Monday, November 12, 2018

Church Write-Up: Eagerly Awaiting, Incarnation and Resurrection, Idolatry and Intellect

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up about last Sunday’s services.

A. The main text at the LCMS church was Hebrews 9:28b: “unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (KJV).

The pastor in his sermon was talking about how Christians, as a result of Christ’s sacrifice, are in the world but not of the world and are to testify to this world that this life is not all that there is: that it is not a matter of “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Christians have the hope that they will one day experience the benefits of God’s salvation full blast. The pastor talked about how, in his pastoral visitations this last week, the theme of Hebrews 9:28 came up multiple times, without his promptings, as people talked about how they are looking forward to seeing Jesus and those who have come before them. The pastor also tied his message into Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day was originally Armistice Day, a day celebrating the end of World War I as the war to end all wars. People back then hoped for peace, as Christians anticipate Christ’s second coming. Also, our veterans sacrificed themselves for something greater, and Christians are to realize that this life is not all that there is, that there is more than our moments in this life.

During the Scripture reading part of the service, I was thinking some about the relevance of Hebrews 9:27 to Hebrews’ argument. Vv. 27-28 state: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (KJV). A lot of times, v. 27 is cited when Christians are claiming that reincarnation is a false and nonbiblical concept: men die ONCE, not many times, and afterwards is the judgment. But why is the author of Hebrews making this point? It has to do with Jesus only dying once for our sins.

That raises questions in my mind. Would Jesus have had to die multiple times, if humans die multiple times rather than once? Elements of this make sense, and elements of it do not make sense. On the one hand, Christ is humanity’s representative, so it would make sense that he would die once, due to people dying once. On the other hand, Christians can cite reasons that Christ died only once that have nothing to do with how many times humans die. Christ only needed to die once because his sacrifice was sufficient to cover everyone’s sins, due to his vast worth. In addition, there are exceptions to the “die once” principle: there are people in the Bible whom God raised from the dead in this life, who died twice. Jesus did not die a second time for them. His one death sufficed for their salvation.

Is the author of Hebrews simply drawing an analogy? Humans die once and then experience the judgment, and, similarly, Jesus died once and will bring Christians salvation when he comes in judgment.

I will leave on the comments in case anyone wants to chime in. I should check commentaries to see how they handle this, but it is late, so I may save that for another time.

B. The Sunday school class got into a variety of issues, as it usually does. Its topic is the Trinity and the incarnation. Among the questions that were engaged: Were the church fathers wrong to try to understand God, since God cannot be comprehended? Does all this theologizing contradict having the faith of a child? Why were Christians debating about whether Jesus was fully God, when the Gospel of John says that he was? Does Sola Scriptura mean that “me and my Bible” is enough, or is it consistent with interpreting Scripture in community? In what respects can a non-believer of a religion understand that religion better than a practitioner, and in what respects does a practitioner understand it better? And why would a non-believer study and write books about a religion? How did the ancient Christians believe that Jesus, as God, could be human, since something that makes humans human, their appetites, was deemed to be selfish and sinful?

The teacher offered answers to a lot of these questions: children ask a lot of questions and try to understand and reconcile what they hear, while trusting the one who is teaching them; Augustine was not saved by his intellect, but humans are still creatures with intellect, so they should try to understand things about God; Sola Scriptura meant Scripture without Catholic teaching, not “just me and my Bible”; community can be a place of correction (“But what about this?”) and encouragement; John depicts Jesus as God, but Mark highlights Jesus’ humanity and human limitations; the teacher has studied Talmud and may know more about it than the average Jew in a synagogue, yet that average Jew in the synagogue, as a practitioner of Judaism, knows things about Judaism that he does not.

On the thorny question of how Jesus’ divinity and humanity interrelate, I did not hear an answer, but I will see what the class concludes.

A question was raised in our reading of a Robert Wilken article. Wilken noted that the church fathers, in discussing Jesus’ divinity, started with Jesus’ resurrection. That is not where most contemporary theological treatments of the incarnation and the Trinity begin. Romans 1:4 states that Jesus was declared to be Son of God through his resurrection. Was not Jesus already Son of God, before that? The teacher said that perhaps Romans 1:4 was saying that Jesus’ humanity was made to be divine, or something to that effect. I may be mangling or misunderstanding what he said there. I was thinking of asking for clarification, but I was unclear about how to formulate the question clearly.

How does Jesus’ resurrection relate to Jesus’ divinity? The standard Christian interpretation of Romans 1:4 is that the resurrection attested to the divinity that Jesus already had: it did not make Jesus divine, but showed the world that Jesus was divine. The teacher did not say that, though. I sometimes got the impression from what the teacher was saying that the church fathers were not just wrestling with how the pre-death Jesus was God-incarnate, but with how the risen Jesus was God-incarnate. The Robert Wilken article and the teacher were highlighting other ways that the resurrection was relevant to Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ resurrection is why Jesus’ divinity matters: prayer to Jesus and the Eucharist would be pointless, if Jesus were not resurrected. Plus, saying that Jesus rose invites the question of why and how he was human in the first place, for, to die, he needed to be human.

What I especially enjoy about this teacher’s classes is the historical context that he provides. Nicea was a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and it was Emperor Constantine’s annual resort. Many of the older Christian bishops who came to the Council there bore wounds, due to the intense persecution that Christians experienced in the third century CE at the hands of imperial Rome and locals. Legend states that Constantine humbly kissed the wounds of the bishops when he met them. The Council of Nicea produced the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed came out of the later Council of Constantinople, and it is called the “Nicene Creed” because it is based on conclusions that were reached at the Council of Nicea. Lutherans recite the Apostles’ Creed on non-Eucharistic Sundays, and the Nicene Creed on Eucharistic Sundays. This tradition goes back to the Council of Constantinople.

C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor was continuing his series about Acts. Specifically, the title of the series is “There’s a Place at the Table.” Past sermons in the series have affirmed that there is a place at the table for the religious, for the pagan, and for the broken. This week’s message was that there is a place at the table for the intellectual.

The pastor’s main text was Acts 17. Paul is in Athens, a highly intellectual city, and notices all of their idolatry. Intellectualism can easily degenerate into “what we have done, or what we can do.” The pastor talked a lot about idolatry. It cheapens or denigrates the image of God within us, and it replaces a real Jesus with a Santa Claus Jesus who caters to our idolatry. We also debase God’s gifts—-sex, alcohol, recreational sports—-when we abuse them or make idols of them.

Over the last few weeks, people from church have delivered testimonies, as they sit at the table with others who have delivered testimonies. When the series started, someone talked about his background in a legalistic religion; his family refused to buy clothes from the Goodwill because the clothes may have demons attached to them! The next week, someone talked about his background in Chinese paganism. The following week, a lady talked about her broken marriage and her sensitivity to rejection. This week, someone talked about being an intellectual.

How was he an intellectual? Essentially, he was curious and loved learning. He loved to read books. But he also wondered what made people tick. Although he was a nerd back when he was in high school, he hanged out with jocks and rednecks because he wondered how they approached life. He has held political office and has been all over the political spectrum: Republican, Democrat, Green. He grew up as a conservative Lutheran in a church that was anti-Catholic, but, later in life, he was curious about the Holy Spirit, so he found himself attending a charismatic Catholic church to learn more. He also enjoys solving problems. He still enjoys learning, but, as a Christian, he has concluded that politics is not where the solution lies. He also thinks that his intellectualism can get in the way, if he is not careful: for example, he struggles with praying to a God who already knows how things will turn out.

I will stop here.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Derek Leman on Isaiah 1:27-31

Derek Leman’s Daily Portion today comments on Isaiah 1:27-31. Here are his comments:

ISAIAH 1:27-31
27 Zion will be ransomed because of justice,
her penitents by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will be ruined together,
and those who forsake Adonai will come to an end.
29 For they will be ashamed of the terebinth trees you have desired;
You will be embarrassed of the gardens you preferred.
30 For you will be like a terebinth tree, its leaf withering,
like a garden which has no water.
31 And the strong person will be like tinder from the flax,
and his handiwork a spark.
Both of them will burn together with no one to quench it.

An important new theological idea is introduced in this section, one that is not an emphasis in the writings of First Isaiah (the eighth century prophet who authored much of the material in Isaiah 1-39). That idea is the separate destinies of the righteous and the rebellious. This emphasis bears the imprint of Third Isaiah (the author of Isaiah 56-66), who has been convincingly identified as the final editor of the book of Isaiah and the creator of Isaiah chapter 1 (Jacob Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile).

Connections between Isaiah 1:27-31 and Third Isaiah are easy to detect. The clause “those who forsake Adonai” in vs. 28 shows up again in 65:11. Condemnation of worship under terebinth trees is seen again in 57:5. The practice of worshipping in sacred groves or gardens only shows up again in 65:3 and 66:17. The mention of judgment by fire and people worshiping in groves and gardens forms a literary inclusio for the entire collection of Isaiah. Inclusio is a literary device in which the beginning and end of a literary work refer to the same or similar images and topics, like bookends.

The specific bookends in the book of Isaiah are judgment by fire and idolatry in groves and gardens.
In 1:27-31 we read of Adonai’s forsakers coming to an end, being burned with no quenching. In 66:24 the terrible image of dead bodies burning without quenching concludes the entire book. The terebinths and gardens of 1:27-31 find their counterpart in 66:17 (also in 57:5 and 65:3) concerning “those who enter the gardens” and who perform sanctification rituals and eat unclean meat there.

First Isaiah expresses more of a concern for social justice whereas Third Isaiah focuses more on condemning disloyal worship practices. This last section of Isaiah chapter 1 reflects a difference in outlook from earlier sections, not only concerning the notion of separate destinies for the two groups but also in its primary complaint against the city.

The final and undeniable parallel is the horrific image of burning. “Both of them will burn together with no one to quench it,” says Isaiah 1:31. How similar this is to the end of the book of Isaiah:

“They shall go out and gaze on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me . . . their worm shall not die nor their fire be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24).

How has Isaiah chapter 1 altered the outlook from that of the original Isaiah to the viewpoint of the anonymous writer after the exile we know as Third Isaiah? The truth is more complicated even than a two-step editorial process. In between First and Third Isaiah was, of course, Second Isaiah, a hopeful prophet in Babylon who gave words of assurance to the exiles from Judah and promised a glorious return and renewal for ruined Jerusalem. But Isaiah chapter 1 seems to be the edited product of First Isaiah’s words and Third Isaiah’s arrangement and additions. The final editor of the book has assembled words of the ancient prophet and given them a new meaning by means of insertions and additions.

The message of Isaiah 1:27-31 is that God will avenge himself on the leaders of Jerusalem in order to save and restore the holy city. Only some will be saved from this coming conflagration, those who live by justice and righteousness. Others who live by rebelliousness and iniquity will meet their final doom. Those living in the holy city now are encouraged to join the faithful and to know that God will differentiate in the coming judgment. The words of Isaiah of Jerusalem have been re-preached by Third Isaiah as an introduction to a whole new way of reading the book of Isaiah. The book began as words to Jerusalem in the eighth century, morphed into a book for Judeans in exile during the time of Second Isaiah, and now is read as an all-encompassing revelation for the small-but-restored Jerusalem risen from the ashes two hundred years after Isaiah.

Ancient temples sometimes had gardens attached to them. The produce of these gardens represented the power of the gods over fertility of crops (John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament). In a scene in Assur (capital of Assyria) a carving shows a god with four streams (like the streams of Eden in Genesis 2) flowing from him and he is between two sacred trees. According to Walton, groves and gardens have been found near temples in Egypt and Mesopotamia. These sometimes featured pools and fountains, exotic plants, and crop plantings. Because of the linkage with Isaiah 65-66, it seems likely the references in Isaiah 1 also have to do with returnees from Babylon bringing some of these practices with them to Jerusalem.

Descriptions of worship amid terebinths and oaks (Isa 57:5; Hos 4:13; Jer 2:20-27; 3:6) often use imagery of sex and adultery. Some think that there were literal fertility rites practiced under the trees (cultic sex acts), but the sexual imagery may simply be a metaphor for the betrayal of God by preferring idols. Trees could function as a kind of Asherah pole, a practice alluded to many time in the Bible but whose exact details are unknown. Worshiping deities of fertility was common in the ancient world since humanity’s greatest problems (survival, progeny, fertility of soil) all revolved around ability to conceive. Israelites fell into idolatry, thinking offerings and other rites performed in groves would bring prosperity, but instead they brought total calamity.

Current Events Write-Up: Elections, the Caravan, Health Care, Odd Political Bedfellows, Whitewashing the Vietnam War

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up. Some of these items will be reruns, since I posted or reblogged them earlier this week.


The Federalist: “What’s Behind Educated, Suburban Women Flipping to Democrats,” by Denise C. McAllister.

McAllister’s answer to this question is not surprising, but I still like the article because it highlight things that I did not know. For example, why did more educated, suburban women vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 than for Donald Trump in 2016? Also, you hear frequently about how gerrymandering helps the Republicans. Well, it helped the Democrats in 2018!

The Nation: “Where the Blue Wave Hit a Red Wall,” by D.D. Guttenplan.

To quote the subtitle, “Progressives picked up some sweet victories, but Election Day also brought some sobering lessons.”

The Caravan: Opposing Viewpoints

The Nation: “Why the Refugee Caravan Is So Big, and What We Need to Do About It,” by Laura Carlsen.

The article details the dire straits in which people of Honduras find themselves and how the United States has contributed to their country’s problems. It is a little thin on the “What We Need to Do About It” part, but it does say that Mexico is offering the refugees’ jobs.

The Stream: “An Interview With Rev. Samuel Rodriguez on the Migrant Caravan and How Christians Should Respond,” by James Robison, and The Stream: “I’m a US Citizen Living in Honduras. Here’s What I Think About the Caravan,” by Jennifer Zilly Canales.

A point that both articles make is that most of the refugees have not taken Mexico up on its offer for asylum and jobs. The second article presents the problems in Honduras as bad, but not as dire, and it states that some people in Hondurans refuse help and want to come to the U.S. for more opportunities, not in a desperate search for asylum.

Health Care

The Federalist: “What the Press Isn’t Telling You about the Politics of Pre-existing Conditions,” by Christopher Jacobs.

One argument that this article makes is that Obamacare has its own backhanded way of turning down people with certain pre-existing conditions.

Naked Capitalism: “Former Health Insurance Executive Debunks Trump Attacks on Single Payer,” by Yves Smith.

Responds to the usual objections.

Townhall: “Big Government Will Raise Drug Costs for Medicare Patients,” by Paul Anuzis.

“Medicare patients are not allowed to benefit from discount coupons that drug manufacturers offer to increase access, and many do not have private add-on plans to help them pay for their prescriptions. For Medicare beneficiaries prescribed the above cholesterol-lowering drug, this meant that they had to pay up to $370 out-of-pocket every time they filled their prescription.”


The Nation: “When Environmentalism Meets Xenophobia,” by Gaby Del Valle.

Where early twentieth-century environmentalism overlapped with xenophobia and eugenicism.

Tomgram: Arnold Isaacs, Misremembering Vietnam. 

“The Pentagon Whitewashes a Troubling Past.”

Friday, November 9, 2018

Church Write-Up: Hebrews 9

Here are some items from last Wednesday’s LCMS Bible study. It will not be meeting again until sometime in January. But the church will probably have a Thanksgiving service and Advent services, and I will write about those.

The main text on which the pastor commented was Hebrews 9:24-28. I will post that:

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (KJV)

A. The Greek word diatheke refers to a will or a covenant. The pastor highlighted two usages of the word in Hebrews 9. First, it is used for a will. A will becomes effective once the person dies: that is when his or her inheritance passes to the people to whom it is bequeathed. Similarly, according to Hebrews 9:15-17, the eternal inheritance is passed on to the saints after Christ has died. Christians receive what God gives to them after Jesus’ death. Second, diatheke in Hebrews 9 is used to mean a covenant. The authors of Hebrews refers to the Mosaic covenant, or agreement: God agreed to be Israel’s God, and Israel agreed to be God’s people through obedience; if Israel disobeyed, she lost the land. At the institution of the Mosaic covenant, the people and the holy things were sprinkled with the blood of animals, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Moses said, “This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you” (see Exodus 24:8). Similarly, the pastor noted, Jesus at the last supper said took the cup of wine and said that it was his blood of the new testament (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 11:25).

B. Hebrews 9:23 states: “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” The pastor seemed to question the interpretation of “patterns” in Hebrews that states that it refers to an actual sanctuary in heaven (see Hebrews 8:5), as if the Tabernacle and Temple on earth were copies of the sanctuary in heaven. To quote the pastor’s handout: “‘Copies’ or ‘representations’ of the heavenly things—-the tabernacle and the vessels represent heavenly things—-doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a heavenly version of the tabernacle—-John tells us that Jesus’ flesh took the place of the tabernacle.” In support of his point about John, the pastor referred to John 1:14, which states that the Logos became flesh and tabernacled among us, and to Jesus’ statement in John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The presence of God on earth is not in a building but in Jesus, and the Tabernacle is a type of Jesus himself. Indeed, the Greek word translated as “pattern” in Hebrews, tupos, can refer to a type of something to come (Romans 5:14). The pastor’s interpretation fades in and out in terms of making sense to me. It is difficult to bypass that Hebrews is speaking of something in heaven that is like the earthly sanctuary. I was thinking: “Well, if there is a Temple in heaven, are animals offered there?” Then the pastor referred to Hebrews 9:23 in saying that the things in heaven do not need the blood of animals but Jesus’ better sacrifice. Yet, it is not as if there is a literal altar in heaven on which Jesus dies and is burnt, like the sacrificial animals in the Old Testament. The Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple still express what Jesus did, from a Christian perspective.

C. The pastor tied in the other Scriptural readings to Hebrews 9:24-28. The Old Testament reading was the story of the widow of Zarephath in I Kings 17. To quote the handout, “The widow with Elijah trusts God’s word through Elijah with both the oil/flour and their lives and the death of her son.” The Gospel reading was the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12: “The widow of the Temple in Mark 12 trusts God with her well-being, giving all that she has to the LORD.” Similarly, the Jewish Christians in Hebrews are encouraged to trust God, even though persecution is tempting them to leave Christ and to return to Judaism. Not only were they tempted to return to Judaism because Judaism was a legal religion, the pastor said, but, if they were former priests and scribes, Judaism guaranteed them a job in the Temple. But they were to recognize that the new covenant was better than the old: Jesus only had to be sacrificed once, whereas the old covenant required the continual sacrifice of animals. Jesus was interceding for them before the Father, knowing what it was like to be them. And, there was the hope of an eternal inheritance. Also, like the widows, who lived each day, Christians live each day, but they do so in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. The pastor likened Jesus’ second coming in Hebrews 9:28 to how the high priest on the Day of Atonement came out of the sanctuary and pronounced the people forgiven.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Write-Up: Revelation and Reason in Christian Theology

Christopher C. Green and David I. Starling. Revelation and Reason in Christian Theology: Proceedings of the 2016 Theology Connect Conference. Lexham Press, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

This book addresses the question of whether reason and divine revelation are contradictory or can intersect. It is based on papers delivered by Christian scholars at the 2016 Theology Connect conference in Sydney, Australia. In this review, I will say something about each essay and occasionally offer reflections about the book as a whole.

Chapter 1: “Let There Be Light: A Meditation on Biblical Narration and Divine Self-Disclosure,” by Christopher C. Green.

An asset to this chapter is its biblical interpretations. Green offers an intertexual reading of Deuteronomy 28 with the Samson story, as well as tackles the question of why God in Genesis 1 does not pronounce the water canopy to be good. The book occasionally has these sorts of gems.

Chapter 2: “The Public Character of Revelation: Divine Speech and Finite Reason,” by Daniel J. Treier.

Treier wrestles with objections to the idea that divine revelation is primarily divine speech, asserting that divine speech is paramount, even if there are other supplementary means to revelation. He also critiques how “all truth is God’s truth” and a belief in general revelation have led to forcing secular things into a religious mold. He offers a way to appreciate them as they are, within a context that is still theistic.

Chapter 3: “The Personal and Cultural Character of Reason: Christ’s Triumph over Modern Technique,” by Daniel J. Treier.

Treier critiques “technical” reason, which is essentially autonomous reason that arrogantly seeks to systematize, homogenize, and dominate everything. Treier also offers an insightful critique of the conventional wooden method of Bible study in which application (i.e., rules) follows interpretation. He provides an alternative on page 41: “Framing the exegesis of Scripture more theologically, and the nature of theology more holistically in terms of ‘wisdom,’ helps to resist the regime of technique.”

Chapter 4: “Divine Revelation,” by William J. Abraham.

Abraham engages the problems within theological studies that the concept of divine revelation has faced, particularly the question of foundationalism: is there a basis for our acceptance of the divine revelation as true? Where Abraham seems to rest is on experiential ground: people have a religious experience that enables them to see the world in a new way. The essays in this book did not really promote classical apologetics as a way to offer an evidential or rational foundation that attests to the truth of divine revelation. Reason still plays a role in the Christian life, as far as they are concerned, for it helps people to understand the revelation, and Christians’ reasoning proceeds from the truths that are contained in the divine revelation. But people do not climb to God through their reason, as far as this book is concerned.

Chapter 5: “Ordering with Intent: Restoring Divine Order in Isaiah and Genesis,” by Caroline Batchelder.

This chapter argues that God created humans to exercise a reasonable stewardship over creation, and the Servant of Isaiah 40-55 did that through his humble promotion of mishpat. An interesting detail in this chapter is Batchelder’s reference to D.J.A. Cline’s point that Psalm 19:7-17 is interacting with Genesis 2-3, presenting the Torah as superior to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Torah makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes, things that the Tree of Knowledge did, albeit in a negative way.

Chapter 6: “‘As to Sensible People’: Human Reason and Divine Revelation in 1 Corinthians 8-10,” by David I. Starling.

Although Paul appears to display a negative attitude towards worldly wisdom in I Corinthians 1, he appeals frequently to reason in I Corinthians.

Chapter 7: “Figural Reading within Contemporary Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Problems and Parameters,” by Chase R. Kuhn.

A question with which Kuhn wrestles is whether disunity undermines the witness of the church.

Chapter 8: “Meditation and Reason: Some Reflections on the Right Way to Happiness in God,” by Christopher R.J. Holmes.

This is an example of what I discuss above in my comments on chapter 4: reasoning from divine revelation. Atheists probably would not be convinced by this chapter. Still, Holmes does well to inquire about the telos of reason: can autonomous reason lead anywhere fruitful, fulfilling, or nourishing?

Chapter 9: “A Mysterious Relationship? Herman Bavinck on Revelation and Reason,” by Bruce R. Pass.

Pass highlights the importance of mystery, the aspects of Christian theism that are beyond human understanding. Mystery humbles human beings and establishes that God is above them. This is a point that is made more than once in this book: this book is pro-reason, yet it asserts that Christianity humbles and chastens human reason. Atheists would probably consider this a cop-out. I would also ask about non-Christian religions that have their share of mystery and paradox.

Chapter 10: “Discipleship on the Level of Thought: The Case of Karl Barth’s Critique of the Religion of Revelation,” by Chris Swann.

Barth is often characterized as one who thinks that God does all of the work in revealing Godself to humans, yet Barth saw some place for reason. And this is probably unavoidable, since reason is part of who humans are. Barth also did not want religion to become paramount, as that would contribute to human pride and pretense.

Chapter 11: “Revelation and Reason: A Christological Reflection,” by John McClean.

According to McClean, the Chalcedonian conception of Christ as fully human and fully divine informs the relationship between divine revelation and reason. This chapter makes more sense as I peruse it again. It is important that Christ had a human mind that was illumined by the Spirit, McClean seems to argue, because that is related to humanity’s ability to receive revelation. To quote from pages 198-199: “As Christ knows God as a man, he knows according to reason, he knows as the human capacity of knowing and understanding is sanctified and put to its full and proper end.”

Chapter 12: “Free Speech: Scripture in the Context of Divine Simplicity and Divine Freedom,” by Steven J. Duby.

Does God’s use of human speech somehow limit God? No, Duby answers. God communicates God’s attributes, but our knowledge of God remains limited. More than one essay in this book makes that point: that revelation enables people to apprehend but not comprehend God. Duby maintains that the concept of divine simplicity addresses this issue. He lucidly explained what divine simplicity is, but its relationship to revelation could have been more clearly articulated.

Chapter 13: “Christ in Creation: Shortcut to Liberalism or a Neglected Truth?”, by Andrew Moody.

Moody engages the idea that creation reveals Christ, the divine Logos. On the one hand, this seems rather obvious. On the other hand, however, it is rather controversial, since so many theologians pit God’s revelation through the incarnation against general or natural revelation, as if relying on the latter is subjective and detracts from or is not as clear as the former. Moody engages this criticism and attempts to offer a way forward. The essay perhaps would have been better had it offered examples of how nature reveals Christ.

Chapter 14: “Revelation, Sola Scriptura, and Regenerate Human Reason,” by Mark D. Thompson.

Divine speech is significant, Thompson argues, for the persons of the Trinity speak to each other, and Jesus upholds the cosmos by his word. Divine speech also has an impact on humans, as Thompson and other essays in this book argue. Divine speech, in this model, seems to be eternal, and yet Thompson also depicts God as taking on the tools of limited, creaturely, historically-conditioned speech to communicate, while enabling people of different backgrounds to understand. That is somewhat paradoxical and was not fleshed out that much in this chapter: is divine speech different from human speech and, if so, how? Thompson offered a sensible account of how the Old Testament sets the stage for Christ.

The book has an occasional biblical gem and offers thoughtful insights. It is sometimes elliptical, yet sometimes its points are rather obvious; more also could have been fleshed out. One can still read this book and be edified by its points, however, gaining an appreciation of the role of reason in the Christian life.

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Nation: Why the Refugee Caravan Is So Big—and What We Need to Do About It

The Nation: Why the Refugee Caravan Is So Big—and What We Need to Do About It

Richard Baxter on Navigating Friendships

I have felt this way. And I have been this way!

“Thy friends here have been thy delight, and have they not also been thy vexation and grief? They are gracious, and are they not also sinful? They are kind, and are they not soon displeased? They are humble, but, alas, how proud also! Their graces are sweet, and their gifts helpful; but are not their corruptions bitter, and their imperfections hurtful? And art thou so loath to go from them to thy God?”

From Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest.

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