Monday, April 27, 2015

Searching for a New Church

I am moving across the country, and one thing that I will be looking for is a new church.  That is pretty intimidating.  I have been attending the same church for the past four years, and one reason I like it is that I know what to expect.  I also want to make a good decision, because I probably will be living in the place to which I will be moving for a very long time—-longer than any place I have lived before.

I am not the sort of person who enjoys shopping for churches, at least not anymore.  I like the same setting every week.  But, by contrast, I am also not the sort of person who will waste my time on dead wood.  What I mean by that is that I used to feel that I had to stick around in environments that did not accept me, at least on some level, and I do not feel compelled to do that anymore.  At the same time, I don’t want to find myself in the same situation that I was in over ten years ago, after I had moved to Cincinnati: not going to church at all for three years.  Things were missing from my life as a result of that: the joy of communal worship, community, the opportunity to show love for others, a change of pace on Sunday mornings, and a positive way to orient my week.

So that puts me in a bind, doesn’t it?  I’d better pick the right church the first time, or I will find myself shopping for churches, which I hate doing!

I have been searching for churches on the Internet.  The area to which I will be moving has some hip evangelical megachurches, and I definitely am ruling those out.  Not only am I not particularly hip, but I also think that I can find a better, more accepting, less stressful community environment within a mainline church.  Someone I know in the place to which I am moving occasionally attends a Unitarian-Universalist church, and, while I have found UUs to be thoughtful, I would like something that is more explicitly Christian.  There are the Episcopalians, and I have found them to be mostly friendly, but, as a recovering alcoholic, I am reluctant to take wine as part of the communion ceremony, and an Episcopalian site that I visited appeared to view that as a non-negotiable.  I am not saying that the Episcopalians have to cater to me personally, but it would be nice if the Episcopalian church at least recognized that there are people who struggle with alcohol and who may want to attend its services.  (Maybe it does, and I am not aware of it.)  I visited a Methodist site, and it did appear to have that sort of sensitivity, so I may go that route.  Or I can try a liberal baptist church, or PC(USA), the denomination that I am currently attending.  I am even interested in trying out the more conservative PCA, as long as people there don’t grill me on controversial issues.  I may try an Evangelical Free Church.  While I tend to recoil from aspects of evangelicalism, I did have a professor years back who pastored an Evangelical Free church, and I found him to be very thoughtful, profound, and learned.

Of course, I know from people’s stories, and even from personal experience, that there are mainline churches that can be pretty cold.  I have to decide for myself how much of that I can take, and if I should move on to try another place.

As I contemplate looking for a new church, I often think about how fortunate I am to have found the church that I currently attend.  I do not have a car, so I was limited in my options of where to go.  The closest church to me turned out to be an awesome church.  The people are friendly.  It talks both about spirituality and also giving to people who need help.  The sermons are thoughtful and leave me with things to think about, and to blog about.  It will be a tough act to follow.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Last Day at My Current Church

I am on a laptop right now, and I have not gotten the hang of copying and pasting without a mouse that is separate from my computer, so I will link to the post on my Wordpress blog.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

II Chronicles 30

II Chronicles 30 is about righteous King Hezekiah’s Passover, which Judahites and some Northern Israelites attended.

There is debate about whether or not Hezekiah’s Passover actually happened.  After all, does not II Kings 23:22 state regarding the Passover of a later king of Judah, Josiah: “Surely there was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah” (KJV)?  Why would that passage say that, if the author was aware of a previous Passover under King Hezekiah?

Raymond Dillard, in his Word Biblical Commentary, refers to a couple of arguments that may coincide with the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover.  One argument is that the Deuteronomist in II Kings wants to exalt King Josiah, and that he may have chosen not to mention Hezekiah’s Passover so as not to detract from the Passover of Josiah; II Kings 23:22, therefore, does not mean that Hezekiah’s Passover did not occur, according to this argument, but that the Deuteronomist, for ideological reasons, chose not to mention it.

Another argument is that the Chronicler, who values the cult, would not invent the sort of chaotic Passover that we see in II Chronicles 30.  In II Chronicles 30, the Israelites are simply not ready to observe the Passover, and so the festival is pushed forward by a month, and Hezekiah asks God to show mercy to the Northern Israelites who eat the Passover in a state of ritual uncleanness.

There may be something to the first argument.  At the same time, I should note that the Chronicler himself makes a statement similar to that in II Kings 23:22.  II Chronicles 35:18 states regarding the Passover of King Josiah: “And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (KJV).  The Chronicler could simply be relying on II Kings here, but I doubt it, for the verses are not entirely similar: the Kings passage mentions the judges, whereas the Chronicles passage mentions Samuel the prophet.  Dillard may have a point about why the Deuteronomist fails to mention Hezekiah’s Passover, or perhaps the Deuteronomist does not mention it because, as far as he is concerned, Josiah was the first king to hold a national Passover.

As far as the Chronicler goes, the Chronicler may mean that no such Passover was held until the Passover of Josiah in the sense that Josiah’s Passover was the best, better than the one that Hezekiah held.  (Abarbanel held this sort of view.)  Indeed, in II Chronicles 35, Josiah’s Passover does run smoothly, due to the help of the Levites.  Moreover, while, in II Chronicles 30, there were Northern Israelites who were unwilling to attend Hezekiah’s Passover, Josiah’s Passover may have gathered more Northern Israelites.  II Chronicles 34:33 seems to indicate that Josiah compelled Northern Israelites to worship God, and 35:3 affirms that the Levites taught all Israel.

On the second argument—-that the Chronicler would not invent a chaotic Passover like Hezekiah’s Passover in II Chronicles 30, and thus the Chronicler was reporting what happened—-I am not convinced.  The reason is that, a couple of other times in Chronicles, we see stories about the religious leadership of Judah delaying what it is supposed to do to honor God (II Chronicles 24:5-6; 29:34).  That tells me that one could have reason to believe that a theme of delay is part of the narrative ideology of the Chronicler, and thus it is not unreasonable to think that he could invent a chaotic Passover.

Could this reflect Israel’s post-exilic period in any way, the period in which many scholars believe the Chronicler wrote?  I think so, for the prophet Haggai rebukes the returned Jewish exiles for failing to rebuild the Temple.  Could the Chronicler, by mentioning the theme of delay, be exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball?  And could his depiction of Josiah’s Passover be designed to show post-exilic Jews about what could happen if they take their first step to the construction of the Temple: that, even if there may be chaos, eventually things will pan out and go more smoothly?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Write-Up: Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans.  Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

In Searching for Sunday, popular Christian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans discusses the church.  She shares her experiences with the church: the community that she enjoyed when she was growing up as a conservative Christian; how her relationship with conservative Christianity changed when she had religious doubts; her search for a new church, and the time when she did not go; her attempts to start a new church with the youth pastor from her youth and others, and her disappointment when that church closed; and the joy that she has experienced at an Episcopalian church.  Evans also reflects on the sacraments, such as baptism, communion, and communion, and she addresses church history (the good and the bad) and the ways that churches have treated the LGBT community.

Many of Evans’ critics believe that she promotes a consumerist mentality, and they stress that church should be about God and not the preferences of attendees.  They say that church should be a place to learn to love difficult people and to serve, not a place to abandon when the going gets tough.  They think that Evans wants the church to cater to the latest trends rather than the word of God.  They maintain that she promotes acceptance of people where they are, when church should be a place where sin is challenged.  They think that she and millennials who have left the church have a sense of entitlement.

I cannot agree with them after reading Searching for Sunday.  Granted, I am a bit biased, for I am rather progressive, and I am inclined to choose Evans over her conservative detractors.  But I could not read this book and walk away seeing her as some consumerist with a sense of entitlement.  She has strong beliefs and a passion for justice.  She is for service to others and the fruit of the Spirit.  Whether or not one agrees with her on LGBT issues, I hope that anyone would read her stories about how LGBTs have been treated and be heartbroken.

Even though Evans leans more towards the progressive end of the spectrum, she is not a firebreathing progressive, for she acknowledges and values her evangelical heritage (even though she is honest about the times when she wants to walk away from it for good), the church that she helped establish had conservatives, and she critiques her own cynicism.  She tries to practice love and acceptance, even towards her critics and people with a different ideology, and she narrates how church has helped her on that path.

While her prose can sometimes be a bit flowery or over the top, her stories are beautiful.  She is honest and vulnerable when she tells her own story, and she also tells stories about others.  Some of her stories made me laugh, some of them made me cry, and many of them resonated with me.  I liked her story about how the pastor of the Baptist church that she and her husband left handled their departure: he said that he understood that people who change their beliefs may want to find another church, but he also made clear that Rachel and her husband were welcome back anytime.  I liked the part of the book in which she mentioned and honored the faith journeys of people she knew, as some went to evangelicalism, and others chose other Christian paths.  The story of the church that chose to close rather than obey the denomination’s demand that it rescind the membership of a gay couple brought tears to my eyes.

I have followed Evans’ blog for years, so I felt in reading the book that I was getting the inside story of some of the things that she has discussed on it, at various stages of her journey.  In her book, she proceeds towards a resolution of accepting the church.  In following her blog for years, I got to read some of the previous stages of her journey.  She says that faith is a walk with God, and she has manifested that and continues to manifest it.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers ( program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

Ramblings on Goodness and Pride

I recently reviewed Daniel Westberg’s Renewing Moral Theology.  On page 96, Westberg quotes something that Geoffrey Bromiley says about human sinfulness:

“And even if one does the good or avoids the evil, how easily it is all soured by the self-righteous satisfaction that for once at least one has done a pure and blameless deed.”

That did resonate with me when I first read it.  The next day, well, it did not so much.

When I first read it, I could see myself in what Bromiley was saying.  I can easily pat myself on the back when I do something good, even though there are plenty of deficiencies in my character.  Moreover, I agree with Bromiley that doing something good can lead me to become proud.  That pride is not entirely valid on my part, for I do not always do good, and I have sinned.  I need forgiveness.

But, as I go through the day, beat myself up, and think about others’ criticisms and judgments of me, I get to the point where I say: “Look, I am not totally bad!”  I have done good things in my life.  I have helped people.  Who are other people to call me selfish, as if that is the sum total of my character?  Don’t I deserve to give myself credit, at least once in a while?

I don’t think that evangelical Christianity is particularly helpful on this issue.  When evangelical Christians are preaching the Gospel to the unsaved, their goal is to convince the unsaved (with the Holy Spirit’s help) that they indeed are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.  In doing that, they point out that the unsaved person is flawed, even if he may have done some good thing.  Once a person accepts Jesus, however, a person feels a need to convince herself (or others) that she truly has been regenerated by God, and one sign that Christians point to is fruit of the Spirit and a declining pattern of sin in one’s life.  Even Westberg mentions the view that sin in a believer’s life is occasional.

So evangelicals try to convince the unsaved that they are bad by pointing to their flaws, or by encouraging them to be honest about their own flaws.  Then, once the unsaved accept Christ, they are expected to switch gears and to try to look for good in their lives so they can feel assured that they actually have been born again.  Does that make any sense?  Here’s a thought: People are good and bad, whether they have accepted Christ or not.  I know that I cannot generalize about evangelicals, for there are evangelicals who believe that they are still sinners in need of grace, even after conversion, and there are also evangelicals who are critical of Christians looking to their good works for assurance.  But I am critiquing an evangelical approach that is out there.  It is not a figment of my imagination.

I have been reading my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha for my daily quiet time.  Right now, I am in the Letter of Aristeas, which is about the translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint.  Aristeas talks about his attempt to persuade King Ptolemy of Egypt to release the Jewish slaves and soldiers from captivity, and Aristeas says that “whatsoever men think to do in piety in the way of righteousness and attention to good works, God the Lord of all directs their acts and intentions” (R.J.H. Shutt’s translation).  This is in the context of Aristeas’ hope that God will move the king to release the Jews from captivity.  It does raise some profound questions, though.  Is everything good that humans think and do from God?  If so, then is not God responsible when we do not do good and instead do evil: did God drop the ball by not motivating us to do good, in that case?

Whatever my questions, I do believe that, whenever I am attracted to good, that is the work of God within me and upon me, in some way, shape, or form.  I like something that Westberg says in his book about the work of the Holy Spirit within us: that it makes virtue look attractive to us.  I may be far from perfection.  I cannot say that there is a declining pattern of sin in my life, for sin and selfishness are a part of me during the majority of most days.  Yet, virtue is important to me, and I recognize the value of at least trying to get outside of myself and to have love for others.  The problem is that there are times when I am trying to do so while kicking and screaming—-when I am outwardly showing love, while inwardly seething with resentment.  Westberg talks some about that situation in his book.  In those cases, I am reminded of my continual need for God’s grace to be and to do good.

How can I do good without falling into pride?  I can remember that God is the one motivating me to do good.  And I can keep in mind that good is good because it is good: sure, God may reward us for doing it, but it is what we are supposed to be doing anyway.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book Write-Up: Renewing Moral Theology, by Daniel A. Westberg

Daniel A. Westberg.  Renewing Moral Theology: Christian Ethics As Action, Character and Grace.  Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Daniel Westberg teaches ethics and moral theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  In Renewing Moral Theology, Westberg explores the topic of Christian ethics, focusing in particular on the thinking of Thomas Aquinas.  Anglican liturgy and teaching are also a significant aspect of this book, as Westberg compares and critiques what they have said about sin, repentance, and God’s law.

The book interacts with a variety of issues and questions.  Is Christian morality merely a matter of obeying rules, or is there more than that?  Are the virtues interconnected with each other?  If Christian faith is necessary for true love to exist, how can one account for non-Christians who have virtues?  Can one attain virtue by continually practicing it until it becomes habitual, or does there need to be an inward transformation or disposition?  How can Christians approach God’s law, when the positive commands are more difficult to apply and obey than the negative ones (and I definitely appreciated this observation!).  Westberg also addresses mortal and venial sins, and the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Westberg discusses these subjects thoughtfully, while interacting with a variety of Christian thinkers.

My favorite parts of the book were Westberg’s treatment of the topic of love.  This was surprising to me, since I am not exactly a people-person, and I usually feel put down when I read Christian discussions of love—-put down, and presented with a lot of commands that are far beyond my reach.  And, indeed, in reading Westberg’s book, I did feel as if I fall short of Christian morality, especially in the area of courage.  Still, Westberg did offer a possibly new way for me to understand I Corinthians 13, the love chapter.  The chapter does address how humans relate to each other, but, for Westberg, it is also about human love for God.  It talks about the future beatific vision of God that people will have, after all.  In light of that, love is more important than faith and hope because faith and hope will become unnecessary when we are actually seeing God, but our love for God will still exist and be significant.  The reason that Paul says that self-sacrifice and giving to the poor are nothing without love is that love for God (and God’s love) should provide the context and foundation for those things.  I am not entirely sure if Westberg’s approach works exegetically, since I Corinthians 13 focuses so much on horizontal human relationships, and yet it does make sense to me practically.  I have often felt put down by I Corinthians 13 because I really struggle to like and to interact with people.  I believe that I should still be convicted and shaped by the values of I Corinthians 13, and yet I also think that I should remember that God’s love is to serve as a foundation for my love.

Westberg’s chapter about love interested me because he wrestled with the conceptualization of love.  Should we see it as self-sacrifice, as if egoism is not a part of it at all?  Should we see agape love as an impartial desire for the well-being of others, even of those we may not particularly like?  Westberg acknowledges validity in both approaches while also critiquing them, and he settles on a definition of love that centers on human friendship and fellowship with God.  Under this conceptualization, we love others because God loves them, and we desire, not only their material well-being, but their fellowship with God as well.

In terms of critiques of the book, there were times when I thought that Westberg was a bit legalistic.  Of course, Westberg was distancing himself from legalism by focusing, not on rules, but rather on the formation of character in reference to a relationship with God.  Still, Westberg’s section on gluttony did not particularly appeal to me, for he seemed to me to be criticizing those who are interested in gourmet cooking and detailed recipes.  I would ask: Cannot enjoying good food be a part of enjoying God?  God did give us taste buds, after all!  Westberg later does offer a brief criticism of the idea that one should always engage in pleasure for a purpose, however, as opposed to enjoying the pleasure because it is pleasing.

I also disagreed with Westberg when he said that animals cannot show concern.  I wrote in the margin, “Who says?”

Overall, though, I was edified by this book.

Intervarsity Press sent me a complimentary review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ramblings on "Joseph and Aseneth"

I have been reading the Jewish work, “Joseph and Aseneth,” for my daily quiet time.  The date given underneath the title of the work in my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha is the first century B.C.E. to the second century C.E.  Aseneth was the daughter of Potiphera priest of On in Egypt, and the Pharaoh gave her in marriage to Joseph, according to Genesis 41:45.  “Joseph and Aseneth” largely revolves around her conversion from idolatry to monotheism.

I have not yet finished the book, but here are some items from my reading so far:

1.  In Joseph and Aseneth 8:10-11, Joseph prays for Aseneth’s conversion, and he seems to describe such a conversion in reference to creation.  In the same way that God brought life out of death, truth out of error, and light out of darkness, Joseph prays, so may God renew Aseneth and grant her eternal life.  While reading this, I thought about what the apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (KJV).  I was wondering if the comparison between conversion and creation was distinctly Christian, and thus Joseph and Aseneth 8:10-11 was a Christian interpolation, or if it could have been a Jewish concept, too.  I do not know the answer to that question, but it did occur to me.

2.  After Aseneth converts and marries Joseph, we read a couple of times that Aseneth will be Joseph’s wife forever and ever (21:3, 21).  I thought about the Book of Revelation’s statements about the eternal torment of the wicked; Revelation says the torment will go on forever and ever (Revelation 14:11; 20:10).  In a discussion about hell a while back, I was arguing that “forever” in the Bible can be temporary (see my post here), and a believer in eternal torment in hell tactfully responded that this is sometimes the case, but that “forever and ever” means eternity.  Those passages in Joseph and Aseneth say that Aseneth would be married to Joseph forever and ever.  Do they mean that she would be married to him eternally?

They could conceivably mean that she would be married to him for the rest of her life.  Exodus 21:6 talks about a procedure by which a man can become a master’s slave forever, and that probably does not mean all eternity, but rather the rest of the slave’s natural life.  But “Joseph and Aseneth” does have a concept of an afterlife, or eternal life, so perhaps it does envision them being married forever, as in eternally.  If so, that may differ from Jesus’ statement in Mark 12:25 that those resurrected from the dead will neither marry, nor be given in marriage, but would be like the angels in heaven.

Another consideration is that Aseneth in “Joseph and Aseneth” is often likened to a city—-a city of refuge, a city for proselytes.  I do not know entirely what that means.  Is she simply being called a mother of proselytes because, by her example, she is encouraging other Gentiles to seek the Lord, and she is like a city of refuge in that sense?  Would she and the house that she set up somehow be a refuge for the oppressed Israelites in Egypt?  In any case, Aseneth’s significance seems to go beyond her earthly life, and perhaps that is relevant to her marriage to Joseph being forever and ever.

3.  I am in the part of the book in which Aseneth meets Joseph’s family.  She gravitates towards the wise prophet Levi, one of Joseph’s brothers, who secretly teaches her mysteries about God.  This stood out to me because it strikes me as inappropriate for a woman who is married to someone else to meet with another man secretly.  Maybe it is because I one time read a story about a woman who met with her male pastor for regular Bible study, and they ended up having an affair!  But I also wondered how that scene in “Joseph and Aseneth” fit into Judaism’s views of how men were to relate to women, and vice versa.

In Joseph and Aseneth 23, the son of the Pharaoh wants to enlist the help of Simeon and Levi in killing Joseph, their brother.  The Pharaoh’s son is upset that Joseph married Aseneth, which the Pharaoh’s son was hoping to do himself.  Plus, he heard about how Simeon and Levi slaughtered the Shechemites after one of them raped their sister Dinah.  Simeon is outraged by this request, which sounds to him like a command, and he is about to kill the Pharaoh’s son, until Levi reminds Simeon that they are worshipers of God and that they are not to return evil for evil.  Levi then refuses the request and says that, if the Pharaoh’s son harms Joseph, he will have to answer to them, and Levi reminds the Pharaoh’s son that they had killed the Shechemites.

This is an interesting story.  It is a bit inconsistent, since Levi is against returning evil to evil, even though he did precisely that when he killed the Shechemites; “Joseph and Aseneth” may be trying to portray Levi positively because he would become a priestly tribe.  I also wish that Levi, who could read minds in the book, showed some understanding and compassion towards the Pharaoh’s son, as wrongheaded as he was.  Still, Levi’s exhortation of Simeon to have a cooler head resonated with me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Write-Up: A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion

Gary M. Burge.  A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion.  Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Gary M. Burge teaches New Testament at Wheaton College.  A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion is a historical fictional work about a Roman centurion in the time of Jesus.  On many of the pages, Burge provides a box that contains historical background information.  Burge also includes a helpful glossary of the characters at the beginning of the book.  The Roman centurion is named Appius, and he has a slave named Tallus, who is a covert Jew.

Here are some items:

1.  Appius was kind to his slaves, but Burge states on page 89 that a Roman head of a household “had complete authority over his slaves and could sell, punish or even kill them, since laws respecting persons did not apply to them.”  This is significant in debates about the issue of slavery in the New Testament, since the New Testament seems never to condemn slavery, and there are even New Testament passages that encourage slaves to submit to their masters.  Pro-slavery Christians prior to and during the American Civil War appealed to such passages to justify slavery.  A number of Christian apologists in recent times have responded to this apparent moral problem in the New Testament by saying that slavery in New Testament times was not as bad as slavery in antebellum America.  Burge may disagree with them, for he states that Roman masters in New Testament times had absolute authority over the lives of their slaves, who were not even treated as people under the law.

Burge may be correct when it comes to particular times in Roman history.  There may be more to the story, however.  Christian apologist Glenn Miller, for example, argues here that there were times when Roman society tried to protect slaves, or thinkers within it promoted the protection of slaves.  I Peter 2:18ff. exhorts slaves to submit to harsh masters, and I remember a professor of an Epistles of Paul class saying that the author here is trying to discourage slaves from challenging abusive masters in court.  If my professor was correct, then society back then at some point must have had legal means to protect slaves.

2.  I referred in my post here to a debate between atheist Richard Carrier and Christian apologist David Marshall about whether Christianity is reasonable.  Carrier asked why Jesus, if he were God, did not teach people in the first century rules of hygiene, which could have prevented numerous deaths.  Burge talks about hygiene in this book.  He says on page 51 that the “ancients did not understand germs, and the connection between hygiene and health would not appear until the late Roman period when soap use for cleaning the body became common.”  Yet, on page 134, Burge states that the Jews had laws in the Torah promoting hygiene.  My understanding is that the first century C.E., the setting of this book, is before the late Roman period, the time that Burge says that the connection between hygiene and health appeared.  Moreover, a number of scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible’s purity laws do not relate to health or hygiene but rather to ritual purity, and Burge himself appears to make this very point on page 115.  Although my impression is that Burge contradicts himself on the topic of hygiene, I did find his discussion informative, especially after watching that debate between Carrier and Marshall.

3.  Burge’s depiction of the Asclepius cult stood out to me due to debates about healings in the first century C.E.  I recently read atheist scholar Robert M. Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, and Price discussed Jesus’ healings within the context of the testimonies about miraculous healings at Asclepius cults.  Some scholars and apologists have argued, however, that Jesus’ healings were unusual in his first century context (and perhaps more likely to be historical because they were discontinuous from Jesus’ context).  They say that what went on in first century paganism was medicine, not miraculous healing (see here and here).  In Burge’s book, the physicians at the Asclepius cult perform practical surgery rather than miracle, even though the cult has sacrifices to enlist the help of the gods.  At the same time, on page 134, some Jewish characters distinguish between their view on healing and that of the pagans, whose potions and incantations those particular Jews dismiss as magic.

4.  While I am on the Asclepius cult, I did find Burge’s depiction of first century pagan religion to be fascinating.  There was an appeal to the gods, but there was also an appeal to fatalism if things did not work out.  When a surgeon at the Asclepius cult is treating Appius for a wound that Appius received in battle, the surgeon says that “if he dies, it will be a course already set by the gods” (page 46).  In my opinion, Burge should have included a box explaining this feature of pagan religion, but the comments in the books about the gods were still informative and interesting.

5.  Burge depicts tax collectors collecting taxes for Rome in Galilee, while also stating that taxes went to the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas.  My understanding (and I am open to correction on this, after I turn my blog’s comments back on in the future) is that the Romans did not collect taxes directly from Galilee.  The Romans collected taxes directly from Judea because they had direct rule over it after 6 C.E., but, in Galilee, they had a client ruler, Herod Antipas.  Perhaps one can reconcile all this by saying that Antipas still paid tribute to the Romans, and Antipas was collecting taxes from Galileans for that tribute.  See my post here.  In any case, I do think that Burge should have provided a little more clarity or historical information about this topic, even though he did provide informative background information about Herod Antipas.

6.  Burge distinguishes between how Palestinian Jews and Diaspora Jews regarded Gentiles.  In his telling, Palestinian Jews tended to view Gentiles as ritually unclean and held that Gentiles could not be in certain areas of the Temple.  The Diaspora Jews, by contrast, were more open, believing that God accepted even uncircumcised Gentiles.  This is a view within scholarship, but there is also difference of opinion.  See here for my post about Christine Hayes’ book on whether Judaism considered Gentiles to be ritually impure.  In addition, in researching for my dissertation, I have read scholars who have questioned the conventional differentiation between Palestinian and Diaspora Judaism.  I think that Burge, in a brief footnote or endnote, should have informed readers that there is diversity within scholarship about this issue, even though I respect that this book may not have been intended to be a heavy, comprehensive work of scholarship, but rather an introductory work.  Also, since a Palestinian Jew and a Diasporan Jew in the book are debating whether Gentiles should be kept out of certain parts of the Temple, Burge should have provided some documentation that Diasporan Jews had a problem with such a policy.

7.  Burge did well to inform the reader about ancient beliefs and how they may differ from our own.  When Appius challenges a Roman soldier who is harassing Appius’ concubine, Burge informs us that Appius is defending his own honor, not the honor of his concubine.  Burge also tells us about ancient views on fevers and humors, and how they influenced the sort of surgery that was performed (i.e., bleeding a person to bring down a fever).

8.  Burge depicts Appius as the centurion in the synoptic Gospels who asks Jesus to heal his sick slave.  As a reader, I am not sure if that works, for the centurion in the Gospels was liked by the Jews and built them a synagogue, whereas Appius was not particularly devout towards the God of Israel and was not especially well-liked by the Jews.  Still, it did result in some moving scenes.  Appius has a piece of art in which vicious dogs are ripping a deer to shreds, and Jesus touches the deer.  Appius is then convicted of his love for violence and resolves to get rid of that piece of art!  While Burge in an interview about the book (which was inserted into my review copy by Intervarsity) distinguishes his book from Christian fiction by saying that he does not present the centurion converting to Christianity, my impression as a reader was that Appius was pretty close to becoming a Christian!

9.  I enjoyed the debate between the Jewish elder Tobias and Appius’ military assistant Marcus.  Marcus was on a Roman power trip, and Tobias was standing up boldly for his land and his people.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and informative book.  It would be useful for an Introduction to New Testament class, as long as students remembered that there is scholarly debate about some of the issues it raises.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Intervarsity Press.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Write-Up: Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Anne Elisabeth Stengl.  Heartless.  Bethany House Publishers, 2010.  See here to buy the book.

This book won a Christy Award for a first-time novel.  It is a work of Christian fantasy.  It is also the first book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

The book is about a princess named Una, who has a bunch of suitors.  She finds one of them to be boring, even though he has a noble spirit.  In the course of the book, she is escorted out of the kingdom by a Dragon King—-a dragon who can appear as a human being—-and he makes it so that she turns into a dragon.  He leads an entire cult of dragon people, who are afraid of him.  The princess is taken as part of an agreement between the Dragon King and a duke, who wants the kingdom of Una’s father.  Una comes to be disappointed with some of her suitors, but the one she rejected helps her.  Another character is a cat named Monster, who actually talks in an earlier scene in the book, but that is not referenced again—-though, at the end, some character whom people vaguely recognize says something to Monster.  Maybe we learn more about Monster later in the series!  Let me say this, though: I liked Monster better when he was acting as a cat than when he was speaking his pretentious English.

As I said, the book got a Christy Award.  So did the sequel, if memory serves me correctly.  Most of the reviews of the book on Amazon were rave reviews.  But the book simply did not interest me.  I finished it.  It was actually a quick read.  It was just not a fit for me.  The Lynn Austin books that won Christy Awards swept me off my feet.  This one did not.

Maybe I missed something, and the book is like the suitor whom Una rejected, and I missed its beauty.  I don’t know.  Maybe the problem is that I am not too keen on stories about suitors talking all formally.  In that case, I shouldn’t read Jane Austen, right?  But I sort of liked the Jane Austen movies that I have seen.  Maybe I was hoping for more depth about the Dragon Prince.  I was also hoping for more religion and spirituality, but perhaps those things were there and I missed them.  Right now, I cannot think of any part of the book that really spoke to me.  Well, then again, like the rejected suitor, some people may see me as rather stiff and drab, and I am somewhat happy that the underdog won in the end.  But, in terms of spiritual lessons or themes I found compelling?  I can’t think of any.

Will I read any other books in the series?  I will not rule that out.  There have been times when I did not like the first book of a series, but really enjoyed the second book.  We’ll see!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Resurrected Jesus of Flesh and Bones

I do not have access to my Bibleworks right now, so my blog post about this morning’s church service will not be as precise when it comes to biblical references.  Essentially, my pastor this morning was preaching about the passage in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus shows his disciples his flesh and his bones, dismissing the idea that he is some sort of ghost.

My pastor drew two lessons from this:

1.  My Presbyterian pastor said that the hope of the believer is material: it does not end with the soul going to heaven but entails the resurrection of the body.  My pastor was quoting an Anglican clergyman on this, and N.T. Wright also has made this point.  The religious movement in which I grew up, Armstrongism, did not believe in the immoral soul but thought that people were unconscious until the resurrection of the dead, which will occur after Jesus comes back.  While Armstrongism believed that the resurrection is the believer’s hope, however, it did not entirely regard that hope as physical and material, for it maintained that believers would be resurrected as spirit beings, who would rule a material world.

In terms of what I believe the Bible teaches, well, I would say that we see various things.  There are passages (Daniel, Matthew) about the righteous shining as stars or the sun.  There are passages in which Jesus states that people in the resurrection will be like angels in heaven.  Paul refers to a spiritual resurrection, denies that flesh and blood will enter the Kingdom of God, and seems to imply in I Corinthians that people in their resurrected bodies will not have a stomach.  On the other hand, there is a passage in which Jesus appears to present Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob eating in the Kingdom of God.  I would also say that, in Hebrews, Jesus is depicted as a glorified man.  Both Hebrews and Paul seem to me to present Jesus as a prototype of a new humanity.  The image that I got in a Seventh-Day Adventist church that I attended a while back was that Jesus, right now in heaven, has glorified human flesh.  Hebrews may lean in that direction.

While I’m on the topic of soul sleep (the belief that people are unconscious until the resurrection), I was listening recently to atheist biblical scholar Robert Price’s “Bible Geek” podcast, and someone asked him about soul sleep.  Price replied that we may see something like that in the New Testament, but that there are also passages about being absent from the body and present with the Lord, and Paul’s openness to departing to be with Christ rather than staying behind on earth.  Price speculated that Paul may have believed martyrs went straight to heaven after death, whereas others were unconscious until the resurrection (or so I understood Price).  There may be something to that.  The thing is, however, that Paul does seem to include himself among those who will sleep until the resurrection in I Corinthians 15.  Many believers in soul sleep try to harmonize all this: perhaps Paul was talking about being away from his corruptible body and being with Christ after the resurrection, when he would receive a new body; after all, Paul’s next conscious moment after death, they say, would be at the resurrection.

I think that believers in soul sleep do well to point out that death in the New Testament is presented as a sleep.  My question would be: Was it possible in ancient literature to call death a sleep, while also believing that the dead could be conscious?  I would not be surprised if such were the case.

2.  The other lesson my pastor taught from the passage is that our faith should be real.  Jesus, after all, was not a flickering spirit but a resurrected human being or tangible flesh and bone.  My pastor may also have been arguing that tangible experiences of God can be significant in Christian spirituality.  His overall point, though, was that we should have a real faith, not go to church out of habit or obligation.  I agree with him on that, in a sense, even though I am not always firm in my faith, and even though I cannot point to indisputable examples of God’s activity in my life—-though I do pray and believe that God has answered my prayers and has helped me and people I know through challenges.  I do not go to church just out of habit, but to worship God and to be transformed.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

II Chronicles 29

II Chronicles 29 is about the reign of righteous King Hezekiah, particularly his attempts to repair the Temple and re-establish Temple worship.

II Chronicles 29:34 states: “But the priests were too few, so that they could not flay all the burnt offerings: wherefore their brethren the Levites did help them, till the work was ended, and until the other priests had sanctified themselves: for the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests” (KJV).

Here are some thoughts:

1.  David Rothstein in The Jewish Study Bible states that “The author treats the Levites preferentially” in this verse.  After all, here the Levites were, filling a need, diligently sanctifying themselves and helping the priests do what many of the priests had disqualified themselves from doing by not sanctifying themselves.  In discussing the ideology of I-II Chronicles, R.H. Pfeiffer in the Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary states that the Chronicler actually gives the Levites a higher status than the Priestly Code does.  He notes, for example, that Numbers 4:15-20 and 18:3 says that the Levites would die if they touched holy objects, whereas I Chronicles 9:28 and 23:28 present the Levites as in charge of the holy objects.  Pfeiffer also observes that Levites in I-II Chronicles are teachers, judges, scribes, and prophets.  Is II Chronicles 29:34 yet another example of the Chronicler’s love for the Levites?

I have a slight critique of some of these arguments, or, at least, I think that certain things need to be pointed out to balance them out.  First of all, overall, the Chronicler still does elevate the Aaronide priests above the Levites.  In II Chronicles 29:16, we read that only the priests could enter the house of the LORD to purify it.  I am not saying that Rothstein, Pfeiffer, or those agreeing with them have said otherwise, but I just want to point that out.  Second, the Chronicler does not provide a consistently positive picture of the Levites.  II Chronicles 24:5 depicts the Levites as not acting hastily in response to King Joash’s command to collect taxes for the repair of the Temple.  Maybe that does not overthrow Rothstein’s point that the Chronicler has a preference for the Levites, though.  Perhaps, according to the Chronicler, the priests and the Levites were both slow to follow God, but the Levites were quicker to repent and to correct their behavior.  Does a positive portrayal necessarily entail depicting a person as always doing right, or can it include presenting a person who repents and learns from his or her mistakes?

I was initially skeptical about Pfeiffer’s argument that the Chronicler contradicts the Priestly Code on whether the Levites could handle the holy objects.  After all, I reasoned, the Book of Numbers does not say that the Levites are to have nothing to do with the holy objects.  The Levites in Numbers are the people who transport them, but they have to cover the holy objects and cannot touch them directly, lest they die.  As I look at I Chronicles 9:28 and 23:28, however, I can see that Pfeiffer may have a point.  I Chronicles 23:28 says that the Levites purify the holy things.  That might be difficult for them to do, if they cannot touch them.  Difficult, but not impossible.  Perhaps they could pick up the holy object with a rag when trying to wash it to avoid touching it.

2.  I read a variety of ideas about why the priests were so slow to purify themselves.  Some ideas are more prone to give the priests the benefit of a doubt than other ideas.  Some positive ideas are:

—-There were not too many priests because they disqualified themselves by being idolatrous, so a number of priests were demoted to being Levites.  That explains the dearth of priests.  Yet, these priests-turned-Levites repented of their idolatry and were enthusiastic to contribute their services to Hezekiah’s reform (Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary).

—-There were a lot of offerings, as II Chronicles 29:35 seems to indicate.  No wonder there were not enough priests to flay them (Keil-Delitzsch)!

—-The priests, Levites, and God-fearing in Judah had previously lived under wicked kings, who hated the proper worship of the LORD, so these God-fearing people had to disguise themselves and could only sanctify themselves gradually; thus, many of them were not ready and sanctified by the time that Hezekiah came on the scene and rapidly inaugurated his reform (Rashi).

—-King Hezekiah’s predecessor, King Ahaz, had taken away the duties of the priests and Levites.  Thus, Hezekiah had to reconsecrate older priests and commission younger priests.  The reform was proceeding rapidly, though, so a lot of priests were not ready and sanctified (Nelson Study Bible).

More negative explanations of the priests’ failure to sanctify themselves include the following:

—-The priests did not believe that Hezekiah was serious about reform, so they failed to sanctify themselves (Artscroll).

—-Many priests were still tied to Ahaz’s idolatrous policies.  The priest Uriah, for example, had promoted King Ahaz’s Syrian-style altar, according to II Kings 16:16 (Artscroll).

In my opinion, there is some validity to the positive interpretations of the priests’ slowness to sanctify themselves, for Hezekiah’s reform probably was rapid, and there may have been some inertia on the part of the priests; plus, there were a lot of sacrifices.  At the same time, II Chronicles 29:34 does say that the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests, so the Chronicler does appear to interpret the priests’ failure negatively.  Maybe the priests were still tied to idolatry, or perhaps they were simply negligent or indifferent, when they should have been enthusiastic and diligent about serving the LORD.

3.  In II Chronicles 29:34, the priests are flaying the sacrifices, and the Levites are helping them out.  More than one commentator notes, however, that Leviticus 1:5-6 does not say that the priests or the Levites are to flay the skin of the sacrifice; rather, the worshiper bringing the sacrifice is responsible for that task.  Some interpret Leviticus 1:5-6 to say that the priests flay the sacrifice, but that does not seem to me to be the case when I read Leviticus 1:4-6.  What it appears to me to say is that the worshiper puts his hand over the animal that will make atonement for him, kills the animal, and flays it, whereas the Aaronide priests put the pieces of the animal on the altar and burn it.

Why would the priests and the Levites feel responsible for flaying the sacrifices in II Chronicles 29:34?  Were they aware of another set of rules than what is in Leviticus 1?  Interestingly, II Chronicles 30:17-18 depicts the Levites killing the Passover offering for the Northern Israelites, even though Exodus 12:3-6, 21 and Deuteronomy 16:5-6 mandate that the worshipers are to kill their own Passover sacrifice.  The reason given there is that the Northern Israelite worshipers had not sanctified themselves.  Perhaps that accounts for what we see in II Chronicles 29:34.  Hezekiah’s religious reform was a rapid change, and thus many Judahites failed to get on the ball and to purify themselves on time.  As a result, they could not flay their own sacrifices, and the priests (at least the purified ones) and the Levites did so for them.

Friday, April 17, 2015


I am in the process of moving, and I will not have much access to my computer, so I will be turning off comments for a while.  Posts will still appear on this blog, but not as frequently until I get settled in.

Book Write-Up: Wonderland Creek, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  Wonderland Creek.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2011.  See here to buy the book.

Wonderland Creek won a Christy Award, which is an award for evangelical Christian fiction.  I really enjoyed other Christy Award-winning Lynn Austin novels that I read, specifically Candle in the Darkness and Fire by Night, both of which are about the American Civil War.  For a while, I had a difficult time getting into Wonderland Creek, which is set during the Great Depression.  But, somewhere near the middle of the book, it grew on me, and the ending left me with a sweet feeling.

Wonderland Creek is about Alice Grace Ripley, a minister’s daughter who is in her 20s, and whose nose is always in a book.  She enjoys her job at the local library, considering it a perfect fit for her after she failed at teaching.  But her boyfriend breaks up with her because her nose is always in a book, and she loses her library job due to cutbacks.  She decides to deliver donated books to a little library in a small Kentucky town, expecting to volunteer there.  Her uncle and aunt drive her there on their way to a spa, and Alice meets a wooly man in the library named Mack.  Her uncle and aunt drive away, and Mack chases them because he was not expecting for Alice to stay!

Mack gets shot, and he tells Alice to get Lillie, who is in her 100s and was a slave before the American Civil War.  Lillie is the healer of the town and is a devout Christian.  Lillie and Mack decide to fake Mack’s death so that Mack can investigate, and also so that the person who shot him will not return and finish him off!

There are tedious parts of the book, such as the part in which Alice was learning how to ride a horse so she could deliver books as part of a WPA program.  For a while, I was enjoying Lillie’s spiritual wisdom, even though Lillie did get on my nerves a bit because she could be snarky, opinionated, judgmental, and occasionally scatter-brained.  I was also intrigued by Maggie, a warm, pleasant, and refined woman from Boston who married someone in Kentucky.  Lillie warns Alice about Maggie, I was wondering why, and that kept me reading!

For me, the turning point in the book—-the point where I really started to feel something—-occurred in the middle.  Alice is waiting for her uncle and aunt to come and pick her up so that she can go back to Illinois, where she can read all day and enjoy her warm bed, electricity, and hot water.  Lillie keeps telling Alice that she will keep a look out for them while Alice is out delivering books.  Alice keeps waiting, wondering if they will ever show up.  Lillie then tells her that they already showed up, but that Lillie told them that they can move on, for Alice is helping out there and is having an adventure of her own.  Alice is shocked to hear this!  The reason that this part stood out to me was that Alice got to the point where she was wanted and needed in that small Kentucky town.  She may not have been enthusiastic about being there, but she had a service to perform.  People were depending on her, and she needed to think beyond her own comfort.

Bethany House is often considered to be a conservative Christian publishing house, so it was refreshing to read a book from it that was largely positive about the New Deal, unions, and the need for safety rules for coal mines.

The book was also good because it conveyed that there may be more to people than meets the eye.  Mack looks like a wooly mountain man, but he is actually an educated person who came back to the area to help it out.  Maggie is a good woman, yet she is harboring a lot of bitterness.  Alice’s aunt is a bit ditzy, but she has wisdom about romance and living life to the full.

In terms of spiritual lessons, the book talked about a variety of themes: the problem of evil, forgiveness, the perseverance of the saints, and how the love of money is the root of all evil.  Lynn Austin talks about some of these themes in other books of hers that I have read, but this book did have a unique twist on them (which I say based on my reading of Austin’s books so far, and I have not read all of them).  Lillie says that Jesus commands us to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” because, otherwise, we would not forgive our debtors!  Jesus is being pretty practical there and is giving us a command to help us out spiritually!  When Lillie says that God sent Alice to help out, Alice wonders why God allowed Mack to be shot in the first place.  Lillie says that God never promised a smooth road, yet prays for things to go smoothly at times.  On the issue of perseverance of the saints, Lillie predicts that Maggie will return to God, notwithstanding her anger with him, for Jesus said that nobody can snatch the saints from his Father’s hand (John 10:28).

The book is largely about Alice’s growth—-how she became less selfish and decided to experience real life more, as opposed to just reading (which she still did).  I could identify with her in areas, even though I sometimes found her rather immature.  In the end, Alice reflected that she came to see church as a place where she could gather with others who serve God and allow God to tell her what he expects from her.  That does not entirely resonate with me, for I see church as a place where I can learn about God and experience God’s love—-I don’t just see God as my boss, but as a loving friend and Father.  Still, I do appreciate how Alice learned the value of serving others and thinking about their needs.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mary in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah

This is another post about the pseudepigraphical Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, which is dated in the Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha to the second century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E.  My focus today is on what the book says about Mary the mother of Jesus.  The relevant passage is 11:1-16.

There are two things that stand out to me in that passage:

1.  In 11:2, Mary is said to be a descendant of David.  The prominent (albeit not necessarily the only) teaching of Second Temple Judaism was that the Messiah would be descended from King David.  In Romans 1:3, Paul, perhaps echoing an earlier Christian tradition, says that Jesus, according to his flesh, was from the seed of David.  In Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, Jesus is descended from King David, through his father Joseph.

But there is a problem: Was Joseph technically Jesus’ father, when Jesus was born of a virgin, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke?  People offer various solutions to this problem.  One proposed solution is that Joseph was Jesus’ adoptive father, and thus that Jesus was descended from David and Solomon through adoption.  Another proposed solution is that Jesus was descended from David through his mother, Mary, and that Luke 3 actually contains Mary’s genealogy.  According to this view, Heli, the father of Joseph in Luke 3, was actually Joseph’s father-in-law and Mary’s father.  But the second century Christian work, the Protoevangelium of James, says that the father of Mary was named Joachim.

The Christian who wrote chapter 11 of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah just out-and-out says that Mary was a descendant of David.  Maybe this writer is trying to solve the problem of how Jesus can be born of a virgin yet be a descendant of King David.

2.  What is interesting in this passage of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah is how Jesus is born.  I’ll quote to you 11:6-9, according to M.A. Knibb’s translation: “And [Joseph] did not approach Mary, but kept her as a holy virgin, although she was pregnant.  And he did not live with her for two months.  And after two months of days, while Joseph was in his house, and Mary his wife, but both alone, it came about, when they were alone, that Mary then looked with her eyes and saw a small infant, and she was astounded.  And after her astonishment had worn off, her womb was found as (it was) at first, before she had conceived.”

What seems to me to be going on here is that Mary is pregnant, and at some point she sees her infant outside of her, after which her womb goes back to how it was prior to her pregnancy.  Jesus has been born, albeit without Mary going through the painful process of childbirth.  The child was inside of her womb, then it appeared outside of it.  Later in chapter 11, people report that a midwife did not go in to assist Mary, and that they did not hear Mary screaming in pain.

Why would the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah present this?  I have a guess, but it is only a guess.  Perhaps the Christian writer here wants Mary to circumvent becoming ritually defiled under the rules of Leviticus 12.  Under those rules, a woman is unclean for seven days if she bears a male, and for two weeks if she bears a female.  She is required to bring a sin offering to make atonement.  The impurity could relate to all of the blood that comes out in the process of childbirth; this commentary says that she is bringing a sinner into the world, and that is why she is impure, but I cannot vouch for whether that is an accurate description of Leviticus’ rationale for the rule.  In any case, perhaps the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah is depicting Jesus coming into the world apart from childbirth because of the rules in Leviticus 12.  The Christian writer here may have wanted to distance Mary, Jesus, or perhaps the entire process of Jesus coming into the world from sin and impurity.

There is a problem with my speculation, however, apart from the fact that it is based on a guess.  According to Luke 2:22-24, Mary after the birth of Jesus is purified according to the law of Moses and brings two turtledoves to the sanctuary, which are arguably the sin offering that poor women are required to bring to the Tabernacle after childbirth, according to Leviticus 12.  Was the Christian contributor to the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah unaware of this?

I should note that the Christian contributor to the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah stresses that Mary and Joseph were to keep the nature of Jesus’ birth secret from others.  In v 17, Mary nurses Jesus like he is an infant, and the verse says that this is so that Jesus might not be recognized.  This arguably coincides with the book’s ransom view of the atonement: Satan is attacking Jesus, without fully realizing who Jesus is; Satan is overstepping his bounds and disqualifying himself from ruling the earth by attacking Jesus, a divine being.  I also wonder if there is a bit of docetism going on here: v 17 says that Jesus “sucked the breast like an infant.”  Does that imply that, according to the Christian writer, Jesus was not exactly an infant, but was a divine being who only appeared to be an infant?  Maybe the Christian writer’s view is that it would be unsuitable and undignified for a divine being such as Jesus to come into the world through the normal means of childbirth, and to do things as humans normally do them.  At the same time, I cannot take my appeal to docetism too far, for the book also seems to present Jesus as a Messianic descendant of David, which would imply his humanity.

In any case, the writer could have agreed with Luke 2:22-24 that Mary would go through the outward motions of what was expected of her ritually, in order to conceal from others who Jesus truly was.  But the writer was saying that she knew the truth, regardless of what others thought.

I have long wondered if certain Christian ideas about Mary have their roots in Old Testament ritual rules.  For example, take the Catholic view that Mary was a perpetual virgin, that she never had sex or children after the birth of Jesus.  Could that relate to laws such as Numbers 19:2, which says that the purifying red heifer is to be an animal on whom has come no yoke?  The idea may be that the red heifer is holy, and is only to be used for holy purposes.  Could the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity be echoing that kind of sentiment: that Mary was holy, and her primary purpose on earth was to give birth to the holy Son of God, and thus it would be improper for her to have other children?

 UPDATE: See Vridar’s post on Mary in the Ascension of Isaiah.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ramblings on the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, and a Divided (Yet United) House

I have been reading the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah for my daily quiet time.  The date given underneath the title in my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha is the second century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E.  The book was originally Jewish, but it has a lot of Christian interpolations.  The Christian parts are actually the most interesting to me, since they show me what some Christians believed in the first four centuries C.E., and I like to compare and contrast that with the New Testament and my understanding of normative ancient Christianity (i.e., what was considered orthodox).

A while back, I read a book by evangelical fiction writer Lynn Austin about the reign of the wicked King Manasseh of Judah.  It was called Faith of My Fathers (see my write-up about it here).  Austin usually draws from a variety of ancient sources in her novels about the Bible, and I bet that the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah was one of them.  In her novel and in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, someone from Samaria (Northern Israel) is encouraging King Manasseh to execute the prophet Isaiah; his name is “Zerah” in Lynn Austin’s book, and “Belkira” in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah.  In both, one of the charges against Isaiah is that he contradicts the Torah by claiming to have seen God, something the Torah says that no one can do.  In both, Isaiah is accused of being a traitor: in Lynn Austin’s book, it was because Manasseh believed that Isaiah was close with the royal adviser Eliakim and was refusing to use his prophetic abilities to benefit Manasseh; in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, it was because Isaiah prophesied against Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.

A key theme in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah is that Satan, called Beliar in the book, hates Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Christ.  These prophecies are about Beliar’s downfall.  In my reading of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah so far, the theory of atonement that is promoted seems to be the ransom theory—-the view that Satan got Jesus killed, not realizing that Jesus’ death would deliver people from Satan’s dominion.  I do not recall reading anything in the book so far about Jesus’ death washing away or atoning for people’s sins.  Rather, the focus is on Jesus shattering the power of Beliar.

There was something that caught my eye in my reading yesterday.  Isaiah ascends through the seven levels of heaven, then he accompanies Christ as Christ comes down from heaven to earth.  Through each level of heaven, Christ reduces himself to become like the angels there, so the angels do not recognize him or honor him as Christ, and they require him to use a password to get through the gate.  In chapter 10, Christ comes to the realm of heaven where the prince of this world is, and the angels there envy and fight each other.

The prince of this world is probably Satan.  That seems to be the case in John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11.  In Ephesians 2:2, he is called the prince of the power of the air.  In II Corinthians 4:4, he is called the god of this world.  Even in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, Beliar is an iniquitous angel who has ruled this world since its origin.

What is intriguing, though, is that the angels in Satan’s realm are envying and fighting each other.  On the one hand, that is not surprising.  You have probably heard the expression that there is no honor among thieves.  Wouldn’t one expect for wicked angels to be fighting and envying one another?

On the other hand, that picture does appear, at least on the surface, to undercut Jesus’ argument in Mark 3:23-26 against certain Pharisees.  Some of the Pharisees were saying that Jesus casts out devils through the power of Satan, and Jesus’ response was that this made no sense: why would Satan undermine himself and his influence by enabling someone to cast demons out of people?  A house divided against itself cannot stand, Jesus said.  Yet, the picture we get out Satan’s realm in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah is a house divided against itself!

People may question whether one needs to try to harmonize a Gospel with the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, but I am just playing with ideas here.  Both texts in juxtaposition seem to raise an interesting question: how can evil beings unite with each other, when evil by itself is destabilizing and divisive?  Well, they may unite with each other to pursue the cause of evil.  And, even there, each demon may be asking, “What’s in it for me?”  Being allowed to prey on people may be one of the rewards that Satan gives them.  I think of Scar and his hyenas on The Lion King.  The hyenas were supporting Scar, not because they liked or respected him, but because, once Scar ruled, they could eat whatever they wanted, even if that did not preserve the delicate balance of the circle of life.

Why I Have Gravitated Towards Christian Fiction

Why have I gravitated towards Christian fiction?  Because, even if I end up finding the story to be boring, at least the story will have some moral or spiritual lesson, and reading it will not have been a waste of my time. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Write-Up: The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents, by David L. Holmes

David L. Holmes.  The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama.  Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

David L. Holmes teaches religious studies at the College of William and Mary.  About a year ago, I blogged about a book that he wrote, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, and my review was shared in some places.  Later, Dr. Holmes sent me a copy of his book about the faiths of the post-war American Presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents goes into the religious beliefs and practices of the postwar Presidents, their wives, and their parents (and, sometimes, even their grandparents!).  I have been debating how exactly to write this book write-up.  What I have decided to do is to say something about each post-war President (based on Holmes’ discussion).

Harry Truman: According to Holmes, Truman essentially believed in the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.  He looked to Christianity primarily for its ethical guidelines, and Billy Graham could not persuade him that there was more to Christianity than that, such as the need for a born again experience.  Holmes also talks about Truman’s ambivalent attitudes towards the Jews.  On the one hand, Truman had a Jewish friend, and Truman cried when Israel’s chief rabbi told him that God placed Truman in the womb to give a homeland to the Jewish people.  But Truman also made some anti-Jewish comments.

Dwight Eisenhower:  This was actually my favorite chapter.  Dwight Eisenhower was raised by parents who were involved in what would later be called the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Eisenhower acknowledged this in an autobiography, but some of his siblings tried to conceal that fact.  Eisenhower’s parents allowed their kids to do what they wanted once they got older, so Eisenhower entered the military, notwithstanding the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pacifistic stance.  Because the JWs only baptized adults, Eisenhower was not baptized until he was in his 60s.  Eisenhower did not seem to be overly religious when he was a general during World War II, though he does retrospectively talk about times when he relied on God and God assisted the Allies.  Eisenhower saw his religion as a personal thing that did not require institutional allegiance, but someone persuaded him, as President, to go to church.  Eisenhower was initially reluctant but decided to go to church to set a good example to people, since he believed that religion had a positive effect on the social order.  And, after he left the Presidency, Ike kept on going to church!

John F. Kennedy: In terms of Kennedy’s religious beliefs and practices, this chapter was the least interesting to me, probably because people disagree about how religious Kennedy actually was.  The chapter did provide insight, however, into the reasons that many people were afraid of a Roman Catholic President.  In certain countries where the Roman Catholic church had power, the regimes were authoritarian.  In some areas of the United States, Catholics were flexing political muscle, and that was influencing public policy on issues such as contraception.  In addition, according to Holmes, prior to Vatican II, there was a Catholic teaching that Catholicism should be the state religion and that religious dissidents should only be tolerated “if it were practically unavoidable”, for “error has not the same rights as truth” (Holmes is quoting a summary by James Hennesey of Father John Ryan’s influential book on public policy).  John F. Kennedy, however, reassured many Americans that he would not serve the pope, and that, if he found himself in any situation in which there would be a conflict between his job and his conscience, then he would resign the Presidency.

Lyndon Johnson: According to Holmes, LBJ was not always religious, but, when he found religion, he went all out!  He attended a lot of churches and synagogues, even donating a lot of money to some of them.  Holmes also relays an anecdote about a conversation that Johnson had with Billy Graham   Johnson was afraid to die, and Graham asked him if he had ever asked Jesus to be his personal savior.  Johnson replied that he had, a bunch of times, and Graham said, “When someone says that, Mr. President, I don’t feel too sure of it,” for “It’s a once-for-all transaction.”  Graham asked Johnson if Johnson wanted to make that moment the definite time when he would remember receiving Christ, and Johnson did.  This story stood out to me because I have had questions about how efficacious the sinner’s prayer is.

Richard Nixon: I spent 2013 reading books by and about Richard Nixon, so I was a bit nitpicky in reading this chapter.  Holmes says that Helen Gahagan Douglas was the Democratic incumbent in the 1950 Senate race against Richard Nixon, and that was not true: she was a Congresswoman before that race, and the Senator Nixon would replace was Democrat Sheridan Downey.  I was also surprised that Holmes did not mention Nixon’s attraction to Roman Catholicism as a religion of reason and order.  But Holmes did talk about Nixon’s religious liberalism, which he displayed in some college essays that he wrote and later on.

Gerald Ford: Not a whole lot grabbed me in this chapter.  Ford attended an academic religious service, which stood out to me.  Ford’s son attended the evangelical institution, Gordon-Conwell.  Overall, my impression is that Ford was a good man who was a refreshing contrast to his predecessor, Richard Nixon.

Jimmy Carter: Carter’s loner tendencies, and yet his warmth to those in need, stood out to me in this chapter.  Carter was also opposed to segregation when it was popular in his state, though he briefly played to the segregationists to win the Governorship of Georgia; after taking office there, he let people know where he truly stood.  Carter’s father was a segregationist yet was popular among African-Americans because he helped them out when they were in need.  Carter was thoughtful in that he read theologians.  He reached out to Reinhold Niebuhr’s widow and let her know what a profound effect her husband’s writings had on him.  Carter’s wife, Roselynn, was a close adviser to her husband and even sat in on White House cabinet meetings.  Some of Carter’s policies that people have seen as disastrous may have been rooted in his faith.  He was not particularly aggressive during the Iranian hostage crisis, for example, because he did not want people to be killed.

Ronald Reagan: Reagan wrote about his faith when he was an actor and said he did not believe that a loving God would condemn people to hell.  As President, he visited an Episcopalian church with his wife Nancy near Camp David.  According to Michael Deaver, Reagan did not know what to do, so Nancy told him to follow her lead.  Nancy, the stepdaughter of a doctor, did not want to drink from the same communion cup that others had drunk from, so she was told to dip her communion wafer into the cup and eat it.  She accidentally dropped the wafer into the cup.  And Reagan, following her cue, purposefully dropped his communion wafer into the cup!

George H.W. Bush: Bush, Sr., during World War II, was one time adrift at sea, floating on a raft, and he felt comfort when he looked up at the stars.  At the end of World War II, he made sure to go to church to give God thanks.  In the chapter on George W., we read that George, Sr. and Barbara opposed racism and taught their children to be against racism, even though it was popular in Texas.  When W. used a racial slur as a child, Barbara washed his mouth out with soap!

Bill Clinton: Church and religion gave Clinton comfort during the turbulence of his childhood.  Some people I read are rather denigrating of his mother, but she was actually a smart, accomplished woman.  Clinton was impressed when, as a child, he attended a Billy Graham crusade in Arkansas, and Graham challenged segregation by having people of different races sit together.  During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Graham was publicly sympathetic to Clinton because of the temptations that Clinton faced.  Holmes also talks about the beliefs of the Southern Baptists regarding abortion, and how they may not have been as conservative in the past as they later became.  When Clinton asked a prominent Southern Baptist about Psalm 139:13’s statement that God formed the Psalmist in his mother’s womb, the Southern Baptist replied that this was talking about God’s omniscience, not saying that life began at conception; some have disputed Clinton’s account of this interaction, however.

George W. Bush: W. did not fit in at Yale and distanced himself from it after graduating.  He was upset when liberal Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin told him that Bush, Sr. lost to the better man in a recent political race, something Coffin later said he did not remember saying (but Holmes leans in the direction of thinking that Coffin said it, and that it was rude).  Ann Richards’ statement that George W. was born on third base and thought he had hit a home-run was pretty funny.  W. said that he would be happy being an ex-Governor whom people recognize at the store, yet he felt that God was calling him to run for President.  The story about how W. became genuinely interested in other people after his born again experience also stood out to me.

Barack Obama: Obama’s mother was a skeptic yet was spiritual, and she taught her son to appreciate life and to have values.  Barack read theology in college, and he admired the ability of religion to bring about social change, so he became a Christian when he was a community organizer.  He distanced himself from Pastor Jeremiah Wright in 2008 due to Wright’s controversial statements (and Holmes seems to argue that the attacks on Wright were not entirely fair), and that left Obama without a church home.  Obama did not want to visit different churches because that would leave himself without roots in a religious community, and he has not attended church that much as President.

I found Holmes’ book to be fair and interesting.  In some cases, I thought to myself that some of the Presidents may have been worse in their character than Holmes was presenting—-though Holmes did acknowledge corruption and womanizing among some of the Presidents.  I was wondering how people could do bad things, yet be devout religiously.  But that does happen.  And people who do bad things may even be sincere in their religion.

Extremely Scattered Ramblings on Accountability to God

This is another post that draws from Brian Morley’s Mapping Apologetics.  It is not my official review, though.  For my official review, I’ll probably make a few comments, then link to my posts about the book.

Although this particular post is not my official review, it will talk about a central theme in Morley’s book: the question of whether, when, and how human beings are responsible to God.  With so many religious and philosophical options out there, are people actually accountable to the God of the Bible?  Can a loving and just God legitimately judge people over whether they believe in him and follow his standards?  Is there even enough evidence that the biblical God is real?

Romans 1:18-21 is relevant to this topic.  It states (in the KJV): “(18)For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; (19) Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. (20) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (21) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

A question that is discussed in Morley’s book is what exactly this passage means.  In what way does God’s creation make people responsible for believing in God, while making disbelief in God inexcusable?

Christian apologists have different ideas about this.  Alvin Plantinga believes that human beings have within themselves some sense of the divine, and that this sense can be activated when they are beholding the beauty and the majesty of God’s creation.  William Lane Craig, however, thinks that Paul is saying that one can look at creation and infer or reason from it that there is a God.  Craig notes that Romans 1:18-21 appears to be based on Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-9, and that there “inferential thinking is clearly in view” (Morley’s words on page 232, in discussing Craig’s view).  Craig emphasizes the cosmological and the teleological arguments for the existence of God, and a key asset to Morley’s book is his description of Craig’s arguments against those who try to account for the beginning and order of the universe (if they acknowledge those things) apart from God.

I do not know or remember how a presuppositionalist apologist would interpret Romans 1.  Something that I like about presuppositionalists is that they argue that facts by themselves cannot communicate a Christian or theistic message, for different people can interpret facts in different ways, based on their presuppositions.  Yet, presuppositionalists still believe that people are responsible before God. Why?

One reason is that, for presuppositionalists, rationality is not possible without the Reformed God and a belief in him.  One has a choice, for many presuppositionalists: either one believes in the Reformed God, or one has no basis at all for being rational.  That, for them, is a reason to believe in the Reformed God!  Morley repeats this throughout the book in discussing presuppositonalists and other apologists’ interaction with their views, and I still do not entirely understand this claim.  I get that they are saying that God and a belief in God provide a sense of order and interrelationship among facts that a non-theistic belief in chance does not—-that a belief in the Reformed God who plans everything that exists and happens places facts into a story or a coherent system, both of which are essential to rationality.  I guess that my problem is that I do not think that belief in the Reformed God is necessary for a person to be rational or to notice order or interconnections.  Perhaps one could appeal to the existence of the Reformed God—-or something or someone supernatural—-to account for why the cosmos is orderly or facts are interconnected, but one can notice those things without believing in a Reformed God, without having that particular presupposition.  Moreover, I would question that God has to cause every single thing for there to be rationality; God may cause things, but every single thing?  Presuppositionalist Cornelius Van Til acknowledged that non-believers can be rational, but he contends that they are ripping off rationality from Reformed Christianity.

Writing out this view makes presuppositionalism appear a little bit more sensible to me than it did when I read about it; still, there is something missing, either in the view, or in my understanding of it.  Some may read my comments and think that I am saying that presuppositionalists argue that God needed to create the universe for it to be rational and orderly, but that is not what I am saying.  Presuppositionalists seem to me to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from those who employ the cosmological and teleological arguments for God’s existence—-though Morley does present exceptions, such as John Frame.  Rather, what presuppositionalists seem to be saying is that, in order to have any basis to be rational and to see the universe as an orderly place with interconnections, one has to believe in a God who consciously and with purpose plans everything in it.  Apart from a belief in God, you have a bunch of bare facts that lack purpose, coherence, or interconnection.  Clear as mud?

I should note, before I go on to the next reason that some presuppositionalists believe people are accountable to God, that presuppositionalists are not the only ones who think that a bare fact by itself does not communicate the Christian message or theism.  Morley talks about a division among the Christian apologists who appeal to arguments and evidence—-the types who are not on the same side as presuppositionalists.  Some believe that Christian apologists can legitimately make the conventional classic apologetic arguments for Jesus’ resurrection, and that can win people to faith; others, by contrast, believe that apologists should argue for the existence of God first and present miracles as a possibility, then make the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection.  The latter contend that Jesus’ resurrection by itself does not prove the truth of Christianity, that, without the context provided by arguments for the existence of God, one could understandably see Jesus’ resurrection as a fluke.  I do appreciate this point, for it does get on my nerves when certain apologists act as if their “evidence” for the resurrection of Jesus validates all of Christianity—-some (not all) go so far as to say that, because Jesus believed in biblical inerrancy and rose from the dead, that means biblical inerrancy is true.  Personally, I do not think that the Bible’s problems vanish because people may have found an empty tomb or seen a vision.  What I would ask is what the bridge would be between the cosmological and teleological arguments and the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection.  More than one thinker discussed in the book acknowledges that the cosmological and teleological arguments do not demonstrate the existence of the Christian God, specifically, but just a God.

Back, though, to why presuppositionalists think that we are accountable before God.  Greg Bahnsen, as I understood him, said that people have some intuitive sense that the Bible is true when they hear it, even though that sense has been marred by sin.  I used that in witnessing to a skeptic years ago: “The Bible is true, and you know it is true.”  He thought I was being condescending and dismissive of his arguments for skepticism, and I was.  That, by the way, leads me to raise another important issue that comes up in Morley’s book.  For presuppositionalists, we cannot have a situation in which people sit back and evaluate evidence for Christianity, then decide for themselves whether it is true, as if they are the king or queen.  Rather, the situation is that people are confronted with the truth of God’s word, and they either submit or rebel!  If they rebel, then they are sinning and deserve divine wrath!  John Warwick Montgomery is not a presuppositionalist—-he is one of those apologists who thinks that facts can point to Christianity or theism—-but he has a similar insight to the presuppositionalists here, only it is consistent with his evidentialist approach: facts speak, whereas interpretations can easily become subject to self-serving bias, and so people need to be accountable to facts.  Presuppositionalists and Montgomery both want to take humans off the throne so that they will be subject to God, but they differ on what approach is conducive to that.

I want to say something else before I close.  A lot of times, Christian apologists seem to think that those who do not believe in Christianity are trying to avoid being accountable to God—-that their rejection of God is primarily for moral or spiritual reasons, whereas intellectual reasons are a mere cloak.  There may be something to that, depending on the case: I don’t believe it is true of everyone, especially those who wanted to be Christian but left the faith because their doubt became unbelief.  In any case, I think that blaming atheists or non-believers for their unbelief splashes cold water on them and does little to attract them to God.  Rather than just saying, “Oh, you’re just being rebellious,” why not emphasize the love of God, and even demonstrate the love of God rather than being obsessed with winning debates?  There were some apologists in Morley’s book who advocated a compassionate approach—-one of them appealed to Paul Vitz’s study about how many prominent atheists may have had absent fathers (which I am not saying is true) and said that Christians should keep that in mind in reaching out to atheists; another said that Christianity meets the needs of the human heart.  I remember an Adventist meeting where the preacher said that God is not one to be afraid of, but one to be a friend of.  Why not give atheists bread, instead of a stone (Matthew 7:9)?  But doesn’t Paul splash cold water on people in Romans 1, when he says that people are without excuse when it comes to their responsibility to worship God?  Maybe, but he does not leave his message there; he goes on to proclaim the love and grace of God.

UPDATE: This is not my official review, but I should probably mention that I received this book as a complimentary review copy from Intervarsity Press, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Write-Up: Mapping Apologetics, by Brian K. Morley

Brian K. Morley.  Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Christian apologetics is defending the Christian faith.  In Mapping Apologetics, Brian Morley, who teaches philosophy and Christian apologetics at The Master’s College (John MacArthur’s college), surveys a variety of Christian apologetic approaches.  He looks at attempts to defend the truth of God and Christianity in the Bible and Christian history, as well as presuppositionalist, evidentialist, and other approaches.  The book has chapters on Cornelius Van Til, John Frame, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, John Warwick Montgomery, and Gary Habermas.  It also has a chapter about E.J. Carnell, Gordon Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer.  Not only does Morley provide a detailed discussion of these apologists’ thought and critiques of it, but he also tells the stories of these thinkers as people.

This is a rich book, and I have already written four posts about it.  They are:

Ramblings on Countering Evil That God Permits

The Trinity and Perfect Love

Ramblings on Ethics, the Golden Rule, and Moral Absolutes

Extremely Scattered Ramblings on Accountability to God

In another online forum, I posted my favorite passage in Morley’s book.  This passage addresses differences between Celtic Christianity and Roman Christianity, and it is on pages 54-55:

“Rick Richardson, summarizing the work of George Hunter, points favorably to Celtic Christianity, contrasting it with Roman Christianity. The Celts emphasize humanity’s connection to nature; the achievements of humanity and not just its sinfulness; God’s immanent presence rather than transcendence; divine dynamic activity rather than maintenance of stability and order; the advancement of a Christian movement through community rather than maintenance of institutions and traditions; indigenous and contextual work within culture rather than the regarding of one’s own culture as superior; areas of spiritual interest in other religions that can be used in communication rather than written off as irrelevant or as manifestations of the demonic; creative use of art, drama, music, story, analogy and poetry to encourage experience of the truth rather than only explanations of the truth; the welcoming of nonbelievers to be involved in the Christian community.”

I do not know if Professor Morley intended to inspire this reaction in his readers, but I would like to read more about Celtic Christianity!

Morley’s book also is lucid and succinct in discussing the thoughts of prominent philosophical thinkers, such as Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Hegel.  People interested in a summary of what these people thought and the significance of their contributions may appreciate this book.

The chapter that I liked the most was about William Lane Craig.  In this chapter, Morley detailed Craig’s responses to objections to the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God.  Craig addresses such topics as quantum physics, and he responds to objections with clarity and precision.  While Craig, in my opinion, does come across to me as a bit snarky in some of his debates and writings, I do have to admire his philosophical approach.  I also am somewhat sympathetic to his overall agenda: to present Christianity as an intellectually acceptable option.

The approach that I liked the least was that of John Warwick Montgomery.  Montgomery’s approach influenced Josh McDowell, and it focused on offering historical support for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  Montgomery seemed to think that the facts spoke clearly in its favor, whereas I tend to agree with presuppositionalists that there are a variety of ways to interpret evidence; I would also opine that Christian history was a bit messier than Montgomery may think.  At the same time, I have to respect and admire Montgomery after reading Morley’s chapter about him.  Montgomery has a brilliant mind, and he passed what is arguably the toughest bar exam in the country without having attended law school!  In addition, I appreciated Montgomery’s point that motifs in world cultures indicate a hunger for what Jesus Christ has to offer.

Morley almost predominantly features male apologists, and the last line of his book says that “It is my hope and prayer that this book will motivate some to grasp the baton from those who are finishing their leg of the race, and run on” (page 365).  Interestingly, according to a recent Christianity Today article, some of those who are carrying that baton are women, who add their own perspective and approach to Christian apologetics.  See here to read that excellent article.

Mapping Apologetics overall is lucid, fair, thoughtful, and detailed.  It is rather elliptical in a few places, and there are places that are in dire need of editing—-there are some grammatical errors, and times when Morley seems to say the opposite of what he may have intended to say.  It is still an excellent book.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Intervarsity Press, in exchange for an honest review.

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