Thursday, December 14, 2017

Church Write-Up: Tragedy and Humility

I went to the Wednesday Advent service at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Here are some items.  I will also be linking to previous posts that I have written.

A.  The pastor opened his message with a personal anecdote.  He talked about a woman to whom he was engaged back when he was a young vicar, and the woman was seeing another man.  They broke off the engagement.  His friends told him that they saw that coming, and he asked them why they did not warn him.  One of them replied, “We would have, but we figured that you wouldn’t have listened anyway.”  The pastor agreed with them: he probably wouldn’t have listened.  I could identify with that.

B.  The pastor related that to how we do not listen to how nature testifies to God, and how we should listen.  Some of this message continued themes from last week’s Advent message, which I wrote about here.  The pastor reiterated that creation’s beauty testifies to God, but that creation, like humanity, is under God’s judgment due to the Fall of Adam and Eve.  The pastor cited earthquakes as an example of the latter.  I wrestled some with that in last week’s post, expressing doubt that God created fault lines after Adam and Eve sinned.  Since then, I reread an old post of mine that has gotten some traction on my WordPress blog: Does “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” Agree with John Walton?  The ancient Christian work, “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan,” maintains that God, before the Fall, created aspects of the world in anticipation of the Fall.  In short, God created the world knowing that Adam and Eve would sin and leave the Garden.  Could God have created fault lines before the Fall, knowing that the Fall would occur?

C.  This week, the pastor focused more on natural disasters.  One of our texts was Psalm 107, which mentions four crises from which God delivers people after they call on him.  This particular Psalm intrigued me when I read it about five years ago.  Here is my post about it.  Our text focused on the fourth crisis, which is in vv 23-32.  Some savvy business people are going out to the sea to do business.  They think they know all about seafaring, for that is their profession.  But then God sends a ferocious sea-storm, which humbles them.  They call out to God, and God stills the waters.

The pastor was talking about how nature humbles us.  He mentioned natural disasters, perhaps implying that God uses them to humble us.  But he also noted that two-feet of snow is enough to shut down Portland.

I was reminded of when Kirk Cameron said that God sent recent hurricanes to teach us humility.  It was a controversial statement.  I can understand why people found it so revolting.  People have lost lives, livelihoods, and homes due to natural disasters.  We should consider that to be a horrible thing, and maybe even try to help.  (And, for the record, this particular Lutheran church has donated to victims of natural disasters.)  I do not want to sit comfortably in my room, pontificating that God had a purpose behind taking away people’s homes.  That would be horrible, if that happened to me.  And I do not want God to say, “You think that is a good thing?  Well, here you go!”

Yet, there are so many things in life that are humbling: natural disasters, diseases, etc.  I humbly ask God to protect me from them.  Yet, there are godly people who have suffered them, or even died from them.

I read a book last year, Randy Alcorn’s lengthy If God Is Good.  I wrote a post about it, but I did not mention in that post a part of the book that has particularly stuck with me.  Alcorn said that the times when he is on his back due to his diabetes keep him from getting a huge ego.  There are plenty of things in life that can keep us from being overly egocentric.

I hope that this post does not come across as insensitive.  I want to value humility.  Yet, I would not want to tell people that their suffering is somehow good, since that seems to go against the empathy and compassion that we are supposed to have.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Write-Up: Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief

Yvonne Ortega.  Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief.  EA Books Publishing, 2017.  See here or here to purchase the book.

According to the “About the Author” page of the book, “Yvonne Ortega is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed substance abuse treatment practitioner, and a clinically certified domestic violence counselor.”

In this book, Ortega talks about ways to cope with grief after the loss of a loved one.  She tells a lot of people’s stories, but she also tells her own, as she has coped with the loss of her mother and her only son.  The book covers a lot of territory: dealing with people’s inappropriate comments, ways to help someone who is grieving, coping with the holidays, fading faith, regret, the dangers of self-medication, and more.

There are similarities between this book and another book of hers that I read, Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Forgiveness.  Both open the chapters with a thought-provoking quote.  Both share poignant and relevant Scriptures.  Both display an understanding, empathetic tone, which appreciates where people are.  And both discuss the importance of music in personal healing.  In Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief, Ortega shares songs, both contemporary and traditional, that can help people as they journey through grief.  She also highlights the importance of journaling as a way to express one’s feelings.

Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief strikes me as more detailed than the book on forgiveness.  The book on grief seems to share more of Ortega’s feelings and has more anecdotes.
One critique that I have: Ortega tells the story about a man who did not want to join a grief support group because he was introverted.  I think that she should have discussed more how people who are uncomfortable with groups can cope with their grief.  She did say that he saw a grief counselor, and maybe that is a solution: talk with someone one-on-one.  But what if he is still uncomfortable expressing his feelings?

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Church Write-Up: Snakes with Legs; Luke's Census; Shepherds; Dominion; Healing Atonement; Advent; "Let Me Out"; the Way to Repentance

Here are some items from the church services that I attended last Sunday.  I visited the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.

A.  The pastor of the “Word of Faith” church was saying that snakes used to have legs, on the basis of Genesis 3:14, where God tells the serpent that the serpent will crawl on his belly as punishment for his deed.  The implication, according to the pastor, is that the serpent did not crawl on his belly before that curse.  I wondered if snakes used to have legs, according to a scientific or evolutionist perspective.  Blue whales, after all, used to be land creatures.  I found this NPR article: How Snakes Lost Their Legs.

B.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church mentioned a discussion that he had with a skeptical friend.  The friend was saying that Luke 2:1-5 was wrong about the date of Caesar Augustus’ census: that it occurred later than Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus, in 6 C.E., rather than during it, as Luke narrates.  The pastor seemed open to the possibility that Luke was not accurate about the exact date of the census.  This somewhat surprised me, since he appears to treat the Gospel nativity accounts as historical.  He did not elaborate too much on his view here, but he asked why Luke mentions the census, rather than simply telling the nativity story as Matthew did.  The pastor said that Luke-Acts was part of Paul’s defense before the emperor, and Luke 2:1-5 was arguing that God can work through corrupt political systems, such as that of Caesar Augustus, whose census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  The pastor also said that Luke 2:1-5 had in mind Augustus’ claim to be the Son of God and the inaugurator of a new era: in Luke 2:1-5, Augustus plays a role in the inauguration of a new era, but the Son of God and actual inaugurator would be Jesus.

I have encountered that idea about Luke-Acts before.  Some have claimed that the reason that the death of Paul is not narrated in Acts is that it was written before Paul died, and this would be consistent with the claim that it was composed by Luke as part of Paul’s defense.  Several scholars do not share this idea, though.

I wrote about the census of Luke 2:1-5 here, detailing problems scholars have had with Luke’s historical placement of the census.  But I briefly mention in that post a scholarly attempt to defend Luke’s historical placement of the census as accurate.

I find something that Richard Carrier said about Luke’s historical placement of the census to be interesting.  In this article, Carrier argues that Luke relied heavily on Josephus.  But that raises a question: how could Luke be relying on Josephus, when Luke appears to place the Augustan census at a different time in history than does Josephus, who places it in 6 C.E.?  Carrier argues that Luke is being deliberate here:

“Josephus uses the census as a key linchpin in his story, the beginning of the wicked faction of Jews that would bring down Judaea (and the temple), whereas Luke transvalues this message by making this census the linchpin for God’s salvation for the world, namely the birth of Christ (which also would result in destruction of the temple)…”

For both Josephus and Luke, according to Carrier, the Augustan census instigated a highly significant series of events.  For Josephus, it marked the rise of the Jewish insurrectionists who later would contribute to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the main event that Josephus discusses in Jewish Wars.   For Luke, it marked the birth of the Savior of the world.  Luke also believed that the census related to the destruction of Jerusalem, albeit differently from Josephus.  The census marked the birth of Jesus, and, for Luke, the destruction of Jerusalem was due to Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus (Luke 13:34).

C.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church said that shepherds were “church-skippers”: they did not go to synagogue or the Temple because they were busy watching their sheep, and they were not considered particularly trustworthy.  Yet, in Luke 2:8-20, the shepherds are the ones to whom the angels appear, and whom the angels tell about the birth of Jesus.  The angels tell them about the significance of Jesus’ birth: to bring peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.  They go to see the infant Jesus, praising God.

I wrote about this view about shepherds here.  I have questions about that view, as I write there.  Still, the pastor’s interpretation is consistent with the message of Luke’s Gospel: that Jesus came to save the unrighteous and the outsiders, those who may not even have thought much about God.  God still honored the “church-attenders” when Jesus was an infant: in Luke 2:25-36, Simeon and Anna, who were devout worshipers at the Temple, got to see the Christ child and appreciated his significance.  But, according to the pastor’s interpretation, God reached out to the “church-skippers” as well.

D.  The “Word of Faith” pastor said that the Gospel is about Christians, as God’s new creation, having dominion over creation, a la Genesis 1:28.  He said that dominion belongs to humans, not to gazelles.  But humans have exercised that dominion poorly.  That is why God recreated humanity.  There may be something to this, when it comes to a Christian reading of the Bible.  I wondered if the pastor was leaning towards political dominionism, and that would be surprising because, ordinarily, he is politically neutral when it comes to Left-Right distinctions.  I remember hearing Pat Robertson say on TV that a person who is not ruled by the Spirit of God has no business ruling in government.  I am not so optimistic, though, considering the damage that religious people have inflicted when they had political authority.  I am not saying that secular authorities are that much better—-there are plenty of secular authorities that have inflicted damage—-but why are there so many cases in which Christians in governing positions fail to bring about peace and justice, and, in some cases, even work against them?

E.  The “Word of Faith” pastor also said that Jesus came to heal humanity’s hatred of God.  We hate God, he said, in that we do not care for God’s command that we place God first, and also in that some things about the God of the Bible rub us the wrong way.  But God healed this division, and we see that God is a loving Father.  This sounded like a subjective view of the atonement—-like the moral influence view—-or he may believe that God through the Holy Spirit heals people’s personal alienation from God.

F.  The pastor at the Missouri Synod church said that “advent” means coming in strength or with enthusiasm.  He said that “ad” in the Latin meant “strength,” while “vent” refers to “coming.”  I knew that “vent” meant coming.  I thought that “ad,” however, meant “to” or “toward.”  I was right.

According to this author, though, “advent” was often used for to refer to military arrival, or the arrival of royalty.  Maybe the pastor was correct on his main point, but not on the basis of his analysis of the word “advent.”  I admit that I have not done a search of the term, though.  This and this dictionary on antiquities state that it was used for the Roman emperor’s arrival, which was commemorated in coins, so it makes sense that it would come to be used for the arrival of Christ.

G.  The Missouri Synod pastor relayed a story that was told by Paul Harvey about a chimpanzee who was taught sign language, and the first thing that the chimpanzee said was, “Let me out!”, meaning out of his cage.  Here is the story.  The pastor employed that story to make a homiletical point, but I felt sorry for the chimpanzee.

H.  Using personal and chimpanzee-related anecdotes, the Missouri Synod pastor addressed the question of how we can possibly repent, when many of us are locked into certain mindsets.  That is a good question.  I wonder the same thing myself so many times.  How can I “turn” from sin, when sin is ingrained within me?  I have a “confession” part of my prayer times, and I often give my flaws to God rather than making a vain promise that I will, by the strength of my own will, cease having those flaws.  In some areas, though, I make a sincere attempt to avoid making the same mistakes, since they can be hurtful to others.

The youth pastor talked about Luke 3:10-14, where John the Baptist gave practical advice about how to repent: share what you have with those who lack; tax collectors should collect only what they are authorized; soldiers should be content with their wages rather than forcibly extorting money from people.  That was a point that also stood out to me in a book that I read over a decade ago: Pastor Gerald Mann’s When the Bad Times Are Over for Good.  I did not particularly care for that book, but two chapters, the one on grace and the one on practical repentance and obedience, have stayed with me for almost twenty years.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Write-Up: Mark Through Old Testament Eyes

Andrew T. Le Peau.  Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.  Kregel Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Andrew T. Le Peau is an editor and a writer.  He has taught inductive Bible studies of the Gospel of Mark for over a decade at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Le Peau is also the series editor of Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes commentaries.

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes goes through the Gospel of Mark verse-by-verse, but it differs from many other commentaries in a certain respect: it cites Old Testament parallels to elements that are in the Gospel of Mark.

In some cases, this approach illuminates the Markan passage.  For example, Mark 1:13 states that Jesus was with wild beasts in the wilderness, and Le Peau refers to Old Testament passages that refer to wild beasts in an attempt to interpret the passage.  Le Peau interprets “Son of God” in the Gospel of Mark in light of Old Testament usage of that term, to refer to Israel and the Davidic Messiah (though he maintains that Mark’s Gospel has a high Christology).  There are cases in which Le Peau argues that Mark presents Jesus acting similarly to or differently from an Old Testament character, in order to highlight something about Jesus: for instance, Jesus, unlike Jonah, actually goes to the Gentiles after sleeping on a boat rather than seeking to avoid that task.  On occasion, Le Peau offers a fresh insight, as when he interprets Herod’s statement that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist (Mark 6:14) in light of the spirit of Elijah falling onto Elisha.  Le Peau’s interpretation of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ statement about cutting off one’s right hand or plucking out one’s offending eye were also helpful, as he looked at Old Testament references to intentional and unintentional sin and how the hand and the eye can offend.

These are examples of where Le Peau’s approach illuminates Mark’s Gospel (and there are many more), but Le Peau also maintains that Mark’s indirect allusions to the Old Testament paint a sweeping picture of Jesus’ mission: as a new Moses, conducting a new Exodus.

In some cases, Le Peau cited Old Testament passages, and it was unclear how exactly they were illuminating a Markan passage.  For instance, in discussing the leper who did not obey Jesus’ command to go to the priest after being healed (Mark 1:45), Le Peau referred to Saul’s incomplete obedience in I Samuel 13.  Does the story of Saul somehow inform the story in Mark, though?  At times, Le Peau perhaps should have attempted to explain the purpose behind an element in a verse, rather than just citing parallels; he did so a number of times, but not always.  There were cases in which Le Peau seemed to be throwing everything in but the kitchen sink.  Often, this provided a comprehensive range of interpretive possibilities; sometimes, he appeared to be citing parallels simply for the sake of citing parallels, without the parallels really illuminating the Markan text.

In one case, Le Peau offered an intriguing parallel, but his explanation of the parallel was incomplete.  On pages 208-209, Le Peau addresses Jesus’ statement that his disciples will be able to move this mountain, if they have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed (Mark 11:23).  Le Peau interprets “this mountain” as the Temple mount, and he mentions Zechariah 4:6-7, in which “the temple mount ‘will become level ground’ and be replaced with another temple” (Le Peau’s words).  Le Peau seemed to interpret Mark 11:23 to concern God’s judgment on the Temple in 70 C.E., but he should have further clarified how that related to the disciples moving the mountain.

At times, Le Peau cites parallels within the Gospel of Mark itself, as when he proposed that there were parallels between Jesus’ predictions in Mark 13 and his passion.

Interspersed throughout the book are gray sections, in which Le Peau goes more deeply into an issue in the Gospel of Mark or makes homiletical points.  Some of these were convicting: the part about counting the cost of following Jesus certainly highlighted where I fall short!  Some were infuriating: I think of his statement that a Christian’s church family should take precedence over his or her biological family.  Some softened the draconian statements of Jesus through interpretation; often, this was reasonable.  With Jesus’ statement that the parables were intended to confuse, however, Le Peau’s explanation was rather unconvincing, as he seemed to be concluding the opposite from what the Markan passage was saying.  Some sections had anecdotes, personal or otherwise, which were instructive, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  Le Peau’s discussion of lament in prayer was not earth-shakingly new, but it was helpful to me when I read it, as Le Peau highlighted the importance of being honest with God.

The notes in the back were good.  For example, Le Peau offered arguments that Mark 1:41 says that Jesus was compassionate before healing a leper, rather than angry.  Bart Ehrman argues that “angry” was the original reading and that later scribes changed that to “compassionate” because they had issues with Jesus being angry before healing a leper. But, as Le Peau notes, the texts of the Gospel of Mark that present Jesus as compassionate in Mark 1:41 are not afraid to acknowledge Jesus’ anger elsewhere.

The book is helpful in offering an interpretation of the Gospel of Mark that is rooted in Old Testament texts.  One should remember, however, that time passed between the Old Testament and the Gospel of Mark, so intertestamental literature may be relevant to what is in the Gospel of Mark.  There is hardly any reference to intertestamental literature in Le Peau’s book.

There is also the question of the implications of Le Peau’s approach.  Some scholars, who are more liberal than Le Peau, have argued that Gospel stories that echo the Old Testament are not historically-accurate: that they are midrash, or they were crafted from the Old Testament stories rather than reflecting history.  Is this conclusion avoidable?  Le Peau should have addressed that.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Church Write-Up: Creation Praises God; If God Forgives, So Will I?; New Beginnings?

On Wednesday, I went to a Missouri Synod Lutheran church’s Advent service.  It will have a Wednesday Advent service every week until Christmas (I think).

The pastor was referring to J.B. Phillips’ 1952 book, Your God Is Too Small.  The pastor said that, over sixty years after that book came out, many people’s God is still too small.  How so?  He gave two examples.  For one, we set limitations on what God can or will do on account of our negative experiences.  Second, we bring God down to our level.  The pastor shared about his own past difficulty in forgiving his brother after they had a falling out.  The pastor officiated at his brother’s wedding and was pronouncing blessing on his brother, when inside of his mind was lingering anger at what his brother had done.  The pastor said that we say to ourselves that God does not forgive someone who has hurt or angered us, because, if God forgives that person, that means that we have to forgive him or her, too.

Somewhere in the course of the sermon, the pastor talked about how creation praises God.  A Psalm we had read, Psalm 96, presents seas, fields, and trees rejoicing at God’s reign.  The pastor also referred to Jesus’ response in Luke 19:40 to the Pharisees’ criticism of the disciples of Jesus who were enthusiastically praising Jesus: if the disciples are silent, the very stones will cry out!  And when did a stone cry out?  At the resurrection of Jesus, when the stone of Jesus’ tomb was moved away.  The pastor presented that as the solution to the reluctance to praise God that he earlier discussed.

The pastor also talked about how creation is magnificent—-he mentioned the Grand Canyon.  Yet, he also observed that creation is fallen, with its earthquakes.

Here are some of my reflections:

A.  At the “Word of Faith” church that I attended on Sunday morning, we sang a hymn that was completely new to me.  It was called “So Will I (100 Billion X).”  It starts out by discussing how nature reflects God’s glory, praises God, and obeys God’s instructions.  If creation does this, so will I, the song goes!  Later, the song focuses on what Jesus did: Jesus left his grave behind, surrendered to God, and died out of love for people to save them.  If Jesus did those things, so will I, the song went.  What the pastor said about creation praising God reminded me of that song.  (BTW, I see from an Internet search that the song is controversial because it says that creatures are “Evolving in pursuit of what You said,” implying, to critics, an endorsement of the theory of evolution.)

B.  How does nature glorify God?  In a sense, it does so through its order and beauty.  Psalm 91 talks about this when it affirms that the heavens declare the glory of God.  God in the Hebrew Bible is also said to have created in wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:19; 8:22; Jeremiah 10:12).  But, according to Romans 8:18-22, creation groans, in its state of decay, as it eagerly awaits the glory that will be revealed in the children of God, presumably in the eschaton.  Could Psalm 96 relate to that?  Many relate the seas, fields, and trees rejoicing as creation’s current praise of God, but could Psalm 96 be describing how creation will rejoice when God renews it in the eschaton?  (There have been different scholarly views about whether some of the Psalms conveyed an eschatological message.)  And could Jesus’ reference to the stones crying out be conveying a similar theme?  Then there is Jesus’ resurrection, which inaugurates a new creation.

C.  I have questions about some of the pastor’s points, and I am not saying this to nitpick, but rather to think through issues.  The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but God did not directly create it in the beginning: rather, it came about over time.  And earthquakes: are they an indication of a fallen creation?  Did they originate after Adam and Eve sinned?  I have difficulty believing that God created fault lines after the sin of Adam and Eve: they seem to be integral to how the earth is.  Plus, some have argued that at least some natural disasters perform a function of stabilizing the planet.  There are Christians who say this and then blame humans whose homes are destroyed in the natural disasters: why did humans build their homes there?  Tess actually made that point in an episode of Touched by an Angel, the one about the tornado-chaser.  I do not go that far, since where exactly could a person in the U.S. build his or her home and be safe?  You build on the coasts, and there are hurricanes.  You build in the far west, and there are earthquakes.  You build in the midwest, and there are tornadoes.

D.  Related to (C.), even if the Grand Canyon is not the best example of God’s handiwork, since God did not directly make it (unless you want to say that, for some reason, God providentially made it come into being in the course of time), I can understand the view that the earth has a wise order, which is beneficial to human beings.  Yes, our planet is just the right distance from the sun, and, yes, one can argue that, in a vast universe, there would be at least one planet that would support life.  But this planet does not just have life: it has so many things that can help human beings, in terms of their health.

E.  Also related to (C.), maybe God created the cosmos in a state of decay, and that does not contradict Scripture.  When Romans 8:20 states that God subjected creation to decay, does that necessarily mean that God did so after Adam and Eve sinned?  Could God have created it in a state of decay in order to redeem it, as the blind man of John 9 was blind so that the works of God might be manifest?  One can argue the opposite: God pronounced creation “very good” in Genesis 1, and Romans 5:12-21 presents death entering the world through the sin of Adam.  Still, many scientists have said that entropy has existed since the origin of the universe, is integral to it, and actually enabled order to come into being in sections of it.

F.  I appreciated the pastor sharing his story about his struggle to forgive.  I am sometimes baffled that pastors would struggle with this, but they are human, like everyone else.  And maybe his struggle has made him understanding.  I remember calling in to a Christian program, and the host of the show seemed baffled that anyone struggles with forgiveness.  From his impatient tone, I wondered who he was to judge other people.

G.  The pastor said that we feel that, if God forgives someone, we have to forgive that person, too, so we tell ourselves that God does not forgive him or her.  The two do not obviously go together, in my mindset (which may be flawed).  Just because God likes a person, does that mean I have to do so?  Not everyone like the same people!  In addition, I would hope that even my worse enemy would find a relationship with God.  That does not mean that I want to have anything to do with that person.  Let that person connect with God and leave me alone!  But where people may connect the concepts is here: we should love those God loves, and grudges hinder that from taking place.

H.  The pastor’s point about how we set limitations on God due to our past experiences resonated with me.  I had been to the doctor that morning, and, in going through my medical history, I talked with the doctor about my depression and anxiety: why I am depressed and anxious.  She recommended a behavioral therapist, who could offer me a different perspective.  I asked for the person’s card, leaving that option open.  Maybe the therapist can offer me alternative ways to look at life.  But there are lingering doubts.  Can I really change?  And is there any way that the therapist would make me look at the world differently from how I see it now?  A lot of people are not particularly nice!  That is not all in my head!  And what if the therapist asks me to do something that I do not want to do?  Anyway, this is tangentially related to what the pastor talked about: it’s the question of whether new beginnings are possible for everyone.

I will leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to add insights or respond to what I say.  Feel free to disagree.  I most likely will not get into debates, though.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Church Write-Up: Mary Escapes Stoning?; the Postponed Magnificat?; Hope in What Exactly?

For church last Sunday, I went to an evangelical church that I last visited over a year ago.  Then, I went to what I call the “Word of Faith” church.

Here are some items.  I will be linking to past blog posts and discussions for the first two items.

A.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor’s daughter (who is an associate pastor) was preaching about the story of Mary in Luke 1:26-38 and the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55.

In Luke 1:26-38, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus, the Davidic king and the Son of God, even though she is a virgin.  Mary replied: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (KJV).

The pastor’s daughter was saying that Mary was actually signing up for suffering when she agreed to this, as glorious as it was that she would give birth to the Son of God.  Mary was betrothed to Joseph (Matthew 1:18).  In those days, betrothal was considered the same as being married.  By being pregnant before she had sexual relations with Joseph, she appeared to others to be an adulteress, even though she was not.  Not only was this placing her own life at risk, since the penalty for adultery was death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), but Jesus would also receive the stigma of being one who was considered a child through adultery.  (My note: Bruce Chilton in his book Rabbi Jesus speculates that Jesus was considered a mamzer under the law in Deuteronomy 23:2, and thus lacked full citizenship rights as a Jew.)  The pastor’s daughter said that suspected adulteresses were tried by the priest, and they were given bitter water to drink.  The water would cause them to suffer and to lose the ability to have children if they were guilty (Numbers 5:11-21).

The pastor’s daughter said that she knows Christians who are shocked when they experience disappointment and misfortune in life, especially after they have been faithful to God.  She said that there is no promise that Christians will be exempt from suffering.  What they can do, though, is confidently stare down their enemies and say, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”  I think she was comparing the sufferings of Mary with the sufferings that Christians experience.

I will leave that point as it is, without comment or critique, except to say that this morning’s service was not exactly prosperity-Gospelish.  (As I have said before, it is not always accurate for me to call that church the “Word of Faith” church.)  What went through my mind was a question that I have had before.  Joseph, when he learned that Mary was pregnant, decided to put her away privately, without fanfare (Matthew 1:19).  I have wondered, though, how that would have helped Mary to avoid execution.  Would not people have still seen her pregnancy and concluded that she was pregnant as a result of adultery?

I have also wondered how some of the laws about adultery in the Torah fit together.  Of course, Deuteronomy 22:13-24 prescribes stoning as the penalty for adultery.  Numbers 5:11-21, as far as I can see, says nothing about the adulteress being executed through stoning.  Then there is Deuteronomy 24, which states that a man can put away a woman if she is unclean in his eyes, and one interpretation is that the uncleanness is the wife’s infidelity.  But why would divorce be necessary in that case, if the wife would be stoned for adultery?

I wrestled with some of these questions here.  See also the comments under the post.  I am not entirely sure how all of the laws about adultery in the Torah fit together.  That may be a topic to research.  I had an idea, though, about how Mary could have avoided stoning, had Joseph gone through with his plan to divorce her: Joseph would put Mary away so that she would no longer be married to him, and she was early enough along in her pregnancy that people might think that she became pregnant after she was divorced.  Becoming pregnant when single is not a capital offense (Deuteronomy 22:28-30).  The rumors would still fly around that she was an adulteress and that Jesus was conceived illegitimately, but there would be no solid proof of that.  Of course, Mary stayed married to Joseph.  The rumors still flew around that she had committed adultery (according, perhaps, to John 8:41), but there was no proof: people could not prove that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father.

There is also the question of when the Jewish authorities had the authority to execute people.  It varied during the lifetime of Jesus.  See my post here.

B.  In the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Mary celebrates that God has elevated the lowly while debasing the rich and the proud, and that God has been merciful and has remembered God’s promises towards God’s people Israel.

Did Mary expect her son to do soon the things that many Jews believed the Messiah would accomplish: defeat Israel’s enemies, inaugurate justice, etc.?  Why else would she be excited?  Many scholars have compared the Magnificat to Hannah’s song of praise in I Samuel 1:1-10.  The thing is, the coming social upheaval that Hannah celebrated actually came to pass when Samuel was alive, as Samuel was instrumental in defeating Israel’s oppressors, the Philistines (i.e., I Samuel 7).  Would Mary get excited about something that would take place two thousand years after her lifetime, and not even then?

I have wrestled with that, and similar questions, on this blog before:

Here, I talk about how Luke, in contrast with Mark, seems to believe that Jesus will restore Israel in the far off future; W.D. Davies thinks that Luke 1-2 is not Lukan but is from an earlier source, one that presumably expected Jesus to restore Israel soon.

Here and here, I ask if perhaps the concern of the early church for the poor was a fulfillment of the Magnificat.

Here is a post from a couple years ago.  I wonder if the the Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecies in Luke 1 could have been conditional on Israel’s repentance, according to Luke-Acts.  See the comments under the post, and also Steve Hays’ post on Triablogue.

C.  A theme in both services that I attended was having hope.  Both preachers had valuable insights on that.  The preacher at the first service said that we need to reaffirm continually our hope in God, for we are leaky faucets.  The pastor’s daughter talked about how her parents have praised God for years, even when they have experienced trials, being stabbed in the back, and friends forsaking them.  What was a little unclear to me was what the preachers believed that Christians should hope for.  Do they hope that God will make things right in this life?  That God will make things right in the afterlife?  Both?

I’ll leave the comments on in case someone wants to offer insights on these topics.  Please don’t leave embarrassing comments saying that Mary was an adulteress, though.  I won’t publish those comments.  Also, it will take me a while to publish comments: I will get to them in the evening, Pacific Time.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Book Write-Up: Pascal's Pensees

I read Blaise Pascal’s Pensees over the past month.  Specifically, I read the Penguin Classics edition, for which A.J. Krailsheimer wrote the introduction and translated.  Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century mathematician.  His Pensees contain his reflections, primarily about religion, but occasionally about other subjects, such as the difference between deductive and intuitive thought.
Here are some cursory notes:

A.  Pascal is known for his Wager.  In his Wager, he asks people to consider believing in God.  If they believe in God and follow God’s ways and God turns out to exist, then they gain happiness in this life and eternal bliss in the hereafter.  If they believe in God and follow God’s ways and God does not exist, then at least they have happiness in this life.  If they do not believe in God and God exists, then they will go to hell.  The point of this Wager is to shake people out of their complacency about spiritual things so that they take belief in God seriously.  Pascal believes that indifference about eternal and spiritual matters is abominable.

A criticism of Pascal’s Wager is that it does not factor other religions into the equation.  It assumes that there are only two choices on which people can make a wager: belief in the Christian God, and non-belief in the Christian God.  But there are other religious options, too, and does that not muddy up the choice, a bit?  What if one chooses the wrong God in selecting the Christian God?

What is interesting about the Pensees is that Pascal actually spends pages defending his belief that Christianity is superior to and truer than other religions.  That brings me to the next item.

B.  What are some reasons to believe in Christianity, according to Pascal?  One reason is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  Pascal believes that the Gentiles’ acceptance of the biblical God is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  He also thinks that the continued survival of the Jewish people—-and their cursed state after they rejected Jesus—-attests to the the truth of Christianity.  (I am not endorsing this view but simply relaying what he says.)  Second, Pascal maintains that miracles demonstrate the truth of Christianity.  We will discuss this more in the following item.  Third, Pascal holds that the Old Testament appears to prefigure or set the stage for a more spiritual kind of religion, which is what Christianity offers; for instance, the Old Testament’s criticism of sacrifices prefigures Christ’s abolition of the sacrificial system.  Fourth, Pascal believes that Christianity, better than any other religion, acknowledges what he observes about the human condition: that it is fallen.  It has a sense of some glory from which it fell, but it is in a moral and spiritual mire and needs God to rescue it.  (At the same time, Pascal argues that rabbinic Judaism has a tradition of original sin.)

Pascal is rather critical of the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God.  He finds them to be too abstract and disconnected from human experience.  He also thinks that reason has its limitations because it can be used to support all sorts of conclusions, even radical skepticism.  More importantly, he believes that such arguments detract from Christ, whom he sees as the mediator between God and humanity, the revelation of God, and the redeemer.  What he says on page 121 would make Karl Barth proud:

“Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ.  Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or of our death, of God or of ourselves.  Thus without Scripture, whose only object is Christ, we know nothing, and can see nothing but obscurity and confusion in the nature of God and in nature itself.”

Pascal does not hold that there is absolute proof for the truth of Christianity, but rather that there is enough light to guide those who sincerely desire to know the truth, and enough darkness to blind those who are not open to the truth.  (This is the source for the title of Laura’s blog, Enough Light.)

C.  The Pensees has a chapter about miracles.  Essentially, Pascal addresses the question of whether miracles can serve to demonstrate the truth of Christianity, when the Bible appears to acknowledge that false prophets can perform miracles, too (see, for example, Exodus 7:22; Deuteronomy 13:1-3; Mark 13:22; II Thessalonians 2:9).  Pascal responds to this question in a variety of ways.  First, he questions whether those other miracles truly are miracles.  Second, he states that God and the truth trump those false wonders.  Pharaoh’s magicians could turn their staffs into serpents, just like Moses’ brother Aaron did, but Aaron’ serpent ate their serpents (Exodus 7:11-12).  Pascal also deems Christ’s foretelling of the false prophets’ lying wonders to be significant, in that it demonstrates Christ’s superiority over them.

Pascal engages a variety of positions about miracles.  Some believe that doctrine trumps miracles.  Others contend that miracles authenticate doctrines.  Pascal argues against both positions, while also embracing them, in certain respects.  Pascal notes that Paul did not come with strength but came proclaiming Christ and him crucified, as if his message was sufficient (I Corinthians 2:2).  At the same time, Pascal believes that miracles attest to the truth of Christianity, and even continue to demonstrate the truth of Roman Catholicism, over all heresies.

D.  Pascal is critical of the passions.  He states on one occasion that cleansing oneself of passion may help one to have a better spiritual perception.  Pascal also criticizes the human tendency to become bored and to seek diversion.  In a particularly poignant passage, Pascal talks about how humans love to be flattered.  I thought to myself how much I benefit from the slogan “What other people think about me is none of my business,” but Pascal appears to think that humans should be strong enough to hear people’s honest opinions about them, rather than swimming in a sea of phony flattery.

E.  Pascal is ambivalent about the Catholic church.  On the one hand, he himself is a Catholic, and he believes that the church upholds the truth and even participates in God’s act of forgiving sins, which is how he interprets its authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18-19).  Pascal could be quite snarky in his comments on Martin Luther and even the Calvinists (though he shared common ground with Calvinism).  On the other hand, Pascal laments that popes have often been authoritarian rather than being the servants that Christ commanded his disciples to be (Matthew 23:11).  Pascal is also livid against the Jesuits, who are opponents of the Jansenists, a sect with which he sympathizes, and he laments when the church authorities side with the Jesuits.  Pascal can be rather wry in his analysis of the Jesuits, though.  For example, on page 328, he states: “They enjoy enough credit to get a chapel built or preach a jubilee, but not to secure appointments or bishoprics or governorships.”

There is a lot more that he says.  More than once, I put a “?” beside a passage, as it was elliptical.  Sometimes, what he said became clearer after some thought; at other times, not so much.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book Write-Up: A Reader's Guide to the Bible

John Goldingay.  A Reader’s Guide to the Bible.  IVP Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

John Goldingay teaches Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.  This book is an introduction to the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and also the New Testament.  Goldingay attempts to be empathetic towards the perspectives that are within the Bible.  He briefly covers the biblical stories, but he also comments on the possible identity of the authors, their backgrounds, and how their works spoke to their own and subsequent historical contexts.

Imagine a spectrum.  On the far right, you have an ultra-fundamentalist perspective on the Bible, which sees the Bible as divinely-dictated and as historically-accurate in every detail.  On the far left, you have a liberal perspective, which regards the biblical writings as solely human in origin, as reflecting ancient prejudices, and as containing historical errors, contradictions, and diverse theological, religious, and political perspectives.  On this spectrum, Goldingay is probably center-right.  He accepts the historicity of key events in the Bible, such as the Exodus and the Conquest.  He does not seem to acknowledge any major contradictions within the biblical writings (though he does come fairly close to saying that Paul and James contradict each other on justification).  Yet, he is open to the idea that different versions of biblical stories developed.  He accepts the standard scholarly division of the Book of Isaiah.  He believes that the personal, political, and geographical background of biblical authors influenced what they wrote, in distinct and diverse ways.  Although he never explicitly engages the subject of how God inspired the Bible (as far as I can recall), his perspective may be consistent with the evangelical view that states that God providentially arranged the personalities, lives, and backgrounds of the biblical authors, such that they wrote what God wanted them to write, even as their own distinct personalities remained intact in their writing.

The book tries to be a solid introduction: it talks about the history and geography of Israel in the first chapter, which would be logical in an introductory book about the Bible, as the story of ancient Israel is the subject of it.  At the same time, the book may also be of interest to seasoned, and even academic, readers of the Bible, especially when Goldingay offers his insights on the meaning of biblical passages and speculates about why the Bible is as it is.  For example, Goldingay offers an explanation for why Elijah and Elisha lack biblical books that bear their names, whereas later prophets have books that are attributed to them.  And both new and seasoned readers of the Bible can appreciate Goldingay’s vivid description of how the biblical writings (i.e., the Pentateuch, Joshua, etc.) could have spoken to different historical contexts, such as the time of the Davidic monarchy and the exile.

The book is deep, yet it is short and rather cursory.  Some ideas could have been developed further, yet one should remember that this is an introductory book about the Bible, and also that Goldingay has written volumes on Old Testament theology, where he explores issues in greater depth.  In this particular book, Goldingay does not answer every question one might have, but he gives readers something on which to chew.

Some mild critiques or questions:

—-On page 39, Goldingay differentiates between Israel’s creation story and other creation stories of the ancient Near East: “No other nation’s history starts from the creation of the world, but this history of Israel does.  Other ancient religions had stories about creation, but they did not go on to link the story of creation to their own history in this way.”  Goldingay’s comparison of the Hebrew Bible with the ancient Near East on creation and law was fascinating, and there may be something to what he is saying: that Israel employs what other nations have, but in a distinct and perhaps even a unique way.  But my impression is that at least some of the prominent ancient Near Eastern creation stories were attempts to explain the present in light of the past and to account for the structure of society: Enuma Elish ends with the foundation of Babylon, Atrahasis presents the gods creating humans to be their servants, etc.  Can we say, then, that they divorced their understanding of their history from their creation story?

—-Goldingay states on page 116 that “Ezekiel emphasizes that his message relates to the people he is ministering to, and it is hard to see why God would be showing Ezekiel events to take place millennia after his time and their time.”  Goldingay employs a similar approach to the Book of Daniel, saying that it primarily concerns the Antiochian persecution in the second century B.C.E.  With the Book of Revelation, by contrast, he attempts to see it as more trans-historical (but also historical).  Saying that Ezekiel and Daniel are primarily about their own historical contexts poses a theological problem because a number of prominent eschatological events that they predicted (i.e., peace, etc.) did not find fulfillment in their own historical contexts.  Goldingay tries to address this problem: he talks about how the New Testament believes that Ezekiel was fulfilled, and, in the last chapter, he discusses how we keep looking for these eschatological hopes to be realized, since they were not realized in the past.  Goldingay does not come up with a satisfactory answer to the problem, but, again, he offers insights on which to chew.

—-On pages 164-165, Goldingay states that Qoheleth addresses two mistaken responses to the problem of death.  One response is escapism in pleasure.  The other response is “the pie-in-the-sky solution that asserts, hopefully, that all will be put right after death.”  Goldingay then goes on to quote Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, which states that humans and animals both go to the dust and asks how anyone can know that the human spirit goes upward.  Goldingay was making an intriguing argument, and it piqued my interest because I have wondered about what Qoheleth believes about the afterlife.  Unfortunately, Goldingay was not clear about how Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 connected with the “pie-in-the-sky solution” he said Qoheleth opposed.

—-Goldingay seemed to be saying that Jesus’ teaching against divorce is for an ideal world.  Yet, he also says that Jesus thought that divorce could lead to serial adultery, implying that Jesus was serious about his prohibition.  Does Jesus expect people in this far-from-ideal world to obey his teachings on divorce?  Goldingay was not clear about this.  Still, his discussion of how the Bible presents an ideal yet condescends to where people are was thoughtful.

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Write-Up: Death at Thorburn Hall

Julianna Deering.  Death at Thorburn Hall.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

This is Book 6 of the Drew Farthering Mysteries.  It is also the first Drew Farthering book that I have read.  There were details of the book that I probably would have appreciated more had I read the previous five books.  Still, the book had a warm, comfortable feel to it.  A large part of that was due to the friendships among the main characters.  The characters are British and speak rather formally, yet they are honest about their struggles and emotions.

Drew Farthering is a British detective, and his wife is Madeline.  His friend is Nick, and their friendship goes back to when they were two.  Drew sometimes calls Nick names (I thought “Yikes!”), but the brotherly-like friendship is still there.  Nick is infatuated with Carrie, but both of them are dealing with insecurities that make one wonder if their relationship will survive.  Drew is dealing with his own issues, as he is curious about his real mother, whom he has not seen since he was a child.

Drew and company go to Scotland for the 1935 British open.  Their host is Lord Rainsby at Thorburn Hall.  Lord Rainsby confides to Drew that he has suspicions about his business partner, MacArthur, who has expressed sympathies for the Nazis.  Lord Rainsby then has a riding accident, which looks like it was not really an accident.  Who caused it?  Was it MacArthur, who looks like he may be part of an espionage ring supporting the Nazis?  Is it Lady Rainsby, who was reportedly cut out of her husband’s will?  Is it the playboy Russian count (or so he seems), whom Lord Rainsby wanted out of his mansion?  All of these are explored as possibilities.  The author made an attempt to provide a surprising ending, but the culprit was not too great of a surprise.  Not to give away the ending, but a key question is, “Who controls the narrative?”

There was a sweet surprise near the end: a character is unexpectedly looking out for Drew and contains the key to the answers that Drew is seeking.  That is actually a significant element of this story: people are not entirely as they seem.

The book is not heavy in its religious emphasis, but there are words of wisdom.  Madeline offers Carrie helpful advice on taking a leap of faith.  Drew and company resolve to help someone who may not have too many helpers once the fanfare has passed.  Unconditional love also appears in the story.

I cannot say that the book overwhelmingly impressed me, but it had a comfortable feel to it.  I am open to reading other books in the series.

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

Church Write-Up: Ministry Stories, Pastoral Unforgiveness, Christmas, Breed That Cow, Fellowship, Delivering Safely

For church last Sunday, I went to the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Here are some items:

A.  Both pastors shared stories about their experiences in ministry.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church reflected on when he was a pastor in his 20s.  He made a lot of mistakes, and there were people in the congregation who wanted him to leave.  He met with those people, and he resolved to listen to what they had to say, without offering a defense of himself.  One person went there with him, and this person would evaluate whether the pastor had a future at that church.  This person judged that the pastor did have a future, and he calmed down those who were upset at the pastor.  That person’s son was in the congregation last Sunday morning.

The Missouri Synod pastor talked about the days when he was a seminarian, and an elderly gentleman told him that he would be eaten up alive at a conference, over some political reason or technical distinction.  But, if the pastor said he was with this elderly gentleman, things would go more smoothly for him at the conference.  The pastor likened that to us claiming that we are with Christ when the last judgment occurs.  But he also said that there is more: Christ is with us.

B.  The Missouri Synod pastor talked about the time when he was an associate pastor, and the senior pastor had a falling-out with a member of the congregation.  The senior pastor refused to visit the member in the hospital and to officiate at the person’s funeral.  That reminded me of a Touched by an Angel episode that I watched a while back, entitled “The Grudge.”  Robert Prosky plays a minister, and Bonnie Bartlett plays a medical doctor, and the two of them are at each others throats over an unresolved issue from their past.  Tess, an angel, asks the minister how he can preach about love and forgiveness every week at church, when he has so much hatred in his heart.

When I saw that Touched by an Angel episode, I identified with the minister.  He was imperfect, but he had a job to do, so he did his job, even if he fell short of the righteousness that he preached.  At church, though, I was baffled by how a minister could preach one thing and do something else.  Maybe I have become prouder and more judgmental as of late.  I myself struggle with relationships, and yet, nevertheless, it baffles me that a minister of all people could refuse to forgive, without even batting an eye.

C.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church talked about how he struggled over whether he should observe Christmas when his daughter was a child.  Christmas, after all, is deemed to have pagan roots.  The pastor concluded that he should observe it because that could challenge him to look at Jesus’ nativity afresh every year.  This stood out to me, of course, because I grew up in a Christian movement that did not observe Christmas.  And we were considered weird on account of that.

D. The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was talking about how sanctification can be a slow process.  We like things to be quick, he said.  Making an analogy, he said that we like our McDonalds burgers prepared and warm within minutes, but God wants us to start by breeding the cow.  How does sanctification take place, according to the pastor?  We meditate on the word of God, and that is a seed within our heart, a seed that will grow over time.

I often wonder how one can tell if Christian growth is taking place.  I remember when I expressed my bitterness towards a fellow Christian, and he told me that he wonders how, or if, I grew at all spiritually, with all that bitterness in my heart.  That is a good question.  At the same time, bad experiences, and even bad emotions, can make me humbler and more dependent on God, and even more compassionate and less judgmental towards others.  Another observation: maybe I was happier and more carefree and loving before I felt the bruises of life.  Can I say that I was maturer then than now?  Well, Jesus did exhort us to become like children.  But I see myself as more naive then, not more spiritually advanced, necessarily.

Sometimes, my sanctification seems to be a step forward and a step back.  I think that I have learned compassion through my experiences, then I turn right around and judge somebody else.

E.  In Luke 1, Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth after Mary learns that she, as a virgin, will give birth to the Son of God.  Elizabeth has had her own supernatural experience, as she has become pregnant with a son in her old age.  The “Word of Faith” pastor said that, when we experience something supernatural, God may send us to someone who can understand and confirm what we are experiencing.  The pastor also said that the virgin birth was as strange then as it would be today.  He said that the incarnation would be inconceivable within Judaism, and he disputed that the virgin birth can be likened to the Greek legends about gods having sex with women who then had god-men.

I recall a conference about Christian community that I attended years ago, and the speaker there appealed to the Mary and Elizabeth story to argue that Christians should be in community.  We were asked to consider what keeps us from seeking out our Elizabeth.  I had issues with that: the speaker was essentially making a story into a law.  But the way that the pastor at the “Word of Faith” church addressed the story made more sense to me: Mary went to Elizabeth because Elizabeth was one of the few people who could understand what Mary was experiencing.

F.  The “Word of Faith” pastor said that Yeshua, the Hebrew name of Jesus, means “to deliver safely.”  He said that we should recognize our fragility, and that Jesus wants to deliver us safely through our psychological problems and our debts.  A lady later talked about her own deliverance from financial debt.

Some argue that we cannot expect God to deliver us from financial debt.  Not only may we be setting ourselves up for disappointment, the argument goes, but for God to deliver us from our debt would be for God to enable us in making irresponsible decisions.  I do not know if we can expect this of God: there are plenty of people who experience bankruptcy.  Also, God has more things on God’s mind than our financial comfort.  But I will not say that God never, ever delivers people from debt.  There may be a place for hope.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Write-Up: Refugees, by R.A. Denny

R.A. Denny.  Refugees (Mud, Rocks, and Trees, Book 1).  2017.  See here to buy the book.

Refugees is a work of fantasy.  The chapters are in the first person and alternate among different characters.

I am not sure how exactly to dive into this review, so I will start by commenting on some of the characters who stood out to me.

Emperor Zoltov: Zoltov is the emperor of the Tzoladians.  There is a prophecy, and he interprets it to mean that his deposed brother will rise from the grave, gather together the mud, rocks, and trees, and defeat him.

Baskrod: Baskrod is a fisherman and a prophet.  He is unpopular because he worships the high god Adon, whereas others worship other gods (as well?).

Amanki: Amanki is friends with Baskrod.  He loses the woman he believes to be his mother at the hands of mud beasts, who are vicious horsemen sent by Emperor Zoltov.  Amanki is handed a seal by a woman, and the seal, the woman, and Amanki all turn out to be important.  Zoltov wants that seal, thinking it is the key to treasure.

Brina: Baksrod tells Brina that she has a destiny.  She is to travel to Tzoladia, in accordance with the prophecy.  The problem is, she has to tell a council this to get its permission, and the council does not believe her.  One of the councilmen gives her the sort of speech that God gave to Cain in Genesis 4!

The book has an intriguing premise, and R.A. Denny’s creativity is evident.  The prose is not compelling, but it is formal.  The book was not exactly my cup of tea.  Part of that was my fault.  I read a few pages each day, and maybe that led me to lose sight of the big picture; sometimes that happens when I read books that way, and sometimes it does not.

But I do not think that my reading strategy was the only reason that this book was not my cup of tea.  What are other reasons?  Maybe I felt jolted continually by the alternating perspectives.  R.A. Denny did well to mark the character narrating each chapter (some authors are not so generous, unfortunately), but it was difficult enough for me to become acquainted with a new fantasy world, so maybe I preferred a smoother ride.  Perhaps the book would have been smoother had its prose been in the third-person omniscient and there were fewer main characters.  I also wondered, at times, what was holding the whole story together.  And there never was a time when the story came alive to me—-though the story of Zoltov and his royal family was definitely interesting.

Then there was the religious angle.  I do not mind that, as it is to be expected in a work of Christian fantasy.  But this is about the fourth Christian fantasy book that I have read in which someone is considered controversial or bizarre for worshiping Adon, or Adonai, or Elohim.  Maybe I feel that this theme has gotten old.  Or—-and this is what I would prefer to say—-perhaps there is a way to explore that theme in a fresh manner.  I do not recall much in Refugees about what the characters believe is at stake in terms of their religious beliefs.  That may have improved the book (and, if that was there and I missed it, its salience would have improved the book).

Finally, while Denny did well to have a map and a list of characters, she would have done better to place those at the beginning of the book rather than the end.  As I said, jumping into a new world and trying to figure out what is going on can be daunting.  Putting those things at the beginning could have gently introduced readers to the fantasy world.

I read this book and wrote this review at the request of the author.  My review is honest.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Church Write-Up: Resolution, Mystery, or Both?

On Thanksgiving, I went to the Missouri Synod church’s Thanksgiving service.

The pastor talked about a movie from the 1980’s entitled The Big Chill.  The pastor was saying that it is about University of Michigan students, and, while he himself liked the movie, he could see Roger Ebert’s point that the movie had no resolution.  It was aimless.  The pastor cited this as a movie that asks the right questions, but does not quite get to the correct destination.

I read up on the movie when I got home.  It is about people who were college students, but they got older and reached middle age, dealing with the problems and the challenges of that.  One of them (played by Kevin Costner) had committed suicide, and that drew the former classmates together.  From the wikipedia description, it appeared that the movie had a lot of sex: looking to sex to find fulfillment.  This may be part of what the pastor meant when he said that the movie asked right questions but fell short in its answers.

The movie may not arrive at a resolution, but I doubt that it is like some comedies I have seen: going nowhere, such that I could not care less about where they go.  They’re just a bunch of silliness!  An existential piece about people coping with challenges, like Sisyphus rolling that stone endlessly uphill, sounds interesting to me.  I hope, though, that the movie is not just about sex.

Do movies or TV shows need resolution to be any good?  I think of the show Touched by an Angel.  There was a time when I absolutely loved that show.  Nowadays, while I still like it, I like it less than I did (and I mean at least a year ago).  You have people with these agonizing problems, and a minute-long speech by Monica, Tess, or Andrew changes their perspective and solves their problem.  Maybe I am selling that short: if I absolutely knew that God existed, and that an angel was offering encouraging, consoling, loving words from God that I could trust as true, then perhaps that would change my perspective.  Some may not be satisfied, though.  I think of some characters in the show who say, “You think I feel better now that I know that God exists?”  But Monica’s speech changes their mind, in the end.

I recently watched a movie that I really liked.  I saw Tess Harper in a Touched by an Angel episode, and, while I had seen her in a variety of things (i.e., Christy, Breaking Bad, No Country for Old Men), I wondered what it was that she was especially known for.  I found a movie from the 1980’s entitled Tender Mercies, which received Academy Award nominations and victories.  Robert Duvall plays a washed-up country-music writer named Mac.  Mac was an alcoholic, had been abusive to his first wife, and had not seen his daughter in over a decade.  He meets a woman (played by Tess Harper), and he attends church.  Still, even after his conversion to Christianity, his life is not rosy.  I liked this part of the wikipedia article about the movie:

“However, in the face of the loss of his daughter, Mac learns, in Briley’s words, that ‘his life as a Christian is no more sheltered from this world’s tragedies than it was before.’ Before finding redemption, Sledge questions why God has allowed his life to take the path it has and, in particular, why his daughter was killed instead of him. Commentators have described this as a prime example of theodicy, the question of why evil exists that is commonly faced by Christians.  Scholar Richard Leonard writes, ‘For all believers, the meaning of suffering is the universal question. … No answer is completely satisfying, least of all the idea that God sends bad events to teach us something.’ Following the death of his daughter, Mac moves forward with uncertainty as the film ends. Jewett writes of this conclusion, ‘The message of this film is that we have no final assurances, any more than Abraham did. But we can respond in faith to the tender mercies we have received.'”

This movie ends on some note of resolution, since Mac found some constructive way to approach life.  But it also ends on a note of mystery and bafflement.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Write-Up: Is This the End?, by David Jeremiah

Dr. David Jeremiah.  People Are Asking…Is This the End: Signs of God’s Providence in a Disturbing New World.  W Publishing Group, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Dr. David Jeremiah pastors the Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, California.  This book is about America’s moral decline (in Jeremiah’s estimation), the possibility of revival, and the end times, specifically Gog’s attack of Israel (Ezekiel 38-39), the pretribulational rapture of the saints, and the Great Tribulation.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Jeremiah criticizes real problems, such as the epidemics of pornography and sex trafficking.  At the same time, Jeremiah seems to criticize the Left as a source of the moral relativism that afflicts the U.S.  Maybe he is correct that there have been prominent left-wingers who have embraced and promoted moral relativism.  Has he ever considered, however, that the Left has also stood up for moral absolutism?  It has challenged greed and war when they hurt innocent, powerless people.  It also has stood up against racism and discrimination.  Perhaps elements of the right-wing are the ones who are accommodationist, on certain moral issues.

B.  Some chapters were more balanced in their depiction of issues than others.  The chapter on immigration was all right.  Jeremiah accepts the right-wing narrative that illegal immigrants are a drain on the American system, but he also favorably quotes people who support compassion for them.  His chapter on Islam said that there are Muslims who seek to create sharia law in the U.S. through infiltration, yet he still encouraged love towards Muslims and acknowledged that most Muslims are peaceful.  His chapter on intolerance towards Christians in the U.S. raised important issues, and it at least was aware of the legal rule that the state cannot promote religion, but individuals can (some right-wingers do not understand this).  The chapter would have been better, however, had Jeremiah acknowledged that homosexuals in the U.S. themselves have felt persecuted.  The chapter on Israel was very one-sided, in favor of Israel.

C.  The book was informative on the history of revivals in the U.S. (and elsewhere, such as Wales), the history of Isis, and the political career of Putin.

D.  Jeremiah argues that Gog’s invasion of Israel will occur during the Great Tribulation, between the Antichrist’s peace treaty between Israel and the Arab world, and the Second Coming of Christ.  He appears to treat the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 as the prophesied return of the Jews to the Promised Land.  There are problems with this view, in my opinion.  The chapters about Gog’s attempted invasion of Israel are Ezekiel 38-39.  They come after Ezekiel 37, which concerns God’s restoration of Israel to her land.  What happens when Israel returns to her land, according to Ezekiel 37?  For one, not only the Jews return there, but the Northern tribes do, as well.  Also, the Davidic monarchy is restored.  God spiritually renews Israel.  And God makes God’s home in her midst.  Has any of this happened since 1948?  Jeremiah himself complains that most of Israel is secular, which, in his mind, is probably the opposite of being spiritually renewed.  Does Jeremiah believe that Ezekiel 38 describes what will happen after the events of Ezekiel 37?  If so, then he should place Gog’s invasion of Israel after Christ’s second coming (when Christ will rule Israel as Davidic king), not before.  Jeremiah wrote a study Bible, so he may address this issue somewhere.  But perhaps he should have discussed it in this book, at least in a note.  He adeptly addressed other questions about prophecy: How should we understand Ezekiel’s description of an end-time war in terms of the weapons of his own time?  Why does the Old Testament not predict the rapture?

E.  This book provides a lucid and informative explanation and defense of the pretribulational rapture.  Some of Jeremiah’s arguments were more effective than others.  One argument that I did not find very convincing was his argument that Christ will rapture the saints before the Great Tribulation because the saints are not supposed to experience God’s wrath, which is the point of the Tribulation.  After all, Christ suffered the wrath of God in believers’ place.  How would Jeremiah account for the Tribulational saints, the people who convert during the Great Tribulation?  Will they experience the perils that God will pour out on the earth, or will they be exempt from them—-protected from them when they are on earth?

F.  The book had some moving and compelling anecdotes.  People who watch Jeremiah’s TV program will not be surprised by this.

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Church Write-Up: Surprised Not Shocked; Imputed or Practical?; Avoiding Hell by Productivity?

Last Sunday, I went to what I call the “Word of Faith” church, and also the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Here are some notes:

A.  There is a new sermon series at the “Word of Faith” church.  It is about being surprised by God.  The pastor was saying that we can either be surprised by God, or we can be shocked, which leads to emotional pain.

I am not sure what entirely the pastor has in mind when it comes to the latter (shock leading to emotional pain).  But he cited Zechariah in the Gospel of Luke as an example of the latter.  Zechariah in Luke 1 was told by an angel of God that his wife would bear John, even though she was barren and elderly.  Zechariah, out of disbelief, asked for a sign, and the angel told him that the sign would be that Zechariah would keep his unbelieving mouth shut until John was born (or so the pastor paraphrased the text!).  The pastor said that Zechariah, had he been allowed to speak, would have talked his wife Elizabeth out of having sex, and John never would have been born.  Whereas Zechariah doubted God and experienced shock, Mary was surprised by God, but she still believed that God could do what God said and assented to what God wanted to do.  The pastor was likening that to God using us, with our limitations.

Do I want for God to surprise me?  On the one hand, I would love to be assured that God knows my address and would use me for something important.  I would feel validated.  Plus, adventure sounds appealing, on some level.  On the other hand, I would like a quiet, predictable life.

B.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church commented on Luke 1:6, which says about Zechariah and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (KJV).

I had not thought about this verse for a while.  I called Harold Camping (remember him?) on his radio show over a decade ago and asked him about it.  “How can this say that Zechariah and Elizabeth kept the commandments and were blameless, when Paul says that there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10)?”  Camping replied that Zechariah and Elizabeth had imputed righteousness: God reckoned them as righteous, even though they (like all people) were sinful, because they had faith in the Christ who was to come.  In short, they were justified by grace through faith, not works.

Over the past week or so, I have been listening to a Lutheran podcast that goes through the Bible.  The hosts were talking about II Peter 2:8, which says regarding Lot from the Book of Genesis, as he dwelt in the wicked city of Sodom: “For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (KJV).

The hosts struggled with the reference to Lot as righteous.  They rejected the idea that Lot was righteous on account of his good works, for they believed that Lot, like everyone, had to be justified by grace through faith.  Plus, when one reads the Book of Genesis, one reads that Lot did things that we might consider unrighteous: he selfishly picked the better land for himself, he dwelt in wicked Sodom, and he offered his daughters to the wicked Sodomites.  Righteous Lot?  For these hosts, Lot’s righteousness was imputed: it was not something that he possessed on account of his good works, merit, or lack of sin, for he was sinful; rather, God reckoned him as righteous on account of his faith.

The hosts made a similar point about Noah.  Genesis 6:5 states regarding the antediluvian people: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (KJV).  The hosts were saying that such a description fits, not only the pre-Flood people, but every human being.  That would include Noah.  According to the hosts, Noah was saved, not because he was righteous in his deeds or merited salvation, but because he found grace in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8).  Noah had faith: he believed God.

Getting back to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was interpreting Luke 1:6 to mean that Zechariah and Elizabeth were connected to God and were comfortable in their own skin in that relationship.  “Blameless” means this, the pastor said, not that Zechariah and Elizabeth were morally and spiritually perfect.

I have problems with the idea that these biblical figures’ righteousness was imputed rather than practical.  II Peter 2:8 highlights Lot’s righteous soul and how it was grieved over the sinfulness of the Sodomites.  Luke 1:6 focuses on the religious walk of Zechariah and Elizabeth: they walked in God’s commandments and ordinances.

Yet, they obviously were not perfect.  Lot had his character flaws.  Zechariah stumbled in his faith.  Plus, even though Luke 1:6 states that Zechariah and Elizabeth walked in God’s commandments and were blameless, Luke in Acts 13:38-39 depicts Paul saying that forgiveness comes through Christ, and that the Jews could not be justified through the law of Moses.  The law of Moses was a dead end, in terms of becoming righteous.

Perhaps one can say that these figures had faith, and good works flowed from it.  Their faith was what saved them and led to their righteous status before God.  Maybe.  I will not deny that they had faith, even though they stumbled over it quite a bit (and the hosts of the podcast had an interesting discussion about why it is wrong to make faith into a law, for most of us fall short of even the mustard-seed faith that moves mountains or trees, a la Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6).  Faith probably formed the basis for their works.  Still, the biblical passages seem to focus on their deeds or attitudes (i.e., love of righteousness and hatred of wickedness) when it calls them righteous.

C.  The theme at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church was Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, which is found in Matthew 25:14-30.  You can read the parable here.

I liked how the speakers were conceptualizing the lesson of the parable: we should make use of the gifts that God gave us to help others, or to accomplish something good.  And we all can give something, even if it’s just a smile.

The Parable of the Talents troubles me because the servant who hides his talent in the ground is sent into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The place of weeping and gnashing of teeth is arguably hell (see Matthew 13:42, 50; Luke 13:28).

I would say that I am a productive person.  I am not a people-person, but I try to do something.  Getting back to that Lutheran podcast, the hosts said on one episode that there is such a thing as passively serving one’s neighbor: a sick person in the hospital is serving the doctors and nurses by giving them the opportunity to use their gifts.  By that standard, I serve others by being a consumer: by watching TV, reading books, etc.

Maybe I am not like the unprofitable servant who does absolutely nothing with the talent that is given him.  Still, I think it is wrong for the master to cast him into hell.  Should heaven-and-hell decisions be based on a person’s productivity or accomplishment?  That strikes me as rather grisly.  What if a person cannot do anything?  What if he or she is blind and cannot read?  What if he or she does not feel like smiling?  What if I do not feel like blogging?  And, before I had Internet connection, there were times when I did not interact with human beings.  Did God condemn me as an unprofitable servant in that time?  Can’t God just let me be (by which I don’t mean leaving me alone, but accepting me even when about the only thing I do is exist)?

I have had a similar issue with Jesus’ statement that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others (Matthew 6:15; 18:35; Mark 11:26).  Lately, I have done better in the forgiveness department than I usually do.  A resentful thought enters my head, I think to myself “I forgive that person or that deed,” and the resentment fades.  I am not sure how long this will work, but it works for now.  Still, I have issues with God conditioning God’s forgiveness of people on their forgiveness of others.  I think that God should cut people more slack than that.  “But how canst thou expect God to cut thee slack, when thou wilt not cut slack unto thy neighbour?” (I am watching the American Experience documentary on the Pilgrims as I write this.)  Because he’s God.  I am just a human being.

D.  I will leave the comments open, in case someone wants to shed light on these issues.  Just please don’t get into lewd or controversial territory.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Miracle Worker and the Misfits

Dixie Koch.  The Miracle Worker and the Misfits.  Revival Waves of Glory Books & Publishing, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

The characters from this book who are presently in my mind are as follows, though I realize that there were more characters in the book and that those characters were important.  Some character stuck with me more than others.

Abby: Abby suffered abuse as a child with her sister, Julie.

Julie: Julie has been murdered.  She left behind letters talking about her conversion to Christ.

Charley: Charley is Julie’s son.  He was a demoniac, and his story is similar to that of the demoniac in Luke 8.  The demons are cast out of him and go into a neighbor’s cows (rather than pigs, as occurs in Luke 8).  Psychiatrists are claiming that Charley had a psychological condition, not demon possession.

Pastor Paul Marvel: Pastor Paul preaches that miracles are possible today and that Jesus wants to set people free from what afflicts them.  He is the hero of the book.  Yet, he is accused of Julie’s murder.
Pastor Richard Staunch: Richard Staunch is a powerful minister in the community, and he does not believe that God works miracles anymore.  He despises Pastor Paul and does not believe that Charley was demon-possessed.

John and Phillip: I cannot recall much about who they are and what they did, but, on pages 164-166, they do have an interesting discussion about demon possession and how that contrasts with being led by the Spirit of God.

Jezra: Jezra is a witch who leads a coven.  She is one of the book’s villains.  The sequel to this book, The Way Maker and the Scarlet Cord, appears to be specifically about her.  I am intrigued!  A daughter of one of the characters is drawn to Jezra and wants nothing to do with God.

The book has an intriguing premise.  The theme of learning how to love when one has been unloved was certainly compelling.  I am open to reading the sequel.  But here are some of my problems with the book:

—-The book was somewhat like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness books, and in a bad way.  Let me explain what I mean by that.  I am not saying that the plot of this book is similar to that of the Darkness books.  But the whole tone of the book is that one side is right and the other side is wrong, sinister, and conspiratorial.  Occasionally, there is acknowledgment of nuance.  Abby has her struggles to believe and to forgive.  People wonder why God does not heal everyone if God is still doing miracles.  We get a faint glimpse into what makes Jezra tick.  But these things were not developed that much.  This criticism is not intended to suggest that Dixie Koch should compromise her beliefs in writing her fiction.  This is a book that has a particular Christian worldview, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But people who believe differently have their motives for thinking as they do, right or wrong, and that should be acknowledged more.

—-At times, the characters spoke in sermons.  There is nothing wrong with characters in a Christian book talking about religion.  That is to be expected.  But perhaps they could have done so more naturally.

—-The prose was adequate.  There were no grammatical mistakes that I found.  But it did not compel me.  I think of the novels of Frank Peretti and Lynn Austin: with the exception of Peretti’s Darkness books, their works compel me.  Their works are preachy, and, as is the case in The Miracle Worker and the Misfits, their spiritual and religious message is not earth-shakingly new.  But their prose and their story are compelling.  Some of this is because they know how to get inside of a character’s mind and to unveil the character’s motivations.  They are also vivid.  The Miracle Worker and the Misfit lacked that.  At times, it seemed to be moving along just for the sake of moving along.

The premise of the book was intriguing, like I said, and I am somewhat open to reading the sequel, though I fear that it will be uninteresting: I envision it simply saying that Jezra sought an alliance with dark forces out of a desire for power.  I do think that Dixie Koch tried to write a book with suspense and characters who struggle to find hope in the midst of hopelessness.  But the book did not make much of a connection with me.

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Write-Up: Dynamics of Muslim Worlds

Evelyn A. Reisacher, ed.  Dynamics of Muslim Worlds: Regional, Theological, and Missiological Perspectives.  IVP Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

This book contains papers that were presented at the Missiology Lectures of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies on November 3-4, 2016, along with three other chapters.

David L. Johnston’s contribution makes a point that I think summarizes the book.  On page 176, Johnston states:

“…Western Christians especially must educate themselves about the pluralistic nature of Muslim society and about Islamic law in particular.  This will provided a needed antidote to the current wave of Islamophobia that clearly contributes to the recruitment of young Muslims by terror organizations and, more importantly, dehumanizes our Muslim neighbors.”

The “pluralistic nature of Muslim society” looms large in this book, and the book does much more than make the simple observation that there are moderate Muslims.  Rather, the book highlights numerous examples and facets of Islamic diversity, including reformist movements and different trends in Quranic interpretation.  Although the book labels ideas and movements as “traditionalist” and “reformist,” it occasionally reveals where the situation is more complex than that, as when it shows that the movement that led to ISIS initially had more liberal tendencies.  The book also distinguishes between text-centered Islam and popular Islam, and it explores the question of why people join ISIS.  The book is educational in its description of Islamic diversity, and also in its analysis of Islam in different regions, including Europe, West Africa, and South Asia.

Missiology is another prominent feature of this book.  The approach of the book seems to be to help Christians to understand the perspectives and trends within Islam so that they can better love Muslims, encouraging them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Among the missiological approaches discussed in this book are debates, service to Muslims, finding common ground (e.g., on revelatory dreams and a belief in miracles), and inductive Bible study, which encourages Muslims to read the Bible themselves and to draw their own conclusions.  The book shuns any approach that seeks to impose Western Christianity on Muslims.

In terms of critique, the book seems to suffer from the same problem that other writings about this subject face, and that is the issue of boundaries.  One paper in the book, for example, appeared to imply that Christians in reaching out to Muslims should not emphasize the technicalities of the Trinity, and should be open to Muslims believing in Jesus within the context of their Islamic faith.  Does that imply that believing in the Trinity is non-essential to being a Christian?  The book could have wrestled with this more.

The book deserves five stars on account of its vast supply of information.  It is scholarly, and it is not exactly the sort of book that spoon-feeds readers the information.  Even those who know some basics about Islam may find themselves treading water as they read about the nuances and diversity within Islam.  Still, the book is understandable and, in its own way, down-to-earth.  While it does not tell too many anecdotes as it speaks about people and movements, it depicts real people experiencing real situations.

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

Church Write-Up: Home

I went to the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Here are some notes:

A.  Eschatological hope was a theme in both services.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was talking about how this world is not our home and cannot bring us fulfillment, and how we would be naked and “not us” without bodies, explaining why we will have new bodies at the resurrection.  The pastor at the Lutheran church was preaching about I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Paul’s exhortation that Christians not grieve the dead as if they have no hope (which is not to say that they should not grieve, but that they should have hope in their grief).  During the children’s part of the service, the youth pastor was saying that being a Christian means never having to say “good bye.”  There is an afterlife.

B.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church said that young people look at elderly people, notice their pain and disease, and wonder why the elderly people would want to live, with all the bodily problems that they have to endure.  The pastor said that such young people will feel different once they become elderly: those who reach that age want to live every extra day that they can.

C.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church asserted that sexual promiscuity is a misguided search for home, which only Jesus can fulfill.  He provided a quote by John Steinbeck in East of Eden, which said that the brothel and the church attempt to satisfy a similar need, an escape or a relief from the burdens of life.  Steinbeck may have a point.  Is sexual promiscuity necessarily a search for home, though?  I can picture it not being that: it could be based on attraction or appetite.  For some, though, it may be searching for love in the wrong places.

D.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was talking about the Garden of Eden.  It was a sanctuary for God, but Adam and Eve were expelled from it on account of their sin.  Later, God dwelt with Israel through the Tabernacle, which was decorated with images of fruits and cherubim, perhaps echoing Eden.  While God dwelt with Israel and blessed her, access to the Tabernacle was limited and required a strict decorum, due to people’s human limitations and sinfulness.  In the eschaton, God will dwell with people more fully and directly.  A lot of Christians believe this.  It makes sense, but I wonder if it can be consistent with the Documentary Hypothesis.  Maybe it can, if P (who wrote of the Tabernacle) knew of J (who wrote Genesis 2-3).

E.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church said that, had Adam and Eve stayed in the Garden of Eden in their sinful state, they would have been on a futile search for home for all eternity, devouring the fruit from the Tree of Life.  It would have been a bottomless pit.  Still, the pastor said that Adam and Eve, after their expulsion, should have stayed right by the Garden of Eden, affirming that God was the home that they desired.

F.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church interacted with Hebrews 11:9-10: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (KJV). The pastor was saying that Abraham did not just want land: he wanted God as his home.  At times, the pastor said something else: it’s not so much that God belongs to us, but we belong to God.

G.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was talking about his personal walk with Jesus.  He testified that Jesus is not some dictator towards him.  Rather, Jesus often asks him, “What do you think you should do?”

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