Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Lost World of the Flood

Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton.  The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton are scholars of the Hebrew Bible.  The Lost World of the Flood is about the biblical Flood narrative in Genesis 6-9.  Here are some thoughts about the book.

A.  At times, the book seemed to imply that the Bible is inerrant, so the author of the biblical Flood story must have understood the Flood as something other than a literal worldwide event, since we know, on the basis of science, that such an event did not happen.  That comes across as wishful thinking.  At other times, to its credit, the book actually made an attempt to argue that the biblical author did not regard the Flood story as literally and historically true, in every detail.  For instance, it argued that the Ark was unlike ancient boats.

B.  The book still maintains that there was a historical Flood, albeit it was a local catastrophe.  At the same time, it argues that the biblical story employs hyperbole to make the Flood look like a universal event, for divinely-inspired theological purposes.  According to Walton and Longman, the biblical Flood story fits within a larger theological narrative about God dwelling with humanity and bringing about order.  The Flood is about God correcting disorder and essentially resetting creation.  In my opinion, the book was slightly unclear about whether the biblical author deemed the Flood to be a worldwide event, or instead was consciously exaggerating for rhetorical effect an event that he believed was local.  It seemed that, overall, the book was arguing the latter, and yet the book placed the biblical Flood story within the context of what it conceived as ancient cosmology, in which mountains form the boundaries of the world.  That would arguably imply that the biblical author considered the Flood to be worldwide, in terms of his limited understanding of the extent of the world.

C.  Related to (B.), I am rather ambivalent about the book’s argument.  Can the biblical author portray the Flood as an event of global significance, while believing that the Flood was not actually a global event?  Undoing and resetting creation: that sounds universal!  The book refers to the Conquest: it is an event of placing order in the land of Israel, yet it is obviously exaggerated, as the biblical Conquest narrative alternates between presenting the Conquest as thorough and acknowledging that it was incomplete.  Could the biblical Flood story reflect the same sort of approach?  Again, I am ambivalent.

D.  The book argues that showing that the Flood actually happened would not prove the truth of the Bible.  That makes a degree of sense: why would it prove Christianity, and not the other religions that have a flood story?  At the same time, Walton and Longman appear to be arguing that the Flood itself does not have an inherent theological meaning, that what is divinely-inspired is the biblical interpretation of the Flood event.  That is a bit nebulous, though.  Why not say that God sent the Flood for the theological reasons that the Bible mentions?

E.  The book is informative about ancient Near Eastern concepts that overlap with the Book of Genesis, including flood stories, genealogies, and divine-human beings.  The book even offers the interesting suggestion that the Noah story was originally Akkadian.  The book explained some of the ancient Near Eastern Flood stories better than other secondary literature that I have read.  For instance, I have wondered how the Atrahasis story could portray the gods as dependent on humans for food, when the gods existed prior to human beings; how did they survive before humans came on the scene?  Well, the gods had to grow their own food, and that is why they created humans: to grow it for them.  The book was rather unclear, though, on what the toledoth in Genesis were.  It seemed to be implying that they were ancient sources, some of them going back as far as Adam.  Many critical scholars will disagree with that.

F.  Surprisingly, the book effectively explained how the Bible can be perspicuous while not being clear in every detail.  It argues that the Bible is perspicuous on salvation.  Before, I have tended to dismiss this idea.  Perspicuous about salvation?  Then why do Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have different ideas about how to be saved?  But Walton and Longman offer a bare-bones summary of the Christian message: Christ died and rose to save us from sin, and we should place our faith in Christ.  The Christian canon of Scripture does teach that clearly, I believe.  I should also add that Walton and Longman effectively tie in their theological understanding of the biblical Flood story with themes in the New Testament.

G.  In one case, the book surveyed scholarly views effectively.  In another case, not so much.  On where it did so effectively, it referred to different scholarly views about the noisiness of humans keeping the gods awake in the Atrahasis story.  Some conservative scholars and apologists like to make the Atrahasis story into a foil for the biblical Flood story: God is justly punishing violence and sin in the biblical Flood story, whereas the gods in the Atrahasis story are merely annoyed because the humans are keeping them awake.  But some have argued that the humans in the Atrahasis story, by keeping the gods awake, were challenging the sovereignty of the gods and fomenting disorder.  To their credit, Walton and Longman refer to that view.  On where they could have referred to more scholarly debate, they could have discussed the debate over the view of William Ryan and Walter Pitman that there was a massive flood around the Black Sea.  Walton and Longman agree with this view, while distancing themselves from saying that this was the flood that inspired the flood stories in the ancient Near East.  But this view has been subject to critique since the Ryan and Pitman book was published in 1998, though a 2016 study has affirmed it.  Walton and Longman perhaps should have conveyed awareness of this.

H.  Stephen O. Moshier contributes a chapter that presents scientific arguments against a global flood.  It requires concentration, and maybe even notetaking, if you are not a scientifically-inclined person and want to follow Moshier’s arguments.  The book has another chapter that critiques the view that Flood stories throughout the world were inspired by a global flood.  It does so lucidly and effectively.

My questions and critiques notwithstanding, I am still giving this book five stars.  In many respects, it is an informative and lucid treatment of the biblical Flood story.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Church Write-Up: Vicissitudes, Unclean Lips, Forgiveness in II Corinthians 3-5

Here is my Write-Up about last Sunday’s church services and events.

A.  The pastor at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church covered some of the same ground about Isaiah 6 that he discussed in the Wednesday Bible study, which I talk about here, while mentioning additional points.  The pastor opened his sermon with an illustration.  The Judahites were clueless about what would happen after the death of King Uzziah, who had reigned for decades in a time of peace and prosperity.  The pastor compared that to our times of uncertainty: we have a break-up and feel we will never have a relationship again, or we lose a job and fear that we will never again be employed.  We can look at the past and the present, as we live in the moment, but we have difficulty looking beyond that, into the future.

In the midst of this, Isaiah sees the majesty of God in the Temple, as the bottom of God’s robe fills the whole structure.  As Isaiah basks in God’s glory, he comes to realize that he does not deserve to be there.  He has unclean lips that need to be cleansed.  The pastor commented that the reason that Isaiah emphasizes the lips is that he has in mind the concept that Jesus would later convey: that what comes out of the lips is what is in the heart (e.g., Matthew 12:33-35; 15:18-19).  Similarly, we realize, on the basis of our past and present, that we do not deserve to be in the presence of God.  Not only have we hurt others, but we also want to do our own thing, to fill our calendar with what we want to do.

Isaiah is commissioned, and God commissions Christians to go into a world in which people are narcissistic and to proclaim to them the Gospel: that God loves them, and that Jesus Christ died for them.

I agree with parts of this, but not others.  The part about our perception (or lack thereof) of the past, present, and future was intriguing, as was the part about the significance of Isaiah’s reference to lips.  I do not see what is wrong with people doing what they choose, as long as they do not hurt others.  I also struggle with the idea that non-believers are narcissistic.  A lot of people, believers and non-believers, think about themselves, but they think of others, too.

B.  I will shift to the “Word of Faith” service before I discuss the LCMS Sunday School, since the “Word of Faith” service covered some of the same issues that I highlighted in “A.”  The “Word of Faith” service had a panel discussion about giving.  Some of the things that one of the panelists said especially stood out to me, since he was discussing the vicissitudes in his own life.  He told of a time when he was fired from a company, and he did not know if he could get another job, since his job had been so specialized.  He received a severance package and tithed from that, saying to God, “I hope you enjoy this: I do not know where the next one will come from!”

But he also talked about another time when his wife received a job in another state, and a company wanted him to stay.  The company offered to let him keep his job but to work from home in the other state.  The problem was that the money he got from that job went far in South Dakota (I think that’s where he said it was), but not in California, where he and his family were moving.  He asked for a raise, and the company gave it to him.  And, because he worked at home, he got to spend more time with his son, who needed guidance and direction at that time.

The pastor asked the man what is special about that particular church, that he gives to it.  The pastor knew what the man would answer.  The man said that there was nothing particularly special about that church, as there are many good churches out there.  But that church is where he and his family are, so that is where they will give.  His wife told the story of how, a while back, they donated to a church and did not entirely agree with how the church was spending the money.  But they donated anyway, since the pastors made that decision.  They would not use their money as a way to leverage power in the church.

On that last part, I agree that there are people who leverage their money to get their own way in churches, and that is unfortunate.  Still, I think people should feel free not to give to a church, if that church is misappropriating funds.

C.  The LCMS Sunday School class continued its series on forgiveness in II Corinthians 1-7.  The teacher tied concepts in II Corinthians 3-5 to forgiveness.  Paul was seeking to reconcile with the Corinthian church, which accused him of being arrogant.  Paul assured them of their value to him: he saw them as his letter of commendation, so he cared about what they thought.  At the same time, Paul affirmed that he had an apostolic calling: he was a messenger of God, called to preach the Gospel.  Paul is humble but not self-denigrating, as humility is not self-pity or self-denigration but service.

In II Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  As an aside, the teacher referred to Paul’s reference to his trip to the third heaven in II Corinthians 12, and the teacher showed a painting in which Paul was unconscious on the road to Damascus.  The teacher thought that the painting was saying that Paul’s soul went to the third heaven when Jesus initially called him on the road to Damascus: that the events of Acts 9 are when Paul’s experience in II Corinthians 12 took place.  But back to the covenants.  Paul contrasts the condemnation of the letter of the law with the ministry of the Spirit.  The letter of the law law focuses on evening the score and people getting what they deserve, whereas the spirit of the law values people, and the New Covenant is about forgiveness.  Paul’s discussion about the covenants, according to the teacher, related to the mutual forgiveness between himself and the Corinthian church.

In II Corinthians 5, Paul says that Christians are like jars with treasure inside of them.  In that historical setting, the teacher said, the Romans made clay jars to transport valuable merchandise on ships.  The jars were easy and cheap to make: the Romans discarded them when they were through with them, and they made them where they packed up the merchandise.  Archaeologists have found jars that were unopened.  The teacher was saying that we are people with a treasure inside of us: Christ in us, who forgives through us.  But we need to open that jar and let the forgiveness out.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Church Write-Up: Isaiah 6 and Trinity Sunday

At Bible study last Wednesday, at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, the pastor talked about Isaiah 6.  Isaiah 6 is a text that is read on Trinity Sunday, which is this coming Sunday.  The pastor gave us a history of Trinity Sunday.  He said that Easter and Ascension Sunday focused on Jesus, Rogate Sunday focused on God the Father and creation, and Pentecost was about the Holy Spirit.  Trinity Sunday considered the entire Trinity.

The pastor said that Isaiah 6 is used on Trinity Sunday because the seraphim say “Holy, holy, holy” when talking about God.  They say “Holy” three times, and the Trinity is one God in three persons.  God also asks whom “we” shall send, speaking in the plural, but the pastor mentioned the view that God there may be talking to the heavenly council.  A text that came to my mind was John 12:21, which seems to suggest that the God who filled the Temple in Isaiah’s vision was the pre-incarnate Christ.

The pastor narrated that Isaiah 6 occurred in a time of uncertainty.  King Uzziah had just died.  Uzziah had reigned for fifty-two years (II Kings 15:2), and it was a time of prosperity for Judah.  Egypt and the Hittites were leaving Judah alone because they were dealing with internal insurrections.  The Assyrian empire was just beginning to rise.  The pastor compared Uzziah’s death to the death of FDR, or Reagan leaving office: these were strong leaders, and people wondered what the country would do without them.  When Uzziah died, Judahites were afraid of the rising Assyrian empire.

The pastor said that Isaiah’s vision sent the message that God is supreme and is sovereign, even though Uzziah is not king, and even though the Assyrians pose a threat to Judah.  God is so great that the Temple cannot contain God.  Seraphim cover their faces with two of their wings.  Isaiah feels unclean in God’s presence, so a seraph takes coal from the altar—-which had the ever-burning fire that represented God’s continual presence and consumed the animal sacrifices for atonement—-and touched Isaiah’s lips with it, thereby cleansing them.  God is also called the LORD of hosts, or armies.  The pastor referred to the invisible horses and chariots of God that protected Northern Israel in II Kings 6.  Uzziah may be gone, but God’s army is still present.

Yet, the pastor acknowledged that Isaiah was to spread dismal news.  God indeed was sovereign, but the land of Judah would be devastated.  But, as is often the case, God attaches some good news at the end of the bad news, and the good news was that there would be a remnant and a holy seed, whom the pastor said was Christ.

Jesus refers to Isaiah 6 when he explains the Parable of the Sower to his disciples (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8).  The pastor said that Jesus was saying that he himself is continuing the mission of Isaiah, only there are differences.  Isaiah’s message was not understood by the Judahites, but Jesus’ message, and that of the apostles, are understood.  Moreover, the seed in the parable was not just the word being scattered but Jesus himself, as Jesus was the seed of Isaiah 6.

I asked the pastor what he made of Jesus’ statements that seem to suggest that Jesus told parables to confuse his audience.  The pastor replied that Jesus said that “He who has ears to ears, let him hear.”  The Spirit would move where he would, and some would understand and be receptive to Jesus’ message, whereas others would not.  The pastor offered an explanation for the Messianic Secret, in which Jesus hid his Messianic identity from the masses.  Much of Judaism had a concept of a Messiah who would be a political leader and liberator, and Jesus did not want to be associated with that concept.  Jesus wanted to take control of the story and to define the nature of the Messiah himself.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Book Write-Up: From Jerusalem to Timbuktu

Brian C. Stiller.  From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity.  IVP Books, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Brian C. Stiller serves the World Evangelical Alliance as a global ambassador.  He was President of Tyndale University College and Seminary, which is in Toronto, Canada.  He also founded and edited Faith Today magazine.

This book is about Christianity throughout the world, particularly the Global South, Asia, and the Middle East.  The Western world still looms large in the book, however, since it provides background for the trends and developments that Stiller discusses.

Among the topics that Stiller discusses are:

Pentecostal and charismatic movements: Stiller traces their historical development in the United States and their spread throughout the world.

Vernacular translation of the Bible: Stiller argues that the Bible becomes powerful when it is translated into people’s vernacular.  Not only is this the case spiritually, but it also has contributed to social and political change, providing the colonized with the literacy to challenge their colonizers.

Indigenous Christianity: Stiller is critical of Western missionaries trying to run everything when they spread the Gospel to other countries.  He tells stories of indigenous Christians running their own churches in their own countries.

Different cultural mindsets: Stiller contrasts the secularism of the West with the belief in the supernatural that exists in many other countries.  He believes that they recognize something authentic.

Political and social engagement: Stiller traces the historic conservative Christian aversion to politics and the rise of the social Gospel.  He describes how evangelicals in other countries are challenging oppression, sometimes quietly, and sometimes openly.  Stiller argues that Christianity is about more than the salvation of the soul but includes a concern for the material world.  Stiller does not endorse the prosperity Gospel and recognizes its abuses, but he does believe that it is speaking to real needs and concerns—-the desire of the poor to escape their poverty and have control of their lives—-and that it provides them with tools to do so.

Prayer movements: Stiller discusses the various forms these have taken, as Catholic, Orthodox, and doctrine-focused evangelicals pursue charismatic routes, and Pentecostals study the church fathers.  Stiller also tells a compelling story about the role of prayer in bringing about a smooth transition after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa.

Women in ministry: Not surprisingly, women throughout the world provide the backbone for churches.

Praise and worship: Stiller talks about classic hymns and the emergence of contemporary praise music.  He discusses his own preferences in music, while acknowledging that the Spirit has worked powerfully through other avenues, even through music that he deems rather banal.

Refugees: Stiller discusses the refugees from Syria.  He doubts that they pose a terror threat, but he compares his own country’s (Canada’s) attitude towards them with that of the United States, which experienced 9/11.

Persecution: Stiller talks about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Asia, Turkey, and Russia.  Does the blood of the martyrs provide the seed of the church?  According to Stiller, it has, but not always.  Stiller also includes under “persecution” the extreme separation of church from state, presumably in the U.S.

This is somewhat of a stream-of consciousness book, yet without too much chaos.  The book is organized by topic.  Yet, Stiller will give historical background, shift somewhere to a personal anecdote, tell stories about Christianity in other countries, and provide statistics.  Reading the book felt like a dream, in a sense, and that added to its appeal.  The book was a bit meandering, but in a reflective way.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Write-Up: High King of Heaven

John MacArthur, ed.  High King of Heaven: Theological and Practical Perspectives on the Person and Work of Jesus.  Moody, Master’s Seminary Press, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church.  As the title indicates, this book reflects on Jesus Christ.  Its contributors include pastors and academics.  A number of them are affiliated with MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary, but not all of them are.

In this review, I will comment on each essay.  Some of the essays I will cluster together.  My comments will not be comprehensive, but hopefully they will provide you with a taste of what the book is like.

“Preface,” “Do You Love Me?: The Essential Response to the King of Heaven, John 21,” by John MacArthur

These were MacArthur’s own contributions to the book.  They offered a compelling picture of knowing and delighting in Christ, discussing how that has proved to be significant in MacArthur’s own Christian walk.  MacArthur talks about how he has grown in this area, moving past presuppositions of his earlier religious background.  In the second essay, MacArthur interacts with John 21.  MacArthur notes that Peter has gone back to fishing, even after knowing that Christ rose from the dead, and he speculates that this is because Peter feels like a spiritual failure.  Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves Jesus more than “these,” and scholars have debated about whether the “these” refers to the other disciples or Peter’s fish.  MacArthur defends the idea that the “these” refers to Peter’s fishing vocation.  While more than one Greek scholar has argued that the Greek words for love, phileo and agape, are synonymous and interchangeable, MacArthur assumes that the former describes affection, whereas the latter is self-giving.  He thoughtfully integrates this into his discussion of Jesus’ interaction with Peter over whether Peter loves him.  This is an insightful contribution, but it is also sympathetic to people in their weaknesses, more so than I would ordinarily expect from MacArthur.

“The Eternal Word: God the Son in Eternity Past, John 1:1-3,” by Michael Reeves

One argument that Reeves makes is that God the Father’s eternal generation of the Son is significant, for that establishes God the Father as an eternally loving Father.  Salvation, according to Reeves, is not simply about us failing to meet God’s holy demands, but it entails being adopted into God’s family by grace.  As Reeves says, “you simply cannot earn your way into a family.”  Reeves contends that Arianism, which holds that God created the Word who became Jesus Christ, undermines God’s grace and love: it depicts Jesus, not as God’s beloved Son, but as God’s workman, who earns God’s favor through performance.

“Son of God and Son of Man, Matthew 26:63-64,” by Paul Twiss

Twiss does not focus on Jesus’ Sonship within the Trinity, but rather states that Jesus was Son of God in the same way that Adam, Israel, and the Davidic king were sons of God: they mediate God to creation.  Twiss offers an intriguing reading of Daniel 7 in light of Genesis 3: in Genesis 3, a beast (the serpent) usurps human authority, but the beasts in Daniel 7 lose before the Son of Man.  Twiss struggles over why the Son of Man is not mentioned in the part of Daniel 7 that explains the vision, and he does not mention the scholarly view that the Most High’s saints are the ones whom the Son of Man symbolizes.  Still, he does offer a reasonable explanation.

“The Son’s Relationship with the Father, Isaiah 50,” by Mark Jones

This essay beautifully highlighted aspects of Jesus, as it drew primarily from Isaiah 50 while also looking at the Gospels.  One can read this essay and feel Jesus’ sensitivity towards people’s rejection of him, while admiring and desiring to emulate Jesus’ hunger and thirst for God’s instruction.

“The Virgin Birth, Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38,” by Keith Essex

Like other essays in this book, Essex criticizes what he considers to be disturbing trends within evangelicalism.  More than one essay in this book laments that hip evangelicals are complaining about the doctrine of penal substitution, the idea that Christ paid the penalty for people’s sins on their behalf.  Essex mentions Andy Stanley’s statement that belief in the virgin birth is non-essential for salvation, and Tim Keller’s response that disbelief in the virgin birth places one outside of the Christian faith.  Essex does not seem to go so far as to suggest that disbelief in the virgin birth means a person is unsaved, but he does believe that Jesus was born of a virgin for a reason, and that those reasons are important.  He goes beyond the usual mantra that the virgin birth was necessary because otherwise Jesus would be born with original sin.  There was not much in this essay that particularly inspired me, and perhaps it would have been better had Essex engaged more the critiques of the virgin birth.  Still, Essex did a decent job in presenting the virgin birth as a reasonable course for God to pursue, in light of God’s goals.

“The Bread of Life, John 6,” by Ligon Duncan

Duncan offers a couple of edifying insights and observations.  First of all, he notes that Jesus claims to be bread and water that provide satisfaction to those who partake.  He contrasts this with the sinful human tendency to seek satisfaction outside of God, which the serpent in Genesis 3 encouraged when he tempted Adam and Eve.  Second, Duncan observes that the Psalmist in Psalm 119 expresses his love for God’s Torah, but also his spiritual wandering, vulnerability, and need for God to seek him.

“The Good Shepherd, John 10,” by Steven J. Lawson

This essay is Calvinistic, like a number of other essays in this book.  Lawson relays an interesting defense that the Puritan John Owen made for limited atonement, the idea that Christ died only for the elect whom God had chosen, not for everyone.  Owen argued that unlimited atonement placed the members of the Trinity on different pages: the Father wants to save the sheep (the elect), while the Son is trying to save everyone.  Limited atonement places the members of the Trinity on the same page: the Father chooses the elect, the Son atones for the elect’s sins, and the Holy Spirit regenerates the elect.

“The Way, the Truth, and the Life, John 14:6” by Miguel Nunez

What stood out to me in this essay was a story about two climbers, who were 8,000 meters high and were too exhausted to help two other climbers who were injured and endangered.  The climbers had enough provisions to share but did not do so.  Nunez attributes this to the climbers not knowing Christ and thus not recognizing the image of God in the injured climbers.  This story raises a lot of questions.  Would I be willing to help in that situation?  Is it fair or accurate to say that all Christians would help, whereas all non-Christians would not?

“The Head of the Church, Colossians 1:18,” by Mark Dever

A story that stood out to me in this essay concerned a picture of church interns whom Dever knows.  Almost all of them went on to do great things for God, except one, who does not believe in God anymore.  Dever used that as an opportunity to exhort Christians to be rooted in Christ.  I think, though, that Christians should reflect more on why people leave the faith, especially when those people seemed to have believed as earnestly and been as zealous as those who stayed.  Unfortunately, I question whether Christians have the resources within their faith to enable them to empathize with those who leave: they can chalk the apostasy up to rebellion against God or a desire to sin.

“He Emptied Himself: The Kenosis, Philippians 2:5-11,” by Mike Riccardi

Riccardi offered an intriguing explanation for why Jesus refused to turn stones into bread at his temptation (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus used his divine powers to serve others, not to lessen his own experience of the human condition (in this case, hunger).

“In Our Place: The Atonement, 2 Corinthians 5:21,” by Matthew Barrett; “Up From the Grave: The Resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:1-20,” by Tom Pennington

I am clustering these essays together.  Both authors believe in penal substitution.  Pennington seems to believe that it is explicit in the Scriptures, however, whereas Barrett appears to maintain that it is more implicit, coincides with other crucial doctrines, and is more reasonable than other atonement models.  Barrett also has a thoughtful discussion about the atonement and divine simplicity, as he decries those who assert that the atonement places God’s wrath in opposition to God’s mercy, or the Son in opposition to the Father.  Moreover, in a footnote, Barrett refers negatively to two Catholic thinkers who attempt to rethink original sin in light of evolution.  Sounds interesting!

“High Above the Heavens: The Ascension, Ephesians 1:15-23,” by H.B. Charles, Jr.; “The Return of the King: The Second Coming, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10,” by Michael Vlach

I do not have much to say about these essays.  They were edifying, but there was not much in them that was new to me.  Vlach makes an interesting point about glorified Christians not resting on the “heavenly sofa” but being involved in activity (Luke 19:11-27; Revelation 20:4; 22:5).  What will that activity be?

“No Other Gospel: The True Gospel of Christ, Galatians 1:6-7,” by Phil Johnson; “Salt and Light: The Believer’s Witness to Christ in an Ungodly Society, Matthew 5:14-16,” by Albert Mohler; “Counted Worthy: Suffering for Christ in a World That Hates Him, Acts 5:41,” by Paul Washer

These were “tell it like it is” essays: stand firm with the Word, even when it is unpopular, and it will be!  Still, God will bless your faithfulness.  I enjoyed reading the Johnson and Washer essays.  Johnson talked about the Galatians and how the Judaizers actually overlapped with Paul on key doctrines, such as Christ dying for people’s sins; still, they were importing an innovation, which asserted that people could take some credit for their salvation, and Paul deemed that to be intolerable.  Johnson also critiqued churches that seek truth from movies, as well as past Christian trends (Jabez, Passion, etc.).  I disagree with Johnson on the movies part, but his critique was still enjoyable to read.  “Oh yeah,” I thought, “I remember Jabez!”  The Washer essay could be blunt and obnoxious.  Still, it made some interesting points.  For instance, pastors are encouraged to say “we” sin rather than “you” sin in sermons, but Washer defends the latter, pointing to examples in Scripture of the latter.  He believes the latter is more convicting.  I still see value in the former: it highlights that we are all flawed, none is better than the other, we are on this journey together, and we all need a Savior.

“Christ and the Completion of the Canon, John 14-16,” by Brad Klassen

Klassen argues that Jesus anticipated the New Testament and the books of the New Testament canon. This essay does address a significant question.  I agree with Klassen that the apostles in the New Testament believe that they are custodians of the Word of God.  Whether that means that Jesus or Paul anticipated or explicitly predicted the New Testament canon, I do not know.  Maybe that goes too far.

“Seeing Christ in the Old Testament, Luke 24:25-27,” by Abner Chou; “Christ, the Culmination of the Old Testament, Luke 24:27, 44,” by Michael Grisanti; “Beginning with Moses: The OT Witness to the Suffering Messiah,” by Iosif J. Zhakevich

Chou and Grisanti both speak against a Christian approach to the Old Testament that sees virtually every line and story as a type or allegory about Christ.  They still believe that Christ is predicted in the Old Testament, though.  Chou situates themes and books within the Old Testament within a larger Christian context: Proverbs, for example, “explains royal court wisdom that the Messiah will fulfill as the ultimate king.”  Maybe not originally, but perhaps it can, within a larger canonical context.  Something that I appreciated about Grisanti’s essay was that Grisanti interpreted Micah 5:2, not in reference to Christ’s eternity, but rather in reference to God’s restoration of the ancient Davidic kingdom; Grisanti cites Amos 9:11 as a parallel.  Zhakevich thinks that David in II Samuel 7 anticipates the Messiah, even though the chapter mentions a Davidic son who will need to be chastened for sin, whereas Jesus was sinless.  Zhakevich also assumes that Isaiah 53 is Messianic, without engagement of other interpretations.  Still, Zhakevich’s citation of Psalm 22 can get one at least to contemplate the possibility that Psalm 22 is about something large and grand in scale: it predicts that all families will worship God, and Christianity has come close to bringing that about.

“Jesus Is Better: The Final Word, Hebrews 1:1-3,” by Austin Duncan

Duncan takes Hebrews 1:1-3 in a cessationist direction: Jesus is God’s ultimate word, so we do not need any new words from God.  Is that necessarily the case?  Cannot God guide Christians within the context of a relationship, in light of Jesus’ revelation?  Duncan made some compelling points, though.  He referred to Christians in Hebrews losing their property (10:34), and allowed that to illuminate Hebrews’ statement about Jesus being the owner of all things.  Duncan also painted a vivid picture of how the Old Testament system continually sacrificed animals, and how that contrasted with Jesus’ single sacrifice taking away sin.

“Around the Throne: The Heavenly Witness of the Redeemed to the Work of the Lamb, Revelation 4-5,” by Conrad Mbewe

What was most interesting in this essay was how Mbewe appealed to his African culture to illuminate biblical themes, such as the majesty of God.  Approaching a chief in Africa is not done lightly.

This book is a fairly deep read.  Some things in it were not new, but even those parts were edifying.  The book also offered interpretations that were fresh and insightful.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Church Write-Up: Reanimating the Demoralized, Forgiveness in II Corinthians 1-7, Zacchaeus the Son of Abraham, Joshuas

Here are some items from the church services and activities that I attended last Sunday.

A.  Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  The pastor at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church was preaching about Ezekiel 37, which is about the valley of the dry bones.  The pastor painted a compelling picture of the exiled Israelites’ situation.  They were exiled and demoralized, feeling dead.  They had lost to the Babylonians.  They were like dry bones on a battlefield.  But God animated them through Ezekiel’s word and God’s Spirit.  Similarly, we may be feeling demoralized or like losers, but God wants to give us abundant life, zoe, which goes beyond mere survival (bios).

The pastor also opened his sermon with a personal anecdote about when one of his daughter’s was born.  He and his wife could actually see her in the womb through technology, and they saw her face.  He could tell by her nose that she was theirs!  But they felt even more joyful when she actually was born.  I do not entirely recall how this fit into the message of the sermon.  I was expecting him to say that we may intellectually know about God, but there is a difference between that and having an experience of God through God’s Spirit.  That may have been his implication.

B.  As is often the case, the Missouri Synod church’s Sunday school class got into a lot of issues.  This particular class is about the topic of forgiveness, and it focuses on II Corinthians 1-7.  Some points that were made:

—-A lady pointed out II Corinthians 1:22, in which Paul affirms that God put God’s seal on the Corinthian Christians and gave them the Spirit in their hearts as a first installment of the redemption that is to come.  Why did Paul mention this?  The teacher speculated that Paul was saying this so that the Corinthians could feel truly forgiven.  Both Paul and the Corinthians hurt one another deeply.  The Corinthians may have wondered if they truly were forgiven, like Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 50 wondered if Joseph truly had forgiven them after the PTSD that they had put them through.  Paul reassured the Corinthian Christians that they were indeed forgiven, sealed by God.

—-Paul in II Corinthians 1:8 refers to affliction that he and his co-workers experienced in Asia.  The teacher said that this may refer to the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19, but he thinks it may also refer to Paul’s eagerness to hear from Titus, who was his go-between with the Corinthian church.  Paul wanted to know that his relationship with the Corinthian Christians had improved: that they knew he was sorry, and that he had forgiven them.  II Corinthians 2:12 and chapter 7 presents these feelings.

—-Paul in II Corinthians 1:12-13 talks about Paul and Corinthians boasting in their forgiveness of each other on the day of Christ Jesus.  In those days, the teacher said, boasting was a good thing: people would show their resumes so that others would know where to place them in society.  Paul said that his resume before God would be, not his preaching or his travels or his miracles, but the mutual forgiveness between him and the Corinthian church.

—-Paul talks in II Corinthians 1 about his sufferings.  The teacher seemed to be suggesting that Paul’s sufferings helped him to forgive, perhaps because they humbled him.  The teacher speculated that at least part of Paul’s sufferings was his feelings of guilt over his persecution of the church.  When Paul in Romans 12:14 exhorts the Roman Christians to bless those who persecute them, he may have had in mind that he had been such a persecutor.  Paul also could reach out to Sosthenes, who had been one of his accusers, because Paul, like Sosthenes, had been a persecutor of Christians (cp. Acts 18:17; I Corinthians 1:1).  The teacher also referred to I Timothy 1:15, in which Paul (or, for liberal scholars, “Paul”) calls himself the chief of sinners.  In our own little universe, we are the chief of sinners.  We only know some of another person’s sins, the teacher said.  But we know all of our own.

—-In II Corinthians 2:5-11, Paul presents forgiveness as somewhat of a communal exercise.  The teacher said that, when the pastor pronounces forgiveness on us in the services, the pastor is speaking for the community.  Our sins can impact the body, sowing offense and division (as Satan desires).  We need healing and forgiveness as and from the Christian community.  The teacher said that this also occurs when the pastor visits a shut-in and pronounces forgiveness: it may occur one-on-one, but it is still public.

—-The teacher reiterated his point from last week that forgiving an embezzler does not mean making him church treasurer.  But it can entail kneeling with him at the communion altar, greeting him after church, and loving him.

—-The teacher referred to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18.  The teacher said that the servant was trying to shake down the person who owed him money because the servant wanted the money in order to help pay off the debt that he had owed to the king, the debt that the king had just cancelled.  He was unwilling to accept the king’s forgiveness.  The king’s response was (in the teacher’s telling), “So be it according to your attitude: if you think that you still owe the debt, then I will treat you as if you still owe the debt.”

C.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor preached about the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19.  Zacchaeus was a hated tax-collector.  He shook people down for their money and kept some of it for himself.  He had a non-Jewish name, indicating, according to the pastor, that he was considered to be outside of the community of Israel; that, according to the pastor, is why Jesus would later call him a son of Abraham.  Zacchaeus climbed up to the tree to see Jesus because we was not interested in merely being “nice” but recognized that he needed change and wanted to know if Jesus could provide it.  Jesus publicly reached out to him and identified himself with him, and, touched by Jesus’ love and generosity, Zacchaeus became generous.  The pastor noticed that, in a sense, the Gospels associate salvation with giving: Jesus affirmed that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house after Zacchaeus announced his intention to give generously to the poor.  The rich young ruler in Luke 18, by contrast, walked away from the Kingdom of God because he was unwilling to sell all that he had and give to the poor.  The preacher said that our generosity is an indication that we have been personally impacted and touched by the love, generosity, and grace of God.  The pastor also said that God wants people to switch their game: they are playing the game of law and performance, but God wants them to switch to the game of grace.

D.  I went to the “Word of Faith” church’s monthly praise and prayer service.  It had some “Word of Faith” elements: wanting financial increase from God, claiming God’s “promises,” sowing a seed and reaping a harvest.  The pastor talked about the deaths of many prominent church planters, and also Billy Graham.  He said that he believes that God is raising up a new generation of spiritual fathers and mothers, as God raised up Joshua to replace Moses.  Pastors from the church were going out and laying hands on people, praying for them.  One of them prayed for me, asking God that I might have a new beginning, that the desires of my heart might be met in God, that God might give me a thirst for God, and that I might enjoy God’s people.

I’ll stop here.  I hesitantly leave the comments open, in case someone wants to offer feedback.  I can envision people reading (C.) and cynically saying, “That sounds like salvation by works,” or “That sounds like a fund-raising ploy.”  Or reading (A.) and saying, “Is the Missouri-Synod becoming Joel Osteenish these days?”  I relay these items, not out of total agreement, or even having ideas about how I can relate them to my own life and walk with God.  Still, I think that they are getting at something, even if one can take them to unhelpful extremes if one is not careful.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Book Write-Up: Darkness Visible, by Karlo V. Bordjadze

Karlo V. Bordjadze.  Darkness Visible: A Study of Isaiah 14:3-23 as Christian Scripture.  Eugene: Pickwick, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Karlo V. Bordjadze has a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Durham University and teaches at Ashland Theological Seminary.  This book is part of the Princeton Theological Monograph series.

Isaiah 14:3-23 prophesies the fall of the oppressive king of Babylon, at which the nations will rejoice.  The fallen king does not receive an honorable burial.  Of particular interest in the history of biblical interpretation is Isaiah 14:12-15.  This passage describes the fall of a being called Helel ben Shachar, translated in the KJV as “Lucifer, son of the morning,” after he attempted to become like the Most High.  Many Christians have interpreted this passage to be a description of the fall of the angel Lucifer, as he became the evil Satan.

The book pursues a variety of tasks.  It engages in a highly-technical analysis of the language used in Isaiah 14:3-23, warning beforehand that readers may wish to skip that section and get to the meat of the book, if they are so inclined.  The book then proceeds to mention and evaluate options for the reference points of Isaiah 14:3-23.  What king of Babylon, or Assyria (which controlled Babylon at some point), is discussed in Isaiah 14:3-23?  What possible mythological sources are there for Helel ben Shachar, a supernatural being who overreaches in an attempt to overthrow or become like a high God?  Bordjadze discusses ancient Near Eastern options and also Greek options that some claim may have influenced the ancient Near East.  Bordjadze finds many of the proposals for the identity of the king and the sources for Helel to be wanting.

The book talks about the approaches of Origen and John Calvin to Isaiah 14:3-23.  Origen applied the passage to the fall of Satan, as that myth came to supplant the sons of God sleeping with human women (Genesis 6) as the explanation for the origin of evil.  Bordjadze states that the latter story declined in influence in the third century C.E. because many Christians did not accept I Enoch, which contains the story, as Scripture.  According to Bordjadze, part of Origen’s agenda in interpreting Isaiah 14:12-15 as he did was to respond to those who claimed that matter was evil, that God created the devil, or that people lacked free will.  Origen asserted that God did not create the devil but created Lucifer, an angel, who sinned through free will; the same choice is available to all people, Origen exhorted.  Tertullian and Augustine also interpreted Isaiah 14:12-15 in reference to the fall of Satan.

John Calvin, however, interpreted Isaiah 14:3-23 in reference to the king of Babylon, rejecting the idea that it related to Satan.  For Calvin, the king of Babylon sought to exalt himself above God by attacking the Jerusalem Temple, and he is a paradigm of all enemies of the church, who will fall.

Bordjadze then describes and evaluates the perspectives of Walter Brueggemann and Christopher Seitz.  Both employ different methodological approaches, as Brueggemann draws from Paul Ricoeur and Seitz follows the canonical criticism of his mentor, Brevard Childs.  Still, both prioritize the view that Isaiah 14:3-23 concerns the king of Babylon, affirming that its message is that God is sovereign against the ambitions of human tyrants.

Bordjadze places Isaiah 14:3-23 in dialogue with the New Testament’s interpretation of the passage.  Jesus in Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15 apply the passage to the city of Capernaum, which rejected Jesus’ message, averring that it will meet the end of the pagan king of Isaiah 14.  Bordjadze briefly engages Luke 10:18, in which Jesus states that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

Bordjadze also contrasts the king of Babylon with Jesus Christ, as the former selfishly sought to be like God in power, while the latter selflessly relinquished power for the benefit of others.

Bordjadze then discusses how Isaiah 14:3-23 influenced J.R.R. Tolkien’s description of the fall of Morgoth.

The assets of this book are many.  My description above highlights key points, but these key points emerged within the context of fuller discussions.  Bordjadze, for example, extensively detailed the methodologies of Bruegemann and Seitz, as well as the motivations of Tolkien in crafting the story that he did.

The book is especially informative in surveying scholarly interpretations of Isaiah 14:3-23, specifically the attempts to identify the king and the mythological source for Helel.

Overall, Bordjadze effectively demonstrated that Isaiah 14:3-23 could be about the king of Babylon seeking to become like God.  For instance, in discussing the rejoicing of the cedars of Lebanon at the king’s downfall, Bordjadze referred to the concept of Lebanon being considered a garden of God.  The notion that the king of Babylon sought to be like God through oppression, especially oppression of God’s people, is also plausible.

In Bordjadze’s treatment of Isaiah 14 as Christian Scripture, he focuses on the passage being about the king of Babylon, without really doing anything with the Christian application of the passage to Satan.  I am ambivalent about this.  This marginalization of the “Satan” interpretation is understandable.  Bordjadze wants to respect the historical-critical meaning of Isaiah 14, while allowing that historical-critical meaning to dialogue with the New Testament.  Saying that Isaiah 14 is about Satan is considered anachronistic by many biblical scholars.  Still, can a treatment of Isaiah 14 as Christian Scripture legitimately marginalize the “Satan” interpretation?  It appears in Luke 10:18 and, arguably, Revelation 12 (and, as far as I can recall, Bordjadze did not engage the latter).  Is there a way to respect the historical-critical meaning of Isaiah 14, while also giving the “Satan” interpretation more prominence?  Perhaps one could say that the New Testament sees Satan as being behind oppressive powers, or claim that the New Testament developed themes from Isaiah 14.

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Write-Up: Israel, the Church, and the Middle East

Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, ed.  Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict.  Kregel, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

This book comes out in celebration of the state of Israel’s seventieth anniversary.  Scholars and a lawyer contribute essays to this publication.

Here are some of my reactions to the book:

A.  I will get my controversial criticism out of the way first: I thought that the book was one-sided.  Its overall message seems to be that Israel is in the right, whereas the Palestinians who are critical of Israel are in the wrong.  The way that peace can arrive in the Middle East, this book appears to imply, is if Palestinians become Christians and thus acknowledge the Jewish people’s right to the land.  Occasionally, there was an acknowledgement of Palestinians’ grievances.  Michael Brown referred to works that support a one-state solution while still offering ideas as to how Israel can make peace with the Palestinians.  A footnote refers to Darrell Bock’s statement that Israel does not have a right to do anything she wants.  But this was very occasional.  One contributor said that Christians who criticize Israel are hurting Christian attempts to evangelize to Jews.  But do not evangelicals hurt their witness when they side with Israel, as Israel inflicts pain and death on Palestinians?  This is not to suggest that the book lacks arguments that deserve consideration: about Israel’s current inclusion of Arabs into the political system, about Israel’s contribution to science, and about misdeeds among certain leaders in the Arab world.  Still, the book could have been more balanced, in seeking to approach the conflict in a Christ-like manner.

B.  More than one essay in this book argued that the land promises to Israel are still valid in the eyes of God, meaning that Israel has a divine right to her land.  There are indications within the Hebrew Bible that God’s covenant with Abraham is everlasting.  Prophecies paint a picture of Israel playing a prominent role when God establishes God’s reign on earth.  Passages in the New Testament appear to indicate that Israel has a right to her land.  The book cited a number of them, but one that comes to mind is Jesus’ reference to the time of the Gentiles coming to an end (Luke 21:24).  Does that not imply that Gentile domination over the land of Israel will end, and the Jews will possess sovereignty over their land?  And Michael Rydelnik adeptly argues against interpretations of biblical passages that argue that the land promises have been spiritualized under the New Covenant.  The case that this book made was fairly effective.  Still, questions can be asked.  Are there not institutions that are called everlasting in the Hebrew Bible that Christians no longer observe literally?  Phinehas’ priesthood (Numbers 25:13) and circumcision (Genesis 17:13) come to mind.  The New Testament arguably spiritualizes Old Covenant rituals and concepts that are called everlasting or perpetual.  What makes the land promises any different?

C.  The book is informative about a number of issues.  One essay surveys the belief that the land promises are still binding within the history of Christian thought.  Another essay profiles Messianic Judaism in Israel.  Another essay provides an extensive survey of evangelical attitudes towards Israel.  The argument is made that more Christians than classic dispensationalists support the state of Israel.  And the chapter about Palestinian Christians was not only informative but also was moving.

D.  Michael Brown’s essay is thoughtful, even if it is inconclusive.  Essentially, he discusses Joel 3:2, which speaks against dividing the land of Israel, and he asks if that implies that God would disapprove of a two-state solution.  Brown refers to different interpretations of that passage, but he also interacts with other theological issues.  For example, do the Jews residing in Israel have a right to the land, when many of them reject Christ?  Either they are secularist, or they are religious and persecute Messianic Jews.  Brown concludes that they have the land by God’s grace.

E.    The book did well to have a concluding chapter by Darrell Bock that summarized the previous chapters.

F.  The book could have used more editing.  There were some grammatical errors and missing words.  One of the graphs made no sense: Is not thirty-six percent larger than seven percent?  Why, then, is the seven percent bar higher than the thirty-six percent one?

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Church Write-Up: More on Forgiveness, Imperfection, the Promise to Ruth

Here is my Church Write-Up about last Sunday.

A.  I’ll start by talking about the Sunday school class.  This is at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church that I attend.  The Sunday school class is about forgiveness, and its main text is II Corinthians 1-7.

The teacher was saying that forgiveness is looking at a person’s sin through the blood of Christ.  There are limits to the ways that we attempt to cope with people’s sins against us.  We may try to understand why a person did what he or she did, but some acts we cannot understand, or they may be so horrible that we do not want to try to understand them.  But if we remember that Christ died for every sin, we will be able to forgive.  Or Christ in us would forgive (Galatians 2:19).  So the teacher said.

The teacher reiterated his point from last week that forgiveness was a banking term and related to the forgiveness of debts.  God is like the head of the bank, but we join God as co-bankers when we forgive.  This was interesting, since some differentiate between God’s forgiveness of sins against God from our forgiveness of sins against us.  Still, why not?  Both spread forgiveness.

The teacher asked what sin is.  He referred to Leviticus, where God commands sin offerings for women who give birth, and for people who recover from skin disease.  What is so naughty about these?  The teacher said that sin is whatever runs counter to the world as God created it.  For instance, God created childbirth, but God did not originally intend for it to hurt as much as it does.  When Jesus came to earth, he was healing the world: he brought people forgiveness but also physical healing.

The teacher appealed to the example of Sosthenes.  Sosthenes was a ruler of a synagogue who was beaten (Acts 18:17).  Even though he may have been among those who were accusing Paul before the Roman governor Gallio, Paul may have reached out to him after he was beaten.  In I Corinthians 1:1, Paul refers to our brother Sosthenes.  According to the teacher, Paul did not see anyone as an enemy, but he regarded everyone as one for whom Christ died.

The teacher said that the reason that Christ was baptized, even though he had not sinned, is that he was repenting on our behalf, the same way that he kept God’s law on our behalf.  We stink at repentance because there will always be a part of us that is unrepentant.

Where does repentance fit in to forgiveness?  The teacher said that we should not bear a grudge against anyone or try to get even.  Still, in our interactions with others, we should desire people’s repentance.  If someone wrongs us, we should tell that person of the hurtful act, for his or her benefit, not so much ours.  An expression of forgiveness is like a life-preserver: a person will not receive or appreciate it if he or she does not realize that he or she is drowning.

The teacher said that we do not need to be friends with those we forgive, though it is beautiful when that happens.  Forgiveness does not necessarily mean everything returning to how it was before the offense.  He referred to a church treasurer who embezzled.  He repented, but he will not be a church treasurer ever again.

The teacher said that civil law can bring a person to repentance.  He talked some about Luther’s Two Kingdoms view: a murderer may repent and be forgiven by God, but he or she should still be executed.  I do not know.  Is not contrition something that even civil judges consider when they are deciding what penalties to give out?

I thought that a lot of what the teacher made sense.  It’s just that I struggle with God’s commands that I feel or not feel a certain way.

B.  The sermon at the Missouri Synod church was about Jesus sending out the disciples.  Jesus does not tell us to change the world dramatically, the pastor said, and he realizes that we are imperfect.  Still, he tells us to “Go” and affirms that he will be with us where we go.  The pastor brought Mother’s Day into the equation, talking about how we (all of us, including himself) have been imperfect parents and imperfect children.

C.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the sermon was about Ruth.  Ruth did not have children at first but later was promised that she would have more children than Rachel and Leah.  God multiplies, the pastor’s daughter said.  She also said that God loves barrenness because that gives God an opportunity to work.  We can offer people ourselves, but that will not help them ultimately.  But we can offer them Jesus, and Jesus can help them.

Ruth would also build Israel, according to Naomi’s promise.  Ruth would fit into a cause larger than herself.  The pastor’s daughter likened that to building the church.  She talked about her son and how he would not destroy a house of legos that he built.  Yet, some people, even those who are involved in the church, may find themselves denigrating the church.

Ruth was a Moabitess, and the pastor’s daughter said that Boaz was taking the risk of demoting his own status by marrying her.  But he did so, and he was remembered, as was his descendant David.  Mr. So-and-So, who decided not to marry Ruth because he wanted his inheritance to stay in his family, was not remembered by name.  The pastor’s daughter said that this highlights the importance of helping the marginalized.

Throughout the sermon, we were shown clips of people in the church.  One helped others find their voice or their talents, remembering that she used to be someone who sat in the back.  Another had a menial job yet managed to make a difference in someone’s life.  Another could not have children but acted as a mentor to people in church.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Write-Up: Rediscovering Paul

David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards.  Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology.  Second edition.  IVP Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.  See here to buy the book.

The authors are professors of biblical studies.  Rediscovering Paul is about the life, beliefs, letters, and impact of the apostle Paul.

The book is lucid and concise in terms of its writing style, but do not let that deceive you.  It is a meaty book.  It gets into such topics as how letters were produced in antiquity, scholarly ideas about how Paul’s letters came to be organized into a collection, the relationship between I Thessalonians and II Thessalonians, the old and the new perspectives, different perspectives on the center of Paul’s message, and the list goes on.  Like a lot of conservative scholars, the authors maintain that Paul wrote Colossians, Ephesians, and the pastorals, and, while there are issues that they leave largely unaddressed (i.e., the question of whether Colossians differs from Paul’s letters on ideological matters), their arguments do not appear to be much of a stretch. They adroitly address some of the objections to the idea that Paul did not write the pastorals, offering suggestions as to why Paul could have written the pastorals as he did.

The book not only addresses technical issues, but it also allows the historical context to shed light on what Paul says in his letters.  The authors situate Paul’s letters within the context of the patronage system, which entailed seeking and returning favors from social superiors.  Paul did not hesitate to challenge social superiors, and, when he thanked them, he framed his appreciation in a manner that would not imply that he was beholden to them.  The book also discusses how the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18 relates to the superstitious fear of spirits that existed in first century Ephesus.  The book also has a religious content, as it proceeds through Paul’s letters, commenting on sections.  The book is rather comprehensive, in that it has a historical, a theological, a spiritual/religious, and a practical element.

I read the authors’ Rediscovering Jesus a while back.  Rediscovering Paul is much better.  The authors provide more support for their positions, cover more historical context, and survey more scholarship, while still managing to create an easy read.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Book Write-Up: Blind Betrayal, by Nancy Mehl

Nancy Mehl.  Blind Betrayal.  Bethany House, 2018.  See here to buy the book.

Blind Betrayal is the third book of Nancy Mehl’s “Defenders of Justice” series.  I read the first book of the series, Fatal Frost, but not the second book.  One can follow the plot of Blind Betrayal without having read the previous books.  At the same time, Blind Betrayal contains some of the characters who were in the previous books, so one can perhaps follow it better after reading the first two books.

In Blind Betrayal, there is a wealthy Saudi oilman, Ali Al-Saud.  He is using a U.S. Senator, Senator Warren (who is a man, not the progressive Senator from Massachusetts), to stop an oil pipeline in the U.S.  Ali Al-Saud does not want the U.S. to become energy independent, as that can cut into his profits.  There is an environmentalist, Martin Avery, who catches wind of this plot, and he talks to a reporter, Valerie Bennett.  Avery has been kidnapped, and two Deputy U.S. Marshals, Casey Sloane and Doug Howard, are transporting Valerie to Washington, D.C. so she can testify. As they make their way towards D.C., they are pursued by the menacing Ben Mattan, who is Ali Al-Saud’s hit-man and (it is rumored) his son.

Accompanying Casey, Doug, and Valerie is E.J. Queen, Casey’s former partner.  E.J. long had an attraction towards Casey, but she was dating his friend, Jared.  It turns out that Jared was physically abusive towards her.  In addition, Casey is dealing with feelings of guilt.

Overall, this was a good book.  Its prose was light, but it dealt with heavy personal subjects and the question of what psychological considerations motivate people to do what they do.  The political suspense was also rather interesting: Was Ali Al-Saud truly connected with terror, or would that interfere with his own agenda of power?  Ben Mattan and Ali Al-Saud are intimidating.  Ben Mattan is like the villain in No Country for Old Men, and Ali Al-Saud is like the Godfather.  Senator Warren is a bit of a crook, but he started out idealistic, and he still loves his ex-wife.  E.J. is a noble person who tries to be a good influence to those around him.  He is baffled that his friend is abusive, and that Casey, a strong woman, endured the abuse.

Although this book is “Romantic Suspense,” it rarely left me on the edge of my seat.  The time when the secret agent was about to shoot one of the main characters came close to doing so, however.

There are some lighthearted moments in the book: E.J. telling his co-workers what the “E.J.” stands for comes to mind.

The book is rather light in the spiritual-religious department.  Martin Avery is skeptical about God, but he remembers his mother telling him that God is near, so he prays.  And Casey decides to get therapy so she can heal.  The book ends with a slight swipe at Ben Mattan’s religious beliefs: Ben “cursed the Marshal and the god who had turned his back on him.”  The book perhaps could have used some sympathetic Muslim characters.  It was more balanced on the issue of environmentalism: Ali Al-Saud co-opts environmentalism for his own financial wealth, yet Martin Avery is depicted as a sincere person, committed to protecting the environment.

I enjoyed this book more than I did Fatal FrostBlind Betrayal presented a more intriguing plot.  It was also more complex: some of the flawed characters had good in them, and the primary characters were dealing with their complicated motives.  There was also more going on, which made the book interesting.

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Church Write-Up: Love, Forgiveness, and Struggling and Growing Churches

Time for my Church Write-Up for this week.

A.  The pastor at the Missouri Synod church preached about love.  He introduced his sermon with a personal anecdote.  Back when he graduated from seminary, he thought he would change the world!  But it turns out that one-third of his graduating class are no longer pastors.  This anecdote fit into his larger message in that his point was that love for others, empowered and motivated by Christ, can change the world.

The pastor referred to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exhortation that believers live in such a way that unbelievers see them and doubt their own unbelief.

The pastor said that we are tempted to withhold love from the unlovable, but he asked if we can envision Jesus deciding not to love us on such-and-such a day because we were unlovable at that time.  The expected answer is “no.”

The pastor said that, if our limited love is all we can draw on, then we can only go so far.  That is why we need Christ to help us to love.

B.  The church started a Sunday school class on forgiveness in II Corinthians 1-7.

The teacher offered a number of interpretations of Scriptures.  God affirms in Isaiah 55:8 that God’s thoughts are not your thoughts, and God’s ways are not your ways.  The immediately preceding verse concerns God’s forgiveness.  God’s ways are alien to ours in that God forgives, whereas we are hesitant to do so.

Jacob in Genesis 33:10 states that seeing Esau’s face is like seeing the face of God.  The teacher said that Jacob meant that Esau was like God because Esau had forgiven Jacob; God is forgiving.

Matthew 6:14-15 states that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others.  Not only does this demonstrate that forgiveness is mandatory, but it also highlights that, when we deem others to be unforgivable, we are essentially saying that we ourselves are unforgivable.

Galatians 2:20 talks about Christ being inside of the believer.  The teacher said that it is not a matter of us obeying a rule to forgive all by ourselves, but Christ forgives through us.

The teacher asked us what forgiveness is.  People replied with “putting away bitterness” and “being reconciled with the other person.”  The teacher said those were effects of forgiveness, but he asked what the mechanics of forgiveness are.  He said that forgiveness was a metaphor: in the ancient world, it referred to cancelling debts, and that concept is being applied to what God does, and what we are called to do.  The teacher denied that forgiveness is even forgetting: rather, one can remember the offense and the pain, yet still forgive.  Forgiveness is saying that Christ died for that person’s sin.

This class will be interesting.  I myself have wondered how to define forgiveness.

C.  The teacher showed a picture of a typical Lutheran service, and most of the people in the picture had gray or white hair.  He mentioned a Lutheran church that now only has five people and is about to close.  He wondered how we can attract young people to church.  On a related note, a lady told me that I was welcome at a particular Bible study because the church needs young blood!

I went to the “Word of Faith” church afterwords.  It has elderly people, but it has a lot of young people.  The announcements at the end ordinarily announce birthdays, but the announcer said that he may discontinue that practice because the church is growing and there are too many birthdays to mention.

It makes me wonder: why does one church struggle, while another grows?  Some of the usual answers do not satisfy me.  The Rachel Held Evans-types say the church needs to become more liberal, but liberal mainline churches are declining.  Then conservatives say the evangelical churches are thriving because they are conservative.  But conservative mainline churches, like LCMS, struggle in terms of numbers.

Are evangelical churches hipper?  Well, some of the mainline churches that I have attended either offer a contemporary service, or their only service is a contemporary service.

I’ll leave the comments on in case anyone wants to chime in.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Church Write-Up: Acts 10:34-48; I John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

Here is my write-up about last Wednesday’s Bible study at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Next week, we will not be meeting.  My understanding is that we will not meet until the last week of May, then we will meet again in August.

Here are some items:

A.  One of our texts was Acts 10:34-48.  It is within the chapter about the Gospel going out to the Gentiles.  V. 34 affirms that Peter opened his mouth and spoke.  The pastor said that this phraseology is unique in Acts, and it serves to highlight that what Peter was about to say was divinely-inspired and reflected God’s will.  Indeed, the Gentile centurion Cornelius asks Peter in the previous verse to speak what God has commanded him.  God wanted to highlight that the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s Kingdom was God’s will.  That was controversial, as the prophecy in Joel 2:28 about God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh was initially believed to apply only to Israel.  The Samaritans experienced their own Pentecost in Acts 8, but the Samaritans at least were deemed by Jews to be quasi-Jews due to their acceptance of the Pentateuch.  But Gentiles being accepted, and as the equals of the Jews in God’s eyes?  That was revolutionary.  Yet, there the Gentiles were, speaking in tongues.  The pastor said that Gentiles were still accepted by Jews into the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple, and that there were Gentile God-fearers, but Roman centurions were despised on account of their cruelty.  Cornelius, by contrast, was a kind centurion.

B.  Another text that we read was I John 5:1-8.  The pastor talked a lot about agape love, a challenging subject for me, spiritually.  He asked how Christians can avoid getting sucked into false doctrine, and his answer was that they should walk in love.  That reminded me of something that I read in a book by Kevin Vanhoozer: that, in the New Testament, false doctrine is often contrasted with sin, not doctrinal heresy.  I am not entirely sure how that works: cannot a heretic show kindness to others?  Yes, but Christians do so, motivated by Christ coming in the flesh, dying for our sins, and rising again bodily.  By walking in love, Christians presumably reinforce those concepts, in their own minds and before others.

C.  The pastor discussed justification and sanctification.  Justification is when God gives us faith.  Sanctification is when we live that faith out.  Justification is about what God does, while sanctification is about what we do with what God does; yet, God’s love flows through us, enabling us to love and to give.  According to the pastor, faith and love are the same gift, two sides of the same coin.

D.  The pastor talked before the presentation about his past estrangement from his siblings, and how that hindered his parents years ago from having one big party where they could celebrate their wedding anniversary.  He expressed regret about that, for that was a time when all of the bridesmen and bridesmaids were still alive.

E.  The pastor contrasted Christ’s active obedience with Christ’s passive obedience.  Jesus in John 15:10 refers to his obedience towards his Father’s commandments.  The pastor said this was Jesus’ passive obedience: his fulfillment of the Law in Christians’ place.  Christ’s active obedience, by contrast, refers to his going to the cross and dying in place of Christians.  Some sites (see here and here) say it is actually the other way around: the passive obedience is Christ suffering the penalty of sins in our place, whereas the active obedience is his obedience of God’s law.  That latter link addresses the question of which righteousness is imputed to believers, responding essentially that they are two sides of the same coin.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Write-Up: Echoes of Exodus

Bryan D. Estelle.  Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Bryan D. Estelle teaches Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California.  His Ph.D. is from Catholic University of America.  In Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif, Estelle examines the motif of the Exodus as it appears in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

Here is a summary of the chapters, though some of my summaries of the chapters will sometimes draw from things in the book outside of the particular chapters.

In the “Introduction,” Estelle offers personal biographical information about his academic interest in the Exodus motif in the Bible.  He summarizes what the coming chapters are about, but he also brings up an issue that he will revisit a few times.  This issue is the debate over whether Christian salvation is primarily forensic (God legally and judicially declares believers righteous) or participationist (believers are in Christ).  Estelle believes that both are true, yet he feels a need to emphasize individual salvation when discussing Paul’s writings.  Estelle also depicts God’s deliverance of Israel as legal: God had a right to deliver God’s firstborn, Israel, from Egypt.  Still, Estelle acknowledges a communal dimension to God’s work, for the theme that God created a people through the Exodus also occurs in this book.

Chapter 1 concerns Estelle’s “Hermeneutical Foundations.”  Estelle discusses intertextuality and how texts can echo other texts, in the minds of authors and readers.  Estelle seeks to value what the biblical writings meant in their original contexts.  At the same time, he believes that how subsequent biblical authors interpreted previous biblical motifs is important, as well.  Moreover, he maintains that there is ultimately a divine author of Scripture, and that the divine intent may go beyond the intent of the Old Testament authors.  Typology will play a significant role in this book, as Estelle frequently asserts that the Promised Land is a type of the World to Come.  On what basis does Estelle assert this?  Well, for one, there is a synchronic dimension in Estelle’s biblical interpretation, as he holds that there is a divine author of the Old and New Testament; such an approach is conducive to interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New.  Second, Estelle believes that the promises inherent in the original Exodus and the new Exodus described in the prophets are too grand to be confined to historical events: they depict a restored relationship with God and, in the case of the new Exodus, paradise.  For Estelle, they exert a pressure on the New Testament authors, who interpreted them in light of Jesus.

Chapter 2 is entitled “The Past is Prologue: Creation and Exodus.”  For Estelle, there are themes in Genesis that are pertinent to the Exodus.  In Genesis 1, God creates the world amidst chaos after dividing the waters and makes human beings, who have covenant obligations towards God.  The culmination of creation is rest.  In Genesis 2-3, Adam and Eve serve in God’s Edenic sanctuary but disqualify themselves.  God cleanses the earth of wickedness through the Flood and reinforces two things in God’s covenants with Noah: common grace and a godly people.  Common grace is the order that God establishes so that society is peaceful enough for God’s salvific activity to occur there.  Legal systems are a significant feature of common grace.  But Noah’s family was also God’s people, set apart on account of their righteousness.  What do these themes have to do with the Exodus?  Well, in the Exodus, we see God separating waters and creating a people for God-self, leading them to a place of rest (the Promised Land).  The goal of the Exodus was the establishment of God’s sanctuary, in the wilderness and ultimately in Zion.  Themes of creation out of water, a holy people, and a sanctuary occur in Genesis and Exodus.

Chapter 3, “The Exodus Motif: A Paradigm of Evocation,” discusses the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15.  Estelle presents arguments for a twelfth century date, while acknowledging that there are arguments out there for a later date (which he does not engage).  What Estelle notices in Exodus 15 is that the goal of the Exodus is worship at Zion.

Chapter 4, “The Psalms and the Exodus Motif,” concerns the theme of the Exodus in the Psalms.  The Exodus comforts the Psalmist that God will defeat the chaos in Israel’s world, even though Israel is sinful.

Chapter 5, “Isaiah’s Rhapsody,” focuses on Isaiah 40-55.  Estelle believes that Isaiah 40-55 depicts Israel’s restoration from the Babylonian exile as a new Exodus, yet he also maintains that the Servant Songs envision an Exodus even greater than that: the Exodus that Christ shall bring.

In Chapter 6, “Exile and Post-Exile: The Second Exodus Revisited,” Estelle mentions allusions to the Exodus in the Book of Ezekiel.  He also shows that, in Ezra-Nehemiah, there was a sense that Israel was still in exile, even after her restoration from Babylonian captivity.  Do the prophetic promises have a later fulfillment?

Chapter 7 is about “Jesus as the New Exodus in Mark and Matthew.”  Jesus came offering Israel forgiveness and a new beginning, and Exodus themes played a key role in his life.  He was proclaimed to be God’s Son at baptism, as Israel was God’s firstborn son.  He went into the wilderness as Israel did, only he was faithful to his divine mission.  Yet, Jesus’ mission reinterpreted the Exodus, in that Jesus would travel the path of death in delivering people.

Chapter 8 concerns “The Exodus Motif in Luke-Acts.”  In Luke-Acts, Jesus delivers people from the power of Satan, by delivering them from disease, the impossible burden of seeking salvation through the Law of Moses, and idolatry.  This echoes God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

Chapter 9 is about “The Exodus Motif in Paul.”  Paul talks about deliverance from sin, death, and the law.  Paul also appeals to the Exodus in discussing the Christian’s spiritual journey, which is individual and communal.

Chapter 10 concerns “The Exodus Motif in 1 Peter.”  I Peter regards Jesus as the Passover lamb delivering people, and he sees the church as a holy people, as Israel was to be holy after the Exodus.
Chapter 11 focuses on the Book of Revelation, in which the saints are delivered from the world and the Beast’s tyranny, as Israel was delivered from Egypt.

I liked this statement by Estelle in the “Conclusion”: “Knowing that one is forgiven, completely and freely, matters greatly for demonstrable, grateful obedience in the Christian life.  Demonstrable holiness is necessary for entitlement in the world-to-come, but this should not be construed in such a manner as to endanger the doctrines of free grace.”  (Page 325)

Some of Estelle’s parallels are stronger than others.  In some cases, the New Testament explicitly appeals to the Exodus-Wilderness-Inheritance.  Sometimes, language is used that may echo those things, such as the concept of leading (as God through Moses led Israel).  And one has to admit: the theme of deliverance from slavery, a key feature of the Exodus, recurs in the New Testament.  The idea that this theme in the New Testament echoes the Exodus is not far-fetched.

There was territory that Estelle did not cover.  Elijah and Elisha split the water in II Kings 2:8, 14, for example, which is probably an echo of the Exodus.  What is the significance of that?  Can that be tied into Estelle’s larger scenario?  The Exodus motif also occurs prior to Isaiah 40-55, in First Isaiah.  In Isaiah 11:15-16, there is a prediction of an Exodus from Assyria.  Did that historically happen?

The book may be edifying reading for Christians or Messianic Jews during the Passover season.  A lot of its conclusions were not earth-shakingly new to me, but there were some scholarly tangents that made the book interesting.  Estelle’s discussion of intertextuality was also very lucid.  As someone who had to read dense, abstruse articles on intertextuality for a class years ago, I appreciated Estelle’s discussion.  His sections would be useful for students who have to engage this topic.

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

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers

Abner Chou.  The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles.  Kregel Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Abner Chou teaches biblical studies at the Master’s College and Seminary.

Did the New Testament misinterpret the Old Testament?  Was Matthew 1:23 wrong to relate Isaiah 7:14 to the virgin birth of Jesus, when the context of Isaiah 7:14 was the destruction of the Syro-Ephaimite alliance in the time of Isaiah?  Did Matthew 2:25 err in applying Hosea 11:1 to Jesus’ departure from Egypt as a child, when the passage was originally about Israel’s Exodus from Egypt?  The examples go on.

Christian scholars have proposed various solutions to this apparent problem.  One solution is sensus plenior, the idea that there is deeper meaning to the Old Testament passages, of which even their authors were unaware.  Another solution is to say that the New Testament approached the Hebrew Bible like rabbinic Judaism or Qumran: in a manner that disregarded the passages’ original contexts and applied them to their own situations.  One can then inquire: Is interpreting the Bible out of context is acceptable, since the New Testament authors did so?  Some Christians claim that it was all right for the New Testament authors, since they were divinely-inspired, but it is not all right for you and me.

Chou disagrees with these proposals.  He maintains that the New Testament authors actually were faithful to the authorial intent behind the Old Testament passages.  That does not mean that the Old Testament authors had a perfect understanding of how their eschatological prophecies would be fulfilled in the New Testament.  It does mean, however, that the New Testament interpretations of these passages were consistent with those passages’ authorial intent, even if they built on it.  According to Chou, such an approach to Scripture was not new to the New Testament authors, for within the Hebrew Bible itself one can observe a process of passages building on earlier passages or drawing forth implications from them.  An implication to this, for Chou, is that the New Testament authors did not always have a single passage in mind when they interacted with a text from the Hebrew Bible, but a network of biblical texts.  Moreover, unlike many historical-critics of the Bible, Chou contends that the Old Testament authors themselves believed that their eschatological prophecies related to the future, not merely their own historical contexts.

A lot of the time, Chou argues his case effectively.  There were a many occasions when I was wondering how Chou would get out of a problem, then he would present his case and I thought to myself, “Hmm.”  To cite my favorite example in Chou’s book: Isaiah 7:14-16.  Many historical-critics argue that Immanuel was a child in Isaiah’s day, and that he was a sign that the Syro-Ephraimite alliance that was threatening Judah would be destroyed before Immanuel reached a certain age.  Chou, by contrast, interprets Immanuel as Jesus.  Chou states that Isaiah 7:14-16 can be translated and interpreted to mean that Jesus would experience poverty due to the events that were being set into motion in Isaiah’s day.  The Assyrians would destroy the Syro-Ephraimite alliance, but they would also devastate Judah and mark an early example of foreign subjugation of Judah, which would last until Jesus’ day.  In the midst of this darkness, Jesus would be light, a la Isaiah 9:1-2.  This interpretation was not entirely new to me, but Chou was the first I read who presented it in a manner that was lucid, without making it appear like a convoluted stretch.

Obviously, Chou had his assumptions.  He believes that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, and that the prophets were later than the Pentateuchal writings.  He thinks that David believed in a coming Messiah and that there would be a resurrection of the dead, whereas many scholars would place these ideas later in Jewish thought.  What Chou says may still be relevant to how the New Testament authors interpreted the Hebrew Bible, for the New Testament authors did not know about the historical-critical method; still, they may have believed that they were interpreting the Hebrew Bible in accordance with its original meanings.  Chou offers ideas about what may have been going on in their minds when they did so.  Moreover, Chou’s assumptions lead to intriguing possibilities, as when he argues that Moses in the “Thou shalt not covet” command was alluding to Eve’s coveting of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3.

There were some occasions when Chou’s argument was somewhat of a stretch.  In Luke 10:25-28, a lawyer asks Jesus how he can obtain eternal life, and Jesus asks the lawyer what the law says.  The lawyer quotes the Torah’s passages about loving God and neighbor, and Jesus replies, “This do, and thou shalt live” (KJV).  Chou goes out of his way to argue that Jesus is not promoting salvation by works, that Jesus has in mind an intertextual web of texts that includes the idea that God must graciously circumcise people’s hearts for them to obey God.  That is not explicit in Luke 10, though.  Who is to say that, just because a New Testament author interprets a certain passage, he must have in mind the intertextual web of the Hebrew Bible’s interpretations of those passages?  Even Chou acknowledges that Second Temple Judaism arrived at a variety of interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, so the existence of the intertextual web does not necessitate that an interpreter would make particular interpretive moves.

There is also the question of whether the New Testament is always consistent with the Hebrew Bible, as Chou argues.  Even if Chou is correct that Hosea depicts a Davidic king leading Israel in a second Exodus, is that not different from Jesus leaving Egypt as a child?  Chou perhaps should have been clearer about how Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies relates to Israel, which is often a key figure in those prophecies.  Moreover, while Chou argues that the Old Testament itself predicts the nullification of a number of laws in the Mosaic covenant, in predicting the circumcision of the heart, what about passages that seem to indicate otherwise?  There is Jeremiah 33:21-22’s promise that the Levites will minister to God perpetually, after Judah is restored, and Ezekiel 40-48’s picture of an eschatological Temple with animal sacrifices and the Zadokite priesthood.  How can that be reconciled with what Hebrews says about the nullification of the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices?

I am still giving this book five stars, though.  It is orderly, methodical, and lucid, even if it requires some concentration to absorb the author’s arguments.  The author has definite views, but he approaches the topic with a tone of humility.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Church Write-Up: Whatsoever You Ask; Prayer to Action; Manifestation

A.  At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, the pastor preached about John 15, in which Jesus compares himself to the vine and his disciples to the branches.  V 16 states: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (KJV).

The pastor said that the promise in that verse does not suggest that God will give us, say, a pony if we ask for it in Jesus’ name.  Rather, it should be read in light of the themes in John 15: abiding in Christ, bearing spiritual fruit, and love for one another.  The pastor also brought up John 20:21, in which Jesus affirmed that, just as the Father sent him, so he is sending the apostles, as the apostles are to carry forgiveness.  Jesus’ point is that God will grant the disciples’ requests so long as they are the sorts of things Jesus would ask for, and this occurs as they abide in Christ and have Christ’s mind.  God will grant them what they need to produce spiritual fruit, to love one another, and to perform their mission as Christians.  This is important because, apart from Christ’s empowering, an institution could fall apart due to irritability, unforgiveness, and ego.  We may prefer to receive a pony, the pastor said, but what Jesus offers is far more important.

The pastor also talked about how God’s Word prunes us, cutting away our dead branches that we might produce more fruit.  It does so by challenging us, and in some cases cutting us, as it confronts our selfish mindsets.

B.  At the Missouri Synod Sunday school class that I attended, we watched another Rob Bell video.  Bell was talking about anger, and how we get angry at personal inconveniences, while we are not angry over larger world problems, such as death from hunger.  Jesus, by contrast, was angered over the hard hearts of his critics, who did not care for a man with a withered hand, whom Jesus would heal on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5).  Bell suggested that we channel our anger into worthwhile endeavors.

We talked about our struggles with anger, and how we can work at least to make a dent in societal problems.  One lady said that all she felt she could do about certain societal problems is pray.  A couple, which is planning a mission trip to an orphanage in Romania, said that one should not sneeze at prayer!  It was when they prayed about a problem that concerned them, that God placed on their hearts something that they could do about it.

C.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor talked about the part in Ephesians 4:8 about Christ giving gifts to people.  These are spiritual gifts, and they entail Christians going out and helping to renew the world: the world is crying out for them to do this, a la Romans 8:19.  In pursuit of this, God has given people gifts.  Some are apostles, who are entrepreneurs.  Some are prophets, who have a vision.  Some are teachers, who point out the practical things that need to be done to fulfill that vision.  Some are evangelists, who remind the church and those outside of the church that one does not earn God’s favor through merit but has it by grace.  The pastor said that Christians are a new humanity, whom God is freeing from the strongholds of thought that enslave the world, strongholds such as unforgiveness.  Yet, the pastor also said that he would like to see the church as a place where everyone, good and bad, feels as if he or she matters.

D.  This item will include some of my reservations about what was said above, and I hope that does not imply to anyone any negativity or nit-picking on my part.

On John 15:16, I have heard similar things to what the pastor said, although the pastor stressed more the relationship of bearing spiritual fruit to things that we request.  I would not be surprised if abiding in Christ does lead us to ask for things for which Christ would ask.  My question is, though, why God would not answer certain prayers for healing.  Are not those consistent with Christ’s character, since they reflect love?  Plus, Christ healed people.  Incidentally, one interpretation of John 15:16 that has long intrigued me is one that states that it related to the apostolic miracles in the Book of Acts: God answered the apostles’ request for miracles, as a way to confirm their message about Christ.  I have encountered this interpretation among classic dispensationalists and Church of Christ people.  They make that point from a cessationist perspective, claiming essentially that John 15:16 applied to the original apostles, but not to Christians since then, as, according to them, the time of Christians performing miracles was over after the apostolic age.

On Romans 8:19, Romans 8 appears to me to concern the saints’ eschatological glorification, not their attempts to improve the world in the here and now.  Paul himself did not appear to promote community service, per se.  He encouraged Christians to love and to serve one another.  He still cared about non-Christians, as he preached the Gospel to them.  But I cannot recall any Pauline passages about Christians going out into their towns and cities and serving people.  I do think that such a concept is consistent with the Bible, though.  Jesus promoted such a concept when he healed people and encouraged the giving of alms.  There are Old Testament passages about the pursuit of justice.

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