Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

Thomas a Kempis.  The Imitation of Christ.  New York: Dover Publications, 2003.

According to the translators in the Foreword, the most popular view regarding this book’s origin is that it was written by a few members of the Brethren of the Common Life, a group of priests, in the Netherlands during the second half of the fourteenth century.  The priest Thomas, a member of the Brethren, translated it into Latin.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  What surprised me was what was lacking in the book.  When we think of WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”), what enters a lot of Christians mind is love and service towards others.  There are statements about that in this book, here and there, but it is not the book’s focus.  How, then, do we imitate Christ, according to the book?  We accept suffering, as Christ did, placing God’s desires above our own in so doing.  Some of this suffering comes from life’s events.  Yet, the book also has a strong ascetic focus.  When Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all that he has and give it to the poor, this book seems to regard that as more normative than a lot of Christians do.

B.  The book resembles Buddhism in its belief that Christians should detach themselves from worldly things, such as money and a desire for success.  It even believes that Christians should try to avoid looking to people for consolation and should instead turn to God for that: God may take God’s time to console us, the book acknowledges, but keep on waiting!  The reason that I say that the book is like Buddhism in its emphasis on detachment is that it maintains that attachment leads to suffering: our desires will be disappointed in this life, so we are happier when we are detached.  But the book also holds that even those who do get what they want are either suffering, or their possessions are standing in the way of their intimacy with God and the spiritual rapture that can come from that.

C.  While I understood the book’s argument that attachment leads to suffering, I did not know what its rationale was for asceticism.  Okay, sure, this world will not last, but why not enjoy it when we still can?  And cannot enjoying the pleasures of life enhance our appreciation for God, as we give God thanks?  I think of I Timothy 4:3, in which the author criticizes those who command people “to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (KJV).  Asceticism sounds rather Gnostic to me.  The Gnostics believed that the material world was bad because it was created by a sinister or an inferior sub-deity to trap people and estrange them from spirituality.  Their asceticism is understandable, in light of this view.  The Imitation of Christ does not believe that, though, for it holds that the creator of the material world was a good God.  Yet, for some reason, it seemed to denigrate the material world and enjoyment thereof.

D.  There is a lot of emphasis in evangelical Christianity on socializing: you need to be in DEEP community!  You cannot be a lone-ranger Christian!  This book, by contrast, stressed solitude: it is good to get away from people and seek consolation from God!  At times, the book treats chatting as foolishness to be avoided.  On one occasion, though, the book did say that people should not allow their private prayers to take them away from public prayer, a rather communitarian sentiment, but that sentiment was rare in this book.  As an introvert, I appreciated the book’s emphasis on solitude.  Still, I thought that the book went too far in that direction.  Does not Galatians 6:2 exhort Christians to bear one another’s burdens?  And, since the book was putting words into the mouth of Jesus, would not one expect Jesus to say more about loving other people?

E.  The book did exhort people to avoid negative feelings about others, but it tended to avoid the cheery “reach out to people” sentiments of modern evangelicalism.  Rather, it said that we should try to minimize our annoyance with others, since we ourselves have flaws that may annoy people.  Overall, though, the book had a rather dim view of life and of people, as if it regarded life as a drag, with temptations and desires that drag people down.  It looked to God, for consolation in this life and in the life hereafter.

F.  Humility was a theme that recurred frequently in this book.  We should be intellectually humble: intellect should lead to a virtuous life and not simply be for the sake of knowing things!  Part of the book’s stress on humility was its conviction that priests should submit to their superiors.  The book also emphasized that we are sinners.  We will interact with that more in the next item!

G.  A problem that I have long had with elements of conservative Christianity is this: we are supposed to believe that we are sinners, yet we are also supposed to look for internal signs that we are saved, and such signs include the fruit of the Spirit: are we loving?  Do we have joy?  I am not saying that all of Christianity is like this, but I believe that the elements of Christianity that do have this sort of stance place people in a Catch-22.  Am I supposed to see myself as bad?  Am I supposed to see myself as good, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work?  Which way do I go?

In light of that, the way that this book interacted with such issues intrigued me.  On the one hand, it believed that God’s judgment was a reality that even Christians should fear: in one poignant passage, it said that many of us are afraid when people are upset with us, so what makes us think we will be so brazen at God’s judgment seat?  That definitely spoke to me: I can be quite timid around other people, and yet, for some reason, I can envision myself telling God off at the last judgment!  In addition, the book seemed to regard its exhortations as a heaven or hell issue: those who surrender to God’s will and give up attachment will be the ones who will be saved.  One can get the impression that, as far as the book is concerned, we need to have all our ducks in a row to be saved!

On the other hand, the book was honest about human flaws.  The authors confess their imperfections.  If there is good within them, they believe it is on account of the Holy Spirit, and, even then, they often do not feel God’s consolations and sense the depths of their own shortcomings.  Sometimes, the book makes concessions: if you cannot bear suffering cheerfully, at least do so with patience!  If you cannot partake of the Eucharist with enthusiasm, then you can put off doing so, as long as you do not make that a habit.  The book also emphasized God’s mercy.  The book did not embrace any concept of “Once Saved Always Saved,” as far as I could see, and yet it was comforting, in its own way, since it was honest about human fallibility and encouraged people to persevere, trusting in a merciful God.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Write-Up: 12 Days in Africa

Lisa Sanders, with Cathy Bruning and Blake Sanders.  12 Days in Africa: A Mother’s Journey.  WestBow Press, 2013.  See here to buy the book.

12 Days in Africa is about Lisa Sanders’ time in Uganda.  She talks about the people she met and the experiences that she had, both happy and sad.  At times, the book contains first-person testimonies by people in Uganda who were helped by an organization.  Children received an education, for example, which allowed them to contribute to their nation.

The book reads fairly smoothly in terms of prose, but not so much in terms of structure.  It is informative in that it sheds light on the struggles that people experience in Uganda, and the barriers that inhibit them from surpassing them.  Although parts of the book seem like an infomercial, it was good to read about positive contributions that people are making.  At the same time, the book sometimes conveyed a tone of Western saviors swooping in and helping helpless Ugandans.  The occasions when the book talked about Ugandans helping Uganda were rare, as I recall, but they were valuable.  There was not a whole lot of theological reflection in the book, until the very end.  The end was also when Sanders shared some of her own vulnerabilities and characteristics, and that was endearing.  I especially liked her story about how her son wanted to work in Africa for a semester rather than finish up that year of college, to the consternation of his practical engineer father!

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Write-Up: Wings of the Wind, by Connilyn Cossette

Connilyn Cossette.  Wings of the Wind.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Wings of the Wind is the third book of Connilyn Cossette’s “Out from Egypt” series.  The series is about the Exodus and Israel’s time in the wilderness.

Wings of the Wind is set after the failed rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram against Moses.  This book covers the incident in Numbers 21 in which God sends fiery serpents against the complaining Israelites, and the only way that they can be cured of snakebite is to look at a brass serpent.  It goes through the Canaanite prostitute Rahab concealing the Israelite spies in the Book of Joshua, as well as the battle of Jericho.

Alanah is a Canaanite woman.  She dresses as a man and goes to the battlefield to avenge her father and brothers, who were killed in battle against the Israelites.  She is unconscious on the battlefield, and an Israelite, Tobiah, feels compassion for her and takes her to the Israelite camp.  There, she is nursed by Shira.  A la Deuteronomy 21:10-14, Tobiah wants to marry Alanah, and she undergoes the ritual prescribed under that law.

Alanah is ambivalent about marrying Tobiah and dwelling with the Israelite people.  On the one hand, she resents that the Israelites are trying to conquer her land.  She also has to deal with culture shock, since the Israelites do things differently from the Canaanites (e.g., in Israel, one can have a relationship with God without an idol or sacrifice).  On the other hand, she thinks that Israelite society under the Torah is more compassionate, just, and humane than Canaanite society, and that the God of Israel seems more real than the mythical gods of Canaan.  She develops relationships with Israelites in the camps, some of whom were foreigners who had joined the Israelite community.  Israel is not a complete Shangri la for her, however, for she has to deal with the bigotry and hostility of Tobiah’s twin sister, Tzipi.

The book picks up speed after Alanah discovers something that can negatively affect some of her relationships with Israelites.  In the course of the story, Cossette provides an explanation for why Rahab was so willing to help the Israelite spies.

My reactions to this book are mostly ambivalent.

The book, of course, portrays the Israelites as good (or Israelite society as good) and the Canaanites as bad.  It is an evangelical Christian book, after all!  And that is how the Israelite Conquest is justified in this book: it is God’s judgment on the sinful Canaanites, who had years to repent or to leave Canaan but failed to take advantage of the opportunity.  Occasionally, we get some nuance.  Although the book tries to argue that the Canaanites had time to leave Canaan and that it was primarily a few sinful die-hards who stayed behind, some of the Canaanites who are still in Canaan are not bad people: some are victims of the unjust system or life’s circumstances, and some are old.

The book portrays Canaanite society as rife with prostitution (cultic and otherwise), as violent and bloodthirsty, and as committed to child sacrifice.  On one occasion, Alanah reflects that Canaanites ditch their elderly parents, whereas the Israelites are commanded to honor their father and mother.  Cossette may be correct that there was cultic prostitution and child sacrifice in Canaan, but there are biblical scholars who have questioned the extent of those things in Canaan.  While Cossette depicts Canaanites as unfaithful to their family, one should remember that they performed rituals to support their dead ancestors: can such people be categorized as unfaithful?  And, while Cossette depicts the Torah as compassionate, just, and humane, there are people who would question that, seeing the Torah as patriarchal, brutal, and genocidal.

This is not to suggest that there is absolutely nothing to Cossette’s narrative.  There are just and compassionate elements in the Torah, and one can make a case that Canaanite society had significant flaws.  One can also read this book and appreciate the homiletical lesson that God gives us laws to restrain our base impulses and to move us in the direction of behaving more righteously (and, yes, grace is a significant factor in this book, too).  Still, in reading this book, one should remember that there are additional nuances.

A point that Cossette tries to make is that the Canaanites had a genuine opportunity to repent.  They knew about God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They were aware of the Exodus and Israelites’ victories against overwhelming odds up to that point.  Cossette even speculates in the appendix that God may have sent a prophet to Canaan to warn them to repent of their sinful behavior.  Perhaps she would have done well to have mentioned Melchizedek, who was a priest-king in Salem during the time of Abraham and worshiped the Most High God.  He may have been a light to the Canaanites!  While she wants to portray the Canaanites as having the truth and rejecting it, as that would justify the Conquest (according to her), she also portrays them as having a distorted understanding of what was going on: they see Moses as a sorcerer, and Joshua as a descendant of Baal!  Is Cossette’s point that they were suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)?

As far as the story itself is concerned, it was pretty good.  I think Cossette tried to create a sense of pathos, but she was not overly effective.  Israelites in the story were trying to move on after the people in their families had been killed by God in Korah’s rebellion, but they usually dismissed their concerns and justified God with the usual apologetic answers.  In addition, Alanah was won to the truth too quickly and too easily.  It looked rather facile.  There also seemed to be more telling than showing in the story.  Some of the scenes (i.e., the raging river scene) could have been more vivid.

This book is too good to get a three, but it falls short of a five.  I’ll give it a four!

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Church Write-Up: Imparting Values

I attended a non-denominational church this morning.  I hadn’t visited this particular church in about a year, and the reason that I decided to visit it this morning was that I wanted a new pen!  A year ago, when I visited this church, I got a new pen.  It was in the program so that we could write down our contact information and put it in the offering bucket.  That pen lasted for a year!  A few days ago, however, it ran out.  So I decided to go to that church and get a new one.

The sermon was a Mother’s Day sermon.  It focused on mentoring and passing down values to young people.

The pastor noted that Eli in the Book of Samuel had been a bad father, yet he got a second chance when he mentored Samuel.

The pastor also shared a video in which an elderly woman and her husband were sharing.  The elderly woman said that she visited a young woman who had recently had a baby.  Of course, everyone was paying attention to the baby, but the elderly woman took the opportunity to talk to the older brother.  “I’ll bet that you are a good big brother,” she said to him.  The young woman was happy that someone took the time to talk to her son.

The pastor read a story about a family in the church, as told from the perspective of the mother of the family.  Her husband had died of cancer, so now she was a single parent.  She needed her two daughters’ help, so, when she told her two daughters that they needed to stay and help her with the yard work rather than go bicycling with their friends, she wasn’t being mean or trying to teach them a lesson: she really needed their help!  She started going to church with her daughters, the church that her husband had attended before his death, and she noticed that her attitudes were subtly changing: nothing dramatic, but she prayed and relied on God more each day.  People at church came to her house and accomplished in four hours what would take her and her daughters weeks to do, and she valued that experience because it taught her two daughters the value of service.

I do not feel called to mentor anybody right now, but, if I am ever in a position to be an example to others, I hope that I do that well and teach the right values.  I liked the stories today, even though there was tragedy in some of them.  Why God allows a world where cancer takes the lives of those we love, I do not know.  I was thinking about that topic before going to church this morning.  Incidentally, the pastor also in his sermon said that each breath we take is a gift from God and we should appreciate it.  The world is a tragic place, but it is good when people can find second chances, appreciate others, and teach values.

Book Write-Up: Paul the Apostle, by Robert E. Picirilli

Robert E. Picirilli.  Paul the Apostle: Missionary, Martyr, Theologian.  Chicago: Moody, 1986, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

In Paul the Apostle: Missionary, Martyr, Theologian, scholar Robert E. Picirilli goes through the life of the apostle Paul.

Picirilli starts with Paul’s background in Tarsus.  Some of Picirilli’s discussion about Paul there was speculative, yet it was informed by historical information.  Picirilli talked about the sort of city that Tarsus was and how that made Paul a suitable vessel for God’s missionary purposes.  Since the Book of Acts says that Paul was a Roman citizen, Picirilli discusses how people became Roman citizens in those days, what being a Roman citizen entailed, and the relationship of Tyre to Rome.  And, of course, Picirilli is informed by the Scriptures.  Although Tyre was a Hellenistic place, Paul was a Pharisee, according to Philippians 3:5.

Next, Picirilli goes into Paul’s conversion.  A salient aspect of this section is the critical questions that Picirilli addresses.  How could the high priests have authority to persecute Christians in Damascus, which was outside their jurisdiction?  How should we understand the apparent contradiction in Acts over whether the people around Saul heard the voice or saw the light when Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:7; 22:9)?  Can we fit Paul’s trip to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) into the events in Acts?  Picirilli largely assumes the historicity of Acts and uses that as a frame for his narrative about Paul’s life.

Picirilli then discusses Paul’s epistles.  He maintains that Paul wrote all of the New Testament epistles attributed to him and addresses scholarly arguments to the contrary.  Picirilli wrestles with options about when Paul could have written certain epistles.  He discusses what sort of city Corinth was, the question of whether Paul wrote to North Galatia or South Galatia, various traditions about whether Paul reached Spain, and what slavery was like.  Occasionally, Picirilli talks about the theological and religious content of the epistles.  For example, Picirilli speculates that the Book of Colossians rarely mentions the Holy Spirit because it does not want the Spirit to detract from Christ.  The letter, after all, is responding to a heresy that treated Christ as merely one facet of the divine among many.

In the course of the book, Picirilli offers historical asides.  After reading his brief narrative about Felix, one can see why Felix was disturbed by Paul’s sermon about righteousness, temperance, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25)!

In terms of positives, the book was informative, especially when it came to historical background.  It manifested a humble tone when it engaged other points of view, though Picirilli could be a bit saucy, every now and then.  While Picirilli maintained a rather harmonizing approach towards the biblical text, he sounded like a reasonable person, not as someone trying to stretch things to make his argument fit.  I also appreciated his references to J. Gresham Machen’s work on Paul.

In terms of negatives, the book could have used more religious and theological content, not only regarding Paul’s epistles, but also regarding such questions as the religious motivations that Hellenistic Jews and Saul of Tarsus had when they persecuted the early Christians.  While many may find Picirilli’s discussions on when Paul wrote to be useful, they were dry, in places.

Would this book be a good introduction to students about the apostle Paul?  On such topics as historical context and scholarly ideas about the authorship of the epistles, I would say yes.  On theological and religious questions, however, I think students should look for a supplement.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Meaning of the Pentateuch, by John H. Sailhamer

John H. Sailhamer.  The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation.  IVP Academic, 2009.  See here to purchase the book.

The late John Sailhamer taught Old Testament at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Brea, California.

In the Meaning of the Pentateuch, Sailhamer makes a variety of points about the Pentateuch. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

—-Sailhamer argues that a version of the Pentateuch was written by Moses, who used different sources.  Later, the Pentateuch underwent an eschatological update.  Parts were added that stressed the coming of a Messianic king of Israel in the last days.  This king of Israel would defeat Israel’s enemies, inaugurate paradise, and bless the nations.  Sailhamer believes that such themes were latent in the original Pentateuch, but that the additions emphasized them and made them clearer.

—-According to Sailhamer, canonizers played a role in the Pentateuch’s eschatological orientation, as well as that of the Hebrew Bible.  The Pentateuch ends with Israel not yet in the Promised Land, and that is because the Jewish people during the time of this canonization are still awaiting the Messianic, eschatological restoration of Israel to, and in, her land.  The same goes with the Hebrew Bible, which ends with II Chronicles, with Israel still in exile, and yet hope is on the horizon.  At the same time, Sailhamer maintains that there were different communities with different canons: some communities preferred to end the Hebrew Bible with II Chronicles, giving the Hebrew Bible an eschatological focus that anticipated a future restoration from exile.  At least one community, however, ended the Hebrew Bible with Ezra-Nehemiah.  This gave the Hebrew Bible a historical focus, which maintained that the fulfillment of Israel’s restoration from exile occurred historically under Ezra and Nehemiah.  Sailhamer holds that this difference of opinion can also be discerned in different versions of the Book of Jeremiah.

—-Sailhamer maintains that the Pentateuch is not about obeying rules but is about faith.  Trust in God is a recurring theme in the Pentateuch (i.e., Abraham believes God, the Israelite spies did not have faith in God).  According to Sailhamer, God in the Pentateuch desired a direct relationship with Israel.  Israel would be a priesthood and would hear from God directly, and she would have few rules to follow.  But Israel feared hearing directly from God and requested a mediator, and she kept sinning.  Aaron helped Israel to construct the Golden Calf, and Israelites worshiped goat demons.  God then gave more laws to provide Israel with discipline, restraint, and guidance.  The Tabernacle would provide a system of mediation, the levitical laws would keep the priests on the straight and narrow, and the Holiness Code would guide individual Israelites.  For Sailhamer, this structure of the Pentateuch (and he seems to believe this is part of the original Pentateuch) anticipates the new covenant, in which God would write God’s laws on the Israelites’ hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  Sailhamer argues that parts of the Book of Jeremiah support this picture of God giving Israel more laws in response to Israel’s sins, and he also refers to New Testament and patristic views to that effect.

—-Sailhamer defends certain Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.  When Paul in Galatians 3:16 states that God made the promises to Abraham’s seed (Christ, according to Paul), not Abraham’s seeds, did Paul fail to realize that “seed” is a collective noun?  When Matthew 2:15 applies Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) to Jesus coming from Egypt, did Matthew not notice that Hosea 11:1 is about Israel coming out of Egypt?  Is Isaiah 7:14 eschatological or Messianic, as Matthew 1:23 seems to suggest, or does it concern an event in the seventh century B.C.E.?  Sailhamer wrestles with difficult questions and offers important insights: that there is an individual, kingly seed in the Hebrew Bible who blesses the nations, and that Numbers 24:7-8 can be interpreted to mean that God will bring the king of Israel out of Egypt.  In my opinion, he was not as convincing on Isaiah 7:14.  While he may be correct that Isaiah 7:14 has a larger eschatological significance in the Book of Isaiah, it still seems to be a sign about events in the seventh century B.C.E.

—-While Sailhamer defends Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, he is unhappy with the tendency of many Christians to treat the Hebrew Bible primarily as a prophecy about Christ, or as a promise about Christ’s coming.  In his mind, such an approach implies that the Hebrew Bible is useless now that Christ has come.  Sailhamer believes that the Hebrew Bible still enlightens and informs, and that it provides a context for the New Testament.  For Sailhamer, the Hebrew Bible’s focus is not so much on prediction as it is on elucidating God’s will and ways.

—-Sailhamer contends that there is a shift towards individual piety in the course of the Hebrew Bible.  Deuteronomy 15:1 commands that the Israelites are to hear the Torah every seven years.  By contrast, Joshua 1:8, which marks the “Prophets” section of the Hebrew Bible, and Psalm 1, which marks the “Writings” section, exhort individuals to meditate on the Torah day and night.  Sailhamer refers to a scholarly argument that the Book of Psalms was intended for individual piety, and he presents a picture of exilic and post-exilic Jews as literate.  Sailhamer also maintains that the song in Exodus 15 presents a picture of individual praise of God.

—-Sailhamer made intriguing points and addressed questions that I have had.  What did Noah mean when he predicted that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27)?  Sailhamer answers that in reference to the identification of their descendants in Genesis 10 as well as the Book of Daniel, relating it to Rome and Greece’s dominion over Assyria, Babylon, and Israel.  Did Noah end God’s curse of the earth (Genesis 5:29)?  If so, why does the ground still produce thorns?  According to Sailhamer, Noah, by sacrificing after the Flood, encouraged God to bless the earth.  Sailhamer also notes that, prior to the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants, the Hebrew hero (Abraham and Moses) had contact with a Gentile (Melchizedek and Jethro).  Sailhamer commented some on the significance of this, but he could have commented more; most of the time, he had the opposite problem, repeating points he had already made—-sometimes the exact same arguments and quotations.

Now for my assessment:

—-Sailhamer argued robustly for his positions.  He did not merely assume that certain passages in the Pentateuch are eschatological, as some evangelical scholars do, but he actually set out to defend his positions and to address challenging questions.  His argument that there was a later eschatological update to the Pentateuch is plausible, even though I would not be too quick to acknowledge that the Pentateuchal writings were originally eschatological.

—-Sailhamer focuses on Judah in his interaction with Genesis 49.  Genesis 49 can be translated to concern the last days, and it talks about a Judahite king, whom Sailhamer interprets as the Messiah.  But Jacob in Genesis 49 talks about the other Israelite tribes as well.  How do they fit into the last days?  Many Jewish interpreters have interpreted Genesis 49 in reference to events in Israel’s history: the judge and serpent Dan in vv 16-17 has been interpreted as Samson, for instance.  They have also maintained that the phrase translated as “last days” actually means coming days, which is not necessarily eschatological.  (Sailhamer acknowledges that as a possible translation but rejects it, thinking that the eschatological interpretation of the phrase makes more sense, in terms of the structure of the Pentateuch.)  A possible challenge to Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis 49 as eschatological occurs in v 7.  Jacob predicts that Simeon and Levi will be scattered in Israel.  That happened historically, but, after Israel’s eschatological restoration, Simeon and Levi will receive land in Israel, according to Ezekiel 48.  How would Sailhamer interpret such details of Genesis 49, from an eschatological standpoint?

—-Did exilic and post-exilic Jews really possess their own copies of the Torah, as in their own scrolls?  That is not usually the picture that I have gotten from academics, but I am open to correction.

—-Sailhamer interprets Numbers 24:7-8 to concern the Messiah coming out of Egypt.  Are there any post-biblical Jewish sources that manifest such an expectation, though?  If canonizers updated the Pentateuch to include such an expectation, would we have seen it in other Jewish sources?  More engagement with post-biblical Jewish sources may have helped Sailhamer’s case (or not).

—-As I said above, Sailhamer was repetitive when it came to certain points.  That did help me absorb the points, but did he have to, say, quote Jamieson-Faussett-Brown’s statement that Moses used sources three times?  The conclusion did a good job tying things together, especially when it related Sailhamer’s discussion of methodology and evaluation of evangelical scholarship to Sailhamer’s own methodology and project.  Still, an appendix in which Sailhamer laid out the passages that he believed were the original Pentateuch, and the passages that he considered to be the later additions, would have been helpful.

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Church Write-Up: The Door, the Trial, and the Church of Humans

I attended the traditional Lutheran service this morning.  When I quote a Scriptural passage, it will be from whatever English translation the bulletin was using.  Here are some thoughts.

A.  One of the Scripture readings was from John 10:1-10.  The passage slightly confused me, particularly in its usage of the “door” metaphor.  Jesus says that thieves and robbers do not use the door but climb into the sheepfold another way.  Jesus, however, enters by the door, and his sheep follow him when he leads them out because his sheep recognize his voice.  But then Jesus says that he himself is the door and those who enter by him will be saved and enjoy the pasture.  Jesus contrasts himself with the thieves and robbers, whom his sheep did not heed.  Jesus finally mentions a thief who comes in to kill and destroy, whereas Jesus came so that his sheep could have abundant life.

The thieves and robbers did not enter the door, who is Jesus.  Is this a criticism of non-Christian teachers, meaning teachers who rejected Christ?

There are points that I think I understand in this passage, but I am a little unclear about the “door.”  Does the door consistently represent Jesus in this passage?  It just seems to me that the metaphor is being used in different ways.  I would not be surprised if the themes overlapped, though.

I can probably look this up.  But reading this passage at church this morning reminded me of how I always have something more to learn about the Bible.

B.  Another Scripture reading was from I Peter 2:19-25.  V 23 stood out to me: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

I thought about books and TV shows, and I often admire the characters who stand up for themselves when they are challenged, or who threaten bullies who themselves are on a power trip.  V 23 somewhat challenges this sentiment within me.  Still, I can identify with elements of v 23: of actually loving those who persecute, as opposed to reviling and threatening.

At the same time, as I said in this post a while back, Jesus stood up for righteousness throughout his ordeals, so he was not a doormat.  That included challenging the powers that be, and it also included love for enemies.

C.  The main text of the service was Acts 2:42-47.  The pastor said that the early church had the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the sacraments (which is probably how he is interpreting the “breaking of bread” in the passage—-as holy communion).  He said that, when we are looking for a church, we should seek one that has those elements.  He also observed that many people crowd into megachurches because they are looking for something to fill them.  They have a hunger that the preacher’s powerful personality cannot by itself satisfy.  They are looking for teaching.

The pastor noted v 47, which states that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The pastor said that the Lord has to build the church, for humans left to their own devices will lead the church to destruction, as Martin Luther said.  Humans, after all, have their pride and preferences, which lead to conflict and disagreement.

After hearing this, my thought to myself was, “Do I really believe this?”  There are plenty of non-Christian groups that do well; and there are plenty of Christian groups that suffer through divisions.  This is not to suggest that non-Christian groups are better than Christian groups.  I just wonder, though, if there is more to human nature than “Human nature is bad.”  Still, speaking for myself personally, I identify with the pastor’s characterization of human nature, at least when it comes to myself.

I thought recently about Christians who treated me in, well, a less-than-Christian manner.  I am tempted to declare that they are not real Christians.  But who am I to say that, just because they do not like me, they have no right to fulfill their spiritual needs?  The pastor’s sermon this morning reinforced whatever charitable sentiments I have.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Guide to Life

Lucas R. Leach and Ashley J. Leach.  The Guide to Life: An Inspiration from the Bible.  Revival Waves of Glory Books & Publishing, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Lucas Leach has a B.S. in environmental science, served as a Marine in Iraq, and is an evangelist.  His wife, Ashley, has a B.A. in English and a certificate in Biblical counseling.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  The book reflects the sort of Christianity that believes in generational curses, spiritual warfare against demons, the possibility that demons can influence believers if they are not careful, and the authority of believers to heal, raise the dead, and cast out demons.  This book attempted to support these positions with Scriptures, yet left some questions unanswered.  If believers were to continually possess the authority to heal, for example, why did Paul leave Trophimus sick at Miletus (II Timothy 2:40)?  And, in making this point, I do acknowledge that cessationists have their own share of questions to answer.  The Leaches refer to John 14:12, in which Jesus affirms that believers will be able to do the works that Jesus did, and more.  Cessationist attempts to explain that verse have not satisfied me.

B.  The Leaches make the point that believers do not have to pray to heal or cast out demons.  We don’t read about the disciples praying before healing or casting out demons, right?  They just did it, because Jesus gave them the authority!  The Leaches address Acts 9:40, in which Peter prays before raising Tabitha from the dead: they say that Peter was praying for faith, even though the text does not explicitly say that.  They also leave unaddressed Jesus’ point in Mark 9:29 that some demons can only come out through prayer.  Still, it is odd that we see little in the Gospels about the disciples praying before healing or casting out demons.  Maybe Jesus’ all night prayers took care of that, or the disciples’ prayers after Jesus’ resurrection.

C.  The book seems to waver between believing in a God who cuts people slack, does not expect them to be perfect, has eliminated the curse of the law and now disciplines rather than punishes believers, and saves sleeping believers, and a God who condemns disobedient, unrepentant Christians to hell.  Maybe the Leaches hold these things together in their own minds, in some way.  It’s not impossible to do, I suppose.  Still, it seemed that the Chapter 2 was saying that sleeping believers (who fail to repent?) go to hell and then go to heaven, whereas Chapter 3 (and much of the rest of the book) was arguing strongly against once-saved-always-saved.

By the way, the argument in Chapter 2 was pretty bad: it was interpreting the sleep of death in I Corinthians 15:18 and I Thessalonians 4:14 as spiritual sleep (the type in Romans 13:11-14).  The arguments in Chapter 4 were all right, overall.  The Leaches maintain that, when Jesus says that no one will be able to snatch his followers from his hand (John 10:27-29), he is talking about his obedient followers, and there may be something to that.  They also argue that the exorcists who say “Lord, Lord” yet fail to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23) were initially saved, otherwise they would not have been able to cast out demons.  That, I think, is jumping to conclusions.  Did not Jesus say that the Pharisees who criticized him cast out demons (Matthew 12:27)?

D.  The Leaches do well to acknowledge biblical passages that say that God does not hear certain prayers, due to certain sins (i.e., not hearing the cry of the poor).  Those are not comfortable or reassuring passages, but they are in the Bible, and those who believe in the Bible should deal with them somehow.  At the same time, the Leaches also should have addressed God’s faithfulness to and use of imperfect people, such as the disciples, who had their share of pride and strife.

E.  There were edifying features in the book.  The Leaches talked about what covetousness is and is not, and that spoke to me, since I am dealing with my share of jealousy.  Ashley’s stories were especially good.  I liked her story about an old man who went to a coffee shop where she was a waitress, and he had tried to make up for his own unfaithfulness to his wife by giving her shopping money.  The story’s point was that we cannot earn salvation, and Ashley acknowledged that she, too, sinned.  The Leaches’ picture of God’s quickness to forgive, in contrast with society’s punishments, was also effective.

F.  The book seems to suggest that God’s healing will eliminate the need for anti-depressant medications.  Maybe the Leaches are just saying that this is what happened to them and people they know, but I am leery about messages that may encourage people to give up on needed medication.

G.  The book perhaps could have gone more deeply into how one can overcome deeply-ingrained sin.  In my opinion, repentance alone is insufficient, for a person can say he or she is sorry to God and still have propensities towards sinful, or just human, attitudes.  The book tried to address this, on some level, but it could have gone deeper.

H.  The book needs editing.  Some parts were well-written.  Other parts, not so much.

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Announcement

I am doubling down on my dissertation work, so I will not be blogging much this year (May 2017-May 2018).

I will still write my weekly Church Write-Up, since that is a way that I keep a record of the church services that I attend and process what I heard there. Sometimes, I will offer my thoughts.  But don’t be surprised when I just offer a summary of the sermon.

I will still write book reviews here, but the pace will be slower, since I will be reading fewer pages each day.

I may drop the Current-Events Write-Up.  Regarding news, I will only watch ABC News each night.

Just wanted to let you know!  If I do not post for a while, this is why!  I will still post at least once each week, though.

Church Write-Up: The Parable of the Talents

For church this morning, I went to what I call (accurately or inaccurately) the “Word of Faith” church.  It had a guest speaker, who is a missionary to Brazil.  He was preaching about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  See here to read the parable.

Here are some points that were made at this morning’s service:

A.  The missionary said that we have to sow according to the vision that God has given us.  He told a story about a Christian man who owned a restaurant.  The restaurant became prosperous and employed a lot of young people, but the busy hours kept them away from youth group.  The restaurant owner talked to the missionary and said that he would donate a lot of his profits to the missionary’s church, but the missionary gently answered no.  That angered the restaurant owner, but the restaurant owner later reflected on what the missionary said and let his employees take time off to go to youth group.  The restaurant still thrived.

B.  The sermon was primarily about stewardship: how do we manage what God has given us?  This includes money, but it also includes our emotions, the words that we say, and our responsibilities towards our loved ones.  Do parents blame God for their rebellious teenagers, as the unprofitable servant blamed God in vv 24-25, or do they pray for their teenagers?  Money still came up, of course.  After the sermon, the pastor talked about giving to a charity that helped Ukrainian widows get houses and jobs.  He mentioned others who had vision, such as a couple who started a marriage seminar at the church.  He was saying that we can give to God, and stand back and see what God does with what we gave.

C.  The missionary highlighted vv 21, 23: the master said that the profitable servants were faithful in a few things.  He talked about a time when he only had a few cents in his pocket.  I don’t remember how the story ended, but his point was that God can bless the little that we give.

D.  A young man got up and gave a testimony.  He said that he diligently tithed, but God prompted him to give a little more.  He stepped out in obedience, and his income increased the more that he gave.  He said that he was not offering this as financial advice, but rather was highlighting God’s faithfulness.  It is interesting to note, though, that, as he earned more, he gave more.

In terms of my reactions, the Parable of the Talents is not a beloved parable of mine, since God comes across as harsh in that parable.  The missionary actually admitted that a couple of times!  Plus, I am in a period of saving: I try to hold on to what I can.  I do not plan to change that after writing this post, at least not yet.  Still, the service this morning highlighted a compelling theme, about using what God has given us to make a positive difference in the world.

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