Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Write-Up: Fire from Heaven, by Harvey Cox

Harvey Cox.  Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century.  Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995.

Harvey Cox is a theologian who had taught at Harvard Divinity School.  My more conservative friends saw him as one who jumped on the latest theological bandwagon, rather than consistently standing up for any theological convictions of his own (what a fundamentalist friend called “contending for the faith,” in reference to Jude 1:3).  They noted that he first wrote The Secular City about the increasing tide of secularism of the 1960′s and the Death of God movement.  Then, Cox turned his attention towards Eastern religions.  Later, Cox’s interest was Pentecostalism.  My conservative friends thought it was pretty noteworthy that Cox went from writing about the Death of God to writing about Pentecostalism, a movement that claims to experience God intimately and that sees God as very much alive and active in the world.  Regarding Cox’s interest in Eastern religions, one friend told me about a conference where a presenter mockingly said that, for a while, Cox was telling us to turn East, but now Cox was telling us to turn South—-to look at the rise of Pentecostalism in Latin and South American countries.

I had not read any of Harvey Cox’s books when my friends were saying this.  Since that time, I have read three of his books, and I am about to start a fourth.  I read Cox’s 1965 book The Secular City, in which Cox discusses how Christians can view and respond to secularization, the marginalization of religion, the Death of God movement, and the increasing migration to cities.  You can read some posts that I wrote about that here and here.  Years later, I read Cox’s 1988 (updated in 1992) book, Many Mansions: A Christian’s Encounter with Other Faiths.  This book contained material from Cox’s “turning east” phase, as Cox offered thoughts about Hinduism and Buddhism and their increasing appeal to people in the West, but it also touched on secularization and how that was not necessarily inconsistent with biblical ideas.  You can read my post about this book here.  Just now, I finished Cox’s 1995 book about Pentecostalism, Fire from Heaven.  His next book that I will read is his 1984 Religion in the Secular City: Toward a Postmodern Theology.

What have been my impressions of Cox’s work thus far?  I like his books because they convey thoughtfulness and knowledge about history and religious thought.  Regarding the charge that he jumps onto the latest theological bandwagon, I do not think that it is particularly fair.  In my opinion, Cox’s focus changes because times change, and new trends emerge.  In the 1960′s, it truly appeared that American society was moving towards secularism, so Cox wrote about how Christians can view that as an opportunity rather than as something to fear.  Later, many Americans were becoming interested in Eastern religions and were studying under Eastern gurus, so Cox addressed what Americans might be looking for as they did so (i.e., a teacher to guide them), and he looked at that trend from his own Christian perspective.  Later, Pentecostalism was on the rise, as many became disenchanted with secularism and sought experience with the divine and community, so Cox wrote about that.  Trends rose and fell, and sometimes one trend bled into the other: In Fire from Heaven, for example, Cox offers ideas about why many Americans no longer study under Eastern gurus (i.e., they are too abstruse), yet he notes that Eastern practices (i.e., yoga) are still popular, that the West’s contact with the East contributed to the West having a greater focus on intuition and experience, and that there are Americans who gravitate towards the non-dogmatic elements of Eastern religions (though, as Cox points out, Eastern religions have their own fundamentalist elements as well!).  These developments are consistent with the growing popularity of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes intuition and experience, and even (in some instances) non-dogmatism.  Throughout all of these trends, Cox maintained certain beliefs: that Jesus Christ associated with and championed the poor, that his followers should do the same, and that social justice is important.  Cox in Fire from Heaven acknowledges that his work in The Secular City did not anticipate the trend of Pentecostalism's increasing popularity, and yet my impression is that he still held to a certain Christian worldview throughout his time as a theologian, looking at the changing world.  If I detect any inconsistency in his thought, it is that, in The Secular City, he tends to champion the anonymity and freedom that comes with living in cities, whereas in Fire from Heaven he stresses community and belonging.

Fire from Heaven is an engaging look at Pentecostalism in the United States, England, Asia, and Latin and South America.  Cox discusses the history of the movement, his own experiences with it, and its paradoxes and complexity.  While acknowledging that many Pentecostals have adopted a view of the Bible as inerrant, he distinguishes Pentecostals from fundamentalists,  for Pentecostals stress experience of the divine rather than dogma, plus a number of fundamentalists shied away from Pentecostalism out of the belief that the time of miracles had ceased with the close of the New Testament era.  Cox also looks at Pentecostalism’s characteristic features, such as speaking in tongues and healings, offering explanations for these phenomena and (in the case of healings) referring to how scientists have attempted to account for them.

Two issues that were prominent to me as I read Fire from Heaven were political engagement and interfaith dialogue.  On political engagement, Cox notes historical and current trends within Pentecostalism, some of which he admires, and others that disturb him greatly.  Pentecostalism began as a movement among the poor that believed that Christ’s second coming was near, and, on some level, it continues to be that in certain areas of the world, where adherents in worship protest against an unjust society and remind themselves of God’s love for them and intention to redress wrongs.  This mindset can (and has) discouraged political activity, for why seek to change the world, if Christ will come back soon anyway and set things right?  Yet, political engagement is on the rise among Pentecostals.  While critics have stated that Pentecostalism reinforces conservatism in Latin and South America, Cox notes that a number of Pentecostals there participate and are influential in the political left.  Cox values Pentecostalism as a movement that has championed the poor while (with prominent exceptions) promoting racial equality, as occurred in the United States under the auspices of William Joseph Seymour and Aimee Semple McPherson (a controversial figure in her own right, yet Cox seems to admire her, and part of me now admires her, too!).  Pentecostalism also allowed women to participate more actively in proclaiming the word.  But Cox also observes trends that he finds disturbing: that many white American Pentecostals are gravitating towards the religious right, particularly the brand that wants its interpretation of Old Testament law to be the law of the land, that there is a focus on health and wealth that stigmatizes the poor and the sick, and that commercialism has undermined the authenticity and spontaneity of Pentecostal experience.  In short, Cox believes that there are progressive and regressive trends within Pentecostalism, and he is rooting for the former to prevail.

On interfaith dialogue, Cox continues in the spirit of what he says in Many Mansions: he appears to be rather critical of how it is often a matter of stale academic discussion among liberals.  In Fire from Heaven, Cox extensively discusses the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, where adherents to different religions met and presented papers.  Cox considers it groundbreaking and well-intentioned, and yet he notes several salient flaws: certain voices were excluded, each religion wanted to subsume the others in the name of bringing religions together, etc.  Later, when talking about his own experience in England, Cox discusses a peaceful confrontation between a Pentecostal preacher and Muslims.  They were all respectful to each other, and yet they were honest about what they thought and felt: they did not hesitate to guffaw or to say that the other guy was wrong, and to give their reasons.  Cox saw this as inter-religious dialogue in the raw, and he wished that his liberal academic friends could see it!  In addition, a couple of times in the book, Cox refers to Thomas Merton’s insight that perhaps inter-religious dialogue would be more fruitful among the mystics of the different traditions than among academics, for the mystics have so much in common!  I enjoyed reading these insights, for, while I am all for academic discussions because they can be thoughtful and nuanced, I would also like to see interfaith dialogue that is raw and honest, and that focuses on testimonies and experiences.

So much of this book resonated with me.  I will offer two ways that this was so.  For one, Pentecostalism has long attracted me, while also scaring and repulsing me.  Growing up, I was raised to be rather suspicious of Pentecostalism.  We knew Pentecostals who were always saying that the “Lord told” them such-and-such, and their dogmatism looked pretty absurd to us, especially when they changed their mind or turned out to be wrong.  The things that Pentecostals did also struck us as rather strange, maybe even evil, as if they were being possessed.  We championed our version of Christianity as more level-headed, biblical, and business-like, in contrast to the apparent  craziness of Pentecostalism.  As I grew up, I continued to have similar reservations about Pentecostalism, yet there were things about it that I came to admire: Pentecostals’ sense of joy and peace, their belief that God loves them and that they can experience him intimately, their solid belief that God is real, the way that they look to God in faith for healing, and the manner in which they seemed to really love God, at a deep emotional level.  As I was reading Fire from Heaven, I was feeling the thrill of my pro-Pentecostal side!  I especially appreciated Cox’s reference to a scientific insight that positive thinking, faith, and feeling love from another can trigger the immune system and result in physical healing.  I can use that sort of attitude in my own life, especially in a world that can get pretty cold!

Second, the issue of political engagement was significant to me because my own religious background discouraged voting, out of the belief that we should look to Christ’s second coming rather than earthly politics to fix the world’s problems.  This idea was long a turn-off to me, as one who was interested in politics!  I appreciated several of Cox’s insights on this topic.  On the one hand, he argued, believing in imminent apocalyptic change can be good because it can encourage people to repudiate the world’s injustice and to embrace alternative possibilities.  In the history of Pentecostalism, he notes, there have been times when a belief in Christ’s imminent second coming has coincided with social change here and now, as Pentecostals believe that they are currently experiencing the Kingdom of God, find hope that injustice will soon come to an end, and encourage racial harmony in the meantime.  On the other hand, an imminent apocalyptic mindset can discourage efforts to address the wrongs of this world.  Consider President Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James Watt, who remarked that Christ will come back anyway, so why worry so much about the environment!  I believe that there should be a balance: Christ may have believed in a coming apocalypse, yet he still worked to improve the human condition whenever he could.

Good book.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In the Blink of an Eye

I recently watched a 2009 Christian movie, In the Blink of an Eye.  It is about the rapture, but it is not your typical apocalyptic rapture film.  The movie stars David A.R. White, who is in a lot of Christian movies.  Eric Roberts (brother of Julia, and an award-winning actor in his own right) also has a role, and it appears that he has been in quite a few Christian movies himself!

The movie is about two detectives, David and Larry.  Larry and his wife are evangelical Christians, whereas David is a skeptic.  David and Larry are investigating a kidnapping of a musician, and they end up taking their wives onto a yacht, upon somebody’s invitation.  Larry’s wife Suzette leads David’s wife Lori to Christ, and, in the course of the movie, Larry, Suzette, and Lori all three vanish!  David gets to relive that day a number of times.  He not only uncovers more about the case that he is investigating, but he also comes to learn more about why those three people vanished (it was the rapture), and how he can get right with God.  At the end of the movie, David calls his supervisor (played by Eric Roberts), telling him that God loves him and warning him not to take the mark (the mark of the Beast in Revelation 13).  David and his wife then vanish.

I would not say that this was a good movie, but the Groundhog Day feel of it certainly made it entertaining.  Here are some religious/theological issues that the movie brought to my mind:

1.  When Suzette is leading Lori to Christ, Suzette makes a number of interesting points.  Suzette is saying that people need a savior from sin, and Lori replies that she cannot think of much that she has done wrong.  Suzette gently responds that the entire human race is in a condition of sinfulness.  Suzette also says that Lori will feel at peace in her life when she accepts Christ, regularly asks Christ for guidance, and obeys Christ’s teachings.

In another part of the movie, Larry tells David that prayer can help a person feel better, and Larry also says that Jesus died so that he can live.  In one of David’s re-livings of the day, Lori vanishes, whereas David does not, and David wonders what God wants from him, since at that point he believes in God.  David asks Larry in a subsequent reliving of the day what distinguishes Larry’s faith in God from his own, and Larry encourages David to trust Christ as his savior.

These parts of the movie raise in my mind a variety of questions.  Does Christianity truly lead to inner peace?  How does any of this relate to my life?  Am I being asked to do things that I cannot do?  What has distinguished my faith from that of others?  Perhaps the overriding questions that I have are: What have I done wrong?  And what can I do correctly?

I acknowledge that there is something wrong with the human race, including myself.  I liked how Suzette did not point out Lori’s flaws but rather said that we are all fallen.  On the issue of inner peace, I recognize that there are many who follow a spiritual path who gain inner peace and joy as a result, and I believe that I have seen this occur in both Christian and non-Christian contexts.  I do not want to judge people who follow a spiritual path yet remain depressed, however, for there are a variety of reasons out there for depression (i.e., clinical).  Moreover, I realize that, at least for me, following the Christian life is not easy: I am challenged in my ability to believe, and also in my ability to reach out to others in love.  Being a Christian does not come like clockwork to me, as seems to be the case for many other Christians (or so it appears to me, from my limited perspective).  Consequently, I find myself listening to Larry and Suzette and wondering to myself: “What exactly am I supposed to do here?”

2.  In one scene of the movie, David is talking with Larry about end-times prophecy.  Larry refers to a book by John Hagee that he is reading, and Larry says that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was a significant event.  David asks why, and Larry inquires if David knows of any other situation in which a nation was re-established after being persecuted, separated, and exiled for so long.  (I may getting pieces of Larry’s point wrong here, but I believe that I have captured the essence of his argument, and maybe even improved on it a bit!)

Does the re-establishment of Israel demonstrate the existence of the biblical God?  I cannot think of too many other nations or people-groups that have survived for a long time, notwithstanding persecution, separation, attacks, and exile.  Maybe one can cite parallels, however, or offer secular reasons for why the Jews have survived as a people.

3.  It is interesting to me that God gave David so many chances to get things right—-to learn what the rapture was, to get right with God, and to be raptured—-whereas God did not offer this opportunity to so many others in the movie.  Others in the movie were clueless when the rapture happened and were left behind.  Why did David get more of a “chance” than others did?  I can somewhat sympathize with those who believe that God will give non-Christians post-mortem chances for salvation, since, in this life, not everyone has the same chance, or so it seems to me.  My Armstrongite heritage said that people will be given this chance in the new heavens and the new earth, after Christ has returned.  Some maintain that God can appear to people in a dream right before they die and offer them a chance at salvation at that point.  I don’t know who is right on this issue.  I would like to think that God loves all people and will give them an opportunity to know who he is and to accept his love.

In my case, as one who has heard the Christian message repeatedly, I wonder how I can be a Christian in the place that I am, as one who is fearful, introverted, and even a bit skeptical.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Cambridge Companion to Hume

David Fate Norton and Jacqueline Taylor, ed.  The Cambridge Companion to Hume: Second Edition.  Cambridge University Press, 2009.

David Hume was an eighteenth century Scottish philosopher.  The name stood out to me when I first encountered it because as a child I watched the Worldwide Church of God’s World Tomorrow television program, and one of its anchors was named “David Hume.”  The name of David Hume, the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, would come up quite a bit in my studies.  I read and heard that Hume was an epistemological skeptic, one who had doubts about the existence of an external world or the human ability to know it truly.  Yet, Hume was a naturalist, one who did not believe in miracles because they contradicted what we ordinarily see in nature.  The two ideas seemed to me to contradict each other: we cannot trust our ability to know the world, and yet we should trust what we ordinarily sense enough to exclude the possibility of miracles?  As I read more, another question would come to my mind about Hume.

Last month, I read and blogged about a book by a professor of philosophy whom I had as an undergraduate.  The professor was Noah Lemos, and his book that I read was entitled Common Sense: A Contemporary Defense.  Lemos was defending the Common Sense tradition of philosophy, which largely maintained that we can assume things that many people take for granted—-such as the existence of an outside world and our ability to understand it, on some level—-rather than being skeptical about these things and feeling a need to justify them before doing philosophical work.  The Common Sense tradition is often seen as contrary to David Hume’s philosophy, particularly Hume’s skepticism.  And yet, Dr. Lemos made one statement about Hume that made me wonder how seriously Hume took his epistemological skepticism.  Hume essentially acknowledged that the outside world is irresistible to us.  Sure, we may reach skeptical conclusions while we are in our study, but, once we leave our study and go out into the world, we cannot resist it.  We have a strong sense that the world is real, and we act accordingly.  Hume did not seem to believe that was a bad thing.  I wondered how Hume squared his epistemological skepticism with his idea that the outside world is irresistible to us.

Later, I read and blogged about James M. Byrne’s Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant.  Byrne’s book surprised me because it argued that Immanuel Kant was actually trying to refute David Hume’s epistemological skepticism, whereas I had long believed that Kant himself was an epistemological skeptic.  As I look at Byrne’s discussion of Hume and Kant again, I see that there were things that I did not completely absorb in my first reading, which now stand out to me.  What I got out of Byrne’s discussion in my first reading was that Hume argued that “experience is composed of a series of fragmented impressions working on our senses” (Byrne’s words, page 208), calling into question whether we can truly trust our experience.  Kant responded by focusing on human reason and by saying that we can know things as they appear to us, not as they truly are.

From Manfred Kuehn’s Kant: A Biography (see my post about this book here), I learned that Hume was essentially an empiricist, or at least overlapped with empiricism: Hume believed that what we think we know comes from our experience of the world, and that there are no a priori (prior to experience) conclusions we made.  Many would claim that math is a priori—-that its principles were true before we experienced them, and that they are true apart from our experience.  1+1=2 is just true!  But my impression is that Hume believed that we reached the conclusion that math is true on the basis of our experience and our senses, not apart from experience.  According to Kuehn, as I understood him, Kant in his early writing career radically distinguished between what we know from the senses and what we know a priori, or rationally.  Later, Kant would posit that we rationally organize and conceptualize the world around us.  As Byrne says on page 210 of Religion and the Enlightenment, Kant proposed that “the universality and necessity required for true knowledge do not come from the structure of the world, which we only know in the flux of phenomena anyway, but rather from the structure of human cognition itself.”  Kant turned his attention from the outside world to the subject, the people who through reason seek to understand and conceptualize the outside world.

These are the things that I have learned so far about Hume and Kant, and I admit that I have a long way to go and that my understanding is far from adequate or organized.  What, though, did I get out of reading The Cambridge Companion to Hume?  I decided to check this book out from the library because it looked to me to be quite lucid.  And, while there were plenty of discussions that I did not follow, there was enough repetition in the book that I could learn more about Hume’s philosophy, even if I did not always grasp the basis for his conclusions.

On epistemology, Hume was a skeptic.  He did not believe that there was any way to justify rationally or philosophically our ability to understand the outside world.  Hume also maintained that what we thought we knew came from our experience and our senses, and he doubted that these things were fully reliable or iron-clad.  According to Hume, we believe that there is cause and effect in the world because we regularly observe one thing following another, but there is no way for us to know for certain that this one thing will always follow another in the future.  Hume also referred to a previous skeptical argument that our eyes are not necessarily reliable in helping us to represent the outside world: when we push on our eye, after all, we see one object becoming two objects, even though it is still one object.  Hume also focused on impressions, as Byrne said, and, as Kant would say later, Hume maintained that we only “know” the outside world as it appears to us, not as it truly is.  Another point that Hume continually made was that we have passions inside of us.  For Hume, reason serves the passions rather than vice versa: we use reason to try to get what we want.  While Hume does not believe that all passions are bad or unruly—-he acknowledges the existence of calm passions—-my impression (and I am open to correction on this) is that he may have held that the passions get in the way of us ever being able to understand the outside world.

According to one essay in the book, however, there were skeptical arguments prior to Hume, and Hume’s project was to show us how we can move past them.  Hume, as Dr. Lemos said, believed that the outside world was irresistible, and Hume also maintained that we need to act accordingly in order to survive.  Our weakness in yielding to our senses is what saves us, according to Hume!  Why bring up reasons to doubt our senses, then, if it does not make much of a difference in how we live our lives?  According to one essay, Hume did so to teach people humility, so that they would not be so dogmatic.

I have heard some evangelicals or Christians use Humean insights to argue that it is perfectly all right for Christians to have faith, to believe in something without the basis of evidence.  After all, we accept the existence of the outside world, which cannot be proven!  We believe that certain effects follow certain causes, even though we cannot know for sure that those “effects” will always follow those “causes”!  Why, then, are Christians so wrong to believe in God and Jesus Christ, even though there is no proof that Christianity is true?  But, according to an essay in The Cambridge Companion to Hume about Hume and religion, Hume believed that the two were apples and oranges.  The outside world and the existence of cause and effect are irresistible to virtually everyone, Hume noted, whereas there are people who manage to resist believing in religion.

The essays in The Cambridge Companion to Hume about Hume’s stance on morality and religion were very interesting parts of the book, at least to me.  There were debates about the basis or origin of morality: Was God necessary for morality to exist, or is morality simply rules that people have devised in order to live together in peace?  My impression is that Hume’s stance was that morality is rooted in how humans are psychologically—-he does not locate it in human reason, but largely in human passions.  Hume disagreed with overly pessimistic conceptions of human nature—-whether that be the Christian doctrine of original sin or Hobbes’ view that human nature gravitated towards war and conflict—-for Hume thought that there was enough virtue in human beings for virtue to be conceptualized and practiced by them, on some level.  Hume also held that morality helps humans to live together in peace.

On religion, Hume objected to certain philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  I have heard his objections from atheists and even some Christians.  I one time attended a debate between Christians and atheists about the existence of God, and one of the Christians said that, if we saw a hamburger on the street, we would conclude that somebody made it, and that we should similarly conclude that God made the universe because it looks so orderly and designed.  The atheist responded: “I know that hamburgers are made because I have seen it done.  Have you ever seen universes being made?”  The idea seems to be that we cannot draw conclusions that God made the universe or that God designed the universe as it is, and the reason is that there is only one universe.  We have nothing with which to compare it.  Hume also questioned the idea that the universe demonstrates design by pointing to the bad or harmful aspects of nature: Would God design that?  Yet, in his writings, Hume still indicates that he may believe that the argument from design makes sense, on some level.  One of the essays explores the possibility that Hume did so to avoid prosecution, but it concludes that Hume truly did believe that there was something to the argument from design, flawed as it might be.

On Hume and miracles, Hume did argue against accepting the existence of miracles, or testimony for them.  The author of one of the essays asked if Hume could legitimately do this: How could Hume question the existence of cause and effect and allow for the possibility that the world may not follow certain laws or regularities in the future, on the one hand, while maintaining that people should rigidly follow their understanding and observation of natural laws, on the other hand?  Good question!

The book also contains chapters about Hume’s stance on politics, economics, and art.  These topics did not intrigue me as much as the chapters about epistemology, politics, and religion, as important as they may be to those who desire to understand David Hume and his thoughts.  The chapter about art overlaps some with Hume’s epistemology, since Hume believed that art makes an impression on us, and our passions play a role in our response to it; Hume also wrestled with how people can have different responses to art, due to their different backgrounds or culture.  The chapter about Hume’s histories was interesting to me because it touched on whether we can know that certain histories are reliable, and which parts are.  This overlaps with the question of what we should do when a historian mentions miracles.  There was one statement in particular that stood out to me in that chapter, however: A woman wrote to David Hume to tell him that his history really made her feel good about herself, for she got in touch with her virtue by feeling sorry for Charles I when he was executed.  Her reaction to Hume’s narration of that really made her feel that she was virtuous!  I’ve felt the same way in my viewing of television programs!

Good book!  I will be looking at other philosophy books in the Cambridge Companion series in the future.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Christian from Vietnam

We had a guest speaker at church this morning.  She was originally from Vietnam, and she was sharing her experiences about growing up in a poor large family in that country, as the only daughter in a society that she says did not particularly value women.

A significant part of her message was contrasting how things are in America with how things were in Vietnam.  Here in America, many people have automobiles.  In Vietnam, they are a luxury.  She also said that the clothes she was wearing would be a luxury in Vietnam.  In America, she works in a building that has an air-conditioner for hot days and a heater for cold days.  In Vietnam, at age 11, she worked in the rice fields for twelve hours each day, even when the days were really hot.  She also told us that the rice fields in Vietnam are quite different from the farms in America.  In America, we have public schools.  In Vietnam, people need money to go to school.  That somewhat surprised me: wouldn’t one expect a Communist country to be more equal than that?  These contrasts were helpful because they helped me to envision her life, a bit better.

She was also sharing with us how she became a Christian.  Essentially, her mom was a bartender, an American serviceman witnessed to her, and she in turn shared Christ with her kids.  The speaker said that she did not have a Bible as a child, so her understanding of Christ was limited.  She knew that Christ was a baby at one point and had a mother, and she would share her problems with Christ, especially after working long hours in a rice field.  Her mother also told her stories about God’s protection.  For example, the speaker was born in 1976.  The Vietnam War had ended, and yet there was still strife.  A hot piece of glass pierced her mom’s stomach, and the mom feared that she had lost her baby.  But she didn’t.

The speaker also talked about her father.  She was afraid when her father drank because he could be abusive, or she’d have to clean up his vomit.  To this day, she told us, she cannot stand the smell of alcohol.

I am glad that the elder who conducted the service invited the speaker for this morning’s service.  They know each other from work.  It is important for me to learn more about what other people have gone through.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Chronicles 7

This week, I will write about I Chronicles 7 for my weekly quiet time blog post.

I Chronicles 7 contains puzzling details.  I Chronicles 7:14 says that Manasseh had an Aramean concubine.  How could this be the case, if Manasseh was born to Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 41:51) and presumably lived his life and died there?  Egypt is far away from Aram: Egypt is to the south of Palestine, whereas Aram (Syria) is to Palestine’s north.  How did Manasseh have an Aramean concubine?

I Chronicles 7:20-29 states that certain sons of Ephraim, Joseph’s other son who was born in Egypt, were slaughtered by men of Gath (maybe Philistines) when those Ephraimites went down to take away the Gathites’ cattle.  Ephraim mourned over the death of his sons.  Why were these sons of Ephraim near Gath in Palestine, when they lived in Egypt?

What a number of biblical scholars suggest is that I Chronicles posits a strong connection between the Israelites and the land of Israel.  Consequently, whereas other biblical traditions depict the Israelites being away from the land for some time—-in Egypt, or in Babylon—-the Chronicler presents them as continually present in the land.

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, however, offers other explanations.  On how Manasseh in Egypt had an Aramean concubine, it points out that there were trade routes connecting Aram and Egypt, and Manasseh could have met the Aramean woman who became his concubine that way.

On why certain sons of Ephraim were away from Egypt and in Palestine long before the time of the Exodus, the Artscroll offers a variety of explanations, as it draws on Jewish traditions.  Within medieval Jewish tradition, there is the view that there were Philistines (Gathites) in Egypt who were dwelling near the Israelites there, and so the Ephraimites were not going all the way to Gath, but were challenging Gathites who were close to their own backyard.  Another medieval view is that I Chronicles 7:20-29 is about the Conquest after the time of the Exodus: the Ephraimites had left Egypt with the rest of Israel in the Exodus, and they ran into challenges when they came upon Gath.  But Ephraim was said to weep for his sons who died in I Chronicles 7:20-29.  Does that mean that Ephraim was actually alive by the time of the Conquest, that he had lived from the time of Joseph, through Israel’s sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus, all the way to the time of the Conquest—-a time that amounts to hundreds of years, according to some biblical traditions?  Apparently so, according to this particular interpretation.

Another view is that of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Chassid, who said that the Pharaoh allowed the descendants of Joseph to travel between Egypt and the land of Canaan.  This, according to Rabbi Yehudah, is how the Ephraimites could go to Canaan while their father Ephraim was living in Egypt.  Rabbi Yehudah also refers to I Chronicles 7:24, which states that Ephraim’s daughter built certain cities, which were probably in the land of Canaan.  Even before the Exodus and the Conquest, Rabbi Yehudah argues, the Israelites were in the land of Canaan: they failed militarily, but they managed to establish some presence there.

The story that the Artscroll most focuses on is a rabbinic explanation.  According to this tale, the Ephraimites were wrong to go into Gath and to try to take the Gathites’ cattle.  God had told Abraham that Israel would live in Egypt for hundreds of years (Genesis 15).  Joseph told Israelites they were to leave at the time of the Exodus (Genesis 50:25-26).  The sons of Ephraim, however, had royal blood, were proud, and did not want to stay in Egypt until the time of the Exodus, and so they went to the Promised Land long before the right time, depending on their own strength rather than God.  They got slaughtered.  Hundreds of years later, at the time of the Exodus, God decided not to lead the departing Israelites in the path of the Philistines because of that bad experience that the Ephraimites had long before (see Exodus 13:17).  The tale states that God did not want the departing Israelites to see the bones of the dead Ephraimites and to become discouraged, so God led them by an alternative route.

These are interesting explanations of the puzzling details of I Chronicles 7.  Perhaps there are lessons here about doing things in the right season.  Of course, the problem here is that this can become an excuse for inactivity: people being reluctant to take a step, out of fear that it is not the right season.  I would say that a decent approach would be to look at open doors, test the waters, and take a step, if that looks prudent.  All the while, try to be sensitive to where God may be leading.

I think that Rabbi Yehudah highlighted an important detail in referring to I Chronicles 7:24: sure, the sons of Ephraim failed in their attempt at Conquest, but a daughter of Ephraim built cities in the land of Canaan.  Even if the dreams of Israel were not to be realized fully at that time, they could be partially realized, and in a peaceful manner.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Kenneth Copeland Waiting for the Dentist...

I was listening to preacher Kenneth Copeland a couple days ago.  He told a story about when he was sitting in the waiting room to see the dentist, and he overheard two dental assistants talking.  The first said that she asked God for patience, and the second replied that she should go to God and take that back, for now God will put her through all kinds of turmoil to teach her patience!

Kenneth Copeland did not agree with the second woman.  He said that God corrects us through his word and out of love, whereas the woman was seeing God as rather harsh and untrustworthy.  He also stated that the woman was mixing the law-oriented system of the Old Covenant with the (presumably grace-oriented) New Covenant.  Copeland was about to say something to the second woman, he narrates, but he said that God told him to keep his mouth shut!

I liked this story for three reasons:

1. I never cared for the platitude that we should never pray for patience because God would then put us through horrible experiences to teach us patience.  I agree with what Kenneth Copeland said about this in his sermon: it doesn’t present a very flattering picture of God!  But because that platitude is somewhere in my mind, it discourages me from praying for patience.  The thing is, I need patience: the ability to stay inwardly and outwardly calm when I am not getting my own way.  I have reached a compromise: rather than simply asking God for patience, I ask that God might give me calm and peace through specific situations.  God does not have to manufacture those situations to teach me patience.  The situations are already there, and I am asking God to help me to cope with them.

Platitudes that comfort some people may turn other people off.  I one time heard somebody say that he never cared for the platitude of “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  He did not think that God laughed at his plans!  He put a lot of thought into his plans, as we all should do!  Why would God laugh at that?

The platitudes may be getting at something edifying, though.  God may teach us patience by giving us things to be patient about.  Or God may have plans for us that differ from our own plans, and that we did not anticipate.  But these platitudes can be taken in directions that are not exactly edifying, at least not to everyone.

2.  I could somewhat identify with what Copeland said about law and God’s grace.  He could have fleshed it out some more, and he may have elsewhere.  But my impression is that there are many versions of Christianity that mix law and God’s grace.  They may proclaim, “God is loving, but…” or “We are saved by grace, but…”   They believe that God forgives, but they also see God as one who condemns people for their flaws and does not fully accept them.  It is almost as if people need to pass some test to get God’s approval.  Christians who love to focus on grace, however, maintain that there is no test: God accepts us.  Our goal now should be to grow spiritually within the context of God’s acceptance.

It is not the case that Copeland dismisses moral standards.  As he said, God corrects us through his word and out of love.  God has to have standards if God is to correct us according to them.  But keeping the law is not the pathway to getting God’s acceptance, for nobody is perfect in keeping the law.  Rather, for Copeland, God offers his acceptance freely through Jesus Christ.  God does not condemn believers for their sin, I presume is the case in this model, but God corrects them.

I can see some wisdom to this.  I question how biblical it is, though.  Perhaps it is consistent with aspects of Paul’s thought.  But, this morning, I was thinking about Jesus’ statement that the narrow way leads to life or salvation, and that only a few will find it (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24).  I recalled listening to a tape in which Lordship salvation advocate John MacArthur was responding to someone who claimed that, if Lordship salvation (only those who obey Jesus as Lord are saved) is true, then only a few people will be saved.  MacArthur’s response was that this is exactly what Jesus said was the case: narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it!  I had to laugh at MacArthur’s wit and use of Scripture to refute a Christian thinker.  But it kind of splashes cold water on any notion I have that Christianity is about a God of unconditional love.  I feel as if I need to keep some law to be assured of salvation, and that does not make me feel that good, for I am far from perfect, or even righteous, for that matter!  Maybe there are ways to understand Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:23-24 in manners that are consistent with God’s love and grace.

3.  Copeland said that God in the waiting room told him to keep his mouth shut.  I find that to be appropriate for certain situations.  Even if I am right, people do not need to hear me express my right opinion in every situation.  I had to respect Copeland’s humility in recognizing that it was not the time or the place for people to hear his opinion, in that setting.

There are times, though, when I am silent and I later wish that I had said something.  In a Bible study group, for example, I may choose to refrain from mentioning my doubts about Christianity as we discuss a devotional DVD about Jesus’ life.  I do not want to disturb the spiritual flow or rain on people’s parade.  But, when people in the group later express that they are baffled that there are people who believe differently from them about Christianity, they fail to acknowledge that there are reasons for other points of view, they manifest an “us vs. them” mindset, they scream “persecution,” or they wage the culture wars (i.e., about people saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”), I may have to say something.  I hope that I have the courage to do so.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Does God Only Hear Christians' Prayers?

I was watching some sermons yesterday.  The first one was by Joel Osteen.  The second was by Kenneth Copeland.  And the third was by Charles Stanley.

I liked the first two sermons.  The third, however, troubled me immensely.  Charles Stanley’s sermon was about solving problems through prayer, and Stanley said at least three times that prayer will not work for those who have not accepted Jesus Christ.  Yes, God is unconditionally loving, Stanley was saying, but God will not overlook sin, pride, and rebellion.  The promises of God are for the children of God, Stanley affirmed.  How can one call God “Father,” while rejecting God’s very own son?

I am not sure what to say about this.  It has a ring of truth to it.  Yeah, I have a hard time envisioning God overlooking my sins.  And, if Jesus is God’s son, God would love and value him and presumably would not honor the prayers of those who reject him.  Or would he?  I can also picture God meeting people where they are, even if they have not quite crossed the threshold into Christianity.  But is God in the business of maintaining long-standing relationships with non-Christians?  If so, why believe in Jesus Christ, if one can have a relationship with God apart from him?

But there is a part of me that does not think that what Charles Stanley is saying is true.  For one, how do I know that Jesus is God’s son?  He could have been an apocalyptic prophet who was wrong about the imminence of the apocalypse!  Even if Christian apologetic arguments that Jesus rose from the dead hold water, I don’t think that solves everything, for there is still so much subjectivity in how people portray, conceptualize, and see Jesus.  “Jesus is authoritative because he rose from the dead,” a Christian apologist might say.  Okay, but which Jesus are we talking about?  In my experience, even conservative Christians downplay or ignore the parts of Scripture that do not agree with their image of Jesus.

Second, it seems to me that people can experience the supernatural outside of a Christian context.  Non-Christians in AA say that they do.  A professor once told me of God’s answers to the prayers of a devout Jewish person.  There are Muslims who have a similar testimony about themselves.  People seek guidance from tarot cards and get messages that sound as wise and reasonable as the answers that Christians claim to receive from God through prayer.  A conservative Christian may attribute that to Satan.  But do we really want to go down that route?  If Satan can do positive spiritual things for people, then how can Christians argue for Christianity by appealing to their positive spiritual experiences?  Could not a Jewish person attribute Christianity to God sending a deceptive false prophet to test his people’s faithfulness, as some Jews argue (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)?

I’ve made these sorts of points before on this blog, and they have been in my mind over the past seven years, or so.  Still, I am not satisfied.  Granted, I can say that God works in the lives of non-Christians.  But that is me looking at others.  What I wonder is if God listens to my prayers.  To be honest, I do not know.  I have long felt that God does not know my address.  Conservative Christians can easily prey on that.  They may say that God does not hear my prayers because I do not fit their definition of a Christian.  They may tell me that I should accept Christ as my Savior and/or Lord (depending on if they believe in Lordship salvation), then I will feel God.  Then I will see results.

For one, will I necessarily?  Charles Stanley was encouraging and advising Christians who believe that God was not listening to them.  Granted, he said that we want to know Jesus beyond Jesus being our Lord and Savior—-that we want to experience God in our day-to-day lives.  But my impression is that there are a number of Christians who do not think that they are doing so, and that is one reason that Charles Stanley preached that sermon.  A number of Christians do, but a number don’t.

Second, I said the sinner’s prayer years ago.  I was baptized.  People who act as if the sinner’s prayer is the end-all-be-all should address how people can say it, yet see no spiritual results.  Did these people say the sinner’s prayer and not truly mean it?  How can one get to the point where he or she means it?  I’ve been watching Christian movies, and Christian characters say that all people have to do to have God in their lives is to ask God.  Really?  Is that all?  Why, then, are there people who push the Jesus button, and nothing happens?  Why are there people who say the sinner’s prayer and later drift away from the faith, or even deliberately walk away from it?  Some Christians say those people did not experience God.  If that is the case, why didn’t they experience God?

I felt alienated from God when I was a conservative Christian, and also today.  I drank a lot when I was a conservative Christian, some of it for spiritual and religious reasons, and some of it for other reasons.  In any case, I was self-medicating to feel at peace, for I was not feeling that peace through Christianity.  I cannot say that I feel completely at peace today, but at least today I do not feel that I am ignoring or contorting facts to fit a preconceived theology.  I wish that I could say that I am more tolerant today than I was as a conservative Christian, but that is not exactly the case: now I demonize conservative Christians rather than liberals!

I can look back at my time as a conservative Christian and say that there were times when I felt emotional ecstasy as I prayed and read my Bible.  I felt that the Holy Spirit was illuminating the Bible for me.  Nowadays, I look back at the interpretations of Scripture that I believed were Spirit-led, and I am very reluctant to say that they were God’s authoritative interpretation of the biblical text.  They look to me in retrospect like my own biased readings.  I can say the same about some of the “Spirit-led” interpretations of Scripture by other Christians.  Some of them base their interpretations on an English translation, and their interpretations disagree with the Greek.  Are their interpretations from God?  Well, I cannot thoroughly dismiss that—-the Christian God, after all, supposedly used the Septuagint, which disagrees with the Hebrew text in places.  But I also would not bet money on it.

Anyway, those are my ramblings for the day.  Trollish comments will not be published.  I will define what is trollish.  I also probably will not get to the comments until tomorrow morning.  On my blogger blog, that means that they will not be published until then.  On my WordPress blog, that means that they will appear on my blog if you have commented here before, but, if this is your first time commenting, you will have to wait to see your comment appear.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In My Dreams; In Love with a Church Girl; the Hiding Place

I will be writing about three movies today: In My Dreams, I’m in Love with a Church Girl, and The Hiding Place.

1.  In My Dreams.

In My Dreams was the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie this past Sunday.  It is about a man and a woman who dream about each other after casting coins into an enchanted wishing well.  Will they find each other in real life?

This was an all right movie, I guess.  I think that the average Internet Movie Database rating of seven out of ten stars is way too generous, but the movie was pleasant to watch.  I was rooting for the man and the woman to find each other in real life, and, as one might expect from a movie like this, there are times when they are in the same place and just miss each other.

I had a slightly difficult time identifying with the main characters.  Their problem was not finding dates, for the man got lots of calls, and the woman got one.  Their challenge was finding the right person.  Still, each was dealing with some sort of burnout or malaise.  The man was recovering from his girlfriend cheating on him, and the woman was mourning the death of her mother, who founded the restaurant that she now owns.
The woman, Natalie, was sweet and pretty.  The man, played by Mike Vogel, who plays Barbie in Under the Dome, was an all right character, I guess.  I did not feel much after watching this movie, as I did after the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Remember Sunday.  Still, it wasn’t bad.  It was just a bit hollow.

2.  I’m In Love with a Church Girl.

This was a 2013 Christian movie.  It’s about a wealthy ex-drug dealer named Miles, who falls in love with a devoutly religious girl, Vanessa.  Stephen Baldwin plays a gruff DEA agent, who at first is eager to take Miles down, yet roots for Miles from a distance as Miles attends church.  Martin Kove, who played the villainous Sinsei John Creese in Karate Kid, has a role as the cynical, moody leader of the DEA agents.

The romance between Miles and Vanessa was all right.  I somewhat liked Miles, who came across as a friendly guy who was loyal to his friends and cared for the people in his life.  Miles was stepping out of character by dating a church girl, and that was refreshing.  The fact that the Stephen Baldwin character was rooting for Miles to succeed in walking the straight and narrow was another plus to the movie.

The movie would have been much better had it stayed with the same pastor, however.  When Miles and Vanessa first attend church, Miles meets the pastor, who is dressed like a rapper and is played by the guy on whom Miles is based.  Miles is surprised because he never saw a pastor like this before!  The pastor shares with Miles his testimony and tells Miles that he hopes he will see Miles again.  But we never see this pastor again in the movie, and the pastor is replaced with a tall white guy in a suit and tie!  The movie would have been better had the rapper pastor mentored Miles.

3.  The Hiding Place.

This is a 1975 movie.  It is about the Ten Boom family, which sheltered Jews from the Nazis in Holland and later went to a concentration camp.  Much of the Ten Boom family died there, but Corrie was released due to a clerical error.  The Ten Boom family was devoutly Christian, which was why they sheltered Jews, stood up for human dignity before the Nazis, and even prayed that the Nazis might become receptive to God.  Corrie Ten Boom still struggled to love the Nazis, at times, which is definitely understandable.  One line in the movie is that God is deeper than any deep pit.  I would like to believe that, and perhaps the way that Corrie Ten Bloom did so was by leaving her questions with God.  I admire how the Ten Booms sought to trust and follow God and be a light in the worst circumstances.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Write-Up: What Works, by Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas.  What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Cal Thomas is a conservative syndicated columnist.  In What Works, Thomas bemoans what be believes are problems in America, and he proposes solutions.  The “problems” include reliance on government, sexual immorality, family breakdown, and radical Islam.  Thomas’ “solutions” include tax cuts, school choice, and spiritual revival.  Thomas maintains that his conservative beliefs are what works—-that many of them have worked in the past, and they can work now.

Thomas depicts himself in the book as one who is above the partisan fray, as one who believes that we should focus on what works rather than who gets the credit.  Yet, Thomas so often in the book criticizes Democrats and liberals.  The book, in my opinion, would have been much better had Thomas sought common ground with Democrats and liberals, or at least acknowledged the good things (according to his worldview) that Democrats and liberals are doing.  There are Democrats and progressives who are for helping poor people to find work, who are open to school choice, and who support reducing the number of abortions.  Thomas praised the other side (if you will), on some level, when he lauded the Nordics for entitlement reform and for bringing down their national debt.  If only I had seen more of this attitude in the book.

The book had some parts that I really appreciated.  Thomas told inspiring stories, stressed the need to help unemployed poor people find training and support so they can enter the work force, and promoted a justice system focused more on restoration than locking people up.  Progressives will probably disagree with a lot of what Thomas says and how he says it, but my hunch is that they will agree with him on some points.

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.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Write-Up: Kant, by Manfred Kuehn

Manfred Kuehn.  Kant: A Biography.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

From the time that I was an undergraduate until now, the eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant has been with me.  I’ve heard or read such things as: “Kant refuted the arguments for the existence of God.”  “Kant offered a moral argument for the existence of God.”  “Kant did not believe time and space are real.”  “Kant did not believe in cause and effect.”  “Your defense of our ability to know the outside world and talk about it objectively can be knocked down by a neo-Kantian!”  “Kant was not an epistemological skeptic but was trying to refute Humean skepticism.”  “We don’t need God to have morality, for Kant offered his own basis for morality: you refrain from doing what you don’t want everyone else to do.”  “Kant was absolutist when it came to ethics.”  “Kant said you should stick with moral principles out of duty, regardless of what you feel.”  “Kant said Abraham should have disobeyed God when God told him to sacrifice his son.”  “Our universe is an orderly machine, as Kant said.”  “Kant was so orderly that people set their clocks according to his daily walks.”  “That guy is not sophisticated enough to understand Kant.”  “You don’t understand Kant.”  “It’s pronounced ‘KOnt,’ not ‘KAnt!’”  “I have a philosophy joke: Who was the greatest philosopher?  I Kant remember!  Ha ha.”

I wondered what exactly Kant believed, for so many things that I read and heard about him seemed contradictory.  I have been particularly curious about Kant’s epistemology—-his view about whether or not we are able to understand the outside world and to talk about it accurately—-and also Kant’s stance regarding religion.  Perhaps I could have read his works on reason: I picked up a book that contained some of Kant’s prominent works at a library giveaway a while back.  But many will agree with me that Kant is not easy to read (though I do remember translating a sample from one of his books about reason for a German class, and I did not find the passage particularly difficult to translate).  I thought that, if I read a biography about Kant, maybe I would get to know him better, and the biography would effectively communicate what his philosophy was, within Kant’s historical context.  I went to a library and saw that shelf after shelf was devoted to Kant: there were more books about Kant in that library than there were about David Hume!  I thumbed through various books.  Many of the ones that I looked at had thick prose.  Manfred Kuehn’s Kant: A Biography attracted me, however, for its prose appeared lucid, accessible, and engaging.  The few pages that I looked at while I was perusing it read like other biographies I have read and enjoyed, ones about Nixon and Reagan.  I decided to check the book out.  “Maybe now I will finally understand Kant!,” I thought.

Do I now understand Kant, after having read Kuehn’s book?  Well, I think that I know Kant better as a person.  As far as Kant’s philosophy is concerned, I’m still hazy, and I figure that I need to read more books to get more of a sense of where Kant was coming from.

Kuehn disagrees with many other biographies of Kant.  There are biographies of Kant that depict him as extremely introverted, unsociable, unwilling to engage other scholars in discussion, misogynistic, cold, orderly, stingy, and shut off from the wider world.  Kuehn attempts to account for these portrayals, as he offers evidence that Kant was sociable and engaged other scholars.  While Kant never married and maybe never even had sex, he had female friends, and he did not marry because he never found the right time.  Kant could also be generous, according to Kuehn.  While I would probably identify with Kant more had he been introverted and unsociable—-he would then be another inspiring example to an Aspergian like me—-I could relate to Kant’s struggles to find a foothold within academia, with all of its rivalries and judgments.

Regarding philosophy, Kuehn’s book is useful for those who would like summaries of the various stages of Kant’s thought and works.  I am still hazy about Kant’s thought, however, for a variety of reasons.  For one, Kant changed his mind about things.  Earlier, for example, Kant radically distinguished between what we know empirically and what we know rationally (a priori, prior to experience).  Later on, he appeared to conflate the two.  Second, the way people understood and characterized what Kant was saying was not necessarily how he himself understood what he was saying.  Kant was accused of being an atheist and a dangerous epistemological skeptic, when Kant viewed his project differently.  Third, Kant seemed to me to be all over the map in what he said.  On some things, he seemed to me to contradict himself, and yet there were times when he could hold those apparently contradictory concepts together with some nuance.  I think specifically of his support for the American and French revolutions, even though he wrote against the idea that people can revolt against their government.  Fourth, Kant did not always believe in what he wrote.  While, in his writings, he was rather open to the existence of God and immortality, he personally was very skeptical about these things, according to Kuehn.  My impression is that Kant was interested in religion in terms of its social consequences: its promotion of morality and social well-being.

I think that Kuehn could have explained better what was at stake in many of the philosophical discussions of the day.  Kuehn is effective when he describes the interaction between Kant and other philosophers and the political systems of that time.  But I often felt that I was reading about philosophical discussions and did not fully understand the significance of what I was reading.  In my opinion, Kuehn would have done well to have included a glossary of philosophical terms, such as pre-established harmony and idealism.  Pre-established harmony comes up often in Kuehn’s book.  Kant had a pietist evangelical background, which he did not exactly hate or scorn, and the pietists loathed a prominent philosopher named Christian Wolff because Wolff believed in pre-established harmony, which they took to imply fatalism.  Kant appeared to be open to pre-established harmony, however.  I am not entirely sure what pre-established harmony was, or why the pietists hated that concept so much.  It is associated with Leibniz, who held that our world is the best possible world, so maybe that is relevant to pre-established harmony.  Regarding idealism, my hazy impressions are that it either maintained that all of the world is in the mind of God, or that it is in human minds, but I should do more reading about that.  According to Kuehn, Kant was accused of being an idealist, but Kant believed that he was refuting idealism!

I had moments of lucidity in reading Kuehn’s discussion about Kant’s philosophy.  According to Kuehn, Kant said that we know things by how they appear to us, not according to how they actually are.  That makes a degree of sense to me!  Kant also discussed contradictions within reason.  Kant may not have taken these insights into the realm of complete epistemological skepticism: perhaps Kant was critical in his analysis of reason, not thoroughly skeptical.

There were some aspects of Kant’s thought that I found interesting.  For instance, Kant was critical of looking for a Golden Age (perhaps a supernatural one), for he believed that the evil in this world was somehow necessary in our progress and maturation.

Overall, I could identify with what one thinker quoted in the book said about Kant’s works: it takes thirty years to understand them, and then one has to wait another thirty years before one is qualified to comment on them!

As I said, I will need to read more.  The next book that I will read is the Cambridge Companion to David Hume, and it looks very lucid to me.  The Cambridge Companion series advertises itself as such—-as accessible books that break down complex thoughts for readers.  I notice that there are Cambridge Companion books about the German Idealists, Kant, and the influence of Kant’s thought.  I may read those books in the future—-not immediately, but in the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

For Easter, I went to Catholic mass with my Mom and step-Dad last night, and I went to my Presbyterian church this morning.  I am not sure what to get out of these services as someone who is not entirely sure what he believes.  I will say, though, that I enjoyed the music at the Catholic service last night—-both the powerful Catholic songs, and also the evangelical (as far as I know) song, “As the Deer.”

This morning’s service was interesting.  The Pastor Emeritus’ grandkids were there, and they livened up the children’s part of the service with their comments.  It was like an episode of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” (remember that show?).  The pastor’s sermon was all right.  It reminded me of how death is an inevitability, and that is why people desire an afterlife.  I am a fairly young man, so I have not yet experienced seeing my parents, siblings, cousins, and peers dying around me.  My grandparents are still alive.  Death seems to me to be a long way off, but it will someday be a reality to me.  I can somewhat understand why there are people who celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as a sign that death is defeated and there will be an afterlife.  I do not think that one has to have a conservative Christian perspective to believe in an afterlife, however, for there are other afterlife beliefs out there: ghosts, reincarnation, etc.

During the prayer part of the service, someone expressed concern about atheists’ attacks on Christians.  She said that there are more Christians than atheists, yet atheists somehow manage to wage their attacks.  The pastor responded in agreement, saying that there is a creationist radio program that he likes to listen to, and an atheist web site is responding to that program with “inaccurate things about creation” (my pastor’s words, according to my memory).  The pastor prayed that Christians might be able to drown out the atheists’ voices with the message that Christ lives.

I had a hard time identifying with any of this.  It is not because I like atheist trolls—-I don’t, and I will not publish their comments here (as I will not publish comments from fundamentalist Christian trolls).  But I can identify with atheist arguments.  I think that they have the upper hand on the creation/evolution debate.  On the Bible, however, I find them to be a mixed bag.  They make a decent case that the Bible is not inerrant and perfect, and they also raise interesting questions and notice a lot of weird details that few others notice or mention.  But a good number of them believe that Jesus did not exist, contrary to what the vast majority of biblical scholars say, and these atheists are such know-it-alls about it.

In any case, I think that a better approach is to listen to people’s cases, not to drown them out with louder, zealous voices.

I rarely pray that people might change their beliefs.  I used to do that as a conservative Christian, but I don’t anymore.  One reason is that I cannot picture a lot of people I know changing their beliefs.  For example, I cannot picture my Mom becoming a conservative Christian.  I cannot picture my Dad voting.  They are who they are.  They hold their ideas for the reasons that they do.  They’ve held the same ideas for years.

But I can picture certain people becoming open to change, given the right settings.  My pastor, for example, interacts with other pastors (some of whom are rather liberal) and is close friends with an academic who has written books about theology.  My pastor participates in interfaith dialogue.  If I were to tell him why I tend to agree with atheists rather than fundamentalists on evolution and the Bible’s errancy, I am not sure if he would be that receptive.  My communication skills are not always the best, and I can easily come across as a bitter village atheist with an ax to grind about religion.  But if my pastor were to discuss these questions with people who are thoughtful and gentle, and who have managed to keep their faith and live lives of spirituality amidst the challenges and ambiguities, that would make a world of difference, I think.

Anyway, those are my musings for the day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Write-Up: Lone Star Trail, by Darlene Franklin

Darlene Franklin.  Lone Star Trail.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011.

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

Lone Star Trail is part of the Texas Trails series, also known as the Morgan Family Series.  This series focuses on the Morgan family in nineteenth century Texas.  The books are connected with each other, yet each of them can be read alone, without knowledge of the other books.  Lone Star Trail is about Jud Morgan.  Jud’s brother Calder was the father of Raleigh, who is one of the main characters in Vickie McDonough’s Long Trail Home.

In Lone Star Trail, Jud Morgan is upset because German immigrants are settling in Texas.  Their language and customs are different from his own, and he believes that they are trying to fashion Texas in their own image.  Due to a series of events, a German family, the Fleischers, ends up staying with the Morgans, and Jud is somewhat attracted to Wande, who is part of that German family.  As far as I could see, Jud in the book never has a dramatic epiphany in which he concludes that his prejudice is wrong, nor was there a part of the book in which Jud accepted Christ and made a dramatic turnaround in his life.  Jud was already a Christian, trying to live according to Christian ethics yet often finding himself getting in the way.  Jud’s prejudice was lessened as he spent time with the Fleischers and saw that they were people like him, and that they were hard-working and had integrity.  Moreover, the romance between Jud and Wande was very low-key, and the ending of the book was not particularly rosy but highlighted that “The Morgan family would face the future—-together” (page 284).  All of these were reasons that I loved this book.

The book has loveable characters (except for Tom Cotton, and there were times when I liked even him).  In addition, the church is not prejudiced and welcomes outsiders, as the church should do.  If I have a favorite part of the book, it is Jud’s proposal to Wande: “I’m not perfect, and I can’t promise I’ll always say the right thing or do the right thing.  But I can promise you that I will always love you…with all my heart” (page 281).

Excellent book!

I Chronicles 6

I have two items for my blog post today about I Chronicles 6.

1.  The note on v 8 in the HarperCollins Study Bible states that the high priest Zadok “is made a descendant of Aaron by identifying his father as Ahitub (the grandfather of Abiathar, another high priest at the time of David…).”

This confused me.  I was aware of the scholarly view that Zadok was a Jebusite who became a high priest under David and Solomon, and the Chronicler tied Zadok to the line of Aaron out of the conviction that only sons of Aaron could be high priests.  But I was unaware that the Chronicler was saying that Zadok’s father was the grandfather of Abiathar, the other high priest during David’s reign, whom the Zadokites would fully supplant after Abiathar sided with Adonijah rather than Solomon for the monarchy of Israel (I Kings 2).  My impression was that Zadok and Abiathar were descended from different sons of Aaron, not that they had the common descendant of Ahitub.  Zadok was descended from Aaron’s son, Eleazar whereas Abiathar was descended from Aaron’s son Ithamar (I Chronicles 24:3).  Granted, this does create some bumps in the Bible.  You have God promising Eleazar’s son Phinehas an everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:13), and Phinehas is the prominent priest in Joshua and Judges.  Yet, you also have God saying that he appointed the father of Eli, who descends from Ithamar, to be priest back when Israel was in Egypt (I Samuel 2:28).  Abiathar was descended from Eli, and so, when Abiathar lost the high priesthood, that fulfilled the prophecy that the house of Eli would lose the high priesthood on account of the sins of Eli’s sons (I Kings 2:27).  So which son of Aaron did God originally prefer for the high priesthood over Israel: Eleazar or Ithamar?  It seems to me that one perspective in the Bible said Eleazar, whereas another perspective said Ithamar.  I suppose that one can harmonize, if one wishes: it was never promised that Phinehas would be high priest, and the father of Eli in I Samuel 2:28 could be Levi (from whom Aaron and all of the Levites descended), not Ithamar specifically.  But I think that there is good reason to believe that there are two perspectives in the Hebrew Bible about whom God originally chose to be high priest.

I disagree with the note on I Chronicles 6:8 in the HarperCollins Study Bible, for I do not think that the Ahitub who was the father of Zadok was supposed to be the same Ahitub who was the grandfather of Abiathar.  There is no indication in I Chronicles 6 that such was the case, for Abiathar is not mentioned there.  Rather, I believe that the father of Zadok and the grandfather of Abiathar were two different Ahitubs.  Why not?  The same names pop up more than once in I Chronicle’s genealogy, so two people could have had the same name!

2.  In I Chronicles 6, Elkanah the father of Samuel is said to descend from the tribe of Levi, whereas I Samuel 1:1 depicts Elkanah as an Eprathite who lived in Ephraim.  I think that I have read some commentators who have suggested that the Chronicler ties Samuel to the Levites because he did not think that a non-Levite could do the priestly sorts of things that Samuel did in I Samuel.  I am not entirely convinced by that, though.  Samuel in I Chronicles 6 does not descend from Aaron, the only family from whom high priests could come, according to P.  Actually, Samuel descends from Korah, the Levite who launched a revolt against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16!  (Korah’s father in I Chronicles 6 has a different name from what he has in the Pentateuch, but there is enough overlap between Korah’s genealogy in I Chronicles 6 and his genealogy in Exodus 6:24, that they are probably the same Korah.)

The note on I Samuel 1:1 in the HarperCollins Study Bible states that Samuel is given a Levitical Kohathite ancestry in I Chronicles 6 because that would entitle Samuel to perform the responsibilities that he does in I Samuel 2-3, specifically surrounding the Ark of the Covenant.  Maybe, but does that entitle Samuel to offer the sacrifices that he does?  Was that right not restricted to Aaronides, according to P and the Chronicler?  I did a search, and there are passages in I Chronicles in which only Aaronides sacrifice whereas the other Levites do grunt work, help with the slaughter, or perform other responsibilities (i.e, carrying, music), whereas there are other passages in which Levites minister to God, which presumably includes sacrificing.  I wrote a post about that here.  Perhaps the Chronicler is making Samuel a Levite to make his priestly work acceptable, though I think that he would have done so more effectively had he made Samuel an Aaronide.  Or maybe the Chronicler was not trying to address how Samuel could do priestly things.  I read in Roddy Braun’s Word Biblical Commentary on I Chronicles that the Chronicler may have noticed that Exodus 6:24 mentions an Elkanah who was the son of Korah, and so he decided to attach Elkanah the father of Samuel to Korah’s line.  You may notice all those Elkanah’s in I Chronicles 6!

Another note: Elkanah, the father of Samuel, lived in Ephraim.  According to I Chronicles 6:66, there were Kohathites—-the Levitical family with which I Chronicles 6 associates Elkanah the father of Samuel—-who lived in Ephraim.  Maybe the Chronicler is trying to explain how Elkanah could be a Levite yet live in Ephraim, or perhaps Elkanah really was a Levite who lived in Ephraim, but I Samuel, for some reason, did not tell us that Elkanah was a Levite.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Crossroads; I Am Gabriel; Long Walk to Freedom

I watched three movies recently: Crossroads, I Am Gabriel, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  The first and the third are not explicitly Christian movies, whereas the second one is.

1.  Crossroads: A Story of Forgiveness.

Crossroads is said to be a Christian movie on some web sites, but actually it is a 2007 Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie, which is based on a true story.  In this movie, Dean Cain plays a construction worker named Bruce Murakami, whose wife and adopted daughter die in an automobile accident when a car races into their vehicle.  There are conflicting eyewitness reports about what happened, and the police are blaming Bruce’s wife.  Bruce wants to see justice for his family, so he hires a cynical defense attorney, Erin (played by Peri Gilpin from Frasier).  After great reluctance, Erin helps Bruce to investigate.  They learn that the accident occurred because someone was racing his car.

Justin, a teenager, was the guilty racer, and he faces becoming a convicted felon and spending thirty years of his life in jail.  Bruce initially wants for Justin to get the maximum punishment, but then he decides to meet with Justin, and Justin reminds him of his own son.  Bruce and Justin agree to speak at high schools about the accident to warn high school students not to race, since that can hurt somebody.  Bruce’s younger son is initially upset that his mother and little sister are being used in some educational presentation, but he changes his mind after he carelessly rides his bike out of the driveway without looking and is hit by a van.  Bruce decides to reduce the charges and to keep Justin from being labeled a felon, and Bruce and Justin continue to speak at high schools.

This is a decent movie about bringing good out of bad.  That does not make the bad any less bad, by any means, but it is a constructive way to move forward, both for the victims and also the person who caused the accident.  The victims are dealing with pain at their loss, and the person who caused the accident is dealing with feelings of guilt that he can never completely atone for.  Bruce forgave Justin, but in a manner that entailed restoration and making a positive difference in the world.

2.  I Am Gabriel.

I Am Gabriel is a 2012 Christian movie.  In this movie, a town becomes depressed after a woman loses her baby, along with her ability to have children.  Rain is scarce, and the economy is sluggish.  In the midst of this, a boy named Gabe comes into the town carrying a prayer mat and solemn proclamations.  Gabe encourages people to pray and reminds them of God’s love.  He knows people’s stories.  He is a conduit through which God brings rain, heals a girl of her near-blindness, and raises a lady from the dead.  The town experiences revival, as things get better and people pray on prayer mats.

The doctor, played by John Schneider, senses from the outset that Gabe was sent by God.  The sheriff, played by Dean Cain, is skeptical, and he does not believe in God on account of the death of his wife.  When the sheriff confronts Gabe in front of the local church’s congregation, Gabe exhorts him not to let his own anger blind him to what God is doing.  Gabe then reveals himself to be the angel Gabriel.

I pretty much agree with the average rating for this movie on the Internet Movie Database: five out of ten stars.  It was not a good movie, though it’s chilling, solemn music managed to stay with me after I was done watching it.  The movie is thought-provoking, however, because it confronts me with the questions of what keeps me from joining what God is doing, and if I can even change myself so as to participate in God’s alleged work.

By the way, Dean Cain has appeared in more than one Christian movie, and I have wondered what his own spiritual beliefs are.  In an interview with Beliefnet, he states the following, as he discusses a movie he was in, The Way Home, in which a community comes together and prays.  He explores different beliefs about God’s activity in the world and says that he prays and tries to follow the Golden Rule, even though he is not part of any organized religion.

3.  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

This is a 2013 movie about the life of Nelson Mandela.  It goes from his youth, through his imprisonment, to his release from prison and his efforts to rebuild South Africa.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the movie was his relationship with his wife, Winnie, who was a leader in the struggle against Apartheid while Nelson was in prison.  In the end, she chose violent revolution, whereas Nelson chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the two parted ways.  While I have long tended to demonize Winnie, I could sympathize with her more as I watched this movie, even though I admire Nelson’s approach much more.  She was a regular person who was propelled to political activism through her own suffering and the suffering of her husband.  This is a good movie, and the soundtrack made it even better.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Billy: The Early Years

I watched Billy: The Early Years, which was a 2008 movie about the early years of renowned evangelist Billy Graham.

The character in the movie who tells the story about Billy Graham’s early years is Charles Templeton, whose older self is played by Martin Landau.  I knew the name “Charles Templeton” on account of a documentary that I saw a while back that was hosted by Christian apologist Lee Strobel, who interviewed him.  Essentially, Templeton was a Christian evangelist and close friend to Billy Graham, but he lost his Christian faith.  I was hoping that Billy: The Early Years would get into that topic, since I am interested in the stories of people who gain, lose, or change their beliefs about religion.

Templeton is an old man on his hospital bed, and he is being interviewed by a reporter, who is played by Lindsay Wagner.  Templeton vacillates between rants and charming coherence, and I did not understand why exactly the movie was portraying him in that way, for he came across as low-key and reasonable on the Lee Strobel documentary that I watched.  Was the movie suggesting that Templeton went off the deep end or opened himself up to demons because he left the Christian faith?  The thing is, while the movie portrayed him as rather arrogant about his preaching abilities and in-your-face with his unbelief, it did not depict him as one who left Christianity due to a moral or spiritual flaw that he personally had, as a number of Christians see those who leave the faith.  Rather, in the movie, Templeton’s reasons for leaving Christianity were intellectual, and maybe even understandable: he wondered how a good God could permit the Holocaust, he found biblical stories (Jonah and the sun standing still in the time of Joshua) to be unscientific and hard to believe, he thought that the Bible contained lacunae and contradictions, he speculated that the biblical authors were regular people trying to find answers in life, he acknowledged other beliefs out there besides Christianity, and he felt that Christianity was too simplistic in light of an increasingly complex world.  In the movie, Billy publicly praises Templeton for his integrity in resigning the ministry rather than preaching a faith that he did not accept.

Templeton goes back to Billy’s youth, when Billy was working on his father’s dairy farm.  Billy’s parents were religious, but Billy was not.  When a traveling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, was coming to town for a revival, Billy mocks him as just another preacher wanting to fleece the flock.  But Billy’s father encourages him to go hear the preacher for himself rather than basing his opinions on what others tell him.  So Billy goes to the revival, and Dr. Ham starts to preach directly at Billy.  He says that Billy has an emptiness in his life that girls and fancy cars cannot fill.  He says that there are times when Billy’s heart is full of love, but other times when his heart is dark.  The evangelist says that Billy, and everyone else, is a sinner who needs Jesus.  Billy wonders how the evangelist knew all those things about him, and he accepts Christ.

Billy goes to Bible colleges, but he is not exactly a resounding success.  He is not that good of a preacher, and he is told that explicitly.  He is bumbling and socially awkward, especially around the ladies.  A girlfriend of his, Emily, breaks up with him to marry a Harvard man because she doubts that Billy will amount to much.  In a touching scene, however, Billy does encourage an African-American man who is discouraged because he feels that nobody cares about him or wants to be around him, and he asks Billy if he can help him.  Billy shares with him the Gospel of God’s love.  As the African-American man weeps in Billy’s arms, Billy says that this moment was planned by God thousands of years ago.

Billy gains his preaching voice when he teams up with successful evangelist Charles Templeton.  Billy also hears George Beverly Shea singing on the radio, likes his voice, and travels to Moody without making an appointment to invite Shea to come with him.  In the course of all this, Charles Templeton begins expressing to Billy his doubts about the Christian faith, and Templeton resigns the ministry.  Later, when Billy sees Templeton at a respectable get-together, Templeton publicly dresses down Billy for believing in Christianity.  Billy is shaken by that, and a kindly intellectual (whom Templeton praised for his dissertation about Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy) asked Billy if he was all right.  Billy called his Mom, who told him that he has to decide what his calling is: Is it to answer everything about the Bible, or is it to open people’s hearts to the love of God in Christ?  Billy has a crisis of faith, but he decides to accept the infallibility of the Bible.  At the end of the movie, Billy is powerfully preaching about the Gospel and racial equality.  Billy mentions his atheist friend, who acknowledges that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived, and that tells Billy that there was something special (even authoritative and divine) about Jesus.

The movie was weird in places, but it was an excellent exploration of issues surrounding faith and doubt (despite the depiction of Templeton as a bit crazy near the end of his life).  I myself acknowledge that Christianity has insights.  I agree with Mordecai Ham that there are times when I am filled with love, and there are times when darkness fills my soul.  I also believe that there is value in opening oneself up to the love of God, even if one cannot answer everything about the Bible.  I would like to believe that my life has significance and value, and I want to feel at peace, as Templeton said he felt when he converted to Christianity.  Yet, like Templeton, I have intellectual doubts about Christianity, and I also desire more intellectual meat than Billy Graham usually provides in his sermons.  What is interesting to me is that Billy Graham himself in his later years expressed openness to different ideas: he was more inclusivist in his understanding of salvation, and he stated that he did not believe that evolution was inconsistent with the Christian faith.  He still believes that Jesus Christ died for us on the cross, but he does not seem to embrace a Christianity that writes off all of the non-Christians in the world or ignores scientific evidence.

Something else to note is Billy Graham’s humility.  In the movie, Templeton was enamored by his own ability as an evangelist to hold people in the palms of his hands, and he was thrilled that thousands of people came to see him.  In one scene, however, Billy as a student is asking his professor what it takes to be an evangelist, and the professor responds that an evangelist should not be in evangelism for the fame, but rather to serve Christ, who died for him.  That is my impression of Billy Graham: he is famous and world-renowned, but he never let that go to his head.  Rather, his focus is on Jesus Christ.

It was interesting to read about Mordecai Ham, the evangelist who brought Billy to Christ.  Apparently, Ham was anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic (see here).  Even people who preach the message can have both light and darkness in their souls!

I was surprised that the movie did not go into the role of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in making Graham famous.  The movie did well, however, to focus on Graham’s growth as a preacher, and issues surrounding faith and doubt.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WWJD 2; New Hope; Flywheel

I watched three Christian movies recently: WWJD 2: The Woodcarver, New Hope, and Flywheel.  Here are my thoughts about them.  I’ll include some spoilers when I talk about the movie Flywheel, so be warned!

1.  WWJD 2: The Woodcarver.

This movie came out in 2012, and I presume that it is the sequel to the 2010 movie What Would Jesus Do?, which I reviewed yesterday.  The movies stand apart from each other, however, for there is no overlap between them in terms of characters or setting.  The main similarity between them is that they deal with the popular question, “What would Jesus do?”

In WWJD 2: The Woodcarver, John Ratzenberger (who played Cliff Clavin on Cheers) plays an old-fashioned woodcarver named Ernest.  Ernest mentors a boy who dropped out of school and vandalized a church, and the boy’s parents are continually at each other’s throats and want a divorce.  Meanwhile, the boy’s father works for a lumber company, which is trying to buy out Ernest.

Ernest gently offers the boy and his mother Rita spiritual counsel and advice, based on his Christian beliefs and his experiences.  In one scene, the boy’s father even ends up eating with them, and he remembers how he met and fell in love with Rita: he joined the church’s choir just to meet her, even though he could not sing a note!  The family becomes reconciled.  Meanwhile, Ernest is dealing with his own issues, and, although he shares his wisdom with Rita and her son, he acknowledges that he himself is a work in progress.  Ernest recently lost his wife to cancer, even though they prayed for her recovery, and his faith is being tested on account of that.  Ernest really misses his wife, who offered him guidance and encouragement throughout their marriage.  Ernest also feels guilty about the death of his son: they got into an argument, and the son joined the army and died.

I thought that the movie was good, even though it rushed through some things.  The depiction of mentorship and reconciliation were the best parts of the movie, in my opinion.  Ernest offered support and insight, but not in an in-your-face sort of way.  Moreover, the guy who played the shady Colonel Maybourne in the Stargate SG-1 series has a role in the movie as a school principal!

2.  New Hope.

This movie came out in 2012.  It is about a teenager named Michael whose father is a pastor, and the family moves to the town of New Hope.  Michael is upset about this because it is his senior year, and he was not expecting to spend it trying to fit in among strangers.  Moreover, Michael has to deal with resentment from others at his school.  A basketball star recently committed suicide, and Michael is taking his place on the team, and he is also forming a relationship with the star’s girlfriend.  Michael especially has to contend with the star’s grieving and angry brother, Lucas, who is also on the team.

The pastor in the movie offered good advice about being honest with God and reminding others of their value.  Lucas also made an interesting statement about how people said that he was a loser and he proved them wrong, yet felt a bit empty after that.  My main criticism of the movie is that it dragged on and on.

3.  Flywheel.

This movie came out in 2003, and it was the first movie that was made by the Kendrick brothers, who went on to make Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.  The movie was low budget—-it somewhat reminded me of a home movie, albeit not entirely—-but it went on to earn a lot in DVD sales.

In Flywheel, Alex Kendrick plays a used car salesmen, Jay Austin, who sells cars way above their actual value.  Jay is in debt, his marriage is on the rocks, and his son does not want to grow up to be like him.  After watching a televangelist while flipping through channels and talking with his kindly Christian employee, Max, Jay decides to follow God, and he commits the car lot to the Lord and spends more time with his son.  Jay resolves to be an honest salesman, yet that initially comes at a price: he loses two of his salesmen, and he does not make as much money on each sale.  But, after an undercover investigation on the nightly news reveals to the public that he is one of the few honest salesmen around, people flock to him to buy cars, and he can then pay off his debts.  Jay also pays back those he overcharged.  When a TV reporter corners him on TV about his shady past, the people he paid back—-including an elderly African-American woman who rebuked him—-rush to his defense.  Heeding Max’s advice, Jay steps back and lets God fight his battles for him.

Flywheel is an enjoyable movie.  I especially liked the part where Jay gets a bit arrogant after he returns the money and people are happy with him, then he is humbled as he gives a check to an elderly African-American woman and she rebukes him for having taken advantage of people.  The scene in which she later comes to his defense is one of my favorites.

Is the movie believable?  I can understand the objection that Christian movies are unrealistic: that they often depict God providing happy endings to those who follow him, when that does not necessarily occur in real life.  I do find it believable, however, that being an honest business-person can gain a person a good reputation, and that this can benefit the business-person.

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