Thursday, July 31, 2014

Being Single at Churches

I was reading a post yesterday about the difficulty of being single in church.  I’ll link to it (see here), but my goal is not so much to comment on the post itself, as it is to use it as a launch-pad for my own post.  Laura’s post is about how difficult it is for singles to fit in at a number of churches, where there are a lot of married couples who like to talk with each other about their family lives, excluding those who do not have a spouse or kids.

I’m single, and I was thinking about why I have never had that problem, at least not in churches I have attended.  (I have had it in other places.)  I think there are a variety of reasons.  For one, at most of the churches that I attended, the majority of the congregants were older.  Their kids were already out of the house.  The one exception to that would be Redeemer in New York City, and, in that case, there were a lot of single college students attending alone, so I was not an oddity.  Second, there were a lot of congregants at the churches I attended who were either single, or their spouses were not attending church with them.

How did I fit in at these churches, though, with the age gap?  Well, for me personally, getting along with people who are older than me is easier than getting along with people my own age—-and I’m speaking overall, since there are people my own age with whom I get along.  And, while I am not going to deny that there are gaps (in terms of interests, or my academic pursuits not always interesting others), people at my current church do acknowledge me and are friendly when I attend.  That gives me a boost.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"You Prayed and Believed Your WHOLE Life..."

I was watching a YouTube video about the Christian movie, God’s Not Dead.  Many people focus on the part of the movie in which a Christian student challenges his atheistic philosophy professor.  But there are other sub-plots to the movie, as well.  Dean Cain, of Lois and Clark fame, is part of one of those sub-plots.

Dean Cain plays a well-off businessman who, well, is not a very nice person.  His elderly mother was a life-long Christian, and she now has dementia.  In a poignant scene, the Dean Cain character asks his mother why God let that happen to her after she served God her whole life, when she is one of the nicest people he knows.  Meanwhile, the Dean Cain character acknowledges that he is one of the meanest people, and yet his life is peachy.  His mother responds to her son that Satan has built him a comfortable jail cell, and that he can still get out if he wants.  The mother then reverts back to her dementia and asks her son who he is.  Did that plant a seed in the Dean Cain character to cease his wicked deeds?

The Dean Cain character asked a good question.  Or, more precisely, his question was half-good.  Why would God allow someone who served God her whole life—-a nice person—-to have dementia?

The Dean Cain character was very presumptuous, however, when he pointed to his own life being peachy, even though he was a mean person.  Why do I say that?  Because he is not old yet.  Who knows what health problems he will get once he is old?

There is so much in life that can humble a person.  If you don’t find that to be true now, wait a bit.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Envious of the Saved by the Bell Characters?

I’ve been watching Saved by the Bell during my lunch.  The very first time that it came on, which was several years ago, it was at nights.  I did not care for it then.  It struck me as cheesy, corny, and uninteresting.  But then it was on Saturday mornings, and it was on our TV because my sister liked it.  It began growing on me.  Later, it was on right after I came home from school.  I watched it.

I was reading some YouTube video comments, and one person said that he never liked the show because it was about popular high school students, and he was unpopular in high school.

Well, I was unpopular in high school, too, but I still watched Saved by the Bell!  Why didn’t I feel hopelessly inadequate comparing myself to Zack Morris, or fantasizing about being part of the Saved by the Bell clique?  I don’t know.  It was just a fun TV show for me.  I realized that my life was not the same as the lives of those on television.  That was the case with many shows that I watched.  I accepted that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Write-Up: How to Pick Up a Stripper, and Other Acts of Kindness

Todd and Erin Stevens.  How to Pick Up a Stripper, and Other Acts of Kindness: Serving People Just as They Are.  Thomas Nelson, 2014.

Todd Stevens is pastor of Friendship Community Church, which is known for its outreach to the community.  His wife Erin is founder of the Nashville Strip Church, which brings food to employees at strip clubs and offers to pray for them, with the permission of the strip club owners.  Todd and Erin show people the love of God, no strings attached, and they encourage other Christians to do the same.

This is an excellent book about the importance of proactively giving to others.  Many of the stories in the book are inspiring.  Some are funny.  A few are pretty ironic: some seminary students were about to preach about the Good Samaritan, and they ignored someone on the street who was in need!  It’s easier to preach something than it is to put it into practice!

The book also contained valuable insights about different stages of the spiritual journey, and encouraging people to take the next step rather than pushing them into a stage for which they are not ready.

In reading this book, I can find myself saying a lot of “Yes, but…”s.  I’d like to help, but I am too introverted and shy.  I’d like to help, but I don’t have much money for myself, let alone others.  Todd and Erin Stevens address these concerns.  Whether or not you find what they say to be adequate, they are definitely worth hearing out.  Moreover, Todd does not present himself as one who is superior to anyone.  He acknowledges his flaws, often with humor.  He is a work in progress, just like the rest of us.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book (as an e-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.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reaching Across the Aisle

I am happy—-even moved—-when people reach across the aisle.  You don’t see it often in these days of political polarization.  Today, on a couple of Sunday news shows, I got to see examples of people reaching across the aisle: praising acts done by the “other side.”

First, there was ABC This Week.  Democratic strategist Donna Brazile had this to say about Republican Senator Rand Paul:

“Senator Paul is making a serious effort at trying to have a different conversation with African-American voters — not on traditional issues. He wants to talk about, you know, economic development in poor inner city areas. He wanted to talk about schools. And clearly he wants to talk about this mandatory sentencing.  He wants to talk about restoring the right to vote for ex-felons convicted of non-violent crime…. I’ve had a lot to time to talk to Rand Paul. I see him on CNN just about every other day. And I think these conversations should be had. And I’m glad there’s a Republican willing to sit down with Senator Cory Booker, sit down with Senator Tim Scott, who happens to be a Republican, sit down with the attorney general of the United States, because these are serious issues that need to be resolved and we don’t need a partisan solution.”

Donna Brazile said the following about Republican Representative Paul Ryan’s recent plan on poverty:

“Now, on Paul Ryan, I think it’s interesting that he’s trying to come up with a big plan to reduce poverty in America. Part of it is expanding the earned income tax credit, which is a good thing. There’s parts of it in terms of consolidating programs into a block grant, I don’t know if that’s so good….What was missing in the plan, if we want the talk about the real stew there, was the fact that he didn’t talk about raising the minimum wage, that will also help a generation of Americans come out of poverty as well if we can finally tackle that issue itself.”

President Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary, progressive Robert Reich, had the following to say about Ryan’s plan:

“…I was frankly very impressed. Paul Ryan, who has been cutting programs for the poor left and right, or at least trying to do that for several years now, awarding tax breaks to the rich. Suddenly, he’s had a conversion of some sort. And he is now coming out with a plan that is actually a very interesting plan. Not only does it expand the earned income tax credit, which is the most important anti-poverty policy we have now in the federal government, he extends it, he expands it. He provides some guidance to the states in terms of actually helping people go forward.  It is not exactly a block grant. There are no cuts to poverty programs. This is something that is very new and different from the Republican Party. And I think it deserves a careful look by Democrats.”

I found watching this to be moving.  I then searched online for Bill Moyers’ program, which I also watch every Sunday, and guess what I found: Bill Moyers is interviewing Arthur C. Brooks, President of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.  Bill Moyers usually interviews progressives on his show, and, while those are indeed excellent episodes that open my eyes to problems in the world, they tend to be preaching to the choir.  I doubt that too many right-wingers will watch Bill Moyers because they know he’s a progressive, or they deem him to be an irrelevant has-been.  For a high-profile conservative to go on his show is remarkable, in my opinion.  And, while Brooks was stating a lot of right-wing claptrap, it was amazing what he was actually acknowledging: that the economy primarily benefiting the upper economic classes is a serious problem, as is knee-jerk opposition to government.

These things don’t make me want to become a Republican soon.  With Republican proposals, the question that is usually in my mind is “What’s the catch?”  Moreover, there’s the question of whether I can really trust Paul Ryan, in light of positions he has taken in the past.  Will Ryan change his mind again?  In the case of Rand Paul, I think he’s the real deal—-he’s like his dad, unafraid to go outside of the mainstream and to say what he believes—-but my apprehension about him is that he has bad ideas that would not be good for the poor of for society, even though he also has a lot of good ideas.

I am still happy, though, that Republicans are talking about these issues.  I really wish that this reaching across the aisle would happen more often in Washington, D.C.

Does God Have a Plan for People's Lives?

At church this morning, the theme was God having a plan for people’s lives.  That message somewhat took me aback.  Why?  It’s standard Christian fare, isn’t it?  I think the reason is that I am a bit skeptical these days.

I can understand my pastor thinking that God had a plan for his life.  He looks back, and, even though there were disappointments, things turned out all right for him.  He wanted to be a minister but could not go to seminary, so he went to a business college.  There, he met the woman who would become his wife.  After his wife died, he heard sermons that got him through the mourning process.  He was preaching in various churches, and opportunities opened up for him.  I’ve sometimes wondered: suppose I gave my pastor one of my atheistic books.  Would that shatter his faith, as encountering other perspectives has shattered the faith of so many pastors?  I doubt that it would.  He looks back at his life, and he believes that God has taken care of him.

In my case, I have disappointments and regrets, and I am still waiting to see if God will bring forth good.  Deep down, there is a part of me that believes that God will lead me to a job so that I can store up money and eventually pay off my student loans (as I do my part and look for the job, of course).  I have to have hope!  Do I believe that God has a foreordained plan for my life?  Well, I’m a bit skeptical about that, but I will continue to pour out my needs before God, hoping God will lead me to something.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

I Chronicles 20

I Chronicles 20:2 says the following, in reference to David conquering the country of Ammon:
“And David took the crown of their king from off his head, and found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it; and it was set upon David’s head: and he brought also exceeding much spoil out of the city” (KJV).

The crown of the king of Ammon was put on David’s head.  It weighed a talent of gold.  The HarperCollins Study Bible says that’s 75 pounds.  How did David wear 75 pounds on his head?  That’s really heavy!

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary lists rabbinic explanations, which are in Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 44a.  One is that David did not wear the crown, but it still fit his head.  Another is that there was a magnet on the ceiling lifting the crown when David wore it so that it would not be so heavy for him.  A third explanation is that the stone in the crown weighed the same as a talent of gold, but the crown itself was lighter.  A fourth explanation is that the person who could wear the crown was the one who would be king.  It’s sort of like the sword in the stone of Arthurian lore.  Rashi says that Joash could wear the crown, and Joash was the one in II Kings 11 who was hidden when the wicked Queen Athaliah reigned in Judah.  I can see why Rashi would think that Joash’s right to be king would need to be authenticated after Athaliah was overthrown.  And, according to Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 21b, the crown did not fit the head of Adonijah, the son of David who was competing with Solomon for the throne.

The Artscroll cites the Zohar, which, in 1:110b, affirms that David’s kingship was to come from Lot.  Lot was Abraham’s nephew centuries before.  Lot had two sons: Moab and Ammon.  David was descended from Moab, through Ruth the Moabitess.  But he was legitimized as king through the crown of Ammon.

One thing that I have to give to the “magnet” explanation and the sword-in-the-stone-like explanation: they take seriously the biblical text’s statement that the crown was put on David’s head.  It seems to me that other explanations try to skirt this.  I read one critical suggestion that crowns were placed on cult statues.  Maybe, but the text says that the crown was taken off of the head of the king of Ammon, and put on the head of David.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth

Karl Barth was a twentieth century Swiss theologian.  Because he is often discussed on the religion blogs that I read, I figured that I should solidify my knowledge about him and his theology.  Thus, I checked out The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth.

Barth believed things that many Christians believe: that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of humanity when he suffered and died, and who through his resurrection offered hope to humanity.  Some of what I already knew about Karl Barth’s theology was reinforced or clarified as I read this book: Barth’s belief that humans could not climb their own way to knowing God but depended on God’s revelation, that God’s revelation was through Jesus Christ, that the word of God was God’s illumination of the Scriptures to individuals and communities, that God elected Jesus Christ and that all of humanity is in him (implying universalism, according to some), and that the Old and New Testaments testify to Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament does so restrospectively, while also maintaining its own meaning within its original historical and literary contexts.

What I learned from this book is that there is a lot that I do not know about Karl Barth.  The scholars in this book were addressing a variety of questions, concerns, and controversies about Barth’s thought.  Did Barth truly believe in the Trinity, or was he a modalist who thought that God only manifested himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Did Barth really believe in the Chalcedonian creed, that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man?  One contributor stated that Barth treated these identities of Christ in functional terms: Jesus as man means that Jesus submitted to God and served his fellow human beings.  Because of the importance of the incarnate Christ in Barth’s theology, some have wondered if Barth held that Jesus always had a human nature, even before Jesus walked the face of the earth.  Conversely, someone in the book expressed the concern that Barth’s belief in the priesthood of Christ emphasized Jesus’ divinity rather than his humanity.

A lot of these discussions were rather abstract to me.  They remind me that there is more for me to learn.  What I especially appreciated, however, were the discussions about the down-to-earth topics.  What were Karl Barth’s politics?  Many are aware that Karl Barth stood up against Hitler and the German Christians, for Barth believed that God’s revelation was through Jesus Christ, not the Volk.  But Barth was criticized for not opposing Communism with the same rigor and for his stance against Western conduct of the Cold War.  Barth was concerned that Christianity was so often associated with the capitalistic exploitation that went on in the West.  In addition, while some have maintained that Barth was rather apolitical, Barth did believe that a governmental system can resemble the Kingdom of God, and he promoted societal concern for the poor.

What was Karl Barth’s stance on feminism?  Many feminists do not like Karl Barth.  Barth emphasized God’s revelation rather than looking to human experience (such as the experience of women) in doing theology.  He defined God in largely androcentric terms.  There was also the issue of his own personal life: he had a rocky marriage, and people speculate about what exactly his relationship was with his secretary, who was close to him, and who endured scandal on account of that.  But one contributor tries to explore how Barth’s thoughts can actually serve, or coincide with, feminist theology.

My favorite topic in the book was Karl Barth’s attitude towards other religions.  Karl Barth was critical of religion, period, for he saw that as humans trying to climb their way to the divine.  Because he so emphasized that God’s revelation was through Jesus Christ, many believe that he simply dismissed other religions as false.  One chapter in the book, however, addressed what Barth thought would happen to those who held to non-Christian religions, as well as Barth’s thoughts on whether there could be truth in other religions.  According to this chapter, Barth believed that non-Christians would eventually be saved by grace: that is their destiny, as part of the humanity that is elected in Christ.  And, while Barth was critical of natural theology—-of attempting to learn about God from nature and reason—-he was open to the possibility that Jesus Christ could somehow communicate to humans through concepts within other religions.

This is an informative book.  I did not absorb all of it, even though I did read it in its entirety.  As one essay said, Barth is not easy to characterize.  One has to read all of his thought before one begins to do so!

Ramblings on Reading Different Perspectives

When I was a teenager, I would mostly read one side of an issue.  On the rare occasions that I did venture forth to read another side, my mind would be in defensive mode: I would try to refute what I was reading.

Why was I like this?  One reason was that I liked the perspective that I held, and I did not want to change.  Another reason may have been my Asperger’s, which I did not know about at the time, but which still played a significant role in who I was.  I one time heard that people with Asperger’s like for things to be monochromatic: for example, they prefer a room that is mostly one color, or plain, or simple, rather than one that is complex.  When I was in college, a student saw my room and remarked that it looked “plain.”  His room had all these posters and pictures and bumper stickers and what not, whereas my room did not have those things; mostly, it was a white wall.  I guess that I was similar when it came to my worldview, back when I was an adolescent, that is: I wanted it to be simple.  I wanted to know what I believed.  And maybe that wasn’t so bad a thing back then, when I was a teenager.  My beliefs gave me an identity.  They were a place of refuge for me.  Maybe I did not need a lot of uncertainty in my life back then.

In college, I got rather bored with my certainties, and so I branched elsewhere.  Complexity can be interesting.  It can be more entertaining than thinking that one already has all the answers.  In college, I needed more of an intellectual adventure than I had in high school.  This specifically played out in my religious studies, as I sought out other ways to read the Bible, ways that differed from my fundamentalist Christian mentality.

I was thinking of something a couple of days ago.  I was reading the Book of Ezekiel for my daily quiet time.  Ezekiel says a couple of times that, when the Israelites return to their land, they will loathe themselves on account of their sinful deeds (Ezekiel 20:43; 36:31).  I thought of a book that I read as a teenager: John MacArthur’s Vanishing Conscience.  MacArthur is a Christian pastor, and in that book he was arguing against Christians who preach self-esteem—-preachers like Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller.  MacArthur referred to those Ezekiel passages.  As a teenager, I loved to read John MacArthur.  I liked his writing style and his glib arguments against those with whom he disagreed.  One of his books, Anxiety Attacked, helped me whenever it was time for finals, and I was anxious about taking the tests.  But I wondered: suppose that I, as a teenager, had branched a bit beyond reading MacArthur?  Suppose that I had actually read Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale?  Maybe I would have had a more balanced view of God and the Christian life—-one that was not so negative.

“But why ask ‘What if?’, James,” some may ask.  “You can read Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller now!”  Indeed, I can.  Some of their books are actually on my bookshelf.  The thing is, where I am right now, I crave deeper books.  And I want to make the most of my reading time.  I may still read Peale and Schuller someday, though.  Something about me: I have a whole lot of head knowledge, but there is not a whole lot of wisdom, specifically knowledge about how exactly I should see myself, life, and other people, in a manner that is helpful and productive, that is.  Maybe some fluffy Christian living or positive thinking books are an answer!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Movie Write-Up: Inequality for All

I watched the Robert Reich documentary, Inequality for All, a couple of nights ago.  In this documentary, Robert Reich was arguing that the decline of the middle class in the United States is not good for the economy or society.  When the middle class is struggling to make ends meet, that means less consumption, which leads to further economic ills (i.e., companies laying people off because the companies are selling less, less tax revenue because there are fewer taxpayers, less education to help people compete in the face of globalization, etc.).  Moreover, Reich contends that the current political polarization is due (at least in part) to rising economic inequality.

What was ironic about the documentary was that, in some cases, the people agreeing with Reich were the rich, whereas those arguing with him were the poor.  Warren Buffett agreed that he should be paying more taxes.  Someone Reich interviewed who made a six-figure salary was saying that he hardly pays any taxes, and that significant chunks of his money serve no social value at all.  However, when Reich was speaking to factory workers, a couple of them were challenging Reich.  One was suggesting that Reich was attacking the American way of life.  Another factory worker was saying that he is not as smart as the rich are, which is why he is a laborer, but he said that the rich deserve to make all the money that they do.

There were plenty of exceptions to this rule, though.  Reich interviewed a Mormon family, which is conservative on social and cultural issues, but which was lamenting that it had to work so many hours only barely to get by.  Reich interviewed plenty of people who were struggling, even though they worked multiple jobs.  On the other side, there was another person in the documentary who was actually defending corporate downsizing, saying that sometimes corporations need to lay people off in order to survive.

Something else that caught my attention on the documentary was when Reich was saying that the rich benefit from a strong middle-class, too, that it is not a zero-sum game.  This is an important point, in my opinion, because Reich and people who believe along his lines are often accused of class warfare, of exploiting envy towards the rich, of wanting everyone to be economically equal.  But that’s not the case.  When there is a strong middle class, people are buying more products, and that helps the rich.  And I agree with something that Elizabeth Warren said when she was running for Senate: yes, it’s all right for the rich to make the money that they do, but they should put some of it into the system (i.e., education, infrastructure) so that others can have the opportunities that they had.

This is a worthwhile documentary to watch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism

Existentialism is an attempt to find meaning in life when there is cause to despair.

Why would anyone believe that there is cause to despair?  The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism refers to reasons, as it interacts with the thoughts of such existentialists as Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.  Reasons for despair can include arriving at the conclusion that God is dead, the inevitability of death, life not going as one believes it should, the absurdity or apparent meaninglessness of life, the feeling that one’s limitations hinder one from improving his or her situation, or fear of being judged by others.  Existentialist solutions to this despair include having goals, creativity, and making a conscious decision to accept life as it is.  Christian existentialists, such as Kierkegaard, regard faith in God as a solution: a person takes a risk by committing his or her only life to God.

My stereotype of existentialists was that they were moody and depressed, felt alienated from the world around them, and were more interested in the individual search for meaning than the well-being of society.  I wanted to read about existentialism because I was hoping that I would find in it a kindred spirit: yes, I am concerned about the well-being of society, but I am also moody and brooding, and I have often felt alienated.

While my stereotype of existentialism is not totally off the mark, there is more to the story.  Some existentialists are more hopeful than others.  Sartre, for example, was rather pessimistic about human beings, thinking that they used others for their own ends.  And yet, Sartre was very concerned about the well-being of society: Sartre leaned towards Communism, yet he became disillusioned with it on account of Soviet oppression.  Sartre also was critical of racism and colonialism.  I remember an episode of Family Ties in which Stephen Keaton was debating with his daughter Jennifer about whether or not Kierkegaard addressed the social problems of his day: Jennifer’s stance (which the show implied was correct) was that Kierkegaard believed that concern for politics detracted from one’s spirituality.  Stephen told Jennifer to go to her room!  Jennifer may have been correct about Kierkegaard, but it does not surprise me that there were existentialists who believed that politics were important, for existentialists believe in human freedom, and political systems do have an impact on that, for good or for ill.

In addition, it seemed to me as I read The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism that many existentialists valued community.  Yes, Nietzsche placed a value on non-conformity.  Yes, Sartre said that hell is other people!  Yet, there seemed to be an acknowledgement among many existentialists that who we are is based, at least in part, on our community—-where we are.  There also appears to be some hope that community can be a solution to one’s existential crises, on some level.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Let It Go"----For Ten Hours

I’ve not seen the Disney movie Frozen yet.  I plan to eventually, since the Snow Queen Elsa from Frozen will be a character in the upcoming season of Once Upon a Time (one of my favorite shows).

Even though I’ve not yet seen the movie, I have been listening to the song “Let It Go.”  It won an Academy Award.  I love the song, for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the biggest reason is that it is about Elsa’s journey from sadness and isolation to self-acceptance, freedom, and triumph, even defiance.  Something I read on the Internet said that Elsa was a misunderstood character.  I think of that as I listen to “Let It Go.”

On YouTube, you can listen to the song for ten hours straight.  Click here if you don’t believe me, or if you do believe me and want to listen to it.  That is a bit much for me.  I don’t want to get to the point where I am so sick of the song, that it fails to inspire me when I actually watch the movie!  I can still identify, however, with one commentator who said that she likes the YouTube video because now she can just listen to the song as long as she wants, without having to manually go back and restart the song.

I’m listening to the video now.  I think I’m on the fourth playing of “Let It Go.”  I’ll shut it off soon because I need to be brought back to earth, and that’s hard when I’m listening to such a highly emotional and intense song.  It can drain one’s emotions!

I’m wanting to review a book on my blog for an academic publishing house.  It’s deciding whether or not to accept me as a reviewer for that book.  Someone from there may be visiting my blog to see what kind of blog it is.  To that person, I ask that he or she look around on my blog.  I do review academic books!  Today, though, I decided to write a light post about a song.  A heavy song.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Write-Up: Sacred Fragments, by Neil Gillman

Neil Gillman.  Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew.  Jewish Publication Society, 1990.

Neil Gillman teaches theology at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.  I audited a class of his when I was a student there.  His book, Sacred Fragments, overlaps a lot with what he discussed in that class: Gillman said that believers and unbelievers can look at the same reality and arrive at different (even legitimate) conclusions, and he talked about such thinkers as Mordechai Kaplan (who saw God as an impersonal force moving the world to a state of wholeness), Franz Rosenzweig (who emphasized personal experience of the divine), and Kabbalah (which posited that God’s Shekinah was exiled from God and that God could be repaired through observance of the commandments).  The book still has territory that was not covered in class, however.  For example, in the class, Professor Gillman told us that we should consult his book, Sacred Fragments, for his discussion about the classic arguments for the existence of God (i.e., the ontological argument, the cosmological argument that everything has a cause and thus the universe had a cause, and the argument that the cosmos manifests design).  He did not want to explore them in class because that was not a topic that particularly interested him.  The book also provided me with background information about philosophical topics, such as existentialism, and it covered the thoughts of Jewish thinkers whom Gillman did not talk about in the class, as far as I can remember (i.e., Buber, etc.).

Judaism has wrestled with many of the same issues that Christians have in the field of religion.  Is the Bible God’s revelation, when it arguably contains signs of being the product of human authors with their own ideologies and agendas?  Is the Bible authoritative, containing God’s commands?  Is there even a God, and, if so, how can we know?  If there is a good God, why is there suffering?  Is ritual consistent with a living, vibrant experience of God, or does it hinder that?  Judaism would relate some of these questions to other areas than Christians would: for example, Judaism would look at the Torah and its laws specifically.  Still, the questions are similar, and so Gillman’s class and book resonated with me, even though my religion is not Judaism.

Where exactly does Gillman land on these questions?  My impression is that he is usually presenting options rather than telling people what to think and to do.  Here are some things that Jewish thinkers have thought, and it is up to you to make up your own mind (along with your community).  You may feel that ritual hinders a lively experience of God, but perhaps it can create opportunities for such an experience to occur—-it’s something to think about.  You have to decide for yourself if you want to see life as a believer in God or as a non-believer.  You are the one who can determine whether or not you feel commanded by God to do something.  The classic rational arguments for God’s existence may not prove God’s existence, but perhaps you can still find in them a justification for belief, plus rationality is good because it can sift out the absurd.  Gillman’s approach looks like subjectivism and experientialism, but Gillman appears to be open to the possibility that there is a God in the world, that Israel experienced something on Mount Sinai, and that people now can experience the divine.

I’m the sort of person who looks for something authoritative, for solid ground to stand on.  The thing is, being an adult usually entails the sort of process that Gillman displays: looking at options, deciding what makes sense to me, and making a choice.

There is more that I can say: what I thought about Gillman’s approach to the arguments for the existence of God, the existentialist who posited a scenario in which Elijah asked God to send fire from heaven to undercut the prophets of Baal and God did not send the fire, etc.  But I’ll stop here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vacation Bible School Update

At church this morning, the pastor shared about what happened at Vacation Bible School this past week.  It was actually quite inspiring: people from my church coming together to contribute their talents to make this week-long event a success.  The pastor talked about what the kids did.  They learned about God and God’s care for them.  They would get a star if they referred to a “God event”—-an event that reminded them somehow of God.  And they donated some of their food to the Hope House, which provides meals for the poor.

The pastor told us that one of the kids wanted a picture of all of the VBS staff, and that was cool.  After church, the pastor was telling me that the kids may meet more than once in the year.

I can’t say that my experiences in VBS in the past were spectacular—-they were more mixed than anything.  I’m not even sure if I qualify as an evangelical, in terms of where I am now in my beliefs.  But my heart does get excited when it sees revival: when people are becoming close to God, when the church is reaching out to its community, when people are being taught to love God and their neighbors.  My pastor and people in the church prayed for VBS.  So did I, as I asked for God’s anointing to be upon it.  I am glad that it was.

James Garner

Actor James Garner has passed on.  Back when I was a child, I would watch Maverick and The Rockford Files with my family.  I’ve also seen some of his movies.  My personal favorite was when he played Dr. Bob in My Name Is Bill W., a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know two people who have met James Garner.  They say he was a very nice person—-he put on no airs.

R.I.P., James Garner.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I Chronicles 19

In I Chronicles 19, Nahash the king of Ammon has died, and Nahash’s son Hanun takes his father’s place as king.  David sends messengers to comfort Hanun because Nahash had been kind to David, probably when David was on the run from King Saul.  Hanun’s advisers, however, are suspicious, and they think that David is sending those messengers to spy out the land for war.  Consequently, Hanun humiliates David’s servants by shaving half their bodies, from the head to the buttocks.  Realizing that he has probably offended David by doing this, Hanun prepares for war, and he pays people in other countries to come and assist him.  In II Samuel, it was during this war that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (II Samuel 11).

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary refers to Jewish commentators who struggled with a question.  In Deuteronomy 23:6, God prohibits the Israelites from seeking the peace and prosperity of the Ammonites and Moabites.  The rationale is stated in Deuteronomy 23:4: “Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee” (KJV).  But here David was, seeking the peace and prosperity of the king of Ammon.  Was David violating God’s law in doing so?

The Artscroll lists solutions that commentators have proposed.  The first one is that David was not offering kindness to the king of Ammon but was simply repaying the favor that the king’s father Nahash had done for David.  David was not offering kindness gratis, which is what is prohibited, but rather is repaying a kindness.  The problem that the Artscroll has with this solution is that David was not repaying Nahash for Nahash’s kindness, for Nahash was dead; rather, David was extending kindness to Nashash’s son, and that did not count as a repayment, for Nahash’s son was not the one who had been kind to David.  Nahash was.

The second solution is that the prohibition on seeking the peace and prosperity of the Ammonites applies to specific situations.  The Israelites when making war on a city are not to offer the Ammonites peace, and the Israelites are not to allow any Ammonite to dwell in Israel as a ger toshav—-a Gentile resident alien in Israel who observes some of God’s commands but not the entire Torah.  These are forbidden, according to this solution, but extending a personal kindness to an Ammonite (as David did) is allowed.

The third solution is that David was aware of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:6, and he did not want to repay Nahash’s kindness while Nahash was still alive because that would look like he was trying to establish a treaty with Nahash and the Ammonites, which would presumably go against Deuteronomy 23:6.  Consequently, David waited for Nahash to die and then sought to repay Nahash’s kindness by sending his messengers to comfort Hanun, Nahash’s son.  That would not look like David trying to establish a treaty with the Ammonites, but rather it would look like David seeking to comfort a son who is mourning for his father.

The Artscroll itself goes another route.  It says that David in I Chronicles 19 felt secure, since he had defeated several nations, and he felt like extending goodwill to a nation that had historically been an enemy to Israel.  David was either trying to be overrighteous—-more righteous than the standard that God set forth in the Torah—-or David was technically compliant with the Torah yet was violating its spirit.  According to the Artscroll, David should have realized that reaching out to Ammon was undesirable and would backfire, that God knew what God was talking about when God forbade Israel to deal with Ammon.  It did backfire, for the Ammonites humiliated David’s servants and geared up for battle.  Moreover, according to the Artscroll, the command in Deuteronomy 23:6 may have played a role in the Ammonite advisers’ suspicion of David.  They knew that the Torah of Israel forbade the Israelites to seek the peace and prosperity of the Ammonites, and so they were suspicion when David was extending kindness to their king.  They thought David was really trying to undermine their country.

On the one hand, this discussion seems to me to stereotype an entire people-group as no-good, and I have issues with that, for I would prefer to judge people according to the content of their character rather than saying they’re no-good because they belong to a certain people-group.  On the other hand, I see here wisdom that I can apply to my own life, in that I should not be quick to trust everyone.  I know that the New Testament talks about loving everybody, even enemies, and there is a place for that.  But Jesus did tell his disciples to be wise as serpents, and helpless as doves (Matthew 10:16).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Movie Write-Up: Saving Mr. Banks

I watched Saving Mr. Banks last night.  Saving Mr. Banks is a 2013 movie about Walt Disney’s attempt to get the rights of Mary Poppins from the book’s author, Pamela Travers, so he could make the movie Mary Poppins.  In the process, we learn about the demons with which both Travers and Disney are wrestling—-their difficult pasts and their attempts to move on.

The title Saving Mr. Banks refers to the father in the movie Mary Poppins, and also the book.  Mr. Banks in the movie is distant from his children and wants a nanny who will train his kids to be disciplined, like soldiers; he does not appreciate the new nanny, Mary Poppins, coming along and taking his kids on fun adventures.  At the end of the movie, however, Mr. Banks is flying a kite with his kids.

I do not know exactly how this played out in the book.  I was reading on wikipedia, and what I got is that Mr. Banks in the book is not that big of a character, and that he was actually rather kind to to his children.  The stern picture of Mr. Banks in the movie may have been based more on Walt Disney’s harsh father; Disney insisted that Mr. Banks have a mustache, against Mrs. Travers’ objections, and the reason was probably that his own father had a mustache.  Mrs. Travers’ father still had issues, however, for he was a drunk, and he dismissed a poem that his daughter wrote when she was a child.  He was still a fun, loving dad, though.  When Mrs. Travers was a child, her father was sick and dying in bed, and her mother unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  In swept her aunt, who was like the eccentric Mary Poppins of the books and was bringing order to the collapsing home.  Unfortunately, the aunt could not fix everything, and the father died, disappointing the little girl.  She would grow up to write Mary Poppins, about a nanny who really could save the day.

There are fact-checks all over the internet about this movie.  I would not be surprised, though, if there actually was some deep-felt need on the part of Mrs. Travers to save her father and to move on, even if Mr. Banks was not as prominent in her book as he was in Walt Disney’s movie.  The movie is based, at least in part, on audio recordings of actual meetings that Mrs. Travers had with Walt Disney’s employees, and we get to hear one of them at the end of the movie.

One aspect that I enjoyed about Saving Mr. Banks was the relationship between Mrs. Banks and her Disney-commissioned driver, Ralph (played by Paul Giamatti).  The curmudgeonly Mrs. Banks at first does not like Ralph’s chipper attitude, thinking that it reflects the typical Disney sap that is all around her.  But she gets to know Ralph better and learns that his daughter has polio and is consigned to a wheelchair, and Ralph tells her that he is so concerned about the weather because he wants for his daughter to enjoy the outdoors rather than being cooped up in her room.

Another part of the movie that I appreciated was when Walt Disney was talking with one of his songwriters, and Disney was telling the story of when he was a simple artist with a notepad, and a big shot was trying to buy Mickey Mouse.  Disney said no, for Mickey was family.  Although Disney struggled throughout the movie to understand Mrs. Travers, he could identify, on some level, with her feelings for her character.

The song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” has been in my head since I watched Saving Mr. Banks.  It has more of a sentimental association in my mind now than it did when I watched Mary Poppins itself, and the reason is that, now, it relates to the healing that Mrs. Travers found, at least in the movie.  It represents the attempts of Disney’s employees to understand where she was coming from—-to include a scene of redemption for the father because that was what she wanted.  And it brings to mind the moving scene of catharsis later on, as she watches Mary Poppins and cries as “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is being sung.

Some have criticized Saving Mr. Banks because they feel that it depicts Mrs. Travers ultimately giving in to superficial Disney sap, as if that can solve all the world’s problems.  In actuality, Mrs. Travers was disappointed with the movie Mary Poppins.  People are entitled to their opinion.  Speaking for myself, I like sap.  I enjoy stories about healing, love, reconciliation, and being compassionate to people where they are.  That includes Saving Mr. Banks, even if it diverged from what really happened, in significant areas.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Contaminating Heaven, or Fitting In There?

More than once in recent days, I have read the sentiment that heaven will only be occupied by certain types of people.  I read that sort of sentiment in J.P. Moreland’s The Soul.  Moreland argued that those in hell would not fit in were they to be in heaven.  Many of them are not giving, unselfish people, the argument runs, whereas heaven is a place where people are giving and unselfish.  And, even if we’re talking about a moral non-believer, Jesus Christ is not the object of that moral non-believer’s affections.  The moral non-believer would not fit in in heaven, where Jesus Christ is praised!

I encountered a similar sentiment in a Christian blog post that I read about forgiveness.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that God will not forgive those who do not forgive others.  People wonder if that means that a Christian can undo his or her own salvation by not forgiving someone.  The Christian blogger I’m talking about answered that it means precisely that.  He said that heaven is to be a place of forgiving people, and you would not want to contaminate it with an unforgiving person!

That sentiment makes a degree of sense.  I can’t say that it makes me feel all that good, since it seems to make salvation contingent on one’s ability to fit in, which I’m not all that good at.  I could say that I would fit in in heaven, where others are patient and nice, even if I am not consistently those things.  But here’s the rub: why should I be the only one with rough edges who is let into heaven?  And, if heaven accepts others with rough edges, we have conflict!  It’s not heaven anymore.

It’s odd to me that we are on this earth, learning to put up with people’s BS, when heaven will not even be a place where people’s BS is tolerated.  What, then, are we being prepared for, exactly?  Why would God teach me patience or the need to forgive others, if I will not even need those attributes in heaven, where people are so perfect, or at least better than they are here?

Here’s another question: Suppose I go to heaven with rough edges.  Is it necessarily the case that I will contaminate the place?  Maybe other people’s—-and God’s—-love will rub off on me, and that will make me more loving.

Those are my ramblings for the day…

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Book of Revelation Made Clear

Tim LaHaye and Timothy E. Parker.  The Book of Revelation Made Clear: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Understanding the Most Mysterious Book of the Bible.  Nashville: Nelson Books (An Imprint of Thomas Nelson), 2014.

Tim LaHaye is a Christian author.  Timothy Parker is renowned in the field of puzzles.  I don’t think that Parker was consulted for this project out of the hope that his expertise with puzzles would help to decode the Book of Revelation.  In terms of its content about eschatology, the book largely reflects Tim LaHaye’s belief in a pretribulational rapture and Christ’s premillennial second advent.  My hunch is that Parker’s contribution is the format of the book.  Each quotation of the Book of Revelation and commentary on the text are preceded by a multiple-choice quiz about the coming text.  The idea seems to be that, if we try to answer a question and later encounter the answer in the course of our reading, we will retain the information better.  That makes some sense.  And I have to give credit to the quizzes: they were not ideologically loaded, but they focus on the text of the Book of Revelation itself.  You won’t answer wrongly if you believe in a post-tribulational rapture or hold to amillennialism, even though LaHaye defends contrary viewpoints in the commentary.

The book was pretty good when it addressed details of the text—-such as why Jesus’ feet are like brass, why the heavenly sea is of glass, or why the first horseman appears to have a bow without an arrow.  LaHaye’s explanations made a degree of sense to me, even though he mostly asserted them rather than supporting them.  LaHaye’s defense of the pretribulational rapture was all-right, too: it’s remarkable that there are people in heaven praising God throughout the course of the book.  Could at least some of them be the church?  My problem was that LaHaye did not attempt to clarify the details of the Book of Revelation enough.  What does 666 mean?  What is the hidden manna that Jesus talks about?  And what is the relationship between Jesus’ addresses to the first century churches in Asia and the rest of the Book of Revelation?  So much was unaddressed in this book.  Sure, it’s probably intended to be introductory, but, if I were a new learner, I would like to read more details.

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.


What is forgiveness?  Is it letting go of anger against a person?  Is it freeing a person from the consequences of his or her actions—-the person does not have to pay you back, or you won’t press charges if the person hurt you in a criminal manner?  Is it pretending as if the offense never took place?

I am the sort of person who would like the therapeutic effects of forgiveness, without having to be in a relationship with those who wronged me.  I want inner peace, but not the responsibility to pursue reconciliation.  Or let me say this: if I believe that the relationship is worthwhile to me—-if I value it—-then I will try to safeguard it.  That is only true of a small number of relationships in my life, though.  In my opinion, it is not mentally healthy for me to beat myself up over not being friends with everyone on the planet.  At the same time, I realize that how I do things right now—-or drawing the moral lines around where I am right now—-does not exactly bear fruit.  Just take a look at my record of broken friendships!

Anyway, what I try to do is to recognize everyone’s value as a human being, whether that person wronged me or not.  “But that is not reaching out to people and concretely showing them love,” one might say.  “You’re taking the easier path, the path that makes you feel better.”  Oh well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Babylonian Captivity and Deutero-Isaiah

Yehezkel Kaufmann.  The Babylonian Captivity and Deutero-Isaiah.  New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1970.

Yehezkel Kaufmann was a Jewish biblical scholar.  He argued against the influential German biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen.  Wellhausen proposed that the priestly laws of the Torah reflected a later stage of Jewish religious thought, whereas the earlier stages were freer and prophetic.  Many have suggested that such a claim coincided with anti-Judaism, in that it seemed to depict the rituals of the Torah as a later degeneration from a once lively religion.  Kaufmann contended, however, that the priestly rituals were pre-exilic and came before prophecy.  Another model against which Kaufmann was contending held that ancient Israelite religion was polytheistic and later became monotheistic.  My understanding is that Kaufmann, by contrast, regarded monotheism as a long-standing feature of ancient Israelite religion.  Kaufmann downplayed foreign influence on ancient Israelite religion by arguing that the ancient Israelites misunderstood paganism and thus must not have been influenced too heavily by it: they held that the pagans worshiped the idols themselves, for example, when actually the pagans regarded the idol as a home for or a symbol of the deity.  Kaufmann acknowledges that ancient Israelites and Jews participated in pagan customs, but he says that they did so on an individual level, that they still believed that they were committed to their national god YHWH, and that their understanding of paganism was limited.

A lot of these Kaufmannian beliefs show up in The Babylonian Captivity and Deutero-Isaiah, which is volume IV of his series History of the Religion of IsraelThe Babylonian Captivity and Deutero-Isaiah focuses on Isaiah 40-66, which Kaufmann believes was written when Jews were in exile in Babylon.  Kaufmann says in this book that priestly laws came before prophecy, and that the Jews in exile misunderstood pagan religion.  Not only did they equate the gods with the idols, but Deutero-Isaiah also implies that YHWH is unique in that YHWH claims to predict the future, while the gods of other nations did not.  According to Kaufmann, this was a gross misunderstanding of Babylonian religion, which thought that its gods could predict the future.  Kaufmann largely depicts the Jewish exiles as faithful Yahwists: other people-groups in exile took their gods with them, but they also worshiped the gods of the country to which they were exiled; the Jewish exiles, by contrast, worshiped YHWH alone.

Kaufmann challenges a variety of scholarly beliefs and arguments.  Against the scholarly claim that the ancients thought that the god of the conquering country was more powerful than the god of the conquered, Kaufmann astutely notes that the conquering countries often thought that the conquered countries’ gods were helping them conquer, and that conquered people still worshiped their gods and carried them with them into exile.

Many scholars believe that Isaiah 40-55 is Second Isaiah and was written in exile, whereas Isaiah 56-66 is Third Isaiah and reflects the disappointments and struggles of Israel’s post-exilic period.  Kaufmann, by contrast, believes that all of Isaiah 40-66 is Second Isaiah and is exilic.  He attributes the desire to split up Second Isaiah to a Christian attempt to preserve Second Isaiah from Jewish laws (such as the Sabbath), which appear in Third Isaiah, since there are Christian scholars who characterize Second Isaiah as wonderfully free from that sort of material.  Kaufmann argues that Isaiah 56-66 does not overlap with what Ezra and Nehemiah depict as post-exilic realities (i.e., conflict with Samaritans), and that it depicts Zion as still desolate.  When “Third Isaiah” depicts the Israelites as engaging in animal sacrifices—-the sort that occur at the Temple—-while also doing pagan rituals, Kaufmann contends that these Israelites are not actually doing these things, but Second Isaiah is saying they are the types of people who would do these things.  I was open to Kaufmann’s argument that “Third Isaiah” was really part of Second Isaiah and was exilic, but sometimes his argument was a stretch.  Plus, I was confused, for Kaufmann did seem to argue that Isaiah 56-66 reflected some sort of disappointment (i.e., Second Isaiah liked that Cyrus conquered Babylon, but did not appreciate Cyrus going on to consolidate his empire).  I think that seeing Isaiah 56-66 as post-exilic makes sense of that disappointment, but I am unclear as to how Kaufmann’s model does.

Kaufmann also interacts with various interpretations of the Servant Songs, which Christians have historically applied to Jesus.  Who was the Suffering Servant whose stripes made people whole?  Was he Israel, who through the suffering of exile would challenge Gentile idolatry, hopefully making the Gentiles spiritually whole?  Was he a righteous community within Israel, promoting a program of restoration and return from exile that much of Israel resisted?  Was he a Davidic king who died, and whom people thought would rise from the dead, as the god Tammuz did in Babylonian cults?  Was he seen as the Israelite version of the Babylonian king, who was humiliated in rituals designed to expiate the country’s sins?  Was he the prophet Second Isaiah himself?  Was he regarded as the Messiah?

Kaufmann presents cogent arguments against many of these suggestions, as well as the belief that Isaiah 53 depicts a sort of vicarious suffering in which a righteous person suffers and dies for the sins of others, thereby bringing atonement.  Ultimately, Kaufmann settles on the idea that the Servant was Israel—-that the righteous within Israel were suffering undeservedly for sins they did not commit, and that influenced God to have mercy on the nation of Israel as a whole.  Through God’s work on Israel’s behalf (and not through Jewish proselytizing), Gentiles would accept Israel’s God as God, or so says Second Isaiah, as Kaufmann conceptualizes his message.

Kaufmann’s work is informative and thought-provoking.  His interaction with alternative points-of-view and scenarios were sometimes impressive, and sometimes incomplete.  The book also had interesting tidbits of information, such as how rabbinic Judaism believed in vicarious suffering, whereas biblical thought did not (except, according to Kaufmann, in the cases of animal sacrifices and the Passover lamb, which died in place of the worshiper).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Write-Up: Toward a Sure Faith

Terry A. Chrisope.  Toward a Sure Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Dilemma of Biblical Criticism, 1881-1915.  Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.

J. Gresham Machen was a conservative Christian biblical scholar.  He was a prominent voice during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century.  Machen sided with the fundamentalists, even though he did not consider himself to be one of them.  Machen believed that modernism was contrary to the Christian faith in that it questioned God’s supernatural intervention in history, and Machen as a scholar wrote articles and books to challenge it.

Toward a Sure Faith is about Machen’s own wrestling with doubt as a student of Princeton and in Germany, as well as his scholarship.  Its author, Terry Chrisope, effectively describes what Machen was reacting against: a focus on the Bible as a historical document that reflected different times and thus failed to provide an unchanging universal standard (or people could pick and choose from the Bible what they thought would work), and the exclusion of the possibility of miracles, either through anti-supernaturalism or by saying that God was present in all things.  Machen, by contrast, believed that there were unchanging universal standards within the Bible, and that certain examples of God’s intervention in history, such as the virgin birth, were essential to Christianity.

Because Machen fought modernism within the church, people may get the impression that he was closed-minded and intolerant.  But that was not the case, according to Chrisope.  Machen did not believe that modernism should be promoted within the church.  When he was struggling with his own religious doubts and admiring a German liberal thinker, and worrying his mother in the process because she thought that he was about to leave Christianity, Machen was firm on not entering the ministry during that time.  The ministry was not the place for people who question the truths of Christianity, he thought.  But, within his scholarship, he was eager to engage contrary points-of-view and even to acknowledge where their points were strong.  He did not give conservative Christian scholarship a free pass, either, but was critical when he felt that it lacked rigor or failed to take into account the latest scholarship.  As a scholar, Machen gained respect even from the liberal scholars with whom he disagreed.

My impression is that Machen’s scholarship amounted to arguing that Christianity was supernatural by dismissing other historical possibilities that scholars proposed.  Machen also criticized liberal scholars by arguing that their conclusions did not necessarily follow from their premises, and that they made assumptions (i.e., anti-supernaturalism) that biased their interpretation.  That sounds a lot like Christian apologetics today, but there were times when Machen could make a fresh scholarly proposal.  For example, Machen argued against a scholar who contended that the Magnificat came from Luke or was designed to imitate the Septuagint, maintaining instead that it reflected an Aramaic original.  There was obviously an apologetic motive here: if Machen is correct, then Luke did not make the Magnificat up, and it may actually go back to Mary herself, who spoke Aramaic.  And, because Mary spoke this prayer within the context of the virgin birth story, this may be another piece of evidence (along with patristic statements and the implausibility of liberal scholarly scenarios for how the virgin birth story originated) that the virgin birth historically happened.  Notwithstanding the apologetic use Machen made for his argument, his careful look at language and his argumentation managed to impress the scholar whose work he was criticizing.

Machen’s views on scholarship, reason, and faith were not particularly neat, however.  He believed in appealing to evidence and in the ability of reason to accurately conceptualize the world (on some level), yet he emphasized that people’s presuppositions could influence their interpretations and observations.  His scholarship apparently had some apologetic motive—-at the very least to undermine liberal arguments that he believed were against Christianity—-but he also thought that reason and historical argument by themselves were inadequate to lead a person to God, that they rested on probabilities, and that faith was necessary to bridge the gap.  He did not dismiss the idea that the Bible reflected its historical contexts, but he did not take that so far that he excluded the supernatural.  He, like other Princeton theologians, maintained that the Bible was without error, and yet Chrisope says that they were open to acknowledging some historical errors in the Bible, or the possibility that the biblical authors’ sources had errors.  I wish this had been fleshed out some more!

Machen did not consider himself a fundamentalist, but rather as orthodox.  Unfortunately, Chrisope does not go into much detail about this in the text, but he does offer more information in his endnotes.  Chrisope quotes scholars who state that Machen differed from fundamentalism’s “dispensationalist theology, revivalistic techniques of soul-winning, stern prohibitions against worldly entertainments, and a low view of the institutional church” (quoted from D.G. Hart and John Muether’s Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church).  Actually, Chrisope’s endnotes provide quite a few jewels, such as references to books that disagree on whether biblical inerrancy was a product of the modernist controversy or instead reflecting longstanding (even ancient) Christian opinion.

This book was worth the read because it clearly articulated the modernist trends that conservatives found so troubling and Machen’s scholarly argumentation, as well as raised interesting questions about the relationship between faith and scholarship.  It also humanized Machen by highlighting his own religious doubts as a student.  The book lacked a clear “aha” moment in which Machen arrived at a state of religious certainty and internal reconciliation, perhaps because that is inaccessible to historians.  Chrisope just concludes that Machen must have arrived at the certainty he was looking for, since Machen started arguing against liberal scholars in his writings!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Church Picnic Reflections

My church had its annual picnic this morning!  There was some rain, but we were under a roof, and we still did the water-balloon toss.  And, as happened last year, my water balloon broke, even though I caught it!  Last year, it just unravelled, squirting in mid-air.  This year, it burst in my hands when I caught it.

The sermon was good.  The pastor was envisioning David, watching sheep alone and having time to think, contemplating the design of himself and the world around him.  I can identify with that, even though I believe in evolution.  The world is wonderful, however it came to be as it is.  Yet, there are evolutionists who point to things in nature that do not work that well.  Evolution can lead to a design that is good, yet flawed.

We were reading Psalm 139.  The Vacation Bible School this coming week will be focusing on Psalm 139.  Psalm 139 has beautiful verses about God’s omnipresence and creation of each and every one of us.  The Psalmist calls himself fearfully and wonderfully made!  Yet, vv 19-22 have things about God destroying the wicked and the Psalmist’s hatred of God’s enemies.  I doubt these verses will be mentioned in Vacation Bible School!  I remember being in a Bible study group, and we read Psalm 139.  Someone in the group noted that the Psalmist says that he hates God’s enemies with perfect hatred.  His hatred was perfect.  Was it?  Well, Jesus talks about the importance of loving our enemies.  Still, I can identify with the Psalmist’s sentiment that murderers were disturbing his own peace and the peace of the people, and his desire for God to stop that.

I one time attended a liberal Seventh-Day Adventist church.  We would do a liturgy, and the liturgy would quote a Bible passage while omitting the violent parts.  For some reason, one reader would intentionally read aloud those omitted verses as part of the liturgy!  Why, I do not know.  He himself was rather liberal.  Maybe he wanted us just to be real about what the Bible said, rather than putting the Bible into some soothing package.

Still, maybe it is not that bad that kids next week at the Vacation Bible School will be focusing on the soothing, positive aspects of Psalm 139.  These parts reinforce attitudes that can encourage them not to be like the wicked whom Psalm 139 criticizes!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Soul, by J.P. Moreland

J.P. Moreland.  The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.

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

J.P. Moreland is an evangelical Christian apologist and philosopher.  In The Soul, he defends the belief that human beings have souls, which can exist apart from the body.  Moreland does so philosophically, and he also appeals to Scripture, both the Hebrew Bible and also the New Testament.  Moreover, Moreland refers to near death experiences that he finds credible.  Moreland also interacts with related issues, such as the question of whether animals have souls (his answer is a qualified yes), as well as heaven, hell, and the question of how God will judge those who never heard the Gospel.  On the topic of hell, Moreland disputes annihilationism and universalism, defending hell as an eternal place for the unsaved.

The parts of the book in which Moreland interacts with the Bible were quite lucid, in my opinion.  The philosophical parts were mostly clear—-at least I think that I got the gist of what Moreland was arguing—-but there was one section that was particularly difficult, and Moreland warns the reader that it will be!  Each chapter closes with a bullet-point summary of the chapter’s points, as well as a glossary of terms.  The end of the book has a glossary of all of the key terms.

The topic of the soul is of interest to me, on account of my own religious background.  My experience has been in Armstrongism and Seventh-Day Adventism, and they did not believe in an immortal soul; rather, they maintained that the dead are unconscious until the resurrection.  Interestingly, biblical studies and theology have moved a bit away from emphasizing the immortal soul, as some claim that such a concept does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, and others maintain that focusing on the immortal soul is anti-physical and detracts from what the New Testament itself emphasizes: the bodily resurrection and God’s redemption of the physical world.  Moreland is contending against these trends and is attempting to correct what he believes are misunderstandings.

There is also the question of whether the soul is even necessary to explain human consciousness and thoughts, as many hold that these things are natural or physical results of the brain.  (Ironically, on the very night that I was reading this book, the TV show Extant, starring Halle Berry, made reference to this debate.  And Moreland himself refers to the AMC series The Walking Dead!)  Can we truly say that the soul causes consciousness, when damage to the brain can result in a loss of consciousness, which may indicate that it is the brain that causes consciousness in the first place?  My impression is that Moreland argues that the soul and the brain interact with each other, that one has an effect on the other.  In the same way that the soul sees through the eyes, and damaged eyes can affect what the soul sees, so likewise can a damaged brain impact how a soul thinks or whether a person is conscious.  The soul is like the driver of a car: the driver is not the car, as the soul is distinct from the body, but a damaged car can affect the driver and what the driver can do.

I found this book to be thoughtful.  I wish that Moreland had addressed in more detail the biblical passages that describe death as a sleep (though I was impressed that he acknowledged that parts of the Hebrew Bible present shades in the afterlife sleeping).  Moreover, I thought that his discussion of the soul in the Hebrew Bible sought to impose a uniform meaning on nephesh throughout the Hebrew Bible (though he did indicate his awareness of nuance).  Overall, however, Moreland anticipated and wrestled with objections, and I give him credit for that.

I Chronicles 18

I Chronicles 18 is the Chronicler’s version of II Samuel 8.  In both, David defeats and conquers other countries.  The Chronicler omits a piece of David’s brutality, however.  II Samuel 8:2 states: “And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts” (KJV).  The Chronicler does not have that.  Maybe it was because he thought that it reflected negatively on David’s character.

The Jewish commentator Rashi wondered why David was so hard on Moab.  Was not David descended from a Moabitess, Ruth?  And did not David’s father and mother take refuge in Moab when David was on the run from King Saul of Israel (I Samuel 22:3)?  According to Rashi, the reason that David had an ax to grind against Moab was that, when his family was there taking refuge, the Moabites slaughtered all but one of David’s brothers (the one survivor being Elihu, who is mentioned in I Chronicles 27:18).

But don’t think that all of David’s aggressions were retaliatory.  As the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary acknowledges, David was attacking nations who had not attacked him.  But the Artscroll says that David did so because it was not yet the Messianic era.  The implication is probably that it was not a time of peace, that these nations could still pose a threat to Israel, since some of them had been a threat in the past.  David was taking preemptive action for Israel’s security, for good or for bad.

There are Jewish commentators who regard events in I Chronicles 18 as a foreshadowing of the Messianic era.  David sets up governors over Edom, and one Jewish work, Ran, quotes Obadiah and contends that the Messiah will do the same.  Is there any indication, though, that David in II Samuel 8 and I Chronicles 18 was a benevolent ruler of these nations?  What is interesting to me is that, after listing these conquests, I Chronicles 18:14 states: “So David reigned over all Israel, and executed judgment and justice among all his people” (KJV).  It does not say that David executed judgment and justice among these conquered nations, but that he did so over his people Israel.  The Jewish commentator Radak states that this verse serves to demonstrate that no one doubted David’s legitimacy as king after his military victories: David had clearly demonstrated that he was the right man for the job.  Perhaps.  Of course, in contrast to the Books of Samuel, the Chronicler depicts all of Israel as behind David at the outset, but perhaps there was still lingering doubt in some Israelites’ minds, or there was still room for them to be convinced further.  Alternatively, maybe the point of v 14 is that David could finally devote his energies to reigning now that he had subdued any external threats to Israel’s security.

I wish that there was some indication in the text that David ruled the conquered countries with judgment, justice, and benevolence.  According to the Jewish Psalms of Solomon 17:32-36, the Messiah will have compassion on all nations.  Did David have this compassion, or did he simply view these countries as potential threats that he needed to keep down?

Rashi’s explanation for why David was so harsh on Moab appealed to me, because it was so raw, so honest.  People kill David’s family, so David retaliates against those people.  There’s no “turn the other cheek,” or denying the existence of pain or injustice in the name of forgiveness.  Still, there is something to be said for being above the fray and pursuing righteousness, whatever one’s hurts, and even for loving one’s enemies.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Watching Smallville a Second Time Through

We finished Smallville a couple of days ago.  Smallville ran during the 2000′s, and it is about young Clark Kent, who would become Superman.  I had watched it before, but my Mom and her husband had not.

When I first watched Smallville, I really liked the earlier seasons—-as in seasons 1-5 (and maybe 6, if I was in a generous mood)—-but not so much the later ones.  In the earlier seasons, Clark is growing and learning about who he is, and the other characters are growing as well.  Lex was struggling with his evil and came across to me as sympathetic.  Lionel was a funny villain.  The later seasons were somewhat of a blur to me (no pun intended—-Clark was the “blur” before he became Superman).  I usually taped the episodes, and their quality was not so great on my VCR.  I also found some of them to be silly, or boring.  And I did not care for Tess Mercer replacing Lex as the villain.

My Mom and her husband were the opposite.  They liked the later seasons more than the earlier seasons.  They were not big fans of Lana Lane, who was in the earlier seasons, since she came across as so perfect.  I always liked her as a character because she had that lonely quality.  My Mom and her husband also did not care for the music, but I liked it.  They also preferred the later seasons because of their references to the comic books.  As my Mom’s husband said when watching the episode “Absolute Justice,” that episode was featuring some pretty old superheroes—-superheroes who go way back!

After watching all of Smallville a second time, I like the later seasons more than I did at first.  Clark still struggles with what to do.  At the same time, most of my favorite episodes are from the earlier seasons.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

David L. Holmes.  The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.  Oxford University Press, 2006.

David L. Holmes teaches religious studies at the College of William and Mary.  As the title suggests, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers is about the religious beliefs and practices of some of America’s founding fathers.   At the same time, Holmes discusses Christianity in America (and also in England) prior to the time of the founding fathers, as well as the religious beliefs and practices of twentieth century U.S. Presidents, from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush.

Overall, according to Holmes, many of the prominent founding fathers were influenced by deism, particularly in that they tended to describe God in rather impersonal terms (i.e., providence).  Some variations of deism were anti-Christianity, in that they preferred looking to reason and nature rather than revelation (the Bible) to learn about God and were skeptical about miracles.  Other variations were not anti-Christian, and they were open to God being a beneficent providence in the world.  George Washington was influenced by deism, yet he attended church and embraced his Christian heritage.

Holmes’ breakdown of some of the founding fathers’ stances towards religion is as follows:

—-Benjamin Franklin was a deist, yet he believed that going to church was good for promoting morality.  He attended church infrequently, though.

—-George Washington was not very reflective about religion and tended to accept the Episcopalian heritage he received from his upbringing.  There were seasons in which he attended church, but he tended at do so more when he was in cities, but less when he lived in Mount Vernon, since churches were not as accessible to him there.  He refused to take communion, even when the pastor preached against that habit of his from the pulpit.  Holmes speculates that Washington did not take communion because he took I Corinthians 11:29 seriously: Paul says there that those who eat and drink the Lord’s supper unworthily eat and drink damnation to themselves, and Washington may have felt that he was unworthy to take the Lord’s supper, due to his perfectionism.

—-John Adams was a unitarian, one who did not believe that Jesus was God.  One strand of unitarianism believes that Jesus pre-existed his life on earth as a heavenly being, whereas another strand held that Jesus was a man who was rewarded by God for his faithfulness.  According to Holmes, Adams adhered to the second strand.

—-Thomas Jefferson admired Christ but saw him only as a good man.  Jefferson also sought to move the College of William and Mary from Christianity towards deism.  When a plague hit the college, there were Christians who blamed Jefferson for bringing God’s wrath on the school.

—-Samuel Adams, Elias Boudinot, and John Jay were Orthodox Christians rather than deists.  Elias Boudinot wrote a book against Thomas Paine’s anti-Bible work, The Age of Reason, called The Age of Revelation.  I found the book online.  I liked Paine’s work, and I wonder if I’ll like Boudinot’s, too.

Holmes notes that many of the founding fathers’ wives were more religious, and he suggests a variety of reasons for this: women went to church to socialize, and they were more attuned to mystery and thus gravitated towards Christianity rather than the reason-oriented deism.  Two interesting women Holmes profiled were Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison.  Abigail Adams was reflective about religion, and she said that she rejected the Trinity because it did not make sense and was unscriptural.  Dolley Madison was raised a Quaker but was booted out of that religion when she married James Madison, a non-Quaker.

This is an informative book.  Holmes sifts through myths and facts, and he is quite open about what historians do not know, based on the lack of evidence.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Write-Up: The King Is Coming

Erwin W. Lutzer.  The King Is Coming: Preparing to Meet Jesus.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.
I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

This book is about the end times and the second coming of Jesus Christ.  Erwin Lutzer believes in a pretribulational rapture, a future and literal millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth, and a futuristic interpretation of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation.  Although Lutzer entertains the idea that the Mahdi of Shiite Islam will be the Antichrist, he ultimately settles on the Antichrist coming from a revived Roman empire, which will initially make overtures of peace to Israel, while certain Islamic nations will ally with Russia in an attempt to attack Israel. Lutzer draws from the Bible and current events.

Lutzer also has ideas about God’s judgment.  According to Lutzer, there is the judgment of believers, which occurs soon after the rapture of Christians.  There, Christ will judge Christians, confront them about their sins, and reward them according to their good works.  There is the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25), which Lutzer believes will occur right after the Great Tribulation and Christ’s second coming, and the criterion of judgment here will be whether people helped believers during their time of great vulnerability in the Tribulation, when believers were persecuted by the Antichrist and forbidden to buy and sell.  The sheep who pass this judgment will then go on to live throughout the millennium in earthly paradise and will have children, many of whom will not follow Jesus, leading to these children’s susceptibility to deception when Satan is released from the bottomless pit at the end of the millennium.  After the millennium, there will be the Great White Throne Judgment, in which those who did not receive Christ as their savior (or respond to whatever light God gave them) are judged according to their sins with eternal hell.  The saved, however, live with God forever, and Lutzer is clear that they will not be playing a harp on a cloud and singing the same praise songs over and over: rather, they will enjoy God and each other and may even receive assignments.  “Perhaps we will reign on other planets,” Lutzer speculates on page 192.

The book was interesting, and Lutzer’s inviting, thoughtful writing style made it a worthwhile read.  I had some reservations, however.  First of all, Lutzer seems to believe that there are carnal Christians who will enter heaven.  On pages 43-44, he pictures a married Christian man leaving his family to be with another woman, and this man will enter heaven, even though Christ will make him confront the damage that he did on earth.  How would Lutzer square this with I Corinthians 6:9 and Galatians 5:19, in which Paul warns professing Christians that adulterers will not enter the Kingdom of God?

Second, Lutzer states on page 94 that “God hates immorality, and in the Bible homosexuality is singled out as the most egregious example of such conduct.”  Lutzer believes that Sodom was destroyed mainly for homosexuality, not the “greed described by Ezekiel 16:48-49″ (page 95).  I wish that Lutzer had balanced this out with an affirmation of God’s love for homosexuals, the same way that he balances out his pro-Israel or anti-Islam sentiments with statements that we should have compassion for Palestinians, or that there are moderate Muslims whom we are privileged to know as neighbors.

Notwithstanding my reservations, I give this book five stars because it was interesting, it explained things that have puzzled me about pretribulational views on prophecy, and it had a solid spiritual component, meaning it was not just about the details of the end-times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Write-Up: One Holy and Happy Society

Gerald R. McDermott.  One Holy and Happy Society: The Public Theology of Jonathan Edwards.  Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

This was Gerald McDermott’s first book about eighteenth century American pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards.  See here and here to read my blog posts about other books by McDermott.
One Holy and Happy Society is about Jonathan Edwards’ public theology, his view about how God wanted society to be, and the role that Christians should play in society.  McDermott is arguing against certain prominent narratives about Jonathan Edwards: that Edwards was a recluse who did not care much about society, or that Edwards was a conservative who rubber-stamped America (or his part of America), including the bad things that America did.

McDermott portrays Edwards as one who indeed cared about society.  Edwards contended that Christian love included good citizenship, particularly concern for the poor.  Edwards supported the government giving to the poor and also private charity, believing that neither was sufficient by itself.  Moreover, Edwards gave a lot secretly to the poor, which was remarkable, in light of his own large family’s economic needs.  According to McDermott, Edwards was also not afraid to criticize the influential and the powers-that-be, and Edwards also spoke about Africans and women in a dignifying manner that was unusual in that day.  McDermott speculates that Edwards could have been kicked out of the Northampton Church because he challenged an influential and well-off family, and that Edwards may have been supported by those who had no vote concerning his removal: the women. McDermott also goes into Edwards’ views about patriotism: Edwards was for it, as long as it did not lead to a clannish mentality that disregarded the rest of the human race.

Because Edwards was unafraid to speak against magistrates, McDermott interacts with the question of whether Edwards could have set the stage for the American Revolution, which would occur after Edwards’ death.  McDermott seems to lean in the “yes” direction, noting Edwards’ continuing post-mortem influence and popularity, which was one reason that John Adams thought that Edwards’ grandson Aaron Burr (remember, the guy who shot Alexander Hamilton) had a decent political chance.

McDermott also has a chapter about Edwards’ views regarding the millennium, the thousand year rule of Jesus Christ mentioned in the Book of Revelation.  McDermott argues in this chapter that Edwards did not center Christ’s millennial rule on America but had a more global perspective, and that Edwards did not believe that the second coming of Christ (or actually, it would be the third coming, since Edwards believed Christ returned, in a sense, when Rome was destroyed) was imminent, but envisioned it occurring in a couple of centuries.  Edwards’ views about the millennium shed light on what he believed a perfect society would look like.  Edwards even predicted that, in the millennium, people across the globe would be able to interact with each other easily, and Edwards wrote this before the time of telephones, let alone the Internet.  If I had a favorite part of the book, it was actually a footnote, which quoted Edwards’ daughter Esther saying that she looked forward to the millennium because that hope gave her solace as she was dealing with difficult people.  She said: “What a charming place this world would be [if] it was not for the inhabitants—-O I long for the blessed and glorious when this World shall become a Mountain of Holiness” (quoted on page 46).  I can identify!

While there are thinkers and scholars who have highlighted the more regressive aspects of Edwards’ views—-on slavery, for example—-McDermott’s book is important because it goes into the progressive elements of Edwards’ thought.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Just Serving at Home

I was going to write a book review, but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow.  In today’s post, I want to mention something that I love about my church.

One of the churches in which I grew up made a big deal about becoming a deacon or elder.  It was a sign of status.  People would make political moves to become a deacon or elder.  The church actually split because one person was made a deacon, while another was not.

My Dad was rather critical of all these political moves to become deacons.  He said that a deacon is a servant, and he wondered why a person could not just serve, without the fancy title.  Many people, however, want the glorious title!  Just serving is not enough for them.

At the Presbyterian church that I currently attend, it does not seem to me that people make a big deal about being a deacon or elder.  We have them, but I don’t see people clamoring for the positions.  I think of one guy who was made a deacon, I think it was last year.  He cleared out the snow at church.  He did that before he was a deacon.  He did that after he became a deacon.  He just served.  He didn’t care about the glory.  That seems to me to be the case with other deacons and elders at my church.  They just serve.  And I am allowed to serve, too, without having a fancy title.

Part of the issue, I think, is that many at my church have been living in the area and going to that church all of their lives.  It’s home for them.  People care about their home, and they serve it, without giving a second thought.  People who may not see a place as home, however, may be more likely to seek acceptance, through high-ranking positions, for instance.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Church Is Praying

At church this morning, a lady was telling the pastor that people outside of our church are asking to be put on our church’s prayer list.  We started a prayer list recently.  Last month, the church’s Bible study group was going through the Bible study curriculum, When God’s People Pray.  I left the study halfway through, for various reasons, but I am impressed that this study has inspired my church to pray.  People meet twenty minutes before church starts for prayer.  When I first heard about this, I was a bit worried that it would take the pastor away from greeting people before the service, which is important because it makes people feel welcome.  I don’t think that has happened, though, because the group only prays for ten minutes, or so, and that leaves the pastor time to greet people.  Whether the group actually meets longer than that, or whether the pastor continues to greet people before the service, I do not know.  During summers, I usually arrive at church right when the service is beginning.  I leave at 9:40, it is a 15 minute walk, and so I arrive at 9:55, when the pastor is giving the announcements.

Inside our bulletin is a list of people to pray for.  We had a list last week.  We have a list this week.  What I have been doing is placing that list in my Bible so that I can look at it when I am doing my prayer and Bible study time.  I do not legalistically go through the entire list, but I pick a name or two (or more), and I pray for those people and their needs.  This is especially helpful when there is a lull in my prayer time, when I do not know exactly what to say to God.

I have been praying quite a bit for my church’s Vacation Bible School, which will be going on in a couple of weeks.  The reason that I would like for it to succeed is that I have read that a mark of a healthy church is that it is reaching out to the community.  I rejoice that my church is trying to do so, and I pray for it to prosper.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Write-Up: God Is Just Not Fair

Jennifer Rothschild.  God Is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.  (ePub: February 2014.)

Jennifer Rothschild is blind.  She is also a Christian.  This book is about her journey to cope spiritually with her blindness.  She has wondered why others have been healed of their diseases, whereas God has not healed her of her blindness.  She has felt guilt, thinking that she was a burden to others.  She is learning to trust in God’s sovereignty and to focus on others.  Because of her experience and her honesty, what she has to say does not come across as a pat answer, not in the least.  This book contains advice that one can probably encounter elsewhere, but this book is still unique, on account of her stories, her humor, her likable personality, and her application of the Bible.  (For the last one, I think particularly of her application of the Queen of Sheba story to the search for God.)

I’d like to highlight three things that I especially liked about this book.  First of all, the book is praised and recommended by conservative Christians like Kirk Cameron and Kay Arthur, yet Jennifer Rothschild herself opens a chapter with a quotation of progressive evangelical Rachel Held Evans.  That is meaningful to me, perhaps because of my affinity for both sides.

Second, I appreciate what Jennifer Rothschild says on page 79: “My friend, what you most long for is not proof of Jesus’ reality, but rather, the reality of Jesus’ presence.”  That caught my attention, as one who has been reading Christian apologetics.

Third, I liked Jennifer Rothschild’s suggestions on how one can change one’s mindset from focusing on oneself to focusing on God and others.  I do not cope with the challenges that Jennifer Rothschild does, but I do struggle with self-pity.  Ordinarily, talk about reaching out to others turns me off, since I am a shy introvert.  Jennifer Rothschild talked, however, about trying to orient one’s thoughts towards God and others and being available for service when called upon.  That can be challenging, but at least it is fairly manageable to me.

I have been reading a chapter of this book for thirty days, one chapter per day.  I will miss it somewhat, since it has been part of my life for about a month!

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book (as an e-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.

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