Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Interactive Sermon

At church this morning, I was thinking about where my pastor is effective in terms of his homiletical style.  The pastor was asking the congregation questions about redwood trees to illustrate a sermon point, and a child was answering one of them.  That stood out to me because it intrigues me when children listen to the sermon, especially since I recall that I didn't listen to the sermon at church that often when I was a kid!  If your sermon is interesting enough that a child is listening to it, then you're doing a pretty good job, in my opinion.

I think that my pastor is effective at interacting with the audience----asking them questions that keep them listening.  Such questions include, "Have you been to this place?", "How deep do you think the roots of the redwood tree are?", "Does anyone here remember Roy Campanella?", etc.  In some cases, I don't know the answers to his questions because I'm from a younger generation than most of the people at my church----though I will say that there were times when I did know the answers, even about things that go back before my time!  I knew who Roy Campanella was, for example, because I saw him on an old episode of Lassie.
In my own sermons, should I aim to be more interactive with the congregation?  I can see myself falling flat by asking a question that nobody answers.  For example, I doubt that I'd be overly effective were I to ask a factual question like "How deep do you think are the roots of a redwood tree?"  But I probably could be effective in asking people if they've been to such-and-such a place, or heard of such-and-such a person.  Why?  Because, in that case, it wouldn't disrupt my message if the answer is no.  I could just ask the question, and move on even if nobody answers.  When I ask a factual question, however, it would look awkward if nobody ventured an answer.  With a factual question, in short, I'm more dependent on the audience.

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 7

I finished Lou Dobbs' War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interests Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back.

I decided to read this book after Arianna Huffington's Third World America because in reading Arianna's book I was not entirely clear about how U.S. government policies hurt the middle class.  Arianna's book came after the economic crisis, and so she largely focused on that, but I knew that there were people who argued that the war on the middle class occurred even before then.  Arianna herself contended that the policies of the 1980's had a lot to do with it!  I wanted to learn more about this, and so I proceeded to read Lou Dobbs' book, which was published before the economic crisis.

Dobbs identifies some of the same problems that Arianna does: outsourcing of jobs, a decline in education, high health care costs, the oppressive bankruptcy bill that passed during the Presidency of George W. Bush, and the fact that lobbies and special interests inhibit real reform from taking place, as politicians rely on special interests for campaign contributions, and in many cases even join their ranks after leaving office.  Unlike Arianna, however, Dobbs talks about illegal immigration being a part of the war on the middle class----as it drives wages down and health care costs up, since illegal immigrants (who lack preventive care and work in high-risk jobs) take advantage of emergency rooms and often cannot pay.

In terms of solutions, I thought that Arianna and Dobbs differed, in areas.  My impression was that Arianna supported more of a bottom-up approach----individuals need to take the initiative to support smaller banks rather than bigger banks, individuals need to cultivate empathy, etc.  But Dobbs seemed to favor more of a governmental approach----he notes that local governments are fighting outsourcing by rejecting companies that outsource, and that states are taking the initiative in fighting illegal immigration (and, if I'm not mistaken, Dobbs' book was written prior to Arizona's controversial law).  Dobbs also praises Mitt Romney's health care and educational policies as governor.  Regarding where Arianna and Dobbs overlapped, both were strongly in favor of campaign finance reform.

I guess where I was disappointed in reading Dobbs' book was that he did not talk about how the 1980's led to the current dismal state of the middle class.  If I'm not mistaken, outsourcing really took off after the trade agreements under the Clinton Administration.  How were Ronald Reagan's policies part of the problem, though?  I have read that his cuts in the social safety net were part of the problem, but that affects the lower economic classes, not the middle class.  Some have suggested that his reduction in spending on higher education discouraged people from going to college----since that came at a time when tuitions were high.  Did Reagan also undermine labor unions, in some manner?  I can envision that leading to disparities of wealth.  I'm just throwing out ideas, and I do not have full knowledge about the accuracy of what I am saying.  That's why I continue to read!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 6: Education and Health Care

In my latest reading of Lou Dobbs' War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back, I read the chapter on education, and started the chapter on health care.

On education, Dobbs (like Arianna Huffington in Third World America) articulated views that span the political spectrum.  Dobbs laments that a lot of government spending on education goes to bureaucracy rather than improving education, and yet Dobbs believes that teachers should be paid more because higher pay will attract quality teachers.  At the same time, Dobbs is not for paying teachers more based on seniority----the system that many teachers' unions endorse----but rather he believes in merit pay.  Regarding higher education, Dobbs is critical of cut-backs in student loans, the inhibition on loan consolidation, and the increase in the student loan interest rate.  (This book was published in 2006, which was during the Bush II Administration.)  And Dobbs is also against government cutbacks in job training (but Republicans usually respond that they're against wasteful duplication of job training programs, not job training itself).

On health care, Dobbs criticizes President George W. Bush for focusing on Social Security and how federal courts handle moral issues rather than health care, which is of concern to many Americans.  Dobbs notes that the American health care system is driving people to bankruptcy, even as the oppressive bankruptcy law that was passed under George W. Bush (due to the influence of special interests) strips bankruptcy of its status as a refuge!  Dobbs also does not care for the prescription drug benefit because it offers seniors choices, yet it does so in complex language and thus many seniors do not understand their options (and, according to Dobbs, the government officials who are there to help seniors in this communicate inaccurate information).  Meanwhile, health insurance companies profit from this "benefit".  Dobbs lays into the boogeymen of both the right and also the left: the trial lawyers, the pharmaceuticals, and the health insurance companies.

Psalm 96

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 96.  I have two items.

1.  Erhard Gerstenberger contends that Psalm 96 was risky within its exilic or post-exilic historical context.  Here Israel is, subjugated to a foreign nation, and Psalm 96 boldly declares that the gods of the other nations are mere idols; calls upon the nations to worship the superior God of Israel, who reigns; and anticipates a time when the God of Israel will come in judgment.  According to Gerstenberger, such a message would probably strike Israel's foreign captors as rather subversive, and so Psalm 96 most likely was not proclaimed publicly within the "police-controlled imperial states", but rather was used in modest congregations and "closed worship services".

What's ironic about what Gerstenberger is saying is that Psalm 96 does not appear to be a Psalm that encourages the Israelites to tip-toe daintily in proclaiming their beliefs about God and the nations.  Rather, it encourages the Israelites to declare God's glory among the nations, and it calls upon the nations to worship the God of Israel.  That's pretty bold!  Gerstenberger acknowledges that Psalm 96 may express a desire that Israel bear witness to God's glory before the nations during the Persian Period, and Daniel and Esther come to Gerstenberger's mind as examples of such witnesses.  Gerstenberger's point may be (and perhaps I'm reading things into his comments) that Daniel and Esther bore witness to God's glory, yet they did so in a non-subversive, non-threatening manner.

2.  An issue that comes to my mind as I read Psalm 96 is eschatology.  Psalm 96 expresses the anticipation that God will come to judge, and that even nature should be happy about this.  I think about Romans 8:18-23, in which Paul affirms that all creation groans for the manifestation of the children of God, when it will be delivered from corruption.  In my opinion, it's important to highlight that God is to be God, not only of a tiny sect of people, but of all of the nations and ethnic-groups, as well as all of creation.  That shows a vast extent to God's care and concern!  And yet, Psalm 96 upholds the unique status of Israel when it calls on the nations to come into God's courts with an offering----they are to honor God's sanctuary in Israel.

While Psalm 96 has high expectations about the future, it also appears to encourage the Israelites to rejoice in the present.  V 2 says that they are to show God's salvation on a daily basis.  And Psalm 96 affirms that God, even now, is above the gods of the nations.  In a sense, Israel, even in a state of subjugation (assuming that Psalm 96 indeed does date to the exilic or post-exilic periods), can taste of God's salvation and rejoice in it----either because she has intense hope that God will bring about God's righteous rule, or she is experiencing God's goodness right where she is sitting, or both.  Her song may be new because she is expecting God to perform a new act of redemption, or because she feels a fresh wave of appreciation for God's goodness (and both have been argued by interpreters, as they have sought the meaning of the "new song" in v 1).  Maybe both are true.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 5: Illegal Immigration

In my latest reading of War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back, Lou Dobbs talks about illegal immigration.  Dobbs argues that illegal immigrants drive down wages, and that big business largely supports their presence in the United States because they are cheap labor.

What should be done about illegal immigration?  I don't like the idea of simply building a big wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico, for many of them are escaping dire poverty and are looking for opportunity.  So should we resort to amnesty?  That's not particularly fair to those who wait in line to become American citizens----and there are a number of people who play by the rules who themselves come from bad circumstances.  Should we have open borders?  What would happen if terrorists entered the U.S.?  Should we have a guest worker program?  That can drive down wages, if I understand the program correctly, for businesses could pay their foreign workers low wages and refrain from offering them benefits.  Maybe the solution is NAFTA, which can lift up Mexicans out of poverty through capitalism.  But, as Lou Dobbs argues, poverty is still a problem in Mexico, even after NAFTA.

Dobbs states that Mexico is poor even though it has lots of resources.  Is there a way for Mexico to use its resources to become richer?  Can we encourage Mexico to do that?

Some Interesting Points in Goldstein's II Maccabees

I started Jonathan Goldstein's Anchor Bible commentary on II Maccabees.

Goldstein dates I Maccabees to 90 B.C.E., Jason of Cyrene's work to 86 B.C.E., and the abridgement of Jason's work that we recognize as II Maccabees to 78/7-63 B.C.E.  Goldstein offers various reasons for his date for I Maccabees, but he believes that II Maccabees came later because it appears to respond to I Maccabees----to dispute some of I Maccabees' details.  At the same time, Goldstein maintains that I Maccabees and II Maccabees drew from a common source, for they overlap on a variety of details, such as Jason's construction of a gymnasium.

I go into the ideological differences between I Maccabees and II Maccabees in my post here.  In this write-up of Goldstein, I'll mention two details that stood out to me.  First, Goldstein argues that II Maccabees does not regard the Jerusalem Temple as fully chosen by God and thus recognizes other sanctuaries; I Maccabees, by contrast, appears to dislike sanctuaries other than the one in Jerusalem.  Second, Goldstein maintains that I Maccabees and II Maccabees had different approaches to the Book of Daniel (which Goldstein may date to the second century B.C.E.).  I Maccabees does not shy away from mentioning the events surrounding Antiochus that did not transpire as Daniel predicted; II Maccabees, by contrast, ignores those details or tries to show that many of Daniel's prophecies indeed were fulfilled.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 4: Free Trade

In my latest reading of War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back, Lou Dobbs criticized free trade and outsourcing.

Regarding free trade, Dobbs argues that the current system is not balanced, for we (by which I mean the U.S.) buy other countries' goods more than they buy ours, resulting in a trade deficit.  Not only are our tariffs lower than that of some of our trading partners, but there also are many in some of these countries who are too poor to buy our products.  Moreover, Dobbs contends that NAFTA has not ameliorated poverty in Mexico.  Dobbs also talks about how the World Trade Organization infringes on American sovereignty.  On page 105, Dobbs states, "The WTO is currently assisting Wal-Mart in taking on state policies, by helping the world's biggest retailer get concessions opposed by local governments."

Regarding outsourcing, Dobbs states that it has resulted in the export, not only of manufacturing jobs, but also of the service and tech jobs that free trade was supposed to create in the United States.  Arianna Huffington made the same point in Third World America, blaming this problem on the United States' lack of competitiveness in education.  According to Dobbs, the jobs that will have the greatest demand include waiters and waitresses, janitors and cleaners, food preparers, hospital workers, cashiers, customer-service representatives, retail salespeople, general and operational managers, and postsecondary teachers----jobs that cannot be outsourced.  Dobbs does not believe that the jobs that people get after losing their manufacturing jobs pay as much, and Dobbs holds that, notwithstanding the cheap goods that free trade has provided to people in the U.S., employees in the U.S. are not better off, and that is due to the stagnation of their wages.

I'm planning on reading more about free trade after I finish Dobbs' book: Edward Gresser's Freedom from Want: American Liberalism and the Global Economy, and Pat Buchanan's The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy.  My impression (and I am open to correction) is that the former book defends free trade from a liberal perspective, whereas the latter critiques it.  I'm curious about how free trade has impacted the United States and the rest of the world, and what the solution could be.  While Dobbs is probably correct that free trade has resulted in the stagnation of wages, do we want to create a situation in which other countries are no longer a market for our goods (at some level), or prices go up due to protectionism resulting in lower productivity?

An Independent Being?

I finished James D.G. Dunn's Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  In this post, I want to continue what I was talking about in yesterday's post about Dunn----that whole issue of whether wisdom, the Memra, and the logos were believed by Jewish or ancient Israelite thinkers to be independent beings from the transcendent God.  I'll cover some of the same ground that I covered yesterday, while also mentioning some other stuff.

Where do I start?  Well, I guess I'll start with wisdom, and see what happens!  Was wisdom in Proverbs 8 and Sirach considered to be a separate being from the transcendent God?  As I said yesterday, I can see Dunn's point that the answer is "no", that what we're dealing with in Proverbs 8 is a poetic personification of wisdom whose aim is to make the point that God is wise.  Dunn, however, appears to go a step further: Dunn seems to believe that wisdom in Proverbs 8 is not a hypostasis because the concept of hypostasis came later.  I raised questions about that claim in my last post, but I did not offer specifics.  Here, I'll refer to a post that I wrote a while back when I was blogging through the book, Ancient Israelite Religion.  In summarizing P. Kyle McCarter's “Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy: Biblical and Epigraphic Data”, I said the following about the "Yahweh and his Asherah" inscription from Kuntillet ‘Arjud:

"[McCarter] refers to examples in Northwest Semitic religion in which a goddess is a hypostasis or manifestation of a god. For McCarter, YHWH’s Asherah was his visible manifestation, which appeared in the cult. And that manifestation was marked with a wooden pole, which is called an Asherah. YHWH’s Asherah is somewhat like YHWH’s consort, but it’s also like YHWH’s Shekinah—his manifestation, which conveys the transcendent God to humans. And the pole is a symbol of that visible presence."

For McCarter, the concept of a hypostasis did exist in the ancient Near East.  But I want to make two points.  First of all, Dunn is skeptical about the History of Religions School, which was interested in finding parallels between the biblical writings and surrounding cultures.  Dunn says at one place in his book that, just because wisdom (or a goddess of wisdom) was a personal being in parts of the ancient Near East, that doesn't mean that wisdom was a personal being in Proverbs 8.  For Dunn (if I'm understanding him correctly), many of the writings of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism were monotheistic, and that should be taken into consideration when we look at the treatment of wisdom, the Memra, and the logos.  Second, in reading about McCarter's essay, I'm a little unclear about what exactly a hypostasis is.  Is it necessarily a personal being who extends from or manifests the transcendent God, who is another being?  Within Trinitarian theology (if I understand it correctly), I'd say that the answer is "yes".  But could a hypostasis simply be how a god chooses to manifest himself, without being an independent being from that god----which is essentially how Dunn understands wisdom, the Memra, the logos, and even the angel of the Lord in parts of the Hebrew Bible?  God may choose to be transcendent, but there are times when God chooses to be imminent.  Perhaps, say, the logos is when God chooses to be imminent.

Let's move on to the Memra.  I was reading pieces of Michael Brown's Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume Two: Theological Objections, and Brown listed some passages in which the term Memra is used in targumim.  To be honest, I did not get the impression in reading those passages that the Memra was believed to be a being separate from the transcendent God.  Rather, the targumim appear to use the term "Memra" to refer to God.  Why?  Probably for the same reason that biblical priestly writings and rabbinic writings often try to avoid referring to God doing something directly (instead using the passive): as a way to honor the majesty and transcendence of God.  The targumim may be saying when they use the term Memra that God is doing something, but they do not want to say explicitly that God did it, out of respect for the divine.  That's just my impression, and I must admit that I have not read every bit of scholarly literature about the Memra.

Now for the logos.  As I said yesterday, I think that Philo considered the logos to be a personal being, perhaps an angel.  A problem in my post yesterday was that I was also trying to say that the logos was a way for God to make himself imminent.  Can an angel do that, without (in some sense) being God?  Michael Brown quotes a few scholars who maintain that Philo regarded the logos as a personal being, a second god, if you will.  On page 22, Brown refers to passages that demonstrate that Philo saw the logos as the firstborn, an archangel, a governor and administrator, and the chief of God's powers.  That sounds like a personal being!  And yet, Brown goes on to say that "Philo's description of the logos may have been philosophical, speaking of divine attributes in highly personified terms" (page 22).  So Philo's logos was not necessarily a personal being, according to Brown.

I'd like to turn now to the angel of the Lord.  In parts of the Hebrew Bible, the angel of the Lord is said to speak, and yet we also read that God is speaking.  There are a number of Christians who maintain that the angel of the Lord was Jesus Christ in his pre-existent state, who was a messenger from God, yet also was God himself.  Others regard the angel of the Lord as a hypostasis.  Dunn's position is that the angel of the Lord in those passages is God himself, and that, over time, angels were conceptualized as beings who were independent from God.  But I'm not overly convinced by Dunn's argument.  If Dunn is right, why couldn't those passages in the Hebrew Bible have simply said that God was speaking, if that is what they meant?  Why did they use the phrase "messenger of the Lord"?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 3: Both Sides?

In my latest reading of War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back, Lou Dobbs criticizes how the news media feel they are doing their job by featuring both the Republican and the Democratic sides in the name of balance, rather than digging deeply into issues.  On page 91, Dobbs says glibly:

"The truth stands by itself.  The idea that fair and balanced is a substitute for truth and fact is mindless nonsense that has captured too much of the national media.  There seem to be only two sides, both political, to every story.  Does that mean that if we had three major political parties there would be three sides to the truth?  If we had four parties, would there be four sides?"

I used to be more of an advocate of a "fair and balanced" news media.  I felt that the media were too liberal and should feature both Democratic and also Republican perspectives.  When I was in high school, I wrote letters to my local newspaper against Channel One, a news program that students were required to watch each morning.  I thought that Channel One was biased towards the left and did not include an adequate number of conservative voices.  Over time, however, it did appear to make more of an effort to be balanced.  James Dobson and Beverly LaHaye were interviewed, and, in a retrospective about the Vietnam War, students in a fictional 1970's classroom were debating the war, as some defended it and others criticized it.

But "fair and balanced" media can get on my nerves, to tell you the truth.  When I got cable, I was excited that I could finally watch Hannity and Colmes on Fox News.  When there were debates about public policy on Fox News, then that could get interesting.  But where I got annoyed was when Sean Hannity (the conservative) would accuse liberals of doing something wrong, and Alan Colmes (the liberal) would then retort that conservatives have done the same wrong thing, or when one side acted as if the other side were to blame for our country's ills----as if life is that simple.  In my opinion, those debates really went nowhere.

While I enjoy debates on public policy, however, maybe Lou Dobbs has a point that even those are flawed, in terms of how the mainstream media in the U.S. present them.  Why should we assume that Republican and Democratic ideologies are the only ways to see the world?  There are other ways, as well.  There are ways that are further left or further right, or even independent.

Philo's Logos; Dunn's Argument

In my latest reading of James D.G. Dunn's Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, Dunn talked about Philo's conception of the logos and summed up his own argument about the origin of the doctrine of the incarnation.

Regarding the logos, Dunn does not think that Philo regarded the logos as a being who was separate from the transcendent God.  Rather, if I understood Dunn's argument, he argued that the logos for Philo was God when God was close and accessible to creation (which includes human beings).  In short, when God chose to be less transcendent, that was God's logos.

In terms of whether I agree with Dunn on this, I'm not sure.  I tend to agree with Dunn that, when it comes to wisdom in Proverbs 8, we're not dealing with a being independent of God or a hypostasis of God, but rather a poetic personification that concerns God being wise.  (According to Dunn, the concept of hypostasis came later.  Still, there are scholars who see the concept of hypostasis as relevant to interpreting the Hebrew Bible, so I don't know who's right.)  When it comes to the logos being a personal being, I tend to shy away from Messianic Jewish views that Philo's concept of the logos is similar to the Christian belief in Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity.  But I'm open to the logos being a personal being, such as an angel----think the divine spokesman whom Alan Rickman played in the movie Dogma.  For one, Philo calling the logos a second god tells me that it may not be the same as the first God.  Second, I think that the logos being a separate being allows God to be transcendent----there's a transcendent God, and God becomes more imminent through God's spokesman, the logos.  With Dunn's scenario, I'm not sure how God can be transcendent and imminent at the same time.

Regarding Dunn's overall argument on how the doctrine of the incarnation developed, Dunn thinks that John 1 is the only passage that explicitly has an incarnation.  He's open to John 1 using an earlier hymn, though.  Why Dunn thinks that the doctrine developed, I'm not entirely sure.  He believes that there was some movement in that direction in other writings----as I John treats Jesus as the Word, for instance----but he maintains that John 1 is the first place where we see Jesus as a personal being who pre-existed his human life.  Perhaps what happened was that Jesus was equated with wisdom, which was with God at creation, and so someone chose to take that in the direction of saying that Jesus personally was present with God at creation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 2: Medicare Advantage

In my latest reading of War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back, Lou Dobbs goes into a variety of issues: that roughly half of federal income taxes are paid by the middle class; how corporations dodge taxes; how the influence of certain lobbyists encourages corporate outsourcing, which hurts workers; and how the bankruptcy law inflicts pain on a lot of responsible people who are bankrupt due to high medical costs.

(UPDATE: See here for Walter Williams' argument that the rich pay most of the federal income taxes.  Moreover, according to this article, Dobbs was critical of President Obama's proposal to raise taxes on those who make over $250,000 a year.)

What I want to focus on in this post, however, is what Dobbs says about government subsidies for health insurance companies and health care organizations.  On page 41, Dobbs states the following:
"Health care is too expensive for many families, and more and more companies are opting to drop full coverage from the benefits they offer employees.  Yet our government is giving $10 billion in subsidies and risk-sharing payments to insurance companies and health care organizations that sign on to the nation's Medicare program, which the Bush administration revamped in 2003.  That money goes to businesses that are part of the problem, not to the working men and women who need the help."

Dobbs is probably talking (at least in part) about Medicare Advantage, which is something that President Barack Obama's health care plan would cut.  Paul Krugman states regarding Medicare Advantage and the Affordable Care Act (see here):

"Medicare Advantage is a 15-year failed experiment in privatization. Running Medicare through private insurance companies was supposed to save money through the magic of the marketplace; in reality, private insurers, with their extra overhead, have never been able to compete on a level playing field with conventional Medicare. But Congress refused to take no for an answer, and kept the program alive by paying the insurers substantially more than the costs per patient of regular Medicare. All the ACA does is end this overpayment."

After Paul Ryan was selected as Mitt Romney's running-mate, I watched a video in which Ryan was talking to President Obama about health care.  I did not understand everything that Ryan was saying, but Ryan did criticize the cuts to Medicare Advantage, since there are seniors who are enrolled in that, and Ryan seemed to fear that the cuts in Medicare Advantage would result in a reduction in their benefits.  What Ryan was saying baffled me somewhat----here's a Republican who is a big proponent of cutting government spending, and all of a sudden he's concerned about how a government cutback will affect people.  But I wonder if Ryan is right.  I don't care for corporate welfare, but I also don't want to see people's health care get cut.  Even if the government, by ending its overpayments to Medicare Advantage, is aiming to tackle the high cost of the companies' overhead, is there any assurance that the health insurance companies will reduce overhead rather than health care?  Since it's cheaper for Medicare to pay for patients than for Medicare to give money to private health insurance companies (at least according to Krugman and the articles to which he links), why not have Medicare take over Medicare Advantage and run it itself, without the private health insurance companies?

I've long wondered why Republicans----even Republicans who are big on reducing government spending, such as John McCain and Paul Ryan----were opponents of the government reducing its subsidies to private health insurance companies.  That made no sense to me.  Now, I think I understand a little better: Medicare Advantage was intended to exemplify the conservative principles of choice in health care and competition.  But, according to critics, it's turned out to be expensive and inefficient corporate welfare.

Pre-Existence? Divine Being?

In my latest reading of Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, James D.G. Dunn argues that New Testament passages that are believed to support the pre-existence of Jesus (that Jesus existed in some form prior to his life as a human) actually do nothing of the sort. 
Philippians 2:5-11, for Dunn, does not say that Jesus was God and became a man.  Rather, it's contrasting Jesus with Adam: Jesus, unlike Adam in Genesis 3, did not try to attain equality with God but rather humbled himself by embracing death.  When II Corinthians 8:9 says that Jesus was rich yet became poor, Dunn does not think that means that Jesus was rich in a pre-existent state.  Rather, for Dunn, Jesus as a human being enjoyed a rich relationship with God, yet he chose separation from God on the cross.  When I Corinthians 10:4 says that the Israelites from the wilderness drank from the spiritual rock, Christ, Dunn believes that is saying that the rock that brought forth water was a type of Christ, from whom Christians drink.  And, when Colossians 1:15-16 presents Jesus as the firstborn of creation, the creator, and one who was before all things, Dunn argues that Paul was using a wisdom song for a purpose: to show that wisdom finds its fulfillment in Jesus.  For Dunn, Paul in Colossians 1:15-16 does not depict Jesus as pre-existent.

I can't say that I find Dunn's exegesis on some of these passages to be overly convincing.  Regarding Philippians 2:5-11, the hymn appears to emphasize that Jesus had a human likeness or appearance.  That tells me that part of his act of humbling himself was becoming a human being (or appearing as a human being).  I Corinthians 10:4 appears to be saying that the Israelites were somehow partaking of Christ in the wilderness.  And Colossians 1:15-16 seems to present Jesus as pre-existent.  Dunn acknowledges that John and Hebrews lean in that direction.  I think he should say the same thing about Colossians.  But his belief that Paul wrote Colossians may influence his exegesis, for he probably does not want for Paul to uphold Jesus' pre-existence in Colossians, when Dunn has argued that a belief in Jesus' pre-existence is late and came a little while after Paul.

Something else that I found interesting in my latest reading: Dunn discusses what some have considered to be hypostases of God----wisdom, the Memra, the angel of the Lord in parts of the Hebrew Bible, etc.  But Dunn does not think that the Hebrew Bible or Judaism depicts these things as independent divine persons.  Rather, for Dunn, wisdom is a personification, the Memra is a way to convey God's nearness without compromising God's transcendence, and the angel of the Lord is God himself.  This stood out to me because there are elements of Messianic Judaism and Christian apologetics towards Jews that try to argue that there are things like the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible and Judaism----that neither saw God as one person alone but rather was open to a God-like being existing with God.  But Dunn argues the opposite.   

Monday, September 24, 2012

Miss Potter

A few nights ago, I was flipping through channels, and I came across the 2006 movie Miss Potter on a Canadian station.  I initially thought that it was a PBS sort of movie, since the characters were rather stiff and formal.  But then some guy who looked like Ewan McGregor with a mustache came on, and the lady playing his sister looked a lot like Emily Watson----with those eyes.  And so I began to wonder if these actors were playing on a PBS movie, or if it wasn't a PBS movie at all but was rather a regular movie.  I wanted to stay up late to watch the rest of the film so that I could see the closing credits and thereby satisfy my curiosity----plus I was finding the movie rather engrossing.  But it was getting late, I had to get up at a decent time the next morning, and I didn't know how much longer the movie would be.  Thus, I taped the rest of the movie so that I could watch it the next day, and I went to bed.

I found out the next day that it was not a PBS movie, and that Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson indeed were on it.  Moreover, I learned that Renee Zellweger was the actress who was playing Beatrix Potter.  I saw her in a preview for another movie earlier that night, and she stood out to me when I saw that preview because I remembered Family Guy portraying her as an anteater (see here and here).  But, when I saw her on Miss Potter, I did not recognize her as Renee Zellweger.

I found the movie engrossing for a variety of reasons----even though I thought that it was a PBS movie, and I ordinarily do not care for PBS dramatizations of the classics (though I love PBS's documentaries!).  First, the movie depicted Beatrix Potter as rather eccentric.  As a child, she told herself stories.  And, as an adult, she did not have many friends, but her friends were her cartoon characters (i.e., Peter Rabbit), and she spent time talking to them.  She did not enjoy finding a suitor or having dull conversations at social functions.  While her formality and her conversations with her cartoon characters could be rather annoying, her eccentricity was also endearing, probably because I often feel that I am a misfit, and thus I tend to root for those types of people to succeed.  And Beatrix Potter did succeed, even though her publishers did not take her work seriously, at first.  Plus, she met a man who appreciated her for who she was----and he himself was somewhat of a misfit.  He didn't have a lot of experience in publishing, and so his brothers assigned him to Beatrix's "bunny stories".  After he tragically died of a sickness, she met another man who appreciated her and her work.

Second, once again, I was rooting for Beatrix to succeed.  She wanted to make a career out of what she loved doing----drawing and coming up with stories.  But her mother did not take Beatrix's work seriously, and her father----while he thought that Beatrix's work was quite good and himself had artistic aspirations that he never pursued due to his other duties----saw her work merely as a hobby until she was actually published.  It was a particularly touching scene when he bought a copy of Beatrix's book, when she could have easily given him a copy for free.  He wanted to honor her as an artist and a writer, and he did so by purchasing her work.  Many of us would like to make a career out of the things that we enjoy doing, and so we can find ourselves identifying with someone else who had that goal and succeeded, notwithstanding setbacks.

Third, the movie had a magical quality, especially when the cartoon characters came to life.  But the movie was sad, as well.  After the man whom she loved died of illness, she turned to her cartoon characters for comfort, and they ran away from her.

Fourth, the movie had its funny moments.  Beatrix was from an upper-class family, and her mother wanted for her to marry within her class.  In one scene, we got to see some of Beatrix's potential suitors.  They were quite funny to watch!

In watching this movie, I actually had to try to remember who Beatrix Potter was.  It's been a long time since I heard the story of Peter Rabbit going into Mr. McGregor's garden!  I mean decades!  I was glad that I watched this movie.  I missed the beginning of it, though, so I ordered it from Netflix.  It's the sort of movie that I can watch again.

Lou Dobbs' "War on the Middle Class" 1

I started Lou Dobbs' 2006 book, War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back.

Here are some items:

1.  On pages 5-6, Lou Dobbs talks about how the Bush II Administration imposed a four-year embargo on White House staffers appearing on Dobbs' show.  The reason?  Dobbs criticized the Bush II Administration for using the term "war on terror" rather than highlighting that the war is against "radical Islamist terrorists".  This stood out to me because I recalled Newt Gingrich arguing that President Barack Obama's Administration boycotted Fox News because it did not like Fox's coverage.  Apparently, Lou Dobbs thinks that George W. Bush's Administration did the same sort of thing to him!  But I'm puzzled as to why the Bush II Administration did that, for I thought that the Bush II Administration publicly acknowledged that the U.S. was at war with radical Islam.

2.  On pages 6-7, Dobbs says that he criticized the U.S. Justice Department for indicting Arthur Andersen's Enron auditing firm rather than Arthur Andersen alone.  Dobbs did so because he was concerned for the "twenty-eight thousand innocent employees" who were put out of work because the entire firm was indicted.  Dobbs notes that the Justice Department later adopted a policy of indicting individuals rather than firms, and that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of the firm.

3.  On page 14, the book has a moving passage about how not all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were from the elite.  Some of them were, but there were others who were millworkers and small businessmen.

4.  On page 19, Dobbs criticizes legislation to "roll back the estate tax", a tax that affects hardly two percent of Americans and brings in over $20 billion annually in taxes.  According to Dobbs, rolling this tax back will result in higher tax rates for "you"----which I take to be the middle class.  There is debate about who has a greater tax burden, the rich or the middle class.  Many conservatives have argued that the rich pay a lot of taxes, whereas there are many others in America who pay no federal income taxes.  But there are people on the left who contend that the rich pay less taxes as a percentage of their income than do the middle class.

5.  On page 20, Dobbs says that "less than a third of the richest people in the United States started out their lives in the middle or lower classes on the economic scale" (page 20).  For Dobbs, there is not much economic mobility in the U.S. these days.  And Dobbs thinks that a significant part of the problem is free trade policies, putting U.S. workers into competition with poorer workers in the world, tax cuts resulting in less funding for education, and lack of government concern about health care.  And, like Arianna Huffington, Dobbs criticizes the bankruptcy law, which robs middle-class people of the refuge of bankruptcy.

Dobbs says that free trade policies are "for the benefit of U.S. multinationals that remain uncompetitive in the global marketplace", but I wish that he'd explain how the multinationals are uncompetitive yet are benefiting.  I thought the problem was that we could not compete with cheaper foreign labor.  Maybe Dobbs will explain later in the book.

Dunn's Christological Model of Development

I started James D.G. Dunn's 1980 book, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  Dunn is looking for the origins of the doctrine of the incarnation, the notion that God became flesh in the person of Jesus.

Dunn does not think that the doctrine of the incarnation originated with Paul because Paul in Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was designated to be the Son of God at his resurrection, which (for Dunn) means that Paul thought Jesus became Son of God at that time.  This sort of message also appears in Acts, Dunn maintains.  Dunn does not appear to believe that Paul thought Jesus was pre-existent.  In my reading so far, Dunn does not interact with Philippians 2:5-11 and II Corinthians 8:9, passages that seem to support the notion that Jesus was a pre-existent being who became human, but Dunn may do so later in the book.  Dunn does, however, address Galatians 4:4 (which says that Jesus was made of a woman) and Romans 8:3 (which says that God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh), but Dunn does not think these passages support pre-existence, but rather highlight that the Savior has a solidarity with human beings as he redeems them from their condition: like human beings, Jesus was made of a woman and under the law and has the likeness of sinful flesh.

Dunn does not think that the doctrine of the incarnation originated with the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Matthew, either.  Neither talks about Jesus' pre-existence, according to Dunn, and each presents Jesus as becoming the Son of God at different points: Mark depicts it as occurring at Jesus' baptism, and Matthew at Jesus' birth to a virgin.  Dunn does not believe that passages about Jesus coming or being sent relate to a notion that Jesus pre-existed.  Rather, Dunn argues, prophets (and others) came and were sent by God for certain purposes, without being pre-existent, and that's what is occurring with Jesus when he came or was sent (see here for a response to that sort of argument).  Dunn also does not think that the title "Son of Man" indicates that Jesus was believed in Mark and Matthew to be pre-existent, for the notion that the Son of Man is a heavenly Messiah is in the Similitudes of Enoch, which Dunn believes came after the synoptic Gospels because it appears to interact with them, in some manner.

Dunn believes that Hebrews moves a little in the direction of Jesus being pre-existent.  Dunn does not think it's a full-fledged concept in Hebrews, however, but rather that Hebrews is drawing from Platonism.  Dunn also argues that Hebrews, in addition to employing Platonist ideas, sometimes depicts Jesus as becoming the Son of God at his resurrection.  Dunn is open to the notion that what we see in Hebrews is an idealized pre-existence, the idea that Jesus pre-existed in the sense that he was in the thoughts and plans of God from the beginning, not in the sense that he was an actual pre-existent being.  But Dunn settles on the idea that Hebrews depicts Jesus as actually pre-existent.  (UPDATE: Dunn later in the book appears to backtrack from this position.)

For Dunn, the Johannine writings have more of a concept of Jesus' pre-existence.  But, as Dunn notes, John was late.  And, because such a concept does not appear in Paul, Mark, and Matthew, Dunn believes that it is a result of John's reflections on the significance of Jesus, rather than something that goes back to Jesus himself.  (UPDATE: Later in the book, Dunn says that John 1 may be using an earlier hymn.  Dunn also appears to argue that I John does not support Christ's pre-existence, but was somewhat of a transition to that view.)  Regarding Jesus' own Christology, Dunn appears to think that Jesus thought his relationship with God was special, but Dunn does not seem to believe that Jesus saw himself as God incarnate.

This was essentially the model of Christological development that I got at DePauw University.  So why read Dunn, if I've already encountered his concepts before?  Well, he does have a good discussion about the idea of the Son of God in the Greco-Roman world, as people claimed to be divine, and yet Celsus dogmatically proclaimed that "no god or son of god either came or will come down to earth" (Origen, Contra Celsum V.2).  There are also other interesting side-discussions.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


At church this morning, the pastor talked about service.  Jesus' disciples debated amongst themselves about who was the greatest, but Jesus taught them that the greatest is the one who serves.

It's a basic of Christianity.  And yet, I need to be reminded of it over and over, and over.  My attitude is often "What's in it for me?", or I resent when things don't go my way.  But Jesus exhorts me to serve. 

My pastor said that we should do things for other people.  There is a sense in which that's easier said than done.  Not everyone in the world wants my help.  In some cases, someone else may be better equipped to do something than I am.  But, in my opinion, service can be an attitude, not always a grand project.  It can include me clicking "like" on something that someone writes to show my support.  It can entail me opening doors for people.  At meal times, I can offer to bring people something if they need it.  The idea is for me to think of someone outside of myself, more often than I do.

But does that mean that I should excuse myself from grand projects?  You know, I'm not going to beat myself up for not doing them, but maybe there are times for me to rise up to the challenge.  If the church needs help with some project, for example, what would be wrong with me volunteering?  It's something for me to keep somewhere in my mind.

Agreeing with Democratic Substance, but Not Talking Points

I thought that ABC This Week was especially good this morning.  See here for the transcript. 

Ann Coulter, in my opinion, made a good point when she said that Mitt Romney in his remarks to that fundraiser was not saying that he would not care about the 47 percent who pay no federal income taxes were he to become President, but rather that he is not concerned about whether they vote for him in the election.  They're for Obama.  In the same way that President Obama is not trying to get the tea-party vote, so Mitt Romney is not obsessing over winning those who will most likely vote for Obama.  His message of cutting income taxes will not appeal to those who pay no income taxes.

That makes sense to me.  In fact, I was thinking the same thing earlier this week.  Of course, Mitt Romney believes that his policies will help all of the United States.  But, as an election strategy, he is not worrying about the 47 percent that he believes will vote for Barack Obama.

Still, that doesn't let Mitt Romney off the hook, in my eyes.  I found his remarks about the 47 percent to be deeply insulting and lacking in insight.  He said that the 47 percent think that they're entitled to government handouts and that he'll never convince them to take responsibility for their own lives.  As Romney's critics have pointed out, this 47 percent includes a vast number of people who work, along with senior citizens.  In many cases, they pay a higher tax burden in terms of the percentage of taxes that they pay than Mitt Romney.  I cannot vote for someone who actually believes in the right-wing canard that people are economically struggling because they don't take responsibility for their own lives.  They take a lot of responsibility for their lives, each and every day.

I had a similarly mixed reaction to what Reince Priebus of the Republican National Committee said this morning.  Priebus said that people should stop attacking Romney's lately-released tax return, for Romney has donated a lot of money to charity.  Fair enough.  But I hated it when Priebus said the following:

"What type of America do we want for this country? Do we want the cradle-to-grave, life of Julia, Obamacare, we'll take care of you from preschool to death America? Or do we want sort of a return to, you know, opportunity, liberty, freedom, you know, the type of America where, when I grew up here in Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin, that, you know, my dad would point to a house as a union electrician, a nice house, and say, 'You know what, guy? If you go to school and you work hard, you're going to live in that house.'"

But why does it have to be either/or?  Why can't the government helping people with healthcare coexist with people being free and having opportunities to create businesses and pursue their dreams?  People worrying about medical bills and costs doesn't make them overly free, it seems to me.  

I don't buy into every single Democratic talking-point.  But the Republican vision for America scares me, and that's why I'll be voting Democratic.  The question is, am I willing to allow Democratic characterizations of Mitt Romney to slide, even if they're not completely fair or accurate, just because they'll help the side I support to score votes?  I doubt that Mitt Romney is an evil man, for he has helped people, and Bain Capital did some good things----such as saving businesses when they were struggling.  I don't think it's accurate to characterize Romney as cold or as evil.  And yet, I fear that he has attitudes about government and personal responsibility that would be deleterious to myself and to others were he to occupy the White House.    

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 8

I finished Arianna Huffington's Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream.  I thought that the book was good in that it told the stories of people who are economically struggling, highlighted political and economic corruption, and had inspiring stories about individuals who are trying to be a part of the solution----people who cope with their unemployment by serving others, social networks helping people to find employment, etc.  Arianna calls for empathy, and I agree with her that this is important.  I also appreciated her outside-of-the-box thinking, as she did not consistently fit into the left-wing box and was open to a variety of ideas.  I wish that the book did a better job, however, in showing how government policies have contributed to the decline of the middle class.  That's why I plan to read Lou Dobb's 2006 book, War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 7

In my latest reading of Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, Arianna Huffington discusses ways that the government can create or facilitate the creation of jobs: establishing jobs to refurbish parks (among other things), tax credits for small businesses, attracting foreign talent to the United States, setting up banks to encourage green energy, etc.

What I particularly liked in my latest reading, however, was Arianna's discussion of what private individuals can do to prevent the U.S. from becoming Third World America.  For one, she says that people should put their money in their local community banks or credit unions rather than big banks.  She refers to a movement that she and others launched (Move Your Money) that did precisely that.  One way to stand against banks that are too big to fail is, well, to put you money in smaller banks!  Moreover, Arianna states that many credit unions do not aim to "maximize short-term profits" for the reason that they are not owned by shareholders, and so they tend to avoid "risky subprime loans", "offer lower fees and higher interest rates on savings", and hold home mortgages themselves rather than slicing them up for Wall Street (pages 203-204).

Second, Arianna mentions, a company that gives affordable financial advice.  It helps people to save and steers them toward mortgages and credit cards with good rates----so that you're not signing a mortgage or agreeing to a credit card that looks good at first, before the rates are significantly jacked up!  As Arianna notes, because HelloWallet is independent of banks, users of its services are getting "unbiased guidance", with the result that banks can be held accountable as people make informed decisions.

I am more of a liberal nowadays, but one reason that I became a conservative years ago is that I preferred private ways to deal with problems over big government.  Now, I'm not for the government sitting back and letting nature run its course, but I still think it's cool when the private sector works to make things better.  In my opinion, making things better should be something that all of us try to do----in the public and also the private sectors.

Psalm 95

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 95.

Vv 1-5 exhort the people to worship God with joy and thanksgiving, for God is above all gods, possesses the earth's hills and depths, and created the seas and dry lands.  Vv 6-11 focus more on Israel: God is Israel's maker and shepherd, and Israel should hear God's voice rather than hardening her heart and testing God like the Israelites did in the wilderness, with the result that they did not enter God's rest, which is probably the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 12:9).  Some scholars believe that two psalms were combined into one to create Psalm 95.  Whether or not that's true, I agree with Peter Enns and others that what ties the two sections together is the statement in v 6 that God is "our maker"----the creator of Israel.  The first section presents God as the creator of the sea and the dry land, the second section focuses on Israel, and v 6 bridges the two sections by affirming that God is the one who created Israel.  God not only made nature, but God also made God's people.

At first sight, saying that the God of all of nature is the God of a specific nation turns me off.  Nature is so big, and Israel is so small.  Similarly, I am often revolted by the notion that the God who made the entire universe can be summed up in a couple of religions that emerged in Palestine, as if they have a monopoly in communicating who God is and what God does.  Shouldn't God be bigger than that, especially when there are so many people in the world who are not Christians? 

But perhaps one can incorporate biblical ideas into a notion that God presides over the vastness of the cosmos and humanity.  While there are parts of the Hebrew Bible that appear to be rather exclusivist and nationalistic (Deuteronomy 23; perhaps parts of Ezekiel), there are also many parts that present Israel as a nation that teaches other peoples about God (Deuteronomy 4:6; I Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 49:6; Zechariah 8:23) and brings blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:3).  The peoples learn about God as they consider the wisdom of Israel's laws and see God's activity on behalf of Israel----both when God punishes her, and also when God saves her.  Regarding Christianity, Romans 8:21-22 talks about all of creation groaning, and yet God will deliver it from bondage and corruption.

But, just looking at Psalm 95 itself, why does the Psalmist talk about God's supremacy as lord and creator, before discussing God's relationship with Israel and her failure to heed God in the past?  Perhaps the idea is that Israel was wrong to complain before God and to doubt God's plan for her and God's ability to take care of her, for God's status as lord of all and as creator means that God is fully able to sustain God's people.  Praise of who God is, not ungrateful complaining, should be what characterizes the people of God.  I realize that people can get irritable and discontent.  I know that I do.  The Psalmist did a bunch of times!  So did Job and Jeremiah and Moses.  But I hope I do not get to the point where all I do is complain.  Somewhere within me, there should be gratitude.  Somewhere within me, I believe, there should be an appreciation of God's attributes and greatness, and a degree of trust in God's care for me.  I don't want to be like people in hell, as C.S. Lewis characterized them: having continuously bitter thoughts and not being able to turn them off.  Perhaps praise of God and listening to God's voice can counterbalance that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 6

I have two items for my write-up today on Arianna Huffington's Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream.

1.  Arianna advocates campaign finance reform as a way to address the impending problem of a Third World America.  She mentions Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware, a bold critic of Wall Street.  Why was he so bold?  Arianna offers two reasons.  First, Kaufman did not get his post through election, for he was appointed to replace Joe Biden when Biden became Vice-President.  Second, Kaufman did not intend to run for re-election.  Consequently, Kaufman did not have to appease special interests to get money for an election campaign.

I agree with Arianna that campaign finance reform is important, but I also think that Arianna could have done a better job in detailing how special interests' influence on government has hurt the middle class.  She refers to the bankruptcy law that was passed during George W. Bush's Administration, a law that credit-card companies supported that (according to critics) was oppressive towards people who were in debt (and Arianna notes that some people these days actually have to use their credit-cards for necessities).  And she made a brief reference to Democratic ex-Senator Tom Daschle's job with an insurance company, which (according to her) seeks to hinder health care reform.  These are important points, but I wish I saw more examples in Arianna's book of how the influence of special interests undermines the middle class.  Arianna focuses a lot on the recent economic crisis and how lax oversight led to that, so perhaps she feels that's an example.  Perhaps it is, but, as she notes, the undermining of the middle class occurred before the economic crisis.  Perhaps to get what I want to know, I should read Lou Dobb's War on the Middle Class, which was written prior to the economic crisis.

2.  I've remarked before that Arianna sometimes breaks out of the left-wing box that some may put her in.  She especially did that in my latest reading, in which she endorsed school choice.  Arianna's proposal is for the government to give parents money so that they can send their kids to the school of their choice, and the schools would have to be approved by the government.  She compares this educational policy to the Canadian health care system, in which people see private doctors of their choice, and the government pays for their treatment.  That was pretty cool: appeal to something that conservatives hate and that many progressives love (the Canadian health care system) to promote an idea that (on some level) is touted primarily by conservatives.

Job's Growth

I finished Kathryn Schifferdecker's Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job.  In this post, I'll use as my starting-point something that Schifferdecker says on page 125:

"...according to the divine speeches, the order God establishes in creation is neither what the friends believed it was, nor what Job in his despair feared it was.  The world is not a safe place, but it is indeed an ordered one.  Forces of chaos and wildness are given a place in the world, but they are also given boundaries so that they cannot overwhelm it.  There is a tension inherent in such a vision of the cosmos, a tension familiar from the psalms of lament.  Job must acknowledge God's sovereignty; but he also must live with the knowledge that God's sovereignty does not exclude forces indifferent toward, and even dangerous to, humanity.  Job must submit to God and learn to live in the untamed, dangerous, but stunningly beautiful world that is God's creation."

Eliphaz envisioned a world in which human beings were at peace with the natural order, as those who are obedient towards God are blessed.  Job, by contrast, believed that God allowed evil-doers to roam freely while afflicting him for his few sins.  According to the divine speeches, neither one was right.  Contra Eliphaz, humans are not exactly at peace with the natural world, for the natural world is a scary, unsafe place, with wild animals.  Contra Job, God is not asleep when it comes to chaos or evildoers, for God limits chaos as well as the opportunities of evildoers to commit sin (i.e., according to the divine speeches, God sends the dawn to stop the evildoers, perhaps because people commit evil at night).  Moreover, according to the divine speeches, God is not preoccupied with human beings but loves all of God's creation, as untamed as it is.

Perhaps the most profound feature of Schifferdecker's book is her description of how Job grows through his encounter with the divine.  At the beginning of the book, Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his children in case they cursed God in their hearts.  Job was trying to control his circumstances----to make sure that God would not strike his kids dead.  At the end of the book, by contrast, the focus is on the beauty of Job's daughters and how Job provided them with an inheritance.  Job is no longer trying to control reality by preventing doom from falling on his children, but he's appreciating the beauty of his daughters and providing them with freedom (presumably through the inheritance).  According to Schifferdecker, Job has learned from the divine speeches the value of appreciating God's creation and of freedom, which God allows to those God has made.  Job is not seeking to control things but is letting God be God, as Job enjoys life.

Another point that Schifferdecker makes is that Job's friends talked about God, whereas Job talked to God.  There was a Touched by an Angel episode with a similar theme.  See here.  A released convict likes to talk about God and religion, but he's baffled when he experiences problems.  His parole officer Andrew asks him, "When was the last time you stopped talking about God, and started talking to God."  There's a difference between the two.  Talking about God can entail being a know-it-all trying to instruct other people.  Talking to God involves more of a relationship with God and also reflects humility, as one comes to God with his or her needs, or to hear what God has to say.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 5

My latest reading of Arianna Huffington's Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream was rather discouraging, for it concerned the influence of special interests on the government.

According to Arianna, while the media may portray debates over legislation as dramatic conflicts over the public good, the sad fact is that, if legislation made it far enough to be debated, the lobbyists had their hands in it beforehand, making sure that there were enough loopholes for them to get by with what they do.  Moreover, Arianna discusses how the monetary penalties on unsafe mines and on certain polluters are far from tough, for they are not much money, in light of what the mines and the polluters make.  The problem, for Arianna, is not that there aren't enough regulatory bureaucrats, but rather that the actual oversight is not adequate.  Arianna also talks about the chummy relationship between the government and special interests, as well as the revolving door between the government and lobbies.  And, sad to say, both Democrats and Republicans are at fault, according to Arianna.

Arianna's discussion reminded me of something that I read not long ago.  I was watching the first Presidential debate in 1996 between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, and both were touting the Kennedy-Kassebaum law as a significant step in reforming health care.  The law essentially allowed people to keep their health insurance if they lost or changed jobs, and it also addressed the issue of pre-existing conditions.  I wondered what happened to Kennedy-Kassebaum, for people still lose their health insurance when they lose or change their jobs, and how insurance companies treat people with pre-existing conditions was an issue even after Kennedy-Kassebaum.  According to Mike Lux's post on OpenLeft, the law had loopholes.  Lux argues that, if the health insurance industry accepts a certain law, then that's a fairly reliable indication that the law will not bring about reform.  True reform would make the insurance companies kick and scream!  

So is there any hope?  Some would say that we should not expect much out of this carnal political system but should wait for Jesus to come back and set things right.  But there are countries with health care systems that work, systems that are (in my opinion) more humanitarian that what the U.S. has.  Could we move towards their kind of system?  I don't know.  The special interests are strong in the United States.  Moreover, some of these other countries got the system that they have now by necessity----Howard Dean says that Great Britain, for example, decided to have government-funded health care in the aftermath of World War II, as people needed to be treated, and it stuck with that system ever since.  We don't have that history, however.  Rather, in our history, Harry Truman proposed national health insurance, and it was killed.  But there have been some glimmers of hope, such as Medicare, which emerged because private health insurance companies were not sufficiently taking care of the elderly (see here).

There's More Out There Than Human Beings!

I started Kathryn Schifferdecker's Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job.

Schifferdecker is addressing the question of how the divine speeches in the Book of Job relate to other elements of the book, such as the Satan's affliction of Job and the speeches of Job and his friends.  As Schifferdecker notes, interpreters have offered different solutions: that the divine speeches are about how God will defeat Satan (Leviathan), which concerns Job's situation because of the affliction that Job had experienced at the hands of Satan; that God is rebuking Job's criticism of God by affirming that God knows more than Job does; etc.

Schifferdecker looks to creation theology in the Book of Job in her own attempt to show how the divine speeches relate to the rest of the book.  According to Schifferdecker, Job's three friends, Job, and even Elihu (whom many scholars think was added later) hold that God is primarily concerned about human beings.  But God in the divine speeches talks about a variety of other animals and says that God even sends rain where there is no human habitation.  For Schifferdecker, the reason is that God is showing Job, who is quite self-involved as he reflects on his own sufferings, that there is a wider world out there, which is of concern to God.  Schifferdecker states that Eliphaz in the Book of Job, like Psalm 104 and Second Isaiah, envisioned a harmony between human beings and the rest of the world.  But the divine speeches in the Book of Job have another perspective, Schifferdecker contends, for they do not present human beings as necessarily safe in God's creation.

For Schifferdecker, the divine speeches are responding to elements of the other speeches in the book.  Eliphaz and Bildad maintained that God was too good for God's creation and that aspects of God's creation were impure in God's sight, but God in the divine speeches affirms God's love for creation.  Job thought that God singled human beings out by nitpicking them for their sins and punishing them, but God in the divine speeches shows that God is not preoccupied with human beings.  Job wonders why God took his (Job's) children even as God allows the wicked to procreate, but God responds to this by presenting procreation as a wonderful feature of the natural world. Moreover, while Job presented a reversal of creation as he cursed the day of his own birth (and interacted with P in doing so), God counteracts Job's curse.

I think that Schifferdecker is on to something.  I also believe, though, that part of what's going on in the divine speeches is that God is telling Job that God knows more than he does.  (UPDATE: Schifferdecker says this later in the book.) As Schifferdecker notes, there are interpreters who find God's response to Job to be rather cold.  I'm not sure yet if Schifferdecker's scenario presents God as less cold.  Here Job is suffering, and God, rather than comforting Job, gives Job a nature lesson and says that God cares for much more than human beings.  If I were to pick an interpretation of the divine speeches that would view them as an attempt to comfort Job, it would be the classical view that God is telling Job that God will defeat Satan.  But that may not be what the divine speeches are actually saying.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 4

I'm still reading Arianna Huffington's Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream.  What impressed me in my latest reading was that Arianna was not chained to a particular ideology.  Although she is believed to be on the Left, she said some things that would resonate with a number of conservatives: that the federal government botched up Katrina, and that the teachers' unions inhibit educational progress.  But she also criticized President Barack Obama from a liberal perspective, contending that only a minority of the stimulus money goes to infrastructure, which can create jobs and is badly needed.

Universalism (or a Second Chance) in Revelation?

I finished G.K. Beale's The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text.  There are many things that I can discuss in my final post (for the time being) on this book, but I want to focus on universalism, the idea that all people will be saved.

Beale does not agree with the universalist argument that, in Revelation 20, the gates of the new Jerusalem are open so that the unsaved ones in hell can enter the city and become saved.  Beale appeals to Revelation 22:11, which says (in the KJV): "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still."  For Beale, that passage means that there will come a time when it is too late to repent.
I also note Revelation 21:27: "And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither [whatsoever] worketh abomination, or [maketh] a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."

But will there be opportunities to be written in the Book of Life during the new heavens and the new earth?  Revelation 20:12-15 say the following: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

I know some Armstrongites (or former Armstrongites) who argue that this passage is about people being written into the Book of Life during the new heavens and the new earth.  In this view, the Book of Life is being opened so that new names can be put into it.  People are being judged in the sense that they are living in a society that is ruled by God, or in that they are being given a fresh opportunity to live the right way and are being judged according to their actions for a period of time.  But I don't see that in this passage, to tell you the truth.  What it seems to me to say is that we have the last judgment and people are being judged according to how they lived their lives in the past and whether their names are in the Book of Life.  The Book of Life, in short, is being opened so that the judge can see whose name is in it, not to add more names to it.  And those whose names are not in it are cast into the Lake of Fire. 
Beale, in interpreting Revelation 20:12-15, refers to Daniel 7:10, where the opening of the books corresponds with judgment and precedes the destruction of the little horn and the rule of the Son of Man.  (But, for some reason, v 12 says that the lives of the rest of the beasts will be "prolonged for a season and time".  So, while the books being opened in Daniel 7 has something to do with final judgment, apparently the end of the other beasts is not immediate.)

I once heard Herbert Armstrong appeal to Revelation 22:17 to say that there will be opportunities for salvation in the new heavens and the new earth.  The passage says: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."  Herbert was saying that we do not currently live in a time when "Whosoever will may come" applies, for only those God calls are saved.  But Herbert affirmed that "Whosoever will may come" will apply in the new heavens and the new earth, as the resurrected are given a chance to accept God's way of life.

I don't think that Revelation 22:17 necessarily relates to the new heavens and the new earth, however.  Rather, it seems to be God's exhortation to those hearing the words of the Book of Revelation right now: to drink freely of the water of life.  Come to think of it, I don't really believe that Revelation 22:11 ("He that is unjust, let him be unjust still...") is about people in hell during the time of the new heavens and the new earth having no opportunities for repentance or salvation.  Rather, the passage seems to correspond with one of the interpretations that Beale presents (but does not really accept): the time of the end is soon, so there's really no time to repent.

So I'm not particularly convinced, at least right now, by attempts to see universalism in the Book of Revelation.  But I may do well to look at universalist interpretations of the passages I cited, to see how those passages are handled.

I would like to offer a couple of final thoughts in this post.  First of all, regarding Revelation 22:11, there are times in the Bible when God gets frustrated and says things that he doesn't really mean.  I write about that in my post here.  God in Judges 10:13-16 says that he will deliver Israel no more, but we know that God after this point does deliver Israel.  God is moved by their repentance, and perhaps also by his love for them.  Perhaps God in Revelation 22:11 is not saying that there will come a time when it will be too late to repent, but is rather saying in the heat of frustration something like, "Do you want to wallow in your filth?  Then go right ahead!"  But does God really want for people to continue to wallow in their filth?  I doubt it.  But God says all sorts of extreme things when he's frustrated.

Second, as Beale notes, God in the prophetic writings hardens Israel so that Israel will be destroyed while a remnant will be preserved.  My impression is that God destroys Israel to build her back up again----on a new foundation of righteousness.  That tells me that God often has a redemptive purpose even behind the hardening and destruction that he does.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's It Have to Do with Me?

Even though my sermon is over and done with, I have another post about preaching within me!

I remember reading something by Pastor John MacArthur about preaching.  (I'll be relying on my memory of what I read, and that may be flawed, so please keep that in mind!)  MacArthur said that many pastors tell him that they try to make their sermons 50 percent theology, and 50 percent application (ways to apply Christianity to one's daily life).  But MacArthur stated that he does not have that sort of approach; rather, he believes that theology itself is applicable to people's everyday lives.

In a sense, I can see MacArthur's point.  In my sermon on Job this last Sunday, I presented God as someone who loved God's creation.  That was a theological assertion.  I suppose that I could have come up with specific points about how people can apply that concept to their daily lives, but (at least in this area) I didn't think it was really necessary.  People can apply this concept to their lives when they walk out of the service and regard God as one who loves God's creation (including them), and relate to this God accordingly.  The application is essentially, "Now go ye therefore with this conception of God in your mind."

But things are not always that simple, for there are a number of theological concepts----or concepts related to biblical interpretation----whose applicability is not readily apparent, and so the preacher may have to bring them down to earth and detail possible ways that people can apply them.  I'll use myself as an example.  A long time ago, I delivered a sermon about Deuteronomy 23, which bans the offspring of illegitimate sexual unions, men with their privates crushed or cut off, Ammonites, and Moabites from God's assembly.  I went into how the Book of Ruth and Isaiah 56 appear to offer a different vision, but I may have mentioned that Nehemiah 13 holds fast to the more exclusive vision of Deuteronomy 23.  My overall point, though, was that the New Testament includes all people.

This is all information that interests me, for it's an excellent test-case of the diversity that exists within the Bible.  And yet, I can picture people in the congregation thinking to themselves, "Okay, this is all interesting, but what's if have to do with me?"  My overall point in the sermon was that God now includes all people, and so we should go out and witness, but couldn't I have made that point without going into Deuteronomy 23, Ruth, Isaiah 56, and Nehemiah 13?  Perhaps, but I really wanted to talk about those texts, as they're a favorite topic of mine!  Maybe what I should have done was to probe the issue of exclusion----how there may have been justifiable reasons for God to exclude certain people from the assembly, in the same way that we all deserve exclusion from God's presence on account of our sins.  And yet, how wonderful it is when the excluded are finally included!  And perhaps they appreciate their inclusion even more after they've been excluded.  This is an evangelical, Luther-like----maybe even a Spurgeon-esque----message, and some of you may have problems with that.  (It doesn't set entirely right with me, either, to be honest!)  But my point is that I should have done a better job in bringing the biblical texts down to earth for my audience----so that they could see ways that the texts could relate to them.

Another sermon that I gave a while back was shortly before Thanksgiving.  Essentially, I gave a little history lesson about how God was with the Pilgrims, protecting them and their mission and sending them rain and Squanto the Native American, and I lamented that America has departed from her godly roots.  This was an interesting history lesson----some of it was probably true, and some of it may have been thenomist propaganda.  But I should have brought it down to earth for my congregation----showing them what lessons they themselves could take from it.  After I spoke, the pastor was reaching for some way to apply my sermon, and he told the congregation that people who immigrate to the U.S. from Caribbean countries (much of the congregation was from the Caribbean) should not just come here and enjoy the blessings of America, but they should remember their families, who are still in the Caribbean.  And the associate pastor told me that one way I could have brought my message down to earth was to say that, if we follow God and try to do God's will, God will help us by making crooked paths straight.  (He probably didn't intend that as an absolute, in a prosperity Gospel sense, but his point was most likely that God will open doors for us to serve God, if we are willing, and will help us in our service.)

I think that some preachers can preach their theology, and their theological points are easy to apply, without them having to include in their sermons specific application points.  I, however, am the sort of person who may have to have 50 percent theology and 50 percent application in my sermon, for I need to work at bringing my information down to earth so that people don't leave the service saying to themselves, "Well, that was interesting, but what's it have to do with me?"

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 3

In my latest reading of Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, Arianna Huffington tells more heart-breaking stories of people who have lost their homes or their jobs, and she also criticizes politicians.

Arianna is considered to be left-wing, and yet she criticizes both Republicans and also Democrats.  Regarding the economic crisis, she notes that both parties were involved in encouraging home sales to those who could not afford a house.  Many Democrats supported Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and George W. Bush and many Republicans sought to remove barriers to home-ownership in order to promote an ownership society.  Arianna also holds that Barack Obama displayed weak leadership when he supported a federal bail-out of banks and Wall Street, but did not rigorously work for a way for people who lost their homes to renegotiate their mortgages (and, according to Arianna, not everyone who lost their homes did so due to signing a sub-prime mortgage).

Arianna does note, however, that Obama tried to reverse the Contract with America's limitations on the Legal Services Corporation, "to no avail" (page 72).  Homeowners were limited in their ability to be protected from predatory lenders because they could not bring class-action lawsuits or make the other side pay for their attorney's fees if the other side lost----and that was important because the other side could then drag out the legal proceedings, thereby exhausting the homeowners' resources.  Arianna may believe that both sides are detached and more attuned to special interests than to the middle class, but she seems to hold that the Democrats are a little better than the Republicans.

Beale's Amillennialism Contra N.T. Wright

My latest reading of G.K. Beale's The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text was interesting because Beale made an argument that essentially undercuts N.T. Wright's defense of Jesus' resurrection, which has become popular in evangelical circles. 

N.T. Wright's argument (as I understand it) is that the resurrection in ancient Judaism was believed to be physical, and so, when the early Christians proclaimed that Christ was risen, they meant that he rose bodily.  That excludes the possibility that Jesus' body was still in the tomb when the early Christians said that Christ was risen.  In this view, the early Christians could not have hallucinated an apparition or ghost of Jesus and called that a resurrection, for resurrection in ancient Judaism was not the soul or spirit existing apart from the body.  Rather, for some reason, the early Christians held that Jesus rose bodily, and, for Wright, the reason is that Jesus did rise bodily.  Wright's argumentation is probably consistent with classical Christian apologists' emphasis on the empty tomb as physical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.  See here for my summary of the debate.

A while back, I was talking with skeptic Steven Carr about Jesus' resurrection.  (Click here to read some of those posts.)  Carr was arguing that early Christians could have believed that Jesus rose from the dead, even if Jesus' body was still in the ground.  Carr's position essentially robs early Christianity of any physical evidence for Jesus' resurrection, for the disciples could have seen a hallucination of Jesus and claimed that Jesus was risen from the dead.  Carr referred to an example of this conception of resurrection in ancient Judaism: Josephus said that the Pharisees thought that the souls of the righteous leave the physical body and go to heaven to receive a new body.  But some retort that Josephus was not accurately conveying the views of the Pharisees but was seeking to appease his Gentile audience, which disdained physicality and the concept of a physical, bodily resurrection.

Where Beale comes into my discussion is that Beale argues that resurrection in ancient Judaism could be defined as entering the intermediate state between death and the resurrection at the last day.  Consequently, one can go to heaven or some intermediate state, and that could be considered a resurrection.  Beale refers to passages in Jubilees, II Maccabees, IV Maccabees, and others.  Jubilees 23:27-31, for example, says that the godly for "one thousand in joy and...will rise up and see great peace...and their bones will rest in the earth, and their spirits will have much joy" (Beale's quotation).

Why is Beale arguing this?  Beale, as I discussed in my last post on his book, is an amillennialist.  He believes that the millennium exists throughout the church age, as the dead saints reign in heaven with Christ.  The thing is, Revelation 20 says that the millennium commences with the first resurrection, as these dead saints rise from the dead.  But the saints did not undergo a bodily resurrection, according to many amillennialists, for Revelation 20 is about the souls or disembodied spirits of the righteous reigning with Christ in heaven.  Consequently, to justify his amillennial position, Beale has to argue that a disembodied spirit going to heaven can count as a resurrection.  In his attempt to defend amillennialism, Beale makes an argument that appears to contradict the view of N.T. Wright.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Arianna Huffington's Third World America 2

In my latest reading of Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Undermining the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, Arianna Huffington described the problem of the declining middle-class and tried to explain how we got to this situation.

I think that she did a good job in describing the problem, as she put into words people's fears, cited statistics, and told people's stories.  Essentially, she painted a picture of children not making as much as their parents, of the elderly having to choose between food and their medication, and of people having to work at Walmart and McDonalds for minimum wage.  She also talked about the shenanigans of companies that set up their headquarters overseas so that they can dodge unemployment insurance and taxes for Social Security and Medicare, thereby screwing their workers.   

But, at least in what I have read so far, Arianna could have done a better job in explaining how we got to this point.  She believes that Ronald Reagan's tax cuts for the rich were a big part of the problem, and she argues that the 1980's was a time when the wages of the middle-class became stagnant, even as the rich became richer.  She does not agree with Reagan undermining the social safety net, and she also holds that the increasing trust in free-market capitalism during the 1980's was problematic.  But I wish that she explained more explicitly how exactly Reagan's policies led to a stagnation of wages.  I'm not saying that they didn't, but I'd like to see the steps from "Reagan's policies" to "the stagnation of wages".  Maybe she'll get more into that as the book progresses.

On page 53, Arianna discusses such 1980's phenomena as the polarization of labor into high and low-paying jobs at the expense of middle-wage jobs, technological changes, outsourcing, and the decline in manufacturing.  She says that productivity was rising, but "the wages of the average worker remained flat" (page 53).  Arianna appears to differ here from Mitt Romney, who holds that productivity leads to a better standard of living for many Americans.  According to Arianna, that is not necessarily the case, at least for the average worker.

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