are universalists who have appealed to this passage to argue that everyone will one day be saved.  Traditionalists, who believe that non-Christians will burn in hell, do not accept this: some of them may believe that the confession by the wicked is begrudging, reluctant, or perhaps even forced, but I have heard some traditionalists who have contended that the worship indeed is sincere, on some level: the unsaved will recognize the glory of Jesus Christ, but it will be too late for them to be saved.

I thought of Colossians 1:20, which states that God through Christ is pleased to reconcile all things—-in both earth and heaven.  Imagine that.  Is that saying that Christ’s work was not just for human beings on earth, but also for heavenly or spiritual beings, or perhaps also nature itself?  The natural phenomena that are called upon to praise the LORD in Psalm 148.  The “gods.”  Even the forces of evil.  What a vision!

Is Bill Cosby Right? 4

In his controversial “Pound Cake” speech before the NAACP in 2004, Bill Cosby criticized and ridiculed fashion trends within the African-American community: baggy pants, body piercings, etc.  Cosby was also critical of African-American parents who give their children unusual names, such as Shaniqua and Taliqua.

In Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson attempts to explain the phenomena that Cosby criticized in his speech.  A lot of this phenomena, according to Dyson, is an attempt by African-Americans to assert their identity, their individuality, and their freedom in a world that has historically looked down on them and held them back.  Dyson provides historical background on this.

While Dyson refers to a study that argues that employers tend to discriminate against people with unusual names, Dyson says that African-Americans should not be blamed for being discriminated against: that the goal should be to eliminate the discrimination, not to blame the African-Americans who give their children unusual names.  Dyson also points out that white American society has accepted certain prominent African-Americans with unusual names: Oprah Winfrey, Shaquille O’Neill, and Condoleeza Rice.  Perhaps his hope is that this development will continue, and expand.

On page 139, Dyson does what he has done elsewhere in the book: he has compared the Bill Cosby of the “Pound Cake” speech with the earlier Bill Cosby.  Cosby, for example, exercised his freedom in naming his children according to his hopes and dreams for them: some of the names that he gave them were not conventional, and they all began with E, for “excellence.”  Dyson asks: “Why can’t poor parents enjoy the same freedom with their children?”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Abraham, Lot, Relationships, Sources, and Welcome

In The People Factor, Pastor Van Moody draws some interesting conclusions from the biblical story of Abraham and Lot.  Essentially, Moody argues that Lot was a bad friend to Abraham, one who was holding Abraham back spiritually and was even putting Abraham’s life in danger.

Moody notes that God did not tell Abraham to take Lot with him when God instructed Abraham to go to the land that God would show him.  During the time that Lot was with Abraham, Abraham did not hear from God.  Lot was ungrateful to Abraham and complained when there was not enough land for both of their herds.  Lot chose to go to Sodom, and Abraham and his servants had to bail Lot out when an alliance of kings captured Sodom.  When God was about to destroy wicked Sodom, Lot was very reluctant to leave.  Lot even offered his two daughters to the thugs of Sodom who wanted to rape the two angels who were staying in Lot’s home!  And Lot’s daughters apparently absorbed the debauchery of Sodom when they got their father drunk and had sex with him.

According to Van Moody, Lot was not a good friend to Abraham, and yet they were drawn together by shared pain and experiences.  Abraham’s brother Haran died, and Abraham’s father Terah was so devastated by this that he chose to remain in the city of Haran (which he may have named after his departed son) rather than moving on to the Promised Land.  This pain affected Terah’s family, including Abraham and Lot.  After Lot left with Abraham, they had shared experiences.  Moody’s point in highlighting all this is that having shared pain and experiences with someone does not necessarily mean that person is a good friend.

Van Moody’s discussion of the Abraham and Lot story interested me, for two reasons.  For one, Van Moody was getting application out of the final form of the biblical text.  When I was taking biblical Hebrew at Harvard Divinity School, the instructor said that there were different sources in the Abraham story: some of the sources had Lot as a character, whereas others did not mention Lot and were apparently unaware of him.  When God told Abraham to go to the Promised Land and did not mention Lot, therefore, that may simply indicate that we have a Lot-less source in that case, not that God was intentionally snubbing Lot in the story.  Van Moody, however, is dealing with all of these sources after they have been put together, and so he seeks an explanation for why Lot is not mentioned when God calls Abraham.  His reading reminds me of a point that was made in Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?, and also David Carr’s Fractures of Genesis, both of which were about source criticism, albeit with different models.  Both of them asked what the Bible means after the sources have come together.  Who decides?  Is it the reader who is trying to make sense of the final text in front of him?  Is it God, who could have providentially directed the different sources to come together as they did?  Good questions!  In any case, Van Moody attempts to make sense out of the final form of the text.

Second, Van Moody’s discussion made me wonder: Can human beings hinder the move of God?  You see, mainline Protestants and even many evangelicals believe that everyone should be welcome at church, that God can reach anyone where that person is.  But can a person come into church and somehow disrupt the spiritual flow or the work that God is trying to do?  There are times when it seems to me that evangelicals appear to think so.  I’ve even wondered that about myself.  It’s not that I would come in and actually try to disrupt a Christian community, but, if I am not on the same page as they are, then my presence can be disruptive, whether I intend so or not.  I would like to think that God is so big that God’s plans cannot be disrupted by human beings who may like to question, or who may not fit in.  And yet, even if things may move more smoothly if Christians are around people who are on the same page as they are, if Christians are being unwelcoming to certain people, then what exactly is their mission?  What is the aim of God’s work?  I thought that it was to welcome and include people.

Those are my ramblings for the day.

Is Bill Cosby Right? 3

In my latest reading of Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson talks about a time when an African-American held him and a female companion up at gunpoint.  Dyson reasoned with the man as a fellow African-American, learning that the man was trying to feed his family.  What’s more, the man said that he himself had been held up at gunpoint not long before.

That made me think about the times that I have lived in cities and have come across pen-handlers.  I have bought them food, since I was often told that I should give pen-handlers food rather than money, for they would probably use whatever money I gave them on drugs or alcohol.  But suppose that was not always the case.  Suppose they were trying to collect money so they could feed their family, or save for a rainy day.  If that was the case, then I could understand why they preferred for me to give them money rather than a sandwich or a hot dog I bought for them at a nearby stand.

And suppose that they were collecting money to buy drugs or alcohol.  It’s wrong, but it’s understandable that people in dire economic straits would try to self-medicate.

Would I give to pen-handlers if I still lived in the city?  Well, I’d probably buy someone a meal here and there, but, overall, I would not.  I only have so much money.  I think that it is best to give to charities.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Is Bill Cosby Right? 2

In my latest reading of Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, Michael Eric Dyson cited studies that contradict Bill Cosby’s assertions in his controversial 2004 speech before the NAACP.  Bill Cosby chided the poor African-American parents who bought their kids expensive sneakers rather than Hooked-on-Phonics; Dyson referred to a study indicating that gross materialism was not a significant problem among poor African-American young people, many of whom were spending a lot of their money on necessities.  Bill Cosby lambasted anti-intellectualism within African-American communities; Dyson responded that the African-American drop-out rate is dramatically lower than Cosby said, and that there are studies indicating that African-Americans are as (in some cases more) committed to intellectualism on average as whites.  Cosby criticized crime within African-American communities; Dyson cited a study indicating that there was a higher incidence of illegal drug use among white twelfth-graders in 2003 than among African-American twelfth-graders.

In some cases, I was wondering how some of what Dyson was saying could co-exist.  For example, Dyson referred to a study indicating that African-American parents, on average, are more involved in their children’s education than white parents.  Earlier in the book, in responding to Cosby’s attack on negligent African-American parents, Dyson asks how poor African-American parents can be attentive to their children, when the parents are working long hours just barely to make ends meet.  Both, I am sure, are aspects of reality, in some way, shape, or form.

Incidentally, Dyson does quote John WcWhorter, whose book, Losing the Race, challenges the sorts of narratives that Dyson holds.  Cosby in his speech was criticizing the linguistic tendencies within poor African-American communities, and Dyson quoted a statement by McWhorter, a linguist, that Cosby himself “speaks more ebonics than he knows” (McWhorter’s words).

All of this is interesting, but what I find most fascinating is when Dyson quotes things that Cosby has said that contradict or undermine Cosby’s remarks in his 2004 speech.  Cosby disregarded inequalities in education in his speech; in his dissertation about two decades before, however, he acknowledged them, and made arguments on the basis of them.  In his 2004 speech, Cosby was critical of the way many poor African-Americans talk; his show, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, however, featured African-American dialect, and Dyson on pages 78-79 quotes a beautiful passage in which Cosby acknowledged (maybe even appreciated) the distinct black southern dialect of his 85-year old grandfather.  Cosby in his 2004 speech bemoaned crime among African-Americans, but Dyson quotes a statement Cosby made years earlier that criticized the unfairness and inequality of the American criminal justice system.

At times, in my reading thus far, Dyson appears to criticize Cosby for hypocrisy.  Cosby is critical of African-Americans who drop out of school or do not do well in school, when Cosby himself was not a good student and dropped out of high school; Cosby’s road to his doctorate was rather roundabout.  Cosby was bemoaning alleged materialism within poor African-American communities, when Cosby himself has catered to materialism by appearing in numerous commercials.

I’ll stop here.  So far, I’m finding this book to be much better than many of the Amazon reviews said it was.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Write-Up: The People Factor, by Van Moody

Van Moody.  The People Factor: How Building Great Relationships and Ending Bad Ones Unlocks Your God-Given Purpose.  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2014.

Essentially, this book is about choosing the right people to be friends.  A lot of what it said was common sense, really: Of course, many of us would like a friend who is a giver, who encourages us, who is loyal to us, and who actually wants to be in relationship with us.  Honesty, too, can promote intimacy, as Van Moody says.  Moody makes these points, while artfully drawing on a variety of biblical stories, from both the Hebrew Bible and also the New Testament.  He also includes personal anecdotes to illustrate his points.

There were some things that I wished the book covered.  For one, how does one form relationships in the first place?  Some of us struggle with this, believe it or not!  There are people who can choose their friends, but there are also people who may feel that their only choice is between a bad relationship and complete loneliness.  How would Van Moody address their situation?  Second, what advice would Van Moody give to the people with whom he does not think we should have friendships: the takers, for example?  Van Moody stigmatized takers throughout the book, but the book would have been much better had he explicitly recognized more often that they are people, too, that they are beloved of God, and that they may need guidance on how to be non-takers.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers ( book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

Is Bill Cosby Right? 1

I started Michael Eric Dyson’s 2005 book, Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?).  The book is a critique of Bill Cosby’s controversial 2004 speech before the NAACP.  Dyson contends that Cosby in that speech was unfairly targeting the African-American underclass, which needs compassion and assistance, not blame and belittlement.

I’ll have plenty of opportunities over the next few days to talk about Dyson’s criticisms of Cosby’s arguments, so I won’t focus on that here.  What I want to discuss in this post is what fascinated me in my latest reading of Dyson’s book, namely, Dyson’s point that Bill Cosby has made a conscious decision over the years not to talk about race.

Of course, Dyson in making that point is asking why Cosby suddenly decided to talk about race in his 2004 speech before the NAACP.  That’s a good question, but it’s not of primary interest to me right now.  What interested me was that Cosby’s ideas about racial equality actually influenced his long decision not to talk about race.  Cosby did not want to portray himself as a black man, per se, but rather as a human being who happened to be black.  He was promoting color-blindness: not looking at a person’s race.  On I Spy, he was just a guy who was working with the Robert Culp character.  In his comedic routines, Cosby talked about life rather than race.  Cosby did not want for black people on television to be problems (i.e., victims of the problem of racism), but to be people, with aspirations, hopes, and dreams, just like white people.  Cosby thought that could promote social equality between whites and African-Americans.

My impression is that Dyson, on some level, understands and is sympathetic towards where Cosby was coming from.  Dyson believes Cosby was ultimately wrong not to focus on race, but Dyson can see the logic in Cosby’s approach.  Dyson’s problem with Cosby’s approach is that it essentially pretended as if racism did not exist, as well as ignored African-American struggles and culture.  In effect, it presented a distorted picture of what race relations were like.

Let’s take The Cosby Show.  On the one hand, the show was good because it depicted an African-American doctor and lawyer.  One way to undermine the stereotype that African-Americans can’t be doctors and lawyers is by showing competent African-American doctors and lawyers on TV.  Hopefully, that would inspire African-Americans to want to become doctors and lawyers, and it would open white society up to accepting them as such.

But, on the other hand, whites may get the impression in watching The Cosby Show that most African-American families are upper middle-class, or that many African-Americans have a decent shot at becoming upper middle-class in this society.  They may conclude that racism is not really a problem holding African-Americans back, and that conditions are better for African-Americans than they actually are.

As I said some posts ago, Cosby’s show, A Different World, actually did address the topic of racism.  One could perhaps argue that it looked more at individual white people not liking blacks rather than systemic racism (though, of course, it is the former that leads to the latter), but there was an episode of A Different World that was pro-affirmative action, which indicates to me a support for systemic change.  I thought that criticisms of Cosby for not focusing on race were not entirely true.  Now, after reading parts of Dyson’s book, I see that Cosby himself acknowledged that he did not want to focus on race.  That makes me wonder how one can account for A Different World.  Was it an anomalous incident of Cosby responding to his critics’ concerns?  Was there a part of Cosby that wanted to look at race, but usually did not due to a fear of alienating white audiences?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Write-Up: Shades of Sheol, by Philip S. Johnston

Philip S. Johnston.  Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament.  Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic; Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2002.

I would like to thank InterVarsity Press for sending me a review copy of this book.  Click here to see InterVarsity’s page about it.

What happens to the dead, according to the Hebrew Bible?  Do they all go to Sheol?  Do they go to heaven or hell?

Someone recommended Johnston’s Shades of Sheol  to me a while back.  He said that Johnston’s argument was that, within the Hebrew Bible, the wicked dead were believed to go to Sheol, whereas the righteous dead were thought to rest with their ancestors.  I was not convinced by this argument, to tell you the truth.  For one, there were righteous people within the Hebrew Bible who seemed to go the Sheol, or who expected to go there.  I think of Samuel (I Samuel 28:7) and Jacob (Genesis 37:35).  Second, there were wicked people within the Hebrew Bible who were said to go to their fathers after they died.  These include Jeroboam (I Kings 14:20), Omri (I Kings 16:28), and Ahab (I Kings 22:40).  (My own reading of Johnston’s book ended up being a bit different from that of the person who recommended it to me: Johnston seemed to me to be arguing that the wicked dead in the Hebrew Bible went to Sheol, while acknowledging that some of the people said to rest with their fathers after death were wicked.)

At the same time, I had problems with the idea that the predominant view in the Hebrew Bible was that all dead people went to Sheol, whether they were righteous or wicked.  There are Psalms that appear to depict Sheol as a place where the wicked go, and as a place from which the Psalmist desires God’s deliverance.  Would that message make sense, if the Psalmist assumed that everyone ended up in Sheol sooner or later, anyway?  I recently read Jon Levenson’s 2006 book, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel (see my review here).  Levenson’s argument was that a prominent message within the Hebrew Bible was that only the wicked or those who died prematurely went to Sheol after they died, whereas the righteous lived a long, full life with lots of progeny.

Johnston’s arguments in Shades of Sheol overlapped a lot with those of Levenson in Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel, and this is not surprising, since Levenson frequently interacted with Shades of Sheol as a scholarly source.  Here are examples of where they overlap:

—-Both Johnston and Levenson argue that Sheol was for the wicked dead or those who die prematurely, whereas the righteous within the Hebrew Bible often live a long, full life; the Psalmist, according to Johnston, feared Sheol because he believed that he himself was a sinner, who was suffering for some sin that he had committed.

—-Both both Johnston and Levenson question the notion that ancient Israelites were obsessed with death, noting that necromancy is not mentioned that often in the Hebrew Bible.  Against those who contend that this was because later editors sought to expunge traces of paganism from the Hebrew Bible, Johnston (and Levenson, if I recall correctly) noted that other pagan practices are explicitly and frequently criticized in the Hebrew Bible that is before us, and so the relative dearth of references to necromancy indicates that it was not commonly practiced in ancient Israel, not religious suppression.  For Johnston, the Hebrew Bible was largely preoccupied with this life rather than any hereafter.

—-Both Johnston and Levenson question the idea that the Jews inherited the concept of personal resurrection from the Zoroastrians, noting differences between the Jewish and the Zoroastrian concepts.  For Johnston and Levenson, the concept of resurrection within Jewish religion was probably an outgrowth of earlier ideas in the Hebrew Bible: that God could bring life out of death.  Neither Johnston nor Levenson argue that personal resurrection was a part of earlier ancient Israelite belief, for they contend that it was not.  Yet, they maintain that personal resurrection may have developed from earlier ancient Israelite belief, which entailed God bringing life out of death (often figuratively, or with a broad understanding of death).

—-Both Johnston and Levenson appear open to the possibility that, within some of the Psalms, there was a belief in a blessed afterlife for the righteous.

There were differences between Johnston and Levenson, however.  For one, Johnston seems more open to the possibility that the notion of personal resurrection could have become more popular due to the martyrdom that occurred in Maccabean times, as righteous people died prematurely and unfairly, and some looked to an afterlife as a place for justice and reward for the righteous.  Levenson, by contrast, notes that writers in the Hebrew Bible prior to the time of the Maccabees acknowledged that righteous people died unfairly and prematurely, so why did the concept of personal resurrection not develop then?  Johnston does not rest the origin of personal resurrection within Hebrew religion entirely on Maccabean times, though, for he appears to date parts of Isaiah 26 to the sixth century, and he believes that there may be some movement in Isaiah 26 towards personal resurrection.  But Johnston seems to me to be more willing than Levenson to grant an important role to the Maccabean times in Hebrew religion’s acceptance of personal resurrection.

Second, Johnston’s book was much more encyclopedic than Levenson’s book was.  My impression was that Johnston interacted with more biblical texts, ancient Near Eastern concepts, archaeology, and previous scholarly arguments than Levenson did.  Levenson interacted with these things, too, but Johnston did so more (or so it seemed to me).  Levenson’s book was more pleasant for me to read, yet Johnston’s book was fuller in terms of information.

There were still questions that I wished that Johnston had addressed, at least more fully.  For example, why have people consulted the dead for information?  Why was there a cult of the dead?  Were the dead deemed to be more knowledgeable or powerful than the living?  If so, why?  In addition, the book would have been better had Johnston addressed in more detail why Samuel seemed to be from the underworld, if primarily the wicked went there.

Overall, however, this was a good book, and I am glad to have finally read it.

Two Nations 9

I finished Andrew Hacker’s 1992/1995 book Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.  In this post, I would like to highlight a sobering passage on pages 50-51:

“If you are a black woman, you can expect to live five fewer years than your white counterpart.  Among men, the gap is seven years.  Indeed, a man living in New York’s Harlem is less likely to reach sixty-five than is a resident of Bangladesh.  Black men have a three times greater chance of dying of AIDS and outnumber whites as murder victims by a factor of seven.  According to studies, you get less sleep, are more likely to be overweight and to develop hypertension.  This is not simply due to poverty.  Your shorter and more painful life results, in considerable measure, from the anxieties that come with being black in America.”

Hacker goes on to discuss police officers’ presumption of African-American guilt, and later he talks about racism.

I am a sensitive person.  There have been times when I have been afraid to go among people out of fear of being coldly received.  I cannot imagine what it would be like if I were an African-American male, going out into the world and putting up with people’s racism.  That would be stressful, to say the least.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Millard Fillmore and Ringing Bells

I was watching the CBS morning show before leaving for church yesterday.  You know, the show that Charles Kuralt used to host.  Does that name (Charles Kuralt) ring any bells?  Anyway, there was a segment about President Millard Fillmore, since today is President’s Day.  Different people shared their assessments of Fillmore.  One lady was defending him against detractors who criticize his signing of the Fugitive Slave Law, arguing that President Fillmore signed the Compromise of 1850, of which the Fugitive Slave Law was a small part.  Another guy was lambasting Fillmore, calling him anti-Catholic, anti-black, and the list went on.  There seemed to be a common admiration for one thing that Fillmore accomplished, however, and this admiration appeared to be shared even by his harshest critic: Fillmore lowered the price of the postage stamp!

On a side note, wasn’t the high school on Head of the Class named after Millard Fillmore?  Does that show ring any bells?

Two Nations 8

Is racism a problem that is significantly holding African-Americans back in the United States?  A number of white conservatives would answer “no.”  They would say that African-Americans who are poor or disadvantaged are themselves at fault for their predicament.  There are poor immigrants from all sorts of nationalities who have managed to succeed, on some level, so white conservatives ask what is poor African-Americans’ excuse.  John McWhorter is neither white nor is he a conservative (though he draws from conservative sources), but such an argument appears in his book Losing the Race, in some way, shape, or form.

Andrew Hacker in Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, however, seems to argue that reality is not that simple, that immigrants who come here lack the baggage that African-Americans have carried for over two hundred years.  Africans were brought here as slaves, and white society for a long time regarded them as savages, as less intelligent, as more suited to menial tasks or tasks requiring strength as opposed to tasks requiring intellect.  According to Hacker, many white Americans still walk around with that conception in their minds, even if they genuinely do not believe that they are racist.  Hacker may hold that African-Americans face barriers of prejudice that have not been there as much for other ethnic groups.  Asians and Jews, for example, are expected by white society to be intelligent.

I am about to make the following point with some trepidation, for who exactly am I, a white American, to comment on this?  I wouldn’t be surprised if both McWhorter and Hacker are correct, on some level.  Hacker argues that racism is holding African-Americans back, and I can understand that point-of-view: if many white Americans carry around in their minds negative stereotypes about African-Americans, then that will impact what opportunities white society gives to African-Americans.  On the other hand, McWhorter argues that there are self-destructive trends within African-American communities.  There is a trend of anti-intellectualism—-a hostility to book learning and doing well in school.  And there is separatism.  As McWhorter argues, if a white person is interviewing an African-American and detects that the African-American does not particularly care for being around white people, the white person may choose not to hire the African-American.  (Note: These are trends that McWhorter believes exist, not absolutes.)

Both, in my opinion, are problems.  In terms of what to do about them, McWhorter and Hacker offer insights about some things that the African-American community can do: organize study groups (McWhorter), or have African-American teachers who can be role models for African-American students (Hacker).  In terms of what white society can do, the answer is probably to work on judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Discussing Common Core at My Church's Lunch (and Thereafter)

My church had a pizza party after services today, in honor of my pastor’s birthday.  A topic of conversation that came up more than once at the party was the new Common Core educational standards.  There was a couple whose daughter is in kindergarten, and they were saying that their daughter had spelling tests and was learning number patterns (i.e., 2, 4, 6, 9, etc.) at school.  A lady who has a degree in education and teacher’s certification, and who works as a tutor for many at-risk youth, had problems with the new Common Core standards.  Essentially, she believed that the instructions were too complicated for the teachers, and that the standards were too high for the students.  She noted that first-graders were required under the new standards to know about probability, and she had problems with how Common Core math requires students to show their work, for why should they have to show their work after they gained enough proficiency to do certain steps in their heads?  She was also talking about circles in one of the Common Core books that she was reading, and the circles were intended to appeal to visual learners.  She thought that the circles were complicating matters.

I talked with my Mom after the pizza party.  My Mom was enrolled in a master’s program in education years ago, and she supports the new Common Core standards.  She said that students should know about probability and spelling at a young age in order to compete with other countries, and she thought that little kids who knew how to use I-Pads can learn how to spell and do math problems.  She also stated that requiring students to show their work would discourage them from cheating (i.e., getting the answer off the Internet).  My Mom also referred to a teacher she knew who supported the Common Core standards, stating that kids should know this stuff, anyway.

The problems that people at my church were expressing about Common Core differed from the right-wing critiques that I have read of the program.  The right-wingers I read online argue that Common Core is not academically rigorous enough, whereas people at my church seemed to be saying that it was too advanced and rigorous for kindergartners and first-graders.  The two groups would probably agree, however, that Common Core is an example of the government imposing a bunch of inflexible rules and standards.

I did not know enough about Common Core to offer an opinion.  I had read about it, but I myself never had any interaction with it.  It does seem to me that Common Core requires kindergartners and first-graders to learn more than I had to learn when I was a kindergartner and first-grader.  I didn’t have spelling tests in kindergarten, and I didn’t know what probability was as a first-grader!  I am not absolutely sure if previous generations learned those things as kindergartners and first-graders, but I am doubtful.  Hopefully, teachers will be able to impart this knowledge, in a manner that is accessible and understandable to their students.

Two Nations 7

In his updated 1995 version of Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, Andrew Hacker has a chapter about the O.J. Simpson trial, and the difference of opinion between many whites and many African-Americans about it.  Incidentally, Hacker states that one of the lawyers for the prosecution, Christopher Darden, appealed to a passage in the earlier edition of Hacker’s book to argue that the n-word should not be spoken in front of the jury, due to its inflammatory nature when whites utter the word.

Overall, Hacker argues that the authorities were irresponsible in how they handled the evidence, and he also defends the jury that found Simpson to be not-guilty.  For example, while some argue that the few white people on the jury were pressured to vote not-guilty, Hacker notes that one of the white jurors was the lone holdout in a previous trial and managed to win over the rest of the jury: this was not the sort of person who could be easily swayed, Hacker was arguing.

On page 62 of Losing the Race, John McWhorter has a paragraph about what he considers to be evidence for Simpson’s guilt: Simpson’s dog not barking when Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered, indicating that the dog knew the murderer; fibers from the carpet of Simpson’s Ford Bronco at the scene of the crime; “fibers from Simpson’s shirt and hairs from his head…found on Ronald Goldman”; a bloody shoe-print at the crime scene matching a type of shoe that Simpson may have owned; cuts and scrapes on Simpson’s left hand; “a blood trail from the murder scene…from a left hand”; Simpson not answering his home phone when a limo driver was calling him around the time of the murder; Simpson sweating in the limo, notwithstanding the air-conditioning; and Simpson not asking about his children when he heard that his wife was dead.  Hacker does not address a lot of this, but he does go into the pros and cons for certain arguments about Simpson’s guilt: how to explain the dearth of blood on Simpson’s Ford Bronco and at his home, for example.

On pages 220-221, Hacker speculates that whites may seek revenge for the Simpson verdict and the humiliation of their justice system: perhaps they’d vote against affirmative action, or adequate funding for inner-city hospitals, or districts that can provide African-Americans with more political power.  This may strike some as a conspiracy theory, but I think that Hacker makes a legitimate point: what would happen if the majority of whites believed a certain way, and whites happened to be the ones with power?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ralph Waite

Ralph Waite, who played the dad on The Waltons, has passed on.  I was also interested to learn that he had roles on Days of Our Lives (as a priest) and Bones (as Booth’s grandfather).  And, of course, he was the Mark Harmon-character’s father on NCIS!

I have long been interested in him from a political and a religious standpoint.

Politically, my understanding is that he was very left-wing.  I was one time watching a documentary, and it was saying that Ralph Waite stood with Ed Asner in publicly opposing President Ronald Reagan’s policies on El Salvador.  The documentary was presenting this as a very controversial stand on Ed Asner’s part, one that did not help Ed Asner very much.  But Ralph Waite was willing to make that stand alongside him!  Many actors and actresses are liberal, but how many of them are serious enough about their liberal beliefs to make a bold stand for them when doing so could place them under attack?  Ralph Waite was serious about his beliefs.

Waite also ran for Congress three times as a Democrat, and, in 1998, he was defeated by Mary Bono, the wife of Sonny Bono.

I was one time talking with a Republican lady, and she was disappointed to learn that Ralph Waite was left-wing, since she loved his character on The Waltons.  My response to her was that his character on The Waltons was rather left-wing, too, in that he supported Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, whereas it was Grandma Walton who was the right-wing Republican.  Granted, John Walton, Sr. was probably not as left-wing as Ralph Waite was, but he still tended to lean in the Democratic direction.

Religiously, Ralph Waite attended Yale Divinity School and was a minister and religious editor prior to his acting career.  Later in his life, he came back to prioritizing faith, and he taught Sunday school at a progressive Christian church.  See here to hear him talk about his faith journey.  On The Waltons, his character was not particularly religious.  He believed in God, on some level, but he did not regularly go to church, to the annoyance of his devout wife, Olivia.  One reason that I loved The Waltons was on account of its exploration of religious issues.  People like to call it a Christian show that had Christian values, but I always found its exploration of religion to be more open-minded and honest than that.

R.I.P., Ralph Waite.

Psalm 147

I have three items for my blog post today about Psalm 147.

1.  I liked John MacArthur’s comment in his MacArthur Study Bible: “This seems to be a post-Exilic psalm (cf. 147:2, 3) which might have been used to celebrate the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem (cf. Ps. 147:2, 13; Neh. 12:27, 43).  The hard questions that God posed to Job (Job 38-41) and Israel (Is. 40), the psalmist here turns into declarations worthy of praise.”

I appreciate MacArthur’s statement that there is intertextual activity going on here: that Psalm 147 is using elements of God’s speeches to Job and to exilic Israel to praise God, to convey the message that the God who is powerful yet kind in relationship to nature has intervened for the benefit of Israel.  I’ve long found God’s speeches to Job to be like cold water splashed on Job while he was suffering: not particularly comforting, I thought!  But Psalm 147 may be using them for the purpose of praise, if what MacArthur says is correct.

2.  In my reading of Augustine’s comments on Psalm 147, I saw Augustine refer to a Scriptural passage that is not in our Bible.  The passage states (and I am using J.E. Tweed’s translation here), “Let alms sweat in your hand, till you find a righteous man to whom to give it.”  Augustine calls this Scripture.  Didache 1:23 also quotes it.  I could not find it in my Bible, and, when I checked scholarly notes to Augustine’s comments, I found that others could not, either.  I may have found a similar concept in Tobit 4:7—-the concept of giving alms to the righteous—-but there was nothing there about alms sweating in one’s hands, plus there may be ambiguity about the clause with which “and to all doing righteousness” goes.

3.  Psalm 147:10b states that God is not pleased with the legs of man, which probably means that God is not impressed by human power or skill in warfare.  The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Masoretic Text all understand Psalm 147:10b to be about God not being pleased with men’s legs.  Augustine, however, thinks that the verse is saying something else: that God will not be pleased with the tabernacles of men, which Augustine interprets as the tabernacles of worship that heretics establish.  The Greek word for “legs” in the LXX of Psalm 147:10b is knemais, and the Greek word for “tent” is skene.  The two words have similar letters, even though the words are quite different.  Perhaps Augustine was working with a manuscript that had mixed the letters up.

Two Nations 6: Crime

My latest reading of Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal focused on crime.  Hacker states that “one out of every five black men will spend some part of his life behind bars” (page 195).  That is not a majority of African-American men, but it is still a significant amount. And this 2013 article is about a report that argues that the number could become one in three, if current incarceration trends continue.

Why is this the case, according to Hacker?  For one, there is the factor of poverty.  Granted, most African-Americans are not in poverty, as most African-American men are not in prison.  But about a fourth of African-Americans are in poverty, and that is a significant amount.  When people are poor and have few options, one path that they may choose is crime.

Second, Hacker contends that there are African-American men who are resentful of African-American women, and that this could account for a number of black-on-black rapes.  More than once in this book, Hacker cites statistics that indicate that African-American women on average do better than African-American men economically, professionally, and academically, and Hacker’s proposed reason for this is that white society believes that African-American women are better at gelling with white ways of doing things: they are supposedly more accommodating, they are more likely to sit down and be quiet in the classroom, etc.  Hacker states on page 192 that this “can create social divisions and stir sexual tensions”, and that “Men have always sought to bring down women whose ambitions or achievements threaten male esteem.”

Third, African-American men who commit crimes are likely to commit those crimes with visibility, increasing the likelihood that they will get caught.  Rather than breaking into a house in the suburbs, for example, they would try to rob someone on the street.  And, fourth, much of the criminal justice system is white.  Hacker asks how a white person would feel if he drove into a black neighborhood and accidentally hit an African-American child, and the only people in the courtroom who are white are he and his lawyer.  Wouldn’t the defendant feel as if the system were biased against him, in that case?  Well, that’s how a number of African-Americans feel.

Of course, conservatives can come back with answers to this: that there are many poor people who don’t commit crimes, and many rich people who do, and that the African-American crime and incarceration rate in the 1930′s was much lower than it is today.  Hacker acknowledges all of this, even if he may not believe that it thoroughly undermines his overall argument and observations.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Latest on The Unbreakable Promise

My church did not meet for Bible study last night on account of the snow.  We may not finish the series that we have been going through: The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, with Michael Rydelnik.  My pastor and his wife will be away the next couple of weeks (after this coming Sunday), so the group will not be meeting the next two Thursdays.  And the pastor wants to begin a new series for Bible study right after he gets back: he’s thinking of The 24 Hours That Changed the World.  He wants a series in March-April that is appropriate for Lent and Easter, and that is one option he’s considering.

My pastor said that he could lend out the Unbreakable Promise DVDs to anyone who wants to see the last lesson, the one that we most likely won’t cover.  I may take him up on that.  I would like to watch that last lesson and blog about it, as I have done for the previous five lessons.  The Unbreakable Promise is probably my favorite Bible study series that my church has done.  I don’t always agree with Michael Rydelnik, but he does mention possibilities that I have never considered before, and just wrestling with those possibilities is rewarding in itself.  I have a book of his that I will be reviewing soon: The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?  There, Rydelnik challenges an interpretative approach that exists even among many evangelical scholars, one that interprets certain passages in the Hebrew Bible as unrelated to the coming Messiah, when traditional Christianity has largely regarded those passages as Messianic.  I tend to side with the perspective that Rydelnik critiques, as I sympathize with historical-criticism and the more literalistic schools of ancient Christianity and Judaism.  But I will be interested to see how Rydelnik goes about making his arguments.

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