Saturday, December 31, 2016

Current Events Write-Up: Israel, Health Care, Sessions, and Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Time for my weekly Current Events Write-Up, in which I post links to news and opinion pieces that caught my attention this week.  I just want to make clear: I include different perspectives, so no author whom I include would necessarily agree with, or even like, another author whom I include.


Israel has been in the news this past week, on account of the UN Security Council’s resolution condemning Jewish settlements in disputed territory and John Kerry’s subsequent speech.

Eric Chabot reviews The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (IVP Academic, 2016), which is edited by Gerald McDermott.  Chabot quotes this statement by McDermott, which appears on pages 295-296:

“When has the United Nations blamed the Grand Mufti or other Islamic leaders for their hateful speeches that have led to thousands of Israeli casualties? Why does the United Nations not protect persecuted minorities like Christians and Yazidis from terrorism in the Middle East conducted by Muslim powers (like ISIS) or states (Syria)?  Israel is routinely charged with violation of international law for its supposed occupation of the West Bank. When was the last time the United Nations condemned Turkey for its illegal occupation of one-third of Cyprus for forty-one years and its deployment of forty thousand Turkish troops there? Or China’s brutal occupation of Tibet? Where are the United Nations resolutions condemning present and past genocides by Muslims against Jews and Christians in the Middle East? A Palestinian journalist exclaims, ‘It is a scandal of global proportions that the UN in general and UNRWA in particular—as well as the EU—ignore the hundreds of thousands of killed and maimed and the millions of refugees desperately in need of aid in the neighboring Arab countries.'”

My friend Rachel Roberts offers a different perspective.  She tries to get Jews to empathize with the plight of Palestinians by employing a “Candyland” analogy:

“There is a lot of discussion in my Jewish community about how the world ‘singles out Israel’ so I’d like to do a little experiment. Say any other country, any other democracy, were to do what Israel is doing. Let’s call that country Candyland. Say that Candyland had forced out 750,000 Jews during a war for its independence and kept them out. Say the new government only offers automatic repatriation to ethnic Candylanders. Say that Candyland had taken over neighboring territory in war where a majority Jewish population were living, subjected the residents of that territory to military occupation for 50 years, sent children as young as twelve to prison for months without access to a lawyer and without formal charges, started building communities for the benefit of ethnic Candylanders and at the expense of the local Jewish population, and say they justified it on account of the persecution the Candylanders faced under communism. You know what you’d stand for, right? Even though Candyland has beautiful beaches and has produced important technology, right? If Palestinians were Jews, you would sit exactly where I sit.”

There has been criticism of President Obama on account of the U.S. sitting out on the UN resolution.  David Sieradski had the following response to such criticism, as he looked at George W. Bush’s record on the issue:

“George W. Bush let five UNSC resolutions pass against Israel, called on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land, called for a contiguous Palestinian state unfettered by Israeli settlements, condemned the settlement enterprise repeatedly, withheld U.S. loan guarantees to Israel, implemented strict restrictions on Israeli travel to the U.S., condemned the building of Israel’s security wall, condemned Israel’s attacks on Gaza, pushed Israel into the Annapolis conference and the Road Map, sold weapons to Arab states in violation of an agreement with Israel, pressured Israel to allow Hamas to run in the Palestinian elections, prosecuted AIPAC staffers for espionage, and refused to support an Israeli bombing run on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Nonetheless, his last year in office, with the financial support of Sheldon Adelson no less, he was honored at the first Israeli President’s Conference (which I attended) as Israel’s protector and the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House. If you think Barack Obama is an antisemite and anti-Israel, it’s not because his Israel policies are worse for Israel than Bush’s — in fact they’re far better. It’s because he’s black and you are, in fact, a racist.”

Pat Buchanan had a column this past Tuesday, entitled “Barack Backhands Bibi.”  This column is interesting because it observes that even allies of Israel voted for the resolution, discusses Netanyahu’s policies against the backdrop of current Israeli politics, and talks about the possible impact of President Obama’s decision on American politics.

Buchanan had a column later that week, “Israel First or America First,” in which Buchanan warned that Trump’s stance on Israel could alienate the Arab world.  Linda Muller, who sends out Pat’s column to subscribers (for free), and whom I remember because I subscribed to Pat’s updates during his 1996 run for President, introduced Pat’s column with some comments and links:

“Brigade, See below another powerful column from PJB. Please forward this one to all. Hopefully a copy will find [its] way to President-elect Trump.  For the Cause – Linda[.]

“PS — For more on this topic here’s an interesting article covering the history between Ehud Barak and Bibi Netanyahu — and potential problems for the Trump administration:

Netanyahu vs. the Generals  Also see this from Haaretz: The UN Settlements Vote: Netanyahu Is Dragging Israel Into the Abyss[.]”

Buchanan, of course, supported Trump in the 2016 election, but, unlike Trump, Buchanan is critical of right-wing Israeli policies and supports the Iran nuclear agreement.

Whereas Pat Buchanan is concerned that Trump acceding to neo-conservatives or Israeli right-wingers could alienate other countries, Reuters had an article saying that “Britain, Edging Towards Trump, Scolds Kerry Over Israel.”  Could there be a May-Trump alliance, similar to the Thatcher-Reagan alliance in the 1980’s?

Health Care

Thom Belote, a UU pastor with whom I attended Harvard Divinity School, discusses travails that he had as he tried to get health insurance.  Like Thom, I received health insurance at schools that I attended.  I don’t even recall having to pay anything for it!  Then I went to a smaller school and had to pay high premiums.  I looked for inexpensive health insurance and found health insurance where I only had to pay $90 a month, yet it had high copays and a high deductible.  That experience opened my eyes to the problems with the American health care system.  And, yes, I know there are many people in America who have it worse.  Much worse.

Thom linked to a disheartening Vox article: “Why Obamacare Enrollees Voted for Trump.” The people interviewed do not want to lose their Obamacare benefits, yet they voted for Trump.  They give their reasons.  To her credit, the author of the article does not look down on them.  The article acknowledges the weaknesses of Obamacare, yet it also argues that Trump’s proposal could make matters worse.

The Trump Transition and the Trump Cabinet

I liked this Politico article about Trump’s outreach to Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Julia Hahn at Breitbart had a lengthy article defending Trump’s controversial choice for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.  I read some parts of it and skimmed other parts, and I cannot vouch for what it says about certain personalities.  Still, it is an article to read if you want another perspective on Sessions.

I found the wikipedia article on Sessions to be balanced, and it linked to a Washington Post article that presented Sessions’ controversial voter-fraud case as having merit, while still mentioning the argument that Sessions did not significantly challenge white voter-fraud.

The Death of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Like many, I was saddened by the death of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.   I learned that the two were close to each other and even lived next to each other, and I appreciated that more after reading about their time of estrangement.  I love stories about estranged people becoming reconciled.  And I was interested to learn that there was a 1990 movie, Postcards from the Edge, which was based on their relationship.

I was angered by all of the politically-correct outrage and bullying in response to Steve Martin’s innocent tweet.

Steve Hays of Triablogue, had thoughts on why, in this day and age, we care so much about the death of celebrities.  For Steve, it relates to the decline of family, community, and a common social-glue.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Majesty of Mystery, by K. Scott Oliphint

K. Scott Oliphint.  The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God.  Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

K. Scott Oliphint teaches apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is an Orthodox Presbyterian minister.

This book concerns tensions about God, and how they attest to God’s mystery.  To give you an idea about what tensions the book discusses, allow me to quote from page 4:

“Have you ever wondered how God can be Three-in-One?  Have you been uneasy trying to explain that the One in whom you’ve put your trust has two completely different natures?  Have you thought about your affirmation that God is eternal in light of His activity in time and in history?  Are you tempted to think that if God is in complete control we cannot be responsible for what we do?  Does your confession of God’s sovereignty conflict with your understanding of prayer?  Does it make more sense to you to deny that God is sovereign?”

This paragraph actually provides a good idea of what this book is like.  The book is written for Christians who are literate enough about their faith to ask these questions.  Oliphint obviously writes from a standpoint of empathy towards those who ask such questions, he is not afraid to ask them himself, and he takes those questions seriously.  And you can probably infer that Oliphint is in the Reformed Calvinist camp, since he mentions the tension between God’s “complete control” and human responsibility, as well as the tension between God’s sovereignty and prayer.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Chapter 5, “The Majesty and Mystery of God’s Relationship,” is the strongest in this book in some areas, while being the weakest in other areas.  Oliphint appears to accept the Westminster Confession’s affirmation that God is “most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible” (Westminster Confession, chapter 2).  The challenge is reconciling this conception of God with features of God that are described in Scripture.  How can God be eternal, or outside of time, and yet interact with human beings within time?  How can God lack passions yet be loving, angry, or jealous, as the Scriptures depict?

Chapter 5’s strength is that Oliphint wrestles with attempts by Augustine and Reformed thinkers to resolve such questions and, quite frankly, finds their solutions to be wanting.  Oliphint then proposes an alternative solution.  These strengths are in contrast to the rest of the book.  Often in this book, Oliphint quotes Reformed thinkers for support rather than disagreeing with them, and Oliphint usually leaves tensions standing and calls them a mystery rather than seeking any resolution to them.

The weakness of this chapter, in my opinion, is that Oliphint does not rigorously or adequately support the Westminster Confession’s affirmation with Scripture.  He argues that God’s “I am that I am” statement in Exodus 3:14 supports God’s aseity, but that verse by itself does not support the Greek philosophical conception of God that the Westminster Confession, on some level, embraces (knowingly or not).  While Oliphint quotes Scriptures, he does not successfully connect them with the Confession’s affirmation.  By contrast, Oliphint offers more Scriptural support for his positions in other chapters of the book, such as his Calvinistic view that God decreed who will be saved.

B.  This book is not exactly a work of apologetics, if you want to define apologetics as providing arguments for the Christian faith being true.  A few times, however, Oliphint does seem to advance such arguments (or that is my impression).  On page 122, for example, he states: “Surely no other religion or man-made system has ever come close to thinking in this way.  No cult has a God who is complete in Himself, yet who decides, while remaining who He is, to become ‘one of us.’  We would not have thought of such a thing—-unless God Himself has spoken to us these magnificent truths (1 Cor 2:9-10).”

I am ambivalent about this argument.  On the one hand, people can come up with all sorts of ideas, and other religions probably have their share of mystery, too.  On the other hand, the argument does deserve consideration.  A possible way to improve the argument is to ask: How did Christian conceptions of God compare with other religious and philosophical systems of the ancient world?  If the dissimilarities are great, then attributing Christian conceptions to divine revelation is understandable—-not iron-clad, but understandable.

C.  I found a statement on page 87 to be noteworthy: “After Adam and Eve sinned, the punishment of death was set in place.  But God graciously intervened to change the corrupt nature of those born after Adam so that fellowship with God might be restored.”

This is different from what I might expect in a Protestant book.  Many Protestant books would focus on Jesus paying the penalty for people’s sins to restore human fellowship with God.  Oliphint, however, highlights God changing people’s nature as part of God’s work to restore the broken divine-human fellowship.  Oliphint probably believes that Christ paid the penalty for people’s sins, and Protestants do stress God’s personal and spiritual transformation of people.  Still, what Oliphint said on page 87 stood out to me, since it stressed nature rather than judicial standing in discussing the divine-human relationship.

D.  On page 200, Oliphint states that we can know God “truly” (I Corinthians 2:10-11), but never “exhaustively”.  Oliphint does not provide much support for this assertion, but it is a helpful way to conceptualize knowledge of God.

E.  The book discusses the economic and immanent Trinity and the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures.  Those who have already read about these issues will probably find nothing new in these sections.  Those looking for a lucid introduction to these topics, however, will find these sections of the book helpful.

I am giving this book four stars because it is thoughtful, has a friendly tone, provides interesting quotes of John Owen and B.B. Warfield, and engages historic Christian thinkers, such as mystics.  The book’s discussion of I Corinthians 13 was also helpful, as it placed the chapter within the context of previous discussions in I Corinthians.  I would have preferred for the book to have attempted to resolve more tensions, however, as opposed to chalking them up to mystery and expecting people to be in awe at the apparent contradictions.  I am more in awe of attempts at solutions that generate more questions.

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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Evaluating My "Berean Radar"

I went to church last Sunday, which was Christmas Day.

The person preaching to us was drawing parallels between Mary and the church.  The angel calls Mary blessed in Luke 1:28, for example, and there are New Testament passages that call the church blessed.  The preacher was probably drawing these parallels to edify the church.

The parallels caught my attention because I have been reading the Catholic catechism as of late.  In section 492 of the catechism, we read the following: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person in ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy, and blameless before him in love.'”

Immediately, as I read that passage, whatever Berean radar exists or remains within me went off.  I recognized that the catechism there was quoting Ephesians 1:3-4.  But Ephesians 1:3-4 does not mention Mary.  Rather, it is about the church.  To quote Ephesians 1:3-4:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (KJV).

Ephesians 1:3-4 says “us,” not Mary.  Is the Catholic catechism misinterpreting this passage, or trying to pull a fast one on us?

Before I interact with that question, I should explain what I mean by “Berean radar.”  I am alluding to Acts 17:11.  The Bereans heard the apostle Paul’s message and “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (KJV).  What I was taught growing up and in conservative Protestant churches and settings is that we imitate the Bereans when we test religious teachers by Scripture: we see if their teaching accords with the Bible, and we check the references that they make to the Bible for ourselves to determine if they are interpreting the Bible accurately.

To cite a few more biblical texts, there’s Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (KJV).  And there’s Revelation 2:2b: “thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (KJV).

Back to the catechism!  I find my “Berean radar” to be helpful and unhelpful.  Let me start with where I find it unhelpful.  I could read section 492 of the catechism, compare what it says about Ephesians 1:3-4 with what Ephesians 1:3-4 actually says, conclude that the catechism is inaccurate, ascribe to the catechists deceptive motives, conclude that I shouldn’t read more of the catechism because it is false teaching, and pat myself on the back, seeing myself as a good Berean.  But I would rather not go that route.  I want to understand why section 492 of the catechism is interpreting Ephesians 1:3-4 as it is.  I am sure that the authors of the catechism have read Ephesians 1:3-4 and are fully aware that it concerns the church.  Why, then, are they applying the passage to Mary?  I find a search for understanding the catechism’s interpretation to be more interesting and fruitful than simply dismissing the catechism with a proof-text.

It turns out that the Catholic catechism, on some level, does associate Mary with the church.  According to section 966, Mary is a prototype of what will happen to other Christians: “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians…”  Section 972 makes another connection: “In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ and what we will be in the homeland at the end of her journey.”  The section goes on to quote the 1964 Catholic document Lumen gentium: “…the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come” (LG 68).

My “Berean radar” can hinder a search for answers, and that can be unhelpful, but where can being a good Berean be helpful?  I do believe that doctrines should be tested according to how well they fit with the narrative of Scripture, and whether they have Scriptural support.  And, from an academic perspective, not only a religious perspective, I also believe that what interpreters say about biblical teachings should be compared with what the biblical teachings themselves say.  How do I hold together my ambivalent Bereanism?  I will not thoroughly answer that question right now, except to say that I prefer Bereanism that enhances understanding, as opposed to dismissing perspectives too casually.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Write-Up: A Shared Mercy, by Jon Coutts

Jon Coutts.  A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Jon Coutts teaches theology and ethics at Trinity College, which is in Bristol, England.  A Shared Mercy is about theologian Karl Barth’s views on interpersonal forgiveness.

Not surprisingly, Barth’s views on interpersonal forgiveness are Christocentric.  For Barth, Christians’ forgiveness of others is based on Christ’s forgiveness of human beings, which is what actually frees them to forgive others.  Barth rejected the idea that Christians should simply enjoy God’s forgiveness by themselves, for Barth held that being a Christian entails being a part of a Christian community and extending forgiveness to other people, both inside and outside of the church.

Barth’s Christocentric view on interpersonal forgiveness can inspire questions.  For example, what about secular justifications for forgiveness, such as the idea that forgiveness has the therapeutic value of making the wronged person feel better, or the idea that people should try to empathize with other human beings, even those who hurt them?  Coutts, who largely agrees with Barth, does not dismiss the value of psychological insights on the issue of forgiveness, but he believes that they should be employed within a Christological context.  For Barth and Coutts, the Christological context is what provides a deep well for forgiveness, as well as hope when forgiveness appears absurd.  By themselves, secular justifications for forgiveness are problematic.  Forgiving for its therapeutic value is self-serving, and forgiving out of empathy for the offender is rooting forgiveness in similarities between two people, as opposed to loving those who are different.

The first chapter of the book was rather difficult in that it sought to resolve debates about the implications of Barth’s thoughts, while also summarizing a difference of opinion between Barth and von Balthasar.  These discussions may have been important to the book, since it is an academic treatment of Barth’s views on forgiveness, but they were rather arcane, in my opinion.  The chapter did have a fascinating quote by Rodney Petersen, however, about the marginalization of interpersonal forgiveness within “Christendom.”

While the first chapter was rather daunting, the rest of the book was lucid.  It largely focused on articulating Barth’s views, while also allowing Barth’s views to contribute to larger discussions about forgiveness.  Coutts interacted with challenging questions about interpersonal forgiveness: Does forgiveness trivialize evil?  Does needing to repent to receive forgiveness mean that forgiveness is not a free gift?  Do love and forgiveness entail reciprocity, or should they be unconditionally extended to people, even if they do not reciprocate?  On the last question, Barth believed that Christians should extend unconditional love, but he also thought that the end of such love should be Christian fellowship within the community, which is reciprocal.  Coutts’ attempts to resolve this apparent tension in Barth’s thought, among his other discussions of complex issues, was what made this book fascinating.

A theme that appears throughout the book is that there are wrong ways to extend and receive forgiveness.  People can forgive or publicly apologize in order to promote themselves, which is unhelpful.  There are shallow forms of forgiveness and repentance, and Barth discussed the latter in his interaction with the story of the Israelite spies in Numbers 12-14.  Finding the right balance between personal introspection and communal dialogue and attempts at resolution can be a challenge.

On the one hand, Coutts’ references to these pitfalls can make one feel that one can never get forgiveness and repentance right.  If forgiveness is a work of God rather than something that we try to muster by ourselves, as Barth argued, should we be heavily pressured to walk a fine line?  On the other hand, Coutts does well to discuss these pitfalls, for they may help explain why people can be sincere Christians, yet fail so often at forgiveness and love.  Plus, to his credit, Coutts does mention Barth’s emphasis on God’s continual mercy towards us, even when we stumble in our faltering efforts to forgive, and Coutts says that the Holy Spirit can use improper forgiveness, at least as a starting-point.

In terms of whether I like the book, I am giving the book five stars because it is deep and weighty.  I did learn things in reading this book, such as Derrida’s view that interpersonal forgiveness is unrealistic, and the relevance of deconstructionism to his stance. The interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns also stood out to me in this book, as Myers and Enns argued that the king in the parable does not represent God but is another character in the story who wrongly embraces vengeful retribution.

Because I am someone who is socially-challenged and struggles with resentment, a book on interpersonal forgiveness that says that God that requires interpersonal interaction will make me angry, in places.  I often greet the idea that people are supposed to be friends with each other in one big, happy community with “Dream on!”, and I had that reaction as I went through this book.  I am still unclear about how exactly God’s forgiveness of humanity in Christ frees us up to forgive, or how it enables us to get rid of our insecurities and pettiness.  Plenty of people believe in God’s forgiveness of humanity through Christ, or at least they think that they believe that, yet they still have ego!  And, while Coutts criticizes methods of forgiveness that fail to value the other as other, does his, and Barth’s, approach truly do this?  Forgiving others on account of Christ seems to place more emphasis on Christ rather than the others who would receive forgiveness.

Yet, Coutts does make important points.  For instance, as Coutts, Barth, and even Jesus maintain, confrontation of others may be necessary for reconciliation to occur, so that the confronted can come to terms with how hurtful their behavior is.  Yet, I would maintain that confrontation can also be very awkward and may even make matters worse, especially if people’s feelings get hurt or people nitpick from the standpoint of pettiness.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lessons on Love from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I was watching The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last night.  I found one scene especially interesting.

The dwarves, the men, the elves, and the orcs are all gathered for battle.  The elf Tauriel wants to go help the dwarves, and one reason is that she feels affection for one of the dwarves, Kili, who loves her.  The elf-king, Thranduil, however, is baffled that Tauriel wants to help the dwarves.  Thranduil says that, even if she rescues the dwarves, the dwarves will live for a hundred more years, or so, and will die.  Thranduil wondered what the point was of rescuing the dwarves, if they would soon die, anyway.  The dwarves are not immortal like the elves, after all!

Tauriel is outraged by Thranduil’s remarks.  She accuses Thranduil of thinking that his life is of more value than the lives of others, including the dwarves.  She also asks what the value is of living for a long time if that life lacks love.  As far as she can see, Thranduil lacks love.  She resolves to go to the dwarves to help them, and the elf Legolas volunteers to accompany her.  Legolas himself loves Tauriel, and he does not care for Kili’s affection for her.  Still, out of love for Tauriel, Legolas goes with her to rescue the dwarves, Kili included.

We see later in the movie that Thranduil is not entirely cold or bereft of love.  After Kili is killed, Tauriel weeps over his dead body, and she wonders what the point of love is if it is so painful.  Thranduil offers her words of comfort and assures her that love is worthwhile, whatever pain it may bring.  Thranduil later tells Legolas about the love that Legolas’ mother had for Legolas, and he tells Legolas about Strider, who will be a significant character in the Lord of the Rings.  Thranduil regards Strider as a man of goodness and integrity.  This indicates that even Thranduil values goodness and integrity in the brief lives that mortals live.  Ultimately, for Thranduil, it is not longevity that matters, but the quality and content of a life.

The interaction between Thranduil and Tauriel when Tauriel was about to help the dwarves stood out to me, since I have sometimes had similar thoughts to those of Thranduil.  Why should I give to charities that prolong people’s lives, when everyone will die sooner or later, anyway?  I one time read an account of an evangelical Christian who became an agnostic, and, for a time, he felt the same way: why do all this charity work when none of it matters in the end?  Everyone will die, anyway!

Many theists will argue that this is precisely why we need God as a foundation for morality: God values human beings, our character matters because it will be eternal, and God will reward our good deeds in the afterlife.  Our good deeds in this life matter within a theistic worldview, in short.  Yet, one can also take the eternity of life in another direction and end up devaluing this life, on some level.  That was my impression of the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is.  Krishna told Arjuna that he should feel free to kill in battle, since those whom he kills will live forever, anyway.  The Bhagavad Gita, As It Is encouraged charity, on some level, albeit not as much as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do.  But it preferred causes that spread Krishna-consciousness to causes that help the poor, for the former relate to eternity, not just this brief time on earth.

What Tauriel said to Thranduil is thought-provoking.  Her point was that it’s not enough simply to live, but the life needs to be a life of quality, one that contains love.  She loves Kili and will act on that love, even though Kili’s lifespan is significantly shorter than her own.  Why should I give to charities that prolong human lives, when people will die anyway?  Because I want my life here on earth to be characterized by love, not contempt, hate, or passive indifference towards others.  Plus, Tauriel’s question of whether Thranduil thinks his life is more valuable is relevant to my motivation: I am no more important than another human being, and, if I were hungry, I hope that someone would help me.  Why should I not do the same for another human being?  My love for recipients of charity is not as fervent as Tauriel’s love for Kili, but this is where theism enters the picture, for me: recipients of charity are loved by God, and so God cares whether I help them or not.  Theism also teaches me that my character in this life has eternal consequences, and that is why I should prefer to cultivate a loving, giving character.

Legolas’ act stands out to me because it is an act of selfless love.  Legolas will go with Tauriel to rescue the dwarves, even though he is upset that Tauriel loves one of them, and even though Legolas may get killed in the process.  Legolas is doing this because he loves Tauriel, period, and so what matters to Tauriel matters to him.  I will admit that I admire this picture of love, but I fall short dramatically from it.  Detachment can lessen pain, which is what Tauriel thinks after Kili dies.  I have no plans to give up detachment altogether, for it helps me a great deal when people reject me!  Yet, I should try to make Legolas’ approach a greater part of my life: to love others because I love them, not on account of anything they can do for me in return.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Unforgiving King of Matthew 18:21-35?

I am currently reading John Coutts’ A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church, and I will probably write my review of it tomorrow.  Today, I want to share something in the book about Jesus’ parable on forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35.

Some background information is in order.  First of all, on pages 89-91, Coutts is discussing the work of Ched Myers and Elaine Enns as it concerns the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35.  The bibliographical information is Ched Meyers and Elaine Enns, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, vol. 1, New Testament Reflections on Restorative Justice and Peacemaking (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009) 56, 65-66.  I recognized Ched Myer’s name because, in 2014, I read and reviewed his book Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.

Second, I should summarize the parable of Matthew 18:21-35.  In this parable, a king forgives the debt of a servant who owed him ten thousand talents.  That very same servant then turned around and refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount.  When the king heard this from other servants, he was outraged at the unmerciful servant and handed him over to torment in jail.  Jesus concludes by saying, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (KJV).  Jesus tells this parable after Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother who sins against him, and Jesus says Peter should forgive, not just seven times (as Peter proposed), but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).

Third, the story of Lamech in the Book of Genesis is relevant to this discussion, so I should summarize that.  Lamech appears in Genesis 4:18-24.  Lamech was a descendant of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel.  Lamech tells his two wives, Adah and Zillah, that he killed a man who merely wounded him.  Lamech then says, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy and seven fold” (KJV).  Lamech is alluding there to God’s interaction with Cain in Genesis 4:15: God expelled Cain, Cain expressed fear that someone would kill him, and God then tells Cain that “whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on his sevenfold” (KJV).  Lamech is taking this a step further: Lamech will take seventy and seven fold vengeance on anyone who hurts him!  Lamech is starting or perpetuating a cycle of vengeful retribution.

Back to the parable in Matthew 18:21-35.  Many people interpret the king in that parable to represent God, and they maintain that the lesson of the parable is that God will treat unforgiving people as the king in the parable treated the unforgiving servant: God will punish them.  Myers and Enns have a different interpretation, however, as they see the king, too, as a flawed character, chained to Lamech’s way of vengeance.  Coutts summarizes their view on pages 91-92:

“Referring to Amos Wilder’s depiction of Jesus’ parables as a ‘war of myths,’ they interpret it rather provocatively as a satirical judgment on the ‘retributive justice liturgy’ that prevails upon each of the parable’s characters.  Because the king shows himself ‘unwilling…to forgive more than once,’ Myers and Enns maintain that he is not intended by Jesus as an allegorical stand-in for God, but as an indication of the extent to which the king is himself deeply mired in Lamech’s ‘logic of retribution.’  Caught up in that logic, the parable’s king utilizes the common practice of ‘predatory lending’ in order to keep slaves in his debt.  The other servants operate under the same competitive logic when they turn the unmerciful servant in, such that all the characters are depicted as condemning themselves—-along with Lamech and everyone after him—-to the ‘collective death sentence of our own design.’  Particularly given Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer about how often to forgive, Myers and Enns conclude that the parable’s audience is meant to hear in the final verse of the chapter not an approval of any of the story’s characters but a warning that ‘God will not save us from the consequences’ of leaving Lamech’s ‘spiral of vengeance’ uninterrupted.”

For Myers and Enns, it is not only the unmerciful servant who is unmerciful in this story.  The king is unmerciful because he does not forgive after that one time (not to mention that the king is a predatory lender, who keeps servants in his debt by lending them lots of money).  The servants who turn the unmerciful servant in to the king are, likewise, unmerciful.  None of these characters demonstrates the lavish forgiveness that Jesus exhorted Peter to show—-the seventy times seven forgiveness!  As a result, all of the characters are trapped in Lamech’s cycle of vengeance.  And that will happen to us, if we do not forgive others from our hearts.

I like this interpretation because it presents forgiveness of others as something that is practical, rather than something that we do to appease a wrathful God.  In reading this interpretation, I thought of a comment that someone made on a theology board one time.  This person thought that the parable would have been a lot better had it presented the king doing more than forgiving the first servant’s debt.  Suppose that the king also paid the small debt of the servant who owed the unforgiving servant money?  What a way to model forgiveness to the unforgiving servant!  In reading that comment, I wished that the parable had said that, too, but I resigned myself to the fact that we have the Bible that we have, not the Bible that we wish!  It was refreshing, therefore, to read an alternative interpretation of the parable, that of Myers and Enns.

Am I convinced by their interpretation, though?  Not entirely.  For one, I can’t get past Jesus’ statement in Matthew 18:35 that “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (KJV).  That seems to be saying that God will treat unforgiving people the way that the king in the parable treated the unforgiving servant.  I wonder if, or how, Myers and Enns address that point.

Second, the idea that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew.  See Matthew 6:15.  The concept also appears in Mark 11:26.  It would not surprise me, therefore, if the parable in Matthew 18:21-35 reflects that teaching.  And yet, Myers and Enns still make a good point: does not that hyper-conditional conception of forgiveness contradict the lavish forgiveness that Jesus exhorts Peter to exercise right before Jesus tells the parable?  Does the parable as it is commonly interpreted mesh neatly with Jesus’ exhortation of lavish forgiveness earlier in Matthew 18?

On page 120 of A Shared Mercy, Coutts refers to a similar point made by Anthony Bash, in Forgiveness and Christian Ethics.  Coutts relays Bash’s view as follows: “Anthony Bash rightly asks how the ‘divine forgiveness is an unimaginably lavish gift to the undeserving’ if it is ‘made contingent on the degree to which one person forgives another,’ and thus proposes that the hints of contingency in Jesus’ statement apply not to the gift of divine forgiveness but to our experience of it.”

I’ll probably be repeating some of this, albeit in a more succinct form, in my review of Coutts’ book tomorrow or the next day.  Let me say that I do appreciate this book because it interacts with Christian thinkers who struggle to define forgiveness, and it itself wrestles with the issue.  I have encountered that often in Christian print, but, when it comes to Christians in a face-to-face context, they often tend to act as if their pat answers are obvious.  I myself question how well they walk the walk that they talk!  This is not to suggest that I walk it that well, either!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Book Write-Up: An Explorer's Guide to Karl Barth, by David Guretzki

David Guretzki.  An Explorer’s Guide to Karl Barth.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

I have read books by and about Karl Barth, the renowned Swiss theologian.  To put myself on a spectrum, I would say that I know some of the basics about Barth’s theology, yet there are many who are far more learned than I am.  That said, I found David Guretzki’s An Explorer’s Guide to Karl Barth to be helpful because it lucidly explained Barth’s thought and placed what Barth was saying in context.

For example, a number of conservative Christians have accused Barth of believing that the Bible becomes the Word of God when the Holy Spirit illuminates it to the hearer, as opposed to already being the Word of God.  Guretzki provides a quote, however, in which Barth affirms that the Bible is already God’s word.  Some have characterized Barth’s distinction between Historie and Geschichte as being that Historie is what takes place in real time, whereas Geschichte is some nebulous, elusive sacred history.  According to Guretzki, Barth believed that Geschichte, too, occurred in real time.  Barth in his Church Dogmatics often worked back from the incarnation to arrive at an understanding of creation and anthropology.  Guretzki explained why.  For Barth, God incarnate in Jesus Christ was God’s definitive and concrete revelation in history, as well as the goal of creation and sacred history, so what we know about God and God’s purposes is from the incarnation.

I still have questions, though.  If Barth saw God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the resulting covenant with humanity as the goal of creation, did Barth believe that the incarnation would have occurred, even had human beings not sinned?  If the incarnation were that important, would it be God’s Plan B in response to human sin?  I suppose that, somewhere in my mind, my conception of Christianity is that God revealed to humans a law, humans broke it, and so God sent Christ to atone for that.  That picture does tend to prioritize law.  Yet, there are additional considerations that may muddy this picture, a bit: Did God foresee and foreordain human sin, for example?  If so, then the incarnation appears to be more like God’s original plan than God’s Plan B, and that would coincide with Barth’s view that the incarnation was God’s goal.

Still, I have issues with treating the incarnation as God’s sole act of revelation.  What about general revelation, or the revelation of the Torah in the Hebrew Bible?  Can there be any revelation apart from Jesus Christ as God-incarnate?  Or perhaps I am mistaken in thinking that Barth treats Christ as God’s sole act of revelation.  The incarnation is paramount for Barth, though.

Anyway, my questions show that there is much for me to learn about Barth, and my understanding is that Barth does engage them, on some level.  Shao Kai Tseng’s Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology appears to engage them, as do parts of John Coutt’s A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church.

Guretzki’s book provides an index of Barth’s theological terms, such as dialectic; it humanizes Barth by talking about his life and interests; it discusses his theological disagreements with such figures as Brunner and Schleiermacher; it also summarizes his earlier works, shedding light on how they may have set the stage for his later thought.

Guretzki’s book is also helpful because it offers tips on how to read Barth.  Barth can be daunting, and people who want to explore his thought may wonder where to begin.  Guretzki gives advice on how people can explore Barth, depending on the depth that they want to go.  He refers to beginners’ and intermediate secondary sources at the end of the book.  Guretzki discusses what readers can do when they hit snags in their reading of Barth.  Guretzki also offers advice on how to conduct a Barth study group, and how to write a paper on Barth.  As Guretzki says, reading his book is no substitute for reading Barth himself.  Guretzki does well to offer guidance on how people can undertake such a task.

Guretzki’s account of his personal interest in Barth was interesting, too.  Guretzki talked about how Barth has been criticized by the theological left and right, and how Barth is worth reading because he emphasizes Jesus Christ and Scripture.

As of writing this, I am reading Jon Coutt’s A Shared Mercy, which concerns Barth’s views on forgiveness.  It was interesting, therefore, for me to read in Guretzki’s book about the estrangements and reunions in Barth’s own relationships.

Those who have heard about Barth and want to learn more, or those (like me) who have read Barth and would like a lucid description of Barth’s thought, will appreciate this book and find it useful.

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Movie Write-Up: Revelation Road (2013)

Revelation Road is a 2013 Christian movie.

David A.R. White plays Josh McManus, a traveling salesman with a violent past.  Josh has a couple of tussles with a biker gang, and, in one tussle, he fights and kills assailants with unusual speed.  The local sheriff, played by Eric Roberts, wonders if Josh used to work for the CIA.

Josh meets Frank and Frank’s granddaughter Beth, as Josh defended the two from the biker gang at Frank’s store.  At a barbecue, Frank shares with Josh that he himself served in war and did things of which he was not proud, but he found a new beginning by embracing Jesus, and Josh can, too.  Josh responds that he is not religious, and Josh shares that he found salvation in his wife, a Christian woman who loves Josh.

Throughout the movie, there are earthquakes and flashes in the sky.  At some point late in the movie, there is a bright blue light in the heavens, shining on the people of earth.  This is Jesus, who is about to take the saints to heaven in the rapture.  As Jesus is about to do so, he gives some unsaved people a chance to receive him, in a deep voice.  The saints then turn into little blue lights and rapidly ascend to heaven.

After the rapture, Frank’s granddaughter Beth sees a stranger by the road.  This stranger is played by Bruce Marchiano, who has played Jesus in at least three Christian films (and maybe this is a fourth!).  The stranger supernaturally hides Beth while the biker gang rides by.  The head biker senses something is amiss, but he cannot see the stranger or Beth, so he rides on.

Here are some points about the movie:

A.  Frank, the devout Christian and former military man, was played by Ray Wise, who played the anti-Christian ACLU attorney in God’s Not Dead 2.  That was a change of character, especially since his ACLU character wanted to exclude a former marine from sitting on the jury, fearing that the marine would bring his “God, country, family” values to the court case.

B.  A theme that appears more than once in this film is whether people can change.  Josh is earnestly trying to change but finds himself falling back into old patterns.  Josh seeks to avoid conflict with bullies, not because he is a wimp, but because he knows that he can seriously hurt, or even kill, them.  When Josh hears domestic violence in the next apartment and attempts to help the woman, he ends up seriously hurting the husband and father of the family.  It is when Josh is talking to the abused woman that they discuss the question of whether people can change what they are.

C.  The rapture scene was well-executed.  The light blue lights and the soft, eerie music enhanced the scene.  I also like that Jesus was gently and lovingly reaching out to the unsaved during, and after, the rapture.

The movie has sequels.  While I enjoyed this first movie, I will probably wait a while before I watch the next ones.  I don’t want to spend too much money on Amazon, and these $2.99 movies can add up!

Current Events Write-Up: Maverick Cabinet Picks, School Choice, Hillary Visited Working Class States, George Orwell, Etc.

Time for another week of news stories and opinion pieces!

The Trump Cabinet

Stephen Chapman’s column appears on Townhall, and he is usually a critic of Trump.  He is praising Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State and Andrew Puzder for Secretary Labor.  According to Chapman, Puzder has actually expressed openness to some minimum wage increase, as well as “a path to legal status—-short of citizenship—-for illegal immigrants” (Puzder’s words, as quoted by Chapman).

According to this Boston Globe article, current Secretary of State John Kerry “praised as thoughtful some of Trump’s nominees, including defense secretary nominee James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, who Trump has selected to be Kerry’s successor.”

POLITICO: Mattis: Trump Cabinet’s Lone Green Hope?: James Mattis Believes Climate Change Is a Security Threat and Catalyzed the Military’s Fuel Efficiency Efforts, by Eric Wolff.

James Mattis is President-elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense.  Mattis believes climate change is real, he helped move the military towards fuel efficiency, and he’s unafraid to speak his mind!

Townhall: Is Trump’s Pick for Budget Director a David Stockman Redux?, by Veronique de Rugy. 

According to Veronique de Rugy, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s selection for Office of Management and Budget, is a budget cutter.  But he’s for fiscal restraint when it comes to the defense budget and corporate cronyism, too, and the former may not endear him to Republicans!  I am concerned about possible Republican cuts in social programs for the needy.  At the same time, I respect Mulvaney for challenging budgetary bloatedness in the programs many Republicans love.

More on Trump

Townhall: Will Trump Be the ‘Transformative’ President Obama Wanted to Be?, by Jonah Goldberg.

Barack Obama in 2008 presented himself as someone who wanted to transcend ideology and listen to ideas from the other side.  Donald Trump, similarly, is behaving in ways that may indicate that he, too, wants to transcend ideology.  I loved this part in Goldberg’s column: “Going into the GOP primaries, the conventional wisdom held that the winner of the contest would be the candidate who displayed the most ideological purity. Instead the brass ring went to the contender with the least.”

I was a conservative in 2008, and, while I voted for the McCain/Palin ticket, I respected and admired Barack Obama for transcending ideology.  Now, in 2016, my political stances are more on the liberal side, and I like that Trump is transcending ideology.

Townhall: Trump’s First 100 Days for Black America, by Harry R. Jackson, Jr. 

Jackson advocates “regulatory reform,” vouchers for school choice, and sentencing reform as measures that can help African-Americans.  This article stood out to me because Jackson addressed an argument against school choice: “Critics typically recycle two tired arguments against allowing poorer parents the right to choose where their children are educated. The first is that school choice pulls money away from public schools. It does not. This accusation is at odds with actual public data that demonstrates per-pupil spending in public schools increases after school choice programs are implemented. (For example, per-pupil spending in Milwaukee public schools rose 58 percent in the years following the implementation of its voucher program.)”  You can read the column to see what the other argument is.  On a related note, see here for a similar argument for school choice, and here for anti-school choice arguments.

The 2016 Election

Washington Examiner: Faithless Electors Less Faithful to Clinton Than Trump, by Salena Zito.

I thought that was ironic!  Not exactly the narrative people were expecting!

Ori Weisberg on Facebook: “Many of us have been operating with the assumption that the Clinton campaign neglected rust-belt communities, and this is the chief reason she lost the election. This is certainly what Trump’s supporters want us to believe, because it reinforces their depiction of the left as out of touch, echo-chamber dwelling, bubble-inhabiting, smug elitists. But it comes from the left as well. There was a recent article on Sanders staffers who claim they weren’t listened to and knew this was coming that seems to corroborate this, and has some credible claims (…/team-bernie-hillary-fucking-…). But one metric contradicts it. Clinton certainly DID show up where she needed to. Here is her number of appearances per state in October: FL 33, OH 30, NC 28, PA 26, MI 19, NV 17, IA 16, WI 11, NH 9, NY 8, CA 6, MA 6, CO 5, MN 4, AZ 3, DC 3, IL 3, TX 3, ME 2, VA 2, GA 1, MD 1, MO 1, NJ 1 (…/2016-2/october-2016/).”

I am tempted to believe that stereotype about some on the left, perhaps on account of my own experiences and prejudices.  Yet, I am not surprised that Hillary Clinton showed up in those states.  But she obviously failed to make the connection with enough voters in those states to win, and her neoliberal positions and ties to the establishment probably did not help her.

On ABC This Week last Sunday, Democratic National Committee chairperson Donna Brazile was interviewed, and she was complaining about the hackings.  Yet, she acknowledged that the Democratic Party still has work to do: “You know, I’m not going to sugarcoat what happened on Election Day. We, the Democratic Party has a lot of things that we have to do. Donald Trump cracked the blue wall, OK? He cracked the blue wall. We had a blue wall. We should’ve maintained it. We should’ve kept it.”

Historical Interest

George Orwell Was a Reactionary Snitch Who Made a Blacklist of Leftists for the British Government, by Ben Norton. 

“Apologists insist Orwell simply ‘sold out’ later in life and became a cranky conservative, yet the story is more complex. Orwell had a consistent political thread throughout his life. This explains how he could go from fighting alongside a Spanish Trostkyist militia in a multi-tendency war against fascism to demonizing the Soviet Union as The Real Enemy — before returning home to imperial Britain, where he became a social democratic traitor who castigated capitalism while collaborating with the capitalist state against revolutionaries trying to create socialism.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Book Write-Up: Called by Triune Grace, by Jonathan Hoglund

Jonathan Hoglund.  Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Called by Triune Grace, by Jonathan Hoglund, is relevant to the Calvinist concept of irresistible grace.  For many Calvinists, human beings are so depraved that they are unable to accept the Gospel on their own, so God enables a select number of them to believe in the Gospel and to desire godly things.  Many Calvinists regard this process as irresistible: those whom God so transforms are unable to say “no” to God’s transformation of them.  Actually, as God transforms their desires, they will not even want to say “no” to it!

Hoglund writes from a Reformed perspective, and he appears to accept the concept of irresistible grace.  Still, he has questions.  For one, Hoglund does not care for how some conceptions of irresistible grace depict humans as utterly passive, as if they are lifeless blocks of wood upon which God is acting.  Second, there is the question of how exactly irresistible grace occurs.  Does God infuse into select people the sort of disposition and attributes that would enable them to accept the Gospel?  Does God transform them while they are hearing the Gospel?  Is God’s transformation like illumination, or raising a spiritually dead corpse from the dead?  Is it primarily intellectual, enabling people to understand the Gospel, or does it transform the will, as well?  Does God use means, such as life experiences, to prepare people to receive the Gospel?

Then there is the question of how exactly the word of God fits into the equation.  There are Scriptures that appear to indicate that the word of God itself is what gives birth to born again believers (I Peter 1:23; James 1:18).  Is it, though, according to the Calvinists who believe that regeneration must precede a person’s hearing of the word for that person to accept it?  Does the word itself, the Gospel and the Scriptures, play a role in a person’s transformation?

Hoglund surveys Calvinist thought on these questions, including (but definitely not limited to) the thought of John Owen and Jonathan Edwards.  Occasionally, Hoglund refers to non-Calvinist thought on divine grace, such as the thought of Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, and Arminians.  Schleiermacher technically belongs to the Reformed camp, but he is not known for emphasizing predestination or irresistible grace.  His view on how God brings people to Godself, through the historical passing down of Jesus’ God-consciousness through witnesses, is discussed extensively by Hoglund.

Hoglund’s own contribution believes that rhetoric plays a significant role in God’s process of enabling people to believe.  Hoglund refers to Scriptures that highlight the importance of persuasive techniques and appeals in God’s word, or the conveying of God’s word.  The Father’s authority behind the word, for Hoglund, provides an ethos that can persuade a person to believe, and the Holy Spirit illuminates a person’s understanding, enabling one to see Jesus Christ as he is, as beautiful.  Hoglund seems rather uncomfortable likening unbelievers to a passive, lifeless corpse, so he believes that God, in transforming unbelievers into believers, works with human faculties, such as reason and emotion.

There were times when I was reading this book and wondered if Calvinist thinkers were making the problem more difficult than it needed to be.  Yes, a person believes the word and becomes saved, and, yes, God needs to transform a person for that to happen.  The content of the word itself is righteous and edifying and thus plays some role in spiritual transformation and renewal, and yet one needs a certain disposition to accept it.  Why all the disagreement among Calvinists?  Hoglund’s book is still valuable, in my opinion.  The mechanics of how conversion takes place is not exactly obvious.  Hoglund does well to survey Christian thought on this, and also to highlight shortcomings to various proposals.  Certain analogies have their shortcomings, which often are not acknowledged by those who make them.  Hoglund does well to go deeper.

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

Church Write-Up: Going Home "Another Way"

At church last week, the main Scripture text was Matthew 2:12.  Speaking about the magi who visited young Jesus, the passage states: “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (KJV).

The pastor stressed that they went home “another way.”  And the pastor said that this is how we should be when it comes to church, allegorically-speaking, that is: we should go home “another way,” that is, different from how we were when we came in.  If we came to church happy, we should leave church happier.  If we came to church sad, we should leave encouraged, even if it’s by a little bit.  The pastor said that, for many, church is the only light that they get in their depressing, chaotic week.  The pastor said that the change in us when we leave the service may be slight, and that is okay; yet, we should still go home another way.  We should have been impacted by the service, in some manner.

The pastor said that we should come to church expecting to be fed.  He added that he throws so much out at us, that certainly we can find something in the sermon and make a sandwich out of it!  I identified with that.  When I sit down to write my blog post about the sermon, there are so many items from it on which I could write blog posts!  But I choose the topics that were especially meaningful to me.  I do not always agree with what the pastor says.  But he always gives me something to chew on, on my walk home from church, and in my weekly church write-up.  In some cases, I profoundly disagree with his sermon, but I end up finding some common ground with it.  That, in my mind, is me going home another way!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie Write-Up: God's Not Dead 2

I watched the 2016 Christian movie, God’s Not Dead 2, on Amazon last night.  God’s Not Dead 2 is the sequel to the 2014 movie God’s Not Dead.

Here are some items.  In the course of my commentary, I will share aspects of the movie’s plot.

A.  Martin Yip was in God’s Not Dead.  He was from the People’s Republic of China, and he was a student in Professor Radisson’s philosophy class, along with Christian Josh Wheaton.  In God’s Not Dead 2, Martin approaches Pastor Dave with 147 questions about the Bible and Christianity!  Martin tells Pastor Dave that Josh told him that Pastor Dave might have answers to his questions.

One of Martin’s questions was especially good.  Martin referred to the Golden Rule in Luke 6:31, and Martin questioned whether it was possible for him to care about other people and their needs in the exact same way, or to the exact same extent, that he cares about his own.  I find that to be an excellent point.  I support caring for others and their well-being, and even doing things concretely to help them.  I also realize that, for the sake of peace and the well-being of others, I cannot always get what I want.  But seriously: of course I will prioritize my own needs over the needs of others’!  And, before you criticize me for saying this, here’s a newsflash: you do too!  For example, you work to earn money for yourself and your family.  You do not give your entire income away to another family!

Martin also said to Pastor Dave that, for every one of Pastor Dave’s answers, Martin had three more questions!  Pastor Dave likened this to a candle: the brighter the flame, the greater is the darkness around it.  I do not know how accurate that is, but I do like the concept of answers generating more questions, and answers to those questions generating more questions.  Wouldn’t one expect that, when it comes to an infinite, deep God?  How different this is from the situation in which evangelicals give pat answers to questions and expect that to close the door on the subject!

B.  In the first movie, Amy Ryan was a left-wing atheist blogger.  Then she learned that she was dying of cancer, and the Christian band, the Newsboys, prayed with her.  She became receptive to faith at that point.  In God’s Not Dead 2, Amy learns that her cancer is in remission, and the Newboys attribute that to divine healing.  But Amy is unsure about what she should do with her faith after this.  When she had cancer, she was clinging to Jesus for dear life, for that got her through her time of uncertainty.  Now that her time of uncertainty has passed, she does not know why she should have faith, or even if she wants to have faith.

I appreciated this part of the movie, since I deal with similar questions.  I have clinged to God for years because there has been a lack in my life.  Because I have Asperger’s, I do not have too many friends, and I have felt alone.  Also, I am not where I would like to be professionally.  I have wondered: suppose that I were liked by more people and were prospering financially?  Would I maintain my relationship with God, or would I leave God, becoming an atheist or a-religious agnostic?

Amy has a conversation with Pastor Jude, who is Pastor Dave’s friend from Africa.  Pastor Jude speculates that Amy still feels drawn to Jesus, on some level, and this is why she is still thinking about faith, even after her cancer remission.  And yet, he says that part of Amy doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus.  Amy could identify with that.  So can I!

C.  Brooke Thawly is a high-school student, and her brother was recently killed in an accident.  She is having difficulty moving on from that.  She meets with her history teacher, Grace Wesley, outside of school and the two of them have a discussion about faith.  Grace goes home that night to her grandfather, Walter (played by Pat Boone), and Walter says, “Atheism doesn’t take away the pain, only the hope!”

Is that true?  I can envision Christianity adding more pain rather than taking pain away!  If conservative Christians are correct that God damns to hell those who failed to accept Jesus in this life, would that make people feel better?  Fortunately, Brooke’s brother accepted Jesus before his death, but suppose he hadn’t?  Many people don’t!  Christian doctrines about heaven and hell would not comfort Brooke, in that case.  Plus, there is the problem of evil: if God could have saved the life of Brooke’s brother, why didn’t God do so?

At the same time, I can also envision Christianity adding a sliver of hope.  God is a personal being, not an inflexible doctrine, so who is to say that God absolutely, positively cannot save people who failed to commit to Jesus in this life?  That doesn’t mean that we should test God, but there is a sliver of hope, to which even some evangelicals appeal when discussing the issue of hell.

D.  The movie revolves around a court case.  Grace in a class lecture is asked a question by Brooke, and Grace answers Brooke’s question by talking about the role of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of non-violence.  Grace specifically cites and quotes Matthew 5:39.

Grace gets in trouble for that, as her superiors claim that she was teaching religion in a public school, which is unconstitutional.  The ACLU, representing Brooke, brings a lawsuit against Grace.

You would think that this sort of case would be absurd: Grace was not promoting Christianity by telling her students about the role of the Sermon on the Mount in American history!  She was making a historical point, not a religious point!

To my surprise, though, the ACLU attorney, Pete Kane, actually made some fairly decent points, which is not to say that a real ACLU attorney would make those arguments.  Kane said that Grace, by citing chapter and verse, was showing her class that she knew the Scriptures well and was a devout Christian, and thus was promoting religion as a teacher.  (One could counter that Grace, in citing chapter and verse, was showing that she was literate rather than religious, but I can still see Kane’s point, at least somewhat.)  Kane also attempted to establish a record of Grace proselytizing on school grounds: Grace invited teachers and staff to an activity at her church, Grace collected funds at school for a religious charity, and Grace broached the subject of religion to Brooke.

Grace’s union-appointed lawyer, Tom Endler, also made some decent points, but his points contradicted each other.  On the one hand, he wanted to deny that Grace was teaching religion in school.  He argued that Grace was simply making a historical point in response to a student’s question, rather than promoting Christianity.  In the course of the movie, he attempts to establish that Jesus was a historical figure, in order to argue that Grace has a right to talk about the teachings of Jesus in a classroom history course, as she would have a right to talk about the teachings of any other historical person.  On the other hand, Tom made the usual right-wing talking-point that separation of church and state is nowhere in the Constitution, and he seemed to argue that, in a diverse society, Grace shouldn’t be required to leave her faith at the door when she enters a public setting.

Grace herself had a contradictory attitude.  She maintained that she was simply making a historical point in class, but she also framed her perils in religious terms: she needs to be faithful to God, rather than the world!

E.  Sheila O’Malley at Roger Ebert’s site, not surprisingly, gives the movie a low grade.  Yet, she still praises the performance of Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace: “The only really good scene in the movie features real-life cold case homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace, who used his forensic statement analysis skills on the gospels, resulting in a book called ‘Cold Case Christianity.’ He’s put on the stand in defense of poor, wronged Grace Wesley, and his testimony is simply delivered and thought-provoking.”

Regarding J. Warner Wallace, I somewhat identify with what blogger DagoodS said in a comment on his blog, particularly when Dagood criticized Wallace for “treat[ing] 1st Century documents like 21st Century police-reports…”  One can legitimately argue that the two are apples and oranges!

Still, I appreciated Sheila O’Malley doing the unexpected and praising an aspect of the movie.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Book of Isaiah and God's Kingdom

Andrew T. Abernethy.  The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach.  Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Andrew T. Abernethy teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College.  The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom is not a verse-by-verse commentary that goes through every single chapter of the Book of Isaiah, even though it does discuss different scholarly views on a number of verses.  Rather, the book is thematic, as it focuses on the Book of Isaiah’s interaction with the subject of God’s kingdom.  Topics related to this include: God being king amidst the historical turmoils Israel faced; God’s eschatological kingdom, which God will set up on Zion but which will influence and even encompass the entire world; God’s activity as warrior-king, in pursuit of justice; and God the king’s agents, including the Davidic king, the servant of the Lord in Second Isaiah, and the Lord’s messenger of Third Isaiah.  Abernethy also refers to the New Testament, albeit not in a manner that forces Isaiah’s themes into a New Testament mold or projects Christian concepts onto the Book of Isaiah.  Rather, Abernethy shows where there is overlap between the Book of Isaiah’s themes and what the New Testament says about Jesus, as well as ways in which the New Testament builds on Isaiah’s themes.

I would like to comment on four aspects of the book:

A.  To his credit, Abernethy was unafraid to stray from certain conservative Christian interpretations.  Abernethy believes that Isaiah 7:14 originally related to the seventh century B.C.E. rather than predicting a Messiah who would be born of a virgin centuries later.  He argues that the description of the newborn son in Isaiah 9:1-6 does not portray the son as a divine being, but rather calls this newborn Davidic king “mighty God” to highlight God’s might in the seventh century B.C.E.   Although Jesus applies Isaiah 61:1 to himself in Luke 4:18, Abernethy disputes the scholarly idea that the messenger of Isaiah 61 is portrayed as a prophesied Davidic king; rather, he maintains that the messenger is a prophet, speaking about God’s restoration of Israel when the Persians were ruling it.  In these cases, and more, Abernethy judiciously evaluates scholarly views, noting their strengths and weaknesses, while defending his own view.  Some chapters in this book were better than others, but Abernethy’s surveys of different interpretations made this book especially interesting.

B. Abernethy does attempt to connect the Book of Isaiah with the New Testament.  Although he says that Isaiah 7:14 originally applied to a child in the seventh century B.C.E., he states that the Gospel of Matthew applies that verse to Jesus to argue that, as God was with Israel in the seventh century B.C.E., so likewise is God with Israel in the first century C.E.  Abernethy notes that God in Isaiah 59:15-17 wears the same sort of armor that Christians are exhorted to wear in Ephesians 6:14-17; reading these texts together, Abernethy concludes that Ephesians 6:14-17 is encouraging Christians to join God in God’s work of defeating oppression (in the case of Ephesians 6:14-17, supernatural oppression).  On pages 197-198, Abernethy compares the story of Jesus with the larger story in the Book of Isaiah: both discuss God rebuilding Israel on a righteous or repentant remnant, and both posit a role for Israel in God’s plan to renew creation and bring Gentiles to God-self.  This last discussion would have been stronger had Abernethy interacted with the theme of Israel’s return from exile in the New Testament, since (as Abernethy knows) Israel’s restoration from exile is highly significant to God’s purposes in the Book of Isaiah.

On one occasion, in discussing the Servant of the Lord in Second Isaiah, Abernethy appears open to the view that the Servant was an ideal figure, someone Israel in exile hoped would come.  That would open the door to Jesus being the expected Servant of the Lord, rather than the Servant being some historical figure in the sixth century B.C.E.  But does such a view do justice to the context of Second Isaiah?  Even Abernethy seems to acknowledge that the Servant related, in some manner, to the amelioration of Israel’s exile, presumably (albeit not necessarily) her exile in Babylon.  How would an ideal figure accomplish this?  How would that be relevant to Jesus?  I am not saying a connection between Jesus and the themes of Second Isaiah is impossible, but, if one believes in such a connection, it should be explained.

C.  Overall, Abernethy treats First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39) as relating to the seventh century B.C.E.: God will deliver Judah from the Assyrians and establish a Davidic kingship, along with eschatological paradise, in the aftermath of the Assyrians’ defeat.  Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55) and the Servant in that section of the Book of Isaiah, for Abernethy, pertain to God delivering Israel from Babylonian exile.  And Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66), along with the messenger of that book, concerns God’s imminent judgment of evildoers and vindication of the righteous, within the context of Persia’s subjugation of post-exilic Judah.

One can ask: Is the Book of Isaiah a collection of frustrated, unfulfilled eschatological hopes and dreams?  Obviously, writers, redactors, and editors of the Book of Isaiah did not think so, for they continued to see themes in the book as still relevant, even amidst new historical situations.  The writer of Second Isaiah, for instance, arguably observed themes about Israel’s deliverance from Assyria and applied the theme of deliverance to Israel’s redemption from Babylonian exile.  What was their theological rationale for this, though?  Would not the unfulfillment of certain prophecies in First Isaiah disqualify First Isaiah’s divine authority, in light of Deuteronomy 18:21-22?

Abernethy in this book never devotes a section or an explicit discussion to this topic, yet he does say things that are relevant to it.  Sometimes, he prefers to look at the book thematically or generally while bypassing thorny historical questions: he says that the Book of Isaiah affirms that God was Israel’s deliverer from the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians, and will continue to be Israel’s deliverer.  That may coincide with the view of those who put the Book of Isaiah together, continued to see relevance in its parts, and canonized it.  Still, such an approach dodges the problem that sections of Isaiah seemed to expect a near eschatological divine intervention that historically failed to take place.

The closest Abernethy gets to resolving this problem is when he appears to imply that God changed God’s strategies.  For instance, God hoped that God’s plans in First Isaiah would result in a righteous people and a righteous Davidic king, but they did not, so God in Israel’s exile appealed to Israel with the Suffering Servant.  Yet, for Abernethy, God did not abandon God’s plan for a righteous Davidic king to rule God’s eschatological kingdom, for that would remain on the table; it would just come later.  Convincing or not, Abernethy deserves credit for his attempt to balance the Book of Isaiah’s historical meanings and their possible trans-historical (i.e., canonical) meanings, and what he says is thought-provoking.

D.  Abernethy’s discussion of social justice in Isaiah 58 was especially good.  According to Abernethy, Isaiah 58 exhorted wealthy landowners to free the indebted, including slaves, while also providing the newly freed people with resources to get, and stay, on their feet.  That should be the goal of charity for the poor, in my opinion.

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Write-Up: Adam, by R.C. Besteder

R.C. Besteder.  Adam: You Are Descended from Adam.  What About Adam?  Bloomington: WestBow, 2013.  See here to buy the book.

This book has reflections and musings about the primeval history in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 1-11).

Overall, I found this book to be an enjoyable read.  R.C. Besteder is well-read.  He refers to Sumerian history and mythology, Herodotus, Virgil, and Native American lore, among other things, in commenting on Genesis.  He quotes elements of Lee Strobel’s conversion story and apologetics and refers to a book that says that Darwinism influenced Stalin (not that I know one way or the other whether that is true, but Bestender refers to a book that one can read).  Bestender says that Bertrand Russell’s daughter was disappointed that her father failed to consider the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (again, I don’t know if that is true, but it is something to check out).  Besteder also tells personal anecdotes, particularly about the time when he was a military chaplain.  These references and anecdotes made the book interesting, informative, and edifying, even though the book lacked earth-shaking, fresh insights about Genesis.  The book had good discussions, but what it said about the Fall is what a lot of Christians say about the Fall.  According to the Acknowledgments, a person with a Ph.D. who worked with Christianity Today helped proofread this book, so, not surprisingly, it is fairly well-written.

In terms of negatives, the book was very dismissive of evolution, without considering that there may be evidence for it.  Occasionally, the book was overly informal.  In an excellent discussion about whether animals have souls, Besteder says, “Through my dog, Rot, I have come to understand an animal’s individual personality, intelligence, and spiritual propensities.”  Sounds good!  But then Besteder goes on to say, “Most people reading this book will not have the slightest hint of what I’m writing about.”  That last line was unnecessary.  It was overly informal and detracted from an otherwise tight discussion, plus it may alienate the writer from the reader, since plenty of readers (myself included) would know precisely what he was talking about.

Besteder argues that the sons of God who have sex with the daughters of men in Genesis 6 are sons of Seth.  He quotes Warren Wiersbe’s comments on this issue, which were helpful.  But Besteder also seemed to argue that Augustine’s view that the sons of God were sons of Seth had authority, since it was an old interpretation.  I liked Besteder’s references to Augustine, but the fact is that there are older interpretations of Genesis 6 that claim that the sons of God were angels, or supernatural beings.  I Enoch is one example.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Current Events Write-Up: Rex Tillerson, "Fake News," the Bill of Rights, Alan Thicke, and More

I’ve got some current events and opinions links for this week!

The Trump Cabinet

President-elect Donald Trump selected Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.

Pat Buchanan is happy with the decision, from the standpoint of supporting a more non-interventionist foreign policy: “Most businessmen are interested in doing deals, making money, and, if the terms are not met, walking away, not starting a war.  And here is the heart of the objection to Tillerson. He wants to end sanctions and partner with Putin’s Russia, as does Trump. But among many in the mainstream media, think tanks, websites, and on the Hill, this is craven appeasement. For such as these, the Cold War is never over.”

Robert Reich is concerned: “Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the first nominee for that office whose résumé and wealth hinge on his partnerships with tyrants around the world.”

And prominent social conservative Tony Perkins lambastes Rex Tillerson, noting Tillerson’s socially liberal positions.

Moving on to the President-elect’s choice for Interior Secretary, Wes Siler of Outside has an article entitled “Trump’s Interior Pick Is the Last Hope for Our Public Lands: Former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke Opposes the Republican Land Heist. He May Be the Best Environmental Hope We Have in This Administration.”  As you can tell, the article, overall, lauds Zinke, and what Siler says deserves just as much consideration as the anti-Trump narratives. Yet, near the end, the article briefly mentions aspects of Zinke’s stances that may be of concern to many environmentalists.

More on Trump

Bill Gates recently spoke with the President-elect, and Gates has expressed optimism: “But in the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that, I think whether it’s education or stopping epidemics … [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Trump’s] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation.”

Eleanor Clift was on the McLaughlin Group with Pat Buchanan for decades.  In a Daily Beast article, she talks about Buchanan’s reactions to the Trump campaign and the Trump transition.  I’m not endorsing everything Buchanan says, but I am interested in his analysis.

At the Literary Hub, Jordan Rothacker has an interview with John Reed, who wrote a parody sequel to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  One of the lines I liked: “Do you realize that quite a few Marxists are in the upper echelons of global corporations? It’s because they understand the system.”  But here’s where Reed talks about Trump: “As much as I loathe Trump, he doesn’t like the new paradigm either. At least internationally. He’d prefer isolationism, which is not something he’ll be able to advance in slightest. This idea that we can export our power structure, and by so doing expand our economic dominance, is central to corporate strategy. I do suppose on the domestic front, Trump fits in rather precisely.”

Townhall had some articles on Trump’s trade policies.  Stephen Chapman is obviously not a fan, for his article is entitled “Trump’s Self-Defeating Trade Policy.” Chapman lucidly explains his position.  This part was especially helpful in explaining potential drawbacks to protectionism: “U.S. automakers use a multitude of imported components. Most of the cars built on our soil, in fact, contain more than 25 percent foreign parts. A lot of other products assembled here include materials or pieces made elsewhere.  As a result, any duties slapped on imports would inflate costs for American manufacturers, making it harder for them to sell both at home and abroad. It would even hurt other U.S. firms that buy and use imported goods in their operations. In an era of global supply chains, punishing foreigners amounts to punishing American companies and their workers.”

Seton Motley, on the other hand, had an article entitled “Actual Free Trade and Trump Trade Are Absolutely, Perfectly Compatible.”  At first, the article complains about GOP strategies in government.  But it had some interesting insights about trade: “Actual free trade deals – should be, like, eight pages. ‘This agreement eliminates the following tariffs, taxes and subsidies:….’ The Trans-Pacific Partnership – has reached (at least) 5,544 pages. That’s not a free trade deal – that’s a cronyism-packed, government-riddled nightmare mess.  And these ‘free trade’ deals – routinely ignore the anti-free trade practices of the nations with which we are trading. To wit: China. Trump has long and rightly pointed out how damaging to us is China’s currency manipulation. And China imposes all sorts of tariffs on all sorts of U.S. imports, which we continually, blithely ignore – in the name of one-way, America-damaging ‘free trade.'”

On ABC This Week

On ABC This Week last Sunday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill had thoughts about how Democrats can “win back those rural, small-town voters…they have lost” (from George Stephanopoulos’ question).  She said:

“Well, I think it’s important that we show up. I think it’s important that we communicate directly with all those working people.  You know, I was really shocked this week that, after all of this talk about coal miners and all of this talk about Buy America, the Republicans and the House of Representatives gutted health care and pension protections for coal miners and removed the Buy America provision that had been put in the bill in a bipartisan basis.  So I think we have got to call out the Republicans, where their walk doesn’t match their talk, and I think we also have to make sure that we communicate clearly that we are the party that cares deeply in our core about working people in this country.”

Fidel Castro

The controversial Richard Falk had things to say about Fidel Castro and the Western media’s response to his death:

“I have been bemused by the captious tone and condescending assessments of mainstream media in the West reacting to Fidel Castro’s death on November 25, 2016. Typical was coverage in The Economist, which while acknowledging Castro’s epic historical role, and even grudgingly admitting that he achieved world class health care and universal education in his impoverished country, reached the ‘politically correct’ conclusion that these achievements were ‘outweighed by his drab legacy. Much of the human capital was wasted by his one-party system, police state, and stagnant centrally planned economy.’…In contrast to generally condescending appraisals in the West, I call attention to two extraordinary essays of appreciation written by cherished friends. One by Sri Lanka’s lead diplomat and cultural critic, Dayan Jayatilleka, published as an opinion piece in the Colombo Telegraph beneath a suitable headline, ‘A Farewell to Fidel: The Last of Epic Heroes,’ Nov. 26, 2016. Dayan not only celebrates Castro’s heroic revolutionary achievement in transforming Cuba from its gangster state identity in the Batista period to a vital outpost of Third World progressive ideals. He also underscores the admirable ethics of liberation violence that guided Castro’s revolutionary practice in ways that exhibited disciplined respect for the innocence of civilian life. For greater detail see Jayatilleka fine appreciative study, Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: The Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro (London: Pluto Press, 2007). This conception of the ethics of political violence has been essentially absent from the manner in which the struggle between terrorist groups and sovereign states has been waged in various combat zones, especially since the 9/11 attacks. Jayatilleka’s assessments have been confirmed and extended in the recently published book by Nick Hewlett entitled Blood and Progress: Violence in the Pursuit of Emancipation (Edinburgh, Scotland: University of Edinburgh Press, 2016).”

That part about “ethics of liberation violence” that respected innocent “civilian life” stood out to me.  How would one reconcile that with human rights abuses in Cuba?  Perhaps one can say that the victims were neither innocent nor civilian, in the eyes of the Castro regime, but were counter-revolutionary.  In any case, Castro’s articulation of an ethics of liberation violence does not surprise me, since Castro did think about issues, including religion.  But there are people who would probably disagree with the idea that Castro respected innocent civilian life.  Falk’s post is also interesting because it talks about different reactions to Castro’s death.

“Fake News”

Facebook is devising a new “fake news” policy, which would label and possibly marginalize “fake news” sites, on the basis of what “fact-checking” sites say (or so I understand the proposed policy).
William LaJeunesse of Fox News has an illuminating article entitled: “Facebook’s War on ‘Fake News’ Has Skeptics Asking: Who Decides?”  The article explains the concern some conservatives, and even some non-conservatives, have about Facebook’s policy, along with Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to clarify it.

Historical Interest

It was Bill of Rights Day this last week.  Ed Feulner of Townhall had an article entitled “We Almost Didn’t Have the Bill of Rights.”

Feulner says that some people opposed the Bill of Rights because they thought people already had those rights, without the government needing to recognize them explicitly.  For the government to codify those rights would be to imply that the rights came from government, as opposed to being natural, or given by God.  If Feulner is correct, I wonder how that would correspond with the view that, prior to the Fourteenth Amendment, the Bill of Rights restricted the federal government but not the state governments.  If a right is natural or given by God, would that not imply that a state should not be able to suppress it?  On a related note, see Steve Hays’ post, The Bill of Rights.


Growing Pains actor Alan Thicke passed on this last week.  Thicke played the dad, Jason Seaver.    This article talked about the kind of dad he played.  I remember two episodes in particular.  On one, Mike, Jason’s oldest son (played by Kirk Cameron), saw the ghost of his uncle, jogging into the kitchen, just like the uncle did before dying.  Mike told Jason, and Jason calmly and wisely suggested that Mike find out what the ghost wants.  Jason was a psychologist, and yet he did not dismiss what Mike saw.  He listened, took Mike seriously, and was understanding.  On another episode, Mike gets a bad grade from his psychology professor, so Jason does Mike’s homework.  But that gets a bad grade, too!  So Jason has a debate with Mike’s psychology professor!

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