Saturday, November 30, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 16

On page 371 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about President Richard Nixon's belief that the U.S. Government under President John F. Kennedy was complicit in the overthrow of President Diem of South Vietnam, and that this deepened American involvement in Vietnam.  President Nixon in a press conference said that this was why he would not use any leverage to get rid of President Thieu of South Vietnam, stating that the overthrow of Thieu would result in coup after coup (and, based on what Nixon says in No More Vietnams, this is because Nixon feared that Thieu would be replaced by weaker leaders, as Diem was after his assassination).  Reeves goes on to narrate:

"The President thought he had raised the question and could sit back and let the press do the investigating.  But nothing happened outside the White House.  Inside, Hunt, on orders from Colson, had collected 240 cables between Washington and Saigon in October and November of 1963----Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were killed by officers of their own army on November 1, 1963----but was unable to find one showing any kind of direct order from Kennedy.  So, using a razor blade to cut out words, and some paste, then photocopying his handiwork, he fabricated a cable, dated October 29, 1963, to the American embassy in Saigon.  The phony cable read: 'At highest level meeting today, decision reluctantly made that neither you nor Harkin should intervene in behalf of Diem or Nhu in event they seek asylum."

In his 1980 book, The Real War, Nixon stated on page 113, when discussing the coup that ended Diem’s life, that “Charges that the U.S. government was directly involved may be untrue and unfair.”  Nixon goes on to say, however, that the Kennedy Administration “greased the skids for Diem’s downfall and did nothing to prevent his murder.”

In his 1985 book, No More Vietnams, however, Nixon manifests a stronger belief that the evidence shows U.S. Government complicity in the overthrow of Diem (though Nixon says that Kennedy was surprised that Diem was murdered, as if a coup would not lead to a murder).  Nixon makes this argument on pages 175-179.  Here are some documents that Nixon quotes:

August 24, 1983 telegram (approved by President Kennedy) from Averell Harriman, Roger Hillsman, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Undersecretary of State George Ball to U.S. ambassador in South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge (who, in the 1960 Presidential election, was Richard Nixon's running mate): "We wish [to] give Diem reasonable opportunity to remove [his brother] Nhu, but if he remains obdurate, then we are prepared to accept the obvious implication that we can no longer support Diem.  You may tell appropriate military commanders we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown [of the] central government mechanism."  The telegram recommended that Lodge "urgently examine all possible alternative leadership and make detailed plans as to how we might bring about Diem's replacement if this should become necessary."

Nixon quotes a cable from Lodge to Rusk saying: "We are launched on a course from which there is no turning back: the overthrow of the Diem government...The chance of bringing off a Generals' coup depends on them to some extent; but it depends at least as much on us."  Nixon goes on to say that Rusk told Lodge to cut off aid to Diem when Lodge chose and to do what he could to "enhance the chances of a successful coup" (Rusk's alleged words), and that Rusk instructed the leader of the American military mission in Saigon to form a liaison with leaders of the coup.

Nixon quotes Nguyen Huu Tho of the National Liberation Front saying about the coup, "The Americans have managed to do what we couldn't do for nine years."

Nixon also talks about snubs that the Kennedy Administration made against Diem, the CIA cutting off support for special forces in South Vietnam, and Kennedy's statement in a televised interview that South Vietnam "needed changes in policy and 'perhaps' in personnel" (Nixon's words).

Unfortunately, Nixon does not provide footnotes----he just narrates.  Moreover, a question that I have is why Hunt felt a need to fabricate a document linking elements of the Kennedy Administration with the coup that overthrew Diem, when Nixon claims to be referring to a telegram and a cable demonstrating that such was the case.  Did Hunt miss that documentation when he was accessing and looking at the 240 cables that Reeves talks about?  Perhaps one could argue that Hunt did not find anything linking Kennedy personally with the coup, and, yes, the stuff Nixon quotes largely appears to be from high-ranking people in Kennedy's Administration, rather than Kennedy himself.  But, if what Nixon says is correct, Kennedy approved the telegram to Lodge and implied his desire for a change in South Vietnamese leadership in a television interview.

Psalm 136

Psalm 136:10 states in the King James Version (which is in the public domain): "To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever..."

Jimmy Swaggart tries to argue that God's smiting of the Egyptian firstborn was a case of God's mercy towards the Egyptians: that God was doing this drastic deed to encourage the Egyptians to repent.  Swaggart notes that God could have smitten the Egyptians in one swoop, but he contends that God acted as God did to encourage the Egyptians to repent.  I heard Tim Keller say something similar, not specifically in reference to Psalm 136:10, but rather concerning the Exodus.

Do I buy this?  Well, on the issue of Psalm 136:10, I am not convinced by Swaggart's view that the verse concerns God's mercy towards the Egyptians.  I think that the verse is saying that God's smiting of the Egyptians, Israel's oppressors, was a case of God's mercy (lovingkindness, or covenant obligation) towards Israel.  Psalm 136:15, after all, refers to God's overthrow of the Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds) as an example of God's mercy.  I doubt that God was showing those Egyptians any kindness when he was overthrowing them in the sea, since God was killing them in that case, not giving them a chance to repent.  The point in v 15, I think, is that God was demonstrating kindness, or covenant obligation, to Israel by protecting her from and defeating her enemies.

What about the claim that the Exodus was a case of God trying to encourage the Egyptians to repent, of God demonstrating love even to the Egyptians?  I don't know.  I don't find that explicitly in the Exodus story.  Exodus 9:14-16 states: "For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth.  For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth."  And, after the death of the Egyptian firstborn, the Pharaoh does ask Moses for a blessing, which may indicate that the Pharaoh now acknowledges the power of Israel's God (Exodus 12:32).  But did God in the Exodus story have some missionary motivation behind the Exodus, a desire to bring the Egyptians into a relationship with him, or to encourage the Egyptians to worship him as God on a permanent basis?  I'm not sure.  Maybe what we see in the Exodus story is some nationalistic message that the God of Israel is supreme, and God is rubbing Egypt's nose in that, without really expecting Egypt or encouraging Egypt to enter into a relationship with him.

But back to Psalm 136.  Psalm 136:25 states: "Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever."  My Peake's commentary says that this verse "sounds strange in a Ps. which exults in the slaughter of the heathen----but it is easier to admit an inconsistency than to limit 'all flesh' to all Jews."  The commentary addresses the tension between nationalism and universalism, in reference to Psalm 136.

Friday, November 29, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 15

On  page 301 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves tells the following story:

"On February 3, Nixon canceled an NSC meeting and called in Kissinger, Haldeman, Mitchell, and Connally.  After more than an hour, the President went into the small study off the Oval Office and stripped to his underwear, listening to the others as his chiropractor, Dr. Kenneth Riland, manipulated and massaged his back.  Then he came back into the discussion wearing only underpants and sat down, telling Kissinger and Haldeman to issue the order: phase two, the ARVN invasion, was 'Go.'"


Thursday, November 28, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 14

On page 456 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about a night during President Richard Nixon's trip to China when Nixon "could not get to sleep, he was too keyed up."

I've had that sort of experience in the past.  No, I never opened up relations with Red China, but there have been times when my mind was rushing at night in a sort of inertia, and thus I had problems getting to sleep.
On nights when I have given a speech that was well-received, or have challenged a speaker with my questions, my mind continues to rush with me thinking about what else I could have said.  It's like me being enamored with the sound of my own voice, only it's in my head.
It doesn't take me long to come back down to earth, though.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 13

On page 422 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves comments on Richard Nixon's approach to criticism:

"The President's defensiveness was a personal thing, a measure of his extraordinary introversion.  In fact, Richard Nixon was a man closed to critics but open to criticism----as long as it was private and only on paper."

I can somewhat identify with this.  I'd definitely prefer to be criticized in private rather than in front of people.  On whether I prefer to be criticized on paper or in person, it depends on the criticism, I suppose.  I admit that I am sensitive to criticism, but there are some forms of criticism that are less painful to me than others.  I realize, after all, that I am not perfect, and that there are many things that I can do better.  Constructive, informed criticism that is not mocking of me or extremely insulting is what I prefer when it comes to criticism.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Write-Up: Biblical Hermeneutics, Five Views

Stanley E. Porter and Beth Stovell, ed.  Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views.  Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2012.

I would like to thank Intervarsity Press for my review copy of this book.

As the title indicates, this view contains five views on biblical hermeneutics, which pertains to how one should interpret the Bible.

Craig L. Blomberg defends a Historical-Critical/Grammatical approach, which seeks to understand what the authors of biblical documents were saying to their audience within their original historical context.  F. Scott Spencer advocates for a Literary/Postmodern view, one that looks more at the final form of the text rather than the  stages preceding the text’s final form.  This approach highlights such issues as the portrayal of characters, plot, and the ways that a certain biblical text could be read in dialogue with another biblical text.  Merold Westphal’s contribution to the book is an explanation of his Philosophical/Theological view.  Westphal discusses how we all have different perspectives when reading a text, and he also stresses the importance of uncovering, not just what the biblical texts meant within their original historical contexts, but what they mean today.  Echoing Nicholas Wolterstorff, Westphal contends that God can use the biblical texts to instruct the church, even if that instruction may depart from the texts’ original meaning.  Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. presents a Redemptive/Historical View, which affirms that the entire Bible is about redemption through Christ.  And Robert W. Wall explains his Canonical View, which highlights the importance of Christian community in interpreting and applying biblical texts, while also stressing the significance of the canon.  Wall sees significance in the order of the New Testament books, for example, and he believes that this, not only the texts’ original meaning, can instruct Christians.

With the exception of Merold Westphal, these contributors employ their approach to interpret Matthew 2:7-15, which contains a story about Herod and the Magi, as well as Matthew’s seemingly odd interpretation of Hosea 11:1.  Matthew applies a passage about Israel’s Exodus from Egypt to the child Jesus’ departure from Egypt after Mary and Joseph took him there to escape from King Herod’s wrath.  Craig L. Blomberg, using his Historical-Critical/Grammatical method, states that Mary and Joseph most likely fled to a Diaspora Jewish community in Egypt.  Blomberg also sees typology in Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1: that, just as Israel’s departure from Egypt preceded the Old Covenant at Mount Sinai, so does Jesus’ departure from Egypt precede the New Covenant.  F. Scott Spencer, using his Literary/Postmodern approach, reads Matthew’s story alongside the Exodus, noting that, whereas in the Exodus the Israelites were leaving an oppressive regime in Egypt to go to Israel, in Matthew 2 two Israelites are fleeing to Egypt to escape from an oppressive ruler in Israel.  Spencer also makes fun of the Magis’ supposed wisdom, contending that they should not have been so quick to trust King Herod, since they should have known that Herod would have opposed any new Messiah as a competitor for his throne.  Spencer later in the book says that Christians can critically dialogue with this aspect of the plot to ask themselves to what extent their own devotion to Jesus “resists and/or reinforces the powers that exist in our world” (page 159).  Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. attempts to argue that Matthew’s interpretation of Hosea 11:1 is consistent with Hosea 11:1′s original meaning, since the Book of Hosea was about Israel’s departure from exile, to which Jesus’ Messiahship would be pertinent.  And Robert W. Wall uses typology to explain Matthew’s interpretation of Hosea 11:1, contending that Jesus in Matthew was a liberator from sin, as the Exodus was a liberation of the ancient Israelites from bondage.  Wall also addresses the possible significance of the Gospel of Matthew coming before Mark’s Gospel, saying that Matthew connects the New Testament with the Old Testament’s story and hopes.

On some level, there is overlap among the five approaches.  Blomberg seems to use a literary approach in his explanation of Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1.  Spencer’s literary/postmodern method does not dismiss the importance of authorial intent, plus Spencer’s interpretations of Matthew 2:7-15 are arguably relevant to the history of first century Palestine.  And Westphal, Gaffin, and Wall do not say that the history behind the text or the text’s original meaning is unimportant.  One might think that we do not have to choose just one approach to interpreting the Bible, for all complement each other and yield valuable insights.
It is in the second part of the book that the fissures among the approaches are more apparent, however.  In this part, the contributors respond to one another.  Blomberg questions Spencer’s claim that Matthew and Hosea are in dialogue, saying that, while Matthew may be interpreting Hosea, Hosea is not engaging in any dialogue with Matthew, for the Book of Hosea and its concerns preceded the Gospel of Matthew chronologically.  Blomberg also disagrees with Wall’s implication that the shape of the canon is somehow authoritative for Christians, contending that we should look at each biblical book in itself (rather than its place in the canon) to see what it means for Christians authoritatively.  Spencer highlights the limitations of the historical-critical method, and Westphal questions whether Blomberg’s Historical-Critical/Grammatical approach sufficiently demonstrates how the biblical writings can be applied to Christians today, not just to their original historical settings.  Gaffin criticizes many historical-critical approaches to the biblical texts because he believes that they privilege human reasoning above God, and he disagrees with Wall’s canonical approach because he thinks that it exalts the church’s canon above Scripture itself.

A prominent concern in this book is how we can interpret the biblical text without allowing it to mean anything we desire.  Are there any boundaries or limitations that should guide our interpretation of biblical texts?  Blomberg seems to think that we should stick with the historical-critical method (or at least prioritize it) because otherwise we have anarchy.  Spencer tries to argue that the text itself can set limits on what our interpretations can be.  Unfortunately, while Westphal makes interesting points about how something said to one group may mean something different to another group, he did not appear to offer firm criteria for how Christians are to apply the biblical writings beyond their original contexts.  And Wall emphasized the importance of Christian community, but communities can interpret the Bible in damaging ways, so I think that there should be standards of biblical interpretation to which communities are subject.

In terms of my own impressions, I tend to side with Blomberg’s approach, for I believe in trying to read the writings of the Hebrew Bible on their own terms, rather than in light of later Christian beliefs.  I am not sure if I would go so far as to say that we’re in complete interpretive anarchy if we depart from looking for the text’s original, historical meaning, for I agree with Spencer that the text itself can set limits, and that we can get useful things out of the text, even if we are not entirely able to recover everything that the author originally meant.  And yet, I sympathize with Blomberg’s approach because I am tired of how a number of conservative Christians act as if their Westernized, Christocentric ways of reading the Hebrew Bible are so obvious and authoritative.  Do I believe that there is a way to be faithful to the biblical writings’ historical, contextual meanings, while also allowing the biblical writings to speak to subsequent contexts, even to us today?  That is a challenging question, but I do not think that it is impossible to get insight, application, and relevance from texts speaking to a different historical contexts.  There are some overlaps between people now and people then, and we can be inspired by the moral deeds of people in the past, or we can learn from their misdeeds.

While my sympathy is largely with Blomberg, I tend to believe that it would make more sense for evangelicals to hold Gaffin’s Redemptive/Historical view, since that presents the Bible as having a unified Christian message, and also there are passages in the New Testament about people in Old Testament times knowing something about God’s plan.  As Blomberg astutely notes in his response to Gaffin, however, we are never told in the New Testament what or how much the Old Testament figures knew about the coming Christ, nor are we told in the New Testament that all of the Old Testament writings were about Christ.

I have to admit, though, that Spencer’s contribution to this book was definitely my favorite.  He showed how people can read the Bible in rich ways.  Spencer also seemed to be saying that the Gospel of Matthew has political implications, that it is not just about Jesus rescuing people from sin, but that it relates to societal issues as well.  Overall, I wish that all of the contributors went into more detail about this particular topic.  Gaffin, for example, argued that Matthew was echoing Hosea’s theme of Israel being liberated from exile, but I wish that he had gone into more detail about what liberation from exile meant for Matthew.

Good book!

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 12

On pages 378-379 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about the issue of I.Q.  Reeves quotes a memo to President Richard Nixon by Pat Buchanan, which was attached to an article by Richard Herrnstein in the Atlantic Monthly.  Herrnstein's article argued that heredity, not environment, determined a person's intelligence.  Buchanan sought to apply this idea to debates regarding racial integration:

"Every study we have shows blacks 15 I.Q. point below whites on average....If there is no refutation, then it seems to me that a lot of what we are doing in terms of integration of blacks and whites----but even more so, poor and well-to-do----is likely to result in accommodation than it is in perpetual friction----as the incapable are placed consciously by government side-by-side with the capable."

Pat Moynihan, who advised President Nixon on matters of domestic policy, had different advice.  Moynihan stated:

"It seems to me essential for you to proceed on the assumption that the scientists have not proved their case....Herrnstein is probably right that the world's work is done by persons of talent, but the world is kept together by the decency of quite ordinary people...."

Nixon denied the existence of inherent equality.  Actually, Reeves states that Nixon told him in a 1982 two-hour conversation that he (Nixon) believed that Asians were intellectually superior to Caucasians, and Caucasians were intellectually superior to blacks.  But Nixon ended up agreeing with Moynihan on how to respond to the Herrnstein article.  Nixon said: "It's clear that everybody is not equal, but we must ensure that anybody might go to the top."

Here are some thoughts:

1.  On the issue of I.Q. and race, I linked in my post here to a column by African-American conservative Thomas Sowell arguing that I.Q. is not based on race.  Sowell cites examples of African-Americans doing better on I.Q. tests than whites.  Moreover, others have argued that I.Q. tests are culturally biased.

2.  I disagree with the notion that one racial group is superior to another racial group, but I still appreciate a point that Moynihan made: that even people with average I.Q.s can contribute to society.  It wouldn't be that good of a society if only those with high I.Q.s could make contributions, while everyone else was deprived of opportunity.  It's a better society if everyone is involved and makes a contribution.

3.  I think that Buchanan's comment is sad.  Buchanan is a mix, in my opinion.  On the one hand, you find tragic comments like the one in that memo.  On the other hand, I read him in another memo encouraging Nixon in 1968 to reach out to African-Americans.  Buchanan has also expressed admiration for African-Americans' religiosity, and he has argued that free trade is bad because it takes away jobs from African-Americans.

4.  Overall, at least in my reading thus far, Reeves' portrayal of President Nixon's record on civil rights is not particularly glowing.  Reeves quotes racist things that Nixon allegedly said.  He cites a memo in which Nixon shamelessly advocated criticizing judicial activism with a wink-wink to the South.  He talks about segregationists whom Nixon wanted to appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court, including the attorney who "represented Little Rock in its 1957 efforts to maintain segregated schools" (page 382).  Reeves treats Nixon's Philadelphia Plan to increase African-American employment in construction as an attempt by Nixon to "deflect criticism on racial matters" (page 376).  And yet, there are times when President Nixon listens to progressive advice.  On one occasion, Nixon listened to Vice-President Spiro Agnew on the issue of housing.  (UPDATE: In Nixonland, however, Rick Perlstein says that Agnew argued that the cuts Nixon was thinking about would hurt white suburbanites.) And Nixon agreed with Moynihan's advice to ignore the Herrnstein article.

Monday, November 25, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 11

On page 321 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves quotes President Richard Nixon's negative reaction to a White House Correspondents Association dinner:

"Every one of the recipients was receiving an award for a vicious attack on the Administration----Carswell, wiretapping, Army surveillance, etc.  I had to sit there for 20 minutes while the drunken audience laughed in derision as the award citations were read....The dinner, as a whole, was probably the worst of its type I have attended....I don't want any of our naive staff members to give you any impression that as a result of my going there and sitting through three hours of pure boredom and insults, I thereby proved I was the 'good sport' and thereby may have softened some of the press attitude towards the President.  On the contrary, the type of people who are in the press corps have nothing but contempt for those who get down to their level and who accept such treatment without striking back.  That's one of the reasons they have some respect for [Vice-President Spiro] Agnew [who spoke against the media.]"

That quote of Nixon inspires me to ask a question: When should one stand up for oneself, and when does doing so make a person look humorless, insecure, and whiny?  There are times when standing up for oneself can earn respect, but there are times when it might not.  What should Nixon have done at that White House Correspondents Dinner, as people were being awarded for scathing pieces about his Administration, in his very presence?  That would be pretty awkward, wouldn't it?

Book Write-Up: Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?, by Gerald R. McDermott

Gerald R. McDermott.  Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?: Jesus, Revelation & Religious Traditions.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000.

I would like to thank Intervarsity Press for my review copy of this book.

Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?  Professor Gerald R. McDermott answers yes.  McDermott sees examples in Scripture of God using concepts or people from non-Israelite religions to teach God’s people.  There is Abraham’s equation of the Canaanite god of Melchizedek with his own God, the ancient Israelite appropriation of the Canaanite god El, the way that God functioned as Abraham’s personal deity (a type of deity that was common in ancient Mesopotamia), and Jesus’ appeal to certain Gentiles as exemplars of faith.  McDermott looks at church history, noting times when concepts in non-Christian religions helped notorious Christian thinkers through intellectual snags, providing them with resources to arrive at reasonable explanations for puzzles in the Christian faith.  McDermott also discusses how concepts from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam can instruct evangelical Christians, as they highlight to evangelicals elements of Christianity that might be neglected, teach evangelicals a new way to understand and apply their tradition, or demonstrate piety and devotion to evangelicals.

Another significant feature of this book is that McDermott interacts with the question of how God might be involved in world religions.  McDermott notes that non-Christian religions have concepts that overlap with Christianity, and McDermott believes that God is somehow behind that, revealing himself to non-Christians.  Why doesn’t God provide people in non-Christian religions with a fuller revelation, rather than just dropping some concepts here-and-there that overlap with Christianity?  McDermott notes that there are times when God does provide a number of people with a revelation that is incomplete: Jesus, for example, spoke to the multitudes in parables, while offering fuller explanations to his disciples; ancient Israel had a conception of God that was incomplete, at least in comparison with the revelation in Jesus Christ.  According to McDermott, God may be using “veils to protect His pearls from being trampled by swine” (page 102), or God may be basing his level of revelation on where people are spiritually.  God may not want to reveal grace fully to some cultures, preferring instead to allow them to be in a system of salvation by works so that they can learn human inability.  McDermott also refers extensively to Jonathan Edwards, who offered reasons that God put Israel through a system of animal sacrifices rather than revealing to them grace through Jesus Christ at the outset: so that ancient Israelites could learn respect for God’s law and the necessity for atonement, whereas ancient Israelites might take God’s mercy for granted had they been permitted at that time simply to flee to God’s mercy.  Similarly, McDermott contends, God has reasons for giving an incomplete revelation of himself within non-Christian religions.

Does God reveal bits and pieces about himself within world religions to bring non-Christians to salvation?  McDermott says a couple of times that his focus in this book is revelation within world religions, not the question of whether or not non-Christians can be saved within those religions.  But McDermott does say on page 103 that “some of the religions may be providential preparations for future peoples to receive the full revelation of God in Christ” (page 103).  Whether or not McDermott believes that people in non-Christian religions can be saved with the light that God gives them, or that non-Christian religions can provide the soil for non-Christians in the afterlife to receive salvation through Jesus Christ, McDermott does appear to maintain that God’s incomplete revelation of himself in non-Christian religions may have a salvific purpose: that God could be setting the stage for future generations to receive Christ.

On some level, I have encountered the sorts of arguments that McDermott presents in other sources.  C.S. Lewis stated in his chapter “Nice People or New Men” in Mere Christianity that “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.”  (Not that McDermott explicitly believes that those non-Christians are saved, for he does not take a position on that in this book, but C.S. Lewis, like McDermott, talks about people in world religions responding to Christian-like themes within their own religions.)  David Marshall’s books talk about areas in which world religions overlap with Christianity.  Ron Dart, a preacher I listened to growing up, said that the sacrificial system within the Old Testament was designed to reinforce to ancient Israelites that they needed a substitutionary death to atone for their sins.  (I don’t know if I agree with Dart on this, for I don’t think there is evidence that the animals were expiating sin by dying in place of the sinners, but I don’t want to get too deeply into that topic here.)  Paul Knitter and William Placher discuss what Christians can learn from non-Christian religions, and how non-Christian religions can deepen Christians’ appreciation of themes within the Christian faith.

I cannot say, however, that McDermott’s book was boring to me, or that it was a “Been there, done that” sort of book, as far as I was concerned.  I learned from McDermott’s book about the differences between fundamentalism and evangelicalism (since I, as one who is rather liberal, tend to conflate the two), and the significance of the filoque (the idea that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) to the question of whether God is involved in other religions.  I also found McDermott’s discussion of practical ways that world religions can teach evangelicals to be quite edifying.  As one who is insecure about whether people like me or not, I especially appreciated McDermott’s discussion of how certain Asian religions address what attitude one should have when one is disliked.

I was recently telling my Mom that McDermott’s book is actually one of the best books about theology that I have read as of late.  (I distinguish theology from biblical studies.)  I have been reading more liberal theologians, and their language is often dense, plus I wonder where exactly they are going with their arguments, if anywhere.  McDermott, however, managed to be deep and scholarly, and yet lucid and practical.  While some of his abstract discussions were not exactly neat (since, well, conceptualizing things accurately with all of the exceptions to the rule can be a difficult task), I did appreciate that he provided examples from church history of the sort of thing that he was talking about: Christians learning from other religions.

Do I have any disagreements with McDermott’s arguments in this book?  Well, I have questions that are rooted in some of my own outlook.  I tend to gravitate towards the historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible—-a method that interprets the biblical writings in light of their own historical contexts.  I believe that there are areas in which the historical-critical method overlaps with and diverges from McDermott’s approach.  Where the two overlap is that both essentially acknowledge that biblical religions have been influenced by other religions.  (Well, some scholars would minimize that influence, but my impression is that many biblical scholars acknowledge it.)  Where the two diverge is that historical criticism would say that we should attempt to understand the Hebrew Bible in light of its ancient Near Eastern context, while denying that we can understand it in reference to early Christianity, Asian religions, Neo-Platonism, or Islam.  My impression is that historical criticism would also treat the biblical writings as rather static—-that they meant something to their original authors and audiences, within their historical context, and that is their meaning—-whereas McDermott presents a more dynamic process in which the Spirit supposedly highlights fresh implications to the biblical writings and brings the church to newer understandings (without contradicting earlier orthodoxy).  A historical critical reading, to use an example, would probably say that the Hebrew Bible was okay with slavery, and that’s that, whereas McDermott argues that the Spirit brought the church to the realization that slavery was wrong.  McDermott also apparently disagrees with how historical criticism highlights tension within the Bible, for he believes that the Bible has a coherent narrative.

I wouldn’t exactly say that McDermott should have devoted a section to the topic of historical criticism, but I do believe that the topic is relevant to the sorts of issues that he is discussing.  How can we justify hermeneutical approaches that go beyond the historical-critical method, as McDermott's approach seems to do?  On what basis can we justify interpretations of the biblical text that don’t limit themselves to the text’s original, historical meaning?  Reader response?  Intertextuality?  McDermott's approach is arguably rather intertextual in that McDermott, as a reader, juxtaposes the Bible with the teachings of other religions, allowing the latter to influence his understanding of the former.  But, in contrast to many reader response and intertextual approaches, McDermott does not seem to locate interpretive authority in the reader, but rather he appears to believe that the Spirit helps people to interpret the text as God desires.  I find that approach rather subjective, but I do admit that McDermott's intertextuality does generate interesting thoughts.

I also question whether McDermott should be so quick to dismiss the tension within Scripture (if I am correct that he does that).  Perhaps biblical diversity has the same theological significance that McDermott sees in the existence of diverse religions throughout the world: that God is interacting with people in different ways, based on where they are.

That said, this is an excellent book.  Click here for information that Intervarsity Press provides about it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thankful for Spiritual Blessings

At church this morning, one theme that I heard was the importance of being thankful, not just for material blessings, but also for spiritual blessings.

I thought back to when I was living in New York City.  I would listen to a radio program on Sunday mornings that could probably be characterized as hyper-dispensationalist.  Its message was that we were in the dispensation of grace.  Whereas Jesus taught that God would not forgive those who did not forgive others, the current dispensation (promoted by Paul, the apostle of grace) says that we forgive others because God has already forgiven us.  We have God’s grace, it cannot be lost, and that then motivates us to forgive others.  The hyper-dispensationalist radio program taught that some of the things that Jesus said were for another dispensation, whereas Christians today are to follow Paul’s teaching that one is saved by accepting God’s free grace in Christ.

I enjoyed listening to this program for a variety of reasons.  It was upbeat.  It highlighted the diversity of Scripture.  And it presented a God of grace for whom I longed.  I had long struggled with Jesus’ teaching that God would not forgive me if I didn’t forgive others, for I had a difficult time putting away my grudges.  I also felt unable to obey Jesus’ commandments about love for others, since I was introvert, and also because, well, I did not like people!  I wasn’t looking for a God who would excuse my sinfulness, mind you, but I wanted to know that God loved and accepted me, as imperfect as I was.  The Christianity that I so often encountered in my own reading of the Bible focused on obedience, commandments, and God’s wrath, and I was wondering if there was a way to find in the Bible a nicer God who accepted me.  That would make it easier for me to love others, I thought!

Well, near Thanksgiving Day one year, I was listening to the radio program, and the speaker on it was talking about being thankful to God for spiritual blessings.  These spiritual blessings included being saved by grace, salvation being permanent (meaning one cannot lose it), being accepted by God, and having eternal life and the hope of a glorious future.  We have been given so much, the message went, and thanksgiving was a proper response to that!  Moreover, the speaker was saying that being thankful for God’s grace can help us to have a good attitude during the challenges of each day.  If we are cut off in traffic, the speaker said, we don’t have to get too upset about that, for we are saved by grace: God accepts us and loves us, and has a wonderful future for us.

I had a hard time being thankful for spiritual blessings because I was not sure that I even had them.  I did not know if God loved me or rejected me on account of my sins.  I didn’t know if I was repentant enough to get God’s favor.  I didn’t know if I had eternal life.

I remember this incident with some fondness because listening to that radio program presented me with the sort of spirituality that I wanted.  How are things with me nowadays?  Well, I’m not sure how much of the Bible is true, or if Christianity is even true.  Maybe I will some day find an understanding of Christianity that makes sense to me and bears fruit in my life.  I don’t have the extreme spiritual insecurity that I once had, I will tell you that, but that’s not because I accept a hyper-dispensationalist reading of Scripture, or a free grace, once-saved-always-saved reading.  Rather, I just accept that God is loving, and that a loving God would care for everyone.  If God is the source of our moral laws, then God probably follows them himself.  That’s what I figure.

Anyway, I’ll stop here.

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 10

On page 307 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves states:

"[President Richard Nixon] ordered Admiral Moorer to have Calley released from the stockade at Fort Brenning and allowed to live in his apartment at the base, given the freedom of the base, while the trial and verdict were under appeal.  When he hung up the phone, he said, 'That's the only place where they say, 'Yes, Sir,' instead of 'Yes, but...''"

The context here is the trial of Lt. William Calley, who was on trial for the My Lai massacre, in which American soldiers in Vietnam massacred unarmed Vietnamese civilians, including elderly people, women, and children.  Nixon pushed for Calley to be moved from the stockade to his apartment during the appeal of Calley's trial.

While I have reservations about Nixon's decision in this case, I somewhat identify with how he liked the military because it told him "Yes, Sir" rather than "Yes, but..."  I myself don't like being questioned and nitpicked all of the time.  Yet, come to think of it, there are plenty of times when I don't mind questioning and nitpicking others!  But, sometimes, I would just like things to be simple, without someone coming along and muddying the waters.

But maybe this was a case in which someone should have said to Nixon "Yes, but" rather than "Yes sir."  Come to think of it, the American soldiers in My Lai would have done well to tell Calley "Yes, but", or even "no."  There are times when we need confrontation.  But there are also times when a decision has to be made, even if it's imperfect, when "Yes, but" has to come to an end and we have to make a decision about what we will do.  And then there are times when a decision has been made, and we may choose not to obey the authorities because we believe they are asking us to do something immoral.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 9

On page 287 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves states:

"If that deficit spending would entice more private spending, by both corporations and consumers, then the Republican president was now ready to buy into the pump-priming theories of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist, patron saint of liberal economists and big-spending politicians.  But that did not change the fact that most of the men around him were still conservatives who had always seen inflation as the true devil."

When I read this, I thought about the West Wing episodes, "Memorial Day" (from Season 5) and "NSF Thurmont" (from Season 6).  In these episodes, President Jed Bartlett and his Chief-of-Staff, Leo McGarry, are on different pages on how to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In Bartlett's earlier days in the White House, Leo was his mentor when it came to foreign policy, for President Bartlett was not as experienced in that field.  By the end of Season 5, however, President Bartlett had his own ideas about the Middle East, and Leo recognized that it may have come to the point where President Bartlett might not value his counsel, for the two of them were on different pages.

This reportedly occurs in real life, too.  President George W. Bush supposedly relied on Vice-President Dick Cheney's counsel on foreign policy in the early days of his Administration, but it got to the point where the two of them diverged.  Cheney supported strikes on Syria, for example, whereas President Bush did not.  I've even read talk that Bush was briefly considering replacing Cheney with Senator Bill Frist!  On certain issues, Bush and Cheney were on different pages.

I read an article recently about how Christians become apostates (non-Christians).  One factor that the author mentioned is that the Christians surround themselves with non-believers, such as atheists or non-Christian Jews.  That may be a contributing factor, but I think that there are many cases in which it's the other way around: that a person becomes uncomfortable with the Christian faith, due to intellectual doubts or other factors, and that person then finds that he or she does not quite fit into the Christian community anymore.  That person then seeks out people who are on the same page.

Psalm 135

Psalm 135:7 includes the statement that God "maketh lightnings for the rain" (KJV).  What does that mean?  In what sense is lightning "for" the rain?  Does lightning facilitate the rain, somehow?

In reading various interpreters, I saw that some actually argued that lightning serves the rain by naturally facilitating it.  John Gill says that lightning breaks up the clouds, allowing rain to pour.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his Treasury of David, quotes Edwin Sidney, who stated in 1866:

"When the electrical clouds are much agitated, the rain generally falls heavily...As the electricity is dissipated by the frequent discharges the cloud condenses and there comes a sudden and heavy rain..."

Whether or not that is scientifically-accurate, I have no idea.  I know little about weather.  I did, however, read an interesting New York Times article by C. Claiborne Ray, entitled "The Angry Skies".  This article explains how thunderstorms occur, as well as their benefit.  The article states:

"When water vapor condenses into a cloud and rises into colder upper regions of the sky, some of it turns into ice crystals, usually with a positive charge, and some becomes water droplets, usually with a negative charge.  When the charges are strong enough, the electricity is discharged as a bolt of lightning. While some lightning often precedes rain, the main event occurs as a downdraft starts and rain or other precipitation falls. Eventually, the downdraft overcomes the updraft and the storm dissipates, along with the lightning.  Lightning benefits the earth, keeping its electrical charge in balance and generating protective ozone..."

I don't see anything here about lightning facilitating rain.  There are many cases in which lightning comes after rain, rather than before.  Plus, what becomes the lightning and what becomes the rain seem to develop simultaneously, as opposed to the lightning somehow facilitating the rain.

Augustine had another interpretation: that God makes lightning into rain.  Augustine draws from this the lesson that God frightens us, then influences us to rejoice.  Did Augustine believe that God somehow physically transformed lightning into rain?

Keil-Delitzsch refer to a view, which they apparently attribute to Apollinaris, that the lightning serves the rain by announcing it.  The lightning indicates that there is rain, or that rain is coming.  If one wants to see Psalm 135:7 as the product of an ancient mindset, as opposed to interpreting it in light of later science, then perhaps Apollinaris' view is the way to go.

Some say that Psalm 135:7 simply means that lightning accompanies rain.  How would this view interpret the conjunction l- in Psalm 135:7, which often means "to" or "for"?  Well, according to Holladay, the conjunction can also mean "at" or "in", so perhaps that is the way that this view can account for the l-.

Friday, November 22, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 8

On pages 262-263 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about inflation:

"But Nixonomics was shot down by Nixon----and by some bad luck.  The 'Nixon Game Plan,' as it was called in the beginning, was pretty basic Republican economics...The idea was to hold down federal spending while the Federal Reserve Board restricted money supply enough to cut demand enough to raise unemployment enough to moderate wages and prices enough to stabilize inflation."

Well, I suppose that's one way to get wages down: to increase unemployment so that more people are competing for jobs, and employers can then offer lower wages because people will be willing to work for virtually anything.  But that doesn't sound particularly humane.  Of course, the end-goal would be lower inflation, which would allow people to buy more and for their dollars to stretch farther.  Perhaps the idea is that then the economy would pick up, as people took advantage of the lower prices, and employment would go back up.

Of course, Nixon did not follow this policy consistently, for there were times when he favored expanding the money supply to improve the economy, whereas Federal Reserve chairman Arthur Burns favored a more restrictive monetary policy.

Does restricting the money supply and increasing interest rates necessarily lead to lower inflation?  It can, as occurred during Paul Volker's tenure as Federal Reserve chairman.  But perhaps one can also argue that an expanded money supply and lower interest rates can stimulate the economy, result in increased production of goods, and thus enable supply to overtake demand, thereby controlling inflation.  But, then again, what if businesses choose to take advantage of high prices to make money?  Would there be an incentive for them not to produce in such a manner that supply would overtake demand?

Anyway, those are my non-economist economic ramblings for the day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 7

On page 221 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about a time that H.R. Haldeman was waiting for President Richard Nixon.  Nixon had just met with anti-war students at the Lincoln Memorial in the wee hours of the morning, then Nixon went to the Capitol building and talked with some cleaning women.  Haldeman was wondering where Nixon was.  Eventually, Haldeman and some staff were waiting for Nixon outside of the Capitol building, but Nixon was not through with his little adventure.  Nixon wanted to get some breakfast at a place on Connecticut Avenue.  When Nixon found that it was closed, he ate at the Rib Room in the Mayflower Hotel, talking with the waitresses, whom Reeves says were "flabbergasted".

Apparently, according to Reeves, this was not the first time that Haldeman had this sort of experience with Nixon.  Reeves states:

"[Haldeman] had spent many long nights during campaigns walking strange streets looking for candidate Nixon in strange cities.  The candidate would disappear for hours after midnight and Haldeman usually found him huddled in the corner booth of a caf[e], drinking coffee alone."

I loved this passage.  I think that Nixon should have been a little more considerate towards Haldeman, but I can identify with wanting to get out of one's routine to have a little adventure, to be spontaneous, or maybe even to be alone.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 6

On page 196 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves quotes a memo from President Richard Nixon, in which Nixon proposes a way to move young people away from the V-sign, long hair, and marijuana:

"One thing you might lean on is the utter silliness of youth using the V signal.  Point out this is old hat.  After all, this is a relic of Churchill and World War 2....As far as haircuts are concerned, you can really demolish them on this.  Point out that they are 25 to 50 years behind the time.  Old Tom Connally, Mendel Rivers, Senator Clyde Hoey of North Carolina and conservatives like Les Arends today have worn their hair long for the last half a century.  Make it 'out' to wear long hair, smoke pot and go on the needle.  Make it 'in' to indulge in lesser vices, smoking (cigars, preferably non-Castro!) and alcohol in reasonable quantities...."

The stereotype that I get when watching TV shows about the 1970's is that the counterculture wore long hair and smoked marijuana, whereas the Nixon supporters (young and old) wore short hair.  There was probably some truth to this, for Nixon obviously was trying to move more young people in the latter direction!  But what's interesting to me is that Nixon mentions a conservative who wore his hair long.  I don't see that in this picture of Les Arends, but this passage from the book Soldiers Back Home says that Arends wore his hair long, as Arends "moved with the grace and panache of a proud Indian chief."  Why did Arends wear his hair long?  To be like a Native American chief?  Out of a libertarian-like desire to be free and to do his own thing?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 5

On page 186 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about a slight disagreement that President Richard Nixon had with his aide, H.R. Haldeman.  Nixon's approval rating had dropped, and Haldeman suggested that Nixon go on television more so that people would see that Nixon was in charge.  But Nixon did not think that he should go on television when he did not have much to say, but rather that he should show leadership during prominent events.

When I read this, I thought of Jerry Voorhis' complaint in his anti-Nixon book, The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon, that Nixon was on TV too much.  Maybe Nixon was taking Haldeman's advice, at some point, notwithstanding his own reservations!

I also thought about the pressure on people to talk to get noticed.  For a lot of people, this is not pressure, since they love to talk.  I, on the other hand, do not always have things to say, and I do not like feeling pressured to talk to get noticed.  Moreover, as I've complained more than once on this blog, even when I do talk----and (in my mind) talk a great deal----I'm still seen as someone who doesn't talk much, or I get ignored.  So what can I do?

I also thought about the issue of blogging.  Before I started blogging, I was hungering for some way to express myself.  I had read books and had thoughts about them.  The same goes for TV series and movies.  I had political opinions, and I was seeking an outlet for those through letters to the editor, some of which were published, and some of which were not.  Now, six years into blogging, I don't particularly feel like commenting on everything under the sun, or even having an opinion about everything under the sun.  Moreover, there are times when I may have something to say, but who really cares?  I can write and be alone in my opinion, so what's the point in expressing it?

Anyway, those are my insights, mixed with my self-pity!  I'll be turning off the comments because I don't want to read people's snark.

Monday, November 18, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 4

On pages 137-138 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about the children of prominent Nixon White House workers who were protesting against the Vietnam War.  (I mean that the children were protesting, not the workers.)  Reeves states:

"Two of Ehrlichman's children were demonstrating at their schools.  Haldeman's daughter Susan was demonstrating at Stanford in Palo Alto, California, along with Ehrlichman's son Peter.  Vice President Agnew's fourteen-year-old daughter Kim wanted to join the crowds, but he was able to stop her.  William Watts, a Kissinger assistant working on the November 3 speech, came up from his National Security Council office for fresh air and saw his wife and daughter walk by outside the White House fence holding their candles."

This was interesting to me, the same way that the political ideology of Richard Nixon's daughters, Julie and Tricia, has been interesting to me.  By and large, Julie and Tricia stood by their father's Vietnam policy.  But the children of some prominent people within the Nixon White House, such as H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Vice President Spiro Agnew, were against the war.  What was that like: for the children to disagree with their father politically?  Did that disrupt the children's relationship with their father?  Were these children like Patti Davis, one of Ronald Reagan's daughters, who was allegedly resentful of her father's conservatism, and seemed to make no bones about challenging her father in public?

I was not able to do a thorough research project on this question, but I found a couple of things.  This passage from the book Anti-Americanism: Historical Perspectives talks about how disagreement about the Vietnam War was common in a number of conservatives' families.  William F. Buckley, Jr. was defending a hawkish approach to the Vietnam War, but his son Christopher got student deferments from the draft.  Pat Buchanan's brother, Brian, participated in anti-war protests as a Xavier College student.  (Come to think of it, I do recall Pat talking in Right from the Beginning about debates he would have about the Vietnam War at his father's meal-table.)  Susan Haldeman not only protested against the Vietnam War, but that passage states that she actually visited Chile to support its leftist leader, Salvador Allende.

The thing is, though, from what I have read online, it does not seem to me that Susan Haldeman expressed any public hostility towards her father.  Rather, she seemed to be loyal to him.  Her brother Peter wrote, "In the spring, just before my father resigned, a reporter had tracked down my sister at college; the interview ran in a local paper under the headline 'Susie Haldeman Calls Her Father a 'Fun Guy.''"  I recently found H.R. Haldeman's The Ends of Power at a local library giveaway, and, while I did not read all of it, I stumbled upon one part of the book where Haldeman talks affectionately about his children.  He says that they liked the comic strip Doonesbury (which, as you may know, is very left-wing), and H.R. Haldeman requested from its writer, Gary Trudeau, some originals of the strips that made fun of him (H.R. Haldeman), so that Haldeman could frame them.  I realize that H.R. Haldeman would repudiate parts of The Ends of Power and blame them on his co-author, but I'd like to think that this story is true and that he had a good relationship with his children, even though there may have been political disagreements.

Book Write-Up: The Idea of God and Human Freedom, by Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg.  The Idea of God and Human Freedom.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973.

This book is a collection of seven essays by theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg.  I had never read Pannenberg before reading this book, but I heard of him over a decade ago, when I was taking a class on the resurrection of Jesus that was taught by N.T. Wright.  One of the options for our final paper was to write about Wolfhart Pannenberg’s view on Jesus’ resurrection.  I decided to check out The Idea of God and Human Freedom about a month ago because it looked deeper than some of the other theology books on the shelf, and yet it looked somewhat accessible to me, as one who has studied some theology, yet (how can I put this gently?) still has a lot to learn.  Plus, I saw that Pannenberg interacted with the thoughts of Hegel, and I saw this book as an opportunity for me to learn more about that topic.

I found the book difficult to understand.  I can see what the book is trying to do.  It’s trying to do what much of Christian theology in the twentieth century tried to do, and that is to argue that Christianity can have viability, even after the Enlightenment has supposedly undermined its reliability and credibility.  I think that I can identify some of the trends that Pannenberg does not like: he doesn’t like for Christians to retreat from the Enlightenment’s challenges into some individual piety that does not interact with the world.  What does he propose, then?  Well, he seems to me to support finding God within society.  He is for studying philosophy, and he discusses Hegel’s view that religion has a social value to society.

The first essay is about the significance of mythology within the Bible, and Pannenberg discusses this in addressing Rudolph Bultmann’s advocacy for demythologization, which (as I understand it) is looking beyond the myths (i.e., miracle stories, etc.) to find existential lessons within the Bible.  I’m not sure what exactly Pannenberg’s view on demythologization is: Is it that myth is such a significant part of the Bible, that one cannot demythologize the biblical writings?  But his first essay is about myth, whereas the rest of the book addresses the topic of the book’s title: the idea of God and human freedom.

So what does Pannenberg believe about the idea of God and human freedom?  Well, he believes that God is the source of freedom and is consistent with freedom, and he seems to be responding to the Enlightenment notion that religion is authoritarian and restricts freedom.  Moreover, Pannenberg responds to the idea that theism constricts human freedom because it makes God out to be omnipotent and omniscient and thus crowds out human initiative.  I do not entirely know how Pannenberg believes that Christianity is conducive to freedom, or how he is even defining freedom, for that matter.  Is it because the idea that God loves us and will win in the end frees us from having to appease society?  Perhaps that’s part of the picture.  But Pannenberg also makes the point that Christianity has facilitated human attempts to harness nature for human benefit.  Does Pannenberg consider that a good thing?  Is that the sort of freedom that he supports?  That sort of notion has been why some people have criticized Christianity as anti-environmental.  And, personally, while I am not a preservationist, I would like to believe that God cares about all of creation, not just human beings.

I can’t say that I particularly liked this book, but I found Pannenberg’s references to arguments for the existence of God to be rather interesting.  There was concern that certain arguments made God’s existence too contingent on nature, and so some sought to defend God’s existence on the basis of the moral law within human beings (Kant), or God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (Barth).  My impression is that Pannenberg is for treating human anthropology as significant in terms of theology.  Against the notion that we should see God’s revelation in Jesus Christ as God’s sole revelation of himself, Pannenberg seems to argue that God’s revelation in Jesus Christ presupposes theism, rather than claiming to be the basis for believing in it.
Pannenberg also made a profound statement in his essay on eschatology, saying that human perceptions of themselves are in flux, and yet the end of the story can give meaning to the earlier parts of the story.  The idea here may be that we can live our lives in light of the positive outcome that Christian eschatology claims to forecast, and I have heard this before.  But I found Pannenberg’s observations about life being in change and flux to be quite profound, since I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit as of late.

I took a look at wikipedia’s article about Wolfhart Pannenberg to see if I was at least in the ballpark of understanding his thought—-I am aware that wikipedia has its share of critics, but I just wanted to see how someone else conceptualized Pannenberg’s thought.  I did not see anything that overlapped with how I was understanding Pannenberg, but I did find something interesting.  The article states: “This focus on the resurrection as the key to Christ’s identity has led Pannenberg to defend its historicity, stressing the experience of the risen Christ in the history of the early Church rather than the empty tomb.”  This stood out to me on account of my disillusionment with Christian apologetics that focus on the empty tomb.

Maybe I jumped into Pannenberg’s book without the necessary knowledge of his thought, and some of the issues with which he was interacting, particularly freedom.  That’s going to happen when I read books: that I may lack some background information!  But I still congratulate myself on sticking with the book and blogging about it.  I apologize if I have misconstrued anything that Pannenberg was arguing.  I may read some of his other works in the future.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On Listening to Christian Radio

In our church bulletin this morning, there was a flyer for a Christian radio station.  I used to listen to Christian radio a lot.  In the days when I did not have a television, it was what I would do at night or on days when I was home from school, while I was doing my homework.  To be honest, I don't have pleasant memories of listening to Christian radio.  I wouldn't say that my memories are unpleasant, but they're not pleasant, either! 

One reason that I listened to Christian radio was to learn more about the Bible.  But I don't feel that I learned a great deal about the Bible when I was listening to Christian radio.  Rather, I was listening to predictable evangelical spiels that I had heard repeatedly, some of them pretty kooky.

Another reason that I listened to Christian radio was to get inspiration.  The problem here is that Christian radio can be a mix.  Granted, one can listen to an affirming "God loves you" sort of message, or a message that offers practical insights on how to live life.  But one can also hear fear-mongering, legalistic messages.  In many cases, the same preacher can deliver both kinds of messages.  It's like he's using a carrot and a stick, or playing both good cop and bad cop.

The thing is, as I think back to the television shows that I would watch once I got television and watched it while doing my homework, I have largely positive memories.  I would watch The West Wing, Star Trek Voyager, Touched by an Angel, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, and the list goes on.  I see those times as good times.

But, come to think of it, I have some good memories about Christian radio.  It's not so much on account of the preaching on it, though I do have a few good memories of that (i.e., the mornings when I would listen to Nancy DeMoss, before heading off to work).  Rather, I remember how I enjoyed listening to Christian pop music when I was driving to work.  I also remember with fondness Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey, which featured stories.  Maybe I like music and stories rather than pompous, know-it-all evangelical preachers talking at me through my radio! 

In any case, I kept the flyer, but I probably won't go back to listening to Christian radio.  I learn about the Bible from blogs, articles, books, and, well, the Bible itself.  And I get inspiration from books and television shows.  I don't want to go back to eating styrofoam or (worse) raw sewage, which is what listening to Christian radio could be like for me.

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 3

My theme in today's post will be liking and disliking people.

According to more than one book about Richard Nixon that I have read, Nixon did not like the media.  As I read more of Richard Reeves' President Nixon: Alone in the White House, I could see why.  Reeves talks about how a New York Times editorial was quite critical of Nixon for calling the astronauts who landed on the moon, saying that Nixon was wasting their valuable time and was trying to steal glory from the previous Johnson and Kennedy Administrations.  As I read that, I could understand why Nixon hated the media.  I mean, how petty can you get?  Can't the President call astronauts who were doing something historically significant, without being nitpicked for that?

But there were disadvantages to Nixon's dislike for the media, as justifiable as it may have been.  Reeves says that Pat Nixon was disappointed that the media were not doing any personal stories about Nixon, that they did not know about, say, Nixon's sense of humor.  But Reeves said that people in the media were claiming that they wanted access to Nixon, but they were not getting it because Nixon was shutting them out.  How can they do personal stories about Nixon, if they cannot even see Nixon?

What I just now wrote concerned people whom Nixon disliked.  What about people Nixon liked?  In various books that I have read, I see that there were people whom Nixon liked.  Nixon liked his fellows in the Navy and the Southerners with whom he went to law school on account of their patriotism.  He didn't always stay in touch with them, but some have argued that these sorts of attitudes may have shaped his later decisions.  For example, his relationship with the Southerners at Duke Law School convinced him that the South needed to be welcomed back into the union, and that may have influenced his two attempts to appoint Southerners to the Supreme Court.

Where am I going with this?  Well, this information makes me think about whom I like and dislike, and how that affects my relationship with them.  Nixon may have disliked certain elites, while liking the everyday, salt-of-the-earth people.  Are there people I like or dislike?  I think that there are many elderly people who are friendly.  I tend to shy away from my peers, however, since I question whether they are overly accepting.  Often, I wonder if I would have more friends if I actually liked more people.

But, sometimes, it may be necessary to form bridges with people whom one may not particularly like.  Nixon may not have cared for the media, but perhaps the media could have helped him, had he opened up to them more.  Nixon probably had a "screw you" sort of attitude that hindered this, and he might have profited had he seen the media, not as bad, per se, but as people pursuing their own interests, the same way that he could see certain foreign countries, such as the Soviet Union, with whom he dealt constructively.
I could say more, but I'll stop here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 2

A point that Richard Reeves makes a couple of times in President Nixon: Alone in the White House is that Richard Nixon did not like people because he assumed that they were like him, with his deviousness and flaws.  That made me wonder: Do I assume that other people are like me, and, if so, would that explain my dislike for a number of them?

At first, I doubted that I have enough empathy to think about what other people are feeling, and thus I would not really be contemplating whether or not they are like me.  I think that it would be a gross mistake to maintain that I, or anyone with Asperger's syndrome, lacks empathy altogether, for I can sympathize with people when they are going through good or bad times, since I remember how I felt when I was going through similar occasions.  But I was wondering to what extent I sit around wondering what makes other people tick.  There are many occasions when I see myself as a victim of other people, whom I believe are rejecting me, rather than trying to put myself in their shoes.

And yet, as I thought some more, I realized that there is a sense in which I do project my own flaws onto other people.  I'm not the most accepting person in the world, and I tend to project that onto others.  In a sense, I may be right, for many people are rather sparing in terms of their acceptance of others.  But my hunch is that I tend to exaggerate the degree to which that exists in other people.

Psalm 134

Psalm 134 states in the King James Version (which is in the public domain):

1 A Song of degrees.  Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
3 The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

Vv 1-2 are in the second person plural, whereas v 3 is in the second person singular.  An explanation for this is that there are different voices in vv 1-2 and v 3.  Vv 1-2, in this scenario, are the congregation speaking to the LORD's servants who stand in the house of God, even at night, whereas v 3 is the response of those servants to individuals in the congregation, as the servants wish God's blessing upon them.

There is some debate about the identity of those servants who stand in the house of God.

One view is that these servants are priests or Levites.  Keil-Delitzsch support this view when they refer to "the fact that [amad, the Hebrew word for 'stand'] is the customary word for the service of the priests and Levites (Deu 10:8; Deu 18:7; 1 Ch 23:30; 2 Ch 29:11 (cf. on Isa 61:10 and Psa 110:4), which is also continued in the night, 1 Ch 9:33."

Erhard Gerstenberger, however, maintains that the servants are lay Israelites: "The addressees of the summons are called 'servants of Yahweh,' and they are described as performing nightly cultic ministrations at Yahweh's house...'Servants' ([abadim]) in late psalm recitation became a designation for the faithful community at large (cf. 19:12, 14 [RSV 11, 13]; 34:23 [RSV 22]; 69:18, 37 [RSV 17, 36]; 79:2, 10; 86:4, 16; 90:13, 16; Gen 50:17; Exod 32:13; Deut 9:27; Isa 54:17; etc...Nightly hymn singing of the community is also attested in Isa 30:29: 'There you shall sing in the night as at a holy feast.'  In short, there is no evidence for the hypothesis that vv. 1-2 address priests.  On the contrary, all the congregation is called upon to praise and thus strengthen Yahweh in his sovereignty and power."

If Gerstenberger sees the servants of vv 1-2 as the Israelite congregation, then how would he account for the different voices in vv 1-2 and v 3?  Essentially, Gerstenberger contends that vv 1-2 are spoken by the members of the congregation, presumably to themselves, whereas v 3 is spoken by "the officiant of the service", who "speaks in the name of Yahweh" and communicates "to each individual member of the congregation the strengthening patronage of Israel's God" (from Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations).

Gerstenberger has a more democratic interpretation of Psalm 134, one that regards the servants of the LORD in vv 1-2 as the entire community of the faithful.  But there is another view that Psalm 134:1-2 concerns exemplary laypeople, who pray in the Temple at nights.  I read more than one commentator who referred to Anna in interpreting Psalm 134:1-2.  Luke 1:36-37 states about Anna: "And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;  And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day."

I don't know which of these interpretations (if any) is the correct one, but I will get some spiritual application from all of them.  I think that Christianity is both passive and active.  It is passive in the sense that we receive God's blessings and forgiveness.  In the same way that there were priests, hard at work in the Temple, even at night, bringing God's forgiveness and blessings to Israel, so likewise do many Christians believe that they are saved by the work of Christ, who intercedes in heaven on their behalf.  In a sense, Christians passively accept and receive what God has and is doing for them.

At the same time, Christians have a responsibility to be active: to be standing and acknowledging God's beneficence and authority.  It's not just a matter of God doing things for them, for they themselves should be exercising faith in God and reminding themselves of God's values.

Yet, not everyone can be a saint.  That's why it's good that there are Annas in the world, people who choose to set aside time to be prayer warriors, or maybe even to perform acts of service.  We should be mindful of the Annas of the world and appreciate their service.

I'll shut off the comments because I can think of ways that people might nitpick what I just said.  I'm just not in the mood to deal with that today.  Come to think of it, I'm never in the mood to deal with it!

Friday, November 15, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 1

I started Richard Reeves' President Nixon: Alone in the White House.  I'm finding that I am having to get used to Reeves' writing-style, but I am beginning to enjoy his book, even though I don't absorb every single detail of every single paragraph.  Reeves' book is unlike other books about Nixon that I have read.  Rather than taking a step back and narrating the broad themes and the important events of Richard Nixon's life, Reeves seems to give the impression that he is following Nixon day by day, as if he is a fly on the wall.  Granted, Reeves did not actually do that, but the book so far goes into an incredible amount of minutiae, while occasionally stepping back and commenting on larger characteristics of Nixon's approach and personality.  I'm liking it!

In many cases, when I have started a book about Nixon, the impact of the previous book that I had read lingers within me.  That's true right now.  Reeves narrates that Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave Nixon a copy of Robert Blake's book about Benjamin Disreali, who was a Prime Minister of Great Britain during the mid-nineteenth century.  Moynihan in doing so was encouraging Nixon not to thoroughly repudiate the Great Society but rather to build on it and to make it better, the same way that Disraeli, who founded the modern Conservative Party in Great Britain, "pushed forward great reforms in public health and welfare----reforms initiated by his Liberal predecessor, William Gladstone" (page 45).

I thought about Jonathan Aitken's biography of Nixon, which I had recently finished, as I was reading Reeves' narration here.  Blake's biography of Disraeli comes up a couple of times in Aitken's book.  Aitken actually opens his first chapter by mentioning it, saying that it was Nixon's favorite biography, and that Nixon marked the opening words of the book, which said that Disraeli did not have as humble of a background as many believed, and that "It is possible to overestimate the obstacles in his way and underestimate the assets he possessed."  It's ironic that this passage stood out to Nixon, since Nixon himself tended to emphasize, and perhaps even to embellish, his humble origins, whereas it was some of Nixon's negative biographers, such as Roger Morris, who would argue that Nixon's family of origin was not as poor as Nixon would let on.

Later in the book, Aitken talks about the time that Nixon actually met Blake.  This was after Nixon's resignation, and Nixon went to Great Britain and spoke at Oxford.  Blake said that he could tell that Nixon had actually read his book about Disraeli, rather than just being briefed about it.  Blake himself speculated that Nixon may have seen parallels between himself (meaning Nixon) and Disraeli: how both rose to prominence from relatively humble origins, were rather alienated, inspired animosity on their way to the top, and bounced "back after apparently permanent defeat" (Blake, quoted on page 549).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life 14

I finished Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life.  In this post, I'd like to share one of my favorite stories.  I don't have any profound thoughts to add about it, but I just liked it.

On page 566, Aitken is talking about the dedication of Richard Nixon's Presidential Library and Birthplace.  Back when Nixon was President, Nixon's close adviser, H.R. Haldeman, did not get along with Nixon's long-time secretary, Rose Mary Woods.  Haldeman tended to restrict access to the President, and he could be quite intimidating, which was why Nixon entrusted him with the tasks that he himself was uncomfortable doing.  And Woods herself was one tough lady!  Incidentally, Woods reportedly did not get along with Henry Kissinger, either, and Aitken tells a story about how she really dressed Kissinger down when Kissinger proudly did not want Alexander Haig to be Chief of Staff because Haig had served under him in the past; to his credit, Kissinger agreed to play ball!

But back to the dedication of Richard Nixon's Presidential Library and Birthplace!  Aitken narrates: "Resplendent in a green silk dress, [Woods] was meeting and greeting like a Hollywood hostess, even giving her old adversary Bob Haldeman a warm embrace after he whispered: 'I'm so sorry Rose, and for so many things.'"

I have to respect Haldeman for apologizing.  I've wondered about his human side, underneath his gruff exterior.  Some day, I may read his book and his diary, but I most likely won't do so for My Year (or More) of Nixon, since I'm in the process of winding that down, and I'm getting eager to move on to other things.  Haldeman did have a human side, beyond being Nixon's stern functionary.  He had children.  He (like John Ehrlichman) was a devout Christian Scientist.  And I have to give him credit for being loyal to Nixon throughout Nixon's life, when there were others who bitterly deserted him, for Haldeman attended Pat Nixon's funeral.  Haldeman's book about his time in the Nixon Administration was not particularly flattering to Nixon, as I understand it, but he would come to be reconciled with Nixon.  Moreover, it's also interesting to me that Haldeman was generous with his time when it came to people who were writing about Nixon, for he gave interviews.  I've wondered if I would be too intimidated to interview a no-nonsense man like Bob Haldeman, but, from what I read of his responses in interviews, he seemed to be quite open and helpful.

I'm glad that I read Aitken's book.  It's probably my favorite biography of Nixon that I have read so far, especially because of its anecdotes about Nixon's kindness, as well as its interviews.  Plus, Aitken is a really good writer: I like his easygoing prose!  I suppose that his book speaks to the side of me that loves The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, which seeks good in people, notwithstanding their flaws.  I think that it's important to balance out Aitken with books that are more anti-Nixon, if one is interested in studying Nixon.  But I'm definitely glad that I read Aitken's work, and I someday may read some of the other books that he has written.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life 13

My blog post today about Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life will focus on a couple of items on page 556.  They concern Richard Nixon's relationship with Robert "Bud" McFarlane, who served as President Ronald Reagan's National Security Adviser.

McFarlane got frustrated with Reagan, mentioning to Aitken his "difficulties in overcoming President Reagan's inability to understand foreign policy" (McFarlane's words).  But Nixon would offer tips to McFarlane on how he could explain foreign policy to Reagan ("Put it to him this way"), and McFarlane said that the advice would often work.

Over a year after quitting his job as National Security Adviser, McFarlane would try to kill himself on account of the controversy surrounding the Iran-Contra affair.  Aitken narrates about McFarlane that "The morning after he was coming round from his drug overdose in February 1987, his first visitor at Bethesda Naval Hospital was the 37th President of the United States."  Nixon tried to make McFarlane feel better, knowing that McFarlane would be portrayed as weak by the media.  Nixon told McFarlane that Churchill and de Gaulle endured their "black dogs."  Nixon also encouraged McFarlane to continue his practice of prayer and Bible reading, since those could be an anchor to him, and having faith could get McFarlane through his hard times.  And Nixon exhorted McFarlane to look to the future, not the past, when getting out of the hospital, and to go earn himself some money.  McFarlane relates that "Coming from him, I can't tell you what a tonic that encouragement was."

There are a lot of issues here.  I could identify with both Reagan's difficulty in understanding foreign policy (assuming that what McFarlane says is true), as well as McFarlane's struggle to explain it to him.  It's refreshing when someone cares about how well we are learning, enough to explain things to us in a way that we can understand, rather than just writing us off as slow or dumb.

Nixon's visit to McFarlane in the hospital was inspiring to me.  It illustrates one of the reasons that I enjoy Aitken's book: it has stories about Nixon's kindness to people, that I have not found in other books.  I agree with Nixon that prayer and Bible reading can be an anchor in hard times.  They are often things that I hold onto----since I need something to hold onto.  Moreover, Nixon's encouragement of McFarlane is actually an encouragement to me, a motivation for me to get back up and try after setbacks, as I attempt to look to the future rather than the past.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life 12

On page 520 of Nixon: A Life, Jonathan Aitken talks about an incident that occurred in the final days of Richard Nixon's Presidency:

"Nixon might have been more hurt had he known how another senior figure in his administration, the Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, was behaving in the final days.  In what would surely win first prize in a competition for the wildest over-reaction of Watergate, Schlesinger somehow got the thought into his head that Nixon was planning a military coup to avert his own resignation.  This weird notion caused Schlesinger to issue an order to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that no alert or major movement of US forces would take place without his countersignature as Defense Secretary.  Somewhat to the embarrassment of the Joint Chiefs, the Schlesinger Protectorate, created by this order, lasted for three days.  'Incredible' was Nixon's reaction when he later learned about it."

The reason that this stood out to me is that Anthony Summers discusses the same event on pages 478-481 of his anti-Nixon biography, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon.  Only Summers depicts the event differently from Aitken.  Aitken wonders how in the world Schlesinger could have gotten the idea that Nixon would plan a military coup, but Summers goes into that.  According to Summers, there was concern among a number of people in the government about what might happen if Nixon were not willing to let go of power, based on what some considered to be paranoid ramblings on Nixon's part.  Schlesinger acted in response to this, according to Summers, and Summers quotes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Brown, as saying, "I think the secretary had a responsibility to raise these sorts of matters."

Summers closes his telling of this story with, "Mercifully, nothing untoward happened."

Book Write-Up: Unapologetic Theology, by William Placher

William Placher.  Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation.  Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.

Can Christians say something of value to non-Christians in a pluralistic world, where some doubt that there is even evidence that Christianity is true?  That appears to be the question that Placher tries to tackle in this book.  Placher addresses such issues as foundationalism, the Enlightenment, relativism, postmodernism, religious dialogue, and how Christians can find religious value in the Bible, notwithstanding its historical inaccuracies.

The book is an excellent resource for those who want to read a crisp, lucid summary of significant thinkers, such as Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Rawls, and the list goes on.  I did not understand Placher's discussion of Bertrand Russell's paradox, but Placher explained everything else in a clear and accessible manner.  Plus, I can't find anything that explains Russell's paradox in a way that makes sense to me, so I probably can't blame Placher here!

Placher seeks a middle-ground between relativist postmodernism and a belief in objective truth.  Like postmodernists, Placher doubts that there is a stable foundation of evidence for much of anything, and this includes science.  Placher argues that even science contains interpretation, and that scientists stick with theories that are not entirely consistent with all of the data (and yet Placher notes that science has made progress based on theories that were later supplanted).  Placher is also critical of past attempts to find some objective standard of justice, for he believes that some of them have marginalized traditional voices while privileging Western thought.

At the same time, Placher does believe that Christians can offer something of value to non-Christian cultures, and vice-versa.  At least once, Placher mentions that humans are made in God's image, and he seems to think that this means that there is enough common ground among diverse human beings that they can talk with one another, notwithstanding their different conceptualizations of the world.  And yet, relativism remains a backdrop to Placher's discussion of dialogue.  Placher does not think that Christians can appeal to some alleged objective moral standard in speaking to people from other cultures, for those other cultures do not necessarily believe in that standard (at least not entirely).  But, according to Placher, Christians can critique practices of non-Christian cultures on the basis of the non-Christian cultures' standards, looking at places where conclusions don't follow from their premises.  And Christians can find common ground with non-Christians on such issues as social justice.  Can Christians benefit from religious dialogue, according to Placher?  Placher thinks so, for he refers to someone who argued that religious dialogue can highlight what Christians believe, as well as help Christians to correct what may be wrong or deficient in their own tradition.
Placher also discusses how Christians can find value in the Bible, notwithstanding its historical inaccuracies.  Essentially, he seems to think that Christians can appreciate the Bible as a source that presents how God and the world are, even if not all of its details are historically-accurate.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1.  I am not a hard relativist or postmodernist, for I believe that there is truth out there, and that there are times when human beings can approximate what that truth is.  Don't get me wrong: I seriously doubt that our conceptualizations of reality correspond perfectly with that reality, for there are factors such as human interpretation, human limitation in trying to describe reality, human selectivity on what facts deserve to be considered, and the vast amount of things that we just do not know.  But my impression (which is subject to correction) is that relativists and postmodernists go too far.  I believe that there are some facts, and that we can know what they are.

2.  Placher does not seem to believe in foundationalism, whereas I don't go that far.  Still, I find Placher's critiques of attempts to find an objective standard of justice or truth to be valuable.  One person may believe that he has the truth and that there is a reliable foundation for that truth, and yet how would he convince someone who does not share his truth, or even acknowledge the criteria that allegedly support his truth?  In light of that, attempts to find some "objective" standard may prove to be useless because they marginalize non-Western voices and contain a Western bias----useless, not because they are false necessarily, but because they may not be convincing to people within other cultural frameworks.  I can have a truth, and my truth can help me and maybe influence me to help others; but what good is my truth in the world of public discourse if others are not convinced by it?

3.  And yet, I have to be careful here.  While there are different cultures, I don't think that there is some brick wall of language and different conceptualizations inhibiting one culture from influencing the other, for better or for worse.  Obviously, cultures do influence one another.  Christian missionaries have had their influence, which has sometimes resulted in humanitarian reforms.  Capitalism has had its impact on the world, for good and for bad.  Admittedly, some of the influence that the West has had on other cultures has been due to force, imperialism, and gross insensitivity to the cultures.  And yet, some of these cultures have been persuaded by Western values.  And, conversely, people in the West have been influenced by Eastern cultures----consider the attraction that some Americans have towards Buddhism!

Why is this?  I think that it's because many people want certain things, and they believe that elements of other cultures can help them to get those things.  Moreover, encounter with another culture may convince them that what they are experiencing within their own culture is not the only way to do things----that there are other ways of doing things that may treat them with more dignity or give them more opportunities.  

4.  On Placher's argument regarding the Bible and history, yes, there may be something to it, but I think that more work needs to be done.  I have problems saying that, say, the non-historicity of the Exodus is no big deal theologically, when so many voices in the Bible do believe that it's a big deal, appealing to it as an example of God concretely intervening in history on behalf of the oppressed Israelites.  If we erase what were believed to be concrete examples of God's intervention in history, do we have much of a theology?  Are we just left with some general belief that God is just?  Without belief that God concretely demonstrated that justice in history, we're rather impoverished, in my opinion.  I'm not saying that my faith personally rests on the Bible being historically accurate, but I don't think that the importance of the Bible's history to theology should be casually dismissed, but should be wrestled with more.

Overall, Placher's book is good.  Like Van Harvey's The Historian and the Believer, it does an effective job dismantling other approaches, yet its own approach leaves me with questions.  As Placher and (I think) Van Harvey acknowledge, it's easier to critique other positions than it is to construct an alternative.  I have to give them credit for trying to be constructive, however, even if their approaches (as I understand them) do not entirely convince me.  

Search This Blog